Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ironman Vineman 2016 - Kona bound!

The day started at 5am with my usual breakfast of oatmeal with blueberries, coffee, and a banana.  I also added in a bagel with peanut butter on it since I knew it was going to be a long day.  Around 5:45am, we started making our way down to transition.  Thankfully my parents rented a place that was less than a 5min walk to the beach.  This made everything super low stress, and I could just focus on relaxing.
Transition closed right at 6:15, and I was lucky to pump my tires and get my nutrition all set up.  I put two iced oatmeal z-bars, an Em’s power cookie bar, and a Spring Sports Nutrition gel in my fuelsalage on my bike.  I also taped down my BTA water bottle since I didn’t want that thing rattling for 112 miles.

The wetsuit went on really quickly, and I got into the start corral around 6:20am.  This was by far the earliest I’ve ever gotten to the start, and I couldn’t believe I had to wait around for 25 minutes!  I don’t like waiting because all of the thoughts about the day just sit there and stew and make my stomach hurt.  I generally prefer to be rushed and almost miss the start.  No time to worry that way!  Waiting wasn’t all bad though.  I was able to kiss Brigitte before the start and relax.

The swim start was about as low stress as you can imagine.  We went into the water single file, and it felt like there were maybe 10 people around me.  I wasn’t super motivated at the start, so I let most of the faster guys go without much of a fight from me.  I was actually expecting to slowly wade into the water, but most of the people around me ran and dove in.  I knew I wasn’t going to win the race in the swim, so I chose to not burn any matches and take things at my own pace.

The swim itself was extremely mellow.  The river winds back and forth a little bit.  There’s also some light fog and cloudy conditions, so visibility wasn’t quite as good as I was hoping.  At times I had to look up three or four times before I saw the buoy.  They always had a smaller buoy between the bigger ones, and I think that messed me up.  Yellow was blending in with the yellow kayaks.  I could tell that I wasn’t swimming a very straight swim because there were a few times when bodies were criss-crossing.  I would catch a buoy off in the distance, but the guy swimming next to me would be 45 degrees off course.  Instead of chasing a draft, I chose to swim my own line and mostly ignore what others were doing.

But overall the swim wasn’t bad.  I never pushed at all.  Maybe it’s because I felt a little sluggish, but I also just planned to cruise it.  I was expecting to have a slower swim, so I was pretty happy when I came out of the water at 58min.  No one wins an Ironman in the swim, so drama-free and mostly relaxed is about the best you can ask for.

T1 was a breeze.  The wetsuit strippers were great, and I grabbed my bag and was off.  All I had in my transition bag was my shoes and helmet.  Compared to previous races, this seemed like nothing, so I did a double take to mentally make sure I didn’t forget anything.  I put my helmet on and ran out of the changing tent carrying my bike shoes.  This is really the key to a fast ironman transition. The transition areas are so huge that running with bike shoes will take you all day.  Run barefoot and don’t put your shoes on until the last minute.  Luckily my bike was all the way at the end of the rack too.  That certainly helps.

The day was projected to be in the mid 80’s, but out on the bike at 7:45am, it was pretty damn cold.  Mid-50’s might not seem “cold,” but it’s pretty chilling when you’re wet and wearing a razor thin singlet.  Most of me was ok with that though.  I race well in the cold because you don’t sweat as much which means hydration isn’t as critical.  The only parts of me that didn’t like the cold were my hands and feet that went numb.  The trade-off for not needing as much hydration is that I couldn’t get to my bottles if I wanted to.  My hands just weren’t functional for the first few hours.

Unlike the swim, the race really begins on the bike.  I had a goal to push 240-250w based on some performance testing that I did at Breakaway Performance in San Francisco.  Almost immediately I was sitting at 248w.  I told myself a million times that I was going to be smart throughout the entire race, so I internally kudos’ed myself on that.  I was right where I wanted to be, and I was passing people like crazy.  I didn’t know my place, but I figured I was probably in the top 20 as far as amateurs.  Only one dude passed me: A guy from the EMJ team who was built like a brickhouse.  There’s no way I would be able to keep up with him, so I reconciled that by hoping I would catch him on the run.  “Swim, over-bike, walk,” is what I kept telling myself.

Eventually things thinned out and got pretty boring like I expected them to.  To help with that, I focused diligently on nutrition.  That was part of my whole “being smart” plan.  The goal was to drink a bottle of gatorade per hour to help with hydration and electrolyte needs and consume ~300cal/hr to help with energy.  Gatorade offset that a little bit, so I was supplementing with Clif gu shots every aid station.  I only had three bars on my bike, so I had to use those somewhat sparingly.

And apparently my aid station strategy was impressive (according to Brigitte.)  For most aid stations, I would start off by throwing out my empty bottles, grabbing a gatorade and putting it in my rear cage, grab a clif shot and eat it immediately, and grab water to wash things down.  All within the span of about 30 yards.  Again, doing things smartly, I was willing to sacrifice a little speed to get what I needed.  I knew it would pay dividends later in the race.

By halfway, things were starting to get a little interesting.  My crotch was starting to chafe, and my lower back was getting a little tight.  The back thing was fine, but the chafing I knew would be a problem.  It wasn’t until the northern-most part of the loop that I got some relief.  I don’t know why, but peeing on that descent helped a ton.  Either the pee or the water I washed it off with calmed things down.  Very thankful for that.

The last 30 miles of the ride were mostly a cooldown for me.  I consciously backed off on the wattage.  My average dropped from 248w down to ~230w.  That’s a pretty big drop, but I didn’t want to regret over biking.  I was excited to get out on that run.  I have been dreaming about feeling good starting the marathon, and this was the way to make it happen.  However, even with backing off in a pretty big way at the end of the bike, I could tell that my legs were still pretty crushed.  The 4000 feet of climbing ate into my muscles in a big way.  Run goals would have to be adjusted appropriately.

Coming into T2, I was with one pro and two other amateurs.  All along the bike, the pro that I was with kept saying that we were in the top five amateurs.  That felt really incredible.  I figured I was doing well, but I didn’t know I was doing THAT well.  I didn’t let it get to my head and just continued on with the plan.  As a result, the changing tent was entirely empty.  I’ll take the first chair on the right, thank you!

T2 was a little longer as there was a little bit more to do.  Socks are necessary for a marathon, so I needed to put those on.  Hat, run belt, and shoes too.  It turns out this run belt would be the key to my success.

I came out of T2 running with one of the other amateurs.  Thankfully he wasn’t in my age group.  Ironman marathons are not fast, so I started talking to him.  I didn’t catch his name, but he used to be a pro, and he was hoping to KQ.  I told him that was my goal too.  I told him that I don’t know if I can hold the current pace for the rest of the race, and he gave me the most valuable piece of advice.  He said, “All you have to do is believe.”

I ran with this guy for a little bit, but I lost him when I went to the porta-potty at mile 2.  I eventually caught up again and passed him since we had different race strategies.  Leading up to the race, I was terrified of having a meltdown from the heat on the run.  From almost the first one, I started walking the aid stations.  I saw Jan Frodeno do this in Kona, so I knew it could work.  The goal was to get what you needed and keep running.  Missing ice or water or gatorade early would kill you in the end, so again, doing things smart, I started to bank calories and heat management early.  I was pouring ice down my back and shorts and drinking gatorade and splashing water all over me.

Quick aside: I started working with a company called Spring Sports Nutrition which developed energy gels made from natural materials.  The owner and I bonded pretty quickly, and I immediately picked up on his brilliance.  He has a PhD in Human Nutrition, and he has done more research on sports nutrition than just about anyone on the planet.  Anyway, he sold me on trying his gels in my training to see how they worked for me.  Long story short, they were incredible.  It was like my stomach disappeared.  Never once did I feel low on energy, and I never had any GI distress.  That’s a huge win in my book since my stomach basically shut down in all previous ironman races.

And this brings me to my nutrition strategy for the run: One Spring energy gel (peanut butter) every 30 minutes.  And to prevent cramps, two salt tabs every hour.  Realistically I would get a few more calories since I was supplementing with gatorade and eventually coke.  AND IT WORKED.  My stomach was always in a good place, and I never felt low on energy.  I did eventually up the salt tab intake since I felt some cramping in my forearms (precursor to cramping in other places.)  The biggest issue was the extreme muscle fatigue.  Nothing except biking easier could fix that.

The run was a pretty slow grind though.  At any given time, I was running at a pace that I felt I could sustain for 26 miles.  Initially this was ~7:15 pace, but that slowed down considerably to just under 8min pace by the end.  Walking the aid stations and hill after hill after hill on the run eventually wore me down.  I did get passed by someone in my age group, but I also ended up passing that brickhouse that got me on the bike.  I wanted to say, “At least you had a good bike split,” when I passed, but I had more tact than that.  So, Reid Foster, if you’re reading this, at least you had a good bike split. ;-)

The run got darker and darker though.  For me, mile 10 was a huge mental wall.  That is where I’ve died in all of my previous ironmans.  But as I was approaching mile 10, I just kept reminding myself to believe.  I would think some negative thoughts, and then I would immediately remind myself what that guy said: Believe.  Nothing was hurting so bad that I couldn’t keep running forward.  So I did.  I thought that I would eventually cramp up and be reduced to a walk, but then I would believe that I could run until the end.  And so I did.  The miles kept ticking up slowly one by one.

Eventually I made it to the turn-around on the third and final lap, 4.5 miles to go.  I was counting down the minutes until I could stop.  I had just over 30 minutes left of running, and I just took my final Spring gel.  I figured that I had run all the way until that point, so I knew I could hobble along just a few more miles without walking.  I made that left turn to go up that massive hill, and the only thing that got me up it was knowing that it was the highest point on the course.  “It was all downhill from there.”

Somehow I got a second (or tenth) wind running that 26th mile.  I picked it up through all of the spectators and even managed a decent stride coming down the chute.  I kept checking back to see if there was anyone on my heels, but thankfully I was clear.  There actually wasn’t anyone in sight, so I had it all to myself.  That is a very cool feeling.  For a brief moment the pain went away.

I finished third in my age group and (at the time) 4th age grouper (later to bumped to 5th as soon as Kevin Coady finished.)  Based on previous races, I wasn’t sure how many Kona slots my age group would get.  I saw some races that gave us two, but with ~10% representation, I was hoping for three.

I went to bed not knowing if I had made it or not, and honestly I didn’t care.  I just had the race of my life.  I had the smartest and most patient race I could have hoped for.  My execution was perfect.  If the numbers dictated that I wouldn’t go to Kona, then at least I went out with the best possible performance that I could have hoped for.

Thankfully that wasn’t the case. :)  Turns out my age group received three slots.  I nearly pulled a muscle in my face from smiling so hard.  No asterisks attached to this.  I got a legit slot, no rolldown, in the toughest age group.  Booyah!

Now that Facebook and Instagram notifications have died down, things are a little weird.  Kona was a five year goal for me.  It seems a little weird to be able to check that box, and now I’m filled with all of those, “What now?” thoughts.  I know what now though.  Now I have to plan a trip to Kona that’s only a few months away.  Now I’m going to focus on my startup that’s going to explode (once we get funding!!)

I was talking to Brigitte, and I told her that, in a weird way, the race itself was a little lackluster.  Except for struggling on the run a little, it was a pretty relaxed race.  I’m sitting here three days later, and I feel almost fully recovered.  But then she made me realize that qualifying for Kona didn’t just happen on Saturday.  It happened every time I woke up and made the decision to train my ass off over the past five years.  It happened when I woke up at 5am to make the 5:20am masters swim workout (once.)  It happened when I biked up Mount Diablo four times.  It happened when I bonked so hard on Tunitas Creek that I almost had to crawl home.  It happened when I would crush every single track Tuesday workout.  And it happened when I went so insanely deep at Epic Camp and swam 100x100m on the tenth day of camp and won the triathlon on the eleventh.  When you add it all up, the race itself really is the easy part. :)

And like any good race report, I would like to thank some people:

  1. My parents: My #1 fans who drove 2500 miles across the country to see my race A FOURTH TIME.  Four years in a row they did this.  They put up with my pre-race shit without even blinking an eye.  Logistics are always taken care of, and when I drop F-bombs the morning of the race, it’s immediately forgotten.  And if you thought I was happy about qualifying for Kona, you should have seen my mom who has been dreaming about Hawaii for 35 YEARS!  This one is for you, mom.  Congrats on your Hawaii vacation.
  2. Brigitte: Tied for #1 fan!  Thank you so much for being there day after day after day.  I can’t tell you how many plans we’ve had to change to work around training.  It means so much to me to have you by my side supporting me.  I cannot wait to return the favor for all of your goals!
  3. My cheer squad: Brigitte, Michelle, Mike, Wilder, Sarah, Astan, Alex, Amy, Nick, Appleby, and everyone else who was following at home.  I looked forward to every lap because I knew exactly where my cheer squad would be.  And without fail, it picked me up every single time.  It’s impossible to walk when people are cheering for you!  Thank you for making the 2+ hour drive both ways!
  4. David Roche: Thank you for coaching me through the good times and bad.  There were a lot of highs and a lot of lows, but you gave me some tough advice when I needed it.
  5. Rafal from Spring Sports Nutrition.  Your gels were absolutely ESSENTIAL to my success.  GI issues have killed me race after race, and this time I finally felt what it was like to run without worrying about my stomach.
  6. John Newsom and the entire Epic Camp France crew.  Epic Camp France was an opportunity to go as deep as I wanted, and I was very thankful for that experience.  John Newsom set up a wonderful camp.  Everything was organized incredibly well, and the support crew was top notch.


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Epic Camp France Day 11

Today was a day filled with internal turmoil.  John said that he would not be tacking on today, and I was just over two points away from yellow.  If I tacked on, then it would come down to whoever won the triathlon race today.  Tacking on after the race is a little unsportsmanlike, but it’s technically within the rules.

I decided to tack on in the morning before the race.  I wanted to do an easy 30k ride just to close the points gap a little.  Closing the gap a little would give me a wider buffer for the triathlon race.  I’ve been getting up really early this entire camp, so getting up early to ride at 6:30am was no big deal.  I just headed towards Thonos again since it’s a reasonably easy downhill on the way out and an easy spin on the way back.

I was back by 7:45 for breakfast and had a lot of time to mentally prepare for the race.  We rolled out at 9am and spun up the hill to the lake.  We set up our transitions and got a ride to the far end of the lake to do the swim.

The swim was a long “drag race” from one end to the other.  I FINALLY was able to swim in my wetsuit, and it felt fantastic.  The freezing cold water didn’t seem so bad.  Actually, it was quite nice and refreshing.  I stayed within sight of John for most of the swim, but towards the end he got away from me.  I wasn’t sure just how far, but I imagine he had three or four minutes on me.

I got out on my bike quickly, but as soon as the climb started, I dropped my chain.  It got jammed between the crank and the frame, so I had to muscle it out and sliced my thumb in the process.  It was bleeding a lot, but with the adrenaline, I couldn’t feel a thing.  Given that I didn’t know how far ahead John and Shannon were, I dug super deep and biked as hard as I could.  I knew there was a big descent that I could recover on, so I wouldn’t give up much going hard.  About halfway up, I caught Shannon, and I could see John with 1km to go to the summit.

I am a pretty good descender, so I figured I could probably catch John on the way down.  I wasn’t suicidal on the descent, but I was definitely a bit reckless.  It paid off though; I caught John just before the bottom of the descent before town.  We still had a short 2km climb back to the lake, so there was still a bit of riding left to do.

John got to T2 just as I was leaving, so I stepped on the gas.  I didn’t feel like I was running all that fast, but it was enough to hold John off.  At each turn around the lake, I looked back and saw him slowly fading.  I was still expecting him to surge, so I kept the pace as high as I could for all three laps.  I crossed first and heard that John had fallen back quite a bit.  I finished right at 38min 10k pace for 9km.  Given that this was the last day of camp, I’m pretty blown away by that.  We all hung around until everyone finished.  It was the activity of the camp for most, so it was pretty emotional.  Some smiled, some laughed, and some cried.

Now this is where the internal turmoil starts for me.  Given that I won the race, I was less than a point behind yellow.  I could tack on and take yellow, or I could let John have it.  He said he wouldn’t tack on, so it was essentiall my call.

I decided to do it.  I tacked on a 30k bike for that last point that I needed.  A lot of people are going to make me feel bad about this, but I don’t feel bad for a second.  There are a lot of reasons why I did it too.  I was handicapped this entire camp.  In case you didn’t know, I got my bike and wetsuit at night on day 9 which meant for nine days I was fighting and uphill battle.  On day one, I missed a competition that would have netted me three points which meant I would have had a solid lead for yellow for the entire camp.  For that reason, I needed to make up points whenever I had the opportunity, and it just so happened that that opportunity was on the very last day.

And that’s a wrap.  Another Epic Camp in the books.  I look forward to enjoying future camps and not chasing any jerseys.  I’m done with the points competition.  Future camps will be all about drinking beer, eating ice cream, and enjoying being on my bike with cool people.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Epic Camp France Day 10

For anyone reading this, I apologize in advance for the lack of pictures over the past few days.  I will add them as soon as I get back home, but right now I need to prioritize sleep for the last day.

Going into camp, I was legitimately scared of day 10.  This was one of the few days that I legitimately didn’t think I could finish.  Day 10 is 100x100m in the pool in Morzine.  I’ve never swam that before, and swimming definitely isn’t my strength.  Due to the route, this was also the day that John and I needed to do our fast 10k run, so that happened too.
The day started early.  John wanted to drive up to the lake at 6:30am to do the fast 10k while it was cool out.  We started with an easy warmup, but I started first since John had to find the bathroom.  I ran the path before, and it was a really shitty run.  The trail is very rocky, and every step is an opportunity to roll your ankle.  This would make it very challenging to run quickly.
I started off pretty quickly, but I felt like it was a sustainable pace.  I didn’t knew ahead of time that I needed to run 3:48/km pace, but I made a point to not look at my average pace at all during the run.  The first time I looked at my watch was after one lap: 3km in 10:45.  I had no idea what the pace was, but if I maintained, I could do 9km in just under 33min.  Knowing that, I just focused on placing every step perfectly and maintaining the current pace.  I finally had my fast running shoes, and running in them felt great.  Laps two and three passed reasonably quickly, but the final 1km was tough.  I ended up finishing in 36:40.  I was VERY pleased with that.  It was 10 seconds faster than Newsom, and it was nearly a PR for me.  And on day 10 of Epic Camp!
The next few hours were relaxing as I mentally prepared for the big 100x100’s.  Newsom went for an easy ride, but given that I was already scared, I took it easy.
Going to the pool was nerve-wracking.  I think everyone was nervous.  It helped that we were all doingo this swim set together, but it was still tough.  I went out very, very conservatively at 2:00/100m pace.  It turns out this was way too easy.  I was consistently coming in on 1:26, so I had over 30sec rest.  I was also starting to get really cold.  Eventually I started going on 1:45, and I was able to maintain it relatively easily.  Every 20th 100 we were allowed to take it easy and rest.  I skipped the first two, but at 6000m, I started eating food.  I didn’t need it, but I know my body could use it.
Eventually the swim set ended, and high fives were had all around.  There were still some people swimming though, so we had to wait quite a while for everyone to finish.  This was a bit of a mistake on my part.  I should have immediately ordered food at the pool.  Instead I decided to wait.
We didn’t end up eating lunch until 3pm - a good two hours after finishing the swim.  This was bad for recovery, but it was also bad because I kind of wanted to get some riding done.  Missed opportunity.  We rushed back to start a long run by 4pm.  If I wasn’t going to ride, I definitely couldn’t miss doing my last two hour run.
The lunch mistake came back to bite me hard.  I felt like complete shit for the first hour of the run.  Both my stomach was a mess, and I had to pee every five minutes.  On top of that, my body was aching like you wouldn’t believe.  I was barely moving.  This was probably the slowest two hour run of my life.  I ran up the river trail to the waterfall and back down the other side until the trail ended.  I made it 21k in just over two hours.
The end of that run marked the end of the training window too.  We had a nice dinner, and after John’s monster day, he finished two points ahead and back into yellow.  Waiting for people for lunch and missing the opportunity to bike and feeling like shit on the run were unfortunate mistakes.  Oh well, there’s still one last day.  I don’t want to be an asshole and tack on after the triathlon race, but I might.  It depends how badly I want yellow...

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Epic Camp France Day 9

Day 9 was by far my lowest point in this camp.  It was the most mentally challenging day that I’ve had in a long time.
The day started off pretty well.  We had a relatively late breakfast and started rolling at 8:30.  It was an easy 5k descent into town before hitting the first KOM of the day.  I started off pretty strong, but Newsom, Shannon, and JB were on my wheel.  We were all pushing fairly hard, but halfway up the climb the three of them took off.  It was very disheartening to see them all slowly pull away.  With about 5k to go, I saw JB struggling a little bit.  He was falling off of Shannon’s wheel, and I felt like I could catch him.  This gave me a second wind, and I caught him with two km’s to go.  With 500m to go, I looked back, and he was too far behind to sprint which meant I could soft pedal to the top.  I later found out that Shannon out  sprinted Newsom.  This was BIG news because it meant that I was solidly in the lead.  I was already ahead, but only losing one place to Newsom meant that the KOM jersey was safe.  We quickly descended and regrouped at the right turn at the bottom to make sure everyone made it.
The next climb was not a KOM, so we took it slowly together.  And then disaster struck.  The road was entirely gravel, and a pebble jumped up into my rear derailleur.  As a result, my derailleur ripped off and got stuck in my wheel.  DAMMIT.  Not again!  This is exactly what happened in Canada.  Everyone else went on, and I waited for Ian to save the day.  Only he couldn’t.  He had three spare derailleur hangers, but none of them fit my bike.  I was destined to finish the ride in the van.
The ride in the van was demoralizing.  I saw my fellow campers out there crushing themselves, and all I could do is sit and watch.  Even though it was totally out of my control, I felt disgraceful wearing the yellow jersey.  Oli and I supported everyone for a bit, but we eventually drove on to the accommodation in Montriond.
Once we got here, I immediately grabbed my run and swim stuff and headed to the lake.  It was a 2.5km run uphill to the lake which I was not happy about.  I ran slowly, and once I got to the lake, I ran even slower around it until I hit 8km.  The trail around the lake is total crap.  The rocks are way too big, and I felt like I was going to roll my anlke with every step.
Once I hit 8km, I put on my sleeveless wetsuit and got into the water.  Holy shit was it cold!  I swam as long as I could, but I could barely manage 1700m before my body was ready to shut down.  I got out and shivered for about 10 minutes before I could even think about taking off the wetsuit.
The one saving grace as that my bike was scheduled to arrive in Morzine today.  We hired a taxi to drive my bike from La Grave to Morzine.  We agreed to pay 400 euros, but when the guy got closer, he told us that the price went up to 450.  And when he finally got here, he demanded 512!!  This was insane, and both Ian and I were fuming.  There was a minor confontation, but the guy eventually let me have my bike.  The three of us were shaking as we walked back to the chalet.
I was reinvigorated as I put together my bike.  It went together smoothly, and as soon as it was ready, I headed out towards Lake Geneva.  I rode an extra 66km to make up the distance that I missed earlier.  This meant that I wouldn’t miss out on any points from the day.
When I got back, everyone was just finishing up dinner.  John rolled the KOM points into the yellow jersey points, and I was about three points ahead in yellow.  This felt fantastic.  I beasted through dinner and showered and went straight to bed.  Tomorrow would be a huge day, and it starts with a fast 10k at 6:30am.  I need to be ready for that.
Thanks to Brigitte and Sam for keeping my spirits high despite my incredible low today.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Epic Camp France Day 8

Day 8 of Epic Camp is in the books.  It wasn’t a particularly challenging day, but I’m bushed nonetheless.  I managed to work my way back into yellow by a narrow margin.
The plan for today was to have a friendly triathlon race.  The warmup was biking 30km DOWN to Lake Annecy.  I say down because it was literally 1700 feet down which meant we had to bike back up that during the race.
The swim was wonderful though.  It was pretty close to a 1km swim.  John B let me borrow his extra wetsuit, so I was actually able to swim this time.  I came out of the water 3rd after towing a few people behind me.  It felt like Ben was tapping my feet quite a bit during the swim, but apparently he only tapped 3-4 times according to him.  Sighting was a bit of a challenge at times.  A bunch of red sailboats were chilling at the last buoy, and I don’t think they realized it, but triathletes don’t have x-ray vision.
I got out on the bike pretty quickly.  Shannon was just barely ahead of me and John was long gone.  There’s a traffic light for construction a few KM’s into the ride, and I ended up getting stuck for three and a half minutes.  Thankfully John said we can deduct that from our time, so I wasn’t worried that he was miles up the road.
Once we were able to go again, we got a pretty nice pelaton going.  The traffic light bunched everyone up, so me, JB, Phil, and Shannon were all trading off at the front.  A few people took wrong turns, and eventually JB and I were alone for probably half of the ride.  I felt like I was pushing, but I couldn’t drop him on the climbs.  JB and I rolled into T2 together.
The run was pretty uneventful.  John was over a kilometer up the road, and I had enough of a lead where no one was going to pass.  My biggest concern was how big John’s lead was.  I was praying for less than three and a half minutes, but he ended up winning by almost seven minutes.  He crushed it.  Post-race, we found a cool stream and chilled out (literally) for about ten minutes in ice cold water.  That felt incredible.
After lunch and a solid nap, I decided to do a few tack-ons for points.  I did a 10k run into town, swam 3k, got ice cream, got a haircut, and ran 10k back home.  Only the runs and swim were for extra points though, but damn it felt good to get a haircut.
John took it easy this afternoon, so I nabbed yellow by a little bit.  It’s pretty clear that I can’t beat him at a race, so I’ll have to do a ton of tack-ons if I want yellow.  Luckly I want it pretty badly, so these next three days might be tough.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 7

I’m starting to show some cracks.  Today was pretty damn brutal.  We did three big climbs; the first and the third were for KOM points, and I got second on both of them.  It’s not the end of the world since I’m miles ahead on KOM points, but what hurt the most was that Newsom beat me on the last climb.  I was hoping to get a bit of a lead once the KOM points roll into the yellow jersey, but it doesn’t look like I’ll get as many as I thought.
We had a bit of a later start this morning rolling out around 8:15.  It’s weird; I’m starting to miss getting something out of the way at 6am.  Getting our daily run or swim over with before breakfast seems pretty nice.  However, when we have a huge day on the bike, it’s also nice to be a little fresher for that.  An easy 10k run puts a little fatigue in your legs that can be nice to have on a KOM climb.  Breakfast was amazing again.  We had our personal chef make us scrambled eggs with all of the other usual stuff.  Scrambled eggs have been rare enough this trip to still be considered pretty special.
Rolling out was also pretty casual.  We started with a 20k descent, so a lot of people started off early since they are slow descenders.  I always thouht climbs separated people, but on this camp, there seems to be a huge differential in descending speed as well.
The first climb was for KOM points, so we regrouped at the bottom.  As soon as we started, something was off.  Turns out my back tire was nearly flat, so I bouncing around a lot and hitting my rim on the cracks in the road.  Not good.  I contemplated just riding it the entire way since it wasn’t completely flat, but luckily Julie was right behind us with the van.  My tire was pretty bald, so we just swapped the wheel.  Unfortunately we swapped it to an 11 speed cassette (my bike was 10 speed.)  It worked, but the gears were jumping all over the place.  I was expecting to take this KOM pretty chill, but this flat set me back 7-8 minutes.  John stopped and waited for me up ahead, but everyone else took off.  I had to push harder than I have all camp in order to catch people.  I got everyone but Walter.  I was a little disappointed since I wanted to get every KOM, but this one was out of my control.
Descending the Cormet Du Roseline was absolutely frigid.  In hindsight, I should have put on another jacket.  It was beautiful though, but we were in the shadow of the mountain, and I turned to ice.  Once we got to the bottom, we regrouped at Ian’s van, fixed my bike, and warmed up.  The climb up Saisies wasn’t for KOM points, so we mostly climbed together and took it easy.  There was a really nice aid station at the top of Saisies, and most of the group was there.  Rarely does that happen.  We descended and regrouped at the bottom in anticipation for the last KOM.
The last KOM was probably my least favorite climb of the camp.  It was short, but the first part of the climb was a descent.  I couldn’t get away from Newsom, and as soon as the road pitched up again, he took off.  I think the main part of the climb was only about 8km long, but it was a mentally tough 8k.  Newsom was about 200m up the road, and Peter was about 150m behind me.  Newsom got neutralized by a stoplight with 2k to go, but I didn’t have to stop.  As soon as that happened, he had the win.  I wasn’t going to pass him, but I did sprint a few times to make him push.  The top of Aravis was pretty underwhelming, so we descended pretty quickly and made our way to the accommodation.
We still had to do our swim and run for the day.  We had the option of running into town to the pool or running back.  Newsom decided he was going to do his 7x1k reps after the swim, so we drove to the pool.  It was a relatively uneventful swim other than grabbing some low hanging fruit in terms of swim points.  I did the 200m butterfly that I missed the other day and the 12x(100m IM + 150m free) set.
I was dreading the 1k run reps after the swim.  My quads are trashed right now, so I was hoping to use exclusively my hamstrings on this run.  We found the flattest section of road that we could which happened to be about 1k from our chalet.  Before I knew it, we were done with the reps.  The first one was tough, but once I warmed up, they got a lot easier.  I was pretty happy about that.
The rest of the evening was pretty uneventful.  Dinner, internet, and blogging.  The wifi is good here.  For once.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 6

I lost yellow today.  I lost it because I couldn’t swim a 200m butterfly, but I’ll get it back.  This was just a minor setback.
Today started out really nicely though.  We met at 6:30am for an easy trail run.  Well, it was more of a trail walk since it was so damn steep, but at least I ran the way back.  I went past our turnaround point in Le Monal and headed towards the top of the mountain.  I followed the trails to Col Du Rocher Blanc.  I almost made it to the top, but I got to a trail intersection that said Rocher Blanc was two hours ahead, so I felt like that was a good point to turn around.  When I got back to the chalet, I was just short of 20k, so I did a little extra to get that point.
Breakfast today was amazing.  Since we’re all staying in the same place, the support crew was able to make a ton of great food.  We had oatmeal, scrambled eggs, cereal, yogurt, a nutella and jelly sandwich, and delicious coffee.  I obviously indulged in everything and ate as much food as I could fit in my belly.
The main workout today was a pool swim, and in order to get there, we biked 20km down the hill to get there.  It was just an easy downhill stroll, but we did get rained on again.
The pool swim today was pretty intense.  We had an hour, so the plan was to grab as many points as I could.  I decided to go with 10x200m@3:20/100m, 1km bands-only, and 200m butterfly.  I didn’t get the 200m butterfly.  My arms just didn’t want to work.  Newsom ended up doing 10x200m at 3min and did the 200 fly, so he got two points that I didn’t get.
Afterward, everyone was on their own to spin back up the mountain.  Lunch was at the top, so I went pretty quickly.  My stomach was screaming at me after that swim, so I was motivated.
This afternoon is open.  Some people are riding up the Col Du Sainte Bernard which takes you into Italy.  If I had my bike, I totall would have joined.  I feel bad because I would have loved to bike to Italy.  Oh well, instead I’ll rest up, get a massage, and relax in the hot tub in preparation for the KOM’s tomorrow (there are two.)

Friday, July 1, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 5

I’m currently writing this in a foggy haze.  Today was huge.  No, the other days were huge.  Today was off the charts.  It was set up to be our biggest day on the bike, so we got our run out of the way super early and very easy.  Our 10k minimum ended up taking almost an hour.
Back at the hotel, we did our usual morning shuffle.  Since we moved to a new place today, we packed our bags and stuffed down as much food as we could at breakfast.  At dinner tonight, I was asked what I had for breakfast, so I’ll recount it here as well:
2x bowls of cereal with dried apricots
3x cups of coffee
2x coirssants (sp?)
2x packages of yogurt
1x hardboiled egg
1x dollup of peanut butter
I don’t know how many calories that is, but it’s probably a lot.  And I burned every last one and much, much more on the ride today.
We left La Grave and headed towards the Galibier.  It was about 10k to the turn and another 7-8k to the top.  There was no KOM on the Galibier, so the group took it really, really slowly.  I was very happy about this, but eventually I settled into my casual pace which was a bit harder than the group wanted to go.  As a result, I had a great chat with Peter all the way until 1-2k from the top.  Then I got a little itchy and went for it.  I didn’t pick up the pace too much, but I wanted this for myself.  I took a ton of pictures on the way up, and I even got a little teary-eyed towards the top.  The views were so good that they were emotional.  I’ve been dreaming about these views forever.
After a short break at the top for warm gear, we headed off on the chilly descent.  It was long and fast and absolutely incredible.  There’s nothing I love more than a fast descent after a hard climb, and the Galibier definitely delivered.  There was some kind of event going on though because there were a million cyclists coming up while we were descending.
After a long descent and a few towns, the group caught back up with me, and we worked together for about 10k.  People must have been pretty shattered though because I ended up breaking away and riding solo for the majority of the rest of the ride.  There was a deccent amount of climbing on the way to Iseran, but there was nothing too crazy.
The leadup to Iseran was very pretty.  We were down in the valley, and you could see it looming in the distance.  The town just before the climb was extremely pretty.  They all had the same stone masonry and same stone roofing.  It was all so very French.  I loved it!
Iseran was a bit of a low point for me.  It was a 14k climb, and I had enough of a lead where I could take it at a pretty slow pace which meant that it was going to take a while.  I wanted to grab some chamois cream and my headphones at the last aid station, but I was too focused on a quick stop that I completely forgot.
The first few switchbacks of Iseran were extremely beautiful.  You could see the valley and the mountains off in the distance.  It honestly looked much like the other big climbs we’ve done, but that doesn’t mean you get sick of it!
The middle section got a little dark for me though.  You make a turn away from the valley, and you don’t really know where you’re going.  I could see trails or roads off in the distance that looked like it could be the way, but everything around was just so high that I wasn’t sure.  Mentally that’s tough.  If you can see the top, then you have something to look forward to, but if you can’t, then climbing seems endless.
The final section is where the wheels started coming off for me.  Even with 4km to go, I still wasn’t sure where the top was.  There was a section with one-way traffic, and I had to stop for over five minutes.  In a way, I was pretty happy about that.  It gave me some time to rest my legs, eat the only bar I had on me (an extremely melted snickers bar,) and drink the last bit of water in my only water bottle.  Starting back up after that stop was tough.  The legs were heavy, I was totally bushed, and it was starting to get cold.  We were almost at 9000 feet!
The summit was also a little underwhelming.  There isn’t much at the top.  No cool cafe or swag shop like the other cols.  Instead, I just put on two jackets, drank some coffee, ate three cookies, and was on my way.
The descent was prettty legendary.  Thank god we didn’t go up that side because it was absolutely endless.  It felt like I was descending forever.  There were a few cool tunnels along the way, but they were a little sketchy without lights.  However, in one tunnel, we got stopped at a light, and a Lamborghini pulls up next to me.  When he took off in the tunnel, the sound spoke to me.  It was SO loud.  I loved it!
I hit the intersection where we were supposed to turn towards our chalet, but I made the decision to tack on more.  Yes, I was aiming for 200k on our biggest day on the bike.  Yes, I am insane.  I didn’t think we’d have any more opportunities to hit 200k again for big points, so I went for it.  I had an hour and a half, and I figured I could make it pretty easy.
However, when I went past the turn to tack on, I just kept descending and descending and descending.  I kept going for over 10k before hitting the valley floor where it was reasonably flat.  I thought I was good on time, but with a 15k climb up to the chalet, things were looking tight.  I downed my last energy bar, my last sip of water, and went for it.
I ended up hitting 200k with an extra 1300 feet of climbing five minutes past the cutoff.  Newsom was a good sport about it, and he let the points count.  He said that if I wanted the points, I could have them.  And let me tell you, I worked damn hard for those points.  I could have tacked on during the flat section before Iseran or I could have turned around at any point and descended the remaining kilometer at any point to hit the cutoff, but I didn’t.  I decided to push harder than anyone on our biggest day to make it happen.  That definitely deserves yellow in my book.
The chalet we’re staying at is beautiful as well.  It’s big enough to fit everyone, and the dining area can sit everyone too.  We had a private chef cook us rice and curry, and afterward I sat in the hot tub with one of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen.  How am I so lucky to be here??

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 4

Today was the first day that we didn’t have to move our overnight bags.  At Epic Camp, it’s always a nice little gift to stay in a place for more than one night because it’s a hassle to pack everything up all the time.  La Grave was an amazing place to spend two nights too.  That view at dinner…
Today was a special day.  We were going to bike up the famous Aple D’Huez climb.  It’s an 8.5 mile climb with an average grade of about 7.9%.  The plan was a super easy ride down the mountain to the base of the climb.  Most people took off at their own pace since everyone descends at different speeds, but once I got down to the bottom, I accidentally started the climb.  It’s weird to accidentally start something like this, but there was no one waiting at the vans, and Charles started the climb ahead of the group.  I followed not giving it much thought, but once I noticed that the climb wasn’t ending, I quickly realized that I wasn’t where I should have been and turned around.  Thankfully I made it just in time as to not get disqualified for our group time trial.  We all started the climb together, and I made it to the top in a time of 56 minutes.  Shannon was on my wheel for the first 10 or 11 switchbacks, and I was worried that she was going to take it.  But once it started pouring rain on us, I felt right at home and Shannon dropped back a little.  The climb itself was insanely beautiful.  The switchbacks were legendary, and the views were beyond epic.  Our KOM ended at the start of the village, but I continued through town to the official Tour de France finish.
Once everyone got to the top, we went over to the pool to do our timed 1.5k swim.  The swim itself was uneventful.  I did it in 22:57 (1:32/100m) which I think was good enough for third.  The real entertainment came from the pool nazi that was yelling at everyone.  Apparently ONLY speedos were allowed (not even jammers,) and there were no socks or shoes on the “beach” (the deck surrounding the pool.)  You also MUST shower before getting in the water and couldn’t wear pants outside of the pool.  You also couldn’t leave anything out to dry (such as wet jerseys or shorts) out to dry unless they were in the designated area.  It was absurd.  Apparently the French are huge assholes when it comes to this kind of stuff, and today definitely highlighted that.
Next up was our timed 10k run.  We started at the edge of town, ran out on some trail that met up with a road behind the airport, did an out and back, and then made our way home.  Two 5k loops.  I went out pretty hard on the first lap, but once we got to the downhill to finish up the lap, I took it pretty easy.  Rob (SoCal dude) caught and passed me on the downhill.  I wasn’t worried though since he didn’t have a spectacular climb up ADH, so rather than burying myself to catch him, I just took it easy and enjoyed the run.  At one point (actually two points,) Rob went off course, and despite him being in the lead, I yelled to make sure he didn’t lose any time.  I got scolded for poor sportsmanship in the past, so hopefully this makes up for it.
The combined totals for the three disciplines put me in the lead for our major competition, so I was pretty happy about that.  The part that I wasn’t happy about was that Newsom was second which means I only gained 0.3 points on him.
After the run, we sat down for a quick lunch before heading home.  Some people decided to go down the back side of ADH, and I joined them.  The views were absolutely unreal.  100% worth the tiny  bit of extra climbing.  Just before the bottom of the descent, it started raining cats and dogs.  Or rather, sheep and marmots.  It was pouring buckets down on us, but if there’s one thing I learned from Epic Camp Canda, it’s that a proper rain jacket is worth 100x it’s weight in gold.  I put mine on, and I was nice and toasty.  This was easily my best purchase leading up to camp.
Besides the rain, the rest of the ride back to La Grave was pretty uneventful.  I rode solo the entire way and did a short tackon to make it 90k of biking for the day.  There was a little time to chill before dinner which I took advantage of, and dinner was delicious as always.  Tonight I had duck.  It was awesome.  Tomorrow is a gigantic day on the bike, so we have a pretty early wakeup.  Good night.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 3

I was pretty excited about day 3 at Epic Camp, but mostly because on paper, it seemed like a shorter today.  And while still incredibly epic, it was much shorter than previous days.  We started off with a little bit of an aquathon down by the lake in Embrun.  The distances would be a little modified which didn’t quite suit my strengths, but it wasn’t a significant change.  The plan was: 1.5mi warmup run around the lake, 1300m swim + 3mi run (two laps around the lake.)
I still don’t have my wetsuit or bike, so I had to do the aquathon in a speedo.  Thankfully the water wasn’t too bad again, even at 7am.  The swim portion of the race wasn’t too bad.  I am not a fast swimmer, but I found some feet that I could hang with.  Walter and Murray are definitely good feet to follow.  They did a great job of going straight (not my strength,) so it worked out well for me.  I got out of the water with the chase group about three minutes down from the leaders.  Up the road was Lou, Newsom, Rob, and Shannon.
Immediately out on the run, I caught Rob.  Lou took most of the first lap to catch, and Newsom and Shannon were completely out of sight.  I was running pretty strongly at 6min pace, and I think if I had more time, I probably could have caught them.  Instead I had to settle for third.  Another year, another loss to Newsom in the aquathon.

Breakfast was a lot more chill this morning.  The ride today wasn’t suppose to be super long, so we took things slightly more chill.  There was another KOM today up the Col Du Izoard at 55km, and the race started as soon as we got out of town.  Thankfully the group was sensible and took things slowly for the first 40k.  However, out on this narrow road besides the river, the group got a little split.  Peter and I got separated ahead of the group, and we chose to just go ahead.  It might have been poor sportsmanship to not wait, but Phil was already up the road, so Peter and I decided to take things a little slowly and hope the group caught back up.
However, they never did.  We made it to the aid station at 40km and decided to just go on anyway.  Sadly, there wasn’t much competition for this one, so I mostly just stayed relaxed for the entire climb up Izoard.  I was soaking in the spectacular view every time there was a break in the trees.  It was AMAZING.  This was the highest peak we’ll do at the camp, and it was right around 7500ft.  It was so satisfying to make it to the top.  The descent was equally as amazing.  20km of beautifully winding turns down the other side of the mountain was pure joy.
Next we made our way through Briancon and started up the Col Du Lauteret.  This climb was much more gradual, but the views were equally as stunning as Izoard.  I was starting to get pretty tired and pretty sick of climbing though, and I was a little worried about water.  With only one bottle and the temperature heating up, I wasn’t sure if I would make it.  Thankfully there are life-saving fountains in many of the small towns here in France.  The support crew had their hands full with the group being so spread out, but after that fountain, everything was good.
Summiting the Laurteret was felt so good.  The view at the very top wasn’t so great (unless you count the view of the glacier,) but the last few kilometers was unreal.  The Alps are my heaven.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 2

Day 2 of Epic Camp France started off pretty chill.  Everyone was pretty smashed after climbing Mont Ventoux yesterday, so considering breakfast wouldn’t be ready until “later” (7am vs 6:15,) John decided to change things up a bit and do a pre-breakfast easy group run.  People mostly stayed together and ran at a very chill pace.  This ended up being really nice since the weather at Vaison was reatively warm.  And in typical Epic Camp fashion, we rushed through breakfast and were out on our bikes asap.
The bike ride today was planned to be 171k with no KOM which meant that my plan was to sandbag as much as possible.  I did a little bit of work at the front, but for the most part, I didn’t do much pulling.  We made our way along through many small French villages, and there was an absolutely beautiful section along a river that blew me away.  It was everything you image when you think about French cycling: Tunnels, a steep mountain gorge, and cutout in the mountain to make way for the road.  SO beautiful.  As far as river valleys go, I think this was the best one.  The rest of the ride was beautiful as well.  We could slowly see the big mountains in the Alps getting closer and closer.  Around 140k, there was a turnoff onto a country road that brought us up a lot higher.  From there we could see the lakes near Embrun, and the view was absolutely stunning.  The lakes were a deep tourquiose that reminded me of tha lakes in Canada.

Since the ride was already 171k, I convinced Murray, who is currently in the red jersey, to push a little farther to make it to 200k for extra points.  Initially John, who is currently in the yellow jersey, wasn’t interested, so we set off on our own.  Once we got to the turnaround point, Murray turned back, but I went a little farther to push to 210k for one extra point (on top of the two bonus points for 200k.)  But on the way back, I saw Phil, Newsom, and Rob heading out.  VERY sneaky!  That was probably a good call by Newsom though, because if he didn’t match, then he would have lost yellow.  I respect that, but it’s also going to make it tough to beat him.  Clearly he’s motivated.
After the ride we still needed to do our daily swim.  I headed down to the lake with the intention of swimming with everyone else despite not having a wetsuit.  If the water was too cold, I was prepared to run.  Luckily the water was great, and I was able to swim.  This was probably a good call since I feel like running another 10k would have eaten into my legs quite a bit.  I like double runs, but when I need to be ready for KOM’s, I don’t really want to be running 12 miles per day.

Post swim was good.  I took the first shuttle back and was ready for dinner well before 7:30.  We had a fancy four course meal consisting of things I’ve never seen before and wouldn’t dream of pronouncing.  The best part was that quite a few people left before dessert, so I had exactly 2.5 desserts.  That was a win for sure.
And today I was lucky enough to get a massage after dinner.  Last camp I don’t think I hit my three massage cap, so this time around I wanted to make sure I got it done early.  We had two pretty monster days, so I think I was ready.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Epic Camp France: Day 1

Today got off to a bit of rocky start.  Traveling is always a nightmare, and this time was no different.  Somehow my bike never made it to Paris, so I had to ride a rental today.  The rental is actually quite nice though.  It’s a Rose bike, and I’ve always liked German engineering.

Due to traveling issues, I didn’t get to Marseille until midnight last night, and with a 5am wakeup, things were going to be a little challenging.  I think I got about 20 minutes of sleep last night, and since I was already awake before the alarm, getting up wasn’t too difficult.
We started the day with a bit of a swim competition.  Sadly, since I packed my wetsuit with my bike, I had to try and swim in just a speedo today.  I took three strokes in the Medditerranean and said there’s no way.  The water was way too cold.  Instead I went for an easy run and took some nice pictures.

The bike ride for today was promised to be huge.  And it delivered. :)  After riding for 70 miles, we found ourselves at the base of Mont Vonteux.  This is an absolutely gigantic mountain: The route we would take to the top would cover 13 miles and ascend 5000+ feet.  That is massive!
About 25 minutes into the climb, John Newsom passed me for the lead.  This sucked.  Physically I couldn’t push much harder with the last of climbing gears, and mentally I didn’t think I could catch up with Newsom.
And then a miracle happened.  Somewhere before the 6k to go mark, Newsom exploded and left a massive crater on the ground.  There was support stationed at 6k to go, and Newsom pulled off to drink some coke.  When I saw that, I was almost furious.  How could he do this now?  He was winning by  a considerable margin, and then he stops?  What the heck??  Apparently later I found out that he could barely push 200w, so it sounds like he was not in good shape.  I pushed for the summit and made it in 1:38.  I missed my goal by eight minutes, but it doesn’t matter that much.  I gave it my all (which arguably wasn’t much,) and ended with the King of the Mountains jersey.

Due to missing the swim this morning, I’m a little behind on yellow.  Three points exactly.  That can be made up pretty quickly.