2018 Trifest for MS

Last weekend, I raced in the Olympic distance event at Trifest for MS. However, this is not your ordinary Olympic distance triathlon, it’s what is called F1 format. So, it is two back-to-back sprint distance triathlons with five transitions going swim, bike, run, swim, bike, run (800 m swim, 20k bike, 5k run, 700 m swim, 20k bike, 5k run). It is a unique and different format which made me really excited to try something new. The biggest question for me, and I’m sure others, is how do you race/pace it. Do you race it at a sprint effort? Or do you back off and go closer to your Olympic distance effort? Or do you even go a little easier than Olympic since you’ll still essentially have another full sprint triathlon after already completing one, which I had no idea how that would feel?

Swim #1: 11:00 (800-meter swim in a 50-meter pool)

We drew lane assignments and split a lane with one other athlete. I was very happy to have my friend, local triathlete, and swim masters lane mate, Chad, just across the lane rope from me in the next lane. I knew I’d be able to gauge my effort off his and just try to keep him in sight. When the race started, I was sitting just a half stroke behind Chad. I knew we were moving at a pace I wouldn’t be able to sustain, but I just went with it. After the first 50, I ended up pulling even with Chad, which was odd for me and I was a bit worried I was still going too hard. Then, by 200 meters, I was already pulling away from Chad and couldn’t believe it. I don’t think I have ever beaten him out of the water, so this gave me a massive confidence boost and I just thought, “alright, I’m doing this. Let’s go!!” What’s weird to me is after a summer full of struggling (fatigue) in the pool and in races during the swim, I felt absolutely amazing during this 800. I felt super strong and had a great rhythm. I also noticed every other 50 meters (since I breathe to my right), there was another athlete two lanes over, and we were literally keeping the same pace, which kept me honest the whole time. What I didn’t know is two lanes over the other way was another athlete also swimming the same pace. We actually all three got out of the pool at nearly the exact same time.

Swim 1 top 3 getting out at same time

T1:

Very short run from the pool to the parking lot where transition was set up. I had some trouble getting my swim skin over my hips (I must be getting fat), but after a few attempts I quit being so gentle and eventually got my swim skin off. Then I put my helmet on and got my bike. However, something weird happened. When I got my bike off the pvc pipe, I don’t know if the pipe bounced a small amount to make the first athlete’s bike slide off or if the person running behind their bike cut the corner too tight and knocked the back wheel making it move and fall off. Regardless, the bike fell off the rack and stood straight up for what seemed like an eternity, but was probably really only a second or two. My first thought was, “Did I do that?” And then I instantly thought of Pigman. (Short story time) Two years ago at Pigman triathlon, I got to T1 after the swim and my bike was laying on the ground. I can 100% confirm the bike was not like that when I left transition right before it closed. So, it definitely got knocked over by another athlete who started before me. It through me for a loop as I was a shocked and wondered how and why, but eventually picked it up and headed out to bike. As I left transition, I realized my water bottle was missing so I raced the entire 15-mile bike without my electrolytes and hydration, which wasn’t ideal. I certainly wasn’t going to let this happen to anyone else whether it was my fault or not. So, before the biked tipped over, I leaned my bike against my body, grabbed the bike, scooted myself and my bike a little closer, bent at the waist and placed the athlete’s bike against the posts of the bike rack. After I got the bike to stay put, a volunteer came over and re-racked the bike by the saddle in its original position as if nothing had happened. The other two athletes I came out of the water with were gone, but in all, this probably only cost me about 10 seconds, so it didn’t ruin my race. In my mind, it was the right thing to do.

Bike #1: 28:30

Once out on the bike course, I set out to go catch the first two guys. My legs felt pretty good early in the three-loop bike course. I caught the leader about 3/4 the way through loop 1 and I put in a really hard surge to try and discourage him from going with me. I kept pushing hard for two more loops and didn’t really ease off until I was in the last 45-60 second of the bike. At this point, my mindset was everyone was going to hurt on the second swim/bike/run and I wanted to try and get as big of a lead by the end of the first run as possible.

Run #1: 16:33

After a smooth transition, I started the run and my legs were feeling strong. This was definitely a very good thing and I ended up going through the first mile in 5:17 part in thanks to a slight downhill during this section. The second mile was a little harder, but I kept pushing, ran a 5:27, and was able to see where the other athletes were. During mile three, I started to ease off a bit around 2.5 miles and get the heart rate to come down since I was about to do something I’ve never done before; swim after a hard 5k (and a swim/bike before that). Mile three ended up being 5:41.

T3:

So weird. I took off my race belt and shoes and grabbed my goggles. I had a momentary, “is this all I need” thought/hesitation before I ran to the pool to start my second swim.

Swim #2: 9:59 (700 meters)

Wow was this awkward!! My goggles were a bit fogged, but not enough to impact my visibility (yay for the black line in a pool!) and I had no issues. Despite feeling like complete and utter trash, I had a decent rhythm and just kept counting down the 100s as I did my flip turn under the lane rope to move to the next lane (swim 2 was a snake style, started in lane 7 and did a 100 before moving to lane 6 where I swam down and back, then lane 5, etc.)

Bike #2: 30:09

I struggled getting my feet on top of my shoes as they kept swinging around and I couldn’t time it right. I noticed on the first bike that my rubber bands on the back of my bike shoes were still intact and I contemplated if I should take a few seconds in one of the transitions to set up my shoes like I do before my races where they’re flat and won’t swing, but I didn’t and in hindsight I wish I had. Right away on the bike my legs were toast and I could tell this was going to be rough. I hoped they would come around at some point during the bike, but they didn’t. I couldn’t get my heart rate or watts (power) anywhere near what the first bike was. I just kept going and tried to enjoy it as much as I could. I said good morning and thanked the volunteers (one of the cops probably thinks I’m weird as I said hi and waved to him on every lap) and encouraged the other athletes still doing their first bike.

Run #2: 16:34

Despite a rough second swim and bike, my run legs felt pretty good early on run #2. I even shocked myself a bit by running the exact same first mile as the first run of 5:17. At this point I thought, “let’s do this, let’s run faster on the second run than first”. So, I kept pushing hard and ended up running mile 2 in 5:30. I laughed as I was only about 2 seconds behind where I was earlier on run 1. I knew I could run quicker because I eased off in the last mile earlier. I ended up running the third mile in 5:29 and kicked hard for the finish line and technically ran faster on the second run than the first despite being one second slower (3.02 miles for run 1 on my Garmin vs 3.06 miles for run 2).

Overall: 1:56:48

Finally!! I’ve been waiting for a performance like this all stinking year. I’ve had good fitness most of the year, but haven’t been able to show it in a race yet. Guess I saved the best for last!

Overall, this race was incredible. Not only is it a well-run event with three days of racing (5k, sprint triathlon, super sprint and the Olympic F1 format), but it also has tremendous local support and supports a great cause in benefiting multiple sclerosis research. This race has raised over $300,000 for Rampy MS Research Foundation since 2012. It is a very spectator friendly course and I definitely plan to keep this race on my calendar each year. Unique and fun format, great event and great cause.

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2018 Age Group Nationals

Another year, another Age Group Nationals (AGN) race for me. This was my sixth time in a row going to AGN and each year has been completely different; each with its own unique challenge. And, this year in Cleveland was no different.

Olympic distance race morning went smoothly as I set up my transition spot and then waited around for 2 hours after transition closed before my race began. I felt great on my warm up run and was quite excited to race.

Swim: 28:03.

What a disaster! As I positioned myself at the start in chest deep water, the waves were extremely noticeable and quite large (2-3 feet) for a lake when it wasn’t even that windy (maybe 8-10 mph). I was nervous on how the swim would go and not because of the waves, but rather because I haven’t felt good swimming in the pool since early June. This was my first time swimming in waves like this, so I was naïve and didn’t know what to expect. Within the first few strokes, I had already lost Todd (EMJ teammate, our now (spoiler) three-time Olympic distance AG champ) and the waves were tossing me around. On top of that, I had zero power in my stroke and pull. I just felt fatigued and tired, a lot like I’ve been feeling in the pool the last 2 months. I literally felt like I was swimming backwards as I would go up the wave then down, and the mouthfuls of Lake Erie were not quenching my thirst. I tried problem solving and thinking of ways to be faster as clearly “riding” the wave up and down each time wasn’t working so well. Apparently, as I found out after the race, you’re supposed to kind of go through the wave vs going up and down it. Who knew? I tried that a few times, but it felt weird and I was having a hard time timing it correctly. After making the first right turn, I now had new issues with the waves. On the way out, swimming into the waves was like biking into a headwind (if comparing swimming to biking). Well, now the waves were more at the side, so it was like biking in a cross wind, both of which present different challenges. By half way, I was utterly exhausted, both mentally and physically. I finally made the last right turn and headed back toward the beach with the waves now at my back “helping” me get to the swim exit faster. Once I got close enough to the swim exit where I could stand up, I stood and started to run in the water while starting to get my wetsuit down to my waist. However, this only lasted for a few seconds and I eventually just starting walking, which was a first for me. I also think it’s indicative of how I was feeling and how rough the swim was for me. This is my worst swim I’ve ever had at any distance in a triathlon.

T1: 2:38

By the time I got to the beach, I had my wetsuit down to my waist and I stopped to take it off. The run to our bikes was a third of a mile, so I decided to take it off early to run freely and in theory more quickly. T1 was very smooth for me, but the area to get to the mount line to start the bike was very congested.

Bike: 58:36

Once onto the bike, I tried to just forget about the swim and focus on going to work on the bike and run, both of which have been going extremely well in training. I feel I came into race week in some of my best bike/run shape all year and possibly even better than last year at this time. Basically, the entire 58-minute bike was just rough, and I struggled to hold any sort of consistent power in the range I was targeting and have practiced numerous times leading into the race. 10 miles into the bike, I reassessed how things were going and noticed that I was still riding well (fast) in what seemed to be a never-ending headwind. So, at this point in the race, I stopped worrying about power and solely focused on things I could control. I ended up focusing on three specific things: nutrition/hydration (they go hand in hand), my position on the bike (so being comfortable, but aerodynamic), and my attitude. I slowly started seeing my average mph creeping up toward 25 mph, which I knew would put me sub 60 minutes for my bike split, which I would be beyond thrilled about considering how I felt at the time. The second half of the ride was better mentally despite physically feeling quite drained.

T2: 1:30

Nothing fancy, quickly racked my bike and took off my helmet. Put on my socks, shoes, and race belt and took off to run.

Run: 36:57

Right out of transition my legs felt ok, which I was rather encouraged about considering how the swim and bike went. Unfortunately, after the long hill we run up about a quarter mile into the race, I went back to feeling rough again, just like I did on the bike. For the entire first loop, I was struggling to hold 6-minute pace. Lap 2 never got better, and my pace slowed to upper 6:20s for miles 4 and 5. I tried every trick in the book that I know of to try to mentally and physically bargain with myself, but none of them worked today. I eventually got through the second lap and finished with what I believe is my slowest 10k run split and the course was short (I had 6.06 miles).

Olympic Distance Overall: 2:07:41. 10th AG (25-29) and 40th overall

Confused. Disappointed. How can I come into race week feeling ready to go and being in some of my best bike/run shape that I can remember all to go out and feel rough and flat all day? The only thing I can think of is the drive to Cleveland (11.5 hours, broken up over 2 days) just made me flat. I tried to change pace or go faster multiple times through all three disciplines, but it just wasn’t happening.

 

Onto the Sprint Race…

I woke up Sunday sore, but confident I’d have a better race and hoped the Olympic distance race yesterday would jump start me and get me out of my funk. After getting everything set up in transition, I was making my way to the beach when I heard the announcement to return to transition for a race update and that the swim was canceled. They told us it would now be a duathlon with a 2.72k run, 20k bike (same as normal) and a 2.72k run (instead of the 750-meter swim, 20k bike, 5k run). On my run warmup, every step I took I had a throbbing headache. For whatever reason, I woke up Friday morning with a pounding headache that never went away. At times it was quite strong and severe, other times it was dull and manageable, but it was constant all weekend. During my warm up, I heard them announce men 29 and under to get to the start line. I was a little surprised because we still had a good 30 minutes until the start of the race. So, I went back to get my racing flats on and jogged to the start area where everyone was already lined up. I have no idea why, but we had to wait around for over 20 minutes before we started. I ended up lining up next to Todd and two very fast guys that he knows and has raced a few times (David Luy and Jacob Capin).

Run #1: 8:27 (12th fastest run split, 5:10 avg pace)

Todd and David took off right away and after standing around for 20 minutes, I struggled to initially stay with them. I forced myself to go with them knowing that it was a short run and it was pointless to let them get a gap within the first 100 meters of the run. I lined up with them for a reason, to try and stay with some of the fastest runners in the AG (and race). When we hit the long uphill, they started to slowly pull away from me, but I kept in contact with them and managed the hill. Once we got to the top of the hill around the half mile mark, I looked down and saw 5:30 pace! We were rolling! And where the hell was this yesterday?!? My dad told me before the race that the new modified run course was all flat besides this one hill, so when I crested it, I picked up the pace and started to slowly close the gap. I went through the first mile in 5:15 and passed Jacob with Todd just 10 seconds or so in front of me. Over the last .65 of a mile, I closed the gap on Todd and entered T1 just 8 seconds behind him and ran 5:01 pace. PUMPED!!!!!!!!

T1: 1:03

Before the race, I scouted the transition area and noticed that the racks closest to where we enter transition were at a slight angle. So, I decided to run down the aisle one before the aisle my bike was on and would only have a very slight cut over to do at the mid-way point of transition where there was a gap to the second set of bike racks. While it was probably an insignificant (definitely was considering how the rest of my race went) time savings, it was a big mental boost for me. I quickly slipped out of my shoes while putting on my helmet and grabbed my bike and ran toward the bike exit sign and mounted my bike side-by-side with Todd (he had a slight hiccup in T1 forgetting to take off his run shoes that cost him a few seconds). PUMPED x2!!!!

Bike: 39:21 (1,233rd fastest bike split)

I did my flying mount and started to pedal away to get some speed up before slipping into my shoes. I immediately heard a noise and thought, “no way that’s my bike” (there were several others around at this point), so I kept pedaling a few more times, but I kept hearing a noise. I looked down to see if I somehow got a flat tire causing the noise; nope, so I kept going, but kept hearing and feeling this noise. I tried to see if I could identify what was wrong, but I couldn’t. So just a few hundred meters into the bike I had to get off my bike. I instantly knew my race was over. You cannot give up any amount of time in a sprint triathlon. I picked up my bike by the seat and spun my wheel to see if I could find the issue. It was easy to spot…my wheel came to a stop within two revolutions. What the heck?!?! My tire was rubbing against the frame of my bike. How on earth did this happen! Only thing I could think of was the tiny screws that are in the rear wheel drop out must have somehow got adjusted, which would cause my wheel to move toward the bike and not allow the tire to make a clean revolution and rub against the frame. I didn’t have any hex keys with me and didn’t know what to do. So, I was perplexed. How can this happen? Absolutely nothing changed from Saturday’s race where I had zero issues and Sunday morning when setting up transition I ran through all my gears making sure everything shifted correctly. Not to mention these are the wheels that I train on every time I ride my Felt IA FRD, I don’t have a set of training wheel and racing wheels, I use my Enve 4.5’s for everything. As I stood bent over my rear wheel trying to think of something to do, I decided to let out some air in my tire. I spun my wheel and it seemed to be a little better, so I let out more air. I spun the wheel and it wasn’t rubbing anymore!! So, I tightened my quick release skewer, let out a little more air just to make sure it definitely would not rub and got back on my bike. I ended up riding with about 55-60 psi after letting out air, but my wheel did not rub, so I was happy. In all, I was stopped (according to my Garmin of “moving time” vs “elapse time”) for 8:18, but this also doesn’t account for the first 1:08 of the race where I was trying to figure out what was wrong while still moving.

At this point, I wasn’t even frustrated and even had a good laugh when I mounted my bike and started riding again. I looked down to see right at 10 minutes on my Garmin computer and 2.0 mph avg speed!! I was very conscious of my wheel the remainder of the race making sure nothing else happened since we were on some pretty rough roads, my tire pressure was low, and I’d obviously already had issues. After a few miles, I was just struggling mentally; trying to decide if I go for it even though I was out of it or just ride steady tempo and not worry. Within a split second, I decided to just give it hell and go all out. I had a rough race yesterday where I never felt good and yet today, I felt amazing (well, as amazing as a very hard run can feel) and I still wanted to race hard. So, that’s exactly what I did. I put my head down, figuratively and kind of literally, and went very hard like I was still in this race and at the front in the lead. I had nothing to lose and surprisingly, my legs responded well and I had good power the rest of the bike.

T2: 1:07

T2 was smooth. Complete reversal of T1. Racked my bike and took off my helmet and put on my racing flats. I hesitated a bit subconsciously thinking, “Isn’t there something else to do now”, but the weird thing about a duathlon is you can (which I did) bike with your run bib number already on.

Run #2: 8:54 (11th fastest run split, 5:18 avg pace)

Same loop as run #1 and I literally ran it the same way I did run #1, just a bit slower. I took off hard just like starting the race and managed the hill again and once over the top, I put in a hard effort to pick up the pace. I went through mile 1 in 5:29. I continued pushing hard knowing there was about 1k left and ended up running the last 1k in 5:01 pace, which is coincidentally the exact same pace I ran during lap 1 over this similar stretch of the course.

Sprint Distance Overall: 58:49. 337th overall

Today, it just wasn’t meant to be. I felt fantastic on both runs, but unfortunately, I had my first ever bike mechanical issue during a race (and really, it’s my first bike issue I’ve ever had outside of a few flat tires 4-5 years ago).

 

2018 Age Group Nationals was just a mixed bag for me this year. I had an absolute blast hanging out with my other Every Man Jack teammates also racing. As I said at the beginning, every year I’ve raced at AGN, I’ve had a completely different experience or challenge to overcome and this year was no different. I had high hopes and expectations for myself coming into the race, and I think that’s why I’m so disappointed in my results. With that said, I am proud I fought hard both days despite my struggles and issues. Sometimes things in life and/or sport just don’t go according to plan, and that’s ok. I’ll learn from this experience and use it to fuel my motivation and determination this winter.

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.

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: