I was originally signed up to race 70.3 Oceanside in early April and I had every intention of racing until about early March. I was forced to take 3 weeks off running after the bike wreck as my shoulder and ribs just couldn’t bare the pounding. I started running again and like an idiot, I ran too much, too fast, too soon. 2 weeks of running and I was already injured….. again. For the next 6 weeks, my running was very inconsistent and I wasn’t able to get in the volume I wanted to or need in order run well. I did surprise myself at Team EMJ camp and manage a 35 mile run week (at a very slow speed) but my body was hanging on by a thread. A week after camp, things completely flared up and mentally I was just down. I had zero desire to train let alone race in a few weeks. My parents were in town for a long weekend so they provided a nice distraction and I was able to spend some quality time with them as I hadn’t seen them in almost a year. I knew if I wanted to get back to good health, I needed to be smart and take things slow. So I decided it would be best to pull the plug on Oceanside (and Mandy’s job as well as mine were very demanding at the time) so I wouldn’t force the body to do something it wasn’t ready for and risk more downtime from injury. So I took about a week off running and when things felt better, I started adding in very short easy runs. I slowly built back up to ~30 mpw and things were starting to feel close to 100% healthy. It was then I started looking for a race and started eyeing up 70.3 Gulf Coast. I knew my swim fitness was there and my bike fitness was at an all time high after spending a lot of time on the trainer/zwift all of January and February. It was the run that I really questioned but I figured I could manage a solid race with my swim/bike combo. After figuring out some logistical concerns with Mandy changing jobs, I signed up for Gulf Coast 2 weeks before the race.
Mandy and I made the long trip up to PCB (~9 hour drive with 3 stops) on Thursday. Yes Florida is really that long of a state. I got checked in, did a short run, and then we had dinner with teammate Jeff Fejfar, my buddy Jason Ramdeen, and his family. On Friday morning, I went out for a short swim to check out the daylight situation as the race was starting at 6 AM central time. I was a bit concerned the buoys would be difficult to sight with such an early start as there wouldn’t be much daylight yet. But to my surprise on Friday, there was plenty of daylight at 5:30 AM as soon as I walked out the door. I met up with Jeff, Jason, and Will Hartje (another EMJ teammate) and we did an easy hour ride to scope out the first part of the bike course and do a few pickups. After the ride, I got in a quick run and then got off my feet and out of the sun/heat.
Race morning came rather early (3 AM wakeup) due to the early start at 6 AM. I got in my normal breakfast of 2 packets of oatmeal with some blueberries added in, banana, GU Stroopwafel, and then I sipped on 240 calories of EFS pro up until race start. I was a bit puzzled when I got to transition and noticed my bike had been moved 180 degrees and racked on the opposite/wrong side. I did a double check on everything just to make sure things were working after my IMFL mechanical issues. Everything seemed fine so I had to just forget about it and worry about what was in my control. I got in a short run to get the legs woken up and then headed up to Jason’s room for 1 more bathroom break. We were running a little short on time so I wasn’t able to get a swim warmup in but I was able to get in a few minutes in with the stretch chords.
With the rolling start, I wanted to get near the front of the start so I could get fresh water and hopefully open up a gap. In recent races, its usually been a fight/pissing match to get to the front of the start (IMFL, 70.3 Worlds) but this was a rather friendly start and I ended up being the first to start and in the water. Will started right behind me which was great as I hoped we could work together and keep the pace honest. On the way out, I noticed I wasn’t swimming straight. I’ll fully admit I am not the best open water swimmer as I tend to veer left when I swim. Will was sitting on my feet and every time I made contact with him I knew I was veering left and swimming a bad line, which was actually very helpful. I made the turn at the far buoy and noticed a bit more chop. I was working pretty hard and possibly too hard, so I tried to get my hr down, keep a good rhythm and stay relaxed. On the way back to shore, there was quite a bit of current coming against us. I could see the sand at the bottom of the gulf getting pushed in the opposite direction. Coming into shore, I started doing some dolphin dives and when I pushed off the bottom, my right calve got a massive cramp. I kept swimming and tried to loosen it up a bit. I got to shore, stood up and the cramp seemed to subside.
Running through T1 with my bike, I thought I heard something drop from my bike so I made a sudden movement with my bike and stopped which unclipped one of my bike shoes from the bike. I picked up the shoe, ran past the mount line, put my bike down, and put on my shoe. I unclipped my other shoe from the bike and put it on as well. When I put the bike down, my garmin went into crash detection mode. I got on the bike and both quads had major cramps. I honestly thought my day would be ending rather soon as I had flashbacks to St Anthony’s 2016 where I DNF’d due a quad cramp. I was soft pedaling and trying to figure out my garmin to get it out of crash mode. I thought I might be riding this whole race without any power data and I would have to go off perceived effort. I took in some fluids hoping the cramps would subside. After about a mile, my quads loosened up and I managed to get my garmin back to normal.
I was fortunate to have a 2 police officers on motorcycles with me the whole way as well as the official timing clock car. It sounds silly but it’s a pretty cool feeling and I now know what the top pro’s get to experience. One cop and the timing car stayed at least 100m in front of me the whole time, never giving me any advantage over the rest of the field. The other cop was about 10m behind me and off to my left side.
Just like the swim, my plan was to get out of sight as quickly as possible and keep the gas pedal down the whole ride (goal was to hold 260w). I had no idea if anyone was making up ground on me and I looked back once or twice but didn’t see anyone. My hr was much higher than I wanted it to be so I tried to stay relaxed focused on smooth pedal strokes. I made the turnaround and my avg power was just over 260w….. right on target. I took note of the time on my garmin so I could see how far back the guys behind me were. Will, Jordan Bailey, and 1 other rider passed me going the other way right around 2:30 after the turnaround…. so the gap was ~5 minutes but it was still a crap shoot not knowing when exactly they started (remember the rolling start). We had a slight tailwind coming back to T2 which made the second half much faster than the first. Typically I struggle the last 10-20 miles of the bike and my power fades. I had made some changes to my riding in the last few months and it has definitely paid off. My power never faded and I was still feeling strong the last 10 miles. This was by far my best ride in any race I’ve done and highest power I have put out in a 70.3. I came into T2 feeling good but I could tell I was a bit dehydrated and didn’t take in enough water on the bike.
I headed out on the run and Mandy told me the gap was 5 minutes at the halfway point on the bike which confirmed my calculation from earlier. The legs felt sluggish from the beginning and they had no pop. It was already hot, there was no shade, and I was dehydrated. I started getting in as much water as I could at the aid stations. The legs settled into a rhythm after the first 2 or 3 miles but I still felt like I was lacking another gear. The first 2 laps were rather uneventful. I tried to keep things smooth and stay relaxed as I knew my lack of run fitness would eventually rear its head. I started lap 3 and my pace started to slow. At this point, I knew the win was in hand as long as I didn’t do anything stupid. I had another gentleman on his second lap start to run with me which was a big help as he pushed me to keep the pace up. I really struggled the last 3 miles and I couldn’t get the body to push the limit. I made the turn to head over the pedestrian bridge towards the finish and the last few turns which seemed to take forever. I finally saw the finish line and grabbed the tape which was a pretty awesome feeling.
FINISH 4:03:49 – 1st Overall
I am pretty happy with the race and couldn’t have asked myself for a better effort on the day. I swam well, had my best bike ever, and ran decent on not much run training. I definitely have some work to do on the run and I hope to show off some better run fitness in Mont-Tremblant. Many thanks to everyone that messaged me after race. Big thanks to my wife as she was a champ all weekend. She wasn’t feeling well the day before the race and she was about to start a new job the Monday after the race and had to catch a flight back home 24 hours after I crossed the line. I wouldn’t be able to do this without her overwhelming support.