Friday, May 4, 2018

JA Race Report: "Off-Season" and Ironman Texas

Warning, this is a long report.

First off, I want to thank all my family and friends who continue to support me in this nutty sport. Without all of you, none of this is possible!

I also want to thank Team Every Man Jack and all of our sponsors (Every Man Jack, Felt Bicycles, Louis Garneau, Lululemon, Boco Gear, GU Energy Labs, Roka, Normatec Recovery, Enve Composites, Garmin, and Sockguy), Gear West Bike & Triathlon, Rich and Ambrose at NOW Bikes, Podium Sports, and Premier Sport and Spine. You all keep me rolling with the best equipment and recovery care! Thank you all so much!

"Off - Season"
The off season post Ironman Florida was short lived and lasted all of 2 weeks. After the events that transpired at Ironman Florida, I was hungry for some redemption at this distance.  I won't go into details as you can scroll back and read through what happened in Florida.  Needless to say, the strategy for 2018 was to train harder, get leaner, and be wiser.

After I processed what happened in Florida and took a couple weeks off from training to enjoy some unplugged time with family and friends, it was time to start thinking about 2018. Coach and I discussed some key races for 2018 and both agreed we should target an earlier season Ironman. I chose this for two reasons 1) Emma and I love to travel and what better excuse to travel than to race?! 2) I had pretty solid fitness coming off Florida and was anxious to build on that foundation.

After some discussion, Emma and I settled on Ironman Texas at the end of April. That would give me some time to get some additional fitness built up and set me up for a new PR, which was the main goal. The secondary goal for Texas was to obviously qualify for Kona. With how deep the field is there, I knew a sub 9 hour race would be needed. Targeting an earlier season Ironman would also give me some time to race another Ironman before October if needed. Time to get to work!

Shortly after the decision to do Texas, my off season ended and the next few months were a whirlwind of activity.

First off, I applied to and was subsequently chosen to be a part of Team Every Man Jack. I am still in shock that they chose to put me on the roster and am extremely grateful to be a part of such an awesome team with humble and wildly successful guys both on and off the race course.

Next, I started working with an athletic nutritionist to help me drop some weight and optimize my body composition. With that, came a plethora of information from weighing my food to choosing the appropriate macro breakdown. In addition to the nutrition piece, I was lifting weights 4 days a week to build functional strength for each of the three disciplines. Needless to say, the decision to get a nutritionist and incorporate strength training to my regiment has paid dividends. I dropped 10 pounds and was able to tow the line at Texas at 157 pounds with an optimized body composition (special thanks to Jeremy and the Stronger U program for helping!)

Thirdly, I got a new bike and had to work on the logistics of getting that dialed in as well as selling off all of my old equipment that I wasn't using anymore.

Lastly, I was preparing for Team EMJ Vegas camp in early March. I wanted to make sure that my equipment and fitness were dialed in to perform well here as a tune up for Texas. Unfortunately, my bike fit was a bit off and left me with a quad strain that ended up plaguing me most of the camp. I was still able to build some great fitness both leading up to and at camp.

The Vegas camp was definitely the highlight of my "off-season" training related activities. I got to meet all my EMJ teammates who are amazing people on and off the race course and was definitely the highlight of the trip. In addition to meeting everyone, we all came out of camp with some stellar fitness. Training with these guys was one of the most humbling experiences of my life! These guys continue to provide motivation to train my ass off!

While all of these things were going on, my coach was beating me up with a huge Ironman build which consisted of long treadmill runs, brutal pool sessions, and long indoor trainer rides where the watts just kept on. It was fantastically hard but awesome at the same time.  Needless to say, my fitness was better than it ever has been.

As I said earlier, I knew I needed a sub 9 hour performance at Texas if I wanted a shot at a PR as well as Kona. Or so I thought.

If you recall, I finished fourth in my age group at Ironman Florida and was consequently on the Kona bubble. On April 2nd, 2018, I was informed that the guy who took second place in the 30-34 age group in Florida was stripped of all accolades effective November 3rd (the day before Florida) based on him testing positive for PEDs. The USADA pulled all of his results and the WTC removed him from the results of Ironman Florida. This meant I took 3rd in my AG.

I immediately sent an email to WTC to see what this all meant in terms of placement and Kona qualification. Special thanks to Emma, my family, and to several of my EMJ teammates for help spreading the word and awareness of the importance of training and racing clean.

With this news and race day less than a month out, the new plan was still the old plan: race my ass off.

With a few emails and some help (you know who you are), I received a call on April 16th informing me that based on USADA rules and WTC's anti-doping policies, the third Florida Kona slot was offered to me! I received the email that night and consequently punched my ticket to Kona for the fall, so pumped!

With the KQ, this meant there would be no pressure in Texas for a Kona slot. This was a huge relief despite Kona being a secondary goal. So, the new goal was still the old goal, race my ass off.

Lead Up
Emma and I were flying down the Tuesday before the race to get settled into the AirBnB a bit early to take any travel related stress away and get acclimated to the Texas heat as quickly as possible. The biggest stress relief regarding travel though was definitely my in laws offering to drive my bike down as they were helping my sister in law with some moving. Thank you Mark and Heather so much for offering to drive the bike down! I can't thank you two enough!

Emma and I landed in Houston and hustled to get the rental car. We were out of the airport in 30 minutes, so awesome not having to check the bikes! We swung into Chipotle for a quick bite as we were starving! I forgot how much I love Chipotle.

We got the the AirBnB at about 3:30 pm and were greeted by my in laws and all our gear. Since I didn't have to put my bike together, that meant I could get out for a tune up ride immediately. I picked out a route from a quick google search and hit the road. This was the first time I rode my new bike outside since the Vegas camp and the first time with the disc on the new bike. All I can say is man, Felt makes some fast bikes!

Once I got back to the AirBnB, Emma and I hit up Whole Foods to buy some groceries for the week as well as all the supplies needed for a Team EMJ dinner that I had planned for that Thursday.

Once we got back to the AirBnB we unpacked all the groceries and hit the hot tub for some R&R and then we hit the sack by 10 pm.

On Wednesday morning, Emma and I made sure to get checked in first thing to get in and out of the village as it can get pretty chaotic.  This was another benefit to getting in on Tuesday, we were in and out of the village in 35 minutes, boom!

The next few days were spent getting my last few workouts in and eating a little extra food! Some of my favorite pre race moments are the days leading up to the race eating good food, hanging out with my family, and enjoying some couch time.

Emma's Aunt and Uncle from Houston came up to The Woodlands for dinner Wednesday evening to discuss the race and where to spectate, etc. It was awesome seeing them again and catching up.

By the time Thursday rolled around, I was getting antsy to race. Good thing I had a team dinner to prep for to get my mind off the fact that taper is a restless time. There were 12 EMJ guys racing in TX and half were coming over with their family for a low key dinner at our AirBnB. The menu was whole wheat penne chicken mozzarella with salad and garlic bread. I also made a gluten free and vegan option for those who don't eat meat. It was awesome getting together with some of my teammates and meeting the heroes in their corner who enable them to train and race like maniacs. It was the perfect way to get ready for a big race.

After dinner, it was time to get to bed as I had a fairly early start on Friday. I wanted to make sure to get my workouts in early and get a decent sized pancake breakfast down the hatch by 9:30 to give me time to digest while I packed up my stuff for check in.

I was up at 6:00 am Friday and went for my 3 mile tune up run. It was already humid but the body felt good. I cruised back to the house and hopped on my bike for a quick systems check, the bike was good to go.

After my tune up workouts, the whole support crew headed over to a local breakfast restaurant called Another Broken Egg. It was nice to sit down to a nice breakfast with family to relax the morning before the race. The pancakes were on point!

Post breakfast, it was back to the AirBnB to get all my nutrition and gear bags packed up. This being the 4th Ironman I have done, I finally feel like I have getting my stuff packed loosely under control.

After getting all the gear bags put together, it was off to transition to drop it all off around 1:30 pm. Everything went off without a hitch and I studied my lines and transition flow for Saturday and the support crew and I checked out the swim finish.

The bags were checked and the bike was racked and ready to roll!

Gear check in is always the point where race week gets real for me. It's the point where it really sinks in that I am going to be turning myself inside out in less than 12 hours. I also really enjoy the gear check in process as it give me time to reflect with Emma on the months of hard work and sacrifice. She is an absolute saint and my rock. If she didn't also compete in triathlons, I don't know how we would juggle it all!

After I racked my bike, I ran into a few of my teammates and wished them all good luck and headed back to the AirBnB to put breakfast together, get an early dinner in, hit the Normatecs, and chill out.

I talked with my coach Friday night about the strategy for Saturday while relaxing and taking in some hydration. After the call I did some foam rolling and light stretching and Emma and I hit the sack at 9 pm.

Race Morning
It was up and at 'em at 3:15 am as the AG start was at 6:40 am. I immediately went to the kitchen to get my pre-race breakfast in. Overnight steel cut oats with peanut butter, half a banana, greek yogurt, almond milk, and honey mixed in along with a GU Stroopwafel and some EFS Pro. I wanted to go a bit lighter with my race morning calories to ensure proper digestion and being able to tow the line feeling light but fueled. This breakfast was the perfect amount of food as well as macro breakdown. I will be using this in the future for sure!

After breakfast, I put on my kit and put glide on problem areas and we were set to head out to transition by 4:15 am. I got to the transition area at 4:50 am and had to wait a few minutes for it to open. Emma and I wanted to get there early to ensure that I could get everything set up within 20 minutes as there was about a mile and a half walk to the swim start. With the swim being self seeded, I wanted to make sure I got to the swim start with plenty of time to make my way to the necessary spot for my anticipated finish time.

After getting all my nutrition squared away on my bike and pumping up my tires, it was off to the swim start to hit the head and get my mind ready to race!

Best spouse and training partner a guy could ask for!
After hitting the head a couple of times, I felt ready to go! The pros were off and I had 20 minutes until go time. I put on my wetsuit, gave Emma a kiss and told her I loved her and would be watching for her on course all day, and headed down to the under 1 hour pace sign.  I met up with a couple of my teammates here and we chatted a bit and wished each other good luck on what would surely be a hot and long day.

58:21, 15th AG, 134th OA

As I moved up to the front under 1 hour sign, I had to wait about 5 minutes for the cannon. I enjoyed the National Anthem and some quiet reflection time on the build for this race. I am so thankful for the people in my life that enable me the opportunity to train and race at this level (especially to my fantastic wife Emma who has a fully loaded race season as well, which I look forward to cheering her on at Ironman 70.3 Madison and Ironman Wisconsin in the fall!).

After some reflecting, it was go time! The cannon went off and I shuffled into the water. This was my first open water swim since Ironman Florida and my first swim in my new Roka Maverick Pro Wetsuit (thanks for the hookup Roka!).

As soon as I got in the water the strategy was to hold as tight of lines to the buoys as possible while minimizing the amount of water ingested. Lake Woodlands is filthy and only allows swimming twice a year for this race and another local race. I found some feet to hang onto almost right away and settled into a nice pace. Other than some contact early on where I got kicked in the face, the swim was fairly uneventful. I did feel that my swim time was a bit slow despite feeling strong and comfortable in the water. I am attributing this to heightened focus on not swallowing any water as I heard horror stories of people getting really sick from the water here. Side note, a couple of my teammates ended up with some GI issues likely from ingesting some water on the swim, but luckily they are feeling better.

I made the final turn to get to swim out down the canal. This was a really cool experience as the canal is narrow enough to see and hear all the people cheering for the swimmers coming in. Despite the disgusting water, this was the highlight of the swim for me as I saw Emma and the rest of my support crew while I was taking a breath. That was a really welcomed sight.

I pinned it to swim out and hustled to the wetsuit strippers to get my bike and get 112 miles done!

4:34:12, 17th AG, 121st OA
Avg Power 223W, NP 231W, Avg Speed 24.0 MPH

Coming into this race, my cycling fitness was better than it ever has been. My FTP was up, my weight was down, and my aerobic fitness was insane. My winter training positioned me to bike 230 - 240W for the entire bike and still be able to run well off the bike. The approach was to bike around 230W to ensure my run legs would stay in tact.

Coming out of transition, I focused on holding my power in control around that 230 number. The watts were coming easy and I was executing the plan both for power and nutrition. This was going to be a really awesome bike leg, or so I thought.

After about 20 miles, the bike course takes you onto the Hardy Toll Highway. This is where things got.....interesting. There is a 20 mile stretch of the highway that makes up 80 miles of the race. Two down and backs. I got onto the highway and was moving my way up the field when it happened. The largest peloton I have ever seen in a race. It must have had 150+ riders in it all on each others' wheel. They ripped passed me doing 30+ MPH and up on the cowhorns soft pedaling. Pretty discouraging to see such blatant cheating. So much so that these people were joking, laughing, and clearly working to reel people in.

The next 80 miles of the race were pretty frustrating. As I did not want to participate in any drafting, (I found out later that there were no course marshals on the Hardy Toll Road due to some sort of moto related safety issue, which I still don't know what that would have been, but anyway) I spent a few too many pennies too many times surging 300+ watts to break away from these massive pelotons only to get swallowed up by them 2 miles later.

After the third or fourth time of this chase and scoop, I said forget it and let the pelotons pass. As a result my efficiency on the bike plummeted and I lost what I estimate to be 10 - 15 minutes on my total bike time. Well worth it to not draft.

Photo Courtesy of Talbot Cox

Despite all the drafting that was occurring, I was happy to race my race and know that the bike time I put up was earned. You can only race the course and conditions you are given and do your best to race morally sound, which I feel I accomplished.

I was hitting my nutrition plan to a T and I was able to urinate 3 times, which meant my salt and hydration was on point. This was a huge improvement for me coming off Florida where I didn't urinate once on the bike.

Photo Courtesy of Talbot Cox

At about mile 70 or so, I was able to actually push my planned race wattage for the remainder of the race and average 25 MPH at 230W with a VI of 1.01. Unfortunately, several people hung onto my rear wheel and were content letting me pull them home.

I was super excited to get off the highway and onto the trip home as the ride was broken up a bit with some technical turns. I rode pretty hard the last 10 or so miles to get back to transition and gear up to run. I was able to spot my support crew at several spots on the way back which was a welcomed site and provided me a much needed mental boost!

I got into T2 and hit the porta john immediately as my bladder was about to burst (so much so that I couldn't go on the bike). After that short break it was into the change tent to gear up for the run!

3:17:11, 13th AG, 94th OA

I came out of T2 determined to get to work on the run. The day was already hot and I wanted to make sure I left everything I had on the course. My legs were a bit fatigued already from the 300+ watt surges on the bike to get away from the draft packs, but overall I felt pretty good.

The run is broken into three loops. My strategy was to progressively build my pace each loop from 7:20 - 7:30 pace down to 7:10 - 7:20.  The first lap went really well. I felt light and strong and was ticking off the miles at 7:15 or so pace. My nutrition and hydration were clicking, so far so good!

By the time I got to the second loop, I was starting to feel the heat and the fatigue in my legs a bit, but continued to push at about 7:20 pace (less one porta potty stop which caused an 8:00 mile). I was hydrating and fueling well and still feeling relatively good despite the heat. 10 pounds of body weight makes a big difference when running in the heat! I was making up time on people in my AG, which was extremely uplifting. I was reeling people in and really enjoying the scenery and seeing my family and friends on the route! 

I saw quite a few teammates on course as well and exchanged some high fives and words of encouragement which helped me tremendously. Great racing out there boys!

By the time I hit the third loop, I was starting to really feel those bike surges earlier in the day. I just kept telling myself 8 more miles! 

I was just trying to focus on keeping good form and making sure to drink enough water at each aide station.

The last few miles of the run ticked off surprisingly well given the wheels felt like they came off. I saw my support crew at a few crucial points of the last 3 miles which helped bring me home! Thank you guys so much for the support and encouragement!

After making it to the final turn, I knew I was only a quarter mile from the finish and I dropped the hammer. I was ready to be done moving. The finish area is a little deceiving as you turn the corner and see the finish line, the chute takes you on a snaked path away from the finish. This was a blessing and a curse because it allowed me time to look for Emma, but teases you with the finish line being so close!  Needless to say I made my way up the shoot and saw Emma and the rest of the support crew as well as teammate and good friend Danny Royce and his family. Danny was forced to pull out of the race after the first loop due to a hamstring issue. Keep your head up Danny, you made the right call man! You'll get after it again in Kona!

After crossing the line, I had no idea what place I finished or if I had broken 9 hours. I was just glad to be done with the race in that heat!

After making my way through the finisher area and getting some water. I met up with my family, friends, and Emma let me know the results!

13th AG
94th OA

I achieved a new PR on a hot day. I couldn't be more thrilled with the performance I put together! I grabbed a coke and a burrito and looked for a place to sit down and chat with my family and friends, what a day!

Post Race
After getting some food and chatting a bit, we headed over to transition and waited for it to open up to grab my gear and head back to the AirBnB for a shower and relaxing before heading out to dinner.

I felt surprisingly good after the race. Better than I ever have post race and was actually excited to get dinner as I was starving! We opted for a burger and a couple beers at a local restaurant called the Republic Grill. The burger and brews were excellent! Emma's aunt and uncle from Houston met us here for dinner as well, which was awesome! We spent the evening chatting about the race and what Emma and I had planned for the summer and just enjoyed the good company. It was the perfect way to cap off race day.

The next morning was super low key. Emma and I got up to pack up some of our stuff and she got a workout it. After that, Emma and I met up with Danny and his parents for some breakfast at a local diner before awards and the rolldown ceremony. Danny and his parents are fantastic people and the breakfast was a perfect way to end the race weekend with teammates.

After breakfast, Emma and I headed back to the AirBnB to pick up our friends who came down to watch me race (thanks KT and Alex!) and take them to the award ceremony and get some lunch downtown. Long story short, we didn't stay for awards as you needed to buy tickets to get in which were $20 a piece for non athletes. So I went into the banquet hall to show support to my teammates and congratulated everyone on their top notch performances! Special shoutout to Stephen Marshal for the KQ! 

After checking in with teammates, Emma, KT, Alex, and I cruised over to a local Tex-Mex restaurant for a beer and some lunch.

The rest of Sunday was spent relaxing and drinking some beer and eating way too much good food. Emma and I hung out with KT and Alex for the rest of the day and had a nice dinner at the house as they had an early morning flight on Monday.

Monday was our travel day so we spend the entire morning cleaning up the AirBnB and packing up the last few items. Emma and I were wiped out from the weekend. It's good to be home! Check out a few supplemental pics from the weekend. Now it's time to relax, get back on a good eating regiment, recover, and get ready for the next training block to kick off the local triathlon season here in MN! Until next time, happy training and racing!

Post Race Fatigue

Teammate Reid and I

Getting out of Transition 

What a Day!
Emma and Summer

Best Sherpa Ever!

Don't Know What I Would do Without this Woman!

Roka Gear on Point

Part of the Support Crew!

Gear Check in

Emma Before a Long Ride

Bike Almost as Good Looking as the Rider!