Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Ironman Coeur d'Alene

(Warning: This post is long...sorry. But if you like details, you've got them here.)

I wasn't in this mess, as we had a 35 min head start, but it's always a cool photo!

Race Day!

My multiple alarms went off at 3:30, 3:35, 3:40 and 3:45. Yeah, it was overkill, but you don’t want to oversleep on race day. I’m up for some breakfast, my first sips of coffee in almost 2 weeks, and hydrating. We headed over to the race venue at 4:45, and pull up on schedule, 5 AM. My race would start at 6:25, so this gave me plenty of time to get my things done pre-race, and not feel rushed.

After getting everything set for the bike and transitions, I went to the wall along the beach near the start. Orlanda had set-up a spot to watch the swim there, and was all smiles. She and Marcus were definitely helping to keep me at ease, (just like JT normally does at these!) For such a selfish endeavor, and the feeling of being alone out there for so long, having a support crew like her and Marcus really helps to give me things to look forward to, and not feel alone out there. It really adds a team element to the race, and that means so much to me.

6 AM, I’m putting the wetsuit on and going thru my stretching, loosening up exercises for the swim. Marcus is making me laugh, while Orlanda is still all smiles, total positive vibes. People are gathering around and watching me stretch, using the bench to simulate the swim stroke and holding water.

Pre-race stretching and loosening up.

Head down to the water, and another guy and I are the first two people in the water. I do a short warm-up swim, and the water feels great. No neoprene cap, as the temperature was 59.5 degrees, and the threads had been scratching the back of my head/neck, causing a bad rash, scab. Instead I went with a silicone cap under the latex yellow cap. I did a few hard starts, for about 50 meters out in the water, then easy back to shore. I see we have about 10 mins until start, so I go drop my wrist watch off with Orlanda, so she can give me time checks throughout the day. Then it was off to the start line to keep loose and ready.

My plan was to mark Michael Lovato and/or Victor Zymetsev, as much as possible, for as long as possible, without feeling like I was in over my head. I noticed Victor had a green swim cap, and Lovato a purple cap, since the cameras wanted to be able to easily spot them in the water, which meant it would be all that much easier for me to identify them as well! These two boys know if they want to beat Tom Evans, they have to keep him close in the swim, and pace themselves right, and seeing that Victor had reeled in Tom late in the race the past 2 years, he’s almost the perfect pacer for the race.

Standing on the shore, there is almost no wind, and the currents look negligible, so we’re lined up straight with the buoys for the start. The last 2 minutes were killing me. I just wanted to get started, I was excited. It was a great feeling, because I hadn’t felt that way about a race in awhile. I had a good feeling about stepping into that water. I took a look to my left and right at my fellow competitors, and said in my mind, “I hope you boys are ready for me!”

Swim – 54:04

When the cannon goes off, I swear you feel it in your chest before you hear it. It’s almost like someone punches you in the chest, then you hear it. Two steps into the water and it’s a total dive forward, with clear water in front of me. About 100 meters into the race, I notice Lovato is on my left, Victor on my right, and Tom Evans and Bryan Rhodes off to the far right. By 300 meters, our packs have established, as Evans and Rhodes are given their space, and the chase pack of myself, Victor, Lovato, and a few others is set. Victor leads our pack, while Lovato gets on his feet. I settle in on Lovato’s feet, and can’t believe how easy the pace is. I realize we are not going slow, because the Evans duo is not pulling away from us much at all, and I even begin to wonder if I should make a move for their pack, but I decided to play it conservative.

We reach the first left turn, and Victor does not want to lead anymore, so he pulls off to the side doing some backstroke, and Lovato takes the pace, throwing in a surge. I was ready and matched it, as did Victor, and we turn toward home on the lap. The lead trades back and forth between Victor and Lovato, with unspoken communications, and neither asking me to do any of the work, and Victor doing most of it. A few more surges, and we finish the first lap, and I’m feeling great! Our pack is just 4 people, as Scott Curry is the only one with us, and a big gap to the next person. Then I witnessed Victor do one of slyest moves I’ve ever seen in a race by a wily veteran. As we cross the mat to finish the first lap, it’s clear we have to go left, to start the next lap, and instead he goes right acting as though he thinks we’re done with the swim, and still looks back at me. Everyone is yelling at him that he’s going the wrong way, and I’m pointing the other direction. I get to the water and realize I just got “PUNKED”, as now I’m in the lead. DOH! Not what I wanted. At this point, I’m not wanting to do any favors for those guys, and it’s too late to get with Rhodes and Evans. I take the angle to the first buoy really wide and see Lovato coming on the inside wanting to set a harder tempo, so I tuck in behind. Lovato proceeds to put in a big surge lasting about 200-300 meters, and I match it. My confidence is sky high, and I’m willing to match anything he can throw at me, and am getting pumped up with each move I match. This game continues until the end of the swim, with Victor back in the mix, and me drafting nearly the entire swim. I was thinking, “Man, this couldn’t be scripted any better for me!” I hear a time check, and we’re 2 minutes down is all, more than a minute better than last year.

This is the 2nd lap of the pro swim, with Evans and Rhodes out front, our small 4 man pack chasing.

T1 – 2:14

Quick to the wetsuit pullers, and I’m off to the tent, putting on my camelback and helmet, running out to the bike. Scott Curry and I are toe-to-toe, Lovato back in T1, and Victor just a little ways up ahead of us. I’m out so quick, Marcus runs over to the T1 exit, waiting for me, worried where I’m at because he can’t see me, but not realizing I’m already gone.

Scott Curry and I on our way out of T1 together.

Bike – 5:04:50

Before I know it, Victor has issues with a spare tubular tire, fumbling with it, Curry is fumbling with his shoes, and I’m in third 5 miles into the bike, with Tom gaining only 10 seconds on me. I had planned to ride a bit higher watts early in the race, around 330, and then level off to be steady the rest of the way, but with the way things were going, I decided to just chill and ride 300 watts, letting the race develop and see what everyone else would do. By mile 10, Lovato has made a big move to get to Tom, as have Curry and Victor, and now I’m needing to ride at FTP to stay with them. I back off and decide to let them go, as I wanted to race smart. My Look 496 felt great, and I knew it would help me to the best split I could do, if I rode it to my strengths, which would be the flats and downhills.

By mile 25, we hit the rollers and Lewis Elliott and Mike Neill have caught me, and they are pushing the climbs hard. Lovato is in second and I still see him up the road, so I feel like I’m doing the smart thing. I catch Rhodes just past the 32 mile turnaround, and notice Courtney Ogden is closing on me, after erasing a big gap early, riding hard.

Meanwhile, the time gap to Evans grows every check, up to about 6 mins by mile 40. I talk with Slowtwitch’s infamous Johnnyo at the time checks, and I’m upbeat, knowing I’m doing things smart, wanting to push the second lap.

My Functional Threshold Power, (FTP) coming into this race was 344 watts, and the goal was a Normalized Power, (NP), of 261 watts, which would be a .76 Intensity Factor, (IF). This means to ride at 76 percent of FTP for the race. If you’re a good Ironman racer, you can ride anywhere from .76 to .80, but .80 is hard, and going over this percentage can be a big risk.

Meanwhile, Steve Larsen was beginning to make his presence known, closing the gap on me. My hope was to hold him off for the entire first lap, and try to run him down. I accomplished holding him off until 10 miles into lap 2, as I’ve caught back and passed Elliott. Great! Tom has 9 minutes on me, while everyone else is about 6 minutes to 2 mins ahead, staggered ahead of me in almost perfect 1 minute intervals, and I’m liking what I’m seeing. Now I would have a chance to reel them in, and get into position for a run at the podium.

Well, that didn’t quite happen. I had been pushing pretty well, and could see that my power was fading slightly, but that was expected. I get to the far turnaround, and see that it’s a mix of some of them still putting time into me, others holding about the same, and others coming back, but not enough to satisfy me.

During the first lap, it was actually quite easy to tell when I was going too hard, as I was becoming a little nauseous, and wondering if I was pushing too many calories at one time. I never threw up, but was borderline a few times. Unfortunately, the switch from bottles to a Camelback did not allow me the opportunity to check visually, if I was pacing my nutrition correctly. I could only reach back and try to feel how much was left and this was not very good for determining. This was one flaw which never revealed itself in training.

I was getting frustrated as I hit the flat sections for the final 25 miles. I tried to remind myself of what I learned in Hawaii last year, when I told myself, “At 80 miles on the bike, you’ve got to want to be in that saddle!” This is where I began to have some doubts creep in, so I tried to keep that thought in my mind. I nearly get hit by a car at an intersection, and now I’m starting to get cranky and upset. I begin to wonder if I haven’t caught anyone because maybe I’m getting soft. Am I really as tough as I need to be? Do I want it bad enough? Is this is a sign that my best days are behind me?

I roll into T2 and I’m still wondering if I’m becoming soft, or racing smart. “Well, I’m about to find out,” I told myself.

T2 – 1:44

Uneventful, in and out with everything I needed and wanted. (I had made a clothing strategy change, as every Ironman I have ended up sunburned from the exposure of the shoulders, shoulder blades, face, head and arms. In Kona, it was clearly a trauma to my body, and being fair skinned, I knew I had to get more coverage. So the entire race was completed with Zoot’s Ultra Cycle Jersey, which is AWESOME! So light and breathable, with great skin coverage and SPF 50! Smartest decision I made pre-race! I also added their hat for the run, and it’s amazing how little sunburn I got, only a little on my neck and forearms.) Grabbed the hat and off on the run, starting in 8th place, same as last year.

Entering T2.

Run – 3:14:58

Early on, I see I’m about 9 mins down on Victor in 4th, and 5 mins down on Curry in 7th. Honestly, I’m feeling like crap! By mile 2, I’m wondering how I’m going to hold off Elliott behind me, about 2 mins.

Due to running injuries in my left leg which hampered me for about 6 weeks in March and April, my running had to start over in May, with Joe and I just hoping it would be good enough for the race. Given how well my riding had been going, we decided to plateau bike fitness and focus more on the run for the last build into the race, but we trained for the aggressive start of the bike, and just hoped I would have enough to be able to hold on at the end of the race.

With this, our goal was 6:30 pace thru the first 10 miles, or slower, as long as I was conservative, then starting the race from there. Our hope was 3 hours, as my running had been up and down in the short time window we had. It was really unclear as to what might happen.

I struggled thru the first few miles, with Marcus on the Pugsley, at checkpoints to keep me tuned in to how the race was going up ahead of me. Finally at mile 6, I begin to feel my rhythm, and I’m ready to get going! I keep it at 6:30’s thru mile 10, and as I’m about to catch Scott Curry, I see Marcus and yell, “I’m back brother!” I pass Curry, and hit the half-way point in right near 1:31. At the start of the second lap I see Courtney Ogden and Steve Larsen are about 10 and 8 mins ahead of me, and I’m thinking I can get them if I can keep up the great feeling I’ve got.

The Pugsley Marcus was riding around ride!

I hit mile 14 and the now I’m struggling a little. I’m trying to get in calories and keep it up, but I’m beginning to struggle. I hit mile 15, and suddenly I’m thinking about walking, when I see Ogden about 10 meters in front of me, walking. Realizing I made up 8 mins on him in less than 2 miles, I decide I can’t walk and try to push on, establishing a gap to hold 6th place.

I’m working hard on the run out to the final turnaround, and I realize I’m having a fairly strong second lap, as the only people who have gained any distance on me are Tom, Victor, and Larsen slightly. I’m thinking I might be able to still get Larsen, but with the big hill at the turnaround, my legs are beginning to get pounded. I have 5 minutes on Curry in 7th, another minute on Elliott in 8th, and it appears a long way to Becker in 9th. A few miles later and I’m doing everything I can to hold on. Legs are aching, and the quads feel like someone has tied a rope right across them, as taunt as can be. I’m slowing badly. My nearly 6 weeks of little to no running, has finally shown itself. I was in some trouble.

Just past mile 25, I’m assessing how the race has gone, and thinking I’m happy to get 6th, only to see someone fly by me. The person was going so fast, I thought they were an age-grouper on their first lap, but I see a “P” on their calf, indicating professional. A woman screams at me, “You’re in 7th now, you gotta go!” I go from a deer in headlights to a man on a mission, trying to make a move to catch him back as we hit the last uphill, half-mile stretch before the finish. I’m gaining back on him, and I see him looking back at the aid station, I push again. About 300 meters later, I was nearly to a walk. Olly Piggin had come from no where on me, and used a strong finish to catch me and put me away. I came around the final bend for the downhill 400 meters, and feel like I’m limping.

7th place, 9:17, about 2 mins out of 6th, but only 1 min ahead of 8th. As unlucky as I was to get passed, I was lucky that Curry didn’t catch me. I had a real sense of satisfaction as I crossed the line. It wasn’t clear to me before the race where my run fitness was, and how my injuries had affected me. If I can keep myself injury free for a good stretch of time, I think I will have some great fitness.

I gave the race everything I had, and I walk away satisfied. I got beat by some great performances, and tough competitors. I was in the mix in the race, and believe it or not, this is the 2nd best result I’ve ever had in an Ironman.

Marcus and I enjoying a few beers post-race at the finish.

A few days of rest and travel, then light activity before toeing the line this Sunday for my hometown race, San Diego International. Should be interesting to see how my body responds.

Orlanda enjoying herself with us as well post-race.

I’ll be posting some post-race thoughts, and figuring out the rest of my season schedule soon, to post here.



barndog said...

congrats on a great race!
cool report. interesting to peek inside your head. thanks for the call BTW. see you on the climb this sunday.

Zippy said...

Way to "gut it out".