Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Sweet Validation

4th Overall

Validation.  More than anything this race was about validating my decision to go pro.  Validating according to my own personal standards and validating to the larger triathlon community.  Those that have trained with me and traveled to events with me know that I am very low-key, particularly before a big event.  I've done this sport a long time and I don't waste any energy getting nervous or stressed before a race. Pre-race stress and race-day adrenaline are the enemies of the long course triathlete. Over the the course of my competitive career I've set ambitious goals, but have managed to mostly avoid pressure to perform.  I like it this way. I put in the work and just let race day play out as it will.  By taking the pro card I did put some pressure on myself. When race organizers believe in me enough to extend complimentary entries I take that seriously.  When families are willing to host me for a weekend because they believe in my abilities and want to see me race I take that as positive pressure to perform my best.  I don't really want or need pressure to perform well, but in this case it worked out in my favor!

Let me give you the nickle tour through the last two seasons to bring everyone up to speed on how I ended up at the start line of B2B as a professional.  In 2012 I had two goals.  #1 Race well at the ITU Off-Road World Champs in the spring (I took 21st overall) and #2 win an ironman.  I fell a bit short when I took 2nd overall at the inaugural Michigan Titanium ironman. For 2013 I wanted to give my best effort at the Best of the U.S. Amateur race in the spring and then try to get my pro card at Rev3 Dells.  Goal #1 went fine, although it established that I'm never going to a great short course racer.  Goal #2 encountered a road bump when I broke my chain during Rev3 Dells.  I reassessed and switched over to 1/2 IM training for Rev3 Branson one month after Dells.  My short course training transferred well to the 1/2 distance. I finished 2nd overall amateur at Rev3 Branson. I immediately took my pro card and decided that since I was racing well I should do one more race in 2013.  Why not an ironman?!  This decision may have been a bit rash since I only had about one more month of training to get somewhat ready for an IM.  I buckled down and put in a few good long rides and long runs.  Still my count for the whole year was only 5 rides over 3 hours and 3 runs over 1.5 hours.  I intentionally almost never run longer than 2 hours in training, so I was pretty confident in my run, but I knew I was really light on bike volume.

I've really enjoyed racing non-WTC events in the last few years.  To the best of my knowledge B2B is the largest independent iron distance race in the U.S.  It's also the only independent race that I know of which fills to capacity.  B2B is held in and around Wilmington, NC.  It boasts one of the fastest iron distance race courses in North America.  It also features cool temperatures which was a huge draw for me, since more often than not, I have been roasted in my other ironman races.

I flew out on Thursday and met up with my Hub Endurance-coordinated homestay family in Wilmington.  The Hayse family were great hosts for the weekend.  They have two kids who are roughly the same ages as mine but with the genders reversed.  So fun to see the different dynamics with an older girl and younger boy.

Race day weather was colder than usual for Wilmington.  Race start temps were around 37 degrees and highs were mid-60s.  The swim is point to point, so I had to pick up some Dollar Store throw-away clothes to take to the swim start.  Even then, athletes were huddled around 2 heaters until right before the start.  Rather than getting chilled by warming up I just skipped it.  I started right near the front and got out fast to avoid the big crowds (there was not a separate professional wave).  I always shortchange my swim training, so I just had to be content with a decent pace that I knew I could hold.  I did a better job than usual of always being on someone's feet.  The lead pack got away from me, but that was probably to be expected.  Depending on the tides sometimes the B2B swim is incredibly fast (low 40s for top swimmers). This year was supposed to be slack tide for most of the race.  Prior to the event, I had secured a new wetsuit sponsorship with Xterra Wetsuits.  Xterra hooked me up with their top-of-the-line Vendetta full sleeve and sleeveless suits.  I am huge fan of sleeveless, but because of the cold morning temps I had the full sleeve on.  Water temp was around 70 so I would have preferred the sleeveless in the water, but was happy to have the sleeves beforehand. The Vendetta is the most buoyant and flexible wetsuit I have been in.  The wetsuit plus saltwater plus some incoming tide led me to my best-ever IM swim of 55:52.  I would guess I got about a 3-4 minute push from the incoming tide during the second half of the swim.

Thanks for the extra swim speed, Xterra!
It was a long, cold quarter mile run to the T1 changing tent.  I had spent a lot of time considering how to dress for a bike ride that would start out around 40 degrees and finish around 60.  To try and keep my feet relatively warm I had used thin neoprene swim socks.  To help my T1 time I just kept those on since they would also help keep my toes warm.  I had toe booties on my shoes and I put those chemical heaters underneath those.  I put a single tight-fitting long sleeve on which was difficult when wet and cold.  I had put more heaters in the back pockets of that base layer which was quite nice on my lower back for the bike ride.  I also put on a headband and throwaway gloves.  Because of the long run and extra gear T1 took 4:35.  One of the few other pros in the race was my good friend and former Augustana XC and Track teammate, Jeff Paul.  Traditionally, the swim is the only leg where I had any hope of putting time into JP.  When I reached my bike, I saw that he was already out of T1.  He put in the swim training, so it was all earned through hard work.

40 degree bike start!
The B2B bike course is quite fast on paper.  They call it "totally flat" but that is a bit of a misnomer.  My Powertap Joule had around 2000 ft of climbing.  There certainly aren't any climbs, but lots of false flats.  My selection of gear seemed about right.  Early on I passed some racers who didn't have any warm gear on and they looked miserable. Even with the neoprene socks, toe booties and warmers, my toes were pretty cold for the first 1.5 hours.  My goal was to be around 5 hours for this ride, which would be a personal PR.  My last long training ride went quite well.  I was targeting 210-220 watts which was ambitious, but doable.  For the first 2 hours I was above my goal power range. RPE should always trump gadget feedback, but I am wondering the cold temps were making me ride harder than I should have just to avoid freezing.  In any case, the winds were relatively low and I knew I should be able to turn in a decent ride.  I picked up a bunch of places in the first 15 miles and then I saw no one until around mile 85.  The meant lots of solo hours where I just kept an eye on the power meter and kept the calories coming in.  I've got my IM nutrition strategy pretty dialed in.  I put one bottle of Infinit in my between the arms bottle and then have concentrate for 4 more behind my seat along with a spare bottle of water that I swap out.  This is about 1300 calories.  I supplement this with 5 gels in a flask (about another 500 calories).  Since it was the week of Halloween I threw a couple snack size Snickers in my bento box and run special needs.  Stellar idea!  I was happy to let my power drop down into goal range after two hours. After 3.5 hours though I was averaging below goal range.  Fortunately for me there was a headwind and a net uphill in the first half of the bike.  My power was dropping off, but my speed was still quite good.  Average power is important, but how that power is distributed is also very important.  Had I started out too hard and then had a headwind the second half, this pacing strategy would have been disastrous.  I finally made a pass around mile 85 and soon after we merged with the 1/2 distance athletes.  At this point, I was content to not fight the power drop because I felt that I could turn in a great run. I hit T2 in 4:59:22 which was another PR for me. (My brother was quick to remind me that I still fell 44 seconds short of his best-ever IM ride!)  My time was the 5th best for the day, and no one passed me on the bike.  My average power dropped all the way down to 204, which is almost the same as my Kona power in '08.  I had done 212 in training, but probably need more volume to hold that power during a race.  The cool thing is that I can see myself splitting 4:45 on this course with just a little more fitness.

My fit and set-up on the QR CD.01 is now super clean and aero.
During T2 I had a moment of panic when the volunteers could not find my T2 bag.  I had hung it on the rack the day before, but somehow it had gotten moved.  I just started changing in place while the volunteers looked around for my bag and eventually found it.  The bag fiasco plus changing out of the warm gear yielded another slow transition, but hey, it's an IM, I have time to make it up.

This guy crawled across the run course at some point!  Sorry I missed it!
Despite my apparent lack of run volume, I was confident that I could run a quick marathon in cool temps. The long bikes take care of my cardio, so I like to focus on faster running.  The 90 minute "long" run with hard intervals built in is my long course bread and butter training run.  I didn't know exactly where I was place-wise, but I knew I was doing well overall. My marathon goal was 3:10-3:15.  I always just start an IM marathon based off of feel.  I ran about 4 miles at what I felt was a very conservative pace before I even started checking my splits.  The next couple of miles were all around a low 7 minute pace, which was a bit under goal pace.  It's damn hard to even split an IM marathon, so I was fine with building a bit of a cushion early on.  The run was two loops and it was harder than I expected.  The temps were great, but the run definitely has some elevation gain going out each loop along with one steep (but short) hill.  On the first out and back turnaround I got a sense of how I was doing.  Buddy Jeff Paul was in the lead and having a great race!  He was around 20 minutes up on me and there were a few guys between us.  It was hard to get an accurate count because the course was crowded with 1/2 IM runners.  The return trip into town was quite nice because of the net downhill.  In the first half I think I picked up one place and lost one place to a speedy runner.  I was still feeling good and pretty certain I wouldn't have too much of a drop-off.  JP had a solid cushion at the turnaround and he looked like a lock to win it.  Not long after the second turnaround I noted two guys running pretty well about 4-5 minutes back from me.  This gave me some good motivation for the last 6 miles.  I knew they would have to make up about 45 seconds per mile to pass me and I wasn't about to let that happen.  I'm very happy with the way I ran my last six miles.  I actually picked it up some compared to my middle miles. I finished the run in 3:18:37 (9th best run).  The course was a little harder than I anticipated, so I am pretty content with that split.

I might be suffering, but at least I look good?
First and Fourth!  One of us has obviously been done longer than the other in this pic!
On the other hand, I was thrilled with my overall finish.  9:22:10 and 4th overall.  This was a 30 minute PR and probably my best finish in a big race.  There was prize money for the top 5 finishers, so that made the finish place all the better.  JP clinched his first IM win with a 9:04:49.  Congrats again, buddy! So in the end I was less than 20 minutes from the professional winner of a large race.  This new step-up in performance shows me that a sub-9 hour IM on a course like B2B or IM Florida is now within my ability.  Most of the time drop will come from a better bike performance. Next year I will be completely focused on long course racing. Which races remains to be seen.  B2B was a great experience and I'd love to come back sometime and race for the win.

2013 B2B Recap Video