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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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)
- 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.
- 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.
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·
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
- 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!”