Sunday, November 2, 2014

Season Retrospective and Beach 2 Battleship Race Report

Best race pic of 2014 at the rainy Lakeside Decatur Tri courtesy of David Fathauer.

It's been a good chunk of time since my last post, but I think I've made excellent use of that time. More than ever I buckled down to get in consistent (but still pretty low-volume) training.  Pre-season the most time I can set aside for training tends to stay around 7-10 hours a week.  Over the summer I incorporate more bike commutes (35-40 roundtrip for me) and long rides to get closer to that 15 hours a week mark.  Pretty low volume for a long course professional, but I make the most out of what I've got!

As a quick review, after 20 years of racing I qualified for my pro card last September and immediately jumped into the Beach 2 Battleship IM.  As usual, I set ambitious goals for my first pro season which I wrote about here.  Basically two different goals: win an Ironman and/or go sub 9 hours in an Ironman.  I didn't quite do either, but damned if I didn't get close.  More on that later.

If you follow the sport at all you know that after many years of growth and stability the U.S. professional racing scene was completely upended in 2014.  Rev3 had been a great supporter of U.S. professional racing since their inception.  They allowed pros to race for free, coordinated homestays, had good prize purses and did good race media.  Early in 2014 Rev3 pulled all professional prize purses from their races.  I had planned on doing a number of their events and had to reassess after the announcement.  The bigger kicker came later in the year when WTC (owners of the Ironman brand races) announced that they were pulling pros from close to two-thirds of their U.S. events.  Next year there will be no professionals at races near me like: IM Wisconsin, IM Louisville, Steelhead 70.3 and others.  WTC already charges pros a hefty fee (to fund an anti-doping program).  I ended up doing no WTC events again this year and 2015 may play out the same way.  Challenge Family Races recently bought all of the Rev3 events and many of us are hoping to see a good U.S. pro series reemerge from them.

So how did my rookie pro year play out?  Here's the good, the bad and the ugly:

Tri-Shark Sprint, 4th
Rockford Olympic, 10th
Decatur Lakeside Triathlon, 6th
Milwaukee ITU Super Sprint, nearly last
Challenge New Albany, 25th (4:25)
Great Illini Half, 3rd (4:24)
Border Wars Half, 2nd (4:20)
Beach2Battleship IM, 5th (9:01)

Let's break this down a little.  One of my unwritten benchmarks for my rookie pro year was to simply not be the last professional in any large race.  Making the jump to professional racing is very difficult.  The level of competition is absurdly high.  I targeted mostly regional races with prize money that would attract a decent pro field.  Except for our local Tri-Shark Sprint every race I did this year had prize money and other professionals.  This is something I am proud of.  I could easily cherry-pick races that I could win overall, but I wanted to see how I stacked up. I did manage to meet my benchmark. Every large race that I was in (even the disastrous ITU Super Sprint) I came in ahead of some other pros.  The Great Illini is a small race where I finished in the money, but behind established US Pros Thomas Gerlach and AJ Baucco.  Likewise, at the new Border Wars Half I was second to long-time pro Nick Waninger. In my final race of the year at the B2B Ironman there were at least 10 pros in the field and I managed 5th overall.

Border Wars Podium

I initially had planned on 2 Ironman events this year.  One in August and then B2B in late October.  Going back up to the Michigan Titanium to try for an overall win was one option.  Unfortunately they won't comp entries for professionals.  I knew local pro Jimi Minnema was doing that event, so an overall win there was a long-shot.  I decided to pay the one race WTC fee for IM Louisville.  All summer I had been struggling with low back problems and they kept getting worse before Louisville.  About 1 week out I decided to pull the plug because I wasn't confident that I could finish.  I spent a lot of time getting ART treatments from Dr. Matt Shepard of Shepard Pain and Performance in Bloomington. I had had lots of visits to my go-to massage therapist, Don Thorpe at Aches Away massage.  Along with some stretching and strengthening at home I got the back problem under control, but it will be something I work on all winter to eliminate it as liability next season.

The only really poor race I had was not all that unexpected.  My wife Cara was racing amateur nationals in Milwaukee this past August.  An opportunity came up for me to race other pros and U.S. draft-legal development athletes at a super-sprint event.  When I put my name in it was supposed to be a co-ed super sprint relay. Later this was changed to separate male/female races. The format was 300swim, 4k bike (4 laps) and 1.5k run two times through.  Not a great format for a 35 year old long course athlete, but new races are fun!  Bottom line, I lost my googles diving off the dock and then immediately lost the pack fumbling to get them on. Nearly last out of the water and I only got 2 laps and change of the bike in before my buddy Andrew Starykowicz caught me and lapped me out. And so it goes.  As these things go one of my worst career races was also (I think) the first time I made it into a Triathlete Magazine photo gallery!

Beach2Battleship Race Report

I'm going to attempt a brief report here which is always tricky for a race that lasts all day.  At the end of last season I decided to do Beach2Battleship as my first race as a pro.  I didn't do much specific Ironman training, but still pulled off a 9:22 PR and 4th overall finish.  Report here.  Beach 2 Battleship is one of the dwindling independent iron distance races left out there. Race organization is top-notch.  They do a great job comping entries for pros and setting us up with great local homestays.  The race is also ideal timing for me since it occurs mid-fall which let's me ramp up the training over the summer when my schedule is more flexible.  Since I went 9:22 last year, I knew a sub-9 and/or an overall win were possible.

Taper for the race didn't go well with an oddball calf strain coming after the Border Wars half.  I did almost no running in the 3 weeks leading up to the race so that I wouldn't make things worse.  Wilmington weather at the end of October tends to be ideal for IM racing.  Last year was freakishly cold, but this year lows were in the high 40s and highs in the low 70s.  I think due to the lack of Rev3 pro races the pro field this year was more than twice as large as last year.  There were at least 10 pros that started the race.  B2B is a point to point swim in an inlet off the Atlantic Ocean.  This year we had a much bigger push from the tides resulting in crazy fast swim times.  Short course standout John Kenny swam an insane 33 minutes which is surely the world record.  Yours truly managed 42 minutes when I was probably only in 57-58 minute shape for a regular wetsuit legal swim.  Coming out of the swim I had a problem I never encountered before in 20+ years of racing.  My wetsuit stuck on my ankle and the wetsuit strippers just kept pulling harder. This caused my quad to completely cramp and lock up. I thought my day might be over due to aggressive wetsuit strippers.  I hobbled to my bike, but while the quad was sore I don't think it held me back too much.

The Beach2Battleship bike is a single loop on very nice roads.  Only a few small hills, but lots of false flats.  Went into the wind for much of the first two hours, but had it at my back later on when I was tired.  I knew the bike was where I had a chance to drop a good chunk of time. I was in measurably better shape this year compared to last.  I had bike splits that were much closer to the best splits in almost all of my races this year.  This is full circle for me.  For most of my tri career I was a swimmer/runner.  After a decade of bike-focused training I've finally upped my game.  I rode a lifetime best of 4:44 (23.7mph!) which was within 5 minutes of the best pro bike split.

With the crazy fast swim and PR ride I thought I would have a sub-9 finish locked up.  Last year at B2B I ran 3:18 and didn't feel like that was anywhere near my potential.  I started off at what felt like a conservative pace.  Everything was clicking.  My nutrition had been spot-on.  Plenty of calories on the bike and my stomach felt good enough to take in calories at almost every aid station.  I lost some time in T2 when they couldn't locate my transition bag.  I had traded legal pulls with fellow first-year pro Matt Shanks on the bike, but he got out of T2 ahead of me.  I caught up to him and told him my goal was to run 3:10 which was a reasonable goal given my training and how I felt. Things started to unravel for no good reason- just regular old fatigue.  I thought I was being smart and conservative, but that strategy hinged on either running even splits or negative splitting the second half.  My legs just didn't have it.  Probably just my lower volume training catching up to me since I cruised to a 1:25 half split 3 weeks prior.  Lack of running during taper probably didn't help matters either.  I knew it was going to be down to the wire.  I moved up from 6th to 5th which was on the podium and in the money around mile 22 I think.  I pushed it back into town, but had no turnover. A disappointing 3:29 marathon, but a new lifetime best of 9:01:40.  So close to the 9 hour mark, but a PR is a PR!

To sum up the season I found out that I really do belong in the pro ranks.  I'm somewhere in the bottom third, but at any given large race in the country I can finish ahead of some of the pro field.  The other big development was that I made more gains on the bike. This is hugely important for long course racing since roughly 50% of the day is on the bike.  Not only that, but I can see getting even faster at the long stuff.  In 2015 I plan to be on sabbatical during the summer and fall from my job at Illinois Wesleyan.  I have lots of research and writing to do, but my schedule will still be more flexible and open than any other given year.  My plan is for this to be my last big shot at long course professional racing. Right now I don't plan to try and renew my pro card past the 3 years I am eligible for.  At the same time the kids are getting involved in more and more activities so a step away from long course racing is also in my future.  No idea what my 2015 will look like except that I will probably try to target 2 or 3 Ironman races.  Looking forward to finding out what the new Challenge series will look like for the pros.  In the meantime, I'm taking my regular break from the pool, entering a few cross races and looking forward to spending some more time on the fat bike this winter!

As I wrap up the season, I want to again thank my wife for her support of my racing.  I try to limit time away, but she still ends up with the kids alone for chunks of time on the weekend and during some of my race travel.  My mother Elaine and her husband Al are also tireless supporters and took both kids for a number of weekends that I was traveling to races.  It's really a family affair with my brother's Hub Endurance multisport shop also sponsoring my racing. Quintana Roo set me up with an Illicito frame at the end of last year and it carried me to my fastest-ever time trial and fastest IM bike split. My Zipp disc and 808 continue to be the fastest wheel combo for just about any conditions. When the temps are cold enough I love racing in either my sleeveless or full-sleeve Xterra Vendetta wetsuits.  Awesome buoyancy for my heavy legs!  Thanks for your continued support!

My bike mechanic apprentice!

No comments: