Category Archives: Ironman

Ironman Chattanooga 2014 – Race Report

After doing my first 140.6-mile Ironman triathlon in 2011, it took three years for me to pull the trigger again and sign up for another. Or more accurately, I should say it took three years for me to be able to convince my wife that I could do it while continuing to be a decent husband and father. It was a BIG task, but I finished the race and I’m still allowed to live at home, so that’s a victory!

My daughter's idea of inspiration.

My daughter’s idea of inspiration.

Knowing what my family sacrificed in order to give me the time I needed/wanted to train properly for this race, I figured I owed it to them and myself to give my absolute best effort on race day. That was my plan. I held out hope of possibly qualifying for a World Championship spot in Kona, Hawaii. I didn’t know exactly what it would take, but the 40-44 age group is typically the most-competitive in the sport. I figured I would need to go at least under 9:50:00 to even have an outside chance at a roll down spot (if someone chooses not to accept a qualifying spot, they give it to the next guy on the list… and so on.)

Unlike in Florida three years ago when just my wife came to the race, this time I was thrilled that my two children would also be there. Chattanooga is a great city and there were a lot of activities to keep them busy while I was racing. I highly recommend this race if you have a family.

kidswater

When I signed up for IMChoo, I knew I wanted to race to the absolute best of my ability. My coach/friend/mentor, Chance Regina of AVC Endurance, put together a GREAT training plan for me leading up to the race. All I had to do was listen to him. This is a lot easier said than done… We started training almost 10 months before the actual race day. He significantly reduced my racing schedule to make sure I stayed healthy and focused on the task at hand. I only raced three times (1 sprint, 1 olympic, and 1 half-iron distance) before Chattanooga. Along the way, we added only one other minor goal… sub-40 at the Peachtree Road Race (goal accomplished). Occasionally I would lob a “hey, what if I did XYZ race…?” question at him. He almost always said “no.” I’m glad I listened to him. By the time Chattanooga rolled around, I was in the best shape of my life — at 43 yeas old — and ready to get after it!

Proud coach (in blue) with AVC athletes (L-R) Tad, me, and Bryan

Proud coach (in blue) with AVC athletes (L-R) Tad, me, and Bryan

The only thing I wish I had done before the race was scout the course… I had planned to ride or run the course several times before the race, but each time a family obligation came up. I promised my wife that I would never let training or racing take precedent over a family activity. Regardless, I spoke with many people who trained on the course and felt I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. The hills on the second-half of the run loop were a bit more than I expected. Thankfully, coach had me run countless hill repeats leading up to race day. I was WELL-prepared for the hills I encountered.

After the race, I sent coach a note recapping the training and race day (I stole the handy template from Tad.) He’s the guy in the Captain American helmet “encouraging”other competitors while riding his bicycle.

Tad sharing bicycle-riding wisdom with Jason.

Tad sharing bicycle-riding wisdom with Jason.


Here is a recap of my training and race day, as told by me to my coach.

Overall Summary:
 VERY pleased with my day. Trained hard, raced hard, had a better result than expected. Rolled the dice and tried for a Kona slot, but it wasn’t meant to be. Swim could have been better, but that’s about the only thing I would improve upon. Even with a faster swim, I still would have been 13th in 40-44 as the 12th place guy was 7 mins ahead of me. I was 19 mins away from the final Kona spot in my AG. That’s a HUGE gap. 20 guys in 40-44 went sub-10, including 7 who went sub-9:30. Winner of 40-44 AG was 2nd-fastest overall amateur. FAST day!

Training: 
Couldn’t have been better. I think I did about 98.5% of the workouts on the calender. The bike miles through the winter paid off BIG time on the run. Your advice of limiting my race schedule to focus on my “A” race was spot on. Having 4 races – Sprint, Olympic, Half, Full – was a perfect race buildup. I came into the race HEALTHY (go figure!) rested and confident. I was ready to get it on.

  • Swim – Training was fantastic. All of my time at Dynamo could not have prepared me better for race day. I had absolutely ZERO concern over it being a non-wetsuit swim. My practice swim in Louisville was a BIG confidence boost, too.
  • Bike – I think this was the single biggest difference in my race. I had fewer run miles than I would have liked, but we avoided injury and built a really strong bike base. When people say “the bike sets up the run” … this is the proof. Late in the ride (about Mile 80), I found myself leading a pack of about 6-8 guys. When I spun easy up one hill to save my legs, several of them surged past me. I quickly caught them on the downhill (because they repeatedly wasted their effort on the uphill and then chose to recover by soft-pedaling the downhill.) Downhill are NOT for coasting! When they then all started switching places and forming a bit of an annoying, rotating pack, I was able to hammer a hard effort for about 90 seconds and dropped most of them for good. I did NOT want to get a penalty after having had pulled them along for about 10-15 miles. Never in a million years did I think I would ever be the guy at the front of the line during an IM bike leg, let alone be the guy who would then be able to drop the group without much concern.
  • Run– Being able to shift my training from the speed work we did early in the tri season and as we geared up for the sub-40 Peachtree goal, worked well. Yes, some of the hills on the second lap of IMChoo course were tough, but not nearly as tough as they could have been. The many days spent doing mile repeats at 6:10/mile pace in the pouring rain at 6 am were harder… 10×3-min hill repeats were harder… the 3-hour trail run at Kennesaw Mountain was harder… I had a full library of mental images and experiences to rely upon to get me through the tough spots.

Race summary: – Thrilled. You knew the goal was sub-10 but I didn’t tell a lot of people that it was my goal because I wasn’t sure I could do it. Then they added 4 miles to the bike and it became a bigger doubt in my mind. Yes, the swim was fast, but I don’t think it completely canceled out the extra bike miles. I still think the bike added about 4 mins to the course when you subtract the swim current. With all of that considered, I still would have come in under 10.

  • Swim:  Ran down the ramp with no hesitation. Tapped the initials I had written on my arm for my mom (3-yr anniversary of her passing) and jumped in without hesitation. As I sank down under the water, I realized somebody might jump on top of me. Luckily, nobody did. Settled into a decent rhythm fairly quickly. How to attack the swim still remains the missing link… I was confident and had no anxiety at all, but trying to gauge the appropriate level of effort is still tough to figure out. I’ve run numerous marathons (and know what my HR/pace numbers should be) and have done countless long rides (again, my data tells me the effort I should be putting out). But without those numbers on the swim and with only one other race-day 2.4-mile OWS under my belt, it’s hard to judge. In the end, I think I could have gone a bit harder and maybe shaved a couple of minutes, but I’m still ok with it. (Wore the Fusion speedsuit under the TYR swimskin. It was a non-wetsuit swim so I had to roll it down under the swimskin and then pull it up on the way to T1) 

    Exiting swim, pulling up Fusion Speedsuit.

    Exiting swim, pulling up Fusion Speedsuit.

  • Bike:  Thought I was going out too hard, but realized that it was just a really fast part of the course. HR was steady at 152 (low zone 3) for the entire ride. I thought about trying to get the avg down under 150, but just rode consistent and steady on the flat sections, focused on not working too hard on the uphill sections and let it fly on the downhills. Mind started to drift a bit in the middle of the ride and really had to re-focus on my nutrition and making sure I stayed hydrated. Went through my 4 bottles of NUUN. Grabbed a water bottle at every single aid station… took BIG gulp of water and tossed the bottle each time. Peed 5 times on the bike… getting really good at this skill. Nailed my nutrition plan throughout the bike.
    bike
  • Run:As we discussed before the race, I thought your initial run plan was a bit too conservative but I understand why. Better to be too conservative than too aggressive when it comes to the marathon distance, especially an IM marathon. Needless to say, when you approached me at the start of the run and told me to roll the dice and start trying to run people down, I was happy to hear it. The fact that I was actually “happy” to know that you were giving me the green light to run harder for an IM marathon says a lot about where my fitness level/state of mind was.
  • Start of the run. (Photo credit: Trijuice.com)

    Start of the run. (Photo credit: Trijuice.com)

    Soon after the above pic was taken by Nick Morales of TriJuice.com (Great seeing you, Nick), coach approached and told me I was 22nd in my AG after a 5:14 ride. He asked how I was feeling. And after a smart ride, I knew was feeling strong and ready to run. We adjusted the run plan on the fly. He told me there were 4-5 guys in my AG just up the road. “Start running them down.” Then the last thing he said as I ran away stuck with me for rest of the run… “Don’t be afraid, Mike. Don’t be afraid!”  I’d never thought about racing like this before. Basically, this was his way of saying “trust your training.” Three years ago, I was capable of going faster, but I was afraid to take a chance of blowing up. My goal this time was different. Have a GREAT race or blow up trying. Either way, I was determined to have NO regrets!

    As the founder of AVC Endurance, coach has a favorite saying: Amat Victroia Curam. Simply put… Victory Loves Preparation. Thanks to him, I was prepared and he knew it.

    I walked many of the aid stations, especially late in the race to make sure I got hydration/fuel. I’m not going to lie… it also gave me a slight mental break from time to time. Probably cost me about 2 mins over the course of the 26.2. this is the ONLY regret I have about my run. Still, I was able to finish strong and I think I might have even negative-split the run… it’s VERY close. First 13 miles = 1:46, second 13 miles = 1:46·       

    Seeing my family on the bridge was AWESOME!

    Seeing my family on the bridge was AWESOME!

    On the second half of the run, I kept seeing another coach on the course with one of his athletes. I must have passed him 5x. The last time I passed him, with about 6 miles to go, he said “AVC, you’re looking stronger every time I see you.” I felt strong, but it was good to hear it. All of the on-course support from all of the ATL-area teams —  All3Sports, Dynamo, TricoachGeorgia, Endurance Concepts, North GA Tri Club — was awesome. Special shoutout to Stacy Sims for the on-course ass-slapping, Kathryn Honderd O’Day for running all over the place blowing her heart out on her green Dynamo Vuvuzela alongside Allen Heaton — the bike whisperer, and AVC athlete FauxRunner, who drove out to cheer everybody on.

    Stacy - OWNING it!

    Stacy – OWNING it!

    Shanks, El Diablo and BPease. 'MURICA! #Hashtag

    Shanks, El Diablo and BPease. ‘MURICA! #Hashtag

    The toughest part of the run came at about Miles 22-24 climbing the hills on the other side of the river. Let’s just say I was happy to see my coach on the hills. His words: “and you thought you were going to suffer out here alone?”

    Based on my math, I knew I would need to finish before 5:48pm to break 10 hours. As I approached the last pedestrian bridge and headed for home, coach approached me again and said “We’re KILLING sub-10. KILLING IT!” (or something along those lines.) and gave me a mighty low-five as I ran by. I could see the joy on his face and the fact that he used the word “we” let me know he was in it with me. I was beyond elated to be able to perform the way I wanted to on race day… and to be able to validate all of the time and training coach and I did together… even though I was not showing the same sort of outward happiness.
    run
    Coming across the pedestrian bridge for the final time, I thought I spotted Herbert Krabel of Slowtwitch.com with his camera. Sure enough, a few days later he posted this pic with the caption… “man on a mission.” That’s exactly how I felt.

    Terminator mode...engaged

    Terminator mode…engaged

    So many things can go wrong on race day. I know I was fortunate to come out on the positive side on this day. Crossing the last bridge, his words of wisdom were “I know you’re in the (pain) cave, but I need you to give me a little something extra!” Man, I HATE it when he’s right! Time to dig a little…Final mile clocked in at 7:17.  I finished with a 3:33 marathon, the 11th fastest time in my AG, and 9:49:55 overall. Looking at this below pic taken by my wife, I’m pretty sure I went after it…

  • exhausted
    My time was 38 mins faster than IMFL in 2011. I was psyched. However, Kona was not to be. I’m ok with that… for now.
    In addition to my improved time, the best part about IMChoo over IMFL was the below picture. It was AWESOME to be able to hug my wife and kids… after I got out of the medical tent, that is.

    Dad was a bit stinky...

    Dad was a bit stinky…

  • Mental: I’ve always believed my mental strength was one of my better traits as a competitor. Maybe this is due to the Napoleon complex I always had from my days of being an “annoying little sh!t” on the ice during my youth hockey days. I guess I tend to adopt the “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog” philosophy. However, with only one IM to my credit, I still had some doubts about how I would react while doing a hard 140.6-mile effort. Happy to say that I won the mental battle on this day. The fact that I could barely walk two days later told me that my mind made my legs do something that they didn’t want to do.
  • Nutrition: No issues. UCan served me well. Felt that I might have been taking in too many solid calories on the bike, so I backed off a bit, but made sure I stayed on top of the hydration plan. Some of the coke on the run was very fizzy, so I was careful about taking in too much carbonation. Had about 3-4 gels late on the run and a salt tab about every 45 mins.

I agree with what Tad told you…  as much as I didn’t want to see you out on the run course, I knew I wanted you out there. You have a way of poking and prodding just enough to drag that extra effort out of me without making me too mad. Your words at the start of the run echoed in my head as I ticked off the miles… “Don’t be afraid!” I think I did a decent job of tossing my fear out the window and went after it as hard as I could have without blowing up. You prepared me well and I consider my race to be a personal victory.

Editor’s note: Soon after I finished, I spent some time in the medical tent getting an IV bag of fluids and a light massage. Soon after, coach found me and gave me a serious hug. I could tell he was happy for me. It was a LEGIT bro hug. I couldn’t help but think of this scene from Jerry Maguire:

 I won’t say never, but as of now I don’t think there will be a next time… at least not at the 140.6 distance. Maybe when I enter the 50-54 AG.  In the meantime, let’s get back to Boston…

Later that night, we tracked AVC athlete Laura B, whom I had coached leading up to her first IM. We soon learned that she had crashed while out on the bike and was out on the run course with a broken arm. I found her on the other side of the pedestrian bridge, running along with her husband. She was in bad physical shape, but determined to finish. Her attitude was perfect… “I’m not dead!” she said. What she went through showed the true spirit of “endurance” sports. It doesn’t really matter how fast or slow you go, it only matters that you give your best effort and don’t quit.

Even Mike Reilly — the voice of Ironman —  was clearly impressed with Laura’s effort as he called out those fateful words… “Laura… You. Are. An Ironman!” And now I know how my coach felt. It was a special moment watching her cross the finish line and a great way to end a special day. As Laura would later say… “BEST. DAY. EVER!”

Laura B getting it DONE!

Laura B getting it DONE!

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Filed under family, Ironman, Triathlon

Ironman Florida Race Report – The Bike

Part II of a four-part series…


After getting my words of wisdom from Coach Chance, I made my way to the “Bike Out” area. As I crossed the mount line, there were plenty of people stopped and throwing their legs over the bike while standing still. What’s up with that? As I’ve learned in my short period of time in triathlon, the “flying mount” is how the cool kids do it.

So, I took a few quick steps, grabbed hold of the handlebars and launched into the air like a flying squirrel in a phone booth. Yet another successful flying mount! The day will come when I completely screw this up and fall flat on my face in front of the gathered masses outside of transition. Today was not that day.

I rocked it!  Just like this kid…

Pedaling out of town I quickly realize how cold it is. Damn, I KNEW I should have grabbed that vest. What a sissy I am. Too late now. I pedal onward. The Ironman Florida bike course is one giant loop that heads out of town in a northeast direction before looping back to town mostly in a southwest direction. On this day the wind was out of the northeast, meaning we rode into a headwind almost the entire way until the turnaround.

My initial goal was to average just over 21 mph for the ride. If I was able to do that, it would put me at about 5:15. I didn’t feel that pace was unreasonable, nor did I think it was too hard to hurt me on the run. I don’t ride with watts (I don’t have a power meter), so I usually end up riding by “feel.” I have a pretty good ability to tell when I’m pushing too hard and know how to use my gears to my advantage.

Into the headwind, I rode a LOT in the small ring with a high cadence to keep the pace up with as little strain on the legs as possible. I make up the difference on any decline by getting as aero as possible and quickly shifting into the big ring and using the terrain of the course to increase my speed. I’m amazed by how many people I see sitting up on the “downhill” sections to stretch, shift in the saddle, etc. That’s what the “uphills” are for! Sure, this course is almost totally flat for 112 miles, but there are a few times when you have to get out of the saddle for a short climb.

I do my best to follow Coach Chance’s orders from our many training rides. I believe it went something like this; “Never get out of aero position unless a tree falls on you!” There aren’t many big trees along the course, so I knew I had little choice but to stay aero for the entire ride.

I had mapped out a pretty simple nutrition plan. I had a 40 oz. Standard Speedfil on the bike half-filled with water. (I grabbed water on the course as I went by aid stations to fill it, as needed.) In my aero bar-mounted 16 oz. bottle I had 350 calories of Carbo-Pro with one tablet of Strawberry Lemonade NUUN.  I had another 16 oz. bottle (with same contents) mounted under the back of my seat. I packed 5 GU Roctane Cherry Lime packets with me and took one every hour. I also took a salt tab every hour. I stashed two extra bottles (with 350 calories Carbo-Pro and a NUUN tablet) in my special needs bag along with a banana and a Crunchy Peanut Butter Clif Bar.

The first 2 hours of the bike went pretty smoothly. I had a small pain on the inside of my left thigh, but I tried to ignore it as best as possible. It felt a little bit like a pulled groin muscle. I hoped it wouldn’t bother me when I got to the run.

Fighting the headwind out of town made it hard to keep my 20 mph goal but I didn’t get too worried about it. I was mostly concerned with saving my legs for the run. As they say, when it comes to having a good Ironman, “it’s ALL about the run!” And that’s good news for me. I love the run! Bring it on.

Because the temperature remained in the 50s for most of the first half of the ride, I wasn’t sweating much and had to make sure I drank my bottles even if I wasn’t thirsty. Most of my calories were in liquid form, so I HAD to get them down. This created a new dilemma for me. As I rode along, I quickly began to realize I was going to “off-load” those same liquid calories. I always wondered if I would be able to pee while on the bike.

Attempt #1

Looked behind me. Coast was clear. I rise out of the saddle and keep pedaling along. I try to think about a babbling brook, the sound of water being poured into a bucket, a strong-flowing waterfall. Nothing … Darn it!

Attempt #2

I stop pedaling and give it another shot. Still nothing… finally, the faucet begins to flow at a slow trickle. At this rate, I figure I should just forget it and stop at a port-a-potty. Nah… I’m not giving up THAT easy.

Attempt # 3

I get to a small downhill section, stand up and coast. Suddenly, I’m having one of those moments you have in college when you’ve had too much to drink. You’re asleep in bed, dreaming that you’re relieving yourself in the bathroom, only to wake up when you realize you’re peeing yourself in bed. (Please tell me I’m not the ONLY one who did that in college!)

That’s what peeing on your bike feels like. It’s mostly a mental game. Your mind is telling you that you’re not supposed to be doing this. Once you win that mind battle, it’s pretty easy. So easy, that I do it three more times. By the fourth time, I’ve become a so good at it, I’m expecting to be awarded Le Short Jaune when I get to T2!

NOTE: After each potty break, I grab a water bottle as I ride through an aid station and spray myself down a little to “clean” up. If I had stopped each time I had to go, it would have cost me about 5 minutes, at the very least. I also would have found it much harder to beat my 10:30 time goal.  (yes, I realize this hardly makes sense to the average person who is still puzzled by the fact that I peed myself… four times. But I wasn’t alone!)

Other than my plethora o’ pee, most of the ride was pretty uneventful.

While I was busy wetting myself, my wife was busy enjoying some much-deserved  margaritas (in a bag.) Classy, I know.

The wife and a puzzled-looking Coach Chance plotting strategy.

One of the highlights on the road was seeing members of the Dynamo Multisport team out on the course. It was easy to spot Team GREEN.  It was also easy to hear them. It’s amazing how much noise a couple of people can make with some vuvuzelas! Thanks for the GREEN love!

After reaching the turnaround, I slowed for a quick stop at the special needs area and swapped out my two empty water bottles for new ones and grabbed the banana and Clif bar out of my bag. I eat the banana and stash the Clif bar for later.

The most annoying part of the ride was seeing several large groups flying by in the other direction when I approached the last turnaround section at Mile 95 on Steelfield Rd. (Note: Steelfield Rd. is awful.  It’s nothing but bumpy and chewed up asphalt for the entire section.) However, this is the only part of the ride with rough road, so I can’t complain too much.

I had been pre-warned about the large packs of riders but still shook my head in disbelief every time I saw a group. What’s the point? I’m sure you rode sub-5 hours and perhaps you snagged that elusive Kona slot. But do you feel good about drafting for half of the race? Personally, I know I wouldn’t feel good about it. At one point early in the ride, I found myself behind a large pack. There was nowhere to go. I had to hang back and wait for a small opening to appear on the left side. When I finally got some space, I had to crank hard to zip past them and get out front. Half of the group was chatting and socializing. Annoying! If you’re going to draft or ride in a pack, go fast enough that other riders don’t have to worry about crossing the double yellow line to get around you while you ride sitting up in your saddle. (End of rant.)

Without question, the absolute worst part of the ride was the final 5 miles into town. With the condos, hotels, tattoo shops and Waffle Houses lining the sides of Front Beach Rd., the wind was whipping extra hard in all directions. Mostly, it was directly into our face. At one point, it turned into a mini-sandstorm. I’m not going to lie, it truly sucked.

By the time I made the final left hand turn and headed towards transition, I was ready to ditch the bike. I’d had enough.

Just at the moment I started to think “holy crap, I still have to run a MARATHON,” I spotted my wife on the side of the road exactly where I told her to be. She was jumping up and down yelling “GO! GO! GO! HONEY! RIDE LIKE THE WIND!” Little did she know…  I was DONE riding like the wind. I officially had had enough of that bike. Get me off of this thing!

I finally reached transition and handed my bike off to a volunteer. (With this being my first IM, I totally forgot somebody was going to take my bike from me.) What a great feeling it was to finally hand her off.

Bike Splits:

BIKE SPLIT 1: 55 mi 55 mi (2:45:15) 19.97 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 2: 95 mi 40 mi (1:46:02) 22.63 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 3: 112 mi 17 mi (51:42) 19.73 mi/h
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi (5:22:59) 20.81 mi/h

My time ranked 308th overall and 57th among 40-44 AGers. Not too bad, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

I attempt to “run” to grab my T2 bag, but I was hurting. It was sort of a shuffle/walk/jog/sashay thing I had going on. I’m a TERRIBLE sashayer. I get my bag and head inside the changing area and plop my sore backside down on a chair. There’s a nice volunteer helping me. What a treat.

I can’t find my CEP socks! (Mini-freak-out.) “Are these them in your shoes?” he says calmly. I was so out of it, I forgot that I had put them in my shoes to make things faster. Gee, that kind of backfired on me. I struggled a little to get the socks on, but I knew I wanted them for the run.

I stand up, put on my Fuel Belt, visor and sunglasses and run out.

My T2 time was 5:42. That’s pretty awful, but I was mentally out of it for a minute or two. That’s my excuse so zip it!

Once I start running out of the Transition area, I find myself quickly getting excited about the fact that I ONLY have a marathon left to run. I’m sure that’s a common feeling for Ironman veterans, but for me, it was very odd. For a split second, I think about what a daunting task it was when I ran my first marathon in 2009. I finished that NYC Marathon in 3:46, blowing up at Mile 20 with nasty hamstring cramps.

Now, almost two years later to the day, here I was starting my first Ironman marathon. My legs felt good. My nutrition was solid. I was ready to get after it. My run goal: beat that NYC marathon time! On top of that, I wanted to cross the finish line in under 10:30.

As I stride under the “Run Out” banner with renewed focus and determination, I look down at my right hand with the initials of my wife and kids written on it. I then look at my left hand and the words “Eat That Pain!” I was ready.

I make the turn East on South Thomas Drive and let out a quiet, barely audible “Let’s get it ON!”

Photo Credit: NL4S.com

To be continued…

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Ironman Florida Race Report – The Swim

It has taken me almost a week since Ironman Florida to finally sit down and begin my race report. After reading similar reports from many others, I have decided to break it up into three parts, the swim, bike and run. (It will actually be four parts, but I will get to that later).

Over the past several months, I swam countless miles at Dynamo Swim Club in Chamblee, GA. with Maria Thrash and Matt Rose, arguably two of the best triathlon/masters swim coaches in the country (check the results of superstar Kona-qualifying triathletes like Haley Chura,  Betty Janelle and Kathryn Honderd as well as Matt, himself). I can’t put into words what this training meant to my preparation for my Ironman debut.

It was a HUGE mental boost. My main goal when it came to the event’s swim portion can be summed up in one word: Confidence. I was never focused on my overall speed or time. Mostly, I didn’t want to be scared or worried when I stood on the beach staring out into the ocean. Knowing that there was no way to predict what the ocean conditions would be like, I wanted to be ready for whatever I faced.

My wife and I arrived in Panama City Beach on Thursday afternoon, two days before the race. I knew I wanted to get into the water as soon as possible. The waves were BIG and the wind was strong.  As I prepared for this day, I leaned HEAVILY on the advice of Chance Regina,  a good friend/bike expert/motivator/coach  and 2009 Ironman Florida finisher. Basically, I did whatever he told me to do. If he had told me to put my wetsuit on backwards because the current was going in the opposite direction than we expected, I would have done it… without question.

Shanks, Chance, me

So, two days before race, staring at big swells and a windswept ocean, we dove in and fought the waves for about 20 minutes. It was a TOUGH swim. When we got a moment to catch our breath, I could only think of one thing; “It couldn’t possibly be any worse on race day.” As hard as the practice swim was, I never felt scared or out of my element. This was a good sign and I owe that confidence to folks like Maria and Matt. The next morning, me, Chance and Shanks, another friend from Dynamo, jumped in the ocean again. This time, it was under much calmer conditions. After this swim, I knew I was ready!

Race-Morning FINALLY arrived.

I slept pretty well from 9 pm – 3 am. My plan was to get up at 4:30, eat something and meet Chance at 5:30. So much for that plan. I was wide awake at 3. That was as much sleep as I was going to get. Ignoring my coach’s advice, I walked down to transition soon after it opened to drop my stuff off and get body marked.

Photo credit: Haley Chura

Along the way, I saw Haley — who drove down with the DynaMafia — to cheer everybody on. She took this fabulous pic of me dropping off my special needs bags.

I then walked back to meet Chance, who gave me grief for deviating from “the plan” even before I stepped foot onto the beach. What can I say, coach? I was anxious, nervous and ready to get it on!

My wife slept in for a little bit and planned to meet us on the beach at about 6:30. I tried to relax and hung out with other members of the DynaMafia until it was GO time. While waiting, my main goal became trying to go to the bathroom. I needed to clean out the system and was having some issues. Finally, I found an available port-a-potty outside and BOOM! Mission accomplished.

DynaMafia (photo: Ernie Janelle)

Upon hearing this news, team GREEN was all smiles.

Clearly, they were proud.

After getting my wetsuit on, I was ready to walk out to the beach to meet my wife. Just then, Matt (3rd from the right) grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and leaned in (he’s a handsome man, but I was getting a bit uncomfortable at this point) and quietly said in my ear; “no matter what, I want to see a LOT of smiling out there.” Noted.

His words really relaxed me. It was just what I needed to hear. I was ready, but I was still nervous. I wanted to do well, but I also wanted to have fun. Matt made sure to remind me that Ironman/triathlon is supposed to be fun! Yes, that might sound crazy to non-endurance athletes, but this sport has been a barrel on monkeys (I always loved that expression) since I first got involved in it two years ago.

Chance and I walked out to the beach where we met up with my wife. We talked for a bit and she took a few pics.

Moments before the cannon went off, Chance had a few last words of advice. “STICK TO THE PLAN!” was the general theme. He told me to start wide on the left. With the race announcer telling everybody that the current was moving from right to left, I was tempted to go to the right with everybody else. I started to make my way over there when the words echoed in my head. “STICK TO THE PLAN!” Back to the left I went like a good boy. BOOM! The cannon went off.

I actually found myself in this guy’s video: 53 seconds into it, I appear briefly in the lower left part of the video wearing white goggles. (4th guy from the left).

I was in the water with the first wave. Our goal was to keep me clear of the fracas. We wanted open water and I found it. Smart coach. I stayed left until I approached the turn buoy. With about 100 meters to go, I slowly made my way to the right to get around the buoy. It was chaos, but I knew it would be. I remained calm, found my line (we were staring directly into the sun) and continued on. I saw several people cutting the buoy on the inside. LAME. Another turn and we headed for the beach. My sight line was the left side of the condo complex on the beach. No problem. I wasn’t going very hard at all, but I was smooth. Most of all, I was confident.

(Photo: Ernie Janelle)

I continued swimming until my fingers touched the sand. As soon as I got up, I look for my wife. Amazingly, I quickly found her and give her a high-five as I ran by. (NOTE: In 2008, my wife and I had a friend who passed away during the swim leg of the Gulf Coast Tri. This was the EXACT same swim course. I knew my wife would be nervous so I wanted to make sure she knew I was ok. I thought of him while I was in the water. I knew he was at peace.)  I then see Masters Coach extraordinaire Maria in the crowd and give her a quick shout out.  Lap 1: 34 minutes.

Lap 2: Before getting back in the water, I ran as far down the beach as possible and enter WAY on the right side. Because almost everybody else got back in the water immediately, running clear of them gave me a LOT of open water. That college education was finally paying off!

The second lap was a bit slower for me. I wasn’t concentrating on my stroke as much and found myself wavering all over the course. Maria would be soooo disappointed. Finally, I reached the shore for the second time, stood up and made my way up the beach. I ran past the clock without checking the time. Doh! I make a quick u-turn and see 1:12. My conservative goal was 1:15, so I’m not too upset by this. However, I KNOW I could have gone harder. A sub-1:10 swim is certainly doable. Heck, with a little more effort, a 1:05 is not out of question. My main goal for my first IM swim was to get through it without freaking out. I accomplished that.

I run past the wetsuit strippers, per coach’s advice. (you have to sit down on the beach for this.) If you get some sand in the wrong place, you’re in for a long day on the bike.  I find a spot on the boardwalk and yank the suit off.

Post-swim showers (photo: Ernie Janelle)

On my way into the changing room, I run past Shanks, who does his best @ClydeWattsimpression. “COME ON BIG BALLS! GET SOME!” Then it’s Matt. “YEEAAAH! COME ON MIKEY! GO GET IT!” I try to show him my biggest and best smile.

I run in. Shoes on, helmet, glasses, arm warmers, done. I later regret not taking my vest. It was COLD at the start of the bike. I run out.

I have to run all the way down to the FAR end to get my bike. My wife had positioned herself on a hillside nearby. I spot her and give her a shout to make sure she sees me. I grab Linda and we’re off towards the bike exit. I then realize that I didn’t have my race bib on and have to stop to ask a volunteer to get it out of my run bag for me. This coasts me about 10-15 seconds. Rookie mistake.

As I leave the bike exit, I run past Chance.  “Good swim. Now stay on top of your nutrition. Ride smart. Every 5 minutes gained on the bike, is 25 minutes lost on the run.” Noted coach. I mount up and ride out. I’m smiling!

To be continued…

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Carol A. Buteau (1942-2011)

Hi folks,

I don’t want to fill up too much of this page with a lot of detail about my mother’s recent passing. I will just say that it impacted me more than I ever thought it would. As a result, I wanted to try to do something to honor her.

This is my idea. It’s not much, but it’s something that I think my mother would  be really proud of.

Thanks for reading.
– Mike

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Augusta 70.3 — “EAT THAT PAIN!”

After months and months of training, the time had finally come for me to put my hard work to the test in my first half Ironman.

It came as a surprise to some friends that I train with that I had never done a 70.3 race before. I train a lot, but with a wife, two kids, and a full-time job etc., entering a lot of races is not always an option. Therefore, I have to pick my spots and make the most of it when I finally reach the starting line. I had every intention of laying it all on the line on this day.

While Ironman Florida remains the overall goal, Augusta would be a good “dry run” for my IM distance debut in November. Most of all, I needed to get my pacing and nutrition dialed in and see how my body reacted.

Living near Atlanta, it’s a short 2 1/2-hour drive to Augusta, so I was able to just pack all of my gear in my car and not have to worry about an airline losing my luggage.


I arrived on Saturday afternoon for Sunday’s race and checked in with some friends who were nice enough to let me stay with them. After registering, I picked up a new pair of my favorite K-Swiss K-Ona shoes from Alex at the All3Sports booth at the Expo took a quick spin on my bike to make sure it was dialed in and then dropped it off in transition.

Unfortunately, my wife and kids were unable to come to the race, but thankfully there were plenty of members of my “Tri family” in town. Many of them were competing, while others had come out just to cheer others on. It was a great atmosphere. Dinner at Carraba’s on Washington Rd. featured appearances from the “Gypsies” from North Augusta . Very odd. There were about 50 women — of ALL ages — dressed like this:

We had no idea what was going on, so I decided to walk up to one of the teenage girls and say: “Ok, so I’ve got to know… what’s going on?” She stared at me and said “It’s a pageant.” Hmmm… “For all ages?” I asked. She stared at me again, rolled her eyes, and said “YES.” It was clear that I was not supposed to be talking to her. Her mother was giving me the evil eye. Crazy stuff.

After finally getting seated, we got another surprise appearance from the man, the myth, the legend #Slayer @ClydeWatts. He’s a big dude with an even bigger heart. He rolled into town a day after winning the Clydesdale division of the Tugaloo Triathlon. The man knows how to throw down! However, he got chicked by Yvonne by 11 seconds in their charity race against each other.

If you’re gonna get chicked, it better be for a good cause!

Race day arrived early on Sunday. My wave (wave 11 – Male 40-44) didn’t hit the water until 8:12 so I had plenty of time to get myself set up in Transition. I remembered to pack almost everything, but forgot a towel to lay my gear on, so I had to use my small grease-covered towel I use while working on my bike. There are worse things to forget, I guess.

Before making my way down to the dock at the Savannah River, I killed some time with youngsters Katie, Scott and Shanks. Katie and Scott were also making their 70.3 debuts, while Shanks — a well-respected, fun-loving, rail-thin triathlon coach for Endurance Concepts — was a veteran of many races.

Here he is in all his glory winning this year’s “Muddy Buddy” in grand style…

When the start times were announced, I saw that Shanks’s 7:48 start time was 24 minutes ahead of mine. I joked during the week (mostly it was just me joking… he just tolerated my “trash” talk) that he would be my rabbit and I would try to catch him. I wasn’t entirely sure if this was possible, but it was worth a shot. It gave me a goal to shoot for. I planned on staying within my race plan, but if I saw him on the course, I was going to try to catch him.

THE SWIM:

The Savannah River isn’t the cleanest body of water in the world, that’s for sure. But man, it sure has a fast current. After working hard to improve my swim with Maria Thrash and Matt Rose at Dynamo Multisport 3-4 times/week, I thought I might be able to cover the distance in 25 minutes. No such luck. I got caught up behind a small crowd of other slower swimmers at the start and had to work harder than expected to find some open water. I headed over to the right side of the river to get some space. This turned out to be a “safe” move, but I don’t think I chose the fastest part of the river. It seemed that the larger group towards the middle were moving faster. Oh well. I had a comfortable spot and was able to “stretch out” as a I swam without having to worry about getting kicked and elbowed.

I felt that I did a better job of getting my heart rate/breathing settled down after the start and was able to get into a steady rhythm after about 200 yards. I owe this to Maria’s workouts. She kicks our ass with her simulated sprint starts during workouts, but this really helped on race day. Thanks Maria!

By the end of the swim, I had caught several swimmers in the group ahead of us and exited the water feeling pretty good about my 26:43 time. Out of about 3,200 competitors, I ranked 566th and was 96th out of more than 550 in my AG. This was MUCH better than my usual middle-of-the-pack swim times.

TOTAL SWIM TIME: 26:43 As a bonus, I was 35 seconds faster than the youngster Shanks.

I sprinted out of the water, skipped he wetsuit strippers and made my way over to my bike. The run to the bike was about 500 yards on grass. Not too bad. I fumbled a bit getting the wetsuit off. Strapped the helmet on, put an extra tire sealant in the back shirt pocket and headed to the Bike Out sign (Note to self, spray the wetsuit with cooking spray before the race next time, or stop at the wetsuit strippers).

T1 TIME: 3:43 (picked up another whole SECOND on Shanks)

With my shoes clipped in, I decided to try out the “Flying mount” on the bike to save a few seconds putting my shoes on. I crossed the mount line running, grabbed the handlebars and threw my leg over the saddle in mid-stride. Bam! I nailed it without falling on my face. Damn, I must have looked like a total stud to the people standing on the side of the road. If only they knew what a dork I was.

After getting my shoes strapped on, I followed the advice of my “adviser” @BlueChance and focused on spinning an easy gear to get my legs warmed up before gradually increasing the effort.


The bike course is beautiful. It’s a mix of long flat sections, some rolling hills and a few small climbs. Many people describe it as “hilly”, but it was flat compared to where I’m used to riding. I worked my shifters through the entire ride and never really felt that I was pushing too hard, despite averaging a 22.91 mph pace. The key was to spin the gears in the small ring on the uphills and push a bigger gear on the flats and descents (but not too hard). As soon as I could feel that I was straining my quads, I shifted to an easier gear and increased my cadence to maintain the same speed.

The only issue came at about Mile 40 when I felt a small cramp in my leg. I stretched it out and was able to get a salt tab from another guy on the course. (I had forgotten to put my salt tabs in the bento box on my bike. Note to self: Don’t forget to do that on IM day.)

TOTAL BIKE TIME: 2:26:39. I moved up in my AG from 96th to 17 and picked up 17:33 on Shanks. I had no idea how fast he rode, but I felt good on my bike and was ready to run. I had a feeling I might see him on my way to the finish line.

After dismounting the bike, I threw on my socks, shoes and a visor and made my way to the Run Out exit.

T2: 2:10 (made up 12 more seconds on Shanks.)

RUN: The run course in Augusta is two loops winding through the streets of the downtown area. I’ve heard that this is the best part of the race because there is so much on-course support. The pre-race talk lived up to the hype. There were people everywhere. It was great.

My legs felt really good coming off the bike and I was ready to attack. Oops. That was a mistake. I tried to keep my pace at about 8 min/mile, but did a bad job of sticking to the plan. LAP ONE PACE: 7:12/mile. LAP TWO PACE: 8:40/mile. Oops.

After the race, I tried to think about why and here’s what I came up with… there was a 6-foot-4, 210-pound dude in the middle of the road at the intersection of Broad and 10th Streets screaming at me to go faster! (Just kidding Slayer).

The big man was aware of my desire to chase down Shanks. He also knew that I needed to be smart and not blow myself out too early. Still, when he ran alongside me and informed me that I was closing the gap, I got a bit over-excited.

Slayer: “You need anything?”
Me: “Yeah, water.”
Slayer: “Hold on.” (runs over to girl standing nearby with bottled water in hand and grabs it away from her. She’s baffled by this turn of events. Slayer: “I’ll get you a new one!”)
Slayer: (Runs back to me with the bottle) “Here you go.”
Me: “Thanks dude!”

Soon after this, I spot Shanks on the other side of the road at a turnaround section. He sees me and we both point at each other. I try to keep a straight face, but inside I’m smiling. IT’S ON LIKE DONKEY KONG!

The course winds around a couple more times before heading down a long straightaway section. By this point, I figure my rabbit is less than 1/2 mile in front of me. Off in the distance, I spot him. It give me some new life. I pick up the pace a little.

I’m not sure he knows that I’m closing in on him, but I suspect he has also been getting updates from Slayer and other friends along the course. As we approach Mile 10, I’m within 100 yards of Shanks, aka “the translucent one” There’s an aid station around the corner. If he walks it, I know I’ve got him. Sure enough, he slows to grab some water. I give him a tap on his skinny ass as I pass him. At that moment, Josh, another friend and Endurance Concepts athlete, is yelling at Shanks: “MIKE’S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!”
It’s too late, the pass has been made ( BTW, Josh I NEED a copy of the pic you took .)

Truth be told, this whole “race” was very friendly. My “competitor” even told me before the race that he would cheer me on if I caught him. Like everybody involved in triathlon, he wants to see everybody give the best effort they have and challenge themselves to achieve lofty goals. After all, it’s not like the two of us are racing for money. However, that doesn’t change the fact that I was “WINNING” with about 3 miles to go!

Shanks quickly settles in off of my left shoulder as we make our way down Broad St. — the main drag in downtown Augusta. Now, we’ve got ourselves a race! We’re approaching 10th Street. I know very well what this means. Slayer is waiting for us up ahead.

This time, there is a crowd of about 10 people gathered along the side of the road. When my man spots me in the lead, all hell breaks loose. (Editor’s note: if you have ever noticed on Twitter, my name is listed as “MikeyBB”. The reason for that is simple. I was given this name by Slayer himself two years earlier,when I met up with him for this century ride. The “BB” stands for… ahem, pardon my French … “Big Balls”.

Picture this: A 6-foot-4 man with a shaved head standing in the middle of the road screaming: “LOOK OUT, THERE’S A SET OF BIG BALLS COMING THROUGH!”

Part of me was laughing, the other part of me was scared for the children standing nearby. Heck, I was scared for myself. As we make our way down the street, there are friends yelling and cheering “COME ON SHANKS! COME ON!”
Damn, this was fun… but man, I was almost out of gas. I turn over my left shoulder and say to Shanks: “Man, I’m dyin’. This hurts.” He utters something like: “Too fast or too slow?” I have no idea what this means and it hurts my brain to even try to figure it out, so I just keep running.

By the look on my “rival’s” face, I wasn’t the only one whose brain was hurting…
Eventually, I can feel that I have opened a little gap, but I’m still afraid to look over my shoulder. MUST NOT SHOW WEAKNESS. We approach a turnaround and I grab a cup of ice and throw it down my shorts … Ahhhhhh! Grab a sponge and squeeze it over my head… grab a cup of water and drink it down…. keep running… don’t look back.

I make my way down the other side of Broad Street and try to maintain a steady pace, but I’m really starting to hurt. I’m fading. My only “hope” is that I’m not suffering alone. I keep running… 7th street, 8th street, 9th street… 10th Street… there he is in the middle of the street again… “COME ON BIG BALLS!”

It’s clear that Slayer can see the pain on my face. I run long sections with my eyes closed to try to escape the pain. When I open my eyes, there’s a screaming bald man running directly to my left.

“COME ON BIG BALLS! EAT THAT PAIN! EAT THAT PAIN!!!”

I try to ignore him… yeah RIGHT! As if that could ever happen. He was literally yelling right into my ear. I still fear that Shanks is gaining on me.

I round the final two corners and head to the finish line area. I attempt to pick up my pace a little, but my hamstrings were having no part of that noise. I cross the line in 4:43:06. My goal was to break 4:45, so I’m very happy with my day. I finished 9th in my AG. I was psyched to get a Top-10 finish in my first-ever 70.3. Augusta is also the biggest half Ironman race in the country.

See that look on my face? That’s what I like to call “Painful Satisfaction”.

When I cross the line, I nearly faint. Two volunteers throw my arms over their shoulders and help me into the medical tent. I lay there for about 20 minutes until my heart rate comes down and I no longer feel like I’m going to pass out.

When I finally get to my feet, I spot Shanks on his back in a cot behind me. He came in with a total time of 5:11:16. (1:10 behind me) By the look on both of our faces, it was clear… we left it all on the course on this day.

After leaving the tent, I grab some food, get a massage and make my way over to 10th and Broad St. Unfortunately, my lead cheerleader had already departed to get back home to his family. As I recover, I hang out for a couple of hours with several other members of the Dynamo, All3Sports and Endurance Concepts teams and cheer other competitors along the course. What a great group of people. What a great day!

Sadly, three days after the race, my world gets turned upside down as my mother (who has been in a hospital in Maine battling an illness) unexpectedly passes away.

As you can imagine, this is crushing news. However, I know I can attribute the fighting spirit I showed on the course in Augusta to her. She fought for everything she had in life and truly made the most of the time she had here on earth. I’d like to think she would have been proud of her son on this day.


I will miss you mom and will honor you every day by giving the best effort I can, on and off the race course.

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