Getting there – Cambridge, MD
We considered driving to this one too, but it was just too much effort for a 70.3. Besides, I had a new bike bag, and it was time to test it. I bought the Scicon Aerocomfort Triathlon Travel Bag because it’s designed for travel with minimal bike disassembly. However, my bike frame is larger than average so I had to take apart the whole front end of the bike to make it fit. Having to do this was disappointing and I was concerned that I’d lose the positions set by my last bike fit. Using a sharpie marker, I made marks on the bars and noted the angles so that I could reprodce the position when I put the bike back together. The trip was uneventful and the bike made it to Maryland safely. It’s light, rolls well and is well padded. I’m a fan of this bag.
The plan was to drive from Reagan Airport to the hotel and then to Ironman Village for athlete check-in before they shut down for the day. I forgot to account for the rush-hour traffic leaving Washington DC. What I thought would take 1.5 hrs took 3.5. Check-in would wait until Saturday morning.
The next morning, Remy and I talked and decided to meet at the athlete parking lot and then make our way to Ironman Village together. Rather than take the shuttle, we opted to ride our bikes. Once there, we stopped by the Team Varlo tent before going for a practice swim.
I don’t ususally do them, but doing a practice swim was a good decision. The water was just barely wetsuit eligible and felt great. It was only slightly salty, quite murky, very shallow, and absent of jellyfish. Remy is a new swimmer and I could sense his anxiety about the open water. We swam out to a buoy and back to shore for a total of about 600 yds. I think it boosted his confidence to get out there and look back at the shoreline to identify landmarks that could be used for sighting. I’ve found that anything we can do to reduce our pre-race anxiety is a good thing. Then we returned to the Team Varlo tent and chopped it up with Soj, Colleen, and Sika Henry’s father before racking our bikes. It was about 2 pm and the hunger was calling. He found a local Mexican restaurant where we ate, got to know each other, and relaxed before parting ways.
Once back in my hotel room, I organized my gear and morning nutrition, then took the traditional #FlatStanley photo.
I was up at 3 am, had my normal setup (coffee, UCAN & PH1500 in 20oz of water, 140 g oatmeal with fruit and nuts), and was out the door by 4 o’clock. Unfortunately, the coffee didn’t stimulate me to take a shit, so I had to take care of that in transition. Hopefully, before things got too crowded and the lines at the Port-o-John became exceedingly long. Being in the transition area early keeps my stress level low. While setting up my gear, I caught up with Reggie Waller, Remy, Jes, and Darien as well as a few black triathletes I hadn’t met yet. The Instagram family showed up too. I was stopped by four or five athletes who I follow and follow me. Two of them were very familiar names and I appreciated that they took a moment to come to say hello.
My race plan was to finish the swim in 36 minutes, hammer the bike, then endure the pain of the run at a 10 min – 10:30 min pace and finish in less than 6 hrs.
Swim – 35 minutes 11 seconds
I didn’t want to experience another episode of overheating while standing in line like 70.3 Waco last fall, so I wore my wetsuit at my waist until the race had begun. While in line, I felt more anxious than normal, the butterflies were on overdrive. To reduce the nervous energy and ease my mind I did some deep belly breathing and gentle stretching. Just before entering the water, I spotted Robin and Kai which boosted my confidence and resolve to hit my swim goal. I like that she gets mad when I underperform the swim.
For the first 200-ish yards I maintained a moderate effort to give my shoulders time warm up while moving through the congestion that occurs at the beginning. I counted the buoys so I knew where I was relative to each turn. Doing this, I’ve found, shores up my confidence and helps me adjust my effort.
To minimize swimming extra yards I sighted very frequently (every 3rd-5th stroke) while my focus was on breathing deeply and keeping my heart rate low. Feeling relaxed and very confident, I increased my effort to maintain a sub 1:40/100 yd pace. I now have a sufficient feel of the water and can gauge my speed by how the water moves past my eyes as I breathe. I also used the other swimmers as pacers. A few were faster while most were slower and some matched my pace. As I’ve noted in previous posts, when I swim faster I have a habit of kicking too hard and causing my calf muscles to cramp. Today I kept my kick light and focused on being streamlined with a strong pull. Once I got into a rhythm my mind settled and everything melted into the background. I began to feel as if I was gliding through a weightless sea of peacefulness. I was occasionally bumped by a few swimmers, but because I’m bigger and stronger than the average triathlete, they tend to bounce off and swim away.
Feeling relaxed, I attempted to draft off a person who I thought was moving at my pace. I wanted to see if I could stick with him and reduce my effort. I’ve never been successful at drafting so I figured why not now! Instead of swimming just off of his hip, in his draft, I kept moving next to his ankle. Staying close to his hip felt awkward, so I dropped in behind him but I noticed that I was moving just a touch faster which caused me to keep smacking his toes which made me laugh. After a while, I remembered that I was racing and needed to go around this guy and swim my race, so I did.
My next memorable encounter was with a woman whose pace was the same as mine. I watched her stroke-rate and how frequently she was sighting and noticed that for every one of my strokes, she took almost two. I then thought, if I can approach her stroke rate with the same force, perhaps I can allow my arms to recover a little more while also increasing my pace. It worked! I swam faster than her, but couldn’t sustain the stroke rate. I wasn’t used to it and it took too much concentration, so I fell back into my normal stroke rate and decided to work on it duiring training sessions.
For a stretch of about 1000 yds I fell into a meditative state where nothing else existed. I was aware of the other swimmers, but still felt alone and at peace. Coming out of the water I felt fresh. My breathing was not labored, my shoulders and arms were not sore or fatigued and there had been no calf-cramping. I knew that I’d hit my goal! The only question was how much faster did I swim?
As I ran into transition, I saw Robin and Kai and they told me my time was 35 min. I was happy that I broke 36 min, but a little disappointed that I hadn’t pushed harder to save more time.
The goal is always moving!
- 35 min 11 sec – Finish time. Average Pace 1:40/100 yds.
- Practicing my technique is making a huge difference in how fast I’m able to swim and still sustain a reasonable heart rate.
- Deep rhythmic breathing works well to support focus while I’m swimming. The global awareness that’s developing as a result of practicing yoga is also a game-changer.
- No calf cramping at all!! This is major, I’ve been working to swim harder without overly engaging my legs.
Bike -56 mile smashfest – 2 hr 57 min.
The rain began while we were swimming, so everything that was not in my dry bag was soaking wet. I dried my legs, put on my helmet (that’s always first), and pulled my gloves and bike socks out of the bag. Since it was overcast and cool, I didn’t wear the arm sleeves. I lost my helmet visor during the trip to Maryland so I wore my sunglasses for eye protection. Unfortunately I’d forgotten my bike computer in the hotel so I used my watch to monitor power, speed, cadence, and heart rate. As I left transition I saw Robin and Kai again.
The roads were freshly wet, so to get a feel for how slippery they were I started out easy. In the beginning, I was thinking about Reggie and Remy and assumed that Reggie was slower in the water which would give me a bit of a lead. However, I also know that they are very strong cyclists and expected them to catch me somewhere along the course. I didn’t want that to happen, so in addition to my goal of pushing very hard, I used them as extra motivation. My plan was to throw caution to the wind and wear out my legs. I needed to overcome the fear of trying too hard and today was my day. Welcoming the struggle, the rain and wind would make the effort more dramatic and rewarding.
Triathlon is a game of giving and taking. Give too much effort in one discipline and you’ll take capacity from another. This is part of the magic puzzle that keeps us coming back again and again. Today, I was willing to give a lot on the bike, more than a reasonable effort becuase I needed to know how hard I could go before I blew up. In previous races, I’ve played it cautious and been left with a nagging feeling that I could have done more. My cycling performance assessment was done the week prior showed my max sustainable power should not exceed 186 watts. So, Johnny and I agreed that I’d keep close to that effort. Historically, I’ve averaged 150 -160 watts for Ironman events, so a bump to 180 was exciting.
However, for today, 180 watts wasn’t exciting enough. Instead, I chose to push into the 220 Watt range and it felt good. If I destroyed my legs and had to walk the half marathon then that’s what I’d do. Frankly, I’d love to get better at entering the suffering cave and learning to continue pushing hard, but I haven’t risen that level of endurance prowess yet. Again, today was a great day to try it.
Riding in the rain with cloud cover didn’t provide enough light with my sunglasses, so I took them off at the risk of taking some road debris in my eyes. I was going all in and wanted to be able to see the road clearly. The rain was refreshing and made me feel alive. As I rode into the forest I remember asking myself what else would I rather be doing. I was pushing myself to new levels on a beautiful bike course while surrounded by other people doing the same damn thing! The rain drops hitting my skin brought me joy. The smells of the countryside, and the sounds of the different bikes were unexpected treats that reminded me how fortunate I am to be able to do these races. There were several occasions when I had to remind myself that I was in a race and not a tourist riding a beautiful course.
Unlike other races, I didn’t do recon of the course ahead of time. I decided to experience it as I rode it. That’s a cool approach, except when there are strong wind gusts and you want to have a sense of when the route will change direction and allow for some relief. I didn’t know the course and I had no idea, so, I didn’t hold back, I just assumed there would be no breaks from the wind. I was prepared to fight all the way to the finish line. As I kept the power above 220 W, I tried to stay in the aero position as much as possible. I think that I held it for 60- 70% of the ride While tucked, I paid attention to how well I was belly breathing and maintaining a cadence of at least 80 rpm.
My nutrition was on point! I consumed three bottles of UCAN, Infinit, and PH1500, and took two Maurten gels. One gel just before I began riding and the other about 90 minutes into the ride. I consumed one bottle per hour and chewed on a Quantum Energy bar throughout the ride. The goal was to take 90g of carbs or more per hour.
Since it was raining and I was already soaking wet, I decided to pee on the bike. I waited until there were no athletes coming behind me and I let it flow. I grabbed a water bottle at the next aid station and emptied it into my suit to ensure that I was completely rinsed off.
At mile 50 my fears and concerns were gone. I’d pushed hard the entire time, maintained nutritional intake and my legs still felt strong. Instead of concern, I felt electric. A new level had been unlocked.
I finished the final miles feeling very strong and curious about what would happen during the half marathon.
Although I rode faster and harder than I’ve done for any previous race, my finish time was a personal best by only 1 minute.
- 2 hr 57 min
- Personal best average 237 Watts for 3 hrs. Previous best 217 Watts at Ironman 70.3 Texas.
- I felt confident that I could hold the power for the entire ride, even while my legs were burning. I didn’t entertain thoughts of doubt.
- I don’t like being passed by other riders.
- I need to practice sitting in the aero position a lot more.
- Training indoors on a smart trainer has made a notable difference in my development. I love riding outside, but the data doesn’t lie.
The next post will be a recap of the half-marathon and post race experiences.