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