2016: Year in Review

Some would say 2016 was…rough. I mean, for all intents and purposes, it could legitimately be the script of a compelling horror flick. This conflicts me. Because my year was prettay…prettay…prettay good. And I’m not just talking about race results (though those never hurt). I grew this year as an athlete, as a person and as a frequent flyer. The Cavs broke Cleveland’s 52yr drought in the best Game 7 of all time — and I was THERE. I drove Porsches in Atlanta, rode bikes in Taiwan and jumped off cliffs with the girl I love in Hawaii. I was on the cover of a fricking magazine with my teammates! What world is this!?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still swimming 31min in a Half Ironman, the Cleveland Indians lost a Game 7 — and I was THERE, and I learned that I am allergic to my beloved sweet potatoes.

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Yes, there is plenty to improve upon in 2017. And as they say, if you measure it, you can improve it. So in the spirit of my race reporting this year – which featured super scientific charts – I’ve charted out the year in review. Read along for perspective of how it all came together and perhaps take tip/trick/or both with you to go.

2016-mileage

At face value, annual distances are pretty impressive. But compared to most competitive athletes, this weekly breakdown is pretty light. This is a product of fitting in what I can before and after long work days. Thankfully purplepatch’s philosophy is centered around building training into the available weekly hours of your life, not the other way around. This chart is a true example of quality, not quantity. Still, the swimming needs to be more, and will be in 2017.

Fun Fact – 10,312: miles traveled domestically for races this year, which is the equivalent to going to Tokyo and back.  

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If the mileage above was the result of fitting what I can into a busy work week, here’s how the rest of a week shook out this year. One of my main goals was to sleep more and as you can see, a third of my year was spent in a dream (*tips hat to Westworld*). Sleeping is critical to recovery and in 2015 I was sick before almost every race — big training load, long work hours, personal life, no sleep. This year if I felt my 7.5-8 hours were in jeopardy, I’d scratch a session. By and large I’d say it worked. In 2017 I’ll continue to find sensible ways to optimize, growing that yellow 9% without throwing off the balance.

Fun Fact – 11: seasons of shows I completed this year with Dani and/or with my Normatec boots/lacrosse ball.   

2016-race-expenses

I raced six times this year across the country and it cost me about $4,000. No one said this sport is cheap. Could I have raced less or more locally? Yes. But my goal was to race regularly, at bigger races that pulled strong talent and this is how it shook out.

Fun Fact – $85: how much I spent total on lodging thanks to arranging homestays. Thank you Gina, Albrights, mom and dad and Sunns!

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All of it added up to my first amateur win at a 70.3 event, a 2nd, two 3rds and a 5th. I won my age group at every race except for the final race of the year, Santa Cruz. I established a bike PR of 2:12 with strong bike run/combos putting me in the hunt of each race. Most importantly, I had a ton of fun seeing the country, being with teammates and pushing myself past my comfort zone.

Fun fact – learning from failure: my most viewed post of the year was: The Anatomy of a DNF, my recap of learning my limits after going hypothermic and dropping out of St. George. It’s not always about the end result, but the journey.

accolades-wordmark2016-accolades

For my efforts, I ranked #1 in the world Ironman’s 70.3 age group point system. Pretty cool! So why the asterisk? Because no ranking system is perfect. Where you race, how big the race is, who is there, margin of victory, etc. all make up a complex system. And in the USAT rankings (i.e. all distances, all brands) I am 16th in the nation, let alone the world. In those rankings I’m 3/100s of a point ahead of teammate Julian Sun and 3/1000 of a point behind teammate Reid Foster. WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN??? That I can be generally happy about trending higher year-over-year, while always trying to race the best guys in the world head to head. Hey, it’s actually pretty simple!

Fun fact – 7: of the 15 ranked ahead of me in USAT are on my team, Every Man Jack. 10 of the top 20 are ours. I don’t need to look past my own Strava feed for motivation! 

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A successful year like this isn’t possible without a sturdy, well-developed support system. I am so grateful to the following folks for the guidance, support and in some cases sacrifice to help make this a reality:

Dani: You believe in me even when I have a hard time doing so myself. Your excitement and support mean everything.

Family & Friends: Since my first triathlon, my parents have traveled to at least a race a year. Nick, Nate, Joe, Kyleen, Joanne, Gina, Joey, Kerry – thanks for supporting this year. The Kesslers – the 614 connection is strong, thanks for the guidance and friendship. Everyone else who posts/texts/well-wishes – thank you!

Team Every Man Jack: The rankings above only tell half the story. I’ve developed lifetime friendships with these guys. Here’s to another fun and fast year, fellas.

Sponsors: It starts with being able to #cleanupnice after every workout with the awesome Every Man Jack products. EMJ and all of our sponsors support us with amazing products and opportunity that legitimately help us train better and race faster. See them all here.

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And with that, goodbye 2016! Next up, some how, some way, improving in 2017. And I already have ideas of how to make it happened. So stay tuned!

 

Race Report: Double Down, Ohio + Santa Cruz

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It seems like ages ago that I crossed the finish line for the win twenty minutes from where I grew up at Ohio 70.3. That’s because, it was. The end of the season and beginning of post season have been wild, with six of the past eight weekends involving travel. And while I’d love to say that I’ve been sitting on these incredibly dynamic race stories, waiting to share them with the world, I’m here to tell you that’s just not the case. 

For all intents and purposes, these races were very similar and fairly vanilla in how the played out: a slower swim, followed by a faster bike and run led to an overall win at Ohio and a 3rd Amateur in Santa Cruz. But what I realized is these are the kind of races that are all about repeatable execution. In place of my standard Race Report format, I give a quick hit on the race phases and how I prepared similarly for both races. My hope is that triathletes from first timers to AWA frequent flyers will find a helpful nugget or two below. 

Eating for a late wave: A lot of race reports go into detail of what was eaten for breakfast. I think (and hope) most of the time this is because the author is writing the race report for their own record as much as they are for others. I’m not going to go into the details of my breakfast (ok, leftover white rice, almond butter and bananaIcouldn’thelpmyself), but what I’ve tried to master is “the late wave.” At every race this year except for Vineman my wave went off about an hour after the race started. Whether you’re first from the gun or a later wave, it’s important to dial in the timing of your eating. This can come from trial and error at races, and lord knows I’ve tried and erred, but it is also good to pick a few big training weekends to practice what you eat and when you eat it. If our wave is at 8:00, I’ll eat at 5:00, sip on a bottle with a hydration tab (GU is my fav) and top off with some bites of a bar 7:00 before our gun. Then at 7:45 I’ll have either a caffeinated gel or half a Red Bull. It’s important not to over eat, but this combination of my personal preference and purplepatch’s philosophy works for me to keep the engine fueled for a later start.

– Swimming with the right goggles: I swam in a way that felt just fine at both races, but came out behind, again. This isn’t new, but there were slight sighting issues at each: Ohio had blinding sun and Santa Cruz was foggy with a big distance at the turn buoys around the pier. Luckily I chose the right goggles for each — for Ohio I used mirrored amber lenses to ward off the sun while in SC’s fog I opted for the clear orange lenses for better visibility and color enhancement. My goggles of choice are the Roka R1 goggles because their ergonomic design makes sighting feel like looking through a windshield and they’re offered in a variety of lenses. It’s important to come to race with a pair of mirrored and a clear pair to be ready for either condition above. I had real trouble seeing buoys at each race, but would have had to stop and squint had I not brought the right pair.

– Handling the bike: The bike legs at each race were technical, but for different reasons. Ohio because there were 37 turns over the course of 56 miles. Santa Cruz because of rough roads and the subtlety of mastering big rolling terrain. Each because as late wave races, there was a ton of athlete traffic. In both races I had a solid bike split, and while that was partly because I was able to put my head down and ride hard, that only goes so far in both of these examples. In training I really focus on lines taken on descents and turns, being cognizant of my weight distribution, when to continue pedaling and when to tuck. I’m also obsessive about my gearing and being on the right cadence. Lastly, I embrace road bike group rides in the offseason, because I love it, but also to keep my edge sharp around unpredictable athlete traffic in races. This offseason I’ll be mountain biking to get even further out of my comfort zone and establish better handling. It sounds so obvious, but I know being a good bike handler earned me time in these races.

– Hydrate on the bike to setup the run: Ohio was hot and humid and at Santa Cruz I wore a vest, socks and toe covers on the bike as it was just over 50 degrees. The principle of nailing hydration on the bike to set up a good run is pretty well known throughout the tri world, and it’s definitely something purplepatch preaches. But it’s important to know that not all races are equal. And while my needs were very different for both races, my system was the same: A serving of hydration mix up front in my Torpedo (bottle/straw), and a concentrated bottle of hydration mix behind my saddle. At Ohio I shot for two bottles an hour and concentrated the rear bottle accordingly, squirting some into the Torpedo and mixing with water at aid stations. I started the Torpedo with pomegranate GU Hydration powder because of the slightly higher sodium, knowing my sweat rate would be higher, and concentrated the lemon-tea flavor in the back bottle for caffeine and flavor variation. At Santa Cruz, I only needed about a bottle an hour as it was very cool and I did not sweat nearly as much as Ohio, going only with lemon-tea powder throughout.

And while it’s great to have this system, it’s also important to be flexible. The rough roads at Santa Cruz ejected my rear bottle and I didn’t realize until it was too late, going almost miles without hydration. I do not usually drink the hydration beverage on the course as it makes me sick, so when I hit the aid station I filled up with water and nursed and extra GU with every sip. 

– Good socks matter: I used to get the worst blisters giant bloody holes in my feet during races. But whenever I trained in the same shoes (Saucony), I never had this issue. I decided not to go with any weird, new approaches on race day to prevent blisters and just convince myself the stabbing pain wasn’t there because I’m kind of crazy. But over time I learned that this was definitely from dumping water over my head on the run, something I wasn’t going to stop doing, especially in hot races. However this year, Sock Guy is a sponsor of ours. I had only trained in their socks and continued to race in what I was convinced were my “race socks.” But after Swiss cheese feet at Vineman I made the switch at Ohio — zero blisters. Only to be repeated at Santa Cruz. I’m not sure why the Sock Guy socks worked so well, but they really did and are my new “race socks.” 

– When you’re cranky on the run, you probably need calories: It happened in both runs, but at different times. Ohio it was as early as the second mile, and in Santa Cruz it was just after the 10K mark. My pace sagged a bit, the going was getting tough, and my mind went from positive to negative. We’ve all had those moments, but the key is learning how to get out of them. Matt Dixon told me recently on a Team EMJ discussion that usually when you go to that negative mental place, often it is because the fuel tank has hit the red bar before “E.” So in both races I took an extra few seconds at the aid station to really make sure I got my fill of the good stuff (in my case, Coke and/or Red Bull). And in both cases I went on to have pretty good runs with faster running at the end. 

– Embrace the finish: Both races had really cool finishes. Ohio’s was on the track at Ohio Weslyan University, a track I’d run on in high school. My family and dear friends were in the stands. Santa Cruz had the infamous beach finish and while it’s thankfully much shorter than when it was Big Kahuna, it’s still prefaced by a bombing downhill into town with tons of spectators. Dani and friends were in the crowd on the beach. In both cases, I was hurting trying to get every last second on that clock, but the feeling of finishing a big race, especially when it’s such a cool finish line, was not lost on me and I soaked it up and felt alive. 

So while neither race had “marquee” moments, each were more experience notches on the belt. Casual and competitive athletes alike can and should always be learning. Have race tidbits you picked up this year and are worth sharing? Leave them in the comments section below!

And in case you thought I was going to leave you without some #badracepics, fear not, I have plenty. Some are almost decent!

Ironman 70.3 Ohio:

Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz:

 

And if you made it this far on mobile, I owe you a drink…

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Vineman

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“You’re racing ghosts.”

Slusser Rd., lined by scorched grass and awash in the California sun, was relatively sparse with competitors this early in the race, so the purplepatch support crew at 10 mile popped in my tunnel vision. The encouragement the coaches and athletes produced was tangible, but perhaps none more than that phrase I heard Matt Dixon yell, “You’re racing ghosts.”

It perfectly captured the reality of the day: Team Every Man Jack had 15-20 athletes starting in waves from 7:10 through 8:30 a.m. Which meant that roughly 20 guys were capable of winning an Amateur title at Vineman 70.3 and I had no idea where any of them were. But Matt’s words meant he knew that I was in the hunt for that Amateur title, and for the last 3.1 miles, I ran like hell to secure a PR on this course, Amateur runner-up and Age Group win.

IRONMAN 70.3 VINEMAN

Wine country is home to arguably one of the most competitive 70.3s on the circuit, Vineman. Athletes begin by turning the serene Russian River into their own brand of washing machine for a 1.2mi swim, before heading out on a diverse 56mi bike ride through redwoods, vineyards, flats and climbs, all topped off with a 13.1mi run through the vineyards in the exposed sun. The caliber of athletes in both the amateur and the professional field is world class so race day is the truest test of  ability. I was gunning for this race.

SCIENTIFIC RACE CHART, VINEMAN EDITION

Vineman 70.3 Race Chart

I have to say, I made some really solid additions to my pre-race play list. If you can’t get amped hearing Thunderstruck at the start line of a race, check your pulse. Said playlist got me fired up and focused as I warmed up and those tunes played through my head during the race. So on the scale of Kenny G. to breaking the ROCK meter, I heated up as the race went on, like Freebird, but far less obnoxious and definitely less…Confederate.

THE SWIM 1.2mi

Full Swim Photo Album | Song: Thunderstruck by AC/DC

Vineman swim

Image credit: Ironman


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Roka errthang: Cap, R1 goggles, Maverick Pro wetsuit

Race morning saw zero clouds, which meant a sighting would be challenging with the sun right in our eyes on the way out. I discussed sighting strategy with teammate C.J. Olson before the gun went off. When it did, I saw C.J. take off more quickly than I could cover, so I settled into a group hoping that together we could sight on the buoy line. At the turn around, the depth of the water is less than 3 feet deep and I bottomed out. I stood up and dolphin dove until I got to a depth I could continue to swim. Looking back, I probably should have clawed the ground and kept “swimming” (crawling). My return line was a bit wider as I shot straight for the swim exit. As I’ve learned more about the river currents (they’re strongest in the middle), I probably lost some time. I got out of the water in 31:18. Slow, especially for Vineman, but I was feeling fresh and ready to ride my bike hard. And if I learned anything at Raleigh, it’s that I can overcome a poor swim.

THE BIKE 56mi

Strava | Full Bike Photo Album | Song: Robot Rock by Daft Punk (#helmetgoals)

The bike was the tail of two halves. Or should I say, four quarters. The first half of the bike stared down the barrel of a strong headwind and was quite challenging. Much of the second half benefited from these conditions with a fast and fun tailwind, allowing me to really get into a groove. But this year, inspired by how college basketball teams, specifically the Xavier Musketeers, handle games by breaking them up into “4 minute wars” (TV timeouts are called at the 16,12,8,4min marks in a half), I’ve been breaking my bike into four 14mi wars. I have a time goal for each quarter of the course and I work like mad to hit it, then focus on the next one. Here you can see how the wind really affected the first and second half of this course respectively:

Bike 14mi wars.emf

Note: On pace in final “war,” but was slowed up in no-pass zone in final mile


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Felt IA, ENVE wheels and Rudy helmet cruising through the Vineyards

I made sure to fuel and hydrate with GU hyrdation mix and gels to set up a good run, so when I hit the racks and barely any other bikes were there, I knew there was nothing left to do but strap on my Saucony Fastwitch 6 shoes and go. Fast. Because my teammate Jackson Dovey was out there doin’ work and it would take a solid effort to compete.

THE RUN 13.1mi

Strava | Full Run Photo Album | Song: Backseat Freestyle by Kendrick Lamar

Jackson started 6 minutes ahead of me as our Age Group was split in two due to size. I knew that there was no chance I would physically catch him unless he crashed and burned, so I’d keep my eyes open for any cue as to how far behind in “race time” I was. Regardless, I had to run fast.

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La Crema vineyards

Just like 2014 I headed out in 5:30s. While it felt comfortable, and was assisted by the cheers by Dani and the V squad, I reeled it back to be conservative, settling into 5:45s and then 6:00s at the first grade uptick. Vineman is sneaky hard because the entire course is rolling. So while there is no “marquee” climb, it’s punchy. To my satisfaction, my body felt at home as I powered the ups and let it fly on the downs, with very little variations in pace. Whenever I crept up to 6:10, I forced it back down by tightening up form and focusing on turnover.

At mile 7 the course goes up into the vineyards of La Crema winery for a one mile loop in what feels exactly like a cross country course. I smiled, enjoyed being in my element, and embraced the pace needed in the second half of the run. As I passed an athlete, he told me Jackson was a quarter mile ahead of me. While grateful, I knew that time and distance gaps given on the course are usually a bit off, so I took this as Jackson was up to a mile ahead of me.

Once I left the vineyard I saw Jackson returning from the out and back and estimated he was a mile ahead of me. Quick math: 1mi=6minutes – or the exact amount of time Jackson started ahead of me. Meaning that, as of mile 8, we were effectively running shoulder to shoulder…while being a mile apart, if that makes sense.

FLASHBACK: 2015 Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii, I watched Jackson Dovey cruise through the field and finish 9th in his age group IN THE WORLD. He’s an incredible athlete and I knew that if I didn’t run even harder for the last 4.5mi of this race, I would have a hard time catching him.

Jackson @ Kona

Kona: Jackson was 9th in the world in his division

25_m-100727249-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1357_034850-2340264But that’s the beautiful thing about this team. I watched almost all of our guys do this in Kona last year, so they were all coming, it was just a matter of when. Thus execution was critical for a strong overall finish. In order to do this, your aid station game has to be as strong as your pace, so I guzzled Coke or Red Bull at each, drenching my Louis Garneau Coldblack kit and Boco visor with ice water to stay cool.

And that brings us back to mile 10. With 3.1mi to go, I get a boost from the purplepatch team and dial the pace a notch further for my fastest mile of the day. For some reason I remember the final two miles being entirely downhill. Turns out this isn’t the case. The Cleveland Cavaliers were a source of inspiration – in order to be champions, they had to fight. Effort was maximum output at all times. Nothing is given, everything is earned, and imagery of them diving for loose balls and playing to fatigue in Game 7 looped in my mind, powering me over the hills. My fastest GAP mile (grade adjusted pace) was the final mile, 12-13 as I kicked to the finish.

Down the chute, I heard my family yelling for me to go and figured it must have been really close. As I crossed I looked at Jackson with a “What-the-hell-just-happened-that-was-so-freaking-hard-omg-nuts” look and gave him a big hug. I didn’t know if I’d beat him or not, but in that moment I was just really thankful. Thankful for the opportunity to race with him and push each other to our limits; thankful for this team and all that we put in, to get this out of each other on race day.

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Thankful for the opportunity to race against this guy and the rest of our squad

RESULT AND TAKEAWAYS

It turns out the effort was about :30 faster than Jackson. In a ~4hr race, that’s incredibly close. A PR for me on this course, 4:12:35, meant an Age Group win, 2nd Amatuer (teammate Jake McDonald taking the title by 2min – stud!) and 18th overall, including many of the worlds best professionals. I’m beyond encouraged by this finish and thrilled that the work to date materialized.

ResultsVineman finish stats

But like most athletes, I dug into takeaways for improvement. While I’ve really developed my bike to be competitive while maintaining a solid run, the swim is miles away from finishers 1-17 ahead of me. The great swim project will continue and teammates have been generous with their tips, especially Savage. On the bike, I think the gains will come from two areas: staying the course on the purplepatch training plan and aerodynamics. Teammate Jesse Moore has provided great insight on the latter as it pertains to position.

WHAT’S NEXT?

I’M COMING HOME! My next race is Ironman 70.3 Ohio, which takes place in Deleware just a short drive from where I grew up. Hometown crowd, home cooked meal, sleeping in “my room” – can’t wait. See ya on August 21st, Ohio!

After that the plan is to finish the season at Ironman 70.3 Santa Cruz on Sep. 11 on the classic Big Kahuna course.

THANK YOU

A big thanks again to Dani and my folks for a great weekend at Russian River and for all the support. To the D’Onofrio clan for having us over on Friday night for dinner – Kathy, you’re culinary skills are off the chart! Always good to spend time with the fam. Team EMJ, I’ve said enough – good work fellas. Purplepatch for having me ready to execute. All of our sponsors for provided the best gear – I legitimately race faster with this stuff, thank you!

See ya in O-H…!