Last week following my Tower26 ocean swim workout I was thinking about how in every interval I naturally find myself swimming stroke for stroke next to one particular athlete, who for the sake of this analogy has very similar open water swimming ability to myself. Even though we are equally matched we are typically far apart coming out of the water and around the first orange cone for one important reason, timing of the last wave into shore. I found this thought profound because at a certain level we are generally evenly matched with our competition however who comes out first often comes down to how our bodies show up on race day, which after months of steady training is very critically tied to the timing of the final weeks leading up to the event. We control this with taper, which is distinctly different from rest, and unlike the timing of waves much in our control.
Heading into Vineman 70.3 I made it very vocal that I was battling some of the biggest training weeks of my life, not just in volume but in intensity. It was hard for me mentally going into race day because I knew I wouldn’t be 100% however I had invested myself emotionally considering this was my first Ironman 70.3 of the year, I would be toeing up with some big local athletes and teammates and I felt that this race would really signify my standing as a triathlete after some significant shifts this last year. I was deeply afraid of my body breaking down on the course from all I’ve put it through recently and for this reason told my coach the day before I figured I would have a great race or terrible race. Turns out I was wrong and despite some minor issues ended up having exactly the race I was supposed to have.
Vineman is a point to point 70.3 which makes logistics a little screwy either getting there or getting back. I was fortunate to have a house close enough to the start to ride in the morning (no bike check in the night prior), unfortunately I made the rookie mistake of forgetting my hydration and ended up having to back track, turning my 10 min easy warm-up into a 30 minute moderate effort. I figured this would only help me, trying not to stress over it, and made it to T1 with just enough time (no extra) to start the race after my usual morning routine, unfazed. The race has a wide spread of start times and for once I was lucky to be the first amateur men’s wave (M30-32) which meant I would be uninterrupted out on the course as well as miss most of the heat the later waves would have to deal with.
The Vineman swim course comes with positives and negatives. It is flat and narrow, easy to sight, but has its share of shallow spots where it can become confusing whether to swim or walk. In my practice swim the day before I made the decision I would not walk unless it was so shallow that my stroke became impeded and would only do so if I saw I was going faster out of water then the competition. This didn’t become an issue until half way at the turnaround where my fingers started to scrape ground. I walked for only 10 yards maybe, but it was so painful I was right back into the water as soon as it deepened past my hip. I was lucky to find a small pace group I held with for almost the entire swim. I knew I could leave the group but from my experience in the pool practicing drafting I knew the effort wouldn’t be worth the few seconds saved and came into T1 feeling good with a new 70.3 swim PR (excluding Wildflower) of 30:47 (26 in AG).
Bad news coming out of T1. I had been super nervous about how my body would feel riding having suffered multiple times in past races with glute/lower back issues at the start of the bike. It was there in Muskoka, Bassman and particularly Lake Placid where it sabotaged my whole race. I was heartbroken to find at the start of the ride that it was back again, this time in my left glute. Although upset I knew how to respond and pushed through at a high cadence with power no greater than 225 watts for the first 20 minutes. It wasn’t until 7 miles in when I was passed by an orange flash known as Reilly Smith who mentioned something to me that was impossible to hear as he came screaming by (in my mind I heard “stop being such a little bitch and start pushing some power!”) that I decided to go. I was able to up my lap average to 260 watts and held it there for most of the remaining miles, dropping at the end but I’m fairly certain this was due at least partially to the terrain and not a drop in effort. With the exception of Reilly I caught everyone that had passed me in the opening miles and came into T2 13th in AG with a time of 2:28:08.
I am perfectly aware never to try things out on race day however as I entered the chute a little voice in my head told me to slip out of my bike shoes, which I never do, but it ended up being a great move as the run into transition was long and on pavement. The move let me catch another AG through transition and I was happy to notice only a handful of bikes on the 30-34 rack.
This is my bread and butter! I knew once I took a couple steps that I was ready to run my 13.1, only question would be if I could kick. It was an awesome surprise heading out of T2 to see Sara Pimpiano, a fellow T26er and phenomenal triathlete, who yelled from the sideline “let’s see that run of yours”, which got me excited to race.
One important distinction in my run is that I don’t consider myself to chase the competition down, rather I sit back and let them come to me with a steady effort and even splits. The plan was to go out in 6:20’s for the first 4 and increase the effort, again at 8 and finish strong through the last couple miles. I had a target HR of 169 but ended up throwing that out the window and just going by feel. To be honest this race was the Every Man Jack show. Every jersey I saw was another target but for each one I passed there was another a half mile up ahead. I didn’t feel hot but stuck to the plan yelling “splash me” at the aid stations which kept my temperature down and gave the volunteers some fun.
At mile 4 I picked up the pace and dropped some low 6’s with a 6 flat through the vineyard. At mile 8 I told myself I was picking it up further but although my effort was there the pace sat steady. I came through the shoot in a time of 1:21:38 (6:13/mile and 4th fastest amateur run split) and had dropped to 7th in my AG for the finish with an overall time of 4:25:19 (PR).
Itwas a great experience for me to start from the front for once. With the exception of Reilly in a race with 2500 competitors and 236 in my AG I wasn’t passed by another athlete, which feels good but emphasizes the importance of the swim and how significant my 7 min improvement from last season has been. Even though Ironman 70.3 is a near 5 hour race we have gotten to the point where every minute matters. I simply can’t make up the difference on the run!! Using the two Tower26 teammates I knew coming up from LA who both crushed their age groups as reference I’m slow in the swim by a couple minutes, fast in the run by a few, but I’m far behind on the bike by ten minutes or more. So how do I make it up??
For starters everyone says it’s not about the bike, however I’m the only one in the top 100, perhaps top 1000 still racing a cheap aluminum tri bike. I am hopeful that once my race bike is ready it will save me some time. I’d be happy with even a minute of free speed. Taper should help tremendously! I won’t spectate to the savings but feeling fresh definitely has its effect on race day. For the rest I hope to just keep doing what I’m doing and am confident the seconds will come off with time.
10 minutes is a HUGE gap but I am hopeful this time next year I will be looking at another PR being that much closer. The important thing is that I’m happy, enjoy what I’m doing and am hungry for more. It’s a good way to be in a sport that can take so much out of you. For now, onward to Tremblant!! Some big weeks of training and most likely some hardships ahead but so excited to see what I can do if I can only get to the start line healthy and ready to have my race.
As always thanks again to QT2 and my coach Vinny for continuing to point me in the right direction. Thanks to Gerry Rodriguez and Tower26 for putting such a constructive group together, having the right support structure is everything in this sport. Thanks to all the friends and family that texted, Facebook messaged or put up words of encouragement on my wall before and after.