Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ironman Chattanooga Race Report

This weekend, I finished off my season with a ‘second’ Ironman debut at IM Chattanooga (I’ve decided to forget that I even attempted the Mt. Tremblant race).  After a second place "record-setting" swim and a solo 116 mile bike ride, I wasn’t able to close the deal on the run but was able to hold on to 5th place with a respectable 8:25 finish.  It was a solid end to the year and a good start to the long distance phase of my career.

Not sure who posted this on Facebook, but nice shot!

After a relaxing drive and low-key race prep, I was mentally and physically ready to race.  Even after seeing the challenging hills on the run course, I was confident that my body would perform well.  I wasn’t exactly pleased at the down-river swim that would negate my swim strength, but I knew I had the legs to pad any lead that I had coming out of the current.  Barrett Brandon and I broke away right from the start and stayed clear the entire swim.  I did approximately zero work and thanked him afterwards for setting the pace (I don’t feel too bad for him as he ended up passing me the last mile of the run!).  We came out of the water in just over 38 minutes and quite possibly set the Ironman swim-segment world record.  Sadly, the rest of the group was able to keep us within 2 minutes thanks to the current so there was no time to waste once we hit the bikes.

The first 10 miles I settled in and paid attention to not over-riding despite my desire to get out of sight ASAP.  Barrett rode a bit hard as a first time Ironman and it took me all of those first 10 miles to reel him in.  Once I made the pass, I did my best to ride my own race and hit my numbers.  The bike course was twisty and rolling, but I was able to keep my effort steady and follow my nutrition plan from First Endurance.  It was a 2 loop course and I came through the first loop in 2:18 and a 3 minute lead… But the split was given with the comment “On a HUGE group… good luck”.  Roughly 15 of the contenders were benefitting from the group dynamic, which was aided by a swim that failed to create any separation.  Of course it wasn’t ideal, but I put my head down and went to work.  By the end of the ride, I’d pushed my lead out to 6 minutes and came away with a negative split ride at exactly my targeted wattage.  I hit the run in just over 5:15 total time feeling good and confident in a sub 3 hour effort.
 Great Nils Nilson Shot!
The first few miles of the run were uneventful as I was very careful not to push the pace too early.  I clicked off 6:45’s and by the 10 mile mark was confident that I would be able to hold my lead… until Matt Hanson flew by me like I was standing still.  I actually had to check my watch to make sure it was right.  He erased 6 minutes in 10 miles and I was moving well.  Yikes!  Congrats to him on his well deserved win, but I now had to second-guess my position in the race.  I focused on what I could control and kept clicking off the miles.  Despite the insane hills on the back half of the first loop I was still confident at mile 20.  

It’s a long race and I was in the last 10k in podium position.  The day had gone to plan and all I needed to do was close the deal.  It seemed like a reasonable task until I came up to the hills for the 2nd time around mile 22.  My confidence seemed to disappear along with any strength left in my legs and my chance at a top 3 finish.  I was suddenly in full damage control mode as Daniel Bretcher and Trevor Wuertle came by me on the inclines.  My body didn’t feel terrible, I simply ran out of legs.  Up the last hill, my shoes felt like they were filled with sand and the subsequent downhill was like a mean joke on the quads.  With just a mile to go, Barrett came past me and I had no response.  I ended up finishing the day right where I started; right behind him.  The last mile seemed to last forever and I was happy just to see the finish arch and finish with a Blazeman Roll.

It’s amazing how quickly the body can go south, but I put my best effort out and can’t complain about the result.  I was just 4 miles short of a perfect day, but being relatively new to the long distance scene I feel that my performance was solid.  My bike was especially encouraging riding solo off the front with a negative split and nailing my power plan.  A 4:23 112 mile split coupled with my normal swim and a successful run should put me under the 8:20 mark and at the pointy end of most fields.  Looks like a bit of marathon training coming up this winter and big things to come next year!

Here are a few great galleries from the race:

The city of Chattanooga was fantastic and I enjoyed hanging around after the race to cheer on the many RVA athletes and friends on the course.  The race venue was terrific and the inaugural event was a great success.  I’ll wrap up the season in a future post, but I want to thank everyone who made it such a great year.  My sponsors, my newly-extended family, and the great Richmond triathlon community have all made this year one to remember.  I’m heading into the off-season healthy, motivated, and excited for 2015.  Thanks for reading.

Obligatory Sidney picture to drive web traffic!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Training Update and IM Chattanooga Preview

Coming off of IM Mt. Tremblant and looking toward the end of the season, I had a few hurdles jump, both mentally and physically.  On the mental side, I've had a decent year of racing and earned 'enough' to call it a year and continue to call myself 'professional'.  With Sidney taking up a great deal of time and energy, I had thoughts of making the off-season come early but my competitive fire wouldn't have my failure at IMMT be the last result from 2014.  On the physical side, my ribs were sore as hell and swimming was just not going to come back easily.  I knew fitness wasn't an issue, but rehabbing cracked ribs is an exercise in frustration.  Long story short, I had to hit the month of September with a mental and physical reset.  I took a deep breath and started to focus on IM Chattanooga for my final race of the year.

So, here's a quick rundown of my last month and a look forward to my 'real' Ironman debut.  
I had to take two weeks off of swimming to really let my ribs heal and deal with the damage from IMMT.  It was maddening, but I used the extra energy to put in some quality bike and run work.  

I've spent countless hours on the bike and most of them were high quality, specific work.  Sustained efforts north of 300w are getting pretty pedestrian and threshold workouts started to look like my prep for Olympic distance races.  I even put in a few 100+ mile rides just to make sure I could run well on tired legs... All systems go on two wheels and the legs are strong. the IM CHOO course is a bit long at 116 miles, but I find myself wishing it was longer.

 I was even able to sneak in a few few plyometrics and strength work:

On the running front, I've continued to be able to put in the miles and build the durability that wasn't able to be shown off at Mt. Tremblant.  I've never been the fastest guy on two legs, but I tend to slow down a lot less in the long haul.  I'm looking to pull off a solid negative split run in two weeks that should put me sub 3 hours... Based off my previous two full distance races at Cedar Point, it will be a matter of not running the first half like an idiot... Here's hoping.

As for the water, my usual ally, I've re-learned what it's like to have to find some sort of feel after over a month of limited to no swimming.  Luckily, I've been able to build up to 5k of pain-free swimming (well, soreness sadly follows) and have found my stroke coming back slowly.  I've got two weeks to turn my swim back into a weapon and I'm giving it my best shot.  At the very least, I'll be able to keep pace with the lead group.  Best case scenario, the first 400m will be the last time I have company for the entire race (race strategy spoiler for any of my competitors reading... Not a great secret).
Thinking back to the end of August, even touching the water left me exhausted. 

With two weeks until IM CHOO I'm fit, healthy, and ready for a nice taper.  If all goes well, I'll be writing a race report on a successful race as opposed to the DNF that accompanied my last IM attempt.  After the race, I'll be taking a nice offseason break to take care of Sidney and perhaps post a few more pictures...

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Coming to Terms with a DNF

This is not the blog post that I intended to be writing two days after Ironman Mont Tremblant.  I drove up to the race in arguably the best aerobic shape of my life and mentally ready to make some waves in my professional IM debut.  Of course I'd been battling bruised/cracked ribs since my Challenge New Albany win and only averaging 1k/workout in the pool, but I figured a bit of race day adrenaline and my immense swim background would carry me through trouble free.  Since the long race really makes the swim a minor factor and since my bike numbers have been pretty unreal in training, I had approximately zero doubt that I would have any problems race day.

To add to my excitement, Wattie Ink sent me a new custom speed suit to really put my mark on the race.  I really appreciate their quick turnaround and ability to get my sponsors on the suit.  When I stopped in Syracuse for the night, it was waiting.
I was READY.

I had a smooth pre-race lead up with a great group of guys from RVA and felt more and more confident that it would be my day on Sunday.  We swam on course Friday and despite a bit of soreness I was able to rev the engine and summon the swim speed I'm used to.  Another 1k swim workout in the books... perfect.  Everything was going well as race day approached with cool weather and a perfect day to race.

So focused... So serious.
Race morning, I had the privilege to have my good friend Adam and his wife Stephanie at the start to take care of last minute sherpa duties.  I was relaxed and confident as I warmed up and when the gun went off I was in the zone... for about 30 seconds.  The swim was actually pretty low key, but I was tense every time someone got close and found that after the first few hundred meters I was losing my stroke pretty regularly.  As I passed the first turn buoy almost a mile in to the swim, I realized I was in trouble.  I was tired, sore, and my stroke felt alien.  I was starting to cramp from holding my body so tensely for the entirety of the swim.  I calmed myself down by reminding myself that the swim only a small part of the race and I was still in the lead group... but I was dying a slow, painful death.  By the time I saw the finish arch and stood up, my body rebelled and cramped down from my ribs down to my toes.  I stood there for close to a minute as I fought with myself to relax and get moving.  Simon Whitfield served as an all-star lifeguard as he paddled over and asked if I was ok... Insult to injury!
Pre-Race...Feeling good.  
I finally made it to transition and realized I had a decision to make.  Would I quit the race less than an hour in?  Was I going to waste all of my fitness and speed by crying Uncle?  How much damage could I do on the bike/run now that the swim was over?  I decided to give the bike a shot and see what I could do.  It's a long day and I've got the legs to make it a good one... or so I thought.  I took off on the bike and put my head down in pursuit of the lead group.  The first 5 miles were very cold and I had trouble settling into my position with the soreness from the swim.  My heart rate wouldn't get up as I stayed tense to fight against the cold and protect my ribs.  Each breath was painful and the cold that I had anticipated dulling the pain turned into my worst enemy.

The next 50 miles were a terrible war between my competitive spirit and my rational mind.  I knew I was doing myself no favors by pushing on as my back and hips started to ache with my altered position.  Each minute that went by was agony between my body rebelling and my mind torn in two about what to do about it.  By the time I hit the end of the first lap, I knew my day was done.  I was cramping in my ribs, hips, and calves.  My heart rate was barely 130 and I was losing heat at a rapid rate.  I was compensating my pedal stroke continuously to try to find power and it was very simply a downward spiral.  Despite coming through in 2:20 and potentially still within my sub 8:30 goal, there was no way I was going to escape the day without doing some serious damage to my body.  Fighting through the small problem of my cracked ribs created a cascade of issues that could have potentially ended my season or worse.
Ten seconds before pulling out...
With my tail between my legs I pulled over and turned in my chip.  I showered, stretched, and really examined just what had happened.  Looking back, I should have known that only being able to swim 1k/workout was a very bad warning sign going into the race.  A pre-race routine of Valtaren gel is not something that should be done.  I know my body enough to know when something isn't right, but I had to give it a shot.  It's a tribute to the BlueSeventy Helix that I was able to swim a 50 min swim with basically one arm and an awkward kick.  I didn't have issues on the bike/run in training, but then again I wasn't swimming hard beforehand or training in body-tensing cold weather.  The coach in me should have seen the signs but the athlete in me wouldn't have it.  I'm not upset that I gave it a shot but I sure wish I wouldn't have convinced myself so thoroughly that it was going to be my race to win.

In my last post, I stated that I had qualified for 70.3 worlds and was confident I could pull off a decent race post IM.  Now I know that won't happen.  My ribs are not something that I can fix with training or rehab, they just take time to heal.  I have withdrawn from the race and will hopefully be healthy and ready to go in 6 weeks for Ironman Chattanooga.  The sting of the DNF has been amplified by my inability to mix it up at the highest level when I know I have the ability to compete.  Racing is my job and simply participating in the race to check the box is not an option.  I've got unfinished business from this race, but it will have to wait until my ribs heal and I'm back to 100%.

Congratulations to everyone who was able to finish the race this past weekend.  I was able to watch the race day unfold and cheer on the other athletes who poured their heart and soul into the race.  I must admit it was difficult to watch the pro race unfold, but as the day wore on it was easier and easier to put my DNF behind me and support the athletes on the course.  By the time midnight came, I was more than inspired by the athletes that could do what I could not.