This race has been a long time coming. Over 2 years in fact. This was the race I was supposed to have at Eagleman 2014. I was extremely fit and things were looking good until I wrecked 2 weeks before the race. 29 months later, I finally got my fitness back to that level and beyond.
I told Mandy on Saturday that I had 3 goals for this race… In order of priority:
- Qualify for Ironman 70.3 World Championships
- Win my AG
- Win the amateur race
When I told her the 3rd goal, she was a bit shocked and asked me if that was an honest possibility. I told her it all depended on who showed up but I was in the best shape of my life and if I executed well, I could put together a race that would be very hard to beat.
Going into the race, I’ve never been more prepared and confident, particularly in my running. Since mid August, I’ve ran more than I have ever have before. I averaged ~35 mpw for the 9 weeks prior. The overwhelmingly majority of my running was at a slow pace…. zone 1 and low zone 2 at ~7:45-8:00 min/mile pace. It was hard at first but I learned to just ignore the pace on my watch and only watch my hr. I tried to keep my hr in the high 140’s/low 150’s. We only did a few run’s at goal race pace. The key was to learn how to run relaxed/controlled and not forced. Running mainly at a slower pace really helped it feel effortless so that feeling could transition to faster running and race day. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to do a lot of fast running in training in order to run fast.
This is the 3rd time I’ve signed up for this race but the last two times, I’ve ended up injured. Part of me thought this race was jinxed for me but I was hoping the 3rd time was a charm.
On Thursday night before the race, I was on an easy 1 hr long trainer ride followed up with a 5 mile run. I got off my bike and started to loosen up my bike shoes and the BOA dial snapped off one of my shoes. At first I thought it just loosened itself off and I could just screw it back on. But after looking at it and taking apart the good shoe to compare it, I realized the dial was unrepairable and even a new BOA lacing system wouldn’t fix it. I needed a whole new shoe. It was Thursday night at ~8 pm and I quickly realized I didn’t have many options in order to get a pair of Pearl Izumi Pro Leader III shoes by Saturday. Fortunately, I was able to get them overnighted to arrive on Saturday at my hotel. I did have a back up plan in case of any screw ups which were my old pair of shoes that I hadn’t worn in over 5 months (thank goodness I still had them sitting in the garage).
Friday was spent finalizing all my gear. A little tuneup to the bike, put orange sealant in my latex tubes, double and triple checked every single bolt, threw on my new CeramicSpeed UFO chain (thanks TriBikeRun!!), and my drivetrain was running as smooth as butter! I got a quick ride and run in on Saturday morning before Mandy and I headed down to Miami. We got to the hotel, and I was able to track down my new shoes and get them all setup with new cleats after some precise measuring/eyeballing.
Race morning came and I got my breakfast in consisting of 2 packets of oatmeal and a banana. I also downed a bottle of EFS Pro (6 scoops) and a couple swigs of liquid shot before the swim start. It was pretty chilly in the morning with the temps being in the high 60’s. I did my best to stay warm prior to the start but after I took off my layers, I was shivering standing in my corral for the swim start. I was very fortunate to be in an early wave (wave 5 to be exact). 18 minutes after the pro men and only two female AG waves ahead of me. My goal was to get to the front of the AG waves on the swim and early parts of the bike and then eventually start catching the pro women on the bike in order to get out of site from everyone in my AG.
Swim (28:55 – 2nd AG)
I got a great start on the swim and had clear water from the get go. Myself and one other set the pace early as we swam side by side to the first couple buoys. Knowing it’s a long day, I stayed relaxed and smooth in order to keep the hr down. No sense killing it on the swim to gain only 15-30 seconds. We started catching the females in the wave ahead of us before the 1st turn buoy. It was a bit crowded in certain sections but I managed the best I could. After the first turn, I noticed everyone drifted way left towards the boat and things started to get really choppy. Not sure if it was the current that pushed everyone left but I had no problems sighting the next couple buoy’s and made sure I was swimming the shortest possible distance. I was hoping I would lose the other guy among the masses but he was persistent and sat on my hip/feet the entire way. We got to the 2nd turn buoy and that’s when things really started to open up. I felt like we had the whole ocean to ourselves. I figured we had just swam through 90-95% of the 2 waves ahead of us and had a clear path to the swim finish. The other gentleman started to pick up the pace at the final turn buoy so I let him take over and sat on his hip/feet. I felt no need to burn any matches to win the swim. I glanced at my watch just before coming out of the water and saw 28 min. Wow…. that’s slow. I usually swim 22-25 min depending on the course. I didn’t feel like we were out there for that long and I felt really good that we kept the pace strong to get a good gap on everyone else. I came out of the water just behind the other gentleman and with a long run to transition, I yanked my swimskin down and started getting my Kiwami sleeved kit on. I struggled a bit to get it on/zipped up, which cost me maybe 20 seconds in transition but I feel it makes up for it by not stretching the suit out on the swim and the aero advantages on the bike.
After looking at my garmin, the course was a “bit” long (100 yards by my watch). Others have said that clocked it at 1.5 miles (mine was 1.26). I swam really good lines so I’m a bit questionable on those that got 1.5 miles. But who knows…. Garmin watches aren’t always the most accurate. I honestly think the slow swim times were more attributed to the current than the distance.
I also used the new Quarq Qollector for GPS tracking so Mandy, my coach, and some family/friends could track me on the bike and run. They had some issues with it but Mandy managed to get things figured out so they could track me and see hr/power.
Bike (2:14:14 – 3rd AG)
I exited transition just ahead of the swim leader and I also saw Linda Robb coming into T1 as I grabbed my bike. I know she can swim and she always wins the swim in her AG (let alone the whole race!) so I knew right away we had swam to the front of the amateur waves. I hopped on the bike, got into my shoes and took off with the lead. I had drove part of the course the day prior so I knew there were tight turns and very questionable road conditions in/out of the city. I made sure to keep my head up and eyes open for any hazards and not to lose any nutrition. I had a hard time judging some of the turns as they were tight and/or blind so I couldn’t judge how much speed I could carry so that cost me a bit of time. I looked back a few miles in and no one was insight. I managed to keep the power in check the first few miles even though there were plenty of times my body was screaming to go and push 300+ watts.
Once I got onto 22 Ave, I started to get into a rhythm. The goal was to ride 250-255 watts. I was riding right around high 240’s, low 250’s and my HR was finally coming down. It was a very “cool” day compared to the last few weeks so I made sure I was drinking enough EFS Pro to keep hydration levels up. I felt like was managing good time and putting more time into everyone else in my AG as I got on SR 112 and then eventually US-27. Once on US-27 I started catching a few female pro’s. At mile 15, I had already drank almost all of my first EFS Pro bottle so I finished it and tossed it just before the aid station in order to grab a gatorade. US-27 first heads NW and I was riding around 24 mph on that section. It then makes a slight right and heads directly north. My speed dropped immediately to 20 mph with a direct head wind for an 8 mile stretch. I knew this is where I could put even more time into everyone else by staying low and keeping the power steady and consistence. I caught a couple more pro women just before the turn around. Once at the turn around, I quickly grabbed some water and went back to work. I averaged just shy of 250 watts on the first half and I was still feeling good.
I knew you could fly coming back south and had to take every opportunity given. For the next 8 miles, I kept the power consistent and stayed as aero as possible (I averaged above 30 mph on this section). Around mile 35, I started to get a bit nausea and I had to pee. I drank some water hoping my stomach would settle down and tried a few times to pee but I couldn’t manage it without significantly slowing down. I eventually started feeling better around miles 45-50. Heading back into town, there were a few sketchy areas and one close call with a cop who didn’t see me coming their way. At this point, I just wanted to get to T2 without wrecking or flatting. I biked the entire 56 miles alone. Unfortunately, I had no one to ride with. I had zero benefit from others being around me or getting the sling shot effect some of guys behind me would have gotten. I rolled into T2 fueled and hydrated with good momentum and sizable lead.
Run (1:26:41 – 5th AG)*PR
I hopped off the bike and heard Mandy yell I had a 6-8 min lead. There was a 2nd wave for my AG that started 4 minutes behind my wave which made it almost impossible to know where exactly you stood in the race. I knew I was at front but I just wasn’t sure what the margin was. I had a fairly good T2 even though my hamstrings yelled at me when I bent over to put on my socks/shoes. I exited T2 just behind a pro woman but immediately passed her less than 50 yards into the run. I knew the first 5k would be the key to the half marathon. Go out too fast and I would pay for it later on. I stayed calm and collected and started running what felt like a comfortable pace. I glanced down at my watch early on and saw ~6:30 pace…. ok perfect…… just sit there…… no slower…… no faster. Less than a mile in, my legs weren’t feeling that great and I had a few negative thoughts roll in. I started focusing on my form, running with my core engaged, and letting my legs just along for the ride. The weather was absolutely perfect. Nice and cool and I didn’t feel hot one bit. I didn’t even feel like I needed water on the first few aid stations but I knew better and took some anyway. I got to the first “hill” over the MacArthur causeway and just tried to maintain my same effort to the top and not worry about the pace slowing. Once I got to the top, I was able to fly back down by just “letting go” and let the legs do their thing. All those Cardiac hill repeats back in high school and college in Pittsburgh really paid off on how to run downhill. Once down the hill, my confidence was in the sky and my legs were feeling great. The first 5k went by real fast, much faster than Raleigh did which I knew was a good sign.
At the 1st turnaround, I took note of the time to see how much of a lead I had. On the way back, I saw some guys in my AG who I figured were in my wave and not the latter. I had a little less than an 8 minute lead from what I could tell. But not knowing who was in the other wave, it was still a crap shoot. Around mile 5, I thought the pace might have been too easy. My hr was low (low 160’s which is high zone 2 for me) and I was feeling great. I figured I would keep the same pace and get to the half way point where I could reassess. I saw Mandy just before the half way mark and she told me I was doing great and to stay calm and relaxed. My coach was watching the Quarq Qollector data and told her my pace and hr were spot on. Mandy also told me to look for bib 799 (David Schmidt) as he was in 2nd.
I made the turnaround for the back half and I was still feeling good. I still had to pee but I couldn’t manage to go and I wasn’t stopping at this point. At this point, I had only taken on water on the run. I had a flask full of liquid shot but I didn’t feel like I needed it and I was worried if I took it, my stomach wouldn’t like it. I took a sip of gatorade around mile 8 or 9 which made my stomach a little uneasy so it was back to water from here on out. I had a few moments where my mind was slipping as I knew I had the AG win in the bag. I quickly got my head back in it as things can quickly change in a second. Back over causeway two more times in which the last time was a bit of a struggle. My hips tightened up and my stride really started to shorten going up the hill. On the down hill, I was telling myself to play it smart and don’t do anything stupid like trip and fall or roll an ankle. My gut was getting questionable and the pace was starting to slow. I fed off some of the fans in that last mile and made the final couple of turns for the finish. I crossed the finish line knowing my first two goals were accomplished and I just had the race of my life.
4:13:26 – 1st AG, 2nd AMATEUR, 25th OVERALL including Pros
About 5 minutes after I finished, someone from the 35-39 AG finished with a 4:10 and at that point I honestly didn’t care. I accomplished my main 2 goals and that was good enough for me. I have never raced more of a complete race across all 3 disciplines. This was by far my best run in any distance triathlon. I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m still shocked I ran 1:26. I knew it was doable coming into the race but I guess I never felt I could actually execute it.
As I said earlier, this has been a long time coming. I’ve been waiting to write this race report for a few years. I know what I’m capable of when I’m healthy and on my A game but I have just never been able to show it at a race. That time has finally arrived.
Thank you to everyone that followed and for all the messages after the race. Huge thanks for Mandy for being the best triathlon sherpa out there. It was a long day on Sunday and we didn’t get home until after 8 pm since awards and slot allocation took so long. She was a trooper and even hauled around my transition bag, bike pump, her bag, and my bike while I waited in line to pay for the world’s slot. This sport wouldn’t be as fun without her!