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.

Race Report: Double Down, Ohio + Santa Cruz

Image

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…