Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Offseason

Ah, the offseason. Time to take a load off, both literally and in a figurative/periodizational way, and to relax, recharge, and rebuild after a long season of training and racing. This year, I took a whole extra week off of any and all physical activity (for a whopping 2 whole weeks), considering the physical and pulmonary "insult" I sustained racing Kona. 
eat, drink, and be merry! homemade pumpkin soup and some festive IPAs
During the time off, I really tried to RELAX as much as possible and to let my body heal - both from the long season of training and racing and the mental fatigue from the energy and focus that go into maintaining these levels. This is the goal every offseason, but I felt like I needed a little bit more than ever this year due to the acute stress and damage done this past fall. This worked out well, as this was my first full "offseason" as a QT2 athlete and one of QT2's most important areas of focus and one of their 5 cornerstones is Restoration. I ate, drank, slept well, and was, generally, merry.

As I was taking this time off, I couldn't help but notice what some of my triathlon peers were up to, reading about crazy workouts on Facebook, Twitter, and various forums and FB groups. It is beyond me to understand why some athletes, and even worse coaches, think that it is a good idea to do VO2 max efforts on the track in October/November, especially after a long triathlon season. Unless you are training specifically for a fall or winter marathon and are in your specific prep for such an event, give it a rest! I know reverse periodization is in vogue right now and maybe that is what this is all about, but in my opinion it is better to rest, recharge, and restore at this time of year!
As part of the offseason, or even the transition period if that is what you have moved onto, it is all about getting moving again and preparing your body to be able to absorb the work that is to come when you start the formal training plan again. This could take many forms, and for me this entailed doing some fun and "different" workouts. Mountain biking, trail running, PowerCranking (see below), and getting back in the gym to start laying some foundational strength and to start building the soft tissue durability. This is important because as you get going again, your body can be a little bit more "soft", weak, and susceptible to injury than normal, and the first couple months of base work are critical to get right. I know this all too well, having tweaked my IT band coming back with too much run volume in the fall of 2011, and more recently straining my SI joint with the leg press, trying to be a hero this past fall! Do yourself a favor and ease back into it all - I don't know where you live, but those frozen, Pittsburgh-area streets are awfully firm and try to trash your legs when you start laying down the run volume again in January!


My fitness took a nosedive through October & November, but despite the time off, I feel really good now and ready to rock! Sure, a 100 mile ride or a 20 mile run might be a little harder than usual right about now, but my pace and power profiles are not bad at all for the mid-distance efforts right now. Fitness is lower, but freshness is high! Time to start heading the other way and build that fitness once again.

offseason PMC
2013 is going to be a big year! Make sure that you give both your body and your mind the chance that they deserve to take you to new heights in the New Year!

here we go, 2013!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Kona 2012 Race Report

Kona 2012. Where do I begin? This is going to be tough for me to write and get through, but I want to do it while the memories are still fresh, skin is still tan, sensory experiences from the island still prominent, and then so I can put this race behind me and stop beating myself up.

Race week was going well, landed in Kona a week prior as we have done the last 3 years, was getting used to the heat/humidity, getting some short but solid sessions in, and was generally resting, hydrating, sleeping well, and feeling like a million bucks. Even got an incredible massage on the island the Tuesday prior, brought the NormaTec MVP's- basically the legs and energy levels were topped off and I was ready to rip it. Race morning started as most do, nutrition was going down well, got an earlier start from the condo than usual, was very relaxed and had plenty of time to spare before the start.

Got down on Dig Me Beach fairly early, just waded about in ankle deep water until about 6:50, and then swam out to the start line to pick my spot. I grabbed a spot in my usual area, about 20-30 yards left of the pier and 2-3 rows back. I was ready to have a great swim, having hit a couple incredibly strong (for me) swim weeks in my final Kona overload. Things seemed calm and there was less jockeying for position here than in years past (enter: irony &' foreshadowing). The drums were beating, helicopter swirling overhead, countdown on, and then we were off.
Things were getting real
Disaster! The first 2-3 minutes, I made next to ZERO forward progress, I was being walloped and brutalized like never before. Somewhere towards the end of this time period, I was buoyed up on all sides and from underneath, completely out of the water like a breached whale, and all I remember is a spray of whitewater around my face. Moments later I was back down underwater, submerged back in the chaos, and I actually thought "This is the sensation that one might have before drowning". Thank the stars I have a long swimming background, have been in my share of hairy swim environments before, and I am a stubborn, proud racer. Things finally calmed down, I eventually got some clear water, and I soldiered on. The swim was going ok in the final 3/4, I felt alright, and was sighting and navigating reasonably well with the sizable swell and chop that we had on the day. Out of the water to see a low 1:01 coming up the steps. I was prepared for this, having had distance and time notification beeps on my 910XT, and said "whatever, on to the next one." Not bad, considering my worthless and hair-raising first couple of minutes of the race. Transition 2:46. **Present day analysis, 44th position AG out of the water, compared to 35th last year - ok, not so good.

swim and bike splits
Off and onto the bike, and things were going smoothly. T1 was quick with the new Rudy Project helmet that went on easy over my ears, shoes in cleats, Profile Design bento box/e-pack thing holding all of my nutrition on-bike, and then I even managed to keep all of my bottles in their cages over the rough part of Kuakini Hwy! On to my top two early bike priorities, pounding the fluids, and settling into my goal race wattage and then to see how my HR/RPE was measuring up to that in the first 20 miles. Things were looking pretty good, avg watts were about 6 below what my plan called for, but it felt right so I rolled with it. I caught up to Chad somewhere around the 25 mile mark which was a good sign, and that I was riding well. While continuing to keep an eye on CH, I kept rolling along, keeping my watts up, and pushing the nutrition. Approaching the Waikoloa area and a little bit beyond, we got our first taste of the wind. This was much earlier than I have ever experienced in my four years racing Kona, about 20 miles earlier than usual to be honest, and they were ripping. The one new bike question mark for me going in, was how it would handle in the wind. I got in a solid number of miles before the race to know that the fit was dialed and that would not be an issue, but what remained was how would the bike handle, the geometry, the SHIFT technology, etc. Question answered, it was amazing, NO problems whatsoever. The Illicito swallowed up the wind and spit it out. Thank you QR. Made the turn to head down to Kawaihae, then turned right to head up to Hawi. The wind was rough heading up, but then again it always is, and the bike form on the day seemed solid. 
turnaround in Hawi
I made the turn in Hawi about 5 minutes quicker than last year, on arguably a much tougher day, and started hammering down the hill. Chad and I were keeping an eye on one another, and I don't know about him, but I enjoyed this as it was like we were back in Western PA on a training ride and helped make the pacing and keeping the effort up that much more natural. Got back down to Kawaihae and made the turn onto the Queen K for the final ~30 mile push back to town, and sure enough, the wind had shifted (or the trades were more dominant now) and the wind was now in our face.
fighting the wind on the Queen K, en route to T2
The final 30-ish miles were slower than the preceding 80 as per usual, but I managed to keep the avg speed for this segment above 20 mph, cadence up, and was keeping my effort steady and controlled with my lowest VI of the day as I kept my head down and fought the wind. The watts came down a little in this section, Chad went about a minute up the road, but I was on track for a Kona bike PR. I finished the bike leg with a 5:02:18, good for a 22.23 mph avg. I was hoping to crack 5 hours today, but the conditions were pretty brutal, and compared to last year (5:04:25), this was a much stronger ride. Last year, I slipped from 35th out of the water, to 55th at the end of the bike. Today I jumped from 44th out of the water to 26th at the end of the bike. Last year, my run was my ace in the sleeve, and if I could run like that again, I would reach my goals and improve dramatically from last year in my AG. T2 went ok at 2:39, and I was off and onto the run. Total combined transition time 30 seconds faster than last year, so marginally better here.

I started the run off and my pace/HR was reasonable at less than 7:00/mile pace and HR below 155 bpm, but I knew straightaway that something was off and I did not feel quite right. One thing I was conscious of from the very start of the run though was that I had a strange sensation of chest tightness. My nutrition was spot-on from the bike, I knew I had hydrated and fueled well so I wasn't sure what could be causing this blah-feeling, but my energy levels were VERY low. I tried to focus on cranking up my turnover and staying smooth, of not fighting my stride in anyway, to try to ease into the run. Often the first few miles of the IM marathon feel terrible, but eventually you come around. There were bad signs though, as my HR was holding steady, pace slowly slipping, but RPE starting to climb dramatically. Within the first 3-4 miles of the run, the chest tightness progressed into a small cough almost as if I had a chest cold and I continued to feel less and less like myself. Between miles 6-8 there was a shift and things started to get much tougher. I had started power walking the aid stations, and did so as I came off of Kuakini and worked my way up Palani Road between miles 10 & 11. As I started the long slog out the Queen K to the Natural Energy Lab turnaround, I really started to suffer. The feeling in my chest was growing more and more "congested", and I started to really work the cough and try to clear shit out. Around mile 14 for the first time, I stopped midway between aid stations and, hands on knees, violently coughed up some of the "congestion" and spit it out on the pavement. Uh-oh. Orange-ish-red, frothy nastiness, and quite a bit of it. With that bit of nastiness out however, I felt a little better and my breathing more natural, so off I started running again (though pretty slow at this point) for another couple of miles. Repeat this process all over again at about miles 17, 20, and 23. Cough up some blood, clear out some space, continue running.
One foot in front of the other
As I was making my way through the back half of the marathon and this horror show was unfolding, my mind was racing and questioning me and the effort more than ever before. I had a pretty good idea what was going on with my growing knowledge of physiology, but the athlete in me plead to remain somewhat ignorant. I thought quite a bit about whether I should continue on or drop out, about what sort of physical damage I may have been doing and risk I was taking, but I rationalized staying in and finishing the race. In the end, the reasons to finish far outweighed the reason to quit.
  • the opportunity cost of training for the last 10 months, 
  • the distance traveled and time taken to race, 
  • the financial investment, 
  • my competitive spirit, 
  • my pride, 
  • respect for the history of this race, those that have raced here and aspire to race here, and the power and spirit of the Big Island,
  • the belief in my abilities of my sponsors/coach/teammates/friends/family, 
  • and the ability to still run, despite this temporary ailment when Ryan and others cannot and will not walk   
  • being a quitter. Feeling sorry for myself. Taking the easy way out and using this as an excuse. And then perhaps always wondering if I could have finished, and perhaps a lifetime of regret.
Needless to say, I kept going, and honestly the symptoms didn't get much worse from the first hacking of a lung at mile 14, and then during the interminable amount of time before I finished. During this rough stretch however, the motivation to finish grew, with the welcome sight of another downhill run on Palani, a couple more turns, and then another beautiful, grateful, and cherished run down Ali'i Drive to the best finish line on Earth.
hurdling a Blais-man roller at the finish. No disrespect, but I needed some medical attention!
I ended the day with a 3:36:34 marathon at an 8:15 avg pace, dropping from my promising 26th place off the bike to 50th place in my AG at the finish line. Had I run the same marathon time as last year, I would have run my way up to 6th or 7th place in my AG. Based on how I had been running prior to the race, equaling my 2011 run time was a real, and even conservative possibility.  But that's all just a distant, blood-stained dream at this point! Total time 9:45:45. This was my 2nd slowest finish in Kona of my four, wonderful years racing here, but surprisingly, I ran faster this year than I did in 2009. This was one pleasant surprise taken from the day when doing analysis for the writing of this race report. While I was upset and disappointed to see my finish time coming across the line, I would be lying if I said I wasn't aware of the overall time as I was walking/coughing my way through the Energy lab, and I thought that while this wasn't going to be the outcome that I wanted for the day, I could still go sub-10 if I sucked it up and ran some more!
HR trailing off dramatically throughout the run. lung capacity matters - who knew?!
heading to the med-tent. no need to grovel for an IV this year!
So I got to the medical tent and coughed up some more "rusty colored sputum" for the med tent staff. Commence with much running around of the docs and nurses, their gathering of medical apparatus, and whispering amongst themselves about "pulmonary edema" and "wet, very wet" lung sounds. Next came an ambulance ride to Kona Community Hospital, and then a couple hours starving post-race as I was poked, prodded, measured, tested, x-rayed, etc. This was to be the beginning of a two day stay in Kona Hospital where I could stew and think about my race and what went wrong. That, perhaps, is the worst part about all of this. I was at my lifetime best fitness, was psyched to race and the day started off very well, only to crash and burn. I did nothing wrong, with the exception of perhaps choosing (once again) an overly aggressive and risky swim-start position. After speaking with numerous doctors while confined to the hospital, the number one theory of how I contracted pulmonary edema during the race was:
I probably aspirated sea water during that particularly rough part of the swim, and then this created a hypertonic environment in my lungs that started an osmotic chain reaction that would run out of control during the day and fill up and damage my lungs as I raced. There are some other factors that may have contributed, no one knows for sure, least of all me, but the scientist in me is curious and I continue to research the condition and try to apply it to my symptoms on the day.
"My-after" - KCH cafeteria food!
So that's the story. My tale of woe, and I think probably the strangest race report I have ever written. Maybe it will hold that title for sometime into the future, maybe not. I cannot begin to express how disappointed I am that this happened, and that my day ended in this way and with this less than desirable result, but I am also gaining a growing appreciation that I stuck it out and finished. I am not particularly proud of my finish time, but I am extremely proud of the effort and my toughness/perseverance. I am still coming to terms with everything, but writing about it was a good, cathartic start, and in time I am sure that I will gain additional perspective and peace with the race. Most of all, I am thankful to have had the opportunity to race in and finish Kona once again, and to have my health and to be on the road to recovery. Many, many thanks especially to my wife Jocelyn, my family (Mom, Dad, and sister) who were all there in Kona and terribly worried and supportive of me, and friends, family, teammates, and online well-wishers who contacted me during my convalescence. Thanks as well to my sponsors, fans, and supporters - I promise, I'll be back and better than ever!

Mahalo -

Friday, September 28, 2012

New Sponsor - Quintana Roo bikes


Today I had a much anticipated package waiting on my doorstep, a brand new 2013 Quintana Roo Illicito frameset!  

A few weeks back, an old friend and contact from QR got in touch with me and we started discussing my coming on board, and QR as my potential bike sponsor. This was very exciting for many reasons, but the two most prominent in my mind was that 1:
Quintana Roo is a creative, forward thinking bike manufacturer that is dedicated to triathlon as is evidenced that they do not build bikes for ProTour time-trialing, with triathlon getting the leftovers. The Illicito is not UCI-compliant (inspiration for the frame's name), and that is perfectly fine with me. They were the original tri-bike company and they are still pushing the envelope on design and functionality.
Not my frame, but highlighting the "missing" seatstay
And 2:
Quintana Roo is a real "racer's" or "people's" company, not defined by multi-million dollar marketing campaigns or making a litany of models and lines. As stated above, they make only tri-bikes, and they make them for true triathletes. In addition to this company ethos, it is widely known and it is also my personal experience, that if you have a problem with your bike, they leap to solve it, and with a personal touch that is uncommon in the bike industry.

To my first point, the Illicito has a revolutionary design that is founded on two key points, QR's SHIFT technology and the complete removal of the left seatstay. As a result of this advanced engineering and design, the Illicito has the lowest drag coefficient at high yaw angles of any current tri-bike out there. This should be a great advantage on a course like Kona, or even on my local Brush Creek training loop! Much more has been said about the Illicito, and by much more informed personnel than I, and some of the reviews and explanations of features can be found here, here, and here.

My personal experience with QR stems from an issue my wife had at Kona in 2010. Long story short (and a lot of you already know it), she was hit by a car the Wednesday before the race and her first tri-bike, a QR Lucero, was completely destroyed. Not knowing what to do, and also with a touch of hysteria and panic, we stopped by the QR booth at the expo to see what could be done about her destroyed frame/derailleur hanger. Try getting personal attention from the directors of European & North American Sales, and the chief design engineer of one of the "industry giants". Not a chance, but that's exactly what we got from QR who saved the day, and did it with a smile on their face. Disaster averted, friends made, and fans we had become.

Jocelyn's trusty first steed until she caught the dreaded "right hook" on Ali'i Dr

So that's the scoop! I'm really excited to be working with Quintana Roo because their bikes are fast and as a company, they are incredibly supportive of their athletes because they "get it." And as an added bonus, they seem to think I'm fast and get it too! Now I just need to get this beast built up and ready to roll in Kona!
That's the one. There's my baby!
Quintana Roo can be found here online, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogger. Check them out, they make the most cutting edge stuff and they really are "True to the Tri!" Thanks for reading, and thanks to QR for making me part of your team!

P.S. And finally, I am told (and I also read) that bikes are supposed to bear a name, similar to a sea-going vessel. I have heard all types of names for bikes, both male and female, creative or banal, suggestive or simple, and even inspirational or in memoriam. I have yet to name my ride, but I'll keep you posted if I do!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vegas Race Report 2012

On Sunday September 9th, I raced in and finished the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Las Vegas, or more accurately, Henderson NV. This was my first time racing in the 70.3 Championship event, though I had qualified numerous times before but never made the trip for whatever reasons. Initially it was that the old venue in Clearwater FL did not really appeal to me, both because it was known as a draft-fest, and well, because Florida in general does not appeal to me. But I digress, and the event egressed, to it's new home in Henderson NV last year and I think that most will agree that this a world championship caliber event. Below, a view of the bike course as seen from a preview drive of the course the day before the race. Imagine this under an unrelenting sun, 100 degree heat, bone-dry desert air, and you get an idea of the challenge that was in store.
I got in the Friday before the race with friends Fay and Joe (+teammate) and we went about settling into the greater Las Vegas area and getting ready for the race. This was made a little bit more difficult than usual as my bruised and battered bike case somehow came partially open during transport, and spit out my pedals and some crucial bike re-assembling tools. Luckily, I was able to find a local bike shop that was willing to rent me a pair of compatible pedals for the weekend (thanks as well to all those who offered to ship me replacements), and I was able to get my bike built back up into ride-able condition. Friday and Saturday was then spent checking out the expo, packet pickup, and checking in with existing sponsors such as BlueSeventy as well as potential partners to come. (more on that any day now ;-) )
BlueSeventy has the best swim gear
Race morning dawned in Lake Las Vegas (site of the swim & T1) at a frigid 80 degrees. I don't know why I bothered to bring my Ballou Skies warmups with me for a race in the Mojave Desert in September, but needless to say it didn't take much to warmup on this day. Speaking of warmups, I didn't do one before this race and more and more, I'm thinking that this is necessary for me for all race distances short of iron. I was down in transition shortly after it opened and got my bike and nutrition ready to roll for the day.
The first of the three waves for men 30-34 (the one I was in) was set to go off at 6:50 local time, 5th total wave and 20 minutes after the pros. Teammate Chad and I were pretty fortunate to get to start relatively early and hopefully beat a little bit more of the intense heat that was to come, but Joe had no such luck and was scheduled to start at 7:45. We made our way down to the "beach" and queued-up to start the swim.
After a short swim to the in-water starting line and a brief tread, we were underway and swimming out towards the first turn buoy. The start was hard, but not totally chaotic and I settled into a nice rhythm about 300 meters in. I was feeling good, so I was looking for some feet and a draft, but unfortunately we were also swimming directly towards the rising sun and I couldn't see a fast pack for the life of me. I kept checking and hoping that the angle would change or the glare/fog diminished, but I couldn't see anything above or below water in this man-made lake. I just did my best to swim a straight course, and not totally maul some of the slower swimmers I was catching from previous waves. At two points during the swim I looked off to my right as I was taking a breath, and there was Chad, as is custom and we usually see quite a bit of each other during these long races. I seemed to lose him on the way back in during the final 500m of the swim, perhaps when zig-zagging around a slower mass of swimmers, and came into the beach to finish the swim leg. I felt really strong in the water, perhaps as strong and fluid as I ever have in a 1.2 or 2.4 mile swim, so initially I was a little disappointed to see a 29:5X something on my Garmin. I wanted to be mad, but I felt strong and composed, in truth it felt like a 27, so I let it go and ran off to tackle the long transition.
 The bike course started with a couple miles uphill, right off the bat, and this was to set the trend for this bike course. A lot of ups, and a lot of downs - not a whole heck of a lot of flat terrain on this course. I had my HR and wattage targets for the bike, but I knew pretty early on that I was going to struggle to hit these marks. I was pushing hard early on, getting my nutrition in and guzzling my PowerBar Perform, but despite taking in about 40-44 oz/per hour, I just couldn't quench my thirst and I had no urge to pee. Not even a little. In the first half of the bike (more of an uphill trend), I was within 5 bpm and 15 watts of my respective targets, but upon turning around and hitting more of the downhill trend back towards Henderson, I fell further off the mark. My perceived exertion felt right and I was motivated to push as hard as possible, but I could tell something was a little off and I lacked that extra gear that I needed. 

Taking JV's advice and attacking the hills
As the bike ride went on the temperature went up and and up, my power and HR slowly faded off. In the end, I thought I handled the pacing and nutrition correctly, but apparently the weather conditions and my form on the day were not in alignment with the plan. A fellow competitor wrote on FB later in the day, something to the effect of "It was like the desert sucked the life out of my legs."

Tough-ass bike course.
The bike "fade"
Lost two places in my AG on the bike
T2 had a lot less real estate to cover than T1 and after a brief (the only) respite in the shade of the changing tent, I was off onto the run. The plan was to take the first mile at about 6:30 pace, regardless of HR, to allow my body to adapt to the effort and the heat. The first mile was a gradual downhill, so no problem there, and the HR was definitely under control. The run course was a 3-lap affair and each lap had two out and backs, so there was plenty of opportunity to get a look at your competitors and get some time splits. Most everyone out there looked pretty cooked and to be struggling in the heat, so my main goal became to take care of my core temperature and push as much as my body would allow. I had a similar feeling on the run leg as I did on the bike, with my legs lacking that extra gear, but at this point overdrive was not an option, the only goal was to keep running steady. I didn't feel fast, but I did feel strong.
My pace fluctuated accordingly with the hills, but the one thing I took note of and thrived upon was that I didn't have the need to stop at every aid station like most of my competitors seemed to require, and that I was steadily picking people off throughout the run, especially on the inclines. This was by no means a fast run course, with constant ups and downs, numerous turnarounds, and even some switchbacks behind the finish line area at the end of laps 1 and 2, to say nothing of the purported 108 degree temperatures reached on the run course that day. Despite the difficulty, indeed I did feel strong and felt like I redeemed myself from my Ironman Coeur d'Alene run failure, and ran to the fastest run split in my AG and 2nd fastest amateur half marathon time on the day. This moved me up to 13th in my division at the finish, and while not reaching my goal of a World Championship podium, I was pleased to finish as I high as I did on just an "OK" kind of day.
Coming across the line. *Chip time 20 minutes faster

In the end, I finished 13th in my AG with a 4:33:40. This was good for 57th overall and 25th amateur in the world. I was hoping for a faster time to be honest, closer to 4:20, but then again having never done this race or course before, this may not have been an easy target time to calculate. Had my swim or bike been more in line with how my training has been going, this time and the podium may have been possible. All things considered though, with where my training has been and the focus firmly on Kona five weeks later, I am pleased with the effort and how my body has responded coming off this race. I have put down the two largest weeks of training of my life immediately on the heels of Vegas, and I have been pleasantly surprised at my body's resiliency and capacity to dig deeper and deeper. This is something I never would have attempted in years past, so I am confident I am on the right path and that very good things are in store once race time on the Big Island rolls around on 10/13. 18 days to go - Pomaika`i to all that are racing and for the rest of everyone's season!

Team BallouSkies post-race

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

IMCDA Race Report

Well, this race has long since been finished, but I realized I have not done a race report since Kona of last year so it's time to get 'er (one) done. Better late than never. On June 24th I started the 9th Ironman of my triathlon career and the race proved to be every bit as challenging as the previous 8, and then some. This race also ended up being very educational and quite humbling at the same time, so in retrospect I see this as one of my most valuable and rewarding of Ironman race experiences. The result in CDA was not what I was expecting, prepared for, nor was I very happy with the result; but for these reasons, it will surely provide me with unlimited motivation and practical racing experience going forward. 

The week leading up to the race was very relaxing and things were going very smoothly prior to race day on Sunday. Jocelyn and I were staying with new friends Sarah and Nick in Spokane from Tuesday night to Thursday evening, and then they graciously moved us closer to Coeur d'Alene and put us up from Thursday to the following Monday evening at their beautiful and peaceful lake house in Newman Lake, WA. From this ideal, low-stress base camp, we had an easy 20 minute drive to CDA and race affairs. Thanks Sarah and Nick!
The end of the week included the standard last couple workouts, packet pickup, bike cleaning and gear check-in, and meeting up with Pittsburgh friends and teammates prior to the big day.
The CDA crew.
Pittsburgh represents. Go Ballou Skies!
Race morning dawned with a good previous two night's sleep and the nutrition going down well as we prepared to depart for CDA and during the drive east. We got into town got a good nearby parking spot, and then arrived at transition with ample time (we thought) to get setup and ready to go.
Ironman Cornman Potato-heads
Shortly, I would encounter the first major challenge of the day. I was pulling typical double duty with tire inflation that morning, pumping up Jocelyn's tires after my own. Of course her valve extenders were not cooperating with her valve stems, and I was going to have to take her rear wheel off and effectively change her tube to allow the tire to be inflated. As I was going to put her rear wheel back into the dropouts, her entire rear derailleur DETACHED from her bike. Like fell off, unrideable. I freaked out and told a nearby spectator/sherpa that we had been talking to earlier (with a horrified look on my face), to let Jocelyn know that I was over at bike support with a "problem" (Jocelyn was running our transition bags back to the car). After panicking on Jocelyn's behalf for about 15 minutes, pacing while waiting in line for support, talking to some fellow racers (thanks Dan), then consoling a stricken wife, Jenny, a local mechanic, skillfully reattached Jocelyn's derailleur on a bent hanger with stripped little screws. Things looked good and should hold. We hoped.

We headed down to the beach, took some deep breaths, and then helped each other into our Blue Seventy wetsuits and went our separate ways to the start. I worked my way down to the front and lined up just a little to the right of the buoy line with Chad and Matt. We had a short wait as we dipped our toes in the chilly 54 degree water, and then just a few short moments later, it was 7am and the gun went off.
 I went out pretty hard, though not quite as hard as usual, and luckily got into a pretty clear patch of water and didn't incur the typical Ironman mass start thrashing. Unfortunately, there was also no one to draft in this clear patch, and my attempts at locating some feet in the cold, deep, dark lake under overcast skies proved unsuccessful. At times, I really had no idea where I was going as sighting was difficult with the significant chop and foggy goggles under the aforementioned overcast skies, but I just put my head down and kept a steady, up-tempo rhythm for the first loop. I ran up onto the beach and through the archway/timing mat in slightly under 29 minutes to set out on the second swim loop. Not super fast for me, but it felt very controlled and I had no doubt I could duplicate this for the second lap. About 500 meters out into the lake, I knew this would be more difficult. The wind/chop had picked up considerably in the last ~15-20 minutes (current against you going out, little bit of a push coming back), and the effort went up considerably to keep the speed up. I still felt pretty good however and was getting warmed up to the tempo, and kept pushing on. I made the final turn to come back into shore and then with the wind/chop (swells!) at my back, I really had a new perspective on how much the conditions had changed in about 30 minutes time. I was glad I would soon be out of the water and tried my damnedest to take advantage of the periodic crests rushing up behind me.
Came up on the beach in a shockingly slow 1:01:15, having slowed 3 minutes from the first lap to the second! Notwithstanding Ironman's incorrect pace calculation seen below, I averaged 1:35/100m or 1:27/100y. I quickly (strangely) put it out of my mind though (maybe the beginnings of hypothermia? - ha!) and ran up into transition. After some frozen-limbed slowness and difficulty in T1, I was out and off onto the bike.
The beginnings of the bike leg were not that auspicious, with all of my salt-pills flying out of my Ballou Skies race top's pocket in the first couple miles, but I too put that behind me and set out along the lake and got down to work. I was feeling good on the bike and fluid with my demo-ed Zipp Firecrest 404/808 combo from Top Gear, and was having little difficulty hitting my goal wattage in the opening 35 miles or so out to the far turnaround to the south of town.
I was working my way up through the field and getting my PowerBar nutrition down according to plan, so all seemed to be going well. Average power was good, HR in check, PE was low as well. One area where I was having trouble however, was keeping my power down below my agreed upon cap that I had worked out with my coach in the days preceding the race. I was burning some matches, but it didn't seem excessive compared to some training rides, and I was also out of gears and below ideal cadence ranges! What are you going to do? I wasn't about to "trackstand" or churn up some of these hills with my rpms at 60, so I continued "racing" and forged ahead..
Burning matches!
The power dropped coming back into town, but this was to be expected with the downhill trend and everything else was looking good. Nutrition was still going well and I had peed twice before I even reached the halfway point, so that was a large success. Heading back out of town, my power was continuing to drop from the first lap, but in the moment I was still feeling strong and in control, while continuing to move up in the field and HR values were still reasonable and I had ample calories and fluids. Coming back into town I made a tactical error (played by the rules!) and got stuck behind two older female competitors in the no-pass zone as they were finishing up their first lap. I took it slow (real slow!) and practiced that trackstand that I skipped earlier in the ride, that is when I wasn't spinning 130 rpm in my smallest gear and quickly approaching their draft zone! Once passed, I blitzed back into town and finished the bike leg in 5:14:11. This worked out to be 21.4 mph over 5554 ft of elevation gain. 11% decouple though. Blah.

Bike metrics

I came off the bike in second place in my AG and 4th or 5th amateur, right where I wanted to be with my run still to come. Things were about to get very exciting, as I thought at the time, but the excitement that I got turned out to be of a very different variety!

Out of transition much quicker than earlier that morning, I set off running at my goal pace of approx 6:50 miles. I had been running very well lately, had run a strong 70.3 run PR in NOLA back in April, and had it in my head that on a good day I could flirt with cracking 3 hours. I set off with this goal in mind, and tracking down Chad and the other AG guys ahead of me. The first few miles I felt great and my HR was very reasonable, but when I hit the first hill at about the 5.5 mi mark, I got my first inkling that there might be trouble in River City.
Still feeling alright and with some spring in my step.
My mile splits were continuing to creep south (or north?) as time went on, and perceived exertion was going up. My gut was starting to get a little touchy as well, and I made the first of two imperative pit-stops to lighten the load. I was still feeling ok as I was heading back into town to finish my first loop, but gone were the illusions of going sub-3 on this day. I came back into town and saw my friends, heard some cheers, and tried to take in all of the energy that was available in town to hopefully absorb and use on the second lap, but the writing was on the wall. I was still 2nd AG at the time and had even moved up to 3rd amateur, but I was about to go the other way. Backwards. Boom, it seemed almost exactly at the turnaround, I started to implode.
The next 13 miles were some of the most painful, pathetic feeling, and humbling of my entire racing career. At times, it took almost everything I had to keep moving and even retain something resembling my normal running form. I was told after the race by Jocelyn that she knew something was off and I didn't look like myself, like I was struggling. Struggling mightily. I kept trying to down as much fluids and nutrition as I could in the hopes that something would turn around, but in my heart I knew it wasn't due to nutrition (I had hit this pretty well today) and I just had to get in on willpower alone.
The slog down the final stretch. A couple guys blowing by me like I was walking.
In the end, I ran a 3:21:23 marathon, the second lap about 11 minutes slower than the first. It felt like it took me three times as long as the first half. Average pace for the whole run was 7:41 pace, decoupling at 9%. This compared to a 3% decouple at IMLP last year and 1% at Kona '11. I lost two places in my AG in that second half and 6 spots in the overall scheme. Somehow, thankfully, I was able to hang on enough and grimaced my way to 4th AG and the last Kona slot offered straight up in M30-34.

About to collapse.
Looking back on this race, and having a lot of time to do so, has given me ample opportunity to analyze what went wrong and what went right. Not much went to plan, and I was left wondering, "What the hell happened?" Initially, I was quick to try to assign blame on external focal points for the disappointing (to me) outcome. My legs were tight from driving out cross-country for the race, my training wasn't optimal in the last couple of blocks pre-race, or I was shouldering too much stress from a very busy and hectic spring semester at school. But that's all bullshit, and excuses suck. Sometimes that is your first instinct when things don't go as planned, when you are searching desperately for an answer, looking at what was different this time around. But with time I began to look inside, and saw that the real problem was internal. Perhaps some of the aforementioned negatives have some validity, but only if and when I let them. The real error(s) was internal, was in attitude and/or execution. I said going in that I didn't think my fitness was very high, as in PR-territory or October high, but my strength was at an all-time high. So with that I fell victim to IM hubris, and raced more aggressively than was prudent at the time. My pacing was off early on and I didn't have the patience that I have exhibited in past Ironmans, that has worked in my favor. I was graded on my execution of my bike and run splits at CDA, and my coach bluntly confirms/agrees with the pacing assessment.

So what now? More whining and excuse making? Not a chance. This race has opened my eyes to the importance of the little things more than any race has before. Maybe having been in the sport for 13 years now, I have gotten sloppy about the details or have taken some for granted because I have experienced some success. No longer, there is too much at stake. Within the disappointment and the negatives, some positive lessons have emerged for me and now I see more clearly the difference that pushing 20 watts too high can make or running 3 bpm too high in the opening miles will mean at the end of 140.6.

And then as disappointed as I was with my race, there were so many other positives from this day and this race. First and foremost was Jocelyn absolutely crushing it and winning the women's amateur race, taking 4th overall (including the pro women!), en route to a 10:09:19. Jocelyn has worked so hard, had so many races where the odds were stacked against her, but she has pushed through, worked harder than ever this past year, and it paid off in a big way. This race was long overdue for her, and she deserves it more than anybody in my opinion. She has inspired me more than I can say and sets a daily example of what it takes and how to ALWAYS get the work done.

Thank you Jocelyn, thank you to the Ballou Skies team for constant support and inspiration, and thank you to the QT2 team for the guidance on the training front. Thank you to the rest of my sponsors, supporters, friends, and family, for your never ending support and positive influence on my life. Training is back on track and I have a new perspective. We'll see you in Kona. :-)