Ironman 70.3 Worlds

Last Sunday, September 10th, 2017 I toed the start line for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga. It did not go well, but to properly tell that story I think I need to start from last year. After crashing last April and stopping the fall with my face, I missed out on training for 6 weeks. I missed it. Badly.

Prior to that I was training consistently, but without drive. I wanted to train and do well in my races (prior to the crash, IM 70.3 St. George, IM 70.3 Honu, and Challenge Roth), but I was missing the fire. I was missing the spark that lights up every morning when the alarm goes off at 5 (or prior to 5) and it’s still pitch black dark out. I was missing the determination to go just a little bit harder, or just a little bit further to achieve my potential.

However absence does make the heart grow fonder, and not training for six weeks (really not doing anything, since I was not allowed to read, watch TV, use my phone/laptop, or go out of the house) lit that fire in a large way. As soon as my neurologist cleared me to go back into training, I dove head first and with a focus I had not had since I was training for my first New York City Marathon back in 2011.

Since I had missed a significant amount of training time, and since I was not cleared to fly, I skipped St. George and Honu and targeted Eagleman as my return race. After Eagleman, I refocused and set my sights on Challenge Roth. Crossing that finish line in Germany made me even more motivated, and despite the fact that I wanted to run fast again, I decided in September to sign up for Ironman Arizona later in November. That went about as well as I could expect, and continued my motivation to get even faster, stronger, and smarter for 2017.

So, after the success of 2016 I hit training hard in 2017. My first race for the year was Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico on March 19th and I wanted to use it to see if my very ambitious goal for Ironman Copenhagen was approachable. More importantly, I wanted to use it to see if I had finally conquered my swim fear since I had successfully completed two full Iron-distance events in 2016 with less than my usual discomfort and anxiety in the water. Puerto Rico was a non-wetsuit, very early season (for us in the Western Hemisphere, above the equatorial line) race and it would be my first non-wetsuit swim.

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Pre-Race. We swam underneath this bridge.

I never actually ended up writing about that race, because it was hard to. I came in fitter than I’ve ever felt before, and with more confidence in my swim than I ever had after swimming about 10,000-12,000 yards per week. Unfortunately my brain had other ideas, and I had several panic attacks in the water, after making the second turn buoy. In fact, I was so freaked out at one point, that I swam backwards for about 30-40 meters, so I could go back to a kayaker I had passed earlier. I kept trying to restart swimming after that, but every time I tried to, my heart rate would continue to elevate and I would start to hyperventilate. At one point, one of my teammates who started at least 20 minutes after me, passed me and yelled at me to keep going. I ended up losing 11 minutes in the water since I kept having to hang on to kayakers throughout the last 1000 meters (approximately).

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Came out of the water. Never took off my swimskin.

Normally, this would have motivated me to make up time in the bike and run, but I was crushed. Mentally, I was drained. I thought that with all of the hard work I had put in prior, and with going into the race with the right mindset, I was finally over my open water swim fear and could actually properly race a triathlon. I climbed out of the water exhausted, and physically and mentally not wanting to do it anymore. I was so out of it, in fact, that when I finally got onto my bike, I still had my swim skin on.

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Abby took this picture while cheering for me. She was wondering why I was stopping, until I handed her my swim skin.

I’ll write about this specific race at some point later on, but suffice it to say the rest of my race did not go well. I had a sub-par bike and a terrible run where I walked most of it. If it wasn’t for my friend, Alex Wall, I don’t know if I could have been able to finish. Coming home from that race, I allowed myself a couple of days to be upset, but I made myself get back into training.

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Alex “ran” next to me the entire time. This is probably the best race picture I’ve ever had.

A few weeks later, I had a work trip to Lisbon, Portugal. Coincidentally, the trip happened around the time of my birthday which was on the same day as Challenge Lisbon. I had always wanted to do that race, so I decided to sign up and properly race it. When race day arrived, I was excited. It was a course that suited my strengths: a swim that was in an enclosed body of water, off of the Targus River, where I could see land all around me, and bike and run courses that were relatively flat. I went down to the practice swim, which took place about 20 or so minutes prior to my wave start (there were really only 4 waves: pros, all of the men, all of the women, relays).

Getting into the water, I felt fine. The water temperature was good, visibility was great, and all signs pointed to having a great race. Unfortunately after swimming just about 25 meters, I panicked. I started to freak out – my heart rate shot through the roof, I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t see clearly. My vision went blurry, and my brain stopped processing information (or at least it felt like it). I immediately stopped swimming, and tried to tread water. Hyperventilating, though, made it hard and even though I was literally feet from the boat ramp where I entered the water, I felt like I could not make it back. The kayakers were at each turn buoy, and not in between, so I had no one to hang on to. I kept trying to calm myself down and lower my heart rate, which I was eventually able to do. I started to swim back, but just a handful of strokes later, I panicked again. I touched another swimmer’s leg, and while this normally gives me reassurance, for some reason it scared the shit out of me. I had to stop swimming again to calm down. Eventually I made it out of the water, where I was shaking in fear. I kept looking back at the first turn buoy, which was maybe 200 meters away, where the first kayaker was. I remember thinking in my head: “there’s no way I can do this. I can’t swim that far. I’m not going to make it.”

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Swim course, T1/T2, and the Finish Line (not up yet) all in one photo, from my Lisbon apartment.

These types of thoughts kept running through my head, so I went to find Abby to see if she could help calm me down. She tried to, but nothing she could say was getting through my head, and all I could keep thinking about was that I couldn’t do the swim and that I would drown. Neither of which are true, since: a) I’m a goddamn Ironman, and 2) I was in a wetsuit.

We moved to swim start, since I thought seeing the pros go off would ease my anxiety. Unfortunately that didn’t help. I was minutes away from starting when I turned to Abby, with tears in my eyes, and said: “I don’t think I can start this race.” I’ve never said those words before, especially not when I was standing right at the start line. Abby tried to encourage me and to remind me that I have done the distance several times over, but I could not bring myself to line up. They called my wave to the start (which was about 10 feet from where I was standing), when I took off my swim cap and gave it to Abby. Walking away, I started to cry and really question about why I was doing triathlons. I watched the rest of the race, but I spent the next few days depressed and entirely down on myself.

I had no idea why I was having such difficulty with the swim, when I put in so much training time leading up to each of these races, AND because I am an experienced long-course triathlete. This was not my first race; not even close to it. I clearly have the physical ability to swim, and I had the fitness. So why was I freaking out so much? I had and have no idea.

A few weeks later, I lined up for Rev3 Quassy. Even though I had done very minimal training after Challenge Lisboa, I felt like I HAD to do this race. Quassy is a race I’ve done two times prior, and it was just an Olympic race. Still, I was not motivated to race, and I was experiencing some severe anxiety about that swim. In the days leading up to the race, I could think of nothing but the swim, and how afraid I was of that water. Coupled with the fact that I was severely demoralized from my previous two races, I was not in a great mental place.

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Abby and I pre-race in Quassy. I was doing the Olympic, she was doing both the Olympic and 70.3.

Lining up for my wave start, my heart rate was through the roof. The gun went off and I started to swim. Barely 50 meters into the swim, I had to stop and recalibrate myself because I started to freak out. I kept turning around thinking I should go back. For some reason, though, I kept trying to make forward progress. It was not too long until a kayaker came up to me and asked if I was OK. I said no, but indicated that I wanted to keep trying. That lasted until the first turn buoy. It took me something ridiculous – like 24 minutes to swim 400 meters, because every few strokes I’d have to stop and try to calm down and not freak out. By the time I got to the turn buoy, I was completely drained. I swam up to a kayaker and told him I was done. He asked if I was sure a couple of times, and I told him I was. He called a jet ski over, and that was it for the race. Reaching shore, I was devastated. I have never been pulled out of the water before, and coming on the heels of Challenge Lisbon, I was emotionally and mentally destroyed. Abby’s coaches saw me get off the jet ski, and when I saw them, I broke down. They encouraged me, as they always have, and told me to get onto the bike course regardless. They thought that it would help for me to work out my emotions physically, so I did. That was a disaster in and of itself, but that’s a story for another day.

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This group of people helped me keep my head up on that day.

For now, it’s on to Ironman Copenhagen which was the next race on my calendar. For this race, I tried something different. Realizing after Quassy that I could no longer try to conquer this fear by myself, I looked for some professional help. A good friend of mine, Justin Mohatt, recommended Dr. Nate Thoma who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I won’t go through all of the work Nate I have done since June, but between the first time I saw him and August 20th (IM Copenhagen race day), he did provide me with enough tools to deal with any anxiety issues that may arise and also a level of confidence in my swim that I had been lacking. Though we had only started working together for a short time, he did say that he could at least get me back to where I was prior to this year – uncomfortable in the water, but able to get through it. I’ll post about Copenhagen separately, since it’s a long story, but Nate was successful in getting me through the swim. I viewed the swim as a breakthrough of sorts, since it gave me confidence that I could get through the swim of my next race: the Ironman 70.3 World Championships about three weeks later.

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Finally meeting Michelle in person. One of the many positives to come out of IM Copenhagen.

Unfortunately my confidence in my swim after Copenhagen did not last very long. When we came back home, I started to feel anxious about the swim. This was three weeks before race day, which is the earliest I’ve ever felt any anxiety about that swim. I felt a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach that never went away. At various parts of the day without any warning, I would suddenly feel afraid and anxious. This happened no matter what I was doing, or what I was thinking. I would wake up several times in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, unable to go back to sleep because I could not stop feeling anxious or afraid.  That swim became the one overriding thought it my head, and it ate me up.

I have never felt this level of anxiety prior, and I started to get an understanding of what someone with anxiety suffers through. It is neither fun or pretty. I am lucky, in a way, that my anxiety has to do with a specific trigger, but in the three week period between Copenhagen and Chattanooga, I became anxious all the time.

As a result, I did almost zero training between Copenhagen and Chattanooga. I simply was not motivated. I did go for some “fun” rides or runs, but it was all in an attempt to try to regain the joy I used to feel when I would train. I put no time or distance goals in any of those efforts, but rather focused on the fact that I did once enjoy running and riding. We went on some easy rides to Market and Gypsy Donuts. Abby and I would do a run after work with no pace goals and we would stop when we felt like it. I even tried to do a swim in my pool on my own, without a planned workout or intervals.

None of it worked. The anxiety I was feeling outweighed my desire to do the race. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I actually should go and race it. I did not doubt I could finish the bike or the run, despite my lack of training and fitness, but I doubted whether or not I could finish the swim or, if I could, I doubted if I could make the cut off.

I have never not made a swim cut off before (though I came close in 70.3 Worlds in Zell Am See, Austria two years ago), but it was a legitimate concern for me for this race. In Copenhagen, while I was swimming slow with the simple goal of finishing the swim, I swam 1.2 miles in approximately 57 minutes (I do not actually know what time I swam that distance in, but I am extrapolating that time from the pace I averaged throughout the swim). This means that if I swam the same exact pace in Chattanooga, I would only have three minutes to spare in the event that something goes wrong (Worlds 70.3 swim cut off is 60 minutes, as opposed to 70 in a regular 70.3).

This, coupled with the fact that it’s mostly an upriver swim, frightened the shit out of me. Back in May when they held the 70.3, there was about a 300 meter upriver portion before turning down river for the rest of the swim. When the male pros went off, they were swimming 3:00/100 on the upriver, causing the race organizers to change the swim for the age groupers to a downriver swim only. At that pace, that meant that the pros were swimming 2.5 to 3 times slower than their normal paces. For an incredibly poor swimmer like me, I was more likely to be fished out of Georgia if I had to swim upriver.

Chatt Swim Course

For Worlds, the upriver portion was 860 meters. At my current pace, it would have taken me roughly 25 minutes to swim the upriver portion without a current. Assuming I swam two times slower, it would have taken me 50 minutes to finish 860 meters, leaving me only with less than 10 minutes to finish the remaining 1040. I was facing an impossible task. Was I overthinking it? Absolutely. I never analyze a race going into this much. In fact, I don’t often look at weather or the course profile, since I normally do not care (after all, we all race at the same time, on the same course, right?). This time I did. This time, I was scared for my life.

I could not hold out hope for a minimized current either, because the Army Corp of Engineers controlled the flow of the Tennessee River. Since the dam is a hydroelectric dam, electricity demands of the surrounding area dictated the flow NOT frightened athletes. Later on I found out that Ironman had planned on slowing down the current at 3 AM on each of the race mornings, but I found this out only on Friday night after several drinks with some of the Ironman South Africa team. So, for the three weeks prior, I was scared.

A second factor that completely messed with my head was that I had reports that it would be an non-wetsuit swim. The week prior to the race, I found out that the water temperature was 84 degrees. For the race to be non-wetsuit, it had to be at 76.1 or below. Given that the weather was forecasted to be hot (in the 80s all week), I thought it would be a non-wetsuit, upriver swim.

Shit.

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I can relate, kitty. I can relate.

Lastly, the third item I thought about was the fact that it was a World Championship race. Normally, I do not let this get to me, but for some reason it did. Maybe because I was twenty five plus pounds overweight, and maybe because I was entirely unfit, but I kept thinking about that this was Worlds. Actually my thought was more accurately like: “Holy shit. Holy shit. This is Worlds.”

Normally I subscribe to the same philosophy that Sam Appleton and Matt Dixon told us about at breakfast on Friday morning, which was: “Ignore the fact that it has ‘World Championship’ as part of the name. At the end of the day, it’s still a 70.3 and you still swim, bike and run. Don’t change anything or do anything you wouldn’t do for any other race, just because it’s Worlds.”

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Super nice guy and incredible triathlete. And me.

I wholeheartedly agree with their reasoning and line of thinking normally, but for some reason I freaked out about it. Maybe it was because I knew who was racing, and knew how fit and strong they were. Maybe because I recognize how lucky I was to be able to toe the line for this race. Maybe because I was entirely inside my head for this race, and I couldn’t get myself out of it. I don’t really know why this bothered me so much.

Anyway, Naveen Wall (Rehman) had also qualified for Worlds, so I had planned on traveling with her, Alex, and a good friend of mine, Alysen, to the race the Thursday prior. Selfishly, I thought it would be good for me to travel with people, so I could not just not show up for my flight. Knowing that we were all going to the airport together, and knowing that we were all in the same hotel together helped make sure I would show up.

Abby could not make it, because we had both planned on racing Ironman 70.3 Lake Placid, along with half of New York City. We had discussed about whether or not I should go to Worlds as opposed to Placid, and she supported me going to Worlds. After all, she said, “there’s no guarantee you can qualify again. Take the opportunity when you can.”

So, the four of us went to Newark Airport for a direct United Airlines flight to Chattanooga on Thursday morning. I should have known this, but it turned out that we knew half of the flight including two of my Executive Challenge teammates. Our flight ended up getting delayed because one of the two engines were broken, so we ended up having some beers and fun chats with fellow triathletes and friends.

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They’re gonna kill me for this.

Eventually we made it to Chattanooga, where we had about 15 minutes for all of us to pick up our VIP accreditations and for Naveen and I to register for the race before registration closed. We made it just in time, in large part thanks to Tiffany of Ironman for ushering us through the process and allowing us to register privately. Thanks Tiffany!

After registration, we went to our hotel where we had about 45 minutes to get ready before the Welcome Banquet. All of this meant that I had zero time to myself to freak out, but as soon as we entered the Banquet, my nerves started firing. Walking into that room, particularly walking into our section where Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Greg Welch and a whole host of other incredible athletes were sitting, made me realize how lucky I really was. I started to feel incredibly nervous about the race, but since my friends were there, I had to act like everything was OK.

As the night wore on, I felt very much like a duck in water. Calm on the surface, but beneath, everything is frantically churning. I ended up drinking more wine than I had planned, and when we went back to the hotel, I managed to convince the rest of them to join me at the bar for more drinks.

The next day, we had a practice swim scheduled for 10:30. I was freaking out about this swim, while Alex and Naveen tried to reassure me. Alex told me he would happily jump in and rescue me if he needed to, and Naveen told me she would swim next to me the entire time. I very much appreciated their support and kindness, and I took Naveen up on her offer to swim with me.

We entered the water together, and we started swimming. Before we reached the first turn buoy, however, my heart rate skyrocketed.  I stopped to tread water, and Naveen, true to her word, stopped with me. She tried to talk me through it, and to tell I was ok and that she was right there. It worked to an extent, and I tried to start swimming again. Unfortunately after a few strokes, I had to stop because I started to feel panicky and anxious. I had to tread water for a while, and I kept thinking that even though we were less than 100 meters from where we entered, there was no way I could make it back there. A motor boat came over to us and checked to make sure if I was ok. I said no, but they advised us that we had to keep swimming because the current was taking us further and further south. I said I would try, and I did. I managed to almost make it to the turn buoy where I had to stop again because I could not control my breathing or heart rate. At this point, I told Naveen I was not OK and I needed to get out. She helped call the motor boat over, who called another person in a zodiac in. He pulled me out of the water, and brought me back to shore. Naveen continued on to swim, but throughout the entire time I was in the water, she stayed by my side the entire time. I cannot even begin to describe how much that kind of support and friendship means to me. I’ll write a bit more about it later on, but this type of friendship and support is one of the reasons why I truly love triathlon.

Anyway, after getting out of the water, I  was not in a good mental state at all. I was even more frightened, anxious, and scared than I ever was. I did not know what I was going to do, until Jimmy Seear called. Jimmy, a former Australian pro triathlete and co-owner of Ventum, has been an incredible friend and supporter as well. In the weekend before Copenhagen, Jimmy and Diaa (the other co-owner of Ventum), had reached out to me and offered to help me with my swim. They wanted me to come down to Miami so Jimmy and Leanda could swim with me and help me work through some of my swim issues. It was such an incredible offer and gesture, and it came without me asking or prompting. They had just seen through my Facebook and Instagram posts that I was really struggling and they wanted to help. That’s the type of community that triathlon has, and one that I truly cherish and love. (Side note: special thanks also to Kris Gemmell, for his help in the ocean and for the constant encouragement he’s provided for IM Copenhagen and IM 70.3 Worlds. Thanks Kris!!)

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I love being a part of the Ventum family! Rachel (l), me (c), Jimmy (r)

But I digress. Jimmy’s call was remarkable in a number of fashions. One: he called when Hurricane Irma was barreling down towards Miami and he was in the midst of prepping for her arrival. In fact, Jimmy and Diaa were both supposed to be in Chattanooga throughout the weekend, but both of them left early so they could protect their homes and belongings from the hurricane. Still, despite what was going on at home, Jimmy took the time to call me. Second, I was freaking out in a rather large way. His call reminded me of what we did with Miami, the techniques I learned, progress that I made, and all of the things we did in the ocean without a wetsuit. His call reassured me, and gave me a bit of a boost in confidence.

After Jimmy’s call, we had a number of tasks to get through, including driving the bike course, checking Naveen’s bike and gear in, getting my Ventum over to CeramicSpeed for Paul to look at and to get a new chain installed, and a welcome dinner at the home of one of my XC teammates, who lives in Chattanooga. (Side note: thank you very much to Paul Sollenberger for helping make sure my Ventum was completely dialed in for the race! For those who don’t know Paul, he’s one of the best mechanics in the world and is a really fantastic person to know. Thanks Paul!)

All of these meant I had to continue to pretend I was a duck. Quack. Quack.

The next day was Naveen’s race. We went down to watch her, and it was amazing to see. It was my first time seeing the 70.3 World Championships in person, since it was the first time Ironman split the men and women across two separate days. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience to watch, particularly since Naveen had such an amazing day!  It was also very helpful to see just how many kayakers and safety personnel that were out on the course. That was incredibly reassuring.

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After the race, Naveen tried to further reassure me about the swim, saying it was not that bad. While there was a current, it was nowhere near as strong as it was the day prior. This helped me somewhat, but I continued to feel that feeling of dread at the pit of my stomach. I was still entirely within my head, and I still could not get myself out of it.

For the AG women, it turned out to be a wetsuit swim. Instead of reassuring me, however, it freaked me out even more. This meant that I would have absolutely no excuse to get into the water. I did not realize it until then, but a small part of me was hoping for a non-wetsuit swim, because it would at least get me an excuse to not get into the water. At least that’s how I rationalized it to myself.

Since Ironman was making separate determinations each day on wetsuit legality, I held out a bit of hope that it would be non-wetsuit for me. Alas, this was not the case, and so after waking up the next morning and texting Frankie to find out it was wetsuit legal, I suited up to race. Technically, however, I did not actually wake up since I never ended up falling asleep – I was so worried and scared of the swim that I could not sleep at all.

Alex, Naveen, Alysen and I all walked over to the river boat where the VIP area was together. Since, due to the way the waves were structured, I was one of the first waves to go, I did not have much time to stay with them. Throughout the entire time I was scared and anxious. It took everything I had to leave the three of them on the boat and to make my way to my corral, by myself. It took even more for me to pick up my swim cap from the distribution point (they gave out swim caps race morning) and to stand with other athletes in our holding pen. It took everything I had to not break down and cry as we lined up to go into the water 6 at a time.

But, in the water I went. I started to swim normally, however within the first few strokes, I went to take a breath on my right at the same time the athlete next to me either kicked or his hand entered the water, which caused a spray of river water to go directly into my mouth. Coughing, I had a very hard time breathing or controlling my heart rate in the first few dozen meters.

Then, right near the first sighting buoy, I was hit in the face. The blow dislodged my goggles, and river water removed the contact from my right eye. Luckily I could feel it on my face, so I managed to make it over to a kayaker. I hung on to him to try to put my contact back in, but it was too disfigured and I had an incredibly difficult time. Eventually we started to drift too far, and he told me I need to start swimming.

So, without much of a choice, I did. I managed to make it to the first turn buoy, but I was struggling hard. I kept trying to tamp down panic attacks, and I kept trying to use the tools my CBT provided me. I also tried to use the mantra Jimmy and I were using in the pool and in the Atlantic Ocean, which was “hips and kick.” None of it helped. I was panicking and I was having a lot of trouble sighting.

The sun was rising at that point, and I guess we were facing east when swimming upriver. Every time I tried to sight for the next turn buoy, I could only see a big glowing blur, which was the sun. I kept having to stop to both orient myself and to keep my heart rate and breathing under control. Eventually, a kayaker named Kendall spotted me, and saw that I was in real trouble.

She made her way over to me, and asked if I was OK. I said I wasn’t, and that I couldn’t see out of my right eye and I was scared shitless of the water. She offered to kayak next to me as I swam and I said, “YES, PLEASE.”

So, she did. She couldn’t be my pacer but she did kayak close to me and continually encouraged me. Every time I stopped, she said I was doing great and that I was OK. When I told her I didn’t think I could do it, she said told me that I could. She said she would be with me the entire time and all I had to do was to stay calm and swim. Whenever I really struggled, she told me to break it down into 20 strokes at a time. She said count to 20, and restart. At every buoy, she said take a minute or two to relax and realize I was OK.

Kendall was absolutely amazing. And though I still had the feelings of panic and fear, her support and efforts went an incredibly long way towards helping me continue. I really struggled during that swim, both in terms of my anxiety and because of how much I had to work to fight that current. At one point, I was swimming next to a paddle boarder who was floating next to me, and I realized that I was not moving away from her despite how hard I was swimming. She was not paddling at all, but rather was just riding the current. I kept trying to sight for the bridges we had to swim under, but neither of them were getting closer, despite me swimming harder than I ever have before.

It was the hardest swim I was ever in.

But, Kendall stayed with me the entire time. At one point, I think she knew I was not making the cutoff, because she started to encourage me to be a little faster. She also started to help give me cues on where to go, because she was watching me swim in every direction but the correct one.

Garmin Data

I swam all over the place. Also, according to my moving time, I would have made the cutoff if I swam straight through.

She really was remarkable. I realized as I made the turn back down river, I was not going to make the cutoff. So, after I got out of the water, I turned around and gave her a thumbs up and a wave as she raised her paddle excitedly from her kayak.

At that point, I vowed to myself that no matter what would happen I would finish the race.

Until I went to get my transition bag and the Race Director was there. He held my bag for me and pulled me aside. At this point, I knew he was pulling me from the race. I understood his reasons why, so I accepted my bag and walked away. As I walked away, I did not know what to think. On the one hand, I was relieved to be out of the water. On the other, I was deeply disappointed and hurt I could not continue on.

I ended up walking the half mile back to our hotel, where the XC families were. As soon as I saw Troy, Frankie, and the families, I just broke down and cried. It hurt so much to be standing there with them, instead of being out on that bike course with my other XC teammates. It hurt so much to have all of their support, yet for me to let them down by not making the swim cutoff. It hurt so much for me to fail.

They all tried to encourage me, and they all gave me wonderful words of support and great hugs, but it still hurt and it still currently hurts tremendously. I am deeply, deeply disappointed in myself and it will take me a while to get over this. (Side note: Really, a truly special thank you to Denise, Katie, Gabie, Dina, Troy and Frankie. All of them were there when I walked over, and all of them gave me a hug and allowed me to cry on their shoulders. Although I did not show it, it did lift my spirits and the memory today is helping me recover from this race. So, if you guys are reading this, thank you.)

We ended up watching the rest of the race, and I watched all of my XC teammates cross the Finish Line. I was so happy for them, and to see how much their hard work and determination paid off, but I was also saddened to not have crossed the line with them.

What was remarkable about seeing them finish was that despite the fact that they all raced incredibly hard and well, as soon as they crossed the finish line and saw me, they all came over and gave me a hug and words of encouragement. I couldn’t help myself at this point, but I cried again. I did not mean to but them coming over and giving me a hug and encouragement and telling me it was all OK and that I was going to be OK, while in their race kit, and while still feeling the euphoria of crossing their finish line touched me deeply. So, to Trevor, Joe, John, Stephen, and Jerome, thank you. You all are a very large part of the reason why I love triathlon.

I mentioned before that the triathlon community is something I deeply love and cherish, and it’s because of people like these. People who don’t care who you are, how fast you are, or what your background is. All they care about is doing the best they can, and supporting everyone else who are doing the same thing. So many people have reached out to me and offered their encouragement and support, including pros, age groupers, and non-triathletes alike.

This experience, as difficult as it has been, has really taught me several lessons, including the value of my friends and those who support me and continue to support me. Triathlon is identified as an individual sport, but it really isn’t. It takes so many people to get a single athlete to the starting line, and even more to get them to the finish.

So, while I’m still healing and recovering from this experience, the entire community is helping. I will be back. I don’t exactly know when yet, since I have to fix myself first, but I will be back to race again and I will continue to be a part of this community.

This is just the beginning.

You Should See My Finish Video

“Want to keep the season rolling…”

That was the subject line of an e-mail I received on August 4th, from a friend at Ironman, inviting me to race Ironman Arizona on November 20th. Having just come off of a fantastic race in Roth, I was intrigued but hesitant. Did I want to commit to another Iron-distance race so soon after my first one in four years? What could I hope to gain or achieve from doing so? Having trained well in the lead up to Roth I knew I had the fitness to finish the race, but would I be able to race well? More importantly, could I race well just two weeks after the NYC Marathon which I had already planned on racing hard?

After a few discussions with my awesome coach, Darbi Roberts (who was also racing IM AZ, after finishing 4th last year and WINNING IM Wales earlier this year), we decided it was a low-risk race for me. I would go into the race with no expectations or specific time goals and just pick certain aspects of the race to work on (e.g. – the dreaded swim). My original plan for Roth was to take some time off to recover, and then really focus on the run to try to PR a fall half-marathon (current PR: 1:35:17) and a fall marathon (current PR: 3:29:58). This meant that I would target the Philly Half-Marathon on September 18th, and the NYC Marathon on November 6th. Because Philly was only a few weeks away, we hit the ground hard with run training averaging about 36 miles per week.

Unfortunately a couple of weeks prior to Philly, I hit a bit of a snag with an injured glute. The glute injury stemmed from a herniated disc I’ve had in my L5/S1 and also due to a second slight herniation in my L4. Luckily (or unluckily?) I’ve been dealing with the L5/S1 for a couple of years now so my doctors, coach and I knew what to do. We cut back on run training significantly, and upped my swim and bike time. This lead to a poor showing in the Philly half marathon (1:44:12) but a surprisingly strong showing in the NYC Marathon (3:32:49). Goes to show what no expectations going into a race can do for you, eh?

Anyway, I arrived in Arizona Thursday morning with the idea of just having fun this weekend. Upon arrival, the plan was to get my bike put back together and do a quick test ride to make sure everything works. Of course the best laid plans often go awry, and it took quite a bit longer than planned to get my bike put together which meant a lot more time was spent at the expo than planned. That was OK, though, because I was able to hang out in the Ventum booth (thanks Rachel and Diaa!)  and meet some awesome people (including Heather Jackson!).

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Heather Jackson is quite a lovely person!

Back to the Ventum booth – if you guys ever have a chance to meet Rachel and Diaa at a race, please take advantage and do so. I had the opportunity to meet Diaa last year in Kona (thanks, Greg!) and ever since then he’s been an incredible friend and supporter. I purchased my first Ventum soon after Kona, and even though their smallest frame (at that time) was just a bit too tall for me, Greg and Diaa worked together to come up with a solution. Not only that, Diaa custom-painted my bike and has provided me with a great deal of support since I’ve had her, including giving me a clutch piece of advice for how to properly position the straw of my water bottle (this turned out to be vitally important later). Seriously an awesome group of people to know and work with.

We also ended up displaying my bike in the booth all weekend, once I got her back and also once the CeramicSpeed guys were done with her (more on that in a second).

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Rexie received a LOT of attention this weekend.

Anyway, one of the other items I wanted to take care of pre-race was to install some OSPWs from CeramicSpeed. I had been doing some research about them and based on what I’ve read, they can save at least 1.6 watts and they make the drivetrain run a lot smoother. When combined with all of the other CeramicSpeed components I have (coated bottom bracket, UFO chain), all these savings in wattage can be significant. Since I’m a slow cyclist, I figured any free speed I can get will be helpful!

One of the potential issues with the OSPW and a Ventum though, is that the larger chainstay of the Ventum does not give the OSPW much clearance. So, to alleviate any potential issues I reached out to one of the best mechanics in the world, who works for CeramicSpeed and also works on practically every pro triathlete’s bike. He was kind enough to respond and assure me that it would be no problem to do the install, and he told me he would be in IM AZ as well!

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Super lucky to have Jeff (l) and Paul (r) work on my ride before the race. Thanks guys, and thanks CeramicSpeed!

With such fortuitous scheduling, I decided to go ahead with the install with which they did a remarkable job. Not only that, Jeff also fixed an issue with my front brake that three other mechanics were unable to fix. Thanks Jeff!

Side note: want to see how awesome CeramicSpeed components are? Check out the video below. Note how my cranks keep spinning without any pressure on the pedals and I’m able to shift through the entire cassette.

Now enough about expo shenanigans and on to the race!

Swim

The swim in Arizona is in Tempe Town Lake, which is actually a reservoir that occupies a portion of the dry riverbed of the Salt River (thanks Wikipedia!). From what I was told prior to the race, the water is quite murky. Since I’ve done the NYC Tri twice as well as the only IM to occur in New York City New Jersey, I didn’t think the water was murky at all. I could see my hand on entry into the water, which meant to me, it was clear. But then again, I do typically have low standards.

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I was warned prior to the race that the water could be cold, but I thought the water was quite comfortable at 65 degrees. Apparently a number of folks thought 65 is cold, since I saw quite a few triathletes wearing booties and neoprene caps. . In the practice swim the day before, I overheard several people discussing how they should prepare for the cold water. Silly Westerners.

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People thought it would be this cold.

Speaking of the practice swim, I did not have a good one. My plan was to get into the water and acclimate myself to the temperature, “murkiness,” and general feel of the course. What ended up happening was that I got into the water, swam about 50 yards, and then started to panic. I ended up treading water for about 5 minutes with several volunteers asking if I was OK. I kept trying to start to swim, but every time I would my heart rate would skyrocket and I’d start thinking irrational thoughts. I ended up barely swimming to the first bridge and cut across the course to head back. All told, I spent about 14 minutes in the water, with 10 of it just treading water in certain spots. Not a good way to start off race prep.

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Basically me, during the practice swim

Luckily, I ran into Darbi talking to Diaa at the Ventum tent. I told them both what happened, and they were more than sympathetic. In fact, they were actually quite helpful giving me some advice, encouragement, and stories about pros who also have a similar open water fear and about folks who have panic attacks. After speaking to them, I felt encouraged and significantly better. In fact, I felt great the rest of the day despite the setback I had in the water.

Also prior to Race Day, we had a breakfast with TJ Tollakson and Pete Jacobs. TJ has done this race a number of times, so he gave us some great insight about the swim. One of the things he said which I followed, was that don’t worry about sighting off of the buoys. In fact, sight off of the bridges and the buildings because if you follow the buoys, you’ll swim a longer course since the buoy line curves. It was great advice, because it allowed me to swim closer to the side of the lake and not worry about being run over or sighting these tiny buoys in the middle of a large body of water. Side note: isn’t it amazing how those buoys are actually quite large and easy to spot on land, but once you’re in the water, they become 1,000 times smaller? Objects are NOT larger than they appear.

Further more at the breakfast, the XC guys gave us some advice about the rolling start. I had initially planned on seeding myself in the 1:35-1:40 range, since that was my expected swim time (my goal was to beat my bib: 139). They told us, however, to seed much higher because the lake is so wide that there won’t be any issues with space. Seeding higher would also allow us to get into the water earlier rather than spending an extra 10-20 minutes potentially mentally psyching ourselves out. This is how I ended up in the 1:00-1:05 group with a few of my XC teammates.

I have to say this was absolutely clutch advice since I was able to get into the water perhaps less than 5 minutes after the race started and it allowed me to spend the time in the corral talking to my teammates and friends. I went into the water calmly and as soon as I got into the water, I made a sharp right and swam right along the line of kayakers lining the way up to the first bridge.

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The first bridge, taken from the XC boat.

Once past that bridge, I just focused on keeping the lake wall equidistant from me at all times. In the event that the lake wall curved, I looked out for the next kayaker. There were a good number of them, though admittedly there were more of them towards the middle. Still, it helped me to see the people cheering from the lake wall and I knew that in the event I got into trouble, I could swim to the lake wall if I needed to. One thing I noticed though was that it really is impossible for me to swim a straight line. I kept veering off to the right side and had to keep turning left in order to stay as straight as possible. Very much like me to not be entirely straight!

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Clearly, I can’t swim in a straight line. Also, contrary to what the map shows, I did not swim on land. I also swam 4,538 yards as opposed to 4,224.

In addition to the wall or kayakers, I also sighted off the tallest buildings that lined the lake. I was told prior to the start to sight off of the tall glass building in the distance because once I got to that building, that would be where the turn buoy was. Whoever told me that unfortunately either lied or was mis-remembered, because even though that building seemed like it would be far enough away to be where the turn buoy was, it wasn’t. It was still a good two buoys before I could turn, and I lost a bit of time treading water, confused.

Once I made the turn and started swimming home, I started to feel like I would be OK. Even though I was only halfway through the course, once I know I’m swimming back home, I’m mentally in a much stronger position. Of course for some reason, at about 3200 meters into the race, I started to panic. For no reason whatsoever (at least none that I could identify), my heart rate shot up. Knowing that I had to lower it before swimming, I stopped and tread water. I looked for the nearest kayaker but I couldn’t see one on either side of me. Finally, I saw a kayaker about 100-150 meters away from me, towards the lake wall, kayaking down against the swimmers. I started to swim directly across traffic (since at that point, I was closer to the buoys as opposed to the wall) and when I was closer I yelled and waved at him. He saw me, and quickly changed course to let me hang on to his kayak. Not wanting to tell him I was panicking, I told him my leg was cramping. I’m fairly certain he saw through that, as he told me to not worry about it and reminded me that I was swimming home and I’ve already finished quite a bit of the swim. His calm voice and support helped, and I only needed about 30-60 seconds with him before being able to continue on.

Upon letting go, I was able to finish the remainder of the swim without incident.

Swim Time: 1:39:22 / Goal Time: 1:39

T1

Coming out of the water, you climb up a short set of metal stairs and turn left. Once you turn, there are wetsuit strippers available. After removing your wetsuit (assisted or otherwise), you run down the length of the transition area and loop around the Run Out section on the eastern side of transition.

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Photo credit: Michelle. Thumb: Troy Ford.

Then you run past the change tent, turn right and grab your Bike Bag from the ground before heading into the change tent. There are very helpful volunteers along the way who yell out your number so a volunteer can give you your bag, but for me it’s quite easy. I’m one of the last people out of the water with such a low bib number so I can easily spot my bag without needing a volunteer.

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Bag drop the day before the race. The white tent in the background is the Change Tent.

After grabbing the bag, you can enter the change tent. I don’t recall if there were two entrances, one for females and one for males, since I tried to go through transition as quickly as possible. I also ended up just dumping my bike bag outside of the transition tent since I saw an empty chair near the entrance. Once I emptied the bag, I grabbed my headband, helmet, and then sunglasses. I then put on my bike shoes (note to self: learn how to flying mount in 2017) and threw my wetsuit, goggles, and swim cap into the transition bag. I ran into the tent, threw my bag into the bin and proceeded to run to my bike. Since I had a low bib, my bike was right next to bike out which helped speed up transition a bit. Sadly, I still fumbled around while putting my bike gear on that my transition was not as fast as I wanted it to be.

T1 Time: 4:34 / Goal Time: 4:30 (+:04)

Bike

After passing the mount line, the bike course makes it’s way out of the park where transition is, and then onto Rio Salado Parkway. This road is closed to traffic for a few blocks, before opening one lane to traffic heading in the same direction as the cyclists. I didn’t have any issues with crowding on the course at this point as I thought I would, and focused on getting into aero and controlling the effort I was putting out. I have a tendency to override the first part of the bike course since I’m so excited about being out of the water. I get so excited, in fact, that I hit my highest HR on the bike just :24 into the race! This is because I know that as soon as I get out of the water, the hardest part of the race is over for me. No matter what happens for the remaining 138.2 miles I’m going to be just fine.

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My max HR was hit 24 seconds into the bike – typical, since I’m SO happy to be out of the water.

Prior to the race, Darbi and I also had a strategy discussion about how I was going to race the bike and the run course (more on the latter later). Since I was coming off of a 3:32 in the NYC Marathon exactly two weeks prior, I wasn’t sure if my legs would have recovered enough to have a super strong effort on the bike. What we decided on was to focus on my effort levels, heart rate, and wattage numbers. Further, instead of focusing on my overall speed (mph), Darbi advised me to remove that data field from my bike computer so I wouldn’t freak out and push every time my speed dropped below 20 mph. It was some brilliant advice, however I didn’t execute it quite so brilliantly since I left the speed field on my 735XT (I use a Garmin 735XT throughout the race, but supplement it with an Edge 1000 since I have some issues with my power meter [PowerTap C1 chainrings] registering to my 735XT in Triathlon mode). Still, I tried not to focus on looking at my watch and just focused on looking at my Edge.

In addition to this Darbi also told me to be very conservative in the loops. Since Arizona is a three loop bike course (each loop being a 37-ish mile straight out and back), most people have a tendency to override the first loop. She told me of how many riders hammer the first loop only to really suffer the 2nd and 3rd loops. I wanted to ride under 6 hours for this bike, so we agreed that I would ride the first loop in 2:00, the second loop in 1:50-55, and the third loop in 1:45-1:50. This would give me a range of 5:35 – 5:45, while also ensuring that I did not put out too much effort in the first loop.

This was a brilliant plan on paper, but sadly my legs had other ideas. While I made the first loop exactly on time, I felt fatigue in my legs during the out portion of the Beeline Highway. This stretch of the course is about 10 miles in total, and on the way out is a gradual incline with a seriously wicked headwind. Prior to reaching the Beeline Highway, you ride around a few local roads with 4 turns which allowed you to gather some momentum and speed. Once you make the left onto the Highway though, you are hit with such a strong headwind that my speed dropped from 20 mph to 13. It was so strong that even though you don’t have to get out of aero during the incline, I had to get up and stand a few times just to fight through the wind. I tried to stay as legally behind as many riders as I could as well before having to pass them, but man that wind was tough.

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Cactuses (pictured) and wind (not pictured) were the only things on Beeline Highway

There’s not much to do about that wind though, except to try to stay as small as possible and to keep on pedaling while making sure not to exceed your power numbers too much. I also tried to keep in mind that this was only for about 5-7 miles on the outbound and once I make the turnaround I would have a massive tailwind on the way out.

And boy, did I have a massive tailwind on the way back. The turnaround is at the top of an incline, and once you got to the top, you can drop back into aero and really fly down back towards town. Right after the turnaround was an aid station, however, so you had to be careful and not immediately start to fly due to volunteers, debris, and other riders around. After clearing the aid station, it’s a fantastic feeling to suddenly go 35+ mph after slogging your way through at 13-16 mph prior to that turnaround.

If only my legs weren’t fatigued going into the race, I know I could have had a better time. When I finished the first loop in 1:56:58, I was much more tired than I should have been given that I was lower in both my target wattage (165) as well as my heart rate goal (160) for the first loop. Rather than focus on the negative though, I told myself to just keep trying to nail my goal times, but still watch my effort to make sure I had enough left to finish the third loop and run well off of the bike.

During the second loop I had planned on stopping only at special needs to refill my Ventum bottle. My original plan was to have a second Ventum bottle filled with about 600 calories of CarboPro to supplement the 800 calories I had in my first bottle. I also had a water bottle between my aerobars filled with Rocket Fuel (a mixture of Base Amino, Base Hydro, and Base Salts) and I planned to grab a second bottle of that also at Special Needs. I had planned on only grabbing water at aid stations in order to help was down a lick or two of Base Salt every 5 or so miles. Pete Jacobs was the one who actually helped me streamline my plan a bit, since instead of having a Ventum bottle in Special Needs (and thus losing a bottle at $50 a pop per race), he suggested that I buy a 1 liter water bottle the day before and mixing my nutrition in it. This way, I can grab the bottle and refill on the fly instead of having to stop, unscrew my Ventum bottle, take it out, put in the new bottle, screw it in, and throw out the old bottle. I thought this was quite a brilliant solution, until I reached into my Special Needs bag only to realize that I failed to put in the 1 liter bottle of water and just put in my 2nd bottle of Rocket Fuel.

I sat there for about 5 seconds before realizing what I did, and then had to get back on my bike and figure out a plan B for the rest of the ride. I had not paid too close attention to what nutrition was out on the course since I planned on taking care of it on my own, so when I passed the next aid station I paid attention to what they had. Knowing that I didn’t want any solids, I skipped the oranges, bananas, and pretzels and keyed in on the Cliff Bar gels. Unfortunately I hadn’t really taken them before so I was afraid of how I was going to react to them. I was worried that I would have stomach issues, even though I already stopped at an aid station to poop about halfway into my second loop (and thus lost about 4 minutes of time). So, I ended up taking the gels but only took 3 for the remainder of the race (about 46-50 miles) for a total of 300 calories in addition to the 800 I had.

I also ended up stopping at an aid station in the 2nd and 3rd loops to refill my Ventum bottle, since: a) I wasn’t thinking clearly enough to know that I did not need to stop and I can refill on the fly, and b) I was drinking water the way I drink my wine: very, very quickly. I ended up drinking so much water that I peed on the bike four times over the 112 miles (I felt bad for the volunteer who caught my bike because there was so much pee on it). I didn’t know this at the time, but this was a bit of a harbinger of things to come, but I’ll talk more about that later.

Towards the end of the second loop, as I approached the turn around, I felt a sudden sharp pain on my back. It turned out to be Darbi slapping me on the back, but at the speed she was going, it hurt! We gave each other some encouragement as she was finishing the bike while I was getting ready to head out to the third loop. She looked happy and strong, so that gave me a quick (albeit slightly painful) boost going into the third loop.

Second Loop: 2:09:43 (ouch)

Going into the third loop, I knew my goal time had gone out the window. So, very much like my second loop I focused on heart rate and wattage. While my heart rate was good (154 average), my power numbers were way off. I was much lower than where I wanted to be but I knew that I couldn’t really do much about it because if I tried to up my average power to where I should have been, I would destroy my legs for the run. Therefore, I just kept my head down and kept on pedaling.

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Average Power was 146, NP 153. Goal was 165

I’m not going to lie though – this loop was mentally tough. Knowing that I was way off my goal time and way off the power numbers I was capable of, it was tough to stay motivated. Initially I had planned on this being just a fun race and not really worry about time, but being in the Expo and meeting and hanging out with people like Diaa, Darbi, Heather, Mirinda Carfrae, Ben Hoffman, Meredith, and Pete and TJ totally had me jacked up to race. I tried to keep them and our conversations in mind, as well as the thought of people back home tracking me and cheering me on. These thoughts definitely helped propel me, and even though there were several moments when I just wanted to slow down and relax, I kept on pushing.

Finally headed back to transition, I rode past the turnaround point back in town and onto the long chute leading to the Bike Dismount line. There, I quickly got annoyed with how many people were coasting down the very narrow chute and how casually they were dismounting their bikes and strolling their way to their run bags. Come on people, it’s a RACE! Leaping off my bike after passing folks down the chute, I threw her towards a volunteer and ran around people to get to my bag.

Third Loop: 2:03:45

Bike Time: 6:10:26 / Goal Time: 5:50 (+20:26)

T2

T2 was fairly straightforward. You entered from the opposite end of transition from Bike Out. Run Bags were lined up a few feet past the Bike In arch, about perpendicular to where the Bike Bags were laid out. Once you picked up your bag, you can run into the same change tent as earlier, change, and then exit. Upon exiting, you turned right and ran under the blue Hoka One One arch for Run Out.

Similarly to how I ran through T1, I ran through T2. I grabbed my bag, ran into the change tent, dumped everything out of my run bag, and put my helmet, headband, bike shoes, and sunglasses into the newly emptied bag. I then put on my TriBy3 hat, a second set of sunglasses, run shoes, and then my race belt and Spi belt. The reason why I had two belts was due to the fact that I lost all but one of my gels that were on my race belt in Challenge Roth, so I wanted to avoid a repeat of that unfortunate incident.

Once fully kitted, I ran out of the tent and onto the run course.

T2 Time: 2:04 / Goal Time: 1:59 (+:05)

Run

The run in Arizona is a two loop course that loops around Tempe Town Lake. It’s a fairly flat course, with a couple of slight inclines near each turn around point. Coming out of T2, athletes make a right to get onto a paved path. At this point, athletes run parallel to the swim course and the path is full of spectators. Almost immediately after this point is the Special Needs section, so it’s full of awesome volunteers cheering on the athletes while screaming their numbers. I told them I was in my first loop and not to worry about me, but I think the volunteers realized that since I came out of T2 holding a Honey Stinger Waffle and my secret weapon – a roll of Mentos.

Ironman AZ Run Course

My plan was to eat the waffle as I ran down to the first turnaround point and save the Mentos for a later time when I really needed it. I actually discovered the power of Mentos during Challenge Roth earlier in the year, when Abby saw me at around mile 23 or so. I was really struggling at that point and she asked what I needed. I knew she had candy with her and asked her for the roll of Mentos she had. They were quite wonderful at that time and helped me finish the rest of the run upright.

Anyway, coming into the race I wasn’t sure what my legs would be capable of during the run since I had run the NYC Marathon 2 weeks prior with very little running leading up to it. Since my training for the marathon mainly involved biking and swimming, my plan for that race was to run by heart rate and keep it under 170 the entire time. One seventy on the run is mid-zone 3 for me, so I knew that if I stayed there I would be just fine. I ended up running a 3:32 for NYC based on that HR, so my coach and I thought 3:45 would be doable for AZ.

With that in mind, I focused first on maintaining my HR and then decided to see where I was pace-wise. My first mile split came at 8:22, with a heart rate of 160, so I knew almost immediately that 3:45 wasn’t possible. Still, I was feeling pretty good so I thought if I could maintain at around 8:20-8:30 pace I could still run a 3:50. Little did I know, but more on that later.

Running parallel to the swim was pretty cool, since I saw the landmarks I was sighting off of again but this time while I was on land. It also made me realize how long swimming a mile is, since I kept looking at the landmarks and kept thinking: “I swam HERE?!?”

At one point I also saw one of my XC teammates (Trevor) running on the lower path (the path splits into a lower and upper path a few hundred feet out of T2 and athletes on the outbound leg run out the upper path while athletes coming back run on the lower path). He looked really good, so I yelled out his name to cheer him on. He didn’t hear me but that was OK. I found out later on that he was actually going into his second loop while I was going into my first. He crushed AZ (9:22 with a 3:21 run!) and earned his Kona slot for 2018. He’s also one of the nicest guys I know, so I was very happy to hear that he had such a great day.

Back to my race – as I mentioned earlier there are some gentle inclines on the run course. One of the bigger hills is around that first mile marker since the path looped around to get onto an even higher level. It’s not bad at all since it’s fairly short, but it’s enough to keep you on your toes. I saw a number of folks walking up this hill. For NYC runners, think of the incline that takes you up from the West Side Running Path to Riverside Park and to W. 72nd Street. For those who’ve done the NYC Triathlon, this is the hill that you take coming out of T2 to get to W. 72nd Street. Now imagine that hill with a 1 – 1.5% less grade. That’s about the length and grade of that incline. Not bad at all, so I tried to keep my HR down and focused on shortening my stride, lowered my arm swing, and kept my head up as I ran to the top. Unfortunately right at the top is a 180 degree turn, so it’s a bit of a challenge but otherwise it wasn’t bad. The rest of the path leading to the first turn around point is dead flat.

Once you traversed the turn around point at mile 2, you had to take a similar hill in reverse to get to the lower path. Here, I tried to make sure not to over stride and not to exert too much force when my foot hit the ground. I kept my feet directly underneath me and made sure not to overrun the downhill because even as slight as it was, if I did I would definitely pay for it later.

Part of the lower path isn’t paved but almost trail-like. Central Park runners can compare it the Bridal Path, but far less uneven and rocky. This portion of the run takes you back to transition and past a convergence point of those starting the run/second loop and those finishing the race. It’s a pretty awesome location to run by, because several local triathlon teams/shops set up tents here to cheer and support. Since it’s also a point where you could see your runners 4x, a large amount of other spectators are here as well. So, even though my pace had slightly slowed at this point (mile 3.75-4-ish) to around an 8:40/mi pace I was still having a good time and happy to see my friends and the rest of the XC families who were here to support us. I was even able to give them a thumbs up!

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Past this point is a bit of a lonely stretch until you get to the other side of the lake, but it’s only about a mile long. There aren’t any spectators here since it’s a bit narrow, but since there are plenty of other runners I focused on trying to pick off as many as I could while still maintaining my HR. For everyone I passed (or who passed me) I said something encouraging to them, and for the most part I received encouragement back. This is actually one of the things I love about our sport, since everyone genuinely supports each other and wants them to do well. We all collectively suffer together, and since we understand what each of us goes through, we all support each other in our own little way.

At the end of the path, athletes made a right onto a bridge (North Priest Drive) which crosses the river. This bridge is also a vehicular bridge, so outbound runners get to run on the sidewalk, while inbound runners run on a lane on the road protected from vehicles by orange cones. Once on the other side of the bridge, there’s a slight descent onto another path. It’s on this portion of the run course where Leanda Cave ran by me, heading in the opposite direction. I cheered her on and about a minute or two later, I saw Darbi heading my way. I cheered her on as well, and told her to catch Leanda while Darbi gave me a low five and said something to the effect of: “this hurts.” Later on she told me that she probably shouldn’t have said that to me, but at that point I was still feeling decently good and since it was just mile 6 (for me, around 23-24 for Darbi) it actually made me laugh when I heard it.

The path descends down to an aid station, which I later grew to really appreciate. The volunteers were so energetic and a few were in costume. In fact, all of the volunteers were really amazing on the run. As I ran by (in the first loop), I would yell out what I wanted and several volunteers would run over and get it or they would run to me and hand me what they were holding. They were really amazing.

Also amazing was the BASE Performance team who was out between Mile 6-7/23-ish. My plan for the run was to take a lick or two of BASE Salt every mile and since I knew they were out there I wanted to grab a Rocket Fuel from them (a mix of BASE Salt, Hydro and Amino) when I passed them. Tony Demakis saw me coming, and recognized me even though I’m not part of the BASE team. He ran out to meet me, asked what I wanted and when I asked for Rocket Fuel, he said: “keep going, I’ll get it to you.” He ran all the way to where their tent was, dug around the back, and ran all the way out to meet me and hand me an ice cold bottle of Rocket Fuel. He was amazing, and it felt SO good to hold something so cold. It felt even better to drink it. Thanks Tony and the BASE team!

This part of the course is the “harder” part of the run course since it’s a bit hillier. The path continues down along Tempe Town Lake until the Mile 8 turn around. After the turn around, you run above the lower path similar to the opposite side of the lake, and around mile 8.75 or so, the course veers of the path to run around Papago Park. Leading up to the park there’s some neighborhood running, and once you enter the park it’s quite pretty. It’s a bit hillier in this section, but nothing too bad. It’s also a relatively short section and once you exit the park, you descend down to Mile 10, where the TriSports.com aid station is located.

These guys really go out of their way to support athletes with some loud encouragement, more costumes, and a DJ blasting music. Since the aid station is underneath what appeared to be an overpass, the music reflected off of the sides and it was awesome. In my second loop, I did tear up a bit in this aid station since I was approaching mile 23 (so almost done!) and I was hurting so badly that the downhill that preceded this aid station was quite painful.

On my first loop, it was fun to run through these guys and know that I was on my way back to transition to start my second loop. I still had three miles to go though, and I knew I was starting to hurt a bit. For the first time, my mile splits broke 9:00/mi, with Mile 9 at 9:04 and Mile 10 at 9:14. As I left the TriSports aid station though, I did try to speed up a bit while maintaining my under 170 HR. I was at 163 bpm at this point, so I tried to maintain that.

Coming out of the path and running back across the bridge, I started to feel a bit better. I ran Mile 11 slightly faster at 8:50, but when we turned off of North Priest Drive and onto Rio Salado Parkway, I started to cramp up and hurt. At this point, I was trying to figure out the best way to alleviate the cramping. I didn’t think it was due to a lack of electrolytes since I had the Rocket Fuel a couple of miles prior, and before that I was taking my BASE Salts and also drinking the offered Gatorade at the aid stations. I also didn’t skip any aid stations so I knew I was properly hydrated. Still, the cramp progressively worsened, and by the time I hit Mile 13-ish where I saw my friends again, I was not in a happy place.

As I started the second loop, I passed an aid station. I took some water there and almost immediately I felt the urge to pee. It was so strong that I couldn’t fight it, so I started to pee on myself while “running.” I felt a little better afterwards, in the sense that I didn’t have to pee anymore, but I was definitely in a bad place from that point on. The rest of the second loop was a constant battle between wanting to really slow down and walk versus wanting to push myself harder and harder because I was on overall PR pace. My desire to PR luckily won, so even though the second loop hurt worse than I’ve hurt in a while, I managed to keep making forward progress. I walked slowly through all of the aid stations and kept on hydrating as per my previous plan.

I may have been a bit over hydrated though, since after every aid station I immediately had to pee. I ended up peeing on myself across all of the aid stations from Mile 14 to the Finish. All told, I peed on myself 14 times on the run (plus 2 on the bike, for a total of 16 times – a new record). It wasn’t just small tinkles either. They were full on fire hydrant gushers. I washed my tri suit twice after the race and ended up leaving my race shoes in my hotel room since they were so gross after the race.

Anyway, Mile 26 was probably the most painful mile of my life but I did manage to run it as my third fastest mile of the back 13.1. I had every intention of celebrating coming down the finish chute, but to be honest, I don’t remember it at all. I remember making the right turn off Rio Salado Parkway and I remember being faced with a small hill. At the top of the hill, athletes made a left onto the finish chute, but I do not remember doing that. I remember running up the hill and from there things kind of went a little blurry. Apparently I was weaving down the finish chute and after crossing the line I would have collapsed had the wonderful finish line volunteers not had been there knowing that I was quite literally on my last legs. They caught me as soon as I crossed the Finish Line and brought me directly to the med tent. At some point I must have stopped my Garmin, because I did have a fairly accurate marathon time from what Ironman has (4:17:52 versus 4:17:03). I’m glad I was aware enough to do the important things post race.

I had no idea what was going on.

Once in the med tent, the wonderful medical volunteers helped bring me back to life. They thought I was dehydrated but I tried to tell them that wasn’t the case. Still, they gave me an IV (after 4 tries in both arms) and that did wonders for post-race recovery. To this day, I still don’t know what happened that made me pee so much and I don’t think I ever will.

Below is a video of me crossing the line. In retrospect, it was pretty funny to see but I know a few folks back home were freaking out. Sorry about that folks!

Best. Finisher. Video. Ever.

Run Time: 4:17:03 / Goal Time: 3:45:00 (+37:03)

Overall Time: 12:13:29 (PR from Roth, 4 months prior: -40:24)

Closing Thoughts:

Overall I’m very happy with the effort I put forth in the race. I pushed hard and gave it everything I had that day. While I’m not happy with the overall bike and run times, I know that I couldn’t have pushed any harder that day.

That’s all I can really ask of myself, and to be honest, it gives me a lot of motivation and encouragement for future races. I CAN be faster and I WILL be faster. Work truly does work, and I can’t wait until I race again in 2017.

#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

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

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

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!