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…

Ironman 70.3 St. George: The Anatomy of a DNF

I’m putting St. George in my rearview mirror. (Note: Photo DEFINITELY not representative of race weather)

Sometimes everything comes together and the race that you’ve been gunning for goes off without a hitch. And it’s beautiful. Other times the weather goes from 90 degrees to 39 and the percent chance of rain goes from 3 to 100*. And it’s freaking miserable.

That was the reality this past weekend at Ironman St. George 70.3. Now it’s well documented that I don’t do very well in the cold . Ok, that might be a bit of an understatement. Really. But on this day, a level of cold so deep, so overcoming found its way into my core, that I found my way into the arms of a police officer under a bridge.

I’ve always said a DNF (Did Not Finish) wasn’t an option for me unless means outside of my control truly prevented me from crossing the finish line. And at times, I’ve even projected that stance on the decisions of others not to finish. Just being honest. But here I found myself pulling the chord for the first time in a race, while guys I train and race with finished – and finished well!

So I thought I’d dive into The Anatomy of a DNF** to give some color on how things played out and why I felt I made the right decision…perhaps for my own benefit as much (or more ) than for a good blog post.

IM 70.3 St. George Anatomy of a DNF_2

Here in this super scientific chart, you can see how for most of the race (#s 1-4), I was feeling pretty good, all things considered. Even when things got tough at Red Hill and its descent (#5) and really tough in Ivins (#6), I was focused on ignoring all discomfort and riding hard. Shortly after a scare with a negligent car (#7), I turned into Snow Canyon (#8).

The worst five miles in my life, that’s how I would describe climbing this desolate, baron canyon (#9). I distinctly remembering sweating profusely last year because the 90 degree air was still and smothering. This year, I felt the most bitter cold I’ve ever experience – 39 degrees and with the windchill it must have been freezing, all with an incessant rain. My pace slowed to a crawl (120 Watts below my average), all while trying to ride harder to warm up (#10) and I could not respond as guys passed me. For the first time in my adult memory, I fought back tears of pain.

Finally the climb was over and it was onto the descent. Whatever pain and discomfort I experienced in the canyon paled in comparison to those three miles at 35mph, arms locked, unable to move from my aero bars and onto my breaks, as the rain pounded my visor blurring my visibility. As guys I’d passed miles ago went by me, I ignored the first police officer I saw thinking, “If I can just get to transition and start running, I can warm up. Don’t quit.” But the fast speeds only made my body colder and completely prevented me from controlling my bike.

I arrived to a bridge and somehow stopped my bike at a policeman on a motorcycle. He realized quickly I was in bad shape, unable to stop shaking, and radioed to the policeman in a vehicle that I’d ridden by. He asked if I was quitting for the day. I hesitated for a moment only because I didn’t want to hear myself say it, and through the severe shivering, nodded my hung head yes (#11) as he radioed my bib number in as a DNF.

After the other policeman arrived, they told me that I could sit in the back of his car to warm up, but I legitimately couldn’t get off my bike. My body was frozen and as they lifted and pried me from the bike, all I could think of was:

wile e coyote frozen

In that moment, as I shivered violently in the back of that police car, in my Rudy Project Wing57 aero helmet because I couldn’t take it off, I knew this was the right decision. I wasn’t quitting, my race was done. My body went as far as it could. And I have zero regrets.

I was soon joined by Christine, a pro that had also dropped. We shared a blanket and her parents were kind enough to come out and get us. Walking back into town with my bike, I heard my name being called from a store front. There, teammates Ryan Linden and Mark Graham stood in mylar blankets, having made it out a half mile into the run before the shivering became too much to handle. We watched as the brave souls headed out onto the run to continue facing the elements. All I could think was, “What a bunch of BAMFs.”

***

While I’m certainly disappointed to have been so ready to race at St. George only to drop, I’ve moved forward. It’s weather and last time I checked they don’t do triathlons in domes. I’m looking forward to my next race and know Purplepatch and Team EMJ will have me ready to rock. I just need to figure out what that is, as I would like to put some of this training to use before Vineman in July.

Thanks to my teammates, sponsors, friends and family. Appreciate your support leading up to and concern through the race. Live to fight another day!

-MV

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*Aside: I forecast business things for a living and can I just say that I wish I could be wrong by a spread of 97 points on something and keep my job? Weathermen, man…

**Per me, on May 7, 2016, in St. George, Utah