“If it were easy, everyone would do it.”
Yes, this is the quote I start with, as it was a tough day for me at Vineman. Not going to lie, I wanted to perform better than I did, but this sport is a beast with many moving parts. It’s not easy to put together a great race. You have to get things right, nutritionally, pacing, mindset, build up, etc. Sometimes you perform very well and sometimes you fight just to finish the race.
Going into the race, I was confident in my training. I had built some solid speed and my legs felt sharp and ready for a big day. The last few weeks were full of short but high intensity training sessions: track sessions, and short quick intervals on the bike. The thing I was missing was those “longer” workouts over the last 2 months of training.
I didn’t have the most ideal last 3 weeks building into this race, traveling a ton, drinking too many beers and not many longer training days. But I understand endurance sports. It’s the months leading into a race that matters, not just the weeks. And I have been consistent. Last year my build up to this race went absolutely perfect without many distractions. This year was different, as I knew I had many social and family events to balance.
Though I didn’t perform to my standard, I take away some valuable lessons from this race.
Race morning went pretty smooth. We arrived at the swim start early enough to get things together without rushing. I had my wetsuit on 30 minutes before my wave went off and I sat around until it was our (35-39 age group) turn. Once the gun went off, I went out at a hard but manageable pace. In my head was “stay long and taught.” This kept me focused on good technique; when your technique feels smooth, the speed will take care of itself. Once the first 600 or so yards went by, I really started to get into a nice rhythm. I felt smooth and in control in the swim and the turn around buoys came fast. I kept my mind focused on good technique the entire swim. I stayed relaxed. Before I knew it, the finish was in sight. Since I was not wearing a watch, I did not know my swim time. It was a bit slower this year but my energy was strong and it was time to bike.
Transition 1 was fast. Wetsuit off. Sweat band on. Helmet and sunglasses on and go! I took my bike to the mount line with my shoes already on my bike. This saved me 30-40 seconds and I had no problems getting in my shoes.
Going into the bike, I knew my legs were explosive due to the hard intervals I had been doing leading into the race. I wanted to be aggressive the first 10 miles because it’s a fast first segment. Once my heart rate settled from the swim, I put my head down and got into a nice pace. This year, I have been racing without a watch and completely by feel. This is how I like to race; it keeps me intuitive with how my body is feeling throughout the day. The first 15 miles seemed to go by very fast. That’s a good sign. I got my nutrition in and stayed positive. Right at about mile 25, I noticed a glimpse of a side stitch in my stomach starting to surface. I knew I needed water with the amount of calories I was consuming so I did my best to hydrate (you will see later that I did not drink enough water). Miles 22-35 of the bike was a grind! I lost my momentum here. The headwind and false flats slowed me down and I just felt flat. I did my best to stay positive and keep my mind in the game. I knew that if I were to get back into a zone, I would need to refocus. Miles 35-42 are full of rollers and fast sections. I pushed hard and felt my legs coming back. Mile 45 is Chalk Hill, which is a 385-foot steady climb. I wasn’t too worried about this climb and once I hit it, I stayed steady and pushed to the summit. Once I hit the top, I knew that the last 10 miles were fast. Last year I crushed this final segment. This year, I can’t say the same. I was able to find some power in my legs, but my stomach was still knotted up and I was trying my best to manage that issue. I was also uncomfortable on the bike the final 10 miles. Lacking some longer rides on my TT bike made for this discomfort the final section of the bike course. But I was coming to the end and it was time to put together a solid run. I told myself, “Stay positive and find that strength.”
I was out of my shoes while riding to the dismount line. This makes for a quick and easy transition. Nothing too exciting here, just got off my bike smoothly, and ran my it to the transition area. I quickly put on my socks and running shoes and grabbed my nutrition and got out.
Immediately into the run, I felt that deep side stitch and it slowed me down. I just couldn’t get air into my diaphragm so my heart rate stayed high and took a little longer for it to stabilize. I had a side stitch in Hawaii right off the bike but it went away after the first mile, so I was hoping the same for this race. I took it easy the first mile, just seeing if this darn thing would subside. I told myself, “just be patient, it’s a long run”. My legs felt good but I couldn’t put the hammer down due to the stomach issues. I stayed focused and in the moment the entire run. I kept the calories coming in, I would drink sips of water at every aide station and I was doing my best to manage these stingy stomach cramps. My energy and state of awareness were good. I knew I wasn’t running the pace I am capable of but now it was a game of salvaging somewhat of a decent race. I kept my form; I kept the calories coming in and stayed positive. It’s easy in a race that’s not going your way to completely crash and start walking. But I was not going to let that happen. “One moment at a time” is what I kept telling myself. Once I hit mile 6, I actually found a nice rhythm. My leg turnover increased, my heart rate was in control and I regained my composure. The side stitch was still there but I worked through the issue by taking deep breaths and taking in fluids. The final 5 miles were about managing my stomach and finding the strength to keep pushing to the end. I would walk fast through the aide stations to drink water and take in calories. And then I would get back into my groove. Once I hit mile 10, I took another gel, and I knew the race finish was close. My goal over the final 3 miles was to stay consistent and focused. I knew I didn’t have the type of finish in me like I did last year, where I was coming down the final stretch at 6:10 min/mile but I remained determined to finish as strong as I could. I ran through the finish chute and was happy to be done.
Total Time: 5 hours 3 minutes
Lesson #1: You will have good races and bad races. How you respond is what defines you as a person. If it were easy to put together a top performance every race, everyone would do it. I am satisfied with my mindset throughout this tough race. Sometimes it’s the tougher races that grow you as a person more so than a PR type day. How will you respond?
Lesson #2: Throughout the race, I drank approximately 60-80 ounces of pure water. That equates to 12-16 ounces per hour. Not enough! I need to be around 20 ounces per hour to keep hydrated and soak up the salt I was consuming. Talking with my Coach (Jim Lubinski), we feel that is something that created the stomach cramps.
Lesson #3: During a tough race where things are not going your way, you can still salvage a decent performance by keeping your mind in a good place and managing the things you can control. Don’t give up. Refocus. Get the calories in. And keep pushing yourself. Quitting is not an option. Stay positive.
I am grateful for the support. Thank you to Coach Jim for the guidance and mentorship. Thank you to my 559Multisport teammates for making this entire weekend a blast (no matter the outcome). Thank you to my staff at CFA for covering and holding down the fort when I am gone doing these crazy things. And thank you to my wife and my daughters for loving me and supporting my ventures.
My motivation is high and I am ready to come back with vengeance!