Kona 2015 Race Report (long!)

kona podium


Certainty is the confidence in our belief…

It was a good year.  I knew I was fit.  I had created a great summer.  I had the classic feelings of “it’s all been worth it, no matter how race day goes”…. I had kept the training exciting with different locations, done all the training I wanted to do.  Trained primarily with friends.  Never hit that point in the build of being exhausted, gotta get through it.  I was actually surprised a few times how good I was feeling despite the volume.  I was healthy – I was absorbing.  It was a good year.

I had learned some things in CDA. I had a chance to race harder at Vineman.  I had the season unfolding just the way I had planned it, envisioned it.  I just needed to get to Hawaii and race.  Just go do…Its always so much easier on paper – or when not in the race..Just go do..Duh!  But I knew I was ready.  I knew it was a good year.  And, most importantly (to me), I knew that there was not more I could have possibly done this season to prepare for Kona.

I prepped my gear better, I dialed in my aero position better than past years, I adjusted my calories to a new amount, and I had trained it.  Trained ALL of it.  No more excuses for me.  I wanted those 162 seconds back that I missed last year.  I was not going to have gear, fuel, or free speed from a better aero position be a reason.  I am going to control the things I CAN control on race day.


The Race: 

Woke up that morning, good breakfast and no real issues to eat all I needed to get down.  Plenty of oatmeal with milk, banana, peanut butter and a bit of honey.  Couple of sips of coffee, and of course, the PreLoad in prep for a hot, strenuous day.  Couple of sips of water, and soon we were getting dropped off down at the start for body marking and bike prep.

Nothing was eventful this morning.  The routine of 14 Kona’s was setting in, I knew where I want to be at all times, certain time checks and meeting points.  Sure, this year was a bit earlier that usual, but the flow of the morning stayed the same.  Get to the grass area out in front of the King Kam 30 min before race start – its been like that since 1999…

Brain is on.  Things are clear.  Not nervous at all, just clear – aware – present.  Walk down to swim start, all smooth, even decided to wait on the side for a bit once going in: no getting cold and clobbered while waiting for swim start this year – its bad energy up there – too many agro swimmers fighting for a front row start.

Mantra for today is: Strong, Steady, Race.  Swim strong, stay steady on the bike, allow yourself to race the run!


Swim: STRONG.  Gun goes – I swim off – and immediately I feel connected to my stroke.  Power, flow, rhythm and kick.  Keep it together until things empty out, then hold my own line – feel good about my effort.  Around the Body Glove boat – and off I go – stronger effort – nothing hard, but no way will I be lackadaisical like last year.  Stay in it – stay with your day – my day.  My push puts me further ahead of the group I am with, and then I bridge up to the remaining lead group.

Get out and despite swimming well, surprised how slow the time was…oh well.  Just another slow year.  I know that is was STRONG.  Off onto bike.


Bike:  STEADY. I’ve broken this course down so often in my head, I have splits, wattages and observations from every part.  7.5 miles through town and up to Queen K.  Keep it under control, and just get my ass up to the Queen K – then settle in.  Its supposed to be steady.  Wattages are in check.  No – its not ‘easy’ but its good.  Steady.  Eat, drink, observe.  Time checks are ok.  Uneventful to Kuaihai.  All systems on.  Food going well.

Up to Hawi things become work.  I have been passed by a guy in my AG, but see him up ahead.  Another guy comes through – he seems more efficient and powerful.  That’s ok.  I know what I am riding. Feel ok.  Turn around in Hawi – its wet – we are really getting rained on.  Time check, solid, still too early to project, but everything where I want to be.  Special needs – top off, and keep it rolling.  Ride down from Hawi doesn’t feel that great – it has in past years, but despite keeping the effort smart (not pushing watts on downhills, using this section to chill a bit in prep for Queen K) I am still moving well.  Some years, backing off mentally here means feeling slow, and tired.  Not yet.  Calories are going down, everything is getting harder.  Legs, energy level, brain.  Stay in it – no emotions, your day, just do what you need to do, and it will be fine.

Things get hard the one mile from base of Kuaihai Harbor and Queen K.  Feels awful and the wattages are way lower than past years (man I have pushed some watts in this race over the years!), but here is where my day changed: time check onto the Queen K…is way off – AHEAD!  Too far ahead.  Somethings not right.  Compared to 14 yrs of data, this one was way off.  Past year all splits are 51-58 minutes.  Now?  43…!  I check my Garmin, something must be wrong. Its working, time is being kept accurately.  Holy sh*t.  Think Chris.  What does this mean?  You rode quite easy/not good energy the last 10-12 miles, yet still record time.  Its 32 miles home to Pier…That’s 90 min.  Hmmm.  Now I can project.  It can be a solid bike split…4:45 range…steady…clear thoughts, stay in it.  That split means tailwind, so as we turn on this island, there most likely is going to be something waiting for us down the road.

Sure enough, just before the Mauna Lani – headwind.  Solid, and blowing…its gonna be a long ride back.  I know where this is going.  Time to let go of watts, ride on feel.  This is disheartening.  Watts on feel quickly look ugly – really low.  Steady.  I know what low watts can do – I’ve had great races where the last 20-30 miles have been way low = good runs!  Keep on the plan, steady, eat, and drink.  All seems to be good.  Legs are a bit lethargic and achy, but cmon, its 85 miles into Kona.  Shoulders are tight – shoulder blades a bit achy, lungs a bit tight.  Nothing that is too unfamiliar.

The headwinds stay pretty solid all the way into Kona.  Pass a few people I know, I’m in the womens pro field now.  Off bike and splits look good:  Shit – it might be a great day: 4:55 bike and a 55 swim?  Out under the T2 banner onto the run in under 6 hrs…that is always a good number/marker and goal….

Immediately in T2 I notice my stomach is tight.  VERY tight.  All across my upper stomach.  Not just one side, but a nice wide berth across upper tummy.  Its also distended. Hopefully something that will loosen up?  I’ve felt similar before and at this moment I don’t remember if it goes away or not.  But I do know that if it were big problem, I’d have remembered it.

Dehydration related abdominal pain (DRAP).

Run:  RACE. I start running the first 2-3 miles just on feel.  Seeing how my stomach holds up – and what effect it has…I am able to eat, also sip water, so feel ok about prepping for when it loosens up.  Pace is going ok, but again confident to have good legs once the stomach subsides.  I also know I am in third place, so I am thinking to myself:  you were 14th last year Chris, just run relaxed and allow the race to come to you.  I also knew it was a fast year potentially with those bike times, but then quickly recognized the heat on Alii.  Nobody was going to shatter records today.  The day was on avg 15 min slower, even for the pros – so I was thinking that the run will be a mess: carnage up ahead.

My watch is showing me pace, and things start to get better.  I set the watch to only show overall pace, so I just am patient.  But once off Alii and up on the Queen K, its getting bad.  Legs are flat, energy is quickly dipping, negative thoughts are creeping in.  Competitors that I know are running behind me must be coming up soon.  I am going backwards, I must be at this pace!  Where are they?  Mile 13, 14 things really get ugly.  I know to push aside the negative thoughts, just keep running Chris.  I feel off, way off.  I dip my head in a big bucket of ice water.  That feels good, but legs are giving me very little and stomach is still tight.  I walk aid stations and work my way through coke and water.  I know I have eaten enough, I will not fall into the “I must be low on energy, eat more” brain game!  Keep moving Chris.  Just keep moving.  Where are the faster guys behind me??!  I know I am in second now.  I passed the guy a few miles back and my friend (Training buddy and overall support in Kona) is telling me I am second on the course.  He knows I am not well, so he leaves it at that.  He knows me – plenty of hours in CDA, Park City, Bend and Boulder together this summer.

Let’s do this Chris: get to Energy Lab, see how far the lead guy is ahead of you and gauge it from there.  You are not going to quit: remember today was simple: stay in it.  Race the Run (if I only could…)  At mile 15 I hear Lindsey Corbin say to me: no matter what today brings, just no regrets.  That was about as perfect of a comment I could have heard.

I enter Energy Lab and I begin scanning the athletes.  I know the guy is going to be coming any moment.  I had been walking 4 or 5 of the aid stations, so I assume he has stayed steady with his lead on me.  Half mile in, 1 mile in, where IS this guy?  1.5 miles in! Are you kidding me?  Is he literally right in front of me?  Sure enough – I get almost to the turnaround and there he is.  I smile at him.  It’s time.

A brief history here.  I have been racing Kona for so many years.  This 8 miles, from Energy Lab turnaround back to Kona Pier is what I visualize most EVERY long run.  Its either the best 8 miles in the sport, or the worst.  Its where you can make the race, that last hour where positions change and holding goal pace can make your marathon a success.  Its also a very long hour.  You have now been exposed in the sun & heat for 8 hours.  You feel the energy sucked out of you – not because its ‘Energy Lab’, but because you are now surely light on calories and hydration.  You just want to get home.  1 hour.  A season of training, many years of prep, for this last hour.  How often have I been here:  8 miles to go – placing – time – all become crucial here.  Can you still find a gear, can you push, can you have a PR?  In 2006 I looked at my watch and realized I could break 9 hrs, so the afterburners went on.  Last year exact opposite, I was convinced it was not my day, so I helped Caitlin Snow get some water and RedBull.  I’ve thrown up here in 2003 from drinking defizzed Red Bull with 3 Advil (dumb!), I’ve run with friends, caught some big name pros just trying to get home.  It’s a very strange, lonely, emotional place…yet when you prep for the race, 8 miles to go – last hour – is always something glorious…how often do we push our pace, pray to feel like that on race day!  8 miles home.

400 meters separate me from 1st place.  After 17 years of triathlon, 35 IMs, 14 Kona’s…and here I need 400 meters…Luckily this is where the years of experience pay off.  Auto pilot:  catch him, run behind him and wait for a mile marker, then 1 mile fast, push through 2 aid stations, then settle into pace again.  I catch 1st just outside of the Energy Lab, hold him in my sights for about a half mile, then at mile marker 19 I go…run harder until mile 21 – yes – 2 miles, just to be certain.  Settle back into pace and think:  you caught him on pace alone, so that 2 mile push has got to be enough.  I look back, all good…Hold on Chris…Mile 22 comes and this is where the public is able to be on the course again.  My buddy rolls up: “I’ve got some good news…you are in first…but 2nd is charging hard, he’s 1:20 behind you and tracking faster..” Darn.  I have nothing.  I used most everything in the 2 mile push.  I’m already shot, energy is just gone, legs are just doing their thing, I’m disattached mentally from the legs.  They are just plodding along.  Darn.  I didn’t get here to get passed.  I would never live that down.  Not from my athletes, not from myself.  Whatever Chris – find something.  Arms swing, push through the aid stations full stride – those are precious seconds…darn this hurts, not in pain, but in that I push and it feels slow.  Effort seems to mean I am slowing down less…

Mile 24: “Ok Chris, you got it.  I’ll see you at the finish.  1:40 up on 2nd, enjoy the last 2 miles.  You are gonna win your AG.  Let’s celebrate with a ‘few’ beers”…I put 20 sec on him in 2 miles.  I will finish this right.  Form, think form and footwork Chris… Mile 25, ouch.  Its all slow, even the last 1.5 miles.  I always run this faster – excited, happy to be done…enjoying the best mile in the sport…not today – I feel so flat, no energy.

Last mile – roll into finish chute, look back – all clear, cross the line – I am done.  Done.  No more – IM triathlon is not going to see me for a few years.   I am done…

And then into volunteers arms, medical.  I’m done.  Feel SO done. They carry me to Medical…whens the last time you pee’d?  Umm – in T2…actually – now that you ask, that was the ONLY time all day.  I didn’t pee on the bike..?!  Uh oh…Let’s get you weighed.  17 lbs.!…17 lbs lighter than the morning weigh in!  Weight in at 176 in the am, now I was 159!  Holy Sh*t…We recommend Hospital right away.  Severe dehydration like this etc. etc. etc. liver, dialisys etc.  Lets take a blood panel first.  Phew.  No hospital – blood panel.  I am not talking, just hearing..so done.  Blood checks out ok.  Hematocrit – check, sodium – check, potassium – check, magnesium – check, blood pressure – check, pulse – check…its just severe dehydration…2 bags of IV…let’s see.  3rd bag and I am feeling better.

17 lbs dehydrated.  Wow.  5-6 bottles on the bike, of which only 3 were water.  I would say about 5-6 short!  Throw in sips only while running…no wonder I felt like crap.

The amazing thing about this race was what went wrong and how it underlines the point I always make to my athletes.  Things WILL go wrong on race day.  But with outstanding fitness, you can stay within the margins of a good day.  With that I mean the following:

Had I not been dehydrated, I might have run 10-12 minutes faster.  I believe that in those conditions a great day for me might have been a 9:10.  If you look at this in percentage deviation, we are looking at less than 3% difference from 9:10 to 9:24.  3% was my bad day.  It did not feel like I was close to being within 3% while I was out there running.  But by moving forward, by just sticking with it, by just staying mentally in it, the day can still be good.  Do I care about the time that much?  Sorta.  Only because I had been so ridiculously absent last year, that I was very committed to doing it right this year.  Yes – I won my AG and that was the primary goal, but also racing correctly, feeling good about the effort throughout the 9 hrs, was important to me.

I left the race last year (2014 Kina) with a few goals/observations:

  • Positioning – this year I was committed to swimming better – staying ahead of the field, and remaining present to know my place and flow in the AG placing. I had some eyes on the course for me, but I was also aware all day where I was in the race.
  • Distraction – the mantra this year was Stay in it. No matter what the day brings, stay in the race.  No drafters, no sensations, no conditions, no splits will distract me from staying in the race.
  • Strategy – stick to the plan. Resist the temptation to deviate from the optimal race strategy.  I remained observant to the splits and race day conditions to adjust the race strategy accordingly.  While it did not necessarily make a huge difference, I think my body would have responded differently had I not backed off on the bike.
  • Poor planning – this year I planned everything out. People one the course, people at home.  I felt good about knowing I could trust my people.
  • Trust – This year I trusted my fitness. I knew, with absolute certainty, that I was the fittest guy in my AG.  I forgot this last year, and let the day get to me.  This year, it was a deep belief that I did more, and my body had absorbed more than years past.  Maybe not my best fitness ever for Kona, but for sure in the 45-49AG.  I learned this year that certainty is ‘the confidence in our belief’.  With the summer of training I had had, the numbers I had seen, the health I had kept, the continuous weekly work on sleep and recovery…I had 100% belief that I had done all I could to be ready for this race.  Last year I was the fittest too, but I let my head get in the way.  This year I was not going to let that happen.

My son Jasper took part in a basketball camp early in the summer.  And since he just turned 7, some of the concepts they were teaching were a bit advanced, yet he came home every day with a card or note regarding the mental game of training and competing.  We would read them and usually before I finished talking, he had already walked off to do something else….!  Working on your mental game is not a high priority when you are a month into being 7.  And hearing what your Dad has to say about it – even MORE boring…but one card stuck with me.  It asked: “What have you done TODAY to accomplish this goal?” – on the other side you were to have written a goal for the 2 week session.  I took that card and hung it in my kitchen:  what have I done TODAY to accomplish my goals?  Getting on a plane to Kona I felt I had adhered to that card every day of the summer besides 2.  And those two I had chosen to do something with my kids, which I will argue might have allowed me to feel better about the other remaining days this past summer.

Its been 16 years of racing in Kona – its been many 2nd and 3rd places, its been plenty of 4-6th places.  Its been incredibly fast years (sub 9) and a DNF.  There has been racing Pro, and racing as a rookie.  I’ve had every experience in Kona – besides this one.  And although it felt so nice to close this chapter successfully, to have written the best story of this past year that I can imagine to write, I also can honestly say it feels no different.  Of course the cliché of ‘life goes on’ fits here, but I think that Kona this year taught me something a lot deeper….That truly doing your best, sharing that approach daily with my friends, and those around me, is a lot more rewarding.  Of course I wanted to win this year.  And it was hard.  And its WAY easier to write this observation after winning, but I also felt great about the race before it even started. I came into the race at peace.  I was more verbal with my goals.  I felt good about what I was doing, why I was doing it, and I felt connected to all the elements of ideal performance – physically I was fit, mentally I felt prepared and confident, emotionally I was happy with my training, myself and how the season unfolded without sacrificing too much regarding family and loved ones…and spiritually: I felt connected to deeper values and a sense of purpose to do this race.

So now I will stay off the Ironman circuit for a while.  Its time to enjoy races and activities I have not been able to do in past years.  Not because of Kona, but because of life.  Now I want to use this fitness for some fun events.   The Boston Marathon is one of those.  That’s what’s next.  Running Boston in a Yankees hat.  That is plenty challenging….




IM Hawaii 2014 – Race Report

2014 marked a return to Kona for me. It’s been since 2011 that I raced, and quite honestly – I missed it. I like racing IM – and I surely liked racing Kona. While I can get my endurance giggles out at IMs around the world, Kona has the appeal of being the World Champs, and I have discovered I like competing – racing. The last few years have been somewhat of a transformative time for me, and without going into too much mushy detail, one of the things I discovered about myself: I like racing – I like competition. I am goal oriented and so having a goal of winning my AG in Kona works for me. Not because of the prize, but because of the sacrifice being worth the result: why do this? To be the best I can be. And to me (that mirror I look at) that means I compete WITH the best in the world in my AG and around that AG. I am not shy to compete – and get beat if it was a fair, honest, clean competition…

My training for 2014 has been great. Running Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Feb set up a great endurance platform not only for running – but the time out there doing something endurance based for 16-20 hrs. I carried a lot of fitness into IM Texas, which surprised me with an 8:59. It gave me confidence that fitness gains were there – NOW the goal became two-fold: 1) not get injured into Kona – 2) not burn out mentally until Kona.

The summer unfolded well. Training was great – body was holding up – kids were not compromised with this selfish sport. Mind and body were dancing the Kona two-step build well. As many of you can relate – balancing life’s priorities with the training and the sense of urgency in each, becomes quite a challenge. Yet it remained harmonious this summer.

October came and I was healthy, motivated and grateful for all that 2014 had brought so far. I knew Kona was going to go well, since there were no questions. I had mentioned to some folks that there was a sense of calm going to the Big Island knowing I did everything I possibly could for this race. I trained all I needed/wanted/could, I executed, stayed present throughout. I saw the times in training knowing the pace and strength was there.

Race week was incredible. Not because it was race week, but instead I managed to stay as far away from the race as logistically possible. Bringing my daughter Ruby made this great. Snorkeling, surfing, beach days, swimming with turtles, dolphins and whatever else came around on our daily trips around the Big Island. Body still felt great and come race morning all was primed for a memorable Kona.

Swim: I made one strategic mistake in my planning for the race. I got so beat up and annoyed by past Kona starts that this day I committed to starting back a few people and not swimming hard off the start. BIG mistake – I was way too comfortable early on and was able to just roll into my inside the buoy line track with relaxed freestyle. Never settled into a good speed and rhythm – and while inside that buoy line I came across WAY more surfboards and paddlers than past years – and when I say inside buoy line, I mean I am basically swimming ON the line but passing each buoy on the right – besides the turn buoys. BAM – I get smacked hard in the head – an SUP guy was backing up from others swimmers ahead and brought the paddle directly on the top of my head. Dazed and surprised I swam a few breaststrokes and gradually put myself back into race mode. It wasn’t long until I started feeling a bit nauseous – I attribute that to swallowing some seawater when getting bonked or while getting myself going from awkward breaststroke to freestyle again. The swim then just happens – I don’t feel much – remember much – I just swim. I do notice I am swimming somewhat solo – no groups around me, and know that its not because I am that far ahead…. Out of the water in an underwhelming 56 minutes.

Bike: Once out on the bike I settle in ok. The 7.5 miles in town go well, very relaxed with watts dead on where they need to be. But out on the Queen K I quickly notice that things are off: headache and some more nausea. I don’t think it has anything to do with the paddle bonk, more that I might have swallowed too much salt water. I hold off on eating and drinking to allow the nausea pass. I am confident it will. In this window though I notice huge groups of draft packs riding by…like 20-30 guys riding in big groups, sitting up. I pass penalty tents with 25-30 cyclists backed up. Yet only 5 stopwatches to hold, so people are just signing in and off they go – no 4 minutes. Riders ride past me laughing about how ridiculous it is – having conversations! I am disheartened – I am distracted – I lose focus and confidence. Not in my ability but instead where I am in the race (placing) and question my desire to push back to the front. I am feeling better now – have started eating, hydrating but am distracted by the single column of riders up to Hawi – most, practically all – riding too close, constantly looking over their shoulder to see if the motorcycle is coming. It’s a joke.

I get to Hawi and I start snapping out of it. I will make the best of this day. I will make it respectable. I let go of any visions of placing well, but I will enjoy Kona, I will honor all the training I have done leading up to this. I will get back and run a solid marathon – see Ruby – and enjoy having her here in Kona with me on the course.

I ride home with higher watts than the 60 miles prior – rising wattage ride as many of you know from my coaching. I know I can run off that – I have done it plenty in training. The course has emptied out a bit, but still see bigger single file groups riding way too close. But now I don’t care – I have resigned to this being Kona. I actually ride past two guys – big guys – look at them and say “really? – you are just going to keep cheating like this?” – and ride on. Well, Head referee Jimmy Riccitello rolls up and gives them both penalties – good.

5:12 bike – my slowest split in 8 years. Darn. But roll into T2 feeling present – good – relaxed and enjoying the race!

Run: I have one goal – run well. Not hard, instead well. Well means steady – relaxed – present – soaking it all in. Not easy, instead I want to see how it all shakes out. I actually have a tiny voice in my head that thinks I can run a PR in Kona. That would be 3:06 or better. The first few miles feel great and relaxed – as they should, I only really rode 2.5 hrs at race watts of the 5 I was supposed to! Quickly the miles start ticking off and before I know it I have run the out and back on Alii (9miles). At no point do I think of placing. I don’t ask anybody – I am really not concerned as I am committed to running well, and having a respectable finish.

NOTE: we ALWAYS regret missing time on the run. I would be lying to say I did not look at my bike time/race time and shake my head in frustration. Even the 5-7 minutes I could have pushed up to Hawi from Kuahai would have made for a better time (not result since I am not thinking result at this point). In past years I have ridden up to Hawi in 52-57 minutes, this year a solid 1:07…ugh….My thinking here is “if I run 3:06-3:10 my time is XX, but had I gotten my head out of my a$$ earlier, it would now be 9:15-9:19 which sounds nicer than 9:20+”….

I hit 10 miles in 1:09, hit 13 miles in 1:30 something…Of course I know the hard part of the course remains ahead – but I feel good about the pace & effort balance. Queen K on the way to Energy Lab becomes a steady run – with a few other guys we are just in a zombie run: emotionless, in synch, running along this desolate stretch. In the corner of my eye I notice the sign at mile 13 “no bikes, scooters, motor vehicles or spectators past this point” – they shut down the road at this point, as in past years it would become this huge entourage next to the race leaders. I think to myself: well, this is it – from here on out it is whatever result you are in – nobody is out there to tell you, help you know any different…and I am, again, fine with that. I have no idea anyways who is where or what that means anyways!

I hit energy lab, and sure enough – there is my first difficult stretch – hit a bit of a side stitch – which seems to be something common at mile 16-18. I stop and stretch it –to no avail – I get to the RedBull tent and stop to exhale a bit, grab some Red Bull and give myself 60 sec to get it sorted. Well, Caitlin Snow comes by, I grab Red Bull and a big bottle of water and off we go to run. I know the water is too much for me – so I pour half the bottle on her – get my act together again and carefully run again. As you all know with sidestitch, if you carefully, gradually allow yourself to exhale, run, relax, and shorten your stride, it slowly works itself out. By mile 19 I am back in stride. The stop and RedBull tent cost me about 2 min.

Now, usually, this is where in past Konas I have been able to push another gear. Not because of fitness, or smelling the barn. No, its usually because I am chasing someone – I have seen them on the turn and know what I am trying to catch. This year I try to push a bit, but soon I run out of ‘push’. Not desire because I keep running solid, but just not the pushing, snot blowing, grunting, driving hard effort running. I just stay steady. I even get to the top of Palani, with the last 1.2 miles downhill and flat, yet don’t crush myself on the down. I say “don’t ruin your legs, you wanna have fun tomorrow with Ruby”. I roll onto Alii Drive, Nick with Ruby are there – we take pictures, even a selfie – and I run in it into finish. I feel fine – I walk through finish area – grab my water, Tshirt, medal and head out to see Ruby…

SO – what did I learn? Where does this leave me 2 weeks out of Kona? As many of you always hear from me, I like to wait 2 weeks after IM to allow emotions to settle down, in order to take a more pragmatic approach to this all-consuming sport. I have concluded I had a variety of issues on race day:

Positioning – I usually do not see the race from this perspective. I swim off the front and can count the people in my age group (or all age groups for that matter) that pass me. I see if there is anybody out of the swim ahead of me. This was not possible in Kona this year. I lost touch with the groups ahead of me on the swim, and then the draft packs did not allow me to count the race number range of my age group. I was racing blind. Or, for that matter, I was reliant on outside information in order to know where I stand in the AG race.

Distraction – I let the race distract me. With the draft packs rolling up, and their nonchalant attitude towards cheating I was annoyed, disgusted, demoralized by the sport. I allowed my emotions of the moment to dictate my racing. Because of this I paced my day instead of raced my day.

Strategy – While drafters are always in the race, usually I am ahead of them and although they approach, catch up, even pass me – their back half is usually slower (which it was here in Kona too as I rode the fastest back half in the AG) and it puts me right back to, or at least close to, where I need to be for the run. Can you say to always just race hard? Yes, but Kona is a different animal and the depth of the field usually does not allow blind racing in order to have a top result. This applies to the pro field too – those that race hard and blind get strategically outmaneuvered by the strong runners either way.

Poor planning – while this is not something I beat myself up for, I should have had the conversation on an update with Nick, or Jordan, or Dougy T – or even Ruby. Or Taylor, Ryanne or or or. Plenty of people I knew on the course, I just never – in all my 32 IMs – have ever not known my general place and where I need to be/get to in order to have my result. And although Ironmanlive was down for a bit, and even though there are stretches where the updates are not allowed, HAD I known at mile 9, 10, 11 or 12 where I stand, the 3-4-5 minutes could have easily been found. The argument here is why not just run your hardest/best? Because there is always another gear for me when ‘racing’ vs. in your own world, head, place…

Trust – I did not trust in my strength, fitness, knowledge, and experience. I was going to Kona with the goal of winning my AG. If that is the case, I should have believed that despite things going wrong, despite falling back and the day unwinding differently, that I would not be THAT far off. I swam comfortably; I rode Z2 HR/watts the first 3 hrs. I should have trusted that despite those bike numbers and swim time I would still be near the top of the AG. I did not think with logic – I thought with emotion.

Do I regret my day in Kona? No way. I got 3rd on a comfortable day, I know that HAD I lined up against the top 2 in my AG that day – head to head or the top 10, I would have beaten them in an open competition without drafting. I had a wonderful week with Ruby, I had friends there that reinforced our friendship. I was healthy, I enjoyed the race, I smiled, I helped others, I was relaxed and did not take myself too seriously (which has happened in the past). I actually enjoyed a race day in Kona, soaking in the people and the environment. The only thing I look back upon and wonder is HAD I had the opportunity to race, to dig deep, to really push, to chase or even run scared (if I were up front) – what would that day have felt like?

In training I go through a lot of visualization, I save parts of my mind for race day in order to envision where I will be and how to be in the moment. I like to run that course in Kona with stretches of allowing my mind to go to other places (home, long training day, places I have had hard yet effective training days, etc.) in order to really push. I enjoy that process: to close my eyes in Kona and go to the Silverado trail, to go to the Pacific Crest in Tahoe, to go to my 100 miler in February. Because of my issues mentioned above – I never got into the moment of that fun process. That is part of racing. Competition. I regret not having the opportunity to dig in, to go ‘there’, to go to that dark place where you can only get to when r-a-c-i-n-g… In the moment of that day 2 weeks ago, I was ok with not being there because I was certain my placing was not significant, and therefore I should only focus on the opportunity of the day, the privilege and the fun of Kona – a perspective and view I rarely get to take in when racing the day hard instead…Don’t worry; there is a big enough voice in my head saying “excuses, excuses dude…”

With the paddle incident, and my first 2 hours recovering, it would be easy to look for the 144 seconds to 1st place there. But, there were plenty of minutes on the bike and run to have been found with the issues listed above. No excuses. 2 weeks after the race, I actually look at the paddle incident as something that could have worked to my advantage, as a blessing in disguise. Yet I did not take advantage of my day, the real estate remaining. Its hard to recognize this in the moment, but it was there – the opportunity was presented to run myself to the front, a storybook ending to win an AG. This will remain with me – that rare chance to do something special like that. If ever again, I will script it differently.

As this email went out last year after Tahoe and what I need to focus on, here too, I see the lessons learned from this day. I know what needs to be done, where the blind spots are (as always – we never stop learning). But now I need to decide whether I go back or accept that Ironman is in the business of selling emotions, not really about racing world championships like other true sporting events. This might read that I am bitter, but I am actually relieved to have gained this perspective on our sport: that it is fiction, an event created as a challenge/dare, that now has moved on to being a business. While some may argue the Olympics are a business too, the underlying sports are structured differently. You have federations, validated distances, officials that are professionals in monitoring the performances of the sport. They have been officials at national and international competitions for years, and then a rare few are chosen to be at the World Champs or Olympics. You don’t have volunteers and part time racers deciding the outcome of the world championships on the back of a motorcycle. You have an opportunity to race in your sport – to compete – not just see how the day ‘shakes out’.

Understanding all this, and having this years’ perspective, I know how to approach the race next year. Or not. But as a close friend told me the other day: “maybe Ironman isn’t done with you yet. Maybe it wants you to come back – to continue to be a part of it as a racer vs. just a coach”.

Initial thoughts from Kona 2014

Thank you for the many well wishes and congrats after the race. It was not what I thought the day would bring. Early in the swim I got smacked pretty hard in the head by a paddle board oar. I doubt it was on purpose. But it left me dazed and light headed. After some breastroke, I continued the swim. On the bike I could not really get anything going with a headache and dry heaving a bit. I came around about 2 hrs into the bike, but I was way back in these HUGE draft packs, and quite honestly, got demoralized. Little food in me, seeing all the cheating, and knowing tons of riders have passed me. I ask if I should just enjoy my last Kona in a while…but in Hawi I snap out of it and get back on my watts, ride back way stronger and get my head somewhat together. Problem is now I have no idea where I am for the day, I figure I get off the bike in 18-20 place. I start running with a focus on just running, allowing the run to be fun, relaxed and feeling good about running a decent marathon. At no point do I know placing, where I am or what day is unfolding in front of me. I walk a few minutes in energy lab – don’t force it since I know I am in no hurry, surely that bike and swim have me way back still. I get past my sidestitch after a mile of walk and working through it, and get going again. Just steady. I finish the last mile down hill and onto Alii just chillin and talking with Ruby. I want to enjoy it. Even once through finish chute, another AG guy behind me say he thinks we might be podium, I laugh, say nooo…only to find out it was right there. Had I known I was running down first, my run would have been different. As you can imagine, I am not happy, frustrated by no updates for anyone on IM Live, its the WORLD champs, why don’t we get to compete and race the competition ahead of us? No updates, too much drafting. Its a sad result to this race, for me and for the race. As you can imagine – I am quite frustrated…

It is the worst case scenario: too close to walk away from Kona, knowing those ahead of me might be drafters (as on the run they were going backwards) and having my day in my grasp had I only known my placing and where I was.

Way more to follow with a longer update and race report, but I wanted to share my initial thoughts, frustration and disappointment.

Creating an aerobic platform
Race Report IM Texas – May 17, 2014

Its interesting – I get more texts and emails when I DNF (IM Tahoe) vs. when I race an IM that met my expectations (IM Texas)….maybe your expectations are higher than mine?? This one went well. I know I don’t have many more sub 9 IMs in me – so I’ll take it.

I share my race report with you since I do get feedback that you learn from my actions and mistakes (plenty!) – its also what I like about coaching: being out there applying what I want you all – at any level – to train and execute.

I know some of you will shake your head and roll your eyes – but this race was completely aerobic for 95% of the 140.6 – and it is exactly what I try to coach in all of you, my athletes: That there is an aerobic, Zone 2, low HR pace that can get you to the finish line of an Ironman or Half Ironman – having gone plenty fast.

Sure, in every race there are a few sections where you go harder (swim start, bike sections to avoid draft packs catching you, acceleration on the run to get around folks) – but overall the HR line, wattage line and RPE line of this day was completely flat.

One of my key takeaways from my DNF in Tahoe last September was that I jumped ahead of my Zone 2 aerobic training. Injuries, confusion, expectations all got in the way of a successful race. Even more interesting is that because of this, I was wound way too tight the final weeks into Tahoe; why? Because not having trained my way left me wondering what the day might bring vs. knowing what is surely will bring.

This past winter I was not about to let that happen. I ran the 100-miler in February with specific goals:

  • Improve my aerobic platform running
  • Improve my mental game when it comes to running the marathon at IM
  • Improve my running economy (oxygen uptake ability while running efficiently)

Jumping ahead of aerobic fitness has not only left me injured in the past, it also has left me flat in training, with little confidence in racing. I see it daily in my coaching: athletes want to jump ahead in their fitness, want to find their old numbers, want to return to running their pace they think they can hold. They apply old training mantras (gotta train fast to race fast) or even ignore the training altogether. And while they can execute a fast workout here and there, it still leaves you wondering if you have that gear, that ability, that pace on race day. In contrast, there is no guessing if you know your aerobic platform – you have seen it weekly, if not daily in training. No big variances, no big fluctuations in performance.

I know I preach this stuff plenty (the base of the pyramid, the rebuilding of your engine to perform better etc.) – but I also got to apply it to myself again for IM Texas.

Training and racing for Ironman keeps me connected – not only on how it feels – but to the mistakes we can easily make on a daily basis. 2014 so far has been a great reminder for me of my coaching philosophy and why it has such staying power: it helps us prevent injury, remain motivated, and most importantly, allows us to repeat our training effectively, day in and day out – for weeks and months. THEN fitness can take over.

There were numerous days these last 2-3 months in training where I wanted to push harder cycling – or find a pace running – “how am I going race an IM on this pace/wattage??” or “if this feels like work, how will IM feel racing at a higher number/pace?”… but… I slowed, I focused on cleaner, better form. I always deferred to easier and cleaner/more efficient than numbers or paces.

Here some more context:

Running the 100-mile race in February kept me well aligned for my 2014 objectives. I also came out of that race healthy and hungry to train for IM Texas, triathlon in general. I got everything out of ultra running this winter mentally and physically I wanted. But it also left me running 8-9 min/miles at Zone 2: a long ways from the 6:55s-7:10s I like to run at IM…At no point did I push myself into those numbers – I used every run I had, to gradually increase turnover, remain focused on form, pavement techniques and ensuring I am not pressing since otherwise I would not recover into the next workout. Pace came down just nicely in time for IM.

Looking back, bike training for IM Texas had gone well too. I had very few data points coming into this training phase, nor had I ever started training for an IM 14 weeks out like this. But, I also knew I had a LOT of aerobic run training. I tested on the bike in early March and my numbers clearly showed I spent a winter with limited cycling miles. Ugly numbers I had not seen in years. But, I also knew the engine was there as I just ran for 18 hrs straight, so aerobically something was working… I also knew that this was setting up perfect for my ideal 2014. I did not want to be too fit in May, it burnt me out in 2011 as I came into Kona flat, tired, mentally exhausted.

Instead this year the plan is different – build up a huge aerobic platform (Z2 training) – and sprinkle in frequent race simulations (90/9 being my staple) – and go into Texas fit, not fast and ready to execute a real steady day. Lastly – I was not looking to do anything special: just qualify and race a real steady, confident, familiar race.

In the 9 weeks between tests (March 9 to May 9) I rode 2100 miles, of which 90% much have been in Zone 2. Even classes had a cap. Testing the Monday prior to IM, sure enough, the numbers looked way better – back to my old self. But – I also knew I have not trained with these numbers – so they were only a validation of the training so far, as well as a good idea of the watts I knew I could hold in Texas.

The Race Details:

Race day approached with bland foods and plenty of hydration. Dinner prior to the race was nice and boring: pasta, no sauce, just some chicken, and broccoli – boring & bland. As was lunch earlier in the day with salad, rice, sweet potatoes and chicken.

I had slept well the nights before – 9-10 hrs per night – so going into race night, getting 6ish would be plenty. Wake up 4:15am, some wheat bread with almond butter, banana, yoghurt and granila as well as PreLoad (Osmo) and plenty of water. Thought I would want some coffee – but half cup was it.

Went to square away my bike and special needs, back in room for some relax time – sunscreen! And down to swim start. Easy. Gun goes off at 7am

Swim was decent – but as many of you know – I never like to swim that hard. There is so much ‘day’ ahead; that extra effort and focus is not something I care about. For me it is all about getting to T1, solid swim, but little energy used/wasted/applied. The swim actually gets boring after a while!

Through T1 – off to bike: what a course this was. I would describe it as a mix of Kentucky with horse farms and little towns and Florida with it being quite flat and steady. A few turns here and there, some changes in scenery, but otherwise this bike course only changed with wind: headwind, tailwind or side wind. The power came nice and easily, smack dab in the middle of my zone 2 watts. Got a little annoyed with a group of drafters (cheaters) coming up so I spent some time riding a bit above my planned zone, but nothing dramatic and nothing to interrupt my day too much. Actually felt better and more settled the second half of the bike. Once back towards the Woodlands, things were looking like a decent bike split, but again – today was about being steady, remaining controlled and comfortable. After 100 miles the body always becomes uncomfortable on the bike, especially in the aero position, so what you think might be fatigue is actually just inefficient riding, too much shifting around and becoming impatient for the ride to end!

  • 3x Cliff Bar (750)
  • 2x GU Chomps (360)
  • 2x GU Roctane (200)
  • 2x 28oz Osmo (100)
  • 3x water (48oz)

=1410 cals

Rolling into T2 I could see the race time was just about 6 hrs, but that was the pro start time – but I never paid attention to when they left: 15 minutes before us? 10? 20? No idea – too early to consider this anyways.

Out to the run. The Texas run is three loops. First loop to settle in and see what your legs are giving you, 2nd loop to maintain feel, effort, pace, as well as not letting your day slip away. 3rd loop is key – push, hold on – see how the run time lines up and get after whatever you need to get after.

Although the first loop felt great – aerobic – relaxed – I was starving. I ate about 300 calories too little on the bike. So now I need to manage calories for energy, while balancing fear of stomach issues…I get in a gel at T2, as well as at mile 3, but I can tell I am on the hunger edge. I try to manage a few more gels, but now they taste awful. Mile 14 I start coca cola…but that too is just maintaining the slightly dizzy and nauseous feeling. Darn, I know better. 2nd loop is now complete and the traffic begins to add up on the 3rd loop. I was perfectly content with staying at pace/steady/survival mode until I realize that there is a chance to break 9 hrs at mile 20ish. At that point it was time to get uncomfortable.
Luckily I was able to find an extra gear home and finish just under 9 hrs. But I remain annoyed with the lack of calories I set myself up with. One of my goals this season was to get a better handle on my nutrition late in the marathon: now I go into Kona not knowing if it would have worked or I was just so empty that I didn’t have stomach issues!

  • 5 gels
  • Coke as of Mile 14
  • Osmo Flask with 100 cals.
  • Water at every aid station (20×2-3oz = 50oz)

So what is it with Z2 aerobic racing? As many of you have heard me say before, our goal with this fitness is to get to a point where we KNOW what time we will race. Because of our aerobic fitness – holding wattages, running pace, cycling speeds on typical routes, swim intervals, there are soo many ways to measure where we are currently at with our fitness – there is no reason to go into a race not knowing quite well what we can execute. But the training needs to be based on this – on the CURRENT you – and the investment YOU want to make into your season, your training and your results.

There are so many different training approaches out there, but I always wonder why athletes pass up on a sure thing? For example, if you see plenty of 8’s in your marathon run training, week after week, in simulations, when tired, on the back end of a track workout running home, don’t you know that you can run 8s for a marathon? It might not be what your goal time is, but would you not rather just work on the gap between those two numbers (goal and training pace), vs. the occasional 7s run that you can maybe hold for the rested ‘feel good’ workout – but not consistently? Do the 7s and how or when you can hold them become a sure thing or more of a question? Do those 7s leave you sore; leave you too tired to follow up with a great next session? Are you staying injury free? Would you not prefer to run 8s easy…and then 7.45s easy…and then eventually 7.30s etc…all at the same low HR cost to your body? While maintaining good efficient form and cadence?

In my IM Texas lead in, I knew a pace I could swim, I knew a wattage I could hold, I knew a pace I could run. I had done plenty of 90/9 simulations, plenty of long days that I felt quite good after or the next day. I finished a 32 hour training week feeling good, healthy, absorbing and ready to do the next week. There were no blind spots, no concerns, no injuries! You might not do these hours, but you can achieve all the same outcomes in your training. You need an aerobic platform. And then keep building on it…and building…

All I had to do was put it all together well enough on race day. And so can ANY of you. Create the floor, create the confidence in a certain time that you know you can achieve – even in training (I will gladly add more simulations for any of you) – and then build on that, piece by fitness piece. And what we begin to realize is that even our tired, ‘straight outta training’ practice sessions are getting faster. Even the ones that don’t feel great, they are faster than weeks’ prior. THAT is building from the ground up.

Whether running, swimming, biking, ultra running or triathlon – the concepts are all the same. Create a fitness floor and keep raising it. As we keep raising it, we remain focused on efficiency, technique and economy. You keep getting faster, just watch.

You can’t pull up a floor you are standing on. Get under it and push up…