Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Success in Seneca!

One of my goals heading into 2013 was to make Team USA in both the Olympic and Long Course distances for 2014.  As we all know, I failed to make the Olympic distance team and I have made peace with that.  I wasn't going to allow that failure to impact my attempt to make the Long Course team, so off to South Carolina I went!

Unlike the Olympic distance, USA Triathlon doesn't hold a stand alone event to form their Long Course team.  For whatever reason, the longer distances are not as popular in the world of ITU World Championships.  So for the Long Course National Championships, USAT piggy backs off an existing half Ironman distance race.  This year, the half iron selected was the Rev3 Half Rev in Anderson, South Carolina.

Something noteworthy is that even though we use a half iron (or 70.3) as a Team USA qualifier, the ITU Long Course distance is not equal to the half iron distance.  The long course distance is one that I wish was more popular in the US as it is basically a 3/4 Iron or a triple Olympic.  The distances are a 4K (2.5 mile) swim, 120K (75 mile) bike, and 30K (18.6 mile) run.  It is not necessarily a distance that is beneficial to me as the swim is longer than Ironman and the bike is shorter.  What I do like is that it is a long, tactical race that doesn't end with a full marathon and doesn't require the recovery that a marathon demands.

So, onto the race!

Jet and I made the nine hour drive down to Anderson on Friday before the Sunday race.  While it isn't much fun to sit in the car for that long, it gave my body a good opportunity to get some recovery as I had been pushing pretty hard in the two week period between the Deer Creek half and this race.  Things were good in training, but I could tell I had some fatigue.  The weekend in between the two half irons, I rode a very hilly bike tour in southern central Ohio on Saturday and then ran the Findlay Red, White and Blue half marathon on Sunday.  Even though they were both training events for me I felt like I had been racing a lot lately and that takes its toll mentally.  So on this drive I took the opportunity to catch up on a bunch of triathlon podcasts, zone out on the scenery, and allow my compression tights to work their magic on my legs.

On Saturday, I went to Lake Hartwell and participated in the sanctioned practice swim where I just wanted to loosen up, check out some sighting points on the course and familiarize myself with the area.  After quickly picking up my packet at the Anderson Civic Center, I then linked up for a bite to eat with my buddy (and crazy fast triathlete), Nick Chase.  It is so great to have friends in the triathlon community to link up with across the country at different events.

The rest of my Saturday consisted of watching the Kona broadcast on Ironman Live, a short two mile run, a quick roll on the bike to make sure everything was working correctly before she got racked in T1, and then a trip to the Greenville/Spartanburg Airport to pick up my gorgeous girlfriend, Kim.

This event utilizes two separate transitions, but it isn't exactly a point to point.  Basically, the swim venue isn't capable of handling the volume of cars associated with the event so T2 and the finish line are located about three miles away.  Rev3 does a great job of making this as easy as possible.  We drove to T2/finish line where I set up my bike-to-run transition.  We then took shuttles to T1/swim start.  Upon completion of the swim, my De Soto wetsuit, goggles and swim cap went into a plastic bag marked with my bib number.  Race staff then collected these bags, transported them to T2, and placed everyone's bags next to their bikes while we were running.  Big thumbs up to the Rev3 team for their athlete-centered focus and attention to detail.  They put on a top notch production, for sure.

After getting my bike set up and finding the necessary pre race facilities (park bathroom), Kim and I walked to the swim start.  After splashing around for a few strokes and doing some dynamic stretching, it was time to go!

Swim: 33:01

I have never claimed to be a good swimmer, but I have been swimming well lately.  So... in my defense, I'm quite sure this course was long.  I had it at about 1.4 miles on my Garmin and I've heard of others being as high as 1.7 miles.  It's tough to say for sure as swim course measurement using GPS is a bit wonky.  Either way, I lined up at the beach start in the second line of swimmers thinking I would be able to allow that first wave to pull me along during their initial ~400m adrenaline-fueled surge. This was a national championship, right?  These guys will be fast swimmers, right?  Well, not the guys I was behind.  I found myself swimming over rubber covered bodies all the way until the first turn buoy.  You win some, you lose some.

The water was very nice.  76 degrees, calm, and luckily the sun was not blinding and made sighting pretty easy.  I tried to follow feet as much as possible, but I never found that perfect candidate like I had two weeks prior.  It was a good swim and I never really exerted myself.  I stayed smooth, strong, and in control.

T1: 1:34

I had my De Soto Speed Vest off by the time I got to the rack.  I pulled off my SpeedTube pants, and threw everything in my bag.  Put my Skin Cooler beanie on under my helmet and ran out.

Funny story: I registered late for this event and was put in a rack with other late registrants and relay teams.  When I got to my bike, there were a couple middle aged gentlemen, who were presumably the designated cyclists for their relay teams, chatting next to my transition spot waiting on their swimmers to arrive.  They told me that they had been admiring my bike and began asking me questions about various components.  I LOVE to talk about bikes probably more than anyone else in the world, but now was not the time!  I had to chuckle to myself as I got underway - did that really just happen?  Did I not look like I was in a hurry? Gotta love it.

Bike: 2:23:46

When I registered for this event I was under the delusion that this was a rolling bike course. For those who have raced Muncie, that is what I had in my mind.  Not so much.  Luckily, I decided to pre drive much of the bike course and I knew what I was in for.  According to my Garmin, we climbed 3,150 ft in 56 miles.  That's more than rolling.  With that said, I'm super happy with this bike split!

Coming out of the water, I knew I wasn't in the lead group, but I didn't think I allowed that many guys to slip away.  I exited the park, put on my shoes, and immediately began climbing.  I allowed myself 5K to get settled in and allow my heart rate to drop from it's breakneck T1 pace.

Basically my entire bike ride was a series of bridging gaps to groups up ahead.  I did have a rider (who eventually went on to win the race thanks to a 1:18 half marathon) catch me around mile 20 and I was excited to have someone to work with.  After he passed me, I replied with the ritualistic re-pass to signal that I wanted to ride together, but then I looked back and he was gone.  I'm not sure if he needed to feed, or evacuate his bladder, or what, but I just continued to ride as he fell further back.  Eventually I got to a group that I was faster than, but I didn't seem to be pulling in the next group.  So I made a decision at nearly 40 miles to put in a hard five minute effort to try to reel them in.  Luckily, it payed off and at the end of the five minute effort I was with the guys I would stay with until the end of bike ride.  I had also pulled along the best riders of each group I rode through, so we had a strong group of guys heading into T2.  I am thankful for this because I was content to sit in the line for a bit and let someone else stick their nose in the wind.

I knew that I wasn't with the overall leader since I hadn't seen Nick, but I knew I had to be close.  As it turned out, I got off with another guy who, along with me, shared the lead for our division.

T2:  1:40

This took a little longer than I wanted, but I took time to put on socks this time.  I had escaped without blisters running sockless two weeks ago, but I wasn't willing to tempt fate.

Run: 1:32:34

I knew I had a really good bike split, but I was afraid that it may have come at the cost of my run.  Similarly to Deer Creek, I headed out and ran by feel for that first mile and waited for my watch to pop up my first mile split.  To my delight, it displayed 6:42.  In the back of my mind I still knew this would be a tough run, no matter how hard I had biked, due to the topography.  The grades weren't steep, but they were constant.  There wasn't a flat foot on this run course.  It just began to grind you down.

The run course was a fairly simple two loop, out and back.  Right at the first turnaround, I made the pass for the lead of the age group and knew that unless I blew up, I could hold him off.  A term that stuck in my head from the Kona coverage the day before was Matt Lieto describing Luke McKenzie's run as "ticking them off".  In this case, "them" are miles and that is what I wanted to do; tick off the miles, one by one.  I didn't want to run overly hard, but just steadily keep hitting mile markers.

Kim caught the pass about to happen
As I began lap two, I was swiftly passed by a guy within my division.  Kim had informed me just before then that I was leading the age group.  It was right then when I realized that the pass not only meant I wasn't winning the age group, but I had just lost the title of USAT Long Course Male 30-34 National Champion.  It was tough to swallow, but it was apparent that, on that day, he was a superior runner and he went on to beat me by a minute and 50 seconds.  Congrats to him and I tip my hat to his impressive run after he got off the bike nearly four minutes down.

My focus quickly became to hold on to this 2nd position.  I could see my splits beginning to slip, but I hadn't completely hit the wall.  From the best I could tell, I had a slight buffer behind me to anyone else.  This can be difficult to determine on a two loop run though.  At the last turnaround, I noticed a runner coming up the hill looking strong, but I had nearly a quarter mile on him.  Those last three miles became fully focused on running my best and not allowing him to pass me, but I was hurting.  To my shock, at the last aid station I glanced over my shoulder and he was RIGHT there and coming on fast.... damn.  Well, it was time to bury myself in the hurt box.  I instantly picked it up and pushed as hard as I could.  I told myself that this is what I train for and that it would all be over soon.  When I hit the finishing chute, I knew I had held him off and I was totally relieved.  I'm not sure I really slowed down until after I hit the line though, and then I was doubled over in distress.  I waited the 13 seconds for him to finish and congratulated him.  My guess is that he had burnt all his matches catching me and didn't have any more when I took off.  He quickly told me that we weren't in the same age group after he crossed the line.  That would have been some helpful information for me to know about two minutes before!  If I hadn't looked at that last aid station, there is no doubt he would have silently passed me and I'm not sure I would have had the energy to fight back.

In the end: 4:32:35 2nd Male 30-34, 14th Overall

Despite this time being seven minutes longer than my race two weeks prior, in my mind this was a far superior performance.  While Deer Creek is a legit course, it is definitely a fast course.  This Anderson, SC course was not fast.  Are there tougher courses?  Yes, much tougher.  I would call this course challenging.  It is right on that line where you don't really change your race strategy, but you know it's gonna hurt.

Just like all my other results, I am realistic.  I am really happy with this performance and it has little to do with my placement.  I am fully aware that there is more than one other man between the ages of 30 and 34 that is faster than me at this distance in the United States.  Were they there toeing the line with me on this day? Nope.  On this day, on this course, and in this race, I placed where I did and I'm proud of it.

With my placement, I am securely in a position to join Team USA in Weihai, China in September 2014 to take on the best long course athletes in the world.  (U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A...)

I have so many people to thank for this race:  My girlfriend, Kim.  My coach, Rich Laidlow.  Hector Gomez at TriPainRelief for keeping my battered body coated in sweet Arnica relief.  The boys over at Trendy Charlie for keeping me clothed in things other than spandex.  De Soto Sport for making the best technical garments and wetsuits.  Wedgie for keeping my bike setup clean and aerodynamic.  Friendship CrossFit for meeting my strength training needs this season.  And last, but certainly not least, my Team RWB family who made this race possible.  Rev3 supports Team RWB and donated my race entry to this event.  Please visit my supporters page and support those who support me if your needs call for any of these products or services.

Again, thanks for reading.  Please let me know if there is something I can do to help you chase your dreams - no matter how big or small!  Who would have thought four years ago that I would have the opportunity to represent my country in China!?  Not this guy!


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