Ironman Texas 2017 Race Report

Often you hear people say “I didn’t quite have the day I expected” – and usually it means that they had a bad day. Well, I had a day that I didn’t expect to have, but for the reason that it actually went better than I expected it to. On the face of it, it looks like I had a great result on very little training. But there is a bit more to it than that, and is a good illustration of what I call a “high priority focus strategy”. Basically, in a nutshell that means I only do the most important things, and pretty much ignore everything else. In this case, that meant highly focused bike training, race-specific run training, and no swimming. Why did I decide these things?

  1. The bike is my strength, and after taking the whole of December off, my FTP was very low and I was not in good biking shape. This would mean that unless I fixed it, my bike would become a liability instead of a strength. So regardless of my race schedule, I focused on getting back into biking shape, initially just by starting to bike regularly.
  2. This year I’m taking a different approach to my run training. Instead of building up a base of high volume easy running, I’d be doing two race pace workouts a week and the rest easy. Race pace being Ironman and 70.3 race pace. I figured that with 2 x Ultramans under my belt in 2016, I already had a solid foundation of slow running in place and I would be better served by focusing on “weekly miles at race pace” instead of just “weekly miles”.
  3. As for the swim, I didn’t see any value in spending many hours in the pool, only to gain 3-5 minutes in an Ironman. So I basically did no swimming (until I decided to enter IMTX, more about that below).

I entered Ironman Texas with 10 days to go, with the goal of doing it as a big supported training day. I’d been considering the event as a part of my schedule but hadn’t actually pulled the trigger. I was focusing the first part of the year on the race weight experiment, where the goal was weight loss and NOT performance. I was almost certainly NOT going to race IMTX. However, during the final 3 weeks of that project (the cake phase), I saw some surprising performance improvements (even though I was not losing weight). My FTP jumped from 281w to 313w, which is a much bigger increase than usual. Granted, 281w is a much lower starting point than usual, but it had been sitting around that level since January with no improvements (which is to be expected when you’re at a constant calorie deficit). That performance gain was a signal that I would at least be able to perform on the bike at IMTX at a reasonable level. With a few long training rides, I could get into shape relatively quickly.  My run shape was ok, but I’d done no long runs. Everything was shorter stuff like 8 x 1 mile repeats @ around 6:45 pace. Certainly not my typical “Ironman training”. I hadn’t run longer than 14 miles between January and April, with a low (but consistent) weekly mileage of around 22 mpw. The main difference with my run training this year is that I have fewer long slow runs, and more medium length runs done at race pace. And a few runs with long slow warm ups, a middle part faster than race pace, and a slow cool down. 

As for swimming, there was pretty much zero. I averaged 1500m of swimming per week, way off the usual 15-20k per week that I do when training properly for an IM. So with 2 weeks to go until race day, my biggest concern was the swim. My swim shape was terrible – on Monday 10th April my 100s were at least 15 seconds slower than what I would consider “race ready” (on some I was struggling to come in on 1:40 which is slow for me) and my 200s were coming in at about 3:25 instead of the 2:55 that I would expect when in good shape. The positive side was that my swim form usually returns quite fast, so my theory was that with 10 days of solid swimming I would be in good enough shape to get through the swim without totally falling apart. I aimed for 4k of swimming per day, every day until the race. On some days I only had time for 2.5k, but on those days I would focus on short, hard reps (like 25s, 50s and 100s), making best use of the time I had available. By Friday 14th April, I felt in good enough shape to join the masters group at CAC Boulder, but I downgraded myself from my usual 1:30 lane to the 1:40 lane because I was not fast enough. I managed to make it through that workout to the end (which was an accomplishment) and then I did 2 big swims over the weekend. On Monday 17th I joined the masters group again, but this time in my normal 1:30 lane. My form suddenly returned and I was hitting 2:45 for my 200s and 1:22 for my 100s. This was very reassuring for race day and I knew that I would be ok on the swim. 

So my *best case* expected times for the race was around 1:05 swim, 4:40 bike and 3:30 run, purely based on how I had been feeling in training. I posted this on our Triforce community group, and one of my athletes (Fred) said he’d send a nice bottle of Brunello if I broke 1:05 on the swim! I’d be thinking about that a lot in the Woodlands Lake!

Here are some of my TP charts Jan-April

 

I did not taper at all. I just didn’t have the fitness base to justify it. I knew there would be 2 light days before the race due to travel, and I accepted that I could be fresh enough with that short break. I would have lost too much fitness had I tapered for longer, and I think it was the right decision. 

Diet wise, I aimed to be at a calorie surplus, and with carb heavy distribution, in the final 2 days before the race. During those days I also do a few short but hard workouts that help to accelerate the glycogen storage. I’m not going to lie, there is nothing I love more than eating a ton of carbs! Not something I get to do very often, and is probably part of the reason I love racing!

This race was also a chance to test out some new gear (literally new gears). I’ve been experimenting with a 1X chainring setup and it worked fantastically. I used a 56t front chainring, with an 11-40 cassette. However I didn’t need all those gears and never went higher than the 21t on the back. But, I will most likely need all those gears for IM Boulder, so I was really just testing that whole setup, and I was pleased with the outcome.

56t 1X setup

My workouts on Thursday and Friday before the race were ok but I didn’t feel on top form. I felt a bit heavy and lethargic, like I do when I’m adapting to a big training block. My hope was that I would come around just in time for race day, so I didn’t worry too much about it. After all, my goal was to just have a big, fully supported training day out there, so I wasn’t overly concerned about being totally tip-top-race-ready.

For once I got a really good sleep the night before, and I woke up fresh and ready to go.  I drove down and found a parking spot at 4:55am, thinking that most people would aim to arrive at 5am. It was a good call – I got a parking spot really easily, and then 5 minutes later all these cars turned up at the same time, all looking for parking while I chilled out listening to some pre-race tunes.

I headed over to T1 and set up my nutrition, pumped my tires and then started the rather long walk to the swim start. This distance should not be underestimated. I thought it was about a mile, but it seemed to take forever to get there. I left transition just after 6am and only got to the start about 3 minutes before the pro men cannon went off (I’m guessing around 6:30?). 

I quickly dropped of my bags and then went through to the front of the swim start group, about 4 rows back. It was non-wetsuit, and I felt I would swim about 60 minutes, based on my rapid improvement over the previous weekend. A few minutes later the cannon sounded, and we started moving into the water. The weird thing is that I didn’t see a timing mat on the water’s edge. Usually with these rolling starts, they have a timing mat there, so your time only starts once you get into the water. They seem to have counted the gun time, not the chip time, which explains why my official swim time was about 15 seconds slower than my garmin swim time. I’m not sure if this is actually what happened, and I hope it is not, because that would mean that the people at the back of the line would be getting falsely slower swim times than they should.

I felt quite good during the swim, and everyone around me looked like good swimmers, which is usually a good sign that I’m having a good swim. I went through 2km in 30 min flat, so I thought I was well on track for my 60 min time and securing that bottle of Brunello. However we then turned into the canal, on the way to the finish line, and that just seemed to take forever. I exited the water in 1:04:45, plus about 10 seconds to get to the timing mat, and I crossed the line with a garmin time of 1:04:58 – 2 seconds to spare for Brunello time! Of course due to the whole gun-time vs chip-time thing, I was actually 2 seconds slower than Fred’s Brunello Benchmark, but I’d only found that out after I finished.

T1 was super smooth. I pulled on my sleeves and put on my helmet as I ran to the change tent, so the only thing I had to do once in there was take off the bottom part of my swimskin, and grab some nutrition out of the bag. I took one Glukos gel (they are nice and liquid so no need to wash down with water) and I put a pouch of Powerbar energy blasts (200 calories) down the front of my top. I saw Derk (one of my athletes) right behind me. He usually swims 58/59 minutes, so I felt better about my 1:05 swim. Little did I know he was thinking the same thing about me. So basically we were both feeling reassured by our mutual poor swim performance! Derk ended up going sub 9, so his swim didn’t matter much after all. Anyway so I got my bike, ran down the muddy field, and hopped on at the mount line with no issues. I rode easy for the first 5 minutes while eating the bag of cola blasts, adjusting my sleeves and various other housekeeping tasks, and then got down to the business of riding!

As per usual, I attracted  “Kona guy” – that’s one of those riders that muscles past you with a grimace on his face (sometimes out of the saddle sprinting) and then slows down in front of you. You then pass him, and he doesn’t want to be passed, so he passes you again and then slows down. And so on and so forth – those of you who’ve raced Kona know that guy. Eventually I just let him go past and I sat 12m behind him until the 50 mile mark. The effort felt too easy for me, but it was less taxing than playing a ridiculous cat and mouse game for a few hours! Once we got to the far turnaround, I put down the gas a bit and dropped him, and then I was alone for the rest of the bike.

photo credit Aaron Palaian

I knew I was doing ok when I was only seeing FPRO and the occasional struggling MPRO (like fellow Ultraman Peter Kotland). After I got off the highway for the final 7 miles, I could see a group of riders ahead of me. At first I thought it was the front of the AG race, but when I finally passed them it was actually the front group of female pros. To avoid a drafting penalty I had to take the whole group in one shot, which was a pretty hard 40 second effort. A bit further up the road I passed eventual female winner Jodi Robertson, who was riding quite hard and seemed extremely comfortable. 

With the course being a bit short (110 miles), T2 snuck up on me unexpectedly – I went around a corner and suddenly it was there. Since I hadn’t looked at the course at all, I had no idea it was there, so I hadn’t unclipped my feet yet. That made for a slightly awkward dismount, but I sorted it out quickly and made my way to the empty change tent.

I’m really happy with the pacing and power distribution of my ride:
Total: 4:31, 240w NP, 233w AP, VI 1.03, 265 TSS, .77 IF
1st 90 minutes: 233w NP (goal was to start at 234w and take it from there)
2nd 90 minutes: 241w NP (feeling good)
3rd 90 minutes: 247w NP (finished nice and strong)

I got my run stuff on quickly and headed out the tent.  Jodie blitzed transition, and exited about 20 seconds ahead of me. I was aiming to start at 7:45-8:00 pace, but went through mile 1 in 6:50. It felt super easy so I just stuck with it and continued to run by feel. One by one the female pros ran past me – it was fun to watch their race unfolding in front of me and I could see right away which ones were going to run well. 

By mile 10 my average pace was 7:24 – and I was momentarily tempted to shoot for a sub 9. With a rough mental calculation I figured that 7:30 pace average would get me done around 3:15 and sneak under the 9 hour mark. But somehow my special needs stop slowed me down a bit and by 11 miles my average was around 7:40. So I just resumed my goal of treating it as a big training day and continued running by feel. By the way, the special needs was worth it, with a Starbucks Frappucino waiting for me there (it’s good cold, it’s good hot too, so a win-win no matter what the weather!).

Derk passed me at around mile 11 and he was looking great! He ended up running 3:01 – the slacker couldn’t find another 90 seconds somewhere!??? Although he might say the same about my 4:31 bike split… but on a serious note, it’s so rewarding having an athlete that you coach outperform you on race day, in fact so much more than performing well yourself.

For the rest of the run I just hung in there and tried to keep moving forward at a relatively slow run pace. I was just happy to not be walking, especially given my lack of long runs. 

The Woodlands run course is now one of my favorites. Ok it’s on concrete path for most of the time, but the route varies a lot between running through shaded woods and along the crowd-dense canal path, and there is so much support! One of my Ultraman athletes (Amy) was out volunteering so I got to see her multiple times which was fantastic. I also saw her hubby John a few times – he was at this area called catapult corner which is just an insane part of the course – so much crowd atmosphere you can’t help but the “catapulted” through there. 

Just before the finish, I saw Brian, another of my athletes who was on his second lap. I was happy to see him looking strong and I knew he was going to make it. There was a little doubt a few weeks back when we was struck with illness for 3 weeks, but he pulled through on the day and made it in for a strong finish. 

They say a bit part of endurance racing is the mental aspect, and I have to say that racing Ultraman set me up to be able to finish this race on much less training than I should have done. My total quad failure at Ultraman Worlds was still fresh in my mind, so any discomfort I experienced during the IMTX was inconsequential compared to that. By comparing the pain in my mind, IMTX seemed really comfortable, whereas before I think I would have experience it as a much higher level of discomfort/pain. 

Crossing the finish line, I had no idea what place I was or what my time was, but I thought I was somewhere in the top 7 or 8. It was therefore with huge surprise that I discovered that I’d finished 3rd. With 10 slots in M40-44 (which ended up being 11 with a re-allocation) I had made my 5th year consecutive KQ with a surprisingly low degree of preparation on the face of it. However, as I said if you dig a little deeper, you can see the benefit of FOCUS. From January through April, my focus was heavily on regaining bike fitness, and focusing run training almost exclusively on race pace. Pretty much zero swimming, because for me the difference between swimming and not swimming is about 5 minutes. But with the bike focus, I was able to comfortably lay down a great bike split and set myself up for a comfortable KQ with a relatively average run (I’d say to KQ in 40-44 you should at least be able to run a 3:30). In fact everyone in the top 10 of the AG (except me) ran under 3:25.

I was obviously very happy with this result. I felt I executed very well and on top of that it was a great training day. Next IM will be Boulder in June, which will be a chance to experiment with a few more things. Right now, I’m thinking of doing a focused run block and seeing where that gets me for Boulder. Plus, of course, my swim has now come back (even though the IMTX result doesn’t reflect that) so I will maintain it by swimming almost every day.

Ultraman Worlds is still my A race, so Kona will be a big training day for that. You can expect me to be in good swim shape, very good bike shape, and I hope to be in Ultraman run shape by October. That will mean a fast swim/bike and a steady but somewhat slow run (but hopefully better than my very consistent 3:30 Kona run split – I’ll be happy with 3:15)

Finally, everyone expects to see a nutrition report in my race reports. I will actually do a dedicated post on that, but here is the summary:

Race week: no low carb like I usually do, mainly because I didn’t taper, and I needed to support my training load right up to the end. So high carb and pretty healthy food. Big carb load Thursday and Friday, with a decent proportion of my newfound carb load food “Angel Food Cake”. Day before race day, I had the traditional burger and fries but no beer this time (didn’t feel like it).

Race day: Oatmeal (pre soaked night before). Bagel with almond butter and honey. 4 x Ensure shake (not all at once). No food after 4:30am up to race start at 6:40am.

T1: 1 x Glukos gel sachet (they are great, no need for water).

Bike: 2600 calories (4.5 hours). About 570 per hour (probably 550 once you account for spillage). Glukos energy drink, Powerbar cola blasts, 2 packets black forest organic gummy worms (in Boulder it is well known that organic gummy worms are much faster than regular ones), and then my big calorie mix of maltodextrin, fructose a50 nd ginger beer. All liquids in Torpedo and CX Chrono bottle on the downtube.

Run: 650 calories so 185 per hour. I’m not really able to take in much more than that while running. Glukos energy shots, Glukos energy tabs, Glukos energy gels, and a Starbucks Double Shot Mocha drink (in a can from special needs bag).

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

I woke up on day 3 with pretty sore legs, not exactly how you want to feel before a double marathon! I had a light breakfast of rice pudding, and a packet of UCAN just before the run start.

With a 5 minute deficit to Inaki, and only 40 minutes ahead of Tony, I had to decide on a race strategy. I had trained for 2 possible options: the conservative option would be if I had a big lead going into day 2 – I’d start super easy around 8:00 min/mile down from Hawi, and then settle into an easy/steady pace along the Queen K. The aggressive option would be to run at my “non suicidal” sustained limit down from Hawi (around 7:15 pace) and then settle into 8:00 pace once on the Queen K.

The decision between the 2 strategies really came down to my goal. If I wanted to win, I should adopt the all-or-nothing approach. If I wanted a safe podium, I should adopt the conservative approach. To be honest, in my mind Tony was the real threat. If we each had our best day, he would run close to 6:30 and I would run close to 7:00. I knew Inaki’s best day would be around the 7:00 mark too. To be honest, I really thought Inaki’s big performance on day 2 would hurt his day 3 run. So, knowing my own limits well, I opted to start at around 7:15 pace and see how things unfolded over the first half marathon. I was there to win, and I would rather give it everything I had, blow up and come 10th, than be conservative and come 2nd or 3rd.

To my surprise, my legs started feeling really good after the first 5k. Jochen and I were running exactly the same pace, on target for my planned 7:15 / mile effort. We went through the first half marathon in around 1:40, Tony was about 2 minutes ahead, and Inaki was 7 minutes behind. This gave me a lot of confidence that I had chosen the right plan. It seemed like I was keeping Tony at bay, and that Inaki was paying for his day 2 effort.

Down from Hawi - feeling good!

Down from Hawi – feeling good!

Jochen and I passed through the marathon mark together in 3:29 and I was still feeling good. I was on the Queen K, and I was mostly a little faster than planned (about 7:45 instead of the planned 8:00 pace). My legs were still sore, but they were not getting any worse, so I just kept going. My nutrition was on track at 300 calories per hour and I was feeling strong. It was also apparently up to 85 degrees now out in the lava fields, but I still felt cool. I was just drinking normally and everything felt good.

Still feeling strong

Still feeling strong

Jochen started slowing down around mile 28, so I went off solo for a while. Then at mile 38, it was like I was suddenly hit with a sledgehammer. Every single step felt like someone was chiseling away at my quads. I could not help but slow down to manage the pain. A short while after cresting the scenic point hill, Inaki passed me. I knew I was only going to get slower from then on, so I knew the win was now out of reach unless he completely blew up. I also knew he would be spurred on after taking the lead, and that blowing up was not likely.  It then became all about pain management for me. I would get to the finish line, I just needed to make sure I could actually still move forward in order to get there. The final 12 miles was mostly spent walking, with a bit of running thrown in. It was the most painful 12 miles of my life, but eventually I got to the “99 mile marker” which is the turn off the Queen K onto Makala drive. I stopped to let Ian take a picture of this momentous milestone, before jogging to the finish line. To my surprise, I crossed the finish line to finish 2nd overall, with just 4 minutes to spare over Tony.

Finally done!

Finally done! Ian and Chris managed to get me there in one piece!

I have no regrets over my decision to race hard. To be honest, I’m sure my quads would have also died with the conservative strategy, probably just a few miles later. I gave it everything I had in me over 3 days, but on this weekend Inaki just executed a really superb race.

Instead, it has given me significant insights into how I can better prepare for this race. I did do a lot of downhill running in training, but I don’t think it was enough. So over the winter I’m going to do a big run block to lay the foundation for some epic run training next summer. Then, I’m going to do very frequent long downhill runs in order to prepare my quads for the stress of this race. Plus, I’m going to spend a lot more time in the gym over winter working on strength (both for the run, and to prevent those post-swim glute cramps).

In conclusion, this race is simply amazing. I’ve been to Kona 3 times before this, but my experience those times was just a sliver of what the island has to offer. The Ironman takes place on the most boring part of the island, whereas Ultraman takes you on a crazy whirlwind tour of everything this spectacular place has to throw at you. Even if I had come last, I would have been so happy to be a part of this experience. May it be the first of many to come!

Here is the strava flyby for day 3


 

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 2

We left Hilo at 5am, all the way up to Volcano for the 6:30 start. After a bit of circling around we found the start line. Basically, the whole downhill section is a no-feed zone, so crews just drop off their athletes and then drive back down the mountain. It was pretty cold, and fortunately for me, my crew member Ian Hersey had come prepared with a rain jacket and gloves for me. Given that all my previous trips to Hawaii were for the Ironman, the thought of cold weather never even entered my mind. Anyway, that’s what a good crew does!

Being the first finisher on day 1 meant I got to start right at the front. My race plan for the day was to start at a moderately hard pace, mainly to prevent anyone making a kamikaze break off the front and forcing me to chase on a wet & sketchy downhill. That tactic worked, with only Tony O’ Keefe making a pass in the first few minutes. This was really good for me, since he has ridden these roads many times before, and it was my first time ever seeing them. So I just followed Tony all the way to the bottom of the hill. It started raining pretty hard on the way down, so once again I thanked Ian (in my head) for bringing the rain jacket and gloves. As we neared the bottom of the hill, Tony and I were approaching a green light. I put in a surge to draw up alongside him in case it turned on us. My prediction came true, and we just scraped through as it was turning orange. Next we made a right turn at the Ace Hardware, and were met with a red light where I stopped to remove my camelbak and rain gear. Chris was standing at the light, so I just dropped my camelbak with him. Next thing Inaki came through and didn’t see the red light. He was almost taken out by a large pickup truck, but fortunately it saw him and stopped before squashing him. I was so amazed by what had just happened that I forgot to remove my rain jacket and gloves, then the light went green so I just rode on. I’d just have to try and undress on the fly over the next few miles! They say never try anything new on race day, and I realized now that I had not practiced undressing while riding my tri bike. I can easily ride my road bike with no hands, but the tri bike is a different story completely. I resorted to riding one handed, and pulling the clothes off with a combination of contortionism and using my teeth as a temporary hand. I managed to get one sleeve off the rain jacket, and then Ian ran next to me performing an excellent “sleeve yank” to get the other one off. Success! Next was my tight long sleeve Fusion aero top, which I had underneath the rain jacket. That was a bit more difficult but we managed to use the same technique to remove it a few miles later. Lastly, the gloves came off (literally and figuratively) pretty easily and then I was fully undressed for the day.

Tony, Inaki and I were all riding together at the front for most of the next section.  My plan was to just stay with those guys all the way into Hilo, where there is a series of traffic lights. My only goal was to not get left behind at a red light while someone else got through in front of me. As it turned out, I unintentionally made a break and created a small lead of around 2 minutes.

Just before the red road section there is a long descent; I rode it in an aero tuck without using the brakes at all, and by the time I got to the bottom Tony and Inaki were nowhere in sight behind me. So I entered the red road section (which is also a no feed / no crew zone) completely alone, with a gap ahead of the other guys that I had not intended to create.

The red road is just gorgeous. It’s a rollercoaster road under a canopy of tropical foliage, running right next to the ocean with virtually no traffic.

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I just rode steady through this section, and then eased off on the way back into Hilo, seeing if the guys would catch up and ride with me for a bit. I made it through most of the Hilo lights, and got caught at 3 reds, which I thought was a good result. I steadily made my way out of Hilo and started the rolling section towards the Hakalau bridge, where there is a one-way closure for bridge repairs. I was still 1.5-2 minutes ahead of Inaki at this stage, but then got stuck at the red light. I was at the light for a few minutes, and Inaki drew up alongside me just before it turned green. After that we rode together for a bit, at a pretty decent effort. I could tell he was trying to drop me since he was riding harder than we had ridden up the Volcano yesterday (when I’d put 7 minutes into him). I just kept it steady and let him stay in front of me. I knew I could ride a long way at that power, and I thought he would struggle to sustain it (based on the previous day). We rode together for over 40 minutes, and then he put in some big surges. I was riding over 300 watts to stay with him (350+ on the surges), which I knew for me would be too much to sustain, so eventually I just let him go, thinking that he would blow up further down the line. I clearly underestimated him, but I have no regrets about my decision; I had to ride within my own capability, stick to my own race, and chasing him would have been a mistake for me.

That next section, from the 3 gulches (wow, much beauty!) all the way up to Waimea, was a tough section for me. It took 1:41 and I only averaged 211 watts (about 25 watts lower than my typical Ironman power). I knew I needed to save something for the tough Kohala mountain climb, so it felt like I was riding at the limit of what was sensible for me at that point. During that section Inaki put 17 minutes into me. I thought it was suicidal, but it turns out that it was a great move on his part. He obviously was very familiar with that section and knew exactly what his limits were.

Mile 125 heading to Waimea

Mile 125 heading to Waimea

As I passed through Waimea, I readied myself for the big climb. I felt good, my nutrition was on track and I was ready to put in a final big effort. I had trained to hit this hill close to 300 watts, but the most I could muster was around 240 watts for the 30 minute effort. Although this was below target, I managed to claw back about a minute from Inaki on the climb.

Climbing the Kohalas

Climbing the Kohalas

Then came the most exhilarating section of the entire course – a 13.5 mile descent down into Hawi – it’s a super fast descent with some gusty winds in some parts. I hit 50 mph down there, once again very thankful that I was riding a 303 up front. I managed to make up another 60 seconds on this section, but still ended 15 minutes behind Inaki, making his overall lead around 5 minutes.

day2-finish

 Chris washed the bike while I showered and refueled. I ate a whole tub of rice pudding, a snickers, 2 marmite sandwiches, a bottle of pomegranate juice and I was still famished! We drove down the mountain and ate some lunch at Cafe Pesto in Kawaihae, before checking into the Mauna Lani for the night. I had a good recovery session in the hot tub overlooking the beach, before heading up to the room for a good night’s sleep.

Strava Flyby for day 2 lets you see how great Inaki’s move was

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 1

In my previous post, I talked about how I prepared for this race. Now, race day was upon us!

I was happy to wake up feeling good. I had felt nauseous and bloated since my flight on Monday, but I felt ok now and could stomach a bowl of oatmeal and some toast. We drove the 10 minutes to Kona pier and I got out to get ready. Then I realized that I’d already made my first mistake and left all my swim nutrition at the house. No problem, Chris “The Transporter” Blick spun the tires, did a few handbrake turns, and was back with my bottles in a flash. I talked to John my swim escort for a bit and then put on my wetsuit, had a drink of water and headed down the steps and into the water. I made my way to the front and then did some deep breathing to fully relax and get totally calm before the start. I don’t warm up at all for a 10k swim, since you can just do that during the first km! Steve King counted us down and then we were off!

Ready to roll in my Roka sleeveless

Ready to roll in my Roka sleeveless suit

You basically swim the first 6 miles of the Ironman run course; from the pier down to the Kona Surf Hotel at Keauhou. My plan was to swim nice and easy, and keep the leaders somewhere within sight. There can be some fast swimmers at this race, and I didn’t want to let them get too much of a lead. However, with 5 minutes I noticed that it was in fact ME that was in the lead. I double checked my effort to make sure I was going easy enough, but I still continued to build a lead.

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I went through the Kona Ironman turnaround in about 27 minutes, which is about the same I do there (for some reason I’m always a bit slower on the return leg), so I knew I was going at a decent pace, even though the effort was moderate. I went through the first Ironman distance (3.8km) in 54:49 which was faster than I expected. This is about the same pace I swim “moderately easy” in a pool with a wetsuit or sim shorts, so I knew that we at least had neutral current, or perhaps even a slightly favorable current.  I took a feed at that point (Glukos Energy Drink) and noticed that there were about 3 or 4 swimmers about 50-100m behind me. At the same time, I got stung in the face by some jellyfish, which gave me a bit of extra energy! The jellyfish sting also resulted in a more tucked chin i.e. I was looking directly down with my chin tucked into my neck, to shield my face from direct contact. That also most likely resulted in a good body position. Ok, so fueled by venom, I upped the tempo a bit, and by the 6km mark the chasers had dropped off quite a bit further. I went through the second Ironman mark in 54:54, so pace was still very consistent. For the final 2.5km I really gave it all I had left in the tank. We must have had a slight head current since the pace slowed a bit, even though I was swimming as hard as possible.

I was super happy to be first out the water in 2:29, and also to have dipped under the 2:30 mark, which is a big milestone for me in 10km race time.


Kate was not far behind, I could see her getting out of the water as I was getting on my bike. I opted to swim in bike shorts under the wetsuit, and put on a Castelli T1 aero top in T1, with one of the main reasons being that I could tape my number on prior to the race and not get it wet during the swim. I also chose to wear socks and my regular bike shoes, mainly for comfort, plus I had done most of my long rides with those.  I did take a bit too long to get the top on, but I guess that happens if you’re my size and trying to get into a size “S”!!! One thing I would do differently next time, is spend some time putting some more chamois cream on. The water there is super salty, and it got pretty abrasive later on in the ride.

Since I’ve had previous issues with a cramping glute when getting out of the water, I had a vial of HotShots waiting with my crew. Chris asked if I wanted it, and I said no because I felt ok. Boy, did things change fast about 200m into the bike! BOTH glutes just seized up completely, and I was hardly able to pedal at all. To give you an idea, in training I was comfortably hitting about 280 watts up the first hill, and now I could only manage 188 watts (whilst screaming out in pain!). Fortunately, I’ve experienced this several times in other races, so I knew that it would eventually come right.

I still don’t know what causes these cramps. The only thing I can think of is that during the swim my core is very engaged, and since all my swimming is in a pool, my muscles are used to getting short rests when I flip turn. I’m thinking I should figure out some yoga poses that can strengthen these muscles in the right way (cobra, upward plank etc.)

As you can see, this swim position engages a fair amount of "core"

As you can see, this swim position engages a fair amount of “core”

So, I’m weaving up the climb at 180 watts, shouting out in pain, when fortunately my crew drove past and I waved them down. Chris gave me the HotShots (a freebie with most Ironman swag bags these days) and within about 10 minutes the severe pain had subsided. At least I could pedal now, but still not able to get into the aero position. Near the crest of the hill, Kate caught up to me and passed me. She’s a pretty strong rider and took the lead for a while. As she rode past, I noticed that she was riding a deep wheel on the front. I’m not sure if she checked the forecast, but we were due to be hit by SUPER WINDS later in the day. Personally I had opted for a Zipp 303 NSW, which I’m confident in riding in any conditions. Right now, conditions felt perfect for an 808, so I hoped that I had been accurate in my weather assessment.

After about 30 minutes I could finally get my glutes stretched out and was able to get into aero. As soon as we hit the first series of downhills, I dropped Kate pretty quickly. I’m probably 20kg heavier than her, plus I was a lot more aero, so it did not require a ton of effort to make up time on the descents. I was mostly at around 35 mph which is not that fast, but the conditions of the roads didn’t really allow much faster on that. Day 2 would be a different story, with many occasions for 50mph+ on the descents.

I didn’t see anyone else for the rest of day 1 (besides  my crew, and my Mom and Dad who had come over all the way from SA). As we turned west along the southern end of the island, we were hit with brutal headwinds. I say headwinds, but any slight turn in the road meant an effective change of wind direction. So it was actually difficult to predict where the wind was going to hit you, making handling very tough on the descents. I would be weighting my body in one direction and suddenly the wind would hit from the other direction.

A little bit of wind!

A little bit of wind!

Here is a video of Bob Babbitt trying to say something without much success!



The wind was so strong that I got hit by a tree branch that was being blown across the road like tumbleweed. It was unlike any conditions I’ve ridden in before!

 

Mile 71

Mile 71

 

Once the climb to Volcano started, I suddenly saw Inaki’s crew pull up alongside me. I knew then he must be close. A bit later I saw my crew and they told me he was 3 minutes back. It was time to dig a bit deeper! I went out of cruise mode and into “Ironman race pace mode”. I could only sustain that for about 30 minutes, before I eased off a bit, back to “long ride moderate pace” for the remainder of the day. I was opening up the gap every time I got a new split, so I just continued the same effort up to the end. By the time I crossed the line, I’d rebuilt a bit of a lead, back to 10 minutes. I was very happy with my effort, as well as the fact that I now had a sense for my opponent’s efforts and what they could sustain for long periods (or so I thought!).

Upon crossing the line, I did a short interview with slowtwitch and a short video interview with Bob Babbitt (unfortunately poncho man was left behind in Kona, presumably having more pressing ukelele-playing commitments).

 


Strava Flyby for day 1 let’s you see how things unfolded between Inaki and me

 

I spent a few minutes getting is some recovery fuel (half a bottle of tart cherry juice, 2 marmite sandwiches that my Mum had made, and a rice pudding),  then had a quick shower and jumped into the car for the trip down to Hilo where we were staying. In retrospect, I should have stopped at McDonalds for a few burgers on the way. If I analyze my post-race fueling, I did just fine on calories and carbs, but I could probably have upped the protein a bit, since when I got to day 3 my legs were sore; something that is not very common during training. Also, if you’re eating a high % of carbohydrate it’s actually pretty difficult to get in enough calories, so you need to get in some fat and protein once that initial 2 hour fueling window is done. A good refueling plan would be high carb for about 2 hours, then add in some more normal foods including a decent amount of fat and protein, then a dinner with a good amount of fat and protein, with a high carb meal just before bed.

Recovery session

Recovery session

We had a crew recovery session in the hot tub and then got an early night, ready for day 2.


2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 2
2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Preparation

This is how I trained during race week!

This is how I trained during race week!

I’ve had Ultraman Hawaii as my goal A race for a few years now. The reason I did Ultraman Florida was to guarantee my entry into the race. There is a wildcard/waitlist option, but with that you only find out in August if you’re racing in November. Since I knew that more prep would be required, I went down the traditional route of doing a qualifying race.

The added benefit of having done Ultraman Florida is that I had a very tangible idea of what was involved in the dynamics of such a race, the training required, and logistics of a 3 day event with a support crew.

My training for Florida and Hawaii were vastly different. For Florida, I had to train over the cold Colorado winter, so I got by on the absolute minimum, averaging just under 15 hours per week in the 3 months prior to race day. For Hawaii I could prepare during the Boulder summer, and got the double benefit of many sunlight hours, as well as pretty hot conditions throughout.

Final 3 months Florida Hawaii
Peak CTL 126.8 167.1
Hours per week (avg/max) 15/24 21/28
Run miles per week (avg/max) 30/55 41/91
Swim yard per week (avg/max) 9000 12000/25000
Bike hours per week (avg/max) 8/17 12/23
Training load for UMFL vs UMWC

Training load for UMFL vs UMWC

Training structure
Swim: 
I didn’t really do much different to regular Ironman swim training, except for a single 11k swim. Everything was 5k or less, usually about 4k. I did place a big focus on strength (lots of paddles, plus work on the vasa indoor trainer). In the final 3 weeks, many workouts were only 2-3k but high intensity and lots of paddles. In most races this year my swim has been pretty good, so I didn’t see the need to spend a lot of time on it.

Run: In the final build I had at least 6 weeks of more than 55 miles per week, and a single big 91 mile week. I trained on similar terrain to Hawaii, but based on what happened on race day, I don’t feel that I did enough long downhill running at a fast pace. Next year I will be sure to do much more of that.

Bike: I did several long rides over 140 miles, and a lot of shorter riding at higher intensities. I’m happy with my bike prep and there is not much I would change at all.

Nutrition: I have my race nutrition pretty much dialed in, so the new focus was all around daily recovery. I spent a lot of time at CU Sports Medicine, experimenting with different refueling strategies and measuring glycogen levels for each one. The LCHF people will have a heart attack reading this, but I now know that I am able to eat 1000g of carbohydrate in the 18 hour window between stages and pretty much replenish my glycogen stores!

Equipment choices

Swim – Hawaii is wetsuit legal, and I went with a Roka Maverick Pro sleeveless suit, which is no longer in production but was kindly dug out of the warehouse by the Roka guys and given to me for this race. This was a superb choice – it was not too warm and without the sleeves I had plenty of mobility with zero shoulder fatigue.

For goggles I went with Aquasphere Kayenne which I find really comfy and have great visibility. I treated them with the new Sven Can See anti fog formula, which I chose because it’s durable and I knew would enable clear vision for the whole 10km swim.

Bike – of course I was riding the Dimond, with an identical spare bike provided by Chris (which happened to be the one I ended up riding in Florida). The main changes compared to Florida was no disc wheel (not allowed) so I used a Zipp 808 with a Zipp 303 NSW on the front. I also had a Zipp 808 NSW front wheel but I never ended up using it due to the insanely crazy winds we had. I also used Enve extensions instead of the original 3T extensions that I previously used. That allowed a slightly more controlled, albeit less aggressive position on the bike. Having now completed Hawaii, I’d say that stability and handling should always be the primary consideration. The conditions you experience are significantly worse that what you would have experienced in the Kona Ironman if you’ve done that. Bottle choice was an XLAB Torpedo for hydration and an aero bottle on the downtube for calories.

Run – I wore an Under Armour heatgear compression top (which was great), north face better than naked shorts, and 3 pairs of Hoka One One running shoes – Valor, Clifton and Clayton (not at the same time of course, that would be ridiculous). Oakley Jawbreaker PRIZM provided the eye protection (wow, amazing eyewear!) and socks were courtesy of Feetures.

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 1
2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 2
2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

Also, check out the Training Bible Podcast Interview

106West Race Review

I’m calling this a “race review” rather than a “race report”, because it was the first time that this event was run, and most people who read this won’t care about how my race went, but rather things that I learned from doing this race.

This is the world’s highest triathlon, starting at over 9000ft with a 1.2 mile swim in Lake Dillon, a beautiful lake just a stone’s throw away from the Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. After the swim, it’s a tough 56 mile bike ride that starts off flat, then climbs up Montezuma Road to 10,200ft before returning to Dillon for a second lap. The run is mostly flat, on a bike path around the gorgeous lake. The race starts late (9:15am) which is AWESOME. It’s so great to not have to get up super early.

Due to the elevation, tough bike course, and potential for bad weather, there were many questions in the lead up to this race:

  • How cold will the swim be?
  • Given the high elevation, what’s a good pacing strategy for the swim?
  • Is a road bike or tri bike better?
  • What clothing is required?

Water temp: The water was cold. I’m guessing in the 50s (F). If you’ve done Oceanside, it was a bit colder than that. If you’ve done Couer d’Alene, it was almost as cold as that. We were allowed to wear booties and gloves but I chose not to, and I was fine. If the race was longer, I would probably wear them. I also did not wear a neoprene cap, but it probably would have been a good idea, certainly no downside in doing so.

Swim Pacing: I deliberately tired to start slowly, but it was still too fast. I had watched the earlier waves come out the water, and everyone looked drunk. At the first turnaround, I experienced a strange sensation that I’ve never had before. I got very dizzy and felt like I was going to black out. At that point I was in the front pack in the wave, about 100 meters in front of the main pack, so I just stopped, then did breaststroke for a while until I felt better. I started swimming again, but much slower than before. It’s a 2-lap swim, and at the end of the first lap the main pack had caught an overtaken me. I just let them go, mainly because I didn’t feel like dying that day. By the end of the swim, my main thought was how happy I was that it was not an Ironman.

Road vs Tri bike: I brought both bikes with me, but I did not pre-ride the course. Basically, the course is flat and rolling up until Keystone. Then you climb and descend Montezuma Rd. I ended up choosing a tri bike, and I was fine on that. If you’re a terrible bike handler you may wish to choose a road bike. I don’t think a road bike would’ve been much slower for me. The main thought was that the road bike might enable me to descend faster, but I did test the descent the following day on my road bike and it was slower than my tri bike.

Here is a video I shot of the descent. You can see it starts a bit technical, and the road surface is not great. But nothing super bad.

The one amazing thing about this race was the road closure. We had 3 lanes for the bike, 2 full lanes and a shoulder, plus an empty lane between bikes and cars. And Montezuma was 100% closed to traffic. So probably the safest bike course I’ve ever raced on.

Pacing wise, I couldn’t ride very hard. To my legs it felt easier than Ironman effort. My power meter wasn’t working so I don’t know for sure, but based on feel it was easier than IM and I would estimate I rode around 220 watts (Ironman I ride about 240, half ironman usually about 260). Every time I rode harder than that, I’d feel a bit dizzy and disoriented (presumably the altitude). But it was a fun course and a pleasure to ride.

On the run, I had another weird sensation. Every time I ran faster than 8:00 / mile I would be super out of breath. In comparison, I’d have to run close to 6:00 / mile at sea level to be breathing the same way. It’s weird because your legs are ok, your breathing is just crazy. But I just slowed down and enjoyed the run – it’s so beautiful and what a pleasure to be able to run with that scenery!

What I’d do differently:

  • Well, it probably wasn’t a good idea to spend the week before at sea level in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort!
  • We were very lucky with the weather. I would have been totally unprepared if it was cold. I had no gloves or jacket. I would definitely pack winter gloves and an extra warm top, and if it was cold I’d change into that in T1. I’d also pack a warm skullcap to wear under my helmet. At a minimum, these warm clothes and gloves would be nice to have in the morning before the race, even if the weather is good.

Will I be back next year? Of course if the schedule allows! What a great race and superbly organized. But if you’re coming from sea level, be prepared to dial back your effort and enjoy the day!

Ironman Boulder 2016 Race Report

Total: 10:12

1:00 Swim  (good)
4:55 Bike:  (started great, ended bad!)
4:11 Run/Walk (started well, then went downhill/uphill? from there)

image credit: Michelle Gray Photography

image credit: Michelle Gray Photography

I have to say, it’s pretty awesome doing a race in your home town. I get to train on every part of the course whenever I like, I can sleep in my own bed and eat my own food. There is no bike transport, and everything is easy to get ready. On top of that, I know many of the volunteers, supporters and other athletes. So it’s a lot of fun and not much stress at all!

Since I had already turned down a Kona slot at IMAZ, and I wasn’t planning on taking one here either (although I did think about it), my main goal of the race was to have a big training day, and go sub 9 hours. I was also going to ride the bike pretty hard, as to make the run a bit harder. Using bestbikesplit.com I calculated that something in the region of 4:25  would be achievable on around 250 watts. This was close to the bike course record, so I had that in the back of my mind as a goal. I programmed the course into my Garmin so that it would give me the ETA while I was racing, to see if I was on target for the time goal.

My day started very early. Despite living less than 3 miles from the start, it was mandatory for all athletes to take a shuttle from Boulder High School. So I had to get a taxi 8 miles to get to the shuttles, then get a shuttle all the way back to the swim start. I woke up at 3am, had 3 scoops of UCAN plus a serving of Isopure Colombian coffee whey protein. I had a small amount of oatmeal but I had zero appetite so couldn’t get much down. The zTrip (taxi) arrived at 3:45am, a seemingly cool Rastafarian driver chilling to the beats of Bob Marley as we set off towards downtown. However, not all was as it seemed. This guy kept on randomly swerving his car, accelerating and decelerating, and braking, despite us being the only vehicle on the road. Soon we came up on two yellow school busses that were side-by-side… fortunately for us a 12 foot gap opened up in between them, which coincidentally was exactly the length of the taxi, so no problem we squeezed through!  I wondered if I’d actually make it to the start line in one piece… then lucky for me the road was blocked so I could get out and walk the 2 blocks to the High School.

I first put my frozen bottle in my run bag, then dropped off my special needs run bag before getting into the school bus. It was a short ride to the swim start, and I arrived around 4:45am. There was plenty of time to pump tires, set up nutrition and then chill out before the start. I hung out with Chris Blick (ex Dimond now Roka) until the start, and it was cool to see my athlete Amy Craft who was also using this race as an Ultraman training day. Her husband John was already practicing his crewing duties, with a backpack full of water, gatorade and athletic-friendly snacks. He even gave me a bottle of water which saved me a long walk over to the athlete water area (thanks John!).

rob-chris-im-boulder

Me and Chris – ready to rock

Chris and I headed over to the swim start at about 6am, and quickly dipped in the res to get some water in the wetsuits. Then we just hung out until the start. I saw Conrad Rodas a few minutes before the start – I let him go right to the front since I knew even with an all-out effort he’d be too fast for me. I also saw a guy that beat me in the previous weekend’s Bare Bones 3 mile swim (Andy Freeman), but I knew I could swim with him so I stood just behind him.

 

Me looking serious. Chris not so much

Me looking serious. Chris not so much

At 6:20 the cannon sounded and we were off. I started a few rows back to let the really fast guys go. Since we hadn’t warmed up I started as easy as I could, just to try and settle into it on Andy’s feet. For the most part I had very little contact, but a few hundred meters in, Andy stopped suddenly (presumably google malfunction), then gave a huge breaststroke kick right into my face with his heel – I got a nice shiner to show for that one!

a heel to the face will do this

a heel to the face will do this

The rest of the swim was pretty relaxed. I lost Andy but had feet to draft off for about 75% of the way. I did zig-zag a bit which always seems the case in this lake. A few times I felt that I was swimming way too easy, so I would start swimming really hard. However I was not gaining much ground over the people around me when I did that, so in the end I just settled back into the easy pace until the end.

 

I exited the water just over an hour, in 41st place overall, which was slightly faster than expected. I ran up the ramp and found my neighbor Lara Edwards (Billy’s wife) who was volunteering as a wetsuit stripper. She made me lie on the grass and they had the wetsuit off in no time at all. I picked up my transition bag, which only had my helmet inside, and ran through the change tent, only stopping to give the volunteers my wetsuit and goggles. I put on my helmet and then put my sleeves on while I was running to the bike (I swim with the sleeves rolled down, even with the wetsuit swim).

I got to the bike, ran up the hill to the mount line and then started my favorite part of the day! The first 20 miles of the bike course is a rolling/hilly section that goes past my house. First, there is an out-and-back section along hwy 119, which allowed me to see the leaders coming in the opposite direction. I did a quick time check when I passed the same place and was about 10 minutes back. Conrad and I had spoken before the race, and based on our assumptions that he would be 10 minutes ahead, and the difference in our planned bike power, we estimated that I’d catch him at around the time that we started lap 2. So I was on track at this point. A part of my pacing strategy was to avoid the temptation to ride the hills hard, and just keep my power around 250 watts. I was feeling really good, so I went a little over this, ending up around 265 watts but it didn’t feel like I was working too hard. I did, however, work hard a few times dropping a Colombian guy named Felipe.

Let’s take a short interlude to talk about Felipe. My very first experience with him in this race I thought to myself “This guy belongs in Kona”. Now, many of you may think that’s a compliment, but let me explain what I mean. You see in Kona, there is this phenomenon that you don’t really see in other races. You pass a rider, and next thing he sprints back past you, realizes he can’t sustain the power, and then sits up right in front of you and slows down. The rules say that you need to drop back 12 meters once someone passes you, so stuff like that really kills your momentum. But at Kona, it feels like more than of 3/4 of riders do this. In the end, I believe he did get his Kona slot (congrats Felipe) so all of you racing on October 8th, be sure to say hi to him when he blasts by then sits up in front of you on the big island! I can assure you he won’t be the only one…

Anyway, so I burned some matches riding away from Felipe, and soon he was out of sight. This section ends with a fast descent down Lookout road with a sharp left turn into 75th. I saw my friend Adam Hecht on the corner who was doing a superb job of cheering! Next I saw Billy Edwards wearing a clown wig, who told me I was now in 11th place, 9 minutes back. A few hundred feet later I saw Michelle and the kids – she somehow managed to take a few photos, give me a split, and cheer at the same time!

Thanks Michelle for the photo! Taken while cheering and making sure 2 kids didn't run into the road

Thanks Michelle for the photo! Taken while cheering and making sure 2 kids didn’t run into the road

Now that I knew how far back I was, I could count off the number of people I passed.  Between this point and mile 46, I worked my way up to 6th place. Having said that, I was obviously “in the zone” since I actually passed Conrad without realizing it. I must have counted him in my head, but been oblivious that it was him I was passing. As I turned onto hwy 66, I did a time check with the ETA on my Garmin. It had me arriving at 11:51am, which was pretty much on track for my plan. I could see a rider in the distance ahead of me (which I think was eventual winner Clay Emge). My power up to this point was on track, 259 watts, but I was feeling really good so I upped it a bit and focused on the chase.

This is me still feeling good. About to overtake Conrad but so focused I didn't see him.

This is me still feeling good. About to overtake Conrad but so focused I didn’t see him.

About a mile down the road, I felt the dreaded thump, thump, thump of my rear wheel… UGH – a flat tire. I jumped off the bike and initiated Plan A, which was my latex canister. I always use one in training so that I’m familiar with how it works and how well it works. Usually, it take 30-45 seconds to fix a flat using this method. It all started well, and the tire inflated. But as soon as I took the tube of the canister off, the foam started spewing out of the valve. It went all over the wheel and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Plan B… let’s change the tube. All good and well, except that the tire was now so slimy from the foam that I couldn’t get it off. I tried for several minutes but to no avail. Fortunately, the race neutral support guys arrived soon after this. They helped me change the tube, but alas it would not inflate (another valve issue). He had another tube in the vehicle, so we tried that one, and third time lucky, it worked). While I was standing there watching everyone pass me again (Conrad Rodas, Bob McRae, Steve Johnson, Frikkin Felipe and more than 10 others), I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the break and drink some of my nutrition. This sounds like a smart thing to do, but really it wasn’t, because I was already 100% on top of my fueling before the flat happened, and I was already pretty much at the max.

All in all I was on the side of the road for 15 minutes, and when I got back on the bike I felt terrible. Firstly, my legs were now cold and stiff. No problem – I could just ride easy for a few minutes until it came back. Secondly, I now felt bloated and sick, probably because I was just eating stuff for 15 minutes without being too conscious of how much I was having. My power was just not there – I was now struggling to hit 210 watts – and even at that power I didn’t feel good at all. Also, my bike time goal was now obviously out of the window, and I really didn’t feel like chasing those guys down all over again. So mentally I started to try and figure out some new goals. I figured that since I was riding easy now, I may as well use the time left to solve my GI issues and save my legs for the run. For the next 90 minutes I pretty much just drank water, and eventually my stomach cramps disappeared. I started taking in fuel gradually, and then felt better and better towards the end. Mentally I still felt despondent about the bike. I was coming in around 4:55, over 30 minutes slower than expected. Still, I was arriving at about 12:20, so with a decent 3:15 run I could still go under 9:20. I was also feeling very happy that my stomach was now all good again.

I dismounted the bike and then started the very long run into T2, on the Boulder High School athletic track. I handed off the bike, grabbed my run bag and made my way to the change tent. Clown-haired Billy Edwards was easy to spot, waiting with Brandon Watson to take my bag and get my stuff ready. These guys were awesome! It felt like I sat down for about 15 seconds and they had me ready to go. I started the run and immediately felt great. I always try and run by feel (EASY) for the first few minutes and then look at my Garmin to check the pace. My goal was to start at 8 min/mile (3:30 marathon) and then speed up if I felt good later on. I was a bit shocked when I looked down – pace was reading 6:52 per mile which is way too fast (that’s a 3 hour marathon). I tried to slow down as much as comfortably possible, but still was hitting just over 7 min/mile. Just before mile 2 I stopped to use the porta potty, so including that stop I was back on goal pace (2nd mile 8:15). The next few miles I was in the low 7’s but I felt good so I just kept going. I went through 10k in about 45 minutes, which was a little faster than I would have liked, but I still felt good. Over the last few months I’ve been struggling to get my run speed back, so overall this speed represented a good training breakthrough for me.

I was also on track with calories – one can of mountain dew and 6 Glukos energy tabs, for about 250 calories. Then suddenly at around mile 8, I couldn’t take anything more in. Even water was tough to take down. I had some Mexican coke waiting in special needs at mile 10, which I managed to get down. But after that, everything was a struggle. I ran with Conrad for a while, which helped a lot – it was fun to run with someone and shoot the breeze a bit. I got progressively slower as the run went on.  I was happy to see Michelle around mile 15. I walked with her a bit and it was great to have a conversation in the middle of this run. I saw John Craft after that, but he had changed clothes since I saw him that morning, and I was a bit out of it, so I couldn’t figure out who it was until he said “Rob! It’s me, John!”… that should probably have been a sign that I was not quite “with it”! Around that time, I came across a woman (#632) lying on the ground, convulsing and throwing up. I stopped to help her and see if she was ok. She was totally out of it, asking me what she should do. I told her to try and throw up as much as possible, get some water, and walk it out. I stayed with her until the medic came and then continued my run. She was only at about mile 4, so I thought there was no way she was going to finish. But I’d later see her crossing the line in the race day video – anything is possible!

After mile 16, I started walking the aid stations, and my walks got longer and longer. I wasn’t even looking at my Garmin any more, I was just running the pace that I could run.  Michelle rode next to me on a bike for a bit – it was really good to have a bit of company out there. I saw Amy Craft a few times on the run, going the opposite direction – she was looking strong which made me feel better too. She is going to nail that Ultraman run!

The last 6 miles was painful. Literally every step hurt. I’ve never had that in any race before (even the Ultraman 52 mile run was not this painful), and this is the first race where I’ve had to walk downhill just because my quads hurt that bad! I saw Adam Hecht again with 5k to go – not only was he cheering for me, but he made all the other spectators around him cheer for me as well… that’s another great thing about a hometown race – so much local support!

Looking better than I felt down finisher chute

Looking better than I felt down finisher chute

I never thought those last 3 miles would end, but eventually they did. Michelle, Adam, and my teammate Bob McRae were all at the finish line. Bob had an amazing race with an age group win and a superb time of 9:12.

Me and Bob McRae - he totally crushed this race with 6th overall and an AG win in 45-49

Me and Bob McRae – he totally crushed this race with 6th overall and an AG win in 45-49. Thanks Adam for the pic

So, it may have not been the race I wanted, but it was a great training day that kicks off my Ultraman Hawaii build. I had a great swim, my bike performance was great (until it wasn’t) and I have some run pace back. As with all bad races, I like to take away some learnings. The 2 main learning for me are 1) don’t take in too much nutrition if you’re standing around for 15 minutes 2) I need to come up with a simpler run nutrition plan for Ironman racing.

Overall, I loved this event and I hope to do it again in 2017!

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Boulder 70.3 Race Report

 

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Quick facts:

Swim: 30 min (not bad since I was still standing on the beach when the gun went off!)
Bike: 2:06 (happy with that time, although it’s only 54 miles not 56, but from what I can tell 2nd fastest age group bike split after Steve Johnson who is also on a Dimond. Fast bike!)
Run: 1:51 (one of my worst run performances in a triathlon, but it’s what I had on the day)
8th place in M40-44 (shows that you can still go top 10 with a great bike and terrible run)

So, Boulder 70.3 – my first “home town” race.  The main goal of entering this race was to have a goal to work towards after Ultraman Florida. That ultra stuff made me a bit slow, especially my run, so I entered the 70.3 as a way to force myself into getting a bit of speed back in the legs. A week before I did the Colorado Triathlon (Olympic distance) with the same goal – to get a bit of sharpness back and tune me up for the 70.3

Doing a race in your home town makes things quite a bit easier:

– no bike transport, so your bike is just ready to go without much prep
– you can sleep in your own bed
– you can eat your own food
– so there is a lot less stress around race day

On Friday night I slept very well, got up early, ready to ride the “beater” mtb to the start (15-20 min ride). Then Michelle got up and said “I’ll just wake up the kids and drive you there”. Awesome – that will make things easier! So we drove off, got about 2 miles from the rez, and traffic came to a complete stand still. Ok no problem I still have an hour before the start. The traffic was slow, but I managed to scrape through and get into transition 15 mins before it closed (but an hour later than if I’d just ridden the mtb there. I quickly filled the torpedo bottle, pumped my tires and exited transition by 7:10. My wave was starting at 7:30 so I still had enough time (so I thought)  to get the wetsuit on and relax a bit. I pulled on my wetsuit bottoms but left the top unzipped while I drank some water and sat on the grass. The pro women went off, then I heard the announcer say “last call for men 40-44 orange caps”… it was only 7:20 so I thought it was strange that they were making a last call 10 minutes before my wave. Then I looked and saw all these guys in orange caps waiting in the water already. “Orange caps 1 minute to go”… oh crap.

And here I am standing on the beach trying to zip my wetsuit up… I run down the beach to the start, while zipping my suit up. Dammit I need to switch my garmin on… it comes up and I haven’t saved yesterday’s bike workout. dammit dammit. I save/delete/whatever that ride and get it into open water mode (still running to the water’s edge). As I get it into open water swim mode, the gun goes off. I see Michelle and the kids on the side and wave hello before diving into the water, while pushing start on my garmin. I don’t want to lose any valuable data! I’m literally the very last athlete to enter the water, but oddly this doesn’t phase me at all. I settle into a strong rhythm and swim all the way through my wave, with the exception of a few guys at the front who I just couldn’t catch up to.

About half way through the swim, I started overtaking some female pros. By the end I would have overtaken 5 female pros, so I knew I was at least not swimming that badly. The odd thing about those pro women is that they seem to be severely  lacking in tactical skills. I was swimming faster than them, but not by much. I would have been an ideal drafting target for them, but none of them got on my feet. It would have been legal for them to do that, and they probably would have cut a few minutes off their time, but they pretty much just ignored me as I swam past them.

For the last few hundred meters, I couldn’t see any other swimmers close by, so I just settled in and pushed hard to the end. I had planned on taking off my wetsuit in the water (because it’s easier) but when I tried to take it off, I had a near wardrobe malfunction when my LG bike suit came off with it. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to notice  that was happening, so I quickly put the bottom half back again! It was a long run to transition, and I used the time to put my sleeves on (I swim with the sleeves of the LG bike suit rolled around my waist). I was encouraged to see transition pretty much full, so I knew I was in a good position. I jumped on the bike and settled into a steady pace for the first few miles (242w for the first 3.5 miles). I overtook another 2 female pros before the 3 mile turnaround, and then once off the pedestrian path I hit the hammer a bit since I was now warmed up. Diagonal hwy, Jay, 36 up to Neva rd was 276w. After that, I was pretty much alone until I hit another group of female pros around mile 30. Neva/63 to Nelson was just a steady cruise at 260w. I started the Nelson road climb (about 4.5 miles) expecting to hit some higher power on the climb, but for whatever reason the power didn’t increase much on the hill – I averaged 277w even though I was targeting around 315w. After that I was back on the flats and the power came back again. My power up to the end dropped down to 260w but I was now riding by feel, just going for a solid tempo effort.

Here are some bike stats:

Normalized Power: 265w NP
Average Power: 255w AP
IF (Intensity factor) .90 (which +- equates to 90% of threshold power, about right for H.I.M.)
Variability index (VI): 1.04
Training Stress Score (TSS): 171 (which is about ideal for a HIM bike)
Average Speed: 25.6 mph (max was 46 mph)
Link to TP file

After turning from 66 onto 75th, my brain was obviously cloudy because I was confused as to what road I was on. And this is a road I ride several times every week! I was still alone and had not seen another age grouper yet. I had no idea what place I was in, but I knew there was at least one guy in my wave ahead of me on the swim, and I had not yet seen another age grouper on the bike. I turned into T2 with my best every half iron bike split (2:06) which I was super happy with (note it was only 54 miles not 56). As I wheeled my bike around the corner I saw 2 bikes already racked – one which I recognized as Steve Johnson’s bike (who by the way biked 2:05, also on his Dimond).  I knew there was no way I’d outrun Steve, so I started off the run hoping to just protect 3rd place. I settled into a comfy pace of 6:50 per mile, which I thought would be fast enough to hold off 4th place, especially since I didn’t think anyone behind me would be that close on the bike. A big mistake I made here was not taking my bottle of nutrition on the run. In the rush at the start of the day, I’d left my run bottle in my bag which was now lying under a tree. It was pretty close to the run course, but I didn’t go and get it, since that would feel a bit like “outside assistance from myself” – plus I knew it would be pretty easy to just get some calories at the aid station. This was where my next mistake came in – I didn’t really take anything except water at the aid stations. It was so hot, that the last thing I felt like was gatorade or coke, so i just stuck to ice and water. Considering I advise many athletes on fueling strategies for racing, this was both ironic and not-very-smart. Due to the heat I was walking all the aid stations anyway, so it would have been easy to get some more calories down if I’d had the presence of mind to do so.

The run went ok for the first few miles, then the heat just beat me down. It felt like my heart was over-beating (like palpitations), and it just didn’t feel like it would be healthy to push the pace. The last time I felt like this was Kona 2015, which was about the same temperature. My extra layer of high tech “bioprene” wasn’t exactly helping either. For those interested in acquiring bioprene, the method is very simple: just consume 1000 calories more than you need every day, and you will stack it on!

The Boulder 70.3 run course is 2 laps around the reservoir. There is zero shade, and a variety of surfaces – spongy grass, undulating dirt, and a bit of pavement. To be honest, it’s not the most fun run course. On lap 1 I averaged 7:42 / mile, but as I started lap 2 I really didn’t feel great.

Now, a quick aside to talk about positive splits vs negative splits. A negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st half, and a positive split is the opposite. In general, good pacing can result in a negative split. Originally I had wanted to pace this as a negative split, but I thought to myself “I really shouldn’t be thinking in a negative way, let’s be positive. I don’t need negativity in my life… so for the sake of positivity, let’s do a positive split!!!”

So on lap 2 I degraded to 8:48 / mile, which is basically my ultraman pace! It’s funny how your body just reverts to a certain pace when things get really bad. Even though my run pace was slow, it felt like I had given everything I had on the day, which is all you can ask for really. The best thing about this bad run experience is that it’s a good kick in the pants to get me back on track before Ironman Boulder. The 2 main things I need to do: a) get my weekly run miles up to 50-60 miles per week and b) go on a bioprene elimination mission. To be competitive at Boulder Ironman, I’ll need to drop to about 72kg (I’m currently 78kg). That is also what I need to weigh in order to survive the run at Ultraman Hawaii in November, so getting there by August will be a good start… I’ll aim to gain 1-2kg after Boulder, but then lose it again after I complete my final big UM training block.

So the 3 lessons!
1. Get to the race much earlier than you think you should
2. Don’t leave your run nutrition in your bag
3. Don’t be fat for a hot race!

Ultraman Florida Win (The Executive Summary)

In business, we use the “Executive Summary” a fair amount. The goal is provide the reader (usually a busy exec with very little time) the pertinent facts without them having to read through reams of information. Now, my race reports end up being very detailed, which is useful to many people, but it’s a lot of reading! The purpose of this post is to provide a short summary of the race for the reader, but it also allows me to get something out there, and then spend more time on the detailed report.  Here goes!

Last weekend I won Ultraman Florida, a 3 day event that includes a 6.2 mile swim and 90 mile bike on day 1, a bike ride of 171 miles on day 2, and a double marathon (52.4 miles) on day 3. It was an exciting last day, where my 56 minute lead was whittled down to a narrow winning margin of 8 minutes. Half way through the run, the projected finish time had my winning margin down to only a minute!

Day 1: 10k Swim 2:48 (first out of the water), 90 mile bike 4:33 (after day 1, 36 min lead)
Day 2: 171 mile bike 8:06  (after day 2, 56 min lead)
Day 3: 52 mile run 7:53 (winning margin only 8 minutes)
Total time 23:22:12
 – Full results here

There was some good coverage around this race:
–  IMTalk episode 501 (my interview starts at 28:33) was before the race and episode 504 (starts 30:50) was after the race.
– Zen and The Art of Triathlon podcast episode 615
– I did an interview with slowtwitch after the race
– I also did an “ask me anything” thread on slowtwitch which is a great concept – basically any questions goes, and there are some interesting ones in there!

Rob Gray and the crew at the finish line of ultraman florida

Left to right: Kevin Coady, Ethan Davidson, Yours Truly, Chris Blick, and “The Postman” Brian Post. Photo Credit Michael Noonan and Bob Badalucco

– With the goal of racing the Ultraman World Championship this year in Hawaii, I decided to do Ultraman Florida in Feb 2016.
– Preparing over the Colorado winter was quite tough. Having last year’s winner Billy Edwards as my neighbor sure helped, since he had to go through a similar thing for 2015 and could give me sage advice along the way.
– It all came together, though, and I managed to win the race with a very narrow margin of 8 minutes
– I was first out of the water, and extended my lead on the day 1 and day 2 bike legs
– Day 1 conditions were very tough (very windy, mostly a cross headwind). My Dimond bike was a real advantage here, the beam design prevents most of the “shunting around” that happens in gusty wind conditions. The aerodynamics make a big difference. I rode about 10 minutes faster than anyone, at very low power (less than 180 watts average, which is the same effort as my easy recovery rides). The amazing Ice Friction Chain also helped to make sure I saved as many watts as possible!
– I was in a new wetsuit (Roka Maverick Pro) which was super comfy and enabled more range of movement than any other suit I’ve swum in
– Day 2 I started very strong. My aero pad came loose on the rough roads, and snapped off after 2.5 hours. Luckily my crew turned around a complete bike swap in just over 5 minutes. They were like an F1 pit crew!
– I went into day 3 with a 56 minute lead
– The guy in 2nd place was running 1 minute per mile faster than me. With a run of 52.4 miles, you do the math! It was destined to be very close!
– The gap after the first 26 miles was down to 27 minutes!
– I had to dig extremely deep to maintain focus and pace on the last 26 miles
– My crew really helped me to get it done, and in the end I negative split the double marathon to take the win (negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st). My shoe of choice – the Hoka One-One Clifton 2. Hokas have opened a different dimension of training and racing for me. On a double marathon, the high degree of cushioning really saves your legs, and helps you to finish strong, when going long!
– Nutrition was a combination of home-made fuel on the bike, and Glukos Energy products (my favorite is the tabs on the run)
– I had an amazing crew. Coach Kevin Coady from California, Ethan Davidson and Chris Blick from Dimond Bikes in Des Moines, Iowa. I can honestly say that crew selection is a critical  part of success in a race like this! Oh, sorry Dimond Van, I almost forgot to mention you!

Full report is on it’s way. I’ve gotten many questions about equipment choice, nutrition strategy and about my goals for Ultraman Hawaii. I’ll aim to cover as much of that then.

In the meantime, enjoy some other pics from the race…

 

Pre-race tune up with the crew!

Pre-race tune up with the crew!

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Finish line day 1, the lava bike still looks clean and happy!

Recovery time!

Recovery time in the Dimond Van!

David: "don't worry about me, mate, I'm just here to finish"... he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker

David: “don’t worry about me, mate, I’m just here to finish”… he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker

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The day 2 start line – it’s like Noah’s ark you set off 2 x 2

Aero time, day 2

Aero time, day 2

The reserve bike also got a chance!

The reserve bike also got a chance!

 

Me with the women's champion Jessica Duree

Me with the women’s champion Jessica Deree. Her shirt says “you got chicked” which was true for many of the UMFL male athletes…

Ironman Arizona 2015 Race Report

IMAZ was my 2nd race of the 2015 season. Kona was my first race, and I feel IMAZ was a much better day for me, probably because it was cold, and not hot at all. With the exception of the swim I feel that my result reflects my current form (which is ok, not great). I ended up with 9:19 and 2nd in M35-39. I had a terrible swim (I swam faster in Kona this year with no wetsuit, rough conditions and a longer course!). I need to figure that out, I should have been 5-6 minutes faster. I’m a bit heavier than I was at IMAZ 2014, which was the last time I wore my wetsuit. I had the bike of my life and my run was a little slow but still a respectable 3:30 which I was happy with given that I’m not in the best run shape right now.

I’m really happy with a 9:19, even though my primary IM goal now is to go sub 9 (next chance, IM Boulder 2016!). I don’t plan to do Kona in 2016, as I’m focusing on Ultraman, so above all I wanted to have a really solid training day out there and race hard with no fear of consequence.

I had some really bad cramping issues in my left glute the day before the race, so I woke up feeling like a gorilla had been punching me all night. Other muscles would also just randomly cramp for no apparent reason, which is a bit concerning when you have a big race day ahead. The good thing about knowing ahead of time that you’re going to have cramping issues, is that you can anticipate it, and I was able to manage it during the race. I cramped at the start of the swim, bike and run, but I just relaxed and focused on maintaining a steady effort for 10-15 minutes and they went away each time. So in the end, the cramping really was not much of an issue. I was very satisfied being able to get through the day in one piece, the 9:19 and 2nd place was a bonus!

Swim: 1:05 was a massive underachievement for me. To give you an idea of my current pool times, in the last 3 weeks I did a 1 mile (1650m) TT in 23 minutes and several 1km TTs in 14 minutes. My “all day pace” with no wetsuit is about 1:28/100m. So in theory going under 60 mins in an IM should feel very easy. I felt like I was in shape to swim around 56/57, which at least would have put me within closer reach of Scott Bowe who I thought would swim around 52, and ahead of Steve Johnson who’s just been sitting in the hot tub every time I go to the pool 😉

The rolling start was a mess at IMAZ. Basically you enter via a wide set of steps, perpendicular to the direction of the course. So even if you line up near the front, if you are towards the left then you are actually several rows back once you jump in. Then once you’re in, it’s chaotic until you get clear of that. Given that the goal of this rolling start idea is safety, I think they failed at IMAZ. The mass start is much safer a) because you get to warm up b) there is more than enough space for everyone.

Since my basic speed is quite good, I got clear of the mess pretty quickly, but I just felt very awkward for the whole swim, kind of the same feeling you have after not swimming at all for a few months. I also felt very constricted and out of breath. It took a huge amount of mental focus to stay calm. Maybe I’m too fat for my wetsuit who knows! Within about 15 minutes I knew I was going to have a bad swim time. When the people around you don’t look like competent swimmers, it’s a bad sign (since they are ahead of me, I probably look worse than they do!). Every pair of feet I found was either zig zagging all over the place, or swimming in the wrong direction. So I just swam alone the whole way.

Bike 4:37 – very happy with that. From what I can tell by looking at the top 10 in each AG this was the fastest amateur bike split.  Here is a link to my bike data. The plan was to bike a bit harder than usual, like I will at Ultraman. Pretty much using IMAZ as a long, intense training day. The presence of competition, plus having aid stations makes it a great opportunity to do that. My first lap started off with bad glute cramps, but they resolved after 10 mins and that lap was done at an intensity factor of .85 which is closer to what I might ride in a half ironman. Laps 2 and 3 were more crowded so I had to ease off a bit more often with an IF of .81 which felt like a steady all day pace. My VI was 1.03 which is the lowest I’ve ever had in an IM. This was a bike PR and my best executed IM bike to date. I also had a very tasty nutrition assortment. On the bike, I flavored my malto/fructose mix with 2 bottles of “hand crafted” Q ginger beer, which was awesome. Definitely keeping that. I rounded it off with 8 gummy worms and 2 bags of powerbar cola chews, averaging 430 calories per hour. The XLAB Torpedo bottle is a great addition to my setup. I started with that, plus a bottle of my mix mounted directly to the Dash TT.9 saddle. My only take from aid stations was 2 bottles of water. I feel this really helps at IMAZ because the aid stations can get a bit congested, especially on the later laps.

My bike setup is below. Zipp 808 front, Super 9 disc rear, 54/44 Rotor Q rings (which they say is equivalent to 56 at “peak” ovality, a huge asset at IMAZ, I didn’t spin out at all). Rotor 3D+ 165mm cranks, 3T Aduro bars, Dash TT.9 saddle with Pave Pria . I switched out the Conti tires for Turbo Cottons that Rappstar kindly lent me. Tririg Omega X brakes, Di2 shifting. Icefriction coated DA chain.

This was my IMAZ race setup, except for the tires and a rear bottle cage

This was my IMAZ race setup

 

 

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BTA bottle is an XLAB torpedo directly mounted onto the 3T bar, in an XLAB Gorilla cage

Run: 3:30 I felt great getting off the bike, made a quick porta potty stop on mile 1, and then settled into a steady pace just going by feel, around 7:10/mile. At around the 10k mark I could feel my hamstrings starting to tighten up, like a very dull cramp. I also had minor shooting cramps on the outside of my glutes, which I just ignored but my pace did slow a bit for the same perceived effort. I hadn’t seen Scott or Steve at all the entire race. I knew Scott would be way ahead out of the swim, but I thought I would have been close enough to Steve to at least see him. Later I would find out that Steve unfortunately DNS’d and that Scott would eventually beat me by 30+ minutes, which explains why I saw neither of them! Other than that I had no idea what place I was during the race. I started the run with Jack Toland who won the 18-24 AG, but he left me behind within the first mile. It started to rain pretty hard, and I knew the cold weather would demoralize some people. Since my last few training runs were in the snow, it actually felt pretty mild to me! I knew it would be a race of attrition so I just kept a steady pace, didn’t walk, and just kept going.  I saw nobody else in my AG, and nobody else that I even knew. On lap 2, the gravel path had turned into a mudbath. I tried to run on the grass but it was all mushy, so I ran on a single file line of bricks for as long as I could. I found Jack again around mile 17, and we ran together up until around mile 20. Side note: The warm chicken broth at the aid stations was just incredible! I was feeling good so pushed a little harder towards the end. My last mile was a superb 7:03 – I should get a side job as Tim Noakes’ poster child for his central governor theory!

Here is a comparison of my 2014 vs 2015 IMAZ runs. You can see a definite slow down around mile 10. A key difference is probably the mental aspect of competition – in 2014 I was chasing down Adam Zucco, in 2015 I was on a long training run with no idea of my place or who was ahead or behind me. Here is my data file. The other aspect may have been run nutrition. In 2014 I was robotic about calorie intake, in 2015 I just didn’t feel like taking much in, but I should have forced it if I wanted to maintain good pace.

For those that are interested, here is a comparison of all my IM bike splits to date

OveralI was very happy that I got through it all without much going wrong.  The awards ceremony was great – the Dimond team got 7 KQs in addition to 3rd, 5th and 6th in the pro race  (TJ, Jordan and Maik) so a great day for Dimond! It was also fun to “give away” my Kona slot to someone who really wants to go there.

Dimond with full equality 2nd places in 35-39 ;-)

Dimond with full equality 2nd places in 35-39 😉

The best part of the day though, was that an athlete of mine got a kona slot rolldown in 40-44. He has put in so much work and really deserved it. He was actually in much better shape than me going in, but he didn’t have an ideal day out there. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster going from disappointment the day before, to the high of a kona slot when it wasn’t expected. As a coach, it’s actually more exciting when one of your athletes gets a slot than when you get one yourself!

Kona baby! Fred and Mike Reilly

Kona baby! Fred and Mike Reilly

Right now I’m straight into Ultraman training. I’m back on the bike and in the pool, but will wait a few days until I’m ready to run again. Then it will be a series of 100+ mile run weeks, lots of swimming, figuring out  my wetsuit problems, and maintaining bike form until February!