Saturday, November 25, 2017

EA Race Report: Ironman Florida 140.6 2017

First thing is first: THANK YOU. Thank you to my husband Joe, to my support crew, to my coach Andy, to my team of incredibly talented medical professionals (Premier Sport and Spine, Summit Orthopedics, Institute for Athletic Medicine, Movement Architect, Podium Sports Therapy Massage), and to all my friends and family. This race in particular has taken an entire village in order to get me to the finish line. I would not have been able to accomplish what I did at Ironman Florida, let alone this year, without this intensely supportive team. Thank you EVERYONE for pushing me to reach my goals, reminding me of why I set out on this journey, and never even mentioning that maybe Ironman a year after surgery might not be the best idea I ever had. Let's face it - it wasn't the worst idea either. You all have made that finish line crossing a possibility, and more importantly instilled in me the unshakable belief that I was capable of racing from the operating table to the finish line.

Ironman Florida 140.6 2017 marked my return to Ironman 140.6 post-surgery. But...if we are going to talk about my return we need to take a brief detour into why there was any kind of exit. Let's spin the clocks back to August 2016. I'll save the entire story for another time...but the gist: a 2 cm (yes cm, not mm this is not a typo) labral tear was apparent and was going to end my 2016 season, result in hip arthroscopy surgery, and light a fire under my rear to get back into triathlon.

Prepping for any Ironman 140.6 tri requires a solid foundation of fitness, mental toughness, and a lack of understanding of "limits". This time around, I felt like I wasn't starting from rock bottom; I was starting far below that: I'd need to dig myself out of the very depths of my own insecurities and demons. The mountain that is Ironman that I was persuaded to face, thanks to my amazing husband and awesome surgeon, seemed to be this towering presence. How was I going to go from labral repair to Ironman Finisher in a year? When I usually would be creating my fitness base, I was relearning how to walk. When I wanted to begin the build in volume for Half Ironman races, I was strapped to an Alter-G treadmill running with only 60% of my body weight. The journey I had embarked on I knew would test my body, mind, and faith. But that is Ironman for you: throwing your limits at you and unfurling what lies beyond them. The intense desire I had to race again far outweighed the year of pain and frustration I knew I was going to face. Many times throughout recovery, hip rehab, and training I felt as though I was being pulled back to the sport outside of my own volition. I hadn't come this far, to only come this far.

So back setting off to Ironman Florida! Joe and I, and my parents set out to Panama City Beach the Wednesday before the race.

Little fun fact: my parents are killer support crew. This isn't even me being biased because they are my parents. They are legitimately the best in terms of unconditional support. They support everything we throw at them, come to every race no matter how far away it is, and know exactly what to do to get the bodies home from races. When Joe qualified for 70.3 World Championships, the only thing they asked was when we were all booking our rooms.

We all checked into our shared condo through Air B&B, threw our bags down, and raced out to the ocean. With this race being the first ocean swim race, I needed to practice somethin' fierce. Particularly dealing with getting through the surf.

Wednesday's swim consisted of my mom standing in the ocean with me convincing me that I could in fact handle this. And whatever just touched my foot probably wouldn't kill me. We practiced dolphin diving, swimming against the surf, swimming outside the surf, and swimming back with the waves. These were some serious waves we were dealing with, but, man, was I happy we had gone swimming immediately. Once we were satisfied with our swims, we went off in search of groceries and tasty Mellow Mushroom Pizza. We piled in the car and road-tripped to Destin, Florida in search of Whole Foods and what is rumored to be the best pizza place in town.

And it did not disappoint! Seriously some of the best pizza ever, and thoroughly worth the road trip. The crust  was perfectly crispy, the cheese delightfully melting, and the veggies perfectly roasted. And that was the vegan pizza! I've been vegan for a few months now for recovery purposes, and the Mellow Mushroom provided such an amazing vegan experience I did not feel like I was missing out on the cheesey goodness. My parents had a non-vegan version and loved every bit of it. If you ever are anywhere near the area, you will be kicking yourself for not shooting over to Destin. Destin has the best-in pizza.

The following days leading up to the race consisted of bike and body prep, quite a bit of R&R,

and meeting some new friends. These little fellas were on this exit door outside our condo door almost every time we came and went from the condo. We met when my mom and I were coming  back from the beach and I saw them out of the corner of my eye. Now, something you should know about me is that I am a total flight risk. I will sit around and try to figure out a situation, I will run. Which I did when we came across these pigeons. My mother knowing this about me ran with me yelling "What are we running from!? What are we running from!?" Once we were back in the condo we peaked our heads out to find out what we were running from. Pigeons. We were running from pigeons.

We spent our few days prior to race time relaxing doing what we love to do in order to get into the right mindset for an important race: marathon of Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives. What is better for an endurance race capped off by a marathon than a marathon of delicious looking food? Exactly, you can't think of anything. Then it was early to bed to lay there waiting for the alarm to go off to begin the day that celebrates all the hard work, blood, sweat, and tears I'd put into for the year.

Obligatory first day of school picture.

All packed up! One last check, which was really the 8th time I checked for the "last time.

The morning of the race I woke up ready to do work. Got race ready with a tasty breakfast,
of Jasmine and white rice, whole wheat toast and almond butter, a banana, and water.

 After breakfast went out to the transition area to make sure my bike was race ready too. I filled up the tires, and put my nutrition in place, then went to help Joe prep his bike as well. Team work makes the dream work. During these moments I like to reflect on how wonderful it is to be able to share these moments with my husband, training partner, and best friend. Once the bikes were race ready, we headed back to the condo to put our wetsuits on and head out to the beach. I was not anticipating starting the race in the dark, but it was one of the more remarkable race starts I've had with everyone doing their practice swims under the massive full moon we were greeted with.

Wading into the ocean for the practice swim to shake off any nerves, I also had to shake off everything I've ever learned from shark week and not swimming in the ocean right before sun up. Dressed as a seal. Once I was done with my practice swim, Joe and I stood with my parents and prepared all of ourselves mentally for the day ahead. My parents expressed how proud they were of us. Even to this day being in my late twenties, it still makes me well up when my parents express their pride in me. As we were lining up for our places in the rolling wave, my parents split between the two of us. My mom came with me, and my dad went with Joe. As we stood their waiting for the gun to go off, we reflected on the journey of the past year. From the operating table and hip rehab 9below) to Ironman start line.

The gun went off, and I did what I was planning on doing the rest of the day: just follow everyone else. As I was heading into the swim I waved to my parents, and heard a voice from the past: my Eastern European gymnastics coach from my childhood "One thing at time. Only focus on the task at hand." So that's exactly what I did: Just swim. I executed as planned - breathe every other stroke until I had gotten through the surf and calmed myself, then rhythmic breathing for efficiency. This swim was sponsored by improved technique thanks to my awesome swim coach, increased volume thanks to my brilliant tri coach, and a healthy fear of not wanting to be the first triathlete on shark week. With this fear I adopted a zebra mentality and aimed to be in the middle of the pack, which of course meant a very combative swim. At one point I was striking my hand into the water and struck a man in his mouth. If that man is reading this, I'm really sorry! But you didn't have to bite me. At another point I took a foot to the face, and a large gulp of salt water with it. I prayed that this gulp of salt water wasn't enough to experience the affects of swallowing salt water - intense GI distress. This swim was interesting with two loops, and a short jog between each loop. I loved this swim because it meant that you were never that far out in the ocean to be shark bait, and you got to grab a quick drink of water between each loop. This was a blessing after swallowing that gulp of salt water; having fresh water to wash out the salt that was burning my throat was a welcomed relief. This swim was the most confident swim I have ever had racing, and led to my fastest swim so far.

Swim goal: 1:20 Swim time: 1:19;30

As I exited the swim I pulled all my gear off, and ran to the nearest wetsuit stripper. Being only 5' 2" my options for efficient wetsuit strippers are endless, and I am on my back with my wetuit whisked off me and pulled back up to my feet within seconds. With a quick thanks for volunteering, I was on my way. Next task at hand: get my bike gear and get on R2D2, my beloved bike. As I ran to the changing room I ran through the the bike bags laid out by number, and snatched my bag up. Every second counts. Ran into the changing room, flipped out my helmet and shoes, and handed my wetsuit to the volunteer that ran over to assist me. I pulled on my socks, shoes, and helmet, and shot out to get sun screened up. Fortunately I have bike shoes with walkable cleats because that was a long run to R2D2. I click-clacked about as quick as I could through the bike racks I swiped R2D2 from it's rack, and headed to Bike Out. Passing through Bike Out I heard my great friend, D2, and his even more amazing wife, Annette, cheering. So of course I waved! Hopping on R2D2, I couldn't help filling with gratitude: for my support crew who never let me give up, and for my health that I can participate in Ironman, and for what some deem maddness for loving every second of Ironman. I was back, doing what I loved most in the world - pushing myself beyond my limits to find out what lies beyond them.

Pedaling out and of T1 and onto the bike course it was time to execute the bike plan. I needed to get out of Panama City Beach and break away from the congestion of bikes to settle into my planned wattage. It took about 40 miles before I could finally break away from the crush of racers, where all we could do was jockey for position and make surges to pull away from the pack. About mile 40-50 I started to experience some stomach cramping. No big deal, I've dealt with this before. I continued to execute my nutrition plan in hopes that the cramps would just go away. When has that ever worked? I've never experienced stomach cramping and nausea due to drinking salt water, would my emergency fix actually be a fix? Or compile the issue? Whenever I have any stomach issues or any type of muscle cramping I always take a shot of BASE salt with a sip of water. No matter the issue, BASE salt has always seemed to work for me. From miles 50-80 it seemed to be tempering the issue, but not completely eliminating the problem. Risky using salt to deal with an excess of salt. I continued to take in my Infinit, GU Chews, Garden of Life protein balls. By mile 80, I was feeling even more queasy and just off my game. Then with just enough time to turn my head away from R2D2, all my nutrition from the entire day made a comeback. Everything just emptied out of me and on to the road. Unfortunately, also on to the guy behind me (I am so sorry!). He passed me with a glance of horror, and continued on his way. Luckily he made the pass when he did, because this complete emptying continued. For the rest of the day. I attempted all of my nutrition to see what I could actually handle. I landed on water, and only small sips. I continued to execute my bike plan for the rest of the bike with only a minor waver in my wattage output. Once I made it back into town it was time to let go of what happened on the bike, and turn my focus to executing my run.

Bike goal: 5:40 Bike time: 5:42:05

Getting into Bike In, I popped off R2D2 as quickly as my cramping stomach would let me and handed my bike off to the nearest volunteer. I scuttled off to grab my run bag and click-clacked much like a raptor over to the changing room. I grabbed my shoes out of my bag as I was greeted by the warmest volunteer who convinced me that my soggy socks were not going to be a pleasant addition to a marathon. She helped me into my fresh new socks, handed me the rest of my affects and I was off! I cannot commend these volunteers enough.

Stomach cramping and all was slowing me down from my anticipated 9:30 min/miles to about 10:40 min/miles. As I rounded out of T2 out of the hubbub of the crowd I heard my mom's voice above the crowd cheering and relaying the race plan from my coach. It must be biological, but no matter what is going on around me I can always pick her voice out of the crowd. Even across a lake as I experienced entering the water of a half ironman earlier in the year. I gave a thumbs up to my support crew and set my sights on Mile 1 Run Aid.

Coke, like BASE, has never let me down in the past. I was desperate to end the stomach pains and execute a run I was capable of. As I approached the aid station, I prayed that Coke would be my answer. I sniped the Coke from a volunteer, took as much in as possible, and was rewarded with keeping this nutrition down! For a few steps. From mile 1-4 I was on a quest for nutrition to rid myself of these stomach pains. I tried coke, water, pretzels, chips, fruit, anything and everything that I could get my hands on. Finally, after mile 4 I was able to solve my stomach pain issue in a very unlady-like way that I will not subject to anyone reading this report.

I was free! With the cramping stomach relieved I was able to execute my run plan - 9:30 min/miles for the first 18 miles. I finally felt as I had expected: strong, confident, running down my competition. In the back of my mind I knew, having all my nutrition evacuate my system with nothing but water to replenish it was not physically sustainable. I set my mind on executing my plan until the wheels popped off, but I would be have to be carried off on a stretcher before I would throw in the towel. Racing this distance brings me to a level of elation that I can only compare to a spiritual or religious experience. I feel as though I am really living, really experiencing everything in life possible, all with 2500 of the most similar strangers I've ever ran across.

I floated through the miles until mile 14 where I could feel things starting to unravel. At this crucial point in my race I came across my mom again, and relayed what had happened since mile 80 on the bike. She was in contact with my coach and the rest of my support crew: I needed them to know that my hip was intact and functioning well, the rest of my body was shutting down. I continued to lean into the run pace, pushing it as much as I could as things started to sputter and slow. As the chills set in, and the muscle spasming in my back weighed on my ability to push forward, my nutrition that I was able to sneak in between miles 4-14 came hurling back up. I sincerely apologize to everyone who had to witness my nutrition evacuation for the rest of that race. My focus remained on getting to the finish line, "I didn't come this far to only come this far" my newly adopted internal chant.

This rather sub-optimal situation for me exemplified the camaraderie of endurance triathletes, and one of the main reasons I fell in love with the sport: I was constantly being offered solutions and constantly being provided support. Unfortunately, non of the solutions were fixes, but the support from the runners, the crowd, and the volunteers propelled me forward. Every time I tried to push my body back into continual running I experienced full body spasms. Ok, time to execute a new plan: run 2 minutes, walk 1 minute.  Around mile 15 or so, I ran into D2 again - a doctor who had me quickly explain my symptoms and provided me much appreciated words of encouragement.  Around mile 20 in the dark, I spotted my dad who had seen my slowing run times and ventured out to run with me and ensure there was no collapse. Fortunately for me, my dad is a firefighter and an EMT. He continued to encourage me, and later explained that he was there in case of emergency. We chatted about the day, and he did a marvelous job at keeping my mind off my seizing body and on the task at hand. He ran with me all the way to the finishers shoot, didn't I say I had a killer support crew? He sent me off down the shoot, and the feeling I was chasing all day descended upon me: that finish line feeling. The feeling where all the pain throughout the day disappears, all the training and rehab, all the highs and lows throughout the Ironman journey pay off. Pure elation. It's all worth it. Every time you have to convince yourself that you can handle this, every time you had to explain that no you aren't crazy, that finish line feeling makes it all worth it.

As I ran down the shoot I reflected over the entire journey from injury (2015) to operating table (2016) throughout Ironman Florida 2017. I thought over the entire support team I've accumulated through my amazing family and friends, and the unbelievably talented medical professionals that I was directed to thanks to the incredibly supportive triathlete community. As I crossed the finish line I was overcome with emotion: I'm back. And I can't wait to see where this body takes me next.

Run goal: 4:08 Run time: 5:29:10

Total: 12:40:54
Thank you to all the volunteers, staff, racers, and spectators that made Ironman Florida 2017 possible, you're support and kind words helped propel me forward to accomplish my goal of getting back and finishing the Ironman distance.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

JA Race Report: Ironman 70.3 World Championship

I qualified for this race back in June at Madison 70.3.  With that being said, I was super pumped for this race!  I get the opportunity to race against the best 70.3 athletes in the world, what an honor!  Based on this race being on US soil, Emma and I decided that I had to do it.  It caused quite a bit of race shifting (ultimately moving my full ironman scheduled in the fall from Louisville to Florida), but more on that later.

Lead Up
Emma and I decided to get into Chattanooga a few days early as we were road tripping there.  We left on Wednesday morning to break up the drive over two days and arrived in Chattanooga on Thursday afternoon.

Emma and I both brought I trainers with in order to get the last key bike session in at the hotel on Wednesday night.  No rest for the wicked!

For destination races in the future, I don't think we will be driving.  I had a pretty stiff back and legs all week leading to race day. At any rate, I got checked in and we settled back in the hotel.

I was able to get a decent training block in leading up to this race culminating with an Olympic distance race at the end of August for a final tune up (see previous post for that race report).  I was feeling pretty fit and confident with my bike and run, despite not being fully tapered for this race.

After getting registered and checked into the hotel, we had a delicious dinner and hit the hay early.  I was up at about 7 am on Friday to get in the practice swim.  They close the swim course as it is in the Tennessee River due to barges and the like, so Friday morning was the only designated time to get a swim in.  I met up with my buddy Sean and a few of the other EMJ guys to get ready to hit the water.  While getting ready, Emma and I ran into another MN athlete and great friend who was racing on Saturday, Erin Farrens.

It is so nice to see some familiar faces at destination races!  After chatting with Erin and Sean a bit, we all headed down to the water to turn out some yards in the river.  To my surprise, the water would be wetsuit legal and was actually pretty clean.

The swim on race day had you swimming against the current for about 860m before flipping and heading back downstream.  During the practice swim, I made sure to do a couple laps to get a feel for how strong the current was.  This proved to be the first uphill of an all uphill day, more on that later.

After the practice swim, Emma and I headed up to the village to look for some wetsuit cement before getting some breakfast.  While we were walking through, we ran into Mark Allen and Dave Scott. In case you have been living under a rock your whole life, these are the two most decorated and successful Ironman athletes of all time. Meeting two legends and massive influences on me was pretty awesome to say the least.

After meeting the Queen K Ironwar legends, we continued on and did the typical world championship stuff like finding my name on the wall.  Obligatory picture below.

After we made it through the Ironman village, Emma and I went back to the hotel room and hung out until dinner.  We found an awesome restaurant with stellar burritos for dinner (carbo load!).  If you are ever in Chattanooga, make sure you swing into Sluggo's cafe, it was truly top notch.


After dinner, we headed back to the hotel to hang out some more and rest. I really enjoy the days leading up to a race as it gives you time to relax and spend some quality time with family and friends.

We woke up 7 am on Saturday and I got my shake out workouts done early so we could catch some of the Women's race.  I was really torn with what to do regarding spectating the women's race as there were pros and several MN women racing.  We opted to catch the run finish and I am glad we did as I didn't want to add a ton of stress prior to Sunday.  We were able to catch some of the pro women finish as well as Kortney Haag and Erin Farrens.  These ladies absolutely killed that course! Minnesota really is a great state that produces top tier athletes! After catching Kort and Erin finish, I checked my gear in.  Almost go time!

After checking, rechecking, and triple checking my gear, we headed back to the hotel to relax the rest of the day. I applied my numbers and sat in the Normatecs and hit the hay at 9 pm.

Race Morning
Pretty standard race morning here, up at 4 am to pound some calories and take care of business.  Took down some white toast with almond butter, strawberry spread, a banana, and a honey stinger waffle.  I got my race kit on and started down toward the transition area. I put all my nutrition on my bike and pumped up my tires to get everything dialed in.

This race start was pretty interesting, they had the pro men go at 7:30 am, then the start of the age groupers would be at 7:38 am.  They chose to release age groups on opposite ends of the spectrum (e.g. 70 - 74 then 20 - 24 then 65 - 69 then 25 - 29 and so on).  This meant 30 - 34 wouldn't start until 8:20 am or so.

With the staggered start, this meant I was able to see the pros start.  Wow, those guys are fast.  Seeing their times online is one thing, seeing it in the flesh is something else entirely!

At any rate, I hit the biffy after the pro start, kissed Emma and thanked her for always supporting me, and headed down to the water to get in line with the rest of the 30 - 34 guys.

The swim start was pretty awesome.  They would funnel each AG down to some arches leading to a dock.  There were 6 lanes to line up from and every 15 seconds or so, they would release the athletes at the front of each lane.

I tried to get myself as far up to the front as possible to minimize the chaos I knew would occur as this was the world championship, so dudes would be jockeying for position the entire time.  I was able to get in the third wave of guys to be released and before I knew it, I was diving in!

The swim takes you across the river so you start by fighting the cross current.  In addition to the cross current, over ambitious guys were slashing their way through the water trying to get to the front.  Once I made it to the first turn to head upstream, the heard thinned out a bit and I was able to find some fast feet.  Despite the draft, the swim upstream was pretty darn slow.  The slow swim against the current couple with the sunrise made for an interesting first half!

After the upstream portion, I made the turn to head across the river and down to the swim exit.  This section was extremely fast and the swim exit came up fast!  Before I knew it, I was on the steps getting out and heading to T1.

Time: 29:09
Pace: 1:23 per 100 yds

I grabbed my bike gear, ran up the ramp to T1, and got into a chair and through on my gear.  On to the bike! I ran over to my bike, unracked it. and was off!

The bike course was no joke.  The ride takes you about 5 miles out of town before heading up lookout mountain.  With that being said, I hammered my way out of town only to hit the train track bump and lose my nutrition.  Luckily, I packed some extra nutrition on my bike just in case!

After getting out of town in a hurry, you hit the climb up lookout mountain.  Again, this climb is no joke.  1100 feet of gain at 7% grade for a little over 3 miles.  I settled into a comfortable cadence and pushed about 300 watts for 20 minutes straight.  I didn't want to push harder than that because I knew the run was going to be brutal too.  I was passing a few people going up the mountain and getting passed by a few. 

After the climb, there is a series of rollers at the top of the mountain prior to the descent.  I took in some hydration and nutrition and settled into a comfortable aero position to get to work!

On the rolling section of the course, drafting was pretty prevalent.  It is always sad to see this type of behavior, but all you can do is race as honest as you can and hope the course marshals to their jobs (which they seemed to do pretty well).  

After the rolling section came the fun part, the descent down the mountain.  This section had excellent pavement, fun curves, but slow vehicles.  I had been chipping away competitors up to this point.  While descending, a truck with an attached camper pulled in front of me and I was forced to slow way down from 40 mph to about 20. Kind of unfortunate to have to slow down, but thats racing!  

Since the course isn't closed, traffic can get heavy going both up and down the mountain.  That fact coupled with the winding turns made it hard to pass.  While I was figuring out when to pass, Sean came flying up on me and we tried to determine the best path to pass.  I overtook the truck in the oncoming lane while Sean took the shoulder route.  It was kind of cool we passed him at the same time (reminded me of the rollerblade scene in the Mall of America from the Mighty Ducks, haha)

After I got around the truck, I resettled and hammered to try and make up some lost time.  The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful.  I was passing several people who burned too many matches heading up the mountain earlier in the ride.  I also saw several drafting penalties given out, justice!

I headed back into town (chasing Sean as has been the theme all season!) ready to get to work on the run!  It was not the bike split I was hoping for or am capable of, but that is how it goes sometimes!

Time: 2:25:25
Speed: 23.1 MPH
You can check out the file here

After dismounting, I ran into T2 to get my bag and set out on the run. My legs were feeling alright considering the hell I just put them through with all the climbing.  I got my run gear on and headed out.

Much like the bike course, the run course was hilly AF. It is a two loop course with a total of about 1000 feet of elevation gain, which is absolutely nutty for a half marathon. The plan was to hold 6:30's for the first loop and see how things felt for the last half.

The first loop actually felt pretty decent at 6:30 - 6:45 pace.  I was running the uphills and downhills pretty well actually.  I was ticking off the miles and taking in salt and nutrition.  I hit the turnaround and gave some high fives to Emma and my in laws and let them know I was feeling pretty good.

I ran a bit with a guy from Denmark in the 40 - 44 age group.  He kept me honest through about 8 miles and then turned up the pace. Still feeling good, I hit mile 9 and that is when things started to get rough.  The heat and hills were taking their toll on me. My pace slowed down a bit after the hills at mile 9 and beyond.  I did my best to hydrate and keep pace as best as I could.

I rounded the corner for the foot bridge that is just before the descent to the finish.  I gritted my teeth and pushed as hard as I could. I saw Emma and my in laws as I came down the chute and continued to push.  That finish hurt!

Time: 1:30:10
Pace: 6:53 per mile
Check out the file here

After finishing, I had to lay on the carpet for the first time ever.  I was pretty wiped out from the race as well as the cumulative fatigue in my legs, ugh!  After getting some water, I wandered over to Sean and congratulated him on a great race and chatted with a few more of the EMJ guys that I met.  Those guys are really humble and a real class act. 

Time: 4:31:11
AG Place: 40/368
OA Place: 174/2815

Post Race
What an experience! The entire race was awesome even though it hurt like hell. To duke it out with the best in the world at this distance is such a privilege and honor. Chattanooga is an awesome host city and the organizers did a great job.  I will definitely be going back in the future for the half or full.

After the race, Emma and I headed back to the hotel to relax a bit before packing everything up for the long drive back the next day in addition to the EMJ friends and family happy hour set for that evening. 

We headed over to the HH to meet up with Sean for a beer and exchanged some war stories about the brutal course.  Emma and I had the opportunity to meet some more of the EMJ guys and their families. What a great group of people!

After the HH, we headed back to the hotel to eat and crash! Back to Minnesota for some serious IMFL training!

A special thanks to all of those who enable me to beat myself up continuously in this nutty sport.  Until next time, happy training and racing!

JA Race Report: Ironman Florida

Ironman Florida. As I sit here to write this report, I am finding it difficult to put this race on paper. So much went into this race.  Not just this year, but several years in the making.

Let's take a step back. In 2010, I weighed 230 pounds at my heaviest.

I was unhealthy, unhappy, and kind of lost. I realized I needed to make a change. That's when I met Emma. She caught my attention from the second I set eyes on her. Infectious personality, happy, fit, and beautiful. We started hanging out and I learned quickly that I wanted to get into better shape not only for myself, but also to get her attention. That was the start of my new lifestyle. I started running with her and felt a sense of peace within myself. I was happy in my own skin.  The weight melted off, my attitude 180'd, and I was getting fit. As years passed, Emma got me into triathlons and 2012 marked my first ever triathlon. From that moment on, I was hooked. I want to give a special thanks to my wife, Emma, for saving my life and introducing me to my passion. I love you babe.

Enough of the sappy stuff. Fast forward to this year. At the beginning of the season, Emma and I talked about what it would take for me to take triathlon more seriously and actually race. For the past 5 years, I had been participating in triathlons.  This was the first year I would be seriously racing all distances and utilizing a coach to drive our training with data and measuring tangible improvements that would ultimately culminate with an Ironman race in the fall.

The past two Ironman races I did (Ironman Wisconsin 2015 and 2016) were participation races with the goal of the second to improve on the first, which I did accomplish. That experience left me feeling hungry. I wanted more. I wanted to go faster. I wanted Kona.

I need to thank my coach for agreeing to work with me and push me continually (thanks Andy). It is so nice to have a coach who is as data focused as I am. From the first workout he gave me, his coaching style clicked with my training style. I was excited to work hard and see what we could put together this year. I won't get into all the details, but you can read through all my long winded blog posts to see the results from the season.

When we sat down to plan out the season, we agreed to race Louisville in October. It was a new venue and would give us a lot of long distance training blocks as well as giving Emma the confidence to get back to racing Ironman post hip arthroscopy. The season was unfolding extremely well for both Emma and myself.

After qualifying for 70.3 worlds in June, we decided to move our registration from Louisville to Florida as that would give me time to recover from worlds and it would give Emma additional time to gain some fitness and confidence.

Lead Up
Emma and I flew into PCB on Wednesday afternoon to get the bikes unpacked and settled into the condo. We wanted to get in Wednesday as we have never flown with our bikes before and wanted to make sure we got everything taken care of. With that being said, the next time we travel for a race we will give ourselves an additional day as the airline caused some issues for both Emma and myself.

Once we got to PCB and checked into our condo, we wanted to get an ocean swim in as neither of us had ever swam in the ocean. Wow, was it choppy that first day! We flailed around the gigantic waves for about 20 minutes, then had to get our in order to get a shakeout run in to get the travel out of our legs. Hindsight being 20/20, I wish we would have had time to check in on Wednesday because check in took forever on Thursday morning.

After the travel shakeout workouts on Wednesday, we headed to whole foods to pick up some groceries and grabbed dinner at the Mellow Mushroom. After grocery shopping and dinner, we headed back to the condo to crash.

We were up early Thursday to get a swim in, put the bikes together, and get checked in.  The ocean was much calmer and we were able to successfully complete an ocean swim. Salt water is fast. After the swim, I put our bikes together in the condo.

After getting our bikes together, we found a few problems with both our bikes.  Both of our rear derailleur hangers were bent and the shifting was not working properly on Emma's Di2 or on my Etap. I was able to dial in my shifting on the Etap, but Emma's required a lot more work. I didn't have a derailleur straightening tool packed, so we had to hit the bike tech tent at the expo.

After I got our bikes put together, we headed down to the expo to drop off Emma's bike with tech support and get checked in. What an absolute cluster. The line for both check in and the bike tech were huge. Good lord. We were at the expo from 10:30 am until 2 pm getting everything settled. Lesson learned, get in an additional day early and assemble the bikes immediately. After the expo, we headed back to the condo to relax as the past two days were kind of stressful. Definitely not how we like to prepare for an A race. After chilling in the condo and getting some dinner, we waited for bike tech to shoot Emma a text letting us know they finished her bike. They got back to us at 9:30 pm. We cruised over to the expo, paid for all the work they had to do, and headed back to the condo to sleep.

Friday came pretty early as we had a relatively full day. We got our system check ride in and a shakeout run right away in the morning before breakfast.  We wanted to give ourselves as much time as possible in case we needed to bring either one of our bikes back to the tech. Our bikes were 90% which given the line at bike tech, was going to have to be good enough. After the tune up workouts, we packed up all our gear bags and triple checked everything. Our gear was ready.

We headed down to check in our gear and bikes at 12:30 pm. We found our spot on the racked and dropped our bags and headed over to the athlete briefing to check to see if there were any changes that were called out in the athlete guide.

Luckily, there were no changes to the course or anything regarding race day. After the briefing, we headed back to the condo to chill and get the nerves in check in preparation to turn ourselves inside out on Saturday...

Race Morning
Emma and I were up at 3:30 am for a 6:40 am start time. It was business as usual, taking in a 900 calorie breakfast. We had a piece of wheat toast with strawberry spread, a banana, and some white rice mixed with quinoa. After breakfast we body marked ourselves to help save time.  This will be something I do in the future for sure. After we got done with our morning routine, we headed down to transition to get our nutrition on our bikes and tires pumped. I am always amazed at how many people ask you to use your bike pump, haha.

After the bikes were set up, we headed back up to the condo to hit the head one last time and get our wetsuits on.  We headed back down to the water through the condo beach access point.  This was a good move as there were no people trying to get the the beach from this point.

Emma and I got down to the water and put our wetsuits on the rest of the way and got in the surf to warm up a little bit. After the warm up, Emma and I took some time with each other to reflect on the year and how far we both have come. These final moments before a big race are some of my favorite. It helps fuel me mentally throughout the day. I am so thankful to be able to share my passion with my #1.

After the warm up and some reflection time, I downed a GU pack with some water and headed to the 1 hour and under sign. There were a ton of guys up front so I just settled in about 20 or 30 guys back from the start. After some more reflecting on the season and how lucky I am to be able to compete in this sport, we were shuffled to the start line. The announcer said 2 minutes until go time. My stomach always flops a couple times in the minutes before an Ironman with fear, excitement, nerves, and the like. That all drops when the cannon goes...

Swim - 56:28 - 3rd AG/25th OA
The gun went off and it was anarchy. People jockeying for position in the sea. It was comical. I literally laughed out loud at how chaotic it was. It was elbows and assholes, splashing, kicking, elbowing, total chaos. I ran in as far as I could, about thigh deep water, then switched to dolphin diving until I couldn't touch the sand. Once I got clear of the sand, I got into a good rhythm almost right away. Despite getting into a groove, the swim was really combative until the first turn. I have never been kicked and elbowed so many times in a swim. As a result, I swallowed a fair amount of salt water. The rest of the first loop was uneventful once I broke away from the crowd.

I hit the beach and took in some water and readjusted my goggles as my left lens filled up with water during one of the initial face kicks I got 200 yards into the race.

After taking in a quick gulp of water, I hit the ocean again. Same strategy, run in thigh deep and dolphin dive until I got deep enough. The second lap was more chaotic than the first, but I knew this would happen as the rolling start would inevitably have the last swimmers getting in the water around the same time as I was starting my second loop. I got the wind knocked out of me, kicked in the nose so hard my eyes were watering, and had my goggles kicked to super suction on my eye sockets, Guess I didn't have to worry about them coming loose after that, haha.

Photo courtesy of

The rest of the swim I just focused on keeping a strong pace and weaving in and out of traffic. I hit the beach and started to rip off my wetsuit. I had The Hulk pull off my wetsuit! Good advice for spotting a wetsuit stripper, find the absolutely jacked dude to rip that sucker off.

I ran up the ramp and did a quick rinse in the shower and ran into the changing area with my bike gear. I got through transition fairly quickly and got to my bike in about 4 minutes. Not the fastest transition but I knew I had a good swim.

Bike - 4:42:31 - 3rd AG/23rd OA - Flat in Transition
I grabbed my bike and ran to the mount line and hopped on the saddle only to find that my rear disc tube was flat. Crap. I hopped off my bike and flipped it over. I had a spare tube and inflator, but the head is tough to fit in the disc slot. I called for SAG and luckily somewhere was there within 2 minutes to help with the change out.  I held the bike while SAG installed a new tube. We got the tire back on the wheel in about 3 minutes. I inflated the tube, but the SAG guy didn't seat the bead all the way in the rim. Crap. I had to deflate the tube, re-seat the tire, and re-inflate. The SAG guy didn't seat the C02 properly the second time and lost a lot of gas so the tube only had about 50 psi in it. I used my last C02 cartridge to top it off to what I thought was about 100 psi or so. All the while competitors where whizzing by. Once the tire was finally inflated, we tossed it back on and I was on my way. All the spectators at the bike out area were awesome. They gave me words of encouragement and helped get my mental game back on track. The whole ordeal cost me about 8 minutes total. Definitely not how I wanted to start the bike leg, but you just have to roll with what Ironman throws at you.

If you look carefully, you can see the rear flat

After the flat was fixed, it was time to go to work. Now the plan was to roll 235 - 240 Watts for the ride, but I was down nearly 10 minutes. With a flat and fast course, I had to make a call. Push my watts a bit harder for the first 40 miles or so to make up lost time, or save everything for the marathon. Since my bike fitness is pretty solid as of late, I opted to push the watts a bit harder and up my calories per hour. My goal was to reel the folks in that had passed me during my flat change out. I started out of town riding way too hard, pushing about 280 watts. I dialed the wattage back to 250 - 260 and settled in with the audible.

By the time I got out of town, I had been passing people almost steadily. I just stayed on the left to get around them. I was taking in about 450 or 500 calories per hour to help fuel the increased wattage. To my surprise, my stomach was handling it pretty well. I knew there were some uber bikers in our age group, but I focused on who I believed to be the main guy to look for, Steve Jackson.

I knew Steve would have a stellar swim, so I would have to put time into him on the bike and the run. I was clipping along passing people until I saw Steve at about mile 40. He had a train of dudes drafting off him. Pretty unfortunate to see drafting, but what can you do. I made the pass and re-adjusted my race wattage to be back on the original goal of 230 watts or so. After hammering near half IM wattage for 40 miles, 230 watts was welcomed power on my legs. I knew Steve would want to keep me in sight, which was fine with me. I am confident in my cycling this year and have been running really well off the bike.

For the next 20 miles, the draft pack that was on Steve's wheel around mile 40 kept passing me, then dropping back. Steve and I jockeyed for position once or twice around mile 56, but after the last time I took position, I didn't see him the rest of the bike, but know he is a strong runner and would likely see him on the marathon.

I focused on staying hydrated and fueled properly as the temps were starting to climb. I focused here as the past 3 weeks training outside in Minnesota, the temperatures only got in the 40's most of the time. With the lack of late season heat training, I wanted to make sure to keep up on my hydration, nutrition, and electrolyte intake. All systems seemed to be a go by the halfway point of the bike until I started to get some pretty bad acid reflux around mile 60.

This was attributed to ingesting salt water earlier in the day. It wasn't terrible, more of a nuisance. I wasn't throwing up any solid nutrition, just water and Gatorade.  I upped my water intake which seemed to help a bit. Luckily I was able to keep my stomach in check until about mile 105 where I puked a lot. I was worried it would impact my marathon, so I took in a couple of shots of BASE salt to calm the nausea. It seemed to work and I was able to hold pace through the rest of the bike.

Apart from the GI distress and flat at the start of the bike, I feel like I biked pretty well and stuck to my plan less the increased power for the first portion of the bike. The nerds can peep the bike file here. Please note the bike time of 4:34:50 does not include the flat as I didn't start my Garmin until after the flat was fixed.

After I got into transition, I knew Steve was some amount of time behind me, so I hurried as quickly as I could. I got out on the run in about 3 minutes. Decent.

Run - 3:31:48 - 8th AG/42nd OA -Ran 27.8 miles - Took bad direction from volunteer at finish 
As I started out on the run, I got an update from my village right away saying that 1st place had 4 minutes on me and was running well and that Steve was behind me about 4 minutes. I remember what my coach told me, run 7:30 pace for the first half and assess how you are feeling at the turnaround. As I made my way back from the turnaround in St. Andrews Park, I got a feel for how far back Steve was. Time check. Still had about 3.5 minutes on him. I ticked off the first 10 miles at 7:20 pace and was feeling good with the exception of some residual acid reflux from the swim.

I was taking in my Infinit blend from my Nathan bottle and supplementing with 2 cups of water and ice at each aide station and BASE salt every mile or so. Running through mile 12, I saw Emma who was just starting her marathon. I love racing with Emma in Ironmans as we get to see each other and help lift each other up. I let her know she was looking good and to race her race and she let me know that I was looking good and that she hadn't seen Steve yet. When I hit the turnaround at mile 13.1, I grabbed the Redbull out of my transition bag. I am so glad I did as it stopped my GI distress almost immediately and consequently my mild vomiting.

At mile 13.5 or so, I got an update from a good friend of mine, David Swanson, as well as my father-in-law letting me know that Steve was still 3.5 minutes back and that I should dial the pace back a little bit. I slowed my pace to about 7:45 - 7:50.  I ticked off the next 3 - 4 miles like that.

At mile 15 or so, I met a great guy on course, Danny Royce, who was doing this race because he couldn't transfer it to another race and he originally signed up for Florida as a Kona insurance policy. He qualified for Kona earlier in the year at Chattanooga. Here he was weeks later racing another Ironman, the guy is an absolute beast. I got to share 2 - 3 miles with him. We talked about the race, goals, hydration, and the heat. What a great guy. I am glad I had the opportunity to run with him and share a few miles. I feel like I made a good friend over those few miles. This sport always brings out the best in people and that is one of my favorite things about racing.

Danny and I made our way into St. Andrews park and David Swanson, who we call D2, gave me another update from our coach that Steve was gaining some time on me. It was time to turn up the pace. I dropped my pace back down to 7:25 - 7:35 to keep the gap on Steve. Time to pound coke and water and dump ice down my shorts. My feet were killing me. As I got the the turnaround I saw Steve again and could see he was about 1:30 back on me. I figured he was running about the same pace so I was in good shape still.

Around mile 20 or 21, my left Achilles cramped up pretty bad. It got the the point where my gate was being impacted pretty substantially. This cramp dropped my pace significantly. At the next aide station I took in 3 cups of coke, and took a few massive hits of BASE salt. After washing all that down with some water and half a glass of Gatorade, the cramp subsided slightly, but I knew Steve was close based on that falter.

I just tried to focus on running as best as I could and keep my form. Right around 23.5 or so, I heard footsteps coming up on me. I knew that it was Steve. As Steve made the pass he passed some words of encouragement and I told him way to be.

After he made the pass, I turned up my pace to keep with him.  I kept him within striking distance to make a surge as we got closer to the finish line. My feet were throbbing by the time we hit mile 24 or so. I could still see Steve up ahead and decided that I would make my move at mile 24.5 - 25 by the last aid station.

He had opened up about a 30 second gap on me since the pass.  When I got to the aid station I dropped the hammer. My feet, Achilles, and quads were yelling at me, but I didn't care. I gave it everything I had. As I rounded the last corner to the final straightaway, I could see Alvin's Island in the distance and Steve just up ahead. I was reeling him back in!

At some point during that straightaway I started to get severe tunnel vision. Run him down, run him down, run him down! That's all I could tell myself. I figured I had put about 15 seconds into the gap he opened up on me and getting close enough to beat him was doable as he started the swim ahead of me. I could still do this. I figured I was about 10 - 15 seconds behind him. As I started to round Alvin's island, I could see that he was super close, but lost sight of him with all the athletes getting their special needs stuff for their second loop. I ran harder to close the gap.

This is the point where things got all jacked up. As you know, in a delirious Ironman marathon brain state, you don't always think clearly. Especially, when you are redlining chasing someone with the edges going black. I came up to the split and a volunteer yelled if I was finishing or going for a second loop, I yelled "FINISH!". At that point, he pointed me in the direction of the second loop (which I figured out later) rather than down to the finisher chute where I was on Steve's heels.

I mindlessly ran my ass off in the wrong direction. I knew where the finish line was, I had studied the course, I saw them setting up the finish arch earlier in the week. I can't rightly explain why I went the wrong direction for so long other than I wasn't in the right state of mind. I ran all the way to the aid station a mile away from Alvin's Island. At that point, I realized something was drastically wrong. I slowed my pace and got my vision back and realized I went the wrong way. OH MY GOD. What am I doing out here?! I stopped in the middle of the aid station in shock and horror. I just lost my chance. I slowed to a walk. I couldn't believe what had happened. I was pissed.

I walked maybe 50 feet and snapped out of it. Shit happens, get over it. Get your ass to the finish line properly! I did my best to shuffle my way back down the stretch where I was reeling in Steve on my way to the finish the first time. I worked my way back around Alvin's Island and made sure to take a right to the finish chute rather than going for another loop. I ran down the chute with Danny just in front of me. I crossed the line and absolutely crumbled. I collapsed in a volunteers arms and had them take me to medical. I couldn't see straight.

After getting some medical attention and taking in some electrolytes, I made my way back out the the finisher area. I was looking for Steve. I was angry. Angry at the volunteer and angry at myself. I asked one of the Ironman folks to call over a race director.

I spoke to the race director about what had happened. I let him know that a volunteer told me to go left rather than right to finish. He said that it was my responsibility to know where to finish. I said this will cost me a Kona slot! After we talked through the situation (it was a passionate conversation), he said that the best he could do is escalate the issue to the board of directors regarding my actual marathon time. The wrong turn cost me 17 minutes.

I was and still am in shock. I can't believe I did that. At the end of the day, it is on me to know the course. It just stings still as I write this. Check out the TP file here.

With all things considered, I executed a pretty damn good race. The top guys in my age group are all phenomenal athletes and I had the pleasure of getting to know Steve a little bit since we met in Chattanooga earlier this fall. He is a class act and a really great guy. He executed a great race, really well done. I hope to race with him in the future.

Despite the mishaps, I had the most fun I have ever had in a race. It is really cool that I PR'd the distance by 2 hours and am physically able to go sub 9 in an Ironman (8:54 with no flat or wrong turn). Ironman throws things at you that you can't anticipate and drains you. It's hard, fun, emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausting, and brings out the best in people. For that I am forever grateful. I love this sport.

Could I have caught Steve had I gone the correct direction? Yea, but that's life. I can what-if until my face is blue, but at the end of the day, it is what it is and I can come to terms with that.

Finish - 9:18:04 - 4th AG/17thOA

After talking to the race director, all I could do was sit in the athlete area. I talked with Danny a bit about what had happened. We chatted about how the rest of his run went and talked a bit about potentially getting a Kona slot despite the mishaps. He helped talk me down a bit and I appreciate that more than he knows. I'm thankful I got a chance to meet another great guy on course. Danny is another class act and an impressively fast dude. Great work dude!

Post Race
I met up with my father-in-law after talking with Danny and let him know what happened. I needed to get away from the finish line. I hobbled back to the condo for a shower and some protein. After I got cleaned up and changed and put my feet up for a bit, I headed back down to the finish line to cheer on Emma. This being her first Ironman after hip surgery, I was super excited to see her come in!

I was getting updates from D2 on course and he let me know how Emma's run was going. She was suffering from some pretty bad lower back pain and some GI distress, but was still trucking along!

I was glued to the tracker watching her progress. Finally, she had made her way down to the finisher chute. It was so awesome to see her achieving her goals! She had a near 2 hour PR for the distance! I am so proud of her for sticking with it despite having hip surgery a year ago. I am so impressed with her mental resolve and tenacity. She is a true inspiration! Great job Emma, I love you so much!

After Emma finished and got her through the med tent, we got all our stuff and headed back to the condo to crash.

We woke up Sunday morning around 7:30 am to head to the village for the breakfast and award ceremony. I figured there would only be 2 slots but there may be a roll down/slot reallocation to doll out 4 slots. I had some breakfast and waited for awards. After checking the tracker and talking to the Ironman folks, there would only be one reallocated slot to M 30 - 34. The bubble, ugh.

The announcer called up the top 5 from each age group. I got up on stage and shook hands with all the guys who finished top 5. Really great effort from all those guys. Some pretty impressive times were put up by all. Hats off, gentlemen.

I want to thank everyone who came out to support Emma and I: Heather, Mark, D2, and Annette. Special thanks to everyone back home who helped enable us to come down and race: Chris Balser, Dana Rutt, Michael Williams. Finally, thanks to all family and friends back home watching on the tracker: Mom, Dad, Mal, John, Amber, and everyone else!

Now time to reflect on this season and take some definite lessons learned to fuel next season. Time to plan some races :)

Until next time, happy off-season!