Better late than never, right? I am long overdue getting my recap of Ironman 70.3 Muncie posted. So overdue that I have already raced the race after that one, the New York City Triathlon. So, in the interest of everyone’s time, I’ll recap both in sequential posts. They definitely both had two key similarities. Both were season goals of mine and both were special because of the generosity and hospitality of my teammates.
Ironman 70.3 Muncie was one of a few IM70.3 races held on the first qualifying weekend for the 2017 70.3 World Championships, to be held in Chattanooga, TN. Given that the worlds are coming back to the US next year, and that Chattanooga is even drivable for me, it was a no brainer that a goal of my 2016 season was to earn the chance to race there. I chose Muncie because I thought it could be a good course for me, it was early enough that if I missed my target, there would be plenty of chances for redemption, and that it was drivable at 10 hours for me (even though I ultimately ended up flying).
When I went to look for accommodations, I found them to be few, and quite expensive. Thankfully, I had met one of my new teammates over the winter, Greg Grosicki, and knew he was pursuing his PhD at Ball State, and living in Muncie with his awesome wife, Briana. So, I reached out and asked if they would host me. They gladly accepted. I think that in many ways, this was a difference-maker for me. The local knowledge and local touch can’t be underestimated when you are racing away from home. For example, when I had trouble getting my bike back together right from the shipping case, Greg pointed me to his mechanic, who did the work quickly and well, and traded some great stories with me in the process. Way better than I would have fared just walking into a place.
Due to the aforementioned bike issues, I didn’t really get much of a check ride the day before the race, but 2016 has really be the year of not stressing the little stuff too much. I knew that my fitness would carry me through, so instead I focused on getting some work done, and getting mentally prepped. I even took the time to hit the grocery to get a good, healthy dinner as a way to repay Briana for so kindly hosting me (though, in all honesty, not sure how much of a repayment it was since she cooked!). The day all in all went easily, with a fast check in, getting the bike squared away, a great healthy dinner with good conversation, and an early bed time.
Race day came with an early wake up, as normal. I got my nutrition in, got dressed, drank some coffee and headed out to the race site, about 25 min away from the Grosicki’s place. As I got close, the traffic to the parking was getting a bit crazy, so I pulled into a driveway right across from the finish line that was advertising paid parking. I figured the nominal fee for proximity was well worth it. I couldn’t have been more right, but more on that later. I got transition squared away, caught up with my teammate, Kevin Denny, who was also racing, and generally got myself ready. Bathroom, stretching, and light conversation with fellow competitors.
Before I knew it, I was in the water, getting ready to start. I was definitely nervous, but in an excited way, not a worried way. But nervous enough that about a minute before the start, one of my fellow racers pointed out that I hadn’t zipped up my swim skin! Yikes. Glad that his attention and kindness got that out of the way. He zipped me up, and just like that, it was time to race. I settled in well, found separation, and my race pace. I was swimming comfortably and had a great line. Not too many people from my wave ahead of me. Pretty quickly we overtook the wave ahead of us, then the wave ahead of them. Everything was going great until we made the last turn, directly into the rising sun. Even though I had tinted goggles, the glare on the water made it impossible to see. I couldn’t make the buoys out, and just had to follow the caps. I found each buoy eventually, but definitely added some time to my swim. I came out of the water a few minutes slow, but figured (correctly) that everyone was having the same problem. Transition went smoothly and I was out onto the bike.
The Muncie bike course is a blast. It is relatively flat, with only minor grades, and the pavement has been mostly redone on the main stretch. You ride around the lake, and onto a local highway that is closed for the race. On the highway you do two loops, then back to transition. To put it quite bluntly, I hauled ass. It was awesome. I was out onto the course before most, and had clear roads for most of the first loop. I ended up trading positions with two other guys for most of the ride. It was fun and kept me focused on putting down good, steady power, avoiding surges, and staying aero. Briana Grosicki had come out to spectate, and I caught her cheering me on during the first loop. With my family not at the race, it was a much needed boost. I was able to stay consistent, nail my power target, and came into transition in excellent position. I knew there were two or three people ahead of me from my age group.
I felt better than usual coming off the bike, even though I had posted one of my fastest race splits over the distance. I grabbed my nutrition and headed out to take on the rolling run. It was hot, but not overly so, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a good amount of shade on the run. I settled quickly into my race pace, and fought the urge to “race” with other runners early. That paid off in droves. My body adjusted, and slowly but surely I started picking people off. One person from my age group blew by me early to take over 2nd, but I kept my head down and trusted my pacing. As I ran, I focused on being smooth and steady, and tried to really enjoy the scenery and the volunteers. Muncie has, without a doubt, the best volunteers I have ever come across. They were epic. Costumes, cheering, just general awesomeness at every aid station. It was a boost that kept me going each mile. All that stuff about Midwest kindness is spot on. With about 3 miles to go I caught up with the guy who had passed me early, and took 2nd back over. We were both starting to really feel it, but encouraged each other for about a mile. Then I started to pull away. Being true to my pacing really was paying off. I kept strong, and picked another few guys off on my way to the line (not in my age group). I crossed the line in 4:15, a new PR, and took 2nd in my Age Group and 6th overall. My teammate, Kevin, took 2nd overall, and won his age group. The other thing that came along with both of our placings were slots to the 70.3 worlds. Goal accomplished. We were both especially proud to be some of the first EMJ athletes to qualify to race.
But back to the parking and whole Midwestern kindness theme. Post-race, after catching back up with Briana, Kevin and his mom, it became clear that due to where I had parked, I was not getting out anytime soon. I went over to talk to the owner of the house, to ask him what he thought. He was kind enough that he actually opened his home to both Kevin and I and offered to let us each use his shower to clean up. Without even leaving the race site, we were able to clean up and change into our podium gear. He even offered to let us swim in his pool. Kind of wish I would have taken him up on that. I would highly recommend Muncie to anyone looking for a good, fast, fun race. The people are awesome, the scenery is beautify, and the weather was great.