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Ironman Arizona 2015 Race Report

(This should be read as somewhat tongue-in-cheek)

This past Sunday was the Ironman Arizona Triathlon (IMAZ) in Tempe (Phoenix): a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run in under 17 hours.  When looking at it as a whole, it seems fairly incredibly impossible.  I certainly felt this way not too long ago.  I had a friend do Ironman Wisconsin back in 2009 and that’s when I was first introduced to triathlon and specifically to Ironman racing.  IMAZ 2015 would be my third full-distance Ironman (having done Canada/Whistler in 2013 and Wisconsin in 2014) and I had high hopes for the race.  My training had gone quite well, no major hiccups, no injuries, and really pretty minimal-to-no work travel keeping me away from my bike.  This year was also different – for the first time I’d be racing Ironman with teammates from the Seattle Green Lake Triathlon Group (SGLTG).

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Phoenix Botanical Gardens with Mom and Alicia 

We arrived in Phoenix on Thursday and joined in on the second annual Underpants Run – which is a bit of a knock off from a tradition in Kona (the most well-known Ironman) – it was pretty fun actually, plus a good way to shake out the legs from the flight.  Did a practice ride on Friday, practice swim on Saturday morning (63 degree water, kind of cold!), final run on Saturday afternoon. Weather was looking great as well – forecasted a high of 70 degrees with a 20% chance of rain.  Everything was great, expectations were high for a strong PR time.  

12232750_490573444435485_8858398947581977291_oMost of the IMAZ Seattle Racers

Get to transition around 6:00am, add my nutrition to my bike, set up my power meter, attach bike shoes to pedals, throw the wetsuit on my legs and start warming up my arms with stretch cords.  Lots of music is played in transition, and the song “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten comes on (more to come on this), then I see Tracy Gayler in transition and she snaps a picture of me with the thumbs up!

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ood morning! Headlamps are key in dark transitions!

Swim

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cott Gayler and I.  He beat me by 7 minutes on the swim - maybe I should have tried to stay on his tail for the swim!  And yes I double-capped it, for "protection" ;)

For the first time, Ironman Arizona employed a rolling start (kind of like large running races, your time starts when you cross the starting line) vs a mass swim start.  In the corral I met up with Scott Gayler and we chatted a bit, talking about how perfect the weather was going to be.  First the male pros go at 6:40, female pros at 6:45, age groupers at 6:50.  I was in the water by about 6:53.  Tempe Town Lake is a bit murky – visibility is quite poor.  Normally you can see 5-6 feet in any direction – people to your side, people in front.  This is useful for drafting off other swimmers to go faster and save energy.  Nope, not here.  Going to have to sight (put your head up out of the water and look where you’re going) a lot.  Plus, it’s still dark out – the sun doesn’t ride until 7am, so it’s a bit of mayhem.  The course is rectangular-shaped and a single loop. It’s not uncommon for songs in your head to play back while I swim.  Well that damn “Fight Song” gets into my head… Stroke, stroke,  “This is my fight song”, breathe, stroke-stroke “take back my life song”, breathe, stroke-stroke “prove I’m alright song”, breathe, sight… repeat.  I’m thinking seriously?!  This song??  After about 35 minutes into the swim I make the first turn, another 3-4 minutes turn 2, head back towards the starting line (“This is my fight song…” ugh!), make turn three and then climb up the stairs after 1:20 and head into the Swim-Bike Transition (T1).  

Nutrition consumed: 1 gel with caffeine ~7-8 minutes before swimming.

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Get this damn wetsuit off me!

Bike

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One spends a LOT of time in the aero position at IMAZ

After a quick-ish four minute transition I hop on the bike.  Take my first gel and am on my way out to start the first of three loops to make up 112 miles.  The course is flat, really flat – probably a big reason why IMAZ is so popular.  People tend to think flat = easy.  While I agree to a large extent for those trying to complete a race (vs compete in a race), flatter = faster.  How fast depends on how hard you push which is the opposite of easy.  My general strategy was to use my bike power meter to closely gauge my effort and basically negative split each of the three loops.  Loop one was easy (as it was expected), and then during loop two it starts to rain, and then pour.  What?  This is the desert, and it wasn’t supposed to rain until 6pm!  WTF?  Now, given that we live in Seattle, cycling in the rain is not that big of a deal, need to use caution on turns and braking but otherwise … game on!  The problem is … I’m starting to get cold.  Really cold at times.  The rain does let up a bit, only to pick back up when I start loop 3.  My power numbers are lower than expected.  I try to push a bit but my body isn’t responding – could it be because of the cold?  I decide to follow my perceived effort and not try to kill it to maintain my targeted watts.  Closing out loop three and getting close to town, it’s raining buckets again, and I’m somewhat miserable.  This is ridiculous, it’s not fun, this is really stupid.  Then, one of the spectators is yelling at the racers encouragingly: “Bring on the rain, now THIS is racing!”.  This snaps me out, I say to myself, “he’s right, this IS racing… expletive expletive”.  I close out the bike course with a 5:53, which is right around where I wanted to bike.  I see Jonathan Nield at the bike transition and head off to T2 to switch to my run gear.

Nutrition consumed: 2 gels, 2 clif bars (cut up in 1/8s), 800 calories Carbo Pro + 2 Nuun, 1 pack Clif Bloks, half a pack of Gu Chomps (and water)

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Finishing Lap 1 of the bike

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Yes, off the bike!  Yes it's wet out.

Run

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Smiling on the run, you're not allowed to have fun while racing!

First steps off the bike – whooooa legs.  That feels funny.  Not terrible, but just crazy.  The rain is letting up a little bit, but transition is really muddy.  I didn’t throw a hand towel into my T2 bag with m running shoes because I wasn’t expecting it to be raining!  Try to wipe my feet off onto my legs, throw on my socks, running shoes, visor, race belt and am on my way!  I actually did not have a super-detailed strategy for the run, mainly just to not walk and to pick a point in the last 6 miles where I would “go”. The first two miles are super easy, and I try to go as slow as I possibly can, but I can’t get any slower than 8:00 miles.  OK sure I’ll hang out here at this pace for a bit.  After two miles, we make the first turn and onto a dirt path, which would normally be really nice on a regular day.  I see Jim Burho starting his run and Scott Gayler shortly after Jim.  But, since it poured it was basically a mud pit.  This seemed to completely zap my energy and never felt the same after that.  My form still seemed good, I seemed to good bounce/flow, but my pace gradually started to slow.  I did cramp slightly at the start of the run, so I took in gatorade near the beginning and the cramping never got bad.  Around mile four I saw Cortney (and someone else, who was it?) cheering me on and gave a high-five as I passed.  At mile six I passed Aid Station #5, which is exactly where I volunteered last year!  That was a nice mental boost and I continued to trudge along.  For a two-loop run course, there is a sign that says “Loop 2, LEFT, Finish line, RIGHT”.  The person in front of me is finishing, the volunteers at the sign cheer her on.  I head to the left and the volunteer says “We’ll see you soon”.  Aw, thanks. I finished the first half in about 1:57  Well – there goes my goal of running a 3:45.  Let’s at least try to stay constant and maintain a sub-4 hour marathon.  Running along lap 2, I still feel quite sluggish – I look down at my watch and am seeing 9:15’s/9:45’s, and sometimes above 10:00.  I can’t believe I’m running this slow – I can’t even TRY to run that slow on my own.  WTF body?  Why aren't you cooperating?  To further annoy things, I had to pee a lot – I visited the porta-potties a total of seven times on the run!  It’s like I had broken the seal!  The good news is that I’m passing a lot of people on their first loop, which is always a mental boost.  Around mile 19 I see Scott Jozi for the first time of the day.  I come up to him, chat for a few, mention I’m struggling, but doing better now that I’m chatting with him.  After 30 seconds or so I leave him and then hit those last 6 miles of the marathon.  

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Less enjoyment on the face, probably a good sign I'm not slacking off. 

Continue to battle through and then at mile 23 I decide that I am going for this.  I pick up the pace.  It feels like racing a 10k but at a really slow pace.  I continue to pass more people, get some good encouragement from the crowds, and I remember the absolute best moment of the day – getting back to that same sign towards the end with the decision point, but this time, “Finish Line, RIGHT” – I still remember that moment like it just happened and brings me such elation.  Maybe a quarter mile is still left, I see Alicia there, blow her a kiss, then enter the finisher’s chute.  Lights are on, music blaring, Mike Reilly says “From Seattle Washington, Eric Fahsl, you are an Ironman!”. This is actually the first time Mike has announced my name.  I see my parents, Alicia, and Loren (who rocked a 9:28!).   Fellow SGLTG Kirsten is there at the finish line to help me get my medal, finishers shirt, hat, pose for pictures, and helps me find athlete food and massage (Thanks again Kirsten!).  

Nutrition consumed: 6 gels, ~6 small cups gatorade, a lot of coke, a few sips of red bull (blurgh) and water

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Worst finishing line photo ever?  

My run time was a somewhat disappointing 4:07 (my slowest ever Ironman run time … whaaa?), but it ended up with a final time of 11:29:25 – a 30 minute improvement over my previous best time at the distance (last year in Wisconsin was a 11:59:49).  It placed me in the top 20% of all finishers.

Total calories consumed: ~2600 calories in 11.5 hours.

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My goal was to be on the lower end of 11 hours, which I suppose technically I did!  Very happy with the overall effort, still not quite sure why the run was so slow, I think perhaps being cold from the rain must have sucked out some of my energy and left me with a little less in the tank to not be able to run to my potential.  But I can say it was a real blast to be there with a number of teammates, both racing and volunteering.  It was always a pleasure to see each other on the course, encourage each other, and tell war stories after the event.  Finally, for anyone who has ever aspired to do a triathlon (from a super-sprint up to an Ironman), I’d say go for it!  Everyone starts somewhere and we all seem like idiots the first time we “tri”.  I was a downright terrible swimmer, a mediocre biker, and a untrained runner just three years ago, and now I’m finishing in the top 20% of one of the toughest endurance sports in the world.  If I can do it, anyone can.  Just start small.  Oh, and have fun.  Unless you're trying to compete to the top of your age group, then stop having fun you slacker and go faster!

11223568_490822754410554_2990670045770544714_oAlicia and I at the SGLTG after party - Fat Tuesdays!

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Ironman 70.3 St George 2015 Race Report

Race Leadup

This past weekend was Ironman 70.3 St George in the desert of Southwest Utah.  It is known as being one of the toughest half Ironman triathlons around.  1.2 mile swim in 60-64 degree water, 56 miles of very hilly roads (3600 feet of climbing) through gorgeous red rocks, and 13.1 miles of hilly running (1200 feet of climbing, yes ... 1200!) without an ounce of shade in 90+ degree temps.  It is also the North American Pro Championship for professional triathletes, so there were a number of well-renowned pros in attendance. 

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Landing in St George 

This would be my first triathlon of 2015 and a set up to my next race in Victoria BC, another half ironman tri.  I knew this was going to be a challenge – the course is very unforgiving and there are few opportunities to train in the heat during the Seattle winter.  Still, this type of course suits me well – anything hilly tends to fall into this category.  Gravity is your friend when you weigh only 126lbs, it takes so much less effort to cycle and run up hills.

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Ironman Village on Thursday - fairly quiet for now

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Previewing the Snow Canyon climb 

Arriving in St George on Thursday afternoon, we were greeted with 90 degree temps.  Oof.  Fortunately it’s a “dry heat”, but it is still hot.  Nutrition the week leading up to the race was vital – especially electrolytes.  The last half-Iron I completed was also hot and I cramped badly on the run, want to avoid that this time!  I had consumed a LOT of Nuun tablets, including three the day before the race. Checked into the race, my in-laws Gene and Deb also arrived on Thursday, had some In N Out burger (you know, for some more salt ;) ), previewed the infamous Snow Canyon climb on the bike course and then went back to the hotel to start re-assembling the bike…

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Something appears to be missing here...

SHIT!  Um … what happened???  A piece from where my seat post goes into the seat tube broke off during shipping.  The saddle won’t go in.  After freaking out for about 10 minutes I work on assembling the rest of the bike and realize this is probably something minor, and I’ll head to a bike shop in the morning.  Turns out this isn't uncommon as it's a very poor design and the newer Felt's don't have this any more. (post-edit, turns out it is NOT replaceable and I can get by for a little while.  The risk of a "catastrophic failure" is near 0. But at some point I guess I get to go shopping for a new frame... or bike. So that's ... good?)  At the bike shop, we jerry-rig a solution – use some electric tape to hold down some of the protruding pieces, file it down, put the seat tube in, then slap the sleeve back on and tighten it down.  It’s pretty damn secure and is going to have to do.  Attend the athlete briefing, water temp is 62 degrees and now it sounds like the drafting rule is FIVE bike lengths now not three and the penalty is a full five minutes if you are caught.  Wow.  Will have to keep that in mind.  Head to T2 to drop off my bike and do a short swim - 62 degrees doesn't seem TOO bad.

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The swim venue at Sand Hollow State Park.  We swim around this island actually.

Race morning goes fairly smoothly.  4:15am the alarm goes off and normally on race morning I want to shoot myself (until I get my coffee), but not today – I was feeling fairly refreshed.  Gene dropped me off at T2 around 5:10am, I took the athlete shuttle to the start and went to transition and got things settled.  The event camera man recorded me airing up my tires, and I made the video (see 4:11)!  Unfortunately I was in a later wave, 7:42am with half of the M30-34 age group so I had some time to kill.  I watched the pro men and women take off, then eventually started a light jog and put on my wetsuit.  Caught up with my swim wave in line, tried to warm up my arms a bit and then got into the water once the previous wave went off.  Had 3 minutes and then …

Swim

GO!  This time around I figured I should try to go a bit aggressively at the start and then settle into my pace.  I figured I would do 200 “hard-ish” strokes and then settle in.  Well, about sixty strokes into it things start to go haywire.  The right side of my swim cap starts leaking.  My right goggle starts leaking.  I stop and adjust the goggles and then the group of guys I was with leaves me in the dust.  Hm, oh well.  Another 40 strokes or so and I’m having trouble breathing.  I slow down a bit, and now my body feels hot.  Damn, it must be this new wetsuit – it’s smaller than my previous one (which was a little too big).  Why did I get this XS wetsuit, maybe I should have gotten the S?  Now my head is hot.  Oh no!  That’s the problem… my new cold water neoprene swim cap (which I’ve swam with three times this year) is too hot!  I’ve never raced with it, only practice-swam!  What do I do?  OK I’ll breast stroke a bit.  Hm, nope that doesn’t help.  Sidestroke?  Negative.  Dump more water down the neck of my wetsuit – oh man that’s cold.  That doesn’t help.  I’ve got to get rid of this extra cap.  There’s a safety kayak with two people hanging on!  So, I pull up to the kayaker, ask if she’ll take my swim cap, she does and reacts “wow that’s really hot!”, put my race cap and goggles back on, she says she’ll take it to lost and found, I thank her and am on my way.  Oh man, my head is cold now!  What is this, amateur hour?  I had to laugh to myself about this because what else am I going to do, I was on-schedule for my worst triathlon swim ever!  Go through my old tricks of fighting panic attacks (count strokes, use breast stroke to sight, my “glide/side/wide” mantra) and finally have a solid swim for the last 0.5 miles. 

Swim Time: 43:36, place in race: 1549
My second slowest half Iron swim time – about five minutes off what I probably should have swam at.  They say you can’t win a triathlon in the swim, but you can lose it.  Sigh. 

Bike

Well, at least I had some positive momentum with how the swim ended to propel me into the bike.  The wetsuit strippers helped pull off my wetsuit, got to my bike (with shoes already clipped in of course ;)), put my wetsuit into my bike transition bag (so they can take it back to the finish line end of race), and then head to the mount line and ride.  Fortunately, there was practically ZERO wind today, so this was going to be a good bike day for me.  Strategy – try to emulate a race simulation bike ride from two weeks ago – 140 watts for the first hour, 140-160 watts second hour, 160+ watts for the third hour, trying to avoid going over 180 and rarely over 200.  I realize that those watts are not the highest, but again I am light and I knew I have a hilly half marathon looming.  The great thing about the power meter is the ability to know what output you are actually doing when your brain may be telling you something else.  Coming out of the swim your adrenaline is going crazy, HR is often spiked, and it’s hard to know how “hard” you really should pedal.  I was passing people left and right at 21+ mph and was worried I was going too hard.  Nope, 140-145 watts, right on schedule.  Groovy, this is going to be a great day.  I roll through the first half at around 1:16 and I’m thinking “OMG, I’m definitely going to break 3 hours on the bike”.  Well, naturally – the harder part of the course is the second half, plus the temperatures are rising and fatigue sets in.  Snow canyon was indeed tough, that 7-8% climb at the end of a 900 foot hill is always going to be challenging.  A number of people were walking their bikes up the last part (sucks to be them!).  The reward is a long 1100 foot descent, with much of it over 40mph, that was fun.  Many people don’t pedal and take advantage of their aerodynamic tri bike, and I continued to pass a number of people downhill (despite my light weight!).  Roll into T2, take off helmet and sunglasses, put on my socks and shoes, put on visor race belt, get some sunscreen and am on my way.

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My best bike leg to date.  Variability Index of 1.06 for those interested ;)

Bike time: 2:56:12, place in race: 833.  Bike PR by over 10 minutes!

Run

Running after biking during a tri is often a strange feeling.  On one hand, your muscles have been biking for a few hours so the running motion causes them to feel odd.  On the other hand, the transition change (and the spectators around transition) sparks adrenaline which provides energy.  For the first half mile usually feels pretty good, but the next 1.5 miles after that often suck and I think there is no way I can run a half marathon.  After 1.5 miles I check my watch time for the run and realize it still says 0:00.  Turns out my watch got paused during the bike and remained paused for the run.  Well, let’s start it now.  To add to the suck factor, the first three run miles at St George are almost all uphill, gaining over 400 feet, with some steep grades.  You then get to go down a bit, only to go back up.  In short, you’re rarely running on flat.  Did I mention that it’s almost noon, it’s nearly 90 degrees and there is no shade? 

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Yep, no shade + nearly 90 deg

The good news is that a light breeze did pick up and I never really felt “hot”, just really tired.  I knew this was going to be tough, and just decided to keep moving and not dig too deep, at least not right away.  My slow swim already set me far back that I’m not going to worry too much about my time/place and just try to enjoy the experience.  If I couldn’t sustain my current pace, I slowed down.  If I felt OK, I sped up. What I found most striking about this is that almost everyone was walking, similar to a full Ironman.  In an Ironman, almost everyone walks a portion of the marathon – some more so than others.  In a half Iron – usually much fewer walkers.  This had a lot of walkers, so given that I’m passing people left and right, there wasn’t much point to dig too deep and potentially hurt myself or suffer heat/sun stroke.  I did force myself to run the whole time, except at aid stations … which I admittedly spent a little too much time walking through drinking gatorade/water/coke.  After reading other race reports, I developed a good strategy at aid stations to take a cup of ice and put half down the front of my jersey, half down the back (and sometimes a little in the tri shorts!) and it kept my core cool.  Again, I never felt “hot”, just physically tired!  What helped get me through was a new modified mantra I picked up from Chris “Macca” McCormmack – who says that in an Ironman there is really just “30 minutes of shit” you have to deal with in the day.  Well, I decided to adopt that for a half Ironman.  I figured 10 minutes were on the swim.  The last 5 minutes of the snow canyon climb.  10 minutes of the first big run hill, and then approaching the last hill on the run before the final downhill 3 miles I told myself I only have “5 minutes of shit” left.  And you know – I was right!  I look down at my watch at the base of the last hill, and then when I get to the top, sure enough 5 minutes have passed.  I roll into the finish line at a decent clip, the clock is still set to the pro start, and I honestly have no idea what my finish time is.  I was expecting to find out from my watch but since it was paused I really don’t know – and to a certain extent I didn’t care (surprising for me!) - just relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Run time: 1:48:53, place in race: 487

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Cool down a bit, try to find some shade to stretch, then get some food.  Eventually I go to the information booth and learn that I finished in 5:33:44.  Not bad!  I was hoping for around a 5:30 and given my shitty swim, I am perfectly happy with that time.  That time also puts me in at the top 24% overall, top 35% in my age group.  Stopped by lost and found, no swim cap :(  Sorry Mom and Dad, I lost one of the Christmas presents you got me!  Overall I really enjoyed this race - I would definitely come back again - I want a redo of my swim and I have a better idea what to expect on that hilly run course.

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Looking ahead to Ironman 70.3 Victoria on June 14… the bike will still be pretty hilly (but not as hilly as this), but the run is flat and shaded!  Can’t wait!  Some other pictures from nearby Zion National Park - we saw a lot of people in IM StG gear that day - a popular place! 

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Court of the Patriarchs 

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Viewing the Great White Throne from Big Bend

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Walking towards the Narrows

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Ironman Wisconsin 2014 Race Report

Ironman number two is now in the books.  With pretty-much-ideal weather conditions, Madison WI hosted Ironman Wisconsin for its 13th year on Sunday, September 7, 2014.  Having completed Ironman Canada last year, Alicia and I set our sights on Ironman Wisconsin as we used to live in Madison from 2006 through 2012 while she attended graduate school at the University of Wisconsin.  When we lived here, we sort-of paid attention to the event.  We had a college friend compete in 2009 and thought the idea was so cool … but NEVER thought we would do this.  Ever.  Seriously.  I remember being at the Madison airport on Mondays after the event for work travel and seeing other passengers wearing Ironman gear or their “Ironman finisher” jackets and really truly being in awe of them.

Fast forward to 2013, I completed my first Ironman, which was focused entirely on “completing” vs “competing”.  Now let’s try to “compete”, that is, how fast can I go? I had a couple of key races prior to IMWI in 2014: a spring marathon in Salt Lake City, a tough Half Ironman in Lake Chelan, and five weeks ago I decided to spend the money on a power meter (Garmin Vector) to help my gauge my effort on the bike.  I felt I was very mentally and physically prepped.

Race Weekend

We flew out to Madison from Seattle on Thursday morning and arrived late afternoon – just in time to get dinner with Alicia’s parents Thursday night who drove in from Indiana.  Friday was about bike retrieval, event check-in, and quick shakedown bike ride and run.  In the evening I attended the banquet with my parents who drove up from Illinois and Alicia went out with her parents and some other family that drove up to see her.  It turns out there were over 1200 “Iron Virgins” at this event.

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Prepping equipment and bags for the day ahead

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Setting up the bike on Saturday

Race Morning

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Alicia and I about to head into the water

We were dropped off at Monona Terrace a little before 6am on race morning, and headed up to attach nutrition and water bottles to our bikes, drop off special needs bags, and then get to the swim start.  It was very crowded, mainly by the spectators – it took a long time to get anywhere.  Previous race reports gave me a heads-up that it can be crowded just getting into the water and it was true – we lined up sometime between 6:40-6:45 and happened to see our friends Erin and Michael in line and chatted with them.  Mike Reilly did a decent job trying to get us all in the water, yelling at spectators to get out of the way of the athletes.  Finally around 6:55 we entered the water, basically just enough time to pick out where to position oneself for the start cannon.  I placed myself on the right side and next to the ski jump, about 5-6 people back and waited in anticipation of the cannon and …

Swim

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Swim Start - 2500 athletes all going at once

Boom!  It took 5-10 seconds or so for the people in front of me to start moving and then we were off.  Once we cleared past the ski jump some room opened up but it got crowded fast.  In fact, most of the swim was crowded, I kept running into the people in front of me, I had to breaststroke at times to scope things out and figure where I could go.  Sighting became necessary not to see the course but to see where some clean water was.  I could feel myself continuously heading left until I was feet from the buoy line – hm, I wanted to stay further outside for turn one because that’s going to be congested as hell.  A few minutes pass and shit!  Now I’m right by the turn buoy – we basically came to a stop and slowly moved past.  I didn’t hear too much “mooing” (supposedly everyone moos around this corner), maybe just a few.  After a short bit, turn 2 goes a little faster and now we’re on the long stretch.  I find that I’m in a bit of cleaner water and realize I’m actually inside the buoys, which is allowed as long as you cut back out for the turn.  Wow, I can actually swim like normal, I pick up the pace a bit and notice I start moving up on people.  Couldn’t quite find some good feet to draft off of, but finally some clean water and I can actually swim with some intensity.  Some congestion did form again and I got elbowed in the face but fortunately the goggles stayed put with no leaking.  Eventually we get to turn three which goes surprisingly smoothly and then I start following some swimmers and realize they’re heading to shore vs the finish line so I try to cut left and yet still people are heading too close to shore.  Finally I see the finish area and am on course.  I’m thinking to myself the early congestion and going off-course a bit at the end probably hurt my time, I bet I’m at 1:30 for the swim like last year at Canada.  When I got out of the water I was pretty thrilled to see sub 1:22 and rocketed out to Transition.

Time: 1:21:55, Place in Race: 1298 

T1

Transitions at IMWI are long.  After getting helped by a wetsuit stripper you run a decent bit then up the parking helix at Monona Terrace (with spectators cheering all around!) and go inside for your transition area.  I had a great volunteer that took my bike gear out of my T1 bag and help arrange things while putting away my wetsuit and goggles for me.  Head outside (carrying bike shoes in hand, I’d recommend this – it’s a long way to go still), get sunscreen applied, a volunteer helps grab my bike for me then mount up just before the riding down the parking garage helix.

Time: 8:07, Place in Race: 1087

Bike

Everyone talks about the bike at IMWI for a good reason.  It’s a challenging course that I think is easy to overlook – there are no “big” hills – nothing more than 300 feet at a time and the online course elevation map says only 2700 feet.  However, that course elevation is for one loop not two and the course is constantly changing – up, down, turn, repeat.  My goal was to ride “smart” – use my power meter to ensure I would not over-exert myself on the climbs and then make sure to keep the pressure on over the top of the hill, and in general to go easy on the first loop to save energy for the second loop and the run.  Well, first loop went great, I was riding around 138bpm and 130 watts all at an easy RPE (rate of perceived exertion).  People around me might charge up the up-hill and then stop pedaling and coast at the top of the hill.  I would then fly by them on the downhill and generally not see them again.  The three B’s – the hills towards the end of the first loop that people talk about – were full of spectators but they just felt really “easy”.  I smiled at the spectators and had a nice enjoyable climb up.  Rounding the turn to start loop two I look down at my clock and see about 3:03 has passed and I’m thinking, “This is awesome! I’m doing everything right and I might just turn in a great bike split.  Well, about 30 minutes into loop two I notice my legs are getting a little tired and my power numbers are dropping off a bit.  For a little while I try to force them up but then I worry about paying for it on the run later, so I keep the same RPE as the first loop just with much less power.  It got hotter and a little windier, and those three hills weren’t as easy this time around.  The second loop took about 3:21.

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On the bike, lap 2

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Alicia on the bike

Time: 6:24:32, Place in Race: 1087 (exact same position after T1, weirdly enough)

T2

Not as interesting as T1. I did change out of my tri shorts into running shorts, then got some thorough sunscreen and hit the porta-potty then was on my way to the run.

Time: 6:29, Place in Race: 1071

Run

So now we’re onto my strongest activity, but my legs were pretty jelly-like getting off the bike.  I check my watch and see that it was 3:01pm when I started the marathon, so I just need to run a 3:59 marathon and I can break 12 hours on the day.  Should be simple enough, right?  My plan was to run the first 6-8 miles super easy, or “stupid easy” as I’ve heard it called, then gradually increase the pace, and know that I’m going to put in a tough solid effort for the last 6-7 miles of the race.  Well, things do go pretty well the first few miles; I really enjoyed seeing the spectators around and smiled at a lot of them as I was on my casual jog.  I kept scaling back and back to try to be in the 8:45 – 9:00 range, but it was tough to run that slow.  I did notice around mile 5 I was starting to feel a little more tired and was thinking “uh oh, these are the easy miles, how am I ever going to run this whole thing”.  I walked up the steep sections of hills and walked through some aid stations.  My friend Erin saw me near one of the turnarounds, maybe a quarter mile ahead of me.  I caught up to her and chatted for about 30 seconds and was on my way.  Near the end of loop one I saw Alicia starting her first loop so came over and hugged her.  Reaching the half-way mark I saw I was pretty close to 5:00pm so I knew I was on-pace but worried that I may not be able to maintain.  I adapt a mental trick from Rinny (the Women’s Ironman World Champ) and say to myself: “This is just two more hours of my life.  After this, I’m not going to exercise for a month.  I’m going to lay on the couch and not even think about running, that is it”.

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On State Street, lap 1

This worked for a little while, but around mile 15/16 I did get tired again and I honestly thought I wouldn’t be able to run a 2-hour half marathon and I would fall short.  My next goal was just get to mile 18, that’s where Observatory drive starts and it’s the last big hill of the day. It kind of worked, it got me to mile 18, and then I started thinking about one of my college friends who had passed away one week before in a rock climbing accident.  He was a great runner and any time I thought about stopping or noticed I was slowing down I thought about him and my running form and found a way to keep going.  Around mile 19 I passed Alicia on her first lap but told her I was in a hurry and trying to do something.  After another turnaround I felt bad so when I saw her again I stopped and gave another hug I knew that once I got to the last mile it was back to State Street and the Capital building and the great crowd support.  I dug deep and pushed up through to the last mile.  One of the spectators is telling their friend they have five minutes to break 12. Rounding the last turn onto MLK Blvd I look up and I see 11:59:10 (or something close to that!) and I start sprinting as fast as I am able to.  I pass a few people in the chute, 20 seconds until 12:00:00, I’m going to do it, I’m going to break 12!  Elation overcomes me and I throw my hands up and start pumping my arms as I cross the line.

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Near the Terrace

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Coming down the finishing stretch


When I crossed, emotion overcame me and I started tearing up with joy.  Honestly, 12 hours was on the lower end of my goal time range for the race, but this had been a weird season for me.  It seemed I had a knack for choosing really challenging races for the given distance, setting a really high goal, then coming up short (or well short!) of what I thought I could do.  Halfway through the run I really didn’t think I could run a sub 4:00 marathon so I gave up on the overall time goal and just focus on effort.  I figured – no matter what time I finish in, I want to be damn proud of my effort the last 10k.  To have it work out, to push oneself for so long, and to think of my fallen friend helping me through it, it was a lot to take in.  The joy of finishing the race the way I did and under 12 hours was way greater than finishing my first Ironman, as strange as that may seem.  

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Sub-12 Ironman!

Time: 3:58:46, Place in race 577 (Yep, I passed about 500 people on the run) out of 2380 finishers.
Division Placement (M30-34): 90/258 finishers

Looking Ahead

While my overall time may not have improved much since Canada last year (12:38 to 12:00), my overall placement did greatly – from 48% to top 25%.  That is certainly very promising.  So when is the next Ironman?  Well, plenty of times during the race (like loop 2 of the bike) I thought to myself – “Ironman is so stupid, I’m never doing one of these things again”.  Now that it’s been a few days I think I will do Ironman Arizona (will head down to volunteer this year) next November and focus on the Half Ironman distance for the majority of next season, develop some “short course” speed and see how high I can finish in my Age Group.  Some other pictures from the day:

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Two Ironmans in the house now!

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ChelanMan 2014 Long Course Race Report

Even after having completed nine previous triathlons I still learn new things.  On July 19 I competed in the ChelanMan Long Course (Half Ironman) Triathlon in Lake Chelan, WA: 1.2 mile swim, 58 mile bike (a “normal” half ironman distance is 56 miles, why the extra 2?!), 13.1mi run).

I chose this race in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin: looking for a hilly half Ironman, and this certainly delivered.  There was also an Olympic distance triathlon starting thirty minutes after the half iron race that Alicia signed up for. After a pretty relaxed race prep week we drove over to Chelan on Friday afternoon to do packet pickup, drop off our bikes, and do a short swim in the Lake.  Friday was windy, there were some pretty big waves, but the water was decently warm, 72 degrees or so.

Race Morning

We had to stay in Wenatchee as there weren’t any available hotels in Chelan itself – about 40 minutes away.  Hit the road by 5:15am and arrive to transition a little before 6:00am.  For some reason it takes me what seems like forever to set up transition, was talking to a few half-iron first timers, people kept borrowing my bike pump, messing with my bike, etc … eventually grab my wetsuit, goggles, cap and get out around 6:25.  Do a little bit of jogging around then swim for about 10 minutes.  Water feels really nice and fortunately it’s not too windy this morning (or at least not down by the water, more to come on that).  Take a gel 5 min before the start, edge into the water, and then GO!

Swim

I’ve had some up-and-down swims in recent races; it’s been a bit of a wildcard.  My strategy was to start off easy, really easy, then gradually increase effort as the race progressed.  ChelanMan is really nice in that there is an underwater rope that you can see the whole time while swimming that helps keep you on course.  There were buoys spaced about every 100 yards or so and I had counted 9 small buoys until the turnaround.  The start is a little crowded, but I find some clear space and some feet to draft off for a bit.  Things are feeling good, but I play it conservative and contrinue to hold back on the intensity.  Myself and three other swimmers form a bit of a draft pack, taking turns at the front but really I think we’re all the same speed.  Towards the end I forget to look for the last large triangle buoy and go off course a little.  Eventually get back on track, round the buoy and get out of the water.

Time: 40:16.  Was hoping for sub-40, but I played it pretty conservative on the effort.  Place in race: 65th / 116

Into the first transition: My philosophy is that I may not be a fast swimmer but I am damn fast in transitions.  Swimcap off, peel the wetsuit off,  put on sunglasses and helmet, grab bike and run to the mount line.

Time: 1:14 (5th fastest individual T1), place in race: 49th

Bike

Mount the bike, pedal a bit, slip one fit into the shoe, then the other, and I’m on my way.  The first 35 miles are an out-and-back section.  On the way back we start catching up to the Olympic distance racers, I start seeing people in Alicia’s age group and wonder if I’m going to catch up to her.  I pass rider after rider, still don’t see her, then looking ahead I see a bike leaned up next to a porta-potty and I my internal monologue went something like “Ooh, road porta-potty, that’s not a bad idea.  Wait a minute … that looks like Alicia’s bike … that IS Alicia’s bike … what is she doing?  Oh man, she must really have to go” So I yell “GO ALICIA” and here something muffled coming out of the porta potty.  Ha, hope she’s ok.  After the out-and-back we take a right turn and start the climbing section of the course.  Turn and … HEADWIND.  Holy cow.  Well, this kinda blows (ha).  Pass a couple of riders on this hill (~450  vertical feet), but then we make a big decent (~750 feet) INTO the wind.  Normally I’d think this is great, except that 25mph+ downhill on the bike into 25mph+ headwinds including gusts makes for a really unstable (and kind of terrifying) riding experience.  Anyways, after the decent we then make another turn for another 1000 feet of climbing (into the wind again somehow?), eventually descend back towards the lake and a straight shot 9 miles back home.  

Bike Time: 3:13 (38th overall), 18.0mph, place in race: 40th

T2 goes smoothly – feet out of the bike shoes, approach the dismount line hop off the bike while still in motion, run down to my spot in transition, rack bike, put on socks, shoes, visor, grab race belt, switch watch from bike to run mode, and I’m off.

Run

It was starting to get hot.  Hold pace back a bit from the start; take my first gel at mile 1 (meant to take it before getting off the bike).  Uff da, this is tough.  Around mile 2 my legs start to feel a little more normal and I start catching up to people.  As a fast runner, I enjoy playing a game of “how many people can I pass on the run”.  Being a slower swimmer and biker helps too for this game.  Mile 5 pop the next gel, get a hosedown from the volunteers and start taking two waters per aid station – one to drink the other to douse.  Approaching the turnaround I have passed about twelve people and there is a 130-foot hill to go up and then I start cramping.  My rhythm is thrown off; I cross the turnaround point but don’t feel great going downhill, still pretty slow at 8:30 pace downhill.  I normally don’t take electrolytes on the run during triathlons as I have loaded up in the day’s prior and on the bike, but apparently I needed to on a hot day like this.  In what feels like limping I make it to the aid station at mile 7 and start taking HEED along with water.  After another half mile it feels better and I alternate between water and heed at each aid station along the way.  Pass one more guy in my age group around mile 10 and then do what I can to maintain running form.  Last mile, I see the swim course on the left and start counting down buoys as a distraction.  Round the final corner and cross the finish.

Run time: 1:46:59 (15th overall), 8:10 pace, final place in race: 24th.

Post-Finish

Wow that was tough.  I didn’t have too strong of time expectations but I was hoping for a little faster.  However, with the wind the way it was I threw out any bike split expectations.  I was definitely expecting a faster run.  I think the (lack of) electrolytes and heat affected me more than I was expecting.  I also realized I was a little short in my pre-race calories.  Basically, I think I could have dialed in my nutrition a bit better for the conditions.  Food for thought (literally) for Ironman Wisconsin.  In the end, it was a good, tough, race – I’d be open to doing it again sometime. 

So what DID I learn?

  • On hot days, I need to take electrolytes on the run.  This may seem super obvious, but gels and electrolytes don’t mix.  As long as I space out the electrolytes a little bit before/after the gels I should be fine
  • Don’t skimp on the pre-race breakfast – another obvious one, but I was about 300 calories short on what I was planning to have due to running around in the morning and forgetting about it.
  • Not all courses are equal, nor are all weather conditions equal.  On the hot and windy days generally things won’t go as fast, need to adjust expectations accordingly
  • Need to keep a check on the running cadence while on tired legs.  Looks like I was only running at about 166 steps / min towards the end (versus my normal 178 or so).  My watch can track this, so I’ll add this to one of my running settings to keep an occasional eye on during the race
  • Sunscreen coverage, see below

Next up – some serious training blocks in preparation for Ironman Wisconsin!

A few pictures from the weekend: 

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Loading up (yes, we have matching bikes)

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Transition in the morning

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At the finish

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Cooling off after the race

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Oops, poor sunscreen coverage...

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