Short attention span version.
In all, I met my own modest expectations for this race. It was a hilly course – which training in New Orleans isn’t great preparation for – with occasional wind.
The swim was good, the bike was great, and the run was a sh*tshow (which I expected).
My total time, per the Ironman site was 7:46:51 – my watch said 7:48, but I forgot to stop it at the finish line. And, to get the total from the Ironman site I had to add it up since I did something tragically stupid and left my timing chip in transition for the first loop of a 3 loop run course.
Mishaps notwithstanding, I finished. I see opportunities for some easy gains once I’m injury free and I would gladly do it again..
In at least a few months.
And most of all, I feel comfortable about my goal of Ironman Florida in the fall.
Yesterday I completed my first half-distance triathlon, also known as the Ironman 70.3 Florida. IRONMAN is a trademark of World Triathlon Corporation (try to say that last bit in a TV announcer voice) and while there are others at the half distance, Ironman is the most recognized.
My goal time when I was feeling primed and ready for the New Orleans Ironman 70.3 last fall was 7 – 7 ½ hours. My final time for Ironman 70.3 Florida was 7:46:51. I feel really good about that time for a few reasons:
- I’m still nursing an injury from the Big Beach Marathon – my first and only Marathon to date on January 28th.
- Coming out of that I thought I had soft tissue damage in my left calf but after extensive work with a Physical Therapist think it may have been a stress fracture or the beginning of one.
- I was really nervous about the hills.
- Riding and running in New Orleans we don’t see many hills and this was a very hilly course.
- On a test ride around town the prior day, I was working pretty hard for 30 minutes.
- I was also really anxious about the swim.
- At the Morro Bay Triathlon (an Olympic Distance) I had to ride a boat to shore for the last couple hundred yards due to a panic attack.
Yes, the water was really cold. Yes, it was my first time in a full wetsuit – which is, by the way, much more constricting than a sleeveless – and yes, I was wearing a little neoprene beanie with a chin strap which felt like it was choking me.
- This was the longest open water swim I’ve done that wasn’t at the beach, or at Lake Pontchartrain with the occasional rest.
- At the Morro Bay Triathlon (an Olympic Distance) I had to ride a boat to shore for the last couple hundred yards due to a panic attack.
- Oh, yeah, and I’ve never done a 70.3 before 🙂
With all that as the setup, I was feeling pretty good about my chances.
I went to bed easily early Saturday night with a belly full of veggie burrito from Chipotle (a choice I was more comfortable with based on an endorsement from one of my favorite YouTube coaches, Vegan Ultrarunner Sage Canaday). No, I’m neither a full-on vegan, nor an ultrarunner, but I admire both and I’m hopeful.
With an alarm set for 4 AM, I found myself awake a little before 3. I gave up on my hopes for a little more sleep and went downstairs for a cup of coffee. If you’re ever in Lakeland Florida, I highly recommend the TownePlace Suites – coffee 24/7, full kitchenette and very extended stay friendly features. And, they’re a Marriott property so I stayed free on points :).
I then finished setting up my race nutrition and bike.
I have, on my last couple long rides and in this race, been experimenting with a bunch of nutritional weirdness. My main nutrition was from 1 Almond Butter and Jelly sandwich, and 1 Guacamole sandwich. I prepare both of these on sprouted grain bread and then cut into quarters. The guacamole sandwich is a recommendation from Rich Roll, author of Finding Ultra. He recommends them with Vegenaise which I’ve done in the past but didn’t have any with me.
I had all this and a couple backup GUs divided between my tri-suit pockets and my new Dark Speed Works Speedpack.
Then, for liquid, I have 3 bottles. An XLab Torpedo and two 25 oz. Camelbak Podium Big Chill water bottles. In those, I have a combination of Accelerade, this Amino Energy product I found at Costco, electrolytes and Coconut Water – another Rich Roll inspired addition.
I think I may have overdone it with the sugary electrolytes on-course, but more about that later.
So, I loaded my bag, including the Nth degree kit I borrowed from Joseph, my 15 y.o.
I decided to switch coaches to Jen Novak, coach of Nth Degree and Crush Racing, since my kids were training with her and it made it much more convenient. Jen’s programs have been great, in particular the swim workouts which have been kicking my butt and which I credit with my comfort on the swim.
I started my Triathlon coaching with GNOTri. Kevin and Dave have created a great community and I’m still happy to pay my annual dues and consider myself a part of their extended team. I felt like as I was working my way toward Ironman and, ultimately, trying to get competitive in my 50s that I needed more dedicated coaching.
ASIDE: I love having my name printed on my race bib. Having volunteers and spectators call me by name is really motivating. Silly, I know, but it is.
Off I go. Due to my desire to use Marriott points, my hotel was 25 minutes from the race venue, so I got on the road listening to my pre-race Spotify mix of weird rock and punk remakes of hip-hop and other classics (such as Rage Against the Machine doing “Pistol Grip Pump” and my current favorite Five Finger Death Punch doing LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out”).
I found good parking only a few blocks from the venue and headed in to get my stuff set up.
I was on the end of a short row in transition up against the fence, so I had a ton of room. I was glad to lend my pump a couple times and spent far too long waffling over whether to wear my wetsuit. The race was barely wetsuit legal – 75 degree water with a cutoff of 76.1 – and after too much thinking I decided to go ahead and wear the wetsuit.
I am still rocking my $75.00 Wetsuit Warehouse entry level sleeveless model. It’s really crappy, but the good news is it’s so inflexible you can’t kick, so it’s basically like swimming with a pull-buoy which I love. Essentially, you couldn’t get a good kick if you wanted to so you can’t use the excuse of kicking to wear yourself out. I’ll break down and invest in a good wetsuit one day, but I imagine I won’t see it again until the fall, so why?
Sadly there was no good angle for this shot, but this is my basic bike setup.
The weather called for overcast skies all day, but we were lucky. There were very few clouds until late in the day and it was pretty cool, by central Florida standards – low to mid 70s.
The swim was really good. The only reason I’m not calling it great is because I was aiming for a sub-45 minute swim and ended up with a 48 minute swim.
This race was all age groupers, no pros, so the swim was self-seeded by stated swim time. I lined up in the 40-43 minute section and we went into the water after about half an hour. They would send you in 2 at a time and it was a quick wade, maybe half a dozen steps until it was deep enough to swim.
I was struggling with my wetsuit and got an impromptu offer of help from one of the volunteers.
This picture is from the day prior while waiting to get a practice swim.
My top goal for the swim was to never get out of breath. As such, I worked really hard to go easy.
You can see, my pace and stroke rate were super consistent and my heart rate very reasonable throughout. I only pushed it in the home stretch and even that was by trying to maintain a slightly higher stroke rate. Those pace dips in the latter half were because the buoys were a little harder to see and there weren’t many good landmarks to sight on beyond them.
So, mission accomplished, I never breathed hard, even when doing battle with other swimmers who couldn’t seem to hold a line, or while sighting. And good news, I’ve got faster in me. I don’t know if I have 8 minutes faster (a 40 minute swim) but I’m sure I can get close to it within 2018.
The distance to transition was like a quarter mile, and since I was at the end of a row It was a bit of a challenge. I was relatively near the swim-in, which was great, but became a bother on the way out. The good news side is it was a bit of a challenge because there were still so many bikes there. I would guess I wasn’t in the bottom 20% coming out of the swim which seems like a pretty good first time.
Transition went OK. 5 minutes is a bit much, but in order to exit you had to traverse the whole transition area which was in a u shaped parking lot which went up a hill.
I had my shoes clipped in so I jogged barefoot out to the mount line through the remaining 70% of the transition area.
In all, my plan for swim + T1 was 1 hour so I beat that.
The bike was great all around.
My second-hand Shiv TT is a little big for me, but with a new seat and good fitting by Robert Driskell at Bayou Bicycles I’m able to make it work, though I do have to reach for my shifters.
I’m choosing not to modify the bike too much so I can hand it down to Joseph who it will likely fit well since he’s 6 feet at 15 years old.
The bike start was on a slight uphill grade, so I had pre-set my gears to my second to the easiest gear. The Shiv is a speed bike, so no granny gearing.
For the first 20 miles or so on the bike I felt like I was downhill with a tailwind. I know that’s not right, because there was some uphill, but I was watching my average pace and I was killing it.
For context, I was trying to maintain a reasonable exertion level so as not to flame out, so I was working to stick near a 130 heart rate. And even with that, my first two 5 mile splits were over 19 MPH average. On my training rides, I’ve been averaging 16, 17 MPH so with the hilly course I was planning for an overall 16 MPH average.
Then we hit the real hills.
The first 20 miles were pretty easy. There were some up-grades, but nothing both long and extreme. And I swear there was a tailwind. Oddly, though, there must have been half a dozen flats in the first ten miles. I was overly cautious given I had two last weekend uptown – we think it’s the new fiber getting installed because I found a really small piece of glass and a few other really uniform punctures about the thickness of fiber-optic cable – so I had two spare tubes and three CO2 cartridges, none of which I needed.
Starting about mile 20 the way got hillier with a mix of up and down. Again, keep in mind I have to reach for the shifters, and there is no granny gear on the Shiv so some of the steeper hills had me in my easiest gear at around 9 MPH. Of course, on the backside I saw 30 MPH one time too and that was pretty cool.
So the race director is apparently some kind of sadist. It felt like every time you would have a nice long descent and you’re going 25 MPH it would end in a hard turn onto an either flat or uphill portion. So you get a bunch of momentum up and then you’d have to scrub it for the turn.
Not to brag, but most TT bike riders this late in the pack have no bike handling skills – mine are not awesome, so theirs must have really sucked – so I was actually passing people on the turns.
Also funny, on the course I got yelled at “Hey New Orleans!” by a spectator who I later learned is a Slidell triathlon coach Mia Erickson Stevens who recognized the Nth degree kit and knows Jen.
The last 10 miles or so were both hilly and the wind had changed, so they were not as much fun as the front part.
I was aiming for a good dismount but got distracted by another cyclist so I couldn’t get all the way off before the stop so it was less than optimal. Not awful, but I couldn’t swing my leg over until I was already fully stopped.
Even so, I felt great on the bike. 3 + hours in the saddle, on aero bars, is never a joyride, but it was pretty great overall. I was aiming for a 16 MPH average and wound up at 17 for a 15 minute savings on that segment.
Yes, I’m a dumbass. On the official record, my T2 is over an hour. On my garmin it’s only 10 minutes.
I decided, given my not fully recovered left leg, to put on both compression socks and compression sleeves prior to the run. So I got my bike racked, sat on the curb and put on my really difficult compression socks. Of course, there was no way they were going on over the chip, so I took it off.
Then, when I left transition, I left the timing chip there 😦
I didn’t notice because each time I passed one of the timing sensors I was with other people so they would beep.
I felt pretty good getting started on the run. It’s always a little bit funky to get started, but I was feeling OK. I had my watch set for 1 minute on, 30 seconds off and I was pretty pain free.
The run is 3 loops on a 4ish mile course and starts from transition through the main spectator area. That part is pretty cool. Around mile 1 you hit an aid / refreshment station where they’re serving Red Bull, Gatorade and food like GUs and bananas and oranges.
Once you’re out of the Lake Eva park area you start what I affectionately call the death march.
For the next mile and a half you’re going up 70 percent of the time. It sucks and it’s demoralizing and by my last lap it really did look like a death march.
Something I found really amusing was that right after aid station 2 there was this old couple in their yard playing honest to goodness disco. I can’t remember explicitly any of the songs, but they were like Bee Gees, Gloria Gaynor kind of stuff.
I jokingly said to one of my running buddies “and we thought Disco was dead”. I couldn’t help but think on each pass that this old couple was reliving their early adulthood with memories of polyester, bright lights and big hair.
Around the 3rd aid station I noticed I was missing my [four syllable expletive deleted] chip. I was so pissed. I was doing great. It kinda gassed me for a minute. So, for the next few minutes I complained to anyone who would listen and contemplated giving up.
Finally I decided “screw it” I’m here for me, not for some time on the board, and my Garmin knows and can prove the truth so I pushed on back the the transition area.
The great news was that once you got to the very top of the hill you got to go down almost entirely. Including the final descent into the transition / finishing chute area.
I went into transition, found my chip and put it on. I then found some race officials and asked them what they thought my best option was. They suggested it was 6 / ½ a dozen whether I finish without or wear it through the finish to hear my name called and so I opted for the ego gratification of hearing my name called.
The volunteers on course were great. At the exit from transition there were a bunch of volunteers with spray sunscreen happy to apply it. It was nice touch and the volunteers were really enthusiastic. I’m sure it saved me from a bad burn on my shoulders.
So with my chip on and 5 minutes or so burned looking for and talking with race officials, I headed back out.
My second lap was pretty uneventful. I took a few extended walk breaks and visited along the way since I’d already written off the run.
I had been making a point of getting water, some Gatorade and – perhaps unwisely – some Red Bull at most of the aid stations and dropping a GU every 4 miles and felt well hydrated and not hungry.
And, it was cool to have made friends with Mia and her crew on lap one because she and her team were there to cheer for me each time around.
Lap 3 started out pretty OK despite the uphill portions.
There’s a point at which you turn into a neighborhood which had a local police officer minding the turn. This guy was great. He was cheering through his loudspeaker and then playing upbeat music across his PA system. He was fantastic. His was a very different persona than how we too often see police portrayed.
So I’m jog walking and having some nice chats with folks along the way and toward the top of the death march I start having some serious GI challenges. It feels like whatever’s in my digestive tract can’t figure out whether it wants to leave through the entry or the exit. I’m not sure if it was the Red Bull, the electrolytes and sugar in the Gatorade, or the 4 advil I popped before the run to make sure my leg didn’t bother me, but I was not happy.
I had an unproductive port-a-potty stop and continued on. It stuck with me through the next couple miles which led to a lot of walking.
Finally at the very end my stomach had mostly cleared and I put on a good show down the chute.
Aside from the late GI issues I felt really good. I felt like I was ready to schedule my next “race” 🙂
And, I was able to find a race official who helped me work with the timing team to clear the DNF on my T-2. Sadly I’m still not showing an official time, but I’m pretty happy with the arithmetic version.
Overall this even exceeded my expectations. My time wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped for but I felt well-trained and ready. And, I think I’m getting a much better sense of what my pace needs to be to assure success.
I’m bummed about the chip and my late intestinal distress, but those are a result of correctable errors.
As for the organization of the race, I thought it was fine. My #1 complaint is about athlete refreshments. There was no apparent water on the registration day and only not awesome for sale food and drink. I also didn’t love the post-race food. As someone who’s avoiding animal product my choice was basically rice and bean tacos.
I also wish the organizers had been more active on both the Ironman site and social media. There was not great information available wherever I was looking.
And, maybe this is New Orleans thing, if there was beer they were hiding it.
I grabbed a couple waters and some sprite to settle my stomach and moved along.
So after an hour of so of milling about and packing up my gear I headed back to the hotel with a pit-stop at the local Mellow Mushroom. For those of you that don’t know, Mellow Mushroom has both good vegetarian options and an extensive beer list. Yes, it’s a franchise, but I was able to get a Tempeh Hoagie with a couple glasses of the local IPA. Not bad for post-race food.
I’m really pleased to be able to check this one off the list. I’ve honestly been self-conscious wearing my New Orleans 70.3 gear since I never completed a 70.3. I feel like I’ve earned the right to wear my Florida 70.3 gear and I can wear the New Orleans stuff without shame too.
I ended the race feeling good; feeling ready for another and feeling like I could be ready with another several months training for Ironman in the fall.
Here’s the significance. I have dreamed of Ironman since my 20s. I was in the Marines and dreamed of being in the Seal Teams. Just to be clear I would never have been able to do it at that point in my life. I was much too undisciplined and certainly not anywhere near the fitness one needs to succeed in that program.
So 20 years pass by in a blink. I’ve got a phenomenal wife and family. We’ve got a company we’re building and to all appearances things are great. Except, I was stressed, angry eating like crap and still a closet smoker. And then I had a harsh wake-up call.
At 44, 3 weeks before my 45th birthday I had a heart attack and quintuple bypass. Yes, that’s 5 arteries – they would have done six but they felt I’d been under long enough.
I reprioritized. I found a way to both work on my fitness to get me ready for Ironman and to be present for my family and our business.
Along the way I”ve become a much happier person. I’ve become the kind of person I wish I’d been in my 30s and 40s. While I still have flashes of anger from time to time they’re a lot less impactful than they used to be. I hope it’s apparent to others the work I’ve done. I’d love to think that those who’ve been around me throughout this time are getting more value from me than they did.
I cannot give enough thanks to Angie. She supports me better than I could ever hope to deserve. At home and at work she carries the burden of my absence and does it without complaint.
In the final analysis, all this work is for me. It’s about entering every day feeling I’ve earned the right to be here, the right to be loved and admired by those around me.
I’m feeling pretty good about being here today.