2018 Pigman Sprint

Pigman triathlon is one of my favorite races every year. It’s a local race in Palo, IA (just NW of Cedar Rapids), although not so local for me as it’s a five-hour drive, but the vibe is perfect. Very much grassroots and laid back and this year was the 27th running of the event. The local support and volunteers are amazing and to top it off, the post-race refreshments and food is bar none. This year, Pigman was the USA Triathlon Iowa High School State Championships and had a collegiate division. This is my third year in a row racing the sprint distance race and I raced the long course event in 2015. The format is unique in that it’s a gender equalization race. So, the female elite wave starts 5:28 before the men’s elite wave, making it a race within a race and provides an interesting dynamic.

Swim: 7:10

I started on the far rights side of a straight out and back course. The wind was blowing the buoys to our left on the way out, so I planned to just hug the buoy line. Within a few strokes, someone swam right over me, which wasn’t ideal. With this only being a 500-meter swim, I tried to keep the fast swimmers as close as possible and not even 20 meters into the race there was a gap because I had to slow to let the swimmer get realigned and swimming straight again. I just focused on myself and controlled what I could. At the half way point, there was a front group of four and then one other athlete off the back of them. I was feeling quite strong and decided to put in a hard minute of swimming to close that gap to the swimmer in front of me. The winds on the way back to the beach were causing a lot of chop in the water, something I’m not used to. I ended up closing the gap and exited the water right on 5th places feet. I’m happy with my swim, even though it was the slowest time of the three years I’ve raced. After talking to several others after the race, we all had slower times than previous years, so I suspect that the chop had something to do with that because the distance on my Garmin all three years are within a few yards of each other.

Swim Exit

T1: 1:26

The run to transition is always tough at this race. Slight uphill on the beach turns into a decent uphill on grass to get to the parking lot where our bikes are, probably close to .25 mile in total from the water edge to get to our bikes. I quickly put on my helmet and grabbed my bike and took off running through transition, which is more uphill in the parking lot. I passed the guy who was just in front of me out of the water and had two others just 5-10 seconds in front of me. I had a good transition, the second fastest out of everyone racing.

Bike: 35:56

As I headed downhill toward the dam, I slipped into my shoes and noticed the front four were not far ahead. I put in a hard effort to close that gap so I’d be with them as we exit the park. I ended up passing one guy in the park and another right after we got out. After a long downhill, I was sitting in third place overall with the front two just 5-10 seconds in front of me. I was quite surprised and very happy to already be in this position. I fully expected to have to chase the entire bike and try to catch them on the run. A strong cross tailwind (20 mph with gusts stronger) was nice early in the race, but I knew it’d be harder going into it from mile 5 to roughly mile 11. I ended up passing second place before the first U-turn, but after a slow turn he passed me right back so I just settled into third again as we headed into the wind. I was using both first and second place to gauge my effort and hopefully recover a bit since I put in a hard effort in the first five miles. Surprisingly, I saw my power drop but I was staying with them and my legs were feeling good. I kept telling myself to be patient and save it for the run. As we hit the bottom of the hill, something just clicked and I went for it. Like full on max effort went for it. I got to the top and looked back to see I had opened up a gap, so I kept the pressure on and figured it certainly wouldn’t hurt to enter T2 in the lead. At the second U-turn, I was still down 2:30 on the female leader, but had opened up a 20-25 second gap on second place in the men’s race. I put my head down and continued to push hard all the way to T2 in hopes of getting that 2:30 gap down to 2 minutes or under.

T2: 0:52

I was the first spot on the first rack in transition, so I didn’t have much time at all after the dismount line before racking my bike. I put on my shoes and noticed something funky in my left shoe. I figured my insole scrunched up even though I have them taped down. I debated if I should take off my shoe and fix it, which would allow the first female to gain more time and let the other men back into the race after opening up a lead on the bike, or just go run and hope that I can get through the 5k without any issues (blisters, weird pains from messed up insole, etc. (I do race next weekend at 70.3 Wisconsin, which was weighing on my mind as well)). I decided to just go run and hope it’d fix itself or I’d be ok. I grabbed my race belt and took off to run through transition. (Note: after the race I took off my shoe, turns out it was my print out receipt of my results from Kansas City Triathlon 3 weeks ago. Whoops. Maybe next time I’ll check my shoes before putting them in transition before a race. On the plus side, I had no blisters or issues while running.)

Run: 17:23

I didn’t feel very good straight out of transition, to which I blame biking way too hard. It wasn’t until I turned right to head down toward the dam that I started feeling good. Tailwind and downhill running is definitely nice when you haven’t found your running legs yet and your stride feels awkward. As I got down to the dam, I saw the lead female and knew that I would catch her. I went through the first mile in 5:19 and was feeling strong and felt I could manage this the rest of the way. I made the pass at 1.25 miles and was finally in the lead. At the U-turn at half way, I was able to get time checks back to the rest of the field and knew I would hold on to win as along as something crazy didn’t happen. Going back across the dam into the wind then uphill was not easy, but I just kept my form together and got through it. I turned left and headed down to the finish line and couldn’t believe I was about to finally win this race.

Overall: 1:02:54

I’m beyond thrilled to finally take the win. This is my third straight year coming to this race and I’ve finished 2nd, 3rd, and now 1st, respectively. I love coming to race here and compete against a handful of professionals that sign up every year. It was also a very encouraging day for me. I had a good swim again and felt strong (same as Trizou and KC Triathlon (click on the link for a recap of those two races)), but I finally had a really good bike ride (something I wasn’t happy about at either Trizou or KC Triathlon). I made a big move on the bike and stayed in aero position despite 20+ mph winds, most of which were cross headwinds or cross tailwinds. This is a huge confidence boost and win for me because ever since my crash 3 years ago, I’ve lost a lot of my confidence and fearlessness on the bike, especially in windy conditions. I also think another huge factor for me making a big move on the bike and holding it is from the local group bike ride I have joined a few times this year called Tuesday Night Worlds. It’s aptly named as it’s on Tuesday nights and it is a very hard group ride where riders constantly attack and try to break away from the group. Naturally, I have been a part of those attacks even though they always fail. However, it has taught me how to make a huge move and go well above threshold and then try to settle in and hold that move for as long as possible with your legs screaming at you to just stop. Needless to say, I will definitely continue to join the TNW group ride throughout the summer.

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2018 Trizou and Kansas City Triathlon

Trizou

I woke up at 3:34 am to start my journey to Columbia, MO for my (now) annual first race of the season at Trizou. Sprint triathlons to kick off the season are both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, they’re over in one hour; on the other, though, it is one-hour max effort when you are not used to high intensity. I knew going into the race that repeating my win from the last two years was not going to happen. I’d only beaten Evan Culbert by 20 seconds the last two years, and I knew he has improved a lot while I’ve had many recent life situations that have me further behind in my training and preparation than I’d prefer. While I didn’t expect to win, I was very excited to see where my fitness was at given my build to race day.

Swim: 5:14 (400-meter swim in 50-meter pool)

To the left of me was Yaniv (former D1 swimmer at Mizzou) and to my right in the other lane was Evan, the second fastest swimmer and not behind Yaniv by much. I took off hard, but it felt super smooth. It was really weird that by the 25-meter point, I was still on Yaniv’s hip, which shouldn’t be. However, as the 50 went on, he easily pulled away. By 200 meters in, I knew I was pacing the swim well and I’d be able to hold it. In years past, I’d go out way too hard (it is only 400 meters after all) and I’d crawl home and lose a lot of time the second half of the swim. I swam hard, but under control. I didn’t know it at the time, but I ended up having my fastest swim out of the three years I’ve raced Trizou (5:20, 5:22, 5:14). No major improvement, but any time improvement is a plus, and I felt much stronger than previous years at the end of the swim.

Bike: 33:15

The Trizou bike course is not easy. It’s a two-loop course that is virtually all uphill or downhill with two big climbs each lap. Unfortunately, race morning it rained some, so I was not as comfortable on the turns as I should have been and took the turns conservatively. This also led to a lot of slowing down and quickly speeding up, which also isn’t ideal come run time. I honestly felt horrible on the bike nearly the entire time. There were a few spots where I felt decent, but for the most part just felt horrible. Surprisingly, I ended up posting my fastest bike split of all three years (33:21, 33:55, 33:15). I have absolutely no idea how I did that. I expected to be a lot slower than previous years because I gave up a lot of time to some of the other athletes.

Run: 15:29

My legs felt horrible right from the start, but this is normal for me on this course. The first half mile or so is just a grind and nearly all gradually uphill. I had Kevin in my sights the entire time and tried to reel him in. I ended up catching him a little before the 1-mile mark. I tried to open up a gap, but I really didn’t have the legs to do so and could only put about 10 seconds on him over the next half mile. We ran the last mile or so at that same 10 second difference. While it wasn’t my slowest time of the three years (15:34, 15:05, 15:29 (course is 2.8 mile by the way)) I certainly didn’t feel good at all the entire run.

Overall: 56:47. 2nd overall.

This was such a weird race for me. I ended up with my fastest swim, bike and overall time of the past three years, so that should be something I’m very happy about considering some personal challenges in March and early April; however, for whatever reason it was incredibly bittersweet and just a weird feeling. The positives that I can take away from this race are:

  • Despite not feeling good, I was still able to go faster than I ever have before on the same course I’ve raced previous years.
  • From October 24 (KC Marathon was October 21) until May 1, there wasn’t a single Tuesday or Thursday masters swim before work that I did not swim a minimum of 5000 yards. I even had a few swims (three I believe) of 6000-6200. 5k+ swims used to be reserved for only a few times a year for me (primarily EMJ camp every year). I have noticed a major difference in my swimming and strength during swimming by adding the big swims.
  • I started lifting every Sunday, which I think has really helped my biking and I feel stronger despite less training so far this year.

 

Kansas City Triathlon

This is, without a doubt, one of my favorite races all year. It helps that it’s what I view as my hometown race, as well as race site being only 8 miles from my house. I do almost all my key intervals on the bike course throughout the year as well as many other laps around the lake. Being able to sleep in my own bed and rest in the comfort of my own home the day before the race is fantastic. On top of all that, Ultramax puts on a great race and experience.

Swim: 22:08

I started next to Yaniv (same as Trizou) and Ernie Mantell. I felt ok early on, but nothing special. Early on I was already back in about 7th place and was a little worried, but stuck to my plan. I just found my rhythm and tried to keep everyone in sight. As I approached the end of lap one, I saw three athletes just in front of me. I did the short beach run and got back in the water as quickly as possible and actually passed two of the athletes. Just in front of me was Ernie, and I tried to stick on his feet and not let him get away again. I struggled mightily trying to find my rhythm again. Getting out of the water, running on the beach then dolphin diving always sends my (and I’m sure others) heart rate sky high and I lose all swimming rhythm. Ernie slowly pulled away as we started weaving through the age group waves on lap one. I exited the swim about 15 seconds back of Ernie and in 5th place. Another good improvement (roughly 40 seconds) in the water for me compared to last years race. This year I actually had 125 yards more than last year, but still swam faster. My pace difference from the two years is 1:19/100 yd (2017) vs 1:12/100 yd (2018).

Bike: 58:21

Early into the bike, I knew the power wouldn’t be there. I was really struggling to even push the power I’d ride for a 70.3. I didn’t let it bother me as my speed was good and I was closing in on the top three (not including Ernie who I knew would put time into me. Ernie was on Team Every Man Jack last year and is racing professionally this year so I know he’s a very strong cyclist). During the ride, I rarely looked at my power and just focused on my attitude and controlling what I could. I climbed well up High Grove hill on the south side of the two-loop course. I was already in second and Ernie had not opened up that big of a gap yet. Early on in lap two, I got a time check back to Kevin Nickel and he only gained about 40 seconds on me during lap one and I was still roughly 1:20 up on him, which gave me more confidence. Last weekend at Trizou, Kevin put almost a minute into me on the bike on a 13 mile course. Lap two was more eventful than lap one in that I was passing those on lap one, but uneventful within the elite field in that I couldn’t see Ernie anymore, but was not caught by anyone.

Run: 36:47

Like the bike, my plan was to ease into the first mile, then try to roll and get into a groove after that. Over the first ¾ of a mile, I drank the entire 16 oz of water with GU Hydration mix and threw the plastic bottle away at the aid station. It was very much needed. I was a little worried about my gut handling a full bottle nearly all at once while running, but it was very humid and I knew would be worth it. I got a time check before the half mile mark that I was 2 minutes down to Ernie, but I wasn’t too concerned. After mile one, I rolled down the downhill and started feeling great. I was able to find a nice groove and get my HR to even go up, which was a good sign to me because I’ve struggled getting to race pace and changing gears, so to speak. I couldn’t see Ernie that often on the trail since it winds around and is rarely straight, but around mile 2.75 my dad told me I was only 45 seconds back. I was very motivated and definitely moving above my fitness level, but I just tried to stay mentally engaged and ignore the pain. Around mile 3.5 and on lap two, my dad told me I was 30-35 seconds down. I could see Ernie on the only straight stretch of the course and tied to relax and recover a bit before a short, but quite steep, hill right at mile 4 and then get into a groove again. Unfortunately, my lack of race specific run training caught up to me and the wheels completely fell off around mile 4.5. With under a half mile to go (maybe closer to 1/3rd mile) my dad told me to keep it together and I’d still break 2 hours. “Yeah yeah whatever, leave me alone, I’m in pain” I thought. Definitely an ‘in one ear and out the other’ moment for me. Sure enough, I crossed the finish line in 2:00:00.52. I guess next time I’ll listen to my dad.

Overall: 2:00:00. 2nd overall

I’m really happy with this result. It was a mixed bag of a day again, but there were glimpses of hope and great things in there, as well as the major struggle late on the run. My life events I’ve mentioned previously are calming down and things seem to be getting back to normal for me so hopefully I can get back into my regular training routine.

I want to give a major thank you to the volunteers for spending your mother’s day morning volunteering at KC Triathlon. Also to Ultramax Sports for a well-organized event. I will definitely be back next year. Also a major shout out to Every Man Jack (use code KDENNY18 for 25% off online orders) and all our amazing sponsors, as this wouldn’t be possible without your support.

 

Kansas City Marathon

The whole idea of racing a marathon really started back last winter/spring when I had several friends and Every Man Jack teammates preparing for and then racing Boston. Plus, one of my EMJ teammates, John Kelly, became just the 15th person to finish all 5 loops of the Barkley Marathons. All of it was inspiring and motivated me to see what I could do in a marathon, something I’ve always wondered since I’ve been a runner my whole life. But, I had a triathlon season approaching and triathlon will always take precedence over a marathon.

After a good first part of the triathlon season racing, I decided to jump into a local 5k on July 4th. A few friends and I tried to (and did) convince as many local runners to race it to try to make the race fast and competitive, something that isn’t always guaranteed with how many local 5k’s there are these days. I had no expectations for the race because I had just come off my mid-season break and wasn’t doing any race specific intervals yet. I surprised myself by taking 2nd overall and running 15:32, which is only 22 second off my college track 5k personal record. THIS is when the idea of a fall marathon became real and not just an idea. My original plan after triathlon season ended at 70.3 Worlds was to focus on fast running and jump into some fall 5k’s to try to break 16 minutes; something I haven’t done in several years but know I’m capable of. Well, I accomplished that goal on July 4th. So, now I needed a new goal. Enter Kansas City Marathon. I still had three more important triathlon races left, so I didn’t fully commit just yet. I started putting a little more focus on my long runs prior to 70.3 Worlds and was going to see how I recovered after Worlds before making the final decision on whether or not to race my first solo (no swim and bike before it ) marathon or go race cyclocross and save the marathon for another time.

Obviously, I decided to race the marathon. I kept the fact that I was racing under wraps. Not because I didn’t want any additional pressure from other people, but primarily because this race was going to be an experiment. Only a type-A triathlete would think running a marathon as an experiment is logical or fun. My experiment was this: I wanted to see what I would run a marathon in while still keeping my triathlon approach to training. And I wanted to see if this strategy could be used for my next full IM training plan. That basically means it’s unlikely I’ll run 30 or more miles in a week. I didn’t ever set a limit on my mileage, but during a normal week of training for triathlon, I rarely run more than 30 miles a week. To date, I’ve run 30 more miles in a week only 4 times this year. So, my training was basically going to be one long run each week, 1-2 off the bike 2.5 or 3 mile loop at 6:00 pace or faster, and 1-2 easy recovery runs over lunch break at work. I knew I’d likely be under prepared and extremely naïve to a solo marathon, but I wanted to at least try and see how I would do.

The forecast leading into the race wasn’t looking pretty. Race day was mid-60’s at the start and warming to upper 60’s by the end. Fortunately, it was cloudy the entire race and no sun at all. However, the winds were sustained 20 mph with gusts of 30+, neither of which are ideal marathon weather. Another factor with this course is the amount of hills involved. The course had 1250 feet of elevation gain, which is insane. There are definitely easier courses out there (like Indianapolis Marathon that’s in a few weeks with about 150 ft elevation gain), but I chose this course because it’s obviously local and I didn’t want to travel. For reference for any triathletes, I’ve done 3 other marathons in Ironmans. According to my Garmin, IM Texas course has 233 ft of gain, IM Chattanooga has 1125, and Kona (IM World Championships) has 800 ft of elevation gain.

The first mile was nearly all uphill, but I actually felt relaxed and extremely comfortable, which was a bit surprising because I didn’t warm up at all before the race. Mile two was nearly all downhill. I had a tough decision to make during mile 3. I noticed two other marathon runners (10k, half marathon, and marathon all started together) were running the same pace as I was but they were running on the other side of the road. We were already running a bit quicker than I’d prefer (5:52 and 5:44 for mile 1 and 2) so do I go with them and let them block the wind or run solo? I ran this exact scenario by my dad (who has a lot of marathon and running experience) before the race on what I should do. It really came down to a gut call. Knowing that miles 3.5 to 14.5 were going to basically be all into the wind with a few crosswind sections, I ultimately decided I would sit behind them and just see how it felt for the next few miles. Mile 3.5 to 5 was a tough stretch. It was all uphill and into the wind. I knew I was pushing a bit too hard and thought about letting them go, but a few gusts of wind reassured me that staying behind them was the right thing to do and allowed me to save energy. I had to chop my stride a few times just to keep from running up on them and didn’t feel much of the wind at all. Once we crested the top of the hill at mile 5, we had a nice 2.5 mile stretch of nearly all downhill running; and really all the way to mile 9.5 was net downhill each mile with only a few short, small uphills. The downhills allowed the two of them (and me) to naturally start rolling and our turnover picked up. Miles 6-9 were: 5:48, 5:42, 5:45, and 5:37. With all of them being downhill (and mile 9 being mostly crosswind with little headwind), I wasn’t too worried about pace at all and honestly don’t even remember seeing a single one of those splits. I wasn’t straining to keep up with them and my HR was coming down (it was elevated higher than I wanted from 3.5 to 5 mile mark) to where I felt I should be for a marathon. Somewhere shortly after the mile 9 marker, I started having knee pain on my left kneecap. I’ve had this pain before; it’s a sharp, constant pain on the kneecap. I’ve only really experienced it in races when the course is really hilly (IM Chattanooga in 2015 and 70.3 Worlds in Sept), courses where there are long uphill and downhill sections instead of rollers. I didn’t have this pain on any of my 2+ hour long runs leading into the race that had similar total elevation gain as KC Marathon, but were rolling hills the whole time, not long hills. Basically, it’s just an imbalance of quad/hamstring weakness/tightness that causes the kneecap to track improperly causing pain. At this point, there wasn’t much I could do but keep running, so I did. At 9.5 miles we took a left onto the Paseo and started a 1 mile long hill back into the wind. This was the first time all day that I had to strain to stay with these two guys and physically started to struggle. I let them go and just ran my pace crossing the 10 mile marker in 58:30. Almost right after the 10 mile marker, there was a strong gust and I felt like I was standing still. I instantly regretted losing contact of those two but it also reconfirmed my decision that going with them allowed me to save a lot of energy since I didn’t have to fight the wind. I finally made it up the hill at 10.5 and had a half mile downhill to mile 11. The next mile and half were all uphill. Now that I was alone, I just focused on my form and managing the hills and wind. My pace for the next several miles (11-16) was all around 6:30, which I was perfectly fine with. My heart rate had come down a little bit more, and I knew both the pace and heart rate was sustainable for the rest of the race. Miles 13 through 20 were all rolling hills with no long uphills or downhills. I was relieved to finally reach 14.5 because I would finally get the wind at my back.  I managed to keep things together through mile 16 despite my right quad hurting for the last mile or so, which I can only assume is from overcompensating for my left knee hurting the last 7 miles. I started to really struggle during mile 17 when the 6:30 pace I was holding was impossible and 7:00 pace felt horrible. Just after the 17 mile marker, I had to stop and stretch. My hips and quad were shot. I brought my knees up to my chest and hugged them, which felt really good. After a short 5-10 second stop, I started running again and it actually felt decent, which was a welcome surprise. Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long. Mile 18 was not a fun mile (7:22 pace) and I was in a world of hurt and not enjoying anything. I stopped again around mile 19 to stretch, which again helped for a few minutes after I started running again. I kept this trend going for 19-21, which were all 7:01 miles. I’d stop in each mile to stretch but was able to run decent afterwards, but the stretching breaks were starting to become less and less effective. By the time I reach 22.5 miles, I was done. I knew the next mile or so would be nearly all uphill and I could hardly shuffle my feet. I stopped around 22.3 miles at an intersection and used the light pole to do some leg swings (forwards and side to side), and a very weak attempt at high knees to try and loosen up the hips and legs. It didn’t work. I started running again but walked through the aid station at 22.5 and grabbed 5 cups of water. I “ran” mile 23 in 9:20. It was not fun to say the least. I even remember looking down and seeing 2:29:38 for my 23 mile split. I told myself I just needed 10 minute miles to break 3 hours. I was happy (semi sarcastic now, but definitely not in the moment) to run 8:39 for mile 24. Woohoo. Sub 10!! Mile 25 was far from enjoyable (7:35), but I was getting near the end and motivated to finish so I could stop. The last mile, more specifically the last .75, was agonizing. It was literally all downhill, and a rather steep downhill at that. While my pace enjoyed it (ran 6:30’s down this hill, mile 26 was 7:01) absolutely nothing else about this mile was enjoyable. I finally crossed the finish line of my first ever solo marathon in 2:54:37. Words cannot express how great it felt to stop moving and officially be done.

Ultimately, I had the race, time, and place I deserved. I cannot complain with a 2:54:37 marathon debut on a tough course with tough race day conditions. It showed me exactly what I wanted to know. While I do think what I did training wise is much better marathon prep than I ever did before any of my 3 full IM’s, I still don’t think it’s possible for me to run well on such little run training.

Mistakes were definitely made; pacing mistakes, nutrition mistakes, preparation mistakes. They all happened and had an impact on my result. But this was always an experiment for me. Time and place is what shows on the surface, but for me, I’m more than happy with my effort and result and believe I had a very successful, albeit painful, experiment. There were some very dark moments out there on the course, especially in the last 10 miles, which is a really long way to suffer in a marathon. I actually think nutrition mistakes were my biggest issue and why the pace dropped off quicker and more than I expected. I knew I’d fade regardless of the pace I went out in. This is longer than I’d ever run at one time, but I suffered far earlier than anticipated and the pace dropped far more drastically than I ever imagined. And looking back on it now, that screams nutrition (sugar, electrolytes) issues. I think I relied too heavily on the on-course nutrition; which were products I’ve never used before. Every 1.5 to 2 miles there was an aid station with water and Powerade. Aid stations at 7.5, 14.5 and 21.5 were supposed to also have GLUKOS gels. Why Powerade was the drink of choice, I have no idea, but I know one thing, my body does not like it. It’s probably the first time I’ve had Powerade in 15+ years.  Unfortunately, aid station 21.5 didn’t have gels set out either. I started with a pack of GU Chomps, and ate those for the first 13 miles and it worked well. However, at each aid station, I was getting 1 cup water and 1 cup Powerade to help with electrolytes since it was warm. My stomach was not agreeing with something and since I use GU Chomps all the time in training, that leaves just the Powerade as the culprit. After aid station 7.5, I stopped taking in Powerade. Fortunately, I prepared a bottle of GU Hydration mix (watermelon flavor is wonderful!!) and told my parents to hand it to me next time they saw me. Around 13 miles, my stomach finally started to settle down.  Up until that point, I was nervous, a lot. I planned to grab a gel at 7.5, but I didn’t see any there and had GU Chomps still so wasn’t too worried. At 14.5 I did get a GLUKOS gel and took it in mile 16 with the thought of getting another one in 21.5. However, when I got there, they didn’t have any gels sitting out. So I basically went the last 10 miles with no calories other than the GU Hydration mix I was getting from my parents. I think that’s the biggest reason for the 8+ minute miles around 22-24 miles. This is 100% my own fault and I should have relied on myself to carry all nutrition and not rely on the course aid stations.

I definitely have to give a big thank you to my parents and sister for coming to support me on this crazy endeavor. They drove around the course and saw me every few miles, which was quite nice, especially on the back half when I was suffering and nothing but negativity was going through my brain.

I know one thing for sure, I will not be running a marathon again anytime soon and the next marathon I run, because I know I’ll come back for redemption, will most definitely be a flatter race.

2017 Ironman 70.3 World Championships

I woke up race morning, naturally, at 5 am ready to go. Transition closed at 7:30 am; and since I was one of the last waves to start at 9:04 am, I didn’t arrive to transition until 6:45 am. It was actually a very stress free morning for me. I had plenty of time to relax and eat breakfast before leaving for transition since no athlete had access to his bike or run gear bag race morning. I really only had to add my nutrition and bottles to my bike.

Swim: 29:36

The swim start was unique. We lined up in a corral until we were able to go down toward the end of the dock where they had gates for us queue in. There were roughly 10 lines to pick from and they were sending athletes off about every 10 seconds to dive into the Tennessee River. I started next to two Every Man Jack Teammates, Greg Grosicki and Dan Isaacson. Greg noticed people that started in front of us were already drifting down river because of the current instead of swimming straight across to make the first right turn to head upriver. So, when we started, Greg and I immediately angled more upriver than would seem necessary, but it worked as I felt we swam a straight line to the first turn (and Strava file backs that up). After making the first turn, I was right on Greg’s feet; but before I knew it, he took off and opened up a gap and I lost contact. My plan was to swim the upriver portion really hard, which I felt I did. I had trouble seeing the buoys with the sun glare, but it didn’t impact my zig zagging too much. By the time I hit the second turn buoy which was a little over half way, I was quite tired and ready to be done. While the current wasn’t overly noticeable, I definitely felt it impacted the swim and effort going into it for roughly 860 meters. I knew the last half would be quicker with a slight down current and told myself it’d be over sooner than I thought so stay focused and just keep turning over the arms.

T1: 3:09

I got out of the water and got my bike gear bag quickly. I decided to not use the wetsuit stripper volunteers and ran up the steep ramp to get to the changing area before taking off my wetsuit. I quickly slipped out of it, put on my helmet, stuffed goggles, cap, and wetsuit in bag and took off to run to my bike. I ran hard to my bike and I was able to move up several spots during T1.

Bike: 2:24:42

The talk pre-race was all about the 3.2 mile climb that had just over 1000 feet elevation gain that we encountered 4.75 miles into the bike ride. The roads the first 4.75 miles were horrible. I almost lost my bottle twice and hit multiple unmarked dips in the road that did not feel good while riding in the aero position. I saw Greg just ahead of me by maybe 10 seconds and we started the climb at about the same time. Once the climb started, I was immediately into the little chain ring and out of the saddle. I wasn’t really focusing on power or heart rate while climbing; I just wanted to find a good rhythm and keep the tempo and pace going. When I felt myself slow down a bit or the grade increased, I got out of the saddle and pushed it. The first 1.5 miles were all uphill whereas the last 1.7 miles had a few (and very short) downhill sections followed by longer climbs until the last kicker up by the church at the top of the hill. I felt I handled the climb really well, which took me just under 17 minutes to climb (11.5 mph avg according to Strava). I didn’t over exert myself, but definitely had to ride harder than I normally would for any 15-20 minute section of a 70.3 distance bike leg (I basically rode Olympic distance power for those 3.2 miles). While the bulk of the climb was over, there was still more climbing to be done. The next 12 miles were rolling hills with another 1000 feet of elevation gain before we hit our long descent. Right at mile 15, I saw Nick Noone (Every Man Jack teammate) fly by me on one of the climbs. I was in shock. Nick started the wave behind me (which was roughly 8 minutes later than when I started) and caught me by mile 15!?! I had a good feeling he’d catch me because I knew he was a much faster swimmer and biker than I am, but I definitely didn’t expect it by mile 15 of the bike. Around mile 22, we made a left hand turn and did a super short climb before starting our descent.  I, personally, was more worried about the descent than I was the 3.2 mile climb. Ever since my crash 2.5 years ago, I haven’t been overly confident going downhill fast on roads I don’t know. Surprisingly though, I handled the descent really well; much better than I thought I would and felt rather comfortable on it. I touched my brakes a few times approaching corners, but most of them were sweeping and not tight so I was able to stay tucked and make it around the corners safely. Once back on the flat, I tried to find a good rhythm again. After descending for almost 7 minutes of basically no pedaling, it was kind of difficult to find a good cadence and keep the power in my pedal stroke. I knew the roads well at this point as we were on the same part that both the full Ironman and half Ironman race on. I focused on getting to Chickamagua and on staying hydrated and fed. I was doing my typical, start with two bottles of GU Hydration mix and eating Picky Bars and GU Chomps while adding Gatorade, water, and bananas from aid stations. Around mile 41, I had a group of 4 roll past me. It was a bit annoying to see them riding so close together, especially since an official on a motorcycle drove past in the opposite direction and didn’t do anything about it. They quickly opened up a 20 second gap on me right before a short climb that’s late in the race. I was able to climb with them, but the moment we started the descent, they pulled away like I was still going uphill. It was crazy and I descended well on that hill, the fastest time I’ve done in my 4 attempts (twice during the full in 2015 and once in May during the half). I put it behind me because I knew my favorite aid station was coming up just before mile 45. I got one last Gatorade to make sure I finished the bike topped off with fluids and electrolytes and grabbed a banana like I have at this aid station the 4 times I’ve gone through it. After making the turn back toward transition, there were just 11 miles to go. Shortly after that turn, I looked back and noticed a huge group making that turn all at once. First thought was that’s a draft pack for sure. Sure enough, at mile 45, a pack of 15-20 guys rolled up on me. I shook my head in disgust and told them to race fair. Half didn’t listen or care. Almost immediately an official on a motorcycle drove past in the opposite direction. Fortunately, this time, they turned around and came up to start handing out penalties. Unfortunately, (as I found out when I got to the end of the bike where they were stopped in the penalty tent) only 4 or 5 of them got penalties, not all of them like they should have. Pretty sad to see a pack like that roll through together and not get penalized for it, especially after analyzing the results post-race and realizing two guys in the top 10 overall amateurs were in that group and didn’t get penalties. I finally got to the bike dismount line and was ready to run; the slight bit of anger from the drafters certainly helped fuel that.

T2: Super quick. I handed off my bike to a volunteer. They yelled out my bib number as I ran to my run gear bag and a volunteer handed me my bag. I thanked them and went to go put on my Sock guy socks, Saucony Kinvara’s, and grab my race belt, can’t forget that bad boy again. And of course, I made a quick stop in porta potty before heading out to run.

Run: 1:20:44

My legs felt good right away and I settled into a nice pace based on feel. I didn’t want to know my pace and didn’t even look at my watch the entire first mile. I saw my mom and my friends, Dave and Lori, twice in the short out and back we do in the first half mile of the run. As I got out to the street right before mile 1, I saw Steve Mantell and Rachael Norfleet cheering for me. I gave Rachael a high five. It was nice to have so much support and encouragement early on the run. I looked down when my watched buzzed at mile 1 and saw 5:49. Miles two and three were steady rollers, no crazy hills, just good rhythm running and I ran 5:50 for both of those miles. I was feeling confident and good (relatively speaking) through 3 miles, but knew the hills were about to start. I got to the short, but very steep hill on the south side of the river and just powered through it. Shortened my stride, leaned forward and plugged away. I was able to get back to my 5:50 pace going across the bridge to the other side of the river and hit mile 4 in 6:21. The next 2 miles are basically, ½ mile uphill, ½ mile downhill, ½ mile uphill, ½ mile downhill. I managed the uphill’s well and just let gravity take over when running the downhills; both were painful in their own way.  I was definitely pleased to see 6:15 and 6:20 for those two miles. Finishing out lap 1, you cross the pedestrian only wooden bridge that is just under a half mile slight uphill. I actually felt pretty good crossing this bridge. Not as fresh as I’d prefer or hoped, or as I was back in May, but considering the bike and run course changes compared to May, I was definitely happy with the first loop finishing mile 7 in 6:11. I was really looking forward to a few “easier” miles without any major hills to contend with.  I ended up running 6:08 and 6:02 for miles 8 and 9, but pace meant nothing to me, I was just going off feel and getting in a good groove. The short, steep hill around 9.5 miles was brutal. I shuffled my way up it at 7:30 to 8:00 pace. I got an update that I was less than a minute back from 10th place in my AG. I started the run around 27th in my AG, and no one had their calves marked with age, so I was really running blind the entire time on what place I was in. This definitely motivated me. I ran well across the bridge and hit mile 10 right at the base of the long half mile hill in 6:38. I don’t recall seeing that split; I was focused on getting up that hill. My left knee was starting to hurt. I noticed it just before mile 10. My only guess was that the up and down hills was causing it. I tried to block it out and didn’t change my stride one bit the last 3 miles. I kept looking ahead to see if I could see EMJ teammate Greg Grosicki. I hadn’t seen him since mile 5 of the bike but thought I might be able to catch him on the run depending on how well he biked. I figured the up hills would be a good opportunity to spot him, unfortunately I didn’t. After making my way up the hill, I flew down the other side. It was quite painful, more painful than the uphill as my quads and joints were destroyed at this point. I didn’t care. I grimaced and kept going telling myself it’d be over in 2 miles. Took a right turn, grabbed more fluids, took another right, and started to climb again. I shortened my stride, leaned forward and plugged away. A lot of people were walking at this point, so I only hoped some were from my AG. Once I made it to the top, I again flew down the hill, grimacing the entire time semi regretting it because it hurt. Finally, I made it to the bottom and back on the flat road before going over the pedestrian only bridge. Mile 11 and 12 were in 6:19 and 6:16. I got one last cup of water before turning left to cross the bridge. I pushed this bridge hard, running most of it in 6:15 pace or slightly faster, which is faster than I did on the first lap. My mom was at the end of the bridge and told me to keep pushing, 30 seconds ahead was next guy in my AG. Little did I know it was Greg. I went for it and ran mile 13 in 5:45. The last .40 mile is all downhill or flat. I pushed it all the way to the finish line running the last .17 in 5:22 pace and finishing in 1:20:44.

Overall: 4:20:19. 9th in AG, 24th overall amateur, 54th overall male (including pros)

This was by far the hardest half distance race course I’ve ever competed in. I’m extremely happy and proud of my result. I left it all out there and in a weird way, had a lot of fun.  Definitely not in the moment for a lot of it, but looking back on it now, it most definitely was fun. The support and encouragement throughout the week, during the race, and post-race from all my Every Man Jack teammates, friends, and family was fabulous. For me, this is by far my best World Championship race out of the four I have now completed. Ending my season of triathlons on a high note is always nice and will keep me motivated all off season to keep improving.

Huge thank you to my mom for traveling with me to Chattanooga and the continuous support no matter my race result. Thank you to Dave and Lori Schiffer for driving from KC to cheer and watch me race. Thank you to Steve Mantell and Rachael Norfleet (plus huge kudos to Rachael for 10th place in AG on Saturday!!) for the cheers and high fives on course.  To all my Every Man Jack teammates racing this weekend: It was definitely one of the best weekends and having the support of you all made it even better. To Purplepatch Fitness, thank you for getting me prepared to handle such a tough course. And to all the Every Man Jack team sponsors: Thank you for the continuous love and support. Having top notch products for training, racing, and recovery makes all the efforts worth it. Thanks to Ritch and Every Man Jack for all the coordination and planning, Talbot Cox for taking incredible photos all weekend, EMJ teammates’ friends and family who cheered for me. Thank you to Chattanooga residents and all volunteers for embracing the athletes and delays caused all weekend and supporting all the athletes. This is my third time racing in Chattanooga and every time the support is tremendous. I will happily come race here again.

Don’t forget, you can use KDENNY17 to get 25% off online orders at Every Man Jack

Felt. Roka. Garmin. Louis Garneau. ENVE. GU Energy. Purplepatch Fitness. Cobb Cycling. Sock Guy. BOCO Gear.

Picture credit: Talbot Cox, Dave, and my mom.

2017 USAT Age Group Nationals

USA Triathlon Age Group Nationals Olympic Distance: 8/12/17

First, I need to start off with giving a HUGE shout out and thank you to my parents, but especially my dad. He spent his 60th birthday watching me race on Saturday and his birthday weekend in Omaha supporting me. I’m forever grateful and words can’t express my appreciation and selflessness. Thank you!!

With the race venue just an easy 3-hour drive north to Omaha, I was able to work half a day Friday before driving up to get my packet, check in my bike and go back to the hotel and relax for the rest of the day.

I debated all the previous night when I should leave for transition. My race wasn’t slated to start until 9:19 am (men 25-29 was third from last wave to start), but transition was open from 5 am to 6:55 am. Last year was an utter disaster with the traffic. However, USAT claims they revamped it and traffic flow would be better. I ultimately left at 5:30 to drive the short 3 miles. Well, that was a mistake. Traffic was a nightmare and was at a standstill. I eventually got tired of sitting, so I starting taking side roads. I’m extremely glad I did because I know it saved me time but it still took me 55 minutes to go 3 miles. As I was walking to my transition spot, they announced that the race would be delayed 15 minutes, then a few minutes later that got moved to 20 minutes, and finally they decided on a 30 minute delay due to traffic issues. So much for the “revamped” traffic flow! I felt it was worse than the previous year. I got my transition set up, talked to Every Man Jack teammate (and defending overall champion) Todd Buckingham before going back to my car to relax for a few more hours.

Swim: 22:42.

I don’t even know where to start. I’m pretty disappointed in my swim. I started to the left of Todd and another local KC athlete, Chad Davis. When the horn sounded, I took off and almost immediately got swam over by the guys to my left. I had to slow up to avoid getting kicked in the face. I saw that Todd and Chad had clear water, so I took a hard right and tried to get behind them. I was on their feet before the group to my left, again, converged on me and I had to slow up. I just let it go and sat behind this group and got into my rhythm. It seemed like it took forever to get to the first turn buoy. I knew Todd and Chad were still in front of me and saw the blue sleeve of EMJ teammate Andrew Weinstein just ahead of me. I put in a hard 50 meters or so and got up with him. He towed me along and we closed the gap on Todd, which I saw after the second turn buoy to head to the swim exit. Right after this turn, water started to fill in my left goggle. I left it in there for a few strokes but it was completely full and I knew I had to empty it. So I flipped over, emptied it and got back to swimming. Fifty meters or so go by and same thing happens. So I flipped over, emptied it, smashed it against my eye socket and got back to swimming. Then, within 10 meters it was now pulling away from my eye socket, filling up (obviously), and coming back in place. This happened two more times before, annoyingly, I took off my goggles completely, repositioned them and got back to swimming. What I found out was the straps that should have been around or near the crown on the back of my head were all the way down by my neck. I have no idea how this happened. It’s never happened before in a race or pool or anything. Fortunately, I was able to swim the last 400 meters without any issues at all. Unfortunately, I lost both Todd and Andrew during this fiasco, but was able to close the gap on Todd and ended up coming out of the water just 2 seconds behind him.

Bike: 57:58

Todd and I ran to our bikes together (we were both facing the same way on the rack with bib numbers just 2 apart) and started the bike together as well. Last year, Todd out biked me by a good minute or two, so I really hoped to stay with him for as long as I could. Unfortunately, my legs felt horrible for the first few miles of the bike and couldn’t match Todd’s pace. I hammered up the big hill we climb (6-8% grade) at 6.5 miles into the bike which seemed to almost wake my legs up because I started to feel really good. Prior to that hill, I was only holding about 270-275 watts. Now, I was consistently holding a good 40 watts more. I started reeling in people and moving up. I got to the turnaround in 27:58 and roughly 5th in my AG; Todd was only 10-15 seconds up on me. I knew the way back would be harder since there would be a headwind the entire way back, but being this close to the front was a good thing for me as all the guys in front of me were within range of catching. A few miles later, I caught up to the group Todd was leading. I knew I’d have to pass all three at once because there wasn’t room to slot in and I certainly didn’t want a penalty. We were about to start the climb, but I decided to put in a hard 1 minute to make the pass and hopefully drop them all before the climb. Only Todd was able to stay with me so I really hammered the climb again to try to drop Todd, which was unsuccessful. After a fast descent, I saw another guy in my AG just ahead so I went after him. After making the pass, I kept the pressure high all the way to T2 and ended up with about a 10 second lead on 2nd and 20 second lead to 3rd (Todd) entering T2. I’m definitely very happy with my bike ride. 5th fastest bike split of the day and only 16 seconds off the 2nd fastest. Huge shout out to Steve Mantell for showing me a new level of hurt on the bike and pushing myself more than I would riding solo.

T2:

I knew I had ridden well when I approached the dismount line and heard my parents cheering for me with a shocked tone and told me I was in 1st in my AG. I was fortunate to have a great bike rack position right near the bike in/out arch, which meant I didn’t have to run very far with my bike in transition. I quickly racked my bike, took off my helmet, put on Sock Guy socks (wanted to minimize the risk of blisters since I was racing tomorrow too), put on my Saucony Kinvara’s, grabbed a water bottle I left myself and took off. After running 30-40 yards I realized I didn’t have my race belt. Seriously?!?! How the hell do I forget my race belt? I immediately turned around to go get it and noticed Todd was about ready to leave his spot. I yelled at him to grab my race belt as he took off. He had already passed my spot by the time it registered (it is quite an odd request mid race) but he stopped, turned around to grab it and threw it to me. How awesome and selfless is that? He could have easily ignored it or said sorry and kept going, but instead, adds time onto his race to help an idiot teammate and competitor. I’m so grateful and I’m personally extremely glad my error didn’t cost Todd in the overall or AG placing (theoretically, at least). After putting on my race belt, I tried to stick with Todd through transition, but that didn’t work and left T2 now in 3rd place. Ugh.

Run: 35:50

Right away my legs didn’t feel great at all, which was likely because of a “harder than I’m used to” bike, but I remained positive and had both 1st and 2nd in sight. My pace was decent (5:46, 5:47, 5:44 first 3 miles), but I just couldn’t turn it over any faster. I tried several times to get down to what I felt I could handle, but it didn’t last. It was definitely much cooler than last year; however, I was still struggling with the heat and humidity. I was getting water and Gatorade at every aid station hoping it’d also help me feel better (leg wise) and help with my turnover and pace. At the first turn around (2 loop course, out 1.5 miles then back and repeat), I was roughly 40 seconds behind 1st and 2nd. I kept telling myself to keep them in sight and one of them would pop off the back and I could go chase them down. After lap 1, I was now 50 seconds behind Todd and only 30 second back of second. Perfect! This definitely gave me a bit of a boost in motivation. Just after I started my second lap, Evan Culbert came by me starting his first lap. I’ve raced Evan several times this year and knew he’d be a top 24-and under competitor as well as the overall placing. I tried to go with Evan but it didn’t work. Unfortunately, miles 4 and 5 were not what I wanted (6:00 and 6:02). I had my chance to close the gap and go after 2nd and just couldn’t. During the last mile, I knew I’d finished 3rd in AG, but pushed it hard all the way to finish because I knew my overall placing could be impacted if I eased up. I ended up running a 5:40 6th mile and 35:50 10k.

Overall: 2:00:12. 7th place overall, 3rd in 25-29 AG.

Overall I’m very pleased to finish 7th OA and 3rd in AG. I made some mental errors that definitely cost me some time, but I have a lot of positives to walk away with. I think my bike split and power is definitely something I can build on and continue to develop in the future. I now just need to learn how to run fast off a super hard bike.

 

AGN Sprint Distance: 8/13/17

I woke up race morning feeling pretty good. Sore, sure, but excited to race again. I did a nice warm up run with some builds in there to see how I was really feeling, to which my body and legs were responding well. There was a light rain falling with more expected to come during the race. Fortunately, it was just rain and no lightning so the race wasn’t delayed.

Swim: 11:12

Men 29 and under was the first wave to start and as I walked down to the dock, I saw Evan Culbert so I lined up next to him. Neither of us wanted to get in the water for a swim warm up and it ended up being the correct call. We chatted for a good 10 minutes while waiting for the race to start. Eventually two kids (16-17 years old) came over and sat by us and we talked to them. Never have I felt so old at 28. After a few minutes, one of them was shivering uncontrollably. I felt really bad as I’ve been there many times and it’s definitely not an ideal way to start a race, especially a sprint distance race.  The horn finally sounded and I knew staying with Evan was unrealistic, but I did want to use him to gauge my effort. Even though it’s a sprint, I didn’t want to overdo it and ruin the rest of the day. Swim was pretty routine; no goggle issues (yay), felt pretty good and pushed it hard, but within my limits.

Bike: 29:40

I felt really good early on. The power numbers were what I was hoping to hold, and I was definitely excited. I had some work to do after the swim and went to work closing the time I lost in the swim to the faster swimmers. Unfortunately, it had been raining off and on all morning and was still raining during the bike. The roads were wet and I saw a guy slide out and go down around a corner. I instantly became more cautious and didn’t take any risks going around corners. At the turnaround just over 6 miles into the bike, I was in 12th place and saw Evan was leading with a good group behind him. I was just over a minute back of Evan but had plenty of guys to key off of on the return trip back to T2. With about 4 miles to go, I was going down a slight hill. The road surface was transitioning from smooth blacktop to concrete. Well, the transition wasn’t all that smooth and had a small hump. I didn’t realize this, hit it and it sent my body forward. My elbows slid off my elbow pads and my chest hit my water bottle that I have between my aerobars. I was extremely fortunate to not crash and lucked out that my forearms were able to slide against my aerobars and I was able to stay up. So, couple that with wet roads and I became even more cautious and conservative. Approaching T2, I could see up ahead that I was in 9th place, still about a minute down from the lead competitors.

T2: routine. Definitely didn’t forget my race belt!

Run: 15:59

I started the run with another athlete who took off like a bat out of hell. I felt like I was running a decent pace, but he made me feel like I was out for a recovery jog. After a minute or two, I looked down and saw I was running 4:58 pace! Two things went through my mind. 1) This actually doesn’t feel horrible. 2) What on earth pace is that guy running?! (Turns out, 4:30’s. He ran 14:14 and won overall). Right away I started passing athletes and was now running in 7th about .75 mile into the run. I could see up ahead a steady line of athletes and this is when I first realized that I could catch them all (besides 1st). I went through mile 1 in 5:15 and felt really strong, which is surprising since yesterday I could hardly run anything faster than 6:00 pace. I passed 6th shortly after the first mile and 5th around 1.25 miles. As we approached the turn around and half way point, I was able to finally get time checks on 2nd through 4th. I was about 15 seconds behind 3rd and 4th and 30 seconds back of Evan in 2nd. Before the race, I joked with Evan that I REALLY hoped I would see him later (he was 6th overall in the Olympic and I’ve raced him several times before). He’s a super-fast swimmer, so the only way this would happen is if I caught him on the run. His response was, “I expect to see you at 2.5 miles into the run.” I passed 4th and 3rd at the same time right at mile 2, which was 5:13 for me. Now it was just Evan in front of me that I could catch. Sure enough, right around 2.5 miles into the run, I passed Evan. I put in a hard move to try and discourage him from latching on and staying with me since we’re so close to the finish. The move definitely hurt but I was able to break away and ran mile 3 in 5:13 and kicked hard to the finish line. Turns out I’m glad I did as I just barely snuck under 16 minutes (15:59) for my run split and just under 60 minutes for my overall time (59:53) to finish 2nd overall and 1st in 25-29 AG.

Immediately after finishing, I had an USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) rep tell me I have been randomly selected for drug testing. I was actually kind of excited because I’ve never been tested before and I’m not worried at all about testing positive.

Overall: 59:53. 2nd overall, 1st AG 25-29 National Champion

I’m extremely happy with my race. I feel like I executed well and felt really good (in a painful way that only sprint triathlons can do) the entire time. I’m glad I was able to put together a great run split after being a bit disappointed the day before in my 10k. Overall, it was a very encouraging and fun weekend of racing that I can build on leading into 70.3 Worlds in Chattanooga in just a few weeks.

Huge thank you to all the volunteers and Every Man Jack Sponsors.

Don’t forget, you can use KDENNY17 to get 25% off online orders at Every Man Jack

Felt. Roka. Garmin. Louis Garneau. ENVE. GU Energy. Purplepatch Fitness. Cobb Cycling. Sock Guy. BOCO Gear.

Picture credit: my mother.

Olympic Distance pictures:

Sprint Distance pictures:

2017 Pigman Sprint Triathlon

I woke up race morning to find out a quick storm had rolled through, which made for what was already going to be a muggy morning even worse. The humidity and bugs at Pleasant Creek State Park were outrageous. Once getting to transition, I set up my transition spot and headed back to my car for a bit before getting in a warm up jog.

Swim: 6:45

I debated for several days whether or not I should wear a wetsuit since it’s only a 500-meter swim. Water temp was 70 degrees race week, 72 at packet pickup on Saturday, and 73.4 degrees race morning. With the air temp also a very muggy 70, I decided I’d go without a wetsuit and risk losing a bit of time in the water in order to make up time on the long run to our bikes and obviously no need spending time to get out of my wetsuit. I think I made the correct decision.

I started off well and just tried to find the feet of the two pros (Jake Rhyner and Alex Libin) early in the swim. I got on them but only lasted for 100 meters or so as they slowly pulled away, which I expected. After the turn around buoy half way out, there were two guys just in front of me. I put in a hard surge to get with them and it worked. I finished strong and was quite happy with my swim, exiting in 5th place.

Pre swim

T1: 1:29

T1 is typically pretty low key, but unfortunately for me, this one was not. I ran hard on the beach and passed the two guys I got out of the water with. I knew running hard to my bike was important since I decided to go no wetsuit and, thus, didn’t have to reach behind me to unzip my wetsuit or pull it down to my waist while trying to run. I could just run hard, so I did. The run to our bikes is not an easy one at Pigman. After the long stretch in the sand, you run on grass that is a rather short but steep climb that isn’t enjoyable after swimming. I finally made it to my bike only to see it knocked over and on its side. I picked up my bike, put on my helmet and took off. As I ran uphill through transition, I looked down at my bike and thought, “what’s missing? Something is definitely missing.” Wait, where’s my water bottle? Apparently when my bike got knocked over, the water bottle I have between my elbow pads fell out. I had a moment of hesitation while deciding if I turn around to go get it, which would easily cost me 45-60 seconds, or just screw it and go without hydration or electrolytes on the bike. Jake and Alex were just in front of me, so I decided to go without.

Bike: 34:19

I started the bike just 15-20 seconds behind the two leaders. I quickly decided to put in a very hard 3-5 minute segment to see if I could close the gap to the leaders. By the time we exited the state park (just over 2 miles into the bike), I had made up roughly 8-10 seconds, which I was ecstatic about. But I knew I still had a lot of work to do to make up the next 8-10 seconds to get with them. After flying down the big hill, I put my head down again and hammered hard to try to close in on them. They were legally working together and I knew being in that group would help me a lot. At the first U-turn just before mile 5, I was within 5 seconds. Unfortunately, this turn gave them a chance to see me (they probably didn’t know I was closing and I can only assume they weren’t going 100% yet) and they took off! Damn. I worked so hard to make up roughly 15 seconds and now they were slowly pulling away from me. I kept at it and just tried to keep them within sight and minimize the damage. At the second U-turn just past mile 10, I was 40 and 30 seconds down, respectively, to 1st and 2nd. Going up the hill to get to the park entrance, I started making up time on Alex. We rode within 10 seconds of each other all the way to transition, which gave me hope for the run.

Bike finish

T2: 0:49

After racking my bike, slipping into my Saucony Kinvara’s, and taking off my helmet, I grabbed my race belt and located my water bottle that was a few spots over from my transition spot. I grabbed it as I headed out to start the run. During the uphill run through the parking lot (transition area), I drank from my bottle the entire time. I managed to drink half of the bottle before setting it down right before leaving transition, and I told the volunteer I’d be back for it after the race. Very much needed, I was extremely thirsty and had cotton mouth for the last 6-7 miles of the bike ride.

Run: 17:55

I felt absolutely horrible right out of transition, but Alex was just up the road 10 seconds. I really wanted to get with him to make it a head-to-head running race. I tried to use the downhills throughout the first half mile to close that gap. A little past the half mile when the course flattens out across the dam, I got an unofficial time check to Alex; now down 23 seconds. Crap! He’s moving. I haven’t felt this tired and worn out in quite a while during a triathlon. I got 2 cups of water at both mile 1 and mile 2 aid station. I hardly ever get anything from aid stations in Olympic distance races let alone a sprint distance race. I started to feel slightly better around half way, but it wasn’t until after the 2nd mile that I finally found my stride going back across the dam toward the finish line (run course is out-and-back). Unfortunately, I had to go up the same hill I came down earlier in the first half mile and it hurt, but I was able to finish strong over the 3.2 miles.

Run finish

Overall: 1:01:19. Third overall.

I’m quite pleased with my race at Pigman this year. I was able to walk away making a profit after factoring in all my expenses; which, is never a bad thing. I was over 2 minutes faster than last year and I biked over 3 minutes faster than 2016 (I will admit, after analyzing the two files, 2017 bike course was a tad bit shorter than 2016, but not by a lot). I tried sticking my nose in with some pros to see if I could hang. Unfortunately, my bike was accidentally knocked over in transition and I didn’t realize my water bottle was gone until it was too late. While I do feel it impacted my race, I do not feel it impacted my placing, only my time. I do think being more hydrated and having electrolytes on the bike would have helped me on the run considering how muggy and humid it was. Regardless, I had an absolute blast racing and it was another fun test. For now, I’m going to take some much needed rest. Racing 4 times in 5 weeks has certainly taken its toll on me. I will follow up with my thoughts on that in a few weeks in another blog post.

I have to give a huge shout out to my mother who made the trip with me. The support (and pictures) are always very much appreciated.

2017 Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga

Let’s start off with a few facts:

  1. The pros swam the entire 1.2 mile swim course that included an upriver portion.
  2. The AG athletes swam all down river and only .8 miles.

So no, I didn’t actually beat all the pros.

Race morning was much better than anticipated. All week, the weather was showing close to, if not, 100% chance of thunderstorms. While it rained overnight, we were fortunate to wake up race morning to no rain, overcast skies, and a much less chance of rain during the race. I walked down to transition and set up the rest of my gear (my bike was already there) before boarding a bus to get shuttled to the swim start. Once over at the start, I made my way to the front (it was a self-seeding rolling start) and hung out with all my teammates until the start of the race. The pro men started at 6:50 a.m. and the women at 6:55. AG was supposed to start at 7:00, but we just kept waiting and waiting. The next thing we noticed, a boat was moving the first red turn buoy from up river to diagonally across the Tennessee River. Obviously chatter and confusion started amongst all the athletes. Shortly thereafter, the IM official announced they were changing the AG swim because they felt the pros struggled more than expected with the roughly 400 meter upriver portion. Now, the AG athletes would be swimming all down river and roughly .8 of a mile (vs 1.2 mile swim the pros had).

The AG race didn’t start until just after 7:15. I was about 20 or so people back from the start with all my Every Man Jack teammates. I started off well and actually felt quite good. I’m sure the current certainly helped me feel strong. I ended up swimming 14:48 for roughly 1400 yards (according to my Garmin (for comparison sake, 1.2 miles should be roughly 2100 yards)) which comes out to a blazing 1:05/100 yard pace. Obviously the current is the only reason I swam that fast.

T1 starts with a run along the river before running up a steep ramp to get to the parking lot area our bikes are in. I used this opportunity to try and make up a little time by running hard to my bike. I got out of my Roka wetsuit better than last week at KC Triathlon and headed out to bike after putting on my helmet.

Bike: 2:19:25. Garmin File. Strava File.

Coming into the race, I fully planned to be a little more conservative than normal on the bike. My longest ride leading up to race day was only 61 miles (I’m not counting EMJ camp in late February as it wasn’t part of my race specific build). Unfortunately, I had to adjust a few key training sessions and longer rides due to poor weather. Plus, I had raced the two weeks prior to this race, so those weekends also didn’t allow for longer, 70.3 type miles and intervals.

I settled into my range of watts I was hoping to hold over the ride. I focused on hydration and nutrition early because I not only knew it’d be important for a good run, but also I likely wasn’t as hydrated pre-race as I needed and it was already quite humid. Seven miles into the ride, my EMJ teammate, Reid Foster, flew by me like I wasn’t moving. Reid is deep in his build for IM Boulder and an incredibly strong cyclist, so I knew I wouldn’t be seeing him again during the bike. Just a mile later, a group of 3 came rolling by me. One of the athletes was in my AG, so I was disappointed to see the three of them drafting and rotating with only a few bike lengths between each other. Not much I can do about it, so I just got back to focusing on my own race while watching this group of three (soon to be four after a female pro joined) slowly pull away from me for the next 10 miles. Around 22 miles, another EMJ teammate, Mike Vulanich, came rolling past me. I know Mike is a great runner, so I wanted to keep him within sight for as long as I could. Eventually, the pace was just a little too much for me, so I eased off and went back to doing my own thing again. I knew the second half of the ride would be quicker with a slight tailwind, and the rolling hills were slight downhill vs slight uphill like on the first half. I used this time to dial back and recover a bit because around 75 minutes, I was starting to get a little tired, a bit of a headache and my eyes were hurting. I can only assume that was because I was in the aero position and looking up for longer than I’m used to. My headache was probably a combo of being dehydrated since it was humid and from my eyes hurting. Fortunately, I just went through the second aid station and I decided to grab a Gatorade (i.e electrolytes to help my headache (hopefully)). I took a bit of a risk here since I’ve never had full Gatorade in a race. I typically dilute it with roughly 50/50 water/Gatorade mix since it’s strong and can upset the stomach. I seemed to handle it just fine, and it did help the headache ease a bit. It never fully went away, but it also didn’t get worse. Around 42 miles, the sun started to peak out and I was hoping it would go away since I was already feeling the humidity; and, fortunately it did! The last aid station at 45 miles was much needed. Back in 2015 for my full Ironman, this is where I got a full banana at roughly mile 105. This time, I got a half banana and it was incredible. I think I was just craving real food after eating all my Picky Bars and just finishing off my GU Chomps. After the aid station and making the right turn, there’s just 11 miles left. I was starting to feel a little better but still didn’t want to push it too hard and ruin my chances for a good run. I was able to pass two of my teammates during this time and just kept a good rhythm all the way back to transition. I also made it a point to drink my entire bottle of 50/50 water/Gatorade that I just refilled from the aid station. I wanted to start the run topped off hydration/electrolyte wise. Overall, I’m quite happy with my bike ride of 2:19:25 for the 56.5 miles. Could I have gone faster? I’m sure I could have, but it likely wasn’t in my best interest for my overall time. I hit the range of watts I wanted, but what is more interesting to me is my HR was unusually low with an average of 136 for the bike ride. Not sure what to make of that, so I didn’t, I just went to go run.

T2 was nice and smooth. I racked my bike, put on my Sock Guy socks and Saucony Kinvara 7’s, got my race belt and took off to start the run. But first, I needed to make a quick pit stop.

Run: 1:16:42. Garmin file. Strava file.

After coming out of the porta potty, I saw my EMJ teammate Jack McAfee running by. I know Jack is a very strong runner, so I picked up my pace a bit to catch him so we could start the run together. We had a nice conversation for the first out and back section where I asked him, among other things, about what pace he’s planning to run. He told me 5:50’s and I was just targeting 6:00 pace, but decided to stay with him for a while despite our pace the first half mile being 5:33 pace! It was fun talking to him, and running with people is always more fun. But just like with the bike, I knew I needed to run my own race and not dig a hole early by going too fast. I really wanted to throw down a fast run split because I felt coming into the race I was in some of my best run shape I’ve been in for several years. As we went up the first hill approaching mile 1, I told Jack to have fun and dropped back a bit and rolled through in 5:46. The first aid station was just after the first mile. Going into the run, I decided I’d just play nutrition by ear and go off feel. If I felt like I needed the electrolytes, I’d do water/Gatorade mix in a cup. If I just wanted only water then I’d do that. Calorie wise was also by feel but I figured I’d primarily rely on Clif Bloks (which is what is available on course). At the first aid station, I took in some water and for some reason grabbed a Clif Bar. I have absolutely no idea why since there are so many better options that are easier to get down while running fast. Plus, I have never eaten a bar while running in training. In between mile 1 and 2, I gave myself the “oh what the hell” speech and decided I’d actually eat this Clif Bar instead of just carrying it. However, I also remembered IM Chattanooga when I tried to do this without water and it was disastrous and impossible to get down. So, as the second aid station approached, I ate the bar and washed it down with water/Gatorade mix. Doesn’t that just sound so appetizing? Somehow, it worked, but I probably wouldn’t suggest it.

For the first four miles, I actually felt really good and smooth going 5:57, 5:50, and 5:50 for miles 2 through 4. I knew the hills were looming, but felt quite good and didn’t feel like I was over extending myself yet. During this section, I was thoroughly enjoying myself and just having a good time by joking with volunteers, encouraging my teammates as they ran past me in the opposite direction on out and backs, and letting positive thoughts flow like crazy. The first tough hill came at mile 5 and slowed me down to a 6:10 mile. Up to this point, I had kept Jack in sight and caught him on this hill. I encouraged him to hang in there as I knew he was starting to struggle. I passed Reid going across the bridge to the other side of the river and ran mile 6 in 5:47. I don’t remember many of my mile splits during the race, but I do remember doing a double take here because I caught a glance of my cumulative time. I saw 35:XX, so I looked closer and saw 35:23 and laughed on the inside because last week at KC Triathlon, I ran 10k (6.11 officially on my Garmin) in 35:35. What’s crazy is that no negative thoughts crept into my mind about running too fast or not being able to sustain this pace. I just remember laughing a bit on the inside and carrying on. I also heard just after this from Jordan (EMJ teammate spectating) that I was in 2nd overall with just Mike in front of me. I got across the pedestrian bridge and went through mile 7 in 5:55. Again, the split didn’t register with me; I was just out running, having a good time, and still feeling good, relatively speaking. Something clicked starting lap two and I started feeling great. I went through mile 8 and 9 in 5:31 and 5:33. I even gave my mom a high five as I passed her. I went through mile 10 in 5:51 and was in the lead now and knew I just needed to get through 3 more miles and 3 more tough climbs. I was holding my 5:50 pace before getting to the same tough hill at mile 5 that slowed me on lap 1. This hill slowed me down again as I shuffled my way up it at 7:30-8 min pace and went through mile 11 in 6:23. I do not like that hill and I’m not looking forward to running it two more times at 70.3 World’s in September.  This was really the first time I specifically remember hurting. I definitely had pain and soreness prior to this, but I was in a groove and rolling, so I think I subconsciously blocked it. Similar to the mile splits, I saw them (and felt the pain) but nothing was registering. There was no positive self-talk or “just get to the X time or distance or hill or turn or aid station and reassess”, bargaining with yourself type of things going on inside my head. I was just out running and having fun. Going back across the bridge and river I knew I had just 2 miles and 2 hills left. I went through mile 12 in 5:45 and couldn’t believe it. I took in one last cup of water/Gatorade mix at the last aid station prior to running up and over the pedestrian only bridge. This bridge hurt, a lot. I specifically remember my form breaking down early on the climb across the bridge. I was starting to “sit” and let my hips really drop. I wasn’t running on my toes, and I started leaning back, especially my head. So, I shortened my stride, got on my toes, had a slight lean forward and told myself to tough it out for less than a half mile and it’d be all downhill (literally) from there. I made it up and over the bridge and saw my dad on the other side. He noticed my form was terrible and told me to just keep it together down the hill. I tried my best to finish as strong as I could. I knew my pace up the bridge wasn’t good, so when I heard my watch buzz at mile 13 and saw another sub 6 (5:54) I knew I was flying down the hill. I might have pushed that downhill a bit too much and overestimated how far the finish line was because I fell apart the last .06 (I had 13.06 officially on my Garmin) which made for a very painful last 25 seconds of the race. I crossed the finish line and was beyond thrilled to be done. I stopped my watch and saw 1:16:42. I was utterly exhausted so it didn’t register right away, but after I got some water it all hit me and I was so incredibly happy.

Favorite picture ever

This picture cracks me up. My mom got a picture of my dad taking a picture of me while I look like I’m about to be run over by a car.

Overall: 3:56:05. 1st AG, 2nd Overall Amateur.

Shortly after finishing, Mike came across the line followed shortly by another athlete (Alan). I found out Alan started the swim later than me and only finished roughly 1:30 behind me. Crap! Did he just beat me?!? Instantly I asked my dad to check his overall time on his phone to see if he had beaten me. After about 10 minutes when Alan’s result finally updated, I found out I lost the overall title by 8 seconds…8 stinking seconds. I, naturally, didn’t believe it and then started playing the “what if” game. After several hours, I found out a bit more. Alan had run at the Olympic Trials Marathon before and is clearly legit. I also found out he outran me by 10 seconds. It would have been a lot of fun to race him head-to-head since we nearly ran the exact same time and finished 8 seconds apart. That means that since it was a rolling start, I virtually started the run 2 seconds in front of him.

Overall, I couldn’t be happier. Yeah, I whined and complained about 8 seconds for several hours, but I got over it. Coming into the race, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. Not only were there weather concerns, this was also my third straight weekend of racing and I was coming off a race where I was not happy with my run. In hindsight, I can now see that I carried a bit too much fatigue into Kansas City Triathlon. So I had doubts that I’d still be too fatigued to put up a fast time on a challenging course. If you had told me coming into the race I would run a 1:16 half marathon on this course, I would have signed up in a heartbeat. Absolutely no way I thought I’d run that fast. Only 2 people out ran me (Alan in 1:16:32 and a pro in 1:16:11). I honestly thought 1:18 would be incredible (hence me targeting 6-minute pace pre-race).  In early April, I ran a solo (i.e. no swim or bike before it) half marathon in 1:14:25 on a course that is similar in elevation gain as Chattanooga, but I don’t view it as hard because the hills come early in the race whereas Chattanooga has the hills in the last 3 miles of each lap (5-7 and 11-13). So, to be only 2:18 slower than that time is just unbelievable to me and arguably one of my best run performances I’ve had.

Thank you so much to all my teammates racing in Chattanooga this weekend. The support, encouragement, and motivation were tremendous and much needed. Thank you, Purplepatch Fitness, for getting me ready to tackle this course and to Paul Buick for working with me on saddle and bike fit to get me dialed in for race day. To all Team Every Man Jack’s sponsors, thank you so much!

Start of run looking fresh…..

Start of run_3

… vs mile 11 (downhill was painful)  and mile 13 with my ugly face