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.