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Ironman 70.3 St George 2019 Race Report

It’s amazing what four years of consistent training can do. 

I first raced Ironman 70.3 St George in 2015, during my first full year in Seattle. I was running with the Seattle Green Lake Running group, set a great Half Marathon PR in March, and worked with my bike power meter all winter, and overall things were going pretty well. I wanted to come to St George to race because I heard that the location was beautiful and that the course was challenging with many hills. Both these rumors were correct! I blogged about this race  previously at http://ericfahsl.com/blog/43-ironman-703-st-george-2015-race-report

Four years later, I have been consistently training for triathlons and seeing steady improvements over the years. I wanted to come back to St George because I enjoyed the venue and wanted to see if I could improve and see if I had a chance at grabbing one of the 75 slots to the Half Ironman World Championships in France this coming September (most races have 30-40).

This race was my primary goal for the first half of 2019. I even took a weekend trip to St George this past January after I was in Las Vegas for work. I rode the bike course (plus a bit more) and ran the whole run course. I have even had some great race results so far this year as I raced the Lavaman Olympic Triathlon on the Big Island in Hawaii about 5 weeks ago where I placed 26th out of 1100+ finishers and 3rd in my age group. I also was able to stay a few extra days for more training in the heat. A week prior to St George I competed in a local short-course duathlon and was 3rd overall out of 69 finishers. Basically, I had some great momentum and was extremely ready for this race.

However, I’ve never had a “great” half Ironman triathlon race. I’ve had a number of these races that have been decent but none where I felt like I really maxed out, so I planned to do a few things differently. One, I planned to NOT overheat in the swim unlike last time (as detailed in the other article) but still swim quite aggressively. Two, I was planning to “go for it”, as in race more aggressively in terms of effort, as that usually seems to benefit me. Finally, I planned to maintain great running form on the downhills and leave nothing left in the tank crossing the finish. Just race “harder”, right?

After Hawaii but before St George, I took a work trip to Taiwan three weeks before the race, which meant that most of my training build had to be complete about 4 weeks before the race, and the remaining weeks were more about maintaining fitness and tapering. After arriving to St George on Thursday evening before the Saturday race, I checked in to the race and reassembled my bike. Friday morning was a swim in the lake, which was a brisk 62 degrees. I decided that I was going to wear two swim caps, which should keep me warm enough. After a big, late breakfast, I did a 1 hour ride with efforts of 6 minutes, 4 minutes, and 2 minutes. My bike power numbers were really high, and at first, I thought my power meter was off, but performing certain calibration efforts validated the numbers - apparently I’m just fucking awesome, really well rested and my body is feeling quite strong!

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Ready to roll!

Race morning I take the shuttle, run into my buddy Travis around transition, and do a little bit of a warmup jog with him. I decide that I’m going to try to swim aggressively, and that I won’t need the second swim cap for warmth - I’ll just go harder. This decisioni was likely a mistake. After getting in line for the rolling swim start, I run into a few people I recognize from the Tri Cities of Eastern Washington (amazing how the triathlon community can seem small; you often run into people you know and/or recognize). Well, we end up standing around for a while, maybe 20-25 minutes in the low-mid 50 degree weather, and I start to get fairly cold. Once I get into the water, I swim aggressively and seem to warm up, but my hands are fairly cold and slightly numb. I have been swimming pretty well this winter, both in the pool and in the open water in Kona, Hawaii a little over a month ago, so I feel confident in the water. I  try a technique of swimming with a higher stroke rate in the open water, especially once we start getting a headwind after the first turn. In retrospect, I was probably flailing around and losing some of my swim form and speed. After the second turn on the home stretch, I get kicked pretty hard in the goggles by a swimmer doing breaststroke. That was a bit disorienting, and I have to get my bearings and adjust my goggles, though I doubt I lost all that much time. I get out of the water and look down and see a high 38 minute time for the swim, which is fairly slow for me and a bit disheartening. I have a bit of trouble getting my wetsuit off as my hands are quite cold. I probably should have worn that second swim cap. I think my body was just too cold, so I didn’t have a good feel for the water, and I forgot the fundamentals of my swim stroke. Oh well. 

swimErngh - get that zipper!

Swim: 38:58, place in race: 1026

Moving onto the bike, first I’m  just trying to warm up. The weather is actually pretty perfect, maybe high 50s and warming up into the high 70s by the end of the bike, with minimal wind. Before too long, I do warm up. In past 70.3s, I have paid too close of attention to power numbers, and I usually under-ride the first half or so of the bike. Today, I was planning to go a little more aggressively and hammer a bit more on the hills where needed. I’d keep an eye on my power but wouldn’t try to limit myself too much. 

bike-2Riding out of the frame - isn't that like photography 101, give your subject a place to move in the frame? I'm glad I didn't pay for this photo

Given my recent trip here in January to ride the course, I knew where the big hills were and what to expect. In particular, Snow Canyon is a deceptive climb - you think you are done about halfway through, and then, once you are done, the road looks like it climbs further but that’s actually the end. With my recent experience, I know what to expect and ride near perfectly. Ultimately, this is one of my favorite bike courses - it’s challenging but rewarding - for every big climb, there is a fast descent without any hairpin turns causing you to lose too much speed. Plus, the views are pure money. For my efforts I am rewarded with a new bike PR, over 13 minutes faster when I did this race 4 years ago.

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The money shot. As in I actually did pay money for this image.

Bike: 2:43:11, place in race 514 (movin on up!)

The Run (yes with a capital R) at St George is arguably the most challenging run on the Ironman North America Circuit. This course features over 1100 feet of elevation gain, completely in the exposed sun and heat. The first three miles feature over 450 feet of climbing. So your legs are trashed from the bike, and now you need to start climbing. I take it “easy” for these first three miles, mainly trying to give my legs some time to get used to running, take in plenty of ice to cool, and find some equilibrium with the heat. Some people are walking - when I did this 4 years ago I was a bit further back in the race and more people were walking then. Once I hit the top of the first peak after mile 3, it’s go time, and I pick it up. My running form is coming back, and I pick up some real speed on the descents. Run from the hips, light on your feet, good turnover. At each aid station I’m alternating between water and Gatorade and usually adding additional ice to my race jersey or pouring water on myself to stay cool. I look at my HR to make sure it doesn’t drop too much, and when it does, I pick up the intensity. At mile 4, I take one of my two SIS gels for the run, which gives me a noticeable boost. The one benefit of climbing up a few hundred feet is that there is a breeze, and combined with the water/ice, I never really felt “hot”, despite the temp being close to 80 degrees. Nearly everyone around me is walking or at least running slower than me, so I passed many of people, which is always motivating. The miles tick off, and I’m still feeling strong. Normally, I’m pretty dead by about mile 5 or 6 on the run and feel like I’m slogging my way through, but I actually felt strong enough to race hard all day, which is a great feeling. Basically, on the uphills, I watch my HR and make sure it doesn’t drop too low and tough it out until we get to the corresponding downhill, where I focus on my form and keep some speed. I took my second SIS gel at mile 8 which gave another boost. Once I hit the final peak around mile 10, I know it’s literally all downhill from here, and I really gun it. The splits of my last three miles were 6:39, 6:40, and 6:22 (well below the whole run average of 7:14), which is super motivating and awesome at the end of the race.

Run: 1:34:53 

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Total Time: 5:03:34, place in race: 324

Wow, a sub-1:35 run! Sweet! I think I pretty much gave it my all today. I felt fairly strong all day, similar to how I normally feel on shorter distance races - but for a longer event. I was more than 30 minutes faster than back in 2015, which is awesome. For age group placing, I was only 60th out of 293 - which isn’t bad, but it’s pretty far off from making the 70.3 World Champs, which is OK. If I could have magically put my time into the same race last year (which I can’t), I would have been 35th in my age group. So, either it was a fast day, or there was some stacked competition (or both). 

However, I’ve learned to try to be happy with the process and the lifestyle, and while I really enjoy racing (and traveling to cool locations of race venues) - in the end the results and times don’t REALLY matter, unless it’s my profession, which it isn’t :). I found the book “The Happy Runner” by David and Megan Roche to be a very intriguing and helpful read. One of the primary themes is that everyone is going to get worse at running (and endurance sports) whether through old age and/or death - so focus on the “why” running/triathlon/etc makes you happy. From a pure results standpoint, 60th isn’t that impressive. From a personal development and experience standpoint, the race was incredibly fulfilling. It’s also deeply satisfying to see the hard work pay off throughout the years.

Sorry to get all philosophical up in here… so all in all, a successful race and a good experience in a cool place - isn’t that what life is all about? Special thanks to my spouse and her parents for coming to St George to help and spectate! Also thanks to Team ZOOT for accepting me on the team last year and I'm proud to represent them. Up next, Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene at the end of June!

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Travis and I at the finish. He had an impressive 4:46

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Red Rock Canyon outside Las Vegas

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Saw "O" in Las Vegas after racing - so amazing!

 
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Chicago Marathon 2018 Race Report

Sometimes races actually go to plan. 

That’s what happened at the Chicago marathon on October 6, 2018. I used to live in Chicago from 2005 – 2008 and had completed my first two half marathons at the time, it was my first introduction to endurance sports. I don’t remember my exact times, I think something like 2:05 and 2:01 – I was close to breaking 2 hours and never really felt that motivated to do so. I didn’t really like running to be honest. As virtually everyone knows, running is kind of hard plus I was having IT band troubles. Once I got my first road bicycle in 2009, I pretty much stopped running completely and started cycling as my fitness of choice. Jump forward to 2012 I did my first triathlon and I started to like running again. With a bit more fitness it turns out I’m actually a pretty fast runner and started placing well in races, even having a few second place overall finishes (“but if you ain’t first you’re last” …j/k). I had completed two marathons in 2013/2014 (3:30/3:21) and I knew someday I wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which has various running time qualifications depending on one’s age and gender. The main thing is as the older you get, the slower the time requirement. After the Salt Lake City marathon in 2014 I decided I would not do another marathon unless I had a strong shot at qualifying for Boston. When I turned 35 in 2018, I gained an extra five minutes of buffer time – instead of needing to run faster than a 3:05 I the requirement was now 3:10 (or faster). The Chicago marathon course is a flat plus the weather conditions are often favorable in early October. Thus, Chicago 2018 seemed like the perfect event for me plus a chance to race back at home. I was planning to try to run a 3:05 as a “safe” goal to have five minutes of buffer over my goal time. Things were good!

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At the expo the day before the race

But then life threw in some wrinkles and distractions, just like it can and does for anyone. Work got super crazy the month leading up to the race. On September 20 I totaled our car. Everyone was OK but it was a shaking experience. Finally, one week before the race I find out that they modified the Boston marathon qualifying times – it is now five minutes faster for all age groups. I now HAD to run at least a 3:05 to be even considered. No more five minute buffer. Did I also mention I’m still recovering from a stress fracture earlier in the year and never did a training run of more than 12.5 miles? Granted, I had lots of endurance fitness from training for my Ironman in July but we’re essentially just going off general fitness and endurance and very little run-specific fitness. Basically – there were a variety of minor things all adding up that I was certain would “ruin” my race and I was pretty certain I would fail.

The weather forecast was looking decent – high 50s to low 60s likely with rain. My race plan was to try to average 7:00 minute miles (easier math!) which would put me about 3 hours 3 minutes and 30 seconds to finish. IE – in order to run X time, you need to shoot for a little faster than X to give some buffer, plus maybe you can actually run faster than X? The strategy was to run 5-10 seconds slower than pace for the first 5-6 miles, then on pace for the next 15, and then really kick it up the last 5 miles. I decided to wear my Team ZOOT running singlet, arm warmers, REI running shorts (as I can carry 3 gels in them), 2XU calf covers, On Cloudflow shoes, and the finisher hat from Ironman Canada back in July. Wearing the hat was primarily from a mental perspective – while I am no longer beating myself up over it, I would consider my recent Ironman Canada a failure – it was far from my the best fitness I had on the day. There is an interesting book by Matt Fitzgerald, “How Bad Do You Want It”, which has a chapter called “The Gift of Failure”. The story is around pro cyclist Cadel Evans falling short numerous times from winning the Tour de France, and that only by “failing” so many times that was the motivator he needed to finally break through to win the race. While I am no Cadel Evans and this is not the Tour, I did think that wearing the hat would remind me of “failure” and I could use that as a motivator to keep pushing when things get rather difficult during the race. 

I wake up on Race morning just over 3 hours before race time and it’s thunder storming out. While running in the rain isn’t that big of a deal, standing around in the rain an hour+ before the race kind of sucks. Fortunately the rain let up pretty shortly afterwards and it didn’t rain at all for the 90 minutes before the race! I was staying up in the north Chicago suburbs at my sister’s house and my Dad drove me in the morning to a parking spot downtown (booked with Spot Hero) and it was about 1 mile to the race start. I walked with my Dad about halfway and then decided to start jogging to warm up. I dropped a few things off at the gear check – mainly just an extra T-Shirt and my pants I was wearing. I wore a long sleeve T-Shirt (and a trash bag as a makeshift poncho) to the starting line to stay warm. I did my warmups, did the necessary (multiple) toilet breaks, then got to Corral B a few minutes before they closed up. Even though there are 20x more people at this race than a standard Ironman triathlon, the starting area did not feel any more crowded – it was just fine actually. I toss my trash can plus extra layer at the starting line, we hear the elite racers announced, the national anthem plays, and then the horn goes off. I take my gel and we inch towards the line. I believe I crossed the mat at around 7:31:30.

The first mile actually was not super-fast like I was expecting, but rather right on pace, which is fine. It was, however, fairly crowded, but nothing like an Ironman triathlon mass swim start. After mile 2 I look down at my HR and notice it’s pretty high. I try to slow it down a bit but it turns out I still am going faster than planned – 6:45 pace for those! Whoops, that's a bit too fast. I notice the 3:00 pace group go by me and I start to stay with them but then realize it’s time to hold back. I fall back to where I should be in the 7:05-7:10 range I think (GPS accuracy isn’t always great due to the cloudy weather plus buildings). The first quarter of just about any race is always awesome – you are feeling great and there is lots of positive energy from the other racers and spectators. Speaking of spectators, they are EVERYWHERE. It’s pretty great. We head north towards Lincoln Park (where I used to live) and that was pretty cool. Every time we cross a mile marker I check my watch and I’m exactly on pace with where I should be. Mile after mile ticks off. At mile 7 I take my second gel of the day and things are going great. Around mile 8 I see two guys that used to run for Purdue (my alma mater) and are getting lots of cheers (“Yeah Purdue”, “Boiler Up!”) and so I decide I should run with these guys! We get near the halfway point and it seems these Purdue guys might be slowing a little bit and notice that mile 13 was about 15 seconds off-pace. At the halfway mark my time is 1:32:02, so I am about 30 seconds ahead which means I can run the second half about 1 minute slower and still make the goal. I decide to pick it up at this halfway mark and the next few miles are a bit faster.

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3:05 pace group catching up to me. Also, it was raining out

Starting around mile 15/16 I hear some cheers for the “3:05” pace group and realize that it will likely be less energy if I run with them. So I let them catch up to me and stick with them the next three or so miles. Any time I would start to fall back a little bit I would focus on my form and catch back up and in fact pull ahead a little bit. To be honest, focusing on my form almost felt like cheating! After a little bit the pacer says: “we’re about a minute up and coming in hot. I’m going to slow down a little bit but you guys keep going. Remember to relax your shoulders and focus on your breathing.” Good advice! The next couple of miles do go well but then I remember around mile 20 the rain starts to pick up again. Mile 21 is Chicago Chinatown and things are getting pretty hard. I remember coming here many times for Dim Sum with my family. Around this time I also start to dig deep into the memory banks for motivation, thinking about some personal things that won’t really make sense to anyone else. Around mile 22 the 3:05 pace group does catch up again and I decide that I’ll run with them for the rest of the race and will NOT fall back. I remember each of the last few miles getting progressively harder to stay with the group, so I hyper-focus on running form which is about the only way I can stay with the group. Miles 23 and 24 go along and there were times I was falling back a few steps from the pacer to which I would basically sprint to catch up. I did this probably half a dozen time in these miles. There were so many times I wanted to just drop back but then I thought about the Ironman Canada hat I was wearing and remembered the feeling of failure that I would not accept again. I didn’t really look at my pace but at each mile marker I could see how I was doing – and I was still about 30 seconds ahead of the goal, so I knew I was on-target. Finally I get to the mile 25 marker and at this moment I decide I’m going to leave the 3:05 pacer group (which was only a few people left at this point) and move ahead. However, we’re on Michigan Ave and there happens to be a direct strong headwind! I really focus on my forward lean and but my form is really getting ugly. What I really loved was that the race also has signs indicating how far to go. At 1 mile to go I look down at my watch and saw 2:57:15 or so, so I knew that as long as I could run a 7:30ish last mile I would make my goal no problem. Next is 800 meters to go and I had a little under 4 minutes – I can do this! Round a turn and then go up a small hill – 400 meters, almost 2 minutes to go… 200 meters … I’m going to make it! More lean and then cross the finish line …

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Finisher chute money shot!

3:04:35!
1724th place out of 45,000 finishers

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Crossing the finish. Apparently I shouldn't have ran right behind this guy if I wanted my own finisher shot!

Wow, I did it, I fucking did it! I can’t believe it. I sometimes get emotional after races. Today was no exception and I cried. It’s funny – I knew I was likely capable of running the time “on paper”, but there are just so many factors in endurance sports that it’s difficult to actually achieve. I feel like it’s always the same story – good buildup, primed for a good performance, and then slowly things start going wrong and I don’t perform to potential on race day. Not today! After composing myself a bit I hobbled through the finisher chute, grabbing a Goose Island 312 beer and slowly, very slowly, made my way to the gear check and eventually made it to the running reunite area to meet up with my Dad. Then we walked almost a mile back to the car … very slowly. 

Reflecting, even one month later, I’m still pretty stoked about this. I’m really happy at my effort and how I refused to drop back from the pace group. There were so many times I wanted to fall back and I’m so glad I persevered. It’s also nice to know that the training works. I’m still amazed that for not having a traditional “long” training run (or runs) of 20+ miles in this buildup, I ran the second half of the marathon only 32 seconds slower than the first half. My HR graph was also basically perfect! 

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Mmm, delicious 312 beer

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With my Dad post-race

I’ve heard a saying that often times after a bad race you have a great race – and I’d say I  achieved that. I really think I had the best possible effort and outcome I could have hoped for. Often times after a race one might think: “I think had X minutes/seconds faster in me”. I had maybe a few more seconds but that’s it, I was 100% maxed, which is the goal! When my boss brought up my time at a cross-team meeting, I received so many kudos from my colleagues, it was really quite nice. I received way more kudos than on my six Ironman triathlons, I think because running races are much more relatable and many people have run at a 5k or even a half marathon to compare.

 

As for the Boston Marathon, my time meets the threshold to qualify for the 2020 edition, but it’s unknown whether beating the goal time by 25 seconds will be enough. My guess is probably not, but at least I can be in the conversation. Crazy to think if I had run just 1 second per mile slower I wouldn’t have made it. Either way I’ll find out in September 2019.

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Look at those pretty even splits! 

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Pretty damn good HR graph if I do say so myself!

The race is also super encouraging as it makes me think I am still capable of more – I haven’t had a “good” running race since 2015 when I ran my 1:23:50 half marathon. It makes me think that running a sub-3:00 marathon is possible, or at least improving on my Half Ironman run PR (1:38). Either way – I think I know I’m capable of more, which is awesome. Next year I don’t plan on doing any standalone marathons, but again focusing on the Half Ironman distance and hopefully snag a spot into the 70.3 World Championship in France. That will take both hard work plus a little bit of luck, but it’s a lofty goal worth chasing!

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Ironman Canada 2018 Race Report

Ironman Canada 2018 – when the preparation is near perfect, but the execution is not. 

After an awesome experience in Austria back in May, I’ve had a great leadup of training into Ironman Canada in Whistler 2018. Additionally, I have the following going for me: 

  • Familiarity with the course (having raced in there twice, including my first Ironman in 2013)
  • Convenience of the area – Whistler is only a five hour drive from Seattle. We have been there many times before and have stayed in the Westin numerous times before. The Whistler is even dog-friendly and were able to bring both of our dogs for no additional charge! Plus, no time-zone change.
  • Climate familiarity – Whistler is a pretty close climate to Seattle. Mainly it’s not overly hotter/more humid than Seattle so there is no need to try to adjust
  • Course profile – being a lighter athlete, hills are my friend compared to bigger athletes 
  • Racing in Heat – while no one prefers to race in heat, I’ve had two hot Ironmans and knew what to expect and what to do, even with forecasted temps in the low-mid 90’s.

I felt I had many advantages leading into the race. When the forecast kept confirming a projected high of 93F, I wasn’t fazed. Sure Ironman Coeur d’Alene was hot last year at around 93F, and it was terrible, but I persevered and learned a lot. Ironman Cozumel last year was around 88F and in general it went great. This was my race to see just how well I can perform and place.

Getting to Whistler and to the race start was rather uneventful in a good way! The dogs were even well behaved in the hotel! 

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Good dogs (for a change) in the hotel room

Swim:

I would even say the swim was uneventful in a good way! My swim form and fitness has continued to improve. I recall when I did this race 5 years ago, I was so nervous – I had to sidestroke over half of the first lap. It wasn’t until swim lap 2 that year when started where I finally calmed down. This year, all good. I was swimming a solid line drafting off others most of the time, no real issues, everything felt good, all is well.

1:15 - nearly a 3 minute PR over Ironman CDA last year!

Bike:

Now that we have a three loop course, it is known that the loops will get progressively harder. Not only are you more tired but it gets hotter in the day to double the difficulty. The first loop is great, taking it “easy” but the power numbers are looking good. Loop 2 is a little tougher, but that’s expected. Loop 3 starts to get uncomfortable. One because my crotch is getting a bit unsettled in the bike seat, but a quick stop at special needs for some just-in-case chamois cream helps. Two because I decided one week before the race to change out the foot bed liners in my bike shoes. In the couple of rides up to the race I had no issues, but after 4 hours my right big toe was rubbing and incredibly distracting. It felt similar to a new blister forming while doing a long run. It was also hot out, which isn’t unexpected, but the heat plus my big toe (plus the hills) were basically draining my will to push harder on the bike. My friend Robbie caught up to me on lap 3 on one of the longer climbs which helped me snap out of my funk for a bit, but that only lasted about 10-15 minutes until we started the slog back towards town. I decided to basically just ride along and complete the ride and focus on having a strong marathon.

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Enjoying some descents on the ride

6:45 – yikes, my second slowest bike split (behind my very first Ironman Canada in 2013)!

Run:

First, I’m super glad to have my bike shoes off, no more rubbing of the big toe. Fortunately there’s no loss of skin, so I borrow some body glide of another competitor to put it on the toe, and put on my running shoes. It’s normal and expected to either not want to run or feel like I can run after the 112 mile bike. I try to ease into it the first 6 miles, and with the heat I pre-gave myself some permission to walk at first in order to get the body used to running and keep the heart rate under control. I do start running but my stomach doesn’t feel that great. I try to burp out as much air as I can but resort to walking a bit while I continue to burp. Plus, walking did help me keep my core temp cooler. I certainly did contemplate quitting – I already had five Ironman finishes, what is a sixth one worth? 

But I knew I could walk, I could even walk the entire marathon and easily complete in 17 hours if I had to. Since I wasn’t injured or having trouble staying upright, I did convince myself quitting was not an option, that I would absolutely complete this thing. So I walk up the hills and aid stations putting ice in my jersey and water on my body/head. I run the downhills and try to take my first gel at about 3km in. Surprisingly it goes down and stays down! Hooray, maybe I’ll have some energy and be able to run now! After about one minute of running at my marathon pace/effort I look down and see my heart rate is in the high 170s, which is high zone 5, or similar to if I am sprinting. Hm, that’s not good. I slow down and walk and HR goes back into the 120s (zone 1) after about 10-15 seconds. Let’s try again – after about 30 seconds it’s now above 180. This isn’t good. I walk and manually check my pulse to make sure it’s not an issue with my chest HR monitor and sure enough, I count 17+ beats in 6 seconds. This seems bad. So I alternate running for about 45 seconds, walking for 15-20 until HR is below 130, or until I get to the next aid station where I continue to put more ice and water on myself.

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Crazy spiking HR

I tried to take another gel around mile 8, I took about a quarter of the gel and noticed an immediate gag reflex, I put my head over a trash can for a few seconds, but don’t quite throw up. OK, this must mean I can’t take any gels. I start to switch over to Pepsi, thinking that might settle the stomach. I continue my run/walk approach monitoring my HR and it looks like the HR settled after about 10 miles. I recall at 24KM/15 miles I tried to eat a chip at an aid station and about 15 seconds later I was on the ground vomiting along the side of the path – mostly all of the Pepsi/Gatorade I had been drinking. After the medical and aid station captain talked to me for a bit to make sure I didn’t have heat stroke, I had a little bit of Gatorade and an orange and was on my way and I felt MUCH better. Hey I can run again! This was fine for the next few miles but then I thought I should probably take in some more calories but any time I tried to eat/drink my stomach would be upset forcing me to walk to consume/digest. It basically became a game of running the flats/downhills and walking the aid stations and up-hills. It was effective, just not fast. At one point I saw my friend Loren, who was racing and guiding a blind athlete through the entire 140.6 miles (no joke!), he saw me walking and said - "Hey Eric! Hey ... don't fucking walk!". That actually made me laugh and I did run for a little while, at least to the next aid station. I then felt more obligated to run in feat that he would see me again and yell - so it was actually quite effective encouragement!

After passing by at least half a dozen athletes collapsed along the side of the path or getting tended to by medical personnel, I think I probably made the right call to take it easy. Fortunately, it did cool off a few degrees when the sun went below one of the mountain peaks and I did run home the final few miles. In the last mile I passed about 15 people, including 5 just before the finishers chute. It was the fastest I ran all day, I just can’t help myself but to do a finish line kick. This of course made me wiped at the finish line, where I had my head over the trash can because I felt nauseous, but didn’t throw up (until about 30 minutes later when I ate a small piece of pizza). 

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Run: 5:19 - oof. My previous slowest was 4:35 at CDA last year. So a new PR slowest?

Total time: 13:29, 384/1149 finishers (+289 who dropped out after the swim) – so top 33% of finishers, top 27% of those who started the day

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The post-finish state!

This was, by far, my slowest Ironman race. While I had minimal time expectations due to the heat, I wasn’t expecting to have quite so many issues with the body and my will to compete. It’s a bit disappointing to come in with all of the benefits mentioned above and feel like I have little to show for it. I’m sure there are plenty of learning opportunities on specific things I did or didn’t do, and many I have written down. But ultimately, Ironman is really hard to race to your potential - this difficulty is one of the draws! It’s hard to manage your pace, your nutrition, the weather, how you’re feeling. It takes a lot of focus over a long time. This was my third Ironman in 11 months and I just didn’t have that focus/will on Sunday when things weren't ideal, such as the weather and my bike show annoyance. So I eventually decided to focus on just putting one foot in front of the other. Of course that spiking heart rate on the run wasn’t a good sign either – maybe if I HAD the will to push I could have blown up and put myself in medical to NOT finish the race? But the good news is I completed the safely race in one piece, and that fortunately my good preparation still had me finishing ahead of the majority of other competitors even on a sub-par day for me. So that’s not bad. In the end, I am usually my own biggest critic and I have to not be too hard on myself. I still did a lot of things right and, for the most part, enjoyed the experience despite the physical challenges. It was certainly pretty cool to see a lot of friends racing on the course and cheering from the side.

I will likely take a break from full Ironman racing. The satisfaction I am getting out of racing Ironman are no longer clearly outweighing the cost of racing them, so I think it’s time for a break. Shorter races, including half Ironmans are still rather “enjoyable” and I plan to continue those. On these shorter races, nearly every time I can execute to the best of my ability on the day, which is really the most satisfying to me. With the Ironman, it’s rare I can say that. Maybe someday I’ll do another Ironman, maybe that focus/will can return. But for now, six Ironman finishes isn't too bad... I suppose it's six more than most people!

My next big race is the Chicago Marathon in October, where I hope to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Hopefully it’s not 90+F in Chicago on October in the morning!

 

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It's probably hard to notice the color, but apparently my skin looked very "green" at this point.

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Ironman #6 complete

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Lama - Iron dog

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Ironman St Pölten 2018 Race Report

Only a month and a half late, I finally get around to posting this. It turns out I’m not motivated to write while on vacation, and then coming back from vacation there’s a lot on one’s plate to deal with! But here goes…

Pre-Race

Ever since I elected German as my foreign language requirement in high school, I had wanted to visit a German-speaking country. My father’s side of the family has German-Austrian roots, and the rumor is that my great-grandfather came over to America from Austria as a stow-away, and upon arrival at Ellis Island, they asked for his name, he said it, and then it was spelled as “Fahsl”, though apparently the original spelling in Austria is Fössl. I found Ironman 70.3 St Pölten on the Ironman website which would take place on May 27, 2018 and after reading some race reports it sounded like a great venue. Sankt Pölten sits about 60km outside of Vienna, the course involves swimming in two different lakes (swim, run, swim, bike, run!), a somewhat hilly bike course, and a pretty flat run that goes through the town. Sounds perfect! I created a travel plan to: arrive five nights before the race in Vienna, head over to the race, then stick around Austria for another week post-race to do some sightseeing - IE have a “normal vacation”.  

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Vienna - St Peter's Church

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Vienna - Niemals Vergessen: "Never Forget"

Leading up to the race, training had been surprisingly good, especially for some unplanned mental stressors I was going through. I received pseudo-promotion at work which was rewarding but also meant more work for me. Secondly, our dog Sammy experienced a slipped disc seven weeks out from the race leaving him unable to move his rear legs, requiring fairly physically (and mentally) intensive care for a 60 pound dog. Finally, my uncle in Vancouver had been dealing with health issues and passed away a few weeks prior to the race. I had tempered my performance expectations but to my surprise – training actually went rather well.

Upon arriving in Vienna, jetlag was a major factor and I of course forgot to bring my sleep aids (drugs). We started off by experiencing Vienna café culture, tasting Austrian beer and coffee, and visiting some of the sights. I also got to practice my German, which … wasn’t actually that bad … but my vocabulary is pretty minimal. I will say that it got better with more practice. I put together my bike in the hotel room and did a 75 minute ride outside Vienna which was pretty fun.

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Belvedere Palace

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Inside Belvedere Palace

After three nights in Vienna we moved onto St Pölten, of which we rented a car in Vienna: a nearly new Opel Astra, which was actually really nice! It was a little stressful driving around Vienna, trying to make sure I wasn’t breaking too many European driving laws, and experiencing the Austrian Autobahn. Additionally, we were staying in a small town outside of St Pölten (Wilhelmsburg) which is hugely different than the large city of Vienna – fewer restaurants and fewer English speakers! It was fine, just added a little more stress, which is best to avoid before a big race.

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There was some sort of event going on in Maria Theresa Platz

 

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Traveling by car after your bike is already put together...

Later in the day I went to the race site to check in and I was rather impressed at the event production, especially for “only” a half Ironman. Big overheads, big vendor expo, and even a welcome ceremony! It was also cool that I found another Team ZOOT member but from the European team – Sidney from Munich. He did the race last year and showed me the two different lakes and the pathway in between. 

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Wachau Valley Wine region. Part of the bike course

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F
inisher's Chute / Turnaround area

The day before race I did a swim and bike, but admittedly got a little bit lost and ended up riding a little longer than expected, oops. Apparently roads on Google Maps in Austria aren’t always paved! I drove back to the race site to drop off my bike. I’m in the “Ironman all-world-athlete” bike rack and wow, my bike seems cheap. Virtually every bike had deep carbon aero wheels and most had electronic shifting (OK ok I guess my bike has both of those too, but they have more expensive frames and wheels!). I noticed there seemed to be a lot of BMC and Argon18 bikes. After check in I head home to have my traditional white rice pre-race dinner.

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In the start corral

The morning of the race went pretty well, I got a decent parking spot, checked on my bike in transition, then walked over to the starting area. What was pretty hilarious was the amount of public urination happing all throughout the woods! Now of course in the US people pee in the woods but usually they try to go off the beaten path, but not here – right alongside bike paths, etc. It was pretty funny. Anyways, this race utilizes wave starts by projected swim finish time. I said 35-38 minutes for my time, which put me in the latter half of the waves. I get into line and get ready to go!

Swim

Pretty good to start – jumped in off the dock, get into my groove. After about 3 minutes, things do start to feel a bit harder, it seems I’m not getting as much air – in the past this is when I’d have a panic attack. It’s like my body was doing fast efforts as a warmup, and now it wants time to rest and stretch and get the HR back down. Well I can’t do that in a race! So I ease up on the intensity a little bit until it starts to feel better. The first two turn buoys arrive quickly and then eventually I’m finished with 1k of swimming and we head out of the first lake. Next we run 275m on the path to the second lake, I pass a few people on this, and my HR is jacked! It’s pretty fun actually. Get to lake number two and I jump in and start swimming. Whoa! My legs are dead and my HR is still through the roof! So I don’t kick for the first 10 or so strokes, but eventually things calm down and feel a bit more normal. This turn buoy seems to come up really soon. I think about my swim form and some of the areas I’ve been working on – pulling from the lats, keeping the head straight in the water, and core tight. When I do all three, it feels like I’m rocketing through the water. After the turn, I see a group of three swimmers about 10 meters ahead, I think to myself – hey I wonder if I can catch them. Well I do catch them! Always encouraging in a swim to pass people in the last 1/3 of the swim, you feel like you’re heading in the right direction. Before long I’m at the end of the swim and I’m done! 

 

Time: 39:30, not a PR, but I’ve never had to run 275m in the middle of a swim before!

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Running from Lake 1 to Lake 2

Transition 1: Wetsuit got caught on timing chip. Never had that happen before, lost maybe 15-20 seconds, need to remember to really get the wetsuit over the chip in the future. So I come up to the rack my bike is on … and it’s the only bike there! Seriously! I’m thinking WTF, OK I know that Europeans are good athletes but I’m not THAT bad of a swimmer! But then I recall that with the wave starts and that I was on the “All World Athlete” bike rack that probably many of the others on this rack likely started in a wave earlier than me. But it did cause me to laugh, which is always good to do in a race.

Bike

OMG, spoiler alert, this was amazing. My plan was to ride the flats relatively conservatively at around 165 watts (starting closer to 160 for the first hour and closer to 170 the last hour), and then punch it once we hit the three major climbs of the route. The bike course was fully closed to traffic, which was awesome. It had a bit of everything, including riding 10km on the Autobahn (speed limit 130km/h, or in 81 in American), then through wine country along the Danube River, and finally to the largest climb of the day, a 1200 foot climb over 4 miles. I was anticipating the climb would be a slugfest, as 500 feet is at an average grade of 10%, but surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I start passing quite a few people (benefits of being lightweight riding up hills) and I recall a friend who raced Ironman Switzerland a few years ago said tongue-in-cheek in a race report: “It just felt so good passing all the Germans and Euros who think universal health care is a right when we all know true freedom is the ability to die from a curable disease”. I found thinking about this to be deeply amusing, which is always great to have a distraction when going through extreme physical exertion. On this road we also went through a number of small towns where many of the townspeople (villagers?) were out cheering “Op op op op op” and “Zooper!” (just say it in your head with a thick German accent). I can’t describe how enjoyable this experience was. I’m thinking to myself: “I’m racing on my bike in Europe on closed roads which are super smooth with townspeople cheering me in a foreign language with beautiful scenery. Is this a dream?!”. Seriously, I don’t know how else to describe how cool of an experience it was. Anyways, after the major climbs we start heading back towards town which happen to be into a headwind, but it wasn’t as terrible as I was expecting. Over the winter I had upgraded a few components on my bike to make it more aerodynamic, including a new carbon fiber base bar, the Tririg Omega X aero front brake, along with a new aero helmet. It’s hard to quantify, but at least it felt fast despite the headwind! I approach town and roll into town after completing the 90km bike.

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Bike Time: 2:53. It was also lower on the power than I had planned, maybe too much sightseeing and not enough hammering 

Run

In T2, after I took what felt like longest pee ever, get started with the run. After having run barefoot from my bike around a large field and get into my On Cloudflow shoes it felt like running on clouds (trademark?)! Some background on my run – I have had a small stress fracture (GASP!) on my right foot the few weeks prior to the race. I did see my PT, fortunately it was a minor one, but enough to keep me away from all but the minimal amount of running the two weeks leading up to the race and plus taking some mental energy worrying about it. It seems most races around this time of year I will have some sort of minor running injury, but somehow on race day they are magically fixed. I assume this is due to a combination of having fully warmed up (via swim + bike) before running, plus the race-day adrenaline, plus since in a race I’m pushing so hard it’s usually my legs/muscles that hurt the most and the existing injury doesn’t hurt that much comparatively! Leading into to the race my assumption was that the stress fracture was going to hurt, potentially a lot, but that I probably wouldn’t notice it too much compared to everything else. From a long-term risk standpoint, it was relatively low – it wouldn’t help the healing process but it shouldn’t make it that much worse – but I might have to lay off running for a few weeks after the race.

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Anyways, back to the race, I did feel the stress fracture at first but was more or less enjoying the sights and scenery around me. Typically I try to take the first 3 miles fairly easy, trying to get my HR down and settle in. After the 3 miles is when I consider the run to “actually” start and then try to pick it up. It was warm (78-80F) but not terrible. Ever since Ironman Coeur d’Alene last year, it seems my ability to run in the heat has dramatically improved, primarily due to taking in more BASE salt during the bike and early stages of the run. Also, that race was 93F, so almost anything feels cool compared to that. I did have some light cramping around mile 2-3 where my pace slowed a bit, but the BASE salt helped and then my first gel around mile 3 also was a boost. I distinctly remember around 7km (1/3 of the way through) that my foot didn’t hurt any more … at all. This has been the best my foot has felt running in weeks, I kind of couldn’t believe it. Chalk this up to another case of race day magic I guess? I also saw a few Team ZOOT Europe teammates on the run, which was pretty cool. On the far end of the course we go through the town of St Pölten and there are a number of outdoor cafés with people enjoying their frühstuck (breakfast) while watching triathletes run by only a few feet away!

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It is a two-loop run course and once I start loop two there are significantly more people on course, which also means I am passing a lot more people as well, which always gives me a mental boost. Around mile 10 is typically when I decide to pick it up, IE where the real suffering starts. I tend to focus on the small things – drive from the hips, force the elbows back, push off the big toe, stand up tall. This tends to work quite well and I ended up having my three fastest miles of the day to close it out. Finally, I am back at the turnaround point where you either go right for loop two or left to the finisher’s chute. To me, this is the absolute best part of the race, the hard work is done, now is your time to celebrate – though I always end up sprinting to finish, maybe I need to celebrate a bit more. I cross at 1:38:00 for the half marathon, my personal best by almost a minute despite being hot and having a stress fracture. Not too shabby, I’ll accept that!

Total Time: 5:19:30

92/245 in division, 452 / 1515 Non-Pros

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After the race I chatted with some other athletes, a guy from Venice, a guy from Munich, and a few other randoms. I don’t consider myself an outgoing person, but it’s really easy to do after a race. I certainly needed to take some time for my body to cool down a bit, I didn’t want another post-race puking incident like at CDA last year. But eventually I felt good enough to have a post-race beer and some fruit. Pick up a finishers shirt (yes, they had finisher shirts for a half!) and head home to clean up. 

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Earning my finisher's beer

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With Sidney from Team ZOOT Europe

Post-Race

In closing, the experience of racing in Austria was awesome. It absolutely exceeded my expectations. The competition was very strong, the course was super cool, the fans cheering in German was awesome, and I was able to close out with a personal best run. It’s likely that maybe if I had a few more days to adjust to the time zone or had a little less stress in my personal life (and once in Austria) that I could have performed a bit better, but honestly – I think I raced the best I possibly could have on the day, and you can’t do better than that!

After the race, we hung around Austria for another seven days. We spend three nights in Salzburg visiting a number of Sound of Music sites to experience childhood nostalgia from watching the movie growing up. Then we closed the trip with three nights in the Alps in Innsbruck, where I went on an amazing solo bike ride in the Alps and we saw some more sights around the mountains. The Alps are truly a magical place and require a return visit.

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Melk

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Salzburg - Mirabell Gardens

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Salzburg

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Hohensalzburg Fortress

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Zell Am See

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Innsbruck, on top of Nordekette

 
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