#RaceTheLegend

Beat Jan Frodeno’s transition times. That was my revised goal coming into Challenge Roth after finding out Jan Frodeno had entered, and also as a result of me missing about 5.5 weeks of training as a result of my well-publicized bike crash 3 months ago.

Since taking the unexpected time off from training, I went back hard and with a vengeance as soon as I was cleared by my neurologist. I knew I had missed some very important weeks, and I wanted to try to gain as much fitness as possible going into Roth. Still, my longest ride prior to the race was only a little over 60 miles and my longest run was 16 miles. The rides and runs were quality though, and so I headed into Roth ready to kick ass.

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It’s true. I didn’t have gum.

Challenge Roth was on Sunday, so we decided to leave Monday evening arriving in Nuremberg on Tuesday morning. Since I wasn’t sure what we’d find in Roth in terms of triathlon-specific gear, I decided to play it a bit safe and pack everything. I also packed all of my necessary race day gear (except my nutrition) in my carry on, including my helmet. This way, if I had any issues with luggage or an incorrectly routed bike, all I would need to race would be a dinosaur bike. Luckily for me Lufthansa was amazing and not only did everything arrive safely and on time, they also didn’t charge me any bike or oversized baggage fees! Definitely flying them again!

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It may not look like a lot of stuff, but only one of us was racing.

Anyway, once we arrived and settled in Roth on Tuesday I decided to check out the dreaded swim course which was in the Main-Donau Kanal between the towns of Hipoltstein and Heuberg. Apparently it’s a major shipping canal, so triathletes were prohibited from practicing in it except for Friday and Saturday morning, from 6:30 – 9:30 AM. Nevertheless, while I was there on Tuesday I saw a few triathletes doing their practice swims.

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The canal. The tower on the right is the announcer’s tower, with Swim Exit right before it.

Since I had a 4 mile run on my schedule I decided to run the swim course (not literally, I’m not Jesus). From what I could tell, the canal was fairly narrow and pretty dead straight. The swim was basically a rectangle that went south until for 1440 meters, before turning back north for 1970 meters (thus going past Swim Start and Swim Exit) and then finally turns back south for the last 390 meters (I know these distances because the race briefing provided us with them).

Roth Swim Course

See? Big. Ass. Rectangle.

Other than that, the swim was pretty straightforward and I was happy to see how narrow the canal was. This gave me a bit of a confidence boost that I wouldn’t die, particularly since I hadn’t swam the distance during my swim training prior to the race.

Speaking of confidence, one thing I noted leading up to race day was that I was not nervous at all. Normally for a triathlon, I’m quite nervous about the swim leading up to the race and I can’t stop worrying about the swim. To me, a triathlon is really just about that first leg. I know that once I get through the swim, no matter what happens on the bike or the run, I’ll finish the race. It’s quite funny to think how a race of 140.6 miles for me really comes down to 2.4 miles, but that’s how I view triathlons with this stupid fear. Rather than being nervous, though, I was actually quite excited for it. I spent the rest of the week doing my prescribed runs and rides through the course quite happily.

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Anyway, enough about the pre-race and let’s get on with the race!

The Swim

As I mentioned earlier, the swim took place in the canal. The race started at 6:30 AM for the pros, and subsequent waves went off every 5 minutes. Each wave had about 200 starters, which meant for a race this size there were about 20 waves. I was in Wave 15, so I didn’t start until 7:40. The interesting thing to note here was that Transition never closed. We had access to T1 and our bikes all the way up to the time we had to line up in our swim corral (5 minutes prior your wave start).

This was actually pretty awesome of Challenge to allow us to stay in transition, because it gave me an awesome view of Jan Frodeno’s transition when he came out of the water (cause you know, he swam 2.4 miles in 45:22). It was incredible to see it firsthand. Before he got to the top of the ramp leading out of the water, he already had his wetsuit down to his waist. As soon as he grabbed his bag, he started to open it. Within what felt like 5 seconds of him entering the change tent, he was running out with his socks and helmet on, and was zipping up his tri top on his way to his bike. I didn’t know it at the time, but his transition time was 96 seconds. That is insanely fast, and I knew I had my work cut out for me to beat him.

Anyway, before getting into the water I was strangely calm and not nervous. I did not know if this meant I would have a great day, but I took it as a positive sign. I was even positive even though my goggles fogged up when I swam to Swim Start. For the race, athletes had to enter the water via a short ramp and then swim to the Start Line about 50 feet from where we entered. Since we are not allowed in the water prior to the start, most of us took this opportunity to do a quick warm up. I took this as an opportunity to pee in my wetsuit and get myself wet (that’s what she said). It was then that I noticed my goggles were fogging up, which was a first for me. I currently use the Roka R1 goggles, and they’ve been amazing. The clarity and comfort of the goggles are second to none, and I’ve never had an issue with them. I actually have practically one of each lens tint, since each tint is optimized for the weather conditions and location. Of course since I make it a habit of not looking at weather forecasts before my races (I don’t really care about weather – after all, we’re all racing in the same conditions), I did not bring goggles optimized for cloudy conditions. Mirrored goggles combined with a cloudy start to the day meant it was a bit difficult to sight, but since the swim was basically a straight line down and up and since I breathe to my right, I just decided to keep an eye on the shoreline (if that’s the proper term) and stay roughly the same distance away from it the entire time.

This actually worked out really well on my way down the canal. There were also hundreds of spectators that lined the canal, which gave me some additional comfort that if I was drowning, someone could jump in and save me. I was hoping that these spectators hadn’t started drinking yet, since it was only 7:40 in the morning, but you never know with these Germans.🙂

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Those spectators lined the swim course in both directions.

As I continued to swim down the canal, I noticed a woman who was walking down the canal at the same pace I was swimming. She also kept staring in my direction the entire time. At first I thought she was there supporting someone else, but I quickly glanced around a few times and noticed no one was swimming around me. I had no idea who she was, but it really did help me to have her walk down the canal as I swam.

I also noticed a few triathletes who were doing the breaststroke, so I made it a mini goal of mine to beat them. It was a bit harder than I thought for one of the breaststrokers, since he was moving pretty well and I’m quite a slow swimmer (when I swim with Columbia Masters, I swim in lane 9 out of the 8 lane pool). Between the breaststrokers and the woman walking, I felt completely calm on my way down the canal.

One positive change that Challenge did this year was to add distance markers, approximately every 200 meters. This was incredibly helpful, since there really were no buoys going down the middle of the canal so I used the small signs to sight off of and to make sure I was actually making progress.

So, at about the 1200 meter mark, I started to swim away from the side of the canal and moved towards the middle where the turn buoy was. As soon as I swam around the buoy, I started to make my way back over to the side of the canal, this time going upstream (for lack of a better direction). At this point, I was close to the 1500 meter mark. When I swam between the 1500 meter marker and the 1700 meter marker, I checked my time in the middle of a swim for the first time in a long time. I saw 37:xx. I was quite a bit surprised at that time, but I told myself not to get too excited. I hadn’t reached the halfway point yet, and swimming another 1.4 miles is a long ass way to go. Still, I was happy with this so I pulled a Dory.

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This was pretty much me, for 2.4 miles.

While I was swimming back towards Swim Exit, I noticed a black and yellow checkered flag along the side of the canal. Since I was lacking buoys to sight off of, I decided to sight against it. I swam for a while and I noticed that the flag was not getting any closer. I thought I was just swimming slower because I was tired, so I just kept swimming. Eventually I noticed that I was passing 200m markers, but still, the flag did not appear any closer. Finally, after about 600-800 meters, I stopped and looked. It was then that I noticed that the flag was being held by two spectators who were walking down the canal at the same exact pace I was swimming. I shook my head, laughed a little, and kept going.

Eventually I noticed that the same woman who was walking down the canal as I was swimming downstream was now walking up the canal in the company of a male spectator. I have no idea how she got to the other side so quickly, nor could I figure out how she found me out of all of the neon green caps in the canal (everyone except for specific waves and pros wore a neon green swim cap). Regardless of how she did either of those things, she continued to walk up the canal at the same pace I was swimming. This really helped me feel safe and secure, though as I continued to swim past the distance markers I kept telling myself not to get too excited because anything could happen.

Finally I made the final turn back to Swim Exit (after swimming past it!), and I allowed myself to believe I was going to finish Challenge Roth. I knew that as soon as I got out of that water, no matter what happened in the remaining 138.2 miles, I would finish the race.

As soon as I was within reach of a volunteer, s/he (can’t remember) grabbed my arm and yanked me up. Relieved, I quickly glanced at my Garmin and was SHOCKED that it read 1:35:19. Prior to starting the race, I was predicting 1:45-1:50 for myself. I couldn’t imagine seeing a time less than that, but I did. I didn’t even feel like I swam hard. I just tried to swim calm and controlled and not die. Apparently this time left me out of sorts, because I messed up my transition next…

Swim Time: 1:35:19

T1

The run out of Swim Exit to your bag and into the changing tent isn’t all that long. It was only about 50 feet to the bags, which were arranged in bib number order. Every 10th bib number had a wooden stake with a sign denoting that number. Since I was bib 3100, all I had to do was to look for the wooden sign saying “3100” and also because my bag started an entirely new row. It should have been pretty simple, but it wasn’t. I had issues finding my bag because I somehow forgot my bib number and couldn’t remember if it was “3100” or “3010” and I couldn’t apparently count anymore. Eventually I found my bag, and I ran into the change tent.

Once in the change tent, a volunteer ran over and offered to help. She unpacked my bag as I took off my wetsuit. She then gave me my socks and proceeded to tell me to just dump everything I had (wetsuit, swim cap, goggles) on the floor and she would take care of it. Seriously, she was amazing. Once I had my socks on, I just put my sunglasses on, grabbed my bike shoes and ran out.

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Rexie Jr. racked with my helmet. I still haven’t mastered the flying mount (my poor balls), so my bike shoes were in my T1 bag.

Here’s where it got a bit tricky. About 90% of the bikes were in the transition area right outside the change tent. The remaining 10% of the individual participants and the relays were in a smaller grass field across from the main transition area. In that area, my bike was in the 4 row from the entrance. It wasn’t bad to be in this transition area at all, however I had no clue where the mount line was since they hadn’t marked it the day before during bike check in. There’s a bit of a way to go once you grab your bike from that second transition area to the Bike Out banner, so I thought I’d have a long-ish run before I could get on my bike. It turns out there was a mount line about 15 meters from the exit of the transition area, well before the Bike Out banner. In the video below which I took a couple of days prior to the race, you can see white tape on the ground. It turns out this was where I would start the bike, which I was happy about. I didn’t see where the main transition area athletes mounted their bike, but I figured the distance would be the same regardless.

Overall, my transition was quite slow thanks to me being discombobulated coming out of the swim. Sadly, it was a precursor to the rest of the day.

T1 Time: 3:52 / Jan Frodeno’s T1 Time: 1:36

Bike

Once on my bike, I was quite excited. I had ridden bits of the bike course coming out of transition in the prior days, and the roads were amazing, beautiful, and FAST. In one of my practice rides, I hit 29.0 mph while pushing well under 200 watts. Given this and Roth’s reputation of being a very fast course, I thought the bike course would be relatively easy and flat.

I was wrong.

The bike course is 2 loops which starts in Hipoltstein, but ends right outside of Roth (split transition). Within those two loops, the total elevation I climbed was over 4,700 feet. This is less than IM Mont Tremblant, but it’s definitely not as flat as I thought it would be. In fact, the elevation profile provided by Challenge actually shows this, but of course I didn’t pay attention to it since I typically don’t really care.

Bike Course Elevation Profile

Bike Course Elevation Profile - Garmin

Challenge’s elevation profile (top) was actually pretty accurate. The elevation profile below it is from my Garmin.

So, coming out of transition there was a small climb up to a main highway before making a quick left to head out of Hipoltstein. It was during the climb out of T1 that I saw Abby for the first time, and I was actually quite surprised (and happy) to see her there. Apparently we had discussed her being there before meeting me right after Solarer Berg (past 70k), but of course I forgot. Still, seeing her yelling at me to go was encouraging so I started to ride hard. My and my coach’s initial plan was for me to ride the first 90k in 3 hours, with a bit more of an effort put in in the final 90k to come in under 6 hours. Based on how I was riding in the previous 10 weeks since I started training again, we thought this was very doable.

Unfortunately my legs thought otherwise.

In the first fifteen miles I was riding an average of almost 220 watts which was much higher than I was planning on riding, but my average speed was not even 20 mph (19.7, to be exact)! This was very different from my rides prior. Admittedly I was quite confused as to why I was riding so much slower with a much greater power output than planned. At first I thought I needed calories since I had just swam 2.4 miles, and I hadn’t had any calories since I ate my 2nd breakfast of a Nutella sandwich (should have been approximately 240-250 calories) an hour before I got into the water. My first breakfast prior to that was a slice of toast (90 calories) and scrambled eggs (approx. 180 calories), which I ate at about 4 AM. I had 600 calories of CarboPro in my Ventum’s integrated bottle, so I started drinking heavily from it hoping I would start to feel better.

Sadly it did not help and to make matters worse, I started to really tighten up in my upper body. For the first time ever my shoulders, neck, and upper back started to feel sore while riding in aero. I had a new fit after Eagleman since I experienced lower back pain and feet numbness during the Eagleman bike, but the new fit had felt very comfortable and great in my training rides (including my longest ride of 60 miles) prior to the race.

For some reason, and it may have to do with the fact that I had swum my longest swim in 4 years prior to the bike, I was very uncomfortable and no amount of adjusting myself helped. With no other solution but to keep my head down and ride, I rode.

Luckily for me, the Roth course is incredible beautiful. As I mentioned earlier the roads are incredibly smooth and clean, and the only reason to even keep your head up while riding was to admire the scenery and to make sure you weren’t drafting. Roth takes drafting very seriously and they actually had a visualization of the draft box in transition and in a couple of points on the bike course. In the pre-race briefing they also mentioned that they had almost 90 race marshalls around the bike course to ensure fairness.

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They took drafting seriously.

Besides drafting, the Roth course is quite remarkable. There was so much greenery to see, and riding into each town was an incredible experience. Some of the towns we rode through really went all out in their support, including lining a stretch of road with tables, food and beer stands for the supporters. They called this the “Beer Mile,” and while I wasn’t sure if it was actually a mile long it was pretty awesome to ride through it.

At least for the first loop. For the second loop when I was really struggling, it wasn’t that much fun to ride by people eating and drinking. You could smell the beer and the food smelled delicious. In fact, in my second loop I saw a female triathlete actually buying food from a food stand. It was quite funny to see, and I have to admit I was quite jealous of her bratwurst (I don’t actually know if she purchased a bratwurst, I just really wanted one).

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The infamous Beer Mile.

Anyway, for approximately 97% of the bike course, the roads were closed to traffic. There were only two spots near Hipoltstein where we had oncoming traffic to deal with, but the sections were short (1.5 km and 4.5 km) and well policed. I didn’t find there to be any issues with vehicular traffic and it really was one of the most beautiful and triathlete-friendly bike courses I’ve ever ridden in.

Even the major climbs on the course (which had grades of 9 – 11%) were quite remarkable. The major climb of the course happens at around the 40k and 120k mark and it’s a tough climb. You climb for a little over four miles, but the hardest part (where it hits 11%) is within the first mile. There, the crowds line the hill on both sides and while they’re not as plentiful as in Solarer Berg, they generate a large amount of noise and support. In my first loop, I couldn’t help but smile at everyone as they were incredibly enthusiastic in their support. Experiencing that hill for the first time, I couldn’t wait for Solarer Berg.

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Near the end of the 4 mile climb.

Once you get through that climb, there’s a very steep descent with 3 hairpin turns. I couldn’t wait to hit the descent hard, because I had a number of Europeans (bibs had the participant’s country flags) pass me. I knew European triathletes had a habit of hammering up the climb, but for some reason they coasted on the descent. I saw this in Ironman Copenhagen last year, and also in Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Austria. So, on the climb I let everyone pass me. As soon as we hit the descent however, I attacked. Throughout the race, we had to ride on the far right side of the road even though the road was closed to traffic. Heading down the mountain, though, I moved to the left a number of times (after checking I was clear behind me) in order to lean into those hairpin turns with minimal speed loss. Descending this way allowed me to pass a number of other triathletes which definitely felt good.

After that descent, there were a few climbs leading back to Hipoltstein but one of those climbs is Solarer Berg (Solar Hill). If you’ve ever seen the Tour de France where spectators line both sides of a climb and cyclists ride single file, that’s what Solarer Berg was like. It’s almost impossible to describe in words because it really has to be seen to be believed.

Solarer Berg is preceded by a short, but steep .5 mile climb that’s also lined with very enthusiastic spectators. In my first loop, I climbed that hill and when I crested the top I thought to myself: “That can’t have been Solarer Berg. It was awesome, but it was so short!” I then proceeded to ride the descent, take a right turn and there it was. The road had barriers lining the street from the corner, but eventually those barriers went away and people crowded the course. It was remarkable. People were 5-6 deep yelling, screaming, making all sorts of noise, and of course drinking. It was an experience of a lifetime. As much as I wasn’t having a good ride at that point, I couldn’t help but really enjoy it. I smiled, laughed, and even gave a couple of people high fives.

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This photo doesn’t do Solarer Berg justice, but you can see how all of the triathletes had to ride single file from the spectators.

At the top of Solarer Berg was an aid station, and that’s where I had planned to meet Abby to swap out my Ventum bottle. In my first bottle I had 600 calories. Since I was meeting Abby about 10 miles prior to the 90k mark, I put in about 200 calories more in my second bottle. When I saw her waving her New Jersey American flag t-shirt, I pulled over to swap bottles. (Side note: Roth allows spectators to provide nutrition/aid to athletes within 100 meters of an aid station. Roth doesn’t have a traditional Special Needs station, so this is their substitute.) She helped me unscrew my bottle and secure my new one, but before that I had told her I was having a bad ride. She said I was still making good time, which was true since I was on schedule. I didn’t feel as good as I should have though, so I knew I would struggle in the second half. The total time I was stopped, thanks to Abby, was about 45 seconds. After that, I kept going and I kept hoping to have a better second loop.

Sadly I did not feel any better during the second loop. In fact, my upper body felt really uncomfortable and sore. I was uncomfortable enough that I had to actually stop twice in the second loop in order to get off my bike and stretch. I also used that opportunity to pee in the woods, since I had noticed quite a number of folks who had done that. In fact, I wondered why I even bothered to pee on my bike in my first loop because everyone peed everywhere. For the rest of the loop, I just focused on trying to maintain my power numbers and finishing the bike course strong.

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I was actually peeing here.

Bike Time: 6:23:32

T2

Coming into T2, there’s a slight downhill. I wanted to use that downhill to try a flying dismount but unfortunately there were too many other triathletes around me. Since I had never done it before, I dismounted the normal way and made sure I didn’t cause an inadvertent pile up.

As soon as I dismounted a volunteer came over and grabbed my bike. I then proceeded to run to where the bags where, grabbed mine, and ran into the change tent. Almost immediately upon entering the tent, a volunteer had come over and taken my bag from me. She told me to sit and take what I needed to take off and she’ll help me get what I needed. As I took my helmet and bike shoes off, she took out my race belt, my Gus, my hat, sunglasses, and my running shoes. She had me put my shoes on first, and after I did she told me to go ahead and leave the clean up to her. She was amazing. In fact, all of the volunteers were absolutely incredible in Roth. They were so helpful, encouraging, and supportive, and I had to make sure to thank every single volunteer I passed and who helped me.

After I put everything on, I put my Gus in my race belt loops. I then ran out of the change tent, and saw port-a-potties right outside. Since I had struggled putting everything on in transition, I figured I might as well take the time to properly pee instead of peeing on myself on the run. So, I popped into the port-a-potty, peed and ran out. Thus endeth the longest T2 of my life.

T2 Time: 4:42 / Jan Frodeno’s T2 Time: 1:18

Run

Roth’s run course takes place mostly along the Main-Donau Kanal. Coming out of T2 the run course leaves Roth and goes on a mixture of roads and trails for about 4 km before turning left onto the canal. Once on the canal, the course runs north for about 10-10.5 km before it loops in a couple of streets in a town called Schwand. Once you leave the Schwand, you run back down the canal in the opposite direction for about 10 kms, passing your original entrance to the canal. At the 25 km mark, you leave the canal at a town called Haimpfarrich and run approximately a 6 km loop between Haimpfarrich and a town called Eckersmullen. Actually, you run past Eckersmullen and across a bridge which crosses the canal (you run under that bridge, twice) before turning around and returning the way you came. The run course looks like a uterus. Trust me, it does.

Roth Run Course

See? Uterus.

Besides taking place mostly on a trail, the course is very flat. There’s a big downhill (and a subsequent uphill) in the northern loop as you leave and get back onto the canal, but it’s not bad at all. The bridge crossing the canal in the lower loop is a slight incline as well, but really the course is very flat. It is, however, a bit lonely on the canal. While there are a great deal of spectators in the towns at the end of the canal loop, the canal itself does not have too many spectators except for the areas where you enter and exit the canal. There were, however, a few spectators on bikes who rode with some of the triathletes.

Once you complete the canal loops, the course takes you back into the town of Roth where you run through half of the town before looping back to the finish line. The finish line itself is something to be experienced, because they built an entire 10,000 person stadium just for it. The run course actually enters from one end of the stadium and horseshoes around it to the finish line on the other side. There’s a red carpet that lines the course from the moment you enter the park to the time you cross the finish line. It truly is remarkable.

My initial thought going into the race was that I could run a conservative marathon and pace a 4:30. My coach and I thought this was very doable since all of my long runs have been significantly faster than that. In fact, my longest run prior to the race was 16 miles which I ran in 2:12 (8:12/mi pace). That run included me running with a friend for the last 6 miles at about 9:00/mi pace.

Coming out of T2, my legs felt a lot better than I thought they would. I ran the first half mile in about 8:15-8:30/mi pace but I forced myself to slow down because I knew I couldn’t maintain it. I ran the first mile in 9:05, and it felt very easy. I thought I was set up to have a pretty good run, but sadly I was mistaken.

Within the first mile, I also saw Abby. Prior to seeing her, I was thinking about the roll of Mentos I had given her before the race. I thought about how wonderful Mentos would be at at that moment, and sure enough, as I saw her Abby was holding everything she had – Mentos, Gu, water, and I’m pretty sure a beer. I grabbed the roll of Mentos from her, split it in half, and gave the rest back to her. As I was doing this, she said I was doing really well and that all I had to do was run.

So, I ran. I tried to maintain somewhere between a 9:00-9:15/mi pace which felt very comfortable. Unfortunately at some point before the 3 km marker, I lost all of my nutrition. I had felt a Gu drop off of my race belt before the 3 km mark, so I turned around and picked it up. When I went to put the Gu back on my race belt, I noticed that all of my other Gus were gone. This was the first time I’ve ever lost my Gus, and I’ve used my race belt through a number of triathlons and marathons prior.

With only one Gu and 39 km remaining, I had to take in nutrition throughout the aid stations. My original plan was to have a Gu every 10K, for about 400 calories for the marathon, but since I only had 1 Gu left I ended up taking in many more calories than I had originally planned. In fact, I think I over ate because I started to feel heavy and bloated towards the latter half of the race. I also think I overhydrated because the aid stations weren’t all 2 km apart. Some of the aid stations were much closer or much further than what I had expected. Since I couldn’t count on an aid station every 2 km, I took water in at every aid station even when I didn’t need it.

All of this combined for a very, very tough run. My legs fell off after about 10 kms, and I struggled hard to maintain forward progress. Everything just started to hurt terribly, and I had to resort to walking in between aid stations. I tried to maintain a semblance of pacing, but I couldn’t. I also had to stop twice on the run in order to take small rocks out of my shoes and I peed an incredible number of times at the aid station port-a-potties (which also leads me to think I was overhydrated).

At some point after about 29 kms, I passed an aid station. I declined water from an older male volunteer and passed him. He took a closer look at me as I “ran” by and he turned around and caught up to me. He looked me in the eyes, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re OK. You’re going to be OK. Great job.”

He clearly saw that I was really struggling at that point, and all I wanted to do was to stop moving. In fact, I was actually wondering why in the hell I paid to do this when it hurt so badly. When he told me that though, he gave me enough strength and encouragement to keep going. In fact, his words and gesture propelled me to run the rest of the 12 or so kilometers I had left.

I saw Abby again when I was approaching Roth, at about the 39/40 km mark. I didn’t expect to see her there, since I was running well beyond the time I was aiming for, but it was great to see her. She gave me the rest of my Mentos and I told her I failed. She assured me I didn’t, and that I was still doing just fine. I almost cried at this point, because it hurt really badly at this point and I really thought I had failed myself in not coming close to the time I wanted. Luckily, she told me to just keep going and that I just had 2 kilometers to go.

Buoyed by this and Mentos, I ran through the last 2 kilometers. Before the race, I had planned on taking my time through the stadium and enjoying the atmosphere and the Finish Line celebration. Unfortunately, since I was really struggling, this was the best I could do.

Sadly, instead of the glorious celebration I had envisioned at the finish line I crossed it half dead.

Run Time: 4:45:38

Total Time: 12:53:00 (Previous Ironman time in IM NYC: 15:53:53)

Post Race

Crossing the finish line, I was immediately disappointed. In fact, when I saw Abby right after I crossed, I cried. Not from the pain or exhaustion, but because I was disappointed in everything but the swim. Yes, I took 5.5 weeks off of training due to my crash, but I was in much better shape than my time showed.

I knew that I couldn’t hit my original goal time, and I was OK with that. I had adjusted my original plan to something that both my coach and I thought was very doable. Sadly, for some reason or another, I failed to perform. I’m still not entirely sure why or what happened, but I do know this: I want to do better. I need to do better. I know I can do better. I want to properly train for an IM again and really attack that race. I’ll eventually learn from what happened in Roth, and it will help me become a stronger triathlete.

Unlike last year, where I had the worst race of my life in 70.3 Worlds, I’m much more motivated to improve. While I had a tough day in Roth, so many things did go right. For starters, I didn’t panic in the swim. I stayed in control and was calm the entire time and I swam much faster than I thought I could! Give me a great new starting ground for my next triathlon.

Second, for the first time ever I feel like I’ve actually completed an Ironman. I know a few people won’t like this, but even though I completed IM NYC, I didn’t really feel like a true Ironman. That swim in the Hudson was just way too current-assisted. I swam a 1:03 in that swim, and that’s barely slower than my half Ironman swim time. I’m not taking away the accomplishment of finishing that race, because that bike and run were no joke, but for me I always felt like there should have been an asterisk there. Now I can remove it.

Third, Roth was absolutely amazing. It’s hard to quantify how much support the people of Roth and the surrounding towns really give the triathletes. It really is just something to experience, and I am looking forward to the next time I race Roth.

For now, I’ve got more training to do.🙂

Oh, check out the video below from Roth. My personal highlights start at the 1:49 mark.

The Eagle Has Landed

Well, it’s been an interesting (tri) year. Ironman 70.3 Eagleman was not on my list at all, with 70.3 St. George and 70.3 Honu being my prep races for Roth. To be honest Eagleman was something I was not interested in because I prefer to travel to fun locations and, let’s be honest, Cambridge, MD is not really on anyone’s “fun” list.

Regardless, thanks to recent events (more on that later) I ended up dropping out of both St. George and Honu and was in need of a prep race before July. Luckily, Eagleman turned out to be a team race, and I was able to join a number of my teammates and coaches.

Prior to signing up, I had heard some not-so-fun things about the race, particularly in that it’s usually not wetsuit legal. This caused me a great deal of concern with my fear of open water swimming, and the fact that my last OWS was during 70.3 Worlds where I freaked the fuck out in the water three times, completely forgetting how to swim. That race actually lead me to some very dark places, and I questioned my ability to overcome my fear and my desire to continue doing triathlons. The race actually left me very demoralized, crushed, and unmotivated.

So, after finding out about the strong possibility that the water temperature may be too high on race day, I started to check the NOAA buoy website multiple times a day for a month. Normally this is very unlike me since weather is something I usually don’t care about. My personal philosophy is that weather isn’t something I can control, and everyone faces the same conditions (for the most part, unless you’re a pro), so why bother wasting mental energy and time worrying about it? This behavior just adds more to the irrationality of my fear, but I’m hoping it’s now something I don’t have to worry about anymore.🙂

Anyway, the day before the race a few of my teammates and I went out for a ride on the run course. It was a good way to see the run course, and to note that it was indeed as flat as everyone said it would be. Also, there is absolutely zero cover from the sun. This meant preloading some electrolytes (thanks BASE Performance!) later in the day, to alleviate any potential heat-related issues.

After the short ride, Greg and I went out for a quick run. He took off at sub-6:00/mi pace while I plodded along at my 7:40/mi pace. It was only a 2 mile run but, man, my legs felt great and it started to get me excited for the following day. I started to feel like I would actually have a great day, and that some of the hard work that I did prior to the crash had stayed with me during my recovery period. I actually started to think about trying to PR and to race my balls off (not literally, I like my balls) since the course was very conducive to a fast race.

But first, I had to get through a practice swim. I didn’t want to but I know I had to, particularly since I have not tried to swim in my ROKA Maverick Pro Swimskin yet. In fact, I actually just received it two days prior, so I had not even taken the tags off!  So, with a little bit of prodding from Abby I hopped off of our house’s dock and jumped into the water. OK, not really. I helped Abby get her kayak into the water (there was no way in hell I was going to be out there with no support) and then I waded into the water. And kept wading. All the way past our dock, which was about 200 meters into Choptank River.

Side Note: I had NO idea the river we were going to be swimming in was called Choptank. WTF! I suppose I should have looked at the course prior to actually racing it, but oh well, that’s part of the fun in my eyes.😉

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View of Choptank River from our dock. How scary is this?!?!

Anyway, I swam between our dock and the dock next to us while Abby kayaked and Greg swam circles around me. My swimskin felt great, and I actually felt pretty comfortable in the water. It also helped that I had Greg and Abby talking me through the swim and kept me calm on focused on the fact that I actually can swim.

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I could not wait to see this the next day.

All in all, this plus a fun bike and a great easy run all reinforced my idea that race day was going to be a great day. Oh, and did I mention that Cody Beals was actually staying two houses down and stopped to wish me luck and also say that he loved my new Ventum? The man won the race last year, and he turned out to win it again this year also!

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We were taking this picture outside of our house when Cody stopped by.

OK, enough about the pre-race activities and on to racing!

Race Morning

My wave was not going to start until 7:40 AM, approx. 55 minutes after the Pro Men kicked off the day, and transition did not close until 6:45. So, I arrived in transition at about 6:35 to pump my tires and set up my area. Since it was not a clean transition, it was fairly easy to set everything up and I was ready to get body marked about 5 minutes later. After marking, we walked over to the practice swim area where a few friends from NYC were also getting ready for their respective waves. A few splashes in the river later, I decided to go for my fourth poop of the morning and then sit in the shade and wait for my wave to start. The most important aspect of the morning I noticed afterwards, was that I was stayed calm and was not nervous at all.

Swim

As previously mentioned, the swim is in Choptank River. The swim is somewhat an in-water start (you’re in the water, but you can stand unless you’re under 4’6″) off of Great Marsh Point (where T1 and T2 are), and it follows an approximate rectangle. There are buoys every hundred meters with yellow buoys on the outbound leg, red buoys on the two right turns, and orange buoys on the inbound. I believe there may be one red buoy marking the end of the course, but I can’t be 100% certain. The buoys are numbered, so you know exactly where you are at any given point. The course is very well marked, and there were a great number of kayakers, SUPs, jet skis, and boats on the course. It’s a very safe swim course, which was perfect for me.

After getting into the water I stayed towards the back of my wave, closer to the buoy side. We were supposed to keep our buoys to our right, and since I tend to swim left, I figured it would be the best area for me to start. I was wrong. I should have actually started swimming with the buoys on my left, because I could not keep the outbound buoys to my right! Besides the first three buoys and the turn buoy, I ended up swimming past each one with them on my left. I’m not sure why I kept veering right when I typically veer left, but I did. It wasn’t a sighting issue, because sighting the buoys was pretty easy, thanks in part to my ROKA R1 Cobalt goggles. Seriously, those goggles were amazing. I didn’t have to lift my head as high to sight, and the cobalt color heightened the visibility of the yellow and orange buoys. It also wasn’t a drunkenness issue, because I wasn’t drunk. I did not feel crowded in the race, so I really don’t know why this happened. Regardless, besides having to stop and lower my heart rate a few times within the first three buoys, I had no swimming issues. It was amazing. I haven’t felt this good about the swim since IM 70.3 Mont-Tremblant last year.

Eagleman Swim

I over swam by about 200 yards, which isn’t too bad for me. Most of that came from the turn buoys because I was on the other side of where I was supposed to be! Oops.

I was actually quite pleasantly surprised with this, because I hadn’t swam as much as in previous years (primarily due to my own issues) and because my last OWS was so bad. I do have to give a lot of credit to my wetsuit, the ROKA Maverick X, because that thing is amazing. It’s the best wetsuit I’ve used, and is so comfortable, flexible, and buoyant that it gave me a lot of confidence in the water.

Regardless of the reasons why, I finished the swim with no issues and then focused next on what was really important to me: beating Greg’s pro-style transition times.

Swim Result: 49:30 / AG Rank: 141/152 (NOT LAST!!) / Overall: 1645 / 1801

T1

Once you exit the water there are wetsuit strippers available, followed by a short (50-ish meter) run into transition. I was decently placed, two rows in and one column over from Swim Finish. As I ran towards my bike, I started to take my wetsuit off. My thought was that wetsuit strippers would take more time than me doing it myself. Once I arrived at my bike, I threw on my T-Rex helmet and sunglasses and fumbled a bit with my shoes (no socks!). I grabbed my bike and started to run all the way down to Bike Out.

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I actually felt great coming out of the swim! Photo credit: Abby

T1 Time: 2:08 / Greg’s T1 Time: 1:55 (Curses! Lost by 13 seconds!)

Bike

The bike course is incredibly flat, but can be very windy. It’s on mostly shared roads with traffic, but since there’s very little traffic in the area on race day it’s not really an issue. As soon as you exit transition, you ride straight for maybe half a mile, and make a couple more turns as you head out of town and onto a highway. Once on the highway, you turn off of it onto a road you’ll run on later, get back on the highway you left previously, and then follow a road that meanders its way to the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. There, you do a big loop that kind of looks like a sideways Brazil, before you head back into town the way you came out.

Eagleman Bike

See? Doesn’t that big loop look kind of like a sideways Brazil? Also, it was 81 degrees at the start of what will be a warm day.

According to my Garmin 735XT, which uses a GPS altimeter, I gained 30 ft over the entire 56 miles. I’ve asked a few other teammates and they said they measured a little over 100 feet, so either way it was FLAT. In fact, I actually changed gears just to alter my pedal stroke a bit at times. I also never left aero, with the exception of getting two water bottles at the last two aid stations (mad respect to the volunteer who handed me a water bottle while I was moving at 22 mph – impressive skills, sir!), and making certain turns due to traffic.

As soon as I hopped onto my bike I realized that my power meter wasn’t registering to my Garmin, so all I focused on was riding hard and passing as many people as possible. I had told Abby the day before that I would be the happiest person on this Earth as soon as I got out of that water, and that I would ride like it afterwards so I did. I didn’t look at numbers, I simply focused on maintaining an even effort and taking in the 700 calories I had in my Ventum water bottle and just enjoyed the ride.

Bike Heart Rate

Kept a fairly consistent heart rate except my watch messed up the start. Also, my max HR probably happened when my saddle hit my balls.

Speaking of my Ventum, can I say what an absolutely amazing bike the Ventum is? Honestly, it’s the best bike I’ve ridden. She is incredibly fast and so stable that I only had to get out of aero for the turns because of other athletes in front of me. She’s a beast of a bike, and the team behind Ventum is amazing as well. I’m very happy to be riding one!

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Just hopped on my bike, leaving town. Look how clean I look!

Anyway, I digress. For most of the bike course I rode to the left since I was making up a ton of time and ground on people. I was hoping there wouldn’t be a race marshal who would penalize me for blocking because legally, they could. Luckily no race official passed me. I just didn’t want to ride behind people or inadvertently draft behind another athlete so I gave them as wide of a berth as I could. I ended up (according to rankings) passing 912 people (65 people in my AG!), and it certainly felt like it. Only two people passed me during the bike, and one of which was a 40+ year old woman who looked like a badass triathlete. I actually tried to stay with her (legally) but, man, she was fast. Talk about future #goals.

In terms of road quality, the roads were actually pretty well maintained. I didn’t have to worry about too many potholes, cracks or debris in the road. The only thing I had to be careful about were the rumble strips on the highway. I inadvertently rode over a few while trying get my water bottle out of my BTA cage, and let’s just say that neither my taint or balls were very happy after that.

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I rode on the left side, sometimes on the opposite side of the road, a lot.

Other than that small snafu, I also ended up losing my BASE salt capsule (which was tucked inside of my sleeve) at around mile 15, lost my Ventum bottle’s screw, and somehow lost my straw’s bite valve. The latter was a very weird situation because the bite valve fits pretty snugly into the straw so I’m not sure what happened there. Regardless, Diaa from Ventum is amazing and I now have replacements on hand. Seriously, he’s so awesome that he noticed I had threaded the screw in the opposite bracket in one of my photos and messaged me to let me know. Did I mention that I love the Ventum team?

Anyway, with the roads being as smooth and flat as they were, the only real challenge of the course was the incredible wind. The forecast called for 15-20 mph winds from the WNW (a direction which three of us spent quite a bit of time the day before Googling and discussing what the hell that meant) and those forecasts were accurate. There were times when the wind was blowing so fiercely that I was riding either at an angle or going nowhere fast. You can even see it in the picture below, where my bike looks like it’s an an angle from me. It was.

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See the angle of the dangle?

The wind really picked up around mile 10-ish. The next 15 miles after that were tough because the wind really picked up. It let up for 10 miles around 30-40, but the last 16 miles were insane with wind. You can see it in the 5 mile splits from my Garmin, where the wind was the worst.

Garmin Bike Splits

Other than the wind, the bike course is really pretty easy and straightforward. Nothing to worry about, call attention to, or report. Coming back into town we rode by athletes already on the run (i.e. – FAST people). I saw a few friends out already running, and we cheered each other on. On my way back to transition, I just focused on staying in control and not becoming to caught up in excitement and unnecessarily hammer the last few miles.

Bike Result: 2:45:52 / AG Rank: 76 / Overall: 733

T2

I still haven’t mastered the flying dismount, so I dismounted the usual way. I was briefly annoyed by another triathlete since he was walking into transition while I was running. I had Greg’s T2 time to beat! Luckily, he realized I was coming and moved out of the way. I ran around him, then made my way all the way to the back of transition to rack my bike. Once I racked my bike, I decided to wear socks, so I spent a few precious seconds fumbling around with them. I noticed that they were inside out, but since I didn’t want to waste time, I wore them as is. I usually don’t wear socks for the run, but figured I should because: a) I had not done so in these shoes, b) I knew I would pour a lot of water on me due to the heat. I then flipped off my helmet, put my hat and race belt on, and switched sunglasses. I ran out of transition sucking on a Gu (bet you didn’t think I would say Gu) gel, and got onto the run course.

T2 Time: 1:59 / Greg’s T2 Time: 1:06 Argh! I shouldn’t have put socks on!

Run

Seeing as I was able to run into T2 at a pretty decent clip (for me), I thought the run would feel good. My plan was to run around an 8:20-8:30/mi pace, which is my usual long run pace if I do an easy, consistent long run. About 15 steps into the run, I quickly realized that was not going to happen. From my bike rack, I had to run back out of Swim Finish/Run Out, and loop around the transition area on grass. Once out of transition, you run on regular pavement. As soon as I made the turn out of Run Out, my legs basically said: “Nope.”

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Pretty much what my legs said.

Out of transition, you run straight for a short bit and hang a right to get onto Bay Street. Then you make two more quick rights before starting to run on Hambrooks Boulevard which is right next to the water. From there, you run through a bunch of local streets before you head out of town and onto the highway you were on on the bike. Once on the highway, you do a big loop that’s about 3-ish miles and then run back the way you came. This part of the course kind of looks like a tampon with a string.

Eagleman Run

See? Tampon, with a string.

Running out of transition, I saw a woman in a red shirt crossing the street. I thought it looked like Abby, but I wasn’t sure because I thought she was wearing a pink shirt. I noticed that she was pulling out a phone to take a picture and  I wondered if she was taking a picture of me, or the old dude next to me. My thought process went something like this:

“Is that Abby? Hmm, I thought she was wearing pink. Or was it red? Or is that shirt actually pink? I am wearing pink sunglasses with blue lenses. Oh look, she’s taking a picture. Is it of me or this tall old dude? Is he in my age group? I think he’s in his 50s or 60s. That’s not my age group right? Oh who cares, just RUN!”

It turned out it was Abby, and she did take a picture of me and not the old dude. We also had a brief conversation, and from what I recall, it went something like this:

Me: Man, that bike was SUPER windy.

Abby: RUN!

Me: I’m hurting.

Abby: RUN!!

Me: Man, I’m tired. Can I take a nap?

Abby: RUN!!!

Me: Do you have a donut?

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I am proud to say I beat that old dude. I’m not proud to say that I beat him because he stopped to talk to a friend.

I also asked her how Greg did, and when she said he came in 4th, I was elated. It was such an incredible result on a very hot and windy day. I was so happy for Greg and it helped buoy me down the run course throughout my time running.

After that conversation, I kept on running for about another 400 meters. At that point, I succumbed a bit to how I was feeling and walked a few steps. I told myself that I wouldn’t make my goal half marathon time, but I needed to make it respectable. I made a deal with myself that if I ran to every aid station, I can walk through the aid station and then get Dairy Queen after the race. I’ve never had Dairy Queen and I really wanted some ice cream, so this was motivation enough for me to keep on shuffling.

There’s really not much more to report on the run except that it was a tough day for me. I really struggled during it and it hurt. A lot. I know my time doesn’t reflect what I’m capable of, but I sort of expected it. This was my second brick of the season and having taken about 5 weeks off of training, I knew my fitness wasn’t quite there. All I focused on was ignoring how tired I was and how much it hurt, but to run to each aid station.

Once at each aid station, I grabbed 2 water cups, 1 ice cup, and if available 2 sponges. I would put the ice in my hat and let it melt, while I put the sponges down my shirt and down the hole near my crotch. I really just wanted to reach down my crotch. I didn’t take any Gatorade, because I didn’t want any added calories (I carried 2 Gus during the run, but did not use them). I also had another BASE Salt capsule stuck in my sleeve so I took that at every aid station for the first 4 aid stations, and then stopped because I started to feel a bit bloated from retaining too much water. This strategy actually helped me maintain a fairly low heart rate for me. Typically, an easy run would be in the 160s for me, so the fact that I maintained a sub-160 average means that the strategy worked.

Run Heart Rate

You can tell where I took my time at the aid stations.

One thing that was surprising to me was that I ended up passing a ton of people, no matter how slow I was running. Even during miles 10 and 11, where I really struggled, as long as I kept running I would pass people.

Eagleman Run Splits

Really struggled at Miles 10 and 11. And also 2, 6, 3, 8, 7, 12, 5, 4, 1, 9.

It actually helped me keep running because I would then start to see people ahead of me and I would work on reeling that person in. This just went to show me that no matter what, keep running. It also helped that it was a looped, out and back course, because I was able to see friends and teammates along the course. We cheered on each other, gave each other high fives, and generally made sure the other one was OK. I can’t emphasize how much it helps to see a friendly face when you’re suffering.

Anyway, during the last mile I somehow found another gear and kicked it as hard as I could. I knew I would pass our house and I wasn’t sure if Abby and other teammates would be there. Sure enough, as the house came into sight, I saw Greg come running out of the house. His onesie was down to his waist, so I wasn’t sure if he was pooping or not, but it was pretty awesome to see the 4th place finisher come running out to cheer me on. He said something like: “And you thought the swim was the hardest part!! Great job! Keep it going.”

I responded with something like: “BLERGHAdf’aoudjf aksfopis dafkla.”

After seeing Greg, I knew the house was only .7 miles away from transition so I kept pushing. At this point, I didn’t even care what I looked like or how much it hurt, I just wanted to finish (that’s what she said). Rounding one of the final turns, I saw all of my teammates cheering people on. They saw me and they all hopped up and I think I gave Tyler a high five. It was pretty amazing, and it really makes doing team races so much more fun. Unfortunately I was showing everyone what running ugly looked like:

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Wait for it…

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Wait for it…

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BAM! This is what running ugly looks like!

Still, crossing that Finish Line felt amazing. The past 2 months have been rough. The bike crash I had about 7 weeks prior to the race lead to a series of serious injuries, most notably a rather severe concussion. It was so severe, that even though my neurologist is the neurologist of the NY Giants, she still said it was one of the worst ones she’d seen before. This made me miss about 5 weeks of training, and even when I got back into it, I still had to start slow. I still get headaches today, and I had two or three during the race, but I’m much better now than a few weeks ago.

I didn’t PR this race, but I know I gave it everything I had. I pushed myself as hard as I could that day, and I crossed the line knowing that I couldn’t have done any more. I can’t be unhappy about that, and all of the emotion came out of me as soon as I crossed the line. I saw my awesome coach, Darbi Roberts (who came in 11 Female OA!) and I had to fight back the tears. My other teammates came over, and I don’t really know what I said because I couldn’t keep my thoughts straight. I just tried not to cry with both happiness and admittedly, a little bit of disappointment with how poorly I ran. Still, my coach said it best when she said that no matter what happened over the past few weeks, I still finished and this will set me up for an awesome day in Challenge Roth in a few weeks.

Run Result: 2:13:42 / AG Rank: 55 / Overall Rank: 525 (I passed over 200 people and 21 in my AG!)

Total Time: 5:53:11

Lessons Learned

For the people who were around me immediately after the race, I know expressed disappointment about how poorly I ran. Now that I’ve had a few days to reflect and think about the race, I actually feel a lot better about it. While I’m still disappointed with my run and overall time, I know that I’m making steps towards getting better. I PR’d the bike by 12:01, and I didn’t have any panic attacks during the swim. Both are huge positives for me.

I actually think that after this swim, I am MUCH better off going into Roth. In fact, I actually won’t sign up for Tinman anymore, but rather just focus on getting more fitness between now and race day.

Speaking of which, I also think that my nutrition plan is pretty much set after this race. In total, I had about 800 calories for the race and I had planned on about 1,000. I took in 700 calories (7 scoops of CarboPro with water) on the bike, and I took 1 Gu in T2. I had planned to take 2 more during the run, but I really didn’t want or need it. I felt fine calorie-wise. What I’ll do now for Roth is to double it. I’ll have 1 prepped bottle with me during the first loop of the bike course, and I’ll have Abby give me a second bottle when I finish the first loop. For the run, I’ll take 1 Gu at T2 and run with 2 in my race belt in case I need extra calories. Perhaps later this season I’ll switch back to Ucan, but I’ll work on that after Roth.

For now, it’s onwards and upwards as my coach always says! Time to put in some more work and get ready for Roth!

Lastly, I do want to say thank you to all of my coaches and teammates for an amazing weekend. It was incredible having everyone out on the course as well as spending time together before the race. Also, a special thank you to Abby who did a lot of the driving to and from Maryland so I can rest and recover pre- and post-race. Thanks also for making sure I didn’t drown during the practice swim, and thanks for cheering me on out there! Next stop, Germany!

Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant

From left to right: Jesse Thomas, Magali Tisseyre, me, Meredith Kessler

The swim. My archnemesis. My biggest fear. My reason to dislike triathlons (though I really quite enjoy them otherwise). Last year, I had the best swim of my life despite my injury, coming out in 50:06. This year, given the fact that I swam Challenge Quassy (Olympic) in 36:09 I was heading into the swim with some slight confidence and hope that I’d get close to 40:00. While not quite brimming with confidence, at least I was not cowering in fear at swim start. On the contrary, starting with my XC crew in Wave 2, gave me a positive mental boost pre-race.

The Ironman Executive Challenge group, in Wave 2 with the Female Pros

The Ironman Executive Challenge group, in Wave 2 with the Female Pros

In fact, I looked rather focused, albeit a bit rotund and with some male cameltoe, right before we got into the water.

with a bit of male cameltoe.

Focused, with a bit of male cameltoe.

Unfortunately, however, starting in such esteemed company and with Meredith Kessler giving us each a high five and a hearty “Good luck” right before the race made me a bit too excited. Normally when the starting gun goes off, I take my time and walk into the water. This ensures that my heart rate stays low and manageable, and that I’m able to find my rhythm and stroke easily. This time, as soon as the starting gun went off, and as soon as we gave the female pros a 10 meter head start (out of respect), I led my XC crew into the water.

Bad. Idea. Jerome, on the other hand, was having a great time.

Bad. Idea. Jerome, on the other hand, was having a great time.

This meant that as soon as I dove into the water, my heart rate was already accelerated and I started the swim at a higher effort than I normally do. What this translated to was a few moments of high anxiety and panic, which caused me to stop swimming a few times between the 1st and 4th buoys. No matter what I did while swimming (focusing on my stroke, focusing on my breathing, thinking happy thoughts, peeing), I could not lower my heart rate and calm myself down.

Luckily, a paddleboarder saw me in trouble and paced me along the first 5/6 buoys (the course is set up almost like a trapezoid with 9 buoys along each major leg). This helped me tremendously, as I felt safer and calmer when I saw him. I also saw scuba divers go into the water right before my wave began, which also gave me reassurance that I’m perfectly safe in the water. Which, of course, I know I am. After all, this is my fourth half-iron distance event, and I’ve already completed an Ironman. Clearly, this fear is not being driven from logic, but rather irrationality and I still cannot figure out why.

My actual swim, according to my Garmin. I did a mostly decent job sighting, at least.

My actual swim, according to my Garmin. I did a mostly decent job sighting, at least.

After I was able to calm down, I managed to swim continuously through the course, although I did feel like I was going much slower than Quassy. It turned out that I was, as I came out of the water well back from my goal time in 47:44. Admittedly, I was a bit down on myself when I saw the time on my watch, even though it was a 2:22 swim PR and a FAR cry from the 1:09:37 I swam in Rev3 Maine almost 2 years ago. Still, I was hoping for better. Swim Time: 47:44. Last year’s swim time: 50:06.

Coming out of the water, not too happy but determined to make some time up in T1.

Coming out of the water, not too happy but determined to make some time up in T1.

Knowing that I had some time to make up, I tried to run the 500 meters into transition as quickly as possible. This year, I was lucky enough to be in the first row, right by Swim In/Run Out, so I was able to get to my bike quickly. Unfortunately all of my gear was still stowed in my gear bags, since we were asked to have a clean transition area. This meant that all of our gear had to stay in our bags throughout the race. Normally, I lay out all of my gear similarly to the picture below, but this year we were told to keep our gear inside our gear bags.

Last year's transition set up.

Last year’s transition set up.

It turns out that this rule was not entirely enforced, since I saw other triathletes’ equipment strewn all over the place upon entering transition. Figuring that it would be OK if I didn’t nicely repackage my swim gear, I left them laying next to my space in the rack, put my headband, helmet, sunglasses, and cycling shoes on. Grabbing Rexie, I clomped clomped my way through the transition area and past bike mount. T1 Time: 5:13. Last year’s T1 time: 5:22.

Once exiting Bike Out, the course briefly goes on Chemin de Voyageurs, turns right on Chemin Duplessis (the easy part), around a traffic circle and onto Montee Ryan for approximately 6 miles. Montee Ryan is where the hills begin, although Chemin Duplessis is slightly uphill.

Getting immediately into aero, as soon as I mounted Rexie.

Getting immediately into aero, as soon as I mounted Rexie.

After Montee Ryan the course goes north on 117 for about 15 miles before the turnaround at the km 143 marker (this is the road marker, not the course marker). After this turn around, the course heads back on 117, this time going south, until Ville de Mont-Tremblant (the actual village of Mont Tremblant, not to be confused with the ski village where the race begins and ends) for another turn around point. The ride through the Village of Mont Tremblant is actually pretty short – only about 3/4 of a mile to a mile long.

Once through the village, the course goes back onto Montee Ryan and then bears right, back onto Chemin Duplessis. This section is another short out and back (about 5.5 miles out), but it is definitely the most challenging part of the course, gaining approximately 535 feet with a loss of only 192 feet. It’s essentially a series of stair stepper hills, with some of the steepest section of the hills reaching 8% grade (for those who ride in NYC, it’s a similar grade to the hill from Ross Dock to River Road in Palisades Park). Fortunately, most of these hills are short and you’re able to see the crest of the hill from the bottom. For example, the 8% grade is only a little less than a 1/4 of a mile long.

There are very few flat sections of the course. The green line represents the speed (in MPH) through each of the sections.

There are very few flat sections of the course. The green line represents the speed (in MPH) through each of the sections.

While this section is short, it is very easy and tempting to over ride these hills. The key, as Jesse Thomas explained to me at breakfast the day before the race, is to crest the hill and maintain your power/effort through the crest. Don’t start to back down, or worse, coast through the top of the hill. This allows you to gain momentum as the hill flattens out or goes into a decline. Given that the out portion of Chemin Duplessis has very few declines, any momentum gained when cresting a hill becomes crucial while preparing to climb the next one. Shifting is also key, as is having the right gearing. I rode my standard 50/34 chainrings, paired with an 11-28 cassette. In retrospect, I probably should have used a larger chainring in the front, as I could have ridden hard on the down hill and flat (read: not uphill) sections of the course. Lesson learned for next year.

Once reaching the final turnaround on Chemin Duplessis, it’s a fairly easy ride back to transition. While there are some great downhills to ride and to regain some time, there are still a couple of key climbs. As in the Out portion of Chemin Duplessis, it’s very important to maintain momentum on these uphills and also to not over ride them since there’s no other time to recover before the run begins.

For me, I did not know what I was capable of riding on race day, but for the second triathlon in a row, my power meter was not registering on my 920XT. To this day, I’m not sure why as it registers every other time (including the day prior on an easy ride). There must be something within the software in Multisport mode within the 920. For Austria, I may try to ride with my Edge just so I have my power data.

Without my power and cadence data, I did not have any other metric (mph does not really make sense as a metric, since it’s too terrain dependent) to ride with so I rode by effort. This meant that I basically put my head down and rode as hard as I could. When I didn’t think I could maintain the effort, I rode harder. When I thought I was riding too hard, I kept it up. To be honest, I told myself not to worry about the run, and just ride the hell out of the course and figure out what happens later. This plan ended up working to my advantage, as I was seeing some pretty decent splits (for me) at each 5 mile interval (my 920 is set to auto lap every 5 miles).

Bike Splits

Based on these splits, it’s easy to tell that I need to work on hills. I’m able to ride fairly decently on the flatter portions, and I have no fear on downhills particularly on a road as beautiful and clean as Mont Tremblant, but I slow to a crawl once I get to a hill. Something I definitely will work on over the next 10 weeks.

In addition to a non-existing power meter, I also was trying a slightly new nutrition plan. Instead of using Generation UCAN, I decided to go on a more traditional route. Since I changed my diet in April, UCAN has not worked as well for me. I’ve come to need more calories during my training sessions, and since I knew I would put in more effort during the race, I was worried about bonking in the middle of the bike ride. So, after discussing the plan with my nutritionist, I decided on the following for the bike:

  • 2x water bottles with 1x scoop of Carbo Pro and Hydra C5 each. Total calories: 400. Total carbs: 100g
  • 2x PowerBar Performance Energy Bars. Total calories: 360. Total carbs: 32g
  • 1x Gatorade Endurance Bottle (taken from an aid station). Total calories: 80. Total carbs: 21g

I also had 6 salt pills with me, with the plan being to take 1-2 every hour. Unfortunately I lost the salt pill bag somewhere on 117 North, so I only ended up taking one salt pill. Luckily the weather cooperated and it was slightly overcast with a brief shower so I did not need any additional electrolytes. I only used one water bottle so my total calorie/carb count for the bike was 640/153 g.

So, my nutrition all set and my plan sort of in place, I rode. And I rode. I pushed through the uphills, and tried to go as fast as I can on the downhills. In fact, Rexie went so fast on the downhills that I had a fellow triathlete ride next to me and said, “Man, your bike really flies down the downhills!”

If only I went as fast on the uphills, sigh.

Anyway, this plan of mine actually worked and I had the ride of my life. In fact, one of my teammates who was racing with me, did not pass me on the bike until about mile 43 or so, and I had thought he would pass me much sooner. That’s actually when I knew I was having a really good bike leg, because he flies on the bike. He actually ended up riding a 2:20, finishing in 4:28. In other words, he finished 70.3 miles in the time it takes for most people to run a marathon.

But, regardless, we both had great races and part of the reason was that I actually raced this race. Instead of holding back and being afraid of bonking or being in pain, I went for it. I raced the way I used to race, before getting injured, and that was without fear. I’ve recently seen an Internet meme that said FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real, which is fairly accurate. In the past year or so, I’ve been afraid of pushing myself because I’ve been afraid of re-injuring myself or not being able to finish what I’ve started. I’ve not had that mentality in the past, and this is the first race in a long time when I’ve let go of that fear and embraced the pain. It worked. Bike Time: 2:57:53. Last year’s bike time: 3:46:49.

Getting off my bike, I quickly came to realize that my legs felt like jello. Luckily, I had a long run from Bike In to my bike rack, since I was right next to Run Out. This gave me some time to get some feeling back into my legs, though I did feel like I was running veeeeeeery slowly. Once I reached my bike rack, I removed my helmet and bike shoes, fixed my headband, grabbed my race belt and Garmin and ran out. T2 Time: 1:29. Last year’s T2 time: 3:02.

Running out to T2, this is my

Running out to T2, this is my “I have to poop face.”

With Run Out being literally right next to my bike, I almost forgot to transition my Garmin. I ended up transitioning it slightly after I should have. At the time, I thought I needed to run a sub-2:00 half marathon to break 6 hours, because I thought I looked at my overall time when I ran out of transition, and it said 3:57. So, with that thought firmly implanted in my brain, I forced my legs to open up and move.

Except they didn’t. I couldn’t move my legs. And I had to poop. Badly.

For legitimately the first race in my life, I had to poop during a race. I tried to fight it off as much as I can, and I skipped the first set of port-a-potties, but by the time I got to the aid station on Chemin du Village I had no choice but to stop in a port-a-potty, drop my tri shorts, and poop. Hopefully in that order.

After pooping, I felt a lot better. It did take me a lot of time to actually get up, because my legs wouldn’t cooperate, but at least my stomach felt better. Since my first mile ended up being an 11:05 mile with the pooping, I knew I had to push harder to make up the lost time. Unfortunately my legs still wouldn’t cooperate, so my second mile was only a 9:29.

Luckily, the course became rather flat for about 6 miles, running on the Le P’tit Train du Nord trail. This year, they paved the trail, which made it much easier to run. I resolved that once I hit that trail, I didn’t care how much it hurt or how my legs felt, I would run each mile as hard as I can and just focus on counting down each kilometer marker and getting to the next aid station.

Run Course Elevation

Elevation Chart of the Run Course. Hilly beginning, flat middle, ridiculous hill at the end.

Once I got on the trail, I stuck to my plan and surprisingly my legs started to feel better. Running on the left side of the cones, I was able to open up my stride and get into a good running rhythm. I also started to see some of my faster XC teammates running back, and it was good to see them again. They gave me a slight boost as I ran towards the turnaround point, as did some of my fellow runners as we encouraged one another as we ran by/with each other.

As I ran, I focused on three things: my breathing, my form, and my time. I knew that I had to hit approx. 9:00/mile to make it sub-2:00, and with the 11:05 first mile, I figured I just had to run hard to make it, since there was no way I was going to figure out the math at that point in the race. I actually resolved not to look at my overall time again until I reached the Westin, back in the Tremblant ski village.

Overall, I succeeded with that plan until about mile 8 when I started to cramp badly. At that time, I had already taken my 2 Gus (one at mile 3ish and another right after mile 7) and was taking Gatorade and water at every aid station, so I became a bit concerned. It also started to get hot at that time, and since the rail trail has very little cover, I thought I was dehydrated. I ended up having to walk at a couple of points, since my running had slowed down to a crawl.

At the next aid station, I switched it up and added some flat Coke for sugar, and that helped for about a mile. I felt better going into mile 9, but mile 10 was painful. Since I had about 5K to go, I said “suck it up buttercup,” and pushed through the pain. I still ended up walking a little bit but I managed to run about .95 of mile 10. Once I ran out of the rail trail, and the small bike trail which was another out and back, I knew I just had to make it back to town.

You can tell when I pooped, and when I cramped.

You can tell when I pooped, and when I cramped.

Unfortunately the way back to town was uphill, but none of them were that bad. I actually thought that the last bad hill was the hill on Chemin de la Chapelle, which is the hill we climb up and down on our way to swim start. I figured that once I got over that, I’d be home free and can look forward to the down hill run into the Finish Line.

I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

It turns out that they changed the course. Where last year’s course ran by the Westin, into the Village, and down the hill to the Finish Line, this year’s course ran into the Village, turned left and went UP a rather steep hill, and did a lollipop around the top of the Village, before going straight back down into the Finish Line. This was a very unpleasant surprise, because I did not expect it. That’s what I get for not reading the Athlete Guide and reviewing the course before hand. #oops

With no other choice but to run, I pushed on and kept going as hard as I could. At this time, I stopped looking at my watch because there was no way I could run harder than I was and I figured I’d end up with whatever time I ended up.

Once I started heading down hill, my focus switched from keeping on running to not falling. The downhill is STEEP. And narrow. It is also filled with other tired triathletes trying to run as hard as they can, so it can be quite dangerous. Luckily nothing unfortunate happened and I was able to finish in one piece. Total Run Time: 1:50:04. Last year’s run time: 2:29:15.

I'm done!! And with a major PR!

I’m done!! And with a major PR!

Overall Time: 5:51:23
Last Year’s Time: 7:14:34

Quite a difference, huh?

I had nothing left at the end.

I had nothing left at the end.

Relentless

I didn't drown!

If I could describe the Challenge (née Rev3) Quassy course in a word, I’d use relentless. Or “unforgiving.” It’s a brutally honest course that tests your every pedal stroke and every step. You earn each and every mile; in fact, I believe it was Triathlon Magazine that said the Half course was the toughest Half bike course they’ve ridden.

Changing 1,864 feet in the bike Oly course (thanks, Garmin!) and 464 feet in the run course, the race is a series of hills with the only flat sections being transition. More on these later, though.

Bike Elevation and Speed

See? I told you the elevation gain was ridiculous? Also, almost a max speed record!

First, the dreaded swim.

Wtf?? Those buoys look SUPER far!!! I swear they're further than .1 miles each!

Wtf?? Those buoys look SUPER far!!! I swear they’re further than .1 miles each!

The Challenge Quassy swim takes place within the confines of Lake Quassapaug (try spelling that without spell check). Both of the Half and Oly swim courses are triangular, with the Half course being slightly longer on each of the three legs of the triangle. The lake is calm, semi-clear, and free from marine traffic, except for the support teams out on race day. Each buoy is about .1 mile apart, with the yellow buoys denoting the turns. Last year we had some severe sighting issues as we turned around the first buoy, due to the rising sun coming above the treeline. This year, it was slightly overcast, so I had no issues with sighting.

The day before the race, there was a practice swim starting from swim exit. We weren’t allowed to swim the race course, but we were able to swim about .3 miles total around three buoys. As frightened as I am of open water, I took the opportunity to obtain some more OWS experience, and luckily for me, the awesome Abby Lombardi swam next to me the entire time to make sure I was OK. She’s a MUCH faster swimmer than me, and to have someone basically float on her back as I did my doggy paddle helped me tremendously.

On race morning, I was in Wave 2 (30-39 year old males). While I did feel some slight anxiety I was not as anxious as I normally feel on race morning, which I took as a good sign. When the starting gun went off, I walked into the water and once I had a clear space and could barely stand in the water, I started swimming. I kept my stroke smooth and easy (that’s what he said), and focused on my breathing and staying calm. As I swam to the first buoy, I noticed I was actually swimming with people, which is a first for me. Normally I get left behind very quickly, but this time I stayed with folks through the first buoy. This means I was actually competitive for the first .1 mile of an Olympic distance race! Woohoo! Progress!

I still swam a tad long, even though I was able to sight decently well.

I still swam a tad long, even though I was able to sight decently well.

Anyway, with the race being only 600 athletes in size, I had plenty of room to swim and actually used people and the buoys for sighting. This allowed me to just focus on staying calm and controlled, and before I knew it, I was at the first turn buoy. Realizing that I had made it through a third of the race without feeling anxiety or having an elevated heart rate, I started to think that I would be able to get through the race without having to stop and look for a lifeguard on a kayak. Buoyed (see what I did there?) by this thought, I proceeded to swim my slow, plodding pace all the way through the remaining buoys and came out of the water in 36:09, or 5:22 FASTER than last year!

Both surprised and happy with this result, I tried to sprint up the small hill leading to transition. Unfortunately I felt a bit more disoriented than normal (I tried to follow my coach’s advice and rotate more in the water), and ended up running sideways into two other athletes on my way up the hill. Apologizing to them, I continued on and found my bike with OTHER BIKES STILL AROUND HER. After struggling a bit with my wetsuit, I finally grabbed her and exited T1. Total time for transition, including the wetsuit struggle and running sideways was 1:20.

I didn't stop to take a picture of her while I was in T1, but this is her in transition the day before.

I didn’t stop to take a picture of her while I was in T1, but this is her in transition the day before.

Once on the bike, the course takes you out of the amusement park and with a left turn, onto a major road. This road is a slight incline, starting the first of many on the day. Still feeling a bit disoriented and slightly off-kilter, I just focused on getting myself oriented on the bike and to make it the slight downhill a couple of hundred feet later. This was when I realized that my Garmin 920XT was sideways in the mount and not obtaining any power data from my power meter. Hashtag oops. This is why you need to test all of your gear prior, folks! I had already forgotten my heart rate sensor (I brought a strap but not the sensor, which was in my suitcase getting ready to go to San Diego the next morning), so I was hoping to have some sort of metric to make sure I didn’t blow myself up. Oh well.

Continuing onto the course, I didn’t feel quite right so my idea of starting off fast on the bike didn’t go as well. I was also inordinately thirsty, and ended up finishing my first of two bottles (this one with Gatorade and Carbo-Pro, as I was trying a new nutrition strategy) within the first 5/7 miles of the bike. As mentioned previously, the course is really a series of unforgiving hills, and in a sort of lollipop shape (or it kind of looks like a sperm).

What? You didn't believe me about the hills?

What? You didn’t believe me about the hills?

I had decided early on that I would ride the bike course hard and just see what happens on the run. If I blew up, so be it, but I really wanted a hard bike workout. So, I hammered on the hills. And then I cramped. Hard. At some point about halfway through the course, I started to feel a side stitch coming on. I tried my best to ignore it, but it steadily grew worse until I could no longer stay in aero. I had to sit for a while, but eventually I was able to get rid of it and continued on trying to ride the hills hard.

I know I’ve said this before, but damn, this course is hilly. I honestly didn’t remember it being as hilly as last year, so my brain must have automatically blocked out the worst parts from memory. It’s also a somewhat technical course, with plenty of turns and some of them happening right before or right after a hill. The former are the worst, as you carried basically no momentum leading into an incline. You were basically forced to either sit and spin, or just power through them.

There were a few epic downhills though, and I managed to come close to my personal speed record (52 mph in Syracuse, 2012) during one descent, where I hit 48.21 mph. Had I known I was close to 50 mph, I definitely would have pushed harder but at that time I was just enjoying the all-too-brief respite from climbing.

Two side notes: first, at some point along the course, I passed a teammate (recognized via his awesome TriBy3 kit) on the bike course. This phenomenon had never happened before, as my teammates are SUPER fast (seriously, they win races and their age groups, while I show up to races). We gave each other some encouragement, and then we went on our merry way. Second, the road was not the best quality. There were several rough spots and potholes, and in one particularly painful section, my saddle went right into my nuts because I didn’t lift my gonads high enough above my saddle when going through a particularly rough section. Hashtag oops #2.

Anyway, eventually I started my way back to transition and while I was above my goal time I was still happy overall thanks to that swim. The bike course is also a little long, so I finished at about 25.62 miles total (I think they published it at 25.7, so not bad). Total bike time, a slightly disappointing: 1:31.11.

Getting off my bike, I ran back into transition, racked my bike, took my helmet off, switched shoes, grabbed my race belt and off I went. Super easy transition, and I was in and out of T2 in :48. That’s right, :48. That’s almost pro-style right there, WOOHOO!

The important times could definitely be better...

The important times could definitely be better…

Running out of transition, you ran back out of the amusement park and made a left turn. This year, instead of making a second immediate left out of the park, you ran straight down the road and down the last major hill of the course. Once past that first downhill mile, you did a loop for about 4 miles back to the bottom of the hill and run basically the last 1.2 miles up an average of 2.1% grade. Not fun.

Feeling pretty good, I ran out the first quarter mile and felt like I was in a good cruising pace until I looked at my watch 6:30 pace. Hashtag oops #3. I was going back way too fast, even if it was a downhill mile. I slowed down a bit, settled into a more reasonable pace and finished the first mile in 7:49. At that point, the adrenaline of coming out of T2 started to wear off, and I started to feel the hills that I had tried to hammer through on the bike. Focusing instead on picking people off, I thought I saw someone I recognized about half a mile ahead. Staring at her, I started to try to reel her in.

Going into the second mile, my legs started to feel heavier and heavier, but my target was getting closer and closer. I finished that mile at 7:59, a little slower than I would have liked, but then again, hills.

Rounding a turn right after the mile 2 marker, the first really major hill started. This one SUCKED. Seriously. It took everything I had to keep running and not walk it. I just focused on the woman I was trying to reel in and keeping my cadence up. Somehow I still managed to stay above 180 (182) for the mile, but I did slow way down because I was exhausted. I also started to feel a bit of a cramp on my right quad, but I tried to push it out of my head. This mile was a plodding 9:07.

Finally cresting the hill and passing mile marker 3, I started to pick up the tempo and pace again. Mile 4 starts on the biggest hill of the day, with the elevation going from 787 feet to about 951 feet in a little over a quarter of a mile. In other words: brutal. I passed a few folks walking up, but since the woman I was chasing (she was just a hundred or so feet in front me at this point) was still running, I had to keep running. I resolved to myself that once we hit the downhill, I would just let it go (running-wise,  not gas-wise) and catch her on the down.

What? You thought I was kidding about the hill?

What? You thought I was kidding about the hill?

This was a great plan, until we started running downhill and my left hamstring seized up with zero warning. One second I was starting to lengthen my stride and increase my cadence, the next my left hamstring locks up and I barely keep my balance as I hop downhill on one leg. Hoping to run through it, I kept hopping downhill, but eventually I was forced to stop and reassess. I limped a little further down the hill, and one triathlete who passed me said, “leg cramp? Here, take this” and passed me two pills. Being in a blur of pain and sweat, I said “thanks” and took them, having no idea what they were (they weren’t salt pills, as I know what those look like).

Kids, don’t take candy from strangers. Unless you’re an adult and are trying to finish a race.

Other triathletes offered encouragement or gels (we’re seriously an awesome bunch) as they passed, which helped. A police officer, who saw me struggling, even drove up the hill and stopped asking me if I wanted a ride back home. I looked at him and said, “Thanks, but hell no.” He said, “I figured as much, keep going buddy.” And so I did. The entire downhill that I was looking forward to was sadly reduced to a limp/walk/jog, and I finished the mile in 11:07.

Yeah...the sucked

Yeah…that sucked

Mile 5 continued the descent, and as my leg started to relax, I tried to pick up the pace again. Each time I would get into a rhythm, however, my left hamstring would remind me that it was still cramping  and my right quad had gotten worse thanks to my unusual gait and increased reliance on my right leg. Still, I managed to power through the mile in 7:52.

Mercifully, mile 6 started relatively flat however I made the mistake of trying to open up my stride too much. Both my left hamstring and right quad seized up and I was reduced to limping through this mile. Being so close to home, I didn’t want to stop so I just kept pushing through and limping my way up the hill and into the final stretch home. Since this is the back section of the out and back portion of the lollipop, I ran into a number of friends who were starting their run. Each of them offered encouragement. Particularly helpful were the TriLife and Tailwind Endurance coaches who offered strong encouragement as I limped my way past them around mile 5.5.

Finally on the road leading back to the amusement park, I simply focused on forward movement. The spectators and faster fellow athletes were amazing; I could hear them encourage me by name and tell me that the finish line was just around the corner.

Side note: I had a volunteer tell me, “Great job, you’re almost there!” as I approached mile 1 on the run course. Mile 1. My almost automatic response was, “Go fuck yourself!” but luckily I retained enough restraint to just ignore her. Seriously? You’re almost there at mile 1?? WHO SAYS THAT?!?!

Anyway, rounding the entrance into the park, there are a set of railroad tracks that you have to navigate. It’s tough enough to do this when your legs are exhausted and you’re pushing as hard as you can the last hundred yards or so, it was incredibly difficult to do so while basically hopping on one leg. I was afraid I would bust my ass, but luckily I made it through unscathed and made it into the finish chute. There, I could hear the announcer say my name and say something to the effect of, “oh man, he’s got a wicked cramp but is still going. You’re almost there John, you’ve got this!” He, seeing as I was in the Finisher Chute steps from the Finish Line, was absolutely correct in saying that I was “almost there.”

Once I crossed the finish line, two volunteers immediately came over and tried to get me to go to medical. Not wanting to sit down, I declined and continued to walk around the finisher area in order to work out the cramps. Total 10K time: 55:07, total race time: 3:04:35.

I didn't drown!

I didn’t drown!

Unfortunately I never caught the woman I was trying to catch and I had a terrible run, but I’m still positive about this race overall. Not only was my transition game on point, I also had one of the best swims of my life. I know it’s still a slow swim in comparison to everyone else, but to be honest, I don’t really care about everyone else. I’m a work in progress, and I’ll continue to work on overcoming my fear of open water. Hopefully, by this time next year, I’ll be completely free of this fear and will be training for my next Ironman!

Until then, Ironman Mont-Tremblant 70.3 in two weeks!

Surviving the Bear

Where's Waldo, at the Start.

Now that I’m sitting in flight to ORD, I’ve finally had a chance to think and reflect upon today’s race. While I went into Bear admittedly feeling quite a bit ambivalent about racing, I have to admit that I am quite pleased with the result.

When I woke up this morning, I was not excited to race. I didn’t bounce out of bed as I normally do on race morning (well, let’s be honest, I don’t actually bounce out of bed on ANY morning except for Christmas), but I definitely did not feel the anticipation and excitement of race day. The reason for this is due to an incredibly tough (read: shitty) training block in April. Between feeling exhausted in the beginning of the month, and with me changing my nutrition plan in it’s entirety, I’ve had some incredible failures in training and in racing. I won’t even talk about what happened during the Hook Mountain Half two weeks ago, except for the fact that it was a massive disaster. So after stumbling out of bed and eating breakfast, I put on my race outfit (not including the pink tutu, which came later) and drove to the race with Alysen, not feeling overly excited.

Alysen and I post-race, so you know this ends well!

Alysen and I post-race, so you know this ends well!

Once the race started, I still wasn’t in the right mindset to race, but luckily the congestion in the first mile or two allowed me to take it easy and relax into the race. Although we had just started running, I noticed how other runners around me were already breathing incredibly hard. A bit surprised at this, I decided to stay with the pack and in control, in case I was missing something (you know, in case I forgot I was actually running…uphill…with rocks…).

This, in retrospect, turned out to be the right move because it set me up quite nicely for the race. While I felt the effort of those around me, the fact that I was feeling somewhat relaxed and in control gave me a boost of confidence. It also allowed me to keep myself calm on the early flat/downhill sections, especially when we hit Anthony Wayne and we could run on ROADS! I was so happy to see an actual road, that I picked up the tempo a little, to about a 7:15/7:30 mile pace, until I realized that was mile 4.5. Of a 13.6 mile race. Up a mountain. With that clearly in my head, I eased back into a nice and easy long run pace until we got back into the trails.

Once in the trails again, I focused on Bielik’s plan of power walking up the major uphills and really attacking the downhills and flats. This led to some interesting “tag” games with a few other racers: I would pass them on the downhills (sometimes making my own trail) and flats, but then they would catch up on the uphills. I knew that they expended far more energy than I did during those uphill runs though, so I tried to focus on my race and stay on plan.

My coach for this race was Michael Bielik (pictured on the left). Not only did he finish yesterday's 50 miler, he also decided to jump into today's half-marathon. He's crazy.

My coach for this race was Michael Bielik (pictured on the left). Not only did he finish yesterday’s 50 miler, he also decided to jump into today’s half-marathon. He’s crazy.

I have to say that it worked rather well. While I struggled up Timp Pass (along with everyone else, as it’s about a 25% grade during mile 9-ish of the course), once we were back on runnable terrain, I was able to finally pass and drop most of the folks I’ve been playing tag with.

When we passed the mile 10 marker, I realized that I had a realistic chance of hitting my original goal time. In order to do so, however, I’d really have to push myself and just ignore the pain in my ankle, quads, and calves and just go for it. After a little back and forth with myself, I said “Fuck it” and took off. This plan worked for a while, and as we were running within familiar territory at this point (we had run portions of the course about 3 weeks prior), I thought I knew where all of the upcoming hills were.

It turns out that my old age has really affected my memory, as there were two significant hills within the last 2.5 miles of the course that brought me to a screeching halt. Prior to approaching those hills, I was flying at approx. sub-8 pace and feeling like I could hold it. Then I would turn a corner and suddenly a massive incline with non-runnable rocks would appear. More than one racer heard me say, “What the fuck? Where the fuck did this come from?!” With nothing more to do other than go up the hill, I climbed it the best I could and negotiated with my legs, telling them that if they run for me once I crested the summit, it’d be the last hill they’d see. As it stands now, I lied to them a few times, but I’m more than certain they’ll pay me back for it tomorrow.

Once we entered the last half mile, I essentially tried to focus on the finish line and the fact that just about 4 minutes of pain was left before I stopped. Upon entering the finishing chute, I tried to spot my teammates and coaches, but unfortunately my left calf cramp that started to bother me during mile 11 was really starting to announce it’s presence. Not wanting to keel over and die in front of my teammates and coaches (think of the paperwork TNT would have to fill out for that), I tried to focus on just crossing the line. Sadly, this focus led to my only regret of the race, which is my inability to perform my patented “John Tan Finish Line Jump Cross,” a la Rev3 Maine and NYC Tri. Oh well, there are other races.

I was very popular during the race, thanks to my awesome race outfit.

I was very popular during the race, thanks to my awesome race outfit.

With all of this being said, Bear really taught me two important lessons. The first lesson is that I truly have to listen to the advice that I had given several other TNT participants and friends prior, about training. Whenever someone was upset about a bad training session, I told them “It’s OK to be upset about a bad training session, but realize that a bad training session can bring more mental gains than what you potentially have lost in physical gains.” Getting through a bad session teaches you how to overcome the adversity and challenges we all face during races. We also learn how we deal with such adversity, and learn how to better cope with these situations. We can refer to these difficult sessions when we face adversity in a race, and remember how we moved past it and know that we can move past whatever issue we’re experiencing. Except for a broken leg. If you break your leg, you’re pretty much shit out of luck. But barring that, the key to getting over these sessions is to understand why you failed. Understand the reason, learn from it, and move on. I had forgotten this, and also about the fact that we’re not the result of one or two (or more) bad sessions. We’re the result of the accumulation of work we’ve done throughout the season and years, and as long as we’ve put in the effort, we’re going to be just fine.

The second lesson Bear taught me is about pushing through the suffering. Having just started training again in January, from injury, and having experienced a significant amount of suffering in IM Mont-Tremblant 70.3 last June (those who were around me at the Finish Line can attest to this), I’ve been afraid of pain. I’ve been afraid of pushing myself in training and in races as hard as I used to, because I’ve been afraid of the pain and potentially getting injured. I’ve been afraid to push myself beyond and perceived mental and physical limitations, because I began to doubt if I could. I lost faith and confidence in myself, and I lost what it means to really challenge yourself. Bear helped me realize today that I still have this ability. I suffered a bit during today’s race, but rather than taking it easy, I pushed harder. When I wanted to stop climbing Timp Pass and take a few minutes break, I refused and kept going. Part of that was due to my fear that gravity would then take over and I would tip over and fall onto the other runners below, but a large part of it was the fact that I knew that I could keep going and that I really didn’t need to stop. It’s this knowledge that I’ve been missing, and Bear helped me regain this.

Now that’s not to say everything will be OK going forward, and that I’ll be clocking in sub-7 miles with ease again, or that I’ll be able to generate a higher FTP on the bike now. I know I’ll continue to have my challenges, and I know I’ll continue to have some bad training sessions, but I also know I’ll be better equipped now to handle them. I have six more weeks or so until my main race for the season, and in that time, I’ll mentally reset myself, dial in my nutrition, and work as hard as I possibly can to be as ready as I can be come race day.

After all, the best thing you can do to prepare yourself for a race is approach it with confidence (and have an awesome Finisher Pic).

Rev3 Maine Finisher Picture!

Rev3 Maine Finisher Picture!