Ironman 70.3 Coeur d’Alene – 2018

A cannon boom started off the day at 6AM. If there was any grogginess leftover from a night of four hours with restless sleep, it was blasted out of me with that cannon, as well as a good portion of my eardrums.

I dove in and focused on keeping parallel to the guy on my right (Mario) so I didn’t have to waste energy sighting. I’d decided to line up on the outside to see if that would reduce any of the chaos that I usually experience during the first 300 meters, and that method either worked or no one was in a mood for a bloody fight for position today. I got on Mario’s feet eventually and saw that there were only four or five guys ahead of me, this being a few minutes into the swim—usually a time that I’d already have been gapped off from the front group. Aside from the first few hundred meters, it hadn’t felt too hard yet, and it never really got any worse. I made the first turn and was still in the lead pack, got through a blinding 100 meter segment that was straight into the rising sun and was still in the lead pack, and made it through the second turn and was still miraculously in the lead pack.

Looking back on the swim, I think I was helped along by a few factors: 1) As far as I know the only really strong swimmer was Andrew Starykowicz, and 2) there was a moderately strong head current from the wind, which may have kept the bunch together for the first 10 minutes. Anyways, I was on Stephen Killshaw’s feet and he got gapped with a few hundred meters to go, meaning that I had 20 odd seconds to make up in transition to get back up to the top four guys.

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Stephen and I with some catching up to do.

Once on the bike I finally realized that I’d made the front group, and myself, Starykowicz, and Matt Hanson quickly left the others behind as we headed out of town. A few miles in I lost Starykowicz’s wheel on a slight downhill when a pickup truck pulled in front of him and provided a bit of a draft for a few seconds. It was all he needed to get away from us, since Matt probably weighs 140 pounds and my legs felt sluggish and unprepared for any hard efforts at that point. Matt came around me and closed the gap on a riser, but Starykowicz pulled away from us again on the next minor descent. I figured he’d get away from us eventually, and wasn’t too worried about it happening here during the first 18 miles of flatter roads. Once I saw that we could gain on him on the climbs I thought it was in our best interest to let him go and catch back up on the climbs, as opposed to flogging ourselves too much in the first half hour.

Hanson did all the pulling until the base of the first big climb, at which point I came around and set a pretty solid tempo. My plan was to just go hard and see what happened. If I dropped Hanson, good. I figured that I needed at least five minutes on him to have a chance at holding him off on the run. If he stayed with me, good. I needed help to hold Staryk’s wheel and/or to even make it all the way up to him. By the base of that climb he had around two minutes, and by the top he still had a minute on me.

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I assume this is the big climb.

I ended up dropping Hanson and riding myself into no man’s land, which ended up not being ideal. I could tell my legs were not going to ever come around today looking at my power, and I had no desire to tire myself out with such a waste of energy. There wasn’t a chance I’d be able to bridge up to Starykowicz at this point, even though the next 30 miles were rolling hills, and I didn’t think I’d be able to put a bunch of time into Hanson either since he was riding strong earlier. I looked back a few times and noticed that Hanson was coming back to me, so I sat up and let him catch me.

Except it wasn’t Hanson. It was Andrew Talansky. He came around and I got on his wheel (legally obviously) and could barely contain my joy. I celebrated with a caffeinated gel that got all over my hands when I attempted to put the wrapper back in my bento box. Has a more triathlete-esque phrase ever been uttered?

This was exactly the scenario that had played out in my head the weeks leading up to the race. Stay within 90 seconds of Starykowicz on the swim: check. Conserver energy for the first half hour of flat roads: check. Attack and drop Hanson (assuming I was with him) on the big climb: check. Have Talansky with me the rest of the race to pull me into T2: check. It all seemed too good to be true. I assumed I’d probably flat or something because so far the race was working out too perfectly, aside from having flat legs.

By the turn around Starykowicz still only had 80 or so seconds on Talansky and I, and I started getting a bit nervous about ruining my opportunity to place well today by getting dropped. I suffered to stay within 10 lengths of Talansky off and on throughout the next 20 miles of rolling terrain and off and on crosswind. I forced down calories when I could, but only managed to eat 60% of my food and drink one and a half bottles. Lucky for me I’d stuffed myself with rice, chicken, and salt the day before, as well as that morning.

I kept counting down the miles, hoping that Talansky would let up on the pace eventually. There were three or four times that I almost said fuck it, this is unsustainable for me, but each time I dug a little longer and the pace would ease up momentarily. The motorcycle official was with us the entire time, which I was aware of, and I even thought of riding into his draft zone just so I could get a drafting penalty and be awarded a five minute rest. Looking down, the power wasn’t crazy high or anything, my legs just weren’t turning over well and the effort didn’t align with the output. There’s a chance that my power meter was off since I’d forgotten to calibrate it that morning-—something I’d convinced myself to believe at the start of the bike leg—but now it was about the same temperature as when I’d ridden (and calibrated) the day before, so I wasn’t buying that excuse any longer.

One more climb and we were finally on the big descent. I knew I could catch some ZZs here since I outweighed Talansky by a good 20+ pounds. But the little demon pulled away from me! We were both sitting on our top tubes, getting up to pedal furiously for a few seconds and then sitting back down on them, and he was putting bike length after bike length into me on a 55 mph descent. WTF mate.

I powered back on when it flattened out and managed to continue holding on over the few lumps that remained. With a mile to go I nearly slid out going around a 90 degree corner and realized that I had a rear flat. I assumed that was the cause of my slow descent, and breathed a sigh of relief that I hadn’t flatted sooner. I could just ride this in and worry about any potential damage to my disc at a later date.

Talansky and I came off the bike a little over a minute behind Starykowicz, with a three and a half minute gap back to Hanson who had ridden solo. The next group back was eight minutes or so, and wouldn’t be a factor in the race. The only other guy in the race that I had been worried about was Alex Libin, my recent nemesis who has beaten me by one spot in the last two races, and I found out later that he had been given a (most likely unfair) drafting violation on an uphill section. So it was just myself, Hanson, and Starky to fight out for the top three unless Talansky had found his running legs. If he does, he’ll be a top contender in most races, but for now he seems to still be struggling on the run.

The first mile of the run is my least favorite. It’s when I feel the absolute worst, and feeling that bad while knowing that there’s still over an hour of hard running to do is defeating. I focused on short strides, belly breathing, standing upright, and small pumps of the arms, all of which are completely unnatural to my preferred long-strided lope, shallow wheezing chest breaths, and 90-year-old’s posture. A bunch of people have encouraged me to change my run form over the past few years, from my previous coach Michael to my PT Christine the day I left for Idaho. But mainly Adelaide, who is always harping on me about it since it’s such a waste of energy to run with bad form.

My newfound run form did me well over the next four miles and I caught up to Starykowicz without having to kill myself. However, I deteriorated after that, as did my form. I couldn’t pull out more than 10 seconds on him, and I knew that Hanson was coming up on the both of us fast since the gap back to him was down to two minutes by the first turn around at mile 3.5. My stride lengthened and my speed dropped.

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The only thing more painful for me than running is seeing pictures of me running.

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Why do I always have brown liquid dribbling from my chin?

So as not to put too much pressure on myself and crack, I had an internal chat and confirmed that I was only going for 2nd place at this point, and that once Hanson did come around, which would have been inevitable even if someone had shot me from the side of the road with an amphetamine-laced blow dart, I was not to feel defeated and slow down. I needed to keep the pace up to increase my gap on Starykowicz, not worry about what Hanson was doing.

At mile seven I relinquished the lead and Hanson passed with ease. I kept the pace up for the next few miles and could still see him up ahead until I got to mile nine, at which point I started dying. At the final turn around I saw that I only had 26 seconds on Starykowicz, which seemed to take even more wind out of my rotting sails. This was going to be Raleigh all over again, where I get run down in the final miles and don’t have the strength or will power to push through.

At each corner I stole a glance over my shoulder, seeing that Starykowicz was continuing to gain back on me. My watch confirmed that I was slow. The fact that I couldn’t seem to pass one of the female pros on her first lap up ahead confirmed that I was slow. The fact that people were yelling at me to speed up confirmed that I was slow. My mind confirmed that I was slow, and worse than that: weak-willed and afraid of true pain. As the meters ticked by, I got slower and slower until I finally reached a point of anger. The mad button, located somewhere between the hypothalamus and the amygdala oblongata, had been pushed.

I let out a curse and a growl (more like a hurt moan) and took off with a little over a mile to go. Once I got back up to speed I actually felt better, and was able to push even harder. I looked back and saw that Starykowicz was nowhere to be seen. I kept pushing just in case, also knowing that if I slowed down I wouldn’t be able to get going again, and ended up putting close to a minute on him in the last mile. He later confirmed that his hamstring cramped up when he’d been just eight seconds behind me, but I’m fairly confident that my kick would have held him off regardless.

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I’d post some pictures of other people if I had them. But this is triathlon, and one only care’s and talks about oneself in this sport anyways.
Matt had 2:40 on me by the end, and didn’t seem too tired at the finish line, at least compared to how I felt and most likely appeared, sprawled on the ground. Starykowicz crossed and collapsed on the carpet with me. Matt gave a short speech on the mic as Starky panted in pain, and I, on hands and knees, vomited on a spectator’s feet. He ran 1:11 something, and I had run 1:17 something. I’d like to be able to run that fast, but mainly just so I could spend six fewer minutes running.

One of the best things about racing is being pushed to a level that you would never reach on your own, and in so doing pushing others to the same. Similar to how happiness is only real when shared, according to Chris McCandles (the guy that Into The Wild was written about), I think that full effort is only achieved when shared. There’s few sensations better than going to your absolute maximum, whether you win, get second, or come in dead last.

I feel like I can realistically win a race now that I’ve been 2nd and 3rd. Whether that happens this year depends on who shows up to the races I do, and if everything goes perfectly like it did for me at this one. For now, I’ll savor this result as long as I can, because you never know when your luck will turn.

Ironman Raleigh 70.3 – 2018

I’ll jump right into things by describing in detail how much long grain white rice I had in the 20 hours leading up to the race: One small bowl with chicken for pre-lunch (lunch was a smoothie). One small bowl with a bit of left over steak immediately after eating lunch. One small bowl with chicken and some left over grilled vegetables before going to the pre-race meeting and dropping off my bike. One large plate with chicken and some grilled veggies upon getting home for dinner. One more medium bowl with avocado immediately after that. One small bowl right before going to bed. NEXT MORNING: one gigantic Tupperware with three eggs and avocado while being driven to the race course. In total, I had 20 ounces worth of dried rice, which equals 2,000 calories.

*Note: this list does not include other food that I ate.
**Note: I prefer short grain rice but the store didn’t have any.
***Note: This is probably on par with how interesting the rest of my race report will be.

It’s Still All About the Swim

My swim sucked. I was 20 odd seconds slower than last year, despite the effort being quite a bit harder than last year’s mellow swim, and came out of the water in 11th. I’m going to agree with anonymous Slow Twitch forum users that the course was 100 meters long. But more to the point was the fact that I came out far behind who I wanted to ride with on the bike: Jackson Laundry and Tyler Butterfield. I thought there was a slight chance that I could come out of the water with them (or close behind), work with them to bridge up to Matt Charbot whom I knew would be out of the water first, and then drop as many members of the group as I could on the hillier second half of the bike course.

While cycling is my strength, I don’t have the ability to drop everyone in the field at will like Starykowicz or bridge huge gaps when others are working together. I need people to work with and save those 10-30 watts in order to have a chance. Coming out of the water so far behind the leaders was a big blow, and I let that sink in too much as I started riding instead of altering my plan immediately and charging ahead with reality.

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In the first few miles I let my mind go to a bad place, and struggled to see a positive outcome for my race. At the one and only turn around on the bike course at mile four, I saw that the eight or nine guys in front of me at that point had between three minutes and 90 seconds. I unwisely let myself believe that there was no way I could catch the leaders once the strongest guys came together in the next five or 10 miles, and that I would be left fighting for a top five at the very best, and likely only a top eight.

In My Element

My power was good after that turn around though. I kept looking down and seeing mid to upper 300s during the first 15 miles, so I put my head down and went for it, pushing aside negative thoughts as best as I could. My power for the first hour was 330 and I wasn’t feeling tired yet.

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By mile 30 I had ridden into 4th, though for some reason I thought I was still in 6th or 7th, and my power was still holding at 328. A few more miles later and the hills started, which aren’t really hills but low-grade lumps or risers. Enough to warrant me coming to this race but not enough to call it a hilly course. Anyways, at this point I heard from Brian, our host who was watching with Adelaide and her parents on the side of the road, that I was in 4th with two minutes up to 3rd. I kept plugging away but quickly losing steam as I went, and finally caught 3rd (Tyler, who won last year) by mile 45.

I put in a surge as I came around on a gentle riser but wasn’t able to shake him. I continued riding hard, out of the saddle on the hills, and pushing 90% to drop him. At this point my legs and glutes were pretty dead, so after a few miles of putting the gas on I slowed in defeat and waved impatiently for him to come around, hoping that he hadn’t realized I was trying to drop him, and instead thought I had just been pulling for our two-man team. He eventually pulled through and let me know he was hurting and probably wouldn’t be able to help much, but just riding near someone else does boost the motivation quite a bit when you’re suffering.

Playing Tactics For No Reason

In the last five or six miles, after I had nearly crashed going over a huge pothole when my head was down, we both slowed to a relative crawl, effort-wise. Both of us were refusing to tow the other into T2 and burn our own match for the other’s benefit. Finally, with a quarter mile to go I saw him start punching his glute to get a cramp out. Shit. I’d been worried about him easily running away from me after T2, and had been soft pedaling thinking that I was being smart and conserving energy. Now I began wondering if he was just falling apart, as opposed to employing the same tactics as I was.

Sure enough, I came out of T2 and Tyler must have had an injury or been feeling really bad, because he didn’t start the run. I had lost 30 seconds or more playing that little game–30 seconds that may have been useful later on, though I doubt it had a true affect on my placing.

The Race of Pain and Agony

Looking at the run course map in the week leading up to the race, I assumed it would be a nightmare. A total of nine tight turn arounds and a third of the the race on a tight, potentially slippery bike path seemed like a horrible idea. I’m sure it was horrible for later racers once the course got congested with 2,000 people, but for me it was fine, and it allowed for a lot of feed zones. Starting out, I felt pretty good. I didn’t have any hopes of running down Jackson or Matt, who were three and two minutes ahead of me off the bike (respectively), but I thought I’d be able to hold onto third at least.

In Trouble

At the first turn around I saw that I had four minutes to Alex Libin, who I knew was a great runner from his performance at Oceanside and subsequent run at Monterey. My lungs were good and my chest was completely cramp-free, yet I was still struggling with self doubts for some reason, and kept thinking that I wasn’t pushing hard enough. My biggest worry during a race is that I’m not giving 100%, which I believe is much harder to accomplish than most people think. I’d rather get 8th and feel like I gave it absolutely everything than place 3rd and miss out on 2nd because I wimped out from the pain. This is one of the main battles I have going on in my head during the running portion of a race: am I going hard enough? If the answer is no, and I can’t seem to pick the pace up after agreeing that the answer is “no,” I enter a dark place of self disgust and my pace seems like it actually drops.

By mile six the gap I had on Alex was cut down to 2.5 minutes and I knew I was in trouble, but thought I could still hold him off. But with each turn around, as I counted the time gap, I lost more and more confidence.

During the last three or four miles I put in surges, slapped myself in the face at one point, let out a scream, and did everything I could to stay positive, pissed, and believe in my ability to hold him off. But it wasn’t enough, and my legs began failing me more and more with each step. It was a slow, hard, hot, humid course and even though my breathing was mostly controlled and steady, my legs just couldn’t sustain a faster pace than what I was doing for more than 20 seconds at a time. Each surge was short lived and futile, and by now I knew it.

With two miles to go I saw that I would be caught in a matter of minutes, so I put in another surge and quickened my stride momentarily. Then I died again and lost all hope. Christen Brown gave me some encouraging words as I came around her on her first lap and I surged hard again, getting mad and suddenly ready to keep fighting. A few hundred meters later and Alex was just behind me though, and since I knew there was nothing to lose I surged as hard as I could again to make him hurt for the pass. Maybe I could crack him mentally and somehow hold him off until the final straightaway, and then we could sprint it out.

But he blew by me like nothing, and the gap immediately grew to 30 seconds in just half a mile as I lost all hope once more.

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The Jog of Shame

Defeated, I nearly came to a walk on the hill with a mile left to the finish. Adelaide was running beside me on the sidewalk at a few points, cheering and encouraging me as she cut across streets and parking lots while I made a big box towards the finish line in downtown. I had Alex in my sights at the straightaways, even though the gap was approaching a minute, and I put all my hope into him getting a cramp or taking a wrong turn out of sheer fatigue. I sped up again briefly as I contemplated these factors, but of course they didn’t happen.

I was angry, mad at myself for having such a weak mindset off and on throughout the race, and just overall let down that I missed the podium. This was a race I thought I had a chance at winning, and I ended up fourth again after fast-trotting the last quarter mile in depression, anger, and pain.

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Fortunately I have a relatively short memory for these types of defeats and judging by how incredibly sore and tired I was the day after the race, I think I put in a good physical effort for what my somewhat tepid mindset allowed for that day. I got to enjoy the rest of the hot afternoon sunshine by relaxing and spending time with Adelaide and her parents, who had driven eight hours the day before to come watch me race.

Unfortunately, this is the last year that Ironman Raleigh will happen (a local organizer is putting on a grass roots race though), which is a huge letdown because it’s such a good, hard event in a place that I’ve grown to enjoy, even if a few of the local drivers are mean spirited shits towards cyclists.

Thank you to Brian and Michelle for hosting Adelaide, myself, and Maybellene, and of course a big thank you to my awesome sponsors A-Squared BikesVision TechCUORE of Swiss, and Hammer Nutrition. Next up is Coeur d’Alene 70.3 in two and a half weeks.

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