Wednesday, November 18, 2015

2015 Review

This time of year, I like to take a look back and really examine the last 8-10 months of training and racing.  As a young swimmer, I was taught well to constantly review past performances in order to learn and improve future races.  Back then, it was pretty simple as my 'real life' considerations were limited to the challenge of staying awake in class.  Now that life is a bit more complicated (and rewarding), looking back over the 2015 season takes on a bit of a different dimension.  The year started with a head full of hair and a few lofty goals:  Win or podium at each of the Challenge USA races, learn to walk, break 8 hours at the full distance, and get a full mouth of teeth.  I'm happy to say that half of these goals have been accomplished, but it has been a wild ride.

Early on, all of the goals seemed in reach and training was going well.  I picked up great gear support from Peluso Open Water, Dimond Bikes and Wattie Ink in addition to my long time sponsors (BlueSeventy, ISM Saddles, First Endurance, Utopian Coffee).  Training was going well and I maintained a tricky schedule focused on balancing the demands of triathlon and fatherhood.  As I moved from the trails to the track, my running speed showed up and I was confident heading into my first "A" race at Challenge Knoxville.  However, before Knoxville rolled around we were dealt with some pretty troubling news:  the Challenge races that I had targeted were no longer offing a professional prize purse!  Having to change plans and my race schedule so late in the game was tough but luckily fatherhood has taught me to be flexible and adapt.  I put together a new race schedule while Sidney continued to develop her mullet hairstyle and awkward balance.  We were both in a weird place but chose to make lemonade out of lemons.  Knoxville still had a prize purse and there were other races to add to the schedule. 

What just happened?  New Plan!
Of course, I did not plan on a trip to the hospital in Knoxville so much of my scheduling and all of my run work went unrewarded.  First new goal for 2016:  stay on the bike.  The next two races on the schedule were spectator events for me as my leg healed.  I am very fortunate to have great support because the months following the crash were not fun times. There were days when I was pretty sure I was done racing but I knew I had unfinished goals that would not let me quit.  Again, lemonade was made as we used the time to enjoy life and gain a bit of perspective.... on boats!

The second half of the year ended up being a bit ambitious with two Ironman races planned within 6 weeks of one another.  Having never done two full races in the same calendar year (last year's IMMT DNF prevented that!), it was going to be a tall ask. Fortunately, I was up to the challenge and raced relatively well. My running still has some work to do, but breaking 3 hours was encouraging.  I wasn't able to break the 8 hour mark (which I know will take the right course) and couldn't crack the top 3 at either race, but I was able to make a bit of diaper money.  Second new goal for 2016:  Break 2:50 off the bike and make the podium. 

My final race at Challenge Florida was a rewarding win and partial fulfillment of an early season goal, but more importantly it reminded me just what is important.  Over the past few years spending time with friends and family has become more rewarding than collecting PR's or even winning races.  Perhaps I'm maturing or perhaps I'm being influenced by the strong examples around me, but I continue to evolve my perspective.  I don't need Sidney to know that I won a few triathlon races or that I used to be able to swim fast.  I need her to know that I worked and sacrificed for lofty goals by doing things the right way.  Ashley has always been my biggest fan, but never cared about how fast I raced.  The three of us have big goals ahead including winning an Ironman, a surgical fellowship, learning to talk and potty training.  With this crazy year coming quickly to an end, 2016 and beyond promises to be pretty great.  Final new goal for 2016:  Remember what is important. 

Walking, Full mouth of Teeth, and preparing for what comes next!
Thank you for reading!

Monday, November 9, 2015

Challenge Florida

There are few better places to be than sunny Florida in early November.  As the leaves started turning up in Virginia, I flew down to Venice Beach for my last race of the season, Challenge Florida.   To be honest, after two Ironman races in 6 weeks and the long crash-marred season winding down I was clinging to my last shred of motivation going into the weekend.  Luckily, I was able to enlist the help of my terrific support group to make the last race perhaps the best of the year.

I flew down a few days early to help Dave Gallagher with a bit of business consulting.  I spent the day in Tampa/Clearwater on a few business meetings while Dave took advantage of the time to get in touch with the beach culture.  We wrapped it up with an ocean swim that randomly included a close encounter with a group of dolphins... seriously!  It was just what I needed to get my mind right for the weekend's race. For those reading this in the need of executive business consulting, please contact me via email for my daily rates*. 
*Not responsible for results or outcomes associated with consulting... or legal ramifications of insanely misinformed advice.

Once we were through with the business portion of the trip, it was time to focus on racing well... Almost.  There was time for another day of enjoying the beautiful Florida weather with good friends.  We met up with the fresh-from-Kona legend Moose Herring and "Most Interesting Man in the World" candidate Jim Williamson along with a couple of Hammer Tri Club support staff.  The time leading into the race was a blur of laughter and conversation.  On Saturday, I attended the pro meeting, participated in the Q and A session, checked in and maintained a steady intake of First Endurance EFS Pro to prepare for the heat of race day.  I was ready mentally and physically to put in one last effort for the season.  The night before the race was a perfect example of the calm before the storm:

Race morning started with a quick warm up and double check of the equipment before heading to the beach start.  The field included a few seriously strong swimmers so I knew I would be able to tuck in and trust them to lead the way.  Between the nice draft and sighting work of the leaders, the salty water, and the incredible BlueSeventy PZ4TX I was able to come out of the ocean fresh and fast.  A small group of us had a gap on the field and as soon as we exited transition I knew my goal for the next two hours was to put the race away for good.  Knowing everyone would probably suffer from slow runs in the heat and knowing that my Dimond is the fastest bike on the planet, I decided to go for broke.

The first 40k went by in just over 55 minutes and I established about a 2 minute gap on the chasers.  I ramped up my effort and kept the EFS pro coming like clockwork to stay ahead of the oncoming heat.  The second 40k went by with a 54:30 split and I knew I was onto a pretty good day.  When I counted the gap it was over 5 minutes.  Unfortunately, I had gone through both of my nutrition bottles and missed the last water hand off because I came in too fast (I apologize to the volunteers as I knocked 4 different water bottles out of their hands!).  The last 6 miles of the ride really got hot and I was out of water but I put my head down and got to the second transition in just under 2:30 of total race time.  I was confident I'd done the job of winning the race on the bike, but the daunting job of a half marathon in scorching heat was not appealing.

HTC Support!
Luckily, we had some great cheer support on course and I took off 'running for diaper money' at just under 6 minute pace.  My goal was to get to the turn around of the two loop course and assess the gap.  I felt strong and did my best to catch up with a bit of hydration by the halfway point.  With 6 miles left to go I had over 8 minutes to work with so I went into damage control mode as the heat did its best to slow me to a walk.  I spent some quality time at each aid station and gave up my pre-race goal of running a PR 13.1 split.  There were periods when I wasn't sure if I was going to make it to the next aid station despite doing my best to control my effort. The win was wrapped up if I could just keep one foot in front of the other.  It may seem dramatic but at the time I had to dig deep not to just crawl into the shade and lay down.  Fortunately I was able to hold myself together enough to come down the finishing shoot in one piece and appear somewhat in control.

I am ecstatic to come away with a win and some great momentum heading into the off season.  After I crossed the line I made my way directly to a waiting ice bath. It is hard to describe how incredibly good it felt to finally cool off!  The rest of the day was spent cheering on my fellow competitors and making the most of my time on the beach. The enjoyable travel home (via Disney, Uber, and Jet Blue!) capped off a perfect weekend.

Thank you to Dave, Moose, Jim, and everyone who made the weekend a memorable one.  It's always great to race with the Rev3/Challenge group and to win perhaps their last 1/2 distance pro race in the US.  Thank you to all of the sponsors who make my racing possible and to all of my friends from RVA and beyond who sent notes of congratulations. I am going to take a good bit of down time from training to refresh and recharge before starting my preparation for 2016.  After a long season, my only planned workouts are to keep up with an increasingly mobile 18 month old daughter and to win a few 'easy' trail runs.  Look for a wrap up of the season coming soon.

Thanks for reading.

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!