Race Reports

2019 IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant - Bib #24

One recent improvement to my pre-race routine includes being able to eat real food and not throw up race morning. As well as only having a slightly more subdued version of pre-race nerves. Still the same every-increasing pressure and expectations from within but no longer am I shaking in my boots for 48 hours prior to each start. This has been an enjoyable development over the last six months, however I was worried I would be right back at square one with my first race in the pro field. I was obviously very excited to finally race at the top level, but was also filled with a lot of uncertainty leading up to the start. How would the race unfold, can I keep up with these people, is anyone going to talk to me, did I prepare enough, is my equipment going to work, what sort of legs will I have on the marathon? Despite these thoughts, I was relatively calm race morning and was able to get a decent night of sleep, woke up without any difficulty and got about 1000 calories down as I warmed up and got ready for the effort. 

Photo: Talbot Cox @talbotcox

Photo: Talbot Cox @talbotcox

With about five minutes until race start the pro wave was called down to the edge of the water. This was already different, gone was the 3000 person self seeded cue and in was an orderly line of 25 athletes. Although brief, I felt good after my swim warm up and was ready for the initial surge of pace. The (very loud) cannon went off and the next 30 seconds were a frantic combination of high knee jumping through the water, hoping I got the timing right on my dive and then a few hard cycles of real swimming before assessing the situation. In hindsight, I guess this should not have surprised me but it was one of the more orderly swim starts I have participated in. As we sorted ourselves out I could see that two or three athletes had swim away very quickly but I was within sight of the front of the main pack. About halfway through the first leg, the group started to thin out and I ended up swimming at the front of it through the halfway point with a decent pack in tow. Through 1.2 miles, I felt controlled effort wise and my breathing was becoming more and more relaxed as we continued to swim. The main issue was my swim cap, around the second turn it started to slip off so I made the decision to stop for a stroke and pull it back down. Still not sure whether I should have just let it go, but I always have littering on my mind and hopefully it was not too disruptive to those following. As we headed back towards shore my coach and fellow racer, Andrew Yoder came by looking like he wanted to push the pace, so I happily found his feet and did my best to get the draft without running into him every stroke. I can only speculate, but I think he would give me a 5/10 for that. Always learning. As we approached the shore I was feeling good but ready to be done swimming. I switched to a six beat kick from the last buoy into shore in the hopes of getting some blood flowing. This proved less than useful and I was definitely hanging on for a moment or two during the run to T1. By the end of the carpeted jog towards the changing tent I had regained my wits and was focused on being efficient and getting everything right through transition. My wetsuit came off easily, socks went on without any creases, gels and salt pills all made it into my pockets and I even remembered to put my helmet on. Progress. I finished the swim in a time of 50:30, which put me 5th in the pro field out of the water and 10th overall. 

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I had been looking forward to getting back out on the bike every since I stopped mid race three weeks earlier. I was happy with how my body handled the swing in training load, so the plan was largely the same power and nutrition wise. The only change is that the on course nutrition is BASE instead of Gatorade, which I have not practiced with, so, in an attempt to learn from New Zealand, I was carrying an additional 500 calories on my person. To start the bike spit I had my front water reservoir about 50% full (mainly so it did not spill in the rack), my down tube bottle with 1580 calories (15 scoops carbo pro, 1 scratch), 6 gels and a film canister of salt pills. Right in the 2300 - 2400 calorie range where I have been aiming recently. Early on in the bike split I constantly reminded myself to stick to my own plan. 260 watts did not feel like much for the first hour and it was difficult to watch three athletes come by me. However, it was not difficult to talk myself out of chasing, I knew I wanted to run a successful marathon and nothing changed about my fitness in the past three weeks, so control it was. Other than those who passed me in the first few miles out of town I was largely able to bike my own race. The Mont Tremblant course is essentially two loops of two out and backs, the first one mainly on highway over constantly rolling terrain and the second shorter section made up of repeated short but steep hills. On the highway section I focused on maintaining consistent power and good aerodynamic posture. The aid stations seemed to be spaced perfectly for my needs as I was getting through an entire front reservoir between each station. Throughout the course the volunteers were attentive and engaged, making life easy for us athletes. On the hillier, second section of the loop I knew it was going to be hard to control power so I did my best to at least keep the effort within reason while also using the steeper parts as a good chance to stretch the legs and back. As was my experience three years ago, this hillier section was a great change of pace and I left feeling better than on the way in. The second loop on the bike was very similar to the first, although as everyone's pace settled a bit I passed one fading athlete and was pleasantly surprised with how things were opening up behind me. I worked through a few small waves of feelings from various parts of the body, but in general things felt great on the bike and I really enjoyed the effort. Through half way I was about 263 watts and my goal way 260 watts so I knew it was all about controlling the pressure and getting all of my nutrition down and processed for the rest of my time on the bike. I was very pleased with how my 1500 calorie bottle worked out, I never had any stomach issues and was able to space it evenly over the first 4.5 hours, keeping the concentration correct in my stomach with copious amounts of water. I ate all six gels at about 45 minute intervals and consumed about 10 of my salt pills on the bike split. Recently, I have been trying to consume just water for the last portion of the bike split, my thought is that it will clear things out and avoid the concentrated sugar gut that can often form. I finished the second lap feeling in control and ready to run, things were going well aerobically and I was really enjoying racing. I finished the bike in 4:51:02 which was 8th in the pro field and 9th overall. I normalized 261 watts and consumed all of the 2380 calories I brought with me. Two down, one to go. 

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Mid gel, everyone eats gels.

Mid gel, everyone eats gels.

Legs worked today, and it was about time. Out of the tent I felt really strong, I had to constantly slow myself down. I was seeing paces on my wrist I had no business running and kept controlling whenever possible. Within the first half mile my stomach had decided it was okay with running and from there on out I had zero digestive issues. Which is awesome. Having been passed by one runner about two miles in I spent the majority of the run in 8th place. I was definitely surprised with how the race had shaped up till this point and had not expected to find myself in the money, but I did and there was no time to act surprised, I was in a race. Through the first 7 miles I had kept the pace just under 7:00/mile which was slightly faster than expected but the body was feeling good and I was yet to feel any loss of control or signs of a bonk. The first thoughts of, oh boy you better control this, were at about mile 10. I have found the limit enough times in both training and racing to know some very early signs of when things are going to go off the rails. I was not going to allow that to happen here, so I dialed back the pace to low 7:00’s from mile 10 - 20. I focused on consuming as much as possible at every aid station as well as not taking anything out of my legs on the hills. One of the unique challenges on the Mont Tremblant run course is the drastic change in feel and emotion on various points of the course. As you run through and then leave town, you are surrounded by people on all sides, sitting, biking and even riding the bus. There is energy everywhere, which can make you push too hard or get you out of a rut during a bad moment. The middle portion of the course is on a bike path, which has no people, just lots of athletes trying to race their own Ironman. There is also a change in terrain, out of town the roads are open and rolling, on the path it is flat with full shade but no wind. The first lap reminded me of all these small nuances and I felt like I was able to control my effort at key times much more effectively on the second lap. Nutrition wise, this was by far the most successful I have ever been at eating on an IM run. I never had any issues of feeling full or any other GI distress. I ate 4 of the 6 gels I brought, had at least another 4 salt pills, water at both ends of every aid station and was even able to add in coke or redbull depending on what was handed in my direction. It felt like I was actually racing and making decisions for probably the first time in an IM run. More of that please. The last 8 miles were hard. Legs were screaming big time on every stride by the last 30 minutes. The biggest things missing from my last three attempts at the IM distance was this feeling. It hurt very good. I enjoyed every moment of it, I knew I had gotten the effort right, probably couldn't have really gone any harder and as long as I kept my head down and kept working I would make it to the line. The crowds of the last two miles were a welcomed boost, everything hurt, even muscles that have nothing to do with running, but I had allowed myself to do some math and I knew I was close to an 8 something Ironman. There was nothing left in the tank for the hills so even at the end I controlled up the inclines with the hope of maintaining some semblance of form over the line. I crossed the line with about three seconds to spare to 9 hours and I was done. I enjoyed the whole 8:59:57, but it felt so good to stop. In the end I finished in 7th place in the M Pro field and 10th overall. I had no idea where my fitness and race execution was going to get me at the end of the day so 7th place was a great surprise and a nice bonus to the weekend. What I am most pleased with is how I was able to stick to a plan and have it go almost exactly as intended. I know, more often that not this will not be the case, so I can appreciate the days when it all goes to plan. Days like last Sunday are the reason I do this sport. 

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The rest of my year will be IM Chattanooga on September 29th, followed by Indian Wells 70.3 on December 8th. Back to work. 

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Life update - IM training, Lake Placid, change of plans, first race as a pro.

As was the case last year, my mid-summer plans included a long block of training into an Ironman/Olympic two week race block. 


Training 

Training

The training portion of this plan was a very enjoyable seven weeks of IM specific work, with a move to Tucson, Arizona thrown in the middle. Having just come off of three 70.3’s I was eager to return to the training needed for long course specific fitness. Although still a strong race, Eagleman was less than satisfying and for me nothing helps move on from a poor result more than hard work. New Zealand seemed a long time in the past and I knew my running and strength on the bike had come a long way since. After a relatively cool spring in Southern California, it had started to warm up significantly and practicing race nutrition and hydration seemed constant at times. Although, I knew I was about to move to Tucson, so my gauge of what is hot was about to be shifted again. Looking back on the block I think I am most satisfied with the progression of my running. Not only have I been able to stay healthy through an increased running load and strong work in the other two sports, but I have also started to find the hints of speed I will one day need. I know there is still a long way to go, but it has been encouraging to see the progress. It continues to amaze me how much longer running has taken to come around to where I think it should be in relation to biking and work in the pool. After about a month of training post Eagleman, Nyssa and I packed up all of our things, loaded a U-Haul, convinced the cats it was time to get in a car and we were off. Thanks to a lot of help from Nyssa’s dad, Cary, things went off without a hitch and one day later we were living in Tucson and it was right back to work. I spent the first week here finishing the bulk of my Ironman training, unpacking and organizing from the move. Followed immediately by repacking everything for a three week trip to the east coast. 


Lake Placid

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My travels to the East Coast started off with an early morning trip to the local Tucson airport, only to quickly return home having had my flights canceled and pushed back a day. Luckily, I had a scheduled day off for training to make it across the country so I was able to flip days and make the shift back into training mode for one more day back in Tucson. The next day I tried again and all went to plan until I arrived in Manchester, NH and was informed one of my bags had not made the same journey. Somehow, Southwest still does not track bags and I will leave it at that. One of the goals for this travel experience was keeping my cool and although I thought I did a better than usual job, my lack of patience was tested multiple times. Luckily, I have people like Nyssa and Jim in my life to keep me calm and in Jim’s case save me from an equipment point of view while my bag, as it turns out, was hanging out in Cincinnati. It was an eventful few days of travel, make do training and after a lot of calling Southwest, mainly by Nyssa if I am honest, all was resolved. As I mentioned above, I was happy to be in great company as well as in a great location, back in the upper valley for a few days before heading out to Placid. Despite all of the small setbacks, the most important things, such as energy levels, my health and my fitness were all best to date, so it was easy to stay relatively positive. Having moved more or less all over the country over the last two years, it is amazing to see just how different climate, flora and fauna can be across this country. Every time I go back to New England I am appreciative of the foliage and changeable weather, although I suppose the opposite reasons are largely why we moved to Arizona. Nyssa arrived to New England late on Wednesday and I think we both enjoyed the scenery during our drive the next day through the Adirondacks and finally to Lake Placid, New York.  

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For this race, we decided to stay a few miles out of town at the Hungry Trout resort. Our room had a small kitchenette so I was able to more or less maintain a consistent diet and eat on my own schedule. Our place was right on the rolling uphill portion of the course back into town so I was able to practice on the course twice pre-race without much hassle or wasted time. I have learned to prioritize being able to get my sessions done quietly and spend as little time on my feet and around crowds as possible in the days leading up to a race, I think we got these things just right this time. Another good sign is a new ability to sleep the night before a race. Historically, I have struggled with the night right before a race, whether it be nerves and an upset stomach or worrying about my temperature and staying hydrated; they were rarely real nights of sleep. This time I slept remarkably well, I was ready to go. 

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Race morning was smooth and I had the sense that I knew my plan and there was nothing to stress about. We arrived at the right time, I had all the right things in my bag, I timed my trips to the bathroom and crowd avoidance well, I was never in a rush and was even able to hop in the water for a splash before race start. Once I enter the water for a warm-up the nerves are usually gone, today was no different. I made my way to the front of the 50-1:00 swim group and waited for the start. Even in an Ironman, the pace is always too hot for my liking off the bat, there is really no option other than to play the game, so I swam hard with the pack. One athlete got away from the pack early and I had no desire to chase so I found the underwater cable and a pair of feet and largely sat in for the whole first lap. I felt smooth and controlled, it is amazing how much of a difference not picking your head up to swim makes. Especially with a wetsuit on the effort is very rewarding. Lap two was chaos. All those things I said about being in control and not sighting disappeared, the front pack and I were immediately into a sea of swimmers on their first lap. Of course most want to be on the cable but you were not allowed to cut to the inside of the buoys, so I found myself constantly switching between the inside and outside of the pack, repeatedly convincing myself I saw clear paths, only to run into feet three strokes later. Maybe I am crazy but why can’t we just swim on the inside for the first loop and the outside for the second loop? There is still a cable, the lengths can of course be slightly adjusted, the flow naturally feeds outwards on the second loop, makes sense to me. Anyway, I eventually made it out of the swim in 52:02, I then spontaneously and for the first time decided to use the wetsuit strippers, kinda nice actually and made my way down the lengthy jog towards the skating arena. I avoided many of my previous mistakes, including but not limited to, grabbing the correct bag, getting everything in my back pockets securely and putting on my helmet prior to touching my bike. I may have even passed a few people. Out on the bike I immediately felt strong and in control of my numbers. My plan was to normalize no more than 260 watts and keep the effort capped at 280 on the steeper sections or if the situation called for a bit more pressure. Over the first few miles a group of four athletes including myself formed and it took about ten more miles for us to sort things out with one rider heading off the front, I settled into second and the other two faded after their initial surges. I was happy to let the leading athlete go as I was already controlling a lot to keep the power at 260 and all I wanted was to run an enjoyable, strong marathon. I came through the halfway point in 2:24, three minutes off the leading rider and feeling very comfortable with my situation. My nutrition was still on plan and my stomach was processing everything I was consuming. Core temp was under control and unlike most races, I had not dropped anything.  Only a few minutes later, my race was more or less over. On one of the sweeping turns out of town my stem broke under the compression, my front bottle then hit my wheel and flew off and I was left with handlebars that, although thankfully still attached, had a solid two inches of vertical play. I had been using an adjustable stem with no issues for the past two months but for whatever reason that corner on this day was too much and the teeth sheared off. Luckily, I was able to control myself and slow down, strangely right near a bunch of policeman and corner workers who very kindly started digging through their gear bags to find an allen wrench as soon as we figured out what had happened. It was difficult to control my emotions, but I stayed calm. The volunteers were being so helpful, I almost did not have time to be upset. After a few minutes of scrambling around trying to find tools, I finally was able to get some pressure on the screw with an allen wrench and a pair of pliers. Quite sketchy, and I did not have a lot of confidence in the strength of the fix, but I got back on and did my best to resume the race. I told myself this is no different than a flat, you are still in control, even a ten minute gap is nothing on the run if things go well. I had also lost my only source of water when the stem broke so was very thirsty by this point. I tried positivity, but my bike was broken and I was not going to wish that away. When I finally got to the first aid station near the cross country center the volunteers had what seemed like an entire bike shop setup on the side of the road. They took the front end apart, cleaned out all the shavings, torqued it all back down, but I could still move the bars and it was unsafe to continue. My reality of my race being over settled in once the rush surrounding actually fixing my machine was over. Tough feeling, but the volunteers at that first aid station really kept me together. Watching them give people support as they went through for the next 30 minutes was very impressive to watch. I was unhappy to be there but could not help but smile watching them sprint to give everyone bottles or whatever they needed. I was also able to borrow a phone and call Nyssa to make sure everyone knew there was no crash or what not, just race over. 

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Nyssa and my coach, Andrew Yoder get a lot of credit for controlling the next few hours. I was pretty upset once I was back to a quiet place and the last hour or two of shifting emotions and mindset started to settle in, but it did not take long for the three of us to figure out a new plan and shift my mentality to the next race. Again, thanks to the help of some very nice people I was able to get my elite license and register for the Ironman in Mont Tremblant, Canada. As I mentioned above, my plan was to race two weeks later at Olympic Nationals in Cleveland, Ohio and spend the middle two weeks relaxing with family and friends in New Hampshire, Connecticut, NYC, and Lancaster. The big downside to the change of race plans was missing the time to relax and see all of my east coast people. However, once everything was finalized race wise my mindset had shifted and it was time to get back to work. 


Training


One day later and much earlier than originally planned, Nyssa and I were back in Tucson and it was straight back into a short block to get some work back in the legs and keep everything I had in the tank heading into Placid ready to go for Mont-Tremblant. As you might expect, it is quite hot in the desert at the moment and properly training here has required full focus from a hydration, nutrition and heat management point of view. Even though it has not actually been that long, I have really enjoyed my training here in Tucson. The bike path is a huge upgrade, we are surrounded by mountains and even most normal roads have great shoulders. Spending as little time in and around traffic is a big focus for me and so far Tucson has allowed me to get great sessions while rarely using open roads. Easy and endurance rides have been outside pretty much regardless of the heat with intervals or more specific work on the TT bike indoors on the trainer. Running has been either very early in the am or during the sunset hour in the evening. All bike rides start with a camelback stuffed with ice and a little water. Even if they are frozen bottles on the frame are hot within minutes but the water on my back has been staying cold through most of the first two hours. Moving to Tucson has brought the morning person and morning trainer in me back out after a year of slightly more sleep filled mornings. It has been really enjoyable getting up pre sunrise most days and getting to work right away. 

Triathlon cycling training


It goes without saying that I am pretty excited for my first race as a professional. I have been thinking about and working towards this specific goal for most of my adult life. I knew there was no chance of anything professional as a swimmer but I always knew I was willing to do the work at endurance athletics in general and triathlon has proven to be the outlet that best displays that work ethic. Racing as a pro has been somewhere on my mind from the very first race I ever entered, back then it was a crazy thought. Then, during my time at Dartmouth things started to click but it also became obviously I could not perform at a high level as both a college swim coach and a high level triathlete. The more I trained and raced the more the idea seemed a lot less crazy. I vividly remember when I decided I would make this happen for real. I was on training trip with the Dartmouth swimmers in Hawaii and was on my typical morning jog. The contrast of what I was currently spending most of my time doing and what I felt when I trained had never been so obvious and I decided I would make it happen. It took another 15 months to finally leave coaching and another 15 months of full time training and racing to make it happen, but it worked and now I get to race as a professional. This is obviously not the finish line and now I am looking forward to maximizing every aspect of my life to be the best long course triathlete I can be. 


It is not lost on me that this is a pretty unique opportunity that most people will never have, I fully intend on making the most of it. It is also worth repeating and repeating a few more times how appreciative I am of all the help I have gotten along the way. Whether it be financial support, coaching and life advice, solid training buddies or just people who decided I was not kidding when I said I wanted to do this, I am really appreciative of your assistance. Onwards.