Return to Racing

For the first time in 799 days, I got to race this past weekend in what has become a long anticipated and frustrating return to racing.  Words cannot even begin to describe my emotions leading into the race.  I’ve been through the ringer.  I’ve had 4 surgeries in a span of 13 months.  I’ve shed more blood and tears than I care to remember.  I’ve been to too many doctors visits and have been stuck with more needles than I can count for a young, healthy, and not yet 30 year old.   But in the end, I’ve stayed strong and fought through it all to get me back to what I love to do…. racing.

I honestly didn’t know what was going to happen on Sunday and I only had one goal: “compete”.  I didn’t care if I won, got second, or came in last.  I just wanted to compete.  Competition and sport has been a part of my life for so long, I get lost in life without it.  Competition is what motivates and drives me to drag myself out of bed before 4 AM to drive an hour to the pool to swim before work.  It’s what drives me to push myself to new limits and strive continuous improvement.  It’s what drove me not to throw in the towel and give up on sport after the last 2 years.  Now don’t get me wrong, I still wanted to win and I knew I had a chance…. I just didn’t have the Ricky Bobby attitude: “If you’re not first, you’re last”.

I barely slept Saturday night…  maybe only 3 or 4 hours of total sleep.  I rode over to the race, got my chip and setup transition.  I then rode another 10 minutes and got some 1 min efforts at race effort to get the legs moving.  With the race being so short (300 yd swim, 5 mile bike, 1.2 mile run), Eric and I knew warmup was critical, not only to the race itself, but to getting through the race without getting injured.  I then racked my bike and went out for a quick run and did some pickups.  I did a run through of transition and headed up to the beach to get a quick swim in where I was pleasantly presented with rough waters.

The swim started and I got a pretty good jump and made it to the first buoy first without getting pummeled by a wave.  I was hoping for a 30 second gap to Johnny and Bill from the swim.  That would get me a little out of sight and I could hammer and ride away on the bike.  I was fortunate to catch a wave back to the beach on the swim exit.  I made a quick T1… or so I thought.  Results show I lost 12 seconds to Bill on T1.  I have video of T1 and I could maybe find 2-3 seconds where I could have been faster but not 12.  Not sure what to think of that right now but I’ll chalk it up to being rusty.

I hopped on the bike, got up to speed and got in my shoes.  The plan was to ride around 315 watts and not ride 400+ that first minute or two.  The roads were wet and there was a slight drizzle so I was careful to stay clear of the white painted lines (they are extremely slippery).  Beach road can be very bumpy, especially in the bike lane, so I was always trying to find the smoothest part of the road. After passing a few guys in the first heat, I got the turnaround and took note where Bill was.  I was a little concerned when I saw he wasn’t that far behind me.  Some negative thoughts started to roll through my head but I knew I just had to put my head down, ride hard back to T2, and take what I could get.  I started to feel my legs burning on the way back and wasn’t sure how they were going to respond on the run.

I got through T2 without any major incident, and headed out on the run.  To my surprise, my legs felt great and I focused on my form.  I’ve only ran on the mulch trail 1 other time and it was 3 or 4 years ago and I remembered the footing being very shaky at best.  After the first couple of steps on the trail, I remember it being much worse than it actually was.  It only slowed me down a bit but I had decent footing and was really only concerned about breaking an ankle or injuring myself.  Before even half way, I knew this could turn into a sprint finish.  Mandy had asked me earlier in the week what I would do if it did.  I’ve never had another gear at the finish of the race.  I’m usually redlined the entire run and I’m happy to be running the same the pace at the finish than when I started.  So my response to her was: “I don’t know”.  I started to conserve a bit of energy knowing I would need a kick at the end.  I looked for Bill at the 180 degree turns.  He was closing the gap but not as much as I had expected and by the last 180, I realized he was running out of real estate.  I forgot to look where the actual finish line was before the race so I could time my kick.  I got back on the asphalt and knew it was time to go.  I kicked hard and then kicked hard again once I got into the parking lot.  Everybody was screaming and I knew he was coming and coming fast.  There was a dicy 90 degree left hand turn into the finish where there was a big puddle of water right in my line.  Not wanting to slip or trip, I took a wide turn avoiding the puddle and the white painted lines and crossed the line just 2 seconds ahead of Bill. 

I want to say hats off to Bill and Johnny for a fun competitive race.  Both are always tough competitors and they lay it on the line every time they toe the line.  They both make me a better athlete.

A special thank you as I couldn’t have done it without my fiance Mandy.  She’s been by my side this whole time and stayed strong when I wasn’t.  I would never have gotten through the past 2 years without her.  A big thank you to everyone that came up to me before and after the race.  All of your words of encouragement were very much appreciated. 

Here’s a great video Tommy Allore made of the race and showed the sprint finish…



1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back

Another year. Another surgery. Another long unexpected hospital stay.

After sitting out last season with my elbow, I had high hopes of racing my first Ironman and qualifying for Kona this year at IMTX.  Training was going really well and I was just starting to get into the longer rides/runs.  In late February, I was on a 16 mile run at Riverbend park and at the 6 mile mark, my left hip tightened up.  I ran about 1/4 mile on it and stopped to stretch it for 10-15 minutes.  I tried to continue on my run and only made it 100 meters before I pulled the plug on the days run.  I probably could have made it another 10 miles but who knows what damage I would have done.  At the time, I thought it was just muscular and didn’t want to risk damaging it more.  Live to fight another day.

The next couple weeks was spent stretching, icing, chiro visits, and more stretching.  I tried running on it a few times but would only make it 10 minutes before I would feel something was still off.  If you’ve ever had a hip issues, you know it is extremely hard to determine where the pain is coming from and difficult to describe (this is one of many reasons why hip injuries are often mis-diagnosed).  Fortunately, I was never in excruciating pain.  I was walking fine (without pain) and was still able to bike.  After a couple weeks of minimal improvement, a friend had recommended I go see Dr. Matthew Harris who is a hip specialist.  I saw him a few days later where he sat down with me for an entire hour!  I scheduled an x-ray and MRI shortly after which confirmed what Harris had already told me: femoral acetabular impingement (FAI… I have a cam on the femur head) and a labral tear.  I was given 3 options:

1. Surgery
2. Doc could get me to race IMTX but would be risking further damage
3. Rest and PT

I opted for option 3.  I did 8 weeks of PT which helped some but I still felt something was off.  I then tried a cortisone injection which alleviated my pain for 2 days.  I ran on the 2nd day and 10 minutes into the run, the pain was back.  At this point, it was late May and I had already started to think about surgery.  Labral tears do not heal…. ever.  FAI (which is essentially a bone spur) does not fix itself without surgery(think bone structure).  Many athletes are able to compete with FAI and labral tears pain free by PT and/or cortisone injections.  In my opinion, it’s only a matter of time before those symptoms come back.  Whether you have a cam or pincer, the acetabular and femur head will continually hit each during hip flexion and coincidentally slice the labrum in between.  I had already thought about what could happen months or maybe years down the road if I was able to get back to training pain free without surgery.  Since my pain wasn’t going away and not wanting to delay it anymore, I opted for surgery.

Surgery was only supposed to take 4 hours but when I woke up in post op, I asked what time it was and was told it was 6:30 PM (surgery started at 7:30 AM).  I was in surgery for 9 hours.  9 freaking hours.

NOTE: The MRI had only revealed 1 tear in my labrum.  Harris had my MRI specifically done on a 3T machine compared to a 1.5T.  Think 720p TV compared to 1080p TV.  Most MRI’s are done on a 1.5T machine but sometimes you need better resolution to see everything going on.  If you ever get an MRI, ask your doctor about 1.5T vs 3T and dye injection.  

Dr. Harris found not 1, not 2, but 3 tears in my labrum and nice big bump on my femur head.  Because of the location of the tears, Harris concluded my tears were actually from blunt force trauma (my bike wreck last year).  I landed pretty hard on my hip during the wreck.  The x-ray from a year ago in the ER revealed nothing wrong and I was only sore for a week or two.

Amazing what they can do with just 3 small incisions

I woke up in post op, I asked why do my feet and right leg hurt?  My feet felt like there was clamp on them.  They were both swollen and I could barely feel anything when the nurses touched them.  My right leg was completely swollen (like 4 to 5 times the normal size).  They had hooked me up to a catheter during surgery and they told me my urine color had turned brown (tea color).  They called in a nephrologist in fear of kidney damage.  He ordered some labs which came back with my ck level in the 30k’s (normal is below 300).  Ck is the muscle enzyme and if your muscles start breaking down too much, it will get in your blood stream and can cause kidney damage/failure.  The nephrologist diagnosed me with rhabdomyolysis.  I was originally supposed to stay 1 night in the hopsital as precaution for my hip on the orthopedic floor.  With rhabdo, I was admitted to the ICU and was told I would be in the hospital for a few days until my ck levels get back to normal.

So you are probably asking how do you get rhabdo from surgery.  Don’t worry, the doctors were asking the same thing for two days.  Fast forward two days to my birthday, I’m still in the ICU, my right leg is still swollen like crazy, I can barely bring my right knee towards my chest while lying in bed, my groin is black and blue, and I haven’t been out of bed for a day and half.  The only good thing was the operative leg felt great.  I needed to get out of bed to get things moving.  Harris had me move around quite a bit after I nicely complained about my aches.  I crutched around the ICU hallways and sat down/up in a chair in an effort to get things woken back up.  Shortly after, the nurses took labs again (they had been taking them roughly every 8 hours).  Labs came back and my ck level had gone up to 41k.  Needless to say, the nephrologist started freaking out.  I was ordered back in bed and not to move.  The nephrologist was really worried about my rhabdo and kidneys but had no idea why my ck levels were so high.  He ordered a heart ultrasound (my hr was in the 150s when I was walking around with my crutches), ekg, ultrasound on both legs to look for any blood clots, and a complete MRI on my lower extremities.  The ultrasounds and ekg all checked out fine.  MRI results come back showing a grade 3 strain in my right adductor muscle.  The muscle was so strained that it started breaking down causing the rhabdo.  During surgery, they took my right leg and moved it out to the side (abduction) and it sat like that for 9 hours on the operating table.

 MRI showing my adductor strain

A day later and after a lot of pleading with the doctors, I got transferred to the orthopedic floor.  It’s like a 5 star hotel there which was a much needed upgraded from the ICU.  My ck levels had started to go down again but not high enough to get me discharged.  (I also should mention that I barely slept in the hospital…. I probably averaged 2-3 hours of sleep a night).  The next day, Sunday, my ck levels were down to 17k.  At this point we understood why I had rhabdo and my levels were on the decline (they were in the 20k’s the day before).  So after some discussion with the doctors, they agreed to discharge me from the hospital but I had to come back the next few days for outpatient labs.  I was also ordered to stay hydrated (drink 150 ml/hr) and take it easy.  If it wasn’t for Dr Harris, I would have been in the hopsital for another week.  He realized how miserable I was and wanted to get me home ASAP but the nephrologists were very conservative and didn’t want to risk anything.  They wanted me bed rested to keep the rhabdo down while Dr Harris wanted me to move around some to keep my hip/muscles moving.  Talk about a catch 22.  Fortunately Dr. Harris made an agreement with the other doctors that he would keep tabs on me and make sure I was following their strict instructions.  So five days later after surgery, I was discharged from the hospital.

Here’s how the next few weeks went post discharge:

Week 1

– Hydrate
– Cpm machine for 6 hours a day
– Hip flexion restricted to 40%. No external/internal rotation
– Ck levels down to 13k and then 7k
– Right leg still swollen but slowly going down
– Left hip feels good
– Left foot is still numb
– Right foot numbness is getting better
– Crutches suck and sleep is minimal
– I can’t get comfortable in any position (lying down, sitting down, standing)

Week 2

– Hydrate
– Cpm machine for 6 hours a day
– Ck levels down to 878
– Right leg still swollen but getting better
– start PT
– Tried biking on a stationary bike but my adductor hated that.
– Right foot almost back to normal
– Left foot is still numb
– Minimal sleep
– Still completely uncomfortable in any position

Week 3

– Hip flexion restricted to 50%.  No external/internal rotation
– Ck levels finally back to normal at 178.  No more labs needed
– Start 50% weight bearing on left leg after week 2
– Pool work (mainly sculling back and forth)
– Right foot is back to normal
– Right leg swelling is almost gone but the adductor muscle is hard as a rock.  PT did some very light stretching on it.
– Left foot is best its been but its still numb at the top of the foot
– Stationary bike is now tolerable.
– Starting to sleep a little better.  Found a way to sleep on my side and stomach as I can’t sleep on my back
– Still uncomfortable but putting weight on the left leg is helping.

Week 4

– Hip flexion restricted to 60%. No external/internal rotation
– Started swimming but no flip turns (3 sessions of 1.5-2k yards)
– Right leg swelling is gone.  Adductor muscle still hates me
– Left foot numbness continues
– Up to 15 minutes on a stationary bike (no resistance)
– Figured out a way to put on my own socks.  I still can’t tie my own shoes.
– I drove for the first time (getting in and out of the car is a pain the first few weeks)

Week 5

– I can walk! (weight bearing as tolerated but have not needed them).  I walk with a limp but I have no pain walking.  My feet start hurting if I walk too much…. good thing its not my hip.
– Hip flexion restricted to 70%.  No external/internal rotation
– Did some more swimming.  Open turns suck.
– Left foot numbness continues but its the best its been.  Progress is slow.
– Right leg flexibility has gotten a lot better
– PT is getting easy.  I want to start doing more but that idea was quickly rejected.
– Went to watch loggerhead tri which was extremely hard to watch considering I won it two years ago. Next year, next year…

Week 6 (this week)

– Hip flexion restricted to 80%.  No external/internal rotation
– Got a massage on my right leg.  Flexibility continues to improve.  Almost back to normal.

So that just about sums up the past 5 weeks of my life.  It’s a long road back but I’ve never been more motivated and I will come back stronger than ever…


**Special thanks to Dr. Harris, my caring girlfriend, my wonderful mother, and my dog Bear.  Dr. Harris, you went above and beyond what is expected of ANY doctor.  I am truly grateful for all the time and energy you put into my care.  I owe you a beer…. or maybe an entire keg.  Thanks Mom and Mandy for caring for me and being my support team at home.  I love you both!  And, of course, thank you Bear for never leaving my side.**

Back to “training”

2015 Plans

2014 didn’t exactly turn out how I wanted it to.  While it started great with a solid race in Naples, my season abruptly came to an end after a bike wreck 2 weeks before Eagleman.  3 surgeries, 1 STAPH infection, lots of antibiotics, and a bunch of rehab,  I’m finally back to training full time.  I spent most of the summer on my couch, eating, sleeping, and feeling sorry for myself.  It was the most trying time of my life.  Fortunately, I am passed all my medical issues and ready for what lies ahead.

I had a lot of time to think this summer about what I wanted to do in 2015.  I was originally hoping to have a late race in 2014 to salvage any kind of season, but my elbow had other plans.  I’ve been wanting to qualify for Kona for a while now and I really thought I was going to get it done at Eagleman.  Qualifying at a 70.3 is much harder than it is at an IM race in my opinion.  The few 70.3’s that were qualifiers had pretty stacked fields and my age group usually only had 1 slot allocated.  In my mind, I had to execute the perfect race to qualify at a 70.3.  I had been eyeing Ironman Texas since May as I think the race suits my needs and I really just wanted to do an Ironman (who doesn’t want to be able say they swam 2.4 miles, biked 112 miles, and then ran a marathon?).  The course is relatively flat, its hot as hell there in May (what better training environment is Florida?), and its early in the season (I didn’t want a mid summer IM and then have to do Kona right afterward).  I figured IMTX, gave me a pretty good shot at qualifying even if I didn’t execute the perfect race.  My age group allocated 3 slots to Kona last year and with Texas being the North American Championships in 2015, there will be even more slots allocated to my age group than last (my guess is 4 or 5).  Little did I know that Ironman was planning on removing all Kona slots from 70.3’s starting in 2015.  Once I learned this, it was a no brainer to add IMTX to the schedule in 2015.  I’m also planning a few local 70.3’s starting in March with Toughman Florida and then Florida 70.3 in April.  
I would say all eyes are on qualifying for Kona, but I’m trying to not put so much emphasis on it.  I can’t control what everyone does but I can control what I do.  My biggest goal is to just get to the start line in Texas healthy.  If I can do that and just focus on doing the little things right in training, everything else will fall into place.

HITS Naples Half

I was a bit skeptical when I signed up for this race 3 months ago but I needed to prove to myself that I could race this distance.  The last time I raced a 70.3 was at Eagleman in 2012 (which did not go as planned) and I’ve been itching for redemption ever since.  I also wasn’t sure if 12 weeks was enough time to get in the shape I wanted to be in, especially coming off an injury.  As the weeks progressed, things were looking really good.  I wasn’t broken down nor had any lingering aches or pains.  With 5 or so weeks until the race, we decided to go all in and see what happens on race day.

Friday came and I got in a short run in the morning around my neighborhood before packing up and heading west to Naples.  Once getting into Naples, I saw Pittsburghers Chad Holderbaum (pro triathlete) and Bruce Jenkins out on their bikes riding the course.  I was pretty excited to be racing Chad as I wanted to use this race as a measuring stick going forward.  I got in a quick 30 minute ride on the course to make sure everything was good to go on the Trek Speed Concept (Thanks Tri Bike Run!).  Mandy and I then headed to the hotel to get situated and found some excellent Italian food for dinner so I could have my usual chicken parmigiana.  If you are ever in Naples, be sure to check out Sophia’s Ristorante Italiano…. by far some of the best Italian food I’ve ever had.

If you ask me, these longer races really start as soon as you wake up in the morning (possibly even the day before).  Proper nutrition and hydration is absolutely critical for a successful day.  On race morning I ate two packets of Quaker Instant Oatmeal – Maple & Brown Sugar and a banana.  I also got in a bottle of First Endurance EFS with a scoop of pre race and later had a couple sips of a FE liquid shot just before heading to the swim start.  After a quick warm up in the Gulf of Mexico (that water was much colder than I expected it to be…. apparently the west coast of Florida is much colder than the east coast), I was ready to go.

SWIM – 1.2 miles (23:19 *PR, 1st Overall)
It was an out of water start and everyone was inching forward trying to get to the front.  The gun went off rather quickly and I got a decent jump with a few others just ahead or right next to me.  I had 2 or 3 guys with me for those first 30 seconds, which gave me a glimpse of hope that I would have some people to swim with.  Unfortunately that glimpse was short lived as they faded quickly.  I got to the first turn buoy with a pretty sizable lead where I was met with a little bit of current coming towards me.  I put my head down, kept my heart rate in check, and hit the cruise control button.  Overall I had a great swim and I was feeling good heading into shore.

BIKE – 56 miles (2:08:11 *PR, 1st Overall)
I headed out on the bike and figured I would have a 2-3 minute lead.  Eric warned me the day before not to over exert myself the first 30 minutes on the bike as this could kill the rest of my day.  I was very cognizant of my power numbers and made sure I was getting in my nutrition.  My nutrition plan included: 1 bottle with 2 scoops of EFS lemon lime and 1 scoop of pre-race (200 calories) and another bottle with 2 servings of First Endurance liquid shot kona mocha flavor mixed with water (800 calories) and take water at every aid station to wash it all down.  I learned in training that I need a lot of water as I’ve often finished training rides extremely thirsty.  So I forced myself to hydrate early on the bike no matter if I was thirsty or not.  This played out very well as everything was going down smoothly and I never felt my energy level drop.  I knew Chad would be hunting me down on the bike but I wasn’t sure where my biking was compared to his.  I knew if I biked well, I could possibly ride into T2 just in front of him.  The bike course wasn’t closed to traffic and we were riding on some busy roads, but I was lucky enough to have 2 motorcyclists leading me out on the roads for the entire ride.  At the turn around, I grabbed a bottle of water but I wasn’t paying attention to the turn around point so I overshot the turn around and missed the timing mats for the 28 mile split (hopefully no one was too worried when that split didn’t come in for me).  I took note of my computer time and started to watch for Chad going the other way.  We didn’t cross paths until 3-3.5 minutes later which seemed odd (I later found out Chad went off course and added 6 minutes to the course).  I put my head down for the last 28 miles and focused on my race.  I was banking on an aid station at mile 45 to grab another water but it never came.  This made me a bit worried but I still had my liquid shot bottle to finish off.  I rode into T2 feeling great and ready to tackle the 13.1 mile run.

RUN – 13.1 miles (1:31:37 *PR, 3rd Overall)
The plan was to run around 7 minute mile pace.  My legs felt great and my heart rate was in check.  I glanced at my watch after a few min and it said 6:20 min/mile.  Whoops!!  Slow your role Steve.  Nutrition wise, I carried a FE liquid shot flask (400 calories) and planned to take water and/or cola at the aid stations.  My stomach was feeling relatively good (does it ever really feel great?) and I was clicking the miles off just under 7 minute mile pace.  After the turn around, my pace began to slow.  The legs just wouldn’t go any faster.  I thought there was still a chance of Chad catching me if he was on his game.  I started doing the math and figured if he was running 6-6:15 minute miles, he may get me in the last mile.  I tried to keep those thoughts out of my head and kept putting one foot in front of the other.  “Just get to the next aid station” I told myself.  What also wasn’t helping was the fact that it was brutally hot and sunny out there for January and there wasn’t much shade on the course.  The last mile finally came and I got a big burst of energy so I picked up the pace.  I was pretty excited to finally see that finish line and crossed it first in just my 2nd attempt at this distance.

OVERALL – 4:05:12 *PR 1st Overall
Results 



Looking back, it would have been nice to have Chad with me on the bike or run.  I really could have used the extra push on the run as I just ran comfortably not wanting to completely deplete myself.  Overall, I couldn’t be happier with the result and I was really surprised with the overall time. I knew the course was fast but not THAT fast (I did have the bike and run courses a bit short according to my Garmin).  It’s nothing new but running is still my achilles heel.  I’m going to need to put in some run focused training in order to keep anyone from running me down.  With a little more training and speed work, I think I can find 4-5 minutes on the run.

I was fortunate to have my Aunt Beatrice in town, so she came by the race to cheer me on.  It was really great to share the experience with her and Mandy.  Thanks again to everyone for the support, especially my sponsors: Tri Bike Run, First Endurance, and Blue Seventy.

Next up is a little rest and recovery this coming week and then its time to get back to work… stay tuned…

Back At It

It’s been a few months…(life happens). Let’s recap what happened since Age Group Nationals:

After Nationals, I took a week off of training.  I think I worked out twice, maybe three times just out of shear boredom.  In the back of my mind all season, I’ve been thinking about attempting another 70.3.  The first go-around (2012 Eagleman 70.3) didn’t end too well and I have been itching for redemption ever since.  So after Nationals I decided to take a shot at Miami 70.3.  I put in a GREAT 5-6 weeks of training.  I was hitting some big power numbers, and I was running effortlessly at paces I used to struggle with.  Then one day during a 12 mile run, my achilles flared up.  I hoped it would only put me out of running for a few weeks but I wasn’t that fortunate.  Not wanting to risk further injury (worst case: a rupture), I pulled the plug on Miami 70.3 for the second year in the row due to injury (something tells me I’m not meant to do this race).

I dropped all training for 4 weeks and gained a few pounds in the process (my metabolism isn’t what it used to be).  Once I recharged the batteries and got my body healthy again,  I picked up training little by little.  As far as races for 2014, I will kick off the season with the HITS Naples half-iron distance in January.  Part of me needs to prove to myself that I CAN race this distance.  Fast forward to today and a two weeks until race day, I’m happy to report that I am healthy and ready to go.

In other news, I am very excited to be working with First Endurance this year as one of my sponsors!  I’ve been using their products for about a year now and I can’t imagine training without them.  They not only provide all my nutritional needs, they also taste great! (I highly recommend Ultragen cappuccino flavor)  If you are running low on your current nutrition or just want to try something else, be sure to check out FE.

Thanks for reading!

Age Group Nationals

Let me say this: Milwaukee is an awesome city!  Mandy and I were pleasantly surprised. Mandy commented all weekend how nice everyone was (hotel staff, restaurant staff, race volunteers, etc).  I’m sure there were some complaints from the locals with thousands of triathletes riding very expensive bikes on the city roads with funny looking helmets.  But overall, everyone was very welcoming.  Our hotel was 5 or 6 blocks away from the race site and there were plenty of restaurants all within walking distance from our hotel.  I didn’t have one bad meal while I was there.

This past weekend I raced USAT Age Group Nationals – Olympic Distance (0.9 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, 6.2 mile run) in Milwaukee, WI.  To say the race was a success, is an understatement.  This race has been my key race all year and I really wanted to make a statement against some of the top amateur triathletes in the country at one of the biggest Olympic distance races in the country.  After racing a 2:04 at St Anthony’s in 2012, I really wanted to break the 2 hr barrier.  With a big break through in my biking earlier this year, and finally running consistently without injury, I knew this season would be my best yet. Unfortunately, all my Olympic distance races this year have had shortened swims which set up Nationals to be the perfect place to achieve this mark.

Race week started out pretty rough.  After Loggerhead, I was having some pretty bad stomach pains for a few days.  My mind was all over the place for those couple days after Loggerhead. I’ve had stomach issues after races before but they usually only lasted for the rest of the day and I was feeling normal by the next. Why was a sprint race, that only took an hour, causing me all kinds of issues?  Did I push myself that hard during the race?  Was I going to be recovered by Saturday to race?  Fortunately, I started to feel better on Tuesday and things were back to normal.

With the race on a Saturday, Mandy and I decided to fly out Thursday morning in order to have plenty of time to get situated in Milwaukee, put the bike together, familiarize myself with the course, and just relax. Upon getting to PBI, the Delta agents immediately asked me if my Aerus Biospeed bike case had a bike in it. This is one of the few bike cases that doesn’t scream “bike”.  This has helped bypass the airline bike fees before but the Delta agents at PBI have apparently been trained pretty well as this is the 2nd time I’ve flown Delta out of PBI with a bike, and I got stuck paying their outrageous bike fee ($150) both times.  We and the bike made it to Milwaukee with no issues but upon building the bike back up, I stripped one of the screws where my stem fastens to the fork (yes, I even had a torque wrench with me and I didn’t go over the max torque setting).  I took the bike over to bike support at the expo and fortunately they were able to take care of me.  They had to re-tap the the threads and put in a larger screw in order for the screw to engage.  Looks like I may need a new fork as a long term solution (not sure if  I can get one from Trek or not) but needless to say, a trip to Tri Running Sports & Cycle is in the works.  Later on Thursday, I picked up my packet, talked with some vendors at the expo (I really want a computrainer now), and got a quick ride in on the first part of the bike course.

(I stumbled upon this thread on Slowtwitch and now I’m searching for a hard case to travel with my bike. There are just too many risks you take with using a soft case.  Anyone have any suggestions on a hard case?)

Friday was pretty low key with a quick run, bike, and swim in the morning to get the blood flowing. We then drove the bike course to get a feel of what I was up against and eventually dropped off my bike at transition.  We had dinner at Ryan Braun’s Graffito restaurant, where I had what has become my pre-race ritual (out of superstition and it doesn’t seem to cause me any issues), chicken parmesan. Very good food there and a great view of the water if you sit outside.

The course was very straight forward.  We swam in Lake Michigan but we were protected from the “chop” of the lake.  The swim course was narrow and I thought this would cause problems with all the waves going off but fortunately it wasn’t an issue.  Swim exit was interesting as there was a very steep ramp out of the water with volunteers helping you get out. No matter how strong of a swimmer you were, you needed the volunteer to help you out and up the ramp.  I think there was some misconception on the bike course as someone called it flat as a pancake.  It is not flat as a pancake.  I train daily on terrain that is flat as a pancake and this course is not that.  I would define the course as “wavy” more than anything. There are 3 small climbs on the course.  One is right at the beginning, and the other two are the bridge you go across twice on the highway.  The course has two 180 deg turnaround’s and is relatively flat.  The run is flat and fast…. plain and simple.   If you are thinking about racing next year, I highly recommend it.  It’s a great city and a great course.

With my wave not going off until 9:08 AM Saturday (11th wave to go off), I got to “sleep in” to 5:45 AM.  I got a quick shower, Mandy put on my race tattoo’s (thank goodness she knew what she was doing), and I got in my usual 2 packets of maple and brown sugar oatmeal and a banana for breakfast.  Transition closed at 7:30 AM, so my goal was to get to transition by 7 AM to get everything set up.  We were told at packet pickup that no bags were allowed in transition and no items were allowed to be left in transition after it closed unless it was apart of your race equipment.  Essentially, only your bike, cycling and running shoes, helmet, race belt, sunglasses, and nutrition were allowed to remain in transition.  I really liked that USAT did this as it kept the clutter in transition to a minimum and prevents people from bringing their whole kitchen (including the kitchen sink) into transition.  I got everything set up and headed to the swim course to find some shade and watch the first couple waves on the course.  With the down time, I made sure I was staying hydrated and got in a few more calories before my wave went off.  
SWIM (18:27, 3rd AG, 8th Overall)
Being Nationals and all, I knew there would be some fast swimmers here.  So my goal was to get out at the front and use each other to get a gap on the rest of the field.  The gun went off and I got a good jump and got to the front with 3 other guys with several others clawing at my legs and feet.  Two of the guys took charge, the other hopped on their feet, and I decided to draft off him. The four of us swam together all the way to turnaround where we were greeted with the wave before us (W35-39 that went 10 min before us). At this point, my right goggle had started to leak and it was hard sighting buoys and making sure I was still with the guys in front while dodging all the women in the wave ahead of us.  At some point, I lost the two guys in front but still could make out the 3rd guy who was just only a little ahead of me.  I luckily took a great angle into the final turn buoy and was somehow able to beat the guy in front of me to the swim exit.  The race volunteers pulled me out of the water onto the steep exit ramp and I made my way to transition.  Mandy and Rudy Robaina both yelled I was 3rd out of the water and only 20-30 secs back.  
BIKE (*PR 57:41, 8th AG, 29th Overall)
I beat one of the lead swimmers out of  T1 onto the bike (I think he had issues finding his bike as Mandy took video of me in transition and you can see him running around in the wrong direction looking for his bike).  At the time, I had no idea I had beat him out of T1 so I got on the bike quickly and began hunting for the guys in front.  As I approached the first turnaround (~3 miles in), I looked for anyone who could be in my age group.  Since there were a lot of people on the course, it was hard to determine age.  At this point, I just assumed I was in 2nd and focused on riding my race (I guessed right).  I made sure to stay in aero and in the big chain ring on the 3 small hills as the climbs weren’t that bad and there was no reason to waste energy getting out of the saddle to hammer the hills.  At mile 11, I was passed by Colin Riley (overall race winner) and I told myself to stay with him.  I hung with him for 2 miles while maintaining a legal distance behind him (3 bike lengths) but in retrospect, it was probably too far back of him.  I was too worried about getting a penalty that I let way more than 3 bike lengths between us and the distance eventually got bigger and bigger and he rode off out of sight.  He did have the fastest bike split in the race so I don’t feel as bad now that he got away. Another rider passed me at mile 17, and this time I made sure to stay with him and keep him in sight.  He got a decent gap as we got back on the highway but I was still able to see him up ahead all the way into T2.  My bike was good… not great, but not terrible.  I really think I had a 56 min bike in me had I stayed closer to those guys but who knows what would have happened on the run.  I entered into T2 in 4th place knowing very well I needed a good run to hold on to that spot with some very fast runners coming behind me.
RUN (*PR 38:26, 35th AG, 144th Overall)
I took off on the run with the goal of running 6-6:10 pace if things were clicking.  First mile: 6:10…. perfect. At this point, I knew I was going to break 2 hrs but wasn’t sure by how much.  At the first turnaround, I noticed I was catching the guy in 3rd and this gave me tons of confidence.  I don’t know what happened next (or if it was just a slight tailwind) but I got a huge burst of energy and surged past him into 3rd place at mile 1.5.  I ran in 3rd all the way to the second turnaround at mile 4 where I found another racer in an older age group.  As I passed him just before the turnaround, he decided to go with me and I’m thankful he did.  We ran stride for stride the last 2 plus miles and he really kept me from fading off pace.  At mile 4.5, someone in my age group zoomed past us like we were standing still.  I had no chance at matching his pace as he went on to run a 33 min 10K and the 3rd fastest run of the day.  Knowing top 5 in my group gets an award, I was determined to not get pushed off the podium within the last mile.  I was able to hold off a bunch of charging runners behind me and cross the finish line in 4th.  
OVERALL – 1:57:29 *PR, 4th AG, 18th Overall
I’m still pretty shocked with the result but if I go back and look at all my training, there really isn’t any surprises considering what I’ve been able to do in training.  I’ve had 2, maybe 3 bad workouts (all bike workouts) since April.  My running has been more consistent than ever after figuring out how to stay injury free (knock on wood).  Going into the race, I thought I had a shot at top 10 in my age group if I went under 2 hours……It’s an awesome feeling when you exceed your own expectations. My first Olympic distance race was over two years ago where I did a 2:28 (results) when I was first getting into triathlon.  Given the course was hilly, I was on a road bike, and I was about 20-25 lbs heavier, it’s amazing how far I’ve come.  
Having placed 4th in my AG, I qualified to race at Age Group World Championships for team USA in Edmonton, Canada in 2014.  I have some time to decide if I want to go, so we’ll see what happens the rest of the season.  I have some other races I would like to do and qualify for but for right now, I’m going to kick back, relax, eat whatever I want, and enjoy an easy week of no structured training.   
Thanks to everyone who followed along during the race and for all the phone calls, texts, tweets, facebook posts, etc.  
More to come on what’s next….

Loggerhead Tri Race Report

Last year I did this race and finished a disappointing 9th.  It wasn’t the place that bugged me, it was my bike and run performances weren’t up to my expectations or capabilities.  I lead out of the water and was passed by the first turnaround (~3 miles in) and rode in 2nd all the way to T2.  As soon as I got off the bike, I knew my legs weren’t there.  My calves and hamstrings were cramping and the worst part, my stomach wasn’t cooperating with me.  I got passed by 7 people in the 5k and ran a 5k time I don’t want to repeat.  Nonetheless, this race from 2012 really lit a fire under me and has been one of my biggest motivators.  Coming into the race this year, all that really mattered was that I wanted race well and hit my numbers.  Sure I wanted to win but I learned long time ago from my competitive swimming days, you cannot control what everyone else does…. you can only control what you do.  I’ve lost some swim races years ago when I was so concerned about winning instead of just focusing on my race and what I can control.  I knew if I raced well, I would have shot at winning but if someone beat me, so be it….. they would be the faster guy that day.

The week leading up to the race, my coach Eric Limkemann started to dial my training back after a hard interval workout on the bike on Tuesday in preparation for this weekends race and more importantly, next weekend when I head to Milwaukee for USAT Age Group Nationals.  Friday morning came quick and I got in an easy 2 mile run before heading to work.  After work I headed over to the expo to get my race packet and help out Tri Running Sports who were offering some tremendous bike deals.  Shame on you if you didn’t take advantage of it.   I was planning to get a quick 30 min ride in after the expo but it was raining, getting dark, and I was starving.  I had put on my race wheels (and cork pads) on Thursday but I only rode the bike for 2 min just down the street from my house.  My 30 min ride was going to be my final check on my bike to make sure everything was good to go.  Needless to say, I didn’t get the ride in and my mind was racing all night worrying if everything would be ok on the bike.

On Saturday, I decided to wake up a little earlier and ride to the race to make sure everything was set and luckily nothing out of the ordinary popped up.  I got set up in transition, did a quick jog, and headed to the beach to get in a swim warmup.  As I got on the beach and looked at the buoys, I quickly realized the swim was going to be long which plays in my favor.  I swam from swim exit to start as a warmup as I’ve found I need a good warmup to swim to my capability.  My arms feel like jello if I don’t get a warmup in.  At the swim start, I noticed another competitor who looked like a swimmer.  Swimmers can spot other swimmers from a mile away…… sweedish googles, muscular upper body (which almost all triathletes don’t have) and they have the “swimmer” look.  I also had overheard a few comments that backed up my theory.  I was hoping we could work together to get a big gap on the rest of the field.

Swim (10:08)
The gun went off rather quickly as I barely overheard the countdown, threw on my goggles and started my watch.  Luckily I was still able to get a good jump off the start and got to the first buoy in the lead.  Unfortunately, the middle yellow buoys were not lined up with the orange buoys (the yellow buoys were shallower than the orange buoys) so I ignored the yellow buoys and swim straight for the final orange buoy where we turned in to shore.  I swam the entire time essentially by myself.  As I turned at the last buoy, I looked over my left shoulder and I noticed someone behind me by about 3-5 body lengths.   I was a little surprised at first but this confirmed my earlier theory.  I later found out he swam at Kentucky and after some google searching, we had some pretty similar swim times in college.  I had a good swim exit and not knowing his biking abilities, I wanted to make sure he didn’t catch me on the way to T1.

Bike (28:35)  Power Data
On Friday, Eric had told me attack the second half of the bike.  Heading out on the bike, I got a little too caught up worrying about the guy behind me (and everyone else) and add a lot of adrenaline, I started out way too hard (320+ Watts).  I knew I couldn’t withstand that kind of power throughout the bike and be able to run well, but it felt effortless.  At the first of three turnarounds, I determined I had just under a 2 min lead on a guy riding another Trek Speed Concept and John Reback right behind him.  We had a nice tailwind heading North which got me up to 30+ mph.  Starting the second lap, my gap had grown to a little over 2 min. John was nowhere in site and at first I thought I must of missed him coming by but I later saw him riding slowly and yelled some words of encouragement.  Sucks he got a flat but it is what it is.  On the 2nd loop, I had a few close calls trying to dodge the rest of the field on their 1st loop.  One gentleman pulled out right in front of me as he was trying to pass someone in front of him.  What he didn’t know, was that I was coming up behind both of them about to pass.  Luckily I saw what was about to happen before it was too late and was able to avoid him.  For the final few miles I focused on a smooth and controlled effort, and rode into T2 with a 2+ min lead.

Run (18:52)
As I headed out on the run, my calves and hamstrings were cramping and legs didn’t feel like they were there.  I remained calm, tried to relax and told myself they would come around.  Fortunately, the legs came around and the cramping went away within the first quarter mile.  I had no idea who the guy in 2nd was and for all I knew, he could have be capable of running a 16 min 5k.  Luckily, the volunteers helped me out and told me no one was insight and the race was now mine to lose. At the turnaround, my lead was still at 2+ min and I kept that same pace and ran home to the win.

Loggerhead Tri Results

Thanks to the Northern Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce and all of the volunteers for a great race once again!  Special thanks to my gf Mandy and mom (who came down from Pittsburgh for the weekend).  Lastly thanks to my sponsors Tri Running Sports (best cycling, running, and triathlon store in South Florida) and Blue Seventy for their support.

Next up is AG Nats next Saturday.  I leave early Thursday morning and I’m hoping to break that elusive 2 hr barrier in the Olympic distance.

Riviera Beach Sprint Tri Race Report

I was in between doing this race or an Olympic distance race across the state the following weekend. I wanted to get in a full Olympic distance race before Age Group Nationals (St Anthony’s and Motivation Man were both swim shortened) but I decided to stay close to home out of convenience.  Coming into the race I figured I had a chance at top 3 if I raced well with some fast local guys in the mix.  Winning had crossed my mind once or twice but I figured there was very little chance of that actually happening.  I raced well at Motivation Man (minus a very short swim and getting stopped at the train tracks on the bike) but I was still a few minutes off the leaders.  To have any chance, I figured I needed the biggest lead possible heading into the run.  If I blew up on the run, so be it, its just a sprint after all.

The day before was pretty hectic as this was a Saturday race and I had to work on Friday.  The usual lounging around the day before race did not happen one bit.  I woke up Friday morning with every intent of getting in a quick run and bike before work in the dark.  Needless to say, I hit the snooze button on my phone too many times and was only able to get in a quick 20 min run.  I tried to make sure I was hydrating enough during the day at work especially since I can be working outside in the sun at times.  After work I headed to packet pickup at Tri Running Sports & Cycle which was breeze. I got in a quick ride on my new Zipp Super 9 disc to make sure everything was good to go on my Trek Speed Concept.  A quick shave later and I was off to bed.  
Race morning came and I got in a quick run to warm up, got my transition setup, and hopped in the ocean to get in a quick swim.  During my swim warm up, I quickly realized this was not going to be an easy swim (a plus for me). The water was very choppy and it made it hard to keep any kind of rhythm.  The swim was pre-planned to swim with the current.  The race director would determine what direction the current was heading and adjust the swim start accordingly (either start north of the swim finish or south).  Fortunately for me, the RD (or someone) figured the current was heading in the same direction as the wind (North).  A few of us noticed while warming up, that the current was actually taking you south.  Which meant a harder swim against the current.

Swim (6:42 1/244)
The gun went off and we all headed for the turn buoy.  I could immediately tell the current was pushing us south, away from the direction we were heading.  I made the turn at the first buoy, put my head down, tried to establish a smooth rhythm in order to keep my heart rate down.  It was hard to site some of the buoys as there was some decent waves and depending on when I lifted my head, the waves may of been block my site line to the next buoy.  I got out of the water and made my way to T1.  I’m not a fan of long transition runs (who is) but I actually felt like I was able to hold a quick pace to T1 without my HR skyrocketing.  I later found out I made a wrong turn coming from the beach to transition.  There was a “Y” in the walkway and I took a left when we were suppose to take a right.  It was probably a little longer but no more than a few seconds.

Bike (22:45 2/244)
I had no idea how much of a lead I had after the swim, so the goal was to extend that lead as much as possible on the 10 mile bike course.  We had a bit of a tailwind heading North and while I was riding at 27-29 mph, but my watts weren’t quite where I wanted them to be.  I could not hold my goal wattage but at the end of the day, it’s just a number.  I ignored the numbers and put forth my best effort.  At the turnaround, I took note of the time to see how far back 2nd place was.  John Reback (with Tom Gore right behind him) and I crossed paths which told me I had just under a 2 min lead at the turnaround.  I was pleasantly surprised and the thoughts of winning started to cross my mind.  I got over the Blue Heron bridge to see George Robb taking video of the race.  He offered some words of encouragement and I was headed down the other side only to turn right back around and come right back up.  Coming back up the bridge, I figured I would start seeing John peak over the bridge but surprisingly I didn’t see him until heading back down the bridge towards T2.  I came into T2 mostly trying to not get hit by a car or run into another rider heading out on the bike.  Luckily, neither happened…..

Run (18:23 9/244)
I headed out on the run figuring I was going to get caught in the last mile but as I got on the main road to lead up to the bridge,  I noticed I had pretty size-able lead.  I kept my emotions in check and focused on my race.  Good turnover, keep good  form, relax…. I told myself.  As I was coming back up the bridge, John looked determined and was charging hard down the hill (I don’t think I’ve ever seen legs turnover that fast).  At that point I really believed he was going to catch me but I apparently underestimated the amount of time takes to get down and back up the hill.  I ran scared the rest of the race hoping I wouldn’t get caught in the last 1/4 to 1/2 mile.  The finish line came in site and it wasn’t until then I knew I was going to win.  My run wasn’t great but it wasn’t terrible.  Although this was my fastest 3 mile run ever, I know I’m more than capable of running faster.  My run training has been inconsistent at best for the past 1.5 years as injuries have prevented me from doing so.  But I seem to finally have the injuries under control and my consistency has been slowly getting there.

There’s nothing more satisfying than exceeding your own expectations and it was my first overall win.  If I was a betting man, I never would have put money on myself to take the win.  Everything has started to come together the last few months and the hard work is paying off.  I’ve made some huge gains on the bike this year that has left me feeling I can bike with most top amateur triathletes, which is a big change compared to where I was 2 years ago when I first go into this sport..

I can’t thank my gf enough for her support. She’s my biggest supporter (and our dog Bear) and I don’t know how they both put up with me.  Thanks again to everyone who offered their support and congratulations.  I was beyond excited with how I raced and hungry for more at the same time.  Next up, the Palm Beach County World Championships, aka, the loggerhead triathlon…..

Competition

The day was February 21, 2008.  I unexpectedly anchored Pitt’s 400 free relay at the Big East Championships.  All throughout my senior year, I knew my last race of my very long swim career would be the 200 back at our conference meet.  I swam distance free and backstroke in college and I am not a sprinter by any means.  I wish I was, but I learned long ago that I do not possess those fast twitch muscle fibers.  I would have love to swam the 50 and 100 free at every single dual meet instead of the 500 and 1000 free.  If you know me, you have probably heard me call sprinters every derogatory name possible….. one’s which I cannot repeat on this blog.  My coaches had other ideas that day in February, and put me on the relay after my 200 back prelim swim.  We finished 6th and I earned my only Big East medal of my collegiate swimming career.

I could not have been happier to be finished.  16 years of competitive swimming will do that to you, just ask any other swimmer.  I was burnt out.  All the early morning practices, getting yelled at by your coaches, and swimming countless laps while staring at a blue line (Pitt’s was blue) became more of a job than something I used to do for fun.  Sitting here today, I wouldn’t change any of it though.  Swimming was the best thing to have ever happened to me and I am grateful I was able to swim at the Division 1 level for the University of Pittsburgh all 4 years.  Swimming has molded me into the person I am today.  It has taught me so many things over the years without me realizing it and prepared me to enter into the “real world” of a working professional.  I have made so many friends over the years whom I will never forget.  There will always be a camaraderie between swimmers, whether we’ve ever crossed paths or not.

Two months later, I graduated with a BS degree in Mechanical Engineering and started my first full time engineering job a few days later.  I traveled significantly for the next few years for my job.  I worked long hours and ate just about anything I wanted to without any care.  I had zero motivation to do any physical activity those first 6 months after graduation.  It just wasn’t a priority for me.  After gaining some weight, I began lifting weights off an on for the next couple of years with a little running here and there.  I hated running with a passion.  My legs hated it, my mind hated it.  It was just plain boring.   Swimming was still not an option at this point in my mind.  I wasn’t ready for it.

Fast forward almost 3 years later after graduation, I was in a pretty unhappy place.  Frustrated with my life, job, career, and physique, I knew I needed a change but I didn’t know what.  At the time my brother was living in St Louis and was home for a couple days.  We went to the local Trek store and I found a road bike on sale.  Ever since doing the Pittsburgh triathlon relay (swim portion) in 2004, I’ve always wanted to get into the sport of triathlon.  Every year I would watch the Ironman World Championships on tv and I would say, “that’s going to be me someday”.  I think I cry every time I watch it every year.  Yes…. I’m a wuss.  If you aren’t motivated to get off your butt after watching the race, your pulse needs checked…. seriously… watch the race this December, and I guarantee you will feel like you can run a marathon in world record time immediately after(yes I know feeling and doing are two different things but everyone could use the motivation).  I always made an excuse to delay getting into the sport which was having a bike.  Needless to say after that day at the Trek store, I no longer had an excuse and thus began a journey I wish I started long time ago.

What I soon realized was missing in my life: competition.  Up until my last swim meet ever in college, I had always been competing in something since age 5.  Whether that was soccer, swimming, baseball, hockey, basketball.  Sports had been such a big involvement in my life, I don’t think I knew what to do with myself when I stopped swimming in 2008.  Ask anyone that knows me…. I HATE LOSING…. period.  Finishing anything but first was unacceptable.  As a kid, I’ve been known to throw my cap and goggles after a bad race and added a few obscenities as I got older.  Yes I was sometimes “that guy” behind the block.

I spent the next couple months training on my own with zero structure.  I typically didn’t decide what I was going to do until 5 min before I started my workout.  I got back to swimming again but I was enjoying it because it was on my own terms.  I entered my first triathlon memorial day weekend 2011, a small local sprint.  I have never experienced so many highs and lows ever in a race before.  I was first out of the swim but then was passed by everyone in my wave on the bike.  Here I was on my road bike, getting passed like I was standing still. The bike was 13 miles and I couldn’t have been happier to get off the damn thing.

I finished the race and at the time, I thought that was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life.

During the rest of 2011, I went on to complete 2 sprints and 3 olympics with moderate success but I wasn’t satisfied.  I decided in August 2011 to reach out to my college swim coach Eric Limkemann and began working with him the next day.

A few months later, I was offered a job in Florida.  I had been pretty frustrated with my current job/career.  I was ready for a change and ready to get out of Pittsburgh.  I was born and raised in Pittsburgh (Go Steelers!).  I had never lived more than 30 min away from home before and I didn’t know anyone in the Palm Beach area.  To say I was taking a leap of faith and going to be out of my element, was an understatement.

“You can take a person out of Pittsburgh, but you can’t take the Pittsburgh out of a person”.

My 2012 season started off strong but ended with an injury.  I took 3 months off during the off season to heal up and work on my house (this took up every weekend of my time).  I started off 2013 in terrible shape but I’m now in the best shape of my life.  I’ve made some huge gains this season and I just need to keep the ball rolling and finish the season strong.