Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

You know it's going to be a good race when you are greeted with a swiss cake roll and oatmeal cream pie at the expo!  My second attempt at Ironman Chattanooga proved to be my a great race and an encouraging result as I continue to focus on longer distance racing.   I came away with a 4th place finish after leading the race into T2 and maintaining the lead halfway through the run.  I still have some work to do on the run, but finally breaking the 3 hour mark for the marathon was a good mental boost heading into winter training.  My time of 8:12 was a 13 minute improvement over last year and my best time for the Ironman Distance.

I spent a few enjoyable, relaxing few days in Chattanooga prior to the race with my good friends/family/sherpas Jeff and Therese and prepared myself to tackle my second Ironman in six weeks.  I was lucky enough to swim a few times with Dimond Bikes Boss TJ Tollakson at the beautiful Baylor School pool (where the High School 500 Free record is 7 seconds faster than my COLLEGE record!).  Bike transport was easy and problem free thanks to TriBike Transport, so everything was on cruise control as the weekend approached.  I went to bed on Saturday confident and ready to race.  The only bump in the road was that I was missing the UCI World Championship back in Richmond! 

Why did I miss this???
The race started out on a bit of a chaotic note as the pro men jumped into the water for a quick warm up.  "Quick" turned out to be quite the understatement as the cannon fired unexpectedly only a few minutes after I jumped in.  If there was a warning, I missed it because I was about 25m (seemed like 100 at the time) behind the starting line when it fired!  The first 400m or so was a mad dash through the field to get to the front and join the lead pack.  Once I made it through, I settled in and spent the rest of the swim nicely tucked behind the lead swimmer.  I am very lucky to have years of swim speed banked (plus the great BlueSeventy PZ4 TX), because I definitely have not been training for that type of starting effort on no warmup!  By the time we hit land, I was completely at ease and ready to roll.  In fact, during the later stages of the swim one of my favorite Good Will Hunting clips popped into my head... I was confident and in a good head space! (warning, explicit language).

I took charge early on the bike because none of the lead swim pack seemed to want to keep the pace honest.  Knowing that there were some great runners in the field, I reluctantly pushed to the front.  My goal was to ride just hard enough to keep the chase group at bay, but not so hard that others wouldn't come forward to help.  About 30 minutes into the ride, TJ came through and I gladly let him set the pace.  I dropped back to 5th and kept an eye on the group while conserving my power as planned.  Unfortunately,  everyone seemed to be content to let TJ pull away instead of matching his pace.  I saw what he can do last year at Mont Tremblant, so letting him go free wasn't an option.  I put in a pretty big 4 minute effort way over my wattage cap (380 for you data geeks) to close the gap and it was enough to break up the lead group to just TJ, Matt Chabrot, and myself.   

Dimond Bikes were 1-2 for much of the ride.
Everything went smoothly until just before the halfway point of the ride.  I had planned to pick up two bottles of First Endurance EFS Pro at the special needs stop and finished my first two bottles accordingly.  My long course nutrition has never been a problem thanks to First Endurance and utilizing the special needs bag allows me to keep my fueling 100% the same as I practice during my training rides.  Sadly,  we flew through the special needs area before I knew what was happening!  I was stuck with no fluid or calories until the next aid station and was forced to rely on the on-course nutrition for the remainder of the ride.  I stayed calm and grabbed what I could from the aid stations moving forward as we started to catch the age group athletes on the second loop of the course.

Leading into T2
I did my best to stay calm and focused with the derailed nutrition plan and increased bike traffic.  Both my power and heart rate were under control as I did my best to fuel my body and ride defensively (it got dicey with the age group crowds!) I had been riding conservatively for most of the day and heading into the last 20 miles I actually found myself feeling itching to push the pace despite my plan to ride conservatively.  Perhaps it was my insecurity about my run or perhaps my habit of aggressive riding dies hard, but I took the lead and managed to grab a 90 second lead heading into transition.  I hopped off the bike still feeling confident I had executed well and was ready to unleash a solid run.
Out of T2 before anyone came in
Leading an Ironman sounds glamorous, but in reality it gets pretty lonely.  I'm not complaining to be sure, but miles of solo running wondering what is going on behind you can be tough to manage.  Fortunetly, I've been in the position now a few times and I managed the opening miles of the run well.  I was relaxed, confident and very happy to find that the patient bike riding paid off.  My main focus for the weekend was to put together a sub three hour marathon and by the half way point I was on pace to do just that.  I was continually getting splits from the athletes behind me and knew that the gap was closing, but not too quickly!  I took on fluid, sipped on my First Endurance Liquid Shot, and clicked off the miles one by one.

Leading can be Lonely!
Matt Chrabot caught me at the end of the first loop and I did my best to match his stride for a few miles.  Unfortunately, my alternate nutrition on the bike started to come back to haunt me.  At mile 17, I had to make a pit stop at the Port-a-Potty.  Bad news:  I lost Matt.  Good News:  I came out still in second place and feeling like a new man!  I set off to salvage my pace and quickly dipped back under 3 hour pace.  Unlike last year, the second time through the hills I was prepared and ready.   Two European athletes came by me looking strong, but I was able to hold my pace and stay positive.  I had visions of making a charge in the closing miles but in the end I didn't have the leg speed to break into the top 3.  Despite coming up a bit more than 4 minutes from the win, I am pleased with my race and feel like it was my most complete effort to date.

After the race, I enjoyed the Urban Stack with Jeff and Therese.  My normal post-race burger was accompanied by one of the best milkshakes I've ever had.... can't put my finger on the secret ingredient but I highly recommend one the next time you're in Chattanooga!   The city and community are fantastic and, similar to Mont Tremblant, their enthusiasm really make the race a positive experience.  If I'm not toeing the line on a certain Hawaiian Island next year, I'll be back to continue my move up the podium.  

Next up for me is Challenge Florida, but for now I'm going to enjoy a bit of down time. I'm now in full recovery mode from the past two races and enjoying a bit of time catching up with my girls.   Despite a rough early season of racing (and crashing), the last few races have made for a pretty good salvage of the year.  Thank you to all of my sponsors and supporters for getting me to this point.  Finishing with a win in Sarasota would be icing on the cake before a long off season of being a runner.  Of course, before my next trip I have some serious work to do... my FaceTime skills make Sidney cry!

Thanks for Reading!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

IM Mont Tremblant Media

Now that I'm 10 days post-race, I'm back into full-bore training and on a good trajectory for IM Chattanooga in just over 5 weeks.  During the last week or so, I've done a hard analysis of my IMMT race and hope to improve on a few of my weaknesses.  I've also found some great coverage of the race!  Enjoy:

If the video doesn't play, it is housed on the IMMT Facebook page HERE.

Thanks to a few great photographers, I have a bunch of beautiful shots to remember the day.

Robert Mahaits with Rob Photographe:

Jonathan Martinet with Queen K Triathlon Shop

Caroline Blanchard, Homestay Extraordinaire:

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report

Disclaimer:  Ironman is a long race and apparently this race report is following suit.  I apologize of the length but it was an eventful day in Canada!

A year ago, I attempted my first Ironman branded race at IM Mont Tremblant and left with my tail between my legs and a DNF.  This year, I headed north looking for a bit of redemption from last year and a way to salvage the current crash-shortened season.  I am generally a confident and level-headed competitor from my years of high level racing, but I would be lying if I didn’t see this weekend as a bit of a commentary on my ability to race Ironman successfully.  Luckily, I was able to come away with a solid 4th place showing and some valuable long course experience.

My pre-race swim venue.
Ed and Sue Boyle acted as VIP sherpas for the trip and made the drive seem easy.  We arrived at the home of Mark and Caroline Pedicelli Thursday afternoon and immediately felt at home.  I took a swim in the lake, which was “not that cold” and spent the rest of the night thawing out and planning out the days leading up to the race.  As a testament to the great people around me, the lead up was perfect and I found myself enjoying every bit of the Ironman experience.  The pre-race banquet was absolutely incredible and every person I met in the community was more friendly and welcoming than the one before.  For anyone on the fence about making the trip to Tremblant, book your tickets now.  By the time race day rolled around, I was ready to go.

Focused and Ready
Race morning started with heavy fog and the promise of hot, humid conditions later on.  The swim was relatively tame and I took the initiative to set an honest pace early.  By the halfway point, 4 or 5 of us had established a gap but I wasn’t interested in pulling the entire swim.  I swung wide and waited for someone else to lead the charge.  Brian Fleishman took up the pace and the two of us were able to get clear of the group.  I found Brian's pace to be a bit quick toward the end and backed off a bit as I reminded myself that it's a long day.  I’ve also been having calf cramping issues on the swim for over a year now and didn't want to test my luck!  Brain easily pulled away and took about a minute lead into T1 while I still managed to come out ahead of the chasing group behind me.  Of note, the top 3 swimmers were all wearing BlueSeventy Helix wetsuits… Coincidence?  I think not.

Photo By Robert Mahaits

After a long, loud run into transition, I hopped on the Dimond and set off on a conservative pace to wait for a few of the chase group to ride with.  I knew strong cyclists like Jordan Rapp and Lionel Sanders would be coming, so I kept to my power and settled in.  Earlier than expected, Jordan came by and I was surprised how quick he was moving.  I was in a bit of a bind knowing that my plan was to be conservative and knowing that jumping on Jordan’s pace would help put distance on the other chasers. I made the decision to stick to the plan and watched both Jordan and Paul Ambrose pull away.  Knowing it was going to get hot, I kept my First Endurance EFS Pro intake up and ticked off the miles.  It proved to be the right decision as no one was going to compete with Jordan on the day.  He was in a class of his own and he deserves a big congratulations on a gutsy win.  

By the halfway point, my power was perfect and I felt strong.  I had reeled in Brian and was closing on Paul.  Once I closed the gap, the two of us traded off a few times before I was gapped on a long hill climb.  I had the first of three shifting problems with my Di2 randomly shifting out the big chainring and dropping the chain to the inside (despite having a chain catcher installed and a brand new chain!).  I had to dismount and fish the chain out of the frame before jumping on the bike and quickly giving chase.  It was frustrating because around that time Lionel caught up and I moved into 4th.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one with bike issues as Lionel had both a flat and a caught chain that caused him to lose 4 minutes from when he caught me.  I put my head down to catch Paul again only to have my chain come off twice more on the steep hills on the end of the bike loop.  I survived the rest of the ride and came into T2 in 3rd place and feeling fresh (if not a bit frustrated) off my relatively conservative ride.

into T2 feeling smooth!
Photo by Robert Mahaits
(*Interesting note:  getting my bike out of the car after the race, the chain was literally snapped in two... so something was definitely wrong!  I think I'm lucky to have finished the ride!)

Starting the run, I had Paul in my sights and after a few kilometers we were running side by side.  We held a steady pace for the first 10k and I slowly started to pull ahead halfway through the first lap.  I was relaxed, comfortable and easily clicking off the miles through the half marathon.  The crowd support and volunteers were phenomenal and I was absolutely positive that I could continue the 2:50 pace for the back half of the marathon.  The heat started to really increase so I dumped as much ice as I could into my Wattie Ink suit.  I slowed slightly and was passed by Justin Daerr with about 10k to go.  I still felt strong when I heard Lionel Sanders coming up behind me.  I waited for him to pass and was shocked to see Paul Ambrose come flying by instead.  He made a tremendous comeback from earlier and was running strong.  Lionel also passed me and I found myself in 5th when I was in 2nd less than 10 minutes earlier!

I knew my pace was slowing and my body was cramping but I forced myself to maintain contact with the guys ahead.  With about 3k to go, I started to come back a bit on Lionel who seemed to be suffering.  I gave all that I  had left to make the pass look easy and didn’t look back.  The last 2-3 hills heading toward the finish were probably pretty ugly and I envision the battle between Lionel and I looking similar to a nursing home walker race.  I was able to hold it together enough to make it to the finish roughly :30 ahead in 4th place.

Happy to be done!
Photo by Robert Mahaits
My time of 8:41 wasn’t what I had hoped for on the day, but it is considerably better than last year’s DNF halfway through the bike. Everyone ahead of me is a past Ironman champion so I know I’m in good company.  There are always lessons to be learned and problems to fix, but overall I am pleased with the day.  As only my 4th full distance race, I’m still learning and am looking forward to improving in the coming months and years.  Next up is IM Chattanooga in 6 weeks.  As soon as I start walking normally, I’ll start my preparations to move onto the podium.

Thank you to the Pedicelli family for their fantastic hospitality and to the Boyles for the incredible sherpa help.  As I mentioned earlier the Mont Tremblant community was absolutely fantastic and the race that they put on is head and shoulders above any other race I’ve done.  Thank you to my fantastic sponsors and to everyone who sent well-wishes while I was up North.  Anytime I connected to Wifi, my phone would get notifications nonstop.  I’m truly lucky to have such tremendous support and i hope you all enjoyed following the race.  More to come!

Thanks for being there to catch me Ed!
Photo by Robert Mahaits