I've been thinking about this blog post for a while now. I knew it was important to write this report before I forgot the finer details of the race, but at the same time I did not want to put my experience into words this year as it was a pretty painful race.
This was my 9th time racing in Kona. I came into this year's race knowing that it would be my last time here for a while. The thing about this race is that it takes a piece of your soul. I've said this before and most athletes that have raced at the IM World Championships will tell you the same thing. It's just a different race. The heat, humidity, wind, competition, and the fact that it's the world championship all combine to make it the most challenging race I have ever done.
Here's the blow by blow of the race:
I lined up out in the front row, to the left, as I had from 2012-2014. It's still really dense with athletes out there, but the super aggressive guys tend to line up closer to the pier looking for faster feet to follow. This race has gotten so deep in talent that now there are many athletes that can swim sub 1:02 (Kona swim is usually about 5 minutes slower than most other Ironmans). Fortunately I had a relatively uneventful swim this year. I felt pretty comfortable throughout, except for the occasional swell that would push several of us on top of each other. I came out of the water with my fastest swim time at this venue, but this still ranked me as the 405th athlete out of the water.
I was determined to settle into the race on the bike. I did not want to get caught up in the early adrenaline rush of the first 20 kilometers. It can be comical watching athletes ride this section close to their Olympic distance efforts. My goal was to be smooth and patient until I got out on the Queen K. Then I wanted to settle into my proper heart rate and power zones for the remainder of the day. The first thing that struck me was how much more crowded the course felt this year. The number of athletes allowed to race in Kona has been steadily climbing since 2011. I did this race back in 2005 and there were 1,743 finishers. In 2011 there were 1,773 finishers, so not much of a change. Then from 2012-2014 there were a little less than 2,000 finishers. In 2016, there were 2,207 finishers. It's not just the number of athletes that causes the congestion problems, though. It's the fact that the level of talent has become very similar. So, these facts led to a swarm of athletes starting the bike section together. In 2014 I received 2 penalties within the first 20 kilometers of the bike, one for blocking and one for drafting. I felt that both were not fair calls and I was determined to stay out of the sin bin in 2016. Once I got out onto the Queen K, I got down into my aerobars and tried to get to work. Every time that a pack would roll up on me, I would sit up and drop back.
As I was riding along, I noticed that my power was about 15% lower than it normally would be at this point in the race. My perceived effort and heart rate were in line, but my power was much lower. I tried to stay positive as it's always possible to get a false read output and it's a long day. As the miles clipped by I continued to get passed on a regular basis. The realization was setting in that the power numbers were probably correct. I did not let this bring me down. However, I was getting frustrated by the number of riders drafting in large packs. I was getting passed on the left and right side. It was a really dangerous situation.
I made my way up to the turnaround at Hawi and I saw my teammate Craig Lanza. I paused for a second as I was passing him to ask how he was feeling. An official rolled up next to me right at that moment and gave me a blue card (5 minute penalty) for not passing within the 45 second required time. I was pretty upset but it's the rules. Ultimately, the penalty did not impact my race at all as I just had a really off day.
Once I spent my 5 minutes in the sin bin, I headed back down towards Kona. I actually felt pretty good the remainder of the bike section, but my power never came back. I knew it was not going to be one of my better races, but I was looking forward to the marathon. I have been able to run three sub 3:10 marathons in Kona and I thought I might be able to try for sub 3 hour mark this year.
Well sometimes the best laid plans go up in smoke. I hit the run feeling pretty good. I tried to ease into things for the first two miles. It usually takes me two to three miles to loosen up after the bike so I did not want to push things to soon. As I ran through the 3 mile marker I knew something was really wrong. I had just hit the split button on my Timex watch and I saw 7:15 flash across the screen. I was overheating and just felt terrible. It had taken way to much effort to run that mile and I was really starting to struggle. I shuffled along until mile 6 when I made my first visit to the wonderful porta-potties. I actually came out of the deluxe bathroom feeling much better. Unfortunately that only lasted for about .5 mile. Then I was back to survival mode. Once I got to the aid station, I did my routine of walking the entire length. I took as much water, cola, and ice as I could. I walked every single aid station this year. I've done this in the past and still ran good times. The strategy just was not working this year. I was willing to try anything that I thought would not make me more nauseous. I even had Red Bull for the first time in a race. It gave me a pick up for about 30 seconds, then I was right back to feeling absolutely horrible. I saw my family at mile 9 and I knew I had to finish the race no matter what. They were so excited even though I must have looked horrendous. I made a promise to myself that I was going to do whatever I had to do to finish the race. I could not quit in front of my three boys. It took everything I had to make it the last 17 miles. At mile 13, I had to make another porta stop. This abode had clearly seen some athletes that did not care about sanitary conditions. It was absolutely disgusting and had been sitting out in the hot sun all day, which made an even more potent odor than normal. I stumbled out of the box as quickly as I could and continued my journey. My goal for the remainder of the race was to run as much as I could. It wasn't pretty at all, but I was able to cross the finish line for my 9th Ironman World Championship finish in 9 tries.
Clearly, this was not my day, but I was very proud to get across that finish line!
This was my lucky 13th time racing the Wednesday night Sprint distance World Championships. My fitness was still below my normal July numbers. However, I knew I would give everything I had. I always look at sprint distance triathlons as an all out (well almost) effort from start to finish. My game plan was to take the swim out as fast as I could without redlining then really hit the bike hard and try to hold on to some speed on the run.
Swim: 11:27 13th
Swim times can vary from year to year at any venue so I always just try to see how I stack up against the competition. I was fairly happy with my swim. I was able to come out of the water with a small group of athletes that had bunched up following a few faster swimmers. This was the best I could hope for, realistically.
Bike: 27:45 1st
I was able to move through T1 relatively quickly and jumped out onto the bike course in 5th place. I managed to move up enough to catch sight of Dom G. (1st OA) by the half way point. However, my forward race progress ended there. When I looked at my numbers after the race, I realized that I had really pushed the first 5 miles in some hot temps and I must have just hit my limit. I continued to go as hard as I could, but ended up only getting 11 seconds back from Dom for the entire bike segment. This put me 30 seconds down heading into T2. I lost another 9 seconds in T2, which pretty much solidified the day as Dom. is a consistently faster runner.
Run: 17:53 3rd
I really tried to run fast off of the bike, but the legs did not want to comply. The heat, humidity, and bike effort had taken a toll. I focused on running to a decent rhythm and tried to keep some form. My combined bike/run time (45:38) was my slowest since my first time racing the sprint in 2001. While that was frustrating, I believe it was due mostly to the high heat/humidity. I crossed the line pretty flogged and happy to have finished another Wednesday night sprint World Championship!
Finish: 58:58 2nd Overall
I was very relaxed going into this race. I knew that my fitness was equivalent to where it normally is in February, not in June. I track my fitness levels using the Performance Management Chart in Training Peaks. My Chronic training load is trending higher, but still depressed after my spring health hiccups mentioned in my earlier post. So, I was being realistic with myself. I will always try to give everything I have on the day, but I like to know what I'm capable of on the day. My goal for the race was to continue building my high end fitness back. There is no better way to do that than to get out and race.
I knew that I would not be able to match the speed of the top guys this year. Normally I will still try to go out as fast as possible, but this year I decided to try to build my effort and not blow up 200 meters into the swim. I ended up doing the entire swim on my own. I exited the water 4th in my wave and had the 9th fastest swim time on the day.
While my fitness was not where I wanted it to be, I knew that I would need to push the bike harder than I had at REV3 Quassy two weeks prior. However, I did not want to get caught up looking at my numbers every couple of minutes. So I made the decision to just go by feel. The bike course is very hilly and there are no real places to settle in. I had two notable moments during the bike. The first came about 10 miles into the course where there is normally a sharp right hand turn while coming down a steep descent. As I was approaching the turn, I noticed that there were no volunteers out on the road and no turn signs. I blew past the right hand turn and quickly remembered the race director, Tom Wilkas, mentioning that there was one course change from the previous year (I missed the race in 2015). Oops, my bad. The second incident happened about 5 miles later as I was descending on a very curvy section of road. A landscaping truck had managed to get on the course in front of me and it was not in a hurry. Oh well, better to be safe and come back to race again than try to blow past the truck (although that thought did cross my mind). I came into T2 and heard over the loudspeaker that I was 4 minutes down.
So I knew I had one racer, Spencer Rahlston, out in front of me, but I did not know who was coming from behind (M45+ started 3 minutes behind). I was pleasantly surprised that my legs felt fresh coming off of the bike. I decided to run as hard as I could while holding form. As I progressed through the run, my form held up. This was the first time this year that I actually felt smooth running. It usually takes me a while into each year to get my run form back on track. This year has taken longer due to my spring break.
It's a two loop run course, so you get a chance to see the other athletes three times. I knew heading out that I was not going to catch Spencer. The only question was if I could hold off the runners coming from behind. I was able to run a decent time and just squeaked in ahead of Mitch West by 17 seconds. This put me in 2nd place overall.
I always enjoy racing at the Griskus race series and this year was fantastic!
The Quassy race course is one of the most challenging and honest courses that I've raced throughout the years. It deserves a lot of respect. I was a bit concerned coming into this year's race with how I would hold up covering the punchy hills with my level of fitness. So my goal for this race was to use it strictly as a training race. If I felt good I would go with it, but I was not going to dig deep at any point during the day.
This was the one discipline I felt pretty good about coming into the race. I had a good warm-up and did my usual pick-ups so I could avoid the hypoxic feeling. The swim start is on the beach and the first 15 yards is kind of a funnel. I lined up on the inside hoping to get out quick and out of the chaos. I was able to do this and noticed that only 2 guys got out in front of me. I tried to quickly jump on the feet of one of the swimmers. I was able to do this, but in the process the lead swimmer got a 10 meter gap. In hindsight, that gap was inevitable as the lead swimmer was a former Olympic swimmer, Pie Geelen. I was pleased when I came out of the water 2nd place in my age group.
My mantra right from the beginning was to ride steady. I did not want to feel any leg burning throughout the ride. Whenever I felt like I was starting to bear down to much, I would back it off a notch. I felt relatively smooth and was actually enjoying myself in the rainy conditions. There are some sections of the course that I had to be a bit more cautious due to the conditions, but it was the same for everyone. I managed to ride up to the lead vehicle by the half way point. At this point, I focused on maintaining my caloric intake and sticking to my strategy. Things were rolling along well and I was pleasantly surprised that my legs were holding up. I knew the real test was going to come on the back half of the run, but I was happy with my bike effort up to that point. At mile 55, Brian Duffy blew past me like a freight train. He was cooking and ended up completely blowing the race apart. His 4:09 final overall time was 6 minutes faster than my best time at this race back in 2009. He is going to smoke IM Lake Placid in July. Once I got over the ego bashing pass from Brian I finished up as 2nd athlete into T2. I had stuck to my game plan while riding over 2 hours in Z2 and only 16 minutes in Z3 heart rate.
This discipline was my biggest question mark coming into the race. I was really concerned that my lack of spring specific training would leave me weak on the run. I knew I needed to find a decent rhythm as quickly as I could. The course is very hilly and it never really lets you settle in. It can be very fun if you are run fit, but it can be a killer if you are behind the curve. When I am fit, I try to get right up into Z3 heart rate. That was not the goal at this race. I spent the first 15 minutes in Z1, then ran the next 1hr 9mins in Z2. I only hit Z3 for 1 minute during the run. By mile 8, Dave Slavinski (M45-49), had closed the 5 minute head start I had gotten by my wave starting first. Dave was extremely nice and he turned into a perfect diversion from the pain I was starting to feel. He slowed down and ran with me for about 2 miles. His company helped to get me over two really steep hills. At this point, I was really struggling and just tried to run steady for the remainder of the race. I willed myself the remaining distance and crossed the line with a total time of 4:35:59 1st M40-44 and 4th Overall.
There are times when an athlete can be very fit and not have an optimal performance. Then there are times when an athlete can be at a lower fitness level, but can outperform that fitness level. I was very happy to say that I really outperformed my fitness level for this race and I was really happy with the result. I know that I will get a nice fitness boost from the effort and that it will help point me in the right direction for my push into Kona in October.
I've been pretty fortunate throughout my seventeen years of racing triathlon. I have not had any significant injuries or long term sicknesses. Of course I've had the bumps and bruises of getting hit by a car (twice), the occasional Achilles flair up, plantar fascia, and the random cold. However, I've managed to steer clear of anything chronic by listening to my body and doing the proper maintenance throughout the year. Quick backstory: I grew up in the running boom of the late 70s/early 80s watching my father and his peers run themselves ragged. They all experienced injuries that would put them on the sidelines for significant amounts of time. So I promised myself that I would not make the same mistakes.
My four main principles to longevity in the sport are: 1. Stay healthy 2. Stay consistent 3. Train properly 4. Have fun
My approach to staying healthy has been to have a consistent recovery routine, a supplement plan, and try my best for optimal sleep.
My recovery routine consists of a weekly sports massage. This really helps me bounce back from hard races and workouts in addition to being preventive for any potential chronic injuries. I also use my Normatec boots during the race season and from time to time I will use my Compex muscle stimulator (although I haven't really committed to this yet). For my supplement plan, I try to get my bloodwork done twice a year to see where my deficiencies lie. Then I put together a plan of action with my nutritionist for a proper supplement plan to address my areas of need. I have been using Standard Process products for my supplement needs since 2009. The company has been around since 1929 and uses a whole food philosophy. Finally, but definitely not least, sleep has become especially important for me as my chronical age has increased. I used to be able to get away with five to six hours of sleep a night, commute two hours each way to work and still train pretty hard. Now, I find that I need at least seven to eight hours of sleep a night combined with my fifteen minute commute to/from work each day in order to train optimally.
Here's my quick story on the start to my 2016 season. I had a really good winter base training that included a major swim focus and a maintenance strength focus. My aerobic engine felt strong. I had set myself up for a solid transition to the build phase of my annual training plan. However, I had made a decision at the beginning of the year that I would stop taking all of my supplements for the first three months of the year. I made that decision because I wanted to try to focus on trying to eat as healthy as I could and see how my body would react. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a bad decision in hindsight. I believe it allowed my immune system to become suppressed.
On Monday, March 7th I was diagnosed with shingles. I had been experiencing the symptoms for nine days at the time, but I had been in denial until I just could not stand the pain anymore. My wife finally talked me into going to the walk in clinic. The doctor diagnosed my condition within ten seconds of seeing my rash on my lower back and right thigh. I explained to her that the pain was two pronged. I felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my right quad and I had a deep bone bruise. The second and much more annoying pain was an intense neuron firing on the skin where the rash had appeared. It felt like I was being bitten by a thousand fire ants all at once. The pain would come and go, but when it came it was absolutely brutal! The doctor prescribed anti-viral meds and informed me that I could not train at all for ten days. At first I did not want to follow her advice, but when she told me that I was at risk for a potential serious infection if my rash opened up I quickly accepted the time out. This was the first significant in-season forced break that I had taken since I started in 2000. Unfortunately, sometimes it pours when it rains. I started training again slowly after my ten day break. I was trying to be smart and not push my comeback to quickly. However, my immune system must have still been really low and I came down with a bronchial infection that I think I picked up from the kids. Normally, my immune system is pretty strong throughout the year and I rarely catch anything from the kids, but I was forced to take another break to let my body recover. The second setback really challenged my mental strength. I really struggled with my motivation all through the month of April.
The warm weather finally came to the Northeast in May and my motivation slowly started to return. The inconsistency of my training had put my fitness back to my normal January levels. Fortunately, I had planned my lightest race season since my first year racing. I have only five races on the docket for 2016: REV3 Quassy, Griskus Olympic, Griskus Sprint, 70.3 Timberman, and Kona. I am now looking forward to building my fitness and the privilege of being able to participate in these endurance events.
Three Race Preparation Workouts to Find your Edge
As you get close to a goal race, finding that extra edge on race day is a combination of physical and mental preparation and both being and feeling ready. Training sessions that simulate race conditions ensure your body is physiologically ready and allows you to get your head in the game. Here are three ‘ace preparation workouts that one can use to prep for 70.3 and shorter races. Ideally done 3-6 weeks out (not on your taper week), after your main training weeks have been completed and the race gets closer.
Workout #1: Swim-Bike
The purpose of this workout is to practice the physiological demands of going straight from a swim to a bike effort. Many athletes have a hard time transitioning from the swim to the bike in races. This workout is a little below race effort so the athlete can practice the two disciplines back to back and build their confidence. The bike has hill repeats to build in some strength work following a short adaptation segment following the swim.
30 minutes at an intermediate to moderately hard effort (Zone 2/3). This is ideally done in the open water, but can be done in the pool as well if necessary.
Quickly transition to the bike:
15 minutes on flat roads at Z1-2 heart rate then
Hill Repeats: 6 x 3 minutes at Zone 3/4 on 2 minute recoveries or time to get back down to starting point
Cool down: 10 minutes @ low Zone 1 heart rate
Workout #2: Bike-Run
The purpose of this workout is to practice a tempo brick effort and to simulate the feeling of running fast off the bike in a race. One of the benefits of tempo brick off the bike, is to help an athlete move through the sensation of tired legs and learn to get up to speed. Athletes will feel tired legs coming off the bike section, then have to get their legs turning over in order to get up to effort quickly. You need to really focus and work hard on the bike in order to maintain mid to high zone 3 heart rate, then really dial in your run effort in order to get right up to high zone 3 and eventually build to low zone 4.
Bike: 15 minutes building from Zone 1 to Zone 2
Bike: 30 minutes: mid to high Zone 3
Quickly transition to run
Run: 15 minutes: high Zone 3 to low Zone 4
Cool down: 10 min jog at low Zone 1
Workout #3: Swim-Bike-Run
This is a very challenging set and can be used to prep for an Olympic distance race. It is a sub-threshold set and really gets an athlete used to putting out a high effort, recovering, and then going again. This is a great workout for building mental strength as well and the fortitude and mindset required to have a successful triathlon.
This workout can be done at a pool or open water setting. The bike should be done on a trainer on or near the pool deck or at the open water swim venue. The run should be performed on a relatively flat measured course right at the venue.
Warm up swim: 10 x 50 alternate free and choice stroke/ 4 x 50 as 25 sprint/25 easy on 15 seconds recovery
Repeat this superset 3 times
Swim: 400 yards/meters at goal race effort
Bike: 5 minutes building heart rate as quickly as possible to zone 4 and holding
Run: 400 meters at between 5k and 10k race pace – Zone 4 heart rate
Recover: 5 minutes active: i.e. walking, light jog.
Race preparation and race simulation sessions are a key tool in training for triathlon. They are specific and hard practices and should be used judiciously in training. Done properly, then help you become a better mental athlete and get your body fine-tuned for the demands of race day.
LifeSport coach Chris Thomas is a USAT certified coach who is currently ranked one of the top amateur triathletes in the world. Chris is certified to work with both youth and seniors. Contact Chris to share your goals, race faster, or master the Ironman distance.
Career Highlights: 2009 USA Triathlon Amateur Athlete of the Year, 2012,2013, 2014 USA Triathlon Masters Athlete of the Year, 2014 USA Triathlon Olympic National Championship Masters Champion, 4 X Ironman 70.3 World Championship Age Group Winner (2008, 2009, 2012, 2013), 18 X 70.3 Overall Amateur Champion, 9 X Ironman World Champion Finisher (4 X Top 10 in Age Group), 2015 American Zofingen LC Champion, 2nd OA IM Maryland
I started competing in triathlon in the summer of 2000. I had always been intrigued by the sport since the early ‘80s when I would watch the Hawaii Ironman on TV. I got into running at a young age (6yrs old) as my father was a big marathon runner back in the late 70’s, early 80’s running boom. I did my first 10-mile road race when I was 10 years old. I also played ice hockey throughout my childhood and I stopped running my sophomore year in high school in order to completely focus on ice hockey. I did not run again until the fall of 1999. During that race, a friend of mine mentioned that he competed in sprint triathlons, short duration races lasting around one hour. I was immediately interested and I signed up for my first triathlon in July of 2000 up in Falmouth, Ma. I was immediately hooked. I loved the competition. I especially liked the aspect of the three sports and how one could continue to practice and improve in each sport. I believe all three sports compliment each other. I also really enjoyed the idea of challenging myself to see where I could get. So, while triathlon is a competition, I see it more as a race against yourself then others. It is a very addictive sport, but I think it’s probably one of the healthiest addictions that I know of. The training is also a great stress relief. I worked in New York City for the past 5 years and down on Wall Street for 2 years. The commute and the lifestyle can get pretty stressful at times. The training really helped me de-stress and stay focused. I have three little boys and I really enjoy sharing the sport with all three of them. I don’t care if they ever compete in a race, but I do believe it’s important to expose them to healthy opportunities in life. I would say that the hardest endurance scenario I’ve faced was actually the first half ironman I competed in up in Laconia, NH, which was the Timberman race. I’ve completed four full Ironman events, but that half ironman was my first attempt at the distance. I feel, in hindsight, that I just was not properly trained for the event. It was an incredible eye opening experience. I don’t think I’ve been more tired then the moment I crossed that finish line. However, the human mind is fascinating, as I was looking forward to the next race less then 24 hours after.