I'm guessing you've heard Iceland is beautiful, amazing and somewhere you should definitely visit. I'm here to tell you that it's just so much more than that. After IRONMAN 70.3 Steelhead I ripped on over there via WOW airline where I think I paid around $320 for a one-way ticket (bags, bikes, food). I believe the flight was around 9 hours but it could have been 10 since I really can't remember (google says 10 hours). Anyway, Iceland can be best viewed with your own eyes so put it on the top of your list and find some great prices on tickets.
22 Days in Iceland
Last year I had the pleasure of racing Challenge Iceland, which was sadly erased from history after it was canceled for 2017. Now, you can't even see the results...so it's like we never raced. During that trip, I was paired with two lovely hosts who made my trip remarkable. Not only were they cool with Karen making a surprise birthday trip to visit, but they also gave us the best taste of Iceland we could imagine. (link to the last blog) So if Challenge Iceland is canceled, whey did I go? Honestly, I just made a good excuse and didn't think twice. I'm racing an extreme 140.6 distance triathlon, Patagonman, in December. I figured I might as well try and place myself in the wind, rain, and cold temps while knocking out a huge adventure. Karen and I ran the Reykjavik Half Marathon and a week later I ran another 1/2 Marathon in the Westman Islands. I feel like I could probably write a small book on this 22-day journey since the people and memories are both vivid and unforgettable. I guess I just want anyone who reads this to get beyond these awesome pictures I'm posting here. Make your own trip to Iceland!
- Week 1 -
Since I arrived on a Tuesday and Karen was coming on a Thursday AND I was still incredibly sore from the previous 70.3, I laid low and once again found my way around our local hangouts. First I HAD to get some of the best sourdough bread I've ever had from Brod & co. Then I just tried to spend some time swimming, stretching and taking in the crisp, clean air. The temperature would be in the 40's in the am and maybe reach a high near 58 during the day. It was perfect running weather, especially since Florida had been feeling like 90-100 degrees each day according to the heat index. My luggage for this trip was mainly warm cycling clothes since I knew I would be spending a lot of time in the cold and most likely wet weather. Either way - my legs were trashed but I really wanted to give her a solid push since the weather was so nice.
Reykjavik Half Marathon - I really wanted to run a 1:16 and for about 16 kilometers I was on point. However, I think since I really wasn't expecting much, I also slacked on my preparation for this race, mainly dealing with hydration. When I limped her in at 1:18 I was in all sort of muscular pain...like my engine ran out of oil. I did my best to get in some near-beer, get my dry clothes on and warm up but I just couldn't. I had a 1-mile walk back to the house where I really thought I was going to have an issue. I couldn't feel my hands and my shiver-level was damn near 500%. All I could think was "great, now I'm going to be sick for a week". After a 30-minute scolding shower and a 2-hour nap in my Pewag puffy jacket I was finally warm. After my INFINIT Mud shake, I was even better - for real!! So I went out hard with a great group of runners, learned a bit about pain management and overall - had a nice day. I think I finished 11th. Oh, and Karen hit up the 10k with Steinunn while Yngvi grabbed some awesome race pictures.
- Week 2 -
I knew we didn't want to simply explore Reykjavik like our last trip, I wanted to visit some cool pools and see some new sights. We decided that since I wanted to check out a pool in Hfsós, we would head north and visit the second largest city in Iceland, Akureyri! I rented a car and we ripped up there in about 4 hours or so. I was able to connect with a super fit athlete, Gunnar, who proceeded to kill me on a trail run not 2 days after my half marathon. I repeatedly told him when we were talking "I'm really going slow, maybe even 5:30min/km or more" however, everyone wants to beat up the pro triathlete. The next morning we proceeded to take 2nd KOM on a grueling, steep 8' part of the trail....so I was pretty much-questioning retirement. The downhill portion was even more embarrassing since Gunnar pretty much gapped me by 1km per minute going downhill...he was like a freaking mountain goat. After the run he proceeded to blow my mind by telling me he had an Air Bnb in Hfsós AND he would help us change our manual transmission Kia to an automatic (so Karen could SAG my bike ride) since he knows everyone in Akureyri. I mean holy crap I meet the most amazing people! Before we headed out of town we ate some expensive, mediocre sushi, bought awesome hand-made sweaters and plotted a course around one of my new favorite bike-routes.
As you can see from the pictures - it was an unforgettable ride. We rode north around the peninsula and after only 2 hours I was ready to get in the car. After the morning run and lame hotel breakfast, I was a bit under-fueled and super tired of riding through freezing, dark tunnels. I wanted coffee and chocolate from the next town! You can see from the pictures yet again, it was just epic - amazing chocolate and food and then finally Hfsós pool....nestled on the side of a cliff. Oh, and the pictures of us walking on the rocks was Karen's idea to walk along this 2 mile-long rock beach until we got to the other side so we could say we did it....and walk back. Needless to say 1 mile in, I was turning back and pretty freaking tired since it was 10pm. It was still something I'll never forget though, we had a lot of fun nearly rolling our ankles, throwing rocks and estimating how much further we had to go.
- Week 3 -
Our trip North lasted only 3 days but we really milked out every bit of fun we could. Once back in Reykjavik we decided to have some local pizza, more walking around town, a few easy runs and some ice-cream from Valdi's. Karen had to rip on back to Florida so I was again flying solo for another week or so. The next adventure beyond the long solo bike rides and group rides + swimming, hot tub, cold tub + 2 hour runs + 48-degree ocean swims - was still going to be MORE epic. I wanted to run a half marathon on the Westman Islands with Steinnun and Yngvi. This would have been a seamless 30-minute ship ride but the weather was incredibly extreme so we had to use a port further away....making the journey last 3 hours!!!! I have NEVER been in such heavy ocean swells, it was just freaking awesome and nope...I didn't puke (even though 180 of the 200 people did). The key is to go outside and get your body used to the rolls while viewing the sea...it really helped. We arrived super late and couldn't really see anything but in the morning I was just blown away with how stunning the sights were and just how freaking hilly this run course would be. The half marathon would have normally had around 50 people but since no one really wanted to ride 3 hours on a boat but a few crazy people, there were like 16 people. We ran in what felt like tropical storm winds, often times being stopped in place while running uphill. Next came the small stinging rain but I'll tell ya what - I'd do it over and over again. It was super fun and since only 16 people showed up, I could def win that race! Oh, and the regular winner (an Olympian) decided to push his little boy in a stroller for 10k so....thanks for that. Not long after the race was over, we were back on a 3-hour ferry ride...again. The sea was even more terrible but yet again, I was playing Lt. Dan on the boat with a death grip to the railing while we rolled back and forth. I was supposed to ride 3 hours before the run but with all of the crap logistics we had to deal with, it was impossible. I was going to ride home from the port but after 30 minutes of riding, questioning if I would be home before midnight...I had to call for a ride and managed to ride 1 hour 15 minutes...where I was blown off the road 2X.
Iceland really welcomed me with open arms. I was training with Kona qualifiers, amazing trail runners and marathoners. The food was never anything but amazing since it was mostly home-cooked and honestly, I cannot wait to be back with my Icelandic friends once again. As a matter of fact, Karen and I are begging them to come to stay with us in Florida so we can repay them somehow.
10 things you need to know about Iceland
- It's very expensive - I filled up a Jeep Grand Cherokee with gas for $140 and a BLT and espresso will run you about $30....oh and sushi for 2 was 100$ (no apps, no alcohol)
- Eat at Brod & co - For real the best bakery...probably worldwide
- Bring a bathing suit - Geothermal pools and amazing swimming at every corner
- Buy a sweater - seriously, you have to wash them with shampoo...it's real freaking sheep hair
- Get out of Reykjavik - Why? I think there are a million reasons......
- Most Icelandic swimmers don't have pool etiquette - I had to "sight" during most all solo swims in the 50m pool because people would hop in and just float....without warning.
- Rent a bike - You can explore all of Reykjavik almost by bike
- Bring running shoes - you can run, hike explore and there is fresh water everywhere
- Jump in the Ocean - It's soooo freaking cold but there is likely a geothermal hot tub nearby (everyone does it)
- Admire the big trucks - Seriously, there are Land Cruisers and Land Rovers everywhere with tires that dwarf me - I want one...I want one...I WANT ONE!
70.3 Augusta 2018
I'll keep this pretty brief since it's more of a stepping-stone race which honestly, could have gone either way in terms of awesome or mediocre. For anyone interested, here is what was like, going on pre-race.
- For one, that whole cold-weather training thing I did in Iceland was just peachy, except for when I came back to Florida. The literal bitch slap left my struggling on the regular. Not only was the humidity something I had all but forgotten while in Iceland, only taking my arm warmers off one time, the red-tide was creating some breathing problems. So, the heart rate is skyrocketing, I can't breathe and I basically feel like I'm falling apart. Looking back, I def tried to make the best of it and overall I think my attitude was decent, often times hitting the trainer or treadmill to try and convince the problems of the outside world. Either way, I needed to get my ass ready for Augusta, which would most certainly be nearly as hot/humid/stinky/sticky.
- Since IRONMAN Austria was a bust and honestly left me more confused than ever, the overall goal, even through 70.3 Steelhead, was to get ready for IRONMAN Louisville. Not that I'm super awesome at longer distances over 70.3's but I need to have some better performances to show progress. This year was supposed to contain 3 IRONMAN events and now I'm down to the last main chance to make it count. I feel like Augusta was the perfect food for the next race, even though I wasn't really on my game mentally or physically, so I'm making oatmeal cookies out of oats....(see what I did there).
- PRE - RACE -
The 8ish hour drive with my lovely wife was just swell. Seriously, we made some awesome time even after the Panera stops! We even arrived 1 day early to meet up with our dear old pal, Jackson Laundry (who drove 19 hours because he's cheap). So this was House #1, which we had for 1 night and it was just super awesome and located in North Augusta, South Carolina (I know...wtf). Jackson and I knocked out our Friday am, sweat-filled sessions then packed up house #1 and headed over to house #2. I rode 40 miles of the course and was actually pretty excited since the 2018 bike course is an improvement (well, after mile 4 at least). House #2 was 20 minutes from the race site located in Martinez, GA. We had a sweet house, plenty of room and we needed it since Ivan, my teammate was coming to finish off his last bit of Kona prep. The final key to this puzzle was linking up with TRIBAL Multi-Sport Athletes. I had about 5 athletes racing and Jon/Beth had another 7 or so combined so we were rolling deep.
The pro-meeting, final sessions and race recon went smoothly since we're all OCD and have everything pre-planned days in advance. The shopping was complete, the 50 items needed to race were organized and then it was time to watch movies and get fat. I'm not sure why, but each and every taper brings a whole lot of stiffness, despite Epsom baths, foam rolling and movement. It kinda sucks but at least I know what to expect.
Swim/Bike/Run recap in 1 paragraph
I went out too hot on the swim and kinda lost some pretty solid position. My goal was to stick with Jackson and Ivan but I kinda went off like a champagne cork. I even remember seeing those guys go by me as I was struggling to pull it back together. Sometimes it's just something you have to do...see what it takes to pop and like, don't do it again. I also have determined I just don't like down-river swims since everyone is still bunched together for the bike. By mile ten there were like 12 of us and 2 Moto's keeping us from drafting. This meant a shit load of accordion-type riding and after a few miles of that I moved to the 4th wheel and avoided that nonsense. There were attacks and such but after 10 miles and with a group that size, we were pretty set. If you don't get away within the first 2-3 miles it likely won't happen. Since this race has a fast, flat course I figured I'd just turn off my brain and wait for the run. The bike course really wasn't bad for the 40-mile section of hills. There were some new roads and 1 or two areas that made you wish you'd had lower tire pressure. For some reason, when we all ran into transition, 50 age group swimmers were still coming out of the water, scrambling for their bikes. It was a mess and I really think they need to work faster at getting these people in the water faster - that's a LONG day if you don't start until 9:30!! The run was eventually a grind lacking any sort of enthusiasm or drive. I tried changing my stride, pumping the arms like a madman but in the end, gave in to the heat and finished 16th. Of course, Jackson took 2nd and Ivan took 3rd, totally inspiring and crushing at the same time. You know, after all of the hard work I've been putting in - I just dream of those days when it consistently comes together.
Next up I'm headed to Lake Toxaway North Carolina for some awesome weather, solitude before IM Louisville and some mountains/lake training. After that....70.3 Buenos Aires and finally for my finale in 2018 Patagonman Extreme Triathlon in Chile!
I’m sure it’s no surprise that 70.3 Steelhead, for me, was just peachy - 6th Place Male Pro -. For once, I had a bit of an upper hand. It all started with the swim. First off, this course is just great. The beautiful beach front, rolling hills and challenging run in my home state really make for a solid challenge. I really nailed my nutrition this time as well with my custom INFINIT Mix on the bike in 2 bottles and a 3rd bottle of Jet Fuel. On the run I basically survived on Coke....
A Rip In Lake Michigan
Having raced here 3 times now, I definitely respect just how volatile this lake can be. The first year I raced as an age grouper it was a point to point. That was cool but a pain in the ass when you have to walk 1.2 miles in the sand. The next year I believe it was canceled (the swim), last year it was a bit choppy but wetsuit legal and this past Sunday was a bit of a swell session, however only a few white caps off the beach. All that being said, let’s focus on why the swim gave me an advantage.
- I like swimming in water with a bit of a 1-2 foot swell OR completely flat. When it’s super small chop it’s a bit annoying and you just can’t breathe but can still hold rhythm. The bigger swells that force you to often roll down and then breach over top of the next wave, really suit my style. My swim stroke is definitely more power driven and as I’m not the skinniest out there, I could carry momentum without losing as much steam.
For that reason, I knew the typical swim packs would break up and we’d be pretty tight in smaller groups. I mean, one second you were headed towards a buoy, the next you’re perpendicular and headed out to sea. Plus, I kept mistaking kayaks or other objects as buoys. All that matters in this situation is stroke + breath timing. If you do it well, you’ll avoid the tragic breath of water while you’re begging for air. All in all, I’ve heard it called the “hardest swim ever” with 20 ft waves but honestly, I loved it.
The New 70.3 Steelhead Bike Course
There is no doubt the bike course is fast and in my opinion, the new course is even better since it eliminated a lot of the more questionable roads. Sure, the turnaround area is a bit interesting but it still works well for general flow. My bike started out solid, however, I kept seeing 320+ watts while we were building up momentum in the first few corners. I’ve learned that you can certainly get away with riding near 100% FTP for the first 5-10’ as you settle into your group or break-away while still sustaining a solid overall average around 295 watts for the whole bike leg.
It was me and Taylor Reid working for a bit until Jackson Laundry motored on by. I made the mistake of letting the gap get a bit too large before starting to chase and before I knew it I was working just a bit too hard for that point in the race (without getting any closer) and I backed it off. Around 25 minutes later Taylor and TJ rode up and we actually worked nicely until 25 miles or so when Taylor was given a 5 min penalty- which I understand but…it was just unlucky. We had a moto with us the whole time and as we rounded a corner at high speed and went uphill, we tend to bunch up for a brief minute as we sort ourselves out. The referee cited him straight away and then it was just Tj and I (after the mid-point penalty tent). My power backed off a bit as I let some more space between TJ and I zooming into T2 and honestly, I just wasn’t sure how the run was going to play out since it’s always been kinda shit for me.
The Breakaway Wins!
I had a pretty solid gap from 7th/8th/9th place but heck, I had no idea it would shake out the way it did. I was essential, off the front, biding my times as the peloton of 3 gradually reeled me in. within the last mile I still had 100 or so seconds on them but when you have 3 guys pushing each other and one guy trying to survive, those 3 usually end up moving much faster. In the end, I almost got caught up giving my parents a high-five running through the shoot and had a pretty solid sprint finish to hold onto 6th place. All in all – I just couldn’t be happier to make my way into what I consider, a pretty damn good spot moving forward. It was a hot day, the run course is hilly AF but overall - I wasn't too far behind the average pro run time.
Some Final Thoughts…
My season really hadn’t gone the way I’d hoped it would, with 70.3 Texas, 70.3 Victoria and 70.3 Chattanooga having their own variations of issues while St. Anthony’s showed some solid promise. However, I’ve worked out a few kinks which have really helped.
- My bike position has just been impossibly aggressive since I’ve gotten the Storck this year. I’ve moved the saddle 100 times, adjusted the height and until I was in Austria and fit by someone who really impressed me, I was not biking well on race day. My back would seize up after 45 minutes of sustained power over 300 so something really needed to change. Now, my position just feels so much nicer and my hip/back angles are much more ideal for power production and I’m still super aero.
- My blood work was terrible only 6 weeks ago. Since then I’ve really boosted iron intake, zinc and I’m working to try and understand what’s going on with my hypothyroidism. I often eat much less than my training partners but I just end up being “thicker” but now, since seeing a bit of estrogen dominance, I’ve got to put more emphasis on methods to fix that…which are still in the works.
- Confidence – after 8 days in Guelph Ontario with some stellar athletes, I really had some breakthrough sessions on the bike and swim. I mean my running was good too but still not as good as it has been in the past. I’m improving but yes, the run is just a very delicate area my team and I are working to improve.
- The power of the Rip hat – Jackson and I were both out for a rip so …. The hats had to have helped.
Currently, I’m in Iceland for a bit, working on some cold weather prep for Patagonman in December. Mainly, I need some more extreme cold water confidence…so that’s the goal. Next up is 70.3 Augusta, IRONMAN Louisville, 70.3 Los Cabos and finally, Patagonman in Dec ….
And then training camp in Tenerife early Jan and 70.3 Dubai Feb! BOOM!
A huge thanks to Pewag Racing Team, INFINIT Nutrition, Storck Bikes, Garmin, Shimano, Castelli, Oakley, 3T Cycling, Ekoi and Schwalbe for always giving us great gear to race and train with year round.
January through "now" has been pretty active, with 3 training camps and trips to San Diego, Tucson, Austin, Galveston, Las Vegas, Naples, and Clermont. There is no doubt that my fitness has evolved from where it was last year either, breaking through my ½ marathon limbo time and finally getting my finish time into the teens. Swim fitness improves each year too and I’m always interested in understanding what actually applies to speed on race day, in the open water. A few days ago was the first 70.3 of the season; IRONMAN 70.3 Texas. Now before I get into all that, let’s chat about training.
From Nov to January I really focused on keeping the wheels turning. This means I wanted to keep racing, hence a 70.3 in Dec and a 70.3 in Jan. They were both more or less low-key races without an official pro field and honestly, I’d never do them again – but it was nice to keep focus. My bodyweight was actually the lowest it had ever been over the holidays and until the end of February that was constant. I’ve never in my life weighed in around 145 pounds but I sustained it for a few months, but then I just got so hungry. Sure, I may have swung for the fences in telling myself I was too lean too early in the season when my appetite totally took over – so now here I am, a few pounds heavy. I suppose with 4 or 5 more 70.3’s and 3 X 140.6 distance triathlons coming up, I’ll be just fine.
Ah yes, so back to training. What’s been different since working with a Coach (Coach Rene), being part of an International Triathlon team and spending a LOT of time away from home? Training has been a tad different since, after all, I’ve had about 5 Coaches over the past 8 years. None the less, different as training philosophies have been over the years, I fully embrace them all. I’ve thrashed myself into a tumbling avalanche of mental toughness, focused on a little more run/walk training and consulted with tons of nutritionists and some of the best in the biz. What’s constant? Hard, consistent work. That’s it. There are so many articles out there which promise the BEST TRAINING PROGRAM EVER but what I’ve learned is that they are all great if you want them to be. If you believe in the program, your coach and they take care of your needs – you’re working the best program for YOU. Obviously, if you are getting weekly plans, execute 100% of the time and fail to increase your performance – you need to open that discussion up with someone who’s been around for a bit. BUT hard work, to the best of your ability and consistency (training & recovering), will lead you to that 2-5% gain per year.
Has it been paying off for me? Most definitely. Fitness is an evolution and yes at times my bike fitness has been epic – but my run fitness off the bike has always suffered for whatever reason. BUT since I’m of the mindset of leaving no stone unturned, I’m figuring it out. I surround myself with the best, like-minded people I can and I NEVER stop learning. In my opinion, my currently limiting factors are:
- The first 500m of the swim – I’ve started neck and neck with some of the best swimmers and shoot, I’m with them for the first 500 but then a few things happen. First and most obvious; working that hard is very uncomfortable, especially when gasping for air and breathing through waves. So whether it’s confidence or just plain mental weakness due to survival mechanisms – I lose that speed and settle into the second group.
- Bike Power – It always feels awesome to ride 340-360 watts (100%+ FTP) watts within the first 20’ let’s face it, I’m not there yet. Seeing the guys who usually finish 1-5 overall ride by me as I’m at that power is just a jab to the ego. But in a few years, I suppose I’ll be there too. I’d say at the moment the biggest big tussle I’m dealing with is lower back/sacrum pain. This started a couple of years ago and I’ve tried a good amount of stretching (I’m incredibly flexible) Chiro work, massage, cupping…yadda yadda. Small tweaks of the bike fit help for a bit but maybe, for now, my legs are much stronger than some of my core stabilizers in the low back….#workinprogress. After about 90 min of race output, the back tightens and power production drops 5-8% but it’s much less evident on a hilly course where I can stretch out of the saddle.
- This year I’ve taken my ½ marathon PR from 1:22 down to 1:17 so that’s huge…but running off the bike is still not where it should be after this first race. My goal was to hold a steady 3:50 min/km for the first bit then drop it down but by the last 5k it was 4:10 min/km and I swear if someone offered me $100,000 to run faster, I’d not have it in me to physically get there – trust me, very frustrating considering where I want to be.
- Nutrition – Actually, this year it’s been working amazingly. My pre-race nutrition and INFINIT Nutrition fueled races have always been steady when it comes to energy so I’m very happy my INFINIT Nutrition Custom Blend is dialed in over the past few years of meddling with electrolyte/carb/caffeine and flavor ratios.
So far, I’ve raced Super Seal and IRONMAN 70.3 Texas. I managed to win Super Seal with a great performance and overall confidence booster. Running a 35:30 for 10k was a big breakthrough for me that I hope to use at St. Anthony’s in a few weeks, despite the weather being much warmer. 70.3 Texas was a bit more of a challenge though, for whatever reason. I expected to be a bit further up in the swim but we did come out with a huge group. Oh, and I was also told that our large train of swimmers went off course a bit when our lead guy veered off course but I was too busy getting kicked in the face to notice. I’ve held onto tons of feet in the swim but man, whoever I was behind kicked like it was going turn them into a jet-propelled watercraft. It was intense splash-levels and super audible. Regardless, not too shabby of a swim. I saw some of the top guys right away but then I decided it wasn’t smart to ride much longer above 325 watts. Once the back started hurting and we had a 20mph headwind on the way home it was pure survival. I managed to catch up to my teammate Ivan and honestly, when I got there I totally shut down the drive and did what I could to conserve for the last 15 miles which lost me about 5 to 6 positions. Coming into the run I was going great and managed to run with another guy, Paul, for about 18k before I faded. But to be honest, it was soo damn cold that when I tried to put my flasks of TRIPWIRE in my kit-pockets, I dropped 1 – so I was missing some goodies and coke didn’t even save me. So in short, 70.3 Texas was 50 degrees, frigid wind chill, the 2nd strongest winds I’ve raced in outside of Challenge Iceland and overall, not horrible. I finished 25th but I gave up a lot with the bike and run “fade”. Ivan ended up running himself into 10th and overall it was a good day for the PEWAG Racing team – it’s nice to know we both still have more to give. Swimming 25min, Biking 295 NP and running near 6 min/mile was okay for now but by 70.3 Victoria I expect a LOT more from myself. By IRONMAN Austria in July, it better be LOCKED UP!
How does your Pre-Race Look?
For me, it’s a day to be normal and do whatever I want since by that point, it’s all mental fitness. I prefer to no longer swim/bike/run before the race and often times do nothing at all beyond an Epsom salt bath and stretching/foam rolling. I have a BIG breakfast, sub sandwich for lunch and rice/meat for dinner – oh, and dessert in the form of a candy bar or artisan rice crispy treat. This race was:
BREAKFAST: Avocado Toast w/ chicken sausage, granola w/ a banana
LUNCH: Jimmy Johns Turkey Tom no mayo – add Jimmy mustard
Din Din: Chicken breast, roasted carrots, Spanish rice & rice crispy treat from SBUX
Liquids: I sip INFINIT Hydrate and 1 decaf coffee in the AM.
Thanks for reading – I’m headed back to Florida now and will race St. Anthony’s triathlon, located basically right in my backyard and then use May to prep for 70.3 Victoria. This means a possible trip to North Carolina for some hills and cold-water swimming! Thanks to the Pewag Racing team, INFINIT Nutrition and all of my lovely sponsors!
The new year came and went without much of a splash in my inner conscious. I was just coming off of the epic flu having chanced a sub 30 degree bike ride in Chicago (big mistake). Even with all of the warm clothes I could muster, I suppose being in a house with 2 other sick people just took its toll (+ the 20 degree wind chill on the bike). Early January was a month of big excitement for me though as it was when the Pewag Racing Team announced my name on the 2018 roster of professional athletes. For me, and for any athlete looking to make it in this sport, a sponsored team is undoubtedly the most amazing experience. At my level, it's the equivalent of a full-ride scholarship.
Me and Pewag
First off, I wasn't expecting a place on the team until 2019 but my coach and team manager, Rene Vallant, sent me 6 rapid fire texts at 4 am saying we needed to talk. Fearing the worst, I cautiously moved into that conversation but was left in shock on the tail end of that call. Finally! I've wanted to represent Pewag since my first trip to Austria 3 years ago, my first full-distance triathlon. The team, their community and ultimate love for the sport is exceptional and something I knew I wanted to be part of. So here we are....I'm a Pewag athlete. This means I'll be representing 3T Cycling, Storck Bikes, Sailfish wetsuits, Castelli Cycling, Shimano, Schwalbe, INFINIT Nutrition and definitely Pewag! You can learn more about all of the great things they do here and more about the team by clicking HERE - OH and check my race schedule for the year - it's pretty awesome!
Thus far, 2018 has been spent elsewhere, not at home where my family is getting shiz done. Karen has been working hard as an esthetician, nailing down some regular clients and overall slaying facials and Microderm abrasions. Yup, we've been apart a huge amount of days thus far and it's not going to get easier BUT I'm doing everything I can to get her to more races. I spent the end of January in San Diego with a great guy and stellar athlete, Kyle Hummel. Him and his wife let me crash in their mother-in-law suite and we basically thrashed each other with hill repeats for about 10 days before my former coaches camp, The Braveheart Games. San Diego has to be one of my favorite places to train with the Great Western Loop, Swami's Loop, rides on the coast, puke-fest rides up Mt. Palomar and long days in the Laguna Mountains. There is no doubt that Karen and I could live there, but honestly, St. Pete is a bit more quite and chill so we like that too. After that camp I was home for about 3 days before heading to Clermont, Florida for my first Pewag Racing Team training camp. Yup 13 athletes all crammed into one house, representing Austria, France, Belgium, Russia and the good ol' USA. For me it was great to be surrounded by such talent and overall I enjoyed cooking and cleaning for these fella's. It's what you do for your team.
Some more pictures....OH AND I bought a new Truck...and sold the Baby Blue Soooob! Finishing up the month of February meant the second annual TRIBAL EPIC LIFE CHANGING Camp here in Tucson, AZ. Here we hit a full schedule, 10 days of fun. We climbed Madera Canyon, Kitt Peak, Gates Pass (kinda), Mt. Lemmon and also hit up plenty of social rides on the loop. We also ran Sabino Canyon, Saquaro East and swam at the Oro Valley Aquatic Center. We had athlete from Florida, Hawaii, Washington D.C and Wisconsin come out for some pre-season fun. This is a staple trip for me and whether I'm running a camp or just training hard, I'll be here every year! All in all we put in a 30 hour training week with a few very long, 7 hours days. Great work by all.
IRONMAN 70.3 Steelhead was SUPPOSED to be stellar but as we all know to be true, life happens. The end of this story is...I crashed and broke my clavicle but here is a recap of the race and the trip.
Michigan, my home state and a place I rarely get to visit. I’m notorious for the race-cation (racing with a little vacation) and luckily Karen decided she wanted to come too. I think it’s because she loves Benton Harbor as much as I do but she’s basically a super Sherpa too. We rented a very nice house 6 miles from the race site and spent 4 nights total enjoying the area. Just so you know, there are a lot of fun things to do in Benton Harbor! There are some GREAT food spots you should check out.
#1 The Mason Jar
#2 Bread + Bar
#3 Pheonix Rising
Aside from the food and the clean, serene beaches are the cider mills. We visited a few before I was tired and ready for a nap. Plus all that movement while in a sling kinda sucks. We had a HARD cider tasting at Virtue Cider Mill and then on the way home I was feeling saucy, so we stopped at a regular cider mill for apple cider and donuts…my childhood fave! So, if you decide to race IRONMAN 70.3 Steelhead….check out the food, sights and more food!
Having just come off IRONMAN Austria and Challenge Iceland, I had been feeling great on the bike and run. My swimming has been about 3-4 seconds slower per 100yd in the pool but I think it’s because I lost about 8 pounds during my Euro trip. I’m not sure why, but I think I’m just really busy and basically eat everything fresh and home made. The food is just better over there. Plus I train like a mofo because it’s impossible to sit around with The Alps in your back yard! So, answering the time honored, annoying question we always get before a race…YES, I was ready.
We popped into Detroit airport with our 5 bags and puppy, headed to Clarkson and stayed with my Mom for a few nights. Saturday, the day before the race, we drove down to Benton Harbor and met my best pal Trav Hill. After scrambling to the race meeting, our house was ready for us and all pre-race rituals were performed. It was actually really odd showing up to the race site the day before the race. I didn’t really feel “rushed” but I didn’t feel settled either. I would have liked to be there at least 1 day early for sure. I’ll put that on my “to do” list for next year...since I’ll be back.
RACE DAY STUFF
The weather was perfect and the water was also perfect. Luckily with a 58 degree air temp and 72 degree water temp, the pro field was non-wetsuit so I could try out my new BlueSeventy swim skin! Since we all love to race with sleeved tri-kits, it only seems right to swim with a sleeved swim skin, right? Totally amazing! The fit was perfect and it came off very, very easy. Okay, getting back to race stuff…I was ready to go! My bike was set, new Alto disc was perfectly fit and my INFINIT mixes were all aboard.
As I mentioned before, my swim has felt quite off, but I was still 2 minutes off the leaders by the end of our 1.2 mile swim…so pretty normal. I ended up chasing Matt Russell in the water. I wasn’t quite on his feet until the last 200 meters or so but it was really nice to see some bubbles from time to time. The water had a slight swell and chop, but was still very comfortable. I came out feeling less than happy with my swim but honestly, was just hoping to see how the bike legs felt.
I’ve been really focusing on my bike power over the past 2 months and with a bit of weight loss my power to weight ratio has been booming. I’ve never been able to ride with some of the super strong guys before, but I was definitely hanging…until I crashed. The bike course is awesome though. There are a good amount of left and right turns and I’d say 60% of the road surfaces are great. Michigan roads are notoriously shit so this is a GREAT venue to race. Before my crash, which was around mile 45 or so, I was riding 305 NP and IF I finished, I would have been around 2:07 for 56 miles. For me, that’s pretty good! BUT…then the crash.
How did it happen, you wonder?
Imagine racing for 7 years, taking random items from bike-aid stations here and there...never feeling nervous or worried. Since we start first, the aid stations are pretty clean too, no need to worry. I also point at whomever I plan to target…which has been helpful. Looking at my data, I was still going pretty fast through the aid station and honestly, my decision to grab a gel was kind of last minute…or last second. I still pointed and had a solid target but I guess since I was riding so hard I burned through more than I though and needed a “gel” safety blanket. So…I went for a gel. There was 1 volunteer at the end grasping 2 gels and here are the 2 things I remember thinking.
#1 – I need to grab this gel hard and,
#2 – I vividly remember how tightly the volunteer held onto the gel…and didn’t let go.
In true sling-shot fashion I was slung back and then flung forward as I recoiled. This put me laying on my aero bars and rolling to the right. My right shoulder took the full blast, saving my hips. The injury list is quite long but here is the good news:
The break isn’t displaced and I don’t NEED surgery to improve my quality of life. I’m still dealing with a 4(ish) week recovery period which is REALLY good. The road rash is the worst part and basically covers the right side of my body. The ONLY other issue is where my pedal jabbed into my left shin, severely damaging my calf muscle…which will probably take a long time to heal.
When I crashed, I was swarmed with helpful volunteers who cleaned up the yard sale of my bottles, but I never remember hearing from the person who contributed to my crash. I was bleeding everywhere, my full shoulder was exposed, my kit was destroyed, but I couldn’t see any bones. Since this was my first broken bone, I wasn’t sure if I dislocated my shoulder or actually broke something. I rode back to the medical tent without much pain…I must have been in shock. My left shin had a golf ball sized lump and I knew there was a very painful bump on my collar bone, but I still tested that shit out like I could run!!! (dumb triathletes) I think the funniest part is…EVEN though I was going 15-18 mph, sitting up, bloody and torn...people still cheered for me like I was racing. I was like “can you not see this blood”? Super nice to have support, but when you’re basically ruined, it was more comical than anything.
The Med Tent really hooked me up, cleaned out my wounds and sent me to the hospital. I had a really great hospital experience and was basically done by 11:30am…left to collect my shit and asses the real damage. My business partner, Jon, immediately connected me with Dr. Jeff Watson, our local orthopedic surgeon and hero. I am so thankful to have so many people in my corner who messaged me and set me up with words of encouragement from past experiences. I’M SO GREATFUL and not in the least bit worried about my recovery. This is the most rest or time off from training I’ve had in a few years and my first major incident…life goes on. I only wish I could have helped more with our luggage on the way home. Karen, my amazing wife, should write a Traithle’s Wives Handbook. I know it would be long and have a lot of laughter at my expense. I mean after all, I can’t even change my own dressings or my clothes…so, thanks Babe!!!!!
Thanks to the Tampa Bay Orthopedic group and Dr. Watson, I know I don’t NEED surgery and in 10 days I SHOULD be able to run…for like 1 mile. Until then, I can bike on the trainer and work on my diet…trying not to eat everything!!
Duh…didn’t happen, but I’ll be back!
For now, I am still planning to race IRONMAN Italy on 23 Sept. I'm finally riding the bike with both hands on the trainer and plan to execute my first jog tomorrow morning. I've been keeping busy in the meantime, baking my own sourdough bread, smoking some meats and generally doing my best to keep my body loose. More updates to come very soon and I cannot wait to see my friends back in Austria!
Austria, my second home!
Being “ready” and feeling “good” about your pre-race preparation stops when you bounce off the pavement and instincts kick in. but before I talk about that little mishap, here are some tips on racing IRONMAN Austria – btw, you should come next year for their 20th birthday!
This venue is quite perfect for an event this size and since they’ve been running this race 20 years, it’s a smooth operation. The Wörthersee by itself is a scene from a postcard. The crystal blue water basically begs you to swim, drink and relax at the Stranbad (basically the beach). Parking isn’t a pain, transition is separated from swim start by about 1k and the walk is about 10-15 minutes based on your current walking PR. What I can’t get over is the crowd support...no other event I’ve been to has come close. I haven’t raced Challenge Roth yes, but I can honestly say Austrian’s and the people who live here in Klagenfurt embrace this race. The only part about this race that would really suck for any non-climbing athlete is….a all the elevation on the bike.
My Prep & Other Thoughts
So deep down in the essence of me….I want to be “the man” more than I can really quantify. Personally, I get a bit star struck when I’m sitting with world champions or IRONMAN champions. I know what it takes to get there because I’m doing my damn best to try myself. Now, what I lack in raw talent and experience I’m trying to fix with smart, diligent training and living. I think about being on that podium all the time….and when a race doesn’t really work out in spite of my efforts, it’s definitely a bit of a reminder what I’m up against. So, that's that!
I arrived here in Austria about 12 days out from the race and it took me about 6 days to feel decent on the bike, which is usually screwed up because sitting for so long jacks my next and back. Also, when it comes to sleep aid in a new time zone, Body Health Healthy Sleep Ultra is a necessity! I’m incredibly fortunate to have an Austrian family waiting for me, who I really couldn’t get by without. Last year I really got to know the area and Pewag athletes, so this year I was happy to catch up! I climbed one of the local HARD Mountains, decided my bike position was not suited for sustained climbing and really got to work. I basically slid everything back but I think my seat height might have still been a tad high, more to follow there. My running has been actually awesome, so I was pretty confident a PB Marathon was going to happen too! I’d say with me losing some weight, eating super healthy and working in a new race breakfast/fueling protocol I had a really thorough plan. So, for me, 3 days out it was just time to relax, eat some sweets and enjoy being around my amazing Austrian friends! I think I maybe trained 2 hours per day until the last 3 days.
Race AM (0240 breakfast)
The fueling plan dictates breakfast is complete about 3.5 hours before the race since it’s a boost in calories from a 70.3, which normally is only 3 hours. I ate about 900 grams of applesauce….somehow. Think of your biggest protein shaker, then imagine it’s full up apple sauce…that’s my nightmare. I took that down with a lot of cinnamon, a banana, some Gatorade and some INFINIT Repair for some added protein/carbs. It’s actually not that bad once you’ve let it set in your stomach for an hour. It’s super easy to digest, low fiber and pure carbs. Anyway, the bike was already checked in…which reminds me, I was a bit out of it when it comes to planning this event.
For IRONMAN 140.6, transitions work differently. All of your belongings are in either red or blue bags, hung on racks before the change tent. When you check-in, you must bring your bags, race bib and helmet. Let me just say I drove 35 min into town with only my bike…and then again, with the rest of my stuff. I was seriously forgetting things left and right, like...my race day Alto front wheel! For example, guess who got another mandatory 1 mile warm-up run before the start? ME! I opened my race bag in the Pewag lounge and my little green socks were just chilling. Hmm….definitely need socks for an IM run, oh wait, only 15 min before transition closes. Hence my losing my mind. Anyway, I got back to the lounge 15 min before the START of the race, needed to put on the wetsuit and warm up for 3 blinks of an eye…and that’s it. It was on!
It’s funny what we think of right before we embark on a 9 + hour race. The dumbest, deepest thoughts pop into your head. I found myself wondering if I charged my computer since I needed to use it later and then, oh wait look, the swim course! Basically, my little deep negative voices were telling me I didn’t feel ready to start, I was too rushed…but screw them. The start was more hectic than last year, meaning I actually drank 3 or 4 mouth full of water instead of breathes of air. It was congested and choppy and after some head dunking, coughing and serious contact, I actually wondered if I was going to get spit out the back. I will say though, swimming in the middle of a pack is like, a warm up swim effort. Now, I know I could have been in a faster group but, oh well…bridging up didn’t seem necessary. This was a wetsuit swim as well given the new rules concerning air tem vs water temp. I feel like it basically makes all luke warm swims with cold air temp, wetsuit swims…not a fan. I think the air temp was 14 and the water was 74 so I would have definitely preferred non-wetsuit. Anyway with a wetsuit I would have liked faster but I was able to sit in and not over-exert. Plus this is my first IM with a wetsuit and it stresses the body a bit different. My triceps were NOT happy after! However after my 3rd wear of the BlueSeventy Helix, I was incredibly comfortable. In the hip area, which normally sucks, zero restriction. So after we all went the wrong way at the swim exit, it was time for a dizzy run to the bike.
I tell you what, I could NOT have been happier with my swim group because I rode with a few of these guys at IM Zurich and I knew we could all have some solid riding. So, here’s were it went wrong. Since I was basically mentally out of it post swim and was working at 105% FTP to catch the 6 guys who were about 200 meters away (I had a crap transision) I had a lot of speed headed into our only 180 degree turn. I can see it in slow motion, my wet right hand slipped forward as I rounded the corner. It wasn’t fast but I bounced like a ball. So, there goes that group…even 1 minute behind at this level can take 30 minutes to bridge while riding very hard! I had one last chance to make it when a friend of mine, a Pewag rider came by. I thought I could get it back until I went to shift….then looked down and saw my oversized pulley wheels were all jacked up. I had to stop and adjust…or ride in 3 gears! This was the ultimate low point where I even thought I would not be able to continue and I was missing out on what I knew was certainly an awesome position. I could have come in top 10 off the bike for sure. Trust me, this whole story gives me a heavy heart. It was at this time I realized I couldn’t put much pressure on my left wrist out of the saddle and, my low back was really hurting more than I could stand. Anytime I was in the power, for about 30 seconds after I let up, it was like a deep burn left and right of the sacrum. That quick spill cost me the day I knew I could have. I ended up taking my emergency motrin quickly but I don’t think it started working for another 2 hours because I actually mentally “quit” about 5 times when the pain was so bad and I felt so terrible. But I tell you what, every time I felt that way a group of people on the side of the road would cheer like I was their favorite athlete, and I kept going. The second loop I started to get some mojo but I lost a lot of time in the wind and debating my future. I can honestly say that somehow, in the way my weird mind works, the thought of quitting actually motivated me to keep going. It was crazy. So once I started fueling again with some INFINIT in my bottles and a little coke at the aid station, I was feeling better and thought I would at least try the first 10k on the run.
The jog from the bike to the transition tent was a bit ugly. The hips were locking up on the bike, I felt a little weak and the achilles was really tight from a quick cramp when we all changed directions in the swim…yea, I was still feeling that!! However, once the shoes were on, I felt pretty awesome. I was really feeling strong for about 22k! I was hitting a TRIPWIRE shot with water/ISO sport drink every other aid station and a little coke and water on the others. In between that I had a cliff shot block in my mouth since, for some reason having that steady source of sugar seems to keep me stable. Around 32k I hit this crazy 3 minute spot where I had to walk. It was right after an aid station and all of the sudden I was stumbling around like a drunk person. I think I saw Elvis run by me. Anyway, like the snap of my fingers, I was back running strong again out of no where. I think the early lack of fueling on the bike got to me. When I was debating quitting I wasn’t as diligent on the nutrition. So, the legs felt better as far as pain and my running form goes. But still wasn’t much faster this year. It’s a bit frustrating but all I can do is sharpen up my game…plain and simple.
The overall take away from this race is, a few minute PR and some severe respect for what the body can endure. I’m fortunate I could ride away from my little spill but it still effected me, cost me a faster bike split and ultimately means I didn’t hit my ultimate goal of a sub 9 hour IM. Racing 140.6 distance is probably the biggest emotional roller coaster ride around. I would say that for anyone who is looking for some advice and has maybe had some issue, just don’t think! It doesn’t matter how you feel in that moment or hell the day before the race. What matters is how you logically battle through the problems you are facing and most importantly, be patient. You will hit extreme lows and serious highs out there and for a little bit, you’ll feel golden and actually love the day. If you can keep going, why not try? Oh wait, I also stayed for the midnight-finish and it’s basically like a techno club!! It was CRAZY loud with tons of support!
Two days ago was the first Triathlon of the season. Instead of making the pilgrimage to the west coast for Oceanside like I’ve done the past two years, I opted for IM 70.3 Texas in Galveston. I liked that place so much, I’ve decided that I’m going back to Oceanside next year (wink)! But before I get into the heavy race details that I’m sure everyone is drooling over, especially since I took 22nd, here are some other cool topics.
Planning The Season
I’ve been quite fortunate in my endeavors thus far to be linked with some incredibly giving people, they know who they are. Without them, this season couldn’t have been planned! With their help, I’m doing what I can to try and diversify this year. If I look at my past 2 professional seasons, I’ve bitten off a lot by design. This was for a few reasons. The first reason was because I wanted experience and I wanted to surround myself with the best in the sport whenever possible. I’m super analytical and I like seeing how they handle themselves, almost more of a sports psychology type of approach. To me, it’s the most important part about my evolution. I’ve already proven that I can work as hard as anyone out there, but that’s just not going to be enough. The past two seasons have been about learning or more like cramming. I’m stepping up against guys who were drinking pool water at 8 years old! It’s been very frustrating at times but my body and mind still need more time to grow.
This season is where I’m really banking on a decent harvest since my mental and physical capabilities have grown a bit...here are some facts;
This list could probably be longer but you get the idea. So this season I’ve gotten a bit pickier on the races I choose. I wanted to check out IM 70.3 Texas since all of the races I’ve hit in the past few years were very hilly on the bike. 70.3 Texas is pancake flat like my main training ground in Florida. I’m used to the heavy head and cross winds and I thought I’d handle the humidity too. Anyway into the recap and then a brief summary of what’s next…
70.3 Texas Recap
All week long, I’m sure every athlete was like “Great now the weather forecast is predicting HAIL….oh, wait now there are tornadoes”. Even at the Pro meeting we had discussed a very probably duathalon scenario. To our avail, it was just super windy and overcast! I flew into Austin a few days before the race and traveled down to Galveston with my good friend Shawn Panchacharam. It was his first IRONMAN 70.3 spectator experience and I wanted him to be inspired by what we all do out there. We arrived…it was mega windy, ugly and overcast – this never changed until the day we left. Our Air BnB was in a rather dicey building but the condo was newly remodeled and quite nice. Despite the staff reminding us to never leave anything of value out front in the car as windows are broken often, we felt decent enough. I’d say this beach, the area and the overall vibe was like a very used and run down theme park. A theme park where you wouldn’t drink from the fountain, ride a wooden rollercoaster or use the public restroom for fear of flesh eating diseases. THAT being said, there were some nice parts like the blue sky the day we left, oh and Moody Gardens is cool.
After we settled in, it was time to get into my favorite part of pre-race. Sit around and do nothing. After facilitating two camps in Tucson back to back, traveling home for a few days then heading back out…I was a bit spent. I watched the whole new season of Trailer Park Boys on Netflix, caught up with the stellar athletes I work with and did my best to shame Shawn into eating healthy with me. With the weather looking so ferocious, there wasn’t much to do besides chill out.
The day before the race I hit up a nice ride with Barney Matthews. We proceeded to white knuckle our bars as the 25mph gusts rattled our wheels…it was said to be worse than Kona. Then it was time for a BIG breakfast, some rest and then a MEGA lunch – NickGriddles! At the pro meeting I was able to catch up with the former Team RWB camp organizers/coaches and we all hugged it out. Triathletes are family…plain and simple. Finally, it was time to catch up with my wonderful wife, ensuring her that I won’t get struck by lightning on race day.
So it went like this…
Woke up in the morning feeling like "T.O" and Rinny (yes this is a Ke$ha reference)! Seriously, felt great…weather was not at all horrible – Just über windy. I decided that I’m not showing up to the race site 2 hours early anymore. From now on, 45 minutes is the window. It’s nice to relax a bit and take in the experience but overall, I could be in bed watching a show or waiting for the final race day BM!
First time in the BlueSeventy PZ4TX speedsuit and I swear now matter how much weight I lose, when I put a skin suit on I feel like a muffin overflowing it’s wrapper…UGH. However, that’s the point…it did it’s job in the best way possible. My swim was great, came out with a group of about 10 guys and overall, I felt awesome. There was a bit of chop out there too which is how I like it.
The bike was the usual 5 mile race for position as we all went out about 150% above threshold. At a certain point I kept seeing 350-360 watts and I was finally like, “ENOUGH FELLAS” and then settled in around 290-300. I mean we were already going about 30 mph with a nasty cross wind but I let them get about 300 yds away and then it was pretty much passing 4 or 5 guys who blew up on the first ½. A flat race means you’re stuck aero without reprieve. On top of that a miserable cross wind means that if you sit up for even a second you lose 4 mph instantly. That being said, it’s still important to get out of the saddle a bit too loosen up the back and shoulders….so I did. My back was still super tight though. My rear bottle ejected around the 35 mile mark so I was stuck with the last ¼ of my 900 cal 24 ounce INFINIT bike mix. Thankfully it was enough! I came off in 12 or 13th I think, feeling energized…but knowing I worked hard. After seeing the data, I actually rode the exact numbers I wanted, despite going out to hard in the first 10 miles.
The first 4 miles of the run, I was the man. I mean I still got passed by like 5 guys even though I was running a 6:05 avg but damnit…a guy can dream! This was one of those days where I was burning up with the high humidity and with the tail wind it felt 5X warmer. The second loop and yea, the third loop…I lost even more speed. It was ugly. It was one of those runs where within 4 miles my HR was again around 175, like Raleigh 70.3 every time I race there. I slipped the HRM down to my stomach since I didn’t even want to know how high it was getting. The worst part is, it stayed the same even though I slowed down…so I wasn’t as fueled or fit as I had hoped. I ran my way into 22nd…lol, the wrong way. It’ll most certainly come together with some more tweaking.
This swim and bike still put me In position for a sub 4 hour day but my run led me to a 4:05….so I still left a lot out there. The run fitness IS there as proven during training over the past months, but damnit…putting it all together seamlessly on my end is just tough.
In 2 weeks I head to Lima, Peru. I’ve increased my stab insurance and my bike should also be covered so…all good. I’m hopeful that I can have a solid day including the run, which might mean backing off a bit somewhere or maybe eating a different breakfast. I’ll let you know how it goes…..
Until then, THANK YOU to everyone who has been following me over the years. I promise it’s never enough, haha! Also, believe it or not I DO miss my wife terribly during all this travel but as all of you know, we drive our energy from our loved ones when the lights go out! Make sure you take care of your loved ones who sacrifice so much for your dream!
- RaceChase OUT-
Here is a proper T2
I believe the last time I took some time to reflect publicly was July 2016. Talk about slacking….right? Here are the major bullet points since then.
Current Events – This is really where you’d want to read if you want to catch up on the happenings of 2017.
I just raced the first event, Austin Marathon.
For those of you who’ve been following some of my posts and videos, you may know some of this, however I feel the need to re-quantify the pure gravity of this 6-week euro-trip. My goal today isn’t only to provide a race report while acknowledging sponsors but to somehow capture the raw emotion that I’ve been feeling over here, as it's been pretty deep. Having listened to Anthony Bourdain narrate enough TV shows, I’m hoping I can take you on a little journey.
IRONMAN, a race I’ve basically revered and or feared since I’ve known about it. 6 years ago, I popped my head in for duty at MacDill AFB. Shortly after my arrival I ignorantly accepted an invitation to ride my old 2001 Cannondale slice with a group of seasoned IRONMAN athletes. This started my future career in triathlon, however young and dumb I was at the time. Fast forward or review my facebook photos for the past 6 years and you’ll see an evolution. I’ve been astonished in how my mind and body have evolved due to such a focused lifestyle. The way I sleep and eat is all designed to cultivate a lifestyle consistent with what I deem valid in order to forge a Champion. If you check the gallery below...you can see just how much I've changed over the years....starting from my first race experience.
Triathlon is to me as food is to a chef; it’s on mind, in my hands, heart and body (pure passion). Being and endurance coach means there is a lot of additional added pressure to take care of those who’ve trusted me with their triathlon experience. It’s a fact I hold above my own success. If I’m honest, traveling so much makes me feel like a neglectful parent. Not to mention being a neglectful Fiancé…let’s not forget I’m marrying the woman of my dreams in a few months! It goes without mention that she’s the granite (much more elegant than just a “rock”), the foundation and the light at the end of every dark tunnel I put myself in. So you get the picture…I LOVE this process, the knowledge, the people and most importantly the journey, which leads me to where I am now; Europe.
People; they are what make this sport and any sport like this, exceptional. Traveling for long periods, training camps and racing often would cost me 5 times the amount without people. I’ve stayed in around 20 home-stays thus far, met fascinating people and for a short period became their pseudo son. The only thing that makes me feel guilty about this is, we don’t have enough room in our condo to pay back to others…however, one day I plan to host as many as Karen will allow. It’s because of amazing, generous people, that this trip to Europe has been undeniably the most exciting and memorable trips of my life.
It started in Austria, 1 week before IRONMAN Austria, staying with Sonja and Gerhard in a small town right outside of Ferlach. They live with a beautiful view, which you’ve probably seen by now and training here is truly amazing. The only thing it’s missing is altitude, however, you can still get it by driving 2 hours. Nestled right next to Italia and Slovenia, the mountain ranges and roads are a cyclists paradise, a new view and solemn moment of gratitude around every corner. The Austrian people who took care of me, cheered for me and supported me will always be best friends. The Pewag team is like a TRIBAL family all there own, only they have a huge financial sponsor and throw a GREAT party! Rene and Ella were my gateway to Austria and without them; I’d have never known this experience. Again, people are amazing. Lisa and Melanie, two sisters and Andy also took me around to historical places, their parents garden for home made food, traditional Austrian farms and some of the best sights I’ve ever seen…This trip to Austria was the absolute most memorable experience as a tourist I’ve ever had to date. I WILL be back!! I’ll not hit you with the IRONMAN Austria race report again but get ready, IRONAMN Zurich is next!
I knew I was coming to Zurich about 2 weeks before the race. I’d do some light training; get to know the area etc. However I didn’t actually plan on traveling to St. Mortiz (an altitude training mecca) with my coach and a few friends because of the cost. I knew how much the rented the house for and honestly, it was well above my budget. To my huge and most grateful relief, they invited me to come free of charge with the pretense that there will not an “official” bedroom but they will make something work. Uhm…that’s a huge, humble YES!!
The second part of my unforgettable journey started in St. Mortiz and ends today, the day before I head back to the U.S. What did we do up there? How was the weather and was it basically postcard living? YES! St. Moritz is like the Boulder, CO of Switzerland, along with maybe 1 other location. There were around 5 or 6 Olympians (to include the brownlee’s) you could find at the track of running around the lake on any given day and every pro-tour cycling team could be found riding when I went through Livigno Italy. Even though we got some snow and froze our nuts off for a few days, just living at 6000 feet was value added. We actually stayed right outside of St. Mortiz in the town of Pontresina, nestled right next to a beautiful pass and glacier. The riding here again; an experience previously unknown to me. The first 3 days were spent huffing and puffing as Lesley did her best to destroy me with some all out ¼ mile track repeats and threshold bike workouts, optimizing every moment forcing the body to adapt to altitude. Being the cycling nerd I am, I saw that we were only a few hours away from Stelvio Pass, the iconic climb they use during the Giro de Italia. I couldn’t be so close…and not make this pilgrimage. Thankfully the rest of the campers agreed and we made a whole day of it! It was around 13,000 feet in total elevation gain over 85 miles. We drove to the town of Zernez and took a beautiful mountain pass (Ofen pass) on our way to Stelvio. I still can’t believe where my bike has taken me…I love my bike!! After Stelvio, it was another long-hard run day and it was about 7 days until IM Zurich. Honestly, I needed to rest, as the week before the race was much bigger and harder than anyone would normally train before an IM. Monday through Friday, I was pretty wrecked, especially since on my 30th birthday we did a traditional birthday workout of (age) X 100 meters on 95 seconds. I was pretty pooped but Lesley, Jacqui and I made it through. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous after that week of hard training leading into an IM…the TSS alone for Stelvio’s ride was over 320 TSS, which is quite huge for 1 bike ride. I think my ride from IM Zurich was only like 260 or so. It might have been too much, but honestly it’s hard to back off when you’re in your element. Also, knew the altitude training would pay off heavily if I could just endure the harder efforts! Staying in Pontresina was amazing. We cooked amazing dinners every night, had an outdoor mountain BBQ and I really relaxed like a pro! Then it was time to take the train back to Zurich 4 days out from the race!
Finally....The Race Report
I am staying in the home of Mark and Nadja, the same couple who organized the trip to Pontresina. I had a perfect, quiet scenario before the race…I just had to figure out the Zurich public transportation aspect since we are 8k from the race site. I have been using a mountain bike to get around for the most part but needed to take the train on race morning and I was a bit nervous because it wasn’t very easy to navigate at first….but damit, I worked it out like a local! I checked out the longer climb on Friday by bike, left the run course as a “surprise” and got my gear ready for race morning. After the Pro meeting on Friday, it was time for my eyes to catch up on the Tour De France replay and eat some chicken and rice! Saturday I ONLY rode my bike to the race site, ate a huge breakfast and then had some dessert around 6pm, then….early to bed for a 3 am wake-up. Okay so here’s where the play-by-play will start.
3AM: Hit snooze once, wake up at 3:15. I left some oatmeal to soak overnight since this makes it easier to digest. However, for IRONMAN I think I’ve been eating too much oatmeal race morning; I will try a new approach next time. So it was Oatmeal, lot’s of cinnamon, salt, banana and 1 egg over easy, done by 3:40 am. This was 3 hours before race “Start”. I then chilled out until 5am when I walked 15min to the train station, ready for the 5:30am train to the race site.
5:45 AM: Race Site Arrival. Since this was the earliest train it was the only time I could arrive. Normally, I’d like to arrive around 5:15…but really, there isn’t much to set up and it meant less time waiting to race. I set-up the bike, hung up my bags and headed to the Strandbad (public beach).
6:40 AM & SWIM: After a quick 5’ warm up in the water, some dry land drills and light hip openers, I was on the line. There were 80 men signed up for the race but I think maybe 40 showed up. I felt GREAT on the swim, so powerful and despite increasing my effort, I was never winded…THANK YOU altitude. I actually did made some decisions during the swim that I normally can’t. I moved up 2 groups!! I was thinking…”These feet are too slow” so I hit the next group…. then though, “shit, still slow”. The next bridge took about 5’ but was very worth it. I can tell that the feet I’m on are a good choice when I try to make a pass and realize it’s taking a lot more effort. At that point, it’s better to sit in and tickle some toes and follow the bubbles. When I checked my watch it said 55:30 when I came out…perfect!! NO mega calf cramp either!
BIKE TIME: Okay, to be 100% transparent, having a ceramic speed chain, bottom bracket and pulley wheels PLUS being adapted to altitude, really boosted my bike performance. After IM Austria, I realized my bottom bracket was installed with the wrong washer on the non-drive side and during the race, it was basically seized up. Now, when the disc is free spinning, the resistance is so low…the crank turns on it’s own!! Anyway, my mission for the first 20k on the bike was to catch Miss Ryf, who is incredible by the way. After I was riding @ 70.3 effort for the first 30k or so, a group caught me and I was clear of Daniella. As I hit the first climb, 4 guys came up…and I jumped on the pain train. Eventually it ended up just being 3 of us and man, those 2 guys were hammering. Especially on the climbs. There are 2 long climbs on the first leg, the first taking about 12 minutes above 320 watts, then it’s rolling…then another longer steeper climb followed by another around the same power. There are some technical descents where I was really able to make up time on the 2 ahead of me, as I’m more of a risk taker on descents. Max speed of 60 mph baby! Then it’s flat for 20k or so until Heartbreak hill and then it’s 3’ @ 340 watts!! Climbing through a crowd of people makes the pain fade away…it was awesome! I didn’t really start to feel the pain until the last 15k or so but was luckily able to hand onto those to strong cyclists ahead of me. I think they both went onto run into top 5 so it was nice to know I can hang with them. I ALSO have to point out the the referees were on POINT during this race. They had a great rotation. Every 20’ a new bike would come up and the other would leave, I think this helps eliminate and bias…Great work there IM Switzerland! It was a super clean race from what I saw….except for the normal AG peleton’s here and there.
Marathon time: Okay, I was kinda dreading the run because I think it became a reality with 5k left on the bike, I was a bit of a mess. My low back was super tight and energy levels were a bit off. I set a mental goal to just run the first 2 laps (of 4) around 7 min to 7:15 pace. The 1st 12 miles were there, exactly what I wanted…but then my stomach really went to shit. It’s the first time I’ve had this happen. It really crippled me and it might have been due to the harder bike ride. I found that I was getting a 5’ energy boost from each gel, but eventually couldn’t stomach a gel. Starting the 3rd loop, felt like I had another mental marathon to run…I was in bad shape. Thankfully the support and encouragement from 2 strangers got me at least moving again. The last lap I was a mess and an IRONMAN aid station marshal forced me to slam some chicken broth…and a lot of it. It settled my stomach a bit and I was running 9 min miles again. I just kept repeating “finish, finish, finish”, drive energy from all of you, my friends and supporters. After the race, it actually got me quite emotional as I’ve never wanted to quite so badly but wanted to ALSO finish more than I wanted to quit. The hardest mental day of my career…for sure. Anyway, I finished with a the biggest smile and surge of emotion…it was everything I hoped it would be. The IRONMAN finish line is on a level all its own. I’m truly grateful to have gotten through this race, learned so much and I’m excited to race again. Today…I see that I was 1 position away from getting a paycheck, finishing 11th…sigh. However, to me, the ultimate victory was to give that huge fist pump at the finish as I had no clue of my position during the whole race. Ignorance is bliss!
I’m still on cloud nine having spent the past 6 weeks in a foreign land, learning and growing. I know this is the launch point of my really goal of being a champion. I’ll need to get to the mountains as much as I can, be very smart on my run training and maybe…just maybe…REALLY rest well before my next event.
Finally, for everyone who made this financially possible for me, you’ve opened huge doorways for me, into realms I’ve never imagined existed for me. I’ve got the mind and body to make this happen, I promise. Thank you for allowing me the means to travel, train and experience life in a way I’d never planned for. You know who you are…..and you don’t need a # to feel the gratitude I’m sending yourway.
The lifestyle I’ve chosen and subsequently subjected Karen to (Love you Babe!) is quite different than what I could have ever imagined. Yes, I travel to scenic and far off lands to train and compete…I don’t just wake up, work and come home like I used to while in the Air Force. When you're working for yourself, there are very few days off and the pressure is always on. This journey has now led me to the completion of my first IRONMAN, finishing 9 hours, 13 minutes. I broke the yoke or popped my cherry so to speak. I chose to do it in Austria of all places, not entirely sure why…but it had to be somewhere, right? I suppose if I rationalize, it’s because for years I’ve known Rene Vallant, a former Austrian Professional Triathlete who would visit St. Pete w/ family and friends during Austria’s colder months. Through a large network of athletes, I’ve become good friends with him, traveling to races and training together often. I believe for me, the “unknown” is a thrill and I love the idea of being in Europe. It’s intriguing and ultimately a huge challenge I wanted to take head on. I think deep down it’s why the adventur-er in me took over. While in Austria, I’ve been hosted by the Pewag team staying with Gerhard and Sonja and another American guest David Frazier (also a St. Pete local).
Here in Austria you will not find any large Walmart sized super centers, Starbucks or ANY other common establishments/chains. I’ve been shopping at a local butcher, local baker and have had a total of 2 restaurant meals. Everything else has been home cooked! It’s awesome! I’ve eaten roast deer, some of the best-dried meats, a Noodle from a local market, a bunch of sauerkraut and more bread than I care the mention. Thankfully I've enforced some self control
, as Austria is known for sweets and cakes! I’ve managed to choose them wisely and in small portion…after 5 hour training days. The food is good, the company is perfect and the views are unforgettable. I'm ONLY missing my KAREN!
IRONMAN Austria Race Report
Preparation: The week before the race was probably a tad higher in volume leaving me quite tired until around Thursday race week. Not ideal, however with another IM coming up soon, I wanted to put together some longer sessions for mental confidence. The swim and bike I knew would be decent, especially if I was able to make a bike group (which did not happen) and I knew the run would be a ultimately survival or slowing down as little as posisble. My pre race goals were quite vague, knowing I’d love to swim under an hour, bike near 4:40 and run under 3:30. I think since I put together a open Marathon early this year @ 3:10, this should be doable. Just set the freaking cruise control on the run and deal with the pain! All in all, race week was great! The Pewag lounge and social gatherings are more than what I’m used to but really, I enjoyed meeting so many people. The owner of Pewag, Castelli, Stork bikes and other heavy hitters made appearances! Pewag, for those who don’t know, make industrial strength chains for tires and other heavy machinery. They sponsor a lot of athletes on a race team but specifically have Marino, the winner of IRONMAN Austria 8 times (as of yesterday). This lounge and the support on course were among the BEST I’ve ever seen. At one point I felt like I was in the Tour De France!
What did I do race week? Not much to be honest, mostly shorter efforts at race pace, plenty of sleep and maybe a bit more nervous eating that I’m proud to remember. I think this week was near 8 hours in total with little time spent running. By Friday, I was antsy…ready to get on the course and see what the day will bring! We knew the weather was going to be a toss up, with predictions of rain and storms but we didn’t get much wind or rain until the back half of the course. It was a sprinkle here and there, enough to wet the roads. On the run, it rained a bit more but it was for 15 minutes. Normally It’s much much warmer, so I was very happy for mild temperature.The race director made the most common sense decisions I've ever seen. Stefan Leitner was a huge supported of pro athletes and made some decisions that made this event flow! Huge recommendation for this venue!
Will I be back for this race next year? YES! My plan is to maybe spend some more time in Europe, in this mountainous terrain. Maybe I will plan to race a 70.3 and a 140.6 instead of 2X 140.6. The village it took to get me here is truly something I reach for on days like yesterday. I think of those who will still be on the course hours after me, those tracking me, those who love me (a short list I’m sure, lol) and those who are screaming at me to GO GO GO even though I couldn’t go any faster even for 1 billion dollars!! Finally, the financial burden of this trip has been heavily cut down at it’s knees by staying with Gerhard and Sonja, cooking my own meals and doing little else. Without my financial sponsors, Brett and Karen, I’d be on a college kids diet of ramen and bullion cubes.
Now…I must plan for IRONMAN Switzerland and it’s 4 loop run course, yikes!