Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Half Ironman on top of Half Ironman Part 3: Ironman Glory

 Coming into transition I was very relieved to know I was getting off the bike (2:28:19 new PR).  Over the last 10 miles I had lost about 5-10 watts on my average, but that was the past and next up was the run.  I sat down on the pavement to change my socks and put on my flats, and also to piss on myself again (cant believe how many times I had to pee!).  I was pretty high up overall in the amateur race, and so the fans were cheering for me pretty loud, and they all congregated around as I was changing my shoes.  I was wincing pretty hard when I was changing and one spectator asked if I had a cramp…I just smiled as I got up and ran for the run start.  Nothing needed to be said because the puddle on the ground when I got up told it all haha.

Now the moment I had been looking forward to all season, to prove I can lay down a solid run split.  I had put in some serious miles, hard miles, easy miles, pace miles, the run had been my passion all season.  I loved running and being able to run injury free for the first time in 3 seasons was absolutely the most fun thing for me.  Now was my time to reap the benefit from my hard work.

I got out of transition (2nd in my age group) and you would never guess who I was running 10 yards behind…effin Chris McCormack and Jeff Symonds running shoulder to shoulder.  The run course was a 3 lap course, and these guys were heading out on lap 2 as I was starting.  To run behind these legends and watch them ever so slowly pull away from me…you can’t put words it.  It is a moment I will never forget.
(The Legend, Macca!)
Aside from the legends, I was running shoulder to shoulder with a couple of the women pros, and had 2 more 100 yards ahead of me that I was quickly reeling in.  DAMN!  I was moving my way up through the women’s pro field, and feeling great!  I figured that these gals were going to run between 1:24-1:28 so for me to stay with them, let alone drop them was huge for my confidence.  And to do it feeling so light on my feet…o baby bring it on! 
(Eerily Similar Form as Macca)
Slightly before hitting the turnaround about 2 miles into the race I saw Bill Vann again, and he was running really strong and we “low 5ed” each other as we crossed paths.  I had pegged him to swim just about what he did into me (30-40 seconds), and to bike about 4 minutes into me, giving him nearly a 5 min advantage going into the run.  After I hit the turn around and hit about the same spot where I saw Bill, I estimated he had somewhere in the range of 8-10 min lead…at that point I was like WHOA!!
 (Bill representing MSU)
Bill had really worked his bike into a weapon the past 2 years and his splits all summer had absolutely shown that.  He had rode within a minute of some serious pro riders at multiple big scale Olympics that summer and was really on form.  He rode a monstrous 2:21 and change and was the first amateur off the bike. 

Coming around for the end of my first lap I was still running strong with one of the pro women I came out of transition with, and we had run a first lap in 6:24/mile pace.  I saw iris and she gave me splits to a former sparty great Aaron Scheidies, as well as to bill.  She said I was 3 mins down to aaron and 7 mins to bill.  I knew that If I could maintain this pace throughout I would have laid down by far the most impressive run in my triathlon career across any distance.  Regardless of where I finishes against my friends, I knew I was having the race of my life and needed to keep focused and stick to the plan.

I was still feeling very strong and looking forward to another lap.  Nothing too eventful happened, one pro woman with what seemed like Heely’s on slingshot past me and the other woman I was running with like we were standing still…unbelievable, that lady can run!  Still I stuck to the plan and kept the strong pace.  I hit the turnaround for lap 2 and now was halfway through the run.  I was starting to feel the fatigue now, and knew I needed to start hitting the coke.  Coke is one of those magical things when you are completely zonked and need a quick pick-me-up, the caffeine brings you to life quickly.  The only drawback is once you start drinking it you can’t stop. 

As I was coming to the turnaround by the finish line to start my third and final lap I saw Bill again, and he was not looking as good as he did when I saw him on the first lap.  I also noticed that I had cut some serious time into him.  I started the final lap (by this time I had dropped the pro woman I was running with.  The second lap I had averaged 6:37/mile), and saw iris one last time.  She told me that I was down 4 minutes to bill and only 1 minute to Aaron.  “Man I must be really running well” I thought to myself.  She also told me that I was still in 2nd in my age group…which really ignited a flame inside me.  I had fought far too hard to settle for second place.  Unfortunately not knowing what the dude looked like I wasn’t able to spot him and keep tabs on him.  I just had to take a chance and give it everything I had for the final 4.5 miles if I was going to have any shot. 

Hitting the turn around and knowing I only had 2 and a quarter miles to go was a huge relief, but I knew that it wasn’t going to be easy.  I needed a miracle if I wanted that trophy!  I shuffled through the aid station with 2 miles to go and downed 3 cokes and a water.  At that point I hoped that would be enough coke to get me to the finish line and I needed to dig deeper than I ever had before.  Regardless of any outcome I was still running against the clock for a great overall time and an even better run split for myself. 

Every person I passed I checked their calves to see if they were 18-24, and each one I saw I knew they weren’t the one because they were moving far too slow and didn’t look worn out enough.  Then I spotted him!  At 1 mile to go there he was, he had a glow around him that made me immediately know he was the one.  He had just crested the top of a slight hill and I was at the base about to climb.  I must have been 20 seconds down and only a mile to go.  I knew that the only way I was going to pull this off was to take a chance and to sprint with all my might up this hill.  I figured with the way he looked at the top that I could cut that lead in half with a surge up the hill, so I did.  And cut the lead in half I absolutely did.  I smelt blood, and the best part was he didn’t even see it coming!  I was in so much pain, but so jacked up on adrenaline that all I could see in my mind was the finishing chute and finish line!  There was an aid station with ¾ mile to go, and at this point I was flailing every body part I had to get all momentum moving forward as fast as I could.  I snatched a coke from the aid station hoping that it would help me hold this pace till the end. 

I caught the glowing man shortly after the coke, but I wasn’t satisfied.  Unlike Andreas Raelert in Kona in 2010 when he caught Macca and eased his pace to just run alongside him, my goal was to completely shred him, break all his spirits and give him zero chance to hang on.  There were 3 turns left on the course and just under a half mile to go one 90 degree left turn, one 90 degree right turn, and then a big swooping 180 loop turn into the finish line.  I didn’t want to look back, I didn’t want to show any fear or weakness I just kept driving forward, by far the ugliest form you can picture, with the sole purpose to cross that line first!

After taking the left turn to head home I spotted Bill, and couldn’t believe it.  Bill looked like he had given it everything he had and as I passed him just before the final big swooping turn to the finish line, cheered him on to finish strong.  I sprinted to the finish giving it every last bit of strength I had to polish off my greatest run leg in my triathlon career (1:26:06 6:34/mile avg).  Bill held on strong to hold off the guy I had passed in my age group, finishing 2nd in the collegiate division.   Mad props to bill for putting together one of the gutsiest races by a half ironman rookie I have ever seen.  You really have a future in this distance buddy, and I look forward to facing off again in the near future!  VERY IMPRESSIVE RACE MAN

(They Still had the pro race time on the clock...i was 4:25:37)

Hitting the finish line was a relief above all reliefs.  I was so drained mentally and physically.  I had left it all out on the course and had a smashing new PR to show for it. Not to mention my first ever First Place finish in an Ironman event!  

I can’t wait to recover, take some time off, and then build on this performance looking forward to next year.  In store for next year I have a few 70.3s, ultimately building the volume for another Full Ironman in the near future…Below are some other random pics iris shot throughout the day!

 (Andy Potts Overall Winner)

 (Iris Lost the car so i was waiting for her)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Half Ironman on top of Half Ironman Part 2: Ironman 70.3 Austin Redemption

Iris wasn’t able to make it out to Tyler, and I think that having her there would have been huge in me keeping focused and finishing the race strong, rather than giving into the pain.  Knowing that she was going to be able to make it to Austin was a huge positive for me.  Everything seemed to be going right heading into this race, and to add to those positives, the forecast was a high of 67, my kind of race weather!

As I was leaving my apartment to hit the road for Austin, I took a look at my trophy case, picturing all the races I had trophies for, and trying to take something positive from each.  I noticed when doing that, that I had never placed 1st in my age group in an ironman sanctioned event.  I had placed 2nd in Ironman Florida, and 3rd in Ironman 70.3 Lake Stevens, but never the illustrious first place.  That was my goal leaving the house, bring home the gold!

Going to the expo Saturday before the race, seeing the finish line, and picking up my packet really filled me with the motivation and the positive energy I needed to eliminate that slop race from the previous weekend completely from my memory.  Not that I needed anything extra from what I already had to make this weekend and race go any better, but after walking out of the chute finishing up getting my packet, I run into iris, and she has a bag from the ironman store.  I asked her what she got, and she got a big smile on her face, and pulled out a bunch of goodies she got me!!  I love that girl so much, she is unbelievable!  This race was going to go flawless!

Race morning came early, and it was very very chilly.  I was cold going through my pre-race setups, but knew that I would have a leg up on most of the other athletes because I LOVE the cold.  After pumping up my tires and getting transition laid out, I ran into former Michigan State Spartan Teammates Bill Vann and Ryan Bosma.  We wished each other good luck, but were more focused on the race and we kept it short.  

After running into those guys I went over and found iris and we headed down to the swim.  This race was filled with a stacked field on the men’s side.  Chris McCormack, Jeff Symonds, Andy Potts, TJ Tollakson, Bryan Rhodes just to name a few.  The men’s pro field was set to go off at 7:30, pro women at 7:32, and then my wave @ 7:35.  My wave was full of the collegiate division (where Bill and Ryan were a part of) as well as the rest of the 18-24 age group (my age group and trophy to win). 

Getting in the water felt great to get out of the sub 40 degree air temp.  But just as we were ushered into the water the cannon was off, and the race was under way.  I took it out pretty strong and tried to maintain that pace throughout.  I latched onto the back of a long string of racers, and had good position throughout the race.  Again similar to last week I exited the water and heard someone yell 26:30.  NO WAY!  This time I knew the swim was legit because ironman events usually are spot on their distances.  I was ecstatic with this swim, I didn’t take it too deep, and felt great!  I shot up the hill out of the water and into transition.  As I ran down my row where my bike was, I ran past Bill & gave him props on his great swim as I ran by (he had swam a 25 and change).  I took my time putting on socks and arm warmers because I wanted to be comfortable on the bike and not have to waste unnecessary energy trying to keep warm, then I was onto the bike course (2nd place in my age group). 

I felt great!  I was so happy to be in the cold, fresh legs, head finally on my shoulders straight again…I felt like a new man.  My goal for the bike was to ride a consistent power ~250 watts, not to blow up like I did last week because I got caught up in the moment.  And stick to that plan I did, I was riding strong, comfortable, and felt good.  At about mile 15 Yvonne van Vlerken passed me (she is a very accomplished pro woman, who placed 2nd overall in Kona a few years back) and when I realized that I told myself, if I can ride with her, I am setting myself up for a great race.  She went around me and I stayed with her for the next 20-25 miles, within my power zone, reeling in the other female pros who outswam her. 

At this point in the race I started to get the urge that I needed to pee…BAD.  Peeing on the bike is quite difficult, after sitting on a saddle for x miles settling into a pace and trying to just focus on race strategy…it’s amazing how hard it is to force out a pee!  I finally got the fluid rollin and felt soooo much better.  I had lost ~30 seconds to van Vlerken because of my lack of ability to pedal during this time, so I told myself I only have 20 miles left, I’m feeling great, let’s try to reel her back in.  So I deviated from the race plan and held 260-270 watts for the next stretch and before I knew It I had reeled her back in.  I was so pumped & it didn’t feel too hard either.  I was right back where I wanted to be. 
Sure enough shortly after I had to pee again!  So I followed the same steps leaned to the side of my bike, and let the fluid flow.  This time I had lost slightly less time than I had last time to Yvonne, and again I told myself lets up the ante, dial back into 260-270 and reel her in.  I was unaware that the final 15-20 miles of the bike was all into the wind, with some tough rollers.  I kept putting in a strong effort on the pedals and was not making up any ground on her…in fact I was losing time!  This was a mental blow, and sapped my legs a little bit knowing that I couldn’t reel her in, but I decided to stick back to the plan and dial it back to 250.  This whole time we were still eating up the pro women field on the bike, probably had passed 6 women the past 10 miles.   With 5 miles to go I was really starting to fade, and just wanted off the bike bad.  I again had what felt like a full bladder and there was no sense in holding it, so I let it out again, only this time I was going through an intersection where the police were blocking traffic…this was what turned my mentality around.  I was in the dumps because I was losing ground to Van Vlerken, and really starting to feel like crap.  As I was rolling through the intersection with the officers, I was going very slow and not pedaling, rather posing to the side of my bike leaning awkwardly with a nice trail of liquid following behind me.  The officers stared as I inched by them wondering what the heck I was doing and just as I had passed them they realized it and started cracking up.  This definitely put a smile on my face that I desperately needed.  My head was cleared of the negative thoughts and I was riding smooth again, the legs were still gassed but I was making it through.  A couple of the women I had passed a few miles back had rode through my pee trail and closed the gap I had opened, and we rode together the rest of the way in.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Half Ironman on top of Half Ironman Part 1: Just Tri to break 5 hrs please

The off-season is here and man do I need it!  The past 3 months have been filled with more than my fair share of ups and downs to say the least.  Work really likes to get in the way of the things you love, especially when you are traveling ¾ of the month since July, which as you can imagine really got in the way of training!  Aside from work stuff I was also trying to balance a few personal things on my plate that became very difficult.  Not to mention I was asked to move from Seattle to Dallas for my job.  Things got dark for a stretch there, but thanks to some seriously good friends I came out, and am a better man today because of them.

This isn’t a recap intended to bring a sad tear to your eye, but rather a tear of joy.  Through all the rough things that people go through in life, the world usually balances its gifts and sorrows pretty well in the long run.  

Ok, back to the story…my coach Andy Sweet and I had been really firing on all cylinders all summer.  We started working together in late June, and since then I had seen some serious progression in my bike.  I was starting to learn about riding with power (thanks to team evotri and Cyclops for the once in a lifetime opportunity) and was really connecting the dots between training smart and training dumb.  I really felt like I was starting to get it!  I had some good results on the bike in races throughout the summer, and was uber optimistic about the 2 half ironman’s I had coming up in late October.   My running was stronger than it has ever been, and my swim…well I seem to always find a way to pull it together in the water regardless of if I’m training for it or not.  

So Andy and I had talked about finishing my season with Ironman 70.3 Austin and we both agreed that would be an excellent idea.  As the summer progressed we both were becoming more and more excited for that day to come and to see how well I would race.  I started to get overly confident, and one day I found a race in Tyler, TX that was about 3 hours away, also a half ironman, and it had some serious prize money to it.  $1500 to first, $700 to second, $300 to third.  The race was a first year race and didn’t seem to getting its name out  too well, so I thought hey, this could be my chance to snatch my first prize money in a race!  I talked it over with Andy, and we decided that it wasn’t the most ideal because it was the week before Austin, but we thought it could be done no question, so I signed up.  

As August turned to September, things were going really well.  My biking and running were hitting an all-time high and I was through the roof excited for the Tyler half ironman.   I thought there was no way I wasn’t going to get $$ for sure.  

Just about that time was when the Grims dark cloud started to take hold of me.  My personal issues I mentioned above started to really affect everything I did.  I had no desire to train, so I stopped, and just moped around feeling sorry for myself hoping that at some point I would snap out of it and come around…well as the time went by suddenly I had lost 4 weeks, and next thing I knew the Tyler half ironman was the following Sunday.  WOW I was in trouble.  My excitement a month ago had turned to fear and I was not ready physically or mentally for what I was about to endure.  

Race morning I set up my transition area and it started to feel like a race again.  I was getting excited because there were less than 100 people at the race, and for a race with big $$ on the line I figured there would be 500-1000 people at least!  I started to think that the $ was as good as mine again.

As they shot the gun for the start, I took off.  The pro wave started 5 mins ahead of the rest of the amateur field, and my plan was to power through the swim and get on the bike, trying to work my way up through the pro field…keeping myself in striking distance for the run, which I had planned to use as my weapon.  I thought I had it all planned out!

Exiting the swim I looked at the clock and saw 25:40!  I couldn’t believe it…I was pretty stoked to see that fast of a swim.  I also had passed about half of the pro field, which I felt put me in great position for the overall $$.  My new plan was to group up with these guys on the bike and try to ride and run with em, hoping that the 5 min advantage I had would provide me with a nice pay day!

After a quick transition I was out on the bike by myself.  About 10 miles into the ride I hit an intersection (still riding alone) and a guy was there yelling “4th Place, 4th Place!”  When I heard that I was over the moon.  I couldn’t believe that I was in 4th place overall, and still had a 5 min advantage because of the swim.  I had this in the bag…easiest money I ever made!  At this point I figured I would try to push the bike a little bit more so that I wasn’t riding alone. 

Going through mile 30 I was still riding solo.  I was starting to get a little irritated that I couldn’t see anyone ahead of me, but I did notice that I had a few riders inching their way up to me.  One guy finally caught me and we rode together for another 10-15 miles, trading turns at the front trying to keep an honest pace and reel in the leaders.  Hitting mile 45 I started to realize that I was biking too hard and was paying the price.  It was becoming more and more difficult to hold the pace we had been setting the whole time and I started to lose ground.  By mile 50 I was all alone again…and this time not feeling too well! 

I finished the bike leg up and had ridden an average 2:32 and change, losing  lot of time over the last 10-15 miles.  At this point I still figured I had a shot at the money, thinking that I was somewhere around 6th overall, I just had to find my run legs and reel back the time I had lost the final part of the bike and I would be fine. 

After a pretty decent transition I was out on the run and feeling good.  I wore my gps watch and after about 4 mins I looked down and saw I was clicking off 6:35s.  I felt great and knew that if I held this pace I was going to work myself right back into this!  Well unfortunately that’s where things went south quickly.  By mile 2 I was walking, starting to overheat & cramp.  Not only did all hopes of winning money get flushed from my mind, but even worse, they were replaced with similar thoughts that were going through my head the past 4 weeks.  I was weak mentally, and things only got worse. 

I managed to muster a sub 2hr half marathon and just squeak under 5 hrs overall coming in at 4:54 and change.  I was glad to be done, but not too glad about having another half the following weekend.  Even though I raced very poorly I ended up first overall amateur, and won a pretty sweet trophy.  Lucky for me, I had a nice 3 hour drive by myself to reflect back on the race and analyze what I could have done differently.

The days following the race started to brighten up.  My gray clouds that were hovering over me seemed to disperse rather quickly and I started to see straight again and feel like myself.  That was the worst part about everything was I was not feeling like myself one bit, and feeling like there was nothing I could do to change that.  It felt great to feel like myself again.  I recovered from the Tyler half pretty quickly and was starting to really look forward to Austin, as crazy as it sounds.  Things were starting to look up!