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!

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!