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

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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!

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* 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: 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…!