Ironman Florida Race Report
11/4/17, Panama City Beach, Florida
9:17:55 (9th Place Men 35-39, 16th Place Overall)
Swim- 54:55/ Bike- 4:40:05/ Run- 3:35:19
So....how do you cap a season in which you achieved your dream of qualifying for Kona? Well, if you are me, you do another Ironman 5 weeks later (I never claimed to make good athletic choices). My focus was always on Chattanooga (and thank goodness it was), but I ended up signing up for Florida when my best buddy and training partner qualified for 70.3 Worlds and was no longer able to compete at both Worlds and IMChatt. He re-arranged his schedule so that his focus would shift to Florida and being the easily influenced lemming that I am, I agreed to join as it would be his first full (plus he's a legit badass and I knew he would crush and I wanted a front row seat). After having my dream result at Chattanooga it would have been easy to pack it in and call it a season, but I'm always open for another good challenge (plus there was no way to transfer my Florida entry to another race since it is the end of the season). Prior to this double, I had previously done two Ironman races within 8 weeks (on two different occasions) but this was going to be my smallest turn around window. When I signed up for Florida (prior to Chattanooga) I knew an Ironman double with scarcely more than a month between the two races would require a really high level of fitness and smart choices. I was in uncharted waters and unsure of what to expect.
IMFL proved to be a testament to my fitness, my training mates, and my amazing coach Eric Limkemann (shout out to coach who just retired from pro racing and is now taking on more athletes...hint hint). Although I wrecked myself physically and emotionally at Chattanooga, my body bounced back quickly. I was shocked that I was able to settle back into regular training within a week. I surprised myself with a couple of long Zwift rides with excellent power and low heart rate. The toughest part was jumping back into training from a psychological standpoint. Physically my body responded like a champion, but emotionally I struggled the last few weeks. I won't lie, it was pretty tough to keep going to the well day after day especially when that well was located on a bike trainer in my garage. Despite my less than rosy disposition, the numbers/data kept telling me I was fit, and I hit several key hard long runs and rides (including a 17 mile run under 7:00 pace...previously a pipe dream). However, my mind was slow to get on board which was compounded by the fact that I struggle with seasonal depression and shorter day/cooler temperatures don't help my mindset and mood. Despite all this, Eric was confident that a 9 hour performance was possible, but I had my doubts and I re-calibrated my personal goal for sub 9:15.
Eric prepared me (and I knew) that racing at IMFL would require dealing with a much higher level of discomfort since I was fit but not fresh. Pulling a good result out of myself would mean having to fight through more pain than usual as compared to a fully tapered A race, but I was prepared to deal with that eventuality. I arrived in Florida on Wednesday evening and had a few restful days with my family and friends. The weather in Florida was perfect and I enjoyed some sun, pleasant meals and quality family time. A real highlight was my carbo load breakfast on Friday at the Pancakery. If you are in PCB and love pancakes...go there ASAP. Wow!!!! I also have to thank my buddy Steve Jackson for helping me fix a mechanical with my rear brake on Thursday night. He got my issue cleared up and alleviated some significant anxiety that was building as a result of a non-functioning rear brake. On Friday we did bike check in and relaxed around the condo. I even got to spend a little time on the beach with sissy poo. By Friday Afternoon I was beginning to feel the nerves and anxiousness that always comes with the knowledge that I am about to turn myself inside out for 10 hours...but I guess that is one of the reasons I keep coming back for more.
Last year my swim was comically bad. I made every rookie move in the book and sighted like a total jack wad. This year I paid much more attention to my surroundings and planned my sight points before getting into the water. The water was calm and the chop was low. It was a beautiful morning for a swim. The first loop was pretty dark with tinted goggles but I felt relaxed and got into a good rhythm. I knew I was near the front of the field but focused on my own pace and found some feet to follow on the first loop. The sun was breaking on the second loop and it made for a beautiful visual for the last 25 minutes. The second loop got a little hairy as we came upon some of the later waves and things got more violent and physical. I got kicked in the jaw and someone raked my ear which ended up bleeding for the rest of the day. The swim was otherwise uneventful and my second loop was definitely slower due to the crowd, but my lines were good and the swim was better than last year. The garmin says I swam an extra 200 yards which makes no sense because the graph looks good....oh well, mission accomplished.
The only other issues in the swim were leg cramping which I attribute to the wet suit, running in the sand, and sudden leg movements to avoid people zig zagging in front of me. No big deal and I was able to settle my legs down as soon as I got onto the bike. As I exited the water I peeled the top half of my wetsuit down and pulled up my Wattie Speakup kit. The wetsuit strippers were on point and soon I was off to the races through T1. T1 was fairly efficient and I got my bike gear on and prepared for a fast ride. I ran through transition holding my bike shoes since the transition was so long and I would absolutely do this again. The transition is far too long to run in bike shoes. So far things were going exactly to plan and I felt great.
Avg Power-233, Norm Power-237, VI- 1.02
Avg HR- 141, Avg Cadence- 85, Avg Speed- 24 mph
If you told me 5 years ago that I would one ride 112 miles under 4:40 I would have laughed and told you to take another hit of Ayahuasca. My goal time was 4:45 which was totally realistic and would still leave me with the ability to run well if I nailed my target wattage. The pacing plan was to ride between 225-235 watts with a heart rate cap of 140 bpm. As I got out on the ride, I found that my body naturally settled into 240 watts and 140 bpm. I was a bit concerned in the early stages that I was riding too hard but every time I tried to back it down to 225 it just didn't feel right and I found myself settling back into 240. I decided to roll with it and deal with whatever consequences would manifest on the run. The average power was a bit lower for the last hour as I was able to take advantage of the slight downhill slope as we headed back toward the water and I seemed to be pulling people back with less effort. This ended up leaving me with a split that was right at the top end of my target and right on the money!
The conditions were fast and the wind was low. Florida is a tough course mentally because it is one big loop and if you are out front it makes for a lot of lonely hours on the bike. Fortunately, I have gotten mentally tougher this year and found that I dealt with this better than years past on similar courses like Ironman Texas. I was passed by a few uber bikers on the early stages and there were a few sections where I was in close proximity with a few other riders but for the most part I was alone for about 60-70% of the ride. By the time I got to mile 75 I knew I had ridden well (and smart) because I saw that I was pulling back time on a few of the guys that passed me early on. My power was staying consistent and my mindset was good. In fact, I actually re-passed three guys in the last 30 miles on the way back to the beach. Despite riding well, it has been a long season and I was ready to get off the bike by mile 90. It was hot and there was no shade. I was looking forward to the run and showcasing all of my hard work with a strong run split.
From a nutrition standpoint I used the same plan as Chattanooga (and will continue to use it moving forward). I focused almost exclusively with on course nutrition and planned to drink 2 bottles of Gatorade Endurance per hour. I was able to stay pretty close to this goal and probably drank the equivalent of 7 bottles. I supplemented with two power bars and 15 s-caps for the periods that I was drinking less due to frequent urination. My energy levels and mood were good during the whole ride which leads me to believe that I didn't take my body on a glycemic roller coaster and kept the nutrition smooth and consistent.
The only issue on the bike was acid reflux during the first 60 miles. When I got kicked in the swim I swallowed a big gulp of salt water and it took a few hours to settle that down. For the first two hours I kept having to burp and unfortunately those burps were accompanied by bile. It was pretty gross but manageable and I didn't let it impact my ride in any significant way. On a more positive note, for the first time all season, my bike performed flawlessly! No flat tires, mechanicals or crashes. When Elsa runs smooth she is faaaasssst and the proof is in the bike split pudding! As I rolled into town I was so excited to see a huge negative split on the bike and a 4:40 overall split. A 9 hour day was still a real possibility!
T2 was uneventful short of typical leg cramping as I adjusted to being off the bike. The change tent was a little ugly as I locked up like the tin man, but my legs relaxed a bit as I ran out of transition. Putting on socks proved to be a challenge for a minute though!!!! Unfortunately I tripped over a curb and rolled my ankle on the way out to the run course but I just kept running and didn't think much of it. Apparently it was worse than I thought because today I have Elephantiasis of the ankle and I can barely walk. I'm not sure how I did 26.2 on that sucker based on the way it feels today!
8:10/mile, Avg HR-142
Prior to the race Eric and I discussed that fitness would not be my limiter but muscle fatigue would. That proved to be the case on the tail end of the run. It was simply more than my little legs could handle and I felt my quads beginning to go around mile 15. They held on strong for another 10K but by the time I got to mile 21 things quickly devolved into full on quad and hamstring cramping. There was a really tough stretch between mile 22 and 24 where I was having to stop, stretch and walk a lot. I knew that 9:00 and 9:10 were probably out of reach but still thought sub 9:20 was still in the cards. Somehow I summoned the strength to run slowly for the last 15-20 minutes without stopping and although the pace was painfully slow, it secured my my first 9:20 result and a massive PR over the distance. During the run I knew there would be super runners that would pass me but I also knew that people would be exploding in the heat. One thing I've learned this year is that things are never as bad as they seem and everyone is fighting their own battles (particularly on the run). If you keep moving forward good things can happen!
For the majority of the run I was chasing a new friend, Joe Adriaens, who was running for a Kona slot in M30-34. He ended up one slot short after the volunteers misdirected him on course and he ran an extra mile and a half! I have no doubt he will punch his Kona ticket one day as he is a truly fast athlete and has the right attitude. I was fortunate to share about 3 miles with him from 14-17 where we chatted a bit and helped each other keep pace. I knew that he was competing against my other buddy Steve Jackson for that last Kona slot and I enjoyed watching the back and forth between them. Just as we were about to enter the park at the far end of the run course someone gave Joe an update that Steve was closing from behind and Joe kicked it into high gear and dropped me like a bad habit. Really impressive stuff!!!! From then on I was back to running my race solo and managing the hurt as best I could. Steve caught and passed me at about mile 20 and I estimated that Joe was about one minute up the road. Steve kicked it into high gear and was gone in a flash. Steve ended up claiming the final Kona slot and overcame several bike mechanicals to do so. Congrats to Steve on a really gritty performance and for running the last 10K of that marathon like a veteran (it was his first IM!). He is truly deserving and I'm excited to race alongside him at Kona next October (also an Eric Limkemann coached athlete....hint hint)!
From a nutrition standpoint I had a gel flask with six watered down gels which I sipped over the first half marathon. I was also trying to drink two cups of gatorade at every aid station while stuffing ice down my shammy around my neck. Once I switched to a cup of Pepsi and two cups of Gatorade at every aid station. I was also trying to take 2 hits of BASE salts every mile. From an energy standpoint I felt good and I don't think nutrition was my limiter. I think it was just muscular fatigue that bit me in the ass.
On course moral support was not in short supply. Trey and Eric were all over. It was so helpful having friendly faces and encouragement every few miles. My mom and Lummy were there giving me just the right amount of love and support at the perfect time. At the half marathon turn around Lummy gave me my lucky Chattanooga CKG bracelet and I felt a power up from Cam (Thanks Dave and Grace for letting me borrow your girl's spirit again for some tough miles). My dad also got busy on his bike and was riding all over the marathon course giving me words of encouragement at every opportunity. He was with me during the really dark miles and got a firsthand glimpse at how ugly things can get. His encouragement was just what I needed to push through. It was also awesome to have so many other friends and family out on course: Justin Moyer, Emma Moyer and her daughters Gentry and Sutton, Rob Green, Mary Beth Green and Libby, Graham Sheppard, Chris Ratchford and his family, Dave Shand, Gina Shand, Margaret Rechel, Chris Aldrich, Kori Sheppard, Sue Sheppard, Shaun Sheppard, and Steve's wife Mandy (who is a super sherpa in her own right!). In other words there was no shortage of external energy from which to draw inspiration. I never gave in and I never quit on myself and the result was something I'm truly proud of.
Post-Script and Season Thoughts
I incorporated several things that took me to the next level this year and which will continue to be incorporated in the future. Special thanks to Trey McFerren and Crossfit Addict for early season strength work, Jeremy Galo and Stronger U for the nutritional guidance, Eric Limkemann for another fantastic year of coaching, and for my friends and training partners, Dan, Graham, and Chris. We crushed some really awesome long rides this summer and I can't wait until next year to do it again (or maybe even Zwift parties this winter). Graham Sheppard is an absolute beast and having him has a training partner inspires me to be better. In truth he is a superior athlete that will be kicking my ass in short order and I can't wait to see that. For the time being though I will use him as motivation and keep "running scared" to try and stay ahead of his skinny ass. I also went back to my roots of high volume bike training. There is simply no substitute for long rides. I fooled myself for a few years thinking I could substitute short intensity for distance but in truth that is not a formula for success for me personally....so Kona prep will mean putting my ass in the saddle and getting the work done!
This has been a long, exhausting, and rewarding season and I'm thrilled with how it ended. As I sit on the balcony looking at a beautiful sunset in Panama City Beach I can't help but feel peace and gratitude for this life. I am going to take the rest of the year to let myself be less anal with my diet and do some unstructured training. Frankly I need the emotional and mental break more than anything. Chasing these goals is so hard on my family and they deserve more of me for a little while.
As always, thank you all for reading my thoughts and for all the kind words of support and encouragement. I hope that my musings offer something useful to those that read it. I hope everyone has a great end to their year and has a happy and healthy holiday season!!! Bring on the Foods!!!!