About IMRoycer81

Richmond, Virginia, United States
Thanks for visiting! I'm a civil litigator at KPMLaw. I attended Cornell where I swam IM and Breastroke. In 2007 I filled the void of swimming retirement with triathlon. In my first tri I thought, "holy sh*t this is painful" and "when can I do it again?" Things escalated quickly and my first half was Augusta 2009 and my first full was Louisville 2011. Since 2007 I've been chasing my dream of qualifying for Kona. Prior to September 2017 this blog focused on attempts (and failures) to achieve an elusive KQ. I got the monkey off my back in my 10th Ironman at Chattanooga. There is still much room to improve and I look forward to putting in the work to become a consistent podium finisher. In 2018 I have the privilege of racing for Team Every Man Jack and look forward to learning from a great group of guys while giving back to the triathlon community. I couldn't do any of this without my amazing family. They lift me up. I am lucky to train in a fantastic triathlon town with inspirational athletes. My job, training, and daughter keep me busy, but I update as often as I can. I'm always willing to share the knowledge I've picked up along the way. Thanks for reading!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Overdue Ironman Cozumel Race Report

Ironman Cozumel Race Report
Swim- 48:50
Bike- 5:03:34
Run- 4:57:05

As I was laying in bed the night before the race I was trying to count the number of full Ironman races I've done.  I had to chuckle when I was having trouble counting up the total number.  It turns out this would be my 13th attempt and worst result. After an unbelievable 2017, 2018 was amazing and frustrating.  Amazing because it started with levels of fitness and training achievements I could not have imagined a short time ago.  Amazing because I was on Team EMJ and made lifelong new friends. Amazing because I got to compete in the Ironman World Championships and fulfill a lifelong dream.  Amazing because my personal life can not get any better.  I have the best wife, daughter, family, friends, and teammates anyone could dream of. I live a life of great privilege I could not have imagined 10 years ago as I finished law school and started my adult life with my best friend.

On the flip side, frustrations came in the form of a nagging injury which derailed my whole summer training and racing schedule, a disastrous performance at Kona and and an even more disastrous performance at Cozumel which would turn out to be the worst result of my 13 full Ironman races (despite lifetime best overall fitness).  At the end of the day, when things go south on course, I try to remember that I have a life full of love and privilege, and I am fortunate to the have the time, support, and resources such that in the span of 5 weeks I could chase dreams in two of the most beautiful places on earth.  That is only possible because of the special people in my life (especially Brittany, mom and dad).

I should start with how I ended up in Cozumel 5 weeks after Kona....after Kona I felt unfulfilled and thought my race was not reflective of the work I put in despite my injury.  I felt my unraveling on the Queen K was more a result of something going awry with my nutrition as opposed to race execution.  During the post-race week of vacation on Oahu mom and dad kept dropping hints that I should do Arizona.  At first I thought it was ridiculous and paid it no mind.  After licking my wounds for a few days I began to get curious and checked if it was open.  It wasn't, but Cozumel was on the same weekend, open and intriguing.  Past results from Cozumel are all over the map.  Some years it seems like a race where a Kona slot is reasonable to attain and other years it looks like a steep task.  I recovered well from Kona mostly because I walked the majority of the marathon, and started giving it serious consideration.

I talked about it with my coach, wife, and friends and started leaning more and more toward racing. I have previously done two Ironmans within 6 and 8 weeks so I was confident I could turn it around....It was just a question of whether I wanted to.  That question was answered on the weekend of Ironman Florida when two of my best buddies got first and second overall.  The overall winner, Steve Jackson, is an EMJ teammate who crushed at Kona a mere 4 weeks earlier.  I was also greatly inspired by teammate Jason Ream who had a fantastic day (after having a tough day at Kona) and nabbed a Kona slot.  Knowing that the race was sure to be painful, I felt excited and ready to tackle the challenge.  I was inspired by Jason, Graham, and Steve.  If they can do it, so can I!!!!  I thought a time in the low 9 hours was possible (and would give me a shot for Kona), and for the first time all season I felt my run was starting to feel more natural and a bit more snappy (I'm still only 85-90% healed).  I nailed a 100 mile ride on the trainer which sealed in my mind that it was a good decision...plus I was already heat acclimated from the lava fields!

Mom and dad jumped at the chance to get out of the cold and came with me on the trip.  The travel is not bad if you don't have kids in tow.  We flew into Cancun and from there you take a 45 minute cab ride to Playa del Carmen and then a 35 minute ferry to the Island of Cozumel.  As a Gringo you always hear stories about how dangerous Mexico is.  My experience was that the people were warm, friendly and inviting and I never felt sketchy or in danger (especially on Cozumel).  In fact the people living on Cozumel really get into the race.  The entire Island is closed down on race day making for a totally car free bike and run course.  It's truly awesome how much the people come out to support the racers.  I loved hearing "Si se puede" all over the bike and run course (Yes you can!).  The locals are out partying and dancing all day...it's just a really cool vibe.

We got to Cozumel a few days early and it was really nice enjoying a few beautiful days in the Caribbean with mom and dad.  We got an awesome airbnb right in town across from the convention center.  Our third story balcony overlooked the water.  It was kind of like being a kid again when we would travel to swim meets every weekend.  One of the nicest things about this year is that my mom has taken a step back, is taking care of herself and is really enjoying life.  After dedicating her whole life to me and my sisters it is nice to see her sunning in a beach chair by the Caribbean Sea appearing totally at peace.

I also loved the chance to practice speaking Spanish.  One of my biggest regrets is giving up on the language in college.  I have been working this year with the Duolingo app and it was cool to see how my skills would adapt in the real world.  I found that a week immersion got me speaking pretty well.  I could get by and was able to navigate us through Playa Del Carmen when our cab didn't show up on the way back home.  If I had a month there I think I could really improve, but was definitely inspired to keep studying and maybe one day I will have skills equivalent to a Spanish speaking third grader....lol!

Another highlight was getting to know teammate Tom Trauger well.  I got to spend a lot of time with him before and after the race and he is a really inspirational human being.  It was awesome to see him win his age group on race day and seal up a Kona slot for next year.  I also got to know teammate Corey Robinson better and he is an equally great guy.  His family is top notch and his dad's sherpa game is strong!

The Race
This report will be different from my usuals as I won't bog you down with a bunch of pesky details and data.  I loved Mexico and despite having a bad day I would absolutely do this race again....definitely one of my favorites on the circuit.

The swim is awesome with crystal clear waters and sea life galore...dare I say even more beautiful than Kona.  The swim is fast but hard.  You have the tide at your back but the swells make it such that some of the sections are a grind.  There were only a few spots where I felt the benefit of the strong current pushing me along.  It wore me out more than I was anticipating.

The bike was equally beautiful and is a 3 loop course around the island.  The far side of the Island is totally undeveloped and is nothing but pristine beaches and crystal waters.  Not such a bad view on a 112 mile bike ride.  The wind on that side of the island is tough because you are totally unprotected but helps break up the field.  I did not find the drafting to be a big problem.  Overall my bike split was okay.  It was slower than I anticipated and the wind picked up through each loop of the course.  Overall I felt I was having to work too hard for the end result.  I will address the run and post race separately because that is where things got really sketchy!!!

What a Long Strange Trip its Been...
I knew immediately running out of T2 that I was in for a battle.  I didn't feel great but I thought it was going to be a day where I had to fight some demons.  As I didn't feel particularly good I just tried to hold steady.  I was able to hold 8 minute pace for a good long while.  That kept me on target for a 3:30 marathon which would have given me a fighting chance to place well in the heat.  The course is an out and back you do 6 times.  Each stretch is 4.8 miles.  Great crowd support, but each stretch felt longer and longer.  As I came into town before the third and final out and back things were starting to feel dire (about mile 16) and I told my dad as much.  He asked how I was doing and I literally said "I am in hell".  As I headed back out of town I noticed that I started to feel cold and my arms had goose bumps.  Shortly thereafter I stopped sweating and felt like I needed to vomit.  By mile 19 I was totally out of sorts and starting to have strange thoughts.  I stopped a few times to try and gag myself to force puke thinking it would help me feel better, but I was simply unable.  I started to focus on how cold I was and I could not stop thinking how nice it would feel to lay down in the sun on the warm asphalt to warm up.  In fact, a few times I found a sunny spot in the grass and laid down in the direct sunlight...so weird.  Um, hello, it's a race, why the hell was I sunning myself in the median?!?!?!

The entire last loop I could not take in any fluids or food.  I tried at every station and the best I could do was gag down a couple sips of Coke.  In hindsight, the last 90 minutes of the run was really scary.  I have broken memories of those last few miles.  I remember doing them but it was as though I was in a crappy dream and the edges are hazy.  When my chip stopped registering normal times my mom got panicked and started walking out on the run course thinking I was in medical.  We crossed paths with about a mile and a half to go.  She could see I was in bad shape and she kept giving me small goals to achieve.  Walk to the next light....walk to the intersection...walk to the store...and on and on.  I remember having to stop a lot and I was totally unable to talk.  Mom was trying to keep me engaged but it seemed the energy to form words was beyond my reach.  Eventually we made it to the finish chute and I thought I could at least muster enough strength to cross the finish line in a jog.  I tried, and within two steps knew it couldn't happen and for the first time in this sport I walked across an Ironman finish line in the dark.

Post Race
After the race I knew I was in bad shape.  I could barely stand and kept falling toward the barriers.  The volunteers not realizing how bad of shape I was in shepherded me toward the post-race food area.  I was able to ask one for a space blanket as I was totally freezing (mind you it was still 80 degrees).    My mom being her typical paranoid self (thanks Mom!) pushed herself back into the restricted athlete area to keep an eye on me.  I kept telling her I would be fine if I could just take a nap.  Setting aside how bizarre that is, I laid in the grass for what felt like an eternity trying to clear my head and summon the strength to stand but it just wasn't getting better.  I could still not eat or drink.  After about 45 minutes mom had enough and got the EMTs.  Before I knew it there were 6 guys putting me on a backboard and carrying me to the medical tent.  In hindsight a funny moment was when they tried to lift the backboard and almost dropped me (not funny at the time).  I don't think they realized quite how big I am.  The people of Cozumel were definitely on the short/little side so I must have looked like some kind of giganteur freak at 6'5 and 180 lbs.

Once in medical they took amazing care of me.  There were two doctors and 6 nurses working on me (they took better care then the American medical tents I've been in).  They took my vitals and hooked me to an IV.  After laying under blankets with an IV for about an hour I started to feel like I was regaining my wits and physical faculties.  There was a language barrier but my broken Spanish picked up from the doctor that I had hypothermia....HYPOTHERMIA!!! How the hell do you get Hypothermia in the Caribbean?!?!? WTF?!?!?  Once I got home I started reading about Hypothermia and sure enough the signs and symptoms matched perfectly. I don't really know how I put myself in that hole as I drank a lot of fluids on the bike and early stages of the run so the best I can surmise is that my electrolytes were way out of whack.

In any event, I need to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate some things.  My last two Ironman results were my two slowest ever!!!!  I am moving in the wrong direction in a bad way.  My nutrition plan (which has worked for years in hot races) suddenly failed me in Kona and then failed even more spectacularly in Mexico.  One of the amazing benefits of being on Team EMJ is having Gu Energy as a sponsor.  Gu Rep to the stars Celia Santi immediately reached out after the race and put me in touch with the Gu Nutrition Scientist.  After the holidays I plan on connecting and using Gu's resources to try and isolate what the problem has been and how to fix it.

I have come to the conclusion that I need to get back to basics and build a better foundation early in the year.  I have resigned myself to the conclusion that Kona is not in the cards for 2019 and will instead focus the early season on strength and getting faster by focusing on 70.3 races.  I am thinking about either Ironman Louisville or Chattanooga in the fall followed by Ironman Florida about 8 weeks later.  That is a double I have done before successfully.  I believe I am capable of consistently doing races in the low 9 hours, and one day I would like to be sub 9.  Kona will always be on my mind, but realistically it most likely will not happen every year.  I am beginning to feel more and more okay with that.  In some ways it is freeing as the pressure and difficulty of the chase can be so physically and emotionally taxing (especially on my wife, daughter, family, job, and personal relationships).

So there you have it....this season was both amazing and not so amazing all at the same time.  I continue to love what this sport gives to me and I hope that I am giving back to it equally.  I would like to thank Ritch Viola and Team Everyman Jack for an amazing season and the opportunity to continue on the squad in 2019.  I would also like to thank our amazing sponsors: Every Man Jack, Gu Energy, Felt Bicycles, Garneau, Roka, Normatec, Garmin, Boco Gear, Sock Guy and Enve Wheels.  My success would not be nearly as possible without such amazing industry support.

Until next year....
As always thank you for reading and I welcome any feedback or criticisms.  I hope everyone enjoys the Holidays.  See you back on the grind in 2019.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Ironman World Championship Race Report- "Stay Stubborn"

Ironman World Championship Race Report (10/13/18)
“Stay Stubborn”
Swim- 56:12
Bike- 4:56:25 (5 minute penalty)
Run/Death March- 4:36:27
Total Time: 10:40:16

This season has been one of tremendous highs and lows.  I started off the year on fire after having great races at IM Chattanooga and IM Florida at the end of 2017.  My confidence was high and I charged headlong into winter training at a fever pitch.  I applied for and was accepted to Team Every Man Jack and decided to do Ironman Texas in April as I was playing with house money and had no worries about nabbing a slot.  I went into Texas the fittest I’ve ever been with all metrics looking good….Unfortunately, things did not go as planned and I ended up injured during the race.  See my Ironman Texas Race Report if you are interested in that shit show (http://imroycer81.blogspot.com/2018/05/ironman-texas-race-report-ironman-is.html)

Upon returning home I thought I would be back at training full bore within a matter of weeks.  Unfortunately my body had other plans.  I ended up with high hamstring tendinitis which is inflammation of the tendon that joins the three hamstring muscles with the sit bone.  Fortunately an MRI confirmed no tear, but the healing process for this particular injury is long and frustrating.  Even today I am only 80-85%. Because there is no blood supply to the tendon it doesn’t heal without active treatment.  This meant weeks upon weeks of time consuming and expensive treatment.  I tried everything to get back to running.  Chiropractic, active release, graston, traditional PT, home exercises, ice, heat, and e-stim before I could even begin running on an Alter G zero gravity treadmill.  When all was said and done I went about 8 weeks without running, and then 4 weeks on the Alter G before I resumed painful running on the road.  All my health care providers assured me that running through the pain was not causing any further damage as long as I was actively treating but it made for really slow and terrible runs for a long time.  The other annoying thing is that the symptoms of the injury don’t show up in the hamstring as much as your ass.  My ass aches all the effing time.  It is like a terrible toothache in my butt.  Needless to say daily butt pain gets really old.  When all is said and done I anticipate that it will have taken a full year for this injury to heal.  Many thanks to Moose Herring, Rob Green, Lori Strobl, and the amazing therapists at OrthoVirginia that put me in a position to continue training and give me the opportunity to race.

In many ways I was my own worst enemy.  Because I couldn’t run, I decided I would make up for it by riding my bike ragged.  I spent most of the summer crushing bike miles like never before.  So much that I have already cleared 8000 miles before November.  My previous biggest cycling year topped out at 6800 miles.  In all likelihood I will end up with 9000 bike miles before year end.  The bad part was that there was simply no way to race on my bad leg.  All racing plans went out the window and I was only able to race one time before Kona at Ironman Maine 70.3.  Also, because I ride an ISM saddle which is designed to put weight on the sit bone, I was likely continuing to inflame my injury on a daily basis.  Ultimately I made slow, steady progress and felt like I put myself in the best position possible to have success in Kona.  Despite the injury issues I feel like I got close to pre-Texas fitness.  In the last few weeks before Kona I was able to finally hit some decent runs but it is going to be a long process to get back to pre-injury speeds.  I wasn’t sure what I was capable of running in Kona but my goal was 3:30 in the lava fields.

Having qualified for Kona in September 2017, there was a ton of time to plan the trip.  I am so fortunate to have such a huge contingent of family and friends who immediately let us know they would happily join for support.  We ended up renting a spectacular house about 25 minutes away from Kailua Kona up in the hills overlooking the ocean in Captain Cook.  The house was spectacular and perfectly designed for a large family.  It was nice to be away from the hustle and high pressure environment in town.  The energy is amazing but it is also a bit stressful to be around the fittest people on earth who all seem to be sizing you up at every moment.  It was good to be able to stay away from the panic training and relax leading up to the race.  I was fortunate to have such a huge contingent on the big island (Brittany, Sloanie, mom, dad, Lummy, Roycie, Jeanna, Trey, Kaitlyn, Aunt Bev, Uncle Ed, TJ, Steve, Jilly, and Garrett).

There were a few EMJ events leading up to the race.  We had a great shake out run with GU Energy/Garmin followed by a swim to the coffee boat, a fantastic EMJ family dinner two nights before the race, and then we all went to bike check in together.  We also did a team walk through at the Vendor Expo which was a lot of fun and were on the receiving end of lots of love from our fantastic sponsors.  I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to thank our sponsors: Every Man Jack, Felt Bicycles, ENVE Composites, Louis Garneau, Lululemon Men, Sock Guy, Garmin Fitness, Normatec Recovery, BOCO head gear, Gu Energy, and Roka.  

Bike check in was quite an experience.  It felt like the red carpet at the Oscars (except for triathlon).  Walking in together must have been quite a visual.  All of the Felt bikes, ENVE wheels, and matching Lululemon gear and Boco hats looked sharp.  There was an announcer announcing each athlete as we came in, various pros were being interviewed, and then each athlete had a personal escort walk you through transition to get you set up.  It was definitely an experience I won’t soon forget.  Quite a bit different from the standard Ironman check in.  At most races Daniella Ryf isn’t checking in at the same time as me :)

Leading into the race I was surprisingly calm and relaxed.  In fact until about 12 hours pre-race I was more mellow than I ever have been for any other race.  I guess not having the stress of worrying about a podium or nabbing a Kona slot was really beneficial for my mindset.  The days leading up to race day were spent assembling my bike, doing athlete check-in, hanging by the infinity pool, riding the climb and descent up to Hawi, and spending as much time as possible with family (there is never very much time due to all the odds and ends of race prep).  Kona is a magical place.  The energy is contagious and I already have started to plot how the hell I can get back.  Every year gets tougher and I am going to have to continue to work my ass off for the opportunity to get back.  This experience has just fueled my fire to do so.

The day before the race was pretty standard.  I ate a huge pancake breakfast in the morning and then not much until dinner.  Dinner was a pretty bland and unoffensive salad with grilled chicken.  I actually fell asleep quickly but woke up 3 or 4 times during the night.  The good thing about racing in Hawaii is that your body clock is so screwed up from the 6 hour time change that waking up at 3:30 a.m. is actually pretty easy.  This was the first time that I ever fell asleep early before a race.  Usually I am up all night tossing and turning but I slept pretty well and only woke up every few hours which is far better than laying awake all night which is what usually happens.

Race Morning:
I woke up at 3:30 to get to work on my nutrition which included two packages of oatmeal, a picky bar, and 32 ounces of unsweetened applesauce.  We departed for transition at 4:15 and arrived to body marking at about 5 a.m.  The morning was well organized and volunteers were unbelievably nice.  Body marking was quick and getting to our bikes to make final adjustments was equally easy.  I was under the impression that you couldn’t bring your own pump into transition but this turned out to be incorrect.  Fortunately pumps were abundant and it was not difficult getting my tires pumped. The Ironman athlete guide says that you can’t get into your bike and run bags although I have heard that you can.  I did not do so and it was actually a relief not to tinker in the morning.  I was all set up and ready to relax by about 5:20.  The only confusion for me was where we were supposed to go while we waited for the swim start.  I was worried they would keep us captive in transition but this was not the case.  We were able to freely leave and I left via bike out and shared a few last pre-race moments with dad.  The rest of the family had already posted up on the flood wall to watch the swim.  I spent about 20 minutes getting my swim gear on and then shared a really special moment with dad.  We both told each other how much we loved each other and how thankful we were.  It was a new record for when my tears started to flow on an Ironman day for sure!  (https://www.facebook.com/dan.royce.3/posts/10213123324182541),  After saying our goodbyes I walked back into transition as the pro-women were starting.  As soon as they went off they opened up the gates and let the amateur men walk into the water.  Not wanting to get stuck in the back of the pack I found two of my teammates and we made our way up to the front of the buoy line.

I heard many horror stories about the violent mass swim start and it definitely was tougher than a normal race.  The difficulty is compounded by the fact that you have to tread water for about 20 minutes before the cannon goes off so you are burning energy before the race even starts!   I used some of this time to really drink in my surroundings.  I had watched this moment so many times on TV that it was hard to believe I was finally sitting in the water off Dig Me beach.  Floating in the warm waters looking at the sky, and the pier, and the flood wall, and the crowds is a visual I will never forget.  

Fortunately about 10 of my teammates found each other towards the middle start buoy and our strength in numbers allowed us to hold our position fairly well toward the front.  It also allowed for some light hearted conversation and jokes to help break the tension.  My plan was to swim hard until I had a bit of space and then latch onto a decent swim group.  I had built the swim up to be a bloodbath in my head, but the reality was not as bad as I envisioned.  While it was violent for about 1000 yards, it opened up a bit and stayed fairly open until about the last 1000 yards.  The only mishaps were one kick to the jaw and my watch was almost pulled off.  Other than that I did a good job staying calm and smooth and I actually felt really good in the water.  However, I was very disappointed in my swim time and it was far slower than I felt.  My only explanation for the slow time is that I wrongly thought I was swimming with a much faster group than I actually was.  If I ever have the opportunity to get back, I will make sure to be a bit more aggressive early and get with the front pack swimmers. One thing that didn’t let me down was my sleeved Roka Viper X swim skin.  I love that thing!

It felt like we had a bit of an assist from the tide on the way out as my 500 yard splits were much slower on the way back towards the pier.  As I approached the pier I could hear the roar of the crowd and could feel the energy of the atmosphere.  It was palpable.  Standing up from the water I immediately started to cramp in my quads and hamstrings….ruh ruh… It made for a very slooooow transition.  I stopped briefly in the showers to rinse off the salt and made my way into the change tent.  As I sat down to put on my bike gear I kept cramping and actually had to stand up and stretch for a few minutes.  I tried not to worry about it as my only expectations for the day were to race smart and not make any silly mistakes.  After loosening up a bit I put on my bike shoes and made the long run through transition to my bike.  I elected to run with my bike shoes on and I don’t regret my choice.  I grabbed the bike and felt excited to get rolling and execute my bike plan.  The cramps had subsided, so far so good!  I saw my family as I exited transition and got a nice jolt of energy.

I had the benefit of several friends who did the race before me.  My buddy Dan Szajta developed a great strategy to break the bike course down into manageable pieces in an effort to combat the usual challenges of extreme heat and a typical headwind on the last 35 miles.  His strategy was to treat the bike in four segments: 1) Transition to Airport (~15 miles), 2) Airport to Kawaihae (~25 miles), 3) Kawaihae to Hawi to Kawaihae (~40 miles), and 4) Kawaihae to transition (~34 miles).  My game plan was to be very relaxed all the way up to Hawi, build section three and then ride strong on the Queen K back to transition.  I have heard many people say that lots of guys ride too hard up to Hawi and then pay the price on the Queen K back to town.  I was determined not to fall into that trap and planned to ride very conservatively to avoid a death march on the marathon.  I used the first 15 miles out to the airport to settle in and start getting nutrition down.  There was lots of bike traffic and a few sketchy sections where the congestion felt a bit dangerous.  Ultimately I got through unscathed.  

My goal was to drink an entire bottle of Gatorade Endurance between every aid station for both hydration and sodium.  I was able to hold that plan the whole day and I got about 9 bottles down.  I also wore arm cooling sleeves for the first time which provided dual benefits of protecting my arms from sunburn and keeping me cool.  Each aid station I would grab a water bottle, douse my arms, chest and head and then grab a new bottle of Gatorade toward the end of the aid station.  Additionally, I ate 3 Gu stroop waffles for a change of pace.  The first was at mile 60, the second at mile 80 and the last at about mile 100.  

The road up to Hawi was very congested and things didn’t really break apart until the Hawi descent.  There were huge packs of guys drafting in trains and both myself and my teammates were working hard not to get caught up in the mess.  Playing fair is something that we take very seriously on Team EMJ.  I was getting passed like crazy up to Hawi including by most of my teammates but I continued to ride extremely conservatively and planned to reel people in on the way back home.

One of the more frustrating aspects of the ride was getting nabbed for a drafting penalty.  Especially because I was trying my best not to get caught up in the cheating.  At some point on the climb up to Hawi I came up a rise and got too close to the guy in front of me.  I was sitting up but was probably too close by the letter of the law.  I am responsible for my own conduct but the penalty felt silly in light of the rampant draft trains going by.  The marshall was right near us and she immediately singled me out for a penalty.  The frustrating aspect was this was happening as lines of 15-20 guys were blasting by, riding two abreast, and clearly drafting.  The marshall seemingly let these gravy trains go right on by and singled me out when it should have been clear I was at least trying to ride honest.  It was frustrating, but I tried not to let it get me down because it would just provide an opportunity to rest and stretch for a few minutes right before I was going to begin increasing my effort.

One of my great memories from the ride was watching the pro men and pro women descend from Hawi.  It was awesome to see the best in the sport flying downhill with all the motorcycles, and helicopters and NBC film crews.  I actually slowed, sat up to watch, and for a few minutes reverted to a fan boy.  The ride up to Hawi was otherwise calm and the winds were coming off the ocean and headed to our right.  I had no trouble keeping my Felt IA and Enve Wheels stable.  The temperature was starting to rise as we got out of town and the overcast skies gave way to bright, hot, and sunny weather.  Hawi was the first time that I started to feel warm but it was totally manageable.  The penalty tent was right after the turn and required a stop at about mile 61-62.  I used the five minutes stop to stretch,  and get some water in.

After getting let loose from the penalty tent I settled back in and tried to ride consistently back to Kawaihae.  I kept my power extremely manageable and the wind was still coming off the ocean but now it was moving to our left.  The descent was fun and there were no extreme gusts to worry about so I moved along quite well.  I must admit that several times on the way down I couldn’t help looking at the scenery with a huge shit eating grin on my face.  It just felt so good to be there.  True to form I definitely started passing people and continued to pass people all the way back to transition.  The weather was extremely calm and forgiving on the bike leg which led to lightning fast bike splits.  We were even lucky to have a tailwind during the last segment on the Queen K which virtually never happens.  In many ways I wish we would have had the typically brutal last 30 miles as I believe I would have been able to catch more people as I definitely got stronger through the ride.

Overall the bike leg was pretty uneventful.  As we got closer to town I noticed that it was a bit cloudier and I was hoping we might actually get some of the rain that was forecasted.  Alas it was not meant to be.  Overall I was quite pleased with my bike effort and time.  I could have definitely ridden harder and I feel I rode exactly to plan to give myself the best chance to succeed on the run.  Most races I target power in the 235-240 range.  Here I purposely rode a bit lower so as to not put myself in a hole.  I ended up with an average power of 225 and a Normalized power of 237.  The variability index of 1.05 was higher than I like and most of my race files have been 1.03 or better.  Nonetheless, 1.05 is still within the range of what I would consider manageable.  My TSS for the ride was 263 which is also significantly lower than most of my Saturday training rides.  I had done rides during the summer with TSS well over 300 and was still able to run off the bike (albeit not very well).  Best Bike Split had me riding 5:00 on my target wattage and I actually ended up riding 4:55 with a 5:00 minute penalty. An actual bike split of 4:50 tells me that I am pretty close to optimizing my aerodynamics.  I plan to make a few small tweaks in the offseason and hopefully acquire some custom aerobar extensions to get to the final position I hope will give me the most free speed.  The race photographs look good and the eyeball test tells me that my fit is significantly better than Ironman Texas.

As I got to transition I felt good and optimistic I would run well.  In the back of my head the run was always going to be a question mark with the injury issues.  It was only in the last 4 weeks that I showed any flashes of the run progress I had made early in the year.  As I got back to transition I took my time and checked all my boxes.  Not worrying about a podium or a KQ has its advantages and I wanted to make sure I was cool and comfortable before embarking on what would surely be one of the hardest marathons of my life.  The transition was slow but I was okay with that as I changed tops, got all my nutrition straight and cooled myself off with a few cups of water.  Running out of transition was a blast.  The crowd support was unreal and for a moment I reveled in the fact that I was heading out onto Ali’i drive and not watching it on TV from 6000 miles away!

Run/Death March:
Let me start off by saying I vastly underestimated this run course.  It is legitimately hard and extremely hilly.  I underestimated the hills and I think that led to both physical and mental failures.  I can’t say it was the heat that did me in, but I did hear from several people that the favorable wind conditions on the bike made for a warmer than usual run (I don’t know if that’s actually true or not).  However, much like Chattanooga last year I never thought that the heat was crushing or pushing me to the point of failure.  The aid stations were well placed with plenty of ice and cool sponges.  I ran with a shammy around my neck and kept it filled with ice.  Ice went down the front and back of my tri top at every opportunity.  Overall I felt that I managed the heat to the best of my ability and also felt that I was prepared for it from the heat/humidity of Virginia.

The run course changed a bit this year on account of construction on the Queen K and a new entrance into the Energy Lab.  Essentially it took a bit of mileage off the front end in town and added it in on the Queen K before the Energy Lab.  The course starts out with a short steep climb out of transition and then and out and back on Ali’i drive.  The crowds are epic and the energy is unreal.  I planned to be really conservative here because I did not want the energy of the crowd to push me into an unsustainable pace.  I succeeded in that regard and was running the first section between 7:45-8:00 miles which would have put me right on pace for my goal marathon of 3:30.  I was warned that Ali’i can be warmer than the Queen K and that proved to be true (quite counterintuitively).  In reality once you get on the Queen K it is desolate but you get a bit more of a breeze so it feels less hot.  I was not prepared for the body blows of up and down running through town.  The first section of the race is tough.  There is nothing super steep but you are constantly rolling up and down and I believe it took a greater toll on me than I accounted for.

After running out and back on Ali’i you turn up the climb at Palani Drive and then make a left turn on the Queen K where the real fun begins.  The Palani climb is tough and I did walk a bit of it in an effort not to burn any matches.  At this point I started to feel a bit stomach sick and when I got on the Queen K I made the first of what would be four port-a-potty stops to try and relieve the stomach issues I was having.  I generally have an iron gut in racing and I implemented a nutrition plan that I have used with success in the past.  I’m not sure why my body didn’t agree with it but I wasted more time than I would have liked in several bathroom spots.

One of the truly great things about being on EMJ is having so many teammates in the field.  I enjoyed some time running with Jason Sandquist on Ali’i and the early stages of the Queen K.  I also ran nearly the whole stretch down the Queen K to the end of the Energy Lab with Walter McCormack.  Having friends with you really helps when you start to hurt and I appreciated being with those guys before my wheels totally fell off.  The Queen K is the second big area which I underestimated.  Even though I had driven it multiple times before race day, in my head I thought the section to the Energy Lab was rolling.  In reality is essentially a 5 mile low grade climb to the entrance of the lab.  It is absolutely brutal and my pace begin to slip steadily as I ran uphill.  The unrelenting climb is a serious mindf*ck.  By the time we could see the turn into the Energy Lab I remember telling Walter that I was actually looking forward to a change of scenery from the low grade soul sucking hill on the Queen K. Somewhere along the climb several teammates who had flown out to watch the race were cheering on the side of the road.  I remember Matt Hurley, Bradley Kuper-Smith, Todd Buckingham, and Devin Volk (if I am forgetting someone sorry guys!!!).  Matt yelled something that stayed with me the rest of the day and ultimately helped me finish.  As I ran he yelled “Stay Stubborn”.  I never heard this before and I love it.  I think I am going to adopt it as my new race mantra because ultimately you can’t achieve anything in this sport without a serious stubborn streak in training and racing.  You may not even remember saying it, but thanks Matt, you helped me finish the race.  Despite my downward spiral this was also the point that I saw several of the pro men coming back into town.  It was so cool to see these guys in action and they make their suffering seem so easy relative to mine.  A real high point was watching Daniella Ryf stride by with a commanding lead over the women’s field.  She seemed like she was on a casual Sunday training run.  In fact she casually smiled at me and another guy as we yelled “go Daniella”.  It was mind-blowing how good she looked for that point of the race.

As I entered the stretch into the Energy Lab I began to feel worse and worse.  Clay Emge, Matt Malone, John Kelly, Matt Ison, and Nick Noone had all passed in the opposite direction and were done with the worst that the Lab had to offer.  All five guys looked unbelievable and were absolutely flying.  I could see that they were all very close to the pointy end of the amateur field.  I have so much respect for these guys and how they handled that course.  After finally doing this race, I am in absolute awe of anyone who can put together an awesome performance in Kona because the course is HARD!!!!  

As I entered the early stages of the Energy Lab I saw several other teammates including Steve Jackson, James Harrington, Matt Davis, and Rob Mohr (all of whom had stellar races).  All were running strong and overtaking tons of guys.  Despite my suffering it made me feel proud to be teammates with such incredible triathletes.  As I got to the turn around of the energy lab things really started to go sideways.  I was beginning to cramp in my quads and hamstrings and starting to walk more and more.  In the span of about 15 minutes I was totally crushed and mostly walking.  I had a difficult time stringing together 3-4 minutes of running at a time and the running that I was doing was pathetic.  

By the time I got out of the Energy Lab things were beginning to get dire.  This was right about mile 19 and I began to wonder if I could even finish.  What would follow was the most scared I have ever been on a race course.  I went to the darkest place I have ever been mentally for about an hour between miles 19-23 and I had to muster everything I had just to keep putting one foot in front of the other.  I began to get tingling in my arms, hands, face, cheeks, tongue and lips.  Eventually I stopped being able to feel my fingers and my walking became a bit erratic and wobbly.  I know I was out of it because I kept thinking that it would feel so good to just lay down and recover (ummmm the pavement is 110 degrees….not a great idea).  I stopped being able to get anything more than a sip of Gatorade and Coke down and I stopped sweating.  I actually was scared about what was happening to me!  To make matters worse my dad had ridden his bike out on the Queen K and he was watching me at my absolute worst.  He stayed with me during this whole dark stretch and I think I gave him a pretty good scare.  He says I was mumbling incoherently and looking quixotically at my hands every few minutes.  He did his best to encourage me but all I could think about was how scared I was and how my body was failing me.  I love him so much for helping to pull me through that section, but it was rough.  Its hard not to feel a little guilty when your family flies across the world to watch you explode!!! At one point he threatened to call an ambulance and I told him to back off because I was finishing.  I was looking for every small victory that I could.  Walk to the crack in the road…walk to the cone…. walk to that bush….one step at a time.  Every fiber of my body was screaming at me to stop.  Dad also took the liberty of filming me during this period (maybe for future Sherpa blackmail?!?!?) as you can tell I was a little less than  “fresh”.

Somewhere during this stretch my teammate Jason Ream came up from behind me with some words of encouragement.  He helped save my day as I was in absolute dire straits.  I think I owe him an apology because I am sure I made absolutely no sense while we talked.  I remember I was crying profusely and having trouble getting words out to tell him how I was feeling.  I remember he said “we are here, do anything to get to the finish”.  His kindness and words or encouragement carried me a long way in a really dark moment.  It was also during this time that Jeanna (beloved family friend and swim coach) walked all the way out to mile 23 of the race course from town.  Jeanna recently had a knee replacement and needs the other replaced.  I know she was in so much pain, but despite that she walked in horrific heat on two bad knees to keep me going.  I love her so much for this!!!!  I remember she told me not to run, she simply said walk it in and finish this thing.  She yelled out how proud she was and I cried again.  Those words were enough to motivate me to try and increase my walk to a pitiful jog.  From that point on I tried to run every other cone.  They were about 20 yards apart so I would try and run 20 yards and walk 20 yards (keep in mind that my “run” pace at this point was about 12:00/mile).  I also tried some chicken broth at either the mile 22 or 23 aid station.  This seemed to revive me a bit and I was desperately looking for broth at the remainder of the aid stations.  Unfortunately there was none.  Had there been more I think I could have pulled up the nose a bit more although it wouldn’t have made that much of a difference in my finish time.  There were also several kind athletes that were also suffering that kept encouraging me during the section.  Several groups would encourage me to join with them and jog between the aid stations and then walk in the aid stations.  Unfortunately I simply couldn’t keep pace with any of them but their kindness was something I won’t forget and another reason why I love this sport so much.

The last few miles are a blur.  I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait to get to town so at least there would be people around.  As I got into town my wife and best buddy Trey McFerren were waiting for me at the bottom of Palani.  They saw how bad off I was and they began running along the sidewalk with me.  Trey kept yelling at me to stay “gritty” and Brittany was yelling every positive thing she could to keep me going.  She kept giddily screaming “you are an Ironman World Champion”.  If it wasn’t for them I probably would have just walked but they motivated me to at least try and jog.  Right before the final turn onto Ali’i I saw Aunt Bev and dad.  I think I told them I love them (at least I hope I did).  Shortly before the final finish chute the rest of my family was there.  I took the time to give each and every one of them a hug and a kiss.  Without them I would not have finished.  I am so happy dad captured this on video from the other side of the street.  This sport is simply not possible without huge family support and without question I have the best.

The last steps down Ali’i were the culmination of a dream for me.  I made sure to run despite the fact that my body was totally broken.  I made sure to get through the finish line with no one else around so I could raise my arms in triumph (and get that sweet finisher photo).  Finishing was one of the sweetest bits of relief I have ever experienced.  I was genuinely happy to my core that I had finished with my head high.  The euphoria was short lived and I immediately began to crumble and two lovely volunteers took me around the shoulders and walked me to medical where I spent the next hour getting nursed back to human status.  There I began to process what happened and quickly came to the conclusion that I gave everything I had that day.  Although I am not pleased with the result or the time, I don’t know what I would have done differently.  It is clear that I screwed something up with my nutrition and will need to address that in the future.  I know one thing is for certain.  I learned a lot about myself and the course and I hope to have the opportunity to one day earn my way back and prove I am capable of a much better performance.

Highlights of the Day/Post-race:
When people ask me why I love Ironman I always say that there are very few experiences in life where you can experience the entire range of human emotions over a 10 hour period.  During the course of a race you feel euphoria, sadness, gratitude, happiness, pain, despair, etc.  Name the emotion and at some point during the course of the day you will experience it.  Often these emotions rush at you like raging flood waters and then inexplicably change on a dime.  I also love that Ironman presents the opportunity to face the deepest darkest parts of yourself and see what you are made of.  Very few people really test the absolute outside limits of what they are capable of.  As terrible as those moments are, I know that there are few challenges in life that I can’t rise up to meet head on.

The day was overwhelming, but I tried to make it ordinary to maximize the chances of success.  The two best pieces of advice I received were from Adam Otstot and Walter McCormack.  Adam said, its just another race, it just happens to be Hawaii with really good competition.  Walter’s advice was just as simple but equally weighty.  He said that for your first time in Kona just try and enjoy it.  You have to experience it to know how to handle it.  It turns out he was exactly right. 

I have several moments from the day that will be indelibly marked on me.  1) My pre-race “emo” moment with dad, 2) Pre-swim start taking in the scenery and anticipation of the chaos that would ensue, 3) Riding out of T1 and seeing my family screaming for me, 4) Screaming down from Hawi with a big goofy grin on my face, 5) Running out of transition feeling the roar of the crowd and giving a kiss to my mom, sister, and nephew, 6) Seeing Jilly, Garrett, TJ, Steve, Aunt Bev, and Uncle Ed on Ali’i drive with signs of support, 7) Seeing Jeanna at Mile 11 of the marathon and getting the chance to run over and give her a kiss and tell her I love her, 8) watching my teammates absolutely annihilate the run course, 9) Fighting through the worst race pain and despair I have ever felt, 10) running the last mile with my beautiful wife and best buddy, 11) Kissing and hugging every member of my family at the entrance to the finish chute especially Sloane and Britt), 12) and crossing that damn finish line after years of fighting for it.

As I sit here on the beautiful beach of Oahu getting ready to return home I am filled with an over abiding sense of gratitude.  So many people have given so much allow this dream to come true.  Thank you to each and every person who has ever texted, sent a facebook message, called, or commented on one of my blog posts.  I can’t really adequately express how much you all mean to me.  Most of all I want to thank my “people”.  These are the ones that make it all possible and without their love I would be nothing but a selfish asshole running around in spandex.  Thank you and I love you to Brittany, Sloanie, Dida, Pa, Lummy, Ricky, Royce, Jacko, Bobby Bondo, baby Bondo, Amy, Kaitlyn, Giani, Jeanna, Trey, Graham, Kori, Dan, and Chris.

I’m not sure what’s up next but I have already begun plotting how I can get back here.  I have a better day in me and I intend to prove it.  As always thanks for reading and I welcome any comments, questions or feedback.  Love to all and thanks for being a part of my journey.  Mahalo!

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Ironman Texas Race Report: Ironman is a Cruel Mistress that Taketh as much as she Giveth

Swim- 53:21
Bike- 4:32:19
Those that have been kind enough to follow my triathlon journey know that my race reports tend to be extremely lengthy.  There are a few reasons for this....first, it is how I process my thoughts both good and bad after each race (and apparently I have many thoughts).  When pouring so much of myself into something, it has always helped me to have this space as an outlet to release all the emotions that bubble up after devoting months to a single pursuit.  I also use these reports in a functional way as my triathlon "diary" and I go back through them before each race to remind myself what worked and what didn't both training and on race day.  Lastly, it gives me an opportunity to express my gratitude in a very public forum for all my friends and family that carry me to each start line.  I also hope it provides some useful information (however small) to any other athlete that is kind enough to spend time reading my thoughts tucked away in my little corner of the internet.

IMTX was the first time I have voluntarily abandoned a race of any kind.  This includes my entire swimming career (beginning from age 6) and all the previous triathlons I've done since I started this craziness back in 2007.  I am feeling pretty raw right now mostly because I feel like a quitter.  My logical self knows that I made the right choice to protect my body (and the rest of my season, with Kona in October), but the emotional part of me feels like I quit and I let myself, my family and my teammates down.  After the race I felt dejected, disappointed, embarrassed, and sad.  Now that I am a day (or several depending on when this gets published) removed from the race, I am feeling angry and hungrier than ever to get better (and be better) while proving to myself that I belong amongst the best competition in the deepest races.  In many ways I am driven and limited by the same feelings....insecurity and doubt that I belong among the fastest guys in my age group.  It pushes me to train like a mad man but can also my biggest limiter on race day.

The good.......
Last year was by far my most successful and rewarding season.  I finally qualified for Kona after years of trying (and failing) and then I backed up my KQ performance at Chattanooga with a great day at Ironman Florida just 6 weeks later.  I was riding high and feeling better about the sport than I ever have before.  I was having fun and enjoying training which at times had become a chore over the previous few years.  I attribute this to good friends and training partners while letting myself relax and enjoy the journey rather than focusing on the destination.  My warm and fuzzy triathlon feelings only multiplied when I applied for and was accepted to be a part of Team Every Man Jack. For years I have been watching these guys do amazing things at big races and I have never had anything but positive interactions with them.  I applied to the team with no real expectation that I would actually make it and was super stoked when I did.  It has been fantastic meeting and training with such a diverse group of guys that are simultaneously supremely talented/hard working while keeping humble despite ridiculously awesome race results.

I had the opportunity to train with the squad in March at team camp in Las Vegas and I left with several takeaways: 1) most importantly, the team is made up of good people that are great ambassadors to the sport; 2) there is a reason they are all so fast....they train hard!!!  I went into camp the fittest I have ever been and it was a humbling experience to see how strong everyone is in all three disciplines; 3) the team is made up of really cool people from all walks of life that are doing big  things outside of the sport of triathlon; 4) the team is spoiled by unbelievable sponsors that treat us like kings.  Being at camp was like a small glimpse into what it must be like to be a professional athlete (shout out to our sponsors Every Man Jack, Felt Bicycles, Louis Garneau, Lululemon, Boco Gear, Sockguy, Gu Energy Labs, Roka, Normatec, Garmin, and ENVE Composites); and, 5) I am really lucky to be on the team!

I decided to do Ironman Texas at the end of last year because I wanted one more Ironman before Kona while still playing with house money....no Kona pressure and the ability to race with a free mind.  I also wanted the opportunity to podium at a regional championship with top talent.  I had done Texas twice before and always felt I had a much better day within me than previous performances would have indicated.  The decision to race was made all the more easy when I was able to convince my training partner to sign up with me and I knew I would have someone to do long trainer rides with.  Over the winter I dove into training and without question am the fittest I have ever been in my entire life.  I put in more volume with more quality and intensity than ever before and my body responded every time I asked it for more.  I kept waiting to break or explode and it just didn't happen.  In fact, my overall fitness as represented by Chronic Training Load in Training Peaks was 155 at its highest point before Ironman Chattanooga.  I raised that number to a high of 187 prior to Ironman Texas (20% increase in fitness over 6 months!).  By every training metric I put myself in position to have the best day possible.  As I write this post I have already biked 2979 miles, run 813 miles and swam 95 miles since January 1st.  Last year I set all time volume records in all three disciplines and am on pace to obliterate those targets by as much as 10-20% (with no plans to slow down).  Not only has the volume been there, but also pacing/power.  This year I have set new personal standards in every bike power metric (1 min, 5 min, 20 min and FTP) and my run speed has continued to improve with sub 7 minute pace becoming more and more normal on long runs (my biggest weakness).  I managed to string together 5 straight weeks with training volume above 20 hours.  I was psyched!!!!

I attribute these advances to several things: 1) the unwavering support of my wife.  She is my best friend, supporter and allows me the freedom and opportunity to keep chasing these dreams; 2) my family and especially my mom and dad who give so much of themselves to help me in any way I need it; 3) great coaching.  Eric Limkemann is a fantastic coach that is flexible enough to adapt the way I need him too; 4) amazing training partners...everyone knows about my bromance with Graham Sheppard, Dan Szajta and Chris Berney; 5) Zwift/Kickr.  These tools have been an absolute game changer.  I LOVE riding the trainer now.  Zwift races have been key to finding and breaking my limits on the bike, and; 6) training scared.  I have a strong internal drive to prove I belong on EMJ and want to continue to earn the opportunity to be here with hard work and dedication.  Whenever I start to feel I am getting strong I take a stroll down Strava Avenue and see what my teammates are up to and get a reality check and inspired to be better.

With that as a backdrop, to say I was excited for the opportunity to race against a deep field in the Woodlands was an understatement.  My goal going into Texas was to go sub 9 hours and be in the top 5 in the age group.  I thought that if I could get on the podium at the North American Championship than I could potentially be positioned to get in the top 25-30 in my AG at Kona in October.

The bad.....
Brace yourself for some non-triathlon heavy stuff for a few minutes...I don't talk about it much, but I am prone to bouts of depression from time to time.  It first started in college when I was totally unprepared to deal with the constant gloom, cold, and snow of Ithaca for months on end.  It was at its worst during my sophomore year when an injury forced me out of swimming and I had far too much time to sit around thinking about how miserable I was.  It got so bad that I almost dropped out of school.  I was a mess...totally non-functional, I slept all the time and stayed exhausted, skipped classes, had no real purpose and became even more reclusive than my already pretty anti-social self.  In any event I eventually pulled up the nose with the help of some counseling and anti-depressants.  Through that experience I learned signs of when I start to backslide into a depressive state and have generally been able to manage it.  It tends to rear its ugly head during winter when the cold and dark days really get to me and is generally a seasonal phenomenon.  Fortunately, I haven't really had to deal with it much since my daughter was born.  While I still hate winter, the presence of Sloanie in my life has brought so much happiness that I have been able to keep it at bay for the last few years.  This winter was no exception.  I was able to get through the winter without any real issues and the happiness brought about by my wife and daughter coupled with excitement of being on Team EMJ while hitting new heights in training kept my head in a really good place.

However, about three weeks ago I slipped into a funk.  It was pretty odd because it began when the days were getting longer and warmer which is atypical timing.  It also coincided with a trip to Florida where I got to enjoy some sun and 80 degree temps for a few days.  Needless to say it caught me off guard as I continued to feel more and more mentally beat down as the days crept closer toward IMTX.  The weeks leading up to the race were really frustrating.  I was feeling down and getting mad at myself for feeling down.  It is a destructive cycle to feel bad and then feel bad about feeling bad.  Objectively I have a life that has exceeded my wildest dreams.  I have a wife and daughter I don't deserve, loving parents, siblings, and in laws, a fantastic home, a terrific job, an unbelievable team, and a hobby I'm passionate about.  Unfortunately, despite knowing all these things, I was feeling bad and beating myself up for feeling bad.  The most frustrating aspect of those last few days was feeling like I didn't have anything to be upset about yet continuing to harbor negative feelings holding me down like dead weight.

In any event I was in a bad head space leading into Texas and definitely not my best self.  I think everyone around me knew my head was not in the game and I was definitely worrying my parents (and myself) in the days leading up to the race (Britt and Sloanie stayed in Richmond).  I was tired, negative, self defeating and had a poor self image....not exactly the winning formula to capitalize on lifetime best fitness!  After arriving in the Woodlands I did my best to re-center and get ready to race, but if I am being honest I was not fully in the right mindset when the cannon went off on Saturday morning.  My attitude did improve in the last few days but it was not where it should have been to give myself the best chance to succeed.  I tried to push all the negativity to the side but when it was time to get busy I was not feeling 100% confident.

Another issue is I have been dealing with hamstring and glute pain for about two weeks.  At first I didn't think much of it but it seemed to worsen by the day as I continued to run on it (even though volume was decreasing during taper).  I am not sure what caused it, but I suspect the initial cause was sitting too much in the car over the last few weeks.  I tend to rotate onto my left glute and hip while driving and I spent way too many hours in the car during taper.  When I arrived in Texas I went out for a 6 mile shake out run and had to stop several times due to the pain...awesome.... so to make matters worse let's throw a wonky hammy onto my shit attitude!

On Thursday before the race I was limping and had serious doubts I would be able to run a marathon.  Fortunately,  I met a local coach named Michelle LeBlanc that was kind enough to both refer and help me get an appointment with Dr. Stephen Clouthier at the the Alternative Health Center of the Woodlands (Alternative Health Center of the Woodlands).  He and his staff were gracious enough to work me in and provided some much needed active release, dry needling, cold lasering, and essential oils.  Their kindness and amazing service helped dissipate my pain and gave me the feeling that I at least had a chance to get through the run.  Thank you so much to Michelle, Dr. Clouthier, and Ana Hardy for helping me in a bind!

.....now that I have opened the door to the dark corners of my mind....on to the race itself.

The night before the race I slept typically poor.  I had several sweat attacks which kept waking me up.  I ended up waking up earlier than anticipated at 3:30 so I started getting my nutrition in.  Breakfast included a powerbar, 24 ounce jar of applesauce, 2 packages of oatmeal, a banana and a bottle of gatorade endurance.  This formula worked like a charm for me at both Chattanooga and Florida so I am going to keep sticking with it.  At 4:45 Graham and I went down to T1 with my dad and did our final bike and gear bag checks.  Everything went smoothly and we headed back to our hotel for a quick bathroom break before walking down to swim start (which was right across the street).  We arrived at swim start with about 45 minutes to spare and used the time visiting the restroom and getting all dressed up to swim.  It was my first time using my new Roka Maverick Pro and it did not disappoint! I ate another energy bar and sipped on Gatorade Endurance while I waited for swim start.  With about 10 minutes to spare I made my way down toward the front of the swim start and met up with several teammates, Aaron Church, Joe Adriaens and Stephen Marshall.  We had some small talk and got ready to roll.  Before I knew it we were pushing toward the water and the cannon was going off....time to execute forget all the BS and execute!

53:21, 6th AG, 38th OA
I was a little bummed that the swim was wetsuit legal.  Swimming is a strength for me and I would rather the swim be as hard as possible for everyone else.  That being said, my Maverick Pro performed flawlessly and is a fantastic product.  My plan for the swim is always the same.  Get in a strong lead group and swim confident without spending too many pennies.  My swim time was a bit slower than I was anticipating and I'm not really sure why.  I felt okay in the water but the time was surprisingly slow.  My garmin file shows I swam clean lines and I nailed the distance without excess swimming.  I was thinking I would be 50-51 minutes with the wetsuit but it was just not there. I suspect the slower time has as much to do with my generally shitty demeanor than anything physical.  I was actually swimming quite well leading up to the race so the slow time surprised me.  I did choose to wear my EMJ LG speed suit with the sleeves on under my wetsuit.  Usually I leave them down for less shoulder restriction and pull it up as I run through transition. If I had to do it again I would have had it down.  The extra restriction did annoy me a bit.  My swimming take away is that I need to continue to make swimming a priority as I can sometimes let it slide when I get busy.  EMJ camp showed me that the top guys are not letting their swimming slip so neither can I!  My transition was middling.  It was not my best or my worst.  The wetsuit strippers had a bit of trouble getting my suit off which may have cost me 30 seconds but it was no big deal.  I got through the change tent and into transition fairly smoothly and before I knew it I was out on the bike.

4:32:19, 17th AG, 87th OA
Avg Speed 24.8 mph
Avg Power 229, NP 235, Avg HR 135
My training over the winter put me in a position to ride about 250-260 watts and still run well.  However, I knew after IMFL I could ride 230-240 and still have a wicked fast bike split on a similarly flat and fast course in Texas.  Therefore my plan was not to chase watts but rather focus on a wattage floor rather than a ceiling.  What I mean is that I wasn't going to chase 250-260 if it wasn't coming naturally but if it was there I was going to take it all day long.  If my legs were heavy I was going to make sure I rode at least 230 to at least put me in a position to have a similar bike split as Florida.  I knew I could run well off of any of those wattages.  Best Bike Split had me in the 4:30s at that wattage and that obviously bore out to be true.

The first 20 miles were as I expected.  The wattage was where I wanted and came naturally.  I was riding 250ish without having to push for it.  The ride was shaping up to be a good one...until we hit the Hardy Toll Road.  What ensued next was the most rampant, flagrant and unapologetic cheating I have ever seen in any triathlon of any distance.  About the time I hit the toll road I was overtaken by a group of about 15-20 riders that were riding together as a pack.  Most of the people in the group were clearly drafting.  The next 50 or so miles was the most frustrating ride of my life.  There were three or four guys who were Italian and clearly friends. They were obviously working together. I was torn between drifting to the back of the group and riding too easy or doing 5-10 minute surges way above ironman wattage to get to the front of the line only to be re-passed by a freight train of cheaters 30 seconds later....I honestly felt trapped. There were even guys riding 2-3 wide which often prevented my ill fated attempts to get into the front and ride away. Of the approximately 20 people in this "pack" there was myself, teammate Tim Smith, a pro male and two pro females. I would say the 5 of us were the only ones attempting to ride honestly. Everyone else couldn't even be bothered to fake riding legally. The whole situation was bonkers, and unsafe. The aid stations were ludicrous, bottles were flying as packs were riding way too fast.  It was even worse on the second loop as we passed slower riders.  To compound the situation, there was not a single draft marshall on the Hardy Toll Road which is 70 miles of the course. It was disgraceful. 

My wattage ended up being much lower than what I was capable of due to extended periods of riding easier than I would have if I was alone.  I think this was the result of me hanging off the back and trying not to cheat.  The last 20 miles or so the group broke up a bit but at that point I was feeling pretty demoralized as to what had transpired (and lets be honest...I had not started off this little adventure in the best mindset to begin with).  There was something like 50 amateurs that ended up under 9 hours at this race.  The weather was perfect but it was not so much better than last year to justify such a change in the results.  Its no wonder guys ran well....because they were all fresh as daisies. I would never go back to Texas after this experience unless Ironman addresses the situation and actually attempts to enforce its own rules.

With my pre-race hamstring issues I was not entirely confident I could run a marathon.  My plan was to hit my wattage and HR targets and check in with my body at the end of each loop to see if I could continue (three loop course).  As I got off the bike I was a little tight but the pain was manageable.  I hit the run course with the goal of running a great first loop and taking it from there.  Unfortunately, the first mile or so my head was up my ass.  I was thinking not about my hamstring, but about the heat, how hard it was going to be to run a marathon, blah blah, whoa is me...In general I was being a major Sally.  Despite, the attitude my training was still shining through and the run splits were generally in the range where I wanted them at a very low heart rate.  I started to get into a good rhythm in miles 3-4 and the splits were coming down and the pain was tolerable.  There was a distinct moment where I finally snapped out of it and I actually yelled at myself.  Good thing I was alone on a path in the woods....I yelled "snap out of it, you live for this shit".  I started running with purpose but unfortunately it would be short lived.

At about mile 6 I felt the hamstring give out.  Pretty quickly my gait was impacted and I started running like quasimodo.  I was limping and the limp was getting worse with each step.  The run splits started slowing as well.  As I finished the first loop I ducked into the med tent to see what they had to say.  They strongly recommended that I stop, and for once I made a smart choice and withdrew from the race.  If I had one lap to go I might have tried to gut it out but I don't think running another 16 miles on that leg would have been prudent.  It was really hard for me to make that call and it was the first time I have ever quit a race in my life.  It runs counter to everything I'm about and it was a tough pill to swallow.  At the end of the day I made the right choice and preserved the next few months of training.  I saw my chiro today and he thinks that I caught it early and we should be back up to speed within a few weeks.  This will give me the ability to race and compete at Raleigh, seek a bit of redemption, and put all this winter fitness to good use.  The DNF was a win for my body that feels like a loss in the here and now.  After withdrawing, I went and took a quick shower and came back to the course to cheer for Graham and my EMJ Teammates.   I'm glad I did and I got to see their awesome finishes!  It always helps to step outside yourself when you are feeling down.

The highlight of the day was without question going back to the finish line at midnight.  I never miss it!!! I love watching the grit and determination of the warriors that have been grinding it out all day.  The real highlight for me was watching Marcus Cook finish.  He has lost several hundred pounds and came in a few minutes before midnight.  It was simply awesome and gave me some much needed perspective and inspiration.  Thanks for the kick in the butt Marcus, you are awesome!

For the first 24 hours post race I felt overwhelmingly sad and disappointed.  Honestly I felt like a quitter for my attitude in the weeks leading up to the race and then for actually withdrawing mid-race.  I felt like I had let my family, friends and teammates down and that they would be disappointed in me.  Over the last few days this feeling has morphed into anger and fire.  I am angry about the timing of this injury, angry about the rampant cheating, angry that my teammates got cheated out of the opportunity to compete fairly for Kona slots, and angry that I did not capitalize on the best fitness of my life.  This has left me feeling hungry and inspired to get back to it and crush Raleigh and several local races leading up to Kona.  I seem to be coming out of my mental fog and I'm happy we are starting to have some summer temps.  I am excited for the opportunity to continue to test myself and race and train with Team EMJ.  At the end of the day this is just a hobby, and it is a gift to be able to train and race at this level.  I just need to get out of my own damn way!!!!

As always, thanks for the opportunity to share in my journey and I'm always happy to answer and questions or talk Tri stuff.  Thanks for reading and be safe out there!