IRONMAN Maryland Part 1
I signed up for Ironman Maryland initially due to the reviews that said it was fast, and beautiful. Jaime started it with all the hype about it being a fast flat bike course because she despises hills, even though most of her fastest bike splits came on hilly courses. Touché. So, last year after a lot of pestering Pete, we registered and the training began. Pete, Jaime and I have been training together for about 4 years, ever since I decided to get serious about triathlon. We ingeniously started calling ourselves “PB&J”. Get it? Peanut Butter and Jelly or Pete, Brad & Jaime.
Interesting enough though, I really wanted a sub 12-hour Ironman and Jaime was shooting for a sub-13, so as much as we enjoy training together we actually ended up going our own ways. I started training at Tribal Multisport with Coach Jon Noland, and Jaime trained with Personal trainer and elite athlete Kenneth Jones.
We made all the arrangements well in advance. We had hotel reservations at the host hotel, restaurant reservations, tri-bike transport was scheduled, flights were booked and cars were rented well in advance.
We talked constantly throughout the months, confirming our plans, comparing training schedules and every once in a while, we actually did get together to train. PB&J looked strong and ready to face IRONMAN Maryland together. Unfortunately, in September, Pete ended up injuring his Achilles’ tendon and after a lot of conjecture decided it wasn’t in the cards for him this year. I told him, it would better to live and race another day than to permanently hurt himself.
We departed for the race on Wednesday, September 30 completely anxious and excited. We headed to Tampa International Airport, for an uneventful flight into Baltimore-Washington Airport. Within a half hour we were in our Jeep Compass rental and headed up Rte 50 in Maryland.
We stopped for a quick lunch at Carmine’s Pizza to carb load with pizza and salad and just as we are about to pull out of our parking space and back into traffic, Jamie’s phone rings. Ed, a friend and first time Ironman athlete, called and tells us the race has been cancelled. I could hear Jamie’s voice say, “Uh say that again…wait…wait. Let me put you on speaker.” A deep Jersey accent comes from her speaker and says “They cancelled the race.” Really? This early.
The last time WTC cancelled a race it was in Lake Tahoe and the athletes were in their wetsuits ready to jump in. They waited that long and now, 3 days before the race they were cancelling it.
We jumped on Facebook, and the IRONMAN Maryland site and were met with the validation that WTC had indeed cancelled the race. It turned out the immediate threat from Hurricane Joaquin was dire and it was in their best interest to keep the athletes, volunteers, race staff and spectators safe. Not to mention, there was already four inches of water already on the course.
We got somewhat lucky. We were able to find a flight home that night, and the hotel did not charge us a night for cancelling so late. Unfortunately, the flight back cost us just as much as the full round trip, and because we pre-paid the car we couldn’t get that back.
WTC anticipated rescheduling but couldn’t give the athletes a final decision until the following Tuesday. The wait was hard. What do you do? Do you keep tapering? Do call it a season? There was nothing to do but wait.
Late Monday night an email hit my account stating that the race was back on and it would be held on October 17th as predicted. All I can think of was “Here we go again.” What if the weather was bad again? Would we spend even more money just to go through another disappointment?
IRONMAN Maryland Part Deux
Coach Jon, put a schedule together of low duration, high intensity workouts to keep my body from degrading fitness for the next week, and I managed to squeeze out a 17 mile run with a client that felt awesome the Sunday prior. The weather outlook was good, cold, but decent. As the days passed, the forecast kept getting colder and windier, but no precipitation was even close.
This time it was going to happen.
From Tuesday on, Jamie, myself and another training partner of hers, Hunter, had a group text as we kept planning our trip. We found decent round-trip flights, Hunter found a rental house, and I again reserved a car. Of course this time I bought the trip insurance as well, which, of course, I did not need.
The View from our DC Hotel
And on October 14th, we took off for the second time from Tampa and arrived, this time at National Airport in DC. We spent a great night at the Residence Inn in Pentagon City before heading out to Cambridge the next day.
As I drove though the rural part of Cambridge and into the long drive way of our rental home, I was surprisingly calm. Subconsciously, I think I just didn’t want to get my hopes up, but my heart rate did jump at the surprise I felt pulling into the gravel drive way. It was gorgeous!
Our Cambridge Ironman HQ
There stood a modest one-story ranch home, but on a huge amount of acreage that backed up to a lake. It had it’s own dock, fire pit, pool, and a beautiful deck. Inside it was an open floor plan with a dining-kitchen area, huge great room and three good size bedrooms. It was decorated modestly, with wood floors and a kind of rural, yet updated and upscale charm to it. All of the appliances were current models in the kitchen and baths with flat screens in each room, and a large one, in the great room, a fireplace and gigantic sectional couch that all of us could have slept on.
What was even luckier was that it wasn’t only Hunter, Jamie and myself, but Kenneth and his parents, so by sharing it, the cost was not even half of what we would have to pay for the hotel.
I also have to say, that Ken’s parents, treated all of us like we were their kids. His Mom, Lucy, cooked and cleaned for us, and his Dad, Phil, grilled, shopped and chauffeured us around to make sure we were at the right place at the right time. It was like Ken, outsourced his parents to us. Of course that wasn’t the case. It seemed like they genuinely loved doing it.
It came time to travel over to transition and pick up our bikes, and then head to Ironman Village to check-in.
We reached transition and since Hunter and Ken already had their bikes, because Ken and his parents drove them up, they headed out to check out the swim start while Jamie and I talked to Tri-bike transport. Jamie’s bike was already in the rack, but unfortunately, mine was not to be found. My stomach took a little turn when Drew, from TBT, said I wasn’t on the list to have my bike at the race.
Luckily, he said that my bike was in the truck, but it was with the bikes that were sectioned off for the athletes that were not going to be returning.
I headed over to the transition area to scope it out and then took a quick peek at the swim start and at that point, my anxiety started to increase. This was happening. There no “ands”, “ifs or “buts”. I was going to be racing my third Ironman.
Ironman village was exactly as it was for every other Ironman and Ironman 70.3 I have raced except, because they were not able to keep all of the original volunteers procured, it was a lot slower checking in. We waited in line for close to two hours before we finally made it under the tent to pick up our packets and swag.
When we finally got through that line, we contemplated going into the Ironman store, but the line to check-out was just as long and we still wanted to get a quick workout in. In every Ironman store I have been in, for every race, the cashiers, (bless their hearts) are always so slow that you know if you do get in that line, it is going to be a lot of time.
We headed back, and unfortunately, I had yet to receive a call from Drew to tell me that he was able to dig out my bike, so the others headed out on their bikes and I decided I would just work a little while I waited for his call. At 4pm, I did receive the call and 45 minutes later I was back at the house with my bike.
Leading up to the Saturday morning, was pretty much the same as any other long race. Putting gear bags together, going over transition and nutrition plans, and quick workouts in all three events. These were basically just to make sure everything was in working order.
The Goof, Ken, Hunter, Jaime & Ed before a swim workout
Did I mention Thursday night we had a campfire and made s’mores? Yeah, we did that too.
The Swim Start
I was pretty shocked at how well I slept Friday night. We had all turned in quite early, in anticipation of not being able to sleep, but I drifted off pretty fast and slept until the 4:00am alarm woke me up. None of us were in a rush as we all felt pretty prepared, and the outside temperature was only in the upper 30s. I dressed, ate and leisurely grabbed my morning bag and we headed out into the darkness.
Leaving the house I had yet to really feel nervous, but as soon as we pulled up to transition, I felt a pressure in my chest. My heart started to beat so hard, I thought it was going to crack through my rib cage and take off on me.
I looked over at Jamie, and she looked back and said,”Sh*t just got real.”
After outfitting my bike with my nutrition and helmet, I took a walk over to the actual swim start line and looked over the water. Waves didn’t seem that bad, but the water was far from calm. I could feel the wind on my skin even through the wetsuit. Luckily, while it was 38 degrees outside, but the water it was 63. That was going to work in our favor, as it was actually going to feel warmer in the water.
Around 6:40, Jamie, Hunter, Ed and I were all hanging out trying to keep warm and maintain a positive mental attitude, when the speaker echoed our announcer’s voice. The safety team had stated that the winds were causing a lot of churning in the water, so the boats and paddle boards could not take their places on the course. The solution was to shorten the course to 1.2 miles.
I should have been really excited about this, as the swim is my weakest event, but I wasn’t. I was actually a little upset not only because I wanted to prove to myself I could get out of the water within my goal, but also for Ed and Hunter as this was their first full distance Ironman.
What else could happen? First they postpone the race, and now they shorten the course. This race just seemed cursed.
That was not the end of the story. Around 7:10, an announcement was made that, the winds had died just a little and would be enough to get most of the swim in. We would do the swim, but we would be about 800 meters short.
Things just looked better. I felt redeemed and a positive relief flowed through me for about half a second. I still had to get passed the swim. If you remember from my post about my last Ironman, I was the last one out of the water to be able to cross the line. I worked a lot harder on my swim this training cycle, now I would have to prove it.
At 7:30 we lined up according to how much time we thought it would take us to swim the full 2.4 miles. I lined up at the behind the 1:30 sign and after waiting another 20 minutes to get through the line, it was my turn to jump in.
The water still frigid enough to shock my body a little, but my adrenaline kept me warm. I immediately headed to the first buoy where we would turn right and then head in triangular pattern.
I felt really good during the first lap. For the first time in an Ironman race I was actually passing people and it felt amazing. I still felt pretty strong as I made the turn for the second lap, but I did slow down a bit.
As much as I thought I loved my long sleeve wet suit, I didn’t have the mobility in my arms, that I developed during training, and I had to strain to lift my arm into a streamline position. I listened to myself hypothesize about it and I thought, “Am I really thinking this? Did I really become a decent enough swimmer to even contemplate it?”
On the second lap, the wind picked up again and I thought I was swimming in my washing machine. I got tossed around and the effort level increased. I did end up breast stroking intermittently for a few minutes to catch my breath and realign my siting, but I continued. My habit of zig zagging didn’t show up until the last straight away while I was trying to sight on the finish. The waves were pushing me in the wrong direction, but my sighting was able to put me back on a good path. I jumped out of the water and ran towards the timing mats, and as I crossed I looked down at my watch – 1:10.
1:10? Really? I had to double check it twice. If I added the 800 meters back on I would have finished around 1:25-1:30 which, was my goal.
I was so excited I sprinted to the strippers, but for some reason they didn’t help. My wet suit would just not come off of me and when it did, oh man, did I feel the weather. The wind hit me, and my soaked tri kit, like a brick wall.
I headed into the changing tent and dawned a bike kit, arm warmers, a gator neck, and gloves. By the time I added my helmet I looked like a Tri Ninja.
Ed gave us a quick rundown of the bike course the night before, as he came up earlier in the year and actually trained on it. He explained how the course was an oval and we would probably have a head wind on one of the shorter sides and away or back to transition. This would account for two blocks of 12 miles since we had two laps. I was ok with it. I would just turtle for those 24 miles. (This is a technique keeping your head down and allowing your back to come up like a turtle shell to be as aerodynamic as possible.) The rest of it my plan was to stick to 75-80% of my functional threshold power(FTP) as possible. In training that proved to be right around 20 miles per hour which should get me back to transition in 5:35, and then taking account for the wind, sub 6 hours.
No such luck. I have never ever been on a bike course where the majority of the turns were to the right, and kept being hit by the shear force of a 33 mph head wind.
I wish that were the only factor that slowed me down.
I knew because of the temperature that I would not want to drink, but due to the fact my calories were mostly in my bottles, I would have to. What I didn’t count on was that I would have to stop at a portlet every 10-15 miles to urinate. I am just not die-hard enough to urinate while I am on the bike, and we were specifically told that if athletes were caught relieving ourselves outside of designated facilities they would be DQed. That slowed me down.
From mile 40 to 50 we were all riding on the shoulder of the road, into the wind. Directly to the right of the white line were slowing rickets with very small spaces in between them. They seemed a little dangerous, so everyone was either on the right of them, or on the left and swerving to the right when traffic would come from behind.
I was in aero, with my head down, when I saw a tire in front of me, so I yelled “On your left.” The wind was so loud the person in front of me, wearing a “This Guy Needs A Beer” jersey, could not hear me. As I slowed down to keep enough bike lengths between us to satisfy the drafting rule, I noticed a motorcycle next to me. It was an official.
He pulls out a memo pad and yells to me, “At the next penalty box, tell them you have blue card.” Well, I wasn’t going to start arguing while I was the bike, so I nodded.
At the mile 56 aid station there was a penalty box, so like a good athlete I did what I was told, and so did the other seven athletes that came in behind me. There we all were. Eight, age group, athletes standing stretching while we waited for our five minutes to be up. I am all for rules, order and safety , but it’s a little ridiculous when there are eight people in the penalty box all caught doing the same thing on the same stretch of road. As this was my 3.4 hour mark on the bike, I asked the volunteer who had to time the penalties how many he had so far. He kind of smirked and said it had to be over one hundred.
At that point I just had to laugh. I got back on my bike and continued trudging through the wind.
Ten miles later, a slow burn started aching my legs. I didn’t understand it. My cadence was up, but no matter how high I shifted, I felt like my effort level was increasing. Then I heard what was a metal grinding. Yep, you guessed it. A flat in my rear tire. These were brand new tubular tires, I had installed just for the race, and now I punctured them. I had a bottle of pit stop in my jersey, so it was only a couple of minutes before I was back on my bike. With Pit Stop, I didn’t even have to take the tire off, just empty the contents of the bottle into the tire and go.
Luckily, I didn’t have to stop nearly as much the second loop as I did the first to urinate, so I picked up a little bit of time, but while keeping to my FTP goals, I could barely get above 17 mph. It felt slow and torturous.
The left turn for the last 12 miles came and I thought maybe we would catch a break and as I passed the last aid station one of the volunteers yelled, “Your on your way back, no more wind!”
The whole way back to transition, the wind hit us and kept our pace to a slow 16-17 mph.
As I dismounted my bike, I could feel not feel my toes or my hands, and I was just frigid. I tried to take off my bike gear, and it was extremely difficult. I felt like I did, during the last ironman at mile 13 of the run and I hadn’t even started the run yet.
The grumbles in the changing tent were all the same. The bike was windy, it was tough and it sucked, but it was over. A few of the guys who competed in last year’s event said they were over an hour slower than the previous year. That actually made me feel a little better.
I have a saying I give to my athletes when they start to walk or I find them giving up on themselves. “The mind will quit 100 times before the body does.”
For a nanosecond a thought went through my head. “I already did two of these, I don’t need to prove anything to anybody. Forget this.” Then the next nanosecond went by with my inner dialogue that said “Who are you kidding Minus? You know you are going to finish if you have to crawl across that finish line. You never quit anything in your life, what makes you think your going to do it now?” The last words that echoed in my voice were that of my coach Jon Noland. “Embrace the Suck.”
I changed the best I could with numb fingers and toes and started the run. (I found out later I spent over 20 minutes in T2. It sure didn’t feel that long. I must have taken a nap.)
The first two miles felt a little slow, then at mile three it was like the pearly gates opened up. My legs transitioned into a good running form and I took off. I felt amazing.
I kept to my strategy of walking through the water stops, which during an Ironman is every mile, but they are only a few yards long, unlike those at a major marathon, where the distance could exceed a hundred yards.
At mile seven I actually felt a side stitch which hasn’t happened in a race in years. Luckily, I still had my wits about me. What is the cause, or better yet, what is absent from my body that would possibly cause a stitch? Potassium. Wouldn’t you know it but an aid station was just fifty meters ahead of me, so I grabbed a banana. Within the next quarter mile, the stitch was gone, so I picked up speed again.
The course was two-and-a-half loops that took us from transition through a residential neighborhood, around a park, back through the neighborhood passed transition, into downtown Cambridge where it either started again, or headed to Ironman Village and Finish line.
We had been told that Cambridge was supportive of the race and even in these cold temperatures, the town was out in droves.
Along the route there were kids on their lawns cheering, a dancing banana, residents on lawn chairs, and local bands playing outside their homes. While running through downtown people were outside the bars drinking and cheering every athlete on as they passed. It was just spectacular.
I found Jamie ahead of me around mile 5 and we ended up passing each other three more times. Each time I was getting closer and closer to her. I had hoped to get closer, but in the end she did end up crossing about three minutes ahead of me.
I never ran over 90% of the run during an Ironman before. This time the only time I walked was through water stops and only stopped twice to use the portlet. Granted it was not extremely fast, but it was still over twenty minutes faster than my best Ironman.
My legs at mile twenty were very heavy and this was the half lap and the last time I would have to turn left after downtown Cambridge. I kept going, and didn’t stop but it was getting quite dark to a point where there was a portion of road where I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. I just kept going.
The thing I just kept thinking in my head was one day, I would finish an Ironman and it would still be daylight.
I came out of downtown Cambridge and made the right towards the chute. I heard the announcer call my name and as I saw the arch of the finish, I wondered if I had it in me.
I ran just a little faster and jumped up, caught a little air and touched the arch. I was an Ironman. Again.
My finishing time was 13:08:53 which was actually and hour and forty-six minutes faster than my best Ironman, but if I kept the same pace on the swim, I calculated I would probably have crossed about 20 minutes later which would have given me a ninety minute personal record. In those conditions, I‘ll take it.
Of course I did not do this alone. I have to thank my coach, Jon Noland for training me (coaches need coaches too), the athletes at Tribal Multisport for pushing me further than I thought possible, the Moxie Multisport team for the help with gear, nutrition, and the support to keep me going through the long training period, my travel and housemates, Jamie, Hunter, and Ken for the great time at the house, and for keeping me sane and laughing, Ken’s parents, Phil & Lucy for the race weekend support, and last but never least, Kim for supporting me at home through this third Ironman.
Obviously, Ironman Augusta 70.3 is one of my favorite races, since this is the third year in a row I competed in it. Why?
- The 1.2 mile swim heads downstream giving those of us that are not great swimmers a little push.
- There are two main sporting events in Augusta. The little golf tournament called “The Masters”, and the Ironman, so the whole city seems to show up to support it. The Ironman doesn’t have near the amount athletes or the out-of-town spectators, but it doesn’t seem like that when you are competing.
- The 56 mile bike course is beautifully scenic with rolling hills which makes it somewhat challenging and a lot of fun.
- The run course is two-loops around the center of town which is loaded with spectators that are cheering and holding signs with sayings like “If Triathlon was easy they would call it football.” It gives the competitors continuous motivation through a the 13.1 mile completion to the challenge which depending on the temperature could be grueling.
- The volunteers, all three years I have competed, have always been amazing. There are aid stations every 10 miles on the bike and every mile on the run, so there are a huge amount of volunteers that are there for a very long time.
- The expo and check-in have always been run very professionally and smooth. It is probably one of the best run expos I have took part in.
The weekend started off with a caravan of amazing people up to Augusta including my buddy Pete, Kari, Jaime, Kat, Chris, Kate, Matt, Jeff & Miranda. All of them great people and athletes.
The ride up was uneventful with one stop at Cracker Barrel to fuel up and a couple of minute stops for gas and essentials. We went right to check-in and surprise, surprise, the Marriott opened their new convention center so there was so much more space for check-in and the expo than last year. In the past everything was in a series of rooms, now it was in one great big room that allowed for more vendors and more space to move around. There had to be at least 50% more vendors than last year. It was amazing. Of course my favorite part, as always, is the atmosphere. Super charged with excitement and enthusiasm.
After getting settled in are hotels, Chris, Jaime, Kat and I had dinner at this little restaurant of an old hotel called the Partridge Inn. The meal was incredible, and for the first time I got to try Shrimp & Grits, which of course Jaime was astounded I had never tried. It was really amazing. Paleo? Not in the least, but it was delicious. We ended up splitting our dinners, of which mine was a 16oz prime rib that was cooked to perfection. It was an amazing choice, indeed. (Patrons of the hotel had much less to say of the hotel though.)
The next day consisted of quick workouts, bike check-in, race prep and another awesome dinner at Charlie-O’s Steak House. We had a much larger crowd for dinner which not only included the caravan gang, but some members of Tri-Psych as well. It was the perfect crowd to spend the evening before the race. Everybody was calm, cool and collected on the outside, but some pre-race anxiety seemed to be looming over all of us.
I was surprised at how well I slept that night. I usually never sleep the night before a race. Of course I still didn’t get eight hours, but the 6 I did was a very hard sleep. I woke up even more refreshed than I thought. I had the opportunity to dress, eat and be ready with time to chill out and motivate myself.
The transition area was crowding fast as usual, and since last year I had a very early start, this year I ended up more in the middle waves, so there was plenty of time, to relax and get my bike and gear ready, without feeling rushed. As always there were plenty of people who caught up with me either from, home, past races, social media, or my blog. It was awesome. Race morning has to be one of my favorite times of the race, just because of the excitement and the convening with friends and acquaintances. Those of you podium placers probably are in your own little world at this point, and it makes sense, but to a lot of us just trying to beat our past times and finish comfortably, this is a great time of the morning.
The shuttle took us to the host hotel, and as it was in the lower 50s at the time, we decided to grab some coffee and hangout in the lobby. Finally, it was time to head over to the start, drop my “morning clothes” bag in the truck and enter my corral for the start. I found Jaime, which calmed my nerves a bit. He races with Team RWB of whom I am honored to call myself a part of as well, but he is much faster than I. Usually about 20-30 minutes faster. He is an amazing athlete, motivator and all-around person. We only catch each other at races, but he always is able to motivate just that little bit extra.
The time came and they moved us to the dock, the
gun went off and we jumped in and started swimming. I have been working on my swimming so I adopted my rhythm as soon as possible, and found myself right with the majority of the pack the first 800m but then I fell short. They swam past and I ended up, as usual, in the back. Around the 1200m mark the pack behind me caught me and by time I finished, the fast women, two waves behind me, caught me. I still ended up beating my swim time from the year before by a minute, but it was still slow.
I ran up the ramp to transition and without any incidents I grabbed my bike and headed out and just as I was about to leave transition, mother nature called and I made a quick decision to use the portlets. I still ended up with a four-minute transition, but I was a little disappointed. Around the three-mile mark I started to feel something new; quad burn. I was astounded I was feeling this so soon. Usually, it took 40 to 50 miles of hills before I felt it this bad. I must have over-used them in the swim. After another fifteen minutes I took a Honey Stinger Gel prematurely and the burn subsided meaning that I must have depleted my glycogen levels just enough to feel it. My cadence kicked up and I started passing people, and while I was still getting passed by the elite cyclists in the waves behind me, I was doing more passing than getting passed. The hills were as I remembered and I didn’t have any issues with them until mother nature threw me a curve ball. She added the wind. I was thinking the whole time, I just wanted to average 20mph. That would get me into T2 under 3 hours. I did make it to T2 with that goal, but I fell short of my 20mph average at 19.44 mph.
Unfortunately, because I wanted that 20 mph so bad and I had not accounted for the wind, I spent a little more energy than I wanted and I felt in on the run. At first I felt a little tight, but I was used to that. In my training it took till mile three to get my legs back, so I pushed through and bided my time until then, but at mile three, the tightness didn’t go away. As a matter of fact, the tightness never went away. I ended up doing a run/walk of 1 mile on and sixty seconds off. It worked but I faltered on even doing as well as I did the year before. I was under two hours in 2012, but this year I ended up 2:05 which is the exact amount I was off my over-all time: 5:42 off from 5:36. I cared for a while, but I assessed what I learned and what I needed to take away in order to be successful at Ironman Florida which is the ultimate goal for the year.
I caught up with Pete around mile 11 and we ran into the finish chute together. Of course we were passed by Master’s champion runner, Jeff Lessie who was doing the bike and run as part of a relay. What made it really embarrassing, was that Jeff started an hour behind us and he still caught us. He is an amazing athlete, and when he ran passed us we thought for sure he was just on his first loop, but when we saw him in the finish area, both of us looked at each other and then down at the ground. After a couple of nanoseconds we lifted our heads, found him and gave him a hearty congrats. We both still did pretty well and we knew it.
On to the next challenge, for me, the Chicago Marathon, and for both of of us Ironman Florida, Panama City Beach.
Traveling for races is always exciting, but the opportunity to race in my favorite city in the world, caused an overwhelming explosion of emotions that may have actually hindered me. I will explain that last part a bit later, but let me start from the beginning.
In order to race in the NYC Triathlon from out-of-state, a lottery is performed and in February of this year I was notified that I had been chosen to race. At the time I was not quite sure about it, as my race schedule was already pretty full, but I had heard great things about the race, so I decided to go ahead and put it on the calendar. How many times was I going to be chosen via a lottery…right? I have entered the lottery for the NYC Marathon for the last 3 years and was never chosen, therefore I felt like this may be a one-time opportunity. I made my arrangements immediately, and found some inexpensive accommodations at Hotel Belleclaire which ended up to be a very nice boutique hotel on the upper west side of Manhattan, beautifully positioned directly between transition and the finish line.
The challenge I had was, how do I transport my bike to NYC. I had a few choices.
1) Tri-bike Transport which was $300 each way.
2) Take my bike completely apart and take it with me, then take it to a bike shop to be put back together for $75 and again when I returned, not to mention possible oversize luggage fees at anywhere from 75-150 bucks.
3) Use shipbikes.com and buy a reusable AirCaddy for $100 and then ship my bike via FedEx, directly to my hotel and back home for $100 each way with very minimal dis-assembly of my bike.
I chose option 3, which turned out to be very convenient. The Air Caddy came in a very flat box and was assembled in 10 minutes and my bike was then placed in the box within 5 minutes and ready to ship. It comes with a fork plate that stabilizes the bike in the box and then a series of other corrugated cardboard is placed around the bike which secures and stabilizes it even more. The only small adjustments that need to be made are to remove the saddle and seat post together, and fold down the aero bars. Each is just the loosening of two allen screws. I only had to bring my small bike tool with me in order to tighten them back up upon re-assembly. I taped up the box, added the label which is purchased through shipbikes.com and then called for a FedEx delivery representative to come by and pick it up. Easy breezy. It all happened like clockwork. Of course since this is the first time I was shipping my bike I was a little anxious, and I was going to be, until I re-assembled in NYC.
I left Friday Morning two days before the race and was so excited I could barely contain myself. Not just for the fact I had the opportunity to race in my favorite city I have ever been to, but I was also going to spend some time with friends I hadn’t hung out with in what seemed like forever.
All of the pics online of Hotel Belleclaire were of course beautiful, but in New York City it is sometimes a crap shoot. The marketing pics look great, but when you get there, sometimes you get a room that a little worse for wear. Hotel Belleclaire was absolutely beautiful and the service was first-rate. I was in my room for about 30 minutes when the front desk called just to ask if everything in the room was alright. I was a little shocked because I never experienced that before. It is such a simple concept to give a 30 second call to the guests and it made me feel kind of special. Before I knew it, there was a knock at my door and there was a bellman with my bike. Talk about service. After I put my bike together I phoned the front desk and requested that they store the box since the room was small. I didn’t really care about the size of the room since it was just me, but the box and my bike took up a little more room. It turned out that they could not find anywhere to store the box, so instead of just saying “Sorry, we cannot do anything about it”, they upgraded me and put me in a larger room to accommodate the box. That, was to me, an amazing touch. On Sunday after the race, I boxed up the bike and the concierge told me to just leave it in my room. Monday morning I received a text from FedEx notifying me my bike was picked up and that the estimated date she would be back home was Thursday. If you are going to be in NYC on the upper west side, I highly recommend the Hotel Belleclaire. I think you will enjoy it.
Now back to our regularly scheduled program(after my little endorsement).
After I checked in I planned on going to the expo at Hilton Midtown, so I started walking. The hotel was on 77th St. and Broadway and the Hilton was on 55th and 6th so it was 22 blocks south and two blocks east. No big deal, and it was nice outside so I decided to walk. Here is where I started with a little hinderance. I saw my favorite hot dog place in Manhattan. Grays Papaya. OMG! Now remember that I am about 90% paleo and I haven’t digested a slice of bread in over a year, so you can imagine how my system was going to react to a couple of white flour, processed, buns with grilled hot dogs and all the trimmings. They sure tasted good going down, however they left me in a lurch later that evening. Grays Papaya is famous in the city for their hot dogs and papaya drink. I had both and they were sooo good. It was like a sin to eat something that tasted that good as processed as it was. I always talk about balance right? Well, I figured I hadn’t had one in so long, it wouldn’t hurt. WRONG!!!! I will spare you the details of what happened a couple of hours later.
Inside the Host Hotel. I just had to take a pic.
I called a good friend of mine, Michael who moved to the city almost four years ago. Michael and I used to to perform in plays and musicals together semi-professionally. Michael was keeping the dream alive in New York while I turned to health and fitness. To my surprise he was willing to go to the expo with me so I could check-in. The New York Triathlon required the attendance of all the athletes at a mandatory meeting in order to verify everyone had the information in the Athlete Handbook. In order to get your packet you had to attend a meeting and get your hand stamped. Because I had been to so many races prior and never usually went to the meetings, that I would be a little annoyed but the person whom MC’ed the meeting was hilarious and had us all in stitches. He also was great about getting the info out specifically and succinctly, so all of us whom attended could have our hand stamped and out of there in about 25 minutes. The rest of check-in was a breeze.
The expo was, well…interesting. Mainly because I was in a different part of the US, it had different vendors. What I did notice was that Zicco Coconut Water was a huge sponsor. They were giving out coconut water like it was, uh…water. Even in our SWAG there was one of those huge liter bottles that usually sell for around $9. I love Zicco so I was beyond freaking thrilled. The only unfortunate thing was that they only were giving the original version and I know that the chocolate flavor is amazing, but I enjoy the natural flavor too. The rest of the expo was what you would expect of a triathlon which is minimal compared to marathon’s and big road races, but it still had that great race aura and energy.
Michael and I hung out for a bit and caught up and then headed to Restaurant 44th&10th which is located, can you guess? You are correct. 44th st and 10 Ave just about 20 more blocks from the hotel. The place is a corner of a set of stores and is decked out in white with colors used as accents on the walls and cushions of the chairs. The food was amazing. I had the grilled tilapia with steamed spinach and a sweet potato, butternut squash mash. Deliciouso! For desert was a dark chocolate flour-less cake which tasted more like mouse, and an organic banana sundae. WOW! It was an outburst of flavors that stimulated my taste buds with the cool essence of banana, chocolate and toasted marshmallow. O-M-G was it good!
Now all fat and happy, Michael and I headed off to my hotel, so I could drop off all the swag from the expo and that, ladies and gentlemen, is when Grays Papaya decided to fight for control of my digestive system away from my incredible food from 44th&10th. That is all I have to say about that. Needless to say after a couple of syndicated comedies, conversations about theatre in the city and dealing with my stomach I wasn’t going anywhere else that night.
I woke up Saturday feeling a lot better. I took a shower, put together everything I needed for transition, which didn’t open until 2 pm, and headed out into the city. Around 1 pm I stopped at my favorite pizza place. The restaurant will remain, forever, a planned event whenever I am in NYC. The place with the best pizza on the planet. John’s Pizza on 44th St between 7th an 8th avenues. This place has the absolute best pizza with all natural ingredients I have ever tasted. The thinnest flakiest crust with a spicy tomato sauce, mozzarella that strings to ceiling if you let it and the best ingredients ever resting on top. Personally, I am a minimalist so I prefer a nice pepperoni and fresh garlic, but my friend Jorge Acosta whom joined me for this amazing meal, was all about the pineapple and Canadian Bacon. I never tried it, but I have to say it was pretty good too.
This part of 44th st is a kind of home to me. It is where all the best theatres are located. Across from John’s , Phantom was playing. Directly next door, Let it Be. A little further down and across the street was Lucky Guy with Tom Hanks and two doors down was the famous Sardis of which Jorge and I headed to afterward to continue catching up. Jorge is one of those guys who has had such an amazing life that we can just talk forever. If I wasn’t participating in the triathlon the next day, we would probably still be talking. He is an amazing and talented guy and I am so excited he is making it in NYC as an actor. Knock on wood, he hasn’t needed another job to get him by. That is how talented this guy really is.
I left Jorge and headed back to the hotel to grab my bike and head to transition in Riverside Park. There are
two transition setups for the NYC Tri. Yellow and Red. My wave was in the Yellow which was schedulted to start at 5:50 am on Sunday and included the pros and elites along with half the Age Group athletes, while red didn’t start until 7:20. The transition setup was just like any other triathlon, no
frills with metal rods to hang the bike from the seat. The only somewhat different protocol was the transparent bags that were handed out and highlighted during the mandatory meeting. This was new after the incident
at the Boston Marathon. Instead of bringing in a transition backpack like I usually do, now a plastic transparent bag is the only thing allowed to bring gear into the transition area. I didn’t want to leave anything besides my bike, so I personally didn’t bring anything at this point but my bike. I left my bike with a plastic bag covering the handlebars and seat and headed out to meet another friend of mine from high school, Kyle.
Kyle, a professional Opera singer, is just as interesting. He had just opened a show, so we were able to meet just outside of Lincoln Center for a bit before he needed to be at the theatre. Kyle has an amazing wife, Laura and an eleven year-old prodigy daughter. A prodigy in what? It would probably be easier to tell you what she is NOT a prodigy in . She is incredibly smart as well as an Olympic swimmer in the making. Maybe I can get lessons from her? Kyle and I talked for an hour about his shows, my races, Alana’s talent and Laura’s singing as well. When it was time to head out Kyle said something to me that made me so proud. He started with, “I know you will probably taught this but Laura and started doing this ‘Insanity’ workout and I feel better, taller and stronger than I have ever been.” I praised him, because I use the Insanity workouts and I am a Beach Body coach. I was so excited to hear about his and Laura’s results. He went on to tell me about how everything was better. He was singing even better, he felt taller, slept better and was craving the workouts. It made me smile when I heard about it. Right here was proof, that with a child that needed to be brought to school, activities, swim practice, his daytime rehearsals, night-time performances, and Laura’s full-time job, they both still found time to workout six days a week. Remember that living in New York City means taking even more time for transportation as well. There are very few people that are as busy as Kyle and Laura and they still find time, six days a week. No excuses. I love it.
That finished my day. I went back to the room, took a shower and fell into bed exhausted. I know it would feel like no time at all, before the 3 am alarm would go off and my phone would remind me again at 3:10. I would try, but I wouldn’t get as much sleep as I wanted.
My room prior to the move.
HITS is a fairly new triathlon series, with a unique concept. Their tag line is “A distance for everyone”, which really says it all. A HITS weekend consists of 70.3 (half-iron distance) and a 140.6(full-iron distance) on Saturday, and on Sunday, Sprint and Olympic distance triathlons. It is a pretty cool concept, and they are really well-organized.
After having breakfast with the Team Foley after the Fight for Air Climb I headed out to Ocala with the hope of seeing at least Margie, Kari and Megan cross the finish line. I have to admit, while I have been training, it hasn’t been as focused as it should have. My “off-season” mentality didn’t quite transition into the race attitude just yet, but I thought I was at least in shape to do the Oly. In triathlon season, usually the first couple of months, is usually “Base” phase which just gets the wheels and legs rolling again, develop some strength and start gaining the endurance needed for race season. With that in mind, I figured an Olympic distance would be perfect to baseline where I am in my training. Imagine my surprise when I saw a lot of my friends out on Saturday competing in the 70.3. As I was watching competitors and friends cross the line there was a familiar itch developing in my heart. I didn’t quite notice what it was at the time.
The course for the 70.3 was pretty intense with loops that included a 1.2 mile swim in a 65 degree Lake Weir, 56 miles of rolling hills and wind of the bike, and an intense mixture of soft trails, and asphalt out-and-backs for the 13.1 mile run. I was too busy losing my lungs to catch any of the swim or bike, but I was happy to be around to see the finale of the run.
I had my first blog recognition, which was really nice. I was at the expo, grabbing a couple of Honey Stinger gels for my race the next day and I was chatting with the owner of Kickstart Endurance and she told me she followed IronGoof. I tried not to make a big deal out of it, but secretly I was really excited.
I missed Margie, but I was really happy to see Megan and Kari cross the finish. They both were finishing their first 70.3 along with some other members of the Tri Psych Club, so for them this was a huge accomplishment and deserved a celebration. That itch started to intensify at Chili’s that night as everyone’s conversation about their race surrounded me.
I really attempted to be nonchalant about this race. I kept telling myself, “Self, this is no big deal. You know you are not ready to race, this is a small race and this is going to tell you what you need to work on.” Unfortunately, waking up the next morning at 4:30a, and preparing my gear not only woke up my consciousness but the competition juices and anxiety levels as well. I showered, dressed, applied my TriTats, loaded the car and off I went.
As I mentioned before, the organization of this race was first-rate, from, staff organizing parking to the transition areas. Have I mentioned the transition area? In previous races I have barely glanced over the amenities of the transition areas, well except for the Rev3 Venice Beach. Let me put it this way, if the transition areas were cars, then every other race I have been in were Toyotas, the Rev3 was a Lexus, and the HITS series was a Bentley. Not only were there boxes that held gear and clamped a tire for easy removal of the bike, plenty of room for transition setup in-between the bikes, but each participant had their own personal stool with their number and last name on them. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it really is the little things that make an impression.
I headed down to the beach with my wet suit on halfway, goggles and swim cap in hand. The temperature outside was perfect with just a slight breeze and the sun was starting to slowly creep up over the horizon. I was incredibly grateful to see my friends down on the beach. Pete, Kari, Megan, Michael, Stan and a couple f others as it made me feel slightly less stressed. After the mandatory meeting, all of the males waded out a bit into the water for the start. My anxiety reared a little due to the fact, I was using my backup goggles because my regular goggles broke in transition and this was the coldest water I had ever swam in.
The whole beach counted off, “Three, Two, One…” and the horn blew. We all ran or dolphin dived toward the first buoy. The water was kind of shallow so I did have some time to start to get used to the water. I remembered my strategy and my stroke count and I started swimming. I started losing ground within the first 200m, which was normal for me. My new stroke technique is still relatively new, so I figured I wasn’t going to be fast immediately. When I reached the first buoy, I started feeling short of breath, even though I thought I was relatively relaxed. My chest started to feel compressed like I was being stepped on, and my arms were not moving as freely as I wanted them to. I moved to breast stoke to see if I could relax a bit, but it was to know avail, the compression would just not loosen. I have never had an issue with my wet suit. Except for getting out of it, I kinda like it. I feel more buoyant, warmer and protected from other things that may cause issues in open water. Now I just felt like it was python, strangling me. I kept going, but it was a combination of freestyle, side stroke, and breast stoke. When I reached the second buoy, my mind went into overdrive trying to get me to quit. The ideas popping in my head were asinine. I kept hearing, “You aren’t trained for this”, “You don’t belong here.”, “Just get out of the water. It is only a baseline remember?”. The thing was, I had another loop to do. I swam toward third buoy, and the water became very shallow, so we really didn’t have any choice but to run through it and start dolphin diving again. I forced myself to have the one thought that has gotten me through tough training, cold, wet and rainy workouts, and exhausting races; “The mind will quit one-hundred times before the body does.” I told myself, “Self, that is first and only time that is going to happen today.” I ran around the third buoy and headed out for my second loop.
The second loop felt a little better, but I was so happy to get out of that wet suit. I am still not quite certain why I felt that way. It wasn’t the size of the wet suit because when I bought it I was 25 pounds heavier. Either way I ran out of the water unzipping and getting out of it on my way to transition. One of the strippers told me to lay down and she yanked it off of me. I grabbed my helmet while I put on my shoes and crossed the mat in less than 3 minutes.
The bike course was actually pretty nice. Rolling hills, with well conditioned roads and plenty help by the Sheriff’s department. I wanted to make up sometime, so in my head I thought to just keep passing people. I only got passed twice during the first ten miles of the twenty-five mile course and I was happy with that. I played cat & mouse with a couple of them, and ended up passing them in during the last half of the course. Unfortunately, there was a storm on the horizon and the wind picked up quite a bit on on the second half, not to mention the hills were more abundant and steeper(at least for Florida). My speed, that I was holding quite consistent at 21 mph started to drop to 18, then 17 and at that point, I refused to go under 18 mph. I came into transition, averaging 19.1 and I was proud of that.
I racked my bike and sat on my stool to put on my socks and shoes. I got hung up a little bit, but was still out of there in less than 3 minutes, and it was off to the run. Pete yelled at me as I headed into the trees, “This is the fun part”. At first I agreed with him.
I decided to wear my Hoka One One Biondi Speed 2 running shoes with the large sole, because I wanted to test how they felt on a triathlon after being on the bike. Big mistake. At first the ground wasn’t very soft, and I was ok running about an 8:15 mile, but as I got further into the woods, the trail got softer and softer. With that big sole, not only was my foot pushing down on the sole, but then into the soft ground causing three times as much resistance as the a regular running shoe. I didn’t figure this out at first, but after one-and-a-half miles, I felt like I needed to stop, and that was not usual, not matter what kind of shape I was in. I walked at the aid station for about 200 yards and then I continued running but at a much slower pace. I had to do two loops of the run course as well, and I could feel the resistance ease off when I hit the asphalt again. All of the sudden I was lighter and faster, but I had to do a second loop into the woods again. I decided my strategy would be to walk a hundred yards at the aid station and 100 yards at the turn-around, but other than that I would let my legs do what could. It worked out well as my splits were faster on the second loop.
I ran out of the woods with Pete snapping shots and hearing cheers from Megan, Kari and a couple of others. As, I crossed the finish line it became clear to me, that I am not in the shape I was in for my last 70.3, but I would enjoy this moment as a victory. It was not a PR, but it this race let me know what I need to do over the next months in order to take on the rest of my race schedule.
After calming down a bit and chatting with Pete and a few other friends, Summer Bailey found me. She had competed in the 70.3 the day before. Summer lives in Georgia, so we really only see each other at races and occasionally chat on Facebook so it was really incredible to actually chat and catch up with her in person. She is an amazing woman and with a huge heart and ferocious determination. We both agreed that neither one of us had trained enough for our races, but it was good to have a race under our belt for the year. Chatting with her was encouraging, and I know we will be seeing each other again during the season. To be able to see and chat with her and some others that I do not get to train with allowed me to remember one of the greatest thing about triathlon and racing in general. It’s the friends and connections we make. Other than having a good race and crossing the finish line, it is the best part about it.
Besides crossing the finish line what are the best experiences you have competing?
I thought it was kinda nutty when I was invited to the Sunrise/Sunset Challenge, but I wasn’t sure the impact it would have on me. I looked at the distances of the two races, Top Gun and the Twilight Triathlons, and thought, “What the hell? The two distances do not even add up to an Olympic. How difficult could it be?” What I didn’t count on was the increased effort level?
The plan was hammer the Top Gun and do the Twilight for fun. (I am a poet and didn’t even know it.) Yeah. Right. Considering I have been competing and training for more long course triathlons lately, I really thought I would finally be able to conquer the sprint. My last full sprint was two years ago, when I competed in a few sprints in order to get ready for a marathon my times were less than admirable. To be honest, I was happy with 1:20 at the time. Now, after a few Ironman 70.3s and last year’s full Ironman I really thought I could do a lot better. Figuratively, I actually did, but in my mind it still wasn’t what I wanted, but there were some small achievements.
I picked up an A-Train Tri member, Jaime Breibert, around 5am and headed out to Ft. DeSoto. After the experiencing the pay-to-park line for the Escape from Ft. DeSoto Triathlon, I was pleasantly surprised this event was exempt so there were no delays driving into the park. Nice! Like every other race I have competed or watched at Ft. DeSoto the organization of the event was outstanding. The line for body marking was minimal, the transition area was large enough to accommodate all of the athletes bikes, space for their transition setup and extraneous bags. Walking into transition I spent minimal time setting up my bike, helmet and sunglasses, towel, bike shoes, and running gear including my choice of shoes (this time being my Brooks Pure Cadence), running belt and hat. I wasn’t rushed for time, or inconvenienced by other athletes. It was smooth sailing which is always nice since it eliminates any unwanted stress.
I headed on down to the beach with Nick Zivolich and Jaime where the low pitched but high energy voice was repeating instructions over the speaker system. It was a nice and comfortable environment I have come to love over the past years. The energy of the upcoming race increasingly becoming more and more intense as the time for the first heat was getting closer. I caught up with a bunch of friends and familiar fellow tri community members I have accumulated over the last years. This is absolutely one of my favorite times of the race. I have been really lucky this year as my age group has been assigned early heat times, so the intense anticipation has been minimal. Last year, I was not so lucky, but I understand the race directors strategy of moving the groups around each year to be fair. It will be interesting to find out what they where I will be starting next year. I was in the fifth heat this year only 12 minutes after the first and immediately following Jaime’s heat.
I wished Jaime and Victoria luck and intensely watched them swim out to the first buoy. Just a quick disclaimer. I totally and utterly suck at swimming. For me triathlon is survive the swim and get on the bike where the competition really begins. Not that I haven’t been working at it, but honestly, if for some reason I have to skip a workout, I’ll skip a swim before a bike, run or strength workout, but I digress. The horn finally went off and my personal race had started. I had been analyzing my swim prior to this, and just recently had the epiphany that maybe my pull of my arm through the water was possibly to shallow to allow me any kind of real speed. I usually finish with the heat behind me, and even sometimes with the heat behind that one, but this time following my experiment of dipping my arm deeper and pulling a little harder, (Voila!!) I actually finished in the middle of my heat. As I ran to my bike I noticed silver swim caps in front of me and coming behind me. A huge smile came over my face as I was slipping into my bike shoes and put on my helmet and sunglasses. I really couldn’t believe it. At this point I already felt like a winner.
I ran out of transition, jumped on my bike and headed out to the course I knew so well, due to all of the brick workouts I completed here with my A-Train Triathlon family. My goal; keep my speed above 21 while keeping a cadence under 96. The whole ride was pretty uneventful. The same word came out of my mouth more than anytime in the short period I have been racing. I continually yelled the word “left” as I was passing other athletes on my right, of course it was disconcerting when I heard it coming from my left. The ego boost came when I finished the final roundabout yelling “left” to a male athlete that had passed me at the beginning of my ride. As, I came into transition the only thought was how fast can I get in and out of transition, start the run and whether or not I had pushed a little to hard on the bike. According to my computer I had averaged well above 21, so was that too much?
I pulled on my shoes, grabbed my hat and ran out of transition buckling my race belt with my number attached to the front. I grabbed water on the way, a little disappointed when it turned out to be very warm, but it was wet. As I started trying to increase the cadence I noticed that my legs were very heavy, not a good sign. I kept saying to myself this is fine, just lean from the ankles and let gravity fuel your momentum. As much I told myself to lift my legs and lean a little more, my body refused to submit to what my head was commanding. I continued through the first mile to the fort, and very, very slowly my legs started to loosen a little, and my cadence started to increase. Passing the 1 mile aid station, I noticed a little more energy in my step and my hip flexors obeying my will. Then I turned the corner and I remembered. Crap! The middle mile of this race is on SAND! The lower extremities of my body surprised me as they adapted immediately to their new environment. I guess all those beach runs with Amy Eck had actually done something for me. All of the sudden I found myself enjoying the run. My legs stretched out, by body leaned, my cadence finally reached 180 (I think) and I was flying. Who would’ve thought feeling all that resistance under my feet would actually transform into moving faster? Not me, but after begging my body to obey earlier I was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, so before my body decided any differently I picked up my pace. Turning on the path back to the asphalt I caught another athlete with a 44 on his calf. Hmm…an athlete in my wave I will place in front of…cool. With that thought completed I noticed another male runner in front of me with the number 41 on his calf. My only thought; “You are mine!” With the finish line in sight and the 3 mile marker on my left, I started to sprint with the finish line getting larger in my view and the runner in front of me coming closer and just a few feet from the timing mat, I caught him and jumped in front. A short term goal accomplished. I was so wiped out I could not immediately put my foot on the stool in order for the volunteer to remove my chip. I had to step over to a section of baracade and keep myself from falling for a quick second. After a half a minute I recovered enough to get my chip removed, grab some water and meet some friends at the end of the finish line assembly. Jaime had just finished and Speedy Nick was there already dried off and drinking some water.
With as exhausted as I was how was I ever going to this again in less than 12 hours?
After greeting some friends and coaches, watching some other friends and athletes come across the finish, I headed out to find some water and Gatorade. I noticed some preliminary results were posted, so I walked over in the hopes mine might just be posted and as luck, good or bad, would have it they were. My first split was the swim, and I was pleasantly surprised 7:53…cool. Less than 2 min per 100m…I’ll take that considering my miserable swimming performances leading to this race. Second split was the bike..26:51 averaging 22.3 MPH…Sweet! I never did that before. Finally, a 26.35..5k run. Well, I have run much faster, but not during a triathlon. 8:33 miles per minute…honestly I thought I did better, but I accepted it. More Bricks, more bricks, more bricks.
Overall, 1:06:36. A personal record(PR) since my last Sprint was 1:19 so you would think I would be happy and at first I was, until I looked at my place; 38th with only 67 athletes in my age group. Not even in the top 50 percent. That dropped me from my high pretty fast. There were still runners on the course so maybe there a few more in my group out there where I can at least be in the top half. As I check the results while I write this, it turns out there were I am ranked 39th out of 84 so I made it, just barely but I did make the top half.
The end of the morning consisted of congratulating friends, socializing and grabbing some breakfast at Lucky Dills in downtown St. Pete. I couldn’t have imagined a better morning.
Next up, the two race day continues.