Thursday, August 4, 2016

Ironman Vineman '16 ft. Late Entry Shenanigans!

Hello world! I’ll be completely honest; I haven’t thought about this blog in a long time. It’s a shame, really. I may not have signed up for any 2016 triathlons, but I’m still out there running (a little bit), cycling (an okay amount) and swimming (quite a lot, actually). I outlined some goal races at the beginning of the year and they were all swimming-focused. After watching friends push themselves in a variety of summer races, I found myself jonesing for the adrenaline rush that only triathlon seems to produce.

The arc of the training season (if you can call it that) has been an interesting one. I started by swimming almost exclusively to the tune of 20–25 thousand yards per week for… months! I peaked in March before an overuse injury derailed me through April and into May. By that time, I had picked up cycling again in a fairly casual sense, and started slowly mixing in short runs on what would otherwise have been rest days.

July was a particularly good month. Not only did a bunch of friends post great performances in a bunch of cool races, but I managed to ramp up my cycling a bit, too. I started to feel pretty fit! And then, as luck would have it, Facebook told me that Ironman Vineman hadn’t sold out.

Long-time readers may remember Ironman Vineman from 2011. It was my second Ironman-distance race, though it wasn’t owned by Ironman at the time. But more importantly, it was the race that ended in a finish-line proposal to my then-girlfriend, now-wife, Kristine.

So here we are at the end of July. I’m feeling reasonably fit (or at least as fit as I’m going to feel this year) and I find out that there’s an Ironman race in less than a week. It’s within two hours of my home and it’s not sold out.

So I sign up. NBD.

Crazy time! The next few days become a blur of logistics and wrangling as I scramble to organize all of the things one needs to organize for an Ironman triathlon. After all, organization is triathlon’s fourth discipline! Kristine, supportive as always, set out with me on Friday afternoon. We took care of errands, stocked up on food and sunscreen, slammed a triple-with-cheese at In n' Out and crashed with friends in Guerneville the night before.

In what felt like the span of a few breaths, it was race day!

The Swim (51.13 — View on Strava)

Compared to other Ironman race mornings, this one was fairly relaxed. Warmish water and laziness convinced me to skip the wetsuit and tackle the swim in the manliest of attire: a Speedo. And not just any Speedo, either... The metal studs were a big hit on the starting line!

My approach to the race was fairly simple: keep it calm and controlled. In Tahoe, I went all-out on the swim with the intent to win. At Vineman, I settled into the second pack (two fast women and one dude who wouldn’t stop tapping my feet) and maintained a strong but steady tempo. The water was perfect — still and calm — and the one-loop course meant I didn’t have to swim through any packs of slower athletes. All in all, this might have been my most enjoyable Ironman swim ever!
I was eighth out of the water at 51 minutes or so. Like last year, I took my time in transition to use the restroom, change into a full cycling kit and apply an ample amount of sunscreen before setting out for the 112-mile ride.

The Bike (5:56.09 — View on Strava)

Having done the full race in 2011 and the half-distance race in 2013 (and ridden the course a number of other times), I knew what to expect. Unlike other races, I went into this one with absolutely NO aero equipment — not even an aero helmet! I was in full roadie-mode and got a few shout-outs as strong cyclists zipped by on finely-tuned time trial machines. As with the swim, my plan was to keep calm on the bike and control my output.

Road bikes are so much slower than time trial bikes on flat-to-rolling courses like this one, but I think I handled myself fairly well. I bet a time trial bike would have saved me 20–25 minutes across Vineman's 112 miles, but that's neither here nor there! Average power on my first lap? 196W. Average power on my second lap? 190W. Given that I hadn’t ridden more than 80 miles all year, I’d say that’s pretty damn consistent!

The sun came out a bit earlier than I had hoped — probably before 10am — and things started to heat up quickly. I tried to eat, drink and reapply sunscreen as often as possible, taking on water at every aid station and sticking to solid foods until the final 30 miles. Even with my controlled strategy and calorie intake, I started to flag by the end and was happy to pull into Windsor just under the six-hour mark and be done with the long and lonely bike leg.

My performance on the bike is about what I expected it to be given the heat, my preparedness and equipment. If anything, it shows me just how strong I was going into Ironman Lake Tahoe last year, where I posted a slightly faster time on a significantly harder course.

The Run (4:34.26 — View on Strava)

I took my time in the second transition too, changing out of my cycling attire and into running gear. I hadn’t run more than five or six miles in a go this year, so my strategy going into the final leg of the race was to run a bit and walk a bit for as long as my legs would allow. I resolved to walk every aid station, and essentially adhere as best I could to a 6–8 minute run/3–4 minute walk schedule. When I was running, I was running at about 8 minutes/mile pace; when I was walking, it was about 16 minutes/mile.

I figured my legs would start to fail after a few cycles, but I was pleasantly surprised to find myself rounding out of the first of three 9-mile laps with some spring in my step!

Despite some pretty extreme heat (and almost total lack of shade!), the final two laps weren’t nearly as bad as I expected. I kept on running and walking and running and walking, enjoyed a bunch of conversations with similarly-situated run-walkers, and availed myself of water and Gatorade (but NOT cola!) at every aid station. Before I knew it, a light, cooling breeze had picked up and I found myself in the home stretch.

The finish line of an Ironman is always exhilarating. The two most prevalent emotions are pride and relief. I found Kristine easily, high-fived Alex and Ashley who’d come out to support, and did my best to enjoy those final moments of the race. I always tell myself I’ll just walk down that finisher’s chute and really, really bask in the moment, but once I’m actually there, I’m always carried away in the wash of cheer and excitement.

I zipped across the line quicker than intended, collected by finisher’s medal and sought my friends and loved-ones on the grass to relate the day’s experience. My final time was 11:38.43, and considering I originally expected to finish closer to 13 hours, I'll take it!


Despite (or perhaps because of) only signing up a few days earlier, the whole experience was actually rather enjoyable. The swim was a definite high point, as was the end of the first lap of the run; the last quarter of the ride and end of the second lap of the run were low points. Much to my surprise, I was WAY less sore than expected — I found myself moving around pretty well after the race, walking almost normally the next day! Weird. And awesome!

So… what did we learn? OVERRATED: long rides and runs, training plans, wetsuits on the swim, quick transitions, cola on the run. UNDERRATED: aero bikes and equipment, three-lap run courses, solid (and savory) food, sunscreen, shade. Being able to sleep IN MY OWN BED the night after an Ironman triathlon was priceless. Seeing Kristine’s smiling face at ANY point on the course: even more priceless.

I’ve been ribbed quite a bit about whether or not I was actually “retired” from triathlon. I think that successfully completing this race on minimal preparation bodes well for the future. I’m probably retired from lots of hard training, and it might be a while before I’m even able to reach my current level of fitness again, but that doesn’t mean I can’t finish an Ironman and (mostly) enjoy the process. Am I retired? No, not really. I’ll see where I am next year, and if there are still open Vineman slots come July ‘17, you just might see me towing the line on race day!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

#IMTahoe '15 Race Report

I finished my ninth Ironman race on Sunday! It was one of the more enjoyable (and least stressful) races I've ever done. I think the relaxed approach that I outlined on Saturday paid off: when I crossed the line, I was still smiling and mostly coherent!


I started the day with two Macro bars and a quart of neon-green Gatorade, got dressed and set out for the swim start with Kristine. It was cold (45°) and dark when we arrived, but I quickly got down to business. Before every race, I check my tires and put my water bottles in their cages.

I don't often check my transition bag, but I'm glad I did! A bear (yes, a bear) had rummaged through the transition area over night; he feasted on more than a few athletes' race day nutrition, mine included. There wasn't much I could do, but it was nice to assimilate that news before the gun went off than after.

The Swim (47:41 — View on Strava)

Wetsuit on, I gave Kristine a kiss goodbye and made my way to the front of the swim-start line. The cannon fired and we were off. The water was calm and clear and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. The sun peaking over the hills behind us lit the swim buoys up like lights. Conditions couldn't have been better!

With seconds, I was at the front of the group. After a minute, I seemed to be swimming alone off the front of the race. I don't typically swim away from the pack; I usually try to conserve energy by trading pulls with some of the other strong swimmers in the field. Not this time. Oddly, I found myself listing to the left with some consistently and had to course-correct often before adjusting my stroke accordingly. 

Can I sustain this pace for 2.4 miles? I asked myself repeatedly throughout. I expected a large group of fast-moving swimmers to come around me at any minute, but they never did. Before long, I had passed the final buoy and was rounding in on the finishing arch. I came out of the water in a full sprint, determined to prevent anyone from stealing the win from me at the last second. 

I crossed the line to cheers from a massive crowd, and heard them announcing (exclaiming!) over the loudspeaker. I had just completed my best-ever Ironman swim: 47 minutes and 41 seconds, and emerged first overall.

Smiling and self-satisfied, I took a casual approach to transition. I toweled off and changed into a dry cycling kit. I put on my shoes, assessed the bear's impact on my nutrition strategy, and clop-clopped my way out onto the bike mount line.

The Ride (5:51:35 — View on Strava)

Normally, I'd be saddling up on a speed machine: a time-trial bike with aerobars and deep-dish wheels. Not this time. This time, I decided to ride my regular road bike with my regular training wheels and my regular set-up. I'd sold my triathlon bike and just didn't feel like tinkering with my road bike for one ride.

Riding the road bike in a triathlon was somewhat liberating. It freed me from the need to be truly competitive with other cyclists on the road. I had a built-in excuse, and I could use that excuse to keep my power output at a reasonable level. 

That's not to say I didn't push. I actually surprised myself by averaging over 19 miles per hour over a 112-mile course that was definitely not flat. I felt very strong through the first lap, paused briefly on the second to remove some layers and add some sunscreen, and only started to flag as I approached the Brockway climb (7.1% average grade over 2.7 miles) for the second time.

Nutrition-wise, I made do. Thanks to that bear, I didn't have anything with me, so I was forced to rely entirely on whatever they had on course. Looking back, I think I managed to grab a Clif bar, two gels, three small packs of chews and half of a banana on the go. 

All I ever find myself thinking across the final twenty miles of the ride is: Is this ride over yet?! By that point, I'm usually tired and ready to be off the bike. The ride in an Ironman is very lonely; there's no drafting, no chatting, and you're not really enjoying the scenery. Needless to say, I was extremely excited to make that final left turn onto Squaw Valley Road and into the bike-to-run transition.

The Run (4:43:11 — View on Strava)

I took my time in transition again, making another full change into running gear, cooling off a little and being diligent about my sunscreen. It had warmed up significantly (85°) and the sun was blazing. I started out with a brisk walk (14:30/mile pace) and then started mixing in some comfortable running (8:00/mile pace), regulating my overall pace to roughly 10:30/mile.

The aid stations certainly came in handy; I took advantage of each and every one. I drank mostly water and snagged grapes as often as I could. I would've loved something salty, but there were only sweet options.

The run-walk approach worked really well for me in this race, and may have frustrated more than a few the other shuffling triathletes nearby. I'd often pass them when running, only to be passed back when walking... and then pass them again just a few minutes later. I'm happy to say that I didn't suffer from the gut rot or extreme leg stiffness that has derailed some of my other races.

After countless run-walk cycles, I finally made it to the finish. I saw Kristine at the final bend, gave her a kiss and then cruised across the line as casually as I could. (I always imagine I'll do some fun showboating in the finisher's chute, but I never think to execute when I'm actually in the moment!)


I felt great immediately after the race. Kristine and I caught up, I hopped in the hot tub and then showered off. The day caught up to me as we were walking to dinner; I wasn't really able to eat. We shuffled back and I crawled into bed for a much-needed two-hour nap.

I felt like a new person when I woke up! I immediately ate the leftover pizza that I had only picked at before. We rallied, shuffling back out to the finish line to cheer the final finishers across the line until midnight.

Looking back, I'd say that that this Ironman experience as a definite success. I had admittedly low expectations going in, but I managed to exceed each and every one. It was stress-free and easy thanks to Kristine's unwavering support and our incredibly convenient accommodations. We went up to Tahoe with a job to do, and we did it!

(Kristine, by the way, has been my sherpa and soigneuse through nine of these races. Spotting her on course instantly brightens my day and improves my mood, no what condition I'm in. Not only that, but she does an amazing job keeping friends and family, who all support me from afar, up-to-date throughout the race. I can't imagine doing one of these races without her cheering me from the sidelines!) 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Well, I'm doing another Ironman

Alright, the jig is up. After months of rehabbing the most debilitating injury of my triathlon career and frequently broadcasting my retirement from triathlon, I'll be donning my wetsuit on Sunday for one more rodeo.

Am I prepared? Not even close! Injury-wise, I feel good, but my preparation hasn't been anywhere near as robust as for previous races. I managed to get some long rides done, but I was just focused on saddle time. I've been running well, but never longer than eight miles. I'll be fine through the swim, but I won't have the fitness to "compete" on the ride or the run.

Am I excited? Yes? I think so. When it comes to an Ironman, it's hard to separate excitement from anxiety. But I'm pretty sure there's some excitement in there. As strange as this might sound, I'm looking forward to taking my time and doing my best to enjoy this one.

What's my strategy? I'm not going to get hung up on racing this one. I might push the swim, just because I can. But the ride... I sold my time-trial bike earlier this year, so I'm riding my road bike. I didn't bother with aero wheels or aerobars either, so there's really no incentive for me to go nuts on the bike. I plan on walking a significant portion of the run and hopefully making some friends along the way. The point's just to go out and have a good time!

Why are you doing this again? Good question. On the surface, it's because I paid for it! I was upset when last year's race was cancelled. But digging a little deeper, this Ironman is no different than any other: I just want to prove to myself that I can do it. It's been a year, I've been hurt, I've changed my routine, sold my bike and all sorts of other excuses... I think I just want to prove to myself one last time that I can finish.

Is this really your last race? No, not really. I'm retired from really trying to be competitive at these races. I'm also retired, at least for the foreseeable future, from Ironman-distance races. I've always been intrigued by shorter races (70.3's and Olympic-distance races). So I imagine there are a few of those in my future — but none of them are on the schedule now!