Well, it’s been over three months since I last wrote a blog posting. They used to be “race reports,” but since I only seem find time a few times a year, I’ve been rolling several races into one posting. I’ll be honest, I do miss the more simple days when I’d finish a race, unpack, and have enough free time to get my thoughts down on paper before I forgot. Now, its usually more of a get home from a race, unpack (Alice is usually super understanding of my neurosis to unpack and clean up all my crap as soon as we get home), scramble around with the boys for a few days and try to get in a little recovery, and then back to training and focusing on the next race. Nevertheless, below is the long version of my second half of 2017 recap.
For the cliffnotes version:
- Great season. Won several races and won some money too!
- Not much of any progress on swim or bike but ran really well this year.
- Two kids are hard. Recovery from training and racing and working a full time job is really
- My wife is awesome.
- Finishing top 5 AG in the world at the 70.3 IM World Championships in Chattanooga was amazing and something I had been focusing on for four years.
- I continue to have self-doubts of my capabilities and I really want to break 4 hours again in the ½ distance.
This was my second race of the year where prize money was being offered and I knew the competition would be good. I had been running well going into the race and was excited to see how things would shake out on a hilly course. Unfortunately, my back had been bothering me ever since the May Kinetic 1/2 , despite the various treatments I had explored and it faired no better for the race. I took the first run out well, but had back tightness for pretty much the entire 1 hour ride. While my power numbers were ok, I was forced to stand up a lot and wasn’t all too excited about my overall bike. Going into the run in second place, I knew that I would have to run well if I were to have a chance to win the race. Luckily, my good running form continued into the second run leg and I managed to pull into the lead after mile 2 and hang on for the win.
Fort Ritchie Oly
As with the Maryland DU, the themes of the season continued going into the race: swimming was going ok, biking had been a struggle (both my power numbers and my back issues), and running was plugging along nicely. And the race shaped out about as expected – I swam ok, struggled on the bike, and ran well. In fact, I PR’d my 10k off the bike-split time and managed to get another overall win.
Ironman 70.3 World Championships
I’ve tried to keep the write-up relatively brief to this point, suspecting that anyone who has bothered to click on the link and read my blog would be most interested in my IM 70.3 WC race recap.
Race prep went fairy well. I had been struggling on the bike in both training and races all season long. Not only had I failed to see much progress in my power numbers in training, but I had also been unable to hit my target numbers and had to call it quits on several key workouts. Prior to 2017, to bail in the middle of an interval while on the trainer was fairly unprecedented for me. And throughout 2017, it seemed to be almost commonplace. I had tried backing things off to rest more, tried working on more endurance, tried a mini-bike block…. nothing seemed to be working. And despite exploring a variety of treatments for my back – massage, active release, dry needling, chiropractic work – I was not making any progress. Further complicating and confusing things was the fact that I was riding really well whenever I was out on my road bike. While the noon “sprints” group ride at Haines Point is never “easy” I was able to hold my own, take occasional pulls, and even sometimes win a lap. It really wasn’t until about a month prior to Chattanooga that things stated to turn around with the bike. Over dinner one night, aft
er hearing me complain (again) about several really frustrating sessions, Alice suggesed to cover u my bike computer and don’t pay attention to any of the numbers. “Just go by feel and effort,” she recommended.
After expressing some skepticism, I decided I had nothing to lose and tried her suggestion the next morning; Not only did I have one of my best sessions of the season, but it instilled enough confidence that I was able to continue riding reasonably well up to and during the race.
Swim training was uneventful – with my swimming background in college, I am lucky enough to get by with just one long and hard swim workout a week. While it doesn’t get me much faster, it allows me to stay competitive and free up time for my bike and run training. And for the running, despite having a really challenging February, March, and April, my running was going well. For 2017, I kept my run training similar to 2016 – a few 2 mile morning jogs home from daycare drop-offs, one long run commute (12-18 miles total) 3x per month, speedwork once a week, a Saturday brick run comprised of either hill repeats or endurance work. My weekly run volume maxed out at 40 miles with most weeks it averaging 25-30 miles. If anything, my run volume in 2017 was lower which allowed me more focus on speed and recovery.
Strength work leading up to Chattanooga was also similar to my program in 2016. The few weeks prior to the race I focused more on power lifting combined with plyometric work in an effort to turn some of my season strength into practical/useful race-day power. Although I am thoroughly convinced my strength program helps me in my racing and recovery, it seems that every season I question if I was doing it “right.” The more I read and talk with others, I’m more convinced there is no “right” strength program for a triathlete – big weights and power lifting work for some, while others benefit most from just yoga and barre classes. I’m sure I’ll continue to evolve my strength program as I get older and recovery becomes increasingly challenging. I’ve already started mulling over a few new ideas for 2018!
Race week went well. Thanks to my sister who did the internet research, we had an awesome family-friendly AirBnB to stay at. I got in a few additional sauna sessions (these have become a staple in my build up to races) and got on the road with my father for the 10 hour drive from Arlington to Chattanooga. Our travel plans worked out well – we left on Wednesday with all the kids stuff and all my triathlon stuff (both equally enormous amounts of cargo!) and Alice and my mom flew with Gavin and Grady on Friday. My dad and I arrived on Thursday, got checked in and drove the bike course. I’ve learned through the past years that the importance of riding (driving or cycling) the bike course seems to be directly related to the elevation profile – the hillier it is, the more helpful it is to scope out the course. Not so much for the uphills, but to learn about the descents and corning of the downhills. It is those areas that you can really gain a lot of time if you aren’t unnecessarily braking. And the Chattanooga 70.3 WC bike course was hilly! Hilly enough that I was glad that I switched out my rear cassette so I’d have some easier gears to climb the mountain we ascended. After driving the bike course, my father and I went to the welcome banquet together on Thursday night (pretty lame), and I got in a few easy workouts with some short hard efforts to keep the legs loose and “awake”. Friday we picked up Alice, Gavin, Grady, and my mom from the airport did a big grocery trip, and got settled into our house.
Saturday was filled with typical pre-race-day Ironman prep – packing bags, checking the bike, and organizing my stuff for the next day. It’s always a bit of a PITA to pack the bags the day before, but it certainly makes for an easy raceday morning. I also decided to keep things a bit more relaxed and instead of taking my TT bike out for a ride, I rented a bike through the Chattanooga bikeshare and trekked around the city for a few hours. It worked out really well – I managed to ride much of the run course, do a quick swim in the river, watch the women’s Pro field during their race, all while being reminded to keep a sense of humor (I got some looks from other guys wondering what I was doing on a cityshare bike). Saturday evening was fairly relaxed back at the house with some final race prep, time with the family, and my go-to pre-race meal of potatoes, tuna, and ketchup. I got in bed at a reasonable hour (11ish) and managed to even get about 5 hours of sleep before the 4:45 wakeup.
Race morning I decided to get back on a Chattanooga cityshare bike and ride the 3 miles from our house to the transition area. It worked out well – I got in a little warm-up and didn’t have to worry about driving or parking. I finished my final prep getting bottles on the bike, setting up my Garmin and some final stretching and activation for my low back. Somehow, even with very little to do race morning, I still rand out of time and I got rushed making my way down to the swim start. No matter how well I am prepared before a race, I always seem to find more things to do and find myself scrambling at the last minute!
Being that the swim was a “self-seeded” start, I expected there to be a pretty big push for guys to get as close to the front of the group as possible. I made the decision that it really wasn’t worth it and that I’d get up toward the front, but not get caught up in the stress of trying to get with the fastest (or rather, allegedly fastest) group up front. The start was fairly uneventful, as was most of the swim. As expected, for much of the race, I found myself passing a lot of others – both guys in my age group who seeded themselves too fast, as well as guys from other age groups who had started in front of our group. I felt reasonably well during the swim, but not great. The body felt strong, but I just couldn’t’ seem to get in a good groove – whether it was passing other swimmers, the upstream current, or the sun, I don’t know exactly. It really felt like it was going to be just a so-so swim for me. And when I got out, my watch confirmed it!
T1 was fairly smooth and before I knew it, I was on the 5 mile stretch out of town to headed to Lookout Mountain. I felt okand maintained good power despite the crowded course. The 3 mile climb up Lookout went pretty much as expected, some felt good, while other times I was reminded of the fact it was a 20 minute climb up a 6-9% grade mountain. Looking back, I was a bit disappointed that my legs were not up for pushing harder – I am not sure if there was still some leftover fatigue and that I hadn’t rested quite enough, or if I was just a bit nervous about pushing too hard so early in the race. On reflection, I do wish that I was more aggressive in my efforts in the first part of the bike. That was my plan going into the race and I failed to execute it.
The remainder of the bike including the decent went well. I was stay aggressive on the downhill and managed to gain a fair amount of time. Unfortunately, as seems to be with every big Ironmanrace, drafting was fairly common among other age group athletes. Other than occasionally sitting up to slow down and stay far away from the pack, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done. And as frustrating as it was, after the race was over, another athlete from the Every Man Jack team was kind enough to find me and commend me for being cognizant of the drafting and staying in a legal position. Pretty cool that he took the time to say something.
My bike power was a bit lower than I had hoped – not terribly – but enough to realize it wasn’t going to be a super bike split. I did lose one bottle of fluids/nutrition out on the bike but since I heard that there was a few spots that were really bumpy and some women had lost their bottles the day before, I planned accordingly and took some extra GU packs with me to make up for the loss. For the remaining 5 miles riding back into town, I made the decision to back off the effort a bit more. I certainly didn’t go easy the last few miles, but it was enough to have a bit of a mental and physical break. I knew that my swim was just ok and that my bike was good (not great), so I was willing to sacrifice a little time the last few miles of the bike to see if I could set myself up for a great run.
The run course was probably the most challenging ½ Ironman run course that I have done. With 1,000 feet of elevation gain over the 13.1 miles, it was mostly up and down and up and down. There were a few bridge crossings where the elevation change was not significant, but other than that, you were either going up, or coming down. After several not so successful attempts at correctly pacing my ½ marathon in 2013, 2014, and again in 2016, I think I finally started to understand how absolutely critical it was to take the first ten minutes out at a pace that felt fairly slow. By repeatedly looking down at my watch and my average pace, I was able to calm the nerves, and keep myself in check. Patience, patience, patience, I repeated to myself over and over.
By mile 4, I had settled into a really good pace and seemed to be making up quite a lot of time on other racers. I had yet to be passed by anyone so I made the mental decision that my goal for the remaining 9 miles was to do exactly that – not get passed. It was probably 30 seconds after I came up with my goal that another runner came whizzing by. He put about fifteen or twenty yards on me but as we came to an uphill incline, his pace slowed
a bit (he was much taller so faster on the downhills and I was a bit faster on the uphills) and I pushed hard to get on his heels. And for the remaining 8 miles, that is pretty much where I stayed. On the uphills, I was able to settle into a bit more of a comfortable pace (if you can consider 6:20 while running uphill to be comfortable) and on the downhill, he sped up and I really had to do all that I could to keep him from getting away. This pretty much is how the remainder of the race went – uphills I held strong, downhills I barely held on. It wasn’t until the last 200 yards that I lost his feet – we had a slight downhill to the finish and I just simply couldn’t move any quicker. I crossed the finish line in 4:22 – over 22 minutes slower than my best time – and yet, I was still pretty darn satisfied with the day: I swam ok, biked fairly well, and had the run of my career. The run was one of those hurt-so-good efforts that ended in a satisfying “I have nothing left to give” sort of feelings at the finish line.
I really had no idea where I finished in the field and actually took a few minutes to try and not even bother with figuring out placement. I wanted to let it sink in that I was completely happy with my performances – I did the best I could that day. After a few minutes I did find out that I was 4th in my age group and I was pretty shocked to be honest. My first reaction was that there were likely more guys in my age group who started behind me and were still yet to come in and that I’d end up, at best, in the top ten. I got some food and checked my phone again – it had been fifteen more minutes and I was still listed at 4th!
The rest of the day and weekend was pretty fantastic. Getting to celebrate with Alice, the boys, and my parents, going to the awards banquet and getting my trophy up on the stage, and having a relaxing day on Monday to tour around the city – it all was a whole lot of fun. So too was eating the cheeseburger I had at finish line (I rarely eat red meat), the giant cinnamon bun I ate after the cheeseburger, and the multiple bags of candy after the cinnamon bun! All in all, I think my Facebook post from the awards banquet really summed up my experience:
Watermans ½ Ironman
Going into Chattanooga, I was fairly certain that it would be my last race of the year. I was also fairly certain that it would be my last ½ Ironman for at least a year or so (trying to get in the training for a 70.3 with two young kids is tough!). I was wrong with both of my thoughts! And right after World Championships, I really had no intention of doing anything else. I put in a really hard effort and was extremely satisfied with the outcome. I also learned in 2013 that doing a ½ Ironman as a means of “redemption” after a bad race is not a good idea; nor is a 4-hour race a good idea since it just sounds “fun”. Even still, I had some remaining fitness from all the season’s hard work, and a local race with a flat and potentially super fast course. So, after giving myself two weeks after Chattanooga to settle down and I re-evaluated where I was at and decided to give one more race a go.
For purposes of full disclosure, I had a very specific goal for Watermans: go under 4 hours. I realize that picking a time goal isn’t always the best idea as it puts the success or unsuccessful contingent on things happening that are completely out of your control – weather (wind, heat, rain), water conditions, accuracy of the course distance. But even so, ever since Rev3 Williamsburg ½ last year where I somehow managed to go 3:59, I have wanted to get under 4 hours again. I have had this nagging feeling like I just got lucky and really am not capable of ever repeating or bettering that time. So, bad idea or not, I went into the race with a pretty specific plan of what I needed to do to get under 4hrs.
The swim went well, pretty much up until the part where you are supposed to exit the water. Since it was so windy, the race didn’t have the normal swim exit flags up, and it was extremely hard to find the boat dock where we were to get out. Myself and two other guys who were up front found ourselves treading water looking around and trying to find the pier. Fortunately, we heard some volunteers yelling or us. Not so fortunate was the fact they were a good 300 yards away so we had to backtrack to get to the exit. Looking at my watch, I suspect the whole ordeal was two or three minutes. And while I knew that I didn’t have much time to spare if I was going to break 4 hours, little did I know at the time that those few minutes would be pretty significant.
Transition to the bike went smooth, as did most of the bike itself. My legs felt pretty strong and my back held out for the duration so that I could staying in a good aero position; something critically important since it was fairly windy (seems to happen with most flat courses). I finished the bike feeling strong, but also had looked at my watch a few times and realized that I was about 3 or 4 minutes off of where I needed to be if I were to break 4 hours. I left transition and did a little math, figuring out that I’d have to run a 1:18 ½ marathon if I wanted to meet my goal. Being that my best ever run split was 1:22, I simply didn’t think it was in the cards for me. While I didn’t give up (heck, I was still in first place and wanted to win the $500), I realized that I needed to re-strategize on my race goal. After a few miles, I was feeling pretty strong. My pace was quicker than I had expected, so I decided to see if I could PR my run split and see where that left me. Looking back, I was really pleased with how I executed the run. I started off strong but not too fast, held solid in the middle, and finished the last few miles at a quicker than average pace. I really wasn’t paying much attention at that point to my total time – so when I crossed the finish line in 4:02, I was fairly surprised – I really didn’t’ think I’d even manage to get the time that I did.
Reflecting back on the race was a good reminder that having a goal time presents particular challenges that are out of one’s control. And while I did the best with what I had to work with on race day, I was still a little disappointed that I didn’t accomplish my goal. And although I realize the risks in having a time-based goal, breaking 4 hours is still something that I want to try for again. Although I had zero intention to do any more ½ distance races for a year or two after 2017, the wheels are starting to turn. And my wife pointed out to me that training for a ½ would certainly not be easier when the boys are older and invested in their own weekend activities. Thus, a revisit to a certain hot and flat course in Cambridge, MD may be in my future…. Stay tuned for 2018!