Starting the year off with a little “forced” recovery
My 2017 got off to a less than auspicious start. In an attempt to mark my 39th birthday in a special way, I decided to run a route that traced out the numbers “3” and “9”. Cool, huh? Well, it was up until I tripped and fell, getting a Bennet’s fracture in my left thumb in the process. It was kind of bad, and required surgical repair. The silver lining, however, was that it happened in early January, so I had plenty of time to have it heal up well without missing too much quality training. The only big loss was that I missed the opportunity to go to Team EMJ’s training camp in Las Vegas, always a highlight of the spring. But upon reflection, it seems like the forced recovery time did me well. I spent a lot of the time while my thumb was healing either resting, or building a base on the trainer and treadmill. Not normal for me, as I’m typically one to go outdoors no matter the weather. I am, however, in a much better place physically and mentally at this point than any season prior, so I think really was for the best on some level.
Kicking off the Racing Season
I decided to head down to Richmond in April to kick the tires at the Richmond Tri Club Sprint. I had gotten a new tri bike, the super-fast Felt IA10, over the winter and was trying out some new cycling shoes (Giro Empire SLX adapted for triathlon use), so it seemed only prudent to go out and have a dry run before I got to my first planned longer race of the year, Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga. The added benefit was that I got to both stay with and race with one of my oldest friends, Whit Clements, and participate in a corn hole tournament after the race with my other best friend, Tim Trahant.
The race was an awesome experience, and really well set up. While a pool swim, it was done in the style of an open water swim, with a serpentine course set up throughout the Olympic-sized swimming pool, where you had to actually sight and turn around buoys. Really good stuff. After the 400m swim, there was a very slightly rolling 20k, 1 loop, bike, and a fast 2 loop 5k run.
Race morning was a bit grey and drizzly, but honestly perfect conditions to race in. I got there early, got my bike set up, and decided to swim in only my tri suit, forgoing a swim skin. I mean, it was only 400m. I got a few warm up laps in, then we all started to queue up for the start. The race organizers had given me a low bib number and I was able to start in an elite wave, right at the beginning of the race. There were about 14 of us in this group.
When it was time to start, we got in, started treading water, and waited. And we were off! I took an outside line, and ended up in 3rd place after the first turn. One person had taken a significant lead (later learned he was a collegiate swimmer), and I was sitting right on the hip of the 2nd place, taking a nice draft. About halfway in, I felt good, and decided to push the pace a bit, and came around the other swimmer, moving into second place. I opened up about a 10 second lead on the rest of the field and got out of the pool comfortably in 2nd place.
Transition went quickly, and I was out on the bike course just after one other athlete (though not the guy first out of the water). After fumbling a bit with my new shoes as I mounted the bike, I settled into aero and got to work. About 2-3 miles in I caught the rider ahead of me, and took over the lead spot. It was really cool, honestly, to be alone in front, with the moto ahead of me. I stayed that way, and built up about a 45-60 second lead on the next biker. It was a great ride for me, and I felt strong all the way through it, averaging over 26mph.
I came into transition easily, racked the bike, threw on my shoes and was out onto the run. I settled into a hard, but sustainable pace for the 5k. I ran smoothly, increasing my lead over 2nd place as I ran. I finished hard and was the first one across the finish line. It felt awesome. After waiting for several others to finish, to make sure that there wasn’t a chance of someone starting later in the start order having a faster total time than me, I figured out that I had won overall. A first for me, and a great way to kick off the season. The legs were definitely there!
Then it was on to enjoy the rest of the day hanging out with Kara, Whit, Cara, Tim, JD, Shaina, Bella, Annie, and Jackson. We had a blast playing corn hole, catching up, eating, and just generally enjoying being around each other. I can’t think of a better way to have started the 2017 racing season off.
Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga – Oh, the Drama!
Last season a bunch of my team EMJ teammates and I signed up for Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga, intending to use it as a mini training camp and an opportunity to preview the 70.3 World Championships course. Long story short, the Worlds course is actually different, but was released in enough time for us to take advantage of the opportunity and still ride the course. Having missed the Vegas camp, I was especially excited to get the chance to train and race with my teammates.
I left DC on the Wednesday before the race and drove part of the way down to Chattanooga, finishing on Thursday morning. It was a smooth, easy drive, and I got there in plenty of time to get settled into our team house, and meet up with the other guys that got in during the day. About 5 of us ended up even having time to go for a long run along the run course. Man it was hot and humid, but it was beautiful too. I learned really quickly that Chattanooga is a very, very hilly city.
Friday was the big training day. By then there were about 12 of us together, and we went out to the Chickamunga Dam Rec Area to do some open water swimming. The water was perfect, and it was a hot enough day that I even took off my wetsuit during the swim. After a good 45’ long swim, we packed up, headed back to the house, and started staging for our preview ride of the Worlds bike course.
Due to logistics and travel for a few others, we left at 12pm. That may not have been the best of decisions, as it was hot and humid and I think I sweat more than I have in one session all year. But the course did not disappoint. It was challenging and beautiful, and will definitely accomplish the goal of making sure there aren’t big bike packs as can happen in World Championships races, where everyone is similar in speed and ability. After a hard 4 hours, we got back to the house, cleaned up, and went to find dinner.
That led to Saturday, which had an easy morning swim back at Chickamunga Dam, followed immediately by a short bike. That was all I needed to get my legs ready to race on Sunday. Back to the house to clean up the bike, take it down to bike check-in, and help with the team dinner that evening at the house.
Bike check-in was where the drama started for me. While my bike had worked perfectly that morning, on the way down to bike check-in I found out that my electronic shifting was completely non-functional. I spent hours with the on-site mechanics trying to fix it, but to no avail. Unfortunately, it looked like I would have only one gear to race in on Sunday. The only silver lining was that I knew that in advance and was able to select my gear, and mentally prepare. I was determined to do the race. After all, I had come all the way down to train AND race. And, thankfully, I had nothing to race for other than experience and pride. After talking through it with my coach Saturday night, I decided to make a go of it, and race no matter what happened on Sunday. I went to bed early and did my best to get some rest in advance of the early wake up.
Race morning went smoothly. I was up a little before the alarm, got my food, and left early to head to transition, in hopes of taking one last stab at fixing my bike. One of my teammates, Reid Foster, even came down with me for technical and moral support. We tried, but were unable to fix the bike. Oh well, the die was cast. I got transition set up, caught up with a different teammate, Ryan Linden, and jogged from transition to swim start. After a final bathroom trip and drop off of the morning clothes, it was time to get into the wetsuit and get ready to swim.
The weather called for thundershowers, and the current was strong from an overnight rainstorm. This led the race organizers to decide to shorten the amateur swim course from 1.2 miles to 0.8 miles. While this was disappointing, and delayed the start by about 20 minutes, I didn’t let it stress me out. I was really focused on having fun, working hard, and seeing what I could do with single-speed bike.
When it was finally time to start, my teammates and I got in and got down to business. I had a good and fast swim, finishing very near the front of the field, and got out of my wetsuit and through transition quickly and smoothly. And like that I was onto the bike, this time with no fumbling around with my shoes.
I have to say the bike was pretty anti-climactic. I was honestly expecting to be pushed to my breaking point, and have to pray to have running legs left, but as it turns out I picked exactly the right gear for that course (54-17, in case you were wondering). The course was rolling, which had me standing on the climbs and spinning out on the downhills, but it proved to be a good pattern for this particular day. Being out of the saddle on climbs helped me to stretch and stay loose, and on the descents I focused on conserving energy and getting as aero as possible. 56 miles later I finished with a 2:20 bike split, which had me very much in contention in my age group. I knew I was in a good spot coming into transition, and was energized when I racked my bike on a largely empty bar.
Shoes on, and quickly out onto the run course. The run starts out with a short stretch, then goes into a two lap run course. Unfortunately, that first stretch is largely uphill, which makes it even harder to relax into a sustainable race rhythm. I powered through it, though, and found a really nice guy to pace with for about half of the first lap. That was all I needed to settle into my race pace, which was remarkably right where I would have been with a normal bike leg. Everything was coming together well, and I was energized, even though the course was tough.
The other nice part about the Chattanooga run course is that it is beautiful, interesting, and pretty well shaded. I powered through, enjoyed the changing terrain, the bridge crossings, and even had enough energy to sprint down the finishing chute for a 1:26 run split. I finished with what would have been very close to my PR at the distance had the swim been regulation distance. To say I was proud of the effort, considering all the circumstances, is an understatement. It was capped off by having an awesome crew of teammates who all did very well in their own races, with EMJ taking about 7 of the top 20 amateur placings. I ended up 4th in my age group, and 20th amateur, with my teammate Ryan being 2nd in our age group and earning his slot to Worlds. Three of my teammates, Kevin, Mike and Reid, were 2nd, 3rd, and 5th overall Amateurs. It was an awesome day for EMJ!
Chattanooga for me was about being with my teammates, racing hard, and making lemonade. I’m proud of the work that I did leading into the race that gave me the fitness to compete, but I’m mostly proud that I was able to keep my head in the right place, have fun, and let the rest take care of itself. That makes me feel incredibly excited and optimistic for Ironman Lake Placid in late July. I feel good that I’ll be able to do the same thing, race hard, be proud of my training, and focus first on the joy of being out on the course. Then the results can really speak for themselves, and I’ll be happy with my effort, no matter what.
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