“I have spent my whole life scared, frightened of things that could happen, might happen, might not happen, 50-years I spent like that. Finding myself awake at three in the morning. But you know what? Ever since my diagnosis, I sleep just fine. What I came to realize is that fear, that’s the worst of it. That’s the real enemy. So, get up, get out in the real world and you kick that bastard as hard you can right in the teeth.” – Walter White
Most people who train for an ironman will resort to the trainer at some point for bike workouts. After a particularly harsh winter in the DC area this year, which included numerous winter vortexes, several of my long rides had to be completed indoors. Five hours on a trainer can become a mind-numbing activity; this is when I discovered my new best friend, Netflix. In the course of 3 months, I burned through 4 seasons of Dexter, 4 seasons of Battlestar Galactica, and the entire Breaking Bad series, all while feverishly spinning away on my Cervelo. Breaking Bad was a show that captivated me in a way that, when I first went through the series, I had to watch alone in complete silence. The show required too much focus. The reruns, however, were prime trainer material. Walter White’s use of science to outwit his enemies powered me past my aerobic threshold on many occasions.
“Sitting around, smoking marijuana, eating Cheetos and masturbating do not constitute ‘plans.’” – Walter White
All this work on the trainer was geared towards my A race of 2014, Ironman Chattanooga. My journey to Chattanooga began in September 2013 in Henderson, Nevada. In my hotel room the day before the 70.3 World Championships, I received an email from “chattanooga”. I had attempted to register for the race three days prior, only to be locked out of the website halfway through the registration process. The email informed me that if I still wanted to race, I was in.
“It adds up perfectly. Walt’s a scientist. Scientists love lasers!” – Saul Goodman
My decision to do Ironman Chattanooga boiled down to 3 reasons:
- I’ve always wanted to do an inaugural race, since it provides an element of “mystery” for a race distance I’ve covered five times before. No race reports would help with this one.
- The race was close to home. It was my backyard brawl. My dad and stepmom could attend without stepping on a plane; it was a manageable 5 hour drive from Roanoke.
- After having competed in Kona in 2012 and 2013, I needed a year off. Chattanooga would be my Kona this year.
“This is my own private domicile and I will not be harassed…bitch!” – Jesse Pinkman
While the race logistics were easy, finding lodging proved to be difficult. All housing rentals seemed to go as fast as the registration. After extensive searches on VRBO and Airbnb, I lucked out with an unlisted property in downtown Chatt, less than 2 miles from the transition.
“I’m lying here like third base, living from bowel movement to bowel movement. I’m not even useful to myself.” – Hank Schrader
Race morning was pretty typical. Woke up at four, ate a ton of applesauce, and BM’ed thrice. I hitched a ride with dad to transition, then waited in an absurdly long line to board a shuttle to the swim start. Upon arriving, I walked 2 miles to get to the end of an even more absurdly long line to start the race. Just as Walter White used Gus’ vengeance for Hector Salamanca against him, I used the long line to work up and clear out one last BM. As Walter told Skyler, “I won.”
“You ever hear the expression a fart in the wind? Well, inside of an hour that’s going to be me, okay? I’m hittin’ the road. I’m gone. I’m out of here.” – Saul Goodman
A steady stream of swimskin-laden triathletes jumped into the Tennessee River for 30 minutes. I was towards the end of that stream, starting roughly 18 minutes behind the first age grouper. My fear that I would be constantly swimming over people was quickly abated by the width of the river and the spirited current ushering me towards T1. By virtue of the current, I was able to relax my kicking and focus on working with my upper body. The buoys flew by. Had I been able to draft off ANYONE, this would have been the perfect swim. Instead I plowed through the water alone, passing buoys and other swimmers at a surprising rate. Before you could say “Heisenberg”, I was out of the water. Seeing a split that began with the number “4” brought a dumb smile to my face.
Swim Time: 49:18 Rank after Swim: 25AG/192OA
“Well? Get back to work.” – Gus Fring
After giving my legs a nice vacation on the swim, they were rearing to go on the bike. I had a goal time in mind, but one of the QT2 mantras is to focus on objectives, not outcomes. My objective was to hit my HR target of 143 beats per minute consistently throughout the bike. Based on training, I knew this would get me in the neighborhood of 240-250W, which had been unthinkable in previous Ironman races. Right out of the gate, my HR and power were well above their targets. I had to slow down, which was a good sign. Whenever I feel like I am working early in the race, I know I am in for a long day. The bike course took us southbound from Chattanooga into the rolling country roads of northern Georgia. With overcast skies and little wind, I knew this would be a fast day. I kept passing folks, but amazingly, nobody passed me. By the end of the first loop, I was ahead of most of the age groupers. I burned a match to move past a peloton. I started passing women with “P” on their calves. Was I going too strong? My Garmin said no – HR and power numbers were holding steady, and my legs felt fantastic.
“There’s no honor among thieves… except for us of course.” – Saul Goodman to Walt
Halfway through the second loop, I noticed three dudes from the peloton I had passed decided to join me in my breakaway. A little too closely. My power started to creep too high, and so I dropped back. My cohorts might have taken this to mean “it’s your turn to pull”. When they slowed down, my power dropped way below target, and I was ready to pass again. This resulted in a pattern of yo-yoing that wasn’t conducive to smart, consistent biking. Having learned my lesson from the drafting penalty I received at Kona last year, I was careful to quickly drop out of the draft zone after being passed. This cautiousness paid off – a draft marshal came by and issued a penalty to the cheater rider in front of me. Evidently we had been “watched” for a while before the marshal took action.
“Yeah, Mr. White! Yeah, science!” – Jesse Pinkman
In my previous 5 ironman races, I do not recall feeling this strong at the end of the bike segment. My riding was controlled and consistent, my nutrition consumption was spot on, and I was well hydrated, as I had marked plenty of territory throughout the 116 mile course. Rolling into T2, I knew I was well positioned to execute a strong run.
Bike Time: 5:03:47 Rank after bike: 3AG/26OA
“This kicks like a mule with its balls wrapped in duct tape!” – Tuco Salamanca
My kick was high from the start. My HR, on the other hand, was having trouble reaching the target. Rather than sweat it, I had to go on feel and race my race. After an initial ass-kicking hill out of T2, my pace went into the 6:30s as the run course hugged the riverside. Tim of QT2 passed me on the bike, shouting words of encouragement. Val , who was volunteering at the special needs station, informed me I was 2nd off the bike in my division. Things were looking pretty good. And then…
Walter: “How did everything get so screwed up?” Saul: “Yeah, you do seem to have a little ‘shit creek’ action going.”
At mile 7, the insole of my left shoe began to slide up my foot, bunching up around my toes. While annoying-yet-tolerable at first, it quickly became painful. I stopped, took off my shoe, adjusted the insole, put my shoe back on, laced up, and resumed my pace. 10 steps in, more bunching. I decided to run the remainder of my race with one shoe cushioned, the other raw dog. Stop, shoe off, insole out, shoe on, run again. It felt weird at first, but over time, the fatigue of running a marathon quickly overshadowed my imbalanced running.
“Yo, Gatorade me, bitch” – Jesse Pinkman
With some reluctance, I decided to walk every aid station in the run, under the insistence of coach V. This proved beneficial from two standpoints; it gave my legs a much needed break, and it allowed me to down every last drop of Perform and water I was handed. Though frustrating at first, by the second loop of the run, I “got it”. Though my muscles were screaming, my energy level was still pretty high, thanks to all the calories I was consuming. I just had to overcome the wariness in my calves, glutes, and core. So I focused on maintaining my HR in the upper 140s and kicking strong. Both tactics worked. My pace was only ~20 seconds per mile slower on lap 2.
With one mile to go, it began raining. At this point in the marathon, I was doing anything I could to maintain pace. The weather became instant incentive to pick up speed. Your family is waiting for you in the rain, hurry up… bitch! Hustling over the pedestrian bridge and meandering through downtown, I quickly found myself back at the transition area. Which lead to the finisher’s chute. Which lead to Mike Reilly screaming his famous words. I am now a six-time Ironman! And evidently a flight attendant!
Run time: 3:07:36 Total time: 9:08:18 Final Place: 1st AG/22 OA/2nd amateur
Walt: “Hank, you want another beer?” Hank: “Does the Pope shit in his hat?”
In the finisher’s tent, I caught up with fellow Igniter Matt, who rocked his first pro race, and Katie who had a breakthrough race, finishing 8th overall among the pros. I was greeted by my parents and Alexis outside the gate. Beer and food were calling. I walked through the door of The Blue Plate, still decked out in my tri gear, finisher’s medal, and foil cover, and received a rousing ovation from the packed restaurant. It was… surreal. I felt like a celebrity. Walking past the tables, I shook hands, gave high-fives, and thanked people for supporting the race. Gotta say, Chattanooga has raised the bar in terms of volunteer and crowd support. It makes for an atmosphere few other Ironman venues can match.
“Since when do vegans eat fried chicken?” – Hank Schrader
In a brief post-mortem, here are some of the things that contributed to my breakthrough race:
- Increasing bike volume. I commute to work three times a week (20 miles each way), and ride twice on the weekends. A good percentage of my volume is above aerobic threshold.
- Improving swim balance. This swimming thing doesn’t come naturally to me. With the help of coach V, I’ve been able to address the major kinks in my form, particularly balance. Swimming a LOT with ankle bands helped me engage my core to keep from swimming vertically.
- Switching to a vegetarian-based version of the Core Diet. This helped me lean down from 183lbs (my Kona 2013 race weight) to 169lbs (my Choo 2014 race weight)
- Sleeping more. 6 hours minimum, but 8 hours most nights. This means no more fooling around on the ‘net at 9pm when I need to be winding down.
- Foam rolling. Like, every freakin’ night. If you aren’t already doing it, do it.
“You know Walter, sometimes it doesn’t hurt to have someone watching your back.” – Mike Ehrmantraut
No Ironman finisher completes the journey on their own. It takes supportive family and friends, fellow athletes to push you in training, and a racing infrastructure to set up the stage for an awesome event. I owe a debt of gratitude to each of these groups. A few notable folks in particular:
- My dad, stepmom Abby, cousin David, Aubrey, Sophie, and Hannah, for joining me on race day and becoming the second edition of “Team Andy”. Although I only saw David during the race, everyone, including the extended “Team Andy” (Mom, Hunter, Keri, Journey, and Jonah), was with me the entire 9:08 I was on the course.
- The Chattanooga community and particularly the volunteers, for making this race an instant favorite. The support and energy they brought to the event was remarkable. Evidently there was a waiting list just to volunteer, which speaks volumes about the giving spirit of Chattanooga.
- My Ignite Endurance crew, who reminds me how lucky I am to have a fun and supportive group to train with, and eat copious amounts of guacamole with during our training table nights.
- Tri360, the best triathlon shop and bike store in DC, for getting my bike in race-ready condition and helping me with all my equipment needs.
- Team FeXY for all the love you threw out on the course; I felt like an adopted FeXY out there.
- Coach Vinny… where do I start… the constant feedback, attention to detail, challenging me when I need to be challenged, turning my self-doubt into optimism, educating me on every step of the training process, and most of all believing in me. I would not have achieved this result without your guidance. Over a decade into triathlon and never have I been more excited about what the future holds.
- My other amazing sponsors – Zoca for comfy and durable race threads, Skratch for the best hydration mix available, Gu for keeping the engine purring through 144.6 miles, and CycleOps for powering me through a winter’s worth of Breaking Bad in my basement.
Jesse: “What’s the point of being an outlaw when you got responsibilities?” Badger: “Darth Vader had responsibilities. He was responsible for the Death Star.” Skinny Pete: “True that. Two of them bitches.”
My final responsibility… delivering the numbers.
Back in the Day
On a hot July afternoon in Roanoke, Virginia in 1989, my older brother and I rolled into the parking lot of the tennis courts of a nearby community college. The facility boasted 8 high quality courts, but due to a recent heat wave we were the only ones there. Setting up on the first court, I took a few balls out of my pocket and hit one directly into the net. I groaned, knowing what was about to happen. “10 pushups!” Hunter barked across the court. I rolled my eyes, dropped my racket, and served my punishment. Part of the coaching arrangement we made at the beginning of the summer specified that the initial groundstroke of each rally had to be put in play, or else the guilty party would pay in pushups. My hands still burning from the hot court, I picked myself up for a grueling 2-hour session.
This day was typical of the summers in my early teens, when tennis was my primary activity. My brother was an accomplished tennis player in his own right, and embraced his role as my coach with dedication and passion. We spent most days practicing together. He taught me proper form through endless drills. He put me through exercises that got me in fantastic shape. He exposed me to the power of positive thinking, visualization, and mental toughness. Under his tutelage, I enjoyed a nice run through the high school tennis ranks, playing on the team’s number one slot my senior year.
Though my tennis days are long gone, the lessons Hunter imparted to me several decades ago are still with me. A strong work ethic, attention to form, and mental toughness are all critical aspects in triathlon. As my commitment to triathlon has reached the same level I had with tennis back in the day, Hunter has supported me with the same passion. He has attended numerous races, including both of my Kona trips. For this year’s Kona, he took family support to the next level. In October 2013, Hunter, my sister-in-law, my mom, and I became “Team Andy”, complete with official team shirts.
The Team Andy experience was different in many regards from last year’s Kona. We rented a house and cooked nearly every meal. We hosted a brunch. We had a great day trip to Hawi on Thursday. We watched the underpants run. Armed with prior Kona experience and Keri’s handicap parking decals, we had a productive yet low-stress lead up to race day.
Pancakes and bananas filled me up quickly. The team dropped me off at transition. Although I felt ready, I could feel the pre-race jitters. This is my least favorite part of triathlon. Races cannot start soon enough.
The cannon went off this year. With the speed of a Hines Ward touchdown and ferocity of a Gordon Ramsey tirade, the crowd erupted into the swim course. I began second-guessing my starting location, which was in the epicenter of the mob. Prison riots have seen less violence. My motion in the water bore little resemblance to swimming for the first 500 meters. The object of the game was to not get mowed over from behind and fight off anyone who invaded my space. What started off as a family-friendly race quickly devolved into a reenactment of Braveheart.
The crowd had thinned out enough by the halfway point that I could focus more on swimming form than self-defense. However, by that point, both gaskets of my goggles had been kicked hard, and the eye seals on both had been compromised. I navigated the remainder of the swim through a haze of salty ocean water. I would have to harness my inner Van Damme by competing with limited vision.
At this point, the large crowd started to work in my favor. I just followed the bubbles, hoping the person leading me knew the way back. If the theme of the first half of the swim was “Get me out of this crowd”, the second half was “Get me out of these goggles”. Not only could I not see, but the salt water was burning my eyeballs. My quest to return to full vision drew nearer as I heard crowds of cheering spectators and Mike Reilly’s megaphone amplify. Once my fingertips hit sand, I stood up, took off my goggles, and saw something magnificent – 1:05 on my Garmin. Despite the adversity I beat last year’s swim split by 90 seconds.
Swim time: 1:05:25
After my aggressive biking at Lake Placid cost me on the run, my singular goal for the bike at Kona was to hold my average power at 225 watts. With an unlimited supply of Gu Chomps, I could ride forever at this pace. Even 10 watts higher will get me in trouble, as I discovered in July. So once I reached the Queen K and had a decent amount of space to work with, I settled into my aerobars and started grinding away.
225 felt easy. Insanely easy. People were passing by me like I was the jello mold at a dessert table. “Let them have their fun” I told myself, convinced that most people start the bike portion too fast. With my ego in the backseat, I felt content that slow and steady would prevail. I approached Hawi, which features a long uphill until the turnaround. My power spiked a bit, but the passing continued. Not as many folks passed me the previous year, where my average power was 15 watts lower.
Something must be wrong. I should climb up the ranks during the bike portion, not lose ground. I checked my brakes, and they were appropriately spaced from my rims. I was comfortably aero. Everything seemed okay. Then I noticed my average heart rate was 6 beats per minute lower than my past two IMs. Maybe something was off with the power measurements? I kept my faith in the wattage numbers and plugged along at 225.
At mile 90 I noticed someone hanging on to my back wheel. He stayed there for a while. Pulling ahead of me, the drafter then slowed down, placing me well inside his draft zone. Unwilling to brake or re-pass, I stopped pedaling so I could naturally fall out from behind him. Unfortunately, I was still in draft zone when the course marshal pulled up and served us both with 4 minute penalties. My partner in crime pleaded his case to the official to no avail. I simply nodded in acknowledgement without a word. While drafting was not my intention, I didn’t do all I could to stay out of the draft zone, and the penalty was justified. Pulling into T2, I went straight to the penalty tent, aka triathlon prison, to do hard time.
Bike time: 5:08:13
I held a stopwatch to see the four slowest minutes of the race limp by. I chatted with the volunteers. I did some yoga. When the clock reached 4:00, I bolted to the changing tent for my running shoes and visor, then hopped onto Ali’i drive for the best part of the run.
The out and back on Ali’i is 10 miles of great crowd support, flat to gently rolling terrain, and fresh legs. I held back my pace on numerous occasions, trying to stay in the mid 6:40s per mile. Piece of cake until you hit the hill at Palani, which puts the smack-down on runners. On the advice of coach E, I took it easy up the hill so I could be reasonably fresh for the start of the Queen K portion. As expected, the hill was an ass-kicker, but then I made up some time on the initial descent heading out of town. Things were looking rosy.
My top secret goal for Kona ’13 was to break 3 hours on the marathon. The numbers I hit in training indicated this was possible, and my race strategy was to err on the side of easy biking so my run would not suffer. Approaching the 13 mile marker, garmin showed 1:30. All I’d need to do is throw down an even split and the goal was mine. Unfortunately, my legs started to feel heavy, and the heat of the Queen K, despite the overcast conditions, was stifling. And I hadn’t even reached the Energy Lab yet, where everyone suffers.
“Seriously, call Kenny Loggins, ’cause you’re in the danger zone.” -Sterling Archer
I started slowing down through aid stations. My kick was low. The ice I dumped down my shirt seemed to disappear in seconds. My heart rate dropped. The hills along Queen K seemed like mountains. But the worst thing that happened to me after the halfway point, my mental toughness began to wane. Unable to keep up my previous pace, the evil voices in my head urging me to slow down grew louder.
By mile 16, my pace had slipped well beyond my goal. Though entering the Energy Lab is a mile-long descent, even gravity couldn’t get me back to my old form. The wheels completely fell off by mile 18. I stopped to walk through an aid station, and I couldn’t get my body to reaccelerate. So I stopped and stood around for a minute to see if I could regroup. Instead of catching a second wind, my legs went on strike. The next four miles followed this pattern: walk, shuffle, attempt to run while wincing in pain, slow down, walk again. The problem wasn’t physical. I was sore but not destroyed. No major cramping or GI issues. My mind had given up.
At mile 22 I hit a turning point. Another competitor with at least 20 wet sponges under his jersey encouraged me to keep running. “If you can hit 6 minutes per kilometer, you’ll make it to the finish in under 10.” Somehow, that was all I needed to get back into the game. At that point I resumed my run and refused to stop until the end.
The party was just getting started at the top of Palani. I passed the Scott tent with numerous high fives. I received a strong slap on the hiney from the FeXY crowd. By the final turn onto Ali’i, I reached my Ignite teammate Kelly. I tossed out the idea of holding hands through the finisher’s chute, but sadly that never materialized.
Run time: 3:23:09
My day was done in 9:47:54. Though 18 minutes slower and considerably lower ranked than last year’s performance, there are numerous high points I could celebrate. My swim time exceeded expectations, although surviving the unruly mob was reason enough to be happy. I felt consistently strong on the bike, and might even have to readjust my power targets upward based on my next FTP test. The run was pain-free from a mechanical standpoint – no undue muscle pain, joint pain, or foot discomfort.
Of course, the last half of the run is what stings. Physically and nutritionally, I executed my plan just the way I had hoped. Mentally, I was not prepared for this race. I didn’t come into Kona with the same respect for the elements I had last year. And even in a “fast” year with numerous amateurs throwing down sub-9 times, the elements are still very demanding. One must be prepared to suffer at the end.
Day of Reflection
After the race, Hunter and I debriefed the day. I gave him an honest account of my performance, not sugar-coating my disappointment at my run time and my drop in ranking compared to the previous year. As a current tennis pro who has helped numerous players rise through the ranks, he has great experience dealing with setbacks in athletic progress. He told me that repeating success is, in some ways, harder than the initial success, as people tend to forget the little things they did to attain success in the first place. I took for granted the mind games I had to play to keep plowing through the Energy Lab last year. My central governor proved to be a formidable foe.
Though I’m not sporting a new personal best Ironman time, I have plenty of good lessons to take back to DC. Taking a year off from Kona, I’ll see how well I can turn things around at IM Texas and IM Chattanooga in 2014. Much to my delight, the East Coast chapter of Team Andy will be in force at Chattanooga. All aboard!
Like last year, the race experience was magnificent. Sharing island time with family and numerous friends was indeed special. Many thanks to everyone who made this possible:
- TEAM ANDY – Can one ask for a better support crew? Hunter, Keri, and my mom were there for me every step of the way. They stayed out on the course all day, cheering loudly, and dealt with all my post-race nastiness when I was barely moving. Each showed a commitment to be there – mom had a flight with 3 layovers each way, Keri had to move around with a gimpy leg in a medical boot, and Hunter handled the team shirts and post-race surfing lessons.
- My Ignite teammates – you can’t do much better than this group as far as training partners go. Big congrats to Kelly and Leslie on their finishes.
- All DC-area folks who made it out to the big island. Team Z and FeXY were out in force. Your support during the race was inspiring. And thanks to Gretchen, Shelly, and Abby for the great photos!
- Tri360 – I’m very honored to be supported by the best triathlon shop in the DC area.
- Coach Eric – As usual, E got me the start line in top shape with an excellent race plan.
- Gu – Roctane and chomps kept me fueled and energized.
- Skratch Labs – Perfect race hydration, especially for a hot race like Kona. If you haven’t tried Skratch yet, you’re missing out!
- Zoca – Comfy and aero. I’ve forgotten what it feels like to chafe after an ironman.
- Cycleops – Watching Kona videos on the Powerbeam Pro was perfect Kona training.
- Finally, thanks to everyone for all the notes of encouragement and congratulations! Each one means a lot to me.
Ironman Lake Placid 2013 Race Report
Warming up on the beach of Mirror Lake minutes before the start of Ironman Lake Placid, the loudspeaker blared “Someone Like You” by Adele. Not exactly the adrenaline-inducing music one would expect at a major athletic event. I looked around quizzically at my fellow competitors, uncertain if I was the only one who found the song selection odd. After Adele we heard the unplugged version of “Hotel California”. At this rate I anticipated a somber set of Morrissey would take us to the start line.
Fortunately, my race soundtrack was defined four days prior. During my solo 10 hour drive to Lake Placid, I utilized the full range of my SiriusXM channels to keep the trip interesting. The 90s on 9 station really got my blood pumping. Though I tried to fight the urge, I couldn’t resist. The music that permeated the airwaves during my high school and college years – Cyprus Hill, Sir Mix-a-Lot, STP, Snoop Dogg (now Snoop Lion), Ace of Base – came back to life. I wasn’t sure if I should be proud or ashamed that I was able to sing along most of the time. These earworms came along for the race experience and continue to stay with me as I write. Get out of my head, Collective Soul!
Right Here, Right Now
Back at Lake Placid, the corrals began to fill according to the new self-seeding format. Although many were not fond of the new swim start, I enjoyed it. Instead of getting mowed over by the dolphins, I could start out with people roughly my speed. Through two laps, I managed to stay with the same pack of 4-5 people. I hung out in the back as the pack leaders did the work. Breastrokers in our path were quickly pushed aside and discarded. Nobody messed with my swim crew. We were the underwater Jets. Instead of snapping, our gang noise was bilateral breathing.
My Heart Will Go On
My effort on the swim never broke beyond a comfortable pace, just as I had hoped. All strokes were smooth, relaxed, and controlled. My only sense of urgency was to stay with the bubbles emerging from the pack leader’s feet. I came out of the water very close to my target time, and most importantly, with a barely elevated heart rate.
Swim Time: 1:04:22
Standing After Swim: 35 age group, 247 overall
I Wish it Would Rain Down
At the beginning of the bike I was greeted by a rain shower. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but the sketchiness factor of the initial descents increased significantly. I was told one could simply tuck down into aero position at full speed without a care in the world. Reality didn’t quite match this description. “This is BULLSHIT” I remember thinking, as my brakes squeaked loudly against my wet carbon rims with white knuckles hugging my brake levers. Staying far to the right so the braver competitors could dive bomb down the mountain, I continued my cautious glide to the bottom.
You Oughta Know
A long rolling stretch at the base signified the beginning of Hammer Time. Overtaking several of the kamikazes, I settled into a strong groove. My legs felt so good, and the scenery was so breathtaking, that I hardly realized my power output was significantly over target. I tried to simma’ down, but every five minutes or so I noticed my watts were still too high. Despite my best intentions, my legs just did what they wanted to do. The final three hills of the first loop were named Mama Bear, Baby Bear, and Papa Bear, respective to their size and grade. The crowds lining Papa Bear inspired me to close the first lap with a bang. The porridge was just right.
Baby One More Time
The second loop of the bike leg was mercifully drier, though I adopted the same conservative approach to the descents and again was passed like the lone Beltway driver going 55. Like the previous loop, I reeled in the Evel Knievels at the bottom, including a male pro. Approaching the turnaround, in the opposite direction I saw fellow Igniters Kelly and Mike. Kelly was KILLING the bike, and Mike was way ahead with a strong swim. My competitive nature was starting to get the best of me. I kept fighting the urge to close the gap on my teammates (or at least keep the gap from widening further, in Kelly’s case). Based on my power numbers, I was still riding well above target. I needed to stop, collaborate, and listen. But I did not come back with a brand new edition. Instead, I kept riding hard.
Killing Me Softly
By mile 100 the tone of the ride changed. No longer relaxed and carefree, my legs were tired. Trips out of the saddle became more frequent. I coasted downhill without pedaling. By the time I hit the Bears again, my body was screaming louder than the hundreds of spectators along the road. Rolling into T2, I was angry at myself for letting my power get out of control, and scared for what lied ahead.
Bike Time: 5:17:26
Standing After Bike: 7 AG, 53 OA
The first mile of every Ironman run feels weird, as one’s feet hits dry land for the first time in several hours. Fortunately, I was able to establish my target pace comfortably. Slowly reeling in the folks ahead of me while maintaining a relaxed stride, things were rosy. I felt like I stole minutes from the bike and got away with it. The perfect crime?
Man in the Box
By mile 9, a vicious #2 loomed in the horizon. As the Cleveland Browns surged towards the Super Bowl, I stormed to the first port-o-potty I came across. Occupied. I sprinted ahead to the next one, almost a mile away. Though sitting felt good, I knew this would make it even harder to resume at my previous pace. Even worse, the kids weren’t going into the pool without a fight. Four minutes later, I emerge from the throne slightly refreshed and a tad lighter.
I Want it that Way
Onward and upward, I hit two hills in succession that were steep and long. It was a nice changeup from the rolling terrain, and I enjoyed the crowds at the top – particularly the gentleman on loudspeaker encouraging everyone to keep running. The encouragement continued through Mirror Lake Drive, which was a madhouse of tri club tents. The Team Z tent was particularly awesome. Paul yelled out that I was holding 4th place. Sweet! I completed the first loop of the run very close to my target (after taking away the time I lost in the potty). I kept rolling down the street, smokin’ kilo(meters), sippin’ on coke and gels. With my mind on my Garmin and my Garmin on my mind.
Reality slapped me in the face by the second loop. My legs felt heavy. My feet hurt. I wasn’t able to flow down the hills as I did the first time. My pace took a hit on the straightaways. I helplessly watched a few folks pass me. I walked through an aid station at mile 18. I had pissed off the triathlon gods for biking too hard, and they were smiting me.
Mama Said Knock You Out
At mile 22 another competitor motored by me. He wasn’t in my age group so the pass wasn’t particularly meaningful, but something inside me said ENOUGH. I picked up the pace and hung onto his hip. We went stride for stride the next 3 miles. In a brief exchange, he told me he was going for a Kona slot in the 30-34 age group. We passed his wife who shouted that he was 6th. His age group had four slots. “Go fishing, baby!! Reel ‘em in!!” she yelled. We both caught a second wind. “Let’s catch these guys” I proclaim as we continued side by side. We charged towards the hills. The large crowds helped distract me from the burning in my legs. “You’re in 3rd place!” Jenny shouted. Looking around, my friend was nowhere in sight. Adreneline and crowd energy took me to the finishers chute. Mike Reilly took me the rest of the way.
Run Time: 3:12:54
Final Time: 9:42:07
Final Standing: 3 AG, 28 OA
Insane in the Brain
My friend crossed the finish line a minute after me. After proper introductions, we commiserated over pizza and I wished him good luck at rolldown. Before I knew it I was shivering uncontrollably. A volunteer took quick note of my condition and escorted me to the med tent. A warm blanket and several cups of chicken broth later, my condition improved considerably. Hypothermia was the diagnosis. After the motor stopped at the finish line, cool temps and wet clothes brought my core temperature down considerably. Lesson learned – after finishing a race, immediately get out of my wet clothes and into a dry martini.
At the awards ceremony next day, I was happy to celebrate my first Ironman age group award! I was also happy to see my Ignite teammates Kelly and Kasha Williamson win awards, as well as other DC-area studs Katie Thomas (1st Female Am), Kendra Goffredo (2nd Female Am), Ben Winterroth (3rd Male Am), and Chris Wren (multiple course record holder). As for my new friend Eric, he received a roll-down slot and will be joining me in Kona.
Nothing Compares 2U
Though triathlon is technically an individual sport, nobody gets to the finish line without a little help. In my case, I’ve received a TREMENDOUS amount of support from my coach, team, family, and sponsors. Many thanks are in order for:
- Coach Eric for continuing to embrace my crazy ambitions and showing me the path towards my goals.
- Paul, Sarah, and family for taking me in as an honorary Shin during race week. Big congrats to Sarah on her first Ironman! Paul went way above and beyond his call of duty by helping me out before, during, and especially after the race. He deserves a medal alone for handling my bike post-contamination.
- Ignite Endurance, my good friends and training partners all wrapped into one, for their support and encouragement. Big congrats to everyone who finished this difficult race: Kelly, Kasha, Mike, Sarah, and Caroline. Also thanks to Dawn for being a super Sherpa for essentially the whole team.
- All my friends, family, and well-wishers who reached out to me this past week – each note, no matter how small, means a lot.
- Jenn for driving my broken body back to DC after a crash course in stick shift operation.
- Karen for fantastic massages that bring me back to life after ridiculous amounts of training volume.
- Tri360 for accommodating lots of last minute bike tweaking prior to the race, helping me amass all my triathlon needs, and for being the best tri shop in the DC area.
- BlueSeventy – the Helix wetsuit is a rare combination of “snug” and “flexible”, which helped me crank out a fast yet comfortable swim split.
- CycleOps Power – training with the Powerbeam Pro made biking the hills of Placid seem easy.
- Skratch Labs – I am quite literally drinking their Kool-aid. I train exclusively with Skratch hydration, and would also race exclusively with them if aid stations provided Skratch as an option. C’mon Ironman, hook us up with Skratch!!
- Gu – Roctane kept the engine revving strong from start to finish.
- Rudy Project – can’t do much better than the Wingspan helmet – simple, light, and aero.
- Zoca – my tri suit was super comfy, felt like an extension of my skin, and generated ZERO chaffing after an ironman race.
Finally, a look at the numbers:
Texas was an obvious choice as my 2013 season kick off race for several reasons. The timing was ideal, as it fell at the end of offseason and beginning of Ironman training. Also, I had never visited Galveston before, which made for an appealing destination race. The clincher – my good friends Patrick and Marty live in nearbyish Dallas, and I hadn’t seen either in several years. The last time I was in Big D the three of us rode a mechanical bull, and Marty received a lesson in the Texas two-step from a stranger in a bar. My post-race expectations were high.
Everything screamed “Texas” on my arrival. Driving down from Houston to Galveston, I was limited to country and Latino music on the radio. The lawyers advertising their local practices on billboards were all wearing 10-gallon hats. My rental car was the smallest on the road – and I was driving a 4-door Accord. As I pulled into Moody Gardens, Galveston’s marquee theme park as well as Sunday’s race site, everything looked HUGE.
Capping off the day, I had a wonderful dinner at Gaidos with Max and his parents. Back at my lovely but slightly messy rental house from Airbnb, I stepped over the kitty litter and dog beds into my room for a solid five hours of snoozing.
All races come with surprises. Sometimes these surprises are positive, like an unexpected burst of energy, or a helpful current in the swim. In this race, as is often the case in triathlon, my surprises were not entirely pleasant. Specifically, I experienced three “Oh Shit!” moments throughout the race.
“Oh Shit!” #1
In an otherwise uneventful pre-race morning, catastrophe struck. Five minutes before my wave was set to jump off the pier and swim to the start line, the strap on my goggles suddenly broke while performing last minute adjustments. After quickly thinking through my options, one of which involved seizing the megaphone from the race director to beg the crowd for a replacement pair, I put my McGyver skills to work. With a little luck and a lot of straining, I managed to get one notch of the broken strap back through the goggle loop. This was good enough to keep the goggles on my head, though I feared one errant stroke or kick from a fellow swimmer could easily send them to the bottom of Offats Bayou.
Fortunately, the goggles did their job. With twelve waves ahead of me, I slalomed through (and sometimes directly over) some of the other competitors without a hitch. After inadvertently feeling up my fair share of competitors and exiting the water, it was hammer time.
Well, eventually it would be hammer time. During the first 10 miles I struggled to generate my target power. Perhaps I still had some fatigue from the previous two weeks of training? Or maybe there was a subtle mechanical issue holding me back? As the ride progressed, it dawned on me that I was not sufficiently warmed up. Training rides typically start off easy then build; hence, my legs simply didn’t know how to hammer out of the gate. After 30 minutes I began to feel more comfortable and the watts kept climbing. With a dead flat course and moderate winds, the conditions were ideal for maintaining a steadily increasing power output. And then…
“Oh Shit!” #2
A gunshot-like POP rang across the Texas sky. After a quick reality check, it becomes obvious that a tire exploded. At this very instant, I (and every biker around me) looked down to check the tires. I feared my tube was suddenly flaccid.
I breathed a sigh of relief when everything looked okay, but felt a twinge of remorse knowing that some other poor soul was suddenly sidelined. But only a twinge.
My power output was well on target by the end. After rolling through the airport runway at the end of the course and back through the great pyramids of Moody Gardens, I was feeling good about my chances for the remainder of the race. Until…
“Oh Shit!” #3
People suddenly turned and stared at me as I dismounted. My left glute and left quad suddenly erupted, which had me shouting some not-so-family-friendly remarks. I’ve dealt with minor aches and pains out of T2 in the past, but nothing like this. My left leg was generating no power. Consequently, I was limping through the first quarter mile. I backed way off my target pace. I began to run with my normal gait but the pain intensified. I passed the first mile marker with a respectable split but had to back off my pace even more. The situation continued to deteriorate. By mile marker 2 I had to review my options. Withdrawing from the race was a potential outcome. I also considered stopping and stretching. Either way, a strong run seemed out of the question.
Then something inside of me spoke up. LOUDLY. No stopping. No DNFing. Just keep moving and see what happens. Somehow I gritted my way to mile 3. My pace improved, and my glute/quad loosened somewhat. I continued to rationalize the death march. Mile 4 passed. Miraculously, running started to feel pleasant. That’s when I found my speed. Miles started clicking off at my target pace, pain free, and I enjoyed every footstrike.
I crossed the finish line with a stupid grin, knowing I had dug my deepest to get there. Half a pizza and a box of cookies later, the glute-quad demon returned with a vengeance. I limped my way back to the morning bag tent to change into my street clothes. As I checked my phone, I had several messages from folks telling me I had taken my age group. Oh Shit!
Mad love for:
- Tri360 – Where would I be without you? The service, products, and support are all top notch.
- Ignite Endurance – My triathlon family, whose love knows no bounds.
- Blueseventy – The blueseventy Helix performed magnificently in its debut. Huge range of motion, super buoyant, fits like a glove, kept me warm in surprisingly chilly water, and looks badass.
- Cycleops – Training on the powerbeam all winter helped me achieve a power target that would have been a pipe dream last season.
- Skratch – I’ve tried virtually every major endurance drink on the market and nothing delivers like Skratch. Seriously, you should try this stuff. You won’t go back to whatever else you’ve been using. Their video explains why.
- Max and his family for treating me to a lovely dinner and providing me with great company on race eve.
- Coach Eric, for constantly pushing me out of my comfort zone to help me achieve great results.
- Mary, who I found through Airbnb, for being such a sweet hostess.
- Patrick, Emily, and Marty, who graced me with Texas-style hospitality in the days following the race.
A look at the numbers:
Twelve years ago I completed my first triathlon. It was a sprint triathlon – a short distance, but a huge disaster. I was armed with a Brazilian-style speedo during the swim and lacrosse shorts for the rest. My swim barely resembled freestyle, and at one point a kayaker stopped me because he suspected I might be drowning. I spent most of the bike ride dry heaving from all the rancid lake water I ingested. Tremendous cramps hampered my legs through the run. After crossing the finish line, I collapsed in pain and exhaustion. Again, this was a sprint.
Seven years later I attempted my first half-ironman. For me, this event was a 6-hour death march through upstate New York. I almost cried during the last miles of the bike. I was delirious during the run. I ran bare-chested as I left my tri top back in Virginia. Once again, I stumbled across the line in pain and exhaustion, with a wicked sunburn to boot.
I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of failures in the sport. But I fell in love with the ongoing learning process in triathlon. Twelve years of these learning experiences culminated in a Kona qualifying performance at Ironman Cozumel.
The 2012 season has been my best to date. I registered my first overall podium spot at Luray, narrowly missed the overall podium at Kinetic, and qualified for the 70.3 World Championships at Eagleman, which led to a breakthrough race in Vegas. Although my mistakes during 2012 weren’t as egregious as those I made as a rookie, I still had plenty of learning experiences from which to benefit during my last race of the season – the Ironman World Championships at Kona.
Lesson – Bring your family to your “A” race
I was on a mission to recruit family to join me in Kona. My brother, an avid surfer, was an easy sell. My father, on the other hand, had recently undergone surgery on his leg and the trip looked to be difficult to handle. I employed several tactics, ranging from an excited sales pitch (“Imagine how much FUN we’re going to have!!”) to the classic guilt trip (“I may not make it across the finish line without you there to cheer me on (insert pity face)”). Eventually he gave in. When he emailed me his flight itinerary to Kona, I was so overjoyed I cried testosterone-laden tears of manliness.
Lesson – Get to transition early on race day
During several races this year, I hit transition with just enough time to get my things organized and rush to the start line, which proved to be surprisingly tiring. On race morning in Kona, I woke up with plenty of time to eat my oatmeal, banana, and bagels, get my tires re-pumped, and socialize a bit with Kendra and Fabrice. I calmly meandered down to Kailua Pier, high-fived Chrissie Wellington, and made the 100m swim towards the starting line.
We were promised a big, booming cannon would start the race. Suddenly, Mike Reilly yelled something over the loudspeaker which sounded like “Mmmph! Mmmph! Mmmph!” through my swim cap. My neighbors exchanged confused looks with me. The front of the pack began swimming hard, so I figured he was telling us to go. I put my head into the water and began my second ironman.
The mass start included 1900 age groupers, each of whom were determined to be the first out of the water. Elbows, fists, and feet flew in every direction. The rhythm of my swim felt much like my rhythm on the dance floor – awkward. My form was shit and I was expending WAY too much energy to go forward.
As the pack thinned slightly, I found enough space to get down to business. Drafting was a cinch. Keeping my head down and elbows high, I found my zone.
Then we hit a bottleneck at the first turn buoy, forcing an abrupt stop. Nobody in the type-A swim parade was willing to make a wider turn than necessary. The swimmer on my feet crashed into me. Another traffic jam awaited me at the next turn, which was an exaggerated spike around a sailboat. Kona can take a lesson from Savageman – large inflatable turtles work better for turn buoys.
The swim back to shore was smooth and strong, with the only thing keeping me from completely going into zen-mode was the idiot drafting behind me, touching my feet with EVERY stroke, and occasionally raking fingers down my soles. I kicked like crazy, the international sign for “back off dude”, but this was largely ignored. I burned a match and surged ahead to the next pack. I felt strong but in control, with the foot molester eating my wake. I carried this pace back to the pier.
Swim Time: 1:06:59
Place after swim (Division/Overall): 114/646
Lesson – As bike metrics go, power is king
Despite some issues with the setup, my Quarq power meter was finally ready for primetime the week before Kona. Power is the most effective way to measure work in the saddle. During my 2012 races I used heart rate to dictate my pace, which meant certain variables – altitude, climate, and possibly biorhythms – could unduly impact exertion. With my technical ducks in a row, I was ready to bike with optimal efficiency and consistency. Or at least stay entertained reading the numbers.
The bike course is surprisingly barren. Perhaps the lack of distractions served my competitors well, as they were able to focus on forming draft packs. Thankfully I managed to avoid these clusters, since the draft marshals were diligently sending offenders to the penalty tent. Among the four penalty tents on the course, the first two were as PACKED as if Rudy Project was giving away more free helmets.
Lesson – Bike the second half stronger than the first
I actively backed off my target power by a few watts during my trek to the turn-around point in Hawi. During Eagleman I went out too hard on the bike and paid the price during the final 20 miles. Knowing the approach to Hawi would be uphill and into the wind, I prepared myself for a slow crawl with minimal power spikes. My patience was rewarded; upon reaching the turn around, my bike erupted like the Kīlauea volcano. I began passing some of the overzealous riders who had overtaken me at the beginning of the bike portion. I couldn’t stop smiling.
My smile began to ebb around mile 80, when the direction of the course shifted towards some less-than-friendly headwinds. These winds stayed with me for the remainder of the ride. Up until that point, a sub-5 hour bike split seemed possible. Now it was clearly out of reach as my pace dropped to 18 mph. Pace notwithstanding, my power was right on track with my target average power. As I rolled off the Queen K Highway, down Makala Blvd, and into transition, the toll I took during those last 30 miles was evident in my legs. Looking ahead to the run, I felt like the Apollo 13 recovery team; I was about to open the hatch, uncertain if there was life on the other side.
Bike Time: 5:10:40
Placement after Bike (Div/OA): 86/347
Lesson – Time Goals are the enemy
At Boston I held too closely to a pre-determined time goal. Instead of revising my goal based on adverse weather conditions, I locked into a pace that was detrimental to my overall race performance, and consequently I blew up. While I was determined not to let that happen again, I REALLY wanted to break 3 hours on the Kona marathon.
The first part of the run is a 10 mile out-and-back down Ali’i Drive. It was glorious. Fans were spread out throughout the entire, mostly flat, slightly shaded stretch of the road. My legs felt fantastic. I had to slow myself down after a surprisingly fast first mile of 6:36. I passed people by the dozen.
Some say the race doesn’t begin until mile 10. After clicking off the first 10 miles I hit Palani Road, which showcased the first real spike in elevation. My climb was strong, but my pace never recovered. I was starting to get gassed. Shit, did start the run too hard??
Lesson – Challenge your central governor
As I merged onto the Queen K Highway for the final 16 miles, the contrast with Ali’i was stark. No crowds. No scenery. No shade. With the sun and heat intensifying, it was gut-check time. Internal negotiations began. Hold pace until the next aid station, then slow down a bit… Pick it up until you pass the group ahead… Down another gel like your life depends on it…
The idea behind the central governor theory is that the mind regulates energy usage during exercise to prevent overexertion, and to ensure an emergency reserve of energy is maintained. From an evolutionary standpoint, this allowed our ancestors to flee predators in sudden bursts despite feeling otherwise depleted. Athletes can push their bodies to new limits if they can convince their minds to harness this reserve energy late in a race, despite the absence of any life-threatening danger.
By the halfway point of the marathon, I was deep into the hurt locker. The pain intensified as I reached the Natural Energy Lab, which is surrounded by lava fields and solar panels. The road temperatures in the afternoon normally reach the 100s. If the big island was a frying pan, the stovetop burner was just set to “HI”. I played every mind game in the book to override the central governor. My rational approach: I don’t have to slow down, there’s still energy in the tank. My imaginary approach: The lava is chasing you – run for your life!
Exiting the Energy Lab, I continued to pass people. One person particularly stood out – a DC-area tri-stud who many predicted would podium this race. This dude crushed me in several races this year. He was walking. I was not. Though I had no business passing him, I gratefully accepted the opportunity. With my spirits raised, I embarked on the straight shot back to the finish line.
Upon reaching mile 22, my left calf began to seize up with a wicked cramp. I downed my first salt tablet in over an hour. My pace took a hit, but by mile 24 I was in the clear.
As if a bolt of lightning hit me, I took off. I had a renewed sense of determination. The cramps were gone, the terrain is downhill the rest of the way, and for Pete’s sake my brother and father were waiting for me! Though I experienced a new level of hurt, the pull of the finish line was too strong. I passed two guys on Palani. Another few people on Kuakini. Turning the corner to Ali’i, I passed two more.
Lesson – Be prepared to finish strong
I lost finish line sprints at three races this year – the Capitol Hill 10K, Kinetic, and Eagleman. With a quarter mile to go at Kona, I decided to sprint to the line regardless, even if nobody challenged me. 30 meters ahead, one more competitor was holding the Panamanian flag high above his head and soaking in the cheers, while taking his time in the finisher’s chute. While Kona protocol may dictate that you should respect someone’s finish line processional, I had no desire to ease off the gas pedal. When I passed him with 10m to go, he was clearly surprised. But he wasn’t going down without a fight. With fists clinched and flag by his side, he charged. I responded with every last bit of energy I had.
Run Time: 3:05:52
Final Time: 9:29:42
Final Placement: 17th M35-39 Age Group, 65th overall amateur, 99th overall male (including pros)
I wanted to collapse. The finish line catchers immediately surrounded me. I asked them if they would let me collapse. Refusing my request, they took me to the medical tent for a sprite and some chicken broth.
Checking the results, I learned that FOUR of the people I passed during that final surge were in my age group. As for my friend at the finish line, I edged him by a second. US-Panamanian relations may have plummeted as a result.
My Dad and bro joined me outside the med tent. We spent the rest of the day walking (in my case, shuffling) around Ali’i Drive, eating pizza, and enjoying Mike Reilly’s animated screaming at the finish line.
Lesson – Our success comes from respecting our roots, taking value in what we have learned, and embracing our journey
Aa Na Maka O Na Aa, the theme of Kona 2012, means “the sparkling eyes of my roots”. How fitting that my dad and brother, two of the most influential people in my life, joined me on the big island. Their presence during this week, and particularly on race day, meant the world to me. They cheered for me all day, took pictures, yelled out my placement, and took my stinky belongings up to the hotel room while I was in the med tent. Throughout the week they made sure I was fed, rested, and entertained. Kona was not my race; it was OURS. Sharing this success with my “roots” couldn’t be sweeter.
Mahalos are in order for:
- Ignite Endurance – My teammates and training peeps who inspire me, push me to new limits, and make triathlon life so much fun.
- Tri360 – The best triathlon shop around. They provide me with a ton of support, including a Quarq installation on short notice and bike troubleshooting the day before my Kona flight.
- Kate, Nelson, and the rest of Team Strike Out MS for letting me race for a terrific cause. The time and energy you put into raising funds and awareness for MS research is truly inspiring. I am honored and humbled to have raced in the SOMS kit this year.
- Coach Eric – Four months of guidance have reaped huge results. I cannot say enough about how well he prepared me for this race. Plus, a big congrats for getting hitched this weekend!
- Cervelo – The Cervelo tent hooked me up with a free tune-up, where Jason the mechanic spent an hour changing my shifter cables, adjusting my brakes, and cleaning a season’s worth of dirt off my frame. Their services made a big difference for me on race day.
- Finally, a HUGE mahalo to everyone for the kind remarks over Facebook, Twitter, email, text, in person, and through any other medium!! The amount of love I’ve received is both humbling and at times overwhelming. I feel extremely fortunate to be surrounded by so many supportive and caring people.
Finally, a look at the numbers, for all you data geeks:
Summary Bike Metrics:
Run Heart Rate – notice the spike at the end:
There was madness in any direction, at any hour. You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. -Raoul Duke, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
From the moment I arrived in Henderson, Nevada, everything screamed triathlon. Compression socks everywhere. Race gear from every Ironman race on earth. Disc wheels. Aero helmets. You name it. The race competitors were models of fitness. Thirty of them could easily fit into the small hotel elevator without exceeding the weight limit. Even my roommates were rehearsing their Cirque Du Soleil moves in their spare time.
This year marked my first qualification for the 70.3 World Championships. At the Eagleman 70.3 in June, I finished 9thin my age group. Faster competitors grabbed two of two slots allocated my age group, but as Lady Luck would have it, an unclaimed slot from another AG found its way into my hands. I felt fortunate to even be standing on the starting line. Well, in this case, treading water…
So unless we intend to do this job in Reno, we’re in Barney… Barney Rubble…Trouble! -Basher, Ocean’s Eleven
Swim Time: 33:34
Swim Rank (Age Group/Overall): 96/697
I was in Barney from the moment the race began. I left a critical piece of equipment back home in Alexandria – my Zoot swim skin. Of the 1800 participants, I was one of maybe five who would be swimming in a race kit ONLY. The wetsuit I packed was of no use in the bathwater of Lake Las Vegas. Swimming is my weakest leg, so I need to use every advantage available. I rolled snake eyes when I was hoping for a seven.
The lead pack took off like a pod of dolphins. I took off like a sea slug. Making the best of the situation, I found a pair of feet well-suited for drafting. As I picked up steam, I dropped them for another pair. Looping around the turn buoys, I broke off once again from my drafting pack, finding myself largely surrounded by the yellow and red caps from the waves before me.
At this point I was thinking that maybe, just maybe, the lead pack was right in front of me. Wishful thinking, I would later realize. The dolphins were several minutes ahead and the course was feeling a tad long. I kept chugging along, increasing my speed as I went, and sprinted the last 200m into the swim exit. The first transition marked open season for dolphin hunting. Onto the bike!
Casino Dealer: 5.
Austin Powers: I’ll stay.
Casino Dealer: I suggest you hit, sir.
Austin Powers: I also like to live dangerously.
Austin Powers, International Man of Mystery
Bike Time: 2:34:17
Bike Rank (Age Group/Overall): 40/216
The bike course was among the most beautiful and interesting of any race I’ve competed in. It takes you along the edge of Lake Mead National Park, with the lake to one side and desert landscape straight out of a Roadrunner cartoon on the other.
The plan was to hold back initially, then kick it up a notch at the mile 23 turnaround. This was a big test for my ego, as several dudes from my age group flew past me. Like the hapless coyote, their ACME rockets would eventually sputter off a large cliff. Patience, roadrunner.
My legs were itchin’ to hammer. As I finally reached the turnaround, I gave myself the green light. I accelerated to a “comfortably uncomfortable” heart rate. I saw Caroline and Mel, both screaming something at me, which I took as words of encouragement. My spirits were high yet the elements demanded attention. As the blazing Nevada sun seared my skin and the desert air gave me cottonmouth, a few things occurred to me during this stretch:
- My rate of hydration is far outpacing my bladder. I’ve been drinking like a fish and no urge to pee whatsoever. Wow, this is a dry climate!
- Got to keep my awesome Zoot arm coolers wet because Sweet Moses it’s dry out here!
- They should pass out chap stick at the aid stations. Did I mention it’s quite dry?
- I just dumped a full bottle of water all over my body and it has already evaporated. Holy Buddha, it’s dry in this joint!
During the course of the ride, I blew by many of the dolphins and coyotes who left me for roadkill earlier in the race. In total, I managed to pass 53 people from my age group. I left T2 in 43rd place. Meep meep!
Because the house always wins. Play long enough, you never change the stakes. The house takes you. Unless, when that perfect hand comes along, you bet and you bet big, then you take the house. -Danny Ocean, Ocean’s Eleven
Run Time: 1:23:17
Run Rank (Age Group/Overall): 1/18
I knew it from the second my Newtons hit the pavement. This would be my run. The house was about to go down!
The run is a three-loop course through a Henderson neighborhood.. Not great in terms of aesthetics, but it suited me well: hot, unshaded, and hilly.
Holding back my pace on the first loop, my stride felt fluid and effortless. I took every cup that was handed to me. I dumped ice down my pants. I learned how refreshing icy balls feel in 90+ degree temps. I hit pleasantly consistent miles splits, just the way I’d hoped. No nutritional issues, no cramping, no hitting the wall.
I passed people by the dozens. I left more coyotes and dolphins in my wake. In the course of the run, I passed 37 people from my age group and over 200 people in all.
Another competitor challenged me near the finish line. I found my extra gear, and dropped him with ease. I had the finish line to myself. I nailed this race.
While happy with my finish time of 4:36:21, I was supremely stoked with the run. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I posted the fastest amateur run split, outran all the female pros, and all but 17 of the male pros. While on the surface this gives me an ego boost, I remind myself that many competitors, amateurs and pros alike, suffered from cramps and heat-related maladies. In less extreme conditions, I might not have outran so many folks. I thank the sauna-fest at Boston for teaching me how to thrive in the heat.
Jack Singer: Do you know what a straight flush is? It’s like… unbeatable.
Betsy: “Like unbeatable” is not unbeatable.
Honeymoon in Vegas
The preliminary results were taped to the side of the info tent. Scanning for my name, my jaw dropped. Under age group place, the number “5” appeared. Podium awards went five deep. Did I manage to podium in the 70.3 World Freakin’ Championships after barely qualifying???
We started the celebration that night at the Bellagio with a few fountain shows. Later, Mel, Joe, and Caroline joined me, Fabrice, Dina, Ken, and Ken’s family for dinner and drinks. Lately, my version of “drinks” has consisted of plain water and water with Nuun. And though at the time I blamed peer pressure, it didn’t take much of it before I threw down a tequila shot. After that kind of race, one ounce thoroughly rocked my world.
What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. Except for herpes. That shit’ll come back with you. -Sid Garner, The Hangover
As it turned out, my winning poker hand blew up on the river card. Checking the age group standings one last time that night, I discovered the updated results put me in 6th place. No podium. No award. While results sometimes change before they are finalized, this usually does not occur so late after a race, or with such dramatic consequences.
I sighed, but had no complaints. Prior to this weekend, I hadn’t even considered a podium spot as a race goal. I executed my plan to near perfection, aside from the swim skin mishap. I spent a great weekend with friends both new and old. I had an amazing experience on one of triathlon’s biggest stages, meeting great people and absorbing the breathtaking scenery. In summary, I walked away from the dealer’s table with a larger stack of chips than when I started. That’s all I could ask for.
Many, many thanks go out to the people who made this weekend what it was. In no particular order:
- My Ignite Endurance team for being awesome training partners and friends, who push me to new limits.
- Tri360 for fulfilling all my nutrition and equipment needs since joining forces with Ignite. Tri360 has a terrific approach to serving the DC triathlon community, and I look forward to a long, successful partnership. Kate, Blaine, and Katie have been super helpful and supportive of Ignite. And Matt the mechanic rocks! (not to be confused with Mike + the Mechanics, but they also rock)
- Fabrice, Ken, and Dina for letting a complete stranger crash with them for a weekend. What was originally “just another race trip” turned into a great experience. Fabrice, I look forward to reuniting in Kona, and Dina and Ken, good luck on your Cirque Du Soleil tryouts!
- The pros for being so accessible before, during, and after the race. While they perform like freaks of nature, their attitudes are down-to-earth and friendly. This is particularly true of Jesse Thomas, whom I had the pleasure to talk with one-on-one for several minutes after the race.
- Coach Eric for helping me achieve performance levels I previously thought were unattainable. Your thoughtful training plans, killer workouts, timely feedback, and brilliant race strategies have made a huge difference in the few months I’ve worked with you. I can’t wait to see where we go from here!
- Finally, thanks to everyone who reached out to me via Facebook, text, and email with all the kind notes! Each one means a lot to me. Thank you very much for the love!
Mahi: Hey, always remember, E hoopuka i na olelo maikai wale no mai kau waha-aku. It means always have the good words come out of your mouth.
Jack Singer: That just doesn’t help me at all. But I appreciate the thought.
Mahi: Aloha brudda!
Honeymoon in Vegas
Upon arriving at PDX for my return flight following Rev3 Portland, I was confronted with the usual barrage of questions as the gentleman at curbside check-in of United noticed my bike bag.
Gentleman at curbside: “What’s in your bag?”
Me: “It’s framing equipment, sir.”
“Is that a bike?”
“It’s framing equipment.”
“That’s oversized luggage – we can’t take it here. “
“But I’ve flown with it as standard luggage and it fits through all the carousels…”
“Sorry, but you’ll have to check it in at the counter. Next!”
I proceed inside to wait in the uncomfortably long line that meandered toward the counter. The lady directing people into the appropriate lines sized me up and subjected me to the same interrogation.
“It’s framing equipment,“ I keep responding. She eventually relented.
Surprisingly, the lady behind the counter printed out my baggage ticket (which I prepaid with a standard luggage fee) and requested that I drop off my bag in the oversize line. She charged no additional fees and had already looped the ticket onto the bag handle; I was in the clear! Or so I thought.
The oversize handler for United took particular interest in my bag. “Is that a bike?” “It’s framing equipment” I said for the 1000th time. With a puzzled look, he asked “what kind of framing equipment?”
What I wanted to say: What is this, twenty questions? Just take my bag, assface!
What I really said: “It’s just framing equipment. Thank you!” Then hurry off before he can pester me with another question.
Oversize THIS, United!
This scene is all too common when I fly with my bike nowadays. Airlines charge astronomical bike fees that sometimes would make it more economical to purchase a separate passenger ticket for your trusty steed. With bike fees reaching $200 one way, and bicycle transport services charging $350 at most races, I began looking for more cost-effective ways to travel with my bike. In my search, I discovered this post by DC Rainmaker is filled with tons of useful information on how to fly with a bike and avoid the ridiculous fees. I have relied on his methods religiously for both packing and checking-in.
The only problem with this approach, however, is that airlines are starting to get anal about their general oversize fees*, which are often worse than bike fees. On the flight from DCA to Portland, I got nailed with an oversize charge of $125**. The man at United’s counter wasn’t about to let my “framing equipment” go through without collecting something in additional fees. It’s definitely a crapshoot at the airline counter; some days you’ll get the lackadaisical, just-punching-the-time-clock counter rep who will let it slide, and other days you get Barney Fife. Having experienced enough of the latter, I started to look for different options.
The days of simply choosing the cheapest round-trip tickets are gone. Bike and oversize fees change the game. The sum total of bike fee + airfare is the new bottom line. I’m even willing to shell out a few extra bucks beyond the bottom line to support an airline with fair bike fees, just on principle. So which airlines show bikers the most love?
|Airline||Bike Fee||Oversize Fee|
|Airline||Bike Fee||Oversize Fee|
|Airline||Bike Fee||Oversize Fee|
A few notes beyond the numbers:
- In nearly every case, the bike fee trumps the oversize fee. When flying one of the good airlines, be loud and proud of the bike in your bag. “Yes, there is a goddamn bike in here, good sir, and I intend to ride the shit out of it!”
- Most airlines will charge an “overweight” fee if your bike bag exceeds 50 lbs. This shouldn’t be an issue unless you ride an old school steel-framed tank-bike.
- Delta Airlines has a policy that allows you to fly with Christmas trees. Enough people have flown with trees that Delta dedicated a section of their policy to address this. If you can pack your evergreen to stay under the oversize limits, xmas trees fly cheaper than bikes. How’s that for ashes in your stocking?
The Final Frontier
Clearly, Frontier is hands-down the most bike-friendly airline. I understand many of their executives are avid cyclists who look out for their own. Consequently, I plan to fly with Frontier whenever possible, and you should too.
My bike will join me on three flights over the next three months: to San Francisco in August (Mt. Tam Century), to Vegas in September (70.3 WC’s), and to Kona in October. SF is a JetBlue flight, and Vegas is Frontier. I look forward to supporting these progressive airlines. To get to Kona, unfortunately, I have to go through American, United, or US Airways, so there will be one more “framing equipment” exercise in my future.
*Every airline defines “oversize” as exceeding 62 inches when adding a bag’s height + width + depth. The laws of physics prevent most bikes from fitting into a package of those dimensions.
**United charged me the $125 oversize fee in addition to the $20 I had prepaid online for standard luggage. They clearly don’t have a problem fleecing their customers. Many of the other airlines have similar policies.