26 Jul 2015
Race Day: Sunday, July 26, 2015 – 8am
The Chisago Lakes Triathlon had a name change this year and now it is called the Toughman Minnesota Triathlon. Now, this name is stupid and I won’t ever wear a shirt that says “Toughman” on the chest. Just dumb. Ironman at least has the history behind the name…
Anyways, I do Chisago every year and it is my annual long course triathlon. This year, however, I had big expectations with my time and performance. I wanted to do top 5, but that was a tall order after seeing the Minnesota Tri News preview. I thought that top 10 would be an awesome goal. I thought that under 4:20 would be a possibility and 4:15 would be the perfect day. Going into race week, I was feeling pretty good. My training has been on point and I was getting really good training in since the big string of races in June. The only glitch was the Park Point 5-miler. I was expecting to have a decent time, but my pace on the hot, hot race day was sluggish. This made me scared for the half marathon at Chisago.
The weather was looking nice and I got a perfect swim in the day before the race while we were picking up the packets. The lake was terribly warm and weedy, though, and that was pretty nasty without a wetsuit! I got to sleep super early and was feeling very fresh by the time I woke up on Sunday.
Chisago is always very competitive, and I was excited to be starting in the elite wave and to be racing with the big dogs up front. Last year, I placed 20th, for instance. My plan for the swim was to find a pair of feet and stick with them. When the gun went off, it was a frenzy. There were lots of arms flailing and legs kicking and I felt so uneasy. A front pack broke away and I was frustrated to be out of reach. There was no way to bridge that gap…
I settled in to a reasonable pace and got near the first turn buoy. I was with a few other dudes on the far stretch and noticed that fellow Duluth-area long course triathlete Jason Crisp was right next to me. Perfect, I thought. I knew he was a decent swimmer and was very consistent, therefore making an ideal candidate to draft off of. I tucked in behind him and stayed for the ride. However, by the second turn buoy onto the home stretch, I felt like I was expending a lot of energy trying to follow his bubbles. We broke off from each other and I just tried to kick it home. It was starting to get steamingly hot inside of my wetsuit and I thought to myself how getting out of my wetsuit in the water would be wise. I could get out of my wetsuit quicker because the water wouldn’t have drained out yet, I could splash some fresh water on myself, and then I wouldn’t have run up that terrible transition hill in my hot, black wetsuit.
When I finally got to shore, I ripped my arms out of the wetsuit and had a major struggle getting it off of my ankles. It was terribly embarrassing because people on the shore could see me flopping about and kicking and athletes on either side were blazing past on their way to the bike.
After the wetsuit debacle, I had a hasty transition to my bicycle. It was nice to just throw my wetsuit down and grab my speed machine! Onto the bike, I started off aggressive. It’s a little technical on a bike path on the start and I was making some strong bike moves. Once onto the road, I was mixed with short course athletes. This was somewhat troublesome because I felt the need to overtake every person in front of me. It was hard to limit. I did calculations at 30 minutes into the ride and knew I was around mile 13. That puts me at 26mph early into the race. That is dangerous. I told myself to soft pedal and to go easy and to limit my efforts because the final 10 miles were bound to be hard.
The first 30 miles or so are so flat and fast. Every road is perfectly paved and there are no hills. There are quite a few directional changes, however, so if it’s windy it can be challenging. This day brought no wind, which meant that I was cranking. By mile 25, I was right around one hour. Yikes. I was feeling so good and was seemingly abiding by my strategy of having an even race, leaving some juice on the bike course, and going into the run with enough spring in my step to run fast. I got a tip that I was in 3rd place, and that made it hard to slow down. If I’m feeling good, why should I cognitively slow down to a speed that I think is more sustainable?
The course then descends quite a bit to the river valley. We pass the bottom of Wild Mountain and then climb all the way back up. I felt really good on the hill, and it seemed much smaller than before! I kept spinning wonderfully, and was tracking along at 25mph each time that I could make a calculation. At mile 50, my watch said 1:59. Smokin’. I figured that I should slow down a bit, or at least make certain that my legs will feel good onto the run, for the last bit of the course. My legs weren’t feeling terrible. In fact, they were feeling pretty good! The long and hard ride was taking a toll, and I was getting pretty uncomfortable. Just general discomfort. I’d been rolling in the aero position for a long time and my back and neck and taint were starting to feel it. Legs good, though.
I hopped off the bike still in third place. The bike ride was lonely. I passed one person at mile 40 or 45 and that was the only person I saw after the short course split. Starting the run, I felt good.
My legs were turning well and I was ready to lay it down. I knew I was in the money for my goal time of 4:19 as long as I could keep my half marathon under 1:30. Easy. That’s slow. I wanted 1:25. 6:15 pace. The first mile was 6:40 or so. The second was 6:15 and the third mile was 6:15. Perfect. Keep rolling.
At mile four, I started feeling pretty crappy. Just a wave of fatigue and I couldn’t push off of my feet. It was mental, though, and I pushed right through it. The meat of the race is right here. My pace was slowing, though. Slowly and surely, and I was struggling to stay under 7 minutes per mile. It was a constant mental game to push through these waves of fatigue. This didn’t feel like the marathon, where you inevitably slow down and feel worse and worse and more tired and stiff and sore. This was just like “body stop running you’re too tired” and then as much mental fortitude that I could muster in order to ignore those signals.
I was all alone. I saw the leader near the top of lollipop section of the run course and he was cruising. Way up there. Still in third, I became curious to where I was at. A guy on a bike said I was running second place down and that fourth was way back and that I was looking really good. Well, I wasn’t feeling good!
On the gravel lollipop section, I missed a water stop and took the gel down straight up. Luckily, a guy had freezing cold water in cups from his driveway, and that was a nice boost. Getting back to the lollipop stem, I was very curious to take stock on who was back there. I saw a few dudes, but nobody that looked to be running me down fast. Little did I know the fourth place runner was on the lollipop section and running me down big time.
By mile 8, I was not feeling good at all. Luckily, my pace was at a constant 7 minutes per mile or just a bit under. I kept chugging along. I felt like there was no way that I was going to catch the second place guy. I wasn’t making up much time. At this point, I just wanted to finish in third. Podium would be sweet! Each corner slowed me down so bad and I’d have to talk myself into getting back into a decent pace. How strenuous.
Then, I had a sense. I looked back and saw fellow Duluth-area long course triathlete Paul Rockwood. Paul is racing Ironman Wisconsin in my age group and has been racing really well this year. He gets faster at Madison every year and deserves to click his ticket to Kona. I think Paul will go under 9:45 or even 9:40. He is a beast runner and was certainly running me down. At mile 11, he caught up and started chatting. He crashed on the bike and was bleeding from his arm and leg. I couldn’t even talk. He then sped ahead out of sight. That’s how fast and strong he was running… he just dropped me like nothing. How many people are behind me? I questioned.
Two more miles and I was at least in fourth. Fourth is solid. I needed to stay in fourth. I can’t get passed twice after being in third place for 60 miles. I had another sense and sure enough, there is someone behind me. I picked it up with a quarter mile left with the great fear of getting passed on the final stretch. Thunder Bay, Ontario resident Jon Balabuck finished seconds behind me.
I felt pretty good after finishing. Of course, the half ironman takes a toll on one’s body, and compression socks and sitting down felt pretty nice. I was totally jacked up about 4:19 and fourth place completely shattered my expectations. The frustration was with the run. It is frustrating to get off the bike, have a “slowest possible” time in my mind of 1:30, and then run 1:29 and a lot of seconds. Regardless, I thought I could run 4:19 and that’s what I ran.
Chisago was a perfect tune up for Madison, but I don’t think the hard bike strategy will fly with the full distance triathlon.
Shoes: Saucony Kinvara size 11.5
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78
Food: Bike: Cherry Coke Honey Stingers, 2 gels, ~40oz Gatorade, ~20oz water; Run: 2 gels
15 Jun 2015
Race Day: Sunday, June 14, 2015 – 7am
Lead up to the Capitol City Sprint was pretty basic. I had a strong run week with a lot of intensity, which was good, but I am feeling it now. Especially with Grandma’s Marathon in five days, the plan is to take it really easy in order to feel as fresh as possible on race day. Either way, despite not a lot of volume, it was good to get some relatively hard running in this last week as a little mental boost for Grandma’s.
I put a little less weight on performing at Capitol City just because it was a sprint race and Buffalo was more of a “where am I at” triathlon tester. I already knew kind of where I was at going into Capitol City, and frankly, Grandmas is more on my mind at this point. So the setup and prep was a little less hectic… I wasn’t as stressed out with having all my gear and just generally less stressed.
On race day, I realized that this was a deep field. According to Minnesota Tri News, I knew it was going to be deep, but it hit me on Sunday morning when I saw a few fast runners setting up in transition. Nothing is scarier than a strong runner. I felt really strong and good to go on race morning. I set up transition and went for a little jog. Then, I warmed up on the bike with a time-restricted spin out on the course. It sure was bumpy! Finally, I got into my wetsuit because I wanted to make a point to get a solid swim warmup in, especially because the swim was so short. The water was the perfect temperature and I got a nice swim warmup in. I was ready to go! Little did I know how frantic the swim would ultimately be.
The distances were 500 meters on the swim, 13.3 miles on the bike, then 3.1 miles on the run. I think the run was a little short, however. So, literally a sprint. I was expecting to push a 5k effort for an hour straight. I had little to no race strategy, just crank it out as hard as possible. A small inkling in my mind said to save a little on the bike, but I decided that it was sprint and to go for it all. Also, I had done two run-off-the-bike workouts that week and felt like my muscle memory was coming around and I could hold a decent clip for the 5k. On that Tuesday, Nick and I ran a 5:40 mile (then two easy miles) off of a hard 15 mile ride. That gave me some confidence for sure.
After a quick pre-race meeting, we gathered towards the beach.
I grouped with a bunch of other Helix-wearing swimmers… the elite pack no doubt. The pre race nerves… and everyone feels it. I was about think about jockeying for position up front and then 6! 5! 4! and the countdown started. Totally caught off guard, I threw my goggles quickly with perfect time to click the start of my watch. And we were off…
A line of guys were in front of me. I thought about dolphin diving to get out in front but there were too many people. I simply waded in the water as people in front of me swam at the same speed forward. Well, I suppose I should dive in, I thought. I dove forward into a sea of flailing bodies. It was congested. People were slapping at my feet, I was hitting people’s hands, I was entangled with someone next to me, break free and hit the person on the other side. How uncontrolled… I tried to look ahead and just swim with the pack like a mindless ocean flounder or something. I was running into people all the way to the first buoy. After that first turn, it seemed to thin out a little bit, so I tried to get into a strong groove. The second buoy was much less hectic, and I wanted to bring it home strong. I focused on engaging my pecs and back muscles.
After a seemingly crummy swim, I exited right behind Brian Sames, a solid bike-runner. This is where I expect to be, I thought to myself.
In transition, the wetsuit dismount seemed sloppy and slow. I popped two Shot Bloks into my mouth and took off. The bike mount went well and I started cranking. Brian and a few other guys were taking off, and I’ve been really liking the feeling of roping people in on the bike. I passed Brian and aimed for a dude in orange. Pushing hard, I was coming up on him but definitely didn’t have a super strong surge to pass. Finally, I torched a match or two and passed him. No need, I just wanted to be in front… I later met the guy, Bennett Isabella, who is a solid triathlete, winning a few races already this year, and hot on the du scene. I knew he had raced and Olympic triathlon at Liberty the day before, however, so figured his legs were a bit yoked. A few seconds later, he passed me back. No, I thought, this is a sprint and I need to go all in on the bike or else.
And that’s how the rest of the bike played out. I passed Bennett and neared the turnaround. I saw a big pack of guys a minute or so up, and Matt Payne was already way up there.
I eventually passed Josh Blankenheim (deja vu), but could see him behind me the rest of the way. On the last home stretch, I know I made up time on this big bike pack up front, and came into T2 essentially on the tail end of the group. I thought that a speedy transition would put me in a good position for the run.
I threw my bike down and switched to the run really fast. I could see three guys in front of me, and I passed two of them within a minute. I recognized Kevin O’Connor ahead of me, and he was running strong. I wondered if I was going to be able to reel him in, but I knew that he raced Liberty Olympic the day before as well, and hoped his legs were yoked, too! With added motivation to run fast, I could tell I was making time on Kevin. Eventually, I made the pass, but he stayed close. With a mile to go, I looked over my shoulder and saw two guys. It better not be Josh, I nervously pondered, but I knew it was. Who else would it be? Is there anyone else running me down? Can I hold these guys off? I was tired, but tried to pick up the leg speed. I was running with a long loping stride and tried to pick up the cadence, but it was too tiring. So I opted for the loping giraffe stride.
Sure enough, Josh came up right on my left shoulder. I said it – “Deja vu” – and when he put a body length in front of me, I responded. He was breathing really heavily, and I tried to control my breathing in hopes that it would be a mental discouragement. We ran side by side for a minute or two, then he made another body length break. I let it go. One body length became 10 feet with the blink of an eye, and Josh ran me down for a second week in a row, but this time within sight of the finish line. It wasn’t a sprint finish by any means, he had it in the bag. I got a dose of reality when I heard footsteps and saw people behind me. Hold on for third, I thought, and I picked it up for the finish line.
Josh finish four seconds in front of me, yet his run was over 20 seconds faster than mine. Matt Payne came in two minutes faster than Josh, and behind me was a large pack of dudes. 8 people behind me finished within about two minutes of me. That’s a sprint race for you, I guess!
Of course, I congratulated Josh and we joked about the extreme similarities to how Buffalo played out. The race for second and third literally couldn’t have been more similar. Regardless of the crushing overtaking with a half mile or so to go, I was super pleased with third place and didn’t really expect to finish ahead of some of these other guys. And, the race itself was spectacular! The bike course was awesome, run was nice and challenging, and there were some delicious post race morsels.
I realized that racing on the weekends, with taking it easy the day before and race day as well as travel and stuff, I don’t have nearly the same weekly volume, because I can get some nice long workouts in instead of all of the auxiliary race-related time spent. My next triathlon on deck is Chisago Lakes long course. I hope to get some quality long workouts in before then. But of course, only after Grandma’s Marathon!
Shoes: Mizuno Hitogami size 11
Bike: Specialized Transition
Wheels: Profile Design 78 back, Mavic training wheel front
Food: Two Shot Bloks, water on the bike