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!

Race Report: Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga

Chatt swim exit

All smiles as I exit the swim one minute back from the leaders, a first and the setup for a brand new style of racing for me: the hunter becomes the hunted.

It’s easy to look back at a race that was lost by 1min 5sec and find that time across the four disciplines of triathlon (swim, bike, run and, of course, transitions):

If I had broken away from the group a little earlier on the bike…

if I’d acted with a little more purpose in transition…

if I didn’t make that rookie mistake of trying a new supplement run…

…perhaps I could have lifted the tape at Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga.

But, after vomiting and peeing my pants (you’re welcome), each whilst continuing to run, one thing I knew as I exhaled at the finish is there was no lack of will to go for the win. And after crumbling at Oceanside and a mechanical at Santa Rosa, I’m so happy about getting a chance to race as well as I could and even have the opportunities to make, and learn from, those small mistakes in a third place performance.

At mile 2 of the run, I found myself in the lead of the amateur race, with nothing to do to play to my strength and try to hold, and hopefully extend, my lead. The hunter had become the hunted and the feeling was totally foreign. My racing career has been spent turning myself inside out to chase down stronger swimmers. The swim in Chattanooga was shortened from 1.2mi to 0.8mi due to storms the night before and I came out within a minute of the front group, in the thick of things immediately.

After settling in for a 56mi bike ride, at mile 10 I grew frustrated with some of the gamesmanship happening in the group I was riding with. I decided to put my head down for five minutes and ride all out, which worked and I was in the clear to make my way throughout the rest of the field by riding hard and trying to stay as aero as possible, something I’d worked on lately.

And as I cruised into transition, I got a position update from teammate and race Sherpa for the day, Jordan Bailey: third, behind teammate Reid Foster and another athlete. Reid is such a strong biker so when I saw him at his rack upon racking my bike I was stoked that I had ridden well.

I gulped a Red Bull and charged out the gate for the half marathon, admittedly a little stiff from riding hard. Shortly after mile 2, I found myself alone in the lead.

Crickets.

No spectators on the back part of the course, no other athletes around. I made the call to hold the lead instead of going gang busters. Little did I know, there would be no busting of gangs, even later when I needed to.

In probably my worst decision of the day, and certainly out of fear of an Oceanside crampfest repeat, at mile five after the first twitch of my left quad, I decided to take a Hot Shot, something I’d never drank before, but known for stopping cramping before it begins. Within thirty seconds, I felt an overwhelming heat come over me and my body slowed beyond my control as I began to wretch. My body totally rejected the supplement, made with natural ingredients like lemon juice and cayenne. This isn’t a knock on Hot Shot, and I usually can eat or drink anything and continue, but I definitely shouldn’t have tried something new on race day. At least the two guys in the parking lot who saw a guy running and vomiting have an awesome story now…

Bouncing back from that over the next mile was really a struggle, especially up a steep hill. My thoughts passed through fear, doubt and uncertainty, but ultimately I was able to pull myself together, regain focus and begin running a somewhat respectable pace again.

There are several U-turns on the course that allow you to see how far behind competitors are. The first lap ended and while I was still in a decent lead, realizing my run goal time was out the window, my objective was to run well enough to win. That became a challenge at the U-turn before mile nine when I saw teammate Kevin Denny inexplicably had closed the gap by about a minute.

In an instant, the race changed. I began to run harder but it wasn’t long until he caught and passed me. I tried to hop on, focusing my gaze between his shoulder blades and hold the pace but it just wasn’t there on Sunday. He clocked a 1:16 and I did everything I could to hold onto a 1:19 for the win, ultimately finishing with a less 1:20, less than a minute behind Kevin overall. I gave KD a big hug at the finish line, congratulating him on a well executed race and the victory, before finding out someone who’d started later beat him by 8 seconds, shifting Kevin to 2nd and me to third (there seems to be no easy way to race head to head in amateur triathlon other than a mass start).

What can I say? The decision to fly out to Chattanooga after pulling out of Santa Rosa was a success. While I’d loved to have won, I believe a winning performance was in there somewhere had I executed better and that’s really encouraging. What’s more, fifteen guys on Team Every Man Jack from across the country got to spend time training, racing, and eating (a lot) together. And finally, I can’t say enough about Chattanooga as a venue. The bike course is one of the best I’ve raced, Ironman Village is settled nicely along the river, and the run is super honest. I think it’s going to be a really phenomenal World’s venue in September.

Thanks to the inner circle who emphasized flying to all the way to Tennessee last minute to race was a good idea, to sponsors for the gear to get me to and through the race, teammates for pushing each other to the edge and friends and family for the kind words.

I’ll leave you with six “things I learned” and, as always, one #badracepic.

  • Maybe it was because we swam 1400 yards downstream, but I had my most competitive swim to date. I identified  swimmers I knew were a few seconds faster than me in the pool, got behind them in line and hung onto their draft like my race depended on it.
  • I spent too much time trying to ride legally in a group that was not ultimately the group I’d ride in with. While it only took until mile 10 to make the call to break away, there was too much sitting up and soft pedalling amongst lead changes. Had I put my head down for five minutes on the lightening fast Felt IA earlier, I’d have had a bigger cushion on the run.
  • I had a lot of stuff in my run transition that I intended to carry out on my person: Boco visor, Oakley sunglasses, Fitbit Surge watch, Red Bull, Hot Shot. I left the visor on the cloudy day, but it just wasn’t set up in a way that made it easy to move quickly. I’ll assess how I can make it happen more seamlessly next time.
  • My tight hammies at the beginning of the run could be par for the course for riding that hard, could also be a position change that needs tweaked. I’ll consult with Paul Buick of purplepatch Fitness, who did an incredible job with my bike fit.
  • I’ll make this one short: don’t take any supplement I haven’t tried before on race day again.
  • Funny enough, I thought I’d run a 1:16 myself on Sunday. Lack of top end speed on the run could have been a product of a harder bike, of my episode in the bullet above, or more likely just not being topped off enough in hydration and fueling. I have to say, it’s tough to ride hard and aero and get the fuel and hydration that you need. Especially when you don’t prefer what’s offered on course. I switched from Picky Bar + GU gels to Picky Bar + GU chomps in this race and I do think it makes it easier to consume. Still, I didn’t eat quite as much as I could/should have, for no other reason than it’s either not convenient, not top of mind or not appealing while pushing hard and trying to control your bike 26mph in aero. I’m looking forward to dialing this in.

 

Still got it. #badracepics

34_m-100762528-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1811_073681-7670285

Race Recap: Ironman 70.3 California (aka Oceanside aka Cramp City)

They don’t call it Oceanside for nothin. Thanks, Jen, for the photo!

I do well with consistency. I’m not sure if it’s nature or nurture, but let’s just say you can’t wake up at 4:30 for workouts without it. So in the spirit of that consistency that athletes hold so dear, I had a melt down in my first Ironman 70.3 of 2017, just like last year (though that was more of a freeze out).

Yes, Oceanside 70.3 didn’t go as planned. That might be putting it lightly. I was laying in someone’s front lawn putting ice down my pants at mile three of the run. It was a mess. But unlike last year’s bout with hypothermia, I was able to grit and bare my way to a finish. I even ran a few miles with Andy Potts! Keep reading to find out how I went from front lawn to finish line.

(Here’s my Instagram – press follow to see more pics of me doing exercise)

First thing’s first…

Let’s get something out of the way: I was not having the race of my life only to be foiled by cramps on the run. Even though it was the new rolling swim start*, I swam the same (slow) 31min I’ve swam for the last two years. The first half of the bike felt great! The second half I could not attack on the climbs as I would/can/planned.

Consequently I got off my bike further behind the competition and really needed a stellar run to salvage a result. Instead of panicking, that’s exactly what I planned to do.

 

Some of these splits are not like the others…zapped by massive leg cramps.

 

Cramps…what’s the big deal anyway?

A fun fact about me is that I’ve never cramped in a race before. I mean, I’ve “been crampy” before, pressing my stomach up into my ribs while running to get rid of side stitches. But I’m not sure I ever understood how cramps could be so debilitating.

Oh, I get it now…

After feeling my way through the first two miles I started to turn up the intensity, only to feel my lower back tighten. I stopped at the aid station just before mile 3 to loosen it up and both abductors (inner thighs) went off like car alarms, sending me to the ground.

The volunteers at aid station 3 were great, bringing me bananas, pretzels, oranges, water and Gatorade (which I politely declined**). They brought ice, which I put down my pants and on my core. I rubbed the cramps, I stretched, I prayed. I did it all.

If you’ll recall, I didn’t have a second to spare on this run, so as this continued, I realized my race goals were donezo and for a second I thought about quitting. But that second came and went, and my new goal was to finish. Not for a podium spot, but for the volunteers who were rushing around to help me, the spectators who cheered when I stood up, for the team name EVERY MAN JACK plastered all over me, and finally for me – to leave the race stronger, wiser, and sure that I’m not a pansy.

Getting up, falling, and getting up again

As I shuffled away from the aid station thinking about how much ten miles was “gonna suuuuck,” Andy Potts came running by on his way to the finish. Of course the natural thought for anyone who just writhing on the ground would be to run with an Olympian and Ironman Champion, so that’s what I did. I could tell Andy was perhaps having an off day, so in a way we were helping each other out; it’s amazing how much better you can feel being pushed by someone vs. suffering solo, something visible in mile splits 4 and 5 above.

As Andy peeled off to finish, I turned up the hill for lap two and had there not been a railing lining the course, this would have been me:

Image result for faking dead punt gif

The abductors blew out for good this time and I came to a halt, grabbing the railing, and inching forward. A spectator told me I needed to walk or it would get worse, so that’s what I did. Then I began to jog. Then run. The objective for the rest of the run was to run just beneath the point of “cramp explosion,” which I was able to do while slightly building mile by mile.

As I crossed the finish, turned to give the crowd an applause; they spent their free Saturday morning standing in the sun willing a crampy gimp to the finish. Respect.

So what was it that caused the cramps?

I really wish I knew. As athletes we love to point to that “one thing” and say, “Aha! I will fix that and move forward!” But the reality is that I have a handful of theories ranging from fitness, to equipment, to health, to nutrition that I will discuss with my coach, Matt Dixon and the purplepatch crew. Having a coach and/or trusted, knowledgeable sounding board is really important to learn from situations like this and I’m fortunate to be surrounded by smart folks to get it fixed before Santa Rosa.

Thank you

Thanks to all my friends and family, teammates and sponsors who showed their support! It goes an especially long way on days like this. See you at Santa Rosa!

___________________________________________

* Ironman installed a new “rolling start” to the swim, which was a self seeded time trial start. This was great for the faster athletes to get out in the front of the race and while I wasn’t able to capitalize on it in the water, made the rest of the race much more enjoyable. I hope they adopt this moving forward!

** I cannot drink Gatorade, or other sport drinks, especially during intense efforts. I’ve thrown up while cycling and running after drinking it (Muncie), my stomach just can’t handle all of the sugar and food dyes. Sometimes it makes sense not to make a bad situation worse.