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. :-)