Blog

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.

Untitled
Prepping equipment and bags for the day ahead

Untitled
Setting up the bike on Saturday

Race Morning

Untitled
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

Untitled
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.

Untitled
On the bike, lap 2

Untitled
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”.

Untitled
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.

0795_030319
Near the Terrace

Untitled
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.  

0795_040333
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:

UntitledPost-race with my parents

Untitled
Two Ironmans in the house now!

Add a comment

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: 

Untitled
Loading up (yes, we have matching bikes)

Untitled
Transition in the morning

Untitled
At the finish

Untitled
Cooling off after the race

Untitled
Oops, poor sunscreen coverage...

Add a comment

Salt Lake City Marathon 2014 Race Report

This past weekend I competed in the Salt Lake City Marathon, a one-way course that starts at the University of Utah, skirts around the city, and ends up downtown. I chose this marathon because 1) It was in April (and I wanted something at least four months away from Ironman Wisconsin in September) and 2) It's close-ish to us - less than a 1.5 hour direct flight away. This would be my second marathon, my first having been last June in Vancouver, WA. Salt Lake City is of course at elevation, but I didn't think it would be TOO bad as the course is between 4400 - 4700ft, not like 6000+.  How hard could it be, right?


Race Checkin - Energy Solutions Arena

We arrived on Friday afternoon - in order to try to minimize the effect of the elevation.  Check in was inside Energy Solutions Arena on the floor which was kind of neat - but it just made you feel really small looking at all of the empty seats around.  It was a new course this year, and judging by the elevation profile it was hillier this year than last. Well ... hindsight is 20/20 - I didn't actually realize it was a new course, I was prepping for the 2013 course.  More to come on that later.

slc-maraton-elevation-guide
Last year's course vs this year's course

The first five miles are mostly downhill, and then a number of rolling climbs following. I'd say Salt Lake City did a great job with the course - plenty of scenery, landmarks, using up the whole lane for running and lots of police officers maintaining the intersections. There is also a half marathon that shares much of the course and shares the exact same start time - which I wasn't really a big fan of.  I prefer when the different distances have different start times (or dates) - I like knowing that the people next to me are doing the same race I am. There was a decent crowd along the course - lots of people on their front lawns, more people in smaller city centers, frequent water stations and really great views of the mountains at times!


In the starting corral


And we're off (I'm at the far left)

The First Half

If I remember to my last marathon, the first 13 miles of a marathon are supposed to be pretty easy.  Well ... they were, except that I started blistering around mile 8 - I did a 15k trail run three weeks prior where I picked up some new blisters.  Oof.  I let the downhills come to me and didn't push too hard on the uphills.  However, I noticed that my GPS watch (which beeps every mile) was beeping several seconds before each mile marker, then more, and then over one minute beforehand! It wasn't just me either, I'd hear other GPS watch beeps around the same time as mine.  Ugh, so do I pay attention to the pace on my watch or the clock?  

GPS Avg Pace at 13.1: 7:13 (Great! 2 seconds faster than goal time!) / 152BPM (Great!)
Official Avg Pace at 13.1: 7:20 - still not bad, I have every intention of running the second half faster than the first so not a big deal

The Second Half

My plan was that once I reached the end of the hills around mile 13.5, the course would start dropping.  So when I see miles 13/14 taking 7:35/7:43 I'm thinking "Oh shit, I'm falling behind pace on the downhill" - I was thinking of last year's course.  I did kind of notice the course was uphill, but I'm losing 20+ seconds from my goal time for each mile and thinking this isn't great.  My legs are also starting to feel heavy, really heavy.  I'm wondering if that elevation is catching up to me.  Things are starting to hurt, it's almost a struggle just to keep moving, and it's only mile 16!  How am I going to put up with 10 more miles of this - it wasn't this hard the first time! Half of those last 10 miles were run at 8:00 min/mi pace or slower.  It's funny, those miles were long - but I don't really remember that much of them. I remember a few things that helped -

1) Changing up my breathing pattern - I found I could breathe more frequently but my HR wouldn't go up as high as it normally would - I think this is due to elevation.  More beaths = more oxygen?  
2) A spectator wearing an Ironman Louisville shirt gave me a high-five and I said "Yeah, Ironman!" to which he responded "Heck yeah, good luck!".  Somehow, this gave me a ton of momentum - my run form kicked back in, my pace quickened, and I felt good ... for about 5 minutes until the next hill started, but still!

As the miles ticked away finally I see the mile 25 mile marker, only 1.2 miles to go.  I start my normal "last mile to go race kick" and I speed up, but it's nowhere near as fast as I would normally be for that amount of effort!  I must be tired.  I cross the line with a time of 3:20:12, avg pace: 7:38/mi.  My official pace for the second half 13.1: 7:55/mi (oof!) 

So I was a bit disappointed, I was shooting for a 3:10 and was pretty far off.  Well, upon further inspection I learned some things that made me feel a bit better:

  • The course I was prepped for in my mind was fairly different than what it actually was. Oops. My fault for not catching that in my race prep. 
  • My GPS said I ran 26.6 miles at an average pace of 7:31 (which is a 3:17 marathon, that sounds a lot faster in my head). Now I know probably no course is 100% exact, but I did a decent job of running the tangents and 0.4 miles is kind of a lot.
  • I finished 34th overall out of 881 total finishers, 6th out of 89 in my age group (Men 30-34)
  • Out of the 247 finishers NOT from Utah or Colorado, I was 4th! Maybe a little bit of fuzzy logic assuming anyone from Utah or Colorado lives at elevation, but oh well.

So in the end, I am pleased with the race. I think it's easy to get to obsessed with a finishing time without truly considering the qualities of the course.  I'll hit 3:10 (and eventually 3:05 for Boston-qualifying) eventually.  This marathon was certainly a lot harder than the first one, sure maybe the elevation or the hills, but I think there is some definite truth to that saying "It doesn't get any easier, you just go faster".

Later that day we went to Red Butte Garden to look at some blooming daffodils and then Sunday went to Snowbird to try to attempt to ski!  It wasn't easy, in fact - at times skiing was as hard as the marathon!  All in all, a pretty great weekend.  


Post-Race with finisher medal


Red Butte Garden


Red Butte Garden - the small hills in here are quite tough after a marathon


Snowbird on Sunday - Happy Easter!

Add a comment

A (not quite) Epic Trip to Alaska

So this winter was a strange snow year in the Pacific Northwest.  After a slow start, it seemed like most weekends involved some fresh snow somewhere, and we had it pretty well.  Our big trip of the year was a week in Girdwood, AK for the first week of March.  Well - unfortunately Alaska was having a pretty poor snow year - and it rained a few days before we arrived.  However, we made the most of it with some carving, some ski touring, and some heli skiing! Plus, I was able to play with my new GoPro camera...

A video summary of a recent week-long ski trip in Girdwood, Alaska. Heli footage starts at 2:40!

Add a comment