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,


  1. Nice recap, Ryan. Better luck next time, you're still a champ!

  2. Hello Ryan,
    A quick message to ask if you would you be interested in a mutual following on twitter. If so, I'll give you a 'solo' follow-friday shoutout including your website next week Friday & 'anytime' you need a retweet for something important you want to share with over 42k+ folks, holler anytime. ('My twitter page is Your twitter page.') I'm currently following you now & awaiting your follow-back. Look forward to hearing from you Ryan...