Disappointed, but encouraged.
Sunday’s race was the U.S. 70.3 Championships in Galveston, TX. The field was STACKED, including many top foreign Ironman and half Ironman athletes in addition to the U.S. contention. It was my first 70.3 of the year (half Ironman, 2k swim, 56 mile bike, 13.1 mile run) and I hoped to finish somewhere in the top 10-12. Here are the cliff notes for you busy types:
- The Bad: I DNF’d (did not finish) the race, because of pulled muscles from the bike and severe leg cramps. It was clear by mile 1.5 of the run that if I continued, I’d probably get injured. And…I just couldn’t run, it hurt a LOT.
- The Good: I had probably my best swim/bike combo ever. I swam with a group for the first time ever, and rode fairly strong until leg issues started the last few miles.
- The Encouraging: I started the run within striking distance of the top 10, and a good to great run away from 5th-8th place. Though I couldn’t finish this time, with a few adjustments and more experience, some good results could be in the works. Full Results Here
Swim: 26:28, 32nd (out of 49 Pros), 1.2 miles, 1:23/100m
On Matt and Gerry’s advice, I swam VERY hard the first 400 meters, tried to stay with the pack, and as expected, didn’t. Unexpectedly however, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t hang, and another group formed around me! This was the first time I’ve EVER swam with a group in a race, so I was pretty pumped, even if it wasn’t the first group. After the first turn (~700 meters), I put myself on the heels of the group leader, the pace slowed, and the rest of the swim was actually comfortable. That’s right, I just said the swim was comfortable, and no, it’s not backwards day.
We swam ~3-4 minutes slower than the lead group, which is the same gap I had last week, but this time it felt easier, was over a longer distance (2k vs. 1.5k), against a stronger field, AND I didn’t get passed by the first woman (or “chicked,” as some of you, including my wife, called it). Still a ways to go, but it’s an improvement and a sign that my swim is coming along. Coolest part of the race: How many bikes were still in T1. That place usually looks like a deserted island by the time I finish swimming.
Bike: 2:11:10, 20th, 56 miles, 25.6 mph
I rode the first 10 miles much harder than last week to stay with the group, averaging ~340W. Holding that for 56 miles felt like an implosion waiting to happen, so when it became obvious that the 958mph cross winds negated the advantage of being with a group, I settled into my own pace and dialed it back a notch. At the turn-around (28 miles) I got a boost of energy when I passed a few guys, saw I was in 29th place, and only ~5 minutes off 8-10th place. So I picked it back up, started cranking, and rode the next 24 miles strong, slowly picking off “teddy bears,” (what Matt told me to imagine when I admitted I was intimidated by the field).
But with ~4 miles left, something started to go wrong. My legs were obviously tired and sore from riding hard, but my left hip and glute (read: butt) progressed from tired butt to sore butt to painful butt to I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to finish this ride on this butt. It came on so quickly, I thought it was a fluke, so I just sat up, even stood up, and pedaled the last few miles very softly, wincing my way into T2 and hoping I’d loosen up once I got off the bike.
Run: DNF, tied for last, ~1.2 miles, infinity min/mile
During dismount, I tried to lift my foot over the saddle, my left hip seized, and I nearly crashed. Luckily I was going slow enough to jump off the bike and land on my feet, narrowly avoiding forever being known as the dude who face-planted into T2. My “it’ll loosen when you get off the bike” hopes were immediately vanquished as the pain intensified while hobbling to the bike rack. I was hoping for a fast run, so I took my time putting on my shoes and stretched a bit, I even walked through transition.
I started running VERY slowly, I’ll just call it jogging. After a minute or two, it felt like it was loosening ever so slightly, so I accepted that it was going to be painful and picked up my pace, doing my best to run without a limp. I went through the first mile in ~5:40, and for about a minute I thought I might be able to make it. On the next turn, my entire left leg seized, like really seized, like I couldn’t walk much less run seized. So I STOPPED for minute or two, tried to relax, walked very slowly and then jogged for about two seconds before leg seize number three. At this point, I gained the attention of some medical staff who asked me, Are you OK?…….Yeah. I’m fine…….Uhhhh? Are you sure?………Well…
Logic, NOT Emotion.
It was like I heard Matt say it to me…in my mind. I know that sounds like a cheesy Yoda analogy (Nerd Alert!), but that’s seriously what happened, so I’m sticking to it. Logic, not emotion is a mantra Matt has ingrained into my brain the last 6 months to help us decide when to push through, and when to pull back in training. It forces me to logically listen to my body’s signals, and do my best to remove the emotional inputs and consequences of the decision before making it. In this case:
- Emotionally, I want to run fast, I absolutely don’t want to drop out, I could finish well if I keep running.
- Logically, it’s my first 70.3 of many this season, I risk serious injury, a gap in training/racing, and my leg hurts A LOT. This is not racing pain, this is actual pain.
Easy choice right? Looking at it now, it is. But, it still took me 10 long minutes of walking and internal schizophrenia before I finally made the right decision – to stop.
The Silver Lining:
Obviously, I HATE to drop out of a race, but it happens (it turns out that 14 guys dropped out of the race for various reasons). In this case, it was the right choice. In hindsight, I’m actually proud of myself for making the right call. It’s ironically an athletic step forward for me.
Outside of the “DNF”, there are some encouraging take-aways from this race. I had probably my best swim/bike ever. I made a swim group, and averaged 22 more watts than my best 70.3 last year, even with a slow last 4 miles. I started the run within striking distance of my goals. IF I had run under 1:16 – I’d have been top 10 (my goal), 1:13 – top 8, 1:11 – battling for 5th place, all in a top notch field. Could I have run that fast? Well, no, I didn’t even finish. But in some other race, under other conditions, potentially. Tim O’Donnell ran a brilliant 1:11:57 for the fastest run of the day. On a good day I should be competitive with the fastest run, on a great day, maybe have the fastest run. So it’s all woulda-shoulda-coulda for now, but it’s still promising and encouraging that IF I put it all together, some exciting things could happen.
Most important lesson learned: When people say don’t change anything before your race, they’re right. Thinking I could get more aero after last week’s race, I got greedy and flipped my stem. I just calculated how much it dropped my bars (yes, I didn’t do this before the race, I’m an idiot, and yes, I had to look up how to use sin again), and it lowered it by about 3.5 cm. That may not sound like a lot, but in the biking world, that’s huge. That was a very rookie mistake, and ultimately I think it’s what caused the overuse strain. Actually, I’m almost positive that’s what caused it based on the way my butt feels sitting on this plane.
Matt Dixon, for the confidence, and teaching me to be balanced, healthy and strong, physically and mentally. Great start to the year, despite the DNF. Good things to come. Sorry about calling you yoda.
Gerry Rodrigues, for all the swim guidance (and thanks ahead for more to come!). Still got a long way to go, but I see progress and am excited to get back to work on it.
My roommates for the weekend, Paul “Barney” Matthews, Michelle Mighdoll, Sarah Pampiano and Matt Lieto. Great times guys, serious fun. Sarah was first overall amateur, congrats! Matt let me use his extra helmet, flats, wetsuit & CO2 cartridge and then he made me drive him to the airport at 4am.