Sunday, November 19, 2017

Adventuring to Tennessee: My First 50k

Four days have passed since running my first 50k trail race, and my legs still feel like someone took a baseball bat to my quads. On the other hand, I am energized. I am glad Rachael and I decided to drive almost 20 hrs for what may be our most spontaneous weekend to date.

Nothing like a weekend spent running! And driving 1600 miles...
Well, I guess it wasn’t completely spontaneous. A few months ago, Rachael threw out the idea of us doing a 50k trail race in southern Missouri. As surprised as I was to hear the suggestion, I also love running trails so I said “let’s do it”. Less than 48 hours before we planned to race, we realized we could no longer sign up - bad planning on our part. We frantically searched for another option. There were a few 50ks in Tennessee that looked like they might work. I quickly sent off an email to my department manager asking if I could switch my PTO from Monday to Friday as this 50k was on Saturday, not Sunday as we had initially planned. We halfheartedly packed a few clothes and nutrition and went to bed unsure if the PTO would get approved. I woke up at 1am to use the bathroom and noticed an email saying “sounds good, enjoy!” (Another reason why my job is awesome) I was too excited to sleep so I asked Rachael if she wanted to leave right then. She said “Let’s do it” so we hit the road.

5 minutes into the drive
We were on our way in our new ride by 2am. We took plenty of stops on the way to Knoxville, breaking up the trip for coffee stops and a shake out run in Nashville. Rachael’s Instagram connections, yet again, proved extremely useful for recommendations. We checked into the hotel around 7:30pm, laid out race clothes and nutrition for the next morning, and went to sleep. 

One of the coffee stops

A stop in Nashville on the way...
Race day
We woke up race morning feeling surprisingly rested. After the classic hotel room oatmeal with hot water from the coffee machine (very happy we brought our own coffee and french press) we grabbed our gear for a long day on the trails. It was a relief to only need the equipment for one sport instead of three!

Everything we needed for the day! Love the Hoka speed goat 2s

The race took place at Norris Dam State Park, about 30 minutes north of Knoxville- not too far from where the Barkley Marathons take place. A winding, dark road took us uphill to a pavilion to the state park. Only a few other cars were in the gravel parking lot when we first arrived. After a few minutes we were registered and given a paper course map. Gradually, more cars trickled in and runners calmly moved to the pavilion where the race director gave us a quick course overview. The atmosphere was very laid back and we rotated spots standing next to a fire to stay warm.

As the sun rose, we all lined up to start. The race director casually asked if we were ready, and off we went. 

Race briefing gathering

The first minute we all ran together on the state park road before heading down a set of stairs and transitioning to a single track trail. The pace slowed while we were funneled into a long, snaking line. The first 4-5 miles went by quickly. I started a little further back than I probably should have and it took me a while to (nicely) work my way around people towards the front. I was a little nervous about my trail senses as it's been a hot minute since I’ve run trails, but they came back quickly. 

There were a goo 6 inches of leaves on the trails which made it difficult to see my exact footing, but the constant tree cover made for an amazing setting.
The first 9-ish miles the terrain was rolling. There were a few small climbs and descents. I felt fresh and strong running up and down the hills. I made up ground on the hills and learned to use them as an opportunity to go around people. I was wearing a Solomon running pack/vest (thank you Heather!) holding all my food and a water bottle. During the first hour I made sure to eat a few shot bloks and sip from my bottle. 

At around 4 miles, I filed in behind the lead group of 5 or 6 guys. The guys in this group were moving at a better pace for me and I felt comfortable running behind them. While I still felt fresh, I knew 30 miles was a long way to go so I focused on re-familiarizing myself with trail running. It took a good 10 minutes before I felt comfortable bombing downhill at their speed. I took a turn at the front and gradually pulled away from the group around mile 6. 

I kept running my own speed but was quickly stopped in my tracks after a long uphill approaching the first aid station. I'd lost the trail. At important intersections throughout the course, turns were supposed to be marked with utility flags. The trail I was on had disappeared and all I could see was a bunch of trees and brush. I smiled. We'd be getting the true ultra experience today! I paused and somehow found a utility flag in the distance. Batting branches out of my way, I trudged my way over to the flag. A few feet before getting there I saw the next one! I was able to repeat the process a few more times before I was again stopped in my tracks. I pulled out the paper map we'd been given at the start to try and figure out where I'd gone wrong. After a minute or so, the guys who I'd been running with arrived behind me and we spread out to find the flags. Note to self: wear socks that go above your ankle for trail running. My legs were pretty cut up from this section. At the top of a very steep hill, we heard some shouting from down below. The volunteers had seen us and were giving us a point of reference for the first aid station. We half ran half fell down "butt-slide hill" to the aid station where we were greeted by ringing cowbells.
"Butt slide" hill
Another guy, decked out in a matching top and bottom led us back onto the trail. On one of the longer climbs I started a conversation with him and learned his name was Dominick. Dominick had some familiarity with the course and was using the race as stepping stone for another. The trails widened a few times as we ran on some jeep roads and we blew straight through the second aid station somewhere between mile 9 and 10. I briefly stopped for a minute to remove my jacket and stow it in my pack. I appreciated running with Dominick because I could tell he had some experience with Ultras and was pacing smartly. While I was still feeling good, I wasn't confident I wouldn't get hung up on another unclear turn so I decided to stick with Dominick. The next few miles had some longer, sustained climbs. The slopes got very steep, 10-15%, but I was still able to granny jog my way up them. While the uphills seemed to suit me well, Dominick was able to put some distance into me on the steeper downhills. 

Course route. Strava here 
We were nearing 90 minutes of running and I was starting to notice soreness in my quads from all the downhill. Nothing crazy, but I could tell that they were going to be wrecked by the end of the race. Around 11 miles in, the trail put us back onto pavement where we returned to the starting area. Unfortunately, the volunteers at the second aid station had forgotten to direct us to the small distance-grab loop. We all took a minute to eat some food and decided to return to do the same route backwards, as planned. We were told to simply run the small distance-grab loop twice so we'd get to the correct distance. On the way back out, I saw Rachael. She looked to be running well. I tried to explain to her the new route plan but explaining directions to Rachael is...difficult. Let alone in a place neither of us have ever been.

When you try to explain directions to Rachael...
Because we'd taken several extra minutes at the pavilion, a few more guys had caught up with us. Once we got back on the trail, I started running my own pace. I crushed the rest of my Clif Bar and upped my effortwhile still trying to be mindful that we had over 18 miles to go. I arrived back at the aid station to begin my first of 2 small distance grab loops. I was excited to see a new part of the course! The small loops had a lot of climbing. I made sure to step carefully along one section that traversed a steep slope with a river beneath. After one long climb, the trail reached an overlook point with a great view before bombing back down to the aid station. 

Overlook view. Not bad!
There were a handful of runners out on the loop and we all greeted each other and provided encouragement. The encouragement seemed genuine compared to triathlon where it seems like there is always some resentment when getting passed. At least in my experience. The trail race seemed less about competing and more like a self-focused effort because it can be such a long day. 

I caught up to Rachael as I was finishing my second loop. We exchanged quick words at the aid station. I refilled my bottle, ate a bite of PB&J and headed back out. I was a little over 21 miles in. My legs were feeling heavier, but I still had good energy. I felt like I was moving a little slower on the climbs. Going down one of the hills, I was adjusting the water bottle inside my pack and took a spill. I shook it off and after a few minutes felt like I was running normally again. My elbows and hip were a little banged up and from then on, I made sure to be very careful on the down hills.

I arrived at the last aid station around mile 25. I grabbed a few mini protein balls and started heading back up "butt-slide hill". All of the runners had torn up the slope a bit - making it easy to see where to go, but difficult to get traction. I had been holding one of the protein balls, planning to eat it while I climbed back up the hill only to drop it while my hand reached out to keep me from face-planting. Still debating if not face-planting was worth losing that protein ball. Three times I made it 10 feet up the steep slope only to slide back down. A little embarrassed in front of the aid station volunteers, I eventually found traction, crested the hill, and worked my way cautiously back along the not-actually-a-trail, trail. It was easier to find the path the second time after people had worn a faint path. 

I reached 26 miles. A few times, I tried to push harder up hills and I could feel how much energy that used. Instead, I tried to stay relaxed with all of my movements and imagined that I had 15-20 miles to go instead of just 6. As I relaxed, the running felt better. It felt good to still be able to run up the hills and while my quads screamed downhill, I felt (relatively) in control. The miles slowly ticked by and I tried to enjoy the stillness of the woods. A few times some rustling in the leaves on the slope had me scared a bear was near but it always ended up just being a squirrel. Lame. 

After 30 miles and close to 6000 feet of elevation gain, I recognized the stairs we'd taken almost 5 hours earlier in the day. I ran slowly back up the stairs, back onto the road, and to the finish at the pavilion. Only a few people were hanging around the finish area which consisted of two people in chairs and a pace clock. 

Stryd power analysis here 
I hung around for an hour, talked with a few people, and snacked on some food. Eventually I went to pick Rachael up, more on that story in her blog, and we headed back to the hotel. We both had an awesome time on the trails and spent the rest of the day hobbling around to various food establishments.

The next morning we dragged ourselves out of bed and began the long drive back to Kansas City. This time we drove through Louisville (instead of Nashville) where we spent 30 minutes trying to get Rachael an Instagram worthy picture. We also ate breakfast there at a buffet. I had two omelets. They were great.

If anyone reading this is considering doing an ultra/mountain/trail run, I would highly encourage you to go for it. The gear is minimal and the atmosphere is worth it. Next up, I may do another distance running race in December. I think the longer distance races with challenging courses suit me well and I want to continue adding them to my schedule when the timing works. I have a few goals in mind for the next few years but for now I'm just doing my best to challenge myself while still doing events that excite and motivate me. Stay tuned for a 2017 recap and plans for the future!

Stopped in Louisville on the way home 
If you've read this far, and want to hear a podcast I recently talked in about my experiences racing the past 2 years, check it out!  (hope you smile at some point :) )

If you somehow have made it this far in the blog and have not fallen asleep, comment on the social media post (facebook or Instagram) your favorite Clif Bar product. I will choose one person randomly and send them some goodies!

Thanks for reading and have a great day. 

Monday, August 7, 2017

Boulder 70.3, Volume 5?

This past weekend I traveled out to Colorado to race Boulder 70.3. I've raced Boulder 70.3 every year since 2012 and when Rachael said she was planning to race, it was hard to say "no". If you are interested in reading only about the race, skip ahead to the "race morning" section.

Current life balance
One week after racing St. George 70.3, I started working full time as an engineer in Kansas City. While it has only been a few months, I'm really enjoying the work at Burns and McDonnell. Working in the Geotech department, we help on a variety of different projects. Most of the projects I've been involved with have been for substations or transmission lines. Without going into too many details, we get to design foundations.

Where I spend Monday-Friday

My training patterns have changed a lot since starting full-time work. I could write several blog posts about how I approach exercise these days but here are a few points:
  • I try my best to prioritize frequency and efficiency. Even if I only have 30 minutes, I'll go for a short run or do some plyometrics. Almost everything is 60 min or less during the week.
  • Swimming: I try swim 5-6 times per week. Usually this consists of 2-3 structured practices about 75 min long with a couple other shorter (sometimes even just 30 min) swims to help clear my head before or after work. Our swim group at the JCC has 30 people in the water at 5:45 am every Tu/Th and Dave is the reason behind it. He is a great coach who is attentive to his athletes and very adamant on quality over quantity. Every couple weeks Dave will film our strokes without us knowing it and upload it to Dropbox with verbal instruction or correction which I've found very helpful. 
The 50 meter outdoor pool at the JCC. Swimming outside is THE best.
  • Biking: Most weeks I get in 4 rides and will some days ride to/from work/gym/home/track. During the week all of my rides are using the TrainerRoad app and our wahoo kickr. I'll do one easy recovery ride, a VO2 max ride, and a ride focused on cadence changes. On the weekends, I'm able to get outside for a longer 3-4 hr ride with some intervals. Almost all of the intervals 
    are focused at a higher threshold where I feel like I get the most return on time investment.
Weekend riding with Kevin
  • Running: I'm lucky enough to be able to run at lunch with a group of work friends. It seriously makes my day and helps me to focus. One day a week I'll substitute the lunch run with a strength workout so that I can do an evening track workout with another group. On the weekends, I'll do a short but hard run off the bike (taking a page out of Kevin Denny's book) and the other day I may do a longer run. If I ever feel like I'm getting run down or have run too many consecutive days, I'll skip a day of running and will usually feel better.
  • Throughout the week, I usually end up doing 4-5 short (15-30 minutes) strength sessions. I've always enjoyed being in the gym and often times will go in with a few exercises I want to do or glance at what Mace has put on training peaks for a strength workout and make up sets/reps for however much time I have. I focus on strengthening my hamstrings and glutes, upper body and stability. I also do a lot of plyometrics or what my sister would call "jumping around".
  • Generally speaking, if I go anerobic at least once then it's been a good day. As my work schedule will eventually require some travel to job sites across the country, I know I'll need to be flexible and creative with workouts. And while I like having a routine at home, I enjoy changes of scenery and finding new gyms, hills, and pools to train in.
Lew Hollander gave a speech at IM Florida 2014 at age 84 and said that he goes "anaerobic every day". #LifeGoals  
Pre race
The week leading into Boulder 70.3, I kept my weekly training almost exactly the same until flying out Thursday evening. After some flight delays, I was able to make it to Denver by about midnight Thursday.

Friday morning, we drove up to Boulder where we quickly checked in and went for a quick spin testing out our bike equipment. After the pro meeting, I went for a short run with Rachael and jumped in the reservoir for a few minutes before biking to our airbnb. The rest of the day was spent getting food, setting up gear, and checking in bikes. We stayed very busy but by 6 pm, we had gotten everything done that we needed to. From a performance perspective, it was probably not the best lead-in day before the race but my head was in a good spot, and my legs felt good during the shake outs. We were in bed a little after 9 and I had no problem falling asleep.

The day before the race... nearly 20,000 steps. Coach is probably banging his head against a wall.
Race morning
Rachael and I woke up at 4 am and I had the same breakfast I have almost every day: oatmeal with some almonds and a banana. I also had half of a muffin I'd saved from the day before. Rachael freaked out because "who only eats half a muffin!" but I was pretty pumped to eat it race morning. 

Oh, and adequate amounts of coffee were consumed
We were out the door and into the mini van by 5 am, and at the reservoir soon after. Ernie had volunteered to drive us as long as we set up his camping chair for spectating because he was on crutches. While Ernie hung out watching people yell at their spouses for a bike pump, Rachael and I went to set up our transition spots. I loaded up bottles and nutrition, put a new battery in my Stages power meter, and got my run gear set. I had plenty of time for a quick warm-up run and another trip to the bathroom.

With Rachael before heading to the swim start
Male pros were scheduled to start at 7:05 and I was in the water warming up about 15 min before that. After about 10 min, there was an announcement that due to parking delays, everyone would be starting 15 min later than scheduled. I got out of the water and planned to wait around before warming up again, but immediately started shivering. The air temp was slightly colder than the water and without a wetsuit, I couldn't keep myself warm. The announcer called us to the start line and I walked over shivering uncontrollably, my jaw completely locked up. I shook out my arms and tried to exhale strongly as they announced "30" seconds.

I started on the far left of the start line for the clockwise loop. As the cannon went, I took a few steps in the shallow water before starting to swim. The first couple minutes were a little chaotic and in my head I kept repeating "90%...90%" I knew that if I went out too hard, because I had started out shivering and because we were at altitude, I would burn out and move backwards quickly. I am generally pretty calm at a swim start but I think here I was too calm.

Swim start views
My awareness throughout the swim was pretty bad. I knew I was behind the leaders but didn't know how far back and couldn't recognize any of the swimmers around me. I've been in similar situations before, so I didn't panic. The swim went by unusually quick and I felt relatively comfortable, swimming off a few different pairs of feet and working on my body position to conserve energy. My stroke felt pretty good until the last couple hundred meters. I kept my effort level consistent as I stood up to exit the water. Ahead of me, I saw two guys I didn't recognize. In my head, I started getting a bit worried but mentally pushed it aside and ran to check hard for my bike.

I quickly transitioned, quickly glancing around to see how many of the front pack guys had stashed swimming paddles, then ran to mount my bike. Ernie was camped out at the bike exit and asked if everything was OK. As soon as he asked that, I knew I'd come out a bit further back than normal. Still, I responded that I was good and he told me to haul a$$. 

Thank you Philip Mathys for the picture!
Immediately out onto the bike course, Trip Hipple pulled in front of me and set a hard pace. We quickly reeled in a few guys before getting a split that we were about 75 seconds back to a big pack. I wasn't sure who was in that pack, but we set a strong pace to catch them. The early "out and back" gave us a chance to see them twice and I could see we were making up time. I felt pretty good and kept my effort strong without spiking too much. Around 13-14 we caught the group. 

Strava bike file for the data nerds out there. Power was from Stages 
We had passed 3 or 4 other riders on the way and the group we caught had 7 or so more. We jumped onto the back and I recognized AJ Baucco and Robbie Deckard. I was originally hoping to ride with Ben Hoffman and was disappointed not to see him. At the same race last year, Chris Leiferman and I had caught the second chase group early on in the bike, sat in for a few minutes, then made a move around them to try and catch the lead group. While I wanted to keep riding past the group, I knew I needed to recover a little so I sat in for a few minutes. Soon, a few minutes became 10 which became 15 which became 20. 

I knew the course enough to know what sections would be hard to get away in and I was worried that if I went too hard at altitude I'd blow up and implode even more on the run. As the minutes passed, I focused on taking in fluids and nutrition all the while feeling like the real race was slipping away from me. It was extremely discouraging because while I felt like I could ride slightly faster on my own, I knew most people in that group were strong enough to match my effort for 5 minutes which would tow along the few weaker riders and essentially we'd be in the same situation. 

When you get frustrated with the group dynamics...
As the miles ticked by, I took a few hard pulls, never seriously attacking but hoping to shake off a few guys or at least sting a few legs. Whenever a small gap opened up in front of me, the guys behind were very quick to slot in and make the spacing "legal" again. I kept wishing there was someone I could cue off of or work with to move past the group. I tried to remind myself to be grateful for this race experience instead of getting frustrated. In the last 10 miles, Sam Long and Kennett Peterson caught our group and quickly moved to the front. Immediately, everyone started working harder and a few gaps opened up. I worked around a few people to come into transition just a few seconds behind Sam and Kennett, but I quickly lost any advantage over the other guys in the pack as I headed to the porta potty to quickly pee.

A few of my last few 70.3 races I've really struggled with hydrating and felt like death the last 5 miles of the run. Starting out on the two lap run, I wanted to build into the first 3 miles making sure I got in fluids.

I had done well hydrating on the bike, but knew that sometimes it doesn't hit me until 7 or 8 miles in. I relaxed my shoulders and focused on a steady turnover. The temperature seemed pretty manageable. I saw Paul Ambrose ahead of me and gradually worked my way up to him. The first 3 miles had a few small hills in them. I felt good but dialed back my effort and took sips from my water bottle. Onto the flats, I got into my stride after tossing the water bottle. It felt good not to hold anything in my hands, but I still was aware of my effort trying not to push the first lap too hard and pay for it on the second half. 

I focused on maintaining a good rhythm. Heading out onto the run in 17th place, I'd given up any placing goals and just wanted to run strong and smart. I felt pretty good through the half way point, but knew that I was not on pace to do anything spectacular. It takes a lot of motivation to head out on the second loop of a two loop run but eventually I got into a good rhythm. I slowed down a little for the aid stations. I would get 3 cups of water and one of red bull or coke before speeding up and running harder between aid stations. Running around the reservoir, I tried enjoy the race experience and appreciate everyone cheering. I relaxed my arms and shoulders every few minutes and took note of my form. By mile 10, I was pretty sure I wasn't going to crawl across the finish line so I pushed it a little bit. While in the past my quads and calves have been in a lot of pain the last couple miles, my hamstrings and glutes were feeling it which I took as a good sign for my evolving run form. Heading to the finish, I took in the views of the flat irons, the cheers, and the feelings of a good workout.

Stryd running power file. From this I can tell that I ran very consistently and my cadence didn't drop like it has in the past on the back half of the run.
Immediately after crossing the finish line, I downed a bottle of water and talked with a few guys who had just finished in front of me. I checked in with my brother and Rachael's siblings, cooled down, ate some pizza, and cheered on Rachael for her finish. The rest of the afternoon was spent catching up with friends, packing the car, going to the awards, and hitting up the best fro yo place on earth....Ripple.

Not in Colorado. Not Ripple. But ice cream is good and Charley is cute so...
Looking back at this race...even after just writing this blog, there are a few positives and negatives that stick out to me.
  • Negative: too much the day before. While sometimes it seems pointless and boring, I need to be better about getting off my feet the day before the race and getting quality sleep the week of. While being busy is nice because it takes your mind off the race, ultimately it takes away your energy and you end up using it as an excuse after the race ;)
  • Negative: unprepared swim start. I don't know what more I could have done on the day to stay warm, but in the future, for non wetsuit swims I can bring a sweatshirt to stay warm with if there is going to be time between warming up and the actual start. I hate being cold and know that I don't do well in cold conditions so that is something I can be better prepared for.
  • Negative: I was too cautious. Racing at this level has been and always will be extremely competitive. If you want to do well, not only do you have to prepare for the race but you have to be willing to hurt during the race. After reading through this blog, it seems pretty simple to me that I was scared to push too hard and blow up. That's not to say the race was easy. I pushed myself hard, but always felt within my threshold zones. I've had some very scary experiences in the past which I now attribute to dehydration so it's taking me some time get a little confidence back to pushing myself to those limits. I'm going to work on having the confidence to commit to hard efforts while racing.
  • Positive: I'm in a good head space. I honestly think that at this point in my life, working a full time engineering job is healthy for me. While some people may see this choice as a submission or defeat of sorts due to the every-day challenges associated with being a "pro" in this sport, being able to support myself and the lifestyle that I want to live is more important than putting all of my energy towards my triathlon goals right now. Leading into this race was the most relaxed I've been in a very long time. Getting to work on engineering projects and using the other skills I have acquired in my life is very fulfilling. While some work days are hard, I love being busy and feeling like I am contributing to a tangible project with a specific deliverable.
  • Positive: My training routine is enough to get me through a half ironman feeling strong. Immediately after the race and a day after, is the best I've felt after a 70.3 in a long time. At first I was scared that I wouldn't have the endurance training to get through a 4 hr race, but I think my strength training, higher intensities, and general schedule of being on the "go" the whole day made up for the lack of "longer" workouts. I'm sure it's not "ideal" but it can work.
  • Positive: I'm getting better at hydration and nutrition. Both at St. George and this race I was good about fueling throughout the day. I know that with more practice I'll gain confidence to push harder in training and racing.

Thank yous
  • My parents. I don't thank my parents and family enough. They have been amazingly supportive of me in this sport and life in general, always encouraging but not pushing me in the direction they feel is best for me.
  • Mace, Patrick and the Fort Collins crew. It was awesome seeing you guys at the race. Special thanks to Craig Depperschmidt at ProActive PT. One year ago I couldn't take a step without pain and I just finished a half ironman without thinking twice about the previous pain in my heel and calf. Relearning to run is scary but I'm feeling the most relaxed at efforts as I've ever been.
  • Dave Schiffer thank you for making swim practices challenging but also realistic. I really appreciate all of the knowledge and advice and look forward to the early morning swims without anxiety.
  • Kevin Denny, Barry Ogden, city of fountains run club. You all are great training partners. I get a lot from training with others and appreciate sharing the suffering during workouts.
  • Gerry, White, Baker, Harrison and the lunch run crew. I've never laughed so hard during runs and appreciate the chill trash talking routines we have.
  • Rachael and family. Thank you so much for making Kansas City and Denver feel like home.
  • Roka, Stages, Rudy Project, Clif, Base performance, TrainerRoad, and Stryd. I put your products to the test day in and day out and can't say enough good things. Congratulations to Angus at Stryd for completing his first half-iron.
  • Thank you to everyone who came up to me before/after the race or cheered for me throughout the day. I get a lot of motivation from your daily lives and encouragement so keep up the hard work. If you ever have a question about triathlon, gear, or where to eat ice cream, I may be able to help. 
I have upgraded and can now receive pictures, emojis, and group texts. My mind was blown for a solid two weeks.
I'm not sure what exactly is up next for me in terms of racing. In the next few weeks I'll be figuring out a travel schedule for work and then will see when I can fit in some races. I'd love to get back to some Olympic distance racing with the Escape Series and possibly another 70.3 in October.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

Friday, May 12, 2017

St. George and Life Changes

This past weekend, Rachael and I traveled to Utah to race St. George 70.3. 

Recovery from Oceanside 70.3 went by fairly quickly as life forced a few easy days upon me after returning home. The day before Oceanside, I received a job offer from Burns and McDonnell, a large engineering firm in KC. I took a few days after the race to discuss my options with the people close to me and decided that this would be a really great opportunity for me. 

Rachael and I spent a few days looking for apartments in Kansas City close to where Burns and McDonnell is located. Within a week, we found an apartment and moved in. The trip to St. George was already planned, so I was able to move my start date to May 15th. While preparation leading up to St. George 70.3 was not ideal due to moving and figuring out our new routine, but we both did our best to stay positive and make the most of our training. I was majorly impressed with Rachael’s dedication the last two weeks before the race as she was working, completing final projects for school, and preparing for St. George. I did my best to help out by taking care of bike packing and preparing food because everyone knows, Rachael function happiest when she is fed.

On a plane, headed to Denver
Having completed St. George in 2016, I knew the course was very tough. Being that the race was also the North American Pro Championship, I knew the competition would be stacked. 

Wednesday morning Rachael and I flew to Denver to carpool with another MP Multisport athlete. James, who was also racing, picked us up and we all drove to St. George. The two days before the race were spent doing a few last workouts, getting gear ready, and hydrating.

Riding up Snow Canyon before the race

Keeping the pre-race ride casual? Or just too lazy to put on real cycling clothes
I was very relaxed going into the race. Though training hadn’t been ideal, and 7 days prior to the race I’d been in bed for 20 hours with food poisoning, I knew I had nothing to lose. Because of my job commitment and the stable income it would provide, I no longer felt pressure to achieve a result that would earn me money and provide me with exposure.

Race day
Race morning I woke up at 3:50 am, 3 hours before my race start. I mixed together oatmeal with almonds, a banana, and some honey. By 4:20 am we were out the door and making our way to the race start. Once in transition, I was reunited with Bae (my bike). I quickly pumped up my tires and assembled my gear/nutrition. After a short warmup run, I zipped up my new Wattie Ink, sleeved tri suit and grabbed my wetsuit. 

Rachael and I wished each other luck and I headed down to the water for a swim warm-up. I was able to get in a 15 minute warm-up which was much needed in the cold water. In the water, I looked at the horizon and keyed in on a spot that would help me sight for the first buoy.


Race organizers had laid out two start line buoys to limit how wide we lined up. Similar to Oceanside, I placed myself as far to the right as possible. With two minutes to go, the front line started inching forward. Referees in kayaks yelled at us saying that the pro women never inch forward and threatened to write down numbers. With 30 seconds to go, they gave up and eventually the gun went. 

Immediately I put my head down and took a few hard strokes. The first 30 seconds were pretty frantic. Though I started towards the outside, there were a lot of people on the start line which resulted in a fair amount of contact. I did my best to relax, focus on my stroke, and sight for the spot on the horizon. After a minute, I feared I had gone out too hard and felt myself fading. (Note to self: 100% effort at swim start is actually 110%) My legs felt tired and a big group swam away from me. 

When your legs are already tired but they still have 3.5 hrs of exercising left
I immediately forced myself to focus on my own rhythm and breathing. It is very easy for me to have a negative mindset after a bad start. We made it to the first turn buoy and the lead paddler was still in sight. By this point, I had found clear water and was making my way past a few swimmers in front of me. I started to find my rhythm and upped my effort level. St. George had attracted an impressive field of strong swimmers including Alistar Brownlee, Ben Kanute, and Matt Charbot who I knew could put time on me swimming in their sleep. 

Google search: Ben Kanute swimming 
The second length of the swim course was the longest and my legs felt even heavier. I was starting to think that maybe this just wouldn’t be my day. I turned my attitude around by focusing on being grateful for the opportunity to race and the desire I had to get on my bike. A couple toe taps behind me reminded me that others were counting on me too. Towards the finish, I increased my kick to get my legs ready to ride. I emerged from the silence of the water to the cheers of other athletes waiting to begin their race. Smiling, I quickly sprinted to Bae (bike, not Rachael) and stripped off my wetsuit. Just behind me I noticed Ben Hoffman and Kyle Buckingham, both of whom are strong riders. 

Knowing I was in good company, I calmly made my way to the start line, survived another flying mount, and got into my shoes. With a tough run coming, I needed to be smart on the bike. In training between Oceanside and St. George, I worked to adjust my hydration and nutrition. I found that in order to feel good on the run, I need to drink about 2 bottles/hour and take in a little over 200 calories/hour. Once we got rolling on the bike, hydration and nutrition were my number one priority.

Within the first mile, Trevor Wurtele (another very strong rider), came to the front of our group of four which also consisted of Ben Hoffman, myself, and Kyle Buckingham. Kennett Peterson (ex pro cyclist) slotted in early on as well. Having made this group, I decided to forgo looking at power and trust their pacing as these guys usually have very fast bike splits and work their way up the field. The pace felt hard, but manageable compared to last year’s suicidal pace for the first 25 miles required to catch The Hoff and company. 
Sickest race picture thanks to Talbot Cox
Within a few minutes, the 7:20 am express train arrived. Sebastian Kienle came motoring by our group. We turned things up a bit as he led. A few minutes later, Lionel Sanders pulled up. Last year I was near the half way point before Sanders caught us so his swim really is improving! Kienle and Sanders took off working together. While it might have been fun (and painful) to try and see how long I could hang with them, I again played it conservative and decided to stay with our group focusing on hydration and nutrition. 

Josiah Middaugh
Cameron Wurf (ex pro cyclist) came by us and set out on his own as well. We were eventually joined by Josiah Middaugh (Xterra world champion). Josiah took charge of our group and really pushed the pace on the climbs. While the course at St. George has several long climbs, there is also a good amount of flats and downhills where you can make up time. As I’ve learned over the last year, these guys don’t wait to recover on the downhills. A number of times I ran out of gears going downhill and had to push hard to catch back up. 

The view up Snow Canyon (taken before the race...)
As we neared the long climb up Snow Canyon, a short out and back allowed me to gauge how everyone was placed. After the lead police escort, Alistar Brownlee came blazing by. He looked quite aero. Behind him, there was a sizable gap to Sanders and Kienle who were still working together. I estimated our group had people in the top 15. At the base of the Snow Canyon climb, I grabbed one last bottle of water, aiming to finish it before the run. 

Our group split up a bit on the final climb. I mirrored Ben Hoffman and kept a steady effort. A number of motivational signs such as “It’s just a hill, get over it!” made me smile. As we crested and set sail back to town, I tried to spin out my legs and get my body ready for what would be a tough run. I quickly put on socks, my run shoes, and grabbed my nutrition.

1,200 feet of elevation gain is no joke!
In an effort to pay close attention to my hydration, the past 5 weeks I’ve been running with a water bottle. I’ve found it almost impossible to get enough water at aid stations during a race without fully stopping so I really liked having the water bottle with me. I’d filled it with Clif hydration and Base salt, and was carrying a few gels to use on the run.

The St. George run is brutal. The first 2 miles I felt like I was crawling uphill. I refused to look at my watch because I didn’t want to confirm my crawling speed. I focused on relaxing my shoulders and opening my hips. Up ahead, I could see The Hoff maybe 40 seconds in front of me. I still felt a little full after pounding the last bottle of water on the bike so I just sipped on my water bottle through the first aid station. Around 2 miles in, I passed Matt Charbot. Matt’s been in heavy IM training and may have come into the race a bit fatigued but it was still nice to know I was making progress as he is tough as nails.

As the climb steepened, my legs were beginning to come around. I resisted the urge to push and try to make up ground on Ben. I knew that if I upped my effort, I would probably overheat too early and blow up before reaching the finish. I relaxed, shortened my cadence and focused on the next 10 feet instead of the mountain we were climbing. Finally, I got to some downhill at mile 4 and let gravity take over. My stomach was feeling better and for some reason I decided to start taking in Coke at each aid station. As I hammered downhill, I felt fairly controlled and started to believe that I would make it past mile 8 before exploding. As much as I could, I tried to soak in everything. My body was hurting but the views were incredible. Lots of athletes going by on their bike yelled encouragement to me. Jeff even threatened to not give me a ride home if I didn’t give it everything! I was crossing my fingers that I’d get to see Rachael on the bike at some point but we hadn’t crossed paths yet. 

St. George run course views
Uphill, downhill, and back uphill for the last time, I kept my form together. I was getting just what I’d wanted. My legs were hurting but they weren’t shutting down on me and I could keep pushing. Up the final climb, I trudged by Trevor. After going by, I leaned forward and used the downhill. I forced myself not to look back and to run hard, grabbing more Coke as I went. The final two miles went by quickly. I was in pain. My form was falling apart but I didn’t care anymore, I just wanted to get to the finish. About a ½ mile from the finish, I saw Max and Tom who told me I was clear from behind. As I pounded downhill to the finish, I zipped up my top and smiled.

After finishing, I took a few minutes to enjoy the endorphin rush before heading back uphill to find Max and Tom. They told me they’d seen Rachael heading out onto the run not too long ago and that she looked good. We headed back to the finish area where I ate a little bit and talked with a few friends, but mostly waited anxiously for Rachael to finish.

Post-race sweaty
Eventually she came storming across the line and we were able to celebrate and be grateful together. Both of us have had a number of setbacks in the past year of racing and have been there for each other. Getting to share the feeling of a well-executed race is something we’d both like to do more in the future. 

After awards and bike packing, I executed my recovery nutrition plan by consuming froyo, vegetables, and an In and Out milkshake…in that order.

The next morning I hitched a ride back to Fort Collins to pack up some text books that I needed for work and also to spend some time with Ernie who has been living in FoCo crushing pop tarts and rocking Foakleys. Since returning to Kansas City, I've been busy trying to get everything put away from the race and prepare for starting work next week.

"Do what you have to so you can do what you want to"
I don’t want a pity party because everyone has struggles in life, I just want to write about my decision process for working full time. The past 6 months have been difficult for me trying to make a career out of triathlon. Since finishing schoolwork in August 2016, I have consistently trained as if triathlon was my career but have had essentially zero financial support from triathlon to be doing so. I was unhappy with my living and financial situations. Social media doesn’t help as it often only highlights the best parts of our daily life. One side of me was upset at myself for not taking action and using my degrees immediately. The other side pushed back saying that pursuing triathlon was a passion and dream of mine that I shouldn't give up on. I’d come to terms that I simply had not shown the right people that I could be one of the few earning a living through the sport. While I believe that I too could work some part time job and “get by” while focusing on triathlon, I ultimately decided that the job I was offered will be an incredible opportunity that will help facilitate my pursuit of triathlon in ways as well as establish a framework for my future. Though the years of competing as a professional are limited, I do not want to overlook the importance of having health insurance, a stable living situation, and retirement savings. Accidents happen, unforeseen costs always come up, and I don’t want to be reliant on others to help me when they do.

I’m very excited to begin working for Burns and McDonnell. The work they do makes a difference in many people's lives. My change in lifestyle will definitely have an adjustment period, but I’m looking forward to the new challenges and applying my education. Rachael and I have relocated to an apartment within biking distance to work for me and we’ve made new connections with exercising groups. While I will still be training for triathlon plan to continue racing as a “pro”, my priority will be applying myself to this new career. I have the utmost respect for people who balance work and triathlon (and families) in their daily life. Training for 25-30 hrs a week is easy if you have the time and support to do so. I do not doubt that I will be working just as hard as those who train full time. I’ve had several occasions in my life when I was student or working full time over the summer, where I’ve balanced training and I know that a lot can still be accomplished. I’m excited for the new challenges of being efficient with my time and would love any recommendations or tips from people that do this in their daily life! 

I’ll do my best to keep everyone updated on social media and on this blog.

Thank you to my Mom and Dad for encouraging me and believing in me over the past few years. I’m grateful for your insistence on a good education and one day I hope to have as many bikes as you!

Thanks to Ernie and Alison (brother and sister) for always being there for me and setting me straight.

Thank you Rachael for being supportive, pushing me out of my comfort zones, and always being down for coffee.

Thank you to Coach Mace for guiding me on this journey through training. 

Thank you Stryd, Rocky Mountain Multisport, Roka, BASE Performance, Clif Bar, Stages Cycing, and Rudy Project for helping me enjoy the process of swim/bike/running.

Exploring the expo
Thanks to everyone who actually reads these things. I always enjoy interacting (in person or via social media) and would love to hear your feedback advice or answer any questions.

Thanks for reading and have a great day!