“Not feelin’ it”
There’s a standing joke between friends and me that when I say that I am “Not feelin’ it” I tend to have a good race. Leading up to the race, people asked if I was ready and I truly did not feel ready for this race. I’ve been suffering Achilles issues for the better part of a year and a half, and I never felt like I fully recovered from my race in Chattanooga in September. That was a breakthrough race for me, and I knew this course was going to be much harder. I felt like I was much stronger on the bike back then than I felt for this race. Also, this race is on a course I did four months after my bike crash, so my perception of it was colored by that experience. My swim training just seemed so so leading up to the race. However, my Achilles issues seemed to subside around the beginning of June, and I was able to get a solid block of run training in. My coach and I decided to keep my running intensity low and not run on consecutive days.
On the positive side, my Tri club teammate Patrick McDeed, whom we planned to stay with for the race decided to come to the race despite breaking his collarbone about six weeks earlier. It was really helpful to have his calming presence leading up to and after the race. It’s good to have someone that has an idea of what you are going through mentally leading up to the race. Thanks, Patrick!
I also got to see another club team member, Paul Rolanti, complete his first Ironman. I saw Paul when I was a mile or two into my second loop. That was kind of uplifting as well.
A word of warning, this report is really long and more about my perceptions of what I was doing during the race. I do have a recap at the end of things I changed from my last race and things I need to change at end of the report. I think the thing that separates a good race from a bad race is training consistently to get you to race day and then it’s all about managing all the curveballs you face during the day and either figuring out how to overcome them or resetting your expectations. There were plenty of times I could have let the curveballs get to me, but then I think about “how bad do I want it” and come up with strategies to get me past the sucky parts.
“Not Feelin’ It” didn’t stop me from racing hard. It was more about my confidence in my abilities at the moment I was asked. Once I’m in the race, I can do things beyond what I thought I was capable of. That’s why it’s so fun.
I was late to line up for the swim despite arriving with plenty of time to check my bags, drop off my bike special needs bag and put my wetsuit on. I had to squeeze through many people to work my way up to the 1:00 to 1:10 finishers group. My coach always tells me to seat myself further up because of all the people I have to swim through, but I struggle to do that because I don’t want to be just another person other people have to go around. This time, I put myself in the middle of that group, and I still had to swim through a few people, but not as much as I usually do.
The first loop was pretty uneventful. I felt strong and didn’t have to do much maneuvering until I hit the turn. About 500 yards out, I was able to find someone going straight and at a good speed for me to draft off of. I was able to draft until we got closer to the turn into the beach. Then there were a bunch of people to maneuver around, and I lost some time there, but my watch said I was at around 33 minutes.
Getting out of the water and re-entering to start loop #2 was not as challenging to my balance as I thought it would be. I did take it easy when I started back in the water because I was nervous about my heart rate spiking. I also seemed to be heading away from the buoys when I started, so I navigated back toward the buoy line. I’m not sure that was a great idea, though, because the volume of people in the water made it feel like a washing machine. I felt like I was going nowhere for much of the second loop and could not find anyone to draft off of. I also had to quickly dodge a number of people doing the breaststroke, so I didn’t get kicked in the head or the side. I had the same issue getting around the turn for the beach and ended up finishing in 1:10:33, so I lost a little over 6 minutes on the second loop and was a little disappointed with my swim.
Transition #1: 7:08
I was out of the water and on the bike course in 7:08 according to my watch. I’m using my watch times for transitions because my official results seem to be the opposite of my watch times.
I pulled off my wetsuit top on my way out of the water. To the disappointment of the wetsuit strippers, I skipped them and made my way to transition to find my bike bag. I didn’t want to risk any damage to my wetsuit for the few seconds it would have saved me from getting it stripped off. I put on sunscreen and gear and headed to my bike. I had a lower number, so I was towards the bike exit and didn’t have to run very far with it. TrainingPeaks had my total transition distance at .82 miles, but it was a little less than that because I didn’t hit the lap button on my watch right away after starting the bike. I was preoccupied with the guy behind me telling me “Go. Go.” and getting my Garmin 520 started. Funny thing, the guy who was aggravated with me not leaving in his time frame never passed me. At least not while it was still top of my mind.
In the month and a half leading up to the race, I had terrible luck with my bike training. At a training camp in June, I went out for a 130-mile ride around Lake Placid and managed to get four flats in the order of front, back, front, back, and my Garmin, with the route directions, died at mile 48. I had enough phone battery to use that for directions, but it made it slow going to stop periodically to figure out where to turn. My rear derailleur cable also started fraying halfway through, and I was worried about snapping it and turning my bike into a single-speed on some hilly roads I had yet to encounter. As a result, I did not ride the course the following day and didn’t really have a good sense of what I would encounter on the course other than the Keene descent. Unfortunately, that was under construction back at the beginning of June, so that experience wasn’t very helpful. I continued to have issues after camp with flats, despite new tires. I ended up buying a new tire at Ironman village because on my ride before leaving home to drive to Lake Placid; I discovered two pieces of wire firmly embedded in my tire. Why I didn’t flat, I don’t know, but I didn’t want to risk it. I also had derailleur issues on my long training rides, so my confidence with my bike was at an all-time low.
My plan for the bike was to follow a workout I created using Best Bike Splits to keep my bike in check and not go too hard. I did not want a repeat of what happened in Chattanooga in September, where I suffered a cramp fest in the middle of the run. I believe that was due to going too hard on the bike. As luck would have it, the workout didn’t appear on my screen despite enabling it when I was setting up my bike in transition earlier that morning. My power meter also wouldn’t connect and was in and out for about the first two hours, so I rode by feel.
About 6 miles into the ride at the Bobsled Run Lane, the rolling resistance seemed to increase, and my bike felt kinda springy. I was convinced I had a flat, but I decided to keep going just to make sure I wasn’t imagining it. I’ve stopped in races thinking I had a flat, but it was just a change in the road conditions. I passed the aid station and went back to the main road. The smoother pavement felt much better, and I was glad I didn’t stop.
I made it down the Keene descent without any issues. I braked a bit because I still wasn’t convinced I would not have tire issues and didn’t want to be doing 50 and get a flat. I managed to hit 44.7 on the first descent and 43.6 on the second. I’m not super confident in my descending skills.
On River Road, despite my inclination to do so, I made a concerted effort not to go hard. I love going hard on roads like that, and when I did the half back in 2017, I definitely burned a match or two on that section. It was shorter than I remembered, but I felt good, and then it was off to the climb in Jay. I also took this easier than I normally would.
I made it through the first lap without any issues. My wife and NEMSmembers were waiting at the tent set up on Mirror Lake Drive, and I gave them a wave as I went by. No flats or bike issues on the first go-round.
The second loop was going pretty well up until mile 85 or 90. I really had to pee and wasn’t able to empty my bladder. I could feel myself slowing down more and more on my way out of the Jay out and back and up through the Wilmington notch. I decided I couldn’t wait any longer and pulled off at the next aid station to use the portalet. I peed for an eternity and emerged a new person from the hot, stinky blue box a new person. I felt great after getting back on the bike, and the rest of the ride back into Lake Placid was no longer a slog. Although it did seem like all the turns and turnarounds were placed much farther away than in the first loop.
I finished the bike with a volunteer becoming really annoyed with the speed at which I approached the dismount line. I was just making sure I didn’t stop too far away from the dismount line. That and I knew my brakes were working pretty well. I finished the bike in 6:25:36, about 7 minutes slower than Best Bike Split had me at. I thought that was pretty good for going by feel and stopping to pee five bike bottles worth of liquid.
Transition #2: 7:42
I made it off my bike without my quads locking up, something that has happened in my last two 140.6s. My nutrition plan and holding back on the bike seemed to have paid off up until this point. I’ll add more about those two in my recap of what worked and what didn’t for this race.
I stopped halfway on the path to the bags to take my bike shoes off so I could jog to the bags. I grabbed my run bag and made my way to the changing tent. I took off my aero calf sleeves because I knew it would be hot. On the bike, the sun had started to go behind the clouds a bit, but the wind seemed to alternate between feeling like a blow dryer to a mix of cooler breezes. The hot wind seemed more prevalent.
I drank my 8 ounces of First Endurance Prerace that I left in my bike bag. It was the temperature of hot tea but not remotely as tasty. I put on some sunscreen and made my way out of the tent to start my run.
The sun was out in full force when I emerged from the tent, but I was ready to run. I concentrated on taking short strides and realized that I was likely going to be faster than I wanted because I was going downhill for a while. I used my heart rate as a guide to tell me to slow down. I was hitting 142 bpm to start, which was a little high, but it usually is when I transition from the bike to the run. My threshold is 150 bpm, so I was well below that and not in trouble. I wanted to run somewhere between 9:00 and a 9:30 mile. My first half mile was a 7:55 and my first mile was 8:48. That was fast for me, but I knew it would drop once the road flattened out down on River Road, and sure enough, it did.
For most of the first 10 miles, I focused on following the white line when I could, going around people when I needed to. In Chattanooga, I started cramping around mile 8 and struggled with cramps for about 8 miles. For this race, I was cramp free and much more on top of my nutrition. I walked through each aid station and made sure to take in water, Gatorade, and Maurten gels when they fit my 30-minute schedule for gels. I stayed away from the caffeine version for the first 2 hours of the run since I had taken the PreRace to start the run. That has 200 mg of caffeine per serving. I also mixed in two licks of base salt every three aid stations until I dropped it somewhere on the course.
Around mile 13, I started taking Red Bull. Red Bull helped me turn around my race in Chattanooga, and I continued to stay away from the caffeine Maurten. My original plan was to only walk through the aid stations, but the climb from River Rd. back into town just seemed like it would burn too many matches if I jogged. So, for the first climb segment, I walked until it flattened out. For the second climb up to the gas station, I heard a coach telling people to power walk up the hill, and it would help them keep going. So, I used the power walk strategy for this section and the repeat on the second lap.
Seeing everyone out on Mirror Lake Dr. was energizing until I got past the run special needs area. The turnaround seemed like it should have been closer to the 25.1 mile sign. Running back through the crowd was energizing, but I knew I wasn’t going to reach my goal of maintaining a 9:30 pace. So I reset my goal to stay close to 10-minute miles knowing that I would power walk the two hills climbing back into town off River Rd.
Around mile 18, my hands started tingling, and I knew I had been consuming too much caffeine. My nutrition schedule of taking in a gel every 30 minutes also fell off; no idea when. The gels we left out on the aid station tables, baking in the sun and trying to choke one of those down was slightly less than appealing to me somewhere during the run. At this point, my quads started to feel pretty sore, and I was feeling some soreness in my left hamstring. But to my surprise, NO CRAMPS.
So from mile 18 to the finish, it was a battle to choke down some gels, try red bull here and there when my hands stopped tingling, and find ways to get salt in me. One aid station broke out the chicken broth, but it was only one station, so I drank that and felt a little better.
I tried stopping to pee around mile 20 but got dizzy shortly after closing the door of the portalet. It was just too hot in there, and I decided the real possibility of taking a blue bath wasn’t high on my bucket list. I left and resumed following the white line back to the Olympic Oval. Power walking the hills and running whenever there was a crowd of people.
I saw my wife and teammates on my run to mile 25.1, and just like the ride, someone moved the turn around further down the road.
Running past the changing tents, I picked up the pace and passed a few people. Then I saw my wife yelling out to me before the final turn and ran harder. At least, I thought I was sprinting. When I later saw the video she took of me finishing, my pace was just a steady jog. I finished with a 4:32:05 marathon, a new PR for me by over 12 minutes. I watched the Pro race recap and listened to Matt Lieto say that you shouldn’t expect to get a marathon pr on this course, so that was pretty gratifying.
I finished with an overall time of 12:24:01, 15th in my age group and 390th overall. This was my best age group placement in a full distance. I was pretty happy with my performance and figuring out my nutrition so that I didn’t cramp on the run. I think holding back on the bike contributed to that as well.
In talking with my club teammate Patrick after the race, he thought I might have a chance to get a Kona slot, so Sandra and I went to the awards ceremony the following day. We listened in amazement to some of the times people had to podium for their age groups. Then the roll down came for my age group. Two of the three slots went to guys in the top ten, and the third was passed by 3-4 people who started getting closer to me. Sandra had to turn around, saying she couldn’t look at Mike Riley anymore. Then, he called out the 12th place finisher, and he jumped up and said he was taking the slot. So close….. I am very motivated to train better over the next year after that experience.
What I did differently from my last race:
1. I improved my nutrition and increased sodium intake, so I didn’t cramp on the run.
I decided I wasn’t going to carry all my drinks and gels on my bike and swap them out at special needs. I tried doing Gatorade only on my 130 ride in Lake Placid Training camp, and, like my ride in general that day, it was a disaster. I did a high concentration mix in one bottle, carried water in the other bottle, and practiced mixing it in my between-the-arms bottle. I didn’t mark the bottle I used correctly, so the not-so-precise squeeze was not what I thought (a 7th of the bottle). The mixing part wasn’t so bad, but the Gatorade was revolting after about 3 hours of what turned out to be an 8-hour ride with all my mechanical issues and the need to check the map on my phone at every turn.
My next high concentration test was on a 5:30 hr ride, marking a clear bottle into seven even sections using a ruler and switching back to regular EFS with some added Base Salt – 1 scoop per serving. I measured the bottle standing upright and discovered that was pretty stupid since seven servings were slightly less than the full bottle. So when you tip it over, the lines didn’t line up with the contents of the bottle. I figured I just go light on one serving and make up for it on later mixes. It happened to be in the 90s and very humid that day, and my mistake was amplified when I hit mile 80. The mix felt light all day, and I was using Maurten gels and didn’t realize the sodium content of those was much lower than the Powerbar gels I have used for years. The end result was that I cramped up after passing a roadie to try and power up a hill. I’m sure that annoyed him. I made it another ten miles before starting to feel dizzy and cramping badly. I stopped, and my quads locked up as soon as my feet touched the ground. I stood there with my legs locked and frozen in pain. Once they were released, I found refuge behind a 2-foot high bush and got down on all fours to get out of the sun. After 10 minutes of trying to will myself back on the bike and finish the 9 miles I had left, I relented and called my wife to pick me up. While on the phone, I saw a bobcat walk across the lawn of a Church across the street. I had to look up pictures of a bobcat to make sure that was what I saw. It went into a culvert, and I never saw it again.
For long-ride trials 3 and 4, I switched to EFS Pro and re-marked the bottle upside down. Since EFS Pro has 200mg more sodium than the regular formula, I backed off the base salt to 1 scoop per 2 servings. The weather for these two rides wasn’t warm or humid, but the end result was much better. No cramping and drinking it was much more tolerable than Gatorade. This combo with the Maurten gels didn’t cause any stomach issues during or after the rides. I used the First Endurance PreRace for trial 3 to see how it interacted with the drink and gels. No gastric issues. This plan was the winner and what I used to remain cramp free on the run.
2. I dialed back the bike effort.
The idea here was that my cramping issue could also have been an overexertion issue and I can control this like my nutrition. Whatever I save on the bike can only help me on the run. I put my bike and course information into Best Bike Split and created a race using 70% of FTP. This plan worked great even though I could not access the details on my garmin and my power wasn’t showing. Looking at the data on BBS beforehand guided me to what I should expect to do. I was pretty close even going by feel.
What I need to change:
- Get stronger on the bike. Work on increasing my FTP.
- Practice swimming in rougher conditions to simulate the washing machine effect on the second lap and work on increasing my stroke cadence.
- Change my caffeine intake to be more in my control and not take in varying amounts of red bull. Maybe switch to take in pre-race halfway through the marathon.
- Pay attention to my gel intake after mile 15 and choke down the gels with more water.
- Get a new bike with Race Wheels. My bike is a ten-speed with standard aluminum rims and is increasingly having issues. Not sure a new bike won’t have problems, but one can only hope.
- Find a job to pay for all this.
Next up Timberman 70.3 in September!