Ironman New Zealand 2019

My preparation for the 2019 New Zealand Ironman was full of learning experiences, balancing acts and a few firsts. This Ironman marked the first time I had attempted to train for an Ironman  while coaching collegiate swimming.. At the end of the previous swim season, when I decided to leave my full-time job at Dartmouth College and pursue my dream of becoming a professional triathlete, I had it in my mind that I would take a full year off from coaching and solely focus on training/racing. As with many things in life, reality often slaps you in the face whenever you think you have a plan. The reality checks in my case were that it was going to take more than just a year to reach the professional level and money does not grow on trees (dammit). Not long after moving to Pomona, CA I met and became friendly with the Head Coach at CMS college, Charlie Griffiths. Initially, I had no intention of working there, I just thought he was a nice guy and I liked using the pool. Then all three of his assistants took other positions and long story short, he asked me if I wanted to be one of his assistant coaches in a part-time capacity. At first I was very torn about making this decision; I really needed a break from being a coach, but at the same time I knew I would really enjoy working for him and coaching the student-athletes at CMS.

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Training was still my main priority so even with this part-time role, I knew there was no excuse not to have perfect sessions and take full advantage of this unique opportunity. One of the most beneficial time management techniques I settled on through the course of the winter was planning every hour of every day, not only so I could prove to myself it would all fit but also so that I was not wasting mental energy rehashing how each day was going to go. I made the plan, stuck to it and got the work done. Secretly, I also hate downtime so being busy from sun up till sun down and often hours on either side makes me happy and makes me feel like I am getting the most out of life. Obviously, in my perfect world that would entail only training but one step at a time.


I did a few things to make my life slightly more difficult than one might desire in the two weeks leading up to the race. I started my two weeks of taper by crashing my bike on my last long ride 13 days before the race. I made a silly mistake on a white line in the rain during an IM effort and went for a nice long slide that resulted in a decent bit of road rash on my left hip. I almost could not believe I had done it, the waves of emotion were overwhelming at times, I had worked so hard for this, did I really just crash my bike two weeks before this race? Thankfully road rash was the worst of it and it has certainly been an uncomfortable two weeks but I got away with nothing broken.  I did not hit my head and other than some general soreness I was mainly just cut up. Also, a bit of a blow to the ego when you crash completely on your own, good reminder to never lose focus, even for a moment. I managed to complete everything as planned despite the crash and although I raced with a bandage, I do not think it had any impact on my performance, but obviously I could have done without the lack of skin and added stress.

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The second big hurdle was coaching the CMS season-ending conference meet. My commitment for most of the season was largely part time meaning I worked  between 3-5 hours most days. This schedule certainly led to long days when you add the training, but it was definitely doable; many others have achieved big results with more commitments than that. The conference meet schedule was far less forgiving and meant I was on my feet a lot and mentally engaged in coaching the week prior to IMNZ. To be honest, I did not handle this well. I knew those four conference meet days were going to interfere with my training but instead of mentally preparing myself for it  I was a bit all over the place and wasted mental energy wishing I was resting instead of coaching. The week before flying to New Zealand was certainly a learning experience; I could have been far more present and just accepted the reality of the situation when it came to both my crash and my work responsibilities. I finished the meet on Sunday feeling totally beat and rather defeated. Thinking back now this was irrational but it was hard, to get out of my own head in the moment. As soon as the meet was over, I drove straight to LAX and I can honestly say I have never been so happy to get on a plane! I proceeded to sleep for the entire 13 hour flight and landed in New Zealand feeling better than when I got on the plane. This race was also unique in that I had a new travel buddy, Cary Peele, my girlfriend Nyssa’s father and constant supporter of my Triathlon goals and efforts. I can safely say I do not know how I would have gotten through this race without his help. He not only calmed me down when I showed up to the airport in a distressed state, but he also helped me recharge my batteries the first few days in New Zealand and by Wednesday I felt like a completely different person. I cannot thank him enough. The last two days prior to race day were full of rest and positive vibes; I was confident in my preparation and ready to race hard.

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Race morning was calm and everything went to plan. As with many race mornings, the day started at 4:00 am with a warm shower and continued race specific fueling. The weather in Taupo started at a cool 47 degrees which is about as ideal as it is going to get for me, especially having traveled from winter to the end of the New Zealand summer. Having found a sneaky parking spot, I headed to transition to dry the dew off my bike, check the tires, place my helmet, check the gears one last time (these things are never actually perfect), add my nutrition to my bike and in general just get myself ready for the effort. Having accomplished all my pre-race tasks with time to spare, I headed back to the car to warm up for a bit and relax with Cary. I can confidently say this is the calmest I have ever been before a race, I knew I had trained better than ever before, I was with great company, I was in a beautiful country and I was living my dream, what could be better. With less than an hour  before the start, the butterflies were certainly flying. I attempted to stay loose and focus on the process and disregard the rest. In this case that meant adding Vaseline, Trislide and sunscreen to all the important parts of my body and slipping into my wetsuit. For the last few races I have been wearing my wetsuit with my tri kit halfway rolled down; it has been a big improvement in comfort while swimming. I likely would not waste the time in transition to doing this on races shorter than a half but in terms of comfort and swimming with a more natural stroke, I think this will be my game plan for the longer course races. At this point, nothing left to do other than that whole Ironman thing; time to race.


Entering the water was a strangely calm experience, everyone just calmly filed into the water, people actually stayed behind the start buoys and I had enough space to get a few minutes of light swimming in pre-start; strange, but I will take this setup any day. The gun went off, I remembered to start my watch and I was off. I swam hard for about 30 seconds before settling into my desired effort and breathing pattern. Lake Taupo was about as ideal as swimming gets, clear water with a view of the bottom, a simple out and back course and some decent chop as the wind picked up to weed out the weaker swimmers. My goals for the swim were to stay relaxed, keep a high tempo, take nothing out of my legs and find a comfortable breathing rhythm. I can happily report that all these things happened. I quickly found clear water and swam by myself for more or less the entire effort. I got a solid spooking when we swam over one of the inlet pipes that takes drinking water from the lake, big time fear of mine, but I managed not to lose it and considered the situation rationally. My breathing has never felt as relaxed as it did in this Ironman swim, I really enjoyed myself out there. For the majority of the swim there were two other athletes swimming more or less my pace but for whatever reason they were swimming way off the buoys so I just let them do their own thing. The chop in the water made arm speed essential as some strokes felt great, other felt like I went nowhere but I did my best to stay calm and just keep constant pressure backwards. As we reached the end of the swim a group of about five of us converged and I was able to find some feet and cruise the last minute or so into transition. Swim split was a 51:18. I headed out of the water feeling like I got things off on the right foot.


The exit of the swim led directly into a long run across a parking lot, up a steep set of stairs and eventually into the changing tent. As always, the volunteers were amazing, helping me open my bag, get my sleeves on and keeping me on track and positive. I got to my bike, took it off the rack and immediately had two people yelling at me and running in my direction. I had touched my bike before putting my helmet on, noob mistake, so I got a minute penalty, they seemed quite satisfied to have caught someone; I stayed calm, took a few deep breaths, smiled at the two officials and before I knew it I was on my way.


My plan on the bike was to normalize 250 watts for the first lap and then try and add about 5 watts to the back half as others would hopefully be fading. The effort felt pedestrian for most of the first 30 minutes which is exactly what I wanted. I immediately started fueling and letting my body adjust to being on the bike. The cool temperatures on the first lap of the bike were ideal for keeping my core temp down but meant my heart rate monitor was reluctant to work and the biggest issue ended up being numb hands. I came oh so close to dropping my main bottle of nutrition which contained about 1000 calories of carbo pro and scratch which would have been difficult to replace on course. I fumbled big time getting it back into the cage and ended up pressing the bottle against the side of my downtube for what felt like for an eternity but in reality was probably only seconds; dodged a bullet there. Numb hands also made holding onto the bars over the chip seal even more difficult than on a warm day. I spent most of the first lap biking with one other athlete and we quickly distanced ourselves from the other few who had been with us on the swim. At each aid station I either took a bottle of water to replenish my reservoir up front or took a bottle of sport drink that  I kept in my open cage. I dropped one gel early so grabbed an on-course gel to supplement but other than that everything went exactly to plan from a nutritional point of view. As we headed back into town to complete the first lap, the wind really started to kick up. From what I could judge, it seemed to almost always be coming from about 45 degrees of yaw, nice tailwind on the way out and a brutal headwind on the way back to town, always leaning. I knew this would be the case and I constantly reminded myself to stick to the numbers, disregard the chip seal and the wind, just stick to the numbers. The second lap was certainly not as “perfect” as the first in terms of flat power output, but I was happy with how I managed everything that was thrown my way. The athlete I rode with for most of the first lap was no longer holding power as consistently and as opposed to taking long turns in front like we were for the majority of the first loop, now when I passed him, he annoyingly and consistently say within a couple bike lengths of by back wheel. I did my best to not let this derail my plan; but it really blows my mind the way people will cheat. I love Ironman racing because it is a solo effort; some people just do not get it. After attempting to pass him at least six times, seeing him on my wheel, sitting up allowing him to go by I eventually had enough of it and with about 30 miles left I put in a slight surge which he had no response for and rode the end of the race on my own. I was happy with the way I finished my race and the consistent effort felt miles better than surging and playing games with him from the beginning of the second lap. In the end I normalized 249 watts which led to a 4:53:17 bike split.

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T2 was thankfully less eventful than my first transition, I swapped for a fresh pair of socks, added my favorite red hat (for the record this was my favorite hat for years prior to 2016…), a pair of shades, some running shoes, replenished my nutrition and I was off.


The marathon course was a three loop, constantly undulating route that followed the main drag along the shore of Lake Taupo and through some of the small neighborhoods on the shoe. My plan was to use the loops as a means of pacing, I stuck to a hard 150 heart rate cap for the first loop to allow my body to adjust, hopefully absorb more nutrition and prioritize being able to run hard towards the end of the marathon. Spoiler alert, it did not work, but I really thought I was right on plan though the whole first lap. I took nutrition at every other aid station in the form of a roctane gel or stinger chews as well as water at every aid station. Despite it not actually being that hot, it was still a change from winter to summer for me and I had a history of struggling in the heat so I knew keeping my core temp down would definitely be a good thing. With that in mind, when I didn’t take nutrition at an aid station, I made sure to grab ice and soak my hat whenever possible. The first lap went exactly how I imagined, I stuck to the 150 cap and that effort was yielding a mid-7:00 pace which would have easily been a personal best and had me on course to be right around 9:00 for the whole race. As I started the second loop, I allowed my heart rate to rise towards 155 and was happy to see that my pace responded in line with the added effort; I was feeling good about things. Then the wheels started to come off, I was passed for the lead in the age group at about mile 15 but I knew I had to stick to my plan as opposed to chasing, despite wanting nothing more than match his pace. My stomach started to be a real issue towards the upper teen miles, and I was no longer able to sustain my desired heart rate or pace. I felt full, I was clearly not processing food at a fast-enough rate and things were starting to build up in my stomach. Desperate to avoid the total shut down of the prior world championships in Hawaii, I knew I had to manage the situation. After all, I still had 90 minutes of running to complete. It was very difficult to not be negative at this point.  But, I knew, getting mad at myself or wishing I was having a better day was not going to help my situation. Little moments of encouragement from Cary on his bike made all the difference, he told me I could do it, I was tough and just keep forcing the cadence. It is amazing how much one little comment or mantra can get you through the darkest moments in a race. I made the decision to stop taking nutrition and allow my stomach to settle. This process took about three miles and by mile 20 things had started to come back around. I was able to resume a decent heart rate and although still not at a great pace, I was able to at least feel like I was running and holding my overall position. All things considered, miles 20 – 23 were much better; I was out of the dark place of the previous miles. I would love to tell you I enjoyed the last three miles, but I would be lying; they were purgatory. The upside of letting my stomach settle was starting to be overwhelmed by the downside of stopping nutrition intake. All systems were heading to shut down mode the last 20 minutes. It took every ounce of willpower I had not to stop, I tried every mental trick I had to keep myself moving. I thought about random things to distract myself, I focused on my form, I tried to make myself laugh at the funny signs, I thought about all those people watching back home probably yelling at their computers and I also knew that despite a very poor end to my effort I was still in line to go a personal best and I did not want to throw away what had otherwise been a strong effort. I did eventually make it over the line in 3:29 for an overall time of 9:21. While this was not the race I had imagined and finishing poorly leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth I am proud of how I fought the last 90 minutes. There were some dark moments and at times finishing that marathon did not seem possible. It is amazing that even in a time of total duress the body can still find little ways to recover and no matter what you think you always have more left.

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This Ironman is the start of my season and easily the fittest I have ever been in March. I cannot wait to see what this sort of winter fitness leads to for the rest of the season. I am also aware that it is unrealistic to expect to get everything right all at once. When one day I do eventually have my best Ironman, nothing should be a surprise. I will need the toughness I showed while falling apart and running way off my desired pace when I am running a sub 3:00 marathon and holding off athletes for the lead of one of these Ironman. Every race is an opportunity to improve and if you stick with it, every step gets you closer to your ultimate goal. I leave New Zealand feeling fit, lucky to do what I do and above all more motivated than ever to become a professional Triathlete. Onwards.


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HITS Palm Springs Olympic

Although very frustrated with my performance at the World Championships in Hawaii, I knew I was very fit and had a great season of racing to date. With the aim of ending the season on a high note and in the process switching training gears for a few weeks, I picked the HITS Olympic distance race in Palm Spring, CA. Many things were enticing about this race, it was in the desert with a beautiful mountain backdrop, it was going to be cold and as I stated above I was looking forward to the challenge of a shorter race after a few months of focus on the Ironman distance.

Race morning was chilly but beautiful as the sun rose, illuminating the mountains on either side of the valley floor. Pre-race I was calm, I knew the work I had put in over the last month would pay off and I was excited to end the season on a high note. Warm-up was uneventful and went to plan. I let myself slowly warm up with some light jogging and then eventually into some building strides around a conveniently located loop in the parking lot. The scenery was beautiful and I was excited to race so it was not difficult to stay relaxed. With about 30 minutes until race start I put on my wetsuit to lock in the warmth of jogging and headed to the start.

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To summarize, the swim was cold. They said 58, maybe I am just soft but it felt pretty unbearable. Knowing the importance of getting in the water to acclimate especially on cold days, I forced myself in about 10 minutes before things got underway. Everything hurt and I was eagerly waiting for the first rush of warm blood; not sure it ever came. Now thoroughly awake from the water, it was time to race. I lined myself up on the inside of the start line with the shortest line to the turn and waited for the gun. I swam hard right from the start and was able to quickly distance my competition. The water was so cold, I never warmed up. I had planned to take it easy on the swim and let myself ease into the effort but that was not in the cards. I tried as hard as I could to generate body heat but by the end of the two loop course I had certainly slowed; breathing and generally moving my arms was becoming labored. I was glad to get out of the water and also glad that I had built a strong lead through the first leg of the race. I was eager to get on the bike and start my effort, hopefully warm up a bit too.

Once out on the bike I immediately felt like I was in control. My plan was to ease into the first 5 minutes and then really allow myself to start pushing in the desired range - 315 - 330. The course was simple with only a few turns and minimal elevation gain over the 24.5 miles. As I expected, the only real discomfort I was feeling was from numb feet. I was pretty sure this would happen after a cold swim and chilly air on the bike so I wore my socks with that in mind, but the feet were still quite cold. As the minutes started to tick away on the first half of the bike, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was still able to produce my desired power and if anything, the effort was becoming more comfortable. I have been able to produce power like this in training for at least two years but have often failed to fully replicate that potential in a race. Even during my bike split, it was hard to control my excitement, I was almost surprised at times that the power just kept coming and the effort felt very sustainable. Since Hawaii, I had spent a lot of time on the trainer and the benefits of this solid work were obvious at the Olympic distance intensity level. Another benefit of time spent on the trainer is freedom to think about your form without the stress of traffic or the mental engagement of actually riding a bike. I was pleased that the changes I had made to my training over the previous month showed up not only at the beginning of the bike split but also towards the end as things started to require that little extra bit of focus. Half way on the course was marked by a simple cone, police officer and an aid station. Having successfully clipped, and regrettably knocked over the cone on my U-Turn, I quickly assessed where I was energy wise as well as compared to my competition. I knew I had a decent lead out of the water and was pleased to see that the lead had grown. At this point I knew I would be alone for the duration so I switched my focus to executing a great back half of the bike and finally being able to run a decent split off a strong bike split. The back half of the bike surprised me even more than the first half. I was able to maintain and even felt like I was controlling at times, as I got closer to 40k I started to gain more confidence that even though these were great numbers, I was actually in control and would be able to run a strong split. Another breakthrough in this race was maintaining the lower cadence I had been working on throughout a bike split. Normally when things start to go off the rails I will revert to a higher cadence, for perhaps the first time in the Olympic distance this was no longer the case. As usual, in the last 5 minutes I took an opportunity or two to have a quick stretch and finish my nutrition, which in this case was a simple 1 bottle with 2 scoops carbo pro and 1 scoop scratch. I still have a lot to learn and room to grow when it comes to long distance nutrition but I can safely say I think 280 calories on the bike with 1 gel pre race sets me up well for an Olympic distance event. I got off the bike proud and a little giddy about the power I just put out, but also eager to complete the race and make sure this was not just a bike split but an entire race. Detailed data on the split below.

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I spent most of T2 checking whether my feet were really there as they were completely numb and you easily could have convinced me otherwise. Numb feet is a strange feeling at any time but especially while trying to run quickly off the bike. The route out of T2 was through a lumpy field, then on pavement for about a mile, followed by a slightly longer section on gravel, done twice for a 6.2 mile course. Early on, my stride felt strong and I was able to keep the cadence high. In a perfect world I would have loved to be running 5:30’s but that wasn’t the reality on this day, or any day yet, but I promise it is coming. I knew that I would not be stressed from anyone behind me so I tried hard to stay committed to the effort and keep running strong after a successful swim and bike split. I decided to cap my effort at 170 beats per minute for the first half and then just give it anything I had left for the second loop. In the end that pacing turned out to be more or less correct as my pace faded slightly and the effort became difficult to sustain towards the end. Although I will always want the pace to be faster, I was happy because if felt like I was able to work hard and push all the way through the triathlon.

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I finished in a time of 1:55:02, which was a course record as well as a PB for me at this distance. I swam 1500 meters in 19:34, I biked 24.5 miles in 56:26 and I ran 6.2 miles in 35:35. This race was the sort of race I train for, day dream on the trainer about but seldom actually get to complete. There is always something that gets in the way of a perfect race and there are always things you can do better, but on this day I was alone and no one was responsible for my pacing other than me. The Palm Springs Olympic Distance tri left a good taste in my mouth and helped frame 2018 as a great season with just two bad runs at inopportune times. Back to work, up next Ironman New Zealand on March 2nd.

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Ironman World Championships 2018


My experience at the 2018 Ironman World Championships was full of challenges and lessons, some of which I knew were coming and had prepared for but perhaps more I had not even considered.

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As with any other race day it was an early start, 4:00 am, but really I was already up, I had slept well from about 7:30 pm - 1:00 am but had more or less been napping since. I was glad the time had finally arrived, I enjoy the efforts and the racing, I could do without the sitting around waiting that goes on before hand. Pre-race nutrition consisted of 1 cliff kids bar, 3 x 24 oz bottle of 2 scoops carbo pro, 1 scoop scratch in water and one gel before the swim. Logistically, things were a new experience right from the start. Having never done this before I was still unsure about some of the details regarding where I, as well as my family could go on race morning. With that in mind, I got dropped off with all my stuff for the next two hours, which in the end was a good call because I didn’t run into my people again until 30 minutes after the race. After being swabbed with alcohol, numbered and weighed it was time to check out my bike which I had dropped off last night. Of course the heaviest rain we experienced the whole trip happened throughout the night when all the bikes were racked. My morning goals were to dry the bike as well as possible, re-lube the chain, make sure the psi was correct, try and dry my shoes a bit and get all the nutrition on by bike. Having quickly accomplished this, I realized I was there pretty early and had little to do for the next hour. This would have been a nice time to relax with my family but due to the congestion of the transition area I decided to just find a “quiet spot” near the hotel where the race was being based out of. I also managed to spend about 10 minutes gawking over the pros who were in a little pen right in the middle of the action, very cool atmosphere and makes me want to be there even more. Best of all, I know one of them, it was great to see Sarah for a moment pre race, all smiles as always.

For the swim start I wore a swim skin over my race kit with the top of my kit tucked into the small of my back. Age group men started as one big wave of 1600, 20 minutes after the male and female pro athletes had set off. I had been warned that I would need to tread water for awhile before race start, having quickly swam from the stairs to the race start line, we did indeed tread water for the next 20 minutes. We spend the first ten minutes being held back behind the start line by lifeguards on paddle boards. I did my best to stay at the front of the pack while not actively trying to push the line forward. About 10 minutes before race start I got stung by a jellyfish on my legs. The worst of it was on my right calf and around the cuff of my race kit on the left side. Initial emotions were more of less, well shit. No one else seemed to react, or speak english when I reacted to being stung so I more or less just accepted it and knew I had to get on with the race. The last 5 minutes before race start were miserable to be honest. My right leg was at this point useless but the larger problem was the jockeying for position at the front. We started the race at least 30 feet in front of the start line and I was promptly swamped to at least the third line of people and the white water just seemed to explode when the gun went off. I did however manage to start my watch, which was a first for the season. I spend the swim out to the halfway boat battling to get some clear water and moving up through the field. Luckily, even on a good day I do not kick much when I swim, so I was able to swim more or less normally, just doing my best to focus on anything other than the sting. By halfway I was in the midst of the second pack, from my vantage point is seemed a handful had gotten off the front, who where were at this point out of reach. I swam much better on the second 1.2 miles and was able to clear and then lead the second pack all the way back to the dock. I got out of the water a bit flustered about the first half of the swim, a bit pissed/worried about the sting but above all very happy to get on my bike.

The first 5 or 6 miles on the bike are a quick out and back through the roads just south of Kona. It was hard to keep my heart rate down and everyone, myself included, was being punchy. I felt good though and I was pleased to realize that the sting, although painful was not limiting the usability of my leg. On the first “hill” of the day it immediately became apparent how the front group was going to ride this race, smash the hills, coast a lot of the downhill and draft when no one is looking (well this part took another ten miles or so to realize). Just by keeping a consistent power up the first hill I went from the front of the main pack to at least 25 places lower, a pattern that would repeat itself countless times throughout the day. Of course these same athletes immediately backed off the power once we crested the hill and I passed everyone right back, dumb, dumb, dumb. Once out on the Queen K I got a better sense of where I was at race wise and how things were going to develop. I could see a few single riders up the road but it quickly became obviously that I was in the front group, which I was pleasantly surprised with considering everything that had already happened. Then, my bike computer died... Not sure how this happened, but that was now the reality and all I could do was deal with it. Power was nothing special (230np) for the first section of the race where I could see what I was doing but I would not have wanted to go any harder considering my heart rate was already edging out of the desired zone. I had spent a lot of time pre-race debating what gears to run and as it turns out I got this part just right. I ended up using a 55-42 up front and a 11-30 cassette in the back. I was never out of gears in either direction and I also had zero mechanical issues from a drive train perspective(which might be a first). From mile 40 - 56 I was able to settle into how the group was riding as opposed to trying to fight it and waste energy. I was able to get my heart rate under control and finished the first half of my nutrition heading up the rise towards Hawi. Special needs was located just after the turnaround. When we came back around I was the only one who stopped and then when I said my number they couldn’t find my bag. It was over the fence, they thought I had already gone by. I managed to stay calm and be respectful to the volunteers, but inside I was pissed, first off, why did no one else stop, where is all of their food!?!, number two, another unnecessary obstacle, seemed par for the course at this point. Once I finally got going I could just see the last rider in the group heading over the horizon. Now it was my turn to start making mistakes, as opposed to accepting the time loss and sticking to my effort, I chased to get back in touch with the front group. It took about 20 minutes and my heart rate was well above my desire zone essentially the entire time. It still feels stupid as I am writing this, but at the time it was very hard to convince myself to back off. Once I bridged back up I made the decision to just stay with back of the group and recover. At this point I still felt pretty strong but it was also obvious that the bike had not been the conservative ride I probably should have gone with on my first shot at this race. I managed to get through almost all of my nutrition, I still had one gel and about ⅓ bottle of carbo pro left but I was happy with amount of fresh-water I had been able to drink along the way. For the last hour of the bike I was able to ride mostly solo and really focus on controlling my effort. Although I was only looking at heart rate due to the computer failure, this was the most controlled and enjoyable section of the ride for me. I finished with a 4:35 bike split and although I knew this wasn’t going to be my best race, I felt like I could run a consistent marathon based on how I was feeling.

I would love to sugar coat this marathon, but to be honest it was one of the least enjoyable things I have ever done in my life. There are few feeling less enjoyable than the loneliness of bonking for an entire marathon at the biggest triathlon of the year. I knew I was in trouble from the second I got off my bike. Until this point in the day, I had somehow gotten away with everything that had happened and managed to be in more or less the exact position I would have wanted to be in getting off the bike. The first section of the run is a 7 mile out and back on Ali’i which is more or less flat, sort of shaded at times and packed with spectators. Even if it wasn’t going to be a strong run I still needed to do it and pace the effort wisely. I set my heart rate cap at 150 and although I was running slowly I was able to keep the effort in check during this first section. Stomach pain started almost immediately, despite my best efforts on the bike to get my nutrition right, it would later become obvious that my digestion was not working and perhaps hadn’t been for awhile at that point already. The only real climb on the course felt like a mountain, it was not, pretty sure I only got up it because Nyssa’s parents were running faster than I was on the side, practically pulling me up. Once on the Queen Q I did everything I could to just keep moving, 150 heart rate seemed to yield a little less pace and a bit more stomach pain each mile. Mentally, this marathon was right up there with toughest thing I have done. Knowing that you aren’t going to stop, but that this is going to take an additional hour of “running” than anticipated was very tough. It was hard to hold back floods of emotions at times because I knew my goals would not be achieved at this race, but also that I had clearly made mistakes in the last 7 hours that put me in this position. Sort of makes you want to just crawl in a hole. I managed to keep running until mile 17 which is when the walking started. The last 10 miles were much more about I may be in trouble here, certainly hope I can make it back, than they were about racing. The low point was mile 23 when I finally got sick and immediately realized why my stomach had been hurting so much for the last three hours. I don’t think I processed a single thing on the run. I felt so much better. But that was quickly replaced with just feeling trashed. I must have split those last 10 miles into 20 little waypoints, I have never played so many stupid mind games with myself during a session or race. It felt like I was doing a threshold set on the trainer just trying to eek those last 10 seconds out. Only this was miles and miles. I finished with what I thought was dignity, pretty much only walked the aid stations and finally dragged myself across the line, 9:45 later.

First 20 minutes post race were rough. There was no energy to even by mad, I was spent. At first being rather aggressively grabbed my a volunteer felt like too much, pretty quickly changed my mind and I am very appreciative of the very nice volunteer who poured water on me for the next 5 minutes. At least the worst of it passed after about 10 minutes and I was able to get off the ground, collect myself, my belongings and get out of there to see my family.
I know I am better than this race and I know I had a great season, still sucks though. All you can do it learn from it and apply the lessons moving forward. I look forward to learning everything I can from this race, but I also look forward to forgetting large sections of it. Back to work. Indian Wells 70.3, December 9th, is next.


USAT Olympic Nationals 2018

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This years USAT Nationals for the Olympic distance was held in Cleveland, Ohio. Race morning was more or less a case of hurry up and wait. A large field, plus a small course meant a very staggered start, two hours after the first wave in my case. I did my best to stay loose by chatting with my coach, Andrew Yoder, and other athletes with Yoder Performance. It is always great to try and impart some knowledge on others, even if selfishly these conversations also serve as a distraction from my own pre-race nerves.

The swim was extremely wavy. I got off to a strong start and did my best to keep my cadence and breathing under control as I battled the waves out to the first buoy. The course was a simple out, over and back. At the first turn I thought I was leading my wave but I must have missed a couple because in the end I had the third fastest swim in my age-group. I focused on trying to level off the peaks and valleys of the waves when I had the chance but more often than not I just ate the waves on the face and then found half my body out of the water one stroke later. If I wasn’t in the middle of a race trying to swim fast, these conditions would have been a lot of fun. During the practice swim the day before I was able to ride the waves on the way back in, unfortunately the waves were coming at more of an angle this morning so even on the way back to shore the waves were more of an impediment than a boost. As usual, I lost my cap about halfway through the swim. This was actually nice because it cooled me off a bit. As a former swimmer you would think at this point I would know how to keep a swim cap on my head! Feelings wise, I thought the swim went better than expected and by about half way through the effort I was really able to open things up aerobically. As I approached the shore I tried to get some blood into my legs for the long sandy run up to the transition. I ended up swimming a 24:07 which was a good 5 minutes off my expected time. This either shows the conditions were indeed tough or I was tired, you choose.

T1 was an efficient affair and even managed to sneak some socks on for the bike ride.

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The bike split was the highlight of the day. I knew the only way I was going to win this race was to get off the bike with about a three minute lead and hang on for dear life on the run. The first part of that plan happened. Right from the start I had good power but my heart rate was a solid 8-10 beats higher than I would have wanted. Through the first 15 minutes I normalized 318 watts which is exactly where I wanted to be but it was quickly evident this was was not a sustainable effort. I struggled to keep my heart rate under 175 but the legs were actually feeling very good and I was on top of my breathing. Through the middle 10 miles of the race I managed to control the effort a little more and dropped the normalized power to about 305 where is stayed for the rest of the effort. The course was a simple flat loop so there were only a few chances for respite in and out of a few of the sharpest corners. These little 5 second breaks through the turns made all the difference and allowed me to keep the pressure on the pedals and actually regain some of my power that I had let slide during the middle portion of the 40k bike split. Between the Ironman and Nationals I had swapped for a 55 tooth front ring and I was very happy with how this worked out. This change added about 6 mph to the top speed that I could keep pedaling within my desired RPM range. On a relatively flat course, like this, I never geared out which was a welcomed change. I look forward to racing like this in the future. My nutrition on the bike was pretty simple compared to the previous race. One bottle with 280 calories of carbo-pro and scratch lasted me the whole split with no problems or cravings for more. I finished the 40k bike with a time of 54:51, I normalized 302 watts, averaged 27.2 MPH and had an average heart rate of 175, ouch. Heading into T2 I had done exactly what I set out to achieve, I had a three minute overall lead and with even a decent 10k this race was mine to win. I really enjoyed this bike, I went deep, for sure too deep, but sometimes you just need to send it.

T2 was uneventful much like T1, I had forgotten my race belt so attempted a new method of using shoe bungie's to secure my race number. This actually worked out very well and I think I will switch to this method as opposed to a race belt moving forward. Off to run.

To be honest, the run was rough. I was in full management mode from the get go. Thirty seconds into the effort I got a very encouraging update about my overall position from Andrew and I knew if I ran even a 36 this race was mine. I found it difficult to get my heart rate under 175 at any point during the 6 mile run. The course was two loops. I set 175 as a hard limit for my effort on the first loop and then would just bury myself the last 5k and see what happened. The run was much hillier than the bike so it was important to manage the effort up the steeper inclines, especially since I was starting most of these climbs with an already elevated heart rate and spikes above 180 were going to be less than sustainable. I managed to finish the first loop still in the lead but I had already burned the three minute lead I had off the bike so at this point it was all about being tough and fighting my way to the finish. On the second loop I gave up looking at my heart rate and just fought on every stride to keep my cadence as high as possible. I averaged a solid 184 beats per minute for the last 10 minutes which felt about as enjoyable as you might imagine. It would be one thing if I was running 5:30 pace at that heart rate but I was more of less jogging in the 6:30s just holding on for dear life. At this point the overall lead had already slipped from my grasp but what really rubbed in the poor run was getting passed twice for the lead of the age-group in the last mile. I tried to respond but I was already on the red-line and there was nothing there. In the end I ran a 39:17 with a heart rate of 178. Definitely not the run I wanted or that I know I am capable of but all things considered I am actually proud of how I managed the energy I did have left and that I kept pushing right to the end.

Overall finish was 12th overall and 3rd in age-group in a time of 2:02:45, 3:15 off the overall win. Winnable, which makes the poor run even more painful. Going backwards on the run is getting really old but I know I have it in me and still have a lot of room to improve in that split, especially over the 10k distance. That being said it is hard to ignore the fatigue I was likely still carrying post the Ironman 13 days earlier, so it is probably good not to be too hard on myself. Onwards and upwards as Mr. Yoder would say, back to work, time to crush Kona.

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2018 Ironman Canada

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Race morning started at 3:00 am, but to be honest the previous night had been filled with three or four naps, so I was wide awake and ready to go. Everything was packed and ready to go the night before so I was able to take my time getting loose and start my fueling for the day. My morning routine is pretty simple, start drinking a bottle with the same nutrition I will have on my bike, take a warm shower to wake/loosen up and go through a rolling out/stretching routine, mainly focusing on my lower back and hamstrings. On this morning I was calm, all things considered. I managed to stick to my plan, keep my cool and made it to T2 for the first shuttle over to our swim in Lake Alta. I spent the 20 minutes before I got in the water, staying fueled, getting on my wetsuit and doing my best to relax with Nyssa and her parents pre race. I knew everything was prepared equipment wise and all the work was done fitness wise so I was able to relax and and enjoy the morning pre race. The swim was a self seeded mass start, so I took the opportunity to start at the front and set my own pace throughout the effort. Water temp was 70 degrees for the two loop, 2.4 mile swim and Alta Lake had some of the nicest swimming conditions I have raced in to date. The swim start was very shallow so when the gun went off I made sure I kept running for longer than I would have normally planned to make sure I got to deep water. Right as I dove in my left goggle filled up, so when the opportunity presented itself about a minute into the swim I did a stroke of backstroke to clear my lens. Other than the water in my eye, I felt relaxed right from the start and for the first time this season was able to relax my breathing enough to settle into a normal breathing pattern. A few other swimmers stayed with me for about the first 500 yards but by the time we made it to the first turn I was able to take the lead and started focusing on efficient sighting and keeping my arm speed as high as possible. Almost everything about the swim was enjoyable, other that the competitor who sat on my feet the rest of the swim and pressed down on my feet seemingly every few seconds. I realize drafting off people is a big part of open water swimming but I am also aware of much less annoying ways to do so. I did my best to ignore this annoyance but at times he was pressing on my feet so hard it impacted my stroke and body position. I debated trying to drop him,(or kick him) but I had the long game on my mind so I did my best to ignore him and focused on myself. As soon as I came around the turn to start my second loop the stream of people on their first lap was immediately an issue. Luckily, most people were swimming quite wide of the buoys so I focused on staying right along the sighting buoys and weaving around people when I needed to. One of the best parts about the swim was the lack of sun in my eyes. Since we were surrounded by mountains on both sides it was bright without any direct sunlight. In general the swim felt great, I was able to keep a consistent pace without much trouble, my body felt great, I was focused and my breathing had remained relaxed throughout. Having completed the second lap I headed back to shore, making sure to kick a little so I had some blood in my legs. I finished with the second best overall swim behind one of the pros in a time of 51:14.

My first mistake of the day came in T1 when I told the volunteer 135 instead of 134 which led to a nice surprise as I opened my bag. Luckily this was a small mistake and I wasted less than a minute running back and swapping the bags. Despite running what I thought was far enough on the start of the swim I must have still hit the bottom because I ended up with little cuts on the tops of the my toes. The rest of transition was uneventful, I put on my helmet, socks and shoes, found my bike and I was off.

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Much like the swim the first loop of the bike was nice and quiet. It seems amazing, based on how hot it got later in the day, but it was still in the 60’s during the beginning of the bike, so the power and control came easily right from the start. The course was three loops of rolling terrain with two substantial climbs per loop. I focused heavily on keeping my power consistent, not spiking on the steep parts and not backing off over the top of hills when the gradient backs off. Almost immediately the power was coming easily and I had no problem keeping my normalized power at 250 which was where I wanted to cap it for at least the first half of the race. Within the first 20 minutes I was passed by two other age-groupers, these two ended up 1-2 in the amateur field. I was committed to my own plan and they passed me going fast enough that I knew matching them would be a bad idea for the run. I was not passed again for the rest of the ride, by either 70.3 or Ironman competitors and was able to focus solely on my own effort for almost the entire bike split. I stuck to my plan of grabbing one water bottle to refill my front bottle and was able to do so at 8 of the 9 aid stations. With this strategy for water as well as taking two salt pills per 30 minutes I felt hydrated for the entire ride and it was really nice to have plain water to drink throughout the bike. I also thought my nutrition plan of having four fairly concentrated bottled of carbopro and scratch worked out quite well. I had no problem getting them down, I didn’t drop any of them and I was able to make each one last for a little over an hour which is what I needed to do. In addition to the water I was adding and the bottles I already had, I took six gels, four Maple Untapped and two Roctane gels.  The one hiccup on the eating and drinking front was when the little plastic piece that allows you to refill but not spill water on my front bottle decided it had had enough. At about the 4th aid station the two pieces of this cover fell into the bottle, I tried for about 20 seconds to fix the problem but decided it was not worth it so I rode the second half with no cover on the top of my bottle. Turns out it is far easier to fill up, but of course I also got a nice shower every time I hit a bump, which I did not mind but my gears probably could have done without. Overall, I was very happy with my fueling and nutrition on the bike. I felt satisfied, fueled and hydrated throughout. Power wise on the bike I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do and felt controlled throughout the entire effort. I completed the 112 mile ride in 5:07.41 which was good for the 2nd fastest ride in my age-group and the 13th fastest overall including the pros. My normalized power was 251 which is exactly what I wanted to do and my average HR was 151 which again, is right where I wanted it to be. Despite an elevation gain of 7500 feet I was able to keep my variable index at 1.06 which is perhaps what I am most pleased about from the day. I spend a lot of time focusing on being consistent over uneven terrain and it was very enjoyable to put that to use on a challenging course. I averaged just under 22 miles per hour and hit a top speed of 53.1 which is all that really matters. During the ride the temperature ranged from 52 at the start to 93 by the time I got off the bike. I think one of the reasons I was able to be successful is that I focused on controlling my effort and fueling when I wasn’t hot and I wasn't hungry on the first lap so I wasn’t behind or panicking for nutrition once it was hot at the end. One of the added challenges of this race was the traffic on the second and third loops of the bike. The speed differential between the other bikes and myself was often high so I definitely had to devote a lot of mental energy towards staying aware, letting people know I was coming and always staying a bit up the road with my eyes to make sure I planned my passes effectively. As a whole, I really enjoyed this bike ride, everything went to plan and I started the run full of energy and confidence knowing that my hard work in training had worked.

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T2 was one of the hottest parts of the day. Despite an awkward and perhaps unplanned jog in my cycling shoes, I was feeling great heading into the transition tent to change my footwear. Luckily, I was able to get this done quickly because that was one of the hottest places I have ever been, the dead air, sweaty triathletes and afternoon sun were a miserable combinations and I was very happy to head out of that tent onto the marathon. When I left for the run I was carrying 10 salt pills in two little plastic cases, three roctane gels and a small thing of base salt.

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The run consisted of a two loop course around two lakes with about 1000 feet of elevation and a mix of pavement and a few packed gravel sections. On my watch I was looking at a heart rate only field and got lap splits at the miles. My running felt strong and controlled right from the start. I tried very hard to remind myself this is a long run and if I felt good, great, keep controlling. I was able to keep my heart rate in the 150 range for the first ten miles without too much trouble. I focus on my form and extracting the maximum pace out of a given effort. My stomach accepted everything I ate or drank at the aid stations. I grabbed water and ice at every aid station and alternated taking two salt pills or one gel as I approached each aid area. Ice in the hands was one of the biggest factors in bridging the gap between aid stations. If I grabbed enough I was able to make it from one aid station to the next with ice still in my hands. Even if the ice isn’t doing that much to actually cool me down, the feeling of cold on my hands and the chance to occasionally eat a piece of ice made all the difference when it came to feeling cool. Another huge help on the run course was seeing friendly races at various points around the course. Cary, Nyssa's Dad, was biking around the run course giving me updates and splits which as I have mentioned before, can do a lot to calm you down or motivate you for an extra push when needed. Mistake number 2 of the race came in the mile 17-21 range. At the halfway point I started to let my heart rate rise towards 160 and while this felt great for the first 30 minutes of doing so when I reached the hottest part of the course for the second time I had a very bad 20 minutes. I had felt great for the entire race until this point, but I knew I was still about an hour from home so this problem was not something I could fake my way through to get to the end. My first goal was to get my heart rate under control, I had suddenly gone from comfortably running mid 7:00 pace at 150 to struggling in the high 8’s with a heart rate well over 160. I slowed my pace way down and focused on breathing and trying to just accept what was going on instead of panicking. I knew I was close to the lead of the age-group at this point so I wanted to avoid having to stop at all costs. I knew that managing my bad moment and being able to keep moving would always be better than ignoring the problem until I blew up. When I got to the next aid station I slowed way down, I took everything, water, ice, redbull, gel, salt pill and more water and ice at the end. I told myself that was the only break and I just started jogging at a very controlled pace again. It took about another 15 minutes but finally with about 5 miles to go I was able to start bringing my heart rate and pace back to their desired ranges. At mile 24 I passed the current leader of the age group as we went through an aid station, who I had not seen in five hours, when he passed me early on in the bike. I did not actually realize I had passed him until he re-passed me at a decent clip shortly thereafter. At this point we had a little over three miles left and were within five seconds of each other. I did my best to match his pace but he had another gear at that point and I was really just happy to be running at a decent pace again after the struggles of 30 minutes prior. The last two miles were a deep effort. I was able to see Cary, on his bike, as well as Nyssa and Kathy, Nyssa's Mom, within the last mile which helped keep the legs moving for a few more minutes when I really wanted to stop.  Everything was ready to be done but I also knew I had had a great day so it was easy to keep going. There was also a family with super soakers at mile 25 so I was all good after I went through there for the last time. Final split for the run was 3:23.40 for the marathon with an average heart rate of 155 and an average pace of 7:48. I had three bad miles but I was very happy with how I managed the situation and recovered to finish strong and at least challenge for the age-group victory. Running has always been a struggle and has always lagged way behind my other two splits. Obviously there is still a long way to go to the top but this was a very satisfying run and a big step forward in what I think I can do in the coming years.

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Overall finish time was 9:29.36, 2nd in age-group, 3rd amateur and 13th overall. This result qualified me for the World Championships in Hawaii later this year in October and goes a long way towards achieving many of my long term goals. I enjoyed every part of this race, even this last ten miles of the run, I knew what to expect and I knew I could react if there was a problem. After a couple more weeks of rest and then a brief drop down to Olympic distance racing it is back to Ironman training for a two month pre Kona block. Can’t wait.

Race Plan Ironman Canada 2018

Nutrition and Race plan - 2018 Ironman Canada

1 bottle = 24 oz water - 3 scoops carbo pro - 1 scoop scratch

 

Pre race -

- Wake-up, shower, light stretch and roll

- Have two bottles to sip on between waking up and race start

- 1 bar if stomach allows but ok if just bottles -  powerbar or bonk-breaker

- 2 salt pills per hour

Swim -

- Stay calm and enjoy yourself pre race - the work is done - you are in a great spot

- Focus on consuming nutrition and keeping back and posterior chain loose pre race

- Get off to a strong start but quickly settle into a comfortable effort - make sure you are relaxed

- Focus on sighting and breathing efficiently - think about back on the bike

- Keep cadence high and focus on a good catch in the front

Bike -

- Intake - Bottles 380 x 4 + Gels 5 x 100 + 1 bonk breaker 200 - cut up = 2220 cal

- Just water in front bladder - replenish at each aid station - use to take salt pills

- If hot take second bottle and dump on back

- NP Lap #1 - 240 - #2 - 245 #3 - 250

- Keep RPM in the 80’s - no spikes over 300 watts

- Keep back loose and vary position when course provides the opportunity

- Turtle, turtle

- 2 bottles on bike - 2 bottles in special needs - sip every 5 mins - alternate with water

- 2 salt pills per hour

- 1 gel per hour - caffeine free

- Control, control, control, control, bike like you are about to run a marathon

- Bike your bike - disregard others

- Weather any bad patches - you are fit, you will be fine

Run -

- Quick clothing change into proper running attire

- Give your body some time to adjust off the bike

- Grabbing at least 1 water to drink per aid station - focus on actually getting water down early in run

-Grab ice and sponges early and often, even if I am ok with heat at the time - think about the last 10 miles

- 1 gel every other aid station

- be okay with grabbing anything that looks good

- Allow caffeine into routine during the last 90 mins

- Do not unnecessarily rush through aid stations, make sure I eat and drink, slight moment of respite - be ready and able to run hard between them

- HR sub 150 1st half of run -

- Be tough on the second half of the run - accept the low points as natural, know it will pass and don’t get too excited about feeling amazing at any one point

Big Bear Olympic Triathlon 2018

The 2018 Big Bear Triathlon was the last race in my first block of racing before switching my focus to the Ironman specific training. I rested for about three days prior to this race but at this point it is hard to back off too much with the Ironman about five weeks away. An added variable for the weekend was the 7000 feet altitude of the race venue. I had never raced at high elevation before but was certainly well aware of its effects as soon as the race started.

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The swim start was off a dock into a two loop course. Pre-race I had been warned to take it easy at the beginning of the swim due to the altitude. Heeding such advice is easier said than done when the gun goes off and I started the race with a strong dive and about 30 seconds of hard swimming before starting to relax. I immediately noticed how much more difficult it was to breath than I had been expecting. I swam with two other athletes for most of the first lap, choosing to try and catch my breath and wait to see how their pace developed. At times it actually felt a little scary how hard it was to catch my breath. When you are on land you have the chance to at least increase your respiration rate, while swimming, you are tired to your stroke rate. I found myself debating whether it made more sense to shorten my stroke and breath more often or relax and swim catch-up but with a longer interval between breaths. In the end I spent the middle part of the race swimming a very relaxed catch-up stroke with no kick, just trying to get my my heart rate down. Around the start of the second loop I started to feel normal again, the ache in my muscles faded and the sensation of being behind on my breath eased. The second lap was far more enjoyable than the first half of the swim. Now that I felt comfortable I pushed the pace the last five minutes and was able to come back to the dock at the front of a group of three swimmers. Big Bear Lake, like all lakes in California, is low, so that meant a long run on a dock from the swim out to the transition area. I did my best to pace myself and watch my footing over metal docks and uneven concrete.

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I left T1 at the front of the same group of three. This was my first race on my new Ceepo Viper, which I had gotten only two days before. This race would be my third ride on the bike. In many ways, using such new equipment is foolish, but I almost immediately felt comfortable on the new bike and I had already switched both of my sets of wheels to 11 speed hubs so I did not really have a choice anyway. The Big Bear Olympic bike course consisted of a rolling ride around the southern end of the lake, a very hilly out and back off the west side of the lake and then a fast flat run back around the northern section of the lake and finally back into transition. I did not really know how the altitude would impact my performance so I kept a few different plans in my mind, power and pacing wise. The biggest change position wise with my new bike is being more stretch out in the front. This was a welcomed change as I had maxed out the adjustability of the Felt, but change still takes time to get used to, even if it is better. Up the two larger climbs in the middle of the course I definitely felt a bit unnatural and the power was not coming as easily as I had hoped. I had my first chance to see how the race was unfolding about 30 minutes into the race as I started to head back toward the lake. At this point I had what I thought was about a three minute lead and started to feel a lot more confident about how things were going. Even when you are in the front it is hard to keep out all the moments of doubt. Is my power low because of the new bike, or the altitude or am I just having an off day? Assessing your competitors and getting a sense for how the race is unfolding can go a long way towards calming those inner discussions. The down hill back towards the lake was fun and very fast but I definitely had to have my wits about me due to the open roads and clueless California drivers. The ride around the northern section of the lake was a lot of fun. A slight tailwind and strong back half effort wise meant I spent most of the last 10 miles above 25 mph which is always a lot of fun and can even make you forget you are the one doing all the work at times. Overall numbers for the bike were 30.8 miles in 1:15.07 with 1500 feet of gain. Normalized power was 279 and average HR was 155. Overall I thought it was a strong day on the bike but I definitely could have cleaned up a lot of details. This course was unique in that there were at least four places where I had no option but to be coasting for extended periods of time. This made using metrics like normalized power during the race less useful and also provided genuine opportunities to recover, but also fed the temptation to go too hard right after that recovery. The biggest difference I perceived on the bike, due to altitude was a very high respiration rate. Even at relatively moderate levels of perceived exertion I was more or less panting to keep up with the effort. In the end I had the fastest bike split of the day and came into T2 with about a six minute lead over my competition.

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The run was a simple out and back over rolling terrain on a small peninsula in the lake. For at least the first three miles I struggled to get my heart rate up. Just like on the bike my breathing rate was much higher than usual but the effort did not feel uncomfortable. It was a very strange feeling because your mind associates breathing at such a rapid rate with VO2 level efforts, on the contrary I was struggling to get my heart rate out of the 150’s. I focused on what I could control, leg speed, form and breathing, just finding little ways to up my pace. Much like in the swim, the second half of the effort was much better than the first, the last couple miles actually felt like running and I really enjoyed the effort. I ran a 39:15 for 6.06 miles at 162 HR. I was pleased to finish the race in a strong manner and ended up taking 1st place overall by about ten minutes in a time of 2:17.02. After this race I certainly have a greater appreciation for what altitude can do to the body. I am glad to have managed the conditions and continued to perform but there were definitely times in that race such as the 1st half of the swim and run where I felt less than in control. I can take a lot of good lessons from the race and I am very happy to have completed my first block of racing with three wins. That being said I am very realistic about the level I need to achieve to race competitively in the professional field so it is right back to work. Up next is an Ironman specific block for the next five weeks followed by Ironman Canada at the end of July and USAT Nationals two weeks later. But first, a quiet, pace night in the woods.

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Auburn Half Ironman 2018

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2018 Auburn Half Ironman - June 3rd

Swim - 22:05

Bike - 2:31.39

Run - 1:37.45

Overall - 1st - 4:33.01

 

Race morning was clear and warm, I arrived at transition with plenty of time to set up and then have some time off my feet to focus before the race and relax with Nyssa. Despite still dealing with persistent race day nerves I was much more settled than two weeks ago at Ventura. Having a race under my belt has really helped me trust my fitness. My main objective for the day was to be controlled with my pacing and manage the heat. One year ago I had one of my worst races in Syracuse so I was eager to apply those lessons learned to another hot day.

The Auburn Half featured separate T1-T2 locations which was a first for me. The swim took place in Folsom Lake which at this time of year was very swollen. Water temp was almost perfect and I was able to get a proper warm up in for about 10 minutes before the race. My main focus during these warm up swims is to settle my nerves, get some blood flowing with a few uptempo efforts and then swim back nice and easy to calm down before the start. After a brief delay we were off and right from the start I had company on the swim. Being a deep water start I was able to manage my pace right from the beginning and settled into a rhythm quickly. At the previous race I felt my technique was sloppy as I fought to catch my breath and deal with the cold water. With that in mind I spent most of the first few minutes trying to lengthen my stroke and relax as much as possible. At the halfway point I had taken the lead and had two others sitting on my feet. On the way back to transition vision was the main problem. Not only were we looking directly into the sun but the course was essentially an out and back which meant opposing traffic often very close. The swim must have been a bit short because although I felt very good there is no way I saw a 22:05 for a Half Ironman Swim. I came into transition with the same two competitors on my feet and with a swift transition was able to leave T1 alone.

The Bike was a point to point course that was lumpy in the beginning, flat in the middle and then had most of the climbing back into town over the last 15 miles. With this and the heat in mind I planned to be conservative on the first half of the bike and if I was in a good position push a little harder coming home. For nutrition, I had three bottles with 200 calories of Carbo Pro and some Scratch for flavor in each, three Untapped Gels and 8 salt pills. My plan was to drink consistently every 5 minutes, take a gel every 45 and 1 salt pill per 30 minutes. I did my best to stay disciplined with power over the first few climbs away from the lake but in the end was limited more by tightness in my lower back than energy levels or muscle pain. This lower back pain has been a feature post open water swimming for a few races now so that will be something to sort out over the next few weeks. One of the two who swam with me was able to stick with me during the first portion of the bike and as in Ventura it was good to allow myself sit behind a competitor for a portion of the race as opposed to feeling like I always need to attack. I used this first half of the bike to focus on my nutrition as well as loosening up my back. Through the halfway point I had normalized 260 watts and was starting to feel much better so I decided to push the pace. Fortunately, I was quickly able to open a lead and over the 2nd half of the race increased my power to 278. With about 20 miles left I lost one of rear bottles which was more or less full. To compensate for this I grabbed a plastic water bottle at the next aid station, took my two extra salt pills and decided to eat the GU chews I had brought but was not necessarily going to eat. Obviously it would have been nice to start with a little more power but today was a good exercise in patience which I usually lack while racing. In the end I was very pleased with my bike, I was able to split a 2:31 on a hilly point to point, with net gain, in the heat, a lot of progress compared to the areas I struggled with last year.

Heading out on the run I knew pace management would be the name of the game. The course was two loops of hilly terrain. The course was essentially always up or down but there were three main climbs per loop. I focused on controlling my heart rate, keeping my cadence up and intaking as much nutrition as possible during the first lap. Another huge factor to making it successfully through the run was having a lot of family and friends spread throughout the course. Seeing friendly supportive faces even just for 15 seconds makes a huge difference, especially when they tell you your lead and you can relax just a bit! Despite control on the bike and a gentle first lap the second lap was indeed very hard. I really tried to control my effort on the hills to ensure I was actually running the entire time. Ice down the pants and sponges in the hands can really make all the difference sometimes. All showers from spectators were welcomed and I did not hesitate to cross the road in search of even just a small shady patch. I ran a 1:37 to finish off the half which all factors considered I am very happy with, good signs of progress. Final time was 4:33:01 with a 15 minute gap to 2nd place. For the first time ever I had the fastest splits across the board, including the transitions. This is obviously very satisfying on the run but having made a lot of sloppy mistakes last season being fast in the transitions is perhaps even more rewarding.

In the end it was a very good day, having struggled to perform in the heat for a long time this was a very gratifying race and it was great to have a lot of family there to support the effort but hopefully also enjoy the day as well. Big Bear Olympic in three weeks, back to work.

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Ventura Breath of Life Olympic

Ventura Breath of Life Triathlon - pre race

Ventura Breath of Life Triathlon - pre race

First dip in the ocean was chilling to say the least but once I got some blood flowing I was able to settle down and focus on warming up for the race. 35 and under men were the third wave six minutes behind the start so the swim was going to be crowded right from the start. The swim began from the beach with about 50 feet of running into the water. As always, as soon as the gun went off the pace was fast, one might think I would expect this by now but I continue to be amazed how fast most people like to take their races out. I battled for position to the first buoy and had managed to grab the lead just before the turn. It took about five minutes but once things strung out I was able to relax my stroke and find a rhythm with my breath. Now that I had the lead I shifted my focus to being efficient with my stroke and weaving my way through the other competitors without losing any time or punching anyone in the face. Two other competitors were able to stick on my feet through the first loop and then I was able to distance myself slightly through the second loop heading into T1. I finished the 1800 yard swim in 21:45 and was feeling good about my effort heading into the rest of the race.

The run to transition was on a beach so I did my best not to rush and just focused on getting my wetsuit to my waist and running with a high cadence to keep my speed up through the sand. For the first time in awhile I was very pleased with my transitions, everything went on and came off during the first attempt and I was able to either hold or advance my position each time. Early in the bike my plan was to focus on controlling my effort and avoid fading at the end of bike or compromising the run. After about five minutes of the bike split there was only one competitor left and he eventually passed me so I made the decision to sit back and see what his pace was like. His effort was not quite as consistent or as hard as I would have prefered but we were in the lead and I made the decision to sit behind him for at least two of the three loops on the bike course and make a decision after that. Through two laps I had normalized just under 300 so I knew I had plenty in reserve and was feeling good about my run would compare to those around me. On the third lap I pushed the pace by about 30 watts and was able to make the pass. He stuck with me throughout the last lap and eventually came past again leading into transition and then onto the run course. My splits during the lap portion of the bike were 13:32, 13:29 and 13:22 with an overall time of 57:43 for a 25.5 mile course. I normalized 302 watts with an average speed of 26.3 mph. I certainly would have prefered to be alone and push my own power the whole time but it is good to know I can be tactful with my effort if needed.

Heading into T2 I was feeling very confident. I knew we had a sizeable lead and I knew I had kept plenty in reserve while on the bike. My plan was to relax on the first two or three miles and then see if I could push a little more coming home. For once, that worked, I hovered right around 6:00 pace for the first couple mile and was then able to dip into the high 5’s running a 5:47 for the last mile. The run was a simple out and back so at the halfway point I was able to assess my lead and knew that unless I made a sizeable error I would be able to win the race. With that in mind I allowed myself to push the pace a little harder but given the lead I had it was hard to completely ditch a sense of control. I ended up pacing 5:55 for a slightly long 10k which is my best ever although I know there is still plenty more to come. After a tough start to the previous season it was a big relief to get things started on the right foot. It is great to be back to racing, I am looking forward to a long and successful season for not only myself but also all of the athletes on the Endurance Drive and Yoder Performance Triathlon crews. Back to work.

Eliot Scymanski - 1st place overall - Ventura Breath of Life Olympic Triathlon - 2018 - Ventura, CA

Eliot Scymanski - 1st place overall - Ventura Breath of Life Olympic Triathlon - 2018 - Ventura, CA

Why aerobic training?

Why Aerobic / Zone 2 Training?
Reaching our athletic potential and highest performance depends on one training principle that nearly every top coach in all endurance sports subscribe: aerobic exercise, also referred to as  “Zone 2 training”.  

Why aerobic training?  
The body has adapted aerobically over 84,000 generations. While we are often inclined to do more intense and stressful training (mostly due to time constraints and modern living), our bodies have evolved to be most efficient through aerobic training.

You’ll hear aerobic training referred to in a number of ways: Zone 2 or Z2, the 80/20 rule (80% of training is performed at low intensity with only 20% being performed at high intensity), polarization (the approach of “easy is easy and, hard is hard”) and aerobic foundation work.

What is aerobic training and why does it work?  
The heart is the engine that drives the vehicle.  You can have all the fancy bells and whistles you want in that vehicle, but if the engine isn’t strong, those additions are essentially useless. Zone 2 develops the aerobic capacity necessary for peak performance in endurance sports. Technically, anything over a few minutes of exercise is classified as aerobic exercise. As a sprint to Ironman athlete, you are expending energy over a long period of time, such as one to seventeen hours.  The body needs to be able to efficiently endure that level of exertion spread over a period of time.  

Anaerobic training (you’ll see popular reference to HIT or High Intensity Training) may be more exciting, but it is not the most effective way to build the foundation of the engine driving the machine.  The aerobic energy system is the highest priority in developing the overall athlete.  Zone 3 is the “gray zone”--it does very little to develop the aerobic system or the anaerobic system, and yet most athletes naturally fall into this particular category when left to their own devices.  The result is you essentially make very little performance gains in fitness and endurance. Higher zone training will target the anaerobic system and that type of training will be employed secondarily after building your aerobic foundation.  In sum, when looking at the most efficient way to safely and productively develop athletic performance, all research and the scientific evolution of our species have all landed on the same answer: aerobic training.

In addition to the development of your aerobic capacity, there are a number of other critical endurance athlete benefits that come with zone 2 training:

*Increased number and density of mitochondria – your primary energy driver.

*Increased stroke volume, i.e. more blood through your heart and body at the same HR.

*Increased fat burning capability. Maximizing your fat burning capabilities is critical to 2+ hour racing.

*Increased lactate clearance / management.

*Increased blood plasma.

*Ability to Increase overall training volume without beating up your body and mind.  In many cases, we can increase training volume 30 – 50% over your unstructured / gray zone training / Zone 3. You will feel much better, physically and mentally, with the increased training volume in Zone 2.  

Commonly asked questions:

Is this going to suck initially?  
Yes.  If you have not trained Zone 2 HR before, you’re going to most likely hate it. You will sometimes walk hills, you will run and bike slow or slower, and you will long for the days of just doing whatever on your runs and bikes.  You will question your coach and think he is insane.  The suck will continue through the Prep and Base period (but it will get better, promise!).  This is not sexy training.  It is effective training.

When will it not suck?
After the Prep and Base period of the training cycle (lasting from 2 - 4 months, athlete / race dependent), we will begin to add more intensity.   Once you’ve built up your aerobic engine and reached a critical volume of training (another topic), we’ll lift into other zones during the bike and run as we get race-ready during the Build period.  (By nature, your swims in Prep and Base will dip into higher zone training which is where most of our higher intensity i.e., 20% of the 80/20 approach.  You’ll still be getting some intensity in the Prep and Base phase but most of it will be in the water)

When will we reach glory land?

  • When you are running 1 – 2 minutes faster per miles in your Base runs at the same HR than you started the season at.  
  • When you are running that much faster during your races at the same level of effort as last year races.  
  • When you are passing the people who used to easily beat you.
  • When you hit the finish line with a PR.  
  • When you stand on the podium and your friends ask, “What the hell have you been doing?!”

What if I don’t believe you?
It’s always good to be skeptical.  Don’t believe it?  Email 2 – 3 top coaches and athletes in any endurance sport and ask their opinion on Zone 2 / aerobic training.   If they answer anything different than the above, let me know!  I have a sneaking suspicion you will find a common answer between all of them.

Suggested further readings: The following are various articles that distill this concept and explain it in detail.

Here is the layman’s version of the science of zone 2 training and a great overview:  

  • http://herohealthroom.com/2013/12/04/zone2-training/

A more scientific and detailed explanation of zone 2 training by Stephen Seiler, a world expert on training physiology:  

And:  https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2015.00295/full

How do endurance runners actually train? Relationship with competition performance.
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15741850/

You may have heard of Phil Maffetone, he’s the grandfather of aerobic training and founder of the MAF method:  https://philmaffetone.com/want-speed-slow-down/

Matt Fitzgerald TrainingPeaks article on the 80/20 ratio of low endurance and high endurance training:  

Mark Allen on the maximum fat burning / maximum lipid power benefits of zone 2 training:   

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