Ironman Florida 2019 Race Report

Ironman Florida 2019 Race Report


I know my race reports can get kind of long, so I’m going to summarize up front.

In my second full distance triathlon (Ironman 140.6) I improved my overall time by 1:18 – meeting both my real goal and nearly hitting my first stretch goal (sub 15 hours (or 1 hour less) and sub 14:30 respectively). Compared to Ironman 70.3 Augusta – where I felt like I killed it – my relative ranking to my peers was not quite as good.

I improved significantly in swim and bike and marginally in the run.

Haines City, where I did this race last year had a lake swim with more turns and a markedly hillier bike and run so it’s not perfectly comparable.

I came away from Ironman Florida 2018 feeling like I hadn’t put it all out there. I got a lot closer this year. My swim and bike have come a long way and I need to double down on my run. I’ve been having a ton of chest congestion lately and need to figure that out.

For comparison purposes, my relative ranking to my “division” (males 50-54):

2019 – 203/278 (73%)

2018 – 160/190 (84%)

So that’s a pretty big improvement in a larger field.

And, in other good news, I’m nowhere near as sore afterward as I was last year. Last year I was basically hobbled for 2 whole days and while I’ve got some soreness I’m fully functional (except going down stairs).

In short, it was a great race. The conditions were excellent and if I can get my running sorted out while continuing my improvement in the other disciplines I should be in good shape to be in the top half of the field next year. Top 50% & sub-14 are my goals for next year’s fall Ironman.

I owe all the credit for my swim improvement to the Tower 26 subscription and my bike and run improvement to Jen Novak who has been coaching me since the turn of 2018.

Overall impressions and setup

This was a really good race venue. They’ve apparently made some changes since the last time it was in PCB. As a first-timer here I was none the wiser and it seemed like a near-perfect course to me.

It was f’ing cold, people.

I was not expecting it to be that cold. I normally run super-hot and I was freezing. Near the end of the second run lap, in the state park I was huddling next to the heater at one of the aid stations trying to warm up – I blame that moment of weakness for not going sub 14:30 🙂

The water which had some swells a couple days prior was glassy with just a little bit of an eastward current and a nice temp for wetsuits.

As always the volunteers were great. arrived toward the end of check-in on the first day and found the check-in process seamless.

I think Ironman race organizers need to invest in way more on-course referees. In each of the races I’ve participated in this year the level of drafting and pack riding is pretty atrocious.

Can we talk about food? The non-dairy option was rice, beans and french fries. I understand it’s logistically challenging to keep food available for 9 hours of finishers but more and more people are moving away from dairy and meat. Salty rice and beans with no salsa or anything is not going to satisfy after 14-½ hours on the course.

And beer? Even a crappy near beer like Michelob Ultra is better than no beer.

These are minor complaints making up 10 minutes of a 15 hour day. Very small in the grand scheme of an overall really enjoyable race.

I’m pretty hard on myself but the more I look at the data the better I feel about my performance. The run is the only place where I don’t see gains consistent with my effort over the year.

Swim – 01:21:42 / 02:06/100m

Ranking: 146/278 (53%) 2019 // 164/190 (86%) 2018

The picture above was actually two days before. On race day the water was glassy with not a swell to be seen.

If you want to become a better swimmer you have to put in the time. And, a triathlon specific swim program like Tower 26 can make a huge difference. I am now a confident swimmer approaching the top half of the field – well into it in shorter races. And I never swam with intent prior to 4 years ago. On the Tower 26 program I’m swimming 3 – 5 hours per week and doing a ton of triathlon specific work.

A 20 minute (i.e. 20%) improvement in one year for an Ironman swim distance is pretty amazing to me and with continued work I see that going down further.

One thing I found really interesting is that because it’s a two-loop course, you have to go from swimming to standing / running to swimming again. In the Tower 26 program there are actually exercises specific ot that action called Deck-Ups. In a larger set, like a 500 for instance, you will pull yourself all the way out of the pool every 100 or so and run around or do jumping jacks to simulate the water exit.

Also interesting was what my heart rate did – one of the issues identified in the deck-up exercise.

There appear to be some parts of this chart with no data but you can see how right in the middle there’s a spike. That’s where I went from horizontal to vertical and running across the beach. I was feeling really good at that point and even said to another racer “what a beautiful day”. It was. She may not have been feeling it at that point 🙂

In my last two race swims, Ironman 70.3 Chattanooga and Ironman 70.3 Augusta I had moments of panic about 75 – 80% into the swim. Don’t get me wrong, they were super-fast swims, but I was trying to manage that this time proactively.

Kudos to the race organizers for actually having a warm-up swim. I would definitely suggest more athletes take advantage. It helps you to overcome the initial stress of hitting the water and gets your muscles moving.

I did a good job of keeping my effort level measured. Perhaps too good because I do feel like I could have pushed a little harder.

One of the things talked about by the Tower 26 crew is drafting while swimming or “getting on the feet.” I have tried to do this in my last couple races but not been able to quite get there. Coming into next race season I’m going to try to do a lot more group swimming to see if I can get comfortable with this tactic.

One of my issues is that often the people who swim past me who’s feet I try to jump on are not going straight. I noticed in this race a lot of folks swimming really wide of the buoys. I typically try to stay right on the buoys since I feel like that’s probably the shortest route. As you can see in the map it does seem I held a pretty good line.

And in looking on Strava I noticed that my distance reported, ~4500 yards, was in the low average range so I think I did pretty OK.

The water temp was great. In my test swim I was worried I’d overheat in my full wetsuit but I was very comfortable despite a monster wetsuit hickie I noticed last night.

Before Chattanooga I splurged and got a ROKA Maverick II. The Maverick II has great buoyancy and is incredibly comfortable.

Oh, yeah. One other thing — don’t go 6 months between wetsuit swims 🙂 Clearly more lube on the neck, too.

I literally haven’t swam in my wetsuit since Chattanooga and had a momentary freakout after my first test swim on Thursday. I really felt it later that day in my shoulders and biceps. I’m going to make sure to do at least one lake swim each month during the off / early season while Lake Pontchartrain is still cool enough for the wetsuit.

A great bonus was there was a bit of an eastward current so we were flying across the back of the course. It was something I looked forward to a lot on my second loop on the way out.

I’ve said it before, but I’m really coming to enjoy swimming. I feel like it’s something I can keep doing indefinitely.

In all the swim was a great effort and very enjoyable.

Bike – 06:16:13 / 17.86 mph

Ranking: 142/278 (51%) 2019 // 150/190 (79%) 2018

I borrowed a mantra from Jan Frodeno – 3x and 2019 Ironman World Champion and actually affixed it to my bike.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the impact of gratitude and trying to incorporate it into my daily and sporting life.

I was writing a note to myself on my water bottle to remember to grab my inhaler and I had extra room so I wrote “Remember Inhaler and Gratitude”. Then I remembered the Jan Frodeno post-race interview with Bob Babbitt where he talks about a tweet he’s seen which became his mantra for the day.

I had a little more sticky paper from my race numbers and I wrote “strong, present, grateful”. I ran out of room for “confident” and I stuck it on my aero bars. At times on the bike where it was feeling hard I would look down at that message and get a boost from it.

In the last year or so I’ve come to really understand the importance of being present in and grateful for the opportunities I have. In times of stress I often think of how much support I have and how much love and I’m immensely grateful to Angie for allowing me to pursue this mid-life crisis.

I’m sure those Cervelos and Canyons are very nice bikes, but my Shiv is better.

It makes me happy just looking at it. And it’s definitely not all about looks either.

I switched to the single bottle X-Lab Aero Pouch on back for Augusta and it totally works. In addition to looking way more aero, I like not having all my tubes and tools hanging out in the wind.

With the internal Shiv bladder for nutrition and my Profile Designs Aeria hydration system I only ever need to pick up water on course. If the Aeria is near empty coming up to an aid station I can grab a bottle at the beginning, refill the Aeria and grab another at the end to stick in the empty Aero Pouch cage on the back. It works pretty well for minimal on-bike storage and the Aeria fits nicely into the front-end of the bike.

The bike course was not at all what I expected and I was pleasantly surprised.

All week long I’d been looking at the weather which was predicting winds of greater than 10 MPH from the north.

On race day, it was more of a north-northwest wind and surely gusted above 10 MPH but was generally pretty moderate. On the run and later the wind was one of the big complaints from other athletes, but I honestly felt like I had a tail wind for all but the part which was going straight north which was only about 15 miles or so.

I think all the windy levee rides helped. For the vast majority of the ride it was a crosswind which was very manageable. I’m not sure those disc wheels were helping anybody.

It was definitely cold and I was glad to have my gloves. On the way back south, we were FLYING. My max Garmin reported speed was 34 MPH and I was doing 20+ for a big portion of it..

Also, everybody calls this a “pancake flat ride”. The new bike course is not flat. It’s not Chattanooga or Augusta, but there are definitely some rollers out there.

There were some points where the bikes were so bunched up it was hard not to be a little bit in the draft zone, but some folks were taking it a bit too far. I’m a long way from the podium and my races are me against me so I value a true, fair time-trial. I do wish there were more referees on course enforcing the drafting rules but I get it’s hard to be in the right place for all of 112 miles.

I had a great ride and only started to feel the effort around the 100 mile mark. Averaging nearly 18 MPH was a big improvement for me at longer distances.

Coach Jen had me doing a lot of sweet-spot work on the trainer this season and I believe it really paid off.

For the second race in a row my local Specialized shop left me hanging. I took my bike before leaving town and had them change the battery in my power meter. When I got to FL and took it out on a little shakeout ride, lo and behold, no power is showing on the garmin. Thankfully I had time to drop it with PlayTri onsite and they were able to sort it out. Then, out on the ride my right aero extension got loose.

For context, heading into Augusta I had them charge the Di2 for which they had to move the right aero extension. Then on my shakeout ride it was so loose it did a 180.

And, completely my fault, I used the “race” setting on my garmin and the screen was all different so I didn’t have power, heart rate or cadence to look at on the ride anyway. I thought about adjusting it on the go but didn’t want to de-focus and mess with the Garmin on the roll.

So, I did the bike on speed and feel only and it seems like it turned out OK.

Again for this race I fueled entirely on Infinit which worked out great. 6 hours of Infinit in the small Shiv is a little thick but I managed to get most of it in. You’re sucking pretty hard at the start though because it’s almost the consistency of a gel.

It’s tempting to do this race again next year as a fitness benchmark. We’ll see what Angie says about the scheduling.

Run – 06:34:49 / 15:04/mi

Ranking: 203/278 (73%) 2019 // 161/190 (84%) 2018

I refer to running as “my area of greatest opportunity.” From shortly after coming out of the Marine Corps until my 44th year on earth I did very little running. And, I did a fair amount of smoking and eating crappy food and all the things which eventually led to a heart attack and quintuple bypass.

So 4 years into my triathlon journey running is still an area of opportunity for me.

My HUGE frustration lately is that I can run fast (for me) for short periods, but that in longer runs my ability to breathe becomes the limiter.

For instance, Angie and I did the Power Mile and I ran an 8:17 (I think – low 8s regardless). And in training intervals I can do 4 or 5x 3 – 4 minutes at a 9 mpm pace without significant incident sometimes. And way back in my glory days I even did a 19 minute 3 mile time in a physical fitness test.

The other times, however, I feel like my lungs are going to tear loose from my trachea once I get breathing hard. So I’ve had to get comfortable as a 12 minute miler 😦

On this run I felt like I got off to a good start. I was run / walking on a 1:15 / 0:30 interval but I couldn’t ever get up to a good pace and then around mile 20 it really went off the rails.

And I was freaking cold. I normally run really hot but it was unseasonably cold once we got toward the end of the run and I was freezing. The aid station in the park thankfully had a heater going so I was able to stop a couple times and warm up a little.

Through meditation I’ve gotten pretty good at body-scanning, starting at the top and working my way down to see what’s hurting. When I slowed around the half-way point I did this and was able to rally up until around the 18 mile mark.

By the time I got to about mile 21 I was straight power-walking with the occasional 20 second jog.

I had my nutrition in two gel flasks and managed to get all of one and a little of the other down before switching to coke. I tried a cup of the chicken broth and it was not my thing. I don’t think nutrition or hydration were my issue I think it was really just run fitness.

I kept trying to find that other 60% that would allow me to push through the hard parts but by the end I wasn’t able to find it.

In the off / pre-season I’d been thinking I needed to work more on pure running and thankfully Coach Jen was thinking the same thing.

I’ve got a niggling issue in my right foot which needs to clear up but we’ll then start working on a “fast” 10K. Even run-walking I should be able to shave an hour on my marathon time if I can just increase the speed and consistency of the run portions.

In short, the run was super-shitty. My fastest mile was just short of a walking pace. I kept a good attitude and gave what I could but it was still well below what I should be capable of.

So the fun stuff:

I got passed by a guy I’d gone back and forth with on the bike and that was fun. Woulda been more fun to go back and forth with him on the run, too. Each time he fell back on the bike it was because he was drinking. I thought “that guy needs a BTA bottle for sure.”

I walked and talked a bit to Sidney Smith, a double amputee from Utah taking part in his first full distance Ironman. If I’d had more time I would have shared with him my learnings on gratitude.

A little before mile 1 there was this group of ladies with these big clapping hands doling out ass-smacks. I took advantage on every pass. They were among my favorite spectators.

About a mile before entering the park there was a house with a stage set up, a big flashing LED sign and Rock & Roll blasting – at one point they even had a live band. I enjoyed that house on each pass.

I ran into Brian and Tiffany toward the end of the 1st loop. That was great. I miss the group training we used to do as GNOTri.

And then finally I walked and talked a bit at the very end with a guy Luis who was on his 170+ Ironman. He was highlighted at the banquet and we talked about how Ironman had given him an excuse to visit a number of places he’d always wanted to go.

Wrapping it all up

I have a lot to feel good about in this race. Every discipline has improved and my overall time was greatly improved. As I said in the summary, I feel like I gave it all I had.

Thinking about GNOTri, I do miss having a group to train with. You definitely push harder in a group even when you’re getting dropped.

I hope Kevin and Cheryl are doing well – they were the starting point for a lot of New Orleans Triathletes and deserve recognition. I miss seeing them out.

I really appreciate the coaching I get from Jen, I like being in the same kit as the kids when we race together and clearly I’m seeing gains.

That said, I do wish we had a squad doing more group training. It’s a lot harder to form an impromptu group with friends when you’re on different programs and I don’t have a lot of connection to or a natural affinity for any of the New Orleans teams. I look at other parts of the country and how well developed their triathlon community is. Then I remember, New Orleans is barely an NFL market so we get what we get.

As frustrated as I am by my lack of real progress on the run I’m so very grateful to be able to do this at all.

I was grateful to make friends with and spend time with other triathletes including Luis and Josh who I ate with at the banquet. They both talked about how Ironman had been an opportunity to see places they wanted to travel. And we all share the goal of self-optimization

I’m grateful I have the physical strength and good health.

I’m grateful I have the time and financial resources to train and race.

And most of all, I’m grateful for the support I have at home. As I said to Angie this morning “I don’t deserve her.” How she came to be so caring and supportive I’ll never know, I’ll strive to be worthy and I’ll always be grateful.

Til next season..