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.



  1. Loved this race report. Thanks for putting it out there for us to read. You deserved that Kona slot and you'll be on the big island in a matter of weeks. Stay fit, stay strong and enjoy Kona. I'll be tracking you from afar :)

    1. Thanks David! I hope you're doing well. Any chance you're doing another Epic Camp, or was once enough? :)

  2. Nice report, well executed. Have a great Kona