IRONMAN Florida – 2 IRONMAN’s in 3 Weeks

The HOW and WHY:

I had every intention of ending the season after Kona.  I was looking forward to pizza/cookies and drinking several adult beverages.

Flashback to about 30 minutes after crossing the finish line at Kona, I told Mandy how much fun I had during the race and that I want to come back next year to race the best in the world. The competition left me hungry for more.  I felt like I was so close to where I want to be, yet so far away (placing 33rd in my AG).  Regardless, my off season had officially started.  Time to relax, enjoy, and indulge! Mandy had other plans…

Mandy mentioned doing another Ironman this year like Cozumel, Florida, or Arizona. I thought she was crazy.  We actually argued about it with me mostly getting upset and saying it wasn’t possible to race an Ironman well with such short recovery.  Just to humor her, we looked at the dates. Cozumel was out because it conflicted with Mandy’s work schedule and Florida and Arizona were sold out so the subject was dropped…for the time being…

The next day, the subject came up again as Mandy was convinced we could find a way to get me entered into Florida, but I wasn’t hearing any of it.   We flew home Tuesday night from Kona and arrived back in Florida Wednesday night.  Ironman had already announced the changing of the race venue from Panama City Beach to Haines City.  (Side note: PCB is a 9 hour drive from my house and Haines City is 2.5 hours.)  Thursday comes around and this is when Ironman announced the option for people to transfer out of Florida to Texas  if they weren’t able to make the new location work logistically.  That same day, I’m driving to get a massage when I get a call from Mandy.  She says “Hear me out…. e-mail the race director at IMFL and ask if they are opening up any spots for registration for all the folks that have transferred out”.  I was still adamant and very against the idea of racing another Ironman just 3 weeks after Kona.  I hadn’t done a thing since the race, was eating pretty terrible, and not really focused on recovery.  I can’t explain how or why, but during that massage, my mind started to turn a corner. Maybe it was possible. The challenge intrigued me but I was still highly skeptical.  Immediately after my massage, I told Mandy that since this was her idea, she had to talk to my coach (Eric) and get his thoughts.  Little did I know, she had already reached out to him.  Wife knows best….

Thursday night at like 8:30pm, on a whim, I e-mailed Ironman asking if they were opening up registration for Florida.  I kind of hoped they wouldn’t respond or just tell me “no”.  30 minutes later, I get a response that they would let me sign up and I would get a registration link in the morning.  Ironman called my bluff…….  Sh*t.

The next day, Eric and I went over the pro’s and con’s of doing the race.  It really boiled down to 2 things: Was I mentally in it?  And was I injury free (no niggles)?  We also discussed on what we needed to do in the next year to move up in my AG at Kona and try to crack that top 10 or 15.  We talked about using Florida to test out pushing the bike and trying to ride away from everyone.  It was painfully obvious in Kona that I lost way too much time to my competitors on the bike and if you want to be near the top in your AG, you have to take risks.  Something I didn’t do myself.  The AG race at Kona has become a mini pro race in my opinion where you have to be willing to blow up if you want to be at the top.  I thought about Florida all Friday and I thought to myself “How are you going to feel come race day and you didn’t sign up?”  “Are you going to be staring at the Ironman tracker on race day wishing you had signed up?”  It was at this point when my mind was made up.  Bring it….. game on…..

WHY I KEPT IT A SECRET:

It was entirely my idea to keep it a secret and the total amount of people who knew was 8 which included: Mandy, Eric, my parents, my brother and my sister in-law, and my massage therapist.  I knew I was taking a huge risk and gave myself a 50% shot of having a good race.  I also knew that this was going to be much harder physically and mentally with the short turn around.  So in order to stay mentally focused and channel positive energy, I didn’t tell anyone or especially post anything on social media as I didn’t want any unsolicited advice.  I used to think people were crazy for doing multiple Ironman’s in a short turnaround and I have and still would tell people not to do it.   I became a hypocrite but I was willing to own and live with my decision if it blew up in my face.  Most of all, all the naysayers (including my past self) motivated me to prove them wrong.   Also, the competitor in me really liked the idea of my competition not knowing that I had signed up to race last minute.

TRAINING:

My training was very minimal in the 3 weeks between.  The first week consisted of 2 incredibly easy swims and 2 easy bikes just focusing on recovery and getting the muscles moving again.  My first run was 9 days post Kona, and it hurt like hell and felt incredibly awkward.  I totaled less than 50 miles of running in those 3 weeks with my longest run being 6 miles and that was a brick workout.  For the bike, we focused on short high intensity intervals to keep the muscles firing.  My longest ride was 8 days out from IMFL which was 50 miles with some tempo work in there followed up with that 6 mile run off the bike.  The absolute key part was listening to my body and communicating to Eric how I was feeling.  I didn’t feel fresh but I was able to hit every workout without killing myself.  After the brick workout, I was pretty spent for the rest of the day but I had the next day off training and just focused on recovery and getting more sleep.  I didn’t feel great at any time during those 3 weeks but I didn’t feel horrible either.  I told myself that it didn’t matter how I felt until race day.

SWIM (52:39)

I got myself lined up at the front with the rolling start as the plan was to get out in front and not let anyone get away.  The cannon fired to start the PC division and I was anticipating another 5 minutes of waiting until they started us.  I was caught off guard with my goggles still on my forehead when they told us to go.  I threw the goggles on as I was running into the water and started my watch.  After running into the water and doing some dolphin dives, I found myself some clear water with another guy to my left and few folks on our feet. There was some cloud cover and the sun was barely up and I was wearing dark tinted goggles which made sighting buoys a bit difficult.  I tried to keep things smooth and keep my hr down but the pace felt hard and my HR was through the roof.  On the first lap, I was a bit worried I was already in trouble as my effort was much higher than I would have liked it to be.  I did my best to minimize my energy expenditure on the first lap but as we ran up to the beach, I felt fatigued.  Looking at the data, my hr was at 185 bpm as we exited lap 1.  We had a good group formed as we started the second lap but I knew it would break up as swam through the masses on the second lap.  The second lap was pure chaos.  I was dodging people left and right and trying to thread the needle through folks.  There was no visibility in the water so it was impossible to tell that I was coming up on someone until it was too late.  I did my best to not disrupt anyone’s swimming to the best of my ability.  I quickly lost any contact with the group but miraculously found a few of them after the first turn buoy.  The whole second lap, I didn’t know if someone went off the front or if we were still in front.  I exited the water and heard Mike Reilly say I was first out of the water but knew there were a few hot on my heels.  I skipped the wetsuit strippers as I’m personally not a fan of it and then headed to what was the longest T1 I have ever done.  I tied my transition bags the day before which I knew was a mistake yet I did it anyway.  I struggled to get my helmet out of the bag in T1 which cost me 20-30 seconds.  Fortunately, a volunteer was nice enough to get the bag open for me.  I threw my helmet on, ran with my bike shoes in my hand, grabbed my bike, and headed to the mount line.

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BIKE (4:35:27)

The goal for the bike was to get out of sight and out of mind as quickly as possible and to be aggressive.  Eric and I targeted 230-235 watts (much higher than Kona) for the ride which according to BestBikeSplit.com, should have put me right around a 4:30 bike split.  We also were concerned about the HR being high for too long after the swim.  We wanted to get the HR down as quickly as possible but I knew if I wanted to get it down into the 150s early on in the bike, I needed to back off on the watts.  I made the decision within the first few miles to just let the hr be what it was (it was high) and just focus on power but also staying relaxed in order to let the hr naturally fall over time.  It took about 40-45 minutes into the ride for my hr to fall under 160 bpm.  My legs were feeling good and I was comfortably holding 225 watts.  The course is extremely turn heavy and having done the 70.3 a year ago, I knew that a key to this course was maintaining momentum through all the turns and the rollers on the back half of the loop. At the mile 28 u-turn, I was finally able to get an idea what the gap to guys behind me.  I knew Jordan Bailey was close behind as we started the bike  based on what Mandy had told me.  I had hoped I started to put some time into him along with the others.  I calculated a little under 2 minutes as I crossed paths with Jordan and another rider.  The second half of the loop, I kept the effort strong and pushed the climbs while staying in aero position.  I came up on special needs where I grabbed some nutrition and Mandy planned to be there to give me a time split.  She told me Jordan was 90 seconds back which confirmed my estimate at the mile 28 turnaround and also were the last time split was.  After a quick stop at special needs (thank you to the volunteers there who were awesome!) and I started lap 2, I knew that this was going to be a key moment for me in the race.  I still didn’t know if I was recovered enough from Kona and I figured if the body was still fatigued, it would show up sometime on lap 2 on the bike.  I started counting by 10 miles and assessing how the body was feeling.  Mile 60… still feel strong.  Mile 70….. legs are still there.  Mile 80….. I still feel good….. I wasn’t expecting this.  I got another time split at ~mile 83 and the lead had grown to a little over 4 minutes over Jordan.  Mile 90….. why don’t my legs hurt yet?  Mile 100….. ok I guess this is going pretty good.  I was feeling a bit dehydrated towards the end of the bike and I was drinking as much water as I could grab during the aid stations.  As I came up to the final aid station, which was right after special needs, I couldn’t get over to the right fast enough with all the traffic of other riders on the first loop.  I ended up missing this aid station which I knew was a mistake immediately.  I completed lap 2 and turned at the high school to finish the last two miles of the bike into T2.  I got some energy from the crowds and as I rode into town, I knew I had executed exactly what Eric had set out for me.   The race was mine to lose….

AP: 218 watts NP: 223 watts

 

RUN (3:33:15)

I started the run (which was immediately uphill) and Mandy told me I had a 5 minute lead.  I knew Jordan was a great runner so I knew I would be in for a great battle.  I started seeing some guys come in on the bike as I ran out towards the high school.  I estimated I had a least 10 minutes on everyone except for Jordan.  This was setting up perfectly as long as I didn’t blow up.  The first few miles were hot and rolling hills.  The sun was out, there was no shade, and I was dehydrated.   My effort felt way too high for early parts of the marathon and my hr was flirting in the 155-160 range (I like to try to keep it 150-155).  I grabbed as much water as I could at the first aid station but it was warm and there was no ice.  I made the turn around at the high school and saw Jordan as I was heading back.  He looked strong and had already started to put some time into me.  I was already suffering but I kept my poker face and gave him some encouragement.  I headed back towards transition to start lap 1 of 3 and was trying to get my hr down and staying relaxed.  I noticed my pace was slowing to high 7’s on the flat sections and I was barely 4 miles in.  The mental battle began.  I started lap 1 and I was overheating.  I came up to the next aid station and I started walking through it.  I have never walked an aid station this early in the run.  But I knew I needed to get water and calories down in order to last the entire 26.2.  My pace slowed even more on the early miles of lap 1, above 8:00 min/mile pace.  I knew I was in trouble and I knew it was only a matter of time until Jordan passed me.  I started questioning whether I over biked or Kona was still in my legs.  At the aid station around mile 6, I started taking in coke.  I was troubleshooting in my mind and I needed a boost of energy.  I usually don’t start coke to the last few miles of the run but early on in the run I realized that this was going to be no ordinary run.  Jordan came around me around mile 8 or so and I had nothing to respond.  He looked like he was out for an easy Sunday run.  I gave him encouragement as he and the lead biker drifted away.  The next few miles were a total mind f*ck.  It wasn’t even 10 miles in and I felt like we were at mile 20.  I felt terrible.  The thought of dropping out came into my head several times and I highly highly considered it.  But then I thought, if I was struggling through these conditions (hot and humid), everyone else probably was too.  And I have the advantage living in south Florida.  It occurred to me that this was going to be a war of attrition.  Who could last the longest or slow the least.   I also thought of some friends of mine; Ben, Brendan, and Matt who were probably watching the tracker and likely yelling at their phone.  I asked myself “What would they say if I dropped out and I was at the front??”….. I knew what I would say to them if they dropped out of a race, let alone at the front of the race….. :).  I told myself, lets get through lap 1, which took forever, and then reassess. As I neared the end of lap 1, I was climbing a hill through an aid station when the volunteers, to my surprise, told me Jordan was still in the bathroom.  I got through the aid station, crested the hill, and picked up the lead biker again as I passed the porta potty’s.  A few seconds later, I hear the volunteers start cheering loudly which I assumed was Jordan getting back to running.  I figured he would re-pass me almost immediately.  I started lap 2 and Mandy told me Jordan was still ahead by 6 seconds even though he was behind me due to the rolling start.  The next few aid stations started to  have cold water and ice which I desperately needed.  I maintained my strategy of walking the aid stations and running (if you can call it that) everything else.  I started to turn the corner and get some energy back but my pace wasn’t really getting any faster nor was it getting any slower.  Around mile 12, I was able to get a time gap to Jordan.  Much to my surprise, I had started to put time into him.  I was feeling so much better that I started making small talk with the lead biker to distract my mind.  Lap 2 went by a lot faster than lap 1 but I had started to worry about the guys behind Jordan as I knew they were putting time into me.  I started the 3rd and final lap where Mandy told me Graham Sheppard was now in 2nd and only 4 minutes back.  Oh and he was running 7:12 pace too.  She told me I needed to run under 8 min/mile pace to hold him off and I immediately said “that’s not happening” in my head.  I gave it a shot to pick up the pace those first few miles on the last lap but the legs just weren’t there and I couldn’t sustain it for any longer than 20-30 seconds.  Mentally, I had given in to Graham and figured he would pass me in the late miles.  I just needed to make sure I didn’t get passed by anyone else.  My legs were hurting and things were getting foggy.  I wanted to walk so bad and I almost did a few times.  But I wouldn’t allow myself to walk anything but the aid stations.  I knew if I started walking, it was game over.  Ashley Davis gave me a time split around mile 21 that it was down to 2 minutes.  I still didn’t think I was going to hold him off.  I tried to get through the aid stations as fast as I could but I needed water, ice, and coke at every single one.  Around mile 25, I was able to get another time split on him and much to my surprise, I calculated a little under 2 minutes.  Something clicked and my mental state completely changed….. I still had a shot and I wasn’t about to lose the race in the last mile.  I started sprinting (or it felt like I was) up the final major hill, ran through the last aid station, and did my best not to trip over my own feet as I flew down the hill back to Lake Eva Park.  I entered the park, rounded the event center, and made my way up the last little hill on the course.  I was hurting and barely mentally there.  I knew there was no time to enjoy the straight downhill section or even the finishing chute.  I rounded the last corner to the finish line and gave it everything.  I saw my neighbors and good friends Brian and Lisa Smith cheering me on but I couldn’t muster up anything.  I hear Mike Reilly call my name for the second time in 22 days as I enter the chute.  I crossed the finish line tape and out of respect for Graham, I didn’t want to celebrate as we didn’t know who actually won due to the rolling start.  I fell to the ground and the only thing I can think of is: “never again”.

I collected myself on the ground, stood up, and immediately went over to Mandy to give her a kiss.  A few minutes later, Mandy told me I got it and I had won.

OVERALL (9:09:52)- 1st Overall

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Photo: Jamie Squire

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Photo: Jamie Squire

This was without a doubt, the hardest Ironman I have ever done.  Physically and especially mentally.  This felt way harder than Kona, just 3 weeks prior.  I am really proud yet surprised that I battled through thoughts of dropping out and managed to stay mentally in it even when I thought I was broke multiple times during that run.  I am also very proud how I raced.  I took some risks, pushed the bike and my limits, and learned what it was like to race at the front for over 9 hours.

I have to thank my coach, Eric Limkemann, for believing in me and setting me up for a great day.  He believes in me more than I believe in myself at times.  Even bigger thanks to Mandy for having 150% confidence in me and pushing me to do this.  Without her, this day wouldn’t have been possible. She already started planning our return trip to Kona.

Now it’s time to rest, relax. and indulge. For real this time! Until next time…

Thanks for reading….

https://www.theledger.com/news/20181104/jackson-ritchie-win-20th-ironman-florida-in-haines-city

 

IRONMAN World Championship

Pre-race:

Mandy and I flew out a week before the race and arrived around 7 pm Hawaiian time which totaled about 14 hours of travel.  Fortunately, the trip was smooth, uneventful, and all luggage including the bike (most important) made it without any issues.  We rented a 3 bedroom house about 2.5 miles southeast of the pier up on the mountain in a residential area away from the hustle and bustle of Ali’i drive.  This proved to be an excellent decision as it was great to get away from the IRONMAN chaos and just relax in peace and quiet.  It was noticeable “cooler” up the hill/mountain compared to on Ali’i and our house didn’t have AC.  I was pretty concerned about not having AC but there was enough breeze to keep the house cool even during the middle of the day.  The view from the house wasn’t too bad either.

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SWIM (51:30)

This was the first time I have ever been concerned about a swim.  I’ve seen the videos and pictures and heard the horror stories of the mayhem that occurs in this swim.  It’s basically a UFC fight for 2.4 miles and I knew if I got caught up in the chaos, it could make for a long day.  After talking to some FOP swimmers and listening to a few podcasts, I decided it was best to line up away from the pier towards the left.  Nick Noone messaged me the day before the race asking if I was interested in meeting up and trying to secure a spot at the front of the swim start and to the left of the pier.  Nick is a great swimmer/triathlete and did the race last year so I was more than happy to tag along and learn from him.

Nick and I were about the 5th or 6th guys in the water right after the cannon fired for the pro women.  We got in about a 5 min warmup before we started to see the start line getting crowded.  So we stopped our warmup and positioned ourselves right next to the middle black ROKA buoy.  I noticed there was a current pushing us towards the pier which worked out perfectly with us lining up way left of the pier.  We treaded water for about 15 minutes together and a bunch of other EMJ teammates found us while we were waiting.  We had a great group in order to hold position right next to the buoy.  The lead up to the start was not as stressful as I thought it would be.  But I credit that to my teammates as we shared a bunch of laughs in those minutes leading up to the cannon.  I get chills even when I type this but I made sure to look around and take in the atmosphere before the start.  I was completely in awe and couldn’t believe the mass amount of people lined up on the seawalls and pier.

The cannon fired and we were off!!  I got out pretty good and I had clean water in front of me.  Within 15 second of the start, I looked up to sight and noticed someone was 15 yards ahead already….. dude was absolutely flying.  Shortly after, I got clocked in the face and right eye by the guy on my right.  I thought my goggle was going to start leaking but it fortunately held up for the remainder of the swim.  Within about 5 min of the start, I looked up and noticed I had been pushed over to the right towards the buoys and I was directly in-line with buoys.  I wasn’t planning to get in-line with the buoys until about 1k in to the swim after the swim would clear up and I could get into a rhythm.  I quickly found a group and sat on feet.  The pace was perfect and I focused on staying relaxed and getting my heart rate down.  I noticed we had a pretty big group forming…. maybe 20+ guys.  I was content letting everyone else do the work and sighting, and I would just sit in and conserve energy.  About 1500 yards in, a small gap formed with 5 or 6 guys in front.  Not wanting to lose the group, I made the decision to go to the front and bring the group back.  I was able to close the gap within 30 seconds and sit back in on feet.   We made the turn at the halfway point and surprisingly there wasn’t much contact or fighting for position.  Everyone seemed content sitting in where they were.  On the way home, I noticed I was starting to move towards the front of the group and was 3rd or 4th guy in the group.  I sighted a few times to ensure I wasn’t getting pulled in the wrong direction and to see if there was any groups in front of us.  I couldn’t see anyone in front of our group but I figured there was a small group ahead that would swim just under 50 minutes or so.  As we came up on the pier towards the finish, I could hear the spectators on the pier cheering which gave me an adrenaline boost.  This was my best executed swim I have ever had as I spent minimal energy by drafting and not sighting much during the whole swim.  I exited the swim, took my cap and goggles off, and started unzipping my swimskin.  I only had 1 thing to grab in my T1 bag (my quarq qollector) so I didn’t even go into the change tent.  I stopped right outside the tent, grabbed the qollector and gave the nice volunteer my swimskin, cap, goggles, T1 bag, and then I was off to my bike.  I credit my fast T1 time to avoiding that change tent and having very little in my T1 bag.

BIKE (4:49:08)

My plan for the bike was to ride conservative for at least the first half of the ride and then re-evaluate after the descend from Hawi.  I did not want to be one of those many people who over bikes and walks 16 miles of the marathon.  I headed out of transition for the first 5 miles or so that in town.  Kuakini Hwy is absolutely terrible.  Several potholes and bumps in the road and plenty of opportunities to lose your nutrition.  Fortunately I was near the front of the race so traffic was light for me and I wasn’t trying to dodge other rides and potholes at the same time.  I took the first few miles pretty easy as I wanted to get my HR down after the swim and with all the excitement/energy from the spectators.  I hit the climb up Palani to the Queen K and just spun relaxed and controlled not wanting to burn any matches.

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Photo by Talbot Cox

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I got out on the Queen K and I saw a big line of motorcycles off to the side with referee’s just waiting for the big groups to form.  I was excited to see this many ref’s to keep the race fair as Kona is notorious for draft packs on the bike.  What happened the next 60 miles was completely and utterly ridiculous.  I was passed like I was standing still by group after group of riders, majority of which were sitting 2-4 bike lengths back and sometimes 3 wide.  I saw plenty of referees on the way out to Hawi but what made no sense to me is that they weren’t giving any penalties out to these guys that were sitting in less than 6 bike lengths.  They would arbitrarily give out a penalty to one guy when a group of 20-30 guys flew by me and only about 2 or 3 of the guys in the group were riding legally.  I knew the drafting was going to be bad but I never thought it would be this bad.  I stuck to my race of riding conservative and I refused to latch on to one of the groups.  I let the groups go by and I hoped I would re-pass these guys late in the bike or on the run.

Before the race, I noticed that there were a ton of aid stations on the bike…. 19 to be exact.  Even though we ended up with rather easy Kona conditions on the bike (minimal wind and cloud cover), I grabbed water at every single aid station on the bike to stay on top of hydration.  I wanted to make sure I started the run hydrated as I figured it was going to be a complete sufferfest on the run.  I started the bike with 2 bottles of EFS Pro (240 calories each) and 6 GU’s.  Just after the turnaround in Hawi, special needs didn’t have my bag ready to go for me which cost me about 20-30 seconds. I grabbed 2 more bottles of EFS Pro and a few more GU’s.

On the descend from Hawi, there was very little wind and I was bunched up with several other guys.  I tried to get away at one point as I hammered to the front only to be re-passed shortly later.  It wasn’t until mile 75 or so when the groups finally broke up.  On the way back to Kona, we were presented with a tail wind the entire way and cloud cover.  I had hoped for much tougher conditions as I feel training in Florida gives me an advantage over others in dealing with the heat.  The rest of the ride was rather uneventful.  I passed some guys that had passed me earlier but not nearly as many as I would have liked.  I came into T2 with a positive attitude knowing I had executed my plan and I had plenty left in the tank.

In hindsight, I believe I biked too conservatively.  My bike split was pretty slow and I know I’m capable of much faster.  I need to be more aggressive (but not too aggressive) and take more chances.  Lesson learned for next time.

TrainingPeaks File

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RUN (3:19:34)

I came into T2 and went into the change tent where it was just pure chaos.  I quickly found a spot to sit down and got into my run shoes.   Some volunteers were in there with water cups which worked out perfectly as I had a bottle of EFS pro powder (3 scoops) ready to go in the my run bag…. I just needed to add water.  They quickly filled my bottle up with water and I was off and onto the run course.

The first 10 miles of the run was an absolute blast.  The crowd support was insane and I was feeding off the energy with all the cheers from everyone.  It was getting warm and there was no breeze while running in town but my HR was right on target, effort was in check, and pace was perfect.  I did my best to keep calm, relax, and just chill.  There is really no flat section on the run course so on the climbs, I let the pace slow and kept my effort the same and made sure to not let my HR spike high.  I was having so much fun that I told multiple people “this is a f-ing blast” as I ran by.  I headed up the steepest climb on the course around mile 10 (Palani) and I knew this could be a critical moment on the run.  If I ran it too fast, the next 16 miles could be absolutely miserable. So I took my time running up Palani staying as relaxed as possible.

I got out on the Queen K and I was met with a descent headwind.  The next 10K felt completely uphill and the headwind was no help.  I started passing people which gave me a lot of confidence.  One guy started running with me and shortly later, another guy came by us and we both latched on to him.  He took the lead and we both sat behind him and let him block the wind for us.  Just before we entered the energy lab (mile 15 or so) I got a boost of energy and went ahead of the group.  I entered the energy lab and I started to see some of my teammates heading the other way who were all having fantastic races.  To be honest, they looked pretty terrible.  I had always heard that people look like death when they come out of the energy lab which now I can say I saw it with first hand experience.  We had a slight headwind running into the energy lab which was keeping the temps manageable.  Once at the turnaround and I started heading back to town (~mile 16), it was like a switch was flipped on and the oven had just been turned on to it’s max.  It was an inferno.  I started to understand why my teammates looked so badly running out of the energy lab.  I grabbed my special needs which had another bottle of EFS pro powder (3 scoops) and few more GU’s.  I filled the bottle with water at the next aid station.  Cliff Bar had a station where they were passing out ice towels.  I grabbed as many as I could to try to keep cool.  I saw a huge ice bucket and I stopped to dump my head in the bucket.  Back on to the Queen K and my pace continued to slow and I started walking aid stations in order to stay cool and hydrated.  I went through a rough patch for 4-5 miles starting at the turnaround.  I was still relying on my nutrition of EFS pro/GU’s and grabbing water/ice at the aid stations.  I didn’t feel like I needed to go to coke yet.  Around mile 20-21, I started to feel good again and my pace was getting faster.  I saw Nick Noone up ahead and gave him some words of encouragement as I went by.  I saw some EMJ teammates who weren’t racing and were out on the Queen K cheering us on.  They told me I looked great and I was having a fantastic race.  I hit mile 24 and I was starting to struggle.  I figured Nick was starting to catch to me and he caught me right at the top of Palani and the Queen K.  He was running with a German guy and they absolutely flew down Palani.  I hung on for dear life and sat in behind him running as hard as could down that hill.  Once we hit the flat section on Kuakini, I had absolutely nothing left.  Everything hurt and I couldn’t stay with them.  It seemed like it took forever but I made the turn onto Hualalai and then onto Ali’i towards the finish line.  I saw my brother just before the finish line and gave him a high five.  Then I saw my friend Amy who started running with me as I neared the finishing chute.  I entered the finishing chute and everything was a blur.  I did my best to take it all in despite my head not being completely there.  I raised my arms and delivered my best knockout punch as I crossed the finish line.

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OVERALL (9:05:41) – 33rd AG/142nd OVERALL/10th USA AMATEUR

I am extremely pleased with my race.  Considering this was only my second ever IRONMAN and first time in Kona, I feel like I nailed it.  I’m very proud of how I raced and I didn’t let anything outside of my control get to me.  Trust in the process and plan….. thanks to my coach Eric Limkemann.  I do think there are things to improve upon and ways to get faster.  With this experience and another IRONMAN under my belt, I’m feeling more and more confident in my abilities at this distance.

HUGE thanks to my family/friends(Mom, Dad, Nick, Brianna, and Amy) who made the long trip to Hawaii and cheered me on.  I can’t thank my wife enough for putting up with me the last few months.  It was a long training block and there were times I was not pleasant to be around and rather moody.  I love you Mandy!!

Lastly, thank you to all of my EMJ teammates for their support and encouragement.  I got a huge boost of energy each time I saw you guys out there on the course.

Until next time…

70.3 Gulf Coast

Preface

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.

Pre-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.

SWIM (25:09)

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.

BIKE (2:07:46)

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.

TrainingPeaks Ride File

RUN (1:27:42)

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.

http://www.wjhg.com/content/sports/Floridians-finish-first-at-IRONMAN-703-Gulf-Coast-482456012.html

 

IRONMAN Florida

It ain’t over until it’s over – Danny Royce

I believe I was in high school when I first saw the IRONMAN World Championships in Kailua-Kona, HI on NBC.  If you have ever seen it (it usually airs in November every year), you know its incredibly inspirational and highly motivating.  I knew nothing about triathlon at the time but I said to myself that I would someday do an Ironman and go to Kona.  After getting into triathlon in 2011, I signed up for 70.3 Eagleman in 2014 in hopes to qualify to Kona (this ended up being the last year for any North American 70.3 race to be a qualifier for Kona).  2 weeks before the race, I wrecked my bike and shattered my elbow.  3 surgeries later, a STAPH infection, and a few months later, I signed up for Ironman Texas 2015 for my Ironman debut.  I never made it to race day as I developed a hip issue that ultimately stemmed from my wreck 9 months prior.  I ended up getting major hip surgery and also developed rhabdo in the summer of 2015.  I honestly thought I would never run or race again.  It was a very trying time for me physically and emotionally.  I spent more time in the hospital, doctors offices, and going to rehab than I care to remember.  I made my comeback in 2016 and I’m still amazed today I was able to get back to running, training, and racing.  I knew an Ironman was not in the cards for 2016.  That would have just been stupid, unrealistic, and I would have likely ended up injured again.  So after a solid comeback year in 2016, I decided I would make another attempt at racing an Ironman so I signed up for Ironman Florida 2017.

When I originally planned this season (which was about this time last year), Ironman Florida was the main focus.  At the time, I wasn’t too focused on 70.3 Worlds and I just wanted to race that race just to experience it and I thought it would be fun.  As we started the season and had a solid race at 70.3 Florida, the priority for the majority of the season started to shift to 70.3 Worlds.  Eric insisted that we didn’t need to do any Ironman specific prep until after worlds.  I was running really well in training and running the most volume I have ever done.  The key was that I was healthy and training consistently day in, day out, week in, week out.  So we didn’t need to put in any crazy volume, long rides, or lung runs until after worlds.  There was 8 weeks separating the two races which really only gave us 4 weeks for an IM build/prep phase (1 week recovery after worlds and a 3 week taper into the race).  On paper, I didn’t think it was enough time for me to feel “ready” to tackle the distance.  But as we got through the first 2-3 weeks of the build, my confidence started to grow that I could put together a solid race in my Ironman debut.

Mandy and I headed out early Wednesday morning for the 8 hour drive to PCB.  We got there in the afternoon, got checked in to our condo, and then did athlete check in to avoid the craziness on Thursday (which ended up being a smart move as the line on Thursday was absolutely insane).  I got in a quick swim and run to open the body up after sitting in a car for so long.  Not exactly the best thing for you a few days before tackling an Ironman.  We picked up my parents from the airport later that night as they flew in from Pittsburgh.  I underestimated how important it was to have them there.  Just having them there, put me at ease and calmed my nerves.  It was also a nice distraction as we tried to avoid talking about triathlon and the race all weekend.

On Thursday, I got in a 1 hour ride and checked out the first part of the bike course and then followed it up with a short run afterward while also checking out the run course.  Mandy and I drove the bike course later that afternoon.  Most people probably think this is overkill but it’s important to me to see the course, know what to expect, and have some visual cues in the back of my head.  Even though you can’t memorize any bike course, let alone 112 miles, it’s every athletes responsibility to know the course.  I’ve always feared taking a wrong turn or being mis-directed so I make it a priority to check out every course I race.  My buddy, Danny Royce (his rr is here) who happened to be staying about 4 doors down from me asked me to help him out with his rear brake on his speed concept.  After some work, we were able to get it fixed but I was still slightly worried and was going to feel absolutely terrible if he had any issues with it.  Fortunately, he made it through the race with zero mechanical issues and had an IM PR!  My nutrition prep (carb load) for the race started Thursday at lunch with a big lunch and followed it up with another big dinner that night.

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Friday came around and I got in a 20 minute-ish swim first thing in the morning to check out the sun situation and swim entry/exit.  Mandy cooked up my last carb load meal before the race….. PANCAKES!!  Oh so delicious.  I did a quick 30 min spin to ensure the bike was working flawlessly with braking and gearing (we’ll get back to this).  Everything was smooth sailing and I checked my bike and transition bags later on.  I did my best to stay off my feet, stay out of the sun, and hydrated all day.  My coach, Eric Limkemann and his daughter Sidney made the trip down from Virginia and they stayed with us in the condo.  We caught up a lot on life and triathlon which was a nice distraction for me mentally.  I started tapering down my food intake after the big breakfast but finished up the day eating my usual pre race meal of chic-parm (cooked by Mandy of course).  I went to bed around 8 pm to try to get as much sleep as possible but I knew I wouldn’t get too much shut eye.


Race morning came at 3:30 AM and I hopped right out of bed as soon my alarm went off.  I downed my breakfast pretty fast: 2 packets of oatmeal, banana, and a GU stroopwafel.  I violated the number #1 rule of racing and had two cups of coffee as well (I have never had coffee the morning before a race even though I drink coffee every single day).  I sipped on a bottle of First Endurance EFS Pro (6 scoops – 240 calories) as we headed down to transition.  Eric dropped off my special needs bags for me which alleviated some stress for me.  I completely underestimated how easy a support system makes things.  Mandy, my parents, and Eric really went out of their way all weekend to handle anything they could so I didn’t have to deal with it.  I am truly grateful for all of their help.  I got to transition, threw in my GU gel flask in my run bag, and setup my bike.  I ran through the all the gears on the bike (minus the small chain ring as I knew I would never be in it) to ensure everything shifted smooth.  Note that at this point the bike was in the big chain ring.  I double checked, triple checked everything, then jogged through transition to ensure I knew the flow and where my bike was.  I got out of transition and got in a short 10 min run to get warmed up.  Made one last stop in the bathroom, did 5-8 minutes of stretch chords to get the lats and delts warmed up (something I need for a good swim), and then started getting into my wetsuit.  I had GU 30 minutes before the start to get my last calories in before the race and washed it down with water.  We headed down to the beach so I could get a good spot in the rolling start 60 min and under corral.  I said my good byes, gave Mandy and Eric hugs (I kissed Mandy only…. sorry Eric!) and tried to stay relaxed and calm.

I reflected on everything it’s taken to get here:  The surgeries, the rehab, the setbacks, the blood, the tears, the frustration, the hard work, the sweat, the sacrifice, the dedication, the early mornings, the late nights, the long workouts on the weekends.  It was now time to make my IRONMAN debut…..

SWIM (51:18)

The cannon sounded and we were off.  Guys were fighting to get to the front of line but I didn’t really care.  I was near the front and that was good enough for me.  The rest would settle itself out.  The first 50 yards or so is pretty shallow so I jogged for as far as I could and then started dolphin diving until it was deep enough where I wasn’t touching the bottom of the ocean.  A group of 5-6 people immediately formed and I sat in 4th or 5th position.  I wanted to find James Burke prior to the start but I never could find him in the mass amount of people.  I wanted to use him to pace off of but I unfortunately never found him.  I tried to keep everything smooth/controlled and keep my hr down.  I was swimming on the left hand side of the group and I kept coming in contact with a guy on my right.  I didn’t try to sight too much as I was just following the guys around me and let them do the sighting for us.  The pace was honest and I thought it honestly might have been too fast knowing it was long day ahead.  It was slightly slower than my 70.3 pace and my IM inexperience had me a bit worried I would burn too many matches early on but I wasn’t willing to let the group go.  We made the far turn to headed back to shore on the first lap and there appeared to be some confusion in the group.  I was still sitting in 4th or 5th position and it appeared the guys in front didn’t know if we were supposed to head towards the swim finish chute or in the middle between the swim start and finish.  There were police lights flashing at the swim finish and in the middle which made it easier to find while sighting but also made it slightly confusing where the exact the turnaround point was.  I started remembering the course map and it showed we were supposed to head for the finish.  So I started heading that direction and the group seemed to have the same idea at the same time and we all got to shore together heading in the correct direction.  It got real shallow and everyone stood up and started walking to my surprise.  These guys were swimming a pretty good pace and then all of a sudden everything stopped and it was calm like we weren’t racing.  I started dolphin diving to get to shore which launched me to the front of the group.  I led the group up on to the beach and around the turn around.  I grabbed a cup of water from the volunteers just to take a sip to get the salt water taste out of my mouth.  We headed back out on the second loop and as I got into the water waist deep, I took a brief pause to take my goggles off and find buoys.  I couldn’t see them that easily so I wanted to make sure I would swim a good line.  I found the far turn red buoy and headed that direction.  As I did this, the group went ahead of me and then I just hopped back on their feet.  Shortly later, we started swimming through the rest of the field on their first lap.  This was the most congested swim I have ever done and most contact I have ever had in a swim.  I knew it was going to be a challenge to keep the guys in front of me in sight while trying to dodge everyone else.  I did my best to wiggle between folks and not disrupt their swim.  At some point, I lost all contact and sight of the other guys around me.  I have no idea what happened but it didn’t matter at this point, I had to keep going and not worry about it.  I felt myself getting into a better rhythm on the second loop and part of that probably had to do with not worrying about staying on feet and just swimming my own race.  I made the far turn to head back to shore and I couldn’t really see the buoys ahead of me in the swarm of people but I remember spotting the tall building next to the host hotel on my practice swim.  I headed just to the left of that thinking that would be straight line to the swim exit.  After a few minutes, I realized I was swimming all by myself.  No one was anywhere around me.  I could see the tall building and I could see swim exit up ahead so I thought I was doing something right.  It wasn’t until I was about 200 yards from shore when I saw the swarm of people of 50 yards to my left.  Shoot….. I swam way too wide heading into shore.  Not ideal, I thought, as I started to dolphin dive to shore.  I heard Dave Ragsdale mention James Burke swam under 50 min as I stood up out of the water.  I figured I didn’t lose too much time with my screw up.  I ran up on the beach and tried to remember this was an Ironman and not a sprint.  I stayed relaxed, got to the changing area, got my wetsuit off, and threw on my bike helmet.  We weren’t allowed to leave our bike shoes clipped in to the pedals so I carried my bike shoes with me as I ran to my bike.  A volunteer handed me my bike and I was off.


BIKE (4:51:48) – with a mechanical

I ran with my bike past the mount line with my shoes in hand.  I stopped just past the mount line, leaned my bike up against the fence and out of the way of anyone behind me.  I slipped my shoes on and carefully got on my bike.  I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of the swarm of people watching.  I headed out with all things feeling good.  I kept power in check and purposely low trying to get my hr down.  I was passed early on by someone (I forgot to look to see if he was in my AG) and I tried to keep him in sight but he was riding faster than I was comfortable with.  About 4 miles in, I looked down and noticed my chain was in my small chain ring.  Hmmm…. how did that happen?! I hit my di2 shifter button and I don’t hear the front derailleur move.  I hit it again, nothing.  Hit it again from the base bar button, nothing. Oh crap I thought….. my di2/electronic shifting is dead.  I shift the rear derailleur and it works fine.  I hit the front derailleur button to go DOWN to the small chain ring and I hear it move.  I then hit the button to shift it to the big chain ring and I hear the derailleur move but the chain doesn’t move from the small chain ring.  I try hitting both buttons back and forth multiple times and I can hear the derailleur move but the chain never moves off the small chain ring.  I’m soft pedaling and out of aero at this point trying to figure out what I’m going to do.  I pull off to the side of the road and put the chain in the big ring with my hands.  I spin the crank and the chain falls right back to the small ring.  I do this 2 more times and it falls back to the small ring every time.  I’m now freaking out in my head trying to figure out what to do.  I had a brief negative thought of dropping out of the race as I thought my day was basically done but then I thought I have come too far to get to this point to throw in the towel.  I would never be able to live with myself if I quit and I would be letting everyone that came here to support me down.  I knew there was an aid station around mile 10 so I figured lets just get to the aid station and I can figure out a plan along the way.  I hopped back on the bike after what seemed like an eternity and half of the field passing me.  I was able to hold 200-210 watts in the 39-11 gear which was right around my goal wattage so I was still making decent time.  I started thinking about how am I going to fix this front derailleur.  I then remembered I had a multi tool in my flat kit so I figured once I got to the aid station, I could try to adjust it with the allen key and get it fixed.  I got to the aid station and pulled off to the side of the road.  Luckily, they had bike racks there so I could hang my bike and easily work on it…. much easier than doing it on the side of the road.  I pulled out the allen key and starting turning the FD limit screws.  I made a couple small adjustments but the chain wouldn’t go to the big ring.  I tried to eye the alignment of the FD but I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong.  I made some more adjustments and tried to see which way the FD was moving as I needed it to move away from the frame but I couldn’t see it move.  I started turning both limit screws hoping to have this “eureka” moment but nothing seemed to work.  I asked the folks at the aid station if they could radio for race support.  I knew it was shot in the dark and it could take 30-45 minutes for them to get there but I was running out of options.  While I was turning screws, I saw Derk De Korver (the favorite to win the AG in my opinion) fly by along with Danny and a whole bunch of other folks.  I thought my kona shot was basically zero at this point and completely went out the window.  I tried a couple more adjustments and all of a sudden I got the chain in the big ring!!  Just as I did this, race support showed up.  It only took them 2-3 minutes to get to me which I feel very very fortunate to get support so fast.  I didn’t want to shift the FD back to the small chain ring and check to see if it would shift back to chain ring for fear of getting stuck back in the small ring again.  I just happy that I got the chain on the big ring.  I told race support I got it working and he looked at it for 30 seconds or so and he said he would follow me for a little to make sure I was ok.  I hopped back on the bike and made sure not to ride angry.  I tried to stay positive and told myself it’s a long day and anything can happen.  I started to remember Danny Royce’s motto at IMCHATT – “It ain’t over until it’s over”.  The second stop at the aid station felt like it was forever but it ended up being only 5 minutes after looking at the data.  Race support followed behind me (he was on a scooter) for the next several miles.  I started to pass people that had blew by me as I was on the side of the road.  Around mile 18, I hit a bump in the road and my hand moved and I accidentally bumped the FD button which shifted it into the small ring.  Oh crap, not again….. I really didn’t think the chain was going to shift back to the big ring on its own but I was relieved when I pressed the button and it shifted back to the big ring!  The mechanic behind me saw this and he pulled up to me.  I couldn’t exactly hear what he all said to me but he said he would drive up ahead and stop and I could pull over so he can force the FD to not move from the big ring position.  I wasn’t sure 100% sure I needed to stop for another adjustment but it was still early on and I didn’t want to have the issue again later on in the bike ride when I didn’t have race support right there with me.  So I pulled over up ahead and he went to work as I tried to re-tape my draft box cover as it had popped off (even with tape on it already) when I hit that bump earlier.  He made some more adjustments and got me rolling again.  This 3rd stop (if your counting) was about 3 minutes of time on the side of the road.  I can’t thank the mechanic enough.  I wish I got his name or could have found him after the race to shake his hand and buy him a few beers.  He ended up finding me on facebook and sent me a message on Monday after the race.  Thank you Jason Covais!!

So off I went trying not to be an idiot and ride my own race.  I focused on smooth controlled power and tried to get my hr low.  My hr at this point was much higher than I wanted it be.  I wanted it to be in the low to mid 140s but it had mostly been in the mid 150s the whole time.  I started passing some folks and tried to use the sling shot effect to my advantage to make up some of my lost time.  I started coming up on a few riders who were riding a decent pace (maybe just slightly slower than me) and I looked over my shoulder as I was going to move over to make a pass and I saw a course official pull up just behind me.  I felt like I was riding a legal distance behind the guy in front me but I was taking zero chances at this point and I hammered to pass the couple guys in front of me.  I wanted to make sure the official knew I was making an obvious attempt to ride legally and not take advantage of anyone.  A little later on, I noticed that I had formed a 4-5 person train behind me.  From my standpoint, they looked like they were riding legally…. and possibly right on the edge of the legal distance.  I didn’t care much as I was just focused on riding my race.  Around mile 40 or so (from what I can remember), Joe Adriaens passed me.  I already thought my Kona shot was gone but there was still something in the back in my head that said it’s a long day, anything can happen.  I knew if there was any glimmer of a shot at Kona still left, I had to go with him.  He opened up a decent gap but I kept him in sight.  I still had the 4-5 guys behind me in tow and then I realized if I was going to ride with Joe, I couldn’t let any gap open up between us.  So I timed a nice little surge to get back up to him (sorry to those guys who were behind me for that random 300 watt surge).  A little after mile 50, I passed Joe as I wanted to be in the front of the group through special needs as I was planning to stop for 2 bottles and some GU gels.  Coming up on special needs, I had been feeling the urge to pee and had been holding out on finding a good time to “go”.  Having never peed on the bike before, I didn’t know how hard it was going to be or how long it was going to take but I knew I needed to go.  Just before special needs, Joe passed me by and then I decided it was good time to “go” and I just went for it.  I started soft pedaling and 2 seconds later, things were flowing.  What a relief.  The guys behind me probably didn’t appreciate that but I needed to go.  They ended up passing me as I was relieving myself and I road up to special needs last in the group.  To my surprise, none of them stopped at special needs to grab a bag.  I wasn’t about to abandon my plan now.  “Stick to the plan, stick to the plan”.  “Follow the f’ing plan” – Tommy Allore.  I grabbed 2 bottles of EFS pro (240 calories each) and 4 more GU’s from my bag and off I went.

I knew I had my work cut out for me to catch the group and at first I thought it might be possible.  I thought about hammering to catch back up but it wasn’t a match I was willing to burn.  I rode the next 30 miles solo and I was able to pass a couple guys along the way.  I made the turn on highway 79 and was curious to see everyone coming the other direction.  I would finally get a glimpse of how far back I was.  I started doing math as guys rode in the opposite direction towards T2.  Around mile 85 just before the 180 degree turnaround, I shifted my RD going up a slight incline and I dropped the chain.  Ugh…. not another issue.  I hopped off the bike and threw the chain back on just as the group I was riding with 35 miles earlier, passed me going the other direction.  This threw off my math and trying to calculate how far back I was so I was left just hoping for the best.  I stayed positive and kept telling myself “Its a long day, anything can happen” and “It ain’t over until it’s over”.  I started remembering Danny Royce’s blog where he lost 10 minutes at IMCHATT due to a flat and he stayed strong the rest of the day and still managed a solid result and a KQ.  As you can tell, his motto of “It ain’t over until it’s over” really stuck with me since reading his race report.

On the way back to T2, I came up on the major intersection of highway 79 and 20.  There was a volunteer just before the intersection and I thought she was telling the cops when racers were coming.  I noticed that the cops were still letting cars cross my path ahead of me and I was coming fast.  I got out of aero in anticipation for this and swerved around the cars as the cops never saw me and were waving cars across the intersection.  I was fortunate to make it through the intersection without getting hit as one of the cars saw me and stopped just before moving forward.  But it definitely was a scary situation and probably would have ended my day.  I started to reel another rider in but then a strong rider, who I later learned to be Matti Weitz, passed me around mile 90.  At this point, I was ready to get off the bike and just wanted to get to T2.  I threw the data out the door and just said stick with Matti and keep him in sight the whole way to transition.  Matti passed the guy I was reeling in and he took this opportunity to sit just behind Matti’s wheel and most definitely not at the legal distance.  He was 1 maybe 2 bike lengths back for several minutes.  This was making me pretty angry and I started to think about what I was going to say to him when I passed him.  A few minutes later, a race official pulls up and BAM!! Blue card to the guy riding on Matti’s wheel.  Oh that felt awesome and it provided me some positive thoughts for the remainder of the ride.  We hit the bridge/climb at mile 100 and a rider behind me started sprinting the bridge and passed both me and Matti like he was going for the strava KOM.  I thought he was absolutely crazy and couldn’t fathom how he even had the legs to sprint that fast/hard up the bridge.  The 3 of us rode the rest of the way until the guy who sprinted up the bridge veered off course as we made the slight right along the coast.  I then realized that this guy wasn’t even in the race!  He didn’t have a bike sticker or anything.  He was simply out for a training ride and now the whole sprinting up the bridge made complete sense.  I rode the rest of the way into transition and started to prepare myself for the marathon.  I was in good spirits and was still hopeful I could catch some of the guys in front of me.

As far as nutrition, I started with 2 bottles of EFS pro (240 calories each) and 4 GU roctane gels.  I grabbed another 2 bottles of EFS pro (240 calories each) and 4 GU roctane gels at special needs.  I drank all 4 bottles and 7 gels for a total of 1660 calories. I grabbed a ton of water at the aid stations and kept drinking as much as I could.  I have no idea how many bottles of water I went through but I was trying to drink 5 bottles of water (in addition to my EFS pro bottles) and I would either drink it, squirt it on my neck, or wash myself off after peeing.  My guess is that I drank 8-9 bottles of just water.  I also peed a second time on the bike later in the ride.

I ended up losing a little over 11 minutes with the 4 mechanical stops (not including the special needs stop).  Potentially more when you factor time to slow and speed back up.

Average power: 198 watts

Normalized power: 203 watts

So how did my FD get so screwed up?  I’ll never know for sure but I have a couple theories.  A FD doesn’t just miraculously get out of alignment on its own.  So it somehow got bumped out of alignment.  It’s possible when I left T1 and leaned my bike up against the fence, the FD could have gotten hung up on something and caused it shift/move.  I may have accidentally bumped the FD when I was setting up my bike in transition in the morning (I don’t remember this happening but it’s entirely possible).  Or someone may have accidentally bumped my FD after I left transition when they were setting up their bike next to mine.  Who knows though.  It’s something I’ll never know for sure what or why it happened.  It is what it is.

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img_6271From Triathlete.com – Photo credit: Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Ironman

Photo credit: My wife, Mandy Jackson

RUN (3:14:14)

I got through transition pretty quickly and set off to run my first marathon.  Mandy was right there as I got out of transition and she didn’t even let me get a word out.  Apparently my support crew planned that as they knew something happened (they thought I flatted) but they didn’t want me to tell them every time I saw one of the them.  They wanted to keep me thinking positive so they planned to just feed me info and not let me dwell on what happened during the bike.  Much to my surprise, Mandy told me 2nd was 3.5 minutes ahead and I was 3rd in my AG.  That’s all I needed to know as I knew exactly who I was chasing (Joe).  I kept calm and had no doubt I could chase him down.  I ran up to Matti within the first quarter mile and that’s where we officially met.  He told me he was trying to run 3:15 pace and I said “PERFECT!!”  I thought I was capable of running in the 3:10-3:15 range but having never done an Ironman, I knew there was a lot of unknown and the odds/chances weren’t exactly in my favor.  Matti and I literally ran side by side for 20 miles.  We had a full on conversation for about 16-17 miles.  We talked about our run strategy and he said we run easy for 32km (he’s German) and then we work together to bring it home the last 10km.  That sounded like a solid, smart, and safe plan.  Something told me to just stick with him as I was a rookie at this distance and I could use any tips/help I could get.  I few times I would pick up the pace without even realizing it and he told me to slow down….. “too fast, not yet”.  I was feeling great.  I felt like I was out for an easy jog.  My hr was low.  Part of me couldn’t believe how low it was (mid 140s) as my hr is never this low running 7:20ish pace.  We had a few fans jokingly give us crap about having a conversation during a race.  We would smile as we both knew we were in for a long day and we would need all the energy we could save for the end of the marathon.

I got some updates on the way out on the first loop that I was putting time in to Joe.  I was in no rush to catch him and figured I wouldn’t play my cards until the second loop.  Matti and I started catching guys who appeared to be struggling and likely overbiked.  My confidence was extremely high but I didn’t let myself get ahead.  Matti and I kept telling each other that this was a game of patience and nothing mattered until the last 10km.  I made sure to get my nutrition in (4 Gu’s in a flask) on the first loop and take water in at every aid station.  I was a little faster moving through the aid stations than Matti but I would slow after the aid station and wait for him to catch up.  My nutrition plan was to take 2 GU’s an hour plus some Gatorade.  And drink as much water as I could get from the volunteers at the aid stations.  I had to pee within the first 3 miles and I knew I couldn’t afford to stop so I just let it flow while running.

The way out to the turn around at the park flew by fast.  I saw Joe and Danny as they headed back and I gave them both some words of encouragement.  We ran back towards transition to finish the first loop with ease.  I finished my GU flask a lot earlier than I thought I would (around mile 9 or 10) so I got rid of it at an aid station and started taking in Gatorade.  We got to the half marathon (1:35:43) and the time back to Joe was still around 3 minutes.  Mandy was absolutely going crazy when she saw me.  I was calm/collected and knew exactly what was going on and what my plan of attack was.  I think I had to calm her down as I knew exactly what was at stake and I was extremely confident.  It wasn’t time to play my cards yet.

I grabbed another GU flask from special needs and we headed back out running side by side with Matti.  I could feel my stomach start to act up a bit and had that feeling of having to go.  I took in a couple sips of Gatorade and my GU flask and my stomach felt worse.  So I decided to go strictly to water to calm the stomach and would go to coke if I needed energy/fuel.  Speaking of coke, Matti and discussed at what point we would start pounding coke.  I tried to stay away from coke as long as possible.  I didn’t want to take it until I really needed it.  I think I started taking coke in around mile 16 or 17.   I got some more updates on the way out to the park that I was gaining more time.  At this point, I knew 100% this was going to come down to the last few miles.  I had already thought about what I was going to do if I caught Joe.  Do I just continue on and pass with authority?  Do I sit on his heels for a bit and wait?  I knew whatever I did, I couldn’t give him any glimpse of hope.  I also figured I started before him so I would need a big enough gap ahead of him to account for the delta of the rolling start.  I figured if I could get a minute ahead of him, that should be enough.  We got to the park again (mile 20) and the gap was down to a minute.  I had now been running patiently for 20 miles waiting to attack.  I felt like I waited for so long and there were many times I wanted to go sooner but I knew this was my only chance and it was time to “unleash hell” and go for it.  I picked up the effort/pace and tried to get Matti to stay with me.  He started to fade but I couldn’t wait for him.  I had to go.

I ran the next 10km like my life depended on it.  I passed Danny shortly after the turnaround and he told me to go get him.  I finally got sight of Joe ahead of me as I exited the park.  I started using land marks to get the time gap.  45 seconds, 30 seconds…..  I made sure to keep the effort/pace fast but not too fast that I faltered the mile.  I was really impressed with Joe as he never looked back once to see where I was.  I was now in unknown territory.  My longest training run was 20 miles (I did that once) and I have never even ran a marathon.  Everything was new to me and everything was starting to hurt.  I took full advantage of the aid stations and ran through them as fast as I could while pounding water and coke.  I knew I could make up a bunch of time just by flying through the aid stations.  My mind was starting to get a little weird and I knew things weren’t completely there.  Around mile 23 I had the gap down to 15 seconds or so.  We went through an aid station and I flew through it but still managed to grab a coke.  Joe was now within grasps.  I didn’t even think about it, I went for it and passed him shortly after the aid station.  I gave him some words of encouragement as I went by.  He said something to me but I couldn’t make out what he said.  I knew I couldn’t let up and I knew I couldn’t look back.  I focused as best as I could to keep me mentally in it and continued to dig as deep as I could.  I could tell Joe wasn’t on my heels but I still didn’t know how far back he was.  I knew I had to just put one foot in front of the other and continue to dig.  I started counting down the miles until the finish… 2.5, 2, 1.5….  My quads were killing me and I wanted to stop but I knew if I stopped even for water or coke, I may not be able to start running again.  I started grimacing and yelling at myself to keep going.  I saw my dad with like 2 miles to go and he was pumped.  I tried to feed off his energy.  Dig, dig, dig, go, go, go…… go to the well, empty the tank.  I went through the final aid station and thought to myself that this was my one moment of opportunity.  Did I come this far to falter the last mile?  Did I spend 2014 and 2015 getting 4 major surgeries and all that time in hospital beds and doctors offices just to let this opportunity slip away?  Did my family and friends come all this way for me to not give it everything I have?  I couldn’t let this slip away.  I wouldn’t let this slip away.  I ran like hell that last mile.  I could tell my mind was not completely there but that told me I was at my limit.  I got to Alvin’s Island and I could hear the finish line.  Sprint! Sprint! Sprint!  I had no idea how far back Joe was and I couldn’t afford to give up any time.  As I approached the finish I heard Dave Ragsdale (announcer) say that Joe was just 12 seconds back.  I somehow managed to find another gear that final stretch.  It was a complete blur but I remember raising my arms as I crossed the finish line as I knew I just gave it everything I had and that’s all I could ask for.  I heard Dave say those 4 famous words to me: “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” and my dream had just came true.

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FINISH – 9:03:30 – 3rd AG/8th Overall

I could barely stand up on my own.  A volunteer grabbed my arm and kept me from falling over.  Somehow we found Mandy and I went over to give her a big hug and tell her I loved her.  She started crying telling me I was second and going to Kona.  Dave came up to me and congratulated me which I thought was very nice of him.  I was light headed, dizzy, and not completely there.  Mandy’s fb video doesn’t give it justice just how terrible and miserable I felt.  I felt like a bus had just hit me.  They took me to medical to check my vitals.  I tried to drink some Gatorade but my stomach hated it.  After 10-15 minutes in medical (I made sure I didn’t get an IV for anti-doping reasons), I told them I was ok and I walked out.  I walked up to her and she asked if I heard.  I said “heard what?”  She told me someone had ran from behind and caught both Joe and I.  And that I ended up 3rd in the AG and not 2nd.  I was still feeling absolutely miserable so I was more concerned about just how bad I felt.  I told Mandy, Tommy, and Amber that I didn’t even care.  I was extremely happy with my effort particularly on the run.  I dug further than I have ever had before and that felt amazing and absolutely terrible at the same time.  Nick Gough was the one who ran up to second and he just so happened to be right next to us as we were talking.  I went up to him and congratulated him on great race.  Nick had a fantastic race with a 3:03 marathon (the fastest run of the day).

Everyone was assuming there was only 2 slots and I knew there would be at least 2 with a small chance of 3.  I hadn’t heard officially if there were 2 or 3 based on number of starters so there was a still a glimpse of hope in my mind.  We headed back to the condo and got some food in me.  Once I got some pizza in me, I started to feel better and actually be coherent.  I later learned there was officially 2 slots allocated to my AG based on number of starters.  I didn’t even need to ask the guys who beat me, I knew they wanted their slots.  I knew my last hope was if one of the older AG’s didn’t take the slot or didn’t finish under the 17 hour cutoff.  I started looking at the tracker and saw the M75-79 was going to finish in plenty of time.  Then I saw the M80-84 participant was going to be right on the border of finishing in time.  Even if he didn’t finish in time, I still didn’t know where that slot was going to be reallocated to but I knew my chances were high it would go to my AG.  Long story short, the older gentleman didn’t finish in time.  I believe he finished somewhere around 17:05-17:10.  My hat goes off to him just for sticking it out and never giving up.  Damn impressive!!

I got about 2 hours of sleep that night.  Not because of the anticipation, I was just wired and still amped up from the day.  I also pounded like 4 redbulls earlier so that didn’t help.  I rewarded myself with a nice big breakfast the next day.  The Pancakery in PCB is legit.  Definitely check that place out if you are in town.  We headed to awards after breakfast and I think Mandy was more of a nervous wreck than I was.  I told her it didn’t matter either way and everything happens for a reason.  Before awards started and much to my surprise as I thought I was going to have to wait another 1.5 hours to find out about Kona slots, Dave Ragsdale got up on the podium and gave a little sneak peak on slot allocations.  He said there were 2 slot reallocation’s.  1 for the women and 1 for the men.  He announced the F75-79 had no finishers and that slot was being reallocated to F50-54.  Then he said M80-84 had no official finishers and that slot would be reallocated to…… drum roll…….. M30-34!!  Mandy and I were sitting with Matti and his gf and they all screamed.  I got a huge smile on my face as my other dream had officially came true.  I still didn’t 100% believe it until Dave called my name during the actual slot allocation ceremony.

I feel somewhat lucky to KQ on my first attempt at the distance especially with the slot reallocation.  But I also know that I worked my ass off the last two years to set myself up for a solid opportunity at a KQ on my first attempt.  I obsessed about nutrition, pacing, and my mental state the last 8 weeks.  I knew if I was going to falter or struggle with the distance, it was going to be because of one of those reasons.  I made sure to leave no stone unturned and I planned for every type of scenario I could think of and how I would handle it.  I’m just getting a glimpse of how hard KQ’ing really is nowadays.  It’s harder than ever with less slots at races and tougher competition across the board.  Even in a race that took over 9 hours, it came to down to seconds and there will never be a race that goes perfectly.

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I want to thank my wife for putting up with me the last few weeks.  The training had taken a lot out of me and I was pretty moody and not always pleasant to be around.  Thank you to my parents, Eric, and Sidney for making the trip down and all the support before, during, and after the race.  Thank to you everyone that was at the race that gave me words of encouragement along the way: Tommy Allore, Amber Allore, Danny Royce, the whole Royce family, and many others.  Thank you to everyone following along at home and everyone who sent me messages.

2017 is in the history books! Can’t wait for next season! But first… pizza, cookies, and BEER!

IRONMAN 70.3 World Championships

It’s taken me a lot longer to write this than it normally does and there’s a reason for that.  While I had a solid race, it wasn’t the race I expected of myself.  I spent the week after the race trying to decide how I felt about the result.  On one hand, I was disappointed I didn’t perform to my expectations, and on the other, I executed a very smart race on a tough tough course.  I was torn and I kind of still am in a way.  I also was quickly consumed with Ironman training.  I’m actually writing this in a somewhat delirious state after a tough few weeks of training.  Let’s get to how the weekend unfolded.

Mandy and I flew out Thursday morning which ended up being good timing as who knows if we would have gotten out on a flight Friday with hurricane Irma on the way.  It was very hard to say goodbye to our dogs that morning.  With the unknown looming and hurricane Irma was projected to head straight towards us at that time, I had no idea what was going to happen while we were away.  Would the dogs be ok?  Would the house be ok?  Would we have a house to come home to after the race?  Would I ever see our dogs again?  All these thoughts rushed through my head as I gave our dogs big hugs and kisses at 6 am Thursday.  I couldn’t help but cry a bit but I knew I had to keep it together as Mandy is the crier in the family and she would lose it if she saw me being emotional. I knew the dogs and house were in excellent hands as my brother in law Clay was staying at our house with his dog Kona and his gf Alex.  I knew they could take care of them and make the best decisions needed during the storm.  I just hated not being there with them and not knowing.

We got to Chattanooga around noon Thursday but found that one of my bags didn’t make it on the flight from Atlanta.  No sweat as the bag was supposed to be on the next flight which was schedule to land a little over an hour later.  We went and grabbed lunch near the airport and then swung back to the airport to get my bag.  The bag did arrive and then we headed to our hotel to get checked-in and then do athlete check-in.  For the first time ever, I decided to not fly with my bike.  I absolutely hate not having my bike readily available and having to turn my bike in a week or more before the race.  And then you don’t get it back for another week or so after the race.  That’s just unacceptable in my book.  Fortunately, Premier Bike Transport only required me to check in my bike Wednesday morning before the race and I could get the bike at the race sometime Thursday afternoon.  And then I would have the bike back Monday or Tuesday after the race.  PERFECT!!  I can get all my pre travel bike workouts done, get my bike at the race realtively early, and get my bike back home just in time to start full IRONMAN training.  So after getting situated at the hotel and then doing athlete check-in, I met Steve from Premier Bike Transport to get my bike.  The bike is already built and its in the same condition as I left it….. its MAGICAL!  This definitely alleviated a lot of stress for me as anyone who has flown with a bike can attest to the stress of flying with your bike.  We spent the rest of the day Thursday lounging around and just staying relaxed.

Friday morning came and I went for a quick jog to scope out the transition area and get my bearings.  With such as huge transition area (more than I have been accustomed to in other 70.3 races), I knew I needed to know the ins and outs of transition.  I always try to know transition like the back of my hand but this one was a bit more challenging with the T1/T2 bags and the amount of ground it covered.  We had a Team EveryManJack practice swim planned that morning so I also got to scope out the Tennessee river.  The water was just ever so slightly above the wetsuit legal limit and I knew the next two nights were supposed to be pretty cool.  I didn’t want to admit it, but I had a feeling this race was going to be wetsuit legal once Sunday came around.  I thought maybe IRONMAN would “lie” about the temperature to keep it non wetsuit considering this was a championship race and they pretty much purposely designed the course to find the hardest course possible in Chattanooga.  But that didn’t end up being the case unfortunately.  After the team swim, we went to the expo to meet with our team sponsors and thank them for all their support.  We really have the best sponsors in the industry and we are very fortunate for all they do for us.  I then went for a 30 min spin on the bike and then the team met up for dinner together including all our loved ones.
Team EMJ Practice Swim

(Photos/video courtesy of Talbot Cox)

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(Photos courtesy of Talbot Cox)

I got up Saturday morning and had a my normal big breakfast (pancakes!!) and then headed down to the swim start to watch the pro women finish the swim.  I wanted to get a feel for how transition flowed with the “clean” transition and bags.  I noticed that the wetsuit stripping was a bit of a mess and was actually costing people time.  After 30 min or so, I headed back to the hotel to grab my bike for a quick ride.  I did some short efforts and made sure everything was working perfectly on the bike.  After the ride, I did a short run and then got my bike and transition bags ready for check in.  During bike check in, I noticed my anxiety and nerves were pretty high.  The week felt like is was dragging on and at that point, I was ready to race and get things underway.

SWIM (25:24)

With the rolling start within the AG, I wanted to be in the first group off the dock.  It was a bit of a fight to get to the front but fortunately I got to the front as we were lining up and would be in the first group.  The horn sounded and everyone sprinted off the dock.  I knew folks would sprint the first couple minutes, so I just wanted to control my effort, keep them in contact, and sit on some feet.  Within the first 30 seconds, 4-5 guys were sprinting like crazy.  I sat just behind them, keeping them in sight, and keeping my effort steady.  After a few minutes, I moved up to 3rd and sat on someone’s feet.  I could see the lead guy a little further up ahead but figured the pace was honest enough and there was no need to bridge the gap.  About half way through, I took over 2nd and starting reeling the lead guy back in and got on his feet.  After a few minutes of sitting on his feet, he all of sudden just stopped and sat up.  I figured he didn’t want to do the work anymore and I sure as hell didn’t want to stop either so I took over the lead.  I led until about 200-300 yards left and then the original leader starting picking up the pace.  I got on his feet and was content with him leading us to T1.  I got out of the water, skipped the wetsuit strippers, and went searching for my T1 bag.  I overshot my bag which cost me 10-15 seconds.  After the race, my transition wasn’t that great compared to the top guys (I lost ~30 seconds).  Something I need to work on for these big races.

BIKE (2:24:44)

I headed out on the bike and was feeling pretty good.  The first 5 miles or so were extremely rough roads so I was a careful not to go flying over my handle bars or drop any bottles.  I hit the Look Out mountain climb and went to work.  I was torn for literally 4-5 months on what gearing to run in this race, specifically for this climb.  After I changed my mind at least 8 times, I decided on an 11-28 (with a 53/39).  Lets just say the 28t was the correct decision.  I didn’t need more gearing but a 25t definitely would have taken more out of my legs than I wanted to.  I started hearing a noise coming from my rear wheel and I thought it was my rear brake rubbing.  I’m extremely meticulous about my gear and go through everything with a fine tooth comb before every race.  I started freaking out that I would have to ride the rest of the ride with my brake rubbing and I was less than 10 miles into the bike.  The climb started to flatten out and I ended up shifting out my easiest gear and the noise went away.  I immediately knew what the noise was….  my ceramicspeed OSPW were rubbing on my disc when in the 39-28t.  While this wasn’t ideal, I knew I wouldn’t be in this gear combo for much longer and once I got to the top of the climb, I would never use it again.  I got to the top of the climb and spectators had lined up like we were racing in the TDF.  I got a big boost of energy with their cheering as I hit the top of climb.  I thought I managed my effort very well on the climb.  I knew you had to push the climb a bit but not too much that you burned too many matches.  The rest of the ride was rolling hills which I struggled to find any kind of rhythm.  While I didn’t feel like I was struggling, I didn’t feel like I was in the zone as I just couldn’t get comfortable.  At mile 35, my power started to drop.  I just couldn’t keep the power up and saw my avg power and NP start dropping.  I had a few guys in my AG blow by me but there was no question on what to do as there was no way I was going to ride with them and have a good run (I’m not even sure I could have stayed with them on the bike).  I was feeling good but my power just wasn’t where I wanted to be.  I kept fighting along and made it back to transition with a little disappointing bike split.

RUN (1:26:45)

I started off the run with the hopes of running in the low 1:20s but also knowing that there were several big climbs and I needed the manage the effort over the 13.1 miles to have a good run.  I started running with a group of guys about a mile in but once we got to the top of the hill out of transition, they started gunning it downhill.  While I think I’m a pretty good downhill runner, I knew the pace was too fast to sustain especially with the major climbs still to come.  I let them go and raced my race.  A few miles later, I started running with a wattie ink guy (Dustin) and we stuck together for a few miles.  I really enjoyed running with him and it was a good pace/effort.  He started to pull away from me towards the end of the 1st loop as we crossed the pedestrian bridge.  In hindsight, I should have went with him.  I was too content running in my comfort zone.  About a mile in the 2nd loop, teammate Jack McAfee passed me and then shortly after Yoni Doron-Peters passed me as well.  I had no chance of staying with Jack but I was able to keep Yoni in sight after he passed me.  Just before the major climb, I started to reel Yoni back in.  I gave him some words of encouragement as I passed him and started the climb.  My hips were screaming at me at this point and I was just counting the number of climbs left until the finish.  Teammate Mike Vulanich came flying by me with less than a mile left as I ran across the pedestrian village.  I tried everything but I could not latch on to him.  I got across the bridge and made the turn for the downhill section into the finish.

OVERALL (4:22:16) – 11th AG/65th Overall

I crossed the finish already a bit disappointed.  I knew it was a solid race but it wasn’t a great race which is what I was expecting.  My whole year was built around this race and I honestly thought I had a shot at top 5 in my AG.  Over a month later, I still don’t know why my power dropped so much the last 20ish miles.  After comparing my strava file to others, I lost a lot of time after mile 35.  A 2:24 bike split just isn’t going to cut it in my really fast and competitive AG.  I needed to bike about 4 minutes faster in the 2:20s which I think I was capable of.  As for the run, I ran too comfortably.  I did not get out of my comfort zone enough to really push the pace.  I believe I had a 1:22 in me but that means nothing after the fact.  The good news is that this race has re-motivated me and lit a fire in me.

Up next is my very first IRONMAN!!  (IRONMAN Florida)  While I am extremely excited, I am beyond scared of the unknown and I know this is going to be the toughest challenge I have ever done.

Thanks for reading!

 

 

70.3 Raleigh

I had originally signed for up for Raleigh 70.3 thinking it would be a key race and a good one to peak for before some bigger races in the fall.  That all changed after a solid result at Florida 70.3 and taking 12 days off training at the end of April/early May for Mandy and I’s wedding/honeymoon.  I did have intentions of doing a few easy runs while on the honeymoon but I just never got around to it with all the fun we had together.  Once back from the honeymoon, I had 4.5 weeks until race day and get back the fitness I had for FL 70.3.  One thing I forgot about was the effect the south FL heat/humidity has on you.  I was fortunate to have some “cooler” weather in the lead up to FL 70.3 and I was running faster than I had ever had before.  When I got back to training, it was a different story.  I couldn’t hit my goal pace on any of my key run sessions and was struggling in the heat.  Given I was trying to hit these paces during brick workouts and around 9-10 am right when things are starting to heat up.  I had 1 session where I completely blew up and a few others where I ended up cutting it short as I wasn’t benefiting from slogging my body around in the heat.  Needless to say, I was lacking a bit of confidence in my running going into the race.  I knew I was fit and that’s what I kept telling myself to block out the negativity.

Mandy and I were fortunate to stay with our friends Ian and Emma once again who live less than 2 miles from the finish line.  They were very gracious to open up their home to us.  We flew in Friday, got done with athlete check-in, and then I got the bike built up and ready to go.  It’s always stressful traveling with my bike but I take some extra precautions when packing my bike to ensure there is no damage during transit.  On Saturday, I got in a quick run in early and then Ian and I got a short ride in before dropping my bike off.  I had put on a new Ice Friction chain on Friday and when I put it on, I could not see the Shimano markings on the chain due to the coating that comes on the chain.  The markings are there to tell you which direction the chain is supposed to be mounted (at least on a new Shimano HG901-11 chain).  I have previously ran CeramicSpeed coated chains and they were kind enough to mark the direction with a twisty tie in their packaging.  Ice Friction was not as kind.  I ended up just installing the chain and didn’t worry about it.  After the tune up ride, some of the coating had wore off so I could see some of the markings on chain.  Sure enough I had it on backwards but I didn’t have the tools with me to swap it around.  I figured I’d bring the tools with me race morning and I could swap it around before transition closed.

For those of you curious, see the instructions from Shimano below on mounting your chain:

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Race Morning

Ian and I got up at 4:45am in order to get to T1 to drop off our run gear bag and hop on the bus at 5am.  We were moving a little slow in the morning so we didn’t get to the buses until 5:15am or so.   We made it to the swim start/T1/Jordan Lake with about 45 minutes left until transition closed.  The lines to the bathroom were already long but I figured I could wait in line once my transition area was setup.  I got my chain swapped around during which I got a bunch of weird looks while I was doing so.  Some lady was nice enough to let me use her pump (thank you!) and then got everything else setup and ready to go.

Swim – 25:36

To my surprise, there were only a few people lined up with me at the front of the start.  Everyone else seemed content with hanging back behind us.  All signs pointed to a very clean start without any contact and that’s exactly what happened.  I took off from the start and tried to settle into a strong pace right away.  I found myself swimming alone by the first buoy and then eventually started running through the waves before me.  The lighting was perfect which made sighting fairly easy.  I did notice that a lot of people were swimming way wide of the buoys which helped me have somewhat clear water.  About half way or ¾ through the back stretch, I was met with some huge chop.  I still have no idea where it came from.  I got tied up with some traffic at the same exact time which elevated my hr a bit trying to maneuver my way through.  On the home stretch, I was swimming up to someone and my hand came in contact with their foot and my wedding ring came off.  Good thing it was only just my silicone ring that I bought just for training/racing and not the real thing.  I was very happy with the swim as it was one of my best executed 70.3 swims.  My effort level stayed control, didn’t burn any matches, and I swam the shortest line possible.

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Bike – 2:11:32

I had a slow T1 and as I was grabbing my bike, my teammate Brendan Loehr ran past me yelling “nice swim!”.  I grabbed my bike and ran past Brendan as he was getting out of his swim skin and told him “lets go!”.  I hopped on the bike and took off.  I waited a little more than I usually do to get into my shoes.  After the disaster at 70.3 Florida, I wouldn’t let that happen again.  The plan was to push the bike hard and forget I have to run after.  Once in my shoes, I went for it.  I was feeling good and the legs were responding.  A little before the 180 degree turn, I noticed Danny Royce (who is also coached by Eric Limkemann) coming the other way.  Danny started a few waves ahead of me and is a very good swimmer.  I wasn’t expecting to see him at this point of the race so I knew I was in very good position.  At the same time, I heard someone yell my name going the other way.  I didn’t see who it was but it sounded like my teammate Matt Barcus.  I wasn’t expecting to see Matt at all on the bike course and figured we see each other sometime during the turnarounds on the run.  I kept my pace strong all through the park as I wanted to get out of the congestion ASAP.  The goal was to hold 260-265 watts for the entire ride and I was holding 280w during the first few miles.  I got out of the park and onto the highway and noticed someone up ahead that looked like they were wearing an EMJ kit.  Sure enough it was Matt and part of me couldn’t believe it.  I set my sights on Matt to reel him in, which took a few minutes.  I knew if I passed him that he would go with me and then we could push the pace together riding legally of course.  Matt and I rode the next 30-40 miles keeping a safe/legal distance between us.  We traded back and forth a bunch of times on who went to the front and we picked up a few riders along the way.  One thing I focused on was to stay in aero as much as possible, especially during the uphills.  I saw a lot of people on the basebars going up hills that really didn’t require it.  One of the guys that we picked up along the way, went to the front and opened up a bit of a gap for a few miles.  I made an effort to reel him in and was able to close the gap without killing myself.  I was still feeling good and made a conscious effort to really work the last 10 miles.  My power numbers were a little lower than I wanted but I wasn’t too concerned about it.  I ended up riding away from the group and rode solo the last 10 miles or so (but I think that was mostly due to Matt almost getting hit by a cop which slowed him down).  I drank as much fluids as I could handle for those last few miles as it was starting to get hot and the run has virtually no shade.  I came into T2 solo knowing I had a very good split and I had set myself up for a shot at the amateur title.

Training Peaks File

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RUN – 1:26:15

I set out on the run knowing this would be a test of mental toughness.  I thought I was in trouble and in for a long/painful run within the first two miles.  I felt I was working way too hard and my hr felt rather elevated.  Unfortunately my hr monitor didn’t work at all on the run to which I still have no idea why it didn’t (it worked fine on the bike).  Once on Hillsborough street, I was able to settle in to a controlled/steady pace.  I told myself to keep it in check on the first loop knowing full well the second loop would be survivor of the fittest.   Near the end of the first loop, I started running with an older gentleman from Richmond.   We happened to know some of the same people so we chatted for bit trying to pass the time/distance.  I had a really slow mile 7 which I’m still a little upset at myself for.  I got too complacent with the pace where I should have been pushing.  The rest of the run I focused on getting fluids in and trying to stay cool.  I felt I had an advantage with the heat since I train in South FL.  It was hot during the run but definitely manageable compared to what we’ve been dealing with in South FL.  As I neared the finish line and much to my surprise, I heard the announcer say I was the first AG-er to cross the finish line.  I had no idea I ran to the front of the AG race and had figured some of the guys in the earlier waves would have already finished.  I crossed the finish with a big smile on my face knowing it was a great race regardless of where I placed.

OVERALL – 4:07:15 – 1st Overall Amateur/ 9th Overall (including the pro’s)

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It took a while for the results to show up but I ended up with my first Amateur title at an IRONMAN branded race.  It’s been a goal of mine for a few years and definitely felt gratifying with all the work I have put in and all the obstacles I’ve had over the past few years.  I definitely couldn’t have done it without my best friend and wife; Mandy.  She’s been my biggest supporter and she’s also a big part of my success.

I really enjoyed racing with my EMJ teammates.  The encouragement everyone had for each other (especially on the run) was something I fueled off of and definitely had an impact.  Thanks to those guys for pushing me.  Also…big thanks to Ian and Emma for opening up their home again and letting us stay for the weekend.  Next up – 70.3 WORLDS!

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70.3 Florida

When Eric and I originally planned out the 2017 season, we planned to not fully taper for 70.3 Florida and treat it like a “B” race.  I still feel I am inexperienced at the 70.3 distance as I’ve only had one race where I feel like I put it all together out of my 3 other attempts. Once you step up to long course racing, there will always be something that doesn’t go your way during the race.  And if I’m going to have a solid result at 70.3 Worlds and IMFL later this year, I need more experience at the distance to learn how to adapt when things go wrong or not in my favor.  So Florida presented a good early season opportunity to test my fitness and see where we are before the wedding later on in April.

What Eric and I didn’t plan on was stringing together the best and most consistent 5 months of training I’ve ever done.  I laugh when I say this but its true; we somehow fell into extremely good fitness on accident.  Eric kept throwing workouts at me and I kept knocking them out of the park.  Eric had mentioned that he was waiting for me to fail on a bunch of workouts but I never did.  The EMJ camp fit in perfectly (also unplanned) as it gave me a big boost in training load and I feel I came away with way more fitness than I had going into it.  As you can see below, my CTL (shaded blue area) peaked around 115 for 70.3 Miami and 126 for 70.3 Florida.  Needless to say, we were much better prepared for this race compared to my race in Miami.  A few weeks before the race, Eric and I talked and decided not to “waste” my fitness.  I was in really good form and with the wedding/honeymoon coming up 2 weeks after, we wanted to capitalize on the fitness I had and see what I could put together with a full taper.

4-14-2017 7-04-12 AM

I woke up early Saturday morning and did a short run with some drills to wake the body up and get the legs moving.  Mandy and I then hopped in the car and made the trek up north to Haines City.  I got in a quick bike ride to see the run course and the first part of the bike course to get the lay of the land.  I then got into my new Roka Maverick X wetsuit and got in a quick swim in the lake.  I have always hated swimming in a wetsuit, not only because I’m a strong swimmer, but mainly because my shoulder always feel restricted and they start hurting within the first 300-400 yards.  Well let’s just say the Maverick X (and any Roka wetsuit for that matter) takes that into consideration with their wetsuit design.  The wetsuit was designed with the “arms up”… you know the actual body position you are in when you are swimming.  So when you put your arms above your shoulders, you can really feel the wetsuit open up and give your shoulders that freedom of movement and flexibility compared to when you are normally walking around in a wetsuit with your arms down.  Big props to Roka…. be sure to check them out if you haven’t already.

I had a hard time falling asleep Saturday night and around 10:15 pm, the fire alarm at the hotel went off.  I was immediately reminded of my freshman year in college where one of the basketball players used to pull the fire alarm in our dorm at 1 am when I had morning practice a few hours later.  After sitting outside for 15 minutes or so, we were let back into the hotel and tried to get some sleep.

Race morning started early at 3:30 am since transition closed at 6 am and we didn’t want to be scrambling trying to find a parking spot.  Mandy drove over to the race while I started eating my breakfast.  Once at the race, I got my transition area setup, went for a quick jog, and then did my transition simulation to ensure I could find my transition area in the heat of the moment.  I headed over to the pool and tried to stay warm until it was time to get into the wetsuit.  About 30 minutes before my wave was to go off, I got in a 10-15 min warmup in the pool.  I hopped out of the pool and walked over to the beach/lake and got in line with the rest of my wave.

Swim – 25:22

It was still rather dark with a 7:10 am wave start and with the “M” shape swim, I knew sighting would be a little more difficult than usual.  The horn sounded and I got out in front without too much contact.  I had one guy right next to me for the first 100-200 yards but then I noticed he quickly went dropped back and tried to sit on my feet.  The swim was rather uneventful with the exception of a few spots where there was a lot of wake.  I figured it was the jet ski making all the waves and it seems others noticed the same thing.  I was able to navigate my way through the waves ahead of me without any real issue.  I struggled to find a couple buoys with the lack of daylight so I had to stop and pause a few times to make sure I was swimming the shortest line.  I exited the water first, knowing I had swam well but was a tad worried I might have swam too hard.  I got out of the water, zipped down the wetsuit, and started getting into my EMJ Louis Garneau sleeved kit (I like it rolled down for the swim).  I noticed my hr was skyrocketed running through transition.  I tried to tell myself to relax and slowed down a bit to try to get my hr down.  By the time I got to my bike, I had my kit all the way up and it just needed to be zipped up.  It worked out perfect as I didn’t waste much time getting it on.

Bike – 2:16:23

Remember when I mentioned I needed to be able to adapt when things go wrong?  Well as soon as I got on the bike, things went wrong.  If you have ever done this race, you know how there is a very short flat section out of transition and then a short downhill that leads into an uphill section which can make flying mounts and getting into your shoes very tricky.  Well I scoped out the situation the day before and had a good plan to get into at least one of my shoe’s before the uphill section.  And then I could get into my second shoe after the uphill.  Well that did not go to plan and I give myself a big “F” on execution.  The whole situation got into my head and I was so worried about getting into my shoes; I mounted my bike and started to get into my left shoe almost immediately without much speed.  Big mistake.  I hope no one got video of the catastrophe that followed as it probably would go viral on youtube, facebook, and definitely slowtwitch.  I hit the pavement, my chain came off my chainring (on the outside), and the chain got stuck in between my cassette and disc wheel.  I looked like I had never rode a bike before.  After what felt like 10 minutes, I got myself situated, I put one shoe on while off the bike, got the chain fixed, and started pedaling.  At this point, I could only laugh, smile, and shake it off.  I refuse to look at the data to figure out how much time I lost.  Mostly because I am extremely embarrassed and would like to forget that it ever happened.  If I had to guess, I lost 60-90 seconds but who knows.

Knowing that I had just lost some of my swim lead, I knew I needed to take some risks to make up that time lost.  With 3 aid stations and a bunch of turns, I figured there would be plenty of opportunities to take some risks and make up some ground.  I planned to ride conservatively for the first half of the race at 250 watts and then turn it up coming back at 260 watts.  The weather was rather cool for the first 45-60 min.  In the shade, it was cold, but once in the sun, it was comfortable.  I was feeling good, my power was a little north of 250 watts, and my hr was down.  Fortunately I was the 5th wave out so the course did not have much traffic at all.  I focused on trying to reel each person I could see in front of me in the distance.  I rode right through the first aid station without grabbing anything and losing any speed as I hoped others would slow down and I could find more time.  To my surprise, around miles 25-28, someone went flying by me.  I was pushing 250-260 watts and I had no idea how he was holding that kind of speed/power.  I immediately noticed the bib number and “33” on his calf which meant he was in my AG. I didn’t want to let him go just yet so I decided to see what it would take to stay with him. I kept him insight and upped my power to 270-290.  After a few minutes, I knew if I kept this up, it wouldn’t end well on the run.  So went back to my race plan at 260 watts and just tried to keep him insight for as long as possible.  He rode a way quickly after that and I never saw him again for the rest of the ride.  Not knowing who he was at the time, I was hoping he would either blow up on back half of the ride or I would see him on the run.

(Note: I found out after the race that it was Dylan Gleeson.  Dylan had raced pro the last two years and had some pretty solid results.  I know my riding isn’t at the pro level but it was a good test and reminder of what it will take to ride at that level.)

The last half of the bike presented some rolling hills and to my surprise, my legs felt strong the whole way.  My legs usually start fading and my power drops around miles 40-45 but it never happened which tells me we are making improvements on the bike.  I focused on flattening out the course and keeping steady consistent power all the way into T2.  I did change my nutrition a tad compared to previous 70.3’s.  I started using GU Energy chews and gel’s which seemed to have kept my stomach under control.  I came into T2 knowing I was near the front of the race and figured I only had a few guys in front of me and one of them was in my AG.

For the data geeks out there…  Training Peaks Bike File

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RUN – 1:22:32 (*PR by 4 min!!)

I came into T2 and Dave Ragsdale (who is the best announcer of all time… seriously if you ever do a race where he announces, you’ll understand) told me I was 4th guy into transition and Dylan was about 3 minutes ahead.  I had a quick transition and set out on the run.  Eric warned me to keep the the first mile under control and not to be worried if the legs felt like crap.  I knew my running was in good form so I had hoped to run 6:10-6:20 pace.  I clocked off the first mile in 6:17 and it felt easy…. game on.  I hit the first the major hill and passed a guy in one of the older AG’s who was in an earlier wave.  The 3rd place biker (Jesse) was with him and once I made the pass, Jesse started following me, which was a nice surprise and a first for me.  Near the end of the first loop at an out and back section, Dylan still had about 3 min on me as we crossed paths.  I started the 2nd loop and got a huge rush of adrenaline as I ran by all the spectators.  I kept my effort on the hills controlled; trying to keep the effort steady and not worry about my pace slowing.  I struck up some conversation with Jesse as I was trying to distract my mind. He was a big help as he encouraged me up the hills and even yelled at me a few times not to slow down as I hit the crests of the hills.  Loop 2 went by pretty fast and I was right on goal pace still.  I shrunk the gap to Dylan to ~2:30 and noticed I had someone about 3 minutes behind me.  I knew loop 3 would be tough. My pace started to slow and it was starting to get hot.  I tried to get in as much water as I could while maneuvering the crowded aid stations.  I will say that the volunteers were awesome on the run course. They were all full of encouragement and I was sure to thank them as I ran by.  Dylan and I crossed paths one last time and the gap was 2 min.  There wasn’t much more I could have done as I knew I was on pace for a great run.  I had hoped to run 1:23 but after a quick glance at the watch, I knew 1:22 was possible if I finished strong.  I picked up the pace the last mile and tried to leave it all out there.  I crossed the finish line knowing I just had an awesome run and was thrilled.

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32_m-100757438-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1871_030529-6913657 FINISH – 4:08:26 – 3rd Overall/2ndAmateur/2nd AG

Overall, I’m extremely pleased with the race.  Congrats to Dylan on the overall amateur and AG win!!  He’s a tough competitor and it was awesome racing him.  There were a bunch of positives to take away from the race and there were also some negatives that I need to work on.  I’ve made a lot of improvement in my run just in the last year and I honestly didn’t think I would be able to run 1:22 off the bike a year ago.  My biking has been a strength for a while but I feel I rode a bit complacent.  I gave up way too much time to the other top bikers in the field, though some of that was contributed to my mishap.  It’s something I’ll need to address in the coming months.  The biggest take away is that I escaped in one piece and will walk down the aisle and marry my best friend in just 6 days without any major injury.

I hope everyone enjoyed the facebook live coverage Mandy put on.  She put on an awesome show for all of you.  Hopefully it was a lot better watching it than following IRONMAN’s tracker that works 10% of the time, every time.  Big thanks to Team Every Man Jack and all of our awesome sponsors…. Every Man Jack, Lululemon, Louis Garneau, Sock Guy, Normatec, Oakley, Roka, GU Energy, Garmin, Boco Gear, and Cobb Cycling.