For those of you who skip to the end of the book, here's your shortcut to save you from scrolling all the way down the page. I went 9:37 good enough for 3rd AG, 25th OA and earn my sixth trip to the World Championships.
This was an interesting year for me as I was returning from my not-so-great 2013 campaign of two collarbone surgeries -- August to put a plate in; November to take the infected plate out. From mid-August to essentially January I was under strict "no sweating!" guidelines to reduce the chance of infection. 4.5 months of minimal physical exertion when 96% of my body was 100% fine -- ugh.
Many of you reading this helped me make it through that tough time -- either directly or indirectly -- and I want you to know that I super appreciate it.
The Long Season
I skipped the OutSeason (Endurance Nation's winter training program) for the first time since I don't know when. Instead I went into a run-focused build-up as the Boston Marathon was on my calendar. Since I wasn't running with intensity, I turned it into a volume game and logged lots of long slow runs including a 40-miler on my 40th birthday.
It was off Texas to run another Endurance Nation PreRace Training Camp in The Woodlands. It was nice to get back on the bike for some long rides and to connect with teammates new and old.
Then it was off to Boston where I ran my slowest time ever, clearly feeling the effects of inconsistent training and getting carried away with my birthday.
Then a quick turnaround to the Blue Ridge Cycling Camp, Rev3Quassy, and our 12th consecutive Lake Placid Camp. Along the way my bike and run fitness were moving along and I was slowly working on the swim. Rev3Quassy was encouraging as I was 10 minutes faster than the prior year on less training -- and my shoulder didn't hurt in the swim.
Fast forward to July and it was all Tremblant time. We ran our first training camp up here, putting 20 folks through the bike course (twice!) and swimming once and doing one full loop of the run. It was really important for me to see the venue/course in order to put my race plan together. I thought both the bike and run courses were fair but challenging, and it was great to mentally prepare for the parts that we're going to be sneaky hard on race day.
Over the final 8 weeks I was actually training for a race again. It was exciting but nerve-wracking; I could only look at numbers from past years of training and things looked pretty solid. My run times were close, my bike fitness was better and swimming seemed equal. I targeted body composition (salad anyone?) for an additional edge and rolled into race week ready to go but as nervous as a newbie...not having raced since Kona 2012.
I was really excited to see the Team here in Tremblant. Between racers and supporters, it was a veritable Who's Who of Endurance Nation -- veterans to newbies. Our Team Dinner saw 75+ people on hand and the Four Keys talk was also similarly well-attended. But the question on everyone's mind was the weather.
All week it was wet and cold. It's cooler here in the foothills of The Laurentians, so everyday starts in mid-fifties. But the clouds and rain were keeping the temps in the mid-sixties vs the typical mid-seventies. I had to adjust my T1 plan to allow for arm warmers instead of coolers and light gloves. I spent the rest of the week obsessing about my bike, my gear bags, etc.
It was dry and I didn't care about much else. :) Temps were good and it was a 3-minute walk from the room to transition. I was body marked and confirmed bike and bags were all set. It was off to swim start and Team picture at 5:45...perhaps my fastest pre-race check ever.
It was great to see the Team one last time and get some hi-fives and hugs with that knowing look in the eyes. Ironman means so much in different ways to everyone; and JT Thompson kept it real with some awesome energy.
I dropped off my Dry Clothes bag and headed to the warm up area. I had my final gel and then got in a nice 15-minute warm up swim...a first for me. Over to the start and lined up in my wave. As we waited for our turn we cheered on the folks who ran past us, having missed their start times. :)
The Swim - 1:03:4x
With the wave swim approach in effect, I "just" had 343 people to contend with. I was on the buoy line and second row. The gun goes off and we all wade in; after the first wave dove I gave it a second and then swam inside the buoy line. I was literally untouched until the 1,000 meter mark when a poor swimmer from Wave 2 hit me with some whip kick action.
With the wind from the NorthWest, we had a little headwind/chop to contend with. Nothing as bad as I usually have at home, but it was enough to be disruptive. The turns were a bit crowded but on the return I was right back inside the line for a free ride back. I only wandered a bit off course here, so I was pumped to hear Mike Reilly say that my group was swimming 1:07 to 1:10 -- as I was 6' behind Wave One that meant I was about a 1:04.
T1: Swim to Bike
This is a long run on the road, but I had plenty of shouts and didn't know that my calves (with EN tattoos of course). My bag was in the second row, 9th bag, and in line with the entrance to the changing area. Run. Grab. Run. Shoes. Helmet. Walk to bike.
I took a minute to put some food in my trishort pockets...probably lost 30" there as it wasn't easy...much easier when riding so I need to figure that out. Then again I lost food time by putting on arm warmers too. I did make the game time decision not to use my gloves as I didn’t feel that cold and I was concerned I might not be able to access my food / pockets with them on. Easy trip to my bike and a simple mount and I was off.
The Bike -- 5:08:xx
I got clipped in and started the computer. And...no powermeter. Tried searching...twice...no powermeter. Turned off Garmin and restarted...no powermeter. Then, after about three minutes of just coming to terms with no powermeter I tried again and success! This was the first time I turned on my Garmin, synced it up and then left it on while I swam...so maybe that’s par for the course?
My goals for the bike were to ride about 250 watts, normalized power. I expected to see some higher numbers in the 275 range for steep hills, but I was confident I could do it. I ended up riding 244w NP, which is my best ever in an IM. And that included seven rolling pee breaks as it was pretty cool but I kept on drinking like a fool. My Variability Index was 1.05...so 5% of my watts into space, but all in I was happy with how I rode the day.
The course is beautiful, but early on there were NO MARSHALS. One of the pros had crashed and they were all there, it seemed, as I passed. So on the outbound section of 117 on lap one was crazy. I was passed on the right side at least ten times (!) but most of this was because the draft packs were terrible.
I don’t mean “race drafting” whereby there are groups together as in Kona, I mean straight up, two inches from the wheel in front of me, not using my aerobars, and coasting type drafting. I honestly didn’t think triathletes could draft _that_ well. It was about this time that John Withrow rolled up, pulling 5 guys that had just jumped off my wheel...we made a few jokes but quickly decided to just let them go. This allowed me to refocus on my pacing and nutrition as I could tell the headwind we had out was going to be much harder on the second lap.
The road quality was awesome; you could actually put your head down and ride super aero unlike many other courses. But the hills of Lac Superior were legit. It’s one thing to ride them in training or pre-race, it’s another after a swim and a solid first 48 miles. I did my best to hold the power down and be smart, and almost everyone around me was standing up and killing themselves which gave me consolation. I even saw my family on the start of the second lap, which was a huge emotional boost.
The second lap of the bike was still cloudy and the winds had totally picked up. I really got aero and passed a ton of folks out here, including several of the jokers doing the early race drafting. Things started to get really quiet, with no one passing me after mile 15 of the bike and me slowly eating up the faders. The second climb series was harder but I was able to stay in my box. I was really passing folks on the downhill sections now as they were shelled from climbing.
Overall I was really worried about the bike and my competition, but four plus hours at some solid watts really sorts everything out. I need to remember that. For the data geeks, here the “main” file on Strava -- it’s missing the first ½ mile due to no powermeter.
T2: Bike to Run
I had a solid dismount thanks to Tim Cronk’s previous race reports (thanks!) and hit the tent. Got my bag and got to work. With my socks, shoes, race number and FuelBelt on, I started walking out of the tent with my ziplock bag to put on my hat, arm coolers, watch and stock up on more food and salt while walking (thanks Al Truscott for this tip!). I saw my family and walked over to give them a kiss and check in.
The Run - 3:17:xx
I had no idea where I was in my AG when I started, but I figured I was doing fairly well given how quiet things were. My only target was to run with my heart rate between 140 and 145 beats per minute, after keeping it as low as possible in the first 2.5 miles due to the steep hills.
Outbound on the first lap was pretty darn quiet. I didn’t pass the first runner until mile four! Running back in I could see a lot of really really fit doodes near me. Somewhere in here I was passed by the second and third place female PROs as well, so another sign things were going pretty well. Returning over the hills to town my heart rate felt good low (sub-140) and I kept it there. I was drinking and using ice as the sun had come out...and I would go on to pee a total of five times on the run (yes, while running).
Just before the end of Lap One, super Endurance Nation athlete Tim Cronk let me know I was in sixth place in my AG. I figured there were seven slots based on Lake Placid so I knew there was work to be done. Ran through town to high five the family and start the second lap.
Lap Two was insanely crowded. Tons of folks were still running but the roads and especially the bike path were like the mall during a Black Friday sale. I had to run off the side, on the wrong side, everywhere but straight. It was here, about mile 15.5 where I was passed by another person in my AG, putting me into 7th place and on the bubble.
I worked hard to keep up with him but he was moving and eventually I lost him in the crowds. I just kept running at my pace and made a commitment to run the rest of the aid stations (no more walk breaks!) and keep the pressure on. No eye contact with the folks behind me after the turn around -- game face time!
In here I saw a motorcycle escorting the third place female PRO, so I started stalking her. That gave me a good carrot to follow and I was really in the zone. No more “HIs” or high fives for the Team or fans...I was hurting switching to mainly coke and keeping the pressure on. About mile 22.5 I saw sixth place in my AG again and he was coming back to me! I started doing the mental math on what it would take and planned to make the pass just before mile 26 as we climbed into town. Running un and downhill was really taking it’s toll, but mentally I was in the zone.
About mile 25, trying to pass a clump of walkers, I bumped someone and my Garmin 305 flew off -- so no splits or HR data for me, sorry! -- and right after on a very steep hill at mile 25 I made the pass. I ran as hard as I humanly could over the last mile, and could see at the Special Needs area loop that he was not on my heels. I did my best to enjoy the final crowds through the downtown area while I chased down the third place female PRO.
I realized I was going to crash her finish party in the last moment, but there was no way to stop my legs. I just flashed the EN gang sign and then went to congratulate her on a great race.
The Finish - 9:37:xx, 3rd AG and 25th OA
Imagine my surprise when I found out I was third in my AG. Turns out that fourth and fifth place had cracked on the second lap and were lost in the crowds of other runners. It was great to see my biggest fans right behind the finish; apparently they had no issue finding me with the massive EN billboard on my head and the other EN kit, EN tattoos and EN gang sign display. That had alone probably cost me 10” per mile in wind resistance! :)
Overall I was super pumped at how well I stayed in the game menally for the run, and reaped the reward of third place. In retrospect I also made a great decision to let the early drafters go and follow my own pacing on the bike.
It is also interesting to see that I am still so engaged in racing Ironman. This was my 19th Ironman, and I am still into it. Even crazier for me to think is that this was the sixth consecutive Ironman in which I have raced and qualified for Kona. I missed two years for my broken hip (2010) and my collarbone (2013), but otherwise my performances have kept me in contention in my age group regardless of my race choice. That is definitely NOT lost on me.
I think there are some places I could improve for my next race:
I need to work on flexibility of my hamstrings and lower back as I had some relatively early discomfort on the bike.
I have to do a better job of staying super aero. I spent a lot of time looking up the road for some reason and really caught myself in hour four just not being aero enough.
I really like the Freezer Ziplock transition trick and will keep that for the future.
I was a bit aggressive with my effort on the bike and will need to be careful on days that it’s not so cool / overcast.
I will take confidence in my running form / comfort in the early miles. I was lower than my goal HR (never looked at pace) and it paid off with the ability to really focus over the final 8 miles.
So many of you have supported me over the years. Some of you directly with advice, comfort and a kick in the pants. Others have been leaders for me; just by following your exploits and hard work I am educated and inspired to improve every year, every race.
Some of you have really risen above and beyond as my journey continues -- my amazing wife Maura and my two girls who put up with my training and general geeking out.
My good friend and stalwart supporter, Vinu Malik who has given so much -- starting before my first Ironman in Florida back in 2001!!!! -- to make sure I am at my best for every event.
To my fellow teammates who continue to raise their own personal bars and make us all better by association..I am so proud of you all and can’t wait to hear about your races and support you in your next endeavor!