Monday, September 18, 2017

The 70.3 World Championship

Let me start by saying that no race report could possibly capture my experience last weekend. I have had an incredibly fortunate year of triathlon-ing and this past weekend only made it better. Thursday afternoon myself, Bri, and good friend and Every Man Jack teammate Corey Robinson convened at the Boston airport for our flight to Atlanta. My weekends luck began when Corey informed me he was a Jet Blue Mosaic member, which meant free mile-high drinks. Two and a half hours later, a fairly tipsy Greg arrived in Atlanta. After voyaging across the airport and getting our bags we made our way out to our rental car, a Jeep Renegade, a member of the “mini-SUV class.” Let me impart some wisdom upon you and just say that fitting 3 people, their bags, and 2 bikes in Scicon bike cases in a mini-SUV is a real challenge. Fortunately, I’m better at Tetris when buzzed and after 20 minutes we were loaded up and on our way to Chattanooga (rear derailleurs still fully intact).

Lesson learned.

One of the best parts of the whole trip was staying in EMJ housing. We were super fortunate to be in a house less than 2 miles from the racecourse with teammates Jason Sandquist, Peter Mendes, Kevin Denny, and Brendan Loehr. Not having had the chance to attend EMJ camp the past three years due to school, it as AWESOME getting to meet the guys on the team. I was particularly pleased to meet Kevin Denny (also in my age group), with whom I’ve exchanged countless Strava kudos and Facebook messages but have yet to meet in person. Kevin is also a stellar triathlete and wicked fast runner and his blog can be found here. Although I didn’t tell him, for weeks leading up to the race I had hoped to avoid letting Kevin get away from me for as long as possible.

Saturday morning Corey, Ryan Linden, James Defillippi, and I went for an easy spin to loosen the legs before the race and ended at a GREAT breakfast place called the Daily Ration (blueberry pancakes were #LITAF). The Ration also happened to be just off the course, which made for great post-breakfast spectating of the women’s race! That afternoon I tried to take a nap but the image of the women trying to run up the very large and steep hill kept me awake. That evening we had a pasta dinner with the GU crew before going to bed early.

Filling the engines while our bikes rest.

Canine of the Daily Ration.

The EMJ Boston 3 + #realhousewivesofEMJ 
In all honesty, I am over-the-moon to have met Corey and Mike. Great training buddies, great dudes.

Race morning came unfortunately early considering the 25-29y age group would be one of the last to go. The pros were seeded to start at 730am, so they would be out of the water and half-way through the bike before our wave even began at 905. Making my way out to the dock I found Kevin and we decided to stick together for the swim. The swim was a long square, the first portion of which we would swim across current before turning right and swimming the majority of the swim up-stream. As we made our way to the dock Kevin and I noted how many athletes were being carried downstream. Quickly we decided rather than swim with the masses, we would focus on the sighting buoy to avoid the extra distance. Diving in I gave a huge sigh of relief when my goggles didn’t fill with water and quickly I began swimming hard for position. Looking around I realized Kevin and I had escaped from the 8 other athletes we had entered the water with. Swimming alongside Kevin we made our way to the first buoy and turned upstream. Thinking back to all of the 5x1ks I have done in the pool this year (an infamous Zach Ruble special – my coach last year) I focused and swam HARD. It felt like it was taking forever to reach the turn-around, and to make matters worse the sun was high in the sky and quite blinding. Getting out of the water I was happy to be under 30 and ready to ride. Bonus yards on watch because I didnt hit lap until I was well into transition.

GET IT OFF ME!!!!!!!!

Transition was long and awkward. Like an idiot I spent nearly a minute trying to get my darn wetsuit off. Grabbing my bike I ran out of transition and for maybe the first time in my life nailed my flying mount and quickly got into my shoes. The first 4 miles of the course were HIGHLY congested and very frustrating. Fortunately it was not long until we reached the beginning of a steep (10%) climb (3-4 miles in length). Although it had been forever since I had done a climb like this, when the road goes up, Greg tends to go faster than most. Settling into a cadence I began picking people off and focused on keeping my power steady at around 300 watts. Its really too bad the whole course couldn’t have been a climb, because after passing hundreds it was time to descend, which I tend to do very poorly. My lack of desire to go downhill fast was compounded by the large number of older age-group men with a fist-full of break that had positioned themselves in the dead center of the road. Not to mention the very confused motorists on the road. Needless to say the descent was not my finest moment. After the race Corey and I compared numbers and I lost almost a minute to him in what was a 6-7 minute segment (depending on who are you). The rest of the course was rolling and I focused on riding hard but within myself. My power staying where I wanted it to I thought about my conversation with teammate Brendan Loehr (rated by slowtwitch as having the best amateur bike position) and tried my best to keep my head low and aero (“turtle tuck”). The day before I had foolishly told someone how I was going to ride the course faster than womens champion Daniela Ryf (2:20). Turns out that not only is she better looking, shes faster on the bike....

Doing my best to make Brendan proud #AeroIsEverything

Awesome pic by Mrs. Navarro! Felt looking FAST.

Heading into transition I spotted teammate Daniel Isaacson headed out on the course. Having swum at NYU I expected for Daniel to beat me in the swim but I had hoped to catch him on the bike. Turns out not only can he swim, he’s a very strong cyclist. The first mile I focused on staying within myself and getting into a rhythm. Although it felt pretty easy, it turned out 615-630 min/mile would be the goal. The first couple of miles there were a few athletes that went by me and although I wanted to go with, I kept my cool and focused on running a pace I could sustain. The two loop course took you across the Tennessee river and up a large ½ mile before going down the hill and coming back over. Essentially, 4 hills of joy. The first loop I felt pretty decent, but I knew the race wouldn’t start till the second. Before getting to the hills the second time I caught Daniel and we exchanged words of encouragement with one another. As I began to make my way up the first hill a Canadian athlete in my age group, came flying by me. Quickening my pace I decided to stay with him as long as I can. Fighting off cramps in my calves I did my best to keep him in my sights. With a mile to go I saw my good friend Gilberto Navarro and his family who had made the drive from Atlanta to watch me. With half a mile to go and Canadia still in sights, I let it rip. Running what felt like 800m race pace I passed Mr. Maple Leaf and crossed the finish line. Much to my chagrin, Canada started behind me and actually still beat me....this is why I cant have nice things. It is also why ironman needs to get rid of this dumb crap like rolling starts. If you are strong enough to make it to the world championships, you should be able to fend for yourself in a mass start).
Lap 1, smiling.....kinda

Lap 2, not smiling as much.

Finishing- not smiling at all #HurtLocker
Photo by Talbot Cox.

Crossing the finish line I immediately started to wonder where Kevin was. Looking up my question was answered as I saw him cross seconds behind me. Thanks for pushing me Kevin, Im not sure I have ever dug that deep, and I think the picture is a testament to that. It was not long before I saw Bri who informed me we had both finished top-10 in our age group. Happy, tired, and wanting to sit down I found a place in the shade where I was able to subject Gilberto and his family to race tales. That evening the whole team met up at a great local bar/pub for food, drink, and merriment. It was great to get to hang out with more of the guys, especially when we could slay beers without a race hanging over our heads.

Best Fan. Im sorry for telling you to hush up when you told me I could catch the guy ahead of me out on the course ;)

Navarro family. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR COMING!!!!

 Photo by Talbot Cox.

Its been a heck of a triathlon season. Going into the race I had this crazy idea that maybe, just maybe, if the body was feeling good, I would sign-up for one more race. For years I have dreamed of racing a full ironman. I have spent countless hours on the trainer watching youtube videos of athletes coming down the finishing chute on 4th street in Louisville, KY. 27 days from now, I hope to join them.

Thanks for reading. 


Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Dam Sprint Tri + Musselman Half: A Tale of Two Wins

Fourteen thousand four-hundred - the number of seconds in four hours. Four hours - my goal half-ironman time. So why is breaking that four hour barrier so difficult? Well, in addition to having to swim, bike, and run really, really fast, there are fourteen-thousand four-hundred possibilities for something to go wrong. While my four hour quest still eludes me, I feel very fortunate that the past two weekends of racing (nearly 20,000 seconds) almost every second went my way. Thank you triathlon gods, as a homage, I will do my best to share the highlights.

The Dam Sprint Triathlon
Being that this was my first year in the North East, I have been hesitant to formulate a concrete race schedule. As it turns out, the New England triathlon scene has a lot to offer! After a great start to the season at Syracuse, I was hungry for more. Throwing wood on the fire, Bri told me she wanted to get back into the triathlon scene after a 9 year hiatus. It wasn't long (less than 3600 seconds) before we had picked out The Dam Sprint Triathlon in Amesbury, MA. One of the things I liked about this race is that it was true to distance, rather than many sprints with abbreviated 400-500m swims. Bri was less enthused, but it did mean we got to spend a few evenings together swimming outdoors at the local Charlestown pool (distance unknown, on good days 37y and days when Im swimming slow 43y).

                                                 Charlestown Outdoor Pool (less than 1/2 mile from our door)

Race week preparation went well. Knowing I had signed up for Musselman the week after I didn't want to taper too much the week before so I kept the volume and intensity fairly high throughout the week. Two days before the race I threw in some 30"-30"'s to give the legs a taste of high-intensity that they hadn't experienced for far too long. The way my legs felt as I rode into work that day suggested I may have made a mistake, but only time would tell.

Race morning Bri and I loaded up the car and drove 45 minutes north to the small town of Amesbury, MA. Not having competed in a local race for a while we were thrilled at the ease of picking up our packets and setting our stuff up in transition. We had so much time in fact that there was time for a nap (Bri) and music listening (Greg) in the car before the race. Honestly, I HATE sitting around in transition and watching people set there stuff up as I wait for the race to start. It makes me super nervous, so I often recluse to the car where I can listen to some tunes and try to de-stress.

The water that morning was calm and peaceful, for which I was very grateful, especially with Bri racing. The "elite" field was small, which I enjoyed as it meant I would hopefully be able to find some clean water. Having gotten in a solid warm-up I planned to really step on it until I hit the first buoy and evaluate from there. Feeling really good, as I reached the buoy, and not seeing anyone on either side of me I focused on keeping my turn-over high and not falling in to my 70.3 pace. As I got out of the water I glanced back to see I had opened up a pretty substantial gap. Unzipping my Roka wetsuit as I ran into transition feeding off the energy of being first out of the water for the second time in my life!
Swim time: 10:44 (no strava, Bri had my Garmin 920 XT #HubbyOfTheYear)

                                                                                        Race morning!

Unlike Syracuse, my "quasi flying mount" went much more smoothly this go-round. In less than a minute I had my feet strapped in to my Garneau Tri-400 shoes and I was ready to roll. One of the best things about being first out of the water is getting to follow the lead moto. There is something that just feels bad ass about riding behind a motorcycle, its definitely motivating! It took a while for my legs to come around, but I remained calm as I knew it was a product of the heavy training the preceding weeks. By the end I was pushing some pretty good watts and felt ready for the run!
Bike: 30:34 (logged on the Garmin 500, Im not giving up all my data!)

Setting out on the run without a watch it was pretty hard to evaluate the state of my legs. After what felt like 10 minutes of running I came across the first mile marker, YIKES I thought to myself, hopefully I am carrying a pretty good lead off the bike. Reaching the turn around I immediately realized I had been running uphill almost the entire stretch out. Opening up my stride I took advantage of the free speed on the way back home, crossing the finish line and securing the win. Man did it feel good to run a 5k like that at the end of a race!
Run: 17:19
Race time: 1:00:39

After my race I waited around for Bri to come back from the bike and then ran along with her. It was nice to get to watch her finish the race and dig deep. At the awards ceremony I got to chat with second place finisher, Wattie Ink athlete Gabe Dakowicz who was coming off a solid race at Rev3 Quassy and shared some insight about other worthwhile local races, thanks Gabe!

                                                               She didnt tell me to shut-up a single time!

Musselman 70.3
Before I discuss anything related to this race I need to start by thanking Alyson Fletcher and the wonderful WheelWorks traithlon squad in Boston for telling me about this race and letting me crash with them at their AirBnB the night before. Without them, there would have been no Musselman for me. THANK YOU.

This year the race happened to fall on a weekend when I had told Bri I would drive up to Rochester with her for a gathering of young historic preservationists. Fortunately Lake Seneca (Geneva, NY) was less than an hour away, making this a perfect escape...I mean opportunity. Heading into the weekend I was a bit anxious about some lingering aches from the weekend before but they managed to clear up by race they usually, do.

The race was on Sunday so Saturday afternoon I packed up the car in Rochester and made the short drive down to Lake Geneva. One of the cool things about Musselman is how supportive the town is of the race. There is a huge wall next to packet pick-up that athletes over the years have signed. See below my new, and very tall, friend friend Kristof of the Wheelworks multisport signing the wall. I expect I was the first, but hopefully not the last, to write "Team Every Man Jack" on this mural.

After picking up our packets and cleaning our bikes at our awesome AirBnB we headed to the small town of Penn Yann for dinner. On the way to dinner we learned that Penn Yann is short for Pennsylvania Yankee, and we enjoyed checking out their downtown, home of the world record pancake (and the dog that ate it).

                                         Alyson and Leah stand next to the mold used to make the largest pancake ever!

                                                                    Good luck kisses from a very large K-9.

Race morning I subjected Leah and Kristof to my usual pre-race soundtrack (an eclectic mix featuring Breaking Benjamin, Martin Garraix, Twenty One Pilots, and THE Notorious BIG). After setting up in transition and exchanging pleasantries with the athletes around me (in hopes they'll watch out for my stuff as I go sit in my car) Kristof and I headed back to the car in hopes of finding him a charger for his phone (his Garmin died and he is well aware of the adage that if its not on strava it doesnt count). Unfortunately, our request for a charger was not very well received by the 50y old gentleman next to us, who we could tell was disgusted with our millennial desire to constantly be connected, so Kristof would have to race blind and without "kudos."

Unlike Syracuse, I decided the water was warm enough to get in a bit of a warm-up before the race. After splashing around for a few minutes I assembled next to the rest of the 25-39y wave and waited for the race to start. As an aside, ALL races should have bigger waves like this, especially if individuals are in contention for the overall. It sucks to lose to someone who started 5' behind or in front of you! Following a similar strategy as the week before I decided to swim HARD for to the first buoy. My efforts into a pretty fierce chop seemed pretty futile and it was made worse by the gap that the dolphin diving athlete next to me was creating. At the first buoy I judged myself to be in about 4th or 5th and kept swimming hard. After the second turn we headed back to shore and into a canal with the waves at our back. The sun was bright and I couldnt see where I was going, so I relied on the splash of the athletes in front of me. I hoped that if they were ahead of me they were fast enough to have some idea as to where we were going. Fortunately they did, and because of it I had a pretty darn good swim.
Swim: 26:22  (shoutout to Roka for getting me under 27 twice in a year now!)

In Amesbury it took a while for my legs to warm-up. This time it didnt. After getting my shoes on I was ready to ride my new Felt IA10 to its fastest 70.3 bike split yet. I loved racing on the IA4 last year but the electronic shifting is a total game changer. The first 17 miles of the course were into a bit of an uphill headwind, after which you are rewarded with a downhill tailwind on a wide open road. Averaging almost 30mph for 10 miles, I thought to myself how crazy it is that some guys can ride this fast almost the entire race! Somewhere around mile 45 of the bike the lead moto headed down a road that said "no outlet." If I had to make one complaint about this race it would have been this ~2mi section of pretty much gravel road. Rather than worrying about flatting I chose to focus on all of the gravel grinding I have done in Shenandoah County, VA as a college student and enjoyed the challenge.
Bike: 2:16:40 (57 miles)

                                            Thanks to Louis Garneau and Every Man Jack for making me look fast.

As I headed out of transition I heard the announcer ask me what I had done to the rest of the athletes as there was no one in sight. The first mile I ran along next to the race director who was using his phone to broadcast it on social media which was pretty neat. While some of the course was flat, it certainly had some very steep hills and many were unpaved gravel or on grass. Having been pretty busy with work the week leading into the race I really hadn't had much of a chance to check the run profile, but the first 7 miles were definitely mostly uphill. At one point my bike escort, who insisted on riding about 3/4 of a mile ahead and scavenging the water at the aid stations, said something about me having a 12 minute lead, which was almost 6 minutes off. With about 2 miles to go I really felt the day taking its toll so I slowed down at one of the aid stations to pound some gatorade and take a GU. It did the trick and for the second weekend in a row I was fortunate enough to be the first to cross the line.
Run: 1:22:35
Overall: 4:08:24 (2nd fastest time at the 70.3 distance)

After the race I got to chat with Pat McDonald of The Finger Lake Times who wrote a nice piece after talking to myself and women's champion, and new course record holder, Jennie Hansen. At the beginning of the season I had plans of racing The Boston Triathlon (next weekend), but I have decided that after two weekends of racing it would be best to forgo this event so that I can let the body recover and keep my eyes on 70.3 Worlds in September.

If you've made it this far, do me a favor and log onto ironman tracker and give my buddy John Savage a follow next weekend as he takes on his first full IM at Santa Rosa. He has been training his ass off and is going to totally crush it!

As always, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Beginning 2017 with Syracuse 70.3

The funny thing about blogging is that the longer you go without posting, the more things you need to say in your next entry, which greatly detracts from the desire to write another entry, and somewhat explains why this is coming 2 weeks after the race. As such, I am going to start by condensing the past 11 months of my life into 3 bullet points:
  • Graduated from Ball State with a PhD in Human Bioenergetics
  • Accepted a post-doc in the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University
  • Moved to Boston (living in Charlestown aka "The Town")
Oh, and upon hearing I would be moving to Boston I of course needed to run a marathon to try and qualify for Boston 2018. While my run training was inadequate, the bike fitness carried me through and I ran a 2:52 on a beautiful day in Grand Rapids (one of the best cities in the world, that no one knows about).

Running along at Grand Rapids with racing partner Nathan!

Ok, so that wasn’t so bad. Now we can move onto more important things, like my 2017 triathlon season. Unfortunately my first planned race of the year was cancelled (Ball State Sprint Sprint). Although it was just an early season rust buster, I was excited to get to race against my buddies Adam Voss and Kyle Perry. Kyle is a big-time cyclist that I had persuaded into racing a triathlon. Unfortunately morning thunderstorms had other plans. We took out our frustration with a final FTP test in the training garage that hurt a lot more than the race probably would have.

Kyle had too much espresso? Or just the right amount before the test.

One of the biggest bummers about the sprint being cancelled was that it meant my first race of the season would be Syracuse 70.3. I always like to try to open up with something shorter to get some of the nervous energy out and dust off the winter cobwebs. Alas, this year I would be afforded no such luxury.

Going into the race I was pleased where my fitness was at, especially considering the recent move across cross-country. Almost immediately I found two great training buddies here in Boston in fellow EMJ teammate Corey Robinson and MIT grad student Richard Fineman, who went out of their way to show me the ropes. Syracuse was a Sunday race, which I really appreciated as it eliminated a lot of the stress due to traveling technicalities. That of course didn’t stop me from getting a speeding ticket as we drove through Utica, NY on our way. Fortunately, the officer thought Ellie, who was barking her head off in the back of the car the whole time, was cute and only cited me for “obstructed vision” aka my radar detector. He then encouraged me to return for the Utica 15k, and proceeded to wish me luck at the race. As far as getting pulled over goes: 10/10.

For the first time in my life I actually have a group of triathletes to train with. 
Thank you Corey and Richard!

The day before the race Bri and I chilled out and went to the Wegman’s dog park with Ellie. We figured she deserved it after helping me get out of the speeding ticket the night before. Ellie had a total blast and it appears we sufficiently tired her out as she didn’t destroy the hotel room when we went out for lunch with teammates John Kelly and Mike Hoffman. After a post-lunch nap, I chauffeured the girls (Bri and Ellie) around to a couple of local dog-friendly breweries (you rock Syracuse) before grabbing a quick bite to eat and heading to bed.

Pre-race lunch at Brooklyn Pickle.

Race morning alarm went off at 4am and we quickly loaded up the car and headed over to the venue. Although this meant we pulled into the parking lot 2.5h before the race began, I would far prefer that then dealing with the stress of waiting in line for a parking spot. Before the race Mike, John, and I casually chatted and discussed race strategies. The high for the day was supposed to exceed 90 degrees and the humidity was substantial. Going into the race I tried my best to keep this in the back of my mind, knowing that this being the first race of my season, the proclivity for me to go out too hard and blow up would be high.

The swim at Cuse was a square with right turns. Based on my strong performances in the swim last year I positioned myself at the front of the age group, next to a dude that looked kinda like a fast swimmer. The good news was I was right, but there was no way in hell I was going to stay with him. Almost immediately from the gun a group of 3-4 guys jetted away from me at a pace way faster than my body was ready to handle. My self-confidence hurting, I focused on swimming strong and maneuvering around the gaggle of swimmers from other age groups who had gone off before our wave. Why is it they put the 20-40y old men at the back? As the swim progressed, I could tell the long course training I’ve been doing was paying huge dividends. My arms never seemed to fatigue, which was huge as we smashed into sizeable waves on the return back to the beach. Exiting the water I wasn’t sure what to expect for a time but I was glad to be on land and ready to chase.
 Happy to not be swimming.

In triathlon every athlete hopes to have his or her bike right next to the bike exit in transition. I need to get better at hoping. After throwing on my new Louis Garneau P-09 helmet, which looks totally bad ass, I hauled my bike to the other side of transition. Flying mount? Totally botched but at least rubber was still down. The first 2 miles of the bike course flew by, the next 10 did not as we climbed over 1,000 ft, which happens to be more than 60 miles in Muncie. Being my first race of the year, I of course started to hard, pushing 280 for 20min. About 40 minutes in I began thinking back to a tremendous blow-up on the run I had at Muncie two years ago and all of a sudden I was happy to back off the pace. At mile 30 a rider came by me. Reeling him back in we traded legal pulls for a while until he blasted a hill, escaping me for the remainder of the race. Ive got to give it to him, he rode stronger than I did. Fortunately he’s very active in the Boston triathlon scene and so I look forward to racing him again. At mile 54 there was a “no exceeding 25mph zone” where I was again passed by 3 people. I hope they realized they were disqualified before the run....

I smile more when I run with my bike in my hand. Maybe I should just take it through the whole run course.

I always like to compare coming off the bike to opening a present you didn’t ask for. You never really know how you are going to feel about running until you take a few steps! While today I certainly hadn’t received the keys to a new Ferrari, I was content with my old reliable Volvo. The two-loop run course was hilly and unrelenting and offered little protection from the baking sun. The day before the race I decided to purchase a 10 oz water bottle hand carrier and it may have been the smartest move I made all weekend. The entire first loop of the run I just kept telling myself to stay within myself, its all about the second loop. I feel fortunate that over the years of racing I have trained myself to know where the fine line between “racing hard and blowing up” is, and today was not a day to flirt with it. As I rounded the turn of the first loop I passed Davis Frease, an incredibly talented athlete in my age group who was currently sitting in second place but had fallen victim to the heat. Focusing on keeping my legs turning over, at mile 7 I was alarmed to feel that the sole of my right shoe (Adidas Adios) was squirting out the back! Trying to come up with a solution I decided to ditch it at the next aid station. Not sure why this happened, I would guess they got too wet. Adidas was unfortunately not over supportive when I shared with them so I have moved onto the Brooks Hyperion which I am loving. The next few miles my slow-but-steady pacing paid off and I finished strong.
Overall: 4:37.44 (2nd place OA)

With two dudes who inspire me to get it done, every day.

Having had some time to reflect back on my performance I am very happy with what I was able to accomplish. Although the time was 33 minutes off my PR, the course + weather at Syracuse made for an extremely challenging race that is not for the faint of heart. I was REALLY hoping to have a break out run. I know I can run faster than I have been in the 70.3 distance and I’ve really been training hard to do so. That said, Cuse was not the course to prove it. My racing schedule this year has been a little bit flexible with the move but I am feeling good and have decided to enter a local sprint next weekend with Bri before racing Musselman 70.3 in Lake Geneva the next weekend. Big thanks to Team Every Man Jack and all of our wonderful sponsors, and most of all, thanks to Bri and Ellie for your love and support. Thanks for reading!

These two though.