Leading up to the Race
I had just come off a pretty intense building phase up to this race as this was the first test of my multi-sport endurance under my new coach. This meant a ton of bike intervals mixed into long, windy rides from our house located 45 miles northwest of Minneapolis. The routes I bike on are brutal in terms of headwinds, which is good at preparing you for demoralizing race conditions, which this race brought, more on that below :)
In addition to the bike, I have been really focusing on my run off the bike as well as getting faster and more efficient in the water. Coming off last year, I had some wood to chop here. With that being said, I felt pretty good during the week prior to the race.
Emma and I headed to Madison a couple days before race day which allowed us to get checked in a settled early to avoid the crowd and chaos that ensues during an Ironman race. We got to Madison on Friday afternoon and immediately went to Olin park to get our wristbands and swag. We were able to cruise through the line pretty quickly and got to our hotel for check in.
Saturday was very low key. We slept in a bit and ate a light breakfast before setting out for our tune-up workouts. We rolled over to Olin park for a hot and windy run and short systems check bike ride. After that, we checked in our bikes and went off to the lake to check out the water conditions. We waded in and after forcing ourselves in (we weren't in our wet suits) we got in a quick and weedy 500 yards. We hustled out of the water and booked back to the hotel to relax, stretch, and Normatec. After a simple dinner of ground turkey, quinoa, and corn it was lights out at 9 pm.
Beep Beep Beep! The alarm chimed at 4 bells. It was up and at 'em getting some calories in. Emma and I brought all our own food for this race to keep the GI tract firing on familiar cylinders. I made our staple peanut butter and banana sandwich, Greek yogurt with blueberries, and a banana on the side to fuel the engine for the morning leading up to the swim.
We got kitted, slathered in sunscreen, grabbed our gear bags that we packed the night before, and headed out at 5:15 am to get to transition. We had to leave a little earlier than normal because parking was tough. There were about 2500 athletes competing so parking at Olin park was impossible and we were forced to park at the Alliant Energy Center and walk to transition.
This transition prep was like nothing I have ever seen. Every bike was crammed together like sardines. The announcer and transition volunteers made it clear that all of our gear needed to fit under our rear wheel only, anything extra would have to be taken elsewhere. Crap. I had a bike pump, extra hydration, a gear bag, extra cloths, etc. I felt like Marry Poppins. Luckily, the woman next to Emma in transition didn't show up, so we slipped our extra stuff there, phew!
I felt pretty rushed through in the transition area despite getting there are 5:45. At any rate, we got everything set up and headed up to the swim start.
Emma and I met up with some friends and waited for our coach Andy to head over (thanks for making the trip coach!). We chatted about how hot the day was going to be and what we might expect on the course in terms of hills and wind and how that would play into pacing, nutrition, and hydration.
The day was supposed to be hot so I was aiming to take in about 350 calories an hour with some salt and extra water to prevent any cramping later in the day. Good thing coach is on top of conditions too as the extra salt ended up being a necessity!
The swim was a new experience for me, the rolling start. I really like this method as the organizers allow you to self seed based on anticipated swim finish time, which is awesome. I looked for a fellow Minnesotan to start with, Sean Cooley. Once the gun went off, the single file line we were in chugged along down to the beach. I was a couple spots behind Sean when he hit the water. I got on the beach and took a couple of steps in the water and dove in as the water was waist deep for a good 150 yards and I wasn't about to run through that, so I figured I would dive in and get to work right away.
It was freaking Mortal Combat for the first 200 yards! Slapping, kicking, elbowing, etc. Wow, welcome to the elites, Joe. I made my way through the cut throat start and found some fast feet to hang onto. In order to get a good bike position, I knew I had to go under 30 minutes on the swim, so luckily the feet I found ended up being Sean's. The rest of the swim was relatively uneventful. The water was pretty calm and not a lot of people around to bump into.
With about 200 yards to go in the swim, I put the hammer down and tried to get to the beach as quickly as possible. Good thing I have been doing sprints at masters! Popped off my cap and goggles, and ran what seemed like a mile to my bike.
I tore into transition and had to pop my wetsuit off as I missed the wetsuit strippers entirely. I put on my socks, helmet, and shoes and took off toward the mount line (T1: 3:31) I could see Sean take off like a mad man on the bike and hopped on mine to try to bridge the gap. For the first couple miles I was hammering the pedals as I felt awesome! I looked down and saw my numbers were way too high, so I backed off a bit.
This course was absolutely brutal. Steep climbs, rough roads, and technical turns on top of heat, humidity, and wind. Good thing I got a tune up at Gear West prior to the race to get my shifting dialed in!
The first 20 or so miles of the race were key for me. I needed to make sure to stay as aero as possible while staying on top of my hydration and calorie intake. Luckily I had my Infinit blend in a couple bottles to hydrate, fuel, and take in adequate salt all in one shot.
There really wasn't too much action during the first half of the ride. I did see a couple of really good guys on course here, Eric Engel and Tyler Le Roy. I yo yo'd with Tyler for a little while, but had to let him go as I was pushing the wattage a little too hard and didn't want to blow my run up as I don't do too well in the heat and humidity.
For the rest of the ride, I passed one guy and didn't see another racer until about mile 50. The focus for this bike ride was definitely efficiency, nutrition, hydration, and sodium control. Everything else was secondary. Talking with Andy about my previous Ironman foul ups with nutrition, we focused on the strategy here. For the most part, I nailed the wattage goals and nutrition plan.
As I was making my way back into Madison, the course hooks up with the same stick as the full course, which was nice to see some familiar territory. There was a minor change however, during one of the last main turns, there is a section with some cones that appear to direct racers to make a right when they are supposed to go straight. I of course, took the right. Crap. I shouted back to some volunteers on the corner and asked, "Where do I go?!" They were pretty quick to respond that I should have gone straight. There goes a minute or so.
I crammed the pedals to make up some time and made it back to transition.
I dismounted my bike and ran it into transition as quickly as I could. There were only a few bikes on the rack, so I knew I was in a decent position. As I didn't see Sean on the bike course I wasn't sure if he hammered the bike or was just out of site for the ride. At any rate, that didn't matter. I was here to race my race and execute the plan. I popped off my bike gear and threw on my hat, sunglasses and tore out of transition while putting on my watch and race bib (T2: 1:50).
On my way out of transition I saw Andy just outside the arches. He let me know Sean had about 2 minutes on me coming off the bike and the leader had 4 minutes on me. The first few miles would let me know if catching them was possible.
I ticked off the first 3 miles at 6:40 pace when some slight quad cramping hit. I fired down a salt stick and pressed on! At the fourth aide station, I felt my stomach drop. Uh oh, I had to hit the can! Luckily there was a porta john there. I got in to the john and did my business as quickly as possible, but ended up losing 2 positions while I was in there.
I came out of the fourth aide station feeling really good! I turned up the pace a little bit to make up some ground I had lost. I could see the 2 guys that passed me up ahead and ultimately wouldn't catch up to them until mile 10.
This run course was brutal. It was very hilly, stagnant, and didn't provide much shade. This was the perfect opportunity for me to test my ability to suffer in the heat and hills now that I am 20 lbs lighter than I was in September of last year.
During this suffer-fest run, I was just trying to focus on taking in adequate hydration, salt, and nutrition while not losing too much in terms of pace. As the run went on, the heat and hills really started to wear on me. I gritted my teeth and pressed on! Eat, drink, run. That's what I kept telling myself. At about mile 9 I had to make a call. A race official told me I was in 10th place overall and I could see the guy in front of me. I decided to push it at mile 10 to try to catch the the guy in front of me who I had no idea what age group he was a part of. I dropped the hammer and passed him right underneath Monona Terrace, 1.2 miles from the finish.
I saved as many pennies as I thought I could for the steep hill up to the finish line. I couldn't see the next guy ahead of me, but I pushed the last hill as hard as I could muster anyway.
I charged the hill and up to the chute gritting my teeth as my legs were screaming! I ran into the finish alone, which was a pretty cool experience as fans were cheering me in. It was awesome to see my beautiful wife Emma, coach Andy, my sister and her family, and my in-laws all cheering me on at the finish line!
What a day! I had no idea what to expect in terms of placement. I just wanted to have a good race where I didn't throw up and could beat my previous PR of 4:53 for this distance.
After finishing the race, Emma sprinted at me and hopped in my arms with a huge congrats! She was only doing an aqua bike for this race as a tune up to check how her hip would handle the distance of a half iron, which it did! She will be back racing all three legs again in July, more to come from her!
I chatted with coach, Emma, and my family. Andy let me know that I was 10th or 12th overall and 4th in my new age group (30-34)! Wow. It hit me like a ton of bricks! I can't describe the excitement and appreciation I felt and still feel for this surreal experience!
After hitting the med tent for an ice pack or two and some Gatorade, Emma and I chatted with our family and Andy a bit more about the day and headed back to get our gear as awards were still 4.5 hours away. We changed, got some food and hydration, and headed back to the finish area to hang out with friends and family until the award ceremony.
After a beer or two and lots of water, the award ceremony finally commenced. First off, I want to say thanks to our tri club Camp Gunther Multi-Sports for hosting Monday night open water swims to help get racers ready to tackle open water throughout the race season. Steve and Helen are two really great people and athletes that open up their home and time to allow us to swim. Thank you two!
With that being said, Camp Gunther Multi-Sports won the Division 5 first place trophy for "small" clubs! Congrats guys!
After the triathlon club awards, it was on to the age group awards. Now the Ironman tracker is slow and buggy to upload results, so nothing is set until the awards. With that being said, we waited until the 30-34 age group announcement and sure enough, I ended up with 4th in a pretty stacked age group!
What an amazing day. I PR'd by some 23 minutes and made the podium. That in and of itself was a victory in my mind. To top off a pretty darn good day in tough conditions, the news was about to get even better. I found out there were 4 slots in my age group for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga, Tennessee on September 10th of this year! I am so thrilled to punch my ticket to the world champs and especially on my first try! I am absolutely humbled.
A special thanks to everyone that helped make this possible.
Emma - My number 1, biggest supporter, strongest advocate, and kick ass training partner. Thank you for always supporting me and pushing me to be a better athlete and person. If you asked me 5 years ago if this was possible, I would have told you that you were nuts. I love you so much and would not be anywhere near the man or athlete I am today without you. Thank you!
Coach - Thanks for agreeing to take Emma and I on as athletes. Your brutal sessions and attention to detail have really helped me make step function improvements in all three disciplines. I appreciate everything you have done and continue to do for me, thank you! A special thanks for making the trip out to watch!
Family - Thank you all for supporting me in this sport even if you think I am nuts. It has been a blast to push myself to new limits and your support means everything to me, thank you! A special thanks to those who were able to make the trip out and sit in the brutal heat!
Michael - Thanks for keeping my body in check with key ART sessions! Would not have been able to tow the starting line without your critically timed calf work, thank you! Check out Premier Sports and Spine for any sports related injury and get it taken care of before it becomes an issue!
Dana - Thanks for keeping this battered body optimally recovered! Your deep tissue sessions have definitely helped keep me in top condition to continue to nail my key workouts! For all you Minnesota athletes, definitely worth the trip to see Dana! She offers stellar package deals for massage sessions. Check her out here.
Gear West - Special thanks to these guys for keeping my bike rolling optimally before each and every race! They are a great grass roots shop that can accommodate any and all of your triathlon needs from bikes to wetsuits with no pressure. You can check them out here and make sure to let them know that Joe sent you in!
Now its time for some R&R before the next building phase to gear up for the 70.3 World Championship in September with a few Olympic distance races trickled in. Until then, happy training everyone!