Friday, July 25, 2014

If You're Not Smart, You'd Better Be Tough

This story truly begins the second I crossed the finish line at the Grand Rapids Tri on June 8th.  It was at that moment that I entered my mid season break.  This is a fairly foreign concept to me. I've taken unstructured weeks and many recovery oriented weeks, but never a real break in the middle of the year.  With my mentality and personality, I am basically entirely in or entirely out.  I have little middle ground.  This meant that I was a complete non-athlete for about eight days and then I slowly began progress back into a recognizable state of a training athlete.

It was also during this break that I needed to finalize the schedule for my second half of the season.  I knew that Muncie wasn't a great fit into my plan, but I had basically no other choices for trying to qualify for the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship on my budget.  Soon, the 70.3's will switch over to qualifying for the 2015 World Championship in  Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria.  Knowing that next year the World Championship would be moving to Europe, and assuming it stay away from North America for several years, I really wanted to make it to this year's race in Mont Tremblant, Quebec.  So, in talking with AJ, I decided that I would go to Muncie and give my best.  If I could grab a slot - awesome!  If not, then the season would go on and I would find another September race to fill the void.  I knew that I would be far from truly race ready, but it was our hope that I would retain enough fitness to pull off a decent day.

Following my break, I hit two solid weeks of training, but I was back to basics.  It was all aerobic efforts with no speed or tempo work.  As much as I wanted to see what I still had, I knew that it was important to lay down some foundation or else I would risk the true potential for the rest of my season.  I did get one long ride with a 30 minute race effort interval seven days prior to the race.  It went well and I was hopeful that deep down I still had it in me.  This one glimmer of hope came in an absolute storm of frustration with my slow paces and elevated heart rate readings.  I had melted on each hot weather run I had done and had resorted to the treadmill just so I could get in some solid running in my aerobic zone.  At one point I even diagnosed myself with congestive heart failure as the reason for my jacked up heart rate and my perceived shortness of breath... no joke.  It certainly couldn't be the two weeks of being a lazy slob, eating and drinking as I pleased, right?!

Upon completing my two base weeks, it was race week.  I went through a typical non-tapered race week routine and tried to manage my stress levels and recovery as expertly as possible.  If I couldn't be at my fittest, I could still be fully recovered.  For this rare Saturday event, I made the easy drive over to Muncie on Friday morning.  I picked up my packet at the race site, did a quick open water swim, and then retreated back to the air conditioning.  Since I had committed to this race so late, I was having trouble finding a hotel.  Luckily, my friend and AJB Coaching athlete, JD Thalman, offered to allow me to stay with him and his friend Mark in their booked room.  It was great to spend time with these guys and also share the race course with them.

So now that you have the back story, let's get into the race!

Swim: 32:38 (1:41/100m)

Very similar swim, pace wise, to Long Course Nationals.  The differences were that this water was much warmer and we had a lot of traffic on the course in front of us.

Leading into the race the water temp reports were very warm - as expected.  As it always seems to do, the reported temperatures kept falling as race day approached.  I'm all for a wetsuit legal swim, but some of these race directors are trying so hard to find THE coldest spot in the lake that it makes for very uncomfortable swim conditions in a wetsuit.  It's unfortunate that race directors feel the need to stretch the rules to accommodate the lowest common denominator.  In other words, RD's will do everything possible to find a wetsuit legal water temperature on race morning to minimize the chances of the guy (or girl) who has no business in this event from drowning.  We live in a society that is quick to blame the person in charge for failing to protect us from ourselves instead of assuming some personal responsibility, so I cannot blame them.  It does mean that the rest of us have to deal with the consequences.

So, now with that mini rant over, the water felt much warmer than one would expect with the announced wetsuit legal conditions.  I heard at least 15 other people say something as they first walked into the lake, so it wasn't just me.  Luckily I had brought along my most minimal De Soto rubber and would do my best to keep from overheating, yet still reaping the benefits of a wetsuit legal swim.

All men 30-34 went together in the fifth wave.  We quickly caught up with the slower swimmers from the previous waves, but I was able to navigate the bodies well.  With the congestion, the draft was hit or miss.  Overall, though, I was comfortably uncomfortable and content with my split as I came out of the water.  JD, being a Muncie expert, had mentioned that he felt that this course always swam long, so I wasn't expecting a stellar time.  Looking at the results, I found out that only 15 guys from my wave had exited the water before me.  I can live with that.

T1: 2:50

As is common, the run to T1 is uphill from the water's edge.  I could tell my HR was through the roof as my body compensated for my new upright position combined with the frantic transition activity.  I stripped off my wetsuit, popped on my Rudy Project Wingspan and sunnies, and wheeled Stella to the "Bike Out" where I gave a half-assed attempt at a flying mount... more like a walking mount.

Bike: 2:15:47 (24.75 mph)

My only other experience with racing at Muncie had come in 2012 when the 70.3 had been shortened due to extreme heat.  On that day, I had boiled in the 82+ degree water (no wetsuit, of course) and hit the bike looking to make up some time.  Normally this isn't a good idea, but that day it paid off and I rode the 30 mile course in 1:08:38, or 26.23 mph, and hung on in the 10K to grab my first 70.3 World Championship slot.  So I had confidence that I could ride the bike fast on this course.  It rolls and has a few longer shallow climbs, but it's a fair and fast course for a strong and heavier cyclist.

I came out of transition looking to get my HR down.  I immediately popped on my bike shoes while trying to put smooth power into the pedals.  After getting through a few sections of treacherous tarmac, we hit the main road which would make up the bulk of the closed course.

I was riding strong making my way through traffic and feeling good.  Power was coming easy and I was confident that I was going to have a solid ride.  At around mile 10, I was slowly passed by another rider.  It was decision time... go or stay?  My heart rate was still a little higher than I wanted, but AJ and I had discussed that we would ride more by power on this ride given my lack of training and heat adaptation over the past month.  This, of course, needed to be within reason.  I couldn't expect to ride at threshold and be worth a damn on the run.  So, I felt good at that moment and decided it would be worth a gamble.  I made this decision thinking that having a good ride may be my best shot at having a good race on this day.  I didn't have huge expectations for my run even with a conservative bike, so why not roll the dice and see if I can ride the struggle bus for 13.1 miles after a monster bike.

Following the customary repass and encouragement of my new, speedy friend, we were off!  The train was rolling and there wasn't much of anything that was going to stop us!  Here was the issue; when I was "sitting in", at legal distance, I was still pushing close to my planned wattage output.  This meant that when my front wheel was parting the air, I was pushing big power to earn my keep.  Besides the extra effort, there is also a yo-yo effect of output versus the steady, gradual increase in effort that I train with and strive for in racing.

I did make sure that no matter what else was happening, I would stay true to my nutrition plan.  I carefully hit my bottle exchanges without incident and kept a steady stream of gel coming.

I was fortunate that we had retained some cloud cover for most of the morning, but about five miles from T2 the sun decided it was time to make things interesting.  It was already warm and typically Midwestern muggy, but the sun really took it to the next level.  The run was going to be interesting...

T2: 1:42

Didn't really feel any faster than T1, but it was.  I guess not having to remove a wetsuit helps.  I quickly put on my 2" Swiftwick socks, my Karhu Forward4's, a fresh pair of Rudy's, and my favorite trucker hat.  Off I went!!

Run: 1:32:33 (7:03/mile)

With the confidence I had in the bike course from my previous race in Muncie, I had the opposite feeling about the run course.  I knew it was a constantly rolling course and the memory I had from it was the stuff that that makes up a runner's nightmares.  The only redeeming factor was that in 2012 it was only 10K.  This time it was time to pay for the day's poor decision making for the entire 21.1 kilometers.

Along with the terrain, I also knew that there was very little protection from the sun on this course.  I had come off the bike 2nd in the age group (I didn't know this at the time) and there were only about 25 other athletes on the long out-n-back course.  This meant that my company was few and far between.  With that, I zigzagged across the road chasing any shade that was present on my way out.  I also gladly took the fresh, cold sponges being offered at the aid stations by the handful.

Pulling out all the stops on heat management and mental toughness, I still suffered more on this run than I can ever recall suffering before in my life.  I had "ridden like an asshole".  In other words, I rode the bike irresponsibly and it was time to pay for it.  Not having a clue where I was in the standings, I was certain that I was out of contention for a World's slot at this 30 slot event.  I had thought of every possible excuse to write in this blog, to tell my coach and friends, and they would have been legitimate.  My repaired hip had been bothering me that week, for an unknown reason, and I was sure that was a good enough excuse to walk or quit.  My foot tweak that comes and goes was yelling at me... I was tired... I was hot... I was out of breath... I was thirsty... I was lonely... I wanted to die.  After the turnaround, I ran past a parked ambulance at an aid station.  I had this vision of knocking on the back door and climbing inside.

In the end, I kept running.  I definitely got a little slower with each hill that I encountered, but I never stopped.  I still don't know how I did this, but I'm damn proud of it.  By the time I made it back to Prairie Creek Reservoir and could hear the PA system, I was on autopilot only guided by the need for medical assistance.

Finish: 4:25:30, 5th Male 30-34, 13th Amateur, 31st Overall

As I crossed the line, I basically fell into the arms of a volunteer who was tasked with guiding/helping athletes in need of the medical staff.  He supported my wobbly legs as we made it to the tent and plopped me down onto a cot.  They asked me all the standard questions and I was able to respond, but with much difficulty and brain fog.  My blood pressure was taken and it was the lowest I have ever heard of my BP being by a solid 20+ points.  They covered me in icy towels, stretched my cramping legs, and stuck an IV in my right arm.  I told them to "get me right" because I still needed to drive back to Columbus.  That makes me laugh now, thinking that I could have been seriously ill and I was worried about being able to drive.

During my first bag of IV fluid, JD finished and came into the tent to find me.  He had gone 4:39 and was hopeful for a roll down slot.  Mark was still hoping to have his first sub 5 hour half and I learned quickly that he had succeeded with several minutes to spare.  After a couple liters of fluid and a few bottles of sports drink, I was beginning to feel human again so they discharged me from the medical tent.  IV's are a freaking miracle worker!

Playing with the numbers, I am quite sure that my gamble didn't pay off.  I probably rode about 2-3 minutes faster than I would have if I had stayed with my game plan.  Conversely, I ran about 4-5 minutes slower than I anticipated.  Looking at the final results, this minute or two didn't have an effect on my placement in the overall or in the age group.  Something else that the results revealed was that in the male 30-34 age group, we were all lined up like a thing of beauty.  There was less than six minutes separating first to me (in fifth) and we were all in order in the overall standings.  I was over 2:30 back from 4th, and honestly he could have been 10 seconds ahead of me and I don't think there would be a damn thing I could have done about it.

Besides the numbers, my gamble definitely lead to a much more miserable experience than necessary.  If I had been more conservative on the bike and able to run hard, it would have hurt, but nothing like this.  This was an absolute death march, not the strong and uncomfortable feeling I had in Grand Rapids where I ran eight minutes faster.

Luckily the day lead to positive results which I'm sure will mask the painful memories in time.  They always do.  If they didn't, I don't think anyone would ever do more than one race!

Roll Down:

I wrote about the experience of roll down when I got really lucky in San Juan last year, but I'll go into it again because I truly believe it is one of the most stressful experiences in triathlon.  When I finished, I had no clue where I was in the results.  I barely knew my own name.  JD informed me while I was in medical that I was 5th and this shocked me.  I knew then that not only would I be taking home some hardware from Ironman's extended, five deep podium, but I had a solid shot at a World Championship slot.

Once I was back to an upright position, we walked down to the tent that housed the guardians of the World Championship slots.  Each age group is given a number of slots that is proportional to the number of athletes who started the race from that age group in relation to the total number of starters, BUT each age group represented by at least one single starter is given at least one slot.  So you can see how the slots quickly get thin in an event with only 30 total slots.  I found out that we would be fighting for 3 spots... damn, I was hoping for four.  To make matters worse 2nd and 3rd place had already claimed theirs.  This left ONE spot in play that 1st place was entitled to, if he so desired it.  I had really hoped that most fast guys at this event would have already secured their spots to Mont Tremblant at this point in the season, but apparently not.  So now the situation was that I needed for 1st to pass on his entitled slot and then 4th to not take it at roll down.  I didn't feel good about my chances, but all I could do was wait to see how it played out.

I kept going down and checking to see if 1st had taken his slot. I eventually found out that he had indicated that he would not be taking the slot.  This meant that the spot would roll and I needed 4th to pass in roll down.  With nothing but time and the patience of a fruit fly, I looked up the 4th place finisher on Facebook to see if I could spot him in the crowd, no dice.  I even began to type a message to him via Facebook to see if he was going to take it.  If he was intending to take the spot, I could grab my award and hit the road.  I stopped myself in the middle of composing my message thinking that it would be horrible if I was the one that spilled the beans to this guy that he had a sure shot at a World Championship slot, if by some reason he was oblivious to this fact.

After an eternity, the awards ceremony began.  I told JD that if 4th place didn't show up at awards then I felt good that he would not be there to participate in roll down which immediately followed.  When they got to my age group, I was called up first and they quickly said his name.  As I'm walking up on stage, I am looking around to see if anyone is standing to follow me.  To my delight, no one was moving toward the stage.  In fact, only myself and the age group champion stuck around to receive our awards at the ceremony.  As pictures are being taken of the two of us, I can hear the announcer talking to the man in charge of distributing the awards saying; "he's 4th, he gets the 30-34 4th place award".  He's saying this in the direction of a man standing on the side of the stage.  My heart sunk.  I was certain that my chances just went to nil.  It literally probably took 10 seconds, but it seemed like FOREVER, until the pictures were done and I looked at the side of the stage to see professional athlete Andrew Starykowicz collecting the award on behalf of our 4th place finisher... PHEW!!!

While I still had visions of this guy jumping out of the trees as soon as they called his name for roll down, I felt a lot of relief.  As anticipated, when the time came, his name was called and there was no response so they quickly moved onto mine and I jumped up very happy to empty my bank account and take our group's third and final spot.  To add to the moment, JD needed only one out of four people to pass in his age group before he was guaranteed one of the three roll down slots they had.  I was still filling out my paperwork when I heard his name called and he joined me.  You will never see a group of folks happier to fork over a small fortune than you will in the roll down line!

As always, I must thank everyone who makes this crazy life a possibility.  My girlfriend, Kim, and everything she does is pretty heroic.  My coach, AJ, for making me tough enough to abuse myself at this extreme.  My athletes for inspiring me each day.  My race team, Team PFC Elite, and all of our team sponsors.  Please visit my "Supporters" page and give these folks your business anytime you have a need that they can fulfill.

Up next is Challenge New Albany right here in central Ohio!  Until next time, be safe and go fast!!


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A "PR" and "PP" Kind of Day

There is no such thing as a “routine day” in long course triathlon.  The only thing you can guarantee is that there will be challenges.  Beyond that, you just hope you’ve prepared for every possible scenario and have the level-headed awareness in the heat of battle to adapt to what the day throws at you.  The Grand Rapids Tri (2014 USAT Long Course National Championship) threw me a couple of curveballs, but I am happy with how I handled the day and finished it strong.

Leading into this event, I was strangely calm and collected.  Besides the usual race week tension and stresses, there were some additional life obstacles that needed to be overcome to make this race even possible.  I was impressed with the level of sanity that I maintained throughout the week and the confidence that I felt going into race day.  Midweek, I posted on social media; “Feeling an eerie calm for race week.  When you put together the best hand you can, you’re confident in showing your cards.”  I think there is a lot of truth in that.  I knew I had put in the work and I was ready to see the results.  In our pre-race conversation, AJ said something in particular that really resonated.  He told me to just go out there and show everyone my current level of fitness. He said that if I could do that I would have a great day.  I know this sounds elementary, but when examined further it really means a lot.  We typically hope to go out on race day and have this superhuman day – the kind where the mom lifts the car off her child in a moment of incomprehensible strength.  AJ wasn’t asking this of me.  He was simply asking for me to go out and show everyone how fit I was.  I repeated this to myself several times during the race and it really helped to keep the feelings of being overwhelmed at bay when something wasn’t going exactly as planned.  Once again, when you’ve put in the work, you don’t have to lift cars off babies.

Kim, Jet and I began our journey to western Michigan on Friday for this Sunday event.  It was a fairly easy five hour drive that we split up with a stop in Toledo to have lunch with my Mom and Stepdad – thanks for the sandwich!  Upon arrival, we checked into our luxurious (sarcasm) accommodations at the Super 8, grabbed some dinner and did a little walking around East Grand Rapids.  Saturday began with a quick spin on my race setup and a short open water swim on the course.  After quickly picking up my packet, it was time to carbo load!!  The venue of choice for this feast was the local Bob Evans for their advertised all-you-can-eat pancakes for $4.99.  I would say that I certainly got my money’s worth!!

The rest of Saturday was basically filled with some final race preparations, eating, and grooming.  By 9:00 PM, I was in bed with the Ole Miss baseball game on TV.

As it always does, race morning came early.  I had my alarm set for 4:00 AM, but I woke up at 3:30 and decided to get my day started.  With a quick trip down to the communal microwave, my race day nutrition plan was underway.

Like all other Type A athletes, I had been closely following the race day weather forecast and the ever increasing chance of precipitation.  Earlier in the week, it had been a 30-40% probability, but by Saturday it was very clear that we would be getting wet.  As it turned out, the water began falling from the sky at about 5 AM and ended right around when I began to run.  For those familiar with my past, I am quite wary of riding my bike in the rain due to a particular wet road wipeout that I had on August 5th, 2012.  On race day, the part of your brain that warns against such hazards is definitely numbed, but mine never seems to quite turn off since that day.  Thinking that the rain would pass through at some point, I made it a point to keep my run gear dry in transition and hope that I would save a few ounces of excess water weight in my shoes for the opening miles of the half marathon.  This turned out to be a good investment of effort.

Swim: 33:07 (If accurate, 1:42/100m)

Definitely not the sub 30 minute, half iron swim I’ve been hoping for, but I’m not disappointed in this time.  My Suunto Ambit2 had this as slightly long.  Open water GPS is definitely not 100%, but I am very confident that this was at least 1.2 miles, and possibly slightly longer.  I felt very controlled in this swim – maybe too much.  I have definitely made the mistake in the past of coming out WAY too hard and then severely struggling through the swim and allowing it to negatively affect my entire race.  I came off the line hard to fight for my space in the lake, but then settled into a solid rhythm early.  I found myself at the front of what I would call the “chase group”.  I wasn’t sure how closely together the guys in front of me were, but it looked like there were going to be about 20 strong swimmers out front and then the rest of us.  Being in the front of this pack is not where I wanted to be, but it is where I was destined to be on this day.  There was one other guy who was definitely a stronger swimmer than I was, but I’m guessing that he has a competitive pool swimming background because his sighting skills were basically non-existent.  He would literally perform breast stroke about every 10-15 seconds to sight before going back into freestyle.  When he was actually swimming, he was quick, but his frequent breaks made me faster.  I got sick of running into his feet, so I eventually put in a surge to get around him near half way.

I could definitely feel the difference in this race from the time I spent swimming open water in Clermont.  My sighting was much better and I never found myself fighting to stay or get back on course.  I made my turns at the buoys with much more speed and precision than in the past due to a few pointers that AJ gave me one hot afternoon in Lake Minneola.  I never once had to break rhythm to execute my swim – that makes up for a lot.

A few swim housekeeping notes; water was warm!  Beginning a few weeks out, I began seeing water temperature reports in the 70’s.  I had a really hard time believing it, but sure enough it was!  During my pre-race swim on Saturday, I was quite comfortable in just my Funky Trunks briefs.  I knew that my De Soto SpeedTube pants and Speed Vest would be my rubber of choice to avoid overheating – this worked out perfectly.  I was also pleased to find out at packet pickup that I would be in the first wave and wouldn’t have to deal with any traffic from previous waves in the swim or bike.  While it can be an advantage on the bike to have the cumulative draft, I prefer to just keep my head down and handle my business.

Overall, I felt like I paced my swim well and felt very comfortable (in relative terms) coming out of the water.  I do wish I could have found a good draft partner to shave a little time off this split, but it didn’t happen.  Onto the bike!

T1: 1:35

It was a quick run from the swim exit into the transition area.  In a first for me, the transition area was actually set up on a two lane road leading away from the reservoir.  This made for one very long and skinny transition area.  The race organizers had made the addition of mats for us to run on this year. While I hadn’t experienced this race without, I can say that having the mats was nice on my bare feet.  Once I got to my bike, I quickly discarded my De Soto neoprene, put on my Brooks Airbrush Studio painted Wingspan, and popped on my Rudy Project Hypermask sunglasses.  My sunglasses were completely fogged up due to the 100% humidity, but I hoped that would quickly clear once I got rolling – they did.

Bike: 2:21:55 (23.7 mph)

It’s hard to be frustrated with a bike split of any distance where you average 23.7 mph, but this was the hardest I’ve ever worked for this kind of speed.  We came into this race with a plan of riding the first half of the bike with a HR in the high 140’s and a power average of ~280 watts.  The second half would then build to a heart rate in the low 150’s and bump in power to ~285 watts.  While you can never assign a speed to a given HR or power value, you tend to get a good idea of what to expect from countless hours of training.  I honestly believed that if I could execute this plan, I would certainly ride sub 2:20 and hopefully closer to 2:15.  Well, I ended up pushing 291 watts and riding almost 2:22.  Even more frustrating for me was to be passed by probably at least eight other riders and not being to go with them while staying in my acceptable power output window. 

I still don’t know if I had something mechanical holding me back slightly or if the extra thick air on this day just didn’t want to allow my big frame to pass through without a major effort.  I had given Stella a major cleaning and lube job prior to race day, but it’s possible that something wasn’t rolling as smoothly as it should have been – who knows.

**WARNING: This next paragraph describes bodily functions and fluids not normally discussed in this blog.**  With the cool, rainy weather conditions being what they were, I had to improvise slightly for my nutrition plan.  Upon waking I could tell that this day would be a big “pee” day.  I’m not sure if it’s all endurance athletes, or maybe just me, but I go through cycles of hydration.  Some days I will drink until my teeth float and I rarely have to “go”.  Other days, I can look at a glass of water and nearly wet my pants. Unfortunately, this day was going to be one of those “wet my pants” kinds of days – literally.  My nutrition plan calls for a bottle of sports drink prior to the start.  I made it through about half the bottle before I gave up because I knew that it would cause more trouble than it was worth on this day.  During the race, I had to “relieve myself” in each discipline at least once.  Normally, I can make it through an entire half iron without having to go once.  Since it was a wetsuit swim, I was able to relax my legs enough in the final couple hundred meters to let it go – not a big deal.  On the bike, it’s pretty standard operating procedure to coast down a hill and let ‘er rip.  On the run was a new one for me.  As you’ll read soon, I was cruising along and there was no way I was going to stop.  I waited until I was on a wooded section of dirt trail with no one immediately around me and did what I needed to do.  This was while running a sub 7 min pace – I really know how to make my parents proud, right!?

So, besides my bladder’s frequent demands, my frustrating lack of top speed, and having to restrict my fluid intake, this bike was good – oh wait, did I mention the off-road like road conditions??  Yeah, apparently Michigan doesn’t feel the need to maintain their tarmac as well as other states.  In fact, we saw several billboards along the interstate stating this.  I would say that the middle 10 miles of this out-and-back course were some of the worst I've raced on and it really sucks the power out of your pedal stroke.  The more tired I get and further I get into caloric deficit, the more every little crack, bump, and patch tends to tick me off.  Once again, maybe it’s just me.

T2: 2:19

Not my smoothest transition, but not a train wreck.  As I came down the long, skinny transition area, I realized I had never found my rack while coming from this direction.  I was looking at the range of bib numbers posted on the end of each of the racks (there must have been 100 racks).  Somewhere in my brain fog, I must have forgotten my bib number and turned around not once, but twice on the narrow path.  Eventually I found my rack and my still-dry run gear.  I threw Stella on the rack by her handlebars, popped on my Swiftwick socks, Karhu Forward4’s, race belt, hat, and a clean pair of Rudy’s.

Run: 1:24:25 (6:26/mile)
Coming off my bike ride, I knew that I wasn’t where I wanted to be in the field.  I had counted myself around 20th at the bike turnaround and I knew I hadn’t caught many, if any, half iron athletes on the way back home (we mixed with the Olympic distance cyclists for the last 12.5 miles).  I knew I had ridden strong, but didn’t have the split I wanted.  The bike has always been my weapon and it had not been as effective as I wanted it to be on this day.  This meant that I had 13.1 miles to see what my legs had left.
Coming into the race, we had confidence that I could run a sub 1:30 off the bike.  This would mean that I would need to average a 6:50/mile pace or better.  Basically it would come down to whether my legs still had the strength following a ride that was over budget on power and whether my heart rate would stay low enough for me to run that fast on this day.  The rain had stopped at this point, but the cloud cover was still solid and temps were very reasonable.  My heart rate had stayed low on the bike, much lower than I planned, so I was hoping that trend would continue on the run since it is my typical limiter.

During this entire run, the worst I felt was in the opening couple miles.  I had no idea how fast I was running as I was purely monitoring my heart rate.  It was hanging low like I hoped so I began to push up the effort.  The issue was that this effort felt tough… like, really tough.  Even though the perceived effort was very high, I was a slave to the heart rate and it told me that I could sustain this effort.  It seemed that my Suunto had gotten slightly off track and the first couple one mile auto-lap splits were erroneous.  When I hit the “Mile 2” sign, I hit a manual lap and saw 12:40 pop up – 6:20/mile – no wonder it felt tough, but SWEET! 

I don’t think I finally hit that point of being comfortably uncomfortable until about mile four following the first turnaround.  At that point, I knew that even though I didn’t feel well, I could sustain.  I kept throwing a mix of Gatorade and Pepsi into my stomach at each aid station and I took a tug on my gel flask whenever I could stomach it.
By the second lap, the course was full of fellow half iron athletes working on their first lap.  I’m quite sure I gave several of them a scare when I quickly came up behind them making one or more of my assorted guttural sounds, burps, or highly taxed breathing.  I can just imagine their thought of “look at that big ghastly man!!”  Others seem to want to encourage this giant locomotive of a triathlete as I rolled down the tracks.  No matter what their reaction was, I was on go.  I never walked one step of this half marathon.  If they didn’t get my desired beverage out in time when I went through the aid station, I just ran through and would double up on the next mile.  I was on a mission.

Coming into this race, my half iron run PR was a 1:30:18 from earlier this year at Florida 70.3.  My open half marathon PR was a 1:26:21 back in 2011 – I don’t run many open half marathons these days.  If you would have guaranteed me to run 1:28 off of a 291 watt ride, I would have asked where I needed to sign.  So running under 1:25 was a very pleasant surprise.

Finish: 4:23:24

I finished knowing that I hadn’t placed where I wanted or hoped, but I had turned in a very respectable time and had a breakthrough run performance.  Who shows up and how they perform on race day are two of many variables that are well out of my control.  I did have hopes of bringing home a National Championship, but that didn’t happen.  I know that I gave a ton of effort, executed smartly, and I had been beat on this day.  That is how it goes.  This event was immensely more competitive than it was in 2013 and much more so than I anticipated it being in 2014.  I have been wanting for this race (USAT LC Nats) to pick up steam and I had gotten my wish… Oops.
In the end, I had run my way into 6th in the Male 30-34 age group and 22nd Overall. 
I will take away a lot from this race; I can pee while running, my bike may not be my only weapon any longer, and I can run with some of the best long course athletes in the country.  Overall, I had put in 30 weeks of hard work for this race and I think I gave a good display of my current fitness with my performance.  On top of that, I was rewarded with a new half iron PR!
So, what’s next?  Well, right now I am sitting in Panera Bread enjoying coffee without worrying about whether the caffeine will take away from any workouts later in the day.  In other words, I’m shutting it down for a bit.  I put in a huge volume of work this winter and spring and it’s time to let the body and mind fully recover before pushing it for the second half of the season.  What do people who don’t “exercise” 25 hours a week do?? Once I get going again (in a couple weeks), I will begin to sort out the fall racing schedule.  On the table are: Ironman 70.3 Muncie, Challenge New Albany, Ironman 70.3 World Championships (pending qualification at Muncie), ITU Long Course World Championships, and Ironman Cozumel.
As always, big thanks go to all my supporters.  Obviously, my girlfriend, Kim, for being the world’s best tri sherpa.  My coach, AJ, for preparing me and motivating me to perform at this level.  Also, to the athletes that I coach.  They may not realize it, but they encourage me every day by getting out there and getting their sessions in despite all the obligations that they have in life.
Thanks for reading!  If there is anything that I can do to help you reach your endurance sports goals, please let me know!  Have fun and be safe out there!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Taking the Good with the Bad

Like most know, and what I tell my athletes frequently, the best long course triathlon performances don't necessarily come from the best fitness, but often from when problems are handled the best.  Granted, the more fit you are, the less "problems" you may encounter. Really though, it isn't a matter of if you will have problems during the day, it is the seriousness of the problems, and most importantly, how those problems are dealt with.  I think this is one of the things that attracts myself, and many others, to this sport - it is like one big puzzle and rarely are all the pieces included.

"My swim is going to be this long!"
This past Sunday at the Ironman 70.3 Florida I had a couple big problems, but overall, I think I handled them well.  So, let's jump into this!

Swim: 35:25
I feel like a broken record sometimes... I feel like my swimming has been good in training, but on race day...  yadda, yadda, yadda.  And I mean it!  I have had sets in the pool where I'm seeing paces that I've never had before.  I'm swimming open water weekly with some of the best swimmers in triathlon (technically, I'm just swimming in the same lake as them, at the same time, but still).  So what went wrong?  Well, I decided that I wanted to try a new piece of gear on/near race day.  I made this choice because I thought it would benefit my race, but I think I should have known better.  I recently obtained a full length, long sleeve suit.  I won't mention the manufacturer because my issues were in no way indicative of this garment's performance, it was purely the user's judgment error. Anyway, I did use the suit once during race week in Lake Minneola and I did notice that I got quite warm.  I blamed this on the air temperature being over 80 degrees and swimming in the mid afternoon sun.  I dismissed this and figured that if others would be swimming at Haines City in full wetsuits that surely I could do the same.  Not so much.   I swam in near 75 degree water with a full wetsuit and got hot - go figure. 

I started near the front of our wave figuring I could hang with (or on the feet of) most of them.  Things went well for the first buoy or two and then I slowly felt myself slipping deeper and deeper into an overheating hole.  Everything just gets tough and strength goes to zero.  I fought as much as I felt I could without making myself ill and eventually I made it through the "M" shaped course to the swim exit.  I knew that my time had been miserably slow, but I had made it through my worst discipline and it was my time to shine now.

T1: 2:13
Nothing too noteworthy.  We discovered the day before that our end of transition was at a slight disadvantage; the transition area was one giant horseshoe and everyone had to run from one end to the other - that part is fair.  The issue came in that we ran in from the swim near our bikes and then had to push them out of T1 all the way through the horseshoe.  What would have been fair is for when we returned, we would repeat the same process and therefore have the short run with our bikes and then run out around the horseshoe in our run shoes.  This didn't happen and we had to run the long way, both times, with our bikes in tow.  Not a huge deal, but there was a simple solution that wasn't used.

Bike: 2:30:26
When I got on my bike, I still had my overheated swim ringing in my head.  Not only was I disappointed in my performance, but my heart rate was out of control.  It was literally flirting with some of the highest numbers I've ever seen on my Suunto Ambit2 S.  I am used to having to quell the T1 heart rate, but this was on another level.  I tried to soft pedal where I could, but I was also fighting to make up time from the swim.  These were very conflicting goals.

I eventually settled in ever so slightly and paid a lot of attention to my exertion levels and breathing patterns.  Luckily, we had set up a power range for me to watch in addition to my HR values, so I had a feel of where I wanted/needed to be.

To my delight, my legs and lungs felt good and power was coming easy (thanks, caffeine!).  I was riding in my carefully calculated power range even if my HR was still a bit elevated.  We had figured that I was capable of responsibly riding a sub 2:15 bike split on a good day and I was thinking this would be it.  For the first ~15 miles I rode solo, weaving my way in and out of a neverending stream of athletes that had gone off in previous waves (I had started in the second to last wave for the day, 56 minutes after the male pros went off).  While this does create a sort of constant draft effect, it comes with some really hair raising moments as well.  I'm realistically riding 5-6 mph faster than most of these athletes and most of them don't think to look over their shoulder when they go to make a pass.  More than a few times, I was 3-4 riders wide, riding down the middle of the road with oncoming vehicle traffic coming from the other direction - not fun.  Eventually, I was passed by a cyclist.  He looked strong and someone I could ride with.  I found out later that this was stud athlete, Chris Stock.  It was a match made in cycling heaven.  I was able to sit legal on him, in my power/HR zones, and still benefit from this legal draft and allow him to part the sea of slower athletes.  I repassed him a couple times, but overall, he was flying and I was happy to just hang on! Thanks Chris!

This was going well and I was feeling very optimistic about how this day would shape up.  My pace was strong, I was in my zones, and nutrition was on track.  My nutrition plan called for four full bottles of Powerbar Perform on the bike ride.  I began with two bottles and I would source the other two from the aid stations.  I grabbed the first of the two I needed at aid station number one without incidence.  With the way things were rolling, I figured I would grab my second, and last, at the second aid station near mile 35 and be done with the musical bottles game.  As I came up on the bottle exchange, I sat up and quickly finished the bottle between my aero bars.  I slowed down and ditched the empty bottle while eyeing the line of volunteers to pick my target bottle.  I cut over, grabbed the bottle without an issue and began merging back over slightly to the left.  It was nearly immediate when I looked up from grabbing my bottle that I saw another rider in front of me beginning to also move to the left.  At this point, my front wheel had overlapped her rear wheel and before I could react (with one hand still occupied with a bottle), she clipped my front wheel.  I pretty much went down instantly.  I think subconsciously, I had my priorities in order: #1 Bike, #2 Body.  When you're living race to race, the body heals itself, the bike will not.  After the moment of initial shock of being on the pavement, I quickly scrambled to my feet and was amazed that I hadn't gotten plowed into while I was on the ground.  I scrambled out of the road and requested two new bottles of Perform as mine had ejected during my tumble.  I took a quick survey of the damage and didn't see, or feel, anything race ending.  I straddled the bike and went to clip in when I noticed that my chain had been thrown off the front chain rings.  I dismounted again and found that it was severely wedged between the small chain ring and the frame.  I vigorously tugged on it from both directions, but it wasn't budging.  At this point, I hit frustration level 10.  I walked Stella over and propped her against the port-a-potty.  My helmet came off along with my sunglasses.  I was done...  This lasted about two minutes until I began thinking about the prep that had gone into this day.  I had tapered, carbo loaded, and paid good money to do this race.  I wasn't going to quit after 75 minutes of riding.  I then went back to work getting the chain unstuck and eventually I was able to get it cleared.  I geared back up and hit the road.

After this mishap, I knew that my dream race, or any version of it, was over.  I would ride hard back, but not race.  Honestly, I wasn't exactly sure what I had done internally when I fell, but my hip/glute hurt and I have enough experience with hip pain to not want to exacerbate it.  I wasn't sure if I would run or not, but I knew that somehow I would make it back to T2.

In my best estimate, I spent about 10 minutes on the side of the road all together. Couple that with my more casual pace back to transition, my 2:30 split isn't horrible.

T2: 2:49
Again, I ran nearly the entire horseshoe pushing my bike in bare feet.  Once I got back to the rack, I noticed only a couple bikes hanging there.  I put on my Swiftwick socks, Karhu Forward4's, clean Rudy Project glasses, run hat, and race belt before hobbling to the run out arch.

Run: 1:30:18
I saw Kim nearly immediately after I came out of transition.  I stopped and told her that I had had a small wreck on the bike and that I was going to "run it out".  After seeing missing bikes in T2, I really thought that with a good run I could put myself in position to see a possible roll down slot for the Ironman 70.3 World Championship.  Over the first three miles, I built pace and tested the waters as far as pain tolerance and knowing that I wouldn't let it get out of hand and potentially end my season.  (For those new to my blog, and life, I broke this same hip in 2012 and I now have a dynamic hip screw installed)  I found that it was manageable running at pace, but the pain was still causing elevated HR readings, so I was again using perceived effort, breathing patterns, and pace to navigate the run.  The only severe pain I would feel was during sharp turns when I had to put lateral pressure on the hip.

Once I figured out that I was able to run at my goal pace, I began thinking about how I would keep it going.  This meant nutrition and heat management.  My nutrition plan had run off the rails following my unscheduled rendezvous with the asphalt, so I was light on both calories and fluids.  Luckily, we train with levels of both that go beyond what we take in on race day, so this wouldn't be anything new for my body.  I started double fisting Perform, Coke, or a combo of both at each aid station.  I also grabbed an extra gel at one aid station in addition to the gels I had stashed in the rear pocket of my Champion System kit.  I also began grabbing cups of ice when they were readily available  and depositing the contents into my hat before putting it back on my head.  A few cups of cold water dumped over my shoulders basically rounded out my defense to the Florida heat.

One of my biggest positives from this race is how well I handled the heat.  I came into this year convinced that I would just always suffer in the heat in comparison to my smaller statured competitors.  I ran this hypothesis past pro triathlete Doug MacLean when I arrived in Florida and he told me I needed to embrace the heat instead of letting it beat me even before it affected me physically.  He was very right.  Ever since that day, I have mentally harnessed the power of the heat instead of allowing it to dominate me.  It may sound corny, but I never went into a meltdown like I certainly would have last year.  The thought of "God, it's hot, I need to slow down" never crossed my mind.  I acknowledged that it was hot and I would take the proper steps to deal with it - period.  I have talked to many other athletes, some from Florida, who had heat issues on this day and I'm thrilled to say that I wasn't among them.

I went into this race with the goal of running a sub 1:30 half marathon off the bike.  I know that my fitness will allow this and given the complications of the day, being 19 seconds away from this goal is a success.  Even flying without HR data, I paced very well and I never had a blowup mile.  My slowest mile being a 7:25 and my fastest was mile three at 6:32, averaging 6:53 throughout.  This is a half Iron run PR for me and it is a good indicator of things to come this season.

Overall: 4:41:11  23rd M30-34, 78th Amateur, 98th Male, 110th Overall
My thoughts of running my way into a potential roll down slot didn't come to fruition, but it wasn't for a lack of trying.  I didn't realize I was beginning the run in 36th or else I may have taken a few extra minutes.  Running down 13 competitors is a confidence booster though since I think of myself as a cyclist who hangs on in the run.  The level of competition at this race was amazing and I give a ton of credit to the guys on the podium in our age group - they were flying!  Even on my predicted perfect day, I would have still been 5th at best.  Going 4:41 and being 23rd in the age group is pretty nuts.

So I've touched upon the problems of the day, and overall, I think I dealt with them well.  It didn't exactly fix my race, but it kept it from being a DNF or embarrassingly slow.  The positives from the day were definitely my run, my mental strength, and my heat management.  I acknowledged and dismissed many, many negative thoughts during the back half of that ride and during the run.  So many so that when I crossed the finish line it all came out in the form of an emotional outburst when I saw Kim.  It only lasted a moment, but it was everything that I had put on the back burner during the race and now that I was finished it was time to deal with it.  It was this mental process that allowed me to tackle the task at hand instead of feeling overwhelmed and giving in to the easiest option at that moment; quitting.

It would be a mistake to not acknowledge a few of the people and companies that made this race, and all my racing, possible.  First is my beautiful girlfriend, Kim.  She has supported every decision I've made when it comes to training, coaching, and life in general.  She is holding down our fort back in snowy Ohio while I get to train down here in the sunshine.  She is an incredible woman.  Next would be my race team, Perfect Fuel Chocolate Elite, and our sponsors.  I have the privilege of using a ton of awesome products that are supplied by the team.  One in particular that I'm very impressed with is my new Champion System tri suit.  It was comfortable, cool, and unnoticeable on race day.  Even better was how it held up to a scrape with the pavement - definitely stronger than my skin!  Last, but not least is my personal coach, and coaching mentor, AJ Baucco.  He has equipped me mentally and physically to turn in some amazing performances this year.  Even though the clock may not have shown it, this was an amazing performance in my mind.  I can't wait to see what happens when my race day problems are slightly less severe!  This is only a partial list so please take a look at my "supporters" page.  If you have any questions about any of the companies or organizations listed there, please contact me!

Next for me will be to find another race to punch my ticket to the 2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Mont-Tremblant.  This has been more complicated than I originally thought when I found out that Syracuse 70.3 is sold out. I'm looking at recollecting quickly and making a run at St. George or St. Croix, but the logistic and monetary aspects of those events are daunting.  It's a work in progress, but I'm all ears if you have any thoughts on a good 70.3 to knock out.

Thanks so much for taking your time to read about a day in my life!  If there is something I can do to make your endurance dreams come true, don't hesitate to reach out!

Go fast and be safe,

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Peace out, Old Man Winter!

As the old saying goes; if you can't beat it, get in your car and drive seventeen hours south.  This is the position I found myself in with this year's winter.  Growing up in Ohio, I can remember some bad winters, but this one takes the cake in my mind.

Awww... sunshine!
As I wrote about in my last post, I had the opportunity to come down to Clermont, Florida in January to train with my coach for a week and then followed it up with racing the Bone Island half iron in Key West.  This was a great boost to my overall fitness and definitely reinvigorated my training in general.  After I returned home, I used this boost to increase my overall training load and see what the true potential of this season may hold.  It was around this time that I also began receiving inquiries about my expanding coaching roster.  This is something that I have really kept on the down low, but something I'm extremely passionate about.  In the past, I have helped several individuals to attain their weight loss goals and I found this to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  Helping athletes achieve their triathlon goals just seemed to the natural direction that I would take this lifestyle.

When  I began developing my growing roster of athletes, I felt that it was only right that I informed my coach, AJ Baucco, of my intentions and goals for this area of my life.  As I expected, he was more than supportive and even offered his assistance for any issues I came across.  After a few days of chatting back and forth on this subject, he bounced the idea off me of becoming the first associate coach of AJB Coaching.  I immediately saw this as an incredible opportunity to increase my knowledge and also bring a superior product to my current athletes.  This idea quickly turned into a plan for me to travel back to Clermont where I would live, train, and learn with AJ as we develop our expanding coaching business. 

After packing up what seemed like half my apartment, I made the trip to Florida and moved into what I affectionately call "The Tri Frat House".  It is an incredible training environment here in Clermont.  I frequently swim, bike, run and socialize with professional triathletes from all distances.  It is a true eye opening experience to see what it truly takes to take the sport to that level and something I'm doing my best to embrace.  What may seem like an extended vacation to some is actually a series of days with meticulously calculated applied stresses, continuous recovery efforts, and a nonstop focus on nutrition.  That's not to say that we don't have fun doing it, because we definitely do!  We are here because we have a passion for this sport and lifestyle.  We work hard, we play hard, we eat hard, and we recover really hard.

I'm happy to say that in just the few weeks that I have been here, I have improved my coaching knowledge and services immensely.  Not only do I have my instructor in the next room, but I also have my own coach who I can watch as he tweaks my personal plan as he sees fit.  It is a best possible case scenario on multiple levels.  If only I could see my beautiful girlfriend, Kim, and my best buddy, Jet, each night :(  They are sorely missed, but very understanding of me taking advantage of this opportunity.

Next up on the never ending list of adventures will be Ironman 70.3 Florida on April 13th. With my current training, fitness, and location, I have high hopes for this event!  It will also be my first race representing my 2014 racing team; Team Perfect Fuel Chocolate Elite!  Just this week, I have glued up my new Gray Cycling wheels and mounted my new ISM Adamo Time Trial saddle - it's almost time to let it rip!!

For anyone out there who is looking to take their training and racing to the next level, please reach out and see if I can be of service to you.  We offer full time, in depth coaching as well as individual nutrition plans for all distances.  Also, please check out our current team of athletes at AJB Coaching!!

Be safe and go fast!

Friday, January 31, 2014

I'm Still Alive!!

Well, I have taken my sweet time to get back to blogging. This is partly due to my lack of interesting things to talk about and also due to my desire for a true off season. Following the Columbus Marathon, my need for a break, both mentally and physically, was very apparent. I was having posterior tibial tendon issues that just weren't getting better so any thoughts of throwing in a late season race were quickly dismissed. The plan was to take a full two week break of zero training. This is something I had never done before. I have taken breaks of light activity of my choosing, but never a mandated, extended, no exercise break.  By this point, I didn't fight it much.  For the first couple days I was antsy, but I quickly fell into my role of couch potato, beer drinker, and fried food connoisseur.  All was great except that my foot wasn't feeling any better.  I began to worry about a navicular stress fracture or worse, but just stayed the course of rest, ice, elevation and compression.

In early November I went back to training under the guidance of AJ Baucco.  It was basically all bike and swim with the occasional aqua jog.  Have I ever mentioned how horrible aqua jogging is??  Anyways, I graduated from "running" in the pool to the elliptical trainer - baby steps!  Basically we were open to any activity that could mimic running without pushing my pain past a "3" on the "1-10 scale".  I believe it was about four weeks before I saw a simple 10 min transition run pop up on the training calendar.  I'm not gonna lie, I was nervous.  I could definitely still feel discomfort in my posterior tibial tendon on a daily basis and I was sure that about two steps into my run I was going to know it was too soon.  Pulling out all the stops, I wrapped my arch in tender tape, put on an ankle support brace and tied my ginormous Hoka One One's tight.  To my huge surprise, no pain!  That's not to say that I didn't feel it, but it really didn't register on the pain scale.  Phew... huge relief!
Looking like I know what I'm doing at the National Training
Center in Clermont

Ok, so now everyone knows about my hidden foot injury secret.  Not that it was a huge secret, I just didn't broadcast it all over social media.  Ignorance is bliss.  Something that I haven't kept a secret, because it freaking rocks, is that I was selected as a 2014 member of the all-new Team Perfect Fuel Chocolate Elite triathlon team!!  I am super stoked about this and feel really honored to share a spot on the roster with five highly talented athletes.  Please check out the website as it develops and also give us a like on Facebook for all the current happenings of Team PFC!

Incredible pool at the National Training Center
So, fast forward about six weeks to mid January and you'll see me driving from Ohio to Clermont, Florida with what looks like the Beverly Hillbillies vehicle... if they were triathletes.  I had been invited to attend a camp with my coach, AJ, and some other athletes in Clermont.  After a week, we would make our way down to Key West to race the Bone Island Tri half iron.  Sounded like a splendid idea to me!  If you recall, I had done the Bone Island full in 2013 as my "I'm back" statement following my hip surgery - read about that journey here.

This trip would be full of exciting firsts: My first tri camp, my first time to physically meet someone coaching me, my first time having a swim video analysis done, and my first time to actually have someone by my side watching me in all three disciplines and able to offer on-the-spot feedback.  Something I didn't expect was the blast I would have with all the guys (and girls) I trained and raced with.  We had an incredible time and somehow managed to get a lot of work done for a big bump in January fitness.

J.P.'s truck reaching near bike capacity
Alright, so let's get into this race!  On Thursday morning we loaded up a Ford F-150 belonging to our own personal bike mechanic (we're kind of a big deal) and all-around hella tri Sherpa, J.P.  It was quite the sight with six bikes loaded up along with all the junk we would need for a weekend of racing and the celebrating that would certainly follow in Key West.  After nearly a full day of driving, we all arrived, got checked into the hotel, and headed to Duval for some dinner.

The view from bike check in - nice!
Friday was filled with the usual pre-race day shenanigans: short run, quick ocean swim, packet pickup, bike check-in, and lots of eating!  If there is one thing that Key West has, it is a lot of great bars and restaurants!

Race day came early, as it always does.  J.P. shuttled all of us who were racing over to transition so that we could set up bikes and T2 items before taking us the one mile over to the swim start at Smathers Beach.  We all sat in the truck for awhile listening to some depressing music which AJ swore was pump up music and then we donned our wetsuits and made our way across the road to the beach.

Swim: 38:15

I know... but let me explain.  Since I came here last year, I thought I knew exactly what to expect on the swim and that was that we would have a slight push from the usual northwest wind.  In other words, I expected to have a good swim.  I actually felt like I was having a good swim until I stood up on the pier and looked at my watch which revealed 36:xx... what the hell?!  Seeing that, I looked at the distance and saw the problem: 1.45 miles.  Oops!  Fortunately this wasn't a product of poor sighting, but rather just a long and quite odd course (we actually went past the pier and then back underneath it) that everyone else had also swam.  This meant that while it looks horrible on paper, I was still where I needed to be in the race.  Actually, when you add in the extra quarter mile, I did have a pretty darn good swim - for me, that is.  I did a reasonable job of drafting and keeping a solid pace without setting off too hard.

T1: 0:37

Yeah buddy - 37 seconds!  This was one of those transitions where when I mounted my bike I actually thought "that was too easy - what did I forget?"  Luckily, the answer to that was "nothing".  I just had a good, smooth transition.

Bike: 2:21:46

From my previous experience on this course, I knew this bike was likely to be two things: windy and traffic filled.  It did not disappoint.  We had a manageable headwind headed north on US-1.  Certainly not the worst I've dealt with, but it was quite noticeable - especially when a 50 foot RV rolled by at 60 mph within 5 feet of my shoulder.  Once again, this was the same for everyone.  Luckily, I didn't have to second guess my pace or power output because AJ had a very specific plan for how I would race.  The goal was to ride a specific heart rate on the way out and then push it up by two bpm on the way back.  This was also my first time to use my new race fueling plan that was developed using my individual sweat rate and caloric needs.  The fueling plan worked well, except for the operator error.  My first gel was to be about five minutes into the ride.  I pulled it off my aerobar extensions where it was held by electrical tape.  When all goes well, this results in the gel having the top ripped off in the process so  that I just need to squeeze it into my mouth.  Unfortunately, I'm very strong (sarcasm) and basically ripped the packet in half.  This put sugary gelatinous soup all over me and Stella.  I was attempting to scoop it up on my elbow pad and bike frame to deposit into my mouth, but it was pretty useless. I figured that I could push a little extra sports drink and be ok.... so guess what happens at mile seven?  Yep, I hit the rumble strip and ejected a bottle of sports drink.  "Oh hell", I thought.  I proceeded knowing that this wasn't any sort of "A" race and I planned on hitting the bottle exchange at mile 15.

Aside from those two snafu's, the rest of the ride went well.  I rode the entire thing by myself, to my displeasure.  I had one guy pass and repass, but he went to the side of the road at mile 16 with presumably a flat tire.  I saw AJ and his pro buddy, Zach Ruble, at the turnaround.  They were about two miles ahead and looking good.  Aside from them, I really didn't know who was in the full and who was in the half.  I pushed as hard as I dared given my strict heart rate guidelines and made the most of the tailwind on the way back.

T2: 1:07

Not as lightning quick as T1, but not bad.  I took the time to put on my ankle brace so that I could minimize any damage to my recovering foot.

Run: 1:32:55

This is the split I'm most happy with.  Not only did I have a mere six weeks of running prior to this event, but that included basically zero speed or tempo work.  This time actually comes close to my PR for any half marathon off the bike.  Now, that's not to say that it was easy!  My legs felt solid coming out of transition and I carefully watched my heart rate to keep it only about five bpm higher than what I did on the bike.  The plan was to start there and slowly build throughout the 13.1 miles.  I was told that if I couldn't go harder to just maintain, but not let it go down!  Sounds easy, but it gets tough.  Somehow I was able to pull it off and my HR trended slowly upward throughout the entire run even though pace fell off slightly.  Hopefully with some more run fitness I can keep that pace solid.

This run is two loops with a smaller third loop before finishing on the beach near the transition.  The loops are just out and back's along the beach.  While it is very beautiful, there is very little hiding from the sun.  Coming from Ohio in January, heat acclimatization is a huge challenge.  I figured as long as I kept fluid and calories coming in, I would give myself the best chance.  Somehow I missed the first aid station that was right out of T2 - probably putting my race belt on - and then also passed the next aid station because there were no volunteers standing out front and I actually thought it was some sort of concession stand near the beach.  This meant that my first gulp of any fluid was at the first turnaround near mile three.  At that point, I triple fisted it and slammed down as much as I could tolerate.  Following that, I knew where I would get fluids.  I also carried along two gels which were taken at predetermined distances.

My run stayed neutral the entire way - no one passed me and I didn't pass anyone.  I'm perfectly fine with that.  I wanted to see if I could put any time into AJ, but he blew past the first turnaround and decided to call it a day.  While I was sad to see him drop out, it meant that I now had another voice on the sideline to encourage me.  By the time I reached the third, shorter loop, I was extremely ready to finish.  I was unsure where the mini loop turnaround was so I just kept asking each volunteer I passed until one finally pointed it out. It was much further out than I anticipated and in hindsight it's probably a good thing I didn't know it's location ahead of time or I may have given in to the voices in my head begging me to slow down.

Finish: 4:34:38

I'm really stoked with this time.  For a January training race, coming out of tri camp, on little running, I couldn't ask for more.  If you want to get creative and back out the extra quarter mile of swimming, this was close to my half iron PR.  When all the dust settled and the faster, older guys finished, who started five minutes after me, I was in sixth overall.  I missed fifth by 14 seconds to a guy in another wave.  I would like to think that if he was physically 14 seconds ahead of me, I would have gone for it, but I think I basically left it all out there. Along with sixth overall, I was first in the male 30-34 age group, and the fourth overall amateur finisher.

I can't wait to see what 2014 has in store.  I know that my fitness in January has never been this good and I see big things happening this year!  I won't get into the Key West debauchery that followed the race on Saturday night as they could be a post all on their own, but that would also incriminate several upstanding members of our community.  It's safe to say that we had a blast!

As always, thanks for reading!  Please let me know if there is something I can do to help you in your endurance dreams!  Until next time, stay safe and go fast!