Ironman Wisconsin Champ!

Ironman Wisconsin Champ!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Ironman Lake Placid

It has now been 3 days since I raced Ironman Lake Placid in New York this past weekend.  Much like my first go at the Ironman distance this past September I find myself still overwhelmed and trying to process everything that took place this past Sunday.  Overall I am satisfied and proud of the race I was able to put together and execute to bring home the result I wanted heading in.  Although I can still see plenty of flaws in my race preparation and execution, mainly a combination of my lack of experience and a steep learning curve in Ironman racing, this was a big step forward from my first take at the distance.  My perception of my race is still changing every day, and my race report would be different any of the last three days and will probably continue to change, but overall it was a great day and another amazing experience in the sport.

Unlike my first go at the distance this past September where I went in with no real plan and just wanted to experience the distance I went into this race with a pretty specific plan and time checks.  Having looked through the past 10 years of Lake Placid race results I was amazed to find that almost like clockwork, a 9 hour finish time places 4th overall just about every single year.  The race field assembled didn't strike me as overly impressive despite this being a major Ironman with a big prize purse.  There were about five "big names" (one of whom dropped out) and after that things seemed to drop off substantially.  With all this in mind plus the knowledge of the course having trained on it two months prior I decided on what I thought would be a pretty conservative race plan that would net a 9:00-9:05 finish time which, based on the history of the race, should put me right in the thick of racing for a good top-5 result.  I have been running great all year and I knew heading in my bike fitness has improved over the season but is still lacking.  I was only able to put in two rides of 100+ miles in prep for this race where ideally I would like to have gotten in 4-5 100+ milers.  So I knew I had to really chill on the bike as going too hard would only hurt my weapon, the run.  I planned to try to ride a 5:00-5:05 conservative bike split and hopefully be able to follow that up with a 3 hour marathon.  Combined with the swim I knew that should put me right around 9 hours which should have me racing for a good result.

Race weekend I tried to avoid the Ironman zoo as much as possible as being around the thousands of people and race madness only makes me nervous and stresses me out.  I didn't arrive in Lake Placid until 2pm Saturday, an hour before gear check in ended, and just 17 hours before the start.  I want to say a big thanks to the Jacobs and Allen families of Plymouth Indiana for hosting me in their rental home, it was a great homestay that kept me relaxed all day Saturday and having never met me they were very brave to host me!

Swim:  55:21  8th fastest split
Race morning was busy and went by quickly which was nice because I didn't have much time to think about what I was about to undertake.  The swim was very uneventful which I think is always a good thing in an Ironman swim.  Got off to a great start and right into the thick of things.  Swam towards the front of the chase pack the whole way out.  Got to the first turns 1000 yards out and got shuffled to the back as I was on the outside around the turns.  Swam back in on the back of the group.  The swim in Lake Placid is fantastic, it is clear and there's a visible underwater guide cable the entire way.  It was super easy to draft and I only had to sight about every 5 minutes.  Started the second loop at the back of our group and the pace slowed considerably.  I looked up and the guy I was swimming on lost the group in front of him.  I made a move to go after them but quickly realized they were gone and decided my best bet would be to just sacrifice a little time and cruise the second half on the feet in front of me.  Out of the water in 8th place, couldn't believe how big the crowd was, the entire quarter mile run to T1 must have been 5 people deep.  Made it a point to really cruise through transition as it was a long day and I wanted to keep my heart rate down.


Bike:  5:02:37  22.2mph  7th fastest split
A quick transition put me onto the bike within sight of 5th place.  I planned to go out really conservative as it was but didn't plan to be in such high position starting the bike.  So I decided to go out even easier since I was in good position.  Two guys went by in the first 10 miles.  Was riding well within myself at the effort I planned but not seeing the speed I expected for the effort I was giving.  At the first turnaround 30 miles in I became concerned.  The leader was way further up than I expected, and the lead woman was only 4 minutes behind me.  I had dropped from 6th to 8th position and could see I was about to drop to 9th.  I felt I was in control of the race after the swim but could feel it getting away.  The only good news was that every single pro was riding a solo effort and there was nobody working together so I didn't feel as bad about getting dropped and being alone.  At mile 35 Jason Shortis came by to put me into 9th and I decided that I had to forgo my conservative race plan and go with him to get back into the race.  We started the long climbs leading back into town and the pace felt super hard.  I stuck with it and started feeling better and better.  By 45 miles I felt the best I had all race and began taking turns setting the pace.  Through the half in 2:27 which was right about where I wanted for a 5 hour split.  Kept working with Jason until I got dropped on the Keene descent at mile 70.  Rode the entire rest of the way solo.  Was concerned about the last 20 miles since that's where I fell apart in my first Iron distance race and the last 20 are all uphill, but I think my ultra conservative pace the first 30 miles paid off because I stayed strong relative to everyone else.  Caught and passed two guys who were falling apart on the final climbs in the last 5 miles heading back into town.  Hit T2 in 6th position with a 5:02 split, pretty much exactly the position and time I had written down I wanted to be before the race.  Best news of all is that I didn't feel fried finishing the bike like I felt in my first 140.6, I felt ready to run a sub-3 hour marathon.

Run:  3:04:42  5th fastest split
I always tell the athletes I coach that in any race over 4 hours in length you have to be ready for things to go wrong and the unexpected because unexpected things always happen and troubleshooting is part of the game.  I was lucky that I only had one big curveball thrown at me during the race and as it turns out I did it to myself.  I hurried through T2 to try to gap the two athletes I came off the bike with.  I started the marathon and knew something wasn't right but couldn't figure out what.  A minute in I realized I had left my gel flask in my transition bag which was the nutrition I was relying on for the marathon.  Oops.  I quickly had to improvise and utilize the aid station nutrition which is a bit of a gamble because you never know what flavor the gel will be and some flavors I can't tolerate.  Thankfully I made it work although I had to force some of the gels down.  Felt great running out of T2, no real lingering fatigue and floated through the first 6 mostly downhill miles at 6:15 pace, passed an athlete to move into 5th position and was putting time into everyone behind me and gaining on 4th.  Through 10 miles in 64 minutes feeling great and through 13.1 in 1:26.  It's amazing how quickly things can change in a marathon because I went from feeling on top of the world at the half marathon, on cruise control enjoying the massive crowd in town, positive I was going to smash 3 hours, and run down 4th place to feeling on the verge of walking, completely depleted, legs so sore I could barely lift them, hoping I could just finish top-8 in a two mile stretch.  My pace went from 6:30 on cruise control to 7:30 and struggling in that two miles.  The last 11 miles were just pure raw suffering.  Probably the biggest thing I took away from my first 140.6 race was the knowledge of how painful and intense the suffering is in Ironman racing, there's no workout or other race that can replicate the pure intensity of the suffering.  I think having that knowledge really helped me to keep it together and manage the last 11 miles despite the discomfort.  I made a 1 minute port-a-john stop at mile 18 and then went through a real bad patch from 19-20 miles.  Started doubling my nutrition intake the rest of the way and that seemed to help.  Through 20 miles in 2:15.  Was very concerned about getting run down from behind but thankfully all of my closest pursuers seemed to be going through the same thing and all of the time gaps seemed to hold steady despite significant slowing.  My mind went to some bad places those last 11 miles but through it all I kept pushing.  The last 10k all I could manage was 8min pace, I've never run with such sore quads in my life, lifting my legs took all the energy I had.  Finally made it to the speed skating oval where Eric Heiden won 5 gold medals in the 1980 olympics.  Can't say I remember much from the lap around the track to the finish but I made it to finish 5th-the exact position and almost the time I had written down for myself a few days before the race.

Overall:  9:07:05  5th place
Very happy to come home in the exact finish position I had written down for myself a week ago.  Not so pleased with my half marathon run splits of 1:26-1:38.  Although I did cut 7 minutes off my marathon from last September which was run on a much easier course.  Ironman marathons just have a steep learning curve I suppose and I did take a big step forward although I know I had sub-3 in me.  Probably needed to go out 1-2 mins slower and then be more mentally tough the last half.  I was very fortunate to not lose any positions with the way I ran.  Had the field been deeper this mistake likely would have cost me several positions in the final 10k.  Got away with it this time and didn't lose any positions.  Had a great time at this race, Lake Placid is an incredible and inspiring place to race.  I still remain amazed by the undertaking to put on such an event.  4000 volunteers worked from 5am through midnight to make the race go without a noticeable glitch.  Ironman racing is a pretty neat thing with an incredible positive vibe surrounding the events and I hope to be back at this one next year.  I look forward to the second half of my season now.  This first half got off to a very slow start following a long offseason but I have come into good form in the last month.  I look forward to starting the second half of the season in race shape and continuing to build the momentum I've found in July.  I feel more motivated than I've ever been entering August and if things continue the way they're going I think I can produce career best results the second half of this season.  But for now it's time to recover.  See you at the races, and congrats to all the participants,  Daniel

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Muncie 70.3

A week ago I competed in the Ironman Muncie 70.3 in my home state of Indiana.  With this being the first professional triathlon race Indiana has hosted in nearly a decade it was a race I had highlighted and had on my mind since the day it was announced.  All season long I had planned to be on my A game for this race.  Race week we had 30 pro men confirmed and typical July hot weather coming raceday.  With hot weather, a flat bike course, and a deep talented pro field assembled I predicted we would see large packs on the bike and ultimately those who could keep it together on the run would have the successful results.  The race played out pretty much exactly as I anticipated and my prerace strategy of using the swim and bike just to setup my run seemed to be the optimal plan on this day.

Swim:  27:17  13th fastest split
There's really not too much to write about from the swim, it went pretty much as the swim always does for me.  Once everything calmed down and sorted out I was in the second pack, where I always seem to swim.  Out of the water we had 8 guys in our group and got word that the lead group was just a minute up. 

Bike:  2:08:22  11th fastest split  25.9mph
From the get go the pace was pretty hard on the bike and I did a good amount of pace setting in the early going as I hoped we could catch the lead group.  We dropped a couple guys off the back with the hard pace in the first 5k and we ended up with a group of four; myself, two of my teammates, and one other.  At the first turnaround 9 miles in we were still a minute down on the lead group of 8.  I spent a decent amount of time at the front setting the pace the next 20 miles hoping to catch a glimpse of the lead group.  Problem was we were a group of 4 chasing a group of 8.  To our credit though our group ended up only riding about a minute slower than the larger group up the road and despite the lack of officials on course I thought everyone was doing their best to ride legal and keep the race fair.  At the 30 mile turnaround I was pretty certain that we were not going to catch the lead group, I was a little tired from the hard effort the first half, and I began to remember my prerace prediction that in the end it would be a runner's race.  I've been running well all year and didn't want to screw that up by riding too hard with a hot run coming.  So I spent nearly the entire last 25 miles sitting at the back of the group and conserving as best I could.  45 miles in I could tell the entire group was tired so I decided to make an effort to breakaway.  Went to the front at 50 miles, tried to make a break but the legs were totally shot.

Run:  1:17:36  2nd fastest
Started the run 12th and felt terrible.  Two athletes ran away and I couldn't match their pace.  Just tried to relax and hoped the body would come around.  I took a lot of aid through the first two aid stations and that seemed to really help as the legs started coming around and finally things started clicking.  Moved into 10th at mile 4 and set my sights on 8th, the final payout.  Just seemed to get stronger and stronger as the run went and everyone else seemed to slow down.  Caught 8th at the turnaround and not long after moved into 7th then 6th.  Ran several miles in 6th place and was pretty sure that was where I would finish as I could see 5th about 30 seconds in front but he was maintaining his gap on me the entire way.  Then, at mile 10 where I typically start to fade I just felt really strong, pulled in 5th place and ran as hard as I could, never faded, to a 5th place finish.

Overall:  3:55:36  5th place
Pleased with my performance and my race execution on this day was near flawless.  Been awhile since I've had a good race result and all my results so far this year have been garbage so feels extra good in that respect and helps to validate that despite the slow start, yes indeed I am getting into good shape.

Another one of the big highlights of this race for me was that Bretscher Multisport had its first ever "team race" in Muncie.  We had 7 athletes make the trip to Muncie and I think all of us enjoyed the experience a little more because of each other.  Triathlon isn't exactly a team sport but with the camaraderie we shared all weekend it certainly felt like one.  We started things off with a nice dinner Friday night and then finished off the weekend with a nice team photo and claiming our fair share of hardware at the awards ceremony.  Highlights of the Bretscher Multisport athletes include....
Julie:  7 minute PR of 5:12 and 45th overall out of 455 women
Mike:  61st out of 242 in the 40-44 age group and a new "hot weather pr" of 5:23
Ron:  Runner-up in the 50-54 age group and 1 minute short of a lifetime PR with a 4:33
Dana:  New PR of 4:15,  7th place overall age grouper on the day
Billie:  50 minute PR of 4:51 and 21st of 176 in in the 30-34 age group
Paul:  New PR of 5:18, 21st of 127 in the 50-54 age group
Congrats all!

 Julie, Daniel, Mike, Ron, Dana, Billie, Paul unveil the team banner

Daniel, Ron, Dana bringing home hardware

Now I turn my attention to Ironman Lake Placid in one week.  I'm running phenomenal right now, swimming good enough, cycling I'm still not convinced.  Despite Lake Placid being a mountainous course compared to dead flat Muncie I think my race plan is going to be almost identical.  I've got to swim and cycle in a way that sets up my weapon:  the run.  In my one and only go at the Ironman distance I over-rode the bike and ended up running about 15 minutes slower than I thought I would heading in.  I did that on a flat course.  With Lake Placid having six climbs that are miles in length I expect the bike to be one of my greatest ever tests in patience.  For five hours I'm going to have to stay patient and keep my competitive instincts in check.  If I have my legs starting the marathon I believe I have the fitness to run sub-3 hours.  Today I spent some time looking through the history of Ironman Lake Placid.  What I learned is that 9 hours has never finished lower than 6th overall.  I plan to aim for around a 5-hour bike split and hopefully that will lead to a 3-hour run split which should put me around 9 hours overall and a rock solid result.  I'll be happy to finish top-8 on the day but coming off of Muncie, secretly, I want to match or better my 5th place result from last week.  It'll be an adventure no doubt and right now I'm just trying to drill it in my head that yes, I am about to race another Ironman.