After qualifying for Kona in my first IronMan in what I knew was a race that had significant room for improvement in multiple areas, I was very excited about my prospects for 2014 and was determined to put in even more work than I had in 2013. I was hungry and with the experiences gained over the past 18 months (see previous article – Backyard Triathlons to Kona Qualifier #1 & #2), I felt that I was in a great position for significant improvements.
Early Season Training
My training started off well enough – doing a 165 mile ride on a unseasonably warm December day for the Hains Point 100 and starting full-time with FeXY Coaching Systems under Michelle (Shelly) McKenna Lake as of Jan 1st. First things first, we needed to establish baselines for swimming, biking and running to accurately setup my training plans. This was something new to me and being a numbers person, I was very excited. Those first 2 weeks in January we completed the baselines and my biking FTP was 60 watts higher (22%) than it was at the same point last year. I was very excited about that. My initial VDOT test showed that I had not been training with any easy runs the previous year. Essentially everything that I did was at Tempo Pace or faster which contributed to my overall fatigue levels the previous year. Not only was I going to train harder this year, but I was going to train smarter – of course the later took a lot of trial and error as well.
I had the mindset that I needed to lay the groundwork with some serious volume and interval work in the beginning of the year. Much to Shelly’s chagrin, I went off the reservation a number of times squeezing in extra workouts, turning 2.5 hour planned rides into 120 milers and running faster / longer than my VDOT paces called for. I was also experimenting with new shoes as my feet and toes were always killing me after races. With the new shoes, I developed some small stress fractures and a huge, infected blister that kept me from running for a while.
With this terrific start to my training (sarcasm intended), the first thing on my schedule was a ½ marathon – Rock and Roll in DC. I didn’t even know if I would be able to run in it the week prior as my infected blister was still healing and walking was still somewhat difficult. I went out there with zero expectations and ended up placing 5th in my AG, significantly exceeding what I thought I was capable of. Feeling good about my results, I went out the next day and did a 6 hour ride vs. the 3 hour ride that was on my schedule….
The next weekend was the Multi-sport expo where Team FeXY put together a team. This is a fun event where triathlon clubs get to compete against other clubs in the three triathlon disciplines. Our team was highlighted by having the reigning IronMan World Champion, Miranda Carefree run on our 5K team. Kevin Wright beat out her husband, Tim O’Donnell, who almost broke 8 hours at an IronMan in Brazil the year prior and was the top placing American in Kona in 2013. I participated in the biking event that was conducted on Computrainers. Tim Kelley, John Schaller and Dina DelRaso made up our squad for the 10K effort against the clock. In addition to our intra team rivalry, we were looking to have the #1 team at the event. With 0.25 miles to go as I was starting to make my final push and holding a very small lead (albeit shrinking) over Tim, my chain became completely wrapped around my crank arm. I ended up finishing on Tim’s bike after he completed. In the confusion of what was going on and trying to figure out how someone completely screws up their chain while riding a trainer, we narrowly missed out on the top overall spot to Team Snapple and Tim getting knocked off the top overall spot by 2 seconds. For the event, we lost out to a very strong Team Snapple, but will be looking to knock them off their perch next year.
Blue Ridge Bike Camp 2014
My focus then turned to the Blue Ridge Bike Camp which has become an annual event for me and the event that really got my cycle training going in Triathlon the year prior. This year, John, Tim and I had big plans to not only ride to the camp, but to do 500+ miles for the four days of camp. Our type ‘A’ personalities had us each trying to one up each other and squeezing in extra miles when the others were not looking. I ended up with just less than 550 miles for the weekend and 42,000 feet of total elevation gain. It was a great experience and a lot of fun, but I buried myself more than I realized in the process.
We shipped an overnight bag and clothes for the 1st day of camp down to Front Royal the week prior to the ride. Trey Leightley also agreed to drive the rest of our stuff down and be our Sherpa.
Day 0: We each started at our respective houses and met on the trail. We ended Day 0 with 165 miles, 8,000 feet of elevation gain, two states, a Ferry crossing, a few unplanned gravel roads and quite possibly the best donuts ever at the Apple House about 2/3 of the way through the ride. The day ended with us crossing a four lane highway in flip flops to eat as much as we possibly could at Cracker Barrel.
Day 1: Trey met us at the hotel in Front Royal in the morning to pick up our overnight bags and we got on our bikes and climbed up to the start of the camp at Dickey’s Ridge. Even though I begged and questioned the manhood of both Tim and John, I couldn’t convince them to ride back down to the bottom to the gate for some “extra” miles. When Shelly wasn’t looking, I sneaked down the mountain and decided to go at it alone and found this guy named Drew Gaibler on the way back up who seemed like a good rider. I had no idea who he was and didn’t have a lot of time for small talk as I was intent on catching Xavier’s wheel up ahead and linking back up with John and Tim. Xavier was fresh and a strong rider. It was a beautiful day out and things were going well. We were pushing the pace and soon caught up with John and Tim who weren’t having as good of a day, but still managing well. Just before lunch and Big Meadow I thought I was going to be in trouble and struggled for the last 2 miles. Turns out, I was just REALLY hungry. After stuffing my face and drinking a coke, I felt like a new man. At that moment, the weather changed on a dime and the temperature dropped a good 20 degrees. It starting misting and then raining really hard. I ended up linking up with a group that was out in front and eventually found the car that had my rain gear. Having been through the coldest ride of my life last year on Day 3 of Blue Ridge, I was prepared this year with ice fishing gloves (they were a godsend). With my warm, dry hands and rain gear, I started hooting and hollering and took off again. I found myself alone as the thunder and lightning rolled in. Most of people got pulled off the mountain, but I had the appropriate lights on my bike and was close enough to the gate that the Marshall let me continue on. I was the first one to arrive at the hotel and thankfully they had food. The sun came out and it was a different world at the bottom of the mountain. I stuffed my face continuously for the next 2 – 3 hours. As I was showering I heard that Tim went back out on his bike to make up miles that he lost when the Marshal told him he couldn’t ride. John also slipped his grasp and got his miles in.
Totals for the day: 126 miles, 13K+ feet of climbing and almost 400 TSS points. This was my biggest effort of the weekend – I averaged 238 watts Normalized Power over 7 hours and 45 minutes of riding.
We convinced our new buddy, Drew, to join us in our craziness and we set out on a different route from the rest of the group. We had some beautiful scenery along the river and rode to Bueno Vista and picked up the Blue Ridge Parkway from there. On the climb up Route 60, we had a nice steady pace going and Tim decided to fly past me. I figured he was trying to race up the hill, so I put the hammer down and powered my way to the top. When no one was in sight, I did 1 mile loops on the Parkway above until everyone else got up there, getting in “extra miles”. We continued the day at an easier pace and I began to get antsy around the top of Mt. Vesuvius and begged and pleaded to ride up and down and catch up with everyone later. Fortunately, rational heads prevailed and I continued on with everyone else. We got back to the hotel and I decided I was going to get some more miles in. I am not really sure what I was thinking, but for some reason the 100+ miles that we already did wasn’t enough. I ended the day with 122 miles and 8500 feet of elevation gain. When I finally got back to the hotel, I heard that Shelly was “looking” for me. When she found me, I got a very stern lashing and she threatened to stop coaching me. I tried to rationalize everything, but she had heard it all before and most certainly knew better. I promised to fall in line after the weekend, but wanted to keep riding. I assured her that I was feeling good and this was going to be a great base for later in the year.
I convinced Drew to ride with me on the final day. We decided to do some “extra” miles in the beginning and then tried to catch John and Xavier who were pushing hard ahead. We rode hard that final day, but could not bridge the gap. After getting to Dickey’s ridge, I rode back to pick up Tim and his group and then Tim and I continued onto Spelunkers at the bottom of the hill. The last day I ended with 131 miles and 11.5K feet of elevation gain. I was feeling good until the next day when I woke up and moving was very painful and difficult. Needless to say, my workouts did not go as planned for quite some time.
Major Lesson #1: You cannot continue to dig a hole and not let your body replenish itself
1st Part of Racing Season
With significant volume under my belt and my new bike finally arriving less than 2 weeks before my first scheduled triathlon race of the year, I was getting excited to race again, but concerned about my on-going residual fatigue. I went to the Maritime Olympic Triathlon with high expectations. I drove out with my brother-in-law, Thomas, who was doing his first triathlon since he got me into this sport in 2011 at the Nation’s Triathlon. It was a two wave race and I exited the water with some ground to make up on the bike. While trying to adjust to my new bike, I was able to pick off everyone in front of me except for 1 individual. While I ended up with a slightly faster bike / run split than he did, he still finished over 6 minutes in front of me due to his much faster swim and transition times. Even though I crossed the line in 2nd place, another FeXY team member, Stephen Eid started in the wave behind me and while discussing the race with him afterwards, we realized that he had beaten me by 25 seconds and he ended up 2nd overall. Team FeXY ended up 2nd and 3rd on the podium, so it was a good day, but I was having issues with my lower back off the bike and attributed it to just needing to get used to my new bike.
Two weeks after Maritime, I was signed up for the Raleigh 70.3 IronMan event. This was scheduled to be my early season ‘A’ race and I was really looking forward to a good showing. The day didn’t start off quite as I hoped as I was cut off going around a turn 2 miles into the bike and ended up crashing at 25+ mph. After re-composing myself, picking up everything that I lost and re-adjusting my brakes so that they were not rubbing against the wheel, I was trying to make up lost time. I ended up coming off the bike 2nd in my Age Group, behind Henry Tragle (another FeXY Teammate) and alongside the eventual winner of the AG. I started off the run with a good pace, but knew very quickly that I wouldn’t be able to sustain it. My lower back started absolutely killing me and I told myself multiple times during that race, that it was the last triathlon I was ever doing. I have never felt so bad on a run in my life. I ended up in the medical tent [again] with an assortment of issues ranging from my feet, shoulder, back and dehydration. I slipped to 7th in my Age Group, while Henry had a solid performance and finished 2nd, qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships. Drew Gaibler ended up qualifying for the 70.3 World Championships as well with a strong performance. I ended up with a roll down spot, but declined as it was the same day as Reston triathlon and I couldn’t justify doing another trip away from home. Not to mention 3 hours earlier I had sworn off ever racing again.
Back to the drawing board
After Raleigh, I realized I needed to do some serious reflection on what was not working for me. In addition to getting various injuries throughout the beginning of the year, I had not performed as well I knew I was capable of doing or desired. I needed to figure out what was going on with my back and had to give my body time to adapt to the training loads that I was putting on it. My grandfather always used to tell me to work smarter and not harder, something that Shelly continued to echo to me as well, but I am a very stubborn person.
With nothing on my schedule until the Reston Triathlon in early September, I could focus on my training. This started with doing the Total 200 event with Tim Kelley on what was a beautiful day outside. Even though we ended up with 6 flat tires between us throughout the day, we managed over 20 mph for 200 miles and had a really good time. I was finally starting to feel very comfortable on my new bike and was looking forward to my critical part of the season. I began doing Chiropractor sessions and realized my hips were 2 inches out of alignment. I also did a run analysis at UVA pointing out a number of things, most notably that I wasn’t using my glutes to run. I began making these incremental changes and noticed improvements in my running efficiency.
Earlier in the year, IronMan came out with a program to transfer between races under certain circumstances. This was great for me as I was previously signed up for the inaugural Chattanooga IronMan as it was going to be team event and I signed up prior to qualifying for Kona. Those races were only 2 weeks apart in 2014 and I knew I couldn’t do both. Shortly after announcing the transfer program, IronMan announced a new race on the calendar – IronMan Maryland. I was originally thinking about doing the SkipJack race again (modified ½ IronMan distance that I won in 2013) and this took the place of that on the schedule. I had originally planned on this being my last simulation day and only doing a portion of the run.
During one of my longer training runs, an idea popped into my mind to race both Maryland as well as Kona. I felt that I would be able to recover in the 3 weeks in between the races and do well in both. This was a risky goal, and one that many people didn’t agree with, but I felt that the Maryland race played to my strengths and gave me a unique opportunity to potentially win my Age Group at an IronMan event. My heart was telling me to do it and you need to follow your heart. After multiple discussions with Shelly, John and many others, I determined that I would play it by ear and if my back was really bothering me, save myself for Kona. Otherwise, I would throw my hat in the ring and see what happened.