Ironman Cozumel - Qualifying for Kona & Getting Under 9

BRIEF

It’s been a busy year — lots of 70.3s from March-May, a cross-country move from LA to NYC in the summer, and new projects with work. Still, thanks to the coaching wizardry of Justin Daerr and support from my girlfriend Marla, I was able to show up to Ironman Cozumel in the best shape of my life. (Well, endurance shape that is. I can barely do a push-up these days…)

Given how I felt about my fitness, I came into the race with the below goals:

  • Pretty Realistic: Get a 2018 Kona slot, Win M30-34 AG
  • Stretch / Wishful Thinking: Sub 9 hours, Win overall amateur race

I came into the race feeling confident and relaxed. It helped spending lots of time with friends Justin and Jimmy, who were also racing, and having Marla there. I’m definitely more at ease when racing and staying with friends. Takes the pressure off a bit since the trip is more fun and isn’t solely about the result — it’s a fun experience regardless.

On race morning I actually didn’t feel great. I had stomach issues in the morning — maybe nerves, maybe something else — and my stomach continued to feel a bit off at times throughout the day. I still felt strong though and stayed positive given my confidence in my preparation.

Standing at the start line, I reminded myself that this was my opportunity to show off the past two years of training since I last raced Cozumel.

Diving in for the swim, I concentrated on form and catching a good draft. It was fast and I felt great. On the bike, I settled into a comfortable pace and only had a few rough patches where I was feeling a little off. Overall, I didn’t worry much about my watts and just pushed a conservative pace. I wanted to ride well, but knew the race would be decided on the run. Getting off the bike, I started to push hard on the run course immediately. I felt great, comfortably holding 6:50/mile pace, until about mile 17. I went from feeling awesome, to really hurting in the span of 5 minutes. Thankfully I was able to hold it together and ultimately finish strong.

The end result was a personal best across all three disciplines.

FINISH TIME 8:57:24
Swim 48:46 Bike 4:59:41 Run 3:03:43
1st M30-34, 4th Amateur, 19th Overall

I'm pumped with the result. I feel like I gave everything I had out there, properly honoring the hard work and commitment that went into training along with all the help I’ve received along the way. It was humbling to go under 9 hours — my first Ironman time was 11:23:08 in 2012 (first half in 2010 was 5:50!). Shows that anyone can make huge improves with the right guidance and willingness to do the work. Pumped that this means I get to return to Kona in 2018 too. Should be another awesome trip to the Big Island. Can't wait.

BACKGROUND

Back in 2015, I did Cozumel and had a strong race. I took out the M25-29 AG with a 9:26 and qualified for Kona for the first time. I loved the island, the course, the time of year, and the early jump on Kona qualification. While this year was spent doing mostly 70.3s, I knew I wanted to get back to Kona in 2018, so was considering this race all year. I didn’t commit right away though.

Moving from LA to NYC was tough, and I took most of July off from any structured training. The move and work had me preoccupied. It was also a nice mental break. I raced a lot of 70.3s at the start of the year, doing Puerto Rico, Oceanside, and Chattanooga, so was in great shape but a bit burned out. By the start of August, I felt re-energized and Justin got me back on track with training.

By the end of August, fitness was coming back and my day-to-day life was settling down. I signed up for Cozumel and was pumped to get back there and race.

Some pictures from early August in NYC riding with EMJ guys and late August in Tucson with Justin, Walter and other friends...

BUILD UP

I really got back into the swing of things with a training camp at the end of August. I took a week to train with Justin along with some fast AG friends in Tucson. This got me into decent shape for 70.3 Worlds, but more importantly set the tone for the next couple months of focused training for Cozumel. 70.3 Worlds went well for where I was in my training, and I came out of it feeling strong.

From there, I kicked off a 10-week block of focused training in prep for Cozumel. I did a full post on that for those interested in getting in the weeds on my specific training sessions, etc...

HERE'S A DETAILED LOOK AT MY 10-WEEK BUILD PRIOR TO COZ

Some pics from the Tucson Bro Camp w/ JD & Leiferman... this two-week stretch of training/ trying to hang with these beasts is what really got me in shape for Coz.

RACE

LEAD UP

Marla and I got to Cozumel on Wednesday afternoon. After a 4am wake-up in NYC and full day of travel, we were totally spent upon arrival. We got a quick dinner at our favorite, Casa Mission, and went to sleep around 8pm. I slept soundly for 12 hours. Tight.

The next few days were a mix of light training, typical pre-race errands, and lots of hanging with Justin and Jimmy, who were also racing. Always fun doing races with good friends, especially Ironmans. It makes things way less stressful and always makes for a great trip. (Brooke & Kelly, awesome having you guys in Coz too!)

RACE DAY

After a fitful night of sleep — the typical up-every-hour, pre-Ironman "sleep" — I woke up at 4am and nailed my pre-race usual. My stomach was a total mess and I could barely get down the full container of apple sauce. I'm not sure if it was nerves or the fact that I used tap water while brushing my teeth the night prior. (Not cool in Cozumel... mental lapse on my part.) Either way, I was a little worried, but carried on as normal trying to convince myself that all was chill.

I rode to T1 with JD and Jimmy at 5am. I got my bike sorted and hopped on a bus to swim start around 5:45am. On the bus, I connected with EMJ teammate James Harrington for the first time. He was fresh off of a very strong race in Kona (9:26) and ready to smoke the 40-44 AG.

Once at swim start, I did a 15-minute warm-up run and started to get in the right headspace. Stomach was starting to feel better, which was a relief. With 10 minutes until the AG start, I got situated with the Under 1 Hour Swim corral. 

ALL THE PHOTOS BELOW ARE FROM TALBOT COX. CHECK HIM OUT @TALBOTCOX & TALBOTCOX.COM.

SWIM

While standing in the corral, I noticed a woman making her way to the front of the start line. Given her confidence in coming to the front, I figured she was a strong swimmer, but potentially one who I could keep up with. (I'm usually just a touch slower than the 1 or 2 fastest female AG swimmers at a non-championship race.) So, I lined up behind her.

When the gun went off, we were slowly let down the pier and jumped into the water after crossing the timing mats. Way more organized than it was in 2015. I got on said female's feet early and she was really pushing it. I had to work my ass off to stay with her!

About halfway into the swim, a wave hit our little group and opened up a 5-yard gap between me and this strong swimmer. I pushed to try to close it, but it wasn’t happening. She was too fast. From there, I led a smaller pack of guys for the back half of the swim.

As I approached the exit ramp, I took a quick glance at my watch and saw 48:xx and thought, Holy shit that was fast. Sub-9 hours was definitely in play.

I ripped through transition, sucked down a bit of water and two gels, and was out on the bike.  

(After a quick look at results, the speedy female was Brittany Vocke. I don't know her, but she deserves a shoutout for swimming a 44:57 which had her FOTW for women AG'ers.)

BIKE

On the bike, I felt pretty strong from the start and just settled into a decent pace. While normally I am VERY focused on my watts during a race, I'd been having issues with my power meter for the past month. It appeared to be reading low (by maybe 5-7%) in comparison to my other hub-based power meter and my Wahoo Kickr.

So, for this race, I kept an eye on my watts but also focused a lot on how the effort felt. I didn't want to kill myself trying to hold my goal watts of 200 if the meter was in fact off, but I also didn't want to hold myself back if 200 felt normal since the power meter could be reading correctly. (Having a messed up power meter is something that would have spooked me big time even just a year ago. I got much better at racing the bike by feel this year doing lots of 70.3s, so I was less concerned about it.)

LAP 1: Even in the first 5 miles, holding 200 watts felt too hard. I backed off a bit, knowing that this race would come down to the run, so sat right around 195. I did the first lap (bike course is 3 loops) holding just over 190 watts and my average speed was 23mph. With that in mind, I figured my power meter had to be off by at least 5%. While the wind would continue to pick up and make the ride slower, at 23mph I was on track for a 4:55-ish bike split.

LAP 2: The second lap is probably the hardest one mentally. I remember seeing 50 miles on my bike computer and thinking, OK well, just under 65 miles to go... Good lord. Not a comforting thought. I still felt good though and was pleased to be on track for under 5 hours.

At this point it was getting hot on the course. I had been hitting the aid stations from mile 1, usually getting just ice water to spray on myself. But now, I was making a more concerted effort to get at least one Gatorade bottle at the aid stations since my own fluid supply was now tapped out.

As I reached the east side of the island on lap 2, the stretch on the bike course that's right on the water and exposed to a pretty strong headwind (see picture above), I started to go through a bit of a rough patch. My stomach started to feel off again, so I slowed down on fluid intake and took my first salt pill. Given the salt all over my kit, I figured I was in need. (More on my in-race nutrition here.)

I focused on just turning the peddles over and staying low given the wind. At this point, about 2.5 hours into the ride and near mile 60, a moped pulled up along side me with a camera man. I realized it was my buddy Talbot (@talbotcox), an awesome photographer. We exchanged some words and he snapped photos for about 3 or 4 minutes. This quick interaction provided a huge mental boost. I was feeling super pro haha and got back some good energy. 

Before I knew it, I was riding back through town — where Marla, Brooke, and Kelly were stationed cheering — and I was kicking off the final lap.

LAP 3: Lap three was a challenge. Hot and windy. Unfortunately, a few of the aid stations were totally caught off guard too, so I was unable to get any fluids for much of this lap. Not ideal. My watts were way down from the start of it, but speed was still pretty solid - wind was picking up and was a tailwind at this point - so I didn't sweat it. With little to no fluids, I wasn't going to hammer.

With the winds picking up, the east side had a stiff headwind/crosswind as did the northern straightaway. I was riding slowly. I kept an eye on my time, and as I got closer to the 113 mile mark (the course is a mile long), I started to push a bit harder to make sure that I was coming in under the 5-hour mark. I figured that a sub 5-hour bike split would have 1st in M30-34 not too far up the road.

I cruised into T2 just under 5 hours. I quickly threw on my shoes, visor, shades, and run number, and was off.

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 2.07.29 PM.png

RUN

Rob Mohr Ironman

At non-championship Ironmans, this is really where the race starts for me. I try to swim and bike well enough to allow for a strong run to win my age group and place well overall. I came off the bike in 4th in M30-34 and was just over a minute back from 1st (which Marla relayed to me about .5 miles in). My swim and bike have improved a lot over the past two years. I used to come off the bike about 5-8 minutes down on 1st in my AG.

Right off the bike, I found my legs and felt good. So good that I wasn't sure my Garmin, which was reading 6:35/mile pace, was accurate. Sure enough, I hit the mile 1 marker in 6:36. From there, I pulled back and settled into a 6:45-6:50/mile pace.

By mile 13, I was consistently running 6:50/mile pace and felt great. I moved into 1st in M30-34 and started asking Marla how far up the road the 1st overall amateur was. By mile 15, I was holding on to 1st in M30-34 and had moved into 5 overall amateur. I was still holding my pace and thought that going under 3 hours in the marathon was a real possibility.

Around mile 16, I started to slow a bit with my stomach feeling tight, and teammate James Harrington came up beside me. He had gotten off the bike about a minute behind me and was running a similar pace. With James beside me now, I focused just on staying with him. Having him next to me was a big motivator to stay on track with pacing.

This is one of the huge advantages of being part of a team. (Not to mention the "¡Vamos EMJ!" shouts we got out there. So funny.) I didn't know James well prior to the race, but we really pushed each other on back half of the run and forged a good bond through that shared suffering.

Every Man Jack Ironman Rob Mohr

By mile 17 however, I was starting to fade with my pace dropping to 7:15/mile and the wheels were coming off. James pulled ahead and it was all I could do to keep him in sight. While my legs still felt strong, my stomach was off and my energy levels were fading. I knew I needed calories but I wasn't sure what my stomach could handle. I decided to hit the Pepsi at the aid stations HARD. (Shoutout to my man John Newsom from Epic Camp and the IM Talk Podcast for this tip.) I started slowly jogging the aid stations while yelling, Pespi!

Mile 18 through mile 21 had me averaging about a 7:25/mile pace. I was really hurting. Thankfully around mile 21, a 5-year-old Cozumel boy gave me a full pitcher of iced Pepsi. I came through yelling for it, and must have surprised him. He looked at me wide-eyed and handed me the full pitcher that he was using to refill the small cups. I guzzled most of it, while waddling for a couple steps, before another volunteer realized what was happening and motioned for the pitcher back while laughing and yelling. Maybe 5 minutes after this, I came back to life. That little kid saved my run.

With 4 miles left, and now feeling more energized, I decided to take it one mile at a time and simply push as hard as I could for each. I knew if I could put down 2 of the remaining 4 miles at 7:00/mile pace, I would almost certainly get under 9 hours and win the age group. I went for it, fighting to get my pace down to 6:59/mile.

I came by James around mile 23 and urged him to come with me. He picked up his pace as well. Still taking each mile at a time, I focused on doing everything possible to keep running under 7-minute pace. It hurt, and probably wasn't pretty, but I held on and finished the marathon in 3:03:43 with the final post-Pepsi-chug miles run in 7:04, 6:58, 6:57, and 6:57.

James came across the finish just 40 seconds or so behind me, also winning his age group and taking 5th overall amateur. Pretty awesome.    

FOR THE GEEKS - TRAINING PEAKS RUN FILE

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 2.16.56 PM.png

Friends Crushing It

Here are some photos that Marla took of Justin and Jimmy racing along with the next-level support from their wives, Brooke and Kelly.

Justin finished 8th in the pro race, with an 8:19:28. He was in contention for top 3, but faded on the back half of the run. (A mechanical on the bike led to him having to work very hard to get back into position, which likely cost him his run legs. My words, not his. He never gives any excuses.)

I'm often asked if I want to go pro or if I plan to. For most, it's hard to comprehend just how fast the pros are in comparison to most of the top AG'ers -- Justin finished well over a half an hour before me. (See photo above -- changed, showered, etc.) And that was an off day, placing 8th. He was also racing a totally different race; taking risks trying to place in the top 3. While I could probably get a pro card, I would be so far behind these guys. Not only that, it would take many years of totally focused training to start closing that gap. These guys work so hard, EVERY DAY. I'm able to do that for just a couple weeks a year. So no, I have no intention of going pro. It's just not a realistic option. Hats off to all the pros out there making it work and to the guys truly on the cusp who are making the leap. You guys rock.

Jimmy had a great race, finishing with a 10:01:16. Despite the great time and having been in 3rd for much of the race, he came in 4th in 50-54 and just missed a Kona slot (3 in that AG). He keeps getting faster, and I know he'll crush his next Ironman and get to Kona.

And finally, big shoutout to friend Lisa Roberts on WINNING the women's pro race. Lisa, you are a total beast. Looking forward to racing with you again in Kona 2018! 

FINAL THOUGHTS

This was by far my best race to date. I showed up in great shape and was able to execute on the day. I'm proud of that. I'm also very thankful for the fact that no big issues came up prior to or during the race. It's not uncommon for things like mechanicals on the bike or injuries to derail an Ironman that you've invested so much into. I'm lucky that I could just go out there and race my race.

I'm also incredibly grateful for all the support I got in preparing for this race — big thanks in particular to Marla and Justin, along with the many guys I train with + those on Team EMJ. Training was way more fun this year with lots of group rides and several stretches of focused training with friends.

They say that it's about the journey, the training, and not the destination, the result. I really think that's true. I'm definitely happy with the result, but even without it, I'd still be grateful for all the experiences I've had while training this past year. This sport has brought many great people into my life and I've really enjoyed the time spent with them on the bike, at the pool, and on the road and trails. Even the time spent alone, during a relaxed cruiser or while pushing myself to the limit, has helped me gain a deeper sense of self. That's what makes this sport so special.

Probably easier to say all this after a good race, but I still believe it to be true. I don't think I'll race as much in 2018, but I still intend to log many hours training. It helps to now have Kona 2018 as a motivator too... :)   

Thanks as always to awesome sponsors Taos Mountain Energy Bars and Every Man Jack**, along with the fantastic Team EMJ sponsors Felt, Roka, BOCO, Normatec, GU Energy, Garmin, Oakley, Lululemon, SockGuy, and Cobb Saddles.

Feel free to drop any questions or comments below. Happy to respond to all. 

**Use code RMOHR18 at checkout for 25% off at everymanjack.com  ;)

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Ironman 70.3 World Championship - Back in Chattanooga!

The boys!

The boys!

BRIEF

I qualified for this race back in March at Puerto Rico 70.3. Given a recent move from LA to NYC and a busy schedule these past few months, I didn’t really have any big expectations for finish time or placing. I knew this would be a fun event – especially given the huge group of EMJ guys partaking – so was stoked just to be able to join in on the fun and toe the line with the best in the world on race day. That having been said, I wanted to go as hard as I could on the day and not just coast out there.

All said and done, the race went pretty well with the hard AF course. I had a decent swim given recent training and I rode super hard (best watts in a 70.3). I cracked on the run, which is usually my strength, but I’m not disappointed with my effort. If I’m being honest with myself, my run fitness isn’t stellar at the moment. I just haven’t put in the consistent training to run the 1:23-25 time that I’m used to hitting.

FINISH TIME 4:38:33

Swim 33:37  Bike 2:31:17  Run 1:28:08

86th M30-34 (of the 300+), 273th Amateur (2,300+ racing)

I came into this year wanting to get faster at the 70.3 distance, and I definitely made some big gains. Even still, I’m in awe at how fast the top guys go. Still have my work cut out for me.

With Ironman Cozumel next on the docket, I’m pumped to take on the full Ironman distance again. The full Ironman still terrifies me, but I’m definitely better at it in comparison to the half… 

BUILD UP

The move from LA to NYC made for an interesting end of June and month of July. I trained when possible, but didn’t really get back into a grove until August. Thankfully, I had an awesome block of training in Tucson with Endurance Corner at the end of August. Being there for a week with coach Justin Daerr and a handful of strong athletes made a huge difference in getting back in race shape.

DAYS PRIOR

Lots of fun with the EMJ dudes. The video below by Talbot Cox along with some photos he took pretty much sums it up. I stayed in one of the many team houses with John Kelly, Reid Foster, Jack Cartwright and John Savage. Had an awesome time with these guys. Always fun staying with teammates and well worth sleeping on a couch :)

Pre-race training was typical. 30min swim, 1hr bike, 15-20min run every day. After riding a section of the course on Lookout Mountain again, I called a local bike shop and switched my rear cassette from a 11-25 to a 11-28. This was a great decision given the need for granny gears on sections of that climb. I lucked out that a bike shop was able to sort this with ease.

Team Every Man Jack - 2017 70.3 Worlds Video

RACE DAY

Up early at 4am. Pretty standard. Went through my typical pre-race routine with some laughs courtesy of John Savage’s schedule. (John and his girlfriend Vivian flew to Richmond the day prior to the race for a wedding and returned at 2am race morning…)

Got to transition before it opened, definitely a first for me. EMJ guys are punctual. It was nice to have plenty of time to get things sorted before the 30-34 AG start at 8:22am.

SWIM

I dove into the water with one of the first waves of the 30-34 AG’ers. A big section of the swim was against the current of the Tennessee River, so it was no joke. I never really found any feet, so didn’t catch much of a draft throughout. Overall, the swim was pretty uneventful. I came out in 33:31, about 3 minutes slower than normal but about what I was expecting given the current.

TRAININGPEAKS FILE FOR THE GEEKS

BIKE

I started pushing it from the get go, going mostly by feel but keeping an eye on power. My goal power would be 220 watts.

Less than 15 minutes into the ride I hit the climb up Lookout Mountain. This climb is LEGIT. Definitely deserved the hype. It’s 1000 feet in just over 3 miles; average grade of over 6%. Pretty cool having a climb like this in a race. I took it fairly steady, going mostly by feel but looking down at power every so often so as not to overcook myself. That said, I wanted to ride ~250 for the climb since I’d catch a solid recovery on the descent. I felt really good climbing and sat right on 250 watts for the full 3 miles. (Cadence was right around 70 thanks to the new 11-28 cassette; would have been around 60 with the 11-25 and have felt a bit like one-legged squats.)

At the top of the climb the course continued along the ridge for another 15 miles. I held 220 watts for this section, still feeling good. Then came the descent. I cruised through this piece, only touching breaks once or twice when things got crowded. (Average speed was 39.7mph for the 4.28 miles downhill… ripping. Max was 47.5mph; was hoping to touch 50 but just a touch too crowded for that.)

Feeling it on the climb... how ridiculous are these helmets btw?

Feeling it on the climb... how ridiculous are these helmets btw?

After the descent, we were halfway through. The back half was pretty uneventful. Mostly flat with some rollers. Course was a bit crowded from here on. To avoid drafting, I did a mix of pushing hard and coasting to the end of the ride. Thankfully the draft marshals were on top of things and I saw LOTS of penalties being dished out.

I cruised into T2 after 2:31:17. NP was 219. Minus the wussy watts while putting my shoes on and off, power was right on 220. Best I’ve held in a 70.3. Unfortunately my VI was 1.08 – meaning that my average power was the same as Chattanooga 70.3. With all the surging on the back half and the big descent in the middle, I’m not sure if this could have been avoided. My VI is usually 1.03-05. I’m interested to hear what others had as their VI on this course. Drop me a comment below if you rode with power and have thoughts on this.

All in all, I was happy with the bike split. Shows that I’ve made some solid gains this year on the bike, even with a big chunk of time spent without my bike during the move.

TRAININGPEAKS FILE FOR THE GEEKS

Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2017 - Bike File

RUN

I set out on the run at a steady clip. I made the decision to not look at pacing or HR and really just go by feel for the first half. I guess saying ‘go by feel’ is a bit vague – more like settle into a very uncomfortable pace, but one that I figured I could hold onto until about mile 12 (with mile 13 mostly downhill). Basically a ‘go for broke’ strategy. My run fitness isn’t what it was a few months ago (ran a 1:24:13 a slightly easier course here in May), but after hitting the first 4 miles averaging a 6:22 pace, I figured I could be near that 1:24 time.

Going for broke! This photo was definitely taken around mile 2. Waaaayy before I started to crack.

Going for broke! This photo was definitely taken around mile 2. Waaaayy before I started to crack.

Then came the real hills… I went pretty slowly up both the big climbs, and then just hammered the downhills. I finished the first loop (run course is two loops) averaging a 6:32 pace.

The first few miles of lap two came a good bit slower than the first go ‘round – averaging about a 6:40 pace. Then shit fell apart as I hit the climbs around miles 10 and 11. Mile splits were 7:09, 7:03, 7:09 for 10-12. From 12 on, I pulled things together a bit and got back down to 6:40 pace but it did not come easily.

Run split was 1:28:08 (6:45/mi). Final time was 4:38:33.

Based on heart rate, this was definitely the hardest I’ve pushed my body on a HIM run. Average HR was 169 and max HR was 183. Redlining. Definitely could have paced things better, but that wouldn’t have been as fun :)

There was some AWESOME cheering from the EMJ friends and family out on the course. Big ups to teammates Chris Douglas and Jordan Bailey for driving in and cheering at the crest of one of the hills. John's girlfriend Vivian was going nuts too, which was great especially given that she was operating on 3 hours of sleep.

TRAININGPEAKS FILE FOR THE GEEKS

Ironman 70.3 World Championship 2017 - Run File

FINAL THOUGHTS / UP NEXT

What a hard course. Good lord. Again, given where I am with my fitness right now, I’m happy with the result. Looking forward to building on this fitness coming out of the race and focusing on going fast in Cozumel. Should be rad. ‘til then…

A COUPLE MORE GEMS FROM TALBOT'S CAMERA

 

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Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga Race Report

Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga Race Report

Brief

I went into Chattanooga 70.3 looking have fun with EMJ teammates and pull together a decent race. Having a good time in Chatt was big since normally I’m a total nerd when I go to races – uptight and super anal about everything. For this race, I wanted to prove to myself that I could be way more chill and still race pretty well.

In the end, I was able to do this. While I wasn’t getting crunk in the days prior, I definitely was more relaxed than normal and enjoyed hanging with teammates. The EMJ team house was dope (big ups to James DeFilippi for organizing) and scouting the 70.3 Worlds course made for some fun training in the days prior to the race.

Even with the more causal approach, I was able to clock my best 70.3 finish time. Well, at least on the bike. Unfortunately, the swim was shortened the morning of the race, so I can’t claim the overall time as a PB. That said, I’m confident that even with the full swim this would have been my fastest 70.3 by a good margin.

FINISH TIME 4:06:07 (Modified swim; 0.8mi instead of 1.2mi)

Swim 16:44  Bike 2:19:16  Run 1:24:16

8th M30-34, 16th Amateur

Good day of racing for me. Especially on the bike. I really pushed it. Swim was decent and run was pretty strong despite a hard ride.

Rankings in both AG and in amateur field weren’t my best, but I’ll take ‘em given that there were 12 EMJ guys racing, with 5 in M30-34. Only downside of rocking up to races with a mob of these fast MF’ers. (Boys took out 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th overall in amateur race…) Plenty of other speedy guys out there too. Continually impressed by the depth of talent in the AG ranks.  

Goals

  • HAVE FUN. April and May were pretty stressful with a number of things going on related to work and day-to-day life. Given that Puerto Rico 70.3 went well, I tried to go into this race without any time or placing goals. Just wanted to get back to the basics of having fun at a race, while also feeling like I left it all out there on the day.
  • HAMMER THE BIKE. I’m still getting a feel for the 70.3 distance, especially on the bike. I can ride 112 miles very competitively in an Ironman, but have struggled to really push it across 56 miles. For this race, I’d be looking for good power and a strong bike split. While training hadn’t been perfect in build-up, I knew I had the fitness to put down a strong ride and was willing to take some risks to see how it might affect my ability to run off the bike.

Build Up

Training in May was more rushed than normal and sleep was a bit scarcer. I knew this would be the case, so I really worked hard to put my control-freak nature aside and simply do what I could. Thanks to coach Justin Daerr, I made the most out of the time I had for training.

While training was a bit light in build-up (12hrs/week; usually 15-18hrs/week) and I had a big weekend in Dallas for a wedding a week out from the race (well worth it; this wedding was dope), January through mid-April were packed with great training and solid recovery. With that in mind, I knew I was showing up in Chattanooga in good shape. At this point, I just need to get to the start line rested.

Days Prior

I got into Chattanooga Thursday night around 7pm and hit up the YMCA for a swim to shake the full day of travel out of my system. By the time I got to the EMJ team house afterwards, I was smoked and had zero issues getting to sleep on the new time zone.  

Friday morning was spent doing a mix of training and 70.3 Worlds recon – the 70.3 World Champs are in Chattanooga this year and the race has a different swim and bike course. (More on the 70.3 Worlds course at the end of the blog.) Friday afternoon we did race check-in and logged some time in Normatec boots sipping local craft beer (Chickbock and Hill City IPA are legit). 

Saturday morning, we hit up the Chickamauga Dam for a swim and then a 30-minute shakeout ride immediately after. We wrapped this around 9am – always nice getting the training out of the way early the day prior to the race. The rest of the day was pretty chill; largely just relaxing and getting organized.

Race Day

I woke up at 4am feeling pretty solid. I slept better than usual, which was probably due to the fact that I arrived in Chattanooga so tired from the weeks prior. I slept great every night that I was there despite being top bunk in a twin bed. That’s right, bunk beds. The room actually had two sets of them. Pretty legit actually. With 11 guys in the house, we had a mix of bunk beds, standard beds, and air mattress. All worked out really well and everyone seemed cool with their set-up. I definitely was.

After eating my go-to pre-race breakfast, I went through my gear while talking with the other guys in the house. Everyone was pretty relaxed and joking around. I enjoyed this vibe far more than my standard race day wake-up and prep in a hotel room solo.

We got to transition around 5:30am and I found everything to be in order with my bike despite some heavy rain and high winds that came during the night. I set up my gear and was off to swim start. I, along with a couple guys from the team, did a strong jog to swim start as a way to warm up since we wouldn’t have a chance to do so in the water.  

Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga Race Report

SWIM

We lined up by expected swim time – I really like this set-up as opposed to age group waves – and got ready for the start. First the male pros were off, then the female pros. A few minutes before our gun was set to go off, we noticed that the first turn buoy was being moved by the race officials in a boat. I thought it may have just come loose at first, but then started to hear that they were going to adjust the swim. Bummer. The heavy rain from the night prior meant that the dam had to be opened at some point, which increase the river’s current. With the first 200 meters of the swim being against the current, the officials decided to adjust to make the full swim with the current. I guess some of the female pros were swimming in place during that first 200m, causing the audible to a .8 mile swim instead of a 1.2 miler.

After tossing some Gronk-style high-fives at the realization that it’d now be an Ironman 69(.9), we refocused on the swim start, now 15 minutes delayed. (I was dying in my wetsuit at this point and had my swim cap off to cool down a bit. It was overcast but humidity was in full effect.)

When the gun sounded, we came down the boat ramp and I keyed two EMJ guys faster than me with the goal of getting on their feet. We jumped into the water, and I pushed hard trying to stick with them. I was on their feet for the first 3+ minutes, but then was hit by a wave and came off the back while going around the first buoy. I made a big push for about 100m to see if I could get back on, but it wasn’t happening. I then just settled into my own pace.

The current was rocking and the swim was very fast. I exited the water in 16:44, which is about 13 minutes faster than normal. I had no idea if this was fast or slow, but I figured I couldn’t be too far off the lead since stronger swimmers didn't have much runway to open a gap. Looking at it now, I see that I exited in 20th place in M30-34 and was about 3 minutes back on 1st.

Side note – I got my wetsuit off in record time thanks to an awesome volunteer who helped me with my strap and then the world’s strongest wetsuit stripper. Always go to the burly dude pulling the wetsuits off. I nearly did a backflip as this haus pulled my Roka suit off.  

BIKE

This ride mirrored what I imagine many pros experience out on the bike – a big effort for 25 miles until catching one of the lead groups, then an on-off mix of big surges and soft pedaling while either trying to pass or sit draft-legal (12 meters back from nearest rider) in a group. Normally I’m Steady Eddy out on the bike, keeping a close watch on power and trying to maintain an even output. Here I chose a more aggressive approach. I was curious to see how I’d feel during the last stretch of the ride and how I’d fair on the run.  

I set out on the bike feeling alright and was damn pleased that it was overcast. 65 degrees and humid is way better than 85 and humid. (The days prior to the race were oppressively hot.) I quickly settled into a rhythm, riding by feel but occasionally glancing down at my Garmin to check power every so often.

I cruised through the first 15 miles riding solo for the most part and was pushing solid power. I felt OK, not great – legs definitely feeling the lactic acid build, but still just a dull pain at 40 minutes in.

Around this point in the race, as I was coming out of an aid station, a rider came by moving fast. He was the first person to pass me and I could tell he was pushing it. This is when my game plan switched to being more aggressive. Normally I’d let this guy go. But today I really wanted to push myself on the bike and I knew keeping this guy in sight would help. So, I said Fuck it and for the next 10 miles I really hit the gas chasing this rabbit.

25 miles in, still chasing this dude, we started coming up on a few larger single-file packs of riders. This is when the real surging started. Not wanting to get caught up in these groups (like in Kona…), I put down a few big efforts to get to the front and ride away. While these surges would definitely cost me, especially since many came on short rolling hills, I figured it was worth it. This pretty much continued for the remainder of the ride.

I rode into transition with my EMJ buddy Ryan Linden, and saw Kevin Denny and Jack McAfee exiting. All good signs that I was up near the front of the race.

Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga Bike Power File

While from the start I intended to ride by feel, I did hope to ride a Normalized Power of 215-220 watts. In the end, I had an NP of 211. Think 220 was doable; the lower power was really the race dynamics coming into play. Funny though since 211 has been my NP for all three 70.3s so far this year.

Given how the race unfolded, my NP was 220 for the first 26-27 miles. It then dropped to just 202 over the back half of the race -- this is when the on-off of surging and soft pedaling was going down. That can be seen by my VI of 1.07 over the last 30 miles. VI prior was 1.03, which is typically what I maintain throughout races when going Steady Eddy.

RUN

As I started running out of transition, it felt like all the blood in my body was in my quads. Pretty standard given the hard ride. I tried to open my stride a bit and relax into a decent pace. I saw teammate James DeFilippi in the first mile and tossed out a high-five and a No way! James had bike issues the day prior to the race that would keep him from being able to shift gears on race day. He sucked it up and raced anyway, having the mechanic put the bike in a middle gear that more-or-less suited the course profile. James rode the hell out of that one gear (54-17) and nearly bested my bike split on his single-speed. Legend! I caught him around mile 2, but given the many out-and-backs, we spent most of the run yelling Nice work! at one another. (He'd take 4th in M35-39...)

Soon after going by James, Ryan Linden zipped by me. Ryan, whose wife is Olympic marathoner Des Linden, is one hell of a runner himself. After he came by, I really focused on trying to keep him in sight for motivation. He was running about 6:00/mile pace and I was maybe 20 seconds per mile off that. Both he and James being nearby really helped dig deep.

This run course was a challenge. While I held it together for most of it, a hill on the backside of the two-loop course really kicked my ass on the second go-round. It’s 2-3% grade for a half mile. Doesn’t sound all that terrible, but at mile 11, it sucks. For most of the race I yo-yoed between 6:15-6:40/mile pace depending on it being up or down hill. For mile 11, the wheels came off a bit with a 7:07 mile. I had some good self-talk going at this point and was able to get my shit together and get back on pace. Ryan, who would end up running a 1:19, was long gone at this point so I just focused on the ground in front of me and reminded myself that there were just 2 miles left.

By the time I crossed the finish line I pretty shelled. While still overcast the humidity and challenging run course had taken its toll.   

Run split was 1:24:16 (6:25/mi). Final time was 4:06:07.

TRAINING PEAKS RUN FILE FOR THE GEEKS

Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga

UP NEXT

I've got a pretty solid break from racing now, which I'm looking forward to. It's likely that I don't race again until back in Chattanooga for 70.3 Worlds in September. We'll see...

70.3 Worlds Recon

As I mentioned earlier, the 70.3 Worlds course in Chattanooga will be different than what we raced on May 21.

The swim course will be a lot more challenging since it will feature 860 meters AGAINST the current in the Tennessee River. While the current will likely not be as strong in September, this will still be a real challenge. Especially since only 420 meters will be truly with the current. Here's a diagram of the swim course.

As a note, I say that the current shouldn't be as strong for Worlds mostly because it doesn't rain as much in late August/ early September in Chatt. If it does rain in advance of the race and the dam needs to be opened again, this swim will be insanely difficult. My guess is they'd have to alter it. But again, it doesn't rain often in Chatt during this stretch of the year.

The bike course will be totally different. The key feature of the course is a climb up Lookout Mountain that comes at mile 6. This climb is legit. It's 2 miles at 7% or so, then 1 mile at 3.5%. Here's my file from the ride. (I pretty much only did the climb, so it'll be clear when looking at the file.) From there, you continue riding along the ridge and hit a couple rolling hills before descending down at mile 22 or so. From then on, the course is very flat. Here's the bike course map and elevation profile.

The run course is almost entirely the same. It looks like they found another 150 feet of elevation though -- Chatt 70.3 was listed as 820 ft (either my Garmin was off or it was actually less) and Worlds is listed at 975 ft. This will be a very honest run course, especially if it's a warm day. Here's the map and elevation profile for it.

 

As always, feel free to share any comments or questions below.

Related Posts

OCEANSIDE 70.3 RACE REPORT - TWO 70.3s IN TWO WEEKS

IRONMAN PUERTO RICO 70.3 RACE REPORT – FIRST TRI OF 2017

KONA!! THE IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPS + A SHORT SEASON RECAP

 

 

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Oceanside 70.3 Race Report – Two Ironman 70.3s in Two Weeks

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BRIEF

Another solid weekend of racing, this time closer to home with a few Every Man Jack guys. It's always fun doing races with other EMJ guys on the course. It usually doesn’t help with overall or age group placing (these dudes are fast), but it’s super motivating to have teammates out there giving their all.

At Oceanside 70.3 you have to bring your A game. Competition is always strong. In the end, I had a decent race and I’m happy with where I landed in the field given some mistakes I made – both pre-race. One had me flustered going into the swim and the second kept me from riding aero for much of the bike leg. More on that below. Just part of the process with the first couple races of the season.

FINISH TIME 4:35:27

Swim 30:55  Bike 2:35:29  Run 1:21:54

10th M30-34, 26th Amateur, 68th Overall

All-in-all, a pretty decent day of racing and a good place to be with fitness at this point in the year.

GOALS

  • Beat last year’s times across the board. Faster swim. Faster bike. Faster run.
    • I’ve covered this in a few posts now, but I got my ass kicked at Oceanside last year. I wasn’t fit and I executed poorly on the day. It served as a wake-up call to get my ass in gear. This year, I wanted some redemption.
  • Top 5 in M30-34
    • I wasn’t quite sure how I’d be feeling after Puerto Rico 70.3, but I felt like I had the fitness to get into the Top 5 in M30-34 if I executed well.

BUILD UP

Having raced Puerto Rico 70.3 two weeks prior to Oceanside’s kickoff, my build up was mostly recovery based with a couple key sessions to help use Puerto Rico as a big training day. Per usual, I deferred to my coach (Justin Daerr; Endurance Corner) and here’s what he had me do:

  • SUN. MAR. 19 – PUERTO RICO 70.3
  • MON. MAR. 20 – 20’ SWIM (Easy)
  • TUE. MAR. 21 – OFF
  • WED. MAR. 22 – 1hr BIKE (Easy w/ a few 15” efforts), 1hr SWIM (Easy)
  • THU. MAR. 23 – 1hr BIKE (MS: 10 x 30”Hard|90”Easy; 3 x 9’on|1’off @ low to mid-range HIM power, increasing with each of the 3)
  • FRI. MAR. 24 – 1hr 15min SWIM (Hard Tower 26 session)
  • SAT. MAR. 25 – 1hr 15min SWIM (Hard @ T26), 3.5hr BIKE (Chill), 15min RUN (chill)
  • SUN. MAR. 26 – 1hr 45min BIKE (MS: 20’@Low HIM, 20@Just Above HIM, 20’@HIM), 50’ RUN (Two Rounds: 2mi@IM, 1mi@HIM)
  • MON. MAR. 27 – 1hr SWIM (Chill)
  • TUES. MAR. 28 – 1hr BIKE (MS: 6 x 90”@Just Below FTP|3.5min Easy), 20’ RUN (5’@HIM in the middle)
  • WED. MAR. 29 – 1hr SWIM (Strong), 45min BIKE (MS: 4 x 90”@Just Below FTP|3.5min Easy), 16’ RUN (4’@HIM in the middle)
  • THU. MAR. 30 – 1hr SWIM (Strong with mix of 25s, 50s, 75s, & 100s)
  • FRI. MAR. 31 – 45min BIKE (5’@Just Below FTP in there), 20’ RUN (5 x 30” fast in the mix)
  • SAT. APR. 1 – RACE DAY

DAYS PRIOR

I drove down Thursday afternoon, handled race check-in, and then had dinner with a few of the EMJ guys at Swami’s on Mission Ave. Highly recommend Swami's. Healthy options and lots of vegan stuff on the menu. (Sans-cheese pizza over at ZIGZAG was bomb too...) I woke up early on Friday and had my carb-filled breakfast at Naked Cafe down in Carlsbad, and then knocked out my bike + run. (I found riding on the San Luis Rey bike path to be perfect for the 45-minute session.)

Below: San Luis Rey bike path & a main stretch of the run course

RACE DAY

I got up around 4am and went through my usual pre-race routine. I walked down to transition around 5:15am. I was about a mile from it over at the Oceanside Holiday Inn. I got my bike situated pretty quickly and then just sat down and tried to relax. It’d be another hour before I’d need to start my warm-up.

Below: Swim start photos from Triathlete Magazine / Competitive Image

SWIM

It’s always nice doing races for the second time (or third, etc.) since you know the setup. Well, with Oceanside, the organizers had changed some things up making it different from years past. They now allow for a warm-up in the water pre-race & now have a rolling start (as opposed to age-group waves). Both improvements in my opinion.

However, I didn’t realize we’d start from a separate boat ramp from the one you use when warming up. 100% me being an idiot. So, around 6:35am, I got in the water and did my warm-up for about 10 minutes as the pros started their race. As it got closer and closer to the AG start at 6:50am, I kept looking up to the boat ramp wondering where everyone was. At about 6:48am, I was still in the water, doing my thing when I heard “2 Minutes!”.

At this point, I gave a more thorough assessment of the boat ramp and realized that I had been looking at the wrong place. Easily 200 AG’ers were lined up at a boat ramp next to the one I was staring at. (Just look at the picture above.) Oh shit. I’m going to be stuck behind all these guys. Realizing this, I swam as fast as I could to the non-start-line boat ramp, ran up, and started to make my way to the front just as the first AG’ers got in the water. What I didn’t realize is that they were sending them in one-at-a-time, TT style. Again, I’m an idiot and thought all 30-minutes-And-Under were sent in at once and already in the water. Panicking, I pushed my way to the front while yelling Sorry! and jumped into the water. (If I cut in front of you, my bad. Let’s chalk this one up under temporary insanity.)

My HR was probably 170 at this point, so not ideal. From there, I settled into a rhythm and chilled out/laughed about having been so dumb so early in the race.

Overall, the swim was pretty uneventful. I never really found anyone to draft off of, so just pushed it at my own pace and was happy to have some clear water in comparison to the crowds at Puerto Rico 70.3.

I came out of the water just under 31 minutes. Not my best, but also not bad. Also faster than last year's swim split. I felt pretty good as I ran through transition, so put the swim aside and started to focus on getting out on the bike.   

The swim time put me in 21st in M30-34.

BIKE

Setting out on the bike, I felt pretty good. Temperature was great – a little chilly even – and my legs were feeling the best they had since Puerto Rico. Given the layout of the bike course with turns and short descents early on, I wanted to ride above my target watts (215w, or w/kg of 3.34) whenever I was on flats or climbing. Similarly, the goal would be to have a 220ish NP by the 38-mile mark, since the race is a net downhill from then on. 

The first 45minutes/15 miles went by quickly and I still felt strong. Soon after 15 miles, I hit a serious bump and noticed that my aerobar setup was not right. My front water bottle and Garmin were rattling and my right aerobar seemed off. I kept riding down in the aero position, but started to assess what the hell just happened. After a minute, it was pretty clear that my right aerobar had spun clockwise, placing my aerobar pad directly on my handlebar and making it so I had to lean to the right while being down in the aerobars. Not ideal. (THE CAUSE: User error. I didn’t properly tighten the screws at the stem after replacing them a couple weeks ago.)

After a few fruitless attempts to yank it into position, I decided to simply ride as much as I could in that weird position and not sweat it if I had to sit up. I also downed the fluid in my front aero bottle to stop the rattling. My power dropped a bit during this stretch, but I still felt strong. I also stayed positive, reminding myself that plenty of people have issues on the bike and things could be worse. (Like my buddy from Tower 26, former Formula 1 driver Jenson Button. His Di2 went out which had him running his bike up the hills. He still crushed the race.)

While definitely riding a good bit less aerodynamic than normal, all went well through mile 38. Looking at my file now, my NP was 215 up to that stretch. I actually would have guessed it to be a touch higher. In my mind, I figured it was closer to that target of 220.

As I started the net downhill portion at mile 38, the aerobar issue became more pronounced. I found myself pushing a little less on the flats and gradual descents since I wanted to be down in the aerobars but my setup wasn’t all that stable. Only myself to blame for that though. I think fatigue kicked in a bit here too and pushing a bigger gear may have been more of a challenge anyway. NP was just ~200 for these last 18 miles.

I came off the bike with a 2:35:29 and in 18th place in M30-34. 210 NP and 201 Average Watts for the ride. Happy with the power given my current fitness and inability to push the last 45-minutes. The time wasn’t where I wanted it to be though. While a faster than last year's bike split, 2:30-32 is where I feel I should have been. Maybe a cop-out, but I chalk that up to the bike issues. #triexcuses

TRAINING PEAKS BIKE FILE FOR THE GEEKS

Bike Data: A Look At The Top Age Groupers

While I'm not a huge data geek, I am always interested in what average power I'd need to hold to be with the top AG guys on the bike. Luckily, I'm on a team with a bunch of guys who can ride waaayyy faster than me. My man Greg Lindquist, who thankfully aged up to M35-39 this year, shared his bike file with me. He rode a beastly 2:22:48. Yup, nearly 13 minutes faster than me. It was the 3rd fastest AG bike split (I think) and it set him up well for winning M35-39 and placing 2nd overall among amateurs. Straight boss.

So, here's a look his file. He weighs 149lbs, or 67.59kg. That puts his race watts/kg at an 3.83. Again, mine were 3.08. (And 3.14 in Puerto Rico.) For me to ride at 3.83, I'd need to average about 245watts at my same weight. Damn. That'll take at least two more years of hard training; something to shoot for though. (Yes, this assumes similar drag and bike weight; but still useful for ball-parking.)

GREG LINDQUIST BIKE FILE - TRAINING PEAKS LINK

His VI 1.03 shows that he rode the course really well too. Consistent output of power. (From Greg: Regarding how I rode, I was alone and focused on just not hitting above 300 watts too many times except for on the first shorter climb on the backside of the course. I used all of my gears, granny geared it on all the climbs, and wasn't afraid to get out of the saddle when necessary.

Greg, way to crush it out there bro.

RUN

But enough about Greg and how he kicked my ass; back to my race... I got off my bike in T2 and my legs felt good. Nothing like the blocks of lead I was working with in Puerto Rico coming off the bike. I think being unable to really push the last 45 minutes of the bike helped a good bit on this front. I came out of T2 hot and was ready to make up for lost time.

As I ran mile 1, I got some love from a few EMJ guys who came to watch the race. This was awesome. (Thanks Brandt, Greg, James!!) Around mile 2, I started to sense a lot stares and cheering coming my way. While I’m sure I was looking awesome in my rad EMJ kit and cruising, I didn’t get ahead of myself and figured the love was actually directed at a pro coming on my heels. A few Go Andy! shouts solidified that.

As Potts came by, I fell into rhythm behind him and my speed picked up slightly as did my cadence. I’ve learned this from doing long runs with JD in Boulder, but it’s wild how much easier it is to go fast when someone else is setting the pace. I went through maybe a mile with Andy. He was going 5:50/mile or so at this point while I was closer to 6:05. I still got a nice boost during this stretch. Soon after that, Joe Gambles came by and paced me through some of the back portion of the out-and-back of loop 1. Joe is the only pro that’s really said much of anything to me while racing. Most are so focused and in the hurt locker that they just grunt, nod or give a stare that shows the lights are on but no one’s home. As he came by, he said, Nice pace. I thought, Fuck yeah!! I'm the man. Ha. But seriously, that was a solid boost to help me keep the pedal down. I got through Lap 1 of 2 averaging a 6:10/mile pace.

While I felt 100% in control and very strong during lap 1, lap 2 required a lot more focus. No guys to help pace and my legs were starting to feel the pounding. As I started the last half of lap 2, I caught myself slowing down a bit. As anyone who’s run a race knows, it takes a lot mentally to keep going hard when everything is telling you to slow down. While the first 9 miles had me averaging 6:10/mile, I started to slow by 10+ seconds for miles 10 & 11. At this point I was running entirely on feel, just trying to push as much as I could. At mile 12, I heard my Garmin ding and I looked down to see the mile split. 6:24. Fuck. I snapped back into focus and reminded myself that there was just one mile left. Dig! I got back on 6:10 pacing for a long, long suffer-filled final mile.

I crossed the line with a 1:21:54 run (6:15/mile) and a 4:35:27 total time. This put me 10th in M30-34. The run, which had me averaging a 6:15/mile pace, was the fastest I’ve done in a half Ironman.

TRAINING PEAKS RUN FILE FOR THE GEEKS

Every Man Jack

The EMJ guys kicked some ass. Greg smashed it with a 4:22:18 and was 1st in M35-39 & 2nd Overall Amateur. Wildly impressive. Fun watching him crush it and attempting high-fives on the run course. We totally air-balled a high-five at one point, which I think was me seeing double. David Cruz also drilled it with a 3rd in M35-39. Tim Reynolds looked strong and took 7th in M35-39. Mike Vulanich, who’s also in M30-34 and typically a contender for the AG win, battled cramps from early on the bike and suffered through the run. Even with the issues – which had him lying down at one point – he came in just 3 minutes behind me and took 17th in the AG.

Up Next

Next race is likely Chattanooga 70.3. Looking forward to it!

Feel free to share any questions or comments below.

 

RELATED POSTS

IRONMAN PUERTO RICO 70.3 RACE REPORT – FIRST TRI OF 2017

KONA!! THE IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPS + A SHORT SEASON RECAP

Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 Race Report – First Tri of 2017

In Brief

Solid long weekend in Puerto Rico for the Ironman 70.3. I got to hang and race with my buddy Walter and see a bit of San Juan in the process. We both had solid results too, which made the trip better. Walter took the win in M45-49 and I took out M30-34. Great way to start the season. It was also fun to catch up with other athletes that I know from training camps and see them out on the course laying the smack down. 

FINISH TIME 4:27:11

Swim 31:16  Bike 2:21:45  Run 1:27:36

1st M30-34, 4th Amateur, 25th Overall

I’m pleased with how the race unfolded. I had a decent swim considering a bit of chop on the water and the crowds (I was in the last wave); I held close to the power I wanted to on the bike; and I was able to push just enough during the run (that is one tough run course!) to come out on top.

Given that I’ve typically struggled at this distance, I was happy to pull together a decent race. Also pumped to have earned a spot to the 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, TN taking place in September. 

Goals

  • Sub-4:30
    • This would mean that I executed pretty well & would have the added benefit of getting Ritch Viola off my back about my 70.3 personal best of 4:37! Ha! But in all seriousness, I knew this PB didn't reflect my training, so was eager to bring it down.
  • Qualify for 70.3 Worlds
    • This race is going to be fun, with lots of friends and a HUGE EMJ crew joining. Getting qualification out of the way early would mean that my other 70.3 races would be more relaxed.
  • STRETCH GOAL: 1st in M30-34 & Top 3 Age Group Overall
    • While early in the season, I felt really fit and figured if I raced to my ability, I should be able to take out M30-34 and had a good chance of being top 3 among the other non-pros.

Build Up

While I’ve had some success at the Ironman distance and the Olympic distance, 70.3s have never gone all that well. I typically do them early in the year and am not in legit shape for them. Last year, I rocked up to Oceanside 70.3 in early April and had my ass handed to me. I had taken a lot of time off at the end of 2015 and simply wasn't in good form early on. This year, with Puerto Rico 70.3, I wanted to make sure that wasn’t going to happen again.

After Kona in October, I took a some of time off doing mostly unstructured training (lifting a bit, no-agenda running, occasional Tower 26, spin classes, Saturday long rides with friends), but never took a big chunk of time away from swim-bike-run. Just enough to be mentally recharged. By December 1st, I was getting back in my structured training routine of 12-16hrs/week. My goal was to show up to the Endurance Corner Tucson Camp in shape, unlike last year. I also didn’t want to get embarrassed at the EMJ Vegas Camp, which was right before the Tucson Camp. If I could show up to those in shape, I knew I could really log some big gains over the 10 days of training and show up to Puerto Rico ready to rock.

MORE ON THE TWO BACK-TO-BACK CAMPS HERE

All said and done, the camps went really well and I came out of the 10 days of training feeling strong. Then, 10 days after Tucson Camp, I was en route to Puerto Rico.

Days Prior

Walter and I were staying at the host hotel, Caribe Hilton. This race is super easy from a logistics standpoint if you’re staying here. It’s a half mile to the swim start and a quarter mile to transition. The expo is in the hotel too. Pretty sweet.

I had Thursday, Friday, Saturday to check out the swim course and run course. I also rode the majority of the run course on Thursday to make sure my bike was working properly after the flights (LAX-ATL-SJU). While the swim course (in a protected lagoon) and run course (pretty much 2 loops of an out-and-back) are easy to trial prior to the race, the bike course is not. In fact, I did my 30 minutes of riding each day at the hotel gym on a spin bike.

Here's what the Thursday, Friday, Saturday looked like... pretty standard 70.3 taper for me from coach Justin Daerr.

Swim: 30' chill at swim course w/ pick-ups as you feel like it

Bike: 30' on spin bike with a few 30" pick-ups mixed in

Run: 20-30' on run course, sub 160 HR

I tried to get the workouts done fairly early each day so that I could do some work and simply relax in the afternoon. Lots of time with my feet up just chilling.

FOOD RECOMMENDATIONS: Sometimes finding vegan or otherwise healthy dishes in race locations can be tough. I definitely struggled during the first day in San Juan (quickly learned to ask if meat was in things, since it's in damn near everything in PR, ha!), but was able to sort things out by day 2.

Palmeras @ Hilton Caribe had a solid breakfast setup and Pina Colada Club @ Hilton Caribe (ridiculous name, but solid veggie dishes) was great for lunch. Dinner was sketch near the hotel, and we ended up at Rosa Mexicano which was pretty sub-par. I'm sure there's way better stuff in Old San Juan, but we were pretty keen to keep things walking distance. I ended up hitting Pueblo Miramar Supermarket (a mile from the hotel) and was able to really load up on solid goods there.

Race Day

Walter and I were up around 4am. Pretty standard wake-up time pre-race. I felt like I slept alright, having gone to bed around 8:30pm. I launched into my pre-race routine from there.

At about 5am, we walked over to transition and set-up our bikes. The cool part about this race is that you have plenty of time to go back to the hotel after you set-up in transition, especially because the swim start is just a 15-minute walk from the lobby. So, after setting up our bikes, we went back to the hotel. I chilled for 45-minutes during this stretch and did a Headspace meditation session and then listened to some music to help focus my mind and relax a bit.

We walked to the swim start around 6:35am and got there for the start of the women's pro field at 6:55am. My wave was the last to go, so I had about 30 minutes to warm-up and focus. I squeezed into my swimskin and did a 10-minute warm-up on the other side of the lagoon. My warm-up is typically 3 minutes easy, 5 minutes build, 2 minutes easy.

Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 Swim Start

SWIM

I made my way to the front of the 100 or so people going off in the M30-34 and waited for gun. My game plan was pretty much to go hard from the start. With Oceanside 70.3 last year, I remember finishing the swim feeling like I had paced it like an Ironman as opposed to a 70.3. I didn't want that to happen again. 

When the gun went off, I pushed at a decent pace for a few hundred yards and got on someone's feet. I was on him for maybe 200 yards before he totally detonated and I swam right over the top of him. He definitely didn't pace well... From there I was pretty much on my own. At the first turn, maybe 800 yards in, I sighted a couple times to look for swim caps in my AG ahead but saw none. At this point, maybe 10-12 minutes into the swim, I started to really swim through other age-group waves.

With no one to draft off, I just put my head down and pushed, popping up every 10 strokes or so to sight. While it was crowded, this was no Kona washing machine, so I managed swimming through people without too many issues.

I hit the exit ramp almost exactly at 30 minutes. Given that I was in the last wave, the ramp was a bit crowded. I took this extra time to get at my swimskin zipper and find my balance. I got up the ramp and crossed the timing mat with a 31:16 swim time. Not great, since normally I'd want this to be under 30 minutes, but also not bad. It looked like I was in the top 5 in my AG coming out, so I chalked it up to a slower day in the water for all, especially for the last wave. (Turns out I was 7th out of the water in M30-34, so it was likely a little slow.)

BIKE

It's a long run to T1, so I pushed this 500+ meter section pretty hard. I cruised into transition, drilled some GU Roctaine drink and a half a bar (more on race fueling here if interest), and grabbed my bike and helmet. As I set off for the exit, I snapped the built-in sunglasses lens/ visor off of my helmet. Haste makes waste... I had to turn around and grab my run sunnies, which probably costed me a minute. Not ideal, but not the end of the world.

I got on the bike and started to get down to business. Goal would be to ride 215 watts for the first 45 minutes and go from there. Hopefully hang on to 215 or even go up to 220. 

215 felt alright for the first 30 minutes, but for the next 30 minutes 210 felt more appropriate as I closed out the first lap. At the start of the second lap, I felt pretty good and inched closer to the 215 range. I kept this up until about mile 35. At that point, my power started to fade. I think this was a mix of fatigue along with a bit of a headwind and the crowded course. From mile 35-50 I rode 207 watts, but then picked things back up from 50-56 ridding 212 watts.

The bike course was crowded and passing was a challenge at times. I had to do a bit of surging then soft pedaling. (My VI was 1.02, which isn't that bad, but it probably should have been 1.01 given how flat this course is. I think that speaks to some of the surging.) Being the last wave isn't all bad; I definitely got a bit of a boost from the constant passing of people. I was passed just twice, both early on, and ended up overtaking both the people before starting the second lap. Definitely a first for me since I'm not an uber-biker. 

Final bike split was 2:21:45. I came off the bike in 3rd in M30-34.

TRAINING PEAKS LINK - BIKE FILE FOR THE GEEKS

Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 Bike File

RUN

While I came off the bike in 3rd in M30-34, I actually had no idea where I was in the race. I figured I was in the top 3 given the swim + bike combo, but knew I'd have to run well to be in contention for the win. 

As I came off the bike and hustled through transition, my legs felt pretty smoked. It didn't help that mile 1 is a gradual uphill. I focused on cadence and waited for my legs to start feeling normal. I hit the mile 1 marker in 6:46. Slower than I wanted, but I stayed calm and simply tried to pick up my cadence and get back to at least 6:30/mile pacing.

As you head out towards Old San Juan, there's one main hill that comes at the end of mile 2. It's a 10% grade (try putting your treadmill at 10%!) that's maybe a quarter mile long. It's tough, but at least it ends quickly. From there, mile 3 is downhill and mile 4 is flat as you do an out-and-back along the water near the forts. I got through these first 4 miles pretty well, back at 6:30/mile pace, and my legs started to feel normal.

After the turnaround, coming back through Old San Juan means you get to climb what you previously descended, making mile 5 (and mile 11) the hardest of the race in my opinion. You're running uphill for more than half of each of these miles, and much of that is at a 5% grade. As I hit this section, my pace slowed considerably, but I still felt in control. Once over this climb, I refocused on 6:30 pace as I ran the 2 miles back from Old San Juan to the transition area.

As I came through the turnaround to start lap 2 around mile 6.5, I got directed the wrong way by one of the volunteers. Thankfully, this happened to a friend last year, so I only went about hundred yards before realizing that I had gone the wrong way (towards the finish line). While this added 30 seconds or so to my time, I started the lap 2 PISSED that I had gone the wrong way. It definitely lit a fire and I was determined to get that time back.  

My pacing for lap 2 was very similar to the first go-round. I was pushing hard and the fatigue and heat of the day were setting in. As I started mile 12, I reminded myself that it was now pretty much all downhill with just 2 miles left. I wanted make them count, so really focused on holding 6:30 pace. 

With about a mile left in the race, I started to slow a bit. Just as I did, I had a weird feeling that I really needed to get back on my pacing. While I had no idea what place I was in, something told me that I needed to dig deep and keep pushing.

It turns out that 1st place in my AG was just 20-30 seconds up the road. As I passed him with about a quarter mile to go in the race, I wasn't sure if he was on his first or second lap (and wasn't even sure if he was in fact 30-34, but I had a feeling). I turned towards the finish and saw that he did as well. I then really pushed it, dropping my pace to 5:35/mile for the last minute before crossing the line. I ended up beating him by just 18 seconds.

Afterwards, we had chat and he told me that we were 1 & 2 in the age group. Thankfully we both would be earning slots to 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga -- I was happy to not rob him of a slot to Worlds so late in the race. (If reading this, great racing out there Gerard!)

Run time was 1:27:36, which comes out to a 6:41/mile pace. A bit off from my goal of 6:30/mile but enough to get it done.

TRAINING PEAKS LINK - RUN DATA FOR THE GEEKS

Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 Run Data File

Slack-jawed, suffering like a dog. Big thanks to Jose Fuentes who was taking photos on the course. We didn't meet, but he somehow tracked me down and emailed me the first photo below.

Again, I was pretty happy with how things went. While I took the AG win, I missed out on landing within the Top 3 Amateur Overall rank, ultimately coming in 4th OA. Something to shoot for next time!

As I mentioned earlier, Walter took 1st in M45-49 and had the 3rd fastest amateur bike split with an absurd 2:15:46. While he put a chunk of time into me with the bike, I was able to run well enough to just barely win our bet -- my time vs. his time -10 minutes. The hot course with a tough run definitely suited me better. Even still, he bought the drinks following.

Next stop, Oceanside 70.3. A quick turnaround, with this one coming just 13 days after Puerto Rico. I'll look to share more on that in the next week or so.

Deep Thoughts Post Kona: Trying to make sense of pursuing goals

Since racing in Kona a month ago, I’ve received many notes congratulating the accomplishment. One of my friends said something to the tune of, It must feel pretty amazing to set after a goal and then finally achieve it after so much hard work. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. Yes, it felt awesome to finally get to the Big Island and race among the best in the world. That’s something I’ve dreamed about for a long time now. But afterwards — even after experiencing everything the race had to offer, having a pretty solid day on the course, and enjoying it all with my family and friends there — I was left wanting more. Don’t get me wrong, I had a BLAST, but I walked away feeling like I could do better. Better both in Hawaii and across the Ironman distance in general.   

So, what the hell is wrong with me? Why can’t I just be happy with getting there and chalking up a decent race? Well, that’s what I’ve been trying to sort out. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one who thinks like this. You might as well. I’m pretty sure every goal-driven person, triathlete or otherwise, has this same desire for “more” right when they achieve exactly what they were initially after. You celebrate for a short stretch, and then the goals readjust to something just out of reach at the moment. (Pro Tim Reed wrote about this after winning the 70.3 Ironman World Champs in September. If I feel like I do after racing in Kona as a lowly AG’er, I can only imagine how pros feel after reaching the top of the sport.)  

My feelings post Kona are pretty unsurprising given my track-record. I started in the sport as a back-of-the-pack dude with the goal of just finishing. (Seriously. I was basically a bodybuilder with a side interest in running when I did my first tri back in 2010. It was the Nautica South Beach Sprint Tri. I came in 350 out of 423. Look it up.) Once I proved to myself that I could finish, I then wanted to edge into the Top 25 in my age group. Then it was qualify for and race in Kona.

Bodybuilder trying his hand at triathlon (Sorry for the watermarks; I can't find the files I actually paid for...)

That Kona goal was at the top of the list for a pretty long time. (Shocker! Just look at those photos above!) It’s weird to have now done it. As much as I want to kick back and say Mission Accomplished!, I’m already thinking about how to beat my personal best in an Ironman and get back to the Big Island. (Well, sort of. As I mentioned in the Kona Recap, I’m going to focus on 70.3 distance for 2017, and get back to full-distance Ironmans in 2018. I have yet to race a 70.3 in solid shape, so that should be pretty fun.)

So, what am I getting at here? I guess the moral of the story, from what I can piece together, is that accomplishing your goals isn’t necessarily going to provide all the satisfaction you’ve been dreaming of. This obviously isn’t some revolutionary discovery. For years people have been preaching the “It’s not about the destination. It’s the journey that matters.” I’ve always thought, Alright Emerson, T.S. Eliot, that’s all well and good, but I’ve got some things I want to accomplish in my life. I always saw this philosophy being at odds with being driven by goals. I know realize that it doesn’t have to be.

For me, having goals is still hugely important. Yes, they’re going to evolve over time, with ambitions getting higher, and that’s good. This has always helped me push myself to do cool things and accomplish more than I figured possible. And, while achieving goals isn’t some euphoric experience, I get a TON of satisfaction from all the small ‘wins’ along the way; knowing that I’m working towards a goal and getting closer each day. (As it relates to triathlon, it helps to be able to train with awesome people in beautiful places around the world!) So yes, it’s the journey that I really enjoy, but it’s the journey with a clear destination (even if it’s just short-term). Once hitting that destination, there’s a short-lived sense of accomplishment, and then it’s on to the next one.

Probably should have posted this first Deep Thoughts after Prop 64 passes here in Cali… Hope this exercise in me sorting out my own thoughts was somewhat of interest to you as a reader :)

Kona For the Geeks: Bike & Run Data from the Ironman World Champs

My full Kona race report is super long, so I've broken this detail out...

KONA BIKE FILE (Training Peaks Link)

I was really comfortable throughout the ride. Watts looked good, right at the bottom of the 190-210 target, and I never felt like I was fading. (Typically in an Ironman I'll get to mile 95 or so and start to hit a wall. When that comes, I'll either be barely hanging on to the bottom end of my target watts or will be 10 watts lower.)

I might be stating the obvious here, but one thing to keep in mind on the below is that W/kg is calculated from average power. The W/kg shown, 2.86, is accurate. I held an average power of 183 watts over the 5hrs and 15min and was weighing 63.9kg (141 lb) -- 183/63.9 = 2.86.  

Kona World Champs Bike File

TAKE A LOOK AT THE PROS FOR A SECOND...

If you want to put my W/kg in perspective, check out what BestBikeSplit.com put out... I'm well aware that my watts on the bike are pretty pedestrian, especially among those at the World Champs; just wanted to make sure you knew that as well :)

KONA RUN FILE (TRAINING PEAKS LINK)

I came into this race in really strong run shape. If it all came together, I thought I could potentially go under 3 hours in the marathon. Given my conservative ride, I came into T2 thinking I had a great shot at making that happen. The miles never came easily though and at the top of Palani, around mile 10.5, I knew that sub-3 hours wasn't in the cards. From there, I just pushed as best as I could. 

Kona Run File

IRONMAN COZUMEL COMPARISON

My ride has come a long way over the past year. At Cozumel, my FTP was about 240 watts and my goal was to ride a NP somewhere between 175-190. I finished the race with a NP of 177. This netted out to an IF of .74, so it was a bit harder of ride. I definitely experienced a fade there too. My NP for the last 30 minutes was just 167. 

Even with the harder ride (comparatively) in Cozumel, I still was able to have a great run off the bike. I felt really solid for the first 13 miles and didn't fade all that much on the back half.

I'm not totally sure why I struggled so much more on the run in Kona. The temperature wasn't all that much different and both have a similar elevation gain across the 26.2 miles. If I were to guess, I'd say that I found the Kona run so hard because of its concentrated climbs (Palani, Energy Lab, final climb on Queen K) and the mind-f*$k that is the Queen K — no spectators or anything visually stimulating made things brutal up there. If I want to knock out a strong run, I'll look for more gradual climbs and looped run course (easy to break up mentally) like Cozumel. 

COZUMEL BIKE (TRAINING PEAKS LINK)

Ironman Cozumel Bike File
Ironman Cozumel Run File

KONA!! THE IRONMAN WORLD CHAMPS + A SHORT SEASON RECAP

IN BRIEF

What an awesome experience. This race is truly like no other. So much hype, history, crazy pre-race energy, events, etc., etc. I had a blast during the week leading in and tried to do it all — from the practice swim to the underpants run. (I did miss the TRS Beer Mile though. Had wanted to at least watch but timing wasn't ideal.) I also had a lot of fun on race day. Yes, at times it F*$&ING sucked, but I definitely soaked it all in, made sure to smile and dish out high-fives, and truly embraced every minute.

FINISH TIME   9:41:16          Swim 59:49   Bike 5:21:06*   Run 3:13:34

                                                          *Received a 5-min penalty

My time — 9:41:16 — wasn’t my best, and I don’t think that I got everything out of my fitness, but I’m proud of the result. In some sense, it’s kind of nice having not smashed it out there since I think I’d be done with Kona for a long while if I had. I’m now feeling like I want to get back, maybe in two years, so that I can try going faster on the big stage again and against the best in the world.

9:41:16 put me in 51st in M 30-34 and 243 overall. A good bit off from my goals, but a decent finish. And my goals are always pretty damn hard to reach — that’s what makes chasing them fun! I’ve got a good feeling that I’ll race here again and I’ll definitely be looking to hit those goals when I do.

BACKGROUND & QUICK SEASON RECAP

I qualified for Kona in late November of last year at Ironman Cozumel. After just missing a Kona slot in August at Ironman Mont Tremblant, I put a TON into getting ready for Cozumel. I went there for one reason, and that was qualifying for Kona. I ultimately put together a solid race with a 9:26:02 finish and punched my Kona ticket. I took the win in M25-29, but it required 3:03:59 marathon in which I ran with the second place M25-29 finisher (Cyril Lecompt, from France) shoulder-to-shoulder for the last 8 miles. Cyril, who I’ve stayed in touch with and now consider a friend, also qualified for Kona since our age group had two slots.

I was totally spent physically, mentally and emotionally afterwards, and needed a long time off from training before I could even think about Kona. After two months of pretty much just chilling, I started to get back to training at the end of January. From then onward, I planned my season entirely around having a strong race in Hawaii.

Some Pics From IM Coz Below...

This year was a bit of a rocky one, with some ups and downs on the racing front. Coming off the strong finish in Cozumel, I had big expectations for 2016. Even with the time off in December and January, I figured I’d be back kicking ass for the first race of the season in April.
Admittedly cocky and really not that fit, I rocked up to Oceanside 70.3 at the start of April thinking I could claim a spot on the podium in M30-34. I was quickly humbled with a 15th place finish. Pissed with a poorly executed swim and bike, I signed up for St. George 70.3, where bike mechanical issues led to hypothermia (freakishly cold at this normally hot race) and my first ever DNF.

After St. George, I took a step back — with solid guidance as usual from my coach Justin Daerr — and started to focus just on training. I’d be doing Epic Camp France in a little over a month and needed to get my ass in gear for the absurd cycling we’d be taking on.

Epic Camp France lived up to its reputation and really put any ego I had left from the Cozumel race in check. Day after day, I was dropped by riders much stronger than myself up iconic and stupidly hard Tour de France climbs. (See the ‘Train’ section of this blog for details on the Epic ass-kicking I received courtesy of the Alps.) 

I returned to the States after the camp a much improved cyclist, and though still fatigued from the training and travel, was able to put together a decent race — particularly on the bike — at the NYC Tri (more on that here).

After a big training block in Boulder during the month of August, my numbers were looking really strong across the board. I put that fitness to the test at the Malibu Triathlon and came up with the win in M30-34 and crossed the line as the first amateur finisher. (More on that here.) This was a big confidence boost before heading off to Hawaii. I didn’t feel like I had my best race, but the overall AG win made it my best finish to date. I’d be heading to Kona, my last race of the season, fit AF!

Pics From the Season... Oceanside, St. George, Epic Camp, Malibu

GOALS

My goals were varied given the meaning of this race and how much I had put in just getting there.

First and foremost, I wanted to cross the finish line. Not sure of when I’d be back, if ever, this was hugely important to me. Not to mention the fact that I had my family and friends who had come all the way to Hawaii cheering me on. A DNF was not on the table.  

Secondly, I wanted to be proud of my finish time. Not knowing when and if I'd be back, I didn't want to feel like the island got the best of me.

If able to do the above, I’d be content. Given how well my training had gone and my fitness going into the race, I really thought a top 25 in M30-34 was possible if I executed well.

Something I had been toying with all year was a top 10 finish in M30-34. It's hard to say this was a goal going into the race. If it had been a goal, I would have actively been pursuing it, and I wasn’t. It was more of a Ahh, that would be killer! feeling than a goal. I now know that to have a Top 10 in M30-34 goal, you have to be willing to fail out there. And I wasn’t. I put way to much into getting to Kona to risk an explosion. I raced really conservatively as a result, and I don’t think you can be top 10 in any category in the World Champs by racing conservatively. At least I can’t. That’s why you see so many pros walking the marathon and DNF’ing here. They’re gunning for a Top 10 finish and have to put it all the line to try to make it happen.

Anyway, if I raced to my potential, here’s what I thought I could do from a time standpoint…

SWIM GOAL - 1:02

  • I knew the swim in Kona to be a tough one. The mass start would make for some serious wrestling for the first K and waves could add some additional time.

BIKE GOAL - 5:15

  • Would depend a lot on the wind, but I was going in a lot stronger on the bike in compared to last year.

RUN GOAL - 2:59:59

  •  My run shape was off the chain. I had run a 3:03:59 in Cozumel and I was feeling way more fit.

FINISH TIME GOAL - 9:25

  • If I really rocked all, I figured I could get under my Cozumel time of 9:26:02.

LEAD UP

I arrived Kona Thursday night, 10 days prior to the race. This was definitely the right call given that it was my first time racing on the island. It allowed for me to do the Ironman organized practice swim (Saturday), a ride to Waikoloa (Monday), a ride from Waikoloa to Hawi (Wednesday), and several runs on Ali’i. It also gave me a chance to relax a little and have some fun on the island, while still getting a feel for the course and hitting some focused training.

I stayed just a mile and a half south of the pier in a great condo at the Wyndham with my buddy Walter. While getting to Kona a bit early has it’s advantages, it can be easy to lose focus with everything that’s going on. Staying with Walter, who’s also coached by Justin Daerr, really helped me remain focused. We were also doing all of our sessions together, which kept things interesting.

Pictures Along with a Vid from my GoPro during the Practice Swim

GETTING SICK

Let me first start by saying that I never get sick. Legit. I'm never sick. I pride myself on it. Yes, I've felt like shit after hard sessions and big training weeks. (Like waking up in the middle of the night to puke at Epic Camp...) But getting a cold? Never. Well, I wish I could still say that.

Going to sleep on Tuesday night I noticed that I was pretty congested. As someone who suffers with allergies (AND NEVER GETS SICK!!), I didn’t think much of it. I took a Zyrtec and went to sleep. At about 3am, I woke up totally unable to breathe out of my nose and had a bit of a sore throat. I made a makeshift nasal rinse out of a Gatorade sport bottle and table salt (I love a good nasal rise) and washed out my sinuses. After doing so, I could again breathe but it was pretty clear that I was coming down with something.

The next morning I felt like crap but still didn’t think too much of things. (That's right, because I never get sick!!) I figured I’d kick whatever I had by the end of the day. I also had a full day of stuff to do, so didn’t dwell on it. By 7pm, after several team activities, a two-hour ride, and a team dinner, I was totally wiped out. (I also bailed on a 20-minute post-ride run to nap.) I spoke to my girlfriend Marla on the phone and she could immediately tell that something was up. I told her I was fine and just needed to get some sleep. While I stayed pretty chill, I made an evening trip to Island Naturals (this place is the bomb) to load up on things like Wellness Formula, elderberry concentrate, oil of oregano and a real nasal rinse.

I woke up the next day (Thursday) feeling better, but still a bit banged up. I continued with my training as usually, just a chill swim today, and kept drilling the supplements while drinking hot water with honey to quiet my sore throat. By Friday, I felt a lot better. My 45-minute ride and two-mile run went well, but I was definitely more tired than normal. By the time I woke up for the race on Saturday, I think I was almost back to 100%.

I'm not totally sure what impact all of this had on my race, if any. As I describe more below, I really felt great during the swim and the bike. While I felt pretty rough on the run, I think that's more a testament to the difficulty of this course than any issues I had leading up to the race. I've included this 'Getting Sick' really as a reminder that no matter how healthy you think you are, the taper does weird things and it's pretty easy to come down with something right before a big race. Going forward I'll definitely exercise more humility (I can get sick!) and take some supplements (in addition to my normal routine of eating tons of fruits and veggies) to minimize this risk.

RACE DAY

PRE RACE

I slept alright. Asleep by ~9pm, and then up at about 3:15am. While I'd normally want at least 8 hours before a big training day, anything over 6 hours the night prior to a big race is a win. My alarm was set for 4am, but I got moving soon after waking up.

I got to the transition entry at about 5:30am with Walter and another friend. While we had well over an hour to get things situated, we had to first clear a minor security checkpoint and then get through body marking. The security piece was no biggie, but the body marking was probably one of the more ridiculous things I've encountered in the sport. (They had volunteers applying the temporary tattoos with our numbers — are you f&*%ing kidding me?! Just put them in the pre-race bag like every other race. At least the volunteers were super nice...) This took a half hour. Seriously. Half an hour.

Now with maybe 20 minutes to get my shit together and get in the water, I raced over to my bike and filled my bottles and pumped up my tires. After a handling a few other final prep to-dos, it was 6:40am and both the male and female pros had gone off. I had seen neither start (definitely in the port-o-john for the Men's start), but was happy to finally be making my way into the water after some scrambling.

SWIM

This swim was going to be a rowdy one. 1,000+ aggro dudes starting at once for that first buoy. While I knew front/center would be the epicenter of the madness, I wanted to make sure that I was not being held up by any slow swimmers. I was willing to get smacked around and have people swim over me if it meant that I wouldn’t be stuck in the back.

At 6:45, 10 minutes before the start, I had made my way to the front row, dead center (right next to the big ROKA sign). With 5 minutes until the start, the area had filled out and I was shoulder to shoulder with other athletes, many of whom were already jostling for position. I stayed relaxed, rotating between treading water and floating on my back.

When the gun went off, I set out at a pace just slightly faster than race pace. No joke, every stroke for the first fifty strokes was hitting someone either to the left or right of me. Most strokes were cut off abruptly since someone was either on top of me or pushing my arms down. I honestly couldn’t help but smile at how ridiculous it was. I felt like I was in a washing machine or an underwater fist-fight. I kept cool and kept swimming to the extent possible. After 15 minutes, things got more civilized and I was able to get on feet to draft. That said, even 45 minutes into the swim, more than 15 minutes after hitting the turn buoy (+ the big boat full of spectators at the turnaround) the swim was still super crowded — like being three wide in a swim lane. Typically, I’ll distance myself from most of the others in the water, but at the World Champs, a 1hr swim is middle-of-the-pack.

With about 500m to the finish, I snuck a quick glance at my watch. Unfortunately it had been stopped during the initial melee. (Sorry geeks, no swim file.) I did see that the time was 7:45am though and it dawned on me Holy shit, I could do this in under an hour. I buckled down, giving a final push, and came out of the water with a big group just under the one hour mark with a 59:49 swim. I was pretty stoked. 

Shaking off the sea-legs. And look at the clock! The timing mat must be a ways into T1.

Shaking off the sea-legs. And look at the clock! The timing mat must be a ways into T1.

BIKE

[Power file + other data can be found in my "Kona: For the Geeks" post.]

After a quick rinse off, I grabbed my bike, helmet, etc. and headed out of transition. Lots of peeps were coming out at the same time and hitting the climbs out of transition and on Kuakini Hwy hard. I kept it pretty mellow and focused on taking on some food/fluid to recover a bit from the swim. I also was really soaking in the crowds. For the 5 miles before getting on the Queen K, you get some serious love from the fans. I heard tons of GO EMJ!! and even had friends and family yelling at me. Bike courses in Ironman are usually empty, so this was awesome. I was grinning the whole time, freaking loving it. I even dished out a high-five to a friend from Tower 26 while climbing up Palani.

Once on the Queen K, I settled into a bit of a rhythm. There were still a lot of riders bunched together, but it wasn't super crowded. I was able to really push the pace and pass a good number in the first stretch on the Queen K heading towards the airport since it's mostly downhill at this point.

By the time I hit the airport, I was riding single file with other cyclists for about as far as I could see. We were really close, but still not in the draft zone. At this point the cross winds were strong, so trying to pass someone would require a big effort, and you'd likely need to pass 2-3 people in one go to be able to slot back into the line-up. I hung tight and focused on my power. This stretch from the airport to Waikoala was way winder than it had been on any day in training. I felt really comfortable though and clicked through the first 30 miles at a normalize power of 195 watts - right in the 190-210 zone I wanted to be in.  It was also getting noticeably hotter.

From mile 30 until the start of the climb to Hawi (just over 20 miles), the ride became totally different for me. HUGE packs of cyclists were coming by and engulfing the everyone around them. I sat up to to let the first of these come by, since I really wanted to ride my own race and definitely didn't want a drafting penalty. A few minutes later, another, even bigger pack came engulfed those I was around. Legit, Tour size peloton.

I sat up and slowed my pace, hoping to break up the group a bit, but then saw just how huge this pack was. Not wanting to hit the breaks or flat out stop pedaling trying to let 50 people go by (yes, easily 50 people in this pack!!), I just started riding on the shoulder of the road (most ride in the middle since the road is closed to traffic). My coach Justin had mentioned the draft packs being nutty here, and said he had done this as an age grouper as a way to focus on his own race and ignore the madness.

After a few minutes of this, more people latched onto the back of this enormous group and many had gotten in directly behind me on the shoulder. I was pretty worried about a crash, and soon we were approaching crowds on the right, forcing me to slow significantly and try to get back on the road and not the shoulder. It was crazy.

At one point I saw a draft marshal pull up alongside one of the bigger packs and sit there for a full 5 minutes. She then gave NO drafting penalties. Insanity. I guess there were just too many people to try to penalize. After seeing that, I definitely considered jumping into that draft pack. I'm almost certain that I would have if it weren't for my EMJ kit. The last thing I wanted was a bunch of people badmouthing Team EMJ for me being a dumbass and hanging out in a draft pack.  

With that in mind, for the next 45 minutes or so, I slowed to let 3-4 big packs of people come by. All the slowing down made this 22 mile stretch the slowest 20+ miles segment I rode during the race. (Average speed was 20.8; NP just 184.) Thankfully, by the time we hit the climb to Hawi, things got less ridiculous, though blatant drafting was still more common than any race I've been in.

Heading up to Hawi didn't seem as windy as it had been during the practice ride Walter and I did earlier in the week. (It did feel hot though, with temps in the high 80s. My Garmin had it at 95 at the top of Hawi, but it's typically a bit dramatic.) I stayed down in the aero position for the bulk of the ~6 mile, ~600' climb and rode by feel. I didn't push, but instead kept things steady with watts at 195 and HR fully in check at ~150bmp. 

The turnaround at the top of Hawi served as a good mental checkpoint. Alright, more than half the ride is in the bag. From there I focused on staying over gear and taking advantage of the descent down from Hawi. I had practiced it earlier in the week during some pretty strong crosswinds, and felt very comfortable hitting descent at a high speed down in the aerobars. Today, the crosswinds really weren't that bad. I had to lean into them at times, but nothing too crazy. The descent took just 11 minutes. I was able to hold a NP of 160 watts and my top speed was 40.7 mph (actually not that fast; figured it'd have been closer to 45!). From there, I kept cruising, still feeling good. 

At mile 80 or so, while hitting another descent, a cyclist came up along side me and then started to pass once he had a gap. We were both going fast, 37-38 mph, and he slowly extended the gap between us from maybe 5 meters to 10-15. I made no attempt to slow down to allow this gap to increase more quickly given that we were still carrying out our descent and I wasn't about to hit the breaks. This all happened in about 20 seconds. A second or two later, while I was still descending, a motorcycle pulled up alongside me. Fuck. You've got to be kidding me. Yes, I was drafting. This was probably the smallest drafting infraction on the entire day, but what can you do. My guess is that the marshals became Nazis once things got more spread out from mile 75 onward since their hands were somewhat tied early on.

I served my 5-minute penalty in a tent just before mile 90 and tried to stay positive. I got out of there and focused on what I could control. By the end of the ride I wasn't too upset. It could have worse, like a flat or some mechanical. Final ride time with the 5 minute penalty was 5:21:06.

Cruising into T2, I knew I had ridden very conservatively. I wasn't sure what my final watts were or average HR, but I knew that I hadn't gone as hard as I could have and I didn't think I had burned any matches. This ride honestly felt like the easiest 85+ mile ride I had done all year. (NP was 189 watts — IF of just .71 — and my HR average was 146bpm.) I fully expected to feel awesome coming off the bike. 

"Ahhh, it's f#$%ing hot!!"

"Ahhh, it's f#$%ing hot!!"

RUN

[Run file + other data can be found my "Kona: For the Geeks" post.]

When I popped off the bike and started the ~500m run around the perimeter of transition, I could immediately tell that my run wasn't 100% there. I stayed confident though. I grabbed my run bag and ducked into the change tent to put on my socks, shoes, bib number, hat and sunnies. 

I set out of transition, at a decent clip. Not pressing too hard on the first climb up Palani, but still pushing and trying to get in a groove. My goal would be to run largely by feel, but to also do my best to keep the sub-3-hour marathon in play.

The first mile came easily. I high-fived friends and family, and soaked in the cheers. The crowds for this first mile — really the first 10 miles — were incredible. By the time I looked down at my watch, I had run the first mile in 6:32. Alright, settle down. Ali'i, I tried to relax and get into a 6:50/mile pace, still going by feel but glancing at my watch every half mile or so. While I clicked through the next 4-5 miles holding 6:50/mile, it was not coming easily. My two Ironman marathons last year felt pretty easy for the first 13, even 15, miles. Not today. Zero ease. No sweet spot where adrenaline and fitness make it feel like you're gliding. I was trudging.

Thankfully the crowds were pushing me along. And at about mile 10, I saw my fam and friends again. This was awesome. Definitely provided a much needed boost. Then, right before heading up Palani to the hot and lonely Queen K, I could hear the helicopters closing in. Jan Frodeno was coming down the other side leading the men's race with just a mile or so left. 

My mom, my sister and Marla. My mom was looking for a hug :)

After climbing Palani slowly, it's almost a half mile at a 6% grade, I tried to get back in a rhythm on the Queen K. Two of my buddies were at the top of Palani and provided some serious entertainment as I turned onto the Queen K. This was pretty hilarious and gave me positive vibes before running on the surface of the moon.

Once out on the Queen K, my mile times started to slip. I tried to push, but my pace wasn't getting any better. It was waaayyy hillier than I had realized. With the sub-3 goal now a distant thought, I focused on the ground in front of me and just tried to keep my feet moving. Male pros were coming in the opposite direction, looking destroyed. I remember seeing really strong runners like Lionel Sanders suffering, then a bit later Jordan Rapp walking. All I could think was, Fuck. This is brutal.

For the next 13 miles or so I really struggled. I'd push for a quarter mile, then slow, then push again. I don't really remember all that much. Going down and then back up from the Energy Lab was a bit of a blur. I think I was just looking at the ground, hitting aid stations, and doing all I could to stick to a 7:30-45/mile pace. Occasionally, I'd catch a glimpse of an EMJ teammate either ahead or behind and we'd give one another some encouragement with either a shout or a nod. 

By the time I had reached the end of the Queen K and turned onto Palani, I started to rebound and my speed picked up. I knew the finish line was just a mile away. Coming onto Ali'i, my brain kicked back on — running down this final stretch was a moment I had dreamt about and I wanted to really experience it. Crowds lined the streets and I started slapping as many hands as I could. I heard my family yelling my name but I could see them in the crowd, there were too many people and I was starting to pick up my pace.

Dishing high-fives like they were going out of style... Pretty incredible to come down Ali'i with 2012 Kona Champion Leanda Cave right in front of me.

Dishing high-fives like they were going out of style... Pretty incredible to come down Ali'i with 2012 Kona Champion Leanda Cave right in front of me.

Coming down the finishing shoot was a bit of a blur. As I crossed the line I was relieved to be done, but a little shocked to now have this huge day that I'd long waited for now over. I felt like I had given it my best, all things considering, and was proud of my race. My run time was 3:13:34, which breaks down to a 7:23/mile pace.

If you made it all the way here, thanks for reading :) I'll be putting up more about my training for the race and some final thoughts in the next few weeks...

Ironman World Champs Kona Finish Line