A Tale of Two Halves by Rebecca Jones

A Tale of Two Halves
by Rebecca Jones

Last year was an important one for me with respect to triathlon; 2014 marked my first full season on Team FeXY, second year working with Coach Shelly McKenna, and my first two half iron distance races. Besides honing my nutrition between the two races and seeing significant gains from my summer training, I learned how interacting with teammates and other athletes makes triathlon such a joy. 

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh
Raleigh, NC
June 1, 2014
raleigh start


As usual on race morning, I woke before my alarm at 3:25am.  I got vertical, caffeinated and fueled, then headed out for the race site. This was a split transition, so I set-up my T2 gear first. Spilled some of the water out of my aero-bottle, but it was easily topped off later, since I had brought extra.

On the bus, I sat next to an athlete wearing a “Rumpass in Bumpass” race shirt.  Nice to see another Virginian!  We talked about racing at Lake Anna and I tried not to think about what the day ahead would bring.

After the dark bus ride to the lake, I got body marked and set up T1. I borrowed a pump from another athlete, since my bike had been sleeping by the lake since the morning before. I brought the tubulars up to 105psi, took care of bike nutrition, water, and was set-up well before 6am. I had so much time to kill and was soon very thankful for the company of my teammates. The race began at 7am, but my wave started after 8am.  I noshed on a balance bar then watched the first pros exit the water after only 22 min. Fast!  

I checked my morning clothes bag at 6:50am, downed some Clif Shot bloks, and then got neoprened. It was such a relief to finally get in the water for a quick warm-up swim. While lining up, I saw Erin, a lady from Instagram I’ve followed for years. She was smiling and excited. I introduced myself and wished her a great race; great to have that positive energy immediately before the race. My wave got in position and I was surprisingly calm. I was thinking “it’s a long workout” and I was really excited that the waiting was over. Go time was 8:10am.

Nutrition Pre-race:

Fuel: Breakfast shake (1.5 scoops Karbolyn, 1 scoop vanilla protein powder, 1 tri-berry nuun:  ~450 kcal, 20 g protein).
Clif bloks (3, 100 kcal)
Balance bar (200 kcal)
Water: 1 full bottle
Electrolytes:  1 caffeine pill + 2 salt tabs 

SWIM: 45:31, 2:00/100yds

The swim was akin to a washing machine, especially near the beginning. Lots of churning arms and legs, it felt crowded.  I focused on long strokes and good form, tried to be really consistent, calm, and not waste any energy. I drafted whenever I could and got to the first turn without any incident or kicks in the face.  The back length of the swim was long and the faster swimmers in the wave after mine began to pass. That was troubling, but I didn’t think about it too much. I was drifting right during this section and actually passed a few of the yellow buoys on the right. I adjusted and tried sighting more often. I made the final turn and sighted the finish feeling really good so far. After the turn I had swimmers on either side, so I just used them for guidance and didn’t sight as often. The numbering on the buoys was odd, I was thinking they were counting down from 8, but they weren’t.  Before I knew it I was sighting the dock on my left and then was climbing out onto the boat launch.  Finishing the swim, I looked down to see I was around 45min, which was within my goal range of 40-50 min.

T1: 4:58

The wetsuit strippers were quick and I was feeling excited to start riding. I took 2 salt pills in transition, stuffed a pack of bloks and 2 more salt tabs in the pocket of my tri top. My aero-bottle was full of water and I had one spare bottle in the rear cage. Volunteers sprayed my back with sunscreen on the way out. (Should have gotten some on my arms and shoulders too.) T1 was under the 5 min estimate, but just barely.

BIKE: 3:17:14, 16.8mph AVG

In the first 3 miles, I stayed in the small ring and got my legs spinning. After we made the turn onto the big road, I settled in and pushed harder.  I felt strong and comfortable in aero and I drank regularly; I planned to drink all the water in my aero bottle before the first aid station around mile 15. I reached the first aid station a couple miles later than I expected, but went through without incident and refilled the aero bottle without stopping.

I ate 3 Clif Shot bloks about every 5 miles and used the lap indicator on my Garmin to remind me. I must have dropped the bloks that I had put in the pocket of my tri top, because they were gone when I reached for them around mile 25. So I only had the 3 packs of bloks in total, of which I had already eaten half. I knew I would need more fuel and that my electrolytes might suffer without the extra sodium. At the last 3 aid stations, I picked up water and a banana half to supplement.  Improvised nutrition, but it seemed to work. I did pick up a gel at one aid station, but it was one I hadn’t tried in training, so I just saved it in case I got into trouble.
rebecca raleigh bike

The hills were rough, especially on the second half of the bike. At one point, probably mile 30, I realized I needed to down shift a lot sooner as I was beginning to climb. My quads were really angry with me trying to power up the hills on the big ring. So, I started downshifting to the small ring first, which made the climbs instantly easier. I felt slow trying to climb in aero, so I stayed on the horns more at the end too. The descents were a lot of fun and very fast. I passed a lot of road bikes descending because I was just more aero.  Sometimes, though, they would pass me back on the next uphill!  I resolved to work on climbing more during the summer.

Overall, I was happy with the bike. I would have liked to have been faster, but my time was consistent with my training rides. 

Nutrition on bike:

Fuel: 3 packs clif shot bloks (margarita flavor, 600 kcal), 1 banana (100 kcal)
Water: 5 bottles
Electrolytes: 2 salt tabs in T1 (430 mg + 900 mg in bloks)

T2: 3:19

Dismounting, I felt seriously wobbly, especially since we rode up a hill to get to the dismount line!  I’m used to running straight into my rack at T2, but this felt totally different. I just walked as quickly as I could to my rack way down near the run out. Lady next to me had racked her bike the wrong way, so I just followed suit. Got my bike gear off and running shoes on, then looked at the water bottle. I felt plenty hydrated at that point, not thirsty, so I made a decision to leave it there and not deal with it. That was a good choice. Put my hat on and clipped my race belt while volunteers slathered me with sunscreen. Again, should have done the damn arms and shoulders. Reasonable time here.

RUN: 2:26:38, 11:20 min/mi AVG

I saw my family going into my aisle in T2 and then again on the run out; so good to have their support. I took off and ignored my legs, which were screaming. The pain lessened after a mile and in hindsight, I’m glad for all those little bricks I did this spring. I knew the run would get better.

The hills were miserable on this run.  More than I thought and two loops. Thankfully the up was all at the beginning of the loops, mentally easier. It was also damn hot by this point, especially headed away from town.  But I started stashing ice in my tri top, which helped and made an amusing sound. Convenient when I got thirsty between aid stations. 

In my race belt I had 3 Gu gels, a pack of bloks, 4 salt tabs. I took 2 salt tabs and a Gu (tri-berry, with caffeine) at the first aid station. I split the blok pack, half around mile 3, half around mile 6.5. At mile 10 I was starting to feel that loopy feeling again, so I took the other 2 salt tabs and a final gel (jet blackberry, 2x caffeine). My stomach was a little sour at this point and I was concerned about that last gel staying down. So I walked a little extra after that aid station to let things settle. Shelly had warned me that walking would hurt more than running at this point; she was totally right.

Seeing FeXYs on the course with me was a great motivator. I loved that. Really helped me stay positive while trudging up the hills.  I didn’t expect this, but seeing the finish line on the turn-around was also really great.

The last few miles went by pretty quickly, actually. I’m proud to see I picked up the pace from the previous splits, but then it was more downhill and I was relishing the shade whenever I could get it. Rounding that corner onto Fayetteville knowing the finish was like half a mile away … that was a sweet moment. I remember feeling strong and that I had really done it. I ran thru that finish. The race didn’t beat me.  Final half marathon time was 2:26:38, only 11 min off my PR. I was hoping to be under 2:30 and I was.

Nutrition on run:

Fuel:  6 bloks (200 kcal), 2 gels (200 kcal)
Water: Cup of water at every aid station, usually drank at least half
Electrolytes:  4 salt tabs 

OVERALL TIME: 6:39:02 

Seeing teammates at this race was incredible. I saw FeXYs on every leg of this race and felt their support… truly amazing. A favorite moment was when Zoya passed me back on the second loop of the run. Going up a hill, she said “Slow and steady, professor. Slow and steady”. I kept that advice close.

There were a number of moments that day that I could point to as motivators. My teammates, the beautiful weather, the cheering crowds, my family.  What I can’t identify is at what point in the race I felt sure I would finish… I don’t know when that moment happened. Maybe it wasn’t a single moment. Maybe it was when I rounded that last corner and had the finish line in sight.  I really had no idea how my run time had been… I stopped looking at my pace miles before the end. I had felt mentally clear the whole day and I wasn’t being taken away on a gurney.  When I saw the clock, I subtracted my swim start delay and knew I had finished well.

 raleigh finisher

One surprising thing happened on the bike. On a hill, there was a group sitting at the edge of the subdivision cheering for the cyclists. Standing in the street, a lady holding her baby looked deliberately at me and said “you can do this” and I felt a wave of emotion. I knew I was doing it. This race taught me that big goals are possible and I don’t know my own limits. On to the next goal! 

Waterman’s Half
Rock Hall, MD
October 4, 2014 


watermans start

Waterman’s Half was my last triathlon of 2014.  This season, I had also raced the Luray double and Reston triathlon.  Going into Waterman’s, I felt rested, but mentally in a very different place. Besides the usual stress of fall semester classes, which was in full swing, I learned of my Grandmother passing just two days prior. The news really affected me, but I was determined to not let it get in the way of this race, which I had been training for all summer.

I woke up early, but didn’t feel very rested. Since this race had a late start, I had breakfast with my daughter at 6:30am; that was wonderful.  I rode to the race site an hour later, only to find a crowded transition area and crappy rack position. I put that out of my mind and got set up. I saw some familiar faces. One athlete from Team Z saw me and introduced herself: “I recognize you from some other races you’ve won. You are intense.”  I was very flattered and it felt strange to be called out, but I just took the compliment. I was glad to see a couple other FeXYs racing, John Schaller and Rob Barlow. Their confidence was refreshing. With an hour left before transition closed, I was getting antsy, so I set out for a short run to clear my head. Back to transition I forced myself to eat a Vanilla Stinger Waffle and finish the water bottle I started earlier. Wetsuited and off to the swim start, I was more nervous than any other race this season. 

Nutrition Pre-race:

Fuel: Breakfast shake (1 scoop strawberry Karbolyn (200kcal), 1 vanilla protein (145 kcal), 1 full raspberry scratch (80kcal) = 425 kcal). 
Half a white bagel with cream cheese (~150 kcal).
Vanilla Stinger waffle (160 kcal)
Water: 1 full bottle
Electrolytes:  1 caffeine pill + 2 salt tabs

SWIM: 43:52, 1:47/100yd

Into the water at 9:13am, it was surprisingly chilly and brackish.

I tried to stay calm. Started my Garmin a few seconds before the gun.  I was lined up way right, looked like a shorter line to me. My swim wave was a crazy mix of people; old guys, relays, Athenas, mixed bag… but not too large, fortunately. Maybe only 60 people.

Go time was 9:16am.  It felt like I got to the first turn quickly, my stroke felt strong and fast. Not a whole lot of contact with other swimmers, except around the turns. One point I was pacing with another pale blue cap next to me, that kept getting closer, I tried to speed up to get ahead but didn’t sustain it long enough and had to settle into a slower rhythm.  The swim had 2 loops and 7 turns, which felt like a lot. Overcast skies helped with sighting though, since I wasn’t blinded by the sun. I tried to bilateral breathe every 3 strokes and sight every 9th stroke. Not much drafting this race, felt mostly isolated. I got away from the sighting buoys after the 3rd turn. Tried to make a beeline for the turn buoy… this may have been where I swam extra, total was nearly 1.4mi.

Swim out was a wide ladder on the dock, with a volunteer helped me climb out. I felt wobbly, afraid the dock was slippery, but got moving as quick as I could.

T1: 2:42

So crowded!  My bike was surrounded by two people struggling with their wetsuits. Loudly and politely, I said “Excuse me!” and barged in between them.  Shed my wetsuit fast, turned bike Garmin on (doh!), noticed my glasses and helmet were on the ground, (must have fallen off aero bars), swallowed two salt tabs, gloves on, helmet on, glasses on. Running out. Passed at least 4 competitors right there, still transitioning. Both of those two people who had been crowding my bike were also still there. Passing them fueled my confidence and I ran to the mount line.

BIKE:  3:03:09, 18.4 mph AVG

This is the part of triathlon I live for. As soon as I’m on my bike, it’s like I’m home. I quickly settled in for the miles headed out of town. Temp was mid-60s and I was comfortable. I made the right choice not wearing arm warmers. Thankful again that I took the extra seconds to put on gloves, especially for the 5 mile section of tar & chip section on Bayshore. Aero felt a little sore on my bruised elbow; I ignored it.

I passed a few other Athenas in the first 5 miles of the bike. The wind was at my back, I felt fast. Ate 3 shot bloks every 5 miles for first 25 miles, I had divided the packages into smaller packs of 3, then spaced out remaining 9 over last half of the race. Felt like enough fuel, but I probably could have done with more.

Aid stations were TOO short!  I picked up a water bottle, (good hand-offs actually) and then 3 seconds later see a sign “No trash past this point” Did they want me to stop to refill my bottles? No way. I ended up only getting only a half of a bottle refilled at the first stop. Then drained my spare heading to the second aid station. I focused on drinking everything I had on board before the 3rd and final stop, then refilled my aero bottle there. A little less water than Raleigh, but it was a lot cooler.

The wind was really tough in places. Demoralizing, actually. I just put my head down, cursed a few times, and focused on keeping an even cadence. I was frustrated that I had to drop into the small ring. My heart rate spiked into zone 4 a couple of times but I noticed it and pulled back. I think most of the zone 3 was early, the second half of the ride was more in zone 2. I felt really strong at the end; after 40 miles, I was really in a rhythm I could have sustained a lot longer. 

Staying in aero got harder toward the end, as my right arm was hurting. But it was so much more efficient in that wind than doing anything else, that I ignored the discomfort. I kept pushing all the way into T2, passing a few people in the city who were slowing down as transition approached.

I was shooting for sub 3-hours on this bike and thought I would be close. I passed a lot of people and there was no one I rode near for any length of time. Weather was gorgeous, aside from the wind, and really beautiful country. I enjoyed just being out there, it was a gorgeous day to race. Even though I missed the time goal by just a couple minutes, I knew I had biked strong and came into T2 feeling terrific.

Nutrition on bike:

Fuel: 4 packs clif shot bloks (800 kcal)
Water: 4.5 bottles of water
Electrolytes: 430 mg from 2 salt tabs in T1, 1200 mg in bloks

T2: 1:06

My dismount was awkward, but my legs didn’t feel terrible. Not nearly as wobbly as at Raleigh. There was a large crowd of Team Z people near the fence of T2; when they saw my kit, they cheered “Go FeXY!” and rang their cow bells.  Such an awesome surprise!   I got to my rack and found it empty; then I knew I was in the lead for my category. Transition was smooth and fast. No nonsense. Ran out and settled in.

RUN: 2:10:02, 9:52min/mi AVG

This run wasn’t about winning Athena, although it easily could have been. I had in sight that 6 hr overall time and knew I needed to run hard to get close.  I was running for myself, not for a podium.

The first aid station was immediately after T2 and I ran right past it.  Next aid station, I took a gel and a few sips to get it down. I noticed an immediate difference and felt better.  When I took in fuel, I walked and drank water at the following aid station.  I skipped a few when I didn’t fuel.  The last few bloks were harder to get down. It helped to take a sip of water and then swallow the chewed up bloks, went down faster that way. I’ll remember that.

Salt tabs were definitely needed here. I started getting that loopy feeling at a few points, the salt helped. I didn’t have salt in the bloks on the run, as I forgot to pack extra margarita bloks. Thankfully, I had a pack of cran razz bloks in my transition bag.

The second half was tougher, but I still felt pretty good. My right foot started getting sore after 8 miles, felt a blister forming on my toe, right edge of sole aching. I ignored it. The last 3 miles were very mental, but I focused on that 6 hr goal and kept pushing. I sipped water at the aid stations but kept running. I pulled the last mile closer to M pace, and pushed through to the finish. I really felt like I was racing, not just running.

Into the finish chute, the Team Z folks buoyed my spirits again shouting “Go FeXY! Finish strong!”  And it felt really good to run hard through that finish line. No collapsing at the end…I felt fatigued, but still really good. And satisfied.

Nutrition on run:

Fuel: 2 gels (200 kcal total), 1 pack of bloks (200 kcal)
Mile 1.2:  Tri-berry gel + caffeine, 1 salt tabs
Mile 3: 1 cran-razz blok
Mile 4.5: 2 cran-razz bloks + 2 salt tab
Mile 6: 2 cran-razz bloks
Mile 8: 1 cran-razz blok + 1 salt tab 
Mile 10.5: Jet blackberry Gu (2x caffeine)
Water: 4 cups, approximately
Electrolytes: 4 salt tabs (860 mg)


 watermans finisher

The athletes racing Waterman’s were incredibly supportive. More than once, I saw a Team Z athlete who said something encouraging. Seeing my own teammates, John and Rob, was a fantastic boost. One racer saw my red compression sleeves and said “You have the best socks ever!”  When I saw her on the second run loop, she smiled again and pointed “Look! The best socks!”  I saw some of the other Athenas behind me on the run loops and they cheered me on too.  Such great sportsmanship!  I returned the love whenever I could and it made the miles fly by. 

Overall, this was a fantastic race and I felt strong and confident. I PR’d every leg of the race, won Athena by over 39 minutes, and finished 5th AG. Oh, and by 5 minutes, I PR’d my half marathon time too!  Yes, I missed the 6 hr goal, but now I have that to shoot for in the future. The support of my fellow racers was a tremendous surprise and it made such a difference in my state of mind. I was more than a little worried about how I would do, considering my grandmother’s recent passing and the stress of the semester. And I really thought this would be a lonely race without lots of other FeXYs. Thankfully, I was wrong! There was so much positive energy, it was hard to not feel amazing, even while I was pushing hard. Oh, to bottle that feeling for days when I forget!  My finisher’s medal is still hanging from my rearview mirror… a welcome reminder of this amazing day.


The two overall race times clearly tell the story; I definitely improved and became a better triathlete this season. Thank you to my coach, Shelly McKenna, for pushing me to be better and believing in me. 

Both of these swims felt good, but I was definitely more comfortable at Waterman’s.  At the later race, I was able to push the pace at times and felt stronger amongst the other athletes swimming around me.  A summer of extra swims at my local pool yielded a more confident racer. Unfortunately, I over swam both races this year.  Next season, I may add more open water swims and practice sighting.

The bike at Waterman’s was pancake flat, but had some killer wind. Raleigh was significantly more hilly than the Athlete guide had suggested. Because of the terrain difference, it’s hard to compare my bike times for the two races. Heart rate wise, I had more zone 3 at Waterman’s than I did at Raleigh, suggesting I was pushing harder to race, not just ride. Getting off the bike at the end is also a good sign of my improved fitness since Raleigh. 

Running at Waterman’s was so much better than Raleigh.  With a cooler temperature and flat course, there was no trudging along like at Raleigh. Instead, I was racing.  Mentally, I was stronger and physically, I felt better.

My progress in 2014 was a step in my continued evolution into a healthier life. Six years ago I was obese, I could barely walk the streets of my neighborhood without getting winded, and my doctor was concerned about my health. I never dreamed I was capable of racing a half ironman. In fact, there were many people who looked askance whenever I spoke about this goal. Moving to Virginia, finding a coach, joining Team FeXY…  all these choices catalyzed me to where I am today. It has taken hours of commitment and more sacrifice than I can define, but I have no regrets. And I’ve come to learn how valuable is the support of a team and fellow athletes; without them, I know these stories would have been much different.

The slogan on my Raleigh finisher’s certificate says “Anything is possible.”  I proved this adage true in 2014.  Now, on to the next goal… Ironman Maryland 2015!



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The Menstrual Cycle and Exercise Performance

If you are a female, you may have noticed a correlation between where you are in your menstrual cycle and how you feel during training or racing. While there are some conflicting findings reported by research studies, there is evidence to show that menstrual cycle stage may be partly responsible for some of those days where exercise feels less than enjoyable.


The menstrual cycle is divided into the follicular phase that spans approximately days 1-14 and ends with ovulation, and the luteal phase which includes the days after ovulation up to to the onset of menses (days 14-28; see figure to left). During the follicular phase, estrogen levels rise steadily up until ovulation, progesterone levels are low, and basal body temperature is normal. In the luteal phase, progesterone levels rise dramatically, there is a smaller increase in estrogen levels, and basal body temperature is elevated.

By Isometrik (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0
or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)],
via Wikimedia Commons

In the luteal phase, heart rate during exercise may be elevated compared to the follicular phase. For example, one study found heart rate was 10 beats per minute higher in women in the luteal phase during 60 minutes of biking (Pivarnik et al., 1992; see figure below). Also, resting heart rate may be higher in the luteal phase than the follicular phase (Pivarnik et al., 1992; Moran et al., 2000).

 fig 3
Pivarnik et al., 1992 Figure 3

Although some studies have reported no menstrual cycle related differences in resting or exercise heart rates, it is worth monitoring and discussing with your coach if you are observing significant changes throughout your cycle. Personally, my heart rate can vary as much as 10-12 beats per minute over the course of a month during exercise of the same intensity. These menstrual cycle related changes become extremely important when training/racing with heart rate, or when conducting baseline testing that may be used to set your heart rate zones.

Even if you do not experience a menstrual cycle related change in heart rate, you might notice that exercise feels more difficult at certain times of the month. Once again, it is possible that hormonal changes during the luteal phase may result in an RPE during exercise that is higher than in the follicular phase (Pivarnik et al., 1992; see Borg RPE scale at right). While a change in your perception of how hard you are working does not mean you cannot perform well, it is still a useful topic to discuss with your coach if you start to notice a continual monthly pattern. It might be helpful to adjust where maximal effort workouts are placed in your training schedule and to incorporate mental training to help deal with changes in RPE.

                                                                                                       Mellett L H , and Bousquet G                                                                                                                Circulation. 2013;127:e571-e572

Another important menstrual cycle related consideration for exercise is environmental conditions. Specifically, performance may be impaired when training or racing in hot and humid environments. During the luteal phase, studies have shown reduced performance and time to fatigue when exercise is conducted in high heat and humidity (Janse de Jonge et al., 2012). The reduced exercise performance in hot and humid environments during the luteal phase may be accompanied by elevated submaximal heart rate, elevated minute ventilation (amount of gas inhaled/exhaled per minute), and elevated RPE (Janse de Jonge et al., 2012). Also, sweat rate may be elevated during the luteal phase compared to the follicular phase (Garcia et al., 2006). All of these physiological changes may have a negative impact on exercise performance and race outcomes. Based on the potential negative effects of heat and humidity during the luteal phase, it may be beneficial, if possible, to adjust your racing schedule in order to maximize performance.

It is important to remember that exceptional athletic performances have been delivered by women during all stages of the menstrual cycle. However, as no two women are exactly the same, the effect of the menstrual cycle on performance should be taken into consideration on an individual basis. Even though not all studies agree on the impact of menstrual cycle phase on exercise, and more research is necessary, monitoring your heart rate and RPE over the course of your cycle is easy to do and may ultimately help in optimizing your training and racing performances!


Janse de Jonge, X.A.K et. al. Exercise Performance over the Menstrual Cycle in Temperate and Hot, Humid Conditions. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc. 44(11): 2190–2198, 2012.

Garcia, A.M.C. et al. Luteal phase of the menstrual cycle increases sweating rate during exercise. Braz J Med Biol Res [online]. 39(9): 1255-1261, 2006.

Moran, V.H. et al. Cardiovascular functioning during the menstrual cycle. Clinical Physiology. 20(6): 496-504, 2000.

Pivarnik, J.M. et al. Menstrual cycle phase affects temperature regulation during endurance exercise. J. Appl. Physiol. 72(2): 543-548, 1992.

A good and detailed review of the literature if you are interested in reading more:
Janse de Jonge, X.A.K. Effects of the Menstrual Cycle on Exercise Performance. Sports Med. 33(11): 833-851, 2003.


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FCS Results – 2014 edition

2014 year in reviewFeXY Coaching 2014 results. #FCSEqualsResults

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Ironman Cozumel 2014 Race Report by John Schaller

10:55:44 – 24th out of 325 in AG

Swim: 1:06:20 – 85th AG

Bike: 5:09:32 – 5th AG

Run: 4:29:58 – ? AG

Pre-Ironman Cozumel:

Friend:  So John, how are you feeling about Ironman?

John: Pretty good man, pretty damn good.

Friend: Any goals in mind that you can share:

John: Sure, so I’ll probably go about 45:00 ish on the swim, it’s a fast swim man, did you hear about the currents there?  That’s going to be really nice, a whole lot less effort and off to the bike.  On the bike, it’s hard to tell, but if it’s not too windy probably a 4:45, best case is a 4:40 worst case is a 5:00.  Then on to the run, I’ve got to go sub 4 hours this time, I know I can do that, but really I think I should be able to run a 3:50, and if I’m having a great day maybe even a 3:45.

Friend: Wow, that’s pretty awesome – that all adds up to about a 9:30 right?

John: Yup!  But I don’t think it will quite play out that well, just as long as I go sub 10 I’ll be really happy.

Friend: You think you’ll get a Kona spot with a time like that?

John: Ha, no way man.  To get Kona on this course in my AG, you need to break 9 hours.

 john run

As you can see, things didn’t exactly play out the way I wanted them, and not even close to what I expected.  Race reports are far easier to write when things go well, there’s not as much soul searching and digging through all the details to figure out what went wrong and where.  I’ve been gathering data over the past five days, trying to figure out what went wrong, well – as of now I can find many little things that add up, but there’s no big red button.  We’ll start with the BLUF format; or bottom line up front.

What went wrong for me?

  1. The easy one, heat acclimation.  The heat thankfully was not oppressive, but I certainly wasn’t acclimated to it.  There’s some good evidence of my heat issues with the very red face in some running photos.
  2. Subpar bike execution.  The plan coach Shelly and I laid out was to start at 235 watts and increase up to a max of 250 based off of how I was feeling and correlations to HR.  Well, my first 5×5 mile laps looked like this:
    1. 253
    2. 251
    3. 254
    4. 240
    5. 241

    So I spent 15 miles at the beginning going too hard before I got it in check.  Why did I do this, this is what really needs to be answered.  I can sum it up a few ways, but understand I know this is wrong and I’m not justifying it.

    1. 112 miles on the bike – fuck that, this is easy.  I was a cocky son of a bitch.
    2. My heart rate is fine, I’ll be okay.  Riding on emotion and justifying with reason.
    3. Nathan went too hard on the bike at the beginning too, just settle down it’ll be okay.  I’m not Nathan, nor do I run like him, I can’t afford to miscalculate.
    4. If you want to do great, you’ve got to ride the edge a bit.  True, I still believe this, but starting too fast is not the way to do it.  If you feel good on the bike at mile 70, tick it up a tiny bit and continue doing that.  You’re supposed to feel great at the beginning.

    In the end, this was not a total failure on the bike, but if I were to grade myself on my execution I’d give myself a C Minus.

  3. Water intake:  I actually drank too much water on the bike, more than my plan which was already slightly more than I’ve ever done before.  The most water I’ve ever taken in before was about 40oz per hour, the plan was 50oz per hour, I took in closer to 60oz per hour.  What I did get right was the electrolyte balance; since I increased water I also took in more salts to go with it.  I think this contributed to not wanting to take in any calories on the run and feeling like I was going to puke.  I peed six times on the bike… Really?? 6 times?  Who does that?
  4. Mental preparedness and backup plans.  Honestly, I thought I had sub 10 in the bag.  When I got on the run and saw I had to run a 3:40 I deflated.  When I got sick on the run at mile 2ish, walked to mile 3, I gave up.  There’s no excuse for that, I just wasn’t in a good place at that time.  I started walking backwards on the course, I was going home, I was done.  Finally I turned myself around.  Now I think of the people that are on the course walking it in after mid-night.  They’re not going to the finish line for the big crowd of cheering people, they’re not getting a medal and a photo finish, they’re not even getting an official time – but they have their priorities straight and they stick to them.  Never again.  

Race Morning

The day started at 3:50 AM, waking up in beautiful Cozumel.  I went to the kitchen where I had most of my food waiting for me.  I had to make my oatmeal and I had coffee, bananas and some sports drink.  Total calories was 836.  I sat around shooting the shit with Kristine Wooten hoping the digestive system would kick in so I could drop a few pounds; thankfully that all worked out.

At about 5:15 we left the house and walked a block over to the hotel where buses were waiting to take us to the swim start.  There was excitement and anxiety in the racers, I felt very calm this time – my third Ironman and in the best shape I’ve been for any of them.

At the bikes, it was just adding some bottles, checking the gearing, brakes, making sure everything is good to go.  Then Kristine and I met up again and headed to the swim start on another bus.

Swim start was a pretty cool place, it’s a new marina that’s being built, it seemed like it was near completion.  There were a fair amount of porta-potties which I made use of.  My friends and family found Kristine and me at the start, we hung out with them and took a few photos.  Then it was warmup time.  I can’t swim well unless I’ve warmed up some, typically it just causes problems about five minutes into the swim, takes a few minutes to work itself out then I’m good again.  There was no warmup swimming allowed, I didn’t have shoes, so I just did some plyometric and swimming arm warmups.  I took two vanilla gu’s at 6:50, sipped a bit of water, pulled up my speed suit and then got lined up.

Swim Start

Our age group was the second to last to go, we were scheduled for 7:07 and didn’t actually start until 7:15 AM (I didn’t actually know the start time at this point – which messed me up later in the race).  I decided to go to the far end buoy, my thought was deeper was a better current, but I really had no idea.  The reason for the delay became pretty apparent, the opening to enter the water was just big enough for two or three people to get in at a time – so we were all funneled in and waiting for our age group to get in the water before they could let us go.

As soon as I got into the water I sprinted away from the start and towards deeper water, then did some relaxing swimming towards the start.  I did this to escalate the HR, open up the breathing and get my body used to doing some work.  The gun finally went off and I started swimming about two rows back from the lead guys, I found one person’s feet for about five minutes before I lost them.  Due to the wave starts everything settled down really quickly, I swam quite comfortably but focused nearly the entire swim.

The salt water was quite nice, it makes you more buoyant than I expected.  Even better was the 100’ visibility, you could see beautiful corral, many fish and sighting off of other swimmers without bringing your head up was easy peasy!

About halfway into the swim, I realized three things.

  1. There’s no current to speak of.
  2. I’m swimming quite well, I’ve passed quite a few people in many waves ahead of me.
  3. I didn’t lube up – rookie move I thought to myself.

Back to swimming, can’t worry about chaffing, it won’t get better by going slower so just swim your best.

Eventually I spotted the finish line where we had to make nearly a U turn to get out of the water, this was the roughest part of the swim, there were tons of people there and everyone heading to a set of stairs in the water, I swam a bit harder here, and jumped out of the water heading to T1 when I looked at my watch and saw 1:06, five minutes faster than my previous PR – certainly not the 45 minutes I thought I would get but due to NO current and my perceived position I was happy.  Turns out I was 85th in my AG or top 26%. 

In my first Ironman I was top 41%, last year at Tremblant I was top 33% – so there’s certainly some relative improvement here.

T1 – A total mess 

I grabbed my bag and ran to the tent, there was a line of guys trying to get into the tent, I scooted around them a saw a total mess, but the middle of the tent was empty, everyone was around the edges – so I ran up one side, stepped on some chairs to get to the middle and sat down.  Usually I don’t wear socks on the bike, but I’ve got new shoes and they have been bothering me without socks – so I’m definitely wearing socks.

My big problem – I have a single piece suit with sleeves that was under my swim skin I need to get that wet clothing over my wet body.  Thankfully a volunteer had just arrived to apply sunscreen to me; I had him put it over my shoulders, then I was off; it was a longish run to my bike, then to the mount line.  This was a very slow transition for me at 6:29.


Ahhhh… Now I’m on the bike and in my element.  Fast and flat it is, Uh Oh, power is too high, relax, relax.  Power is still too high, you can’t ride 270 watts all day John, bring it down.  Finally I start riding a bit closer to 250 watts, which is not where I wanted to be but acceptably high versus crazy high.  I had tons of people in front of me since I was so far back in the wave start, which was a good thing – I was going to “slingshot” past everyone – just like Ricky Bobby baby!

I made it towards the southern end of the island, still going quite fast and started feeling the winds, I knew if I could feel them now it was going to be a rough ride when I made the turn to head north on the east side – which is where the winds are notorious.  Sure as shit, I was right- I hit those winds and slowed from 25 mph to 20 mph towards the Southern end to 17.5 mph on the East side.  The east side was a long ride getting blown around.  Here I got my first water bottle, I had to grab two of them because they were half filled.

Heading north now, I was about 12-14 miles in when I caught up to my good buddy Kristine, she seemed to be fairing okay in her first Ironman.  She told me her power meter wasn’t working; I told her to just keep it steady and she’d be fine.  At this point I started to heed my own words and ease into a more appropriate 240ish watts.

I could feel the heat hitting me, so I focused on drinking water every five minutes, drinking my calories every 15 minutes and taking a gel every 25.  I was drinking a bit more water as well, so I decided to increase my electrolytes by taking additional SCaps I had with me.

After the first loop I still felt great, as I’m sure everyone did.  I saw my coach and yelled 250 watts – feeling good.  That was my AVG after 1 lap.  I knew this was too high, but not catastrophic, so I focused on getting it right for the remainder of the bike.

I was heading south again, nice and smooth riding here with very little wind.  After I passed Chankanaab park (where the swim finished) I could already feel the winds, clearly a bit worse than they were earlier.  I kept aero at all times and kept my watts in check this time.  Turning the corner to the opposite side of the island I was hit with wind like I’ve never felt before – aside from a few hurricanes I’ve been in.  The winds were steady at 25+ with gust much higher than that.  I passed a few people that were clearly on their first loop and they must have been going 6-7 mph; I felt so sad for them.  This time the trip north felt endless, I kept thinking maybe the turn is up here, maybe it’s up there….  It seemed like it would never come.  When I hit the 56 mile mark I checked my TSS (goal of sub 300) and I was really close to 150 at this point, so I backed down just a little bit more – I knew that my initial watts goal was for a 4:45 bike, now that I’m looking at a 5+ I have to adjust.

john bike

At this point I also noticed salt is getting caked on me (see photo), I had so much salt on my body I could grab it with my hands and throw it in the air.  So I started grabbing even more water in the aid stations and washing it off me to help prevent chafing.

On this second loop I did a mileage check for the turning point, that way I wouldn’t have to wonder where it was, so now I knew mile 93 on the next loop is where I turn and get some wind at my back.  This loop I made the turn to cut across the island and I biked the whole 9 mile stretch solo, not a single biker was in front of me, odd?  This could only mean one thing – I’ve pushed my way through all the bikers except for the really fast ones, which I’ll probably never catch.  I got to the other side of the island, saw my family and friends there again, my coach yelled that I was in 8th place – I saw my wife having a good time and my son playing outside – that made me happy.

Now, I’m in 8th place – how do I setup for a good run.  Damn, I need to piss again, this is the fifth time, at least I’m not dehydrated.  Sticking to the plan, I’ve gone through my 600 calorie bottle of fluids, and at mile 85 I’m changing over to Coke.  Here, I realize I lost one GU somewhere – that’s only 110 calories plus I really don’t feel like taking it – no big deal I thought.  Just drink the Coke you’ll be okay.  Again, I make the turn to head north and I’m passing people on their 2nd lap in drones, I tried everything I could to get on their tail, get a tiny bit of draft benefit when passing but there was none to be had.  The winds were hitting us from 2 O’clock, this time it felt like they were steady at 30+ mph.  Kristine later told me people were clocking the winds at 35 mph, not gust, just a steady wind.

I kept dialed in on my watts, watching my heart rate, finding a respectable cadence and just focused on getting to mile 93 where the wind would be at my back.  Eventually, I got there.  The winds were so strong at the back that I felt sitting up was not a negative factor in biking and felt really good on the back; I pissed for a 6th time after the next aid station – I usually tried to hold it until just passed the aid station so I could grab an extra bottle of water, I used that to rinse all the piss off of me, and of course – some more salt.  I cruised into the finish, happily gave up my bike, and went into T2.

I finished in 5:09:32 – top 1.5% in my AG, vs. top 13% in Placid, and top 8.5% at Tremblant.


T2 was the easiest T2 I’ve ever seen in my life.  I dismounted and handed my bike to a volunteer, about 10 meters up were our bags hanging, directly in front of that was the changing tent.  I knew going into the tent I wanted to drop the top off my single piece suit, I hoped I could race the whole way in it, but thought I might not want to, so thankfully I packed a run singlet.  I dropped the top, put the singlet on, saw some Vaseline and lubed up my chaffed chest from the swim, then I was off.


I immediately saw the crew and Zoya out cheering for me, and coach told me I was in 5th place.  Seeing that running is not my strong suit, I knew that wasn’t going to get it done.  I tried to settle into my running pace, 162 HR and 8:40’s – I ran about 8:00 flat and low HR, I knew I knew I knew I had to slow down, mile 2 I hit the right pace, and then I came to a screeching halt, I couldn’t drink my EFS in my hand bottle, I wasn’t taking water from the aid stations, everything I saw made me want to puke.  I started walking, then shuffle, then walk, then shuffle.

At mile 3, I completely stopped under a tree.  Nearly puked, spit a few pieces of vomit that did make its way up.  I saw my time and realized not only will I not go mid 9’s, I won’t go sub 10 either, and low 10’s was looking pretty questionable too.  I had no motivation left, I couldn’t take in calories or fluids, and I’m done.  So done.  And here, I quit on my race and myself.  I started to walk back towards the start, I made it almost half a kilometer – people tried to cheer me on.  My mental state was broken, but I started to think of all the reasons I was here, all the people that are here for me, who I really am, what I tell my two boys when I make up excuses of why I quit.  My wife I believed I could tell, she knows me through and through, but I couldn’t show my boys this side of their father.  I cursed myself out, I was really pissed (I’m sure the people who saw me thought I had Tourette’s syndrome)  and I turned back around, got on the other side of the road and started moving towards the turnaround point.

I had made the hard move of going the right way, and let me tell you this wasn’t easy.  I’ve never had a mental breakdown like this – not in ultra runs, not in multi-day adventures, not in the Marine Corps – NEVER.  How it happened on this day, I can only believe it was a combination of an upset stomach, pushing my body and losing all of my goals.  Thus, the importance of having backup goals.  So, I went on, I saw Kristine on the run, I told her I was done – I wish I hadn’t told her that, it made me feel bad that I gave her some negative energy on her big race day, but I did give her some encouragement and high fived her.

Can I quit now?  I’ve done one lap, I see Zoya, my friends and my coach.  I tell them, I’m done.  Zoya said take a break.  Coach said, nope, you’re going to finish, keep going.  Steve – the real motivator in his drunken state wearing nothing but a banana hammock put the hammer down on me, let’s go you son of a bitch, we’re going to walk run this whole thing, come on, let’s go…  This was the final bit I needed, I found a way to keep myself going for a lap, my friends didn’t let me quit, so I started running.  My stomach had finally settled too, so that was nice.

I wanted to just run one mile nonstop; I ended up running the whole loop, I was taking cola, water, cola water and even bananas.  I never eat bananas on the run, but it looked so good – I figured any calories that looked good, were good.  Now, I’ve got one more loop – I see Kristine, she’s having stomach issues too, I keep on running and I realize that if I can make it to the finish line by 6:10 PM I could go sub 11 hours, this is my new goal and it keeps me motivated and focused.  At about mile 22 I walked an aid station and almost fell over, that was the last time I walked at all, I kept pushing for that 6:10 PM mark and in the last mile I knew it wasn’t happening which really sucked, but I was going to keep running anyways, I turn the corner to head down the finisher shoot, everyone was there cheering me on, I kissed Zoya & Alex, I high fived Stas and brought it home, some dude from QT2 systems sprinted past me, I tried to give him chase but that lasted for about 4 steps – my body was toasty.  And I had a bit of pie to start eating.humble pie


So, before the race I said ER or PR, I basically got ER.  I stopped at the finish line, I could only take a few steps and I just stayed there.  A medical person came and got me, he took me into the med tent and they sat me in a chair.  They offered me things to drink, I couldn’t take anything, I couldn’t focus on anyone or anything, so they moved me to a bed where my arms went tingly, my hands clenched up, my face was numb too and my lips were all puckered, my feet were also tingly.  They hooked up me up with an IV I got two liters of fluids and a massage person helped get my blood flowing.  They had to strip all my clothes off and put me in scrubs, that felt sooooo good to be in something other than my race clothes.  I asked the nurse if she could find Zoya and give her an update, I told her she’s probably waiting for me by the fence and she’s the only tall red headed Ukrainian on the island, no surprise, she had no problem finding her.  Lynn was a great nurse who was from Washington, D.C. who decided she’d rather live in Cozumel forever – I think I can relate. 

I finally felt like I could take in something and they had Cup-O-Noodles; oh baby that sounded so awesome.  I downed a cup, then asked for seconds.  After about an hour in there I had come around pretty well, and they were out of beds, stretchers were coming in with bodies by the dozen, I felt bad for taking up space so I got up and headed out, this tent was crazy, and it was getting worse by the minute.  I headed out, and went home, walking around town in scrubs with a finisher medal.  When I got home, I found out that I went sub 11 after all, this made me happy.

I’ve never suffered so much, never broken so hard, I learned a lot about myself on this course, a lot more than if I went 9:40 and had a perfect race.  This course on this day was far harder than anyone expected, there was a high DNF rate and I found a few limits that I was able to push beyond.

Final time 10:55:44 top 7.4% vs. top 13% at Placid and top 17.4% at Tremblant.

Next Ironman goal is simple – perfect bike execution and great run off the bike.  I know I can go 3:50, if I get better in my running between now and then, maybe even better than that.  The only time I will be focused on is my run time, everything else will be whatever it ends up being.
john and kristineJohn Schaller & Kristine Wooten – Scrubs & Medals baby!

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Are all Ironman Results the Same?

Ever wonder what your time on one Ironman course might be equivalent to on another course?  Or how one year’s performance would compare to another year on the same course?   I’ve looked at this a number of ways; bulk averages, distributions, and age group wins.  All of these approaches give some sort of idea of how races compare but none of them are perfect.   I’ve started to look at the front end of the field as a good indicator of how I would do on a given day for a given year based on my own results.   It is a simplistic view of the results because yes the same field does not show up to and race in the at fitness level all the time.  I do think as an overall comparison this is a pretty good indicator of one’s potential performance across finishing fields and courses.

Let’s take a look at Figure 1.   I’ve plotted finishing time versus finishing place for Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2014.  It’s a simple graph with a very steep slope at the front end of the pack, leveling off to almost linear after the first 50 or so finishers, and then (if shown) would have a steep slope for the back of the pack (last 50-100 finishers).   Almost all races that I’ve looked at have this same characteristic curve making it a normal distribution in statistical terms with small tails at both ends of the curve.

Figure 1Figure 1Figure 1Figure 1 (click graphs for clearer version)

With this simple method we can now take a look at results from different race courses for different years.   Figure 2 shows results from Ironman Coeur d’Alene for 2013 and 2014. It can be seen that the plots, and therefore the results, for the front end of the pack are significantly different between these two years. For example, a 100th place performance required 10:11 and 10:30 in 2013 and 2014, respectively.   Although on the same exact race course,  100th place was much slower in 2014.  Does this mean that the field was that much weaker in 2014?   Most likely not.  In fact, I know 2014 was a very different and more difficult race due to very windy conditions on the swim and bike as I was there and experienced it firsthand.   Overall it can be seen with the “difference line” in green that, in general, IM CdA 2014 was about 20 minutes slower than IM CdA 2013. My 10:05 finish time in 2013 could have been a ~10:22 in 2014 if I had shown up with the same fitness level and had the same level of effort on the course. Since I actually finished in 11:07 in 2014 (equivalent to a 10:47 in 2013) I indeed did have a slower race.  But instead of 62 minutes slower, it was only ~42 minutes slower after adjusting for weather conditions.

 Figure 2Figure 2


Now how about comparing different courses?   Take a look at Figure 3.   Here I’ve plotted IM Florida and IM Coeur d’Alene for 2013.   Like the above analysis for the two different years in Coeur d’Alene, this data suggests that IMFL was between 40 and 50 minutes faster than IM CdA for the front end of the field.  This difference is due to the fact that the bike course for these two races is very different.  IMFL being essentially flat, while IM CdA has some significant climbing with a total of ~6k feet of elevation gain (and loss) leads to the large difference in finish time for a given finishing place.

Figure 3Figure 3


 Figure 4 shows a handful of races in 2013 and how they compare to each other.   This shows how much variation there is for even just the IM course around the US.

figure 4 Figure 4

One final plot of a handful of races from 2014 can be seen in Figure 5.   There are several interesting things that can be seen here. 1) IM Maryland was a “no pro” race.   As a result the pointy end (very steep section in the curve of the first ~10 finishers) is very small compared to the other races. Having no professionals at MD this year significantly reduced the number of outliers at the front of the pack 2) Kona looks like a faster race and it is, but not because the course is easier than other courses but the competition is the best in the world.  In 2014, 395 athletes broke 10 hours even under tough conditions on the Big Island.  3) Chattanooga looks significantly easier than Coeur d’Alene and Maryland, even with a longer bike course.  This is a result of the super fast swim this year.

figure 5Figure 5

 Although this is not a perfect comparison of race results for different courses and different years, it is a quick and easy way of comparing results.   This shows that not all ironman performances are the same.     Yes, there will be some variation in the strength of the field from race to race but overall this is a good measure of the differences in the course difficultly due to various terrain and weather conditions.

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Night Training Etiquette

Bike LightAs Fall arrives the leaves change, the weather turns cooler, and days shorten.  And active people face the choice or training indoors or heading out in the dark and, maybe, cold.  With the advancement of light technology, the choice to train outside has become a more common one.  With all those runners and riders out in the dark, it becomes even more important to train in a way that is safe as well as courteous to cars and other athletes.  A few rules of etiquette to follow:

  1. Be visible.  Even more important than “See where you are going.”  The greatest danger of training in the dark is more from others (cars and athletes) not knowing where you are.  Be visible from the front, the rear and the side with lights and reflective gear.  White lights should aim forward, red lights to the rear or side.  Always good to mount multiple rear blinky lights at multiple heights (helmet, saddle, seat stay) to be sure you can be seen in traffic as well as the open road.

  1. Get a good headlight.  With the prices dropping on excellent headlamp technology, there is no reason not to have a high quality light for cycling and for running.  Don’t head out with a single LED wrapped in a rubber band and expect to see what is coming.

  1. Leave your music at home.  My personal opinion is headphones/ear buds have no place in outdoor training, at any time.  Your hearing is an essential safety mechanism in a world full of unaware drivers and athletes.  Also, if you are relying on music to help pass the time or take your mind off the discomfort, you are not training your mind to do these things on its own on race day.  That, however, is a topic for another post.

At night, your visual safety cues are significantly limited and you need to be able to hear what you can’t see.  If you are rocking out to your favorite tunes, you are then limiting both visual and audible cues that keep you focused and safe.

  1. Wear a hat with good visor if you are going to be anywhere near car traffic.  Being able to tip your head down and shield your eyes from the direct beam of light from a vehicle’s headlights can minimize how much you lose sight of obstacles between you and the vehicle.  This applies to both a running and cycling.  Those short-bill cycling caps may look dorky off the bike, but they can be extremely helpful on it.

  1. Adjust your route to maximize light (street lights) and minimize traffic.  Cars can’t hit you if you aren’t there to hit.

The points above are things you should do any time you are out training at night.  I have a few others specific to those training on multi-use trails such as the W&OD:

  • Cover your light when crossing paths with other people.  That awesome light you purchased from Spokes, Etc. and allows you to see the road like it’s the middle of the day is just as blinding as an automobile headlight to those coming toward you. This is more common with cycling lights than running lights, but it is courteous to do with all lights. Covering the light completely, however, can be unsafe as you can’t see where you are going either.  When you are about 5 seconds from crossing paths, simply lay your hand flat on top of the light with your fingers extended forward.  This shields the oncomer from the top portion of the light that would be shining directly in their eyes and still allows you to see any obstacles directly in front you.
  • Do not ride at night using the strobe setting.  This does NOT make you more visible.  It makes you completely INvisible half the time.  It makes it harder for cars and athletes to judge where you actually are.  It also makes you, and anyone facing your light beam, unable to see half the time.  Turn your light on and leave it on.
  • Don’t be a trail ninja.  That is what I call people (usually runners or walkers) who travel on the W&OD with no reflective gear or lights.  They figure that they can see well enough to not crash into things, so they are fine.  Meanwhile, fast-approaching cyclists have no idea they are there so they can not give audible warning or slow to a safe speed to pass.  Remember Rule #1, be seen – both front and rear, when cycling and when running.
  • Use a bell and give audible warning when passing.  If they know you are coming, other trail users will not be startled and are more likely to move themselves and their pets/children away from where you want to pass.  This rule really applies to any time you are utilizing the trail, but especially so at night.

One last note on blinky tail lights.  At all times you are training, it is far more important to be seen, than to be out of the way.  The reason drivers give most for an automobile/bike collision is, “I never saw them.” Far too often, they are just not looking for us.  One way to help drivers notice you more is to use a blinky light at all times, even in the middle day.  It may not be aero or cool, but it may just keep you from taking an ambulance ride.

Training outside when it gets dark can be an enjoyable and challenging change to your training.  Practice these rules to help keep yourself and others with which you interact safe.

Links to excellent night training gear:

Bike Headlights: http://spokesetc.com/product-list/accessories-1109/lighting-1130/headlights-1133/
Bike TailLights: http://spokesetc.com/product-list/accessories-1109/lighting-1130/taillights-1134/
Running Lights: http://www.nathansports.com/visibility/led-lights



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2014 Triathlon Reflection Part 3 by Nathan Rickman

IronMan World Championships

Arriving in Kona on Tuesday, you are welcomed at the airport by the hot winds, humidity and tons of people walking around in compression and spandex.  My family and I went to the hotel to get settled in and take in all of the surroundings.  One thing I did not do very well was drink enough water and get re-hydrated when I first got there.  With the long flight over there, you get dehydrated quickly.  Compounding that was the heat and humidity of the Hawaiian Islands.  I noticed this on my first run on the Island on Wednesday which started off well enough but was a struggle a few miles in.  

IronMan events in general are very well organized and well run.  The World Championships take that to an entirely new level.  Everything was meticulously planned and staged and the entire area is geared for the event.  It is awesome to see individuals everywhere riding their bikes, running and swimming in the bay.  There are vendors everywhere handing out free stuff and it seems that everyone is catering to the athletes in and around Kona.  There are tons of posters, flags and memorials honoring the past champions and volunteers throughout the area.  The early mornings are highlighted with a crowd gathering around the Bay Wall watching competitors including 3-time Kona Champion Craig Alexander swim in the Bay.  100’s of competitors are in the water around 6:00 am every morning and it continues that way through mid-morning.  The hotel lobby is filled with who’s who in the sport and I got a chance to speak to Rinny (eventual 2014 champ) about the upcoming race and she remembered racing with us at the Multi-sport event in March.  Out on Ali’i Drive, I picked up plenty of free gear and ran alongside guys such as Jan Frodeno who was wearing his red race singlet.  Trying to figure out what to say to someone who runs a 1:09 70.3 run split, is an Olympic champion, took 2nd at the 70.3 World Championships a few weeks earlier and would take 3rd at Kona in his debut, I mustered, “How is it going?” NathanSign NB

It wasn’t until I checked in my bike, run and gear bags on Friday afternoon that I caught up in the enormity of the event.  I walked down Ali’I drive trying to soak it all in and prepare myself for the day ahead.  I knew I belonged there and just needed to execute the plan. 

Race Morning – I woke up at 3:00 am on race morning and had a fairly good night sleep. Staying in the King K hotel is super convenient (not to mention having your own personal bathroom only a few minutes away).  I went downstairs through the body marking, scale weigh-ins and got last minute things prepped on bike including pumping up tires and putting nutrition on the bike.  The organization and flow of everything was amazing.  After all final preparations had been made we had a fly over with parachute jumpers and the gun goes off for the Pro men at 6:25 am, followed 5 minutes later by the Pro females.  The male Age Groupers were 20 minutes after that and it takes that long to get all of us in the water.  I lined up a few rows back in the middle.  I knew it was going to be a competitive swim, but this isn’t for the faint of heart.  It truly is a meat grinder (especially given my swim pace).  I was literally on top (or under) people for the entire 2.4 miles.  All of the wonderful sea life that had been very visible during the practice swims was no longer visible and ocean was noticeably choppier than on previous days (although not much different than the Choptank River back in Cambridge – just warmer, and much more clear).  As I come into the finish of the swim, I have delusions that I had fairly good swim time, only to look down and see a 1:11 on my watch – 2 min slower than IMMD.  Turns out that most of the Age Group swims were 4 – 5 minutes slower than the previous year, but even with that, I was just barely in the top 1,000 coming out of the water – 998th overall.  Time to get to work.  Kona Swim start NB

The bike does a loop through Kailua-Kona before it hits the Queen K on an out and back.  I had ridden about 25 miles of the course out of town on my Thursday training ride.  Out past the airport is where it gets interesting.  We had a little bit of a tailwind and I started to get into my groove and my power kept increasing.  Anyone who thinks that the Kona Bike Course is flat, hasn’t ridden it.  The course has 4600 feet of elevation gain which can be found throughout the ride.  The biggest percentage climb on the ride is 6%, so nothing steep, but continuous rollers.  4600 feet over 112 miles isn’t that bad, it is the wind that is killer out there.  Apparently this was the toughest wind in at least the last 15 years according to multiple competitors.  The only certainty on the course is that it will be hot and windy, since everyone is dealing with the same conditions, you can either embrace them or complain about them.   I was embracing the wind, although staying upright on my bike was a bit tricky a number of times.  The bike course required complete concentration and awareness throughout.  The winds would change direction and if you were not ready, they would knock you off your bike.  At a few points it felt like we riding in a wind tunnel – not moving, just pedaling.  After about 45 minutes into the ride, I really picked up the wattage into the wind and was passing large groups of people.  Numerous individuals were getting penalized for drafting. Kona Bike NB

With the wind conditions, people were really getting bunched out there and I just kept my head down and rolled through them.  For just under 2 hours, my Normalized Power was 273 watts and average was 268 watts with an average heart rate of 160 and cadence of 83. On the climb to Hawi, I saw Apollo Ohno and was surprised that he was that far up.  Turns out he had me in the swim by 11 minutes.  On the way back down from Hawi, I ran out of gears (I am going to ride a bigger chain ring next year – I had a 53/39 with a 11/25 cassette this year) and had a 6 mile section where I averaged 36 mph.  On the way back, I was still passing people, but not as frequently as I had been on the way out.  There were times I was struggling and beginning to feel the effects of having done an IronMan 3 weeks previously.  I kept pushing, but my average wattage dropped.   Getting back on the Queen K, we had a wonderful tailwind again around Waikoloa and I thought we might have this tailwind all the way home – figuring I would average 35 mph the entire way home – I was ecstatic. Of course, that didn’t last long and the wonderful tailwind quickly turned into a cross wind and then head wind.  The last hour, I had to really push even though my wattage was dropping.  I also got some serious cramps in my toes and stomach during the last hour of the ride.  I ended up with a Normalized Power of 256 watts for the ride and 245 watts average, HR average of 157 and Cadence of 84.  The cadence was a little lower due to the few times where I ran out of gears and just tucked in aero.  I was 10 watts less than at Maryland, but I was also out on the course for 25 more minutes, so the load (TSS) was slightly higher.  I ended up with the 6th fastest bike split in my Age Group and passed 825 people overall on the bike!    Given that these were the best triathletes in the world, I was very pleased with that.

Coming into transition, I was 173rd overall and 37th in my Age Group.  I had a terrible cramp in my left toes that really caused me to struggle running through T2 (which you have to run around the entire pier).  Sitting down in the changing booth, I drank 4 glasses of water / perform, put on my run gear and ran out.  My cramp quickly worked its way out in my shoes and I was able to settle into a more comfortable stride.  I didn’t really have any lower back pain and my feet (other than the cramp) were not bothering me.  Success!  While I was feeling better in the areas where I was limited in my previous races, my legs were much more tired however, and a few miles into the run, I knew it was going to be a long run and I had mentally resigned to just finishing and no longer worrying about my time or who passed me.  I was certainly struggling on the run and had to walk through many of the aid stations.  For whatever reason, my run data was lost on my watch, so I do not have HR / Cadence and mile splits, but generally my HR was in the mid to high 150’s and even 160’s.  Kona Run NB

Right before I made the turn to go up Palani, I saw my family, turned around and gave them a hug and a kiss.  I needed the inspiration from them and wanted to thank them for all the sacrifices that they had made for me.   As I ran up Palani Drive (that hill is no joke 11 miles into the run), I saw Sebastian Kienle coming down and realized he would win.  A few minutes later I spotted Ben Hoffman, Jan, Andy Potts, Fredrick and Crowie who was having some hamstring cramping.  A mile or 2 down the road I saw Tim O’Donnell walking.  For these guys, it is podium or bust.  Rinny hadn’t passed Ryf yet, but was gaining on her and I knew it was going to be a close finish.

Running down the Queen K, I started feeling a little better (realized on the way back it was a nice tail wind that I was experiencing at the time).  I also looked at my watch for the first time for the overall race time and calculated that I needed to run Sub 9’s for the remainder of the race to break 10 hours.  Normally, I would think that this would be easy, but I was physically spent.  I was able to pick up the pace and ran roughly 7:30 – 8:00 /mile leading up to and down the Energy Lab (nice downhill).  I hit the turnaround and thought I had sub 10 in the bag and was going to start really pushing it.  Then the headwind started and the 1 mile+ climb out of the energy lab.  This portion of the race is where you have serious self-doubts and I questioned if I could break 10 hours.  I thought, just get to the top of this hill and it is net downhill for the next 10K – just need to get to the top.  I turned the corner after climbing the hill and expected my speed to pick up dramatically.  I looked down at my watch and was surprised at my pace which was hovering around 9:00 / mile.  How could this be, I was running downhill?  That tailwind on the way out that gave me that nice shot of energy, was now laughing at me, sapping what strength I had left.  I was yo-yoing throughout this section where my pace would get better, and then would slip back.  I was going to run the next few aid stations and not slow down (I didn’t walk any part of the course except for the aid stations).  I was able to do this until the last climb before Palani.  I took in some fluids, took a deep breath and told myself to suck it up.  From this point on, it was all mental.  I wasn’t passed by anyone else and was the one doing the passing.  I pushed up the hill, hit the downhill on Palani and knew I just needed to keep my legs underneath me.  I hit the 25 mile mark and wasn’t going to let up.  The crowds kept building and they were 3 and 4 deep.  When I hit Ali’i Drive, it was completely blocked off you felt like you were in a Tour de France finish line.  There was music and 1,000’s of people screaming.  I was able to spot my family as I was running down the chute, but unlike 16 miles earlier, I had business to attend to.  I was going to pick off everyone I could and finished the only way I knew how.  I gave it everything I had and probably passed a good 10 – 15 people in the last ½ mile.  I crossed the line in 9:52:44, 326th place overall and 67th in my Age Group.  Kona Finish NB

Overall, I was pleased with my race having broken 10 hours given my body of work over the past five weeks.  Shaving 10 minutes off of my time would have moved me up over 100 places overall.  Shaving 20 minutes off of my time would have put me in top 150 overall and top 35 in my Age Group.  With another year under my belt and many more lessons learned, I have high expectations for next year.  Having the experience of racing in Kona this year, my focus will be on placing very high in my Age Group next year.  Working with Shelly and my teammates on Team FeXY, I think that is an achievable goal.  I am going to improve my swim this off season, do a lot of power work to improve my bike, have a more focused training year (without going off the reservation) and look to continue to improve my run form and efficiency.   I am definitely thirsty for more and looking forward to seeing what I can do. 

You need to follow your heart in this sport and have a strong support team.  I very thankful for everyone who has and continues to help me along my journey to see how far I can push myself.   

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2014 Triathlon Reflection Part 2 by Nathan Rickman

Crunch Time – Real racing season!

The end of my season was going to be 3 races in five weeks with the last 2 being IronMan’s.  I knew I needed to get in some strong training to accomplish the goals that I had set for myself.  At the beginning of August, we had a family vacation out in the Midwest.  I took the opportunity to enjoy the heartland and packed in 336 miles of hard riding (Strava is very addicting), 76 miles of running and 1 swim session over an 8 day period.  I came back a little tired, but re-energized about my prospects.  I had two simulation days over the next 2 weeks including a big training weekend up at Deep Creek Lake, followed up by another 100 mile ride w/ brick and a 20 mile run the following weekend.   I was tired, but felt that I had put in all the preparation I could for my 5 week racing schedule. 

The two weeks leading up to Reston, I didn’t know if my body would be ready in time to have the performance I was looking for – still fatigued from the load I had put on it over the past few months.  I had a few very poor workouts, but Shelly kept me positive and on track.  I really wanted to win the Reston Triathlon and was looking forward to it.  All of my performances for the year had been ok, but nothing great. 

One of things that I began looking at a few weeks before Reston was cycling cadence of the top pros.  I had seen a few articles where the pros had cadences in the 80’s for their races and just assumed that was just one or two of them.  The more I looked at it, almost all of the pros were riding cadences in the high 80’s for their races – both 70.3’s and 140.6 distances.  I had made a very conscious effort over the past year to get my cadence right at 100 for my races.  Shelly had noted when she first started working with me, that she thought this was high.  I had thought that I was able to put out more power with a higher cadence, but hadn’t realized the cardiovascular impacts of riding that way and my HR being very elevated for long periods of time.  Although late in the season, I was now making a conscious effort to ride a slower cadence and higher gear.

Reston Olympic
Reston Tri1 NB
When I came out of the water, I was told that I was five minutes down on the leader.  I was initially in a little bit of funk, feeling that I swam fairly well, but upset that I had lost five minutes in a 1.5K swim.  As I came around the 1st lap of the bike, (3 lap bike course), Shelly told me that I was 3.5 minutes down and I thought to myself, let’s do this!  I picked up the pace and started flying.  A few miles down the road, I saw Eric Sorenson (Team FeXY & five time Reston Triathlon champion) and told myself that this was my race to win and I was going to do it right now.  I was making a statement to those around me and myself.   I caught the leader on the 3rd loop and ended with the fastest bike split by almost five minutes.  Since it was an out and back run, I knew I had a sizable lead in the race, however I saw Kevin Wright coming strong on the run and realized he started in the wave behind me (90 seconds back).  Having experience from Maritime earlier this year, I pushed the last 2 miles after seeing Kevin and ending up securing the victory with my kids, niece and nephew yelling for me over the loud speaker as I came around the final lap on the track.  Kevin ended up 2nd and FeXY took 1st and 2nd overall.   I was very pleased with my results and effort and buoyed by the fact that I did not have any back issues on the run.  I started getting excited for Maryland which was less than 2 weeks away.
Reston Olympic: 1st Overall, Fastest bike split by almost 5 minutes.
Reston Tri NB
With Maryland being my first IronMan event since Arizona the previous year where I had significant Nutrition / GI / Back issues, I was looking to greatly improve and thought if I could put everything together I would have a potential shot at an Age Group victory and even a high placing overall.  My preparation for the race went well, everything felt good going into the race and I was excited about my prospects. I felt much more knowledgeable about this race as opposed to my first one 10 months prior.  

IronMan Maryland Maryland Bike NB

It was a rolling start in water where everyone self-seeded themselves.  I wanted to be up closer to the front, right behind the 1 hour and under swimmers.  The Choptank River, was, as always, a little choppy, but I felt that I had a pretty good swim.  I looked down at my watch exiting the water and it read 1:09.  Five minutes slower than Arizona.  I wasn’t happy with that, especially given all of the swimming I have been doing this year, but I let it go very quickly and began focusing on my transition and getting on the bike.  Once on the bike, there were a series of turns before we got out to the main road that I had ridden a few times in preparation.  I navigated some of the turns that could potentially cause issues and was cautious of those in front of me, not wanting a repeat of the beginning of Raleigh.  Coming out of the swim 110th overall, I was passing a number of people on the bike in the beginning.  By the end of the 1st loop, I was in 4th place overall, and was feeling great on the bike.  My Normalized power for the 1st loop was 274 watts with an average cadence of 88 and Heart Rate of 156 bpm.  When I told Shelly the numbers as I passed I thought her head was going to explode and she was going to tackle me right there.  I then got a few not so subtle reminders to keep things in check and I dialed it back a little on 2nd loop.  I was closing on the leader who had a 19 minute lead coming out of the water and entered T2 in 2nd place and four minutes down.  My overall Normalized Power was 266 watts and average power of 264 watts (really backed off last 5 miles). 

I finished with a 4:29 bike split, 7:17 ahead of the 2nd fastest bike split in the race.  I might have been riding just a tad hot in the beginning, but I never felt like I was killing it.  Overall, my average cadence was 86 and HR was 155 bpm. My peak 30 sec wattage was 346 and peak 1:00 min was 323 watts.  Given that I held 280 watts for an hour and 277 watts for 90 min, means I was very consistent.  I do wish I would have trained more at a lower cadence – something to work on for next year.  Comparing this to my IMAZ race last year – 246 NP, 241 avg watts, 1.02 VI, 99 cadence, 157 avg. HR.  In addition to Cadence being 13 RPM less (that is a big deal), HR was 2 beats lower with 20 additional watts NP and 23 avg. watts higher.  I produced 8%+ more power at a lower cardiovascular cost!  

1979897_10204851866405712_4588728698664777523_nI came out of T2 with my own personal bike escort – top 3 male and female runners have bike escort during the run and began trying to reel in the leader.  I kept a consistent pace and was not trying to really push it.  My feet were really hurting – both the sides of my feet and my toes.  I was in a fairly significant amount of pain.  My lower back was also really tight, but that worked itself out about 5 to 6 miles in the run (although the feet continued to hurt throughout and were in bad shape after the race).  I passed the guy in 1st place around mile 10 and held onto 1st place through mile 16 when the eventual winner overtook me.  I never really thought about trying to stick with him when he passed me as I still had 10 miles to go and he was going a good bit faster than I was.  That would have been a different story had it been with 3 or 4 miles to go.  I would have definitely tried to stick with him at that point and really buried myself.  I couldn’t have done it for 10 miles, but it would have been interesting had it been on the last lap – specifically after the turn around on the last lap.  I would have had to have gone really deep, but I would have liked to have seen who was willing to go deeper at that point.  I almost feel bad to say it, but when he passed me with 10 miles to go, I didn’t want to let him go, but knew it was the right move for that race and for Kona.  It would have been a futile effort and could have ended IMMD differently (for the worse) and most assuredly would end Kona differently.
Maryland Finish NB

My run was almost 15 minutes faster at IMMD than IMAZ and a world of difference.  My lower back was hurting just like at IMAZ, but it didn’t get worse and I kept running with my butt up underneath me and it got better after 4 – 6 miles.  The outside arches of my feet were really hurting and never got better.  I felt like I had a very consistent pace – never pushing it hard – just going continuous.  Avg. Cadence of 90, Avg. HR of 158 and 7:24 avg on the Garmin with a short bathroom stop.  I stopped at every aid station and got water, perform and coke.  I took 3 strawberry gels and then 3 tangerine gels on the run as well.

I was about 2:30 slower for the 2nd ½ of the run vs. the 1st ½.  Ideally, I would like to negative split or be even in each ½, but 2.5 minutes difference isn’t bad.  I ran a 7:18 / mile avg. for the 1st ½ and 7:31 / mile avg. for the 2nd ½.  Interesting that my HR avg. was the same for both ½’s of the race.  

I saw Shelly at mile 22 and she said that I had had a chance to go sub 9 hours.  I hadn’t really thought about that during the run, although I knew I was close.  It was in my mind on the bike after the 1st lap, but I never looked at where I was at until after she told me.  I looked at my watch and saw that I needed to run around 8:00 / mile for the last 4 miles to be under 9 hours for the race.  I decided to start pushing it a little. I hadn’t really pushed the run up until that point.  I was trying to run a controlled, hard pace, but not digging deep.  I started to dig a little bit harder at that point and my laps went 7:30, 7:22, 7:21, 7:02 and then a 6:30 for the final lap.  I still wasn’t trying to kill myself as I knew I wasn’t catching the guy in front and 3rd place was way behind me.  I just wanted to finish solid and be comfortably under 9 hours.  

I finished 2nd overall with a time of 8:56:21 and the fastest bike split by 7 minutes and 17 seconds.  Breaking 9 hours was a significant accomplishment and one of the goals I had set for myself in my triathlon career.  Third place was 11 minutes and 30 seconds behind me.  I was ecstatic with my results and felt that I had put together a really good effort overall.  Additionally, I qualified for Kona in 2015.

I spent the next two weeks recovering and getting ready for the World Championships.  I was determined to figure out what was wrong with my feet.  I had assumed the pain was something that everyone had to go through in Endurance Events and was just part of racing.  After seeing a Podiatrist, I realized that both my biking shoes and running shoes were too small.  I know what you are thinking – how can someone who has ridden over 16,000 miles and run over 2,500 miles in the past 2 years not know that their shoes did not fit properly?  Some of it was just thinking I needed to toughen up.  Some of it was thinking that my form was just bad and part of it was that many of these problems didn’t really manifest until significant volume had been reached.  Additionally, swelling during race settings plays a significant impact.  I headed directly to PRR and tried out larger running shoes and ultimately selected a different brand as it turns out I have a very wide foot.  I also ordered larger / wider bike shoes which showed up a few days before I left for Kona.  Additionally, I started going to physical therapy where I realized that my hip flexors were “the tightest that they had ever seen”.  Turns out much of my back pain could be attributed to tight hip flexors and my hip alignment problem that I had earlier in the year.  Armed with bigger shoes, identification of the causes of many of my alignments, and a series of new stretches, I was ready to tackle the next challenge, Kona.

The next weekend, two of my good buddies and Team FeXY Teammates qualified for the 2015 World Championships in Kona as well. Kevin Wright by winning his Age Group by over 20 minutes, powered by the fastest Age Group Marathon time by over 3 minutes at Chattanooga; and Drew Gaibler by digging deep on the run and finishing 4th in a tough age group – overcoming multiple leg injuries and a poorly timed wedding / house move.  As I got ready to leave, my workouts were feeling good and I felt that I was going to be recovered well for the race.  

Next up Kona!

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2014 Triathlon Reflection Part 1 By Nathan Rickman

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….

Multi-Sport Expo

Multi-sport expo NB

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.   

BRBC 2014 500 Mile Club NB


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.  

Day 2:
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.  


Day 3:
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.  
Maritime Tri NBTwo 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.  Raleigh Awards NBI 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.
Total 200 NB

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.  

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Ironman Chattanooga 2014 Race Report – A Dream Fulfilled


I woke up on race morning at 4:30 am for the 7:30-8 am start.  Got dressed quickly and had my standard race morning breakfast: a bagel with peanut butter and OJ.  Felt like I could use a few more calories so brought a banana and granola bar in my bag to take to the swim start.  After getting dropped off near transition I set off to take care of the usual things.  Got body marked, put air in the tires, set up bottles and bike computer, etc.  However, I did make a point to revisit my bike and run bags so I could add my planned nutrition to each one and internalize their locations one last time.  Met up with Mom, Coach Shelly, and some of the team to take the shuttles over to the swim start.  Spent a lot of time waiting in the line to swim, but this was by design.  Shelly advised her athletes to start a little further back in the line to allow for some racers out in front to pass.  The wait was like an eternity.  Although I honestly did not feel that nervous, I seemed to pick up some of the collective anxiety that seemed to be floating in the air.  

Swim – 50:04

Once I hit the water, any nervousness I built up was released.  I had been really ready to get started.  

IMCHOO Swim Warmup

At the last minute I miraculously secured a swimskin that fit me just about perfectly while waiting in line for the start, courtesy of teammate Drew Smith who opted for his wetsuit.  This turned out to be a good move in the end, as I felt smooth and incredibly relaxed in the swim.  I had a little trouble staying straight with somewhat foggy goggles and bumped into a kayak or two.  Tried not to let this bother me and did my best to keep swimming steady and sighting to locate the next buoy.  I was able to relax enough to pee a couple times before making the turn out of the river and into transition.

T1 – 7:20

Was pretty pumped about my swim time (as I’m sure many racers were) when I entered T1.  Found my bike bag without any trouble and headed in to change.  I shimmied out of the swimskin and switched from the tri shorts I wore into dry bike shorts for more padding.  Also spent some time putting on my bike jersey over my tri top to increase my nutrition-carrying ability.  Threw on my socks, shoes, glasses, helmet, and ran out to mount the bike.  Although I figured it was worth it to make sure I had everything set for the long ride, in looking back I need to quicken this process up somehow.

Bike – 5:15:23

The plan that Coach and I came up with was to start off riding the first loop of the bike a little easier, aiming for 210 normalized power.  Then I was to work a bit harder in the second loop and finish with 220 NP.  Perhaps inevitably, I started out with lots of energy and had my NP into the high 200 teens within the first hour.  Recognizing I was riding a bit too hard and backing off may have saved my race.  I managed the watts down to 213 by the end of loop one and tried to start building back up gently.  I was reminded of how much harder it is to increase NP this way, and could only add four watts by the end to finish with 217.  Despite this result I was encouraged by the fact that I came close to the original plan and did not fade on power like many of my long training rides this summer.  Things also went fairly well nutritionally as I stuck very close to the planned schedule of ingesting solid calories every 30 minutes, a bottle of water/Gatorade mix every 40 minutes, and a couple of salt pills every 60 minutes.  This turned out to be a comfortable stream of solid and fluid calories that I had practiced with all season and did not upset my stomach.  The one exception to this came at special needs.  While the volunteer who grabbed my bag for me switched my bottles (she was awesome) I pounded a PB&J.  I’ve found that my stomach can handle this amount of food with no issue mid-race and this time was no exception.  Felt refreshed and rejuvenated coming out of special needs.  My biggest issue on the ride was probably the fact that no matter how hard I tried, I could not force myself to pee on the bike while moving.  I still have yet to do that in training but thought if I let it go long enough it would just happen… nope.  Heading out for loop two it was to the point where I felt like I was sacrificing power and drinking less fluid because I was thinking so much about it.  Finally I gave in and pulled over around mile 70, thinking I could make it the rest of the way and go once more in T2.  This will be something to work on for next race, as well as cutting down the minute or two I spent at special needs.  If I could get all extra nutrition that I can’t carry from the course I might be able to keep the bike moving for the entire time.  

T2 – 5:23

I felt an undeniable sense of relief as I rolled into T2, having put down what I thought was a more than acceptable bike split.  The relief was also there due to how I was feeling in my legs, mentally, and nutritionally.  This is not to say I was without fatigue, but otherwise it was all systems go.  After passing my bike to a volunteer, I took off for my run bag.  I probably got too focused on taking off my helmet, because I ended up with too much speed to be running in cleats when I reached my bag.  The combination of trying to stop and bend down for the pickup took me straight to the pavement.  In retrospect, this moment could have been a lot worse.  I broke my fall softly and the elbow that made contact luckily did not split open or bruise.  I bounced back up and tried to act like nothing happened, making my way into the changing tent.  Transition continued to go smoothly as the volunteer assisting me revealed a race belt with a broken snap on one side.  This volunteer guy spared me from miles and hours of aggravation as he quickly thought of tying up that side as the solution.  As he was figuring that out, I hurriedly tied up my trainers… only to realize I was still wearing my bike shorts.  Too much pinging around in an adrenalized brain.  I took a deep breath and got everything straight.  Stuffed the four gels and salt tube in my tri top pockets, thanked my volunteer profusely (found him after the race and did so again!) and made my bathroom stop.  Finally, I headed out.

Run – 3:04:28

Predictably, I was overly excited to be on my feet and running.  On my way out I made eye contact with Mom, who told me I was only 8 minutes out of first in the age group.  I was astounded at this news and this surely added fuel to the competitive fire that was now raging inside me.  I saw Coaches Shelly and Scott on the first hill who both told me to relax. 

IMCHOO Amicola Highway

A few minutes later I clicked off mile 1 at a 6:37.  I said some things out loud to myself that should not be repeated here, but a few miles later I had myself under control.  I began to hit consistent splits that were between 7 and 7:15.  For nutrition, I took one Roctane GU every 45-50 minutes and one lick from the salt tube every 60 minutes.  I took water at every aid station, drinking a variable amount based on how I was feeling and dumping the rest on my head and face.  I also had Perform whenever I thought I needed it, which was at least every other station.  The next time I saw the support crew, I was told the race was there for me if I continued at that pace.  Shelly urged me to keep it up but be conservative.  I let this information sink in a bit and for the first time began to consider the implications of the day I was having.  A fresh wave of adrenaline came washing over me as I made my way across the river to the hilly part of the course.  This was the part of the course I had been specifically visualizing in my preparation and could not wait to get back to after running it during camp.  I did my best to soak in the moments, smiling and reacting to those cheering for me.  After coming back across for the start of loop two I ran by Shelly and Scott again, who encouraged me and affirmed that I was building a lead.  Never having been in that kind of position before, I did not know how to react other than to keep doing what I was doing.  Nutrition was going well and my legs were holding up fine.  At the halfway point I checked in under 93 minutes, which was around what I was hoping for to have a shot at sub-3 hours.  It was not until mile 16 or so that I started yearning for the end.  My pace remained the same, but each mile required more effort than the last.  Stubbornly refusing to back off, I hit the hills again hard but was greeted with jelly in the legs.  All of a sudden I had run 7:40 and 8:05 miles- but fortunately did not have much race left to go. 

IMCHOO Pedestrian Bridge

I ran the rest of them all around 7:30 to complete a slight positive split.  Definitely glad I did not need to really bury myself for any reason as I would have suffered much more in the final 10K. 

Summary – 9:22:38 – 34thOA – 1stAG

Coming through that finishing chute was equivalent to the greatest natural high you might find on earth.  I now have a much better appreciation for what it takes to perform at the full-Iron distance.  This result was everything I could have hoped for and more.  Although I did know going into the race that qualifying for Kona was somewhat possible, it was still more of a dream or long-term goal in my mind.  It was a motivator for me to think about while training and during the race, but not to an overwhelming extent.  I felt very little pressure as I would have considered simply reaching the finish line a landmark achievement.  In my reflections of the past year of training and the race itself, I have come to the conclusion that there is no comparison to Ironman.  Everything about an Ironman is on a grander scale from the work it demands be put in to the rewards it gives out.  The conquest of life’s greatest challenges is what sets us apart as humans.  Completing any feat of such magnitude as an Ironman is a testament to what we can be capable of.  Being a part of this side of humanity is what excites me and drives me day in and day out.  And the best thing is, there is always another challenge ahead… 

IMCHOO Kona Slots

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