Sunrise Side 70.3

My redemption race

After wallowing in self-pity for a few days after Ironman Steelhead 70.3, and after the advice of a fellow coach, I decided to treat that race like a training day and move on.  After about a week I signed up for another 70.3 race in Tawas, Michigan.  The race is put on by 3 Disciplines, and is called the Sunrise Side Triathlon.  The race features super sprint, sprint, Olympic, and half-ironman distances.  The venue is billed as “flat and fast”.

We (my wife/chief supporter and I) arrived Friday evening for packet pick-up.  It is a fairly small venue, but it was organized well.  We quickly moved from station to station, first getting a wrist band, then a bib, then a T-shirt and swag, then the timing chip, and finally tattoos. 

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While I was getting tattooed, my wife wandered around and shortly informed me that due to the weather the swim was cancelled.  The water temperature was 60 degrees, and the wind was blowing at 15 mph.  That put the wind chill at around 40 degrees.  I guess the previous year they had to pull 19 people out of the water because of hypothermia, and didn’t want to risk that again.

I was disappointed, but I can appreciate the race director’s decision.  I also think that I will stick to inland lakes for future races.

Since I didn’t really know the area, and didn’t want to risk making a wrong turn again, we drove the bike and run courses.  They were simple out and backs, and were fairly well marked.  The run course was very flat, but the bike course had a few rollers and a couple of long inclines.  Coupled with the high winds, it was going to make for an interesting race.

We headed back to the campground and tried to get some sleep.  Actually, I was surprised that I slept very well.  I didn’t have any pre-race jitters.  In the morning we got up to eat breakfast, and found out that the power had gone out.  Luckily it was after our phones had charged, so the alarm went off!  I made eggs on the gas stove, but didn’t get any coffee. 

Since we were only 5 miles from the race venue, and it was a small race, we didn’t get up very early.  We arrived in town about 40 minutes before the race, found a spot to park within a block of the transition area, and got set up.  I ate a banana as I was looking for Angie (my wife). 

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While we were waiting for the pre-race meeting to start, we un-expectantly ran into some friends.  Their daughter was competing in the sprint race.  And after some small talk, we discovered that they were staying at the same campground that we were, and were only 2 sites from us!   

At the meeting it was explained again why the swim was cancelled.  In lieu of the swim, we would be running 5 miles.  Because of the change, and having to wait for volunteers to get into their newly assigned positions, the start of the race was delayed by about 15 minutes.  Not bad, but when you are standing on the start line with minimal clothing in the cold wind, you kind of want things to get moving!

I’m not very good at seeding myself at races.  I think I’m a slow runner, so I place myself in the middle/back of the starting grid.  Unfortunately, as soon as the gun went off I realized that I miscalculated and was trapped.  I waited about a quarter mile, figuring that it was a good warm up, but then decided that I would have to move outside the cones and get around about 20 people if I was going to run at a comfortable pace.  After doing so, I settled in at about an 8:30 pace and had a fairly uneventful 5 mile run.  There were aid stations at every mile with water, Gatorade, pickles, and bananas.  There were also a few Porta-Johns along the way.  Toward the end I passed my group of friends cheering loudly and taking pictures.  That gave me a little extra boost before starting the bike portion of the race.  I heard Angie cheering as I approached the transition area, and looked around to give her a smile. 

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(It seemed pretty odd having to run around a truck and fifth wheel camper like that, but I assume it was because of having to create a quick 5 mile course that wasn’t originally planned for.)

Unlike Steelhead, the transition area had plenty of room.  I didn’t rush it, and actually probably took too much time.  I wanted to be sure I had everything I needed, including rubbing Body Glide in all the right places if you know what I mean.  I hobbled out to the bike mount area and headed out.  Again I heard Angie cheering, and tried to smile in her direction.  (I figure that she is probably taking a picture, so I might as well try to look good!)

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As expected, the bike ride was tough in the gusting winds.  We battled a cross wind the entire time.  Cross winds don’t ever help…they only hurt your time.  Sometimes we got lucky and there were enough trees to block some of the wind, and other times there was nothing but open field.  During those times my eyes were watering so badly I could hardly see the road. 

Since I believe that nutrition may have been my downfall at the last race, I switched to liquid nutrition this time.  I filled a bottle with 3 scoops of Hammer Perpetuem, and marked it with a felt tip marker in thirds.  I wanted to drink one third of a bottle every hour.  I also had electrolytes in my two other water bottles.

My plan had been to stay under 160 watts for an average, and try to keep my heart rate in zone 2.  I had averaged 150 watts at Steelhead, and felt fantastic coming off the bike, so I thought I could gamble a little here.  I thought that with the “flat” course, I would have a little more speed that I did at Steelhead where I averaged 19.2.  In the end, the course wasn’t so flat.  According to my Garmin, there was about 1200ft of elevation gain, which was very similar to Steelhead.  Coupled with the wind, I accomplished my goal of staying just below 160 watts, but my overall average speed was a little lower at 18.9mph.

Even so, my goal was to try and be under 3 hours on the bike, and I did that.

I did another slow, purposeful transition, making sure to get sunscreen on my bald head.  Because of the cold and wind, I had been wearing a long sleeve compression shirt over my tri-suit.  But the sun was beginning to warm things up a bit, and I didn’t want to wear it for the half marathon.  So it took a little bit of extra time trying to wiggle out of a wet compression shirt!  I’m sure I looked every bit as sexy as I felt doing so. 

I grabbed a Ucan energy bar, tucked it into my top, and saw Angie while exiting the transition.  Did I smile?  I can’t remember.  By this time I didn’t care what the pics looked like. 

(I’ll pause here and say that being a spectator is a thankless job.  For the most part you stand around doing nothing, waiting for hours for your athlete to make a brief appearance, and then you see them, cheer like crazy, and then wait for more hours.  But I am so glad that Angie is there to take pictures and cheer.  It really does make my day brighter.)

Okay, why didn’t I care about pictures anymore?  Well, remember those 3 water bottles that I drank on the bike?  Yep….at about mile 45 I really had to pee.  I remembered someone saying something about there being Porta-Johns in the transition area, so my plan was to use one there.  Unfortunately, there weren’t any in the transition area.  I knew that there was one at the first aid station at Mile 1, so that was my goal.  Get there as fast as I could!

I was feeling good on the run, and was taking small bites of my Ucan bar every once in a while for the first few miles.  My calves began to cramp, but not severely.  I made sure to get Gatorade at every aid station, and when the cramps came on I started eating pickles as well.  It must have worked, because I don’t remember them hurting after I started eating the pickles.  The course was pancake flat, and my pace was good.  I was doing great until at mile 7 mile knee buckled.

In almost every Olympic distance race I’ve done, my IT band has acted up in the second half of the run.  I was concerned about it during the training season, but I never had any problems at all.  As the miles added up, both on the bike and in the run, my legs felt fine.

But not today.  I walked for a short bit (no pain) then started running again.  But soon my knee collapsed again.  “Run through the pain”, I thought.  But when my knee would give, it would force me into such a contorted state that I was afraid that I would also twist my ankle.  So it became a run/walk race.  I figured out that I could run for 45 seconds before it would give out.  I also figured out that it didn’t matter if I jogged or sprinted, it would only be good for 45 seconds.  So for the rest of the race I pushed as hard as I could for 45 seconds, then walked, then pushed hard again.  It was like doing endless intervals, but I was making progress.  My mile splits were under 10 min/mile, so I wasn’t losing too much time.

When I got to the last couple of miles, I had another thing to think about. 

“How long is the finish chute?”

“How many people are strung out along the route at the end?”

“How far can I run in 45 seconds?”

I surely didn’t want to walk through the finish chute, but I really didn’t think I could make it the whole distance.  Should I walk past the crowds until I got within 45 seconds and then sprint?  That would look silly!

In the end, I chose to run the whole way once I began to see people.  I say “run”, but it was more of a stumble.  All I could think was “don’t fall down in front of all these people!”  I remember the announcer saying, “Here comes #71!  Cheer him on, folks.  The louder you cheer, the faster they run!”  And I just wanted to laugh. 

But I made it!  I crossed the line triumphant!

The volunteers collected my timing chip, gave me my finisher’s medal, and pointed me in the direction of the food.  I looked around for Angie, but didn’t see her.  I ate some trail mix and grabbed a Pepsi while checking out the results, but they didn’t have anything up for the half-iron race.  So I grabbed all of my gear and called Angie to meet up with her.

“Did I miss the end?”  She asked.

“Uh…yep.  Where are you?”

“I locked the keys in the truck and am waiting for someone to show up to unlock it.  Sorry I didn’t see you finish.  What was your time?”

I didn’t know.  Since we didn’t do the traditional swim/bike/run, I couldn’t use the triathlon mode of my watch which records the various events and the total time.  I had to use the run mode, then use my bike computer for the bike leg, and then the run mode on my watch for the half marathon.  And I was so focused on not falling over, I didn’t even glance up at my time while crossing the line.

We didn’t have any internet access, so we couldn’t check the times on any website.  I figured we’d go back to camp and find out the results when we got home.

Later that night we were enjoying a campfire with the friends I mentioned earlier.  Their daughter had won her age group, so they went into town to collect her award.  When they got there, they sent us a text saying that I had gotten second place in my age group!  And I still didn’t know my time!

When I got home I checked the website and found out that I had beaten my goal of 6 hours.  I finished in 5:54:02!

4ish Measly Miles

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This past Sunday I competed in the Maytag Ironman Steelhead 70.3 race in Benton Harbor, MI.  For those that just want the basics, I’ll spare you the details and just say that I was disqualified from the race for not completing the whole course.  I missed the turn for the second loop.

For those that want the details of the race, here we go!

The good

I was impressed by the organization of the race.  From the pre-race emails, to the check-in; the volunteers, to the aid stations…it was a class act.  I had a question about my registration, and received an answer within a few days.  Parking was about one half mile away from the event, but we didn’t have a problem finding a spot to park, and shuttles were available if you didn’t have a bike.  We chose to walk each day, so I can’t comment on the shuttle service.  Packet pickup was quick and very well organized.  You went from table to table to get your bib number, sign your waiver, get your stickers and bib, and then get your T-shirt.  The whole process took maybe 10 minutes.

We (my wife Angie and I), then went through the gift shop.  There was plenty of Ironman branded things to buy, from T-shirts to jackets to coffee mugs to stickers.  I bought a mug and sticker.  :-)

I checked my bike in, and then we went to the pre-race meeting.  The courses and rules were discussed, as well as the penalties for rule violations.

We drove back to the campground and ate dinner.  After several times of making sure I had everything packed for the race, we drove to a nearby beach and walked out onto a pier to watch the sun set.

Lake Michigan.jpg

 

Sunday morning we got up early, ate, and headed to the event.  There were volunteers to guide us where to park, and it was another short half mile walk to the start.  Again, there were shuttles, but we passed.  I arranged all of my stuff in the transition area, then headed out to find Angie and wait for the start. 

The male pros went off at 6:45, and the women pros at 6:50.  The rest of us went out based on our projected finish times.  Based on previous swims, I seeded myself in the 37-40 minute group.  Every 5 seconds 5 people were released to the water.  About 7:17am I hit the water.

If I can back up, a few days before the event I had been watching the weather.  It was projected to be a 2mph wind, and about 65 degrees F.  The water temp was low enough to be able to wear a wetsuit.  I assumed that this would be perfect conditions for a race.  But as of 5am Sunday, the official water temp was taken.  It was 76.4.  If it was over 76.1 you could wear a wetsuit, but would not qualify for any awards.  I didn’t think I would qualify for any awards, so that didn’t bother me.  But the wetsuit wearers were also put at the back of the pack, and would go off last.  Since I knew that the temperature was going to get hot and muggy, I wanted to finish my race as soon as possible.  I chose to line up without a wetsuit.

Also (and more troubling) the wind had picked up overnight.  The waves were about 2 feet high.  When my turn came I ran into the surf, jumped over as many waves as I could, then began swimming.  Within 20 strokes my left goggle filled with water.  So I began treading water, dumped out my goggle, hoped I didn’t get slammed into by another athlete, and began swimming again.  The waves were such that it was hard to find a comfortable rhythm to breathe.  For the most part they were coming from the 10 o’clock position, so I tried to breathe to the right.  But every now and then I timed it wrong and would get a wave crashing over my head as I was trying to breathe.  A couple of times I had to stop and cough up the water I had ingested.

Meanwhile, my left goggle began to slowly fill with water again.

When I made the first turn, the waves were now coming at me from my 8 o’clock position.  I had to breathe to my right, but again would occasionally time it wrong and catch a wave of water.  At this point, it seemed like we were all in a washing machine.  Everyone was getting slammed into each other, and it was hard to find a clear path to swim.  It seemed like I was overtaking more swimmers than were overtaking me, and I assumed that many people had overestimated their swimming pace.

At the second turn, it was much of the same.  The waves should have now been at my 3 o’clock position, but it seemed like they kept changing.  I tried breathing on my right, my left, my right some more….right seemed better (which didn’t make any sense).  At this point it really didn’t matter.  I was just trying to get to shore.  I felt good, I wasn’t breathing hard, and I thought I was doing well.

My left goggle was full of water.

(I usually average about 1:50 min/100 yards in the pool and open water.  My time showed 2:08/100 yards.  So it took 18 more seconds for every 100 yards in those waves!)

However, I sighted very well and seemed to swim a straight line.  This is something I’ve been working on since my last race, so I am happy with that result.

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The swim/bike transition was not good, but I’ll get to that later.

As for the bike, I loved it.  It was a well marked course and fast.  As I went out my average pace was 19.5mph, which is a little fast for me, but I assumed the wind was at my back.  I intended to keep my average power output at 165 watts, and my speed at about 18mph.  At the turn it didn’t seem like the wind picked up at all, and my pace remained the same.  I ended the bike split with a 19.3mph avg, and my output was 149 watts.  I had made up for the time I lost in the swim, and did it at less effort!  It was a win-win situation.  I left the bike/run transition in under 4 hours.

(Side note:  When I was in T2, they were announcing the winner of the pro female.  Really???  In the time it took me to swim and bike, the first woman already did the whole course?)

I had told Angie that I would finish between 6 and 7 hours.  I was hoping for 6:15, and had a stretch goal of under 6 hours.  Since I was under 4 hours, I thought I had a chance of realizing my stretch goal.  I didn’t want to push it, but I had planned on running a 9 min/mile pace.  This would put me at just under a 6 hour finish time.  It was also the pace that I had been training at.  I often ran faster than this, so I figured it was very possible.

The bad

To back up, when I came out of the water I took off my goggles….and couldn’t see out of my left eye.  It looked all cloudy, like maybe I had something in it.  I rubbed it, but it didn’t help.  As I ran through transition (which was .29 miles long) I continued to rub my eye trying to clear it out.  Did I get some sort of fungus from the water in my goggle?  Will this be permanent?  Should I be concerned??

Since there wasn’t anything I could do about it, I decided to ignore it as best I could.  Sometime during the bike it cleared up and I forgot about it.

Okay, for all that I mentioned about the organization of the race being spot on, the transition area is the worst I have ever been to.  It was about 100 yards long, and you had to run between the bikes the whole way.  Most events have racks to either side and you run down the middle.  Not here.  The wheels of the racked bikes were about four feet apart, with people doing their transition in that space.  As you were running and pushing your bike, you had to navigate all the people in the way.  Basically, you had to walk the transition.

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I was lucky enough to have a paved section for my bike rack.  Just opposite of me, the people were standing in sand!  Imagine trying to quickly get your shoes on, without getting all that sand in your shoes!  And then they had to push their bike through all the sand (or carry it) until they got out of transition.  Bad call Ironman!

The Ugly

I started the run feeling fine.  Even though I biked faster than I planned, since my power output was lower than planned I was feeling great.  I knew I hadn’t overdone it.  I tried to keep my running pace at a 9 min/mile, but was a little fast, which is normal after getting off the bike.  Within the first mile there was a very steep hill.  Most people were walking it, so I decided it was a good time to walk and adjust my pace.  After the hill, I started running again, only to find that I didn’t have any energy.  I was surprised since I had eaten three Clif bars on the bike, and had drank two bottles of water.  I walked for a bit, found an aid station, got more water and a half banana, then tried running again.  But I just couldn’t find the energy to pick my legs up. 

Okay, so I needed to reassess my goals.  Under 6 hours was out of the picture, but I could still make 6:15 if I just ran at a slower pace.  However, every time I tried to run I could only go about a tenth of a mile before my legs would give out.  I would walk for a minute or two and try again.  But then every time I tried to run I would want to throw up.  3 times I ran to the ditch trying to puke, but I couldn’t.  However, when I would run I would start gagging on my vomit.  So walking became the norm, and running was a forced activity.  I drank water at every aid station, but it wasn’t helping.  The majority of the course was in the open sun, and I was getting heat exhaustion.  I put ice down my suit, but it didn’t help.  I was also getting chest pains, although my breathing and my heart rate were normal.

I stopped on the side of the road and stretched for a bit, hoping that it would be a magic cure, but it was fruitless.  I was just going to have to suffer this one out, and hope to finish in about 7 hours.

Somewhere around 6.5 miles into the run I remembered that there was a second loop I should take, although I didn’t know where it was.  Since there was always plenty of runners around me, I figured it would be obvious where the decision point would be.  Some would go left, and others right.  And there would be a volunteer, of which there were many on the course, which would be directing traffic so to speak.  I continued following everyone ahead of me, and eventually came to a steep downhill.

This was the same hill that I had walked up early in the race.  From previous conversations with people that had done this race, I thought I remembered them saying something about running this hill twice.  So I thought the turnaround would be at the bottom of the hill.

At this point several spectators were cheering on the runners, saying “only 2 more miles”, or “the finish chute is right around the corner”.  It seemed odd to me, but I figured that they assumed I was on the second loop, not the first.  I continued looking for the turnaround.

And then it hit me that I had missed the second loop.

Should I go back?

How far back?

Was it a quarter mile?  Half mile?  2 miles?

I really didn’t know.  And by then I realized that I was only 1 mile from the finish line.  I tried to do the math with my foggy brain, but really couldn’t remember where the loop was supposed to be.  I was 7 miles into a 13 mile run.  How big was the loop?  3 miles?  4 miles?  Was it worth running backwards to try to find the loop?

Reality

I decided to keep going, knowing that I would get a DNF.  I was very frustrated at this point.  I was questioning everything I had done in my training.  I have logged over 1500 miles on my bike this year and ran almost 500 miles.  I’ve ran 3 half marathons this summer!  Why couldn’t I get through a few miles without walking???

Was it nutrition?  Angie says that I don’t eat enough, but I eat according to my hunger…and my digestive system.  I’m not normally hungry.  Even with all the training I do, I rarely feel hungry.  I normally train on a fasted stomach, and don’t eat right after my workout.  I also get a bloated/gassy stomach very easily, so I have to watch what I eat.  Often times it’s easier to not eat than to eat and then have stomach issues.  I tried to get enough calories during the race.  But I can’t control nausea. 

Was it hydration?  I drank two water bottles filled with electrolytes and a hydration formula.  I grabbed another water bottle, but it got ejected from my bike when I hit a bump.  I made sure to drink water at every aid station on the run.

Was it fatigue?  This is what I’m leaning toward.  I did taper for two weeks.  The first week I cut my training by about 30%, and the second week by another 50%.  (10 hours normal, 6 hours, then 3 hours)  However, I don’t get much sleep.  Working third shift, I average about 4 hours/day plus a nap.  Leading into this race, from Thursday at 5pm until Sunday at 3:30am, I slept about 12 hours.  Recovery is a big part of training.  If you don’t recover, your body just doesn’t have the ability to rejuvenate itself.

Acceptance

So I completed 65.9 miles of a 70.3 mile race.  I was 4.4 miles short.  I should have turned around.  I didn’t complete the race I started.

In the bible, Hebrews 12 says (in reference to the great men of faith in the Old Testament)

1 ¶  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

2  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

3  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

 

I didn’t run the race “marked out for me”.  On a spiritual level, I fell short of the goal.  I “grew weary and lost heart”.  This only encourages me to run this race again.  Not only to prove to myself that I can do it, but to make a statement for myself that I have the stamina to run the race that God has planned for me.

2018 Barry Roubaix

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a race?  The type of race that you really don’t enjoy, but you sign up every year anyway?  The type where you hurt so much during the ride that you wonder why you ever made the choice to do it?  The type where once you get off the bike your legs cramp up so bad that you can’t walk, and you swear that you’ll never sign up again?

That is how I feel about the Barry Roubaix.

Ego Check

I’m having a hard time admitting to myself that I need more rest.  I’m almost 47 years old, which doesn’t seem old to me.  I am in better shape than almost all of my friends.  I can train twice a day…

But I only seem to get about 4 hours of sleep when I go to bed.  Sometimes I also get a nap or two for an hour.  And training twice a day on that little amount of sleep catches up to me.  I end up extremely fatigued after a few weeks of training, and then start skipping workouts until I have more energy.

Injuries, Fatigue, and Equipment

I have battled with tight calves for the past couple of years.  The first time I really noticed was during an Olympic triathlon in July 2016.  During the second half of the run, my calves were becoming quite painful.  I figured it was because we had been hiking in the Smokey Mountains a week or two before that, and they were sore that whole week.  I’m not used to hiking in the mountains, so sore calves seemed reasonable.

2017 Bourbon Chase Race Recap (pt 3)

So here we are trying to get our runner to the exchange point by 7:15, but we’re stuck in very slow traffic.

You see, about this time in the race everything gets very congested.  The fastest teams, which left later in the day, have caught up with the slower teams.  And this is a major exchange, so there are double the amount of vans than there are at the minor exchanges.  And it is night time.  And the roads are narrow.  And the vans are on the same route as the runners.  So the vans are moving slow, which is a good thing for safety, but a bad thing when you are running out of time.

2017 Bourbon Chase Race Recap (pt 2)

2017 Bourbon Chase Race Recap (pt 2)

After Runner #6 left the exchange, the rest of us got back into the van and headed to the next exchange point at Maker’s Mark Distillery.  At this exchange we hand over the reins to the other half of our team.  Runners 7-12 are travelling in another 15 passenger van with all of their gear.  So are the other half of all the other teams on the course.  Up until now they have been hanging out around central Kentucky waiting to start their portion of the race.  So after we parked the van, along with about 80 other vans, we wandered to the exchange point to look for them. 

2017 Bourbon Chase Race Recap (pt 1)

What is the Bourbon Chase, you ask?  Well, it’s a 200 mile, 12 person relay race through the hills of Kentucky.  It starts at the Jim Beam distillery, and the route passes through several other distilleries including Heaven’s Hill, Woodford Reserve, Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Maker’s Mark.  Along the way, you run through several beautiful horse farms and quaint little towns.  The race ends in Lexington 20-35 hours later, depending on how fast your team is.

5 Tips to Easier Swimming

I have always loved the water.  My parents had a pool when I was growing up, and after buying my own house I missed not having the clear blue water in the back yard.  So against the desires of my wife, I had an in-ground pool installed about 13 years ago.  The kids and I have spent countless hours in that pool over the years.  And I’m a fairly decent swimmer…or so I thought!