After arguably one of my best races to date at the 70.3 World Championships I knew signing up for IM Louisville that the fitness was there, and with only five weeks separating these races the opportunity for “GAINS” was minimal. At the end of last season I read a blog by Lionel Sanders where he mentioned taking something like 50 days of total rest in 2016. Summing the zeros on my personal training log I was surprised that even after 14 days of forced down time due to a broken toe I had taken fewer days off than one of the best triathletes in the world. With his swim improving, I made a vow in 2016 that I would beat Lionel the only place I could, taking days off. To accomplish this formidable task, after each of my half-distance races this year I have taken 3 days to drink beer, eat ice cream, and write blog posts. I feel this was particularly beneficial after the brutal run course at 70.3 Worlds, and allowed me to crank out a really solid weekend of training only 5 days after (18 mile long run on Saturday followed by a brick Sunday consisting of a solo 108 mile ride followed by 3 miles OTB). Feeling good and having convinced Bri to let me spend a bunch of money so she could sit around all day, that evening I signed up for Louisville.
Turns out that although it is extremely advantageous to have a sugar momma who can pay for your expensive races that sugar momma might also get you sick. Three days after signing up for Louisville I had a full blow upper respiratory infection. To make things more interesting the next two weekends we would be traveling to Chicago and D.C. for weddings. Backing off training a bit I did everything in my power to get my health back on track. I was very happy to have the support of Sound Probiotics during this time as maintaining good bacterial health in the gut is an essential component of immune health! After about a week I began to start feeling better and before traveling to D.C. set a PR by making it 4h on the trainer (a session that was done by 830am).
17 mile run in Chi-town pre wedding festivities
Its a beautiful morning for a 4h trainer session
Coming into race week the nerves were high. In all honesty, I’m not sure I felt hungry the entire week. Thursday afternoon Corey, his dad, Bri, and I made an uneventful trip to Cincinnati before driving to our AirBnB just 2.5 miles from the start in Louisville. Knowing we were ironmen, our host graciously gifted us a $10 gift card to the local bakery, which I used to procure all sorts of delicious donuts and cookies ($10 goes a lot further in Louisville than Boston). Although I would have liked to take my bike for a spin that afternoon, not having a pump to put air in my tires put the kaibosh on that idea so I spent my afternoon eating sugar cookies. The next day, we hooked up with teammate James Defilippi and family who had driven down from Virginia, and James and I took our bikes out for a check-ride. Of course my pedal was squeaking something fierce but James being the bike guru that he is quickly diagnosed it as a cleat problem. Sure enough, after tightening it up the noise was gone and I was satisfied. After the ride we met up with Corey for a short swim to test out the current but Ironman was requiring athletes to have their chips to enter the water. Clearly the taper gods were telling me I needed more rest, so we went out to breakfast where I ordered the “basic bitch special” – pumpkin pancakes that may or may not have been accompanied by a PSL... #AllPumpkinEverything
James ripping it on our morning ride
To my utter amazement the night before the race I feel to sleep with ease...although that may have been a product of not being able to sleep the night before. Pre-race breakfast was my usual, a blueberry bagel (they didn’t have pumpkin) with cream cheese, a banana, and some coffee. I’ll come back to this later but next IM I will certainly be upping the calories in this meal. Waiting for the swim start I sipped on some EFS pro cucumber while I watched athletes pee in their wetsuits. I got in line for the rolling swim start next to teammates Colin Martin and James Defilippi and we chatted with nearby competitors right up to the point where we jumped into the water. I have to say, even with my Jade mirror Roka R1 goggles the first 15 minutes of the swim were still pretty dark as the sun was yet to rise. Making my way upstream I focused on keeping my effort smooth and even and my kicking to a minimum. Thinking back to Matt Dixon’s pre-race briefing before 70.3 Worlds, on the way out I tried to stay a bit closer to the shore in hopes the current would be less robust and on my way downstream I tried to stay closer to the middle of the river so as to optimize current utilization. Never having done an IM swim, I was a little unsure how I should be feeling but I was motivated by the number of athletes I was passing versus being passed by. Seeing the shore I increased my kick a bit to prepare for the bike when all of a sudden I felt a cramp coming on in my right calf. Not ideal. Swimming the remainder of the distance with my legs limp behind me I made it to the exit where I was able to take a glance at my watch.
Three dudes before a long day of exercise
Totally ecstatic with my swim time I grabbed my transition bag from the volunteers and ran into the changing tent. Sitting down in the chair I glanced down at my bag to realize I had been given the wrong bag. Fortunately as I ran out of the tent yelling my number the volunteers realized their error and quickly gave me my bag, THANK YOU! Heading out on the bike course I was feeling good and holding my watts when all of a sudden two guys went flying by me. I glanced down at my power meter and decided to let them go. Twenty minutes later I saw them ahead working together in what appeared to be a fairly legal manner. With a lot of ground still to cover I decided to gamble by working my way up to them. While I knew it might require burning a few too many matches, I decided 112 miles of solo riding might get awful lonely and so I was going to do my best to keep these riders in my sites.
Before long our crew was joined by teammate Colin Martin and another rider in a black kit (who I have since learned was ex-pro Ray Botelho). Keeping a solid gap between one another our 5-man crew made our way through the course with close monitoring by the race officials. It was nice having these guys around as it really helped take my mind off what lay ahead. Exchanging pleasantries with the two rides in the blue kits who had originally passed me I came to find out they had made the trip from Germany in search of Kona slots. As we made our way through LaGrange on the second lap our efforts were revitalized by a throng of spectators. Keeping up with my nutrition I focused on staying aero and holding steady. After completing the second loop we began a 20-mile trek back to Louisville straight into a headwind. Looking back briefly I could see our crew had been whittled down with only of the Germans about 100m back. With my power numbers still right where I wanted I began mentally preparing for the run. Bike feastings: 2 bottles of EFS @ 280 calories a bottle, 8 GU’s, 1.5 bottles of Gatorade, and some water (total about 1700 calories).
Getting passed by teammate Colin Martin
Heading out on the run it felt HOT. When I had checked the weather in the morning I was pleased to see the temperature was predicted to drop in the afternoon. About a half mile in Bri and good friends Gwen and Kevin who had driven from Muncie and Lexington to cheer me on excitedly greeted me. Seeing Kevin I think I made some explicit comment about how little fun I was having. My goal before the race was to run no faster than 7 min/mile. Clocking the first mile at 6:57 I was satisfied but wasn’t feeling great. The second mile I think we ran by some sort of restaurant and the smell of hamburgers sent my mind daydreaming about solid food. By the third mile I felt my legs slowing a bit. Taking down a GU and drinking some coke at mile three I backed off a bit and waited for the sugar to take its effect. Slowly I felt the negative thoughts lifting and my pace quickening. The next 23 miles I continued to make longer and longer visits to this dark place followed by transient glucose-mediated returns to the light.
Eric brings me good and bad news
Before heading out on loop two of this death march I was again greeted by Bri, Gwen, and Kevin who I have since learned were in great spirits after doing a tequila shot. I think I said something to Bri about how badly I wanted to walk. She responded by telling me to “suck it up and eat more food.” It was at this point that Corey’s brother Eric told me that I was 4 minutes up on second but that he was running 6:30 min/miles. Shit. The news that third was 15 minutes back revitalized me in a major way. Heading the bosses advice the next aid station I picked up some GU blocks and began shoving them down my throat. Amazingly, the GU blocks seemed to be offering something the GU’s couldn’t and I began feeling more alive. Somewhere around mile 17 my 4-min gap had been totally erased and eventual age group winner Jacob Gilden passed me like I was standing still. My hats off to him for an amazing 2:57 run split. At mile 19 the blocks ran out and the self-bargaining began, “OK, so if I run 10 min/miles for the next 7 miles I’ll be done in almost an hour?” In the middle of these thoughts I was passed by a very tall pro wearing a white kit with a dinosaur on the back of it (Doug MacLean). Wishing a dinosaur would eat me and put an end to this I made some comment about how poorly I was feeling to which he responded something along the lines of “dude its ironman, it always sucks and you are killing it!” With my suffering in perspective I kept plugging away, stopping at every aid station for either Coke or Gatorade. I knew I was losing it when I started throwing Red Bull in my face - an experience that definitely didn’t give me wings but did cause an acute loss of vision. At mile 22 I tried to pick up the pace but the legs weren’t responding. Running down the red carpet on Fourth Street live I saw myself on the overhead video and fed of the energy of hundreds of spectators banging on the railings and cheering me on – what a way to finish! Run feastings: 5 GU’s, 1 pack of clif blocks, and a lot of coke (800-900 calories – WAY more than I would have liked to have eaten but they were necessary).
Soon after my finish I was joined by teammates James Defilippi, Corey Robinson, and Colin Martin. A heck of a day for Team Every Man Jack to have four athletes finish by 9:35. Even more exciting was that James Defilippi finished third in his age group and after FIVE ironman attempts (second this year) had qualified for Kona. James is a total class-act and a large part of the reason I was racing Louisville. It has been inspirational watching him train his butt off and I cant think of a guy more deserving of a Kona slot.
The night before the race James daughter looked up at him and said "Daddy, I think I'd like to go to Hawaii." Guess what Annie, you are going!
In all honesty, the reality of what I was able to accomplish last weekend is still setting in. I feel incredibly blessed to have had such a great experience at my first ironman distance race. Bri and I are very excited to go to Kona next fall and many of our family members have already expressed interest in joining. Importantly, I feel my experience at Louisville taught me a few lessons:
- GU energy makes more than gels for a reason. At mile two of the run my nose caught a whiff of something that smelled like burgers sending my body searching for a four-course meal. The scientific data support the idea that the body can process around 90g of carbohydrate per hour (~360 calories per hour) during moderate intensity exercise. So while I’m pretty sure the number of calories I consumed on the bike was sufficient, perhaps I will supplement my gel arsenal with some tasty waffles/chomps to get in some solid food.
- Race morning breakfast needs to be more substantial. I don’t think it makes much sense to take in any more calories on the bike because my body won’t be able to process them. I estimate I ate only about 500 calories for breakfast. In all honesty my nutrition before long training days was quite variable, ranging from a large bowl of mini-wheats and yogurt to a breakfast sandwich. Regardless, I think by taking in more calories for breakfast I can hopefully decrease the amount I need to eat on the run because to put it quite frankly putting down 300 calories per hour while trying to run sucks.
- Even with wedding/travel on two of the three weeks leading into Louisville I feel my training was pretty close to optimal. That being said, I REALLY wish I had done a longer run off of the bike. Most of my long rides (90-110 miles) were followed by shorter 20-30 minute runs at a hard effort (545-615 min/mile). I think the addition of a 60 mile ride with a 16 mile or so run off the bike at or faster than IM goal pace would have been very helpful. Coming into Louisville I had never run more than 13.1 off of the bike.
3) Bike pacing:
- I may or may not have over-biked a bit. My normalized power for the ride was 231 (3.6 w/kg and ~75% of estimated FTP – I haven’t done a test since January). I was shooting to be more in the range of 220-225. I feel my marathon could have been faster, although it’s hard to say if that was a nutrition or bike pacing thing.
This past week I have taken completely off and next week will probably look similar. It’s been nice sleeping in, drinking beers, and doing normal person things like going hiking with the family. As I reflect back on this past season I am amazed at what I have been able to accomplish. A huge debt of gratitude to Team Every Man Jack for bringing me on board three years ago and to my teammates who motivate and encourage me. None of this would have been possible without the incredible support of our sponsors, Felt bicycles for providing me with a ride that makes over-biking worthwhile, Roka sports for a wetsuit that continually puts me in the front-pack, Garneau apparel for the best looking kits on the tri scene, Garmin for enough data to satisfy my OCD, BOCO gear for hats that keep us cool and looking sharp, Lululemon for comfortable clothes that allow me to turn my inner-basic bitch up an octave, and Ever Man Jack for helping me #cleanupnice after working out 2x a day for the past 10 months. Thank you to my family and friends for encouraging me all season long, your support means the world to me. Finally, thank you to my wife Briana for always being by my side, and for not getting angry when I ride the trainer at 5am in our 600-square foot studio.
Family hike at Mount Major yesterday