Weeks Leading Up:
The month prior to this race wasn’t the best. August 12th through the 14th were very busy for me, I had killer races in both the sprint and olympic events and Age Group nationals, and getting my masters degree that weekend as well my student health insurance would only last a few days after that. So once I finished competing in those two very difficult races and driving 8 hours back to Colorado in the car, I decided that because I was going to take it easy for a few days now was the time to get up to date on my vaccines. So after the long weekend I hauled myself to the doctor Monday morning to get a pneumonia and tetanus shot, then went on my merry way. I had planned on taking 2 days nice and easy, then getting a solid 2 hard weeks before taper, but after those shots my body had other plans…
As I was trying to sleep that night I went through extreme hot and cold flashes, one minute I would be sweating profusely with all the covers off, the next I would be looking for extra blankets because I was shivering. Fortunately, this only lasted one night, but after those issues subsided the real fun began. I don’t know if it was a cold or something else, but for the next 10 days I was constantly dizzy and went through 2 boxes of tissue because I was sneezing so much. The “training” I did that week pretty much consisted of me biking/running as easy as I could without triggering a coughing fit. I didn’t swim much because my arm was essentially immobile from having two of those shots in the same place. Being sick for so long left me with a little less than 14 days of training before the big race, 10 of which were supposed to be for taper. I managed to get a 60 and an 80 miler in during that time, but that was mostly a confidence booster to let me know that I could actually finish.
The moral of this story, wait until you recover completely from a hard race or training session to get vaccinated. Your immune system is weak, and the vaccines will likely hit you harder than they otherwise would have.
Thursday afternoon I flew into Nashville with my roommate Matt, who was also going to compete on Sunday with me. His family was gracious enough to pick us up and rent out an Air BnB just off the race course for us to stay in. It was an older place, but it was so big that we got our own rooms to sleep in! Before going to bed I went along with his family to the finish line area to check out the course and do some touristy stuff.
Friday morning our coach wanted us to be at the expo at 8:30 to get in line to check in. We weren’t thrilled because when we got there we found out that they didn’t even open until 9, but after a massive line formed behind us we were happy to have gotten there early. After checking in and getting our swag we went off to the swim start to get a short workout in and test out the water. Ironman set up some buoys to make a ~500 yard loop for everyone to swim, going upstream was difficult, apparently they didn’t stop the flow that day so it took me close to 6 minutes to go 250. Turning around was incredible though, I came back in less than half the time it took to go up and I wasn’t even trying! After finishing one loop, I saw they weren’t letting anyone else in the water so I went for another loop because I probably wouldn’t get any more water time until race day. After meeting back up with Matt we went to the expo for a bit then went to drive the course with one of his friends. We got a little bit lost driving up to Lookout Mountain trying to find the course. After giving up and driving home we realized that Matt was looking at the wrong 70.3 course! We didn’t want to drive back up so we just watched the video Ironman posted when we got home.
Saturday morning we woke up early and got a quick 30 minute bike in before grabbing a bite and watching our friends start their race. Thankfully the women under 30 were the last waves so we made it just in time to catch them go off then watch them run into T1. Since they wouldn’t be back for a few hours we went home to grab some second breakfast, then when they were on the run course walk the 100 meters down the road to cheer every time they passed by. Later on Matt and I went to check our transition bags and bikes in. I had to turn my bike in on my own right before six because my power meter battery was close to death, and it needed an hour to charge. As I was riding back down my seat post dropped all the way to the bottom. It turns out I didn’t tighten it enough. I was able to borrow a wrench from a nice guy nearby, but like a rookie I never marked my seat height so I had to guess where it was before and hope for the best on race day.
Race morning wasn’t too eventful. I woke up at 6, had a bowl of oatmeal and a muffin, and left for the race. Transition was open until 7:30 AM to add nutrition to your bike, so that’s exactly what I did. I taped down 2 packages of shot blocks, filled up my water, and put my polar bottle filled with nutrition in the bottle cage behind my seat. I spent the next hour warming up by running intervals to and from the porta potty while rotating my arms, and stretching out between each. My tradition is to “always try something new on race day”, and today my new thing was my wetsuit. Since my Roka Maverick Pro wetsuit was stolen a few months ago, I replaced it with the 2XU Propel because I got a sick deal on it since I used to work at a bike shop that sold their gear. I heard Jan Frodeno wore it when he won Kona in 2016, so I was hopeful that nothing would go wrong there. When it was time I walked down to the start and seeded myself in the 4th wave among the other 25-29ers.
When the gun went off I dove into the water and sprinted off. I was hoping to get on someone’s feet, but since it was a rolling wave start (10 people go every 15 seconds) there weren’t many people nearby. I quickly ended up in the no-man’s land of swim groups, I was too slow to hang with the faster guys, but I was too fast for everyone else. This destroyed my usual plan of sighting off of people’s feet, and with my 5 year old Speedo vanquisher’s inability to stay fog free (I even have trouble seeing in pools) I knew I’d have to make due.
So the swim continued and I just sort of swam towards the big pillar holding up the bridge. After I had passed I did a bit of breast stroke to find the turnaround buoy and noticed it behind the sun, so for the rest of the way out I sighted off that.
By this point I started to catch up to the wave in front of me, so the turnaround was a little congested. The way back was incredibly fast. Going out I was holding maybe a 1:30 pace for 100 yards, but on the way back I was closer to 1:10. So even though they held back the current, there was a very clear difference between swimming upstream and downstream.
Swim Time- 29:37
Men’s Rank- 218/2,380
As soon as I got out of the water I made a beeline for the wetsuit strippers. Once getting me out of my wetsuit they shouted out my number so that the bag grabbers could do their thing. After getting my T1 gear bag I throw my helmet and sunglasses on and encountered my first hill of the day. This thing was probably an 8-10% grade for 25 meters, which normally isn’t tough, but I had hardly used my legs in the last half hour so they were a little noodley.
I sat down in their little changing area and threw my wetsuit in the bag, grabbed my shoes ate a marshmallow GU and ran towards my bike.
T1 Time- 3:33
Remember when I said I guessed on the seat height? Yeah, I guessed wrong. As soon as I hopped on my bike and clipped in I knew my seat was about 2 cm too high. Every pedal stroke I was reaching as far as I could, even sitting on the very end of the saddle didn’t help much.. But I didn’t bring a multi-tool, so I just sucked it up and kept biking. My plan for this ride was to go between 250-270 watts depending on how I felt, and besides the seat height I was feeling pretty good, so I decided on 270 until Lookout Mountain.
My planned nutrition for the day were my two shot block packages, my aero water bottle between my bars (refilling every aid station), and a bottle of concentrated EFS and Redbull mix in my bottle behind my seat. I was going to take a few chugs of my mix every 30 minutes I was riding, and eat a packet of blocks every hour, and sip on water every 15 minutes filling up my thing at every aid station. This plan all went to hell and a hand basket 2 miles in when I hit some railroad tracks and lost my drink mix. Some of you are probably thinking “thank god he didn’t put that horrible concoction in his body”, but I have been training with that bottle, and it had most of my electrolytes and 400 calories I was banking on. But like the goggles and my seat height, there wasn’t much I could do about it, so I’d have to make due with the Gatorade on the course. So after that little incident I just kept on biking to Lookout.
If you haven’t heard about Lookout it’s a pretty tough climb, my watch had it at 1,000 feet of climbing in 3.3 miles. To give some perspective, Steelhead 70.3 (in my home state of Michigan) had ~1630 feet of climbing for the entire bike. But after moving to Colorado I am no longer a stranger to climbs, so I just threw it in my lowest gear (39×28) and did a steady spin to the top. I ended up averaging 330 watts, which is a bit higher than I hoped, but there wasn’t too much I could do with my weight and gearing.
The top of that climb really isn’t the top of the course, the next 15 we added some elevation through rollers. And honestly, I thought this was harder than the climb. Being in aero was not the most comfortable position with my seat height, but with the speed we were going sitting up would make having a tri bike worthless. I held 270 watts all the way through that part as well, knowing I’d have a few minutes to coast very soon.
The descent was an incredible feeling. I was coasting down the hill at 40mph for about 7 minutes. I wasn’t in aero because there were some random crosswinds, so I chose to ride my top tube instead. After getting to the bottom all that was left was 29 miles of light rollers! However, these would be some of the toughest biking miles of the day.
Going back in I was able to keep 260 watts, but I started running into draft packs. I would pass them on the left, but they would latch onto my wheel, wait a bit, then the entire group would pass me! After getting passed you’re supposed to drop out of the draft zone before you can pass back, so like a good little triathlete I did just that. It went back and forth a few times until I gave up. Luckily a course marshal passed going the other way, and I waved him to the giant group of riders in front of me and he turned around to give them penalties. After they separated I was able to pass them for good, but wouldn’t you know it, another draft pack. The same crap happened again where I’d pass them, but they’d get me back, I’d leave their draft zone then I’d wave down a marshal to give them penalties.
I was grateful to get into town and away from these cheaters, but I knew that since there were so many packs I was going to get slaughtered in the overall rankings by those who got away with it. One thing that made me happy was the penalty tent right before the transition area that was filled to the brim with people.
Bike Time- 2:30:30
Average Power- 265 Watts
Men’s Rank- 389/2380
Actual nutrition: 2 packets of shot blocks, 3 bottles of water, and 1 bottle of Gatorade.
As expected, T2 was a bit painful. I sometimes have this issue with my right foot where I have a really sharp pain on the outside when I bike hard, and the seat height made me point my toes a whole lot more than normal which could have made it worse. Using my bike as a crutch I hopped over to my bag and the transition area. I took some time to put on socks and go to the bathroom, and by the time I got out my foot was good enough to run on again! So I jogged out of the transition area to start my run.
Going out of transition I felt really good. I was hoping for a 1:23 half marathon, which would be hard to pace with all of the hills. But the first two miles I was on track for that time with a grade adjusted pace of 6:10 and 6:12. The third mile is when I started to feel the effects of having my seat too high. My right hip started hurting me, and my right hamstring was cramping up. Aerobically I was doing great, I could have ran even faster, but with the cramping it kept me from letting my legs loose. Because of this I decided that I would just jog the rest of the race at the best pace I could manage.
Every aid station I walked through to grab either a Gatorade or red bull and then take a sip of water. My original plan was to jog through them, but my cramp was slowly getting worse and I didn’t want it to completely seize up on me. For the next few miles I was holding around a 7 minute mile pace, but at mile 9 it finally hit me. My hamstring seized up and I had to pull off to the side of the road to stretch it out.
After a minute I was able to get going again, but I dialed it back even more to keep it from happening again.. Another 2 miles went by before it got me again. I was going down a long hill and it hit me hard. I almost face planted into the cement with how quickly it came on. It hurt so badly to put any weight on it, and I put my hand where it was cramping and could feel the knot pulsating. At this point I was honestly worried I might not be able to finish. After putting some weight on it and stretching it out the cramp had subsided enough to where I could walk on it again. So I walked for a bit before starting to jog again. With only 1.5 miles left there were so many people cheering, and I was jogging along praying that I wouldn’t cramp up and be forced to walk in front of everyone. I made it over the bridge and down the hill to the finish shoot, and could feel the cramp coming back. But I saw my mom, aunt, and Matt’s family at the finish shoot cheering for me and I just kept going. Thankfully it didn’t seize up again, otherwise I would have ended up on the ground this time around. I even got a few high fives and crossed the finish line!
Run Time- 1:33:50
Men’s Rank- 568/2380
Final Time- 4:40:11
Final Rank- 334/2380
Once I crossed the finish line I chatted up some volunteers and then went to get some water and talk with my coach. He was in the first men’s wave of the day so he actually finished right as I was starting the run. After talking I went by the finish line and chugged water and Gatorade until I saw all my friends finish. I went to talk with my mom and then we went back to the house I was staying at for dinner.
Our flight was on Tuesday morning, so we had all Monday to enjoy Tennessee! We found out the Jack Daniels has tours through their distillery so obviously that was on the agenda. The only downside of this tour was that there were over 150 steps and the tasting was at the end. But Matt and I toughed through it and got some whisky to numb the extreme pain we were in from the day before.
Overall I thought it was a very well put together race and I couldn’t have asked for better conditions on race day. All the volunteers were incredibly helpful and did a fantastic job, and even the course marshals were on their A-game. The only thing I wasn’t too thrilled about was the drafting. I know the course marshals did well, but there was so much going on they couldn’t keep up. My average power was 20-40 watts higher than people I normally whoop, but in this race they somehow managed to beat my time off the bike by 5-15 minutes and then come back for a really fast half marathon? Shenanigans. Honest mistakes happen and you can get within 12 meters and not realize it, but when people are sitting right on another’s wheel constantly looking back for motorcycles you know it’s a problem. I thought world championship races like these were an individual test of ability, not a test of who can get away with cheating the most. I’m looking forward to accepting my elite license for next year, I’m going to get my ass kicked, but at least I’ll know it was fairly.
I would of course like to give my thanks to everyone who has helped me to get here. Matt and his family for letting me stay at your place and driving me around. Coach Mace and Tess at MP Multisport for helping me to improve when I was racing at CSU. The volunteers who handed out all the nutrition and made things run as smoothly as possible on race day. The spectators on the side of the road cheering my name, I know you just did it because it was on my bib, but it was much appreciated. My awesome girlfriend for not hating me because I train too much. And of course my mom and aunt for risking a hurricane canceling your flight to see me suffer in Tennessee!
Since I’m no longer on a team I don’t have any sponsors, but I still want to give thanks to Polarbottle, Rocky Mountain Multisport, Roka, and Rudy Project for helping me out when I was a part of CSU triathlon. If anyone is interested in having me rep your gear feel free to get in contact with me! I’m a free agent next year!