Tuesday, November 7, 2017

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 Triathlete.com

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!

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