TL;DR: I raced my "A" race for the season in late July at Ironman Lake Placid. It was an awesome experience, where I learned a lot, and put together a great swim and bike. My run wasn't ideal, but I fought through it and was proud of my effort, finishing with a new PR and 6th in my age group, 40th overall.
Last year I had set two big race targets for myself. One was to race well at Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP), my first time racing the full distance since my DNF at Ironman Maryland in 2015. That will be the focus of this recap. The other is the upcoming Ironman 70.3 World Championships in September in Chattanooga, TN. I qualified for that race last summer at Ironman 70.3 Muncie. Check back in September to see how that went.
Mid-season really for me was all about focusing on Lake Placid and being ready for that race. From mid-April through mid-July was when I did the lion’s share of the volume needed to be physically and mentally prepared to race for 10 hours at a very high intensity. When you are doing volume like that, it gets more mentally taxing than you would realize or expect. But I was given a gift in that I found a great training partner in my friend David Weeks. He and I are similar in age and ability, each having our strengths and weaknesses. We had ridden together and known each other for the past year or two, but really started doing targeted workouts across all three disciplines together this summer. It was huge. David deserves a lot of kudos for pushing me and keeping me motivated, and I hope that I was able to do the same for him. Hell, he even took a few days off to go up to Lake Placid with me in May and train on the course! Having someone to chat with and share the driving on that 8.5 hour drive was huge, as well!
Throughout the IMLP build I did do some racing. I raced the Chattanooga 70.3 at the start of the build (which I detailed in the early season recap), and I also raced the Colonial Beach International triathlon towards the end of the build, but really trained straight through both. The odd thing is that I think I may like racing without taper even better than with. Somehow I just feel faster and tougher that way. Odd. But I don’t recommend it if you are trying to PR, because you very much ride the line between performing well and completely collapsing when you do this. And this is kind of what happened to me at the Colonial Beach International (CBI).
CBI was July 9th, and came right at the end of 4 weeks of very heavy work, my second of two big build blocks. So to say that my legs were tired in an understatement. But I do just love to race, and VTSMTS, the organizers of CBI, do an amazing job with their races, which are athlete centric, fun, and in great locations. CBI is about 1.5 hours driving for me, and made for an easy day of racing, logistically. I figured it would be a great way to celebrate the end of my really hard training for IMLP.
And it really was a great day. As I got set up in the morning, I ran into a bunch of triathlon friends, seeing old teammates (Bob Flanigan and Andy Baldwin), and just took in a pretty morning. Pretty soon it was time to start the swim. Colonial Beach sits right on the Potomac River, at one of its wider points, so it is kind of like an ocean swim in that the water can be very choppy. Race day was no exception. At the gun we were off! I navigated the first quarter or so of the course well, and settled into a good pace. By about half way I was sitting in 4th or 5th place. That continued all the way back to the beach exit. I ran into transition, threw on helmet, grabbed my bike and ran out to the mount line and was off.
I started the bike in about 5th position. I had talked to my coach, John Heuisler, before, and we agreed that I didn’t have any goals for pacing, just to go out and have fun. So I put my head down and really tried to go after the bike. And it was a blast! I didn’t really pay any attention to my numbers, just tried to reel in the 4 guys that were ahead of me. The bike course is a lightly rolling out and back, so you can see where you stand about half way in. I had slowly been gaining on the 4th and 3rd place bikers as I got closer to the turn around, and by about a mile after the turn around I took over 4th place overall. It felt good, and I rode strong all the way back into the transition, ultimately putting up the 3rd fastest bike split of the day, with one of the two faster being a pro triathlete who was also racing (and would ultimately take the overall win).
Another quick transition and I was out on the run. CBI has a beautiful, but flat, run that loops around the town, makes a U-turn, and returns to finish by transition. As I started the run I could see the 3rd place runner, but he was definitely putting time into me, so I didn’t focus much on him. And after about the first mile I couldn’t focus much on anything! My legs finally really started to protest. The accumulation of a lot of hard training and a very hard bike leg caught up to me in a big way, and 5 of the 6.2 miles that day were a struggle. Unfortunately, the biker I had passed caught me about 3 miles in, and ended up putting about 30 seconds into me. Oddly though, I was really happy to be out there the whole time regardless of my position or the pain in my legs. I really felt thankful as I pushed through the end of that run. And ultimately I was 2nd in my age group, and 5th overall. And for the first time ever I broke 2 hours at the distance, setting a new PR at 1:59:15. I’d definitely call it a good day. I even capped it off by going for another 6 mile run immediately after the race. After all, I was training for IMLP, not CBI.
The Main Event
After finishing CBI, I started my taper phase. It comprised of a medium-light week starting just after that race, and then a super light week leading into IMLP race day. To help my relaxation and as a reward for all of the long days that my family had to endure, we decided to spend the week leading into IMLP on vacation in the town of Lake Placid. So the Monday before race day we drove up to Lake Placid and got settled in the house we had rented for a week up there. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for race prep. The entire area up in the Adirondacks is beyond beautiful, the weather was great, and there was a ton to do. We did one or two things each day, saw all the Olympic venues, and just enjoyed relaxing in the really nice house we had rented, which was just a few blocks away from Lake Placid Village (though, as we learned quickly always up and down a hill). Having a house also afforded us the ability to do most meals at home so I knew I was eating well and getting the right food in leading into the race. We were even able to host a dinner on the Friday night before the race for my other teammates who were racing, and their families. It was a lot of fun, and I can’t thank Kara enough for doing all the cooking and taking care of everything so I could focus on relaxing and getting ready to race.
In the days leading into the race I got a chance to swim in the lake several times, do some riding on the course, and a little bit of light running. Packet pickup went smoothly, and I got most details taken care of on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday I met up with Clay Emge, we did the last few tweaks to the bikes, then rode together to meet our other two teammates, John Kelly and Michael Hoffman, for bike drop off. Everything got racked, we all walked through transition, got our bearings, asked the last minute questions, and generally got ourselves ready for Sunday morning. I was back at the house early for a good dinner, and to get to bed pretty early. And I actually slept pretty well for the night before any big race, getting about 6 hours total.
As is custom, I was up early, got my pre-race breakfast in, and walked down towards transition to drop my fluids off on my bike, drop off my special needs bag, and get warmed up and ready for the swim. On my walk another triathlete pulled up beside me and offered me a ride. It was a super kind gesture, and I took him up on it. I’m always amazed at how nice people are at these races. There is a general sense of camaraderie that really makes it special. Everything went smoothly, I got a light jog in for 10-15 minutes, got my wetsuit on, kissed the girls, and headed down to the swim start to do a little in water warm up and get ready. Then I headed over to the <1:00 corral and started to get ready. I saw John Kelly there, and we joked and traded encouragements while waiting for the start.
And it came quickly. The horn went off and they started letting us in to the water in groups of ten. I was about half way back in my corral, and was in a minute or two after the official start. It was good, though, as I was able to get through the inevitable mess of people pretty quickly, and find a good rhythm and some open water to swim in. I was also able to find some feet that were going about the same speed and use the draft. IMLP is a great swim course. The water is flat, clear, and comfortable. There is even a buoy line you can follow so that you never have to sight. If you can be on the line, that is. That space was pretty congested, so I chose to swim off the line for much of the time, so I could be able to keep my smooth rhythm intact. IMLP is also unique in that it is a 2 loop swim with a run across the beach between loops. The first loop went by quickly, then I stood up, felt woozy from the quick change in position, and staggered across the beach to get in for the 2nd loop. I must have looked crazy, but then again, I’m sure everyone else looked just the same. The 2nd loop was much more congested, and required a lot more maneuvering as I swam past and around the slower swimmers. Ultimately, I was able to find people to draft off of much of the way, and still had a good swim, finishing in just under an hour. Then it was on to the super long T1.
When you exit the water, there are people to help you get out of your wetsuit right there, which was awesome, then you have to run about .25 miles to the transition. Thankfully it was carpeted, and I made relatively quick work of it. I grabbed my bike bag, went into the changing tent, and a super helpful volunteer helped me get socks, cycling shoes, and helmet on, then put all my swim stuff in the bag for me. I was back up and running for my bike in no time. This was just the start of the amazing volunteer work at IMLP. Coming out of the tent I had to run to the far end of the bikes, then back down most of the way to retrieve my bike. A volunteer called out my number as I was running, and they had my bike waiting for me at the end of the row so I didn’t even have to break stride. It was awesome.
I had a smooth mount, and started the bike excited to take on 112 challenging miles through an amazing part of the country. IMLP was a great bike course for me. Even though I’m on the bigger side for a triathlete (which hurts me on the run to be sure), I love climbing. And IMLP has plenty of climbing. The course starts with some short quick climbs, then goes into a long, very fast descent, then through a valley with lots of time in aero, then turns into the big climbing to bring you back to the town of Lake Placid and the start of the second loop of the bike. I really like the cadence of the course, as you are able to really switch up your position, and the scenery is phenomenal. For IMLP I had a very clear pace target. Through the first lap I really focused on getting into a rhythm and not going too hard. But I was having a lot of fun at the same time, really just loving being out on the bike. It was a perfect day, and I was going fast. On the long descent I even go up to my max speed for the day of 49mph! What a blast! I saw all three of my teammates out on the course, and we all cheered for each other. By the time I finished the first loop, I felt great, but was a bit high on my pace target, so made the conscious decision to back it off through the second lap. That proved to be a good strategy, as I still went very fast, but by the time I completed the loop, I was right in my race target range, and really felt good going into T2. But I had also been racing for 114.4 miles by that point, so there was definitely some fatigue hiding behind the excitement I felt.
Going through T2 I had another smooth, fast, transition with the help of volunteers. As I headed out onto the run I was actually excited for the marathon, as well, the first time I’ve ever felt that going into that part of a full Ironman race. I saw Kara and the kids and they cheered my on as I started my run. IMLP’s run course is very, very challenging. I starts with a lot of downhill, for about the first 3 miles or so, then has a rolling out and back section, then a lot of climbing to finish each of the two loops. I stopped quickly in the first run to pee (again, a first for me at the distance, hydration plan working!), and got into what felt like a good, albeit fast, rhythm. But when I hit the out and back section I really started to feel the miles in my legs and the strength of the sun on my face. It wasn’t hot per se, but being at a high elevation the sun has a really powerful effect on you. As I got to about mile 5 I started to feel the urge to walk. My body was telling me that it really needed to conserve more that I was.
One of my biggest problems as a triathlete is that I’m just not good at running medium speed. I don’t mean that as any type of humblebrag, because I am a passable runner at best, but I definitely prefer shorter harder runs to longer steadier ones. I am good at running quickly, or walking. And unfortunately that is what I ended up doing through about 2/3rds of the IMLP run course. Thankfully I kept at it, and never gave up, just kept remembering the happiness that I was out there, and being thankful to be able to pursue this goal, and it was enough to keep me going, pushing, fighting, and staying proud. When I finally crossed the finish line, I did so proud, and with a smile on my face.
I think it is fair to say that I had a great experience at IMLP, and really am proud of myself and my effort. That was my most important goal for the day, to be proud of the race I put together. I had a great swim. I had a great bike. I had a lot of fun. I was grateful to be out there. I didn’t have a perfect run, but I fought through it. And when I crossed the finish line, I did it with a new PR, 9:55:19. I ended up 6th in my Age group, and 40th overall, including the pros.
It has always been an ultimate goal of mine to earn the chance to take the line at the Ironman World Championships in Kona. I would have had to be 3rd in a very fast age group that day to earn that, and ultimately I was a bit shy of that. But the interesting thing is that not earning the slot doesn’t tarnish my experience in any way. I had fun racing for 140.6 miles. That is the first time in my 5 tries at the distance where I can say that. And I learned a ton. And I got to race with a smile on my face. And see my teammates do the same. And hear my family cheering for me, and hugging me at the finish. And I got to complete one of the most iconic races in the world, finishing on the same Olympic oval that gold medals have been won on. It was an amazing day and I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
Now, back to training to get ready for the 70.3 Worlds in just a month. Thankfully I’m in pretty good shape.