About Mike Vulanich

I'm an amateur triathlete and professional daylight maximizer, fueled by peanut butter and espresso. Here at mvtri.com I write about my training & racing as a competitive athlete, and the cool places around the world it's taken me.

Race Report: Defending title at Ironman 70.3 Ohio

O-H

You know that feeling when you’re FAF (fit as…) heading into a race, you’re healthy and you just know you’re going to crush it? That’s just not how I felt leading into my bid to defend my title at Ironman Ohio 70.3. I wasn’t UNfit for UNhealthy and if you asked me before the race, I would have told you I was “fine.” But a couple bouts with illness and one or two niggles leading up to the race definitely axed some key sessions that would have helped not only fitness, but confidence.

And what better way to get over a case of the “maybes” than a little home cookin’?

Literally.

The race venue is twenty minutes from the house I grew up in. What makes this race so special is not only the course familiarity, but the unwavering support of my family while I’m home. There was not a single thing that wasn’t covered from the second I landed at Columbus Port International, all the way to the start line, where my dad zipped up my Roka wetsuit. And it was that extra energy I would have spent on logistics, food or other details, that I was able to use in getting my mind and body right.

By the time I was wading in the water with the rest of the guys waiting for the gun, I was…how do they say, “finna to get after it.”

Unfortunately, Ohio 70.3 decided to go with a “wave” start again this year. Of the four 70.3’s I’ve started this year, this was the first that hadn’t converted over to a self-seeded “rolling” start. My wave was the second to last wave, starting an hour and twenty minutes after the first folks. I’m hoping all races eventually convert over to the rolling or seeded start – it’s safer for everyone and allows more pure competition.

As such, we had a lot of traffic by the time we started our swim. Coupled with the blinding sun which had risen well above the treeline by then, there were people stopped everywhere. So while I started swimming with a guy who had a good pace and line, I lost him in the madness about 600m into the 2km swim and ended up swimming alone.

While I swam 30min for the first time in many races, I’m really encouraged to know on a day with clean water it would have been 29min and with a good group, 28min was within reach! This speaks volumes to the work I did with Gerry Rodrigues of  Tower 26 in LA, something I’m going to write more about soon.

Fun fact about the bike: I rode exact same time as last year. Like, to the second: 2:12:33. This year’s ride had far less turns than last year’s course, which had something like 35 turns in 56 miles (!), with a headwind on the way out and a tailwind on the way back. This means I was more easily able to smooth out effort, focus on gearing, nutrition and hydration, to set up a strong run.

I was caught around mile 45 or 50 by a strong rider who came out of the swim a couple minutes back. We hit transition together and I was expecting the race to start there. However, I must have made it out of T2 before he did because I didn’t see him again.

Last year, I remember feeling like crap within the first two miles of the run. It was little less humid this year, but I also think that up to that point in the race, the energy burn had been pretty even allowing me to feel the rhythm. I clicked away at 6:00ish pace give or take knowing I was going to have that pace all day, but I wasn’t sure if I would have that extra gear to run faster.

In my own assessment and after finally hearing a position shout out from the crowd I knew I wasn’t going to have to dig deep to run much faster, which was really a relief. My strategy was to “not do anything stupid,” i.e. hold the pace.

And unlike last year, when I was pretty dehydrated hitting the finish line, I was able to really enjoy finishing on the OWU track and even fired up the crowd a little bit, finishing with nothing other than the “O-H…” arms.

After the race, I rode my bike 45min home to flush out the legs and got ready to host my Watterson buddies for a classic Ohio summer cookout. Frankly I was looking forward to that just as much as the race.

I’m really excited about this race. Dropping almost 7 minutes off my time last year and getting a PR at the distance in 4:06:08 is the type of positive feedback on your training that you hope to get out of a race. But what’s the most exciting is that I know I can go faster. And this isn’t a “woulda, shoulda, coulda…just be happy with your time” kind of faster. No, cleaner water on the swim (i.e. rolling start), a couple mechanical changes on the bike, more run training now that my swim block and illnesses are behind me. I really believe I can break four hours on that course. And that pumps me up.

Thanks, as always for reading along and a massive thank you to anyone who expressed kind words before, during or after the race. Thank you to my parents for being the best race support, my brother and friends for completing my trip and hanging out after the race, and Dani who was texting everyone like mad with updates from time tracking central command (i.e. her MacBook). A big shoutout to my teammates who had blitzed Ironman Santa Rosa just the day prior and pumped me up, and to all of the sponsors who make it possible for our team to let our talent shine on the course.

Up next: Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Chattanooga, TN. Time to get to work!

Travel Tuesday: Cycling at Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

A series of stories & tips about training & traveling. 

File_000Taiwan’s beauty and variety blew us away. Our ten days were filled with fun outdoor adventures, but cycling in the country with the most mountains over 9,000 ft. was something I was really looking forward to in Sun Moon Lake, the cycling leg of our trip.

Little did I know, I’d end up inadvertently climbing 9,000 ft. in 3hr 40min of riding, while fending off farm dogs and bonking after running out of Pineapple cake.

Much more on that adventure below. But first, some tips for anyone looking to ride bikes in Taiwan, specifically Sun Moon Lake.

GETTING TO SUN MOON LAKE

Most people who think of riding in Taiwan likely think of the Taiwan KOM Challenge, and rightfully so. We stayed along the route in Taroko Gorge and while we were focused on hiking the breathtaking trails and relaxing in hot springs, I can confirm a little piece of me died each time a cyclist rocked their bike back and forth up the steep road. The route is nothing short of epic.

Unless you want to drive 10 hours around the top of the island, the only road to Sun Moon Lake from Taroko, is 90 miles of mountain roads, often big enough for one car, but with two way traffic. It’s pretty white knuckle driving and takes over 4 hours. In fact, we were turned around at a  road closure due to rock slides and had to try the next day, which was also slowed by rock slide.

Sun Moon Lake is accessible via the West Coast, either by car or bullet train + car/bus, so if you’re coming from Taipei, that’s definitely the recommended route.

WHERE TO STAY, WHERE TO RENT

There are a handful of bike rental spots where we stayed, but a proper day of cycling was made possible by the Giant retail/rental shop in the Shuishe Pier Plaza.

Spa Home Hotel – Yuchi Township, Northwest corner of Sun Moon Lake, Shuieshe Pier. Clean, lake view rooms at a reasonable price.

Giant Bikes – Rent ascending levels (read: entry level through Dura Ace Di2) of cruisers, hybrids, road or even TT bikes, right next to the hotel. A bit more expensive than neighboring shops, totally worth it for quality and support.File_004 (2)

WHERE TO RIDE

After each choosing our steed for the day, it was now time to figure out where exactly to ride: a loop around the lake and out to the mountains.

Riding Around Sun Moon Lake – This ~18mi loop of mainly lakeside paths is given to you on a map when you rent from Giant and has great spots to peel off and get your tourist on. Some spots even involve stairs and walking. It’s a totally rad cruisy option to see the beautiful sights. Dani and I rode part of this on our first evening in town and she crushed the whole loop the next day fueled by ice cream at an outdoor market along the way.

Heading for the mountains – Taking a flyer on Strava segments/heat maps, like I do in most places I visit and want to ride, I opened up Strava to find a general route out of Sun Moon Lake and into the mountains for some climbs. I intended to ride for 3 hours with some climbing.

It’s fair to say I vastly under estimated my route.

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AN ADVENTURE ON TWO WHEELS IN THE CENTRAL TAIWANESE MOUNTAINS

  • 56.7mi
  • 8,767 ft
  • 3hrs 40min
  • See the route and stats on my Strava
  • Gear:
    • Brought my own: Louis Garneau kit & shoes, pedals, pedal wrench. A lot of space on a one-backpack trip, but totally worth it to make any bike work.
    • Rented: Giant TCR Advanced Ultegra, helmet
    • Nutrition: Brought some GU gels & tabs, bought pineapple cakes & Coke

I settled on taking 21 North, where I linked up with a Taiwanese cyclist who I traded pulls with to 14 West, a beautiful, sweeping, well paved road along the river. At a stoplight, I pointed at some mountains and signaled “Up?” with an eager smile. He laughed and shook his head no. I was going to have to climb solo.

I peeled off the first steep rode I could find, a small farm road and started climbing. I rode past chicken farms and into a forested area super punchy climbs. Very soon however I topped out and began descending going the other direction. As I scanned the area for longer, sustained mountain roads, I looked up and came to a screeching halt.

Not your granddad’s sheep dogs

In the middle road was a man on a motor scooter and two farm dogs, which did not appreciate my unannounced presence. I’m sure the spandex and helmet + glasses combo didn’t help either.

In an instant, they charged to within a foot of either side of my now-dismounted legs, barking ferociously and showing their teeth. These were not your granddad’s sheep dogs. They were grizzly with a deadened look of “I don’t give an EF” in their eyes. I thought I was toast.

I wanted to keep my eye on them to be ready to fight back if they pounced, but looking at them only made them more aggressive. So, I took a deep breath, exuded the most calm energy I could and looked up at the trees that domed over the road.

As I threw fate to the wind, the man on the motor scooter called to them repeatedly and after what seemed like five minutes, but was probably one or two, they slowly backed away, returning their attention any time I moved.

The second they were next to their owner, I clipped in, turned around and stomped over 600 watts to get the HELL out of the farm roads ASAP.

Onward and upward…and upward

A bit shaken, I collected myself and continued on 14 West until 136 at Guoxing, which crossed the river and looked like a road that could lead to a climb in the nearby mountain. Boy was it ever:

  • 7.1mi
  • 1,480ft gain
  • Strava Ctg 2 climb
  • Segment

File_005

After stopping to consume some pineapple cake at the bottom, I began to climb like a giddy kid who was just let out to recess. This climb has it all: varying grades, lush vegetation, great views, local architecture and of course, more dogs, which I skiddishly rode by.

I topped out, took some pictures and began my return home, vastly low on calories. I was definitely going to bonk if I didn’t stop, so I hit the 7-11 in Guoxing for Coke and chocolate wafers from a gas station. Cycling food – truly a global cuisine!

Not long into my return on eastbound on 14, I realized something: the way out either slightly or vastly downhill. Which meant I was going to climb 2K feet over an hour to get home and also totally be late. I sent a text to Dani that I hoped would reach her (we didn’t have great international plans).

On the back half of the trip and over a week removed from real training, it’s fair to say that this crushed me. Out of water, out of food, every time I made a turn thinking surely it was time to coast back home, I’d go up hill again. I began to laugh. What more could I do?

When I finally reached the hotel lobby to find Dani waiting, I was a shell of a human. I walked like a zombie to a couch and plopped down, drinking out of a water jug while staring at happy tourists depart on their Sun Moon Lake ferries. It was time to find all the dumplings in the Shuishe Pier Plaza and eat every last one of them.

 

***

Taiwan is a great destination for anyone looking to experience the outdoors in East Asia. The people were incredible, the food delightful and the adventures plentiful. Which, of course, means this isn’t the last Travel Tuesday in Taiwan.

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I can’t (?)

Shah-Does-Mike-Photoshoot-27

“I can’t. ”

It’s a phrase that’s used often. Sometimes it’s as trivial as, “I can’t go, I have plans.” Recently it’s gained favor in the millennial destruction of the English language. But often, the phrase, “I can’t,” is used when we express our limits.

I was reflecting on this phrase the other day while training and I asked myself, “why not?” Now, before you stop reading, because that really sounds like a cheesy graphic T-shirt, hear me out.

How many times, when you say, “I can’t” do something, can you literally not do said thing? If you really think about it, the reasons why not can be peeled away like the layers of an onion until you get to the center. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what’s at the center of an onion, but of this proverbial onion, the answer is almost always, you can.

Okay, let’s move beyond the hyperbole and demonstrate. I love the basketball but it was never a sport I pursued seriously. Once in high school I dunked a tennis ball and it was one of the best days of my then-fifteen years on earth. But today, as a 5’11”, 31 year old endurance athlete, “I can’t dunk.”

If you looked at Mark Cuban, mega-accomplished billionaire and owner of the Dallas Mavericks, would you guess that he can dunk? Fun story: he can. And he wasn’t a basketball stud who did this in his prime. He dunked for the first time at the age of 37! 

See, Mark Cuban wanted to dunk a basketball. So for a year he trained to do just that. It’s a testament to goals, determination and focus. Mark does have four inches on me, so maybe it would take me two years, but if I went all in on box jumps and squats, you couldn’t tell me that dunking is out of the question.

So why not a more relevant scenario, like “I can’t swim under 28 minutes in a half Ironman?” After all this is a triathlon blog and this is something I’ve said, and sometimes even believed.

Because most would look at that and say one of two things:

  1. “I don’t know anything about that, but you train and race all the time, so I’m sure you could.”
  2. “I know what it takes and you train and race all the time, so I know you can.”

Changing “can’t” to “can” is not about ability. It’s about will. Most people would look at my triathlon racing and say, you have the ability to swim under 28 minutes. But I truly believe that the range of things we can actually do is expansive if the will is there.

And this isn’t limited to grandiose physical accomplishments. In fact, it becomes the most immediately applicable to habits. I often hear, “I just can’t work out early in the morning, before work.” I’m not shaming anyone who’s said that – I have! But if we all look at our most recent “I can’t,” from anywhere in life, once you start to peel those onion layers, it gets really hard not to see “I can.”

Maybe those onion layers are a busy schedule, self doubt, not having the right people around you or hell, maybe it’s just a lack of commitment. More on my layers and how I’ve peeled them to find “can” next week!