Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Punching the ticket

This past weekend I competed in what was supposed to be my first Iron-distance event in Panama City Beach, Florida.  The destination, common for spring break, is also appealing for athletes looking to tackle their first Ironman in ideal conditions.

I began a specific training plan, outlined by MP Multisport, around mid-September.   My first 5 hr ride specific for IM was a big awakening. I'd been on plenty of long rides but none with the pacing to run a marathon after.  The first 1-2 hrs seemed painfully slow. Since nutrition had given me trouble in my last couple 70.3's, I experimented with several different plans during long training days to figure out what worked for me.  I was also fortunate enough to be able to get course information from other EMJ teammates that had raced IM Florida in the past.

The different training load, especially with a couple long rides each week made me very hungry.  Some things I ate a lot of: bananas (more than the usual 4-5 a day), tortillas or rice cakes with almond butter and jelly, greek yogurt, brownies from the dining hall and Ensure nutritional shakes.  As the race grew nearer, it was tough to back off on rides and runs but I knew it was be better to be over than under rested. 

The logistics while in Florida worked out well.  Since I decided to do IM Florida without much time in advance, my parents already had plans - they have been living their dream, biking around Europe. I was fortunate enough to convince Dave to meet me down in Florida and help me out for the weekend. Having Dave there was special since he originally taught me the basic ins and outs of triathlon.  Big thank you to Teresa for hooking Dave and I up with a place to stay. The condo we stayed at was fantastic!  It was right on the beach and had an incredible views for sunrise and sunset.

Initially, one of my main reasons for signing up for the race was to try and qualify for the Ironman World Championships for 2015.  After talking with my parents a week or so before the race, my mentality changed.  I realized how lucky I was to get the chance to do the race.  So many people have supported me and helped me get to the point where I'm at and I wanted to show that I appreciated their efforts.

The days leading up to the race in Florida were spent working on some school stuff and staying off my feet.  Dave has been around the block when it comes to Ironman racing and worked extra hard to minimize the amount of walking.  For many races we typically ride back and forth to the expo or the course, in Florida we drove everywhere.  I'm also pretty sure I didn't go up any stairs for the 3 days before the race.  Dave reiterated to me that the only thing that mattered was race-day and for an Ironman, extra rest is the best thing to do.  We watched several movies, got fresh seafood and I kept my feet up.
Checking in bike and bags the day before
Race Day:
Race morning started at 3:30 am.  Breakfast consisted of some quinoa and hummus, a small sweet potato, a banana with a little almond butter, 1 Ensure and a little orange juice.  After eating we headed over to the race site.  It was cold and windy.  I was hoping that once the sun came out things would warm up.  I loaded my bike with my bottles and stashed my nutrition in the bags I would need throughout the day.

After a quick warmup run, I waited inside to stay warm, listening to music and watching others freak out.  People were fidgeting like crazy, taking on and off different parts of their kit.  I felt fairly relaxed.  Excited but relaxed.

Gear: Roka Maverick Pro

What went down:
I was about waist deep in the water when they announced the swim was going to be canceled.  The waves were big and while I was a little disappointed, the volunteers mostly had paddle boards and were struggling.  I'm sure some people (weaker swimmers) were celebrating.

We headed back inside to figure out details for the race start and stay warm.  They announced it would be a time trial bike start.  First, pros would go off with about 30 seconds between and then the age groupers would go off in numerical order.  I would be about dead last with bib number 3094.  Before the race, my pick to win was Lionel Sanders.  That dude is an animal on the bike and run.  No swim definitely worked to his advantage. It was sweet to see the pros up close at the start instead of just zooming by at some point on the bike.  I liked looking at their bike and nutrition set ups.  For the most part, they looked calm.

We had calculated it would be close to two hours before I would be starting due to my high bib number.  I got a little hungry and luckily I'd packed a couple dates in my backpack - instead of a gel.
Feeling cold
I put on the new Louis Garneau speed suit top, arm warmers, gloves and headed out to grab my bike.  Despite the sun coming out, it had not warmed up and I was shivering heading to the mount line.  About two spots ahead of me, I saw someone in my age group heading off.  I was pleased to see this because it would allow me to somewhat know my position.


Gear: Trek Speed Concept, HED Wheels
Such a sweet ride! Thanks Patrick Ray for getting me set up.

Bike Nutrition:
I'm happy to say that I ate real food the entire bike!  I made rice cakes from Skratch Labs (let me know if you want the recipe) and rolled them into balls which went into a plastic bag stuck in the back of my top.  Every 20 min I had a rice ball.  I aimed for about 270 calories an hour on the bike.  
While I understand many pros race with only liquids/gels because of's my thinking.  Throughout our daily lives we don't eat gels and calorie-loaded sports drink.  Many athletes focus on eating quality whole foods. The rice balls were made of foods that I eat on a daily/weekly basis.  However, what works for one person... The rice cakes were delicious and I did not get tired of eating them.  I started getting more hungry about 3.5 hrs into the ride and had couple extra bites and 2 dates. I also sipped on 3 bottles of Skratch throughout the ride.   
My biggest recommendation is to practice nutrition and experiment.  I worked with Tess at MP Multisport to make sure the rice cakes would give me a enough energy and sodium.

What went down:
The first 20-30 miles of the bike were the worst part of the day.  People always talk about the ups and downs of Ironman and how there will be highs and lows throughout the day. The cold temperature and wind made this section tough for me.  I also was yelling "on your left" for the first 3 hours.  I'm far from the best swimmer but if there had been a swim I would likely have been in front of the majority of the field and a lot less passing would have been done.  The time trial start made it crucial to pace myself and race my own race.  I was passed immediately by a couple guys and the guy in my age group in front of me took off as well.

Time trial start

Around mid-point on the bike
My plan was to be conservative on the bike, pacing off heart rate, and build into a strong effort.
Going into the race, I thought to be competitive heading into the marathon, I would need to ride a little under 5 hrs.  I went through mile 56 in around 2:40 and kind of laughed at myself. I knew a good section of it had been into a head wind but negative splitting by 20 minutes... Instead of mentally checking out, I focused on what I could control, nutrition and pacing.  I picked up my special needs, reloading on rice cakes and Skratch and put my head down.
HR file from the Garmin
I didn't get into a good rhythm until around mile 70.  By this point, lot of people were hurting.  Instead of passing groups of people 3-4 wide, it was a steady line of people.  I tried smiling most of the ride.  I was happy my nutrition plan was working, plus, anytime you get to play outside makes it a good day!  Around mile 90 I started to reel in a couple people that had passed me earlier.  I saw Dave on the ride and he gave me some cowbell.  The 15 miles to transition went fast with a slight tail wind.  

NB 1400 v2, Garmin Forefunner 10.
 I ended up getting women's shoes because the store was out of my size in men's...
Nutrition:  No gels the entire day! I had one Gu Chomp about every mile.  I would grab a four pack at an aid station then suck/chew on it until it was gone.  I also sipped on a bottle of Skratch until mile 18.  I aimed for about 180 calories/hour on the run.  I had no coke until mile 25 where I tried some to see if I could really crush the last mile.

What went down:
I ran out of transition and saw Dave.  He immediately told me to slow down and settle into a rhythm.  I had spoken with friends on the CSU Triathlon Team to text Dave position updates to relay to me for the run.  After seeing my bike was going to be over 5 hours I thought I didn't have much of a chance to win our age group and so I figured I would just try to enjoy the marathon instead of pressing hard right from the beginning. Dave had temporarily lost his phone and gave me encouragement heading out.

In my long training runs and track workouts, I've done best (and felt best) when I build into my effort and let the pace naturally drop on it's own. I'm not really sure how it works but if I pace right, things just speed up.  I was hoping to average around 7 min pace for the run but wasn't sure if I could do that after a 112 mile bike.
The top held ice and sponges well

I looked down at my watch and immediately saw 6:30 pace coming out of transition. I told myself to slow down, focus on getting in fluids and calories. I felt good, no stomach problems from food on the bike and I was excited to see how the run would play out.  The first 6 miles to the turn-around I forced myself to run 7 minute pace or slower, walking through aid stations.  I only looked at my watch a couple times that first section and was happy with 7:20's. I tried to pick things up heading back on the first lap.  I saw the guy in my age group who I'd started behind on the bike about 2.5 miles ahead of me.  His turnover looked to be slowing. Everyone around me looked like they were really hurting and I was wondering if they were on their first or second lap.  I kept focusing on staying steady and getting in some liquid and calories, knowing how quickly things can go from feeling good to walking.  Any time I saw my pace drop below 7 min I thought - slow down, save it for the second lap, especially the last 10k, then we get to go.

I rounded the turn for the second lap and Dave had some details for me.  He asked how I was feeling. I said great and he told me that the guys in front were fading and that if I could run about 6:50 pace I could win.  Immediately I thought, hell yes, here we go.  I thought of everyone who was watching online, supporting me. They believed in me and I believed in myself.  I wasn't mentally struggling and was itching to really turn the screws and show what I could do. I had paced and fueled the bike right (ok, maybe a little slow) but the run is where I get to do my thing.  I started picking up the pace.  People were screaming at me "Steve, you're flying" I smiled and kept pushing.  Whenever I looked at my watch I saw 6:35 to 6:45 pace and things felt good!
I'm pretty proud of this run.  I started my watch a little late so I didn't get the full marathon.  You can see where I stopped to walk aid stations the first section to get ice/fluids/nutrition.  My heart rate is higher than a lot of people feel alright with running at but I felt pretty comfortable - this could have been due to the temperature.
Everyone I had talked to said my body would fall apart the second half of the marathon.  Sure things were hurting but I felt that I mentally was still in control.  My quads and knees hurt but they never gave up on me.  I just kept thinking, man those rice cakes worked well for me!  I finished my bottle of Skratch I had been running with around mile 18 and decided once I made that final turn with about 10k to go, I would toss the bottle and see what I had left.  For weeks I'd been craving the feeling of leaving everything out on the run and my body was working with me.  I saw the guy in my age group much closer to me and he was hurting.  I drafted off him for about 10 seconds around mile 20 before surging and pushing on.  Miles 22-24 were tough mostly because there wasn't as much support and I was really looking forward to the last 2 miles were there was a great group cheering us on.  I encouraged people I passed to keep pushing and they shouted back their own encouragement.  The last 1.5 miles I felt like I was going to cry.  I turned around my hat and put up my sunglasses so those watching the finish could see my face.  When I saw Dave just before the finish, he told me I'd won.  I was more happy about being able to cross the finish knowing I had given a good/smart effort.  I was smiling for a while afterwards.

I called my coach, girlfriend and several other people on the team who I knew had been watching.  I knew I'd probably had them on the edge of their seat the past 3 hrs during the run.

After getting some food and leaning on my volunteer and Dave, we headed back to the condo to get cleaned up.  It was difficult walking but we managed to get back to the race site and cheer on some of the later finishers.

After a big breakfast the next day, we headed to the awards.  It was very inspiring to see all the physically challenged athletes up on stage, definitely puts things into perspective.

I congratulated many of the other finishers and eventually claimed my Kona spot for 2015! I'm excited to head there next October with Team EMJ and race in this iconic event.

With Dave after accepting the Kona slot!
This season has been a blast. I've raced 15 times this year and enjoyed each time. Looking back, I'm proud of my results and consistency.  I also am happy to say that I didn't feel burned out these last couple weeks or during the season.  I think this goes back to my mindset. I like racing and triathlon for many reasons.  With hard work, dedication and time come results.  Above more than anything though, the people I've met and places I've been fortunate to go have given me many great memories.  I've learned a lot this season and feel I've developed mentally and physically.

The amount of support I've received over the past couple days and throughout this whole season has been incredible. Each person's network of support really helps to keep them going during tough times.  Big thank yous to MP Multisport for working with me to prepare for this race and Dave for being my sherpa in Florida.  Thanks to my parents and family and teammates for being awesome.  Thanks to everyone who has done a long training ride with me this past year. I loved those days.  Thanks to Every Man Jack for keeping me stocked with fantastic products.
One last awesome shot from swimming around a couple days before the race
While I want to keep on pushing and training, I know we only get stronger when we rest.  With that in mind, I'll be taking a couple weeks easy before getting back at it with the CSU Triathlon Team getting ready for the collegiate season!

Thanks for reading and have a great day!

1 comment:

  1. Steve is a fantastic athlete, but an even better man. Smart, funny, low-key. I don't know how he maintains his great racing form while studying for his masters, travel, and train but somehow he always comes through. I've been thrilled to mentor Steve since he first wandered in to Erik's Bikes in Roseville (St. Paul), MN joining me on our Tri rides. He loved when I challenged him with hill work and he came back for more. We've become fast friends ever since!

    I was so thrilled and very touched when Steve asked me to help him for his Iron debut. We talked a lot about racing strategies and of how a full Iron is really really hard and you have to race smart. Unfortunately the swim was cancelled for safety reasons (there was a good chop out there) so Steve felt kinda ripped off on that part. He would have crushed on the swim and it would have given him an ever better sense of pacing as he would have been in the first wave of elites just behind the Pros. He was so funny that in "honor" of doing a "Full Ironman" he actually wanted to go out and do the 2.4 mile swim while waiting the 2 hours for his TT start. As much as I applauded the integrity and earnest, ahhh, not a good idea to go out and tire yourself that much more by doing the swim when no one else was (not to mention the safety factor of the chop and riptides)...Anyway, Steve had a fine bike but it was most thrilling to watch him be so smooth in the first half of the marathon run with 7 min./miles! Then to dial it up and crank out 6:30's on the back half when most people are dying is unbelievable and amazing. Steve's energy and race smarts are incredible. I can't say enough of how proud I am of his accomplishments. Can't wait for his Pro debut and will continue to be his mentor, sherpa, and friend.

    Hats off to you Steve for punching a Kona ticket on your IM debut. A true feat.
    "Coach Dave"