2015: The Year of the Ironman

It was supposed to be a neat and clean year.  I was fortunate to get on board with Team Zoot for the year, which was awesome to finally get some backing from a company whose shoes I've been racing in for 6 years.  Great shoes, need I say more!  The plan for the year was simple.  Start training on January 1st.  Race a half marathon, do a tune-up half ironman in May, race a bunch over the summer, race nationals, and then Ironman Chattanooga in September.

Early Season Woes
But of course, things never work out like they are supposed to.  3 days into training I was swimming breast stroke at masters and noticed that the inside of my knee was hurting.  After a few weeks of slogging through some training, my left leg was going nuts; knee hurt, tight hamstring, etc...a trip to the doctor and an MRI later confirmed a slightly torn MCL.  How did this happen?  Who knows.

Fast forward to March and I think I'm healthy.  After easing back into some training I realize that my left hamstring is going crazy.  It's tight and nothing I do seems to help.  It doesn't seem to be getting worse, but not better either.

Then I make it to April, still training but struggling to feel good and get anything going.  Near the beginning of the month I'm at the weekly Tuesday Worlds bike ride doing 45 mph on a fast descent.  Something happens in front of me, I tap the wheel in front of me, and then consequently eat the pavement.  Fortunately I only suffered scuffed up bar tap, a bent RD hanger, some scratches on the frame, a good bit of road rash, a handful of bruises, and a deflated ego.

injuries/crashes circled in blue...would be funny if it wasn't painful!
Two weeks later I'm back at it but that wreck really jacked me up.  My whole body felt out of whack and my hamstring was still bothering me.  Nonetheless, I pressed on and in an attempt to get rid of the hamstring issues I began to use the foam roller religiously.  Like over an hour a day religiously.  Miraculously (but albeit slowly) my hamstring started to slowly get better and my hope of Ironman Chattanooga in September seemed to be intact.

Some Racing
At this point, things started to get better, my luck turned good, and I was able to string together some decent training and racing.  A last second switch from the half distance to the sprint distance led to a win at Gulf Coast (albeit not without a controversial DQ incident that saw me cross the line 3rd).  Local rival Jeffrey Shelley edged me at Buster Britton, Chattanooga saw a new race 10k PB, Borden beat me down on a brutal hot day in Florence at Renaissance Man, and Nationals was a less than stellar but still decent performance with a Worlds qualifier.
  • Gulf Coast Sprint Triathlon - 1st
  • Buster Britton Triathlon - 2nd
  • Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon - 6th
  • Renaissance Man Triathlon - 2nd
  • Age Group National Championships - 16th AG, worlds qualifier
From here, it was 6 big weeks and 7 total weeks to Ironman.  Things went well thanks to some expert guiding by Brian Stover at Accelerate 3 Coaching, and without a doubt this was the most and the hardest I've ever trained for anything and I was feeling confident heading into ironman.

Ironman Chattanooga
Goals...so how do you approach Ironman?  They say the goal should be to finish, for the first one at least.  I hate finishing. For some reason it just feels weird to me since I was pretty confident I could finish.  I was fully confident that if EVERYTHING (and I mean everything) went perfectly I could do a 9:30.  Lofty expectations?  Probably.  But here was my reasoning.  Down river current assisted 50' swim, ~5:05 bike, and a 3:30 marathon.  Nothing unreasonable and nothing I couldn't do individually or had not done in training.  Now, that being said, the odds of everything going perfectly in ironman seem to be pretty low, but I thought it was possible albeit not very probable.  More than likely I figured I would be around 10hrs.  Going sub 10 seemed like a good goal to have.  Tough but well within reason, so that is kind of what I settled on...although still hoping for a "perfect day".  And if everything went wrong, then yes my goal would be just to finish.

The week of the race brought lots of excitement!  No more training!  Yay!  20-24 hour weeks take their toil for sure.  I took to the whiteboard to express my high level of joy.  What was funny is that I was so nervous leading up to the race but my nervousness really peaked about a week out once we ironed out all of the logistics for getting there and such.  From there on it was just more of an excitement of a big day approaching, realizing that the hard training was over and knowing that both Lori and I were likely more prepared than 99% of the people racing.

somebody is ready for IM!

On Friday morning of race week, Lori and I headed up to Chattanooga, in the rain.  Check in was a breeze, although it was also in the rain...and it was just a tad muddy.  Saturday, it rained some more.  I was beginning to think that it may rain nonstop for the entire trip, which would be rather inconvenient.  Miraculously, the forecast started to look decent for race day and the weather shaped up quite nicely.

Race Morning
Race morning came early but the excitement made it easy to get going!  After some oatmeal, 2 bananas w/peanut butter, and some coffee, we were ready to head down to the race site. Fortunately, bikes and gear bags are checked in the day before the race so there's really nothing to think about on race morning except showing up and dropping off special needs bags.  I planned on not using run special needs so all I had was an extra tube/co2 for my bike special needs "just in case", and a half bottle of bike nutrition just in case something crazy happened like my calorie bottle flying out of my bottle cage.  In a race this length and this expensive, you've got to think about all the worst case scenarios and what you are going to do to get through them and finish the race...

amount of bags needed for IM is ridiculous...

After getting to transition, we topped off our tires with air, cleaned and lubed our chains (it rained the night before), and made a last second check over everything before meeting up with my parents, who graciously took my bike pump and backpack and loaded it in their car.  I can't thank my parents enough for doing this...it was a huge help and made race day logistics a tad easier!  Then it was onto the shuttle bus to make the 2.4 mile trek up river to the swim start. 

The swim start line was INSANE.  I felt like we walked for 10 minutes to get to the back of the line!  Once in line we had about an hour to waste before they officially started the race.  It went by rather quickly and before we knew it the race was rapidly approaching.  I'd say we were in the back quarter of the line so most racers were in front of us.  I was slightly concerned about this causing congestion on the bike course but then I realized that most IM finishers only believe in biking or running.

pre-race, still pitch black outside

Swim - 51:20
Rumor had it that the river current was going to be similar to last year, meaning fast times for all.  My plan here was to swim "comfortably" hard, with more emphasis on the "comfortable" part.  Save up for the rest of the day and take it easy...no need to do anything stupid in the first 30 minutes, right?  A couple minutes after the first racers entered the water, Lori and I were getting ready to jump in the river.  As soon as we got on the dock and crossed over the timing mat, I ignored the volunteers telling me the walk down to the end of the dock and I just jumped right in.  For being near the back of the line, I was pleasantly surprised at how little congestion there was in front of me.  Most seemed to be hugging the shore, whereas I opted to cut the tangent, aiming just off the southeast corner of Audubon Island.  The swim went by rather quickly.  At the halfway point (where the buoys changed colors) I took a long stroke to glance down at my watch and saw a 25:00.  Right on track.  Another 25 minutes went by and just like that the swim was over.  Uneventful and not much else to say...just how a good race should be.

T1 - 5:21
Good grief...this has to be my all time record for the longest transition ever.  Did I take a nap in there or something?  Running up to the gear bags, I just happened to glance over and see my dad among a crowd of people...pretty cool!  No issues picking up my gear bag, and then it was onto the changing tent.  I threw an Uncrustable PB&J in my mouth and started putting on my socks, shoes, and helmet, and then I was off, awkwardly running in my bike shoes towards my bike, and then finally out on the course.  I also (for some reason) had to pee really bad so I made a quick bathroom stop.  In hindsight I would have ran to my bike with my shoes in my hand but I guess I'll just save that for IM #2.

Bike - 5:18:28
Onto the bike and I felt good.  Legs weren't cramping, breathing felt good, the skies were overcast, and the roads did not seem overly congested.  The plan called for about 30k at 190 watts before bumping it up a tad with a 200 watt ceiling.  I hit that right on as I navigated the 10 miles out of town to North GA where we would complete two 48 mile loops.  After making it to the looped section, I seemed to find a handful of guys my age.  I'm thinking this would be good...it would help give me something to focus on and stay mentally in the game.

right off the Chattanooga Times Free Press...Zoot kits looking good!

After reaching 30k or so, I decided I was feeling good BUT not good enough to bump up the power any.  It felt like I was exactly where I needed to be so I just made the executive decision to stay around 190 watts steady.  Soon after, around 50 minutes into the race, I passed Lori and Sarah Gibson in quick succession and wished them a great race.  Everyone was feeling good.  I was feeling good.  Everything is going according to plan.  Everything was...

rolling through Chickamauga...not in aero for some reason...

And then, POP!!  What the heck?  Was that me?  I looked around for another rider nearby, but to my dismay I was all alone.  The realization that the "pop" had come from my bike started to slowly seep in.  In that split second, the feeling was sickening.  I waited a second for something bad to happen, thinking that my tire had exploded.  But nothing happened.  Weird.  Then I looked down and saw a horrific sight; my front wheel was wobbling side to side, nearly hitting my brake pads (felt like it was just barely brushing them).  What had actually happened still failed to register with me.  I was actually just rolling up to an aid station and I also had to pee (again) very badly, so I said ok, I'm going to stop here, use the restroom, and then survey the damage to make sure my wheel isn't going to explode.  A volunteer at the aid station quickly confirmed that, yes,  a spoke on my front wheel had broken right in the middle.  Are you kidding me?  After 8 years and probably 30,000+ miles of riding bikes I have never broken a spoke, ever.  What bad luck!  Now I've spent 3 minutes on the side of the road not moving, am only at mile 20 of 116, and am now unsure if I'll be able to finish.

data, data, data
But, without any other foreseeable options, I just got back on my bike and started riding again, hoping and praying that I could finish the bike, and finish the race without wrecking.  Lori and I had certainly prepared physically for this race, but in the week leading up to the race we talked about what we would do if we had a flat tire or some sort of mechanical.  Remain calm.  Don't rush.  Slow down and think clearly.  Don't panic.  It's going to work out.  So as I rode I started thinking...surely the neutral support vehicle has spare wheels.  I'll get a spare front wheel and then I'll be good to go!  As if it had dropped down from the High Heavens, I looked up seconds later and saw a race vehicle headed towards me.  I literally flagged him down and stopped in the middle of the road to explain my situation.  I quickly learned that all he had was a radio and could only call for help and I would need to camp out right there and wait.  No way I could do that...I'll just take my chances and ride on...so that is what I did.  Another 1-2 minute wasted.

As I started riding again, the wheel was wobbly but it seemed to not be getting any worse.  This was encouraging.  I backed off the power and rode easy for a bit, thinking that at any second the wheel would just fail.  But as time went on I gained more confidence that I might be ok.  I eventually said screw it and got back up to normal power.  The two 40+ mph descents on the course were somewhat concerning and sketchy but I got through them unscathed.

The rest of the ride was pretty uneventful.  I stuck to my nutrition plan, rode a pretty low VI, and didn't do anything dumb.    Nutrition wise, I had a 33 oz. calorie bottle with around 2050 calories of Infinit Nutrition in it.  Adding in another Gu gel brought me to 2150 calories total.  Around mile 80 or so I finally caught up to Kendrick so that was really fun to see someone I knew on the course.  We ended up staying mostly together along with a few other "surgy" guys for the rest of the bike.  When it was all said and done, I was pleased with a 5:18 for 116 miles considering the 2-3 minutes stopped on the side of the road and the threat of a front wheel becoming inoperable.  To be honest, I was just happy to be off a mechanical device that could break and leave me stranded!

pressure sure this isn't supposed to happen

T2 - 2:29
Transition #2 went without a hitch.  Got my gear bag, into the tent, rolled my socks on, slipped my shoes on, stuffed my nutrition into my pockets, and then grabbed my race belt and Garmin Forerunner 310XT and headed out the door.

Run - 3:50:48
On to the run...where it's all decided in any race but especially in IM.  Starting out, I definitely did not feel bad but I didn't necessarily feel great either.  But, to this point I had taken in all my calories as planned and I did not feel hungry so I figured that was encouraging.  The plan was to run around 8:00-8:15/mi and hopefully hold that all the way through the end.  I set a "floor" of 8:00's for the first mile or two thinking that I would feel great and would really need to tell myself not to go out too hard.

finishing lap 1..."only" a half marathon to go
I quickly found out that it was REALLY hard to run slower than 8:00/mile.  And it wasn't that I felt great, because I didn't...I actually felt haphazard and it was like I couldn't control my pace.  At the end of the first mile I stopped at an aid station to pee as I had been holding it for a few hours now.  Back at it and mile 2 still felt like I couldn't control my pace.  Finally, at mile 3, I started to settle in and everything started to come "back to normal".

For the the rest of the flat southern side of the run course (8 miles or so) I was steady around 8:00/mile.  Nutrition wise I was alternating between a Gu gel and Gu chomps every other mile, starting at mile 1, and that was going well.  On to the north side of the course and the hills came quick and with force.  I still felt solid though.  My pace slowed but only due to the elevation, which was expected.  As I was nearing the bridge to head back over the river to start the 2nd loop, I saw Sarah/Herchel Portella as well as Hallie Blunck...all great friends from Birmingham.  I remember starting to feel surprisingly good right before seeing them, and this heightened my good feelings.  After crossing the bridge to the other side of the river, I saw my parents, Lori's parents, and a host of Birmingham friends.  Things were looking good!

can you tell where things went wrong?
And then someone flipped the lights off.

I can't quite explain it, but it was as if someone flipped a switch in my brain and all of the sudden, things were not quite as good as the once where.  This was rather discouraging, as I still had 13.1 miles to run.  I saw J Ford and he ran beside me for a few so that was cool, but my pace had slowed to around 8:30/mile and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

By mile 16 I had caught up and passed Kendrick, but things were deteriorating rather quickly.  Mile 17 was around 9:00 and at that point "it was over".  I wasn't melting down by any means but I literally could not turn my legs over and I knew that 9:00/mi was probably the best it was going to get for the next 9 miles.

ready to be finished
The next 9 miles were not what I had hoped for, but I still had fun out there, smiling where I could and encouraging racers that looked like they were in bad shape (which was just about everyone out there).  I ran/walked the rest of the way at 9:00-10:30 pace or so, which wasn't fun but it was a finish nonetheless.

Lori was having an absolutely stellar day and caught me with about a mile to go en route to running a 3:30 and finishing 1st in her age group and 2nd overall female.  We ran together as we passed our family and friends, which was really cool!

Finally, I turned down the home stretch and jogged it in.  I think I even stopped in the finish line chute to high five a few people!

Total - 10:08:26 - 10th AG, 97th overall
For a first ironman I think it went about as well as it could, but finishing the way it I did was somewhat unsatisfying.  I was about 8 minutes from my goal of sub 10, which would have been pretty dang close without the front wheel mishap.  But it happens and you've got to roll with it.  It was my first IM but certainly won't be my last.

happy to be finished!!

There's too many people to thank here, but I'll just note a few.  Thanks to expert IM'ers Kendrick Gibson and especially Chris Borden for answering my zillion questions about IM logistics.  Chris helped me hone in on my simple nutrition plan so that was a huge benefit.  Actually, I just copied exactly what he does and it worked out perfectly!  And then thanks to the Gibsons for letting us crash at their house for the race (and also multiple times during training).  Of course, thanks to Brian Stover of Accelerate3 for the master plan and getting me to the line prepared, uninjured, and in shape.  Thanks to Team Zoot for supporting me in 2015 and of course for the good looking kits (even though they are Auburn colors).  Thanks to both of our parents for tagging along on race weekend and providing much needed support.  And most of all thanks to my amazing wife who not only put up with me while training all year, but she actually trained with me herself and had a killer race.  Looks like we'll be in Kona in 2016...I'll be race Sherpa and Lori will be cruising through the lava fields!

Williamson Support Crew
Von Pingel Support Crew


2014 Catch Up

2014 has pretty much been the best year ever on all fronts...hence the super long sabbatical from writing about what's going on.  At the top of the list was asking the most beautiful girl in the world to marry me (she said yes) and then marrying her 5 months later in early August!

newly engaged, enjoying a nice little view of B'ham after running up a mountain

the rock!

gifts before the wedding

Between planning the wedding festivities, figuring out where to live, and merging the rest of our lives, we both still managed to do some very good training and racing.  My hours and consistency were probably down a little bit compared to previous years (much more fun and important things to do like spend time with my amazing fiance' and now wife), but I had a pretty good year with 3 overall wins, a new half marathon and 5k PB, and a fine showing at the Memphis in May double.  Chattanooga was a pretty big bummer with a flat tire on the bike but life goes on.

trying to go fast

2014 Results
Red Nose Run 5k - 18:27 - 4th OV
Tashka Trail Run 25k - 2:07:56 - 8th OV
Mercedes Half Marathon - 1:22:00 - 38th OV
Double Oak Duathlon - 1:04:27 - 1st OV
Gulf Coast Triathlon - 3:59:12 - 11th OV (no swim)
Memphis in May Sprint Triathlon - 58:17 - 3rd OV
Memphis in May Olympic Triathlon - 2:00:58 - 4th OV
Heatwave Triathlon - 1:50:18 - 1st OV
Chattanooga Waterfront Triathlon - 2:20:54 - 26th OV (flat tire)
Buster Britton Triathlon - 54:35 - 1st OV
Retro Run 5k - 17:18 - 9th OV
Ross Bridge 8k - 29:48 - 3rd OV

finishing up the run for a win at Heatwave Triathlon

Lori also had a stellar year on the racing front (no surprise here).  She crushed her half marathon PB by running just a hair over 1:22, finished 1st OV at Double Oak Duathlon, and finished 3rd OV at Gulf Coast Triathlon in her first half-iron distance race.  Stud!

So what's next?  Well, two weekends ago Lori and I went up to volunteer at and watch the inaugural Ironman Chattanooga.  Many times, there is only one reason to volunteer at IM, and that is to sign up for the next year...and that is what we both did!  I think I know what we'll be doing for the next year!

favorite race moment of the year: head to head duel with Jeffrey!

As always, thanks to Accelerate3 for the road map to success.  Also, thanks to Bob's Bikes, XMR Sports, Sweat & Gears, and my amazing wife for the support! 


Goosepond Island Half Race Report

Sept 9 - Oct 6 (last 4 week averages)
S:  14,458 yds - 3hr 25min
B:  139.63 mi - 7hr 34min
R:  41.32 mi - 5hr 20min
Total:  16hr 19min

Oct 7 - Oct 13 (taper time!)
S:  13,518 yds - 3hr 13min
B:  87.10 mi - 4hr 8min
R:  24.88 mi - 3hr 1min
Total:  10hr 22min

The Goosepond Island Half has been on my schedule all year.  With this half ironman distance race being in Alabama and only 2 hours from my house, it's hard to turn down.  I feel like supporting races in one's home state is always a good thing to do, especially when you know the RD and think highly of him.  Anyways, ever since racing fellow Accelerate 3 athlete Chris Borden at Gulf Coast back in May (and LOSING), I was looking forward to going head to head with him again.  Alas, Chris had different plans and managed to earn a trip to to Kona...I guess I can't blame him for skipping Goosepond!  Nonetheless, there would still be good competition.  Jonathan Krichev is ALWAYS a threat and must be respected.  I really didn't recognize many other names on the start list but figured there would be 3-5 of us in the mix.

Racing into October can really be tough, especially when the first multi-sport race of 2013 happened back in late March.  It's been a very rewarding and successful season, but as September rolled around I really started to feel a little lacking in the motivational department.  No matter how much you love the sport of triathlon, doing anything a lot can lead to getting burned out...sometimes these are just temporary feelings though so I just told myself to suck it up.  As the weather in Alabama started to cool off a little bit, training got a lot more fun and I started putting together a string of good workouts, mainly a nice little run and bike a little over a week out from the race.  After that, I knew I was ready.  My goal for the race, unequivocally, was to win; and these last hard workouts gave me all the confidence I needed to think it could be a reality.  Race week went perfectly; plenty of sleep, clean eating, and a nice little taper that left me feeling primed and ready to go.

On Saturday afternoon, Lori and I drove up to Scottsboro for the weekend festivities.  After a quick swim on the course, we headed to packet pick-up and then a good pasta dinner before calling it a night.  Race morning came early at 4am, and with it came the pre-race breakfast routine:
  • 2 scoops Ultragen
  • Cereal bowl
    • 1 cup Koala Crisp
    • 11oz Almond Breeze single serve
    • 1 banana, sliced
    • 2x Salt Stick Caps, emptied into bowl
  • 8oz espresso roast coffee in AeroPress
  • 650 calories
We headed to the race site and got there as transition opened at 5:30am.  I always like getting to races early, especially when there's a chance you could flat both tires during your warm up.  With those memories fresh on my mind, waking up earlier didn't seem like too much of a price to pay.  After a short run and bike warm up and with 30 minutes until race-time, I downed a Gu energy gel and swigged some water before making my way over to the swim start.

posing, pre-swim

Swim - 29:38 (4th)
The swim was a 2 loop counter-clockwise course, with all males under age 40 starting in the first wave.  I positioned myself on the far left of the group since that was clearly the fastest line.  The horn sounded and we were off.  Two guys (one of which I assumed was Krichev) jumped out right off the bat way faster than I was willing to go.  After 100 meters the pack settled in and I found myself in third position leading the rest of the pack.  After the first loop I was all alone.  The rest of the swim was uneventful.  I was completely by myself except for hitting some slower swimmers on the 2nd loop.  I exited the water in 3rd and was feeling pretty good.

on the front at the far left

T1 - 0:46 (3rd)
No mistakes here.  Lori called out that I was 3 or 4 minutes down to Krichev.  This is about what I expected and I KNEW that I could make this up on the bike, hopefully on the first half.

heading out on the bike

Bike - 2:22:46 (1st)
The bike plan was pretty easy.  Hit 225 watts and don't do anything stupid like wreck or drop all nutrition or set a new 20 minute power record.  Over the last year, I've done a lot of experimentation, racing, and test runs with nutrition and have settled on the bullets below.  Basically I have two plastic flasks in the zippered pocket on the back of my tri suit, a salt/calorie bottle between the aero bars, and then a hydration chamber in the frame near the top tube that can be re-filled.
  • BTA Bottle: 3 scoops EFS with 6x Salt Stick Caps (drink evenly throughout bike)
  • Frame Fuselage: ~30oz water (15oz refilled at aid station)
  • Flask 1: 1x EFS liquid shot, watered down (drink over first 1/2 of bike)
  • Flask 2: 4x Gu, watered down (drink over second 1/2 of bike)
  • 1088 calories 
starting the bike

After a couple miles, I passed the 2nd place guy and started setting my sights on Krichev.  The course was super flat, but with a sketchy area in downtown Scottsboro and some terrible road surfaces I wouldn't say that it was a "fast course".  At around the 20 mile mark I could see the leader and I was reeling him in quickly.  A mile later, I made the pass and the rest of the bike was uneventful; I just focused on the lead motorcycle, remembered to take in my calories, and kept the wattage constant.  At the turnaround I could see that my gap on Justin Prior and some other dude was only a couple of minutes.  This started getting to me so I picked up the power slightly on the way back in.  Everything was feeling great so I was fine with picking up the power a little bit.  I rolled back into T2 ready to finish off strong.

position optimized, check

T2 - 1:24 (33rd)
This was slightly slower than I wanted.  My hands and feet were kind of numb so putting on socks seemed to be slightly more difficult than it should have been.

Run - 1:31:43 (3rd)
Brian harps on the mantra "proper pacing = proper racing" all the time, and it is ever so important during a long course race.  My plan was to start off at a pace that would allow me to negative split the last 10k, knowing that this would afford me my fastest possible race.

starting the run

After failing and succeeding at a handful of half ironman races, I think I've figured out what works best for me nutrition wise.  The Powerbar gels are a bit less viscous than the Gu gels so I've found these are easier to digest while running.
  • 3x PowerBar gel, watered down in a flask (drink at mile 3, 6, 9)
  • 4x Salt Stick caps
  • Swig of water/gatorade at each aid station
  • 330 calories
Despite feeling great coming out of T2, things quickly turned grim.  Both of my quads started gradually "tightening up", almost like they were in the beginnings of seizing up and cramping.  What?  No way this could be happening!  Thoughts of run/walking the half marathon and losing the race flew through my head...this can't be happening!  Then, realizing how stupid I was being and the fact that I'm just out here for fun, I told myself to keep running and see what happens.  After about a mile, my legs got loose and things were back to normal.  Up until mile 7 things were uneventful.  I kept the pace "difficult but reasonable", took in fluids and calories, and concentrated on running the tangents.
  • 1st half - 46:30 (5th)
Somewhere around that point I saw Krichev at one of the out-and-back sections and deduced that he had made up a little bit of time on me.  Knowing how strong of a runner he is, I knew I had to finish strong.  Using this as motivation, I manged to pick up the pace over the last 10k.  Hearing runners should out encouragement on the way back in certainly helped out.  A handful of Vulcan Tri members were on the course so seeing them was a boost in morale.  The last mile was the most painful but also the most awesome.  Realizing that almost 600 hours and 6700 miles of trials is about to pay off is one of the greatest feelings in sports, ever. 
  • 2nd half - 45:13 (1st)
With hot conditions, a carefully paced half marathon proved to be successful.  I gave up a little bit on the first half, but out-ran everyone by almost 2 minutes over the last half of the run.

the one shady part of the course...

Total - 4:26:16 (1st overall)
Wohoo!  Looking and thinking back over the race, I made absolutely zero mistakes and had, quite possibly, what I consider to be the best executed race in my 6 years of triathlon.  My swimming has improved a lot this year, which helped me not lose too much time to the leaders and really set up the rest of the race.  Although I was a little over target on my planned wattage, it was one of those race day things that kind of happened and I don't think it really cost me anything.  The run...was tough...it was hot and humid and I felt like I ran just about as fast as I could have, leaving nothing in the tank after crossing the line.  Based on feeling like I was going to throw up for the next 15 minutes after crossing the line, I don't think I could have paced it better.   

into the finish line chute

All in all, it was a successful end to the 2013 multisport season.  I can't be more thankful to Lori for supporting me and often racing beside me at all these races...and of course many thanks to Brian for giving me the master plan to get me through the season!

hard work is worth it!


Alabama Coastal Triathlon Race Report

Aug 26 - Sept 1
S:  15,050 yds - 3hr 39min
B:  166.41 mi - 9hr 16min
R:  30.02 mi - 3hr 51min
Total:  16hr 46min

Sept 2 - Sept 8
S:  9,171 yds - 2hr 8min
B:  113.44 mi - 5hr 58min
R:  20.38 mi - 2hr 38min
Total:  10hr 44min

Well, since this race happened about a month ago I figured I'd go ahead and try to sum it up before it's long forgotten.  The Alabama Coastal Triathlon takes place every year in early September, and it really is just a good excuse to take a trip down to the beach.  Lori and I headed down to Gulf Shores, AL on Saturday morning and after arriving at the beach we picked up packets and then had a nice dinner at King Neptune's Seafood Rstaurant.  This place reminded me of an old adage; "don't judge a book by its cover."  After a good night's sleep and the usual breakfast routine, it was time to race.

Warm Up
Now I know what you're thinking; why am I doing a write up on the "warm up"?  What could possibly happen in a warm up that is worth talking about?  Well, lots of things.  My race started at 7:30am but the sprint distance started at 7:00am and so transition closed at 6:30am, so we opted to get to the race site at 5:30am.  For intense races like an olympic distance triathlon, I like getting a good 10-15 minute ride in, a 10 minute run, and a short swim.  After dropping our bags off at the racks, Lori and I headed out for a bike warm up.  At around 3 minutes and almost a mile into the warm up I heard every triathlete's worst nightmare...air coming out of my rear tire!  And with it being a latex tube, that was $18 down the drain.  With nothing to change the flat I started the walk back to transition.  Instead of changing the tube myself I let bike support do it to save time and a few minutes later I was on my way for another warm up.  After riding around for a few minutes I rolled back towards transition, got off my bike, and then...pop!  Front tire flat!  What the heck!  Another $18 latex tube down the drain.  I was about 10 feet away from bike support so I rolled over there and they changed it real quick.  By this time it was already 6:35am but I rolled out for another warm up just to make sure.  After 5 minutes of riding around without flatting, I rolled back into transition at around 6:45am.  The race directors were yelling at people to get out of transition but I put my shoes on, did a few laps around transition, and then got out at around 6:55am.  Whew!  From there I had 30 minutes to let the nerves settle before starting the race, but hey...at least I was going to make it to the start line!

Swim - 21:41 (5th)
The swim was a 2 loop course, which is slightly annoying because it makes the 2nd loop pretty congested.  Nonetheless, that was the course and everyone had to do it.  I was 12th or so in the time trial start and after a few minutes found myself all alone.  I can never tell if I'm having a good swim or not but it felt like I was moving pretty good so whatever.  At the end of the first loop you had to get out on the beach, run down 30 yds or so, and then get back in the ocean.  On the run out back into the ocean I decided to dive through the wave a little too soon and took a mouthful of water.  Besides dodging swimmers on the 2nd lap the rest of the swim was pretty uneventful.

T1 - 1:26 (3rd)
On the run up to transition someone yelled out that I was in 4th position so I figured it was a good swim.  T1 was quick with no mistakes, and I headed out ready to reel in the other 3 riders.

Bike - 57:54 (2nd)
As soon as the bike started Sam Hudson jumped in front of me and I ended up just riding legally behind him for a few minutes while recovering from the swim.  A few minutes later we passed Lori (she crushed the swim) and after yelling some encouragement I decided to go ahead and pass Sam because I wanted to go just a litttttle bit faster.  It was very, very hot and humid out and bike watts felt a little low, but I could see that we were reeling a guy in up the road.  At the turnaround we had reeled in the guy and I moved into 2nd place, with Tiago Barriera a few minutes up the road.  Tiago is a great swimmer/biker but I felt confident I could reel him in on the run.  That said, he had a slightly bigger lead than I had expected so my nerves were on edge.  On the way back in we had a nice tailwind but I was not feeling good at all.  Sam was content to legally sit behind me so I just focused on trying to keep watts steady and not falter.  Sam and I arrived into T2 together and Tiago had a 3 minute lead.

T2 - 0:48 (2nd)
No mistakes here.  I managed to put 20 seconds into Sam here, which would hopefully put him out of the picture for good.

Run - 41:54 (4th)
Only one word is necessary here: HOT.  It was almost a repeat of last year, which was without a doubt the most miserable 10k run of 2012.  This year proved to be no different.  The first 2 miles or so weren't bad.  The tailwind was nice and I could see Tiago slowing down up the road, which provided some good motivation.  At about the halfway mark I passed Tiago and saw that I had a good size gap on Sam, but that's when things really started to hurt.  The thrill of moving into first got me through mile 4 but miles 5 and 6 were about the most miserable thing I've done in recent memory.  I figured everyone was suffering just as bad but I became paranoid that I was slowing down too much and that someone was going to come pass me.  Seeing Lori in first place for the females helped get me through mile 5, and from there it was all I could do to make it to the end.

Total - 2:03:42 (1st overall)
No matter what or how it happens, a win is a win.  My swim felt good but I felt like my bike was poor (given other performances this year) and the run was a slug fest in the heat.  It was miserable but crossing the line was the most awesome thing.  The complete contrast of different emotions of pain/suffering and then joy/happiness is really kind of weird, but I guess it's what draws people to compete.  Oh yea...and Lori took the overall female win by...8 MINUTES...so awesome! 


Rocketman Triathlon Race Report

Aug 12 - Aug 18
S:  14,700 yds - 3hr 26min
B:  232.45 mi - 12hr 32min
R:  28.37 mi - 3hr 37min
Total:  19hr 35min

Aug 19 - Aug 25
S:  12,191 yds - 2hr 59min
B:  91.47 mi - 4hr 51min
R:  31.69 mi - 3hr 55min
Total:  11hr 45min

I've been looking forward to the Rocketman Triathlon for pretty much the entire year because it's an awesome race course and it is very well run, but mainly because this year race director Mike Gerrity decided to do an "elite open wave".  Since there are practically ZERO races in Alabama that do any sort of mass start or wave start, I was really looking forward to actually racing head to head against my competitors.  I'm really not sure why other races don't copy this format, but kudos to Mike for doing it.  If the goal of a race is to actually race against and compete against your competitors, anything other than a mass start is not ideal.  IMO, it just takes away something from the race.

Anyways, there were about 20 or so of us men and women in the open wave.  I thought I had a chance to bring home a win, but it would be tough.  Bruce Gennari is a stud swimmer with a very good bike, so if he's having a good day then he is hard to beat.  Jonathan Krichev and Kendrick Gibson were the other 2 guys on my radar.  I have beat both of them before but have also lost to both of them before.  In my mind it was going to be a pretty close, hard fought race.

Swim - 26:43 (23rd)
As we were all treading water waiting for the swim start, that first turn buoy looked a long way off!  I lined up near the right side and as the gun sounded, we took off.  The pace was high starting off but after a couple hundred meters I found myself solo with no one around me.  I immediately noticed two things: we were swimming into a very stiff current, and that first turn buoy really was a long way away.  Bruce was likely going to put some good time into everyone so we all had our work cut out for us.  As we were almost to the turn buoy, every triathlete's worst nightmare happened: I felt my chip come loose!  I stopped swimming and as I stopped it slipped off my ankle.  Luckily I turned around and immediately saw it, and then stuffed it down the front of my suit.  My goggles had already filled with water due to the heavy chop so I took that opportunity to put them back on.  Alright, time to race again.  After rounding the turn buoy we were with the current for the remainder of the swim.  At about the halfway point I saw a familiar stroke swim up next to me, and it was none other than Hallie Blunck.  We swam beside each other and then I finally moved in behind her and finished off the swim in her draft.  After hearing Hallie tell me that we swam 26:30 I was slightly nervous that I had lost the race for myself, but as it turns out the swim was long and the current really killed people.  I came out about 2 minutes behind Kendrick and Krichev, which is about where I expected to be.  Bruce had already put 5 minutes on me.

jumping in for the wave start

T1 - 0:38 (8th)
Transition was fast and uneventful except for spending 5 seconds putting my chip back on my ankle.  In hindsight I should have just stuffed the chip in my pocket...

Bike - 59:03 (2nd)
Coming out of transition, I felt my chip come loose again!  What the heck!  I reached down and grabbed it, and then stuffed it in my pocket.  From there the main goal was to reel in Kendrick and Krichev, as they are both good runners.  After a mile or so I passed by Sara and then Lori and wished them both a good race.  A few miles later I could see some men up the road so I knew I was in business.  We had a tailwind going out so I tried to get us aero as possible, save a few watts, and really focus on speed.  At about mile 10 I was rapidly approaching Kendrick and then passed him.  This put me into 4th because Jeff Fejfar had a stellar swim and was riding in 2nd place behind Bruce.  A few miles later I passed Krichev and moved into 3rd.  I could not even see Bruce or Jeff up the road so that was kind of demoralizing.  Watts were good on the way back in and I tried to kick it up a notch into the headwind, knowing that I needed to at least give myself a shot at a win.  As I rolled towards transition I reached into my pocket to pull out my timing chip, and then noticed that the chip had fallen off the strap!  Crap!  I yelled to all the timing people as I rolled into T2 and they made sure that I was marked down.

on the bike

T2 - 0:59 (14th)
No mistakes here, and I was quickly out on the run course trying to reel in the leaders.

Run - 39:39 (8th)
The run course starts off with a section on trail before moving onto gravel roads, and then finishes up with a nice little climb and then downhill into the finish.  I was hurting pretty good but felt like I could still throw down a good run.  The first few miles were all around 6:20 to 6:30 pace and I felt like I was managing myself good.  During the out and back section at around mile 3.5 I could see that Bruce had a sizable lead and that he would take the win, but where did Jeff go??  Somehow I was now sitting in 2nd place.  As it turned out, Jeff made a wrong turn out of transition and was way behind.  At mile 4 on my way back towards the finish I saw Kendrick and Krichev and they only appeared to be 30-40 seconds back...crap!  I was running scared now, but I managed to speed up just a hair and maintain the gap, crossing the line in 2nd place.  As I crossed I yelled to the timing officials to make sure they got down my final finish time.

on the run...

trying to stay strong

Total - 2:07:02 (2nd overall)
A win would have been nice but Bruce had a stellar race and crushed it.  Unfortunately for Jeff, he made a wrong turn that probably cost him 2nd place (although you never know), but that's part of racing and I've certainly been there before.  Kendrick and I go back and forth a lot so it was nice to be on the winning end of that match-up, although I'm certain that he will be back and ready for revenge next time.  Also, huge congrats to Lori for taking 2nd overall female with a 2:19:09 in only her 2nd Olympic distance race!  And kudos to Birminghamian Hallie Blunck for taking the win and to Sara Gibson for rounding out the female podium in 3rd! 


A Trip to the A2 Wind Tunnel

Why go to the wind tunnel? 
After spending a couple days roaming around the mountains in Asheville and surrounding areas, it was now time for business...the real reason for the trip was a visit to the A2 Wind Tunnel.  So why go to a wind tunnel?  Well, science tells us that a large amount of a riders power output will go to overcome the resistance of the air, so getting in a position that minimizes drag is pretty important.  It's also important not to sacrifice power too much when getting in this optimum position.  It's a trade-off: more watts make you go faster, and less drag makes you go faster too.  If your position is super-aero but severely limits power then it may not be the best position.  If your position is very powerful but is not aero at all, it might not be the best position.  The key is finding the best of best both worlds for your optimum position.   The wind tunnel helps you do that.

How do you know if your position sucks?
Well, it's pretty tough to know without the use of a power meter.  Using power allows you to (in a controlled environment) compare average power (watts) vs. average speed (mph) to get an idea on "how much speed you are getting for your power output".  The more "aero" you are, the faster you will go off of a given wattage.

One beautiful thing about statistics is that as sample size increases you can begin to see trends.  I've been riding with power for 4 years now and since I race a lot I've got a rather large collection of power vs. speed data points in races.  Now, I'll be the first to say that you have to be careful when comparing these measures because they can be affected by things like wind and elevation, but as you increase the amount of data points you can begin to see trends and outliers.  With all this in mind, I've created the plot below from all of my races over the past 3 years.  Most of these races were on a Cervelo P2C with a Louis Garneau Superleggera helmet, and a HED Jet disc and Jet 9 with Vittoria Open Corsa EVO tires. 

Firstly, you can see two groups of data points with each group following a somewhat "up and to the right" trendline.  Obviously, this is what you would expect since it takes more power to get more speed.  What I've called "hilly" courses in the chart are races with an elevation gain rate of around 50 ft/mile or greater.  Five of these eight points are actually races on the same course.  These points are all shifted over to the left, and seemingly follow their own curve.  Over to the right you can see another group of points that consist of what I call "flatter" races.

Secondly, we can look at this chart and begin to see how terrible my time trail position is.  Lets key in on a bench mark that may cyclists and triathletes have: how many watts does it take you to go under an hour for 40k, or 24.86 mph?  Well for me, the chart says it will probably take me around 270-280 watts.  Keep in mind that I'm 5'11" tall and weigh 148 lbs.  Now how do you know if this is good or not?  Well, anyone that knows anything knows that this sucks.  But if you didn't you can do a couple things; you can see how people your size compare to you (I've got plenty of friends racing with power), you can ask coach (which I did), and you can get on forums (like Slowtwitch) and read about the vast multitudes of forum users and hear how many watts it takes them to go a certain speed.  As sample size increases you can begin to chunk some outliers and hone in on what a "good, bad, and average" power vs. speed relationship looks like.

I say all this to say that my decision to take a trip to the wind tunnel is the accumulation of knowledge and experiences over the last 4 years of training with power.  The more I trained and the more I raced, the more I realized that I was "wasting watts" somewhere.  And the faster I got, I realized that it was costing me races.  Like if I could just save 20 watts on the bike (which I thought was reasonable based on the above chart) then all of the sudden I've won 3 more races so far in 2013.

My Results
James had the session right in front of mine so I got up there early with Heath and Brian to watch his tunnel session and figure out how things worked.  You can read about his results here, but lets just say that his position was already pretty awesome and the tunnel pretty much confirmed that.  I got a lot of value out of watching his test and seeing how the guys at A2 made their decisions and ran through all the runs.  I also realized that having Health and Brian there was a very good thing, since they were providing insight and offering up suggestions based on their knowledge of James and how he rides his bike...and they would do the same for me.  Alright, enough of the pre-game, now it's time for my results.

The Baseline
The first thing you do in the tunnel is establish your baseline, as this is what all other runs will be compared to in order to determine if any position or equipment changes are "better or worse".  A2 uses a spreadsheet format that is pretty easy to understand.  The easiest thing to do is to look at "aero watts" from the spreadsheet, or the wattage to overcome aerodynamic drag.  Of course this varies with speed so for all cases we had 25 mph plugged in, as this is close to what I would average in a race.  Another note is that all of the runs were done at 0 and 10 degrees yaw.  Basically, yaw describes the idea that airflow doesn't always hit a rider head on (0 degrees) but sometimes at some other angle as determined by the wind.

As seen below, my baseline is 230 and 225 watts at 0 and 10 degrees yaw.  Basically, what this says is that to go 25 mph on my bicycle I would need to generate 230 watts plus any additional wattage required to overcome rolling resistance.  For the sake of this example we'll assume that 40 watts is a good number to assume for rolling resistance, although this depends on what kind of tires you are running.  Adding that 40 to the 230, it should take me around 270 watts to go 25 mph.  Not that the wind tunnel needs any validation (because really the tunnel is validating my previous thoughts), but this matches up pretty good with the power vs. speed chart from my last 3 years of racing.  Here is the data and side/front view from my baseline:

Position and Equipment Changes
After testing the baseline, the guys came out basically saying "yea you've got a lot of room to improve".  I expected this, and it was music to my ears.  It's also kind of obvious from the front view that my helmet is really wide, and I've got this weird lean to the right thing going on.  I'm not sure why...maybe one of my arms is shorter than the other.  One thing to note about the following test sequence is that given the current setup on my Specialized Shiv (stem slammed, Specialized proprietary stem/bars), there is no way for me to drop my front end without changing the stem and base bars.  That being said, the plan was to test a couple of other things first before moving to some new bars that would allow me to get more drop.

Pad Widths, etc
The first thing we did was play with pad widths and extension angles.  We tried moving the pads in 1 cm, 2 cm, and even out 1 cm.  We also tried angling the extensions up just a little bit.  As you can see from the table below, this didn't' change things very much.

pads in 2 cm

pads in 2 cm, extensions rotated up

Next, we took off the bottle on my seat tube to quantify its impact, and this resulted in a 6-7 watt savings from the baseline, going from 230/225 down to 224/218.  I repeat, taking the bottle and cage off of my seat tube resulted in a savings of 7 watts!  In other words, I could now go 25 mph off of 7 less watts just by taking 30 seconds to remove a water bottle and cage.  So awesome!  We also verified that at 0 yaw the wind does not see a bottle between the aero bars, and at 10 degrees yaw I was 2 watts better without the bottle.

no more bottle on the seat tube

After this, we tested helmets.  It was evident that my current helmet was rather wide when viewed from the front, so I wasn't going to be surprised if I found some savings here.  Given that my head is a weird shape (long from front to back, narrow from ear to ear) I had trouble fitting in most of the helmets that they had there.  The 2 helmets that I tried were the POC Tempor and the Giro Selector.  The POC was Brian's idea because based on watching me on camera he thought that the shape of it fit my contour well.  According to the tunnel guys, Giro usually tests pretty well on most people and the shape of the Selector seemed to fit me well.  As seen below, both helmets tested significantly better than my LG Superleggera, with the Giro getting the slight nod.  It resulted in massive 7-8 watt savings from the previous run!  My aero watts (at 0 and 10 degrees yaw) are now down from 230/225 at the baseline to 216/211...that's a total 14 watts...huge!

Giro Selector front view

Giro Selector side view

POC Tempor front view

POC Tempor side view

We spent the next 5 minutes or so changing the stem and base bars to an adjustable stem and Vision base bars.  This would allow me to quickly test lower positions.  We tested the front end 1 cm lower and 2 cm lower and while we didn't see any savings at 0 degrees yaw, there was a 4 watt savings at 10 degrees yaw.  I felt like anything more than 2 cm really started pinching my hips so we stopped there.

drop 2 cm front view

drop 2 cm side view

The Final Position
We started playing with extension angle again and went through a run or two with no savings.  At this point, either Heath or Brian had the idea to try me in a full praying mantis position with extensions rotated up as far as they would go...saying that just based on watching me on the computer screen it looked like it "might work out good".  Well...they were right!  This modification resulted in another 5 watt and 2 watt savings at 0 and 10 degrees yaw!  The stats are below, and the final position is #14.

Final Thoughts
In summary, I started out with a baseline of 230 and 225 watts at 0 and 10 degrees yaw and after making a couple of changes (remove seat tube bottle, new helmet, drop front end, rotate extensions) my new position ended up at 211 and 205 watts.  That's a savings of 19 and 20 watts at 25 mph.  Here is the brief summary of the changes.  I've been referring to all savings in terms of watts at 25 mph, but keep in mind that at higher speeds these savings will be even higher.

Anyone that uses power knows how massive this is!  Seeing as how it used to normally take me around 270 watts to go under an hour for 40k, the wind tunnel would suggest that I could now do it at 250 watts.  Or I could go 270 watts, which is my normal Olympic distance power output, and just go a lot faster.  Well, after 2 races with the almost new setup (I've done everything but the 2 cm drop, waiting on bars to come in), I've updated the power vs. speed plot:

You can see the two new green dots that represent the last 2 races.  Even after only two data points, it is clear that the changes have produced a faster setup.  Most notably, the far green dot to the right (273 watts, 26.2 mph) was on the same course that I raced the previous 2 years at 289 watts and 25.7 mph for both years.  I'll do the math for you.  That's 0.5 mph faster off of 16 less watts.  Free speed is awesome!