Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Rocky Mountain Triathlon: The Highest Tri In The World

I arrived in Colorado on Tuesday evening. Sherrie picked me up from the airport and drove us up to her parents' cabin in Silverthorne, Colorado. I have more or less become an adopted grandson to Francine and Tom. I can't remember the last time I had this many consecutive home-cooked meals prepared for me.

Anyways, on my first morning in Silverthorne, elevation 8730 feet, Sherrie and I took advantage of a pond a few blocks from the cabin that allows swimming. It is about 250 meters long, so it's perfect for some high-altitude open water practice. And boy oh boy does that altitude make me suck wind.

Anyways, we did an easy 1000 meters in the cold waters of North Pond. As I was leaving the water, I walked by a woman who was headed towards the water wearing a wetsuit. She asked me if I was practicing for the race this weekend. And I said, "What race?" She replied that there was a triathlon in this very pond on Sunday. Sprint and Olympic distance.
I'm listening...go on.
I mentioned it to Sherrie and she sounded excited. Upon returning home, I checked the website only to find out that online registration had closed the night before. I emailed the race director and got a SCARY fast response indicating there would be registration at packet pickup and on race morning. Seriously, she responded in under a minute. And so we planned to sign up for the sprint distance that Saturday at packet pickup. It would be a good chance to do a final run through and iron-out of our transitions and systems. One final short, hard effort before Ironman Boulder seemed like a great idea.

And to think if I had come out of the water 5 minutes earlier or later, I wouldn't have even KNOWN about this race. And that would have been a shame.

After signing up on Saturday, we woke up early Sunday morning, ate breakfast, packed our bags, and hopped on our bikes for the 2 minute ride from Sherrie's parents' house to the race site. Seriously...most convenient triathlon EVER. We set up our transitions and mingled with a few other racers. This was seriously the smallest triathlon I've ever entered, as there ended up being only 125 finishers for the sprint distance. This made me wonder if I might have a shot at an age group award. It would just depend on whether or not any fast folks my age showed up.
Sherrie and I ready to rock!
For once, my swim wave was the first to start. I had decided, despite the altitude, to go out hard and try and stay with the race leaders if possible. Why the hell not, right? Before the race, they announced that the singer they had lined up to do the national anthem had come down with laryngitis and were asking for a volunteer to do it instead. I ALMOST raised my hand, but another girl beat me to it and went up there. She completely owned it, much better than I could have. Hell, I'd have probably forgotten the damn words or something. In any case, I just love little races because stuff like this NEVER happens at big races.

BAM! The swim started! I charged out and swam hard. It was only 400 meters, so even if I got winded, I could suffer through. 50 meters in, I was in the front group of 5, and then I decided to inhale some water instead of air.

Cough. Cough. Sputter. Wheeze. Cough. Cough.
(repeat for the next 2 minutes)

I was dead in the water. I was sidestroking and moving at least, but the lead group was long gone. What's more, I was so out of breath and wheezing from the coughing fit that I couldn't put my face back in the water for more than a stroke or two. I made the turn and continued swimming crappily and gasping for air. Final turn back to shore and I was starting to recover just a bit. Finally was able to swim freestyle for the last 50-100 meters, but the damage was done. The lead group was likely on their bikes by now.

Oh well, it was a nice thought. Swim time was 9:22.

I came out of the water and booked it into transition. Not my most graceful transition ever, but I got the job done in just over 2 minutes. While in transition, I was still wheezing quite a bit from the water down the wrong pipe and from the intense effort. For good reason, a medical volunteer came over and asked if I was ok while I was getting ready to ride. I told him about what happened in my swim and that I was fine. I really was and I could feel my airways getting rapidly better. Apparently this dude didn't believe me because he stood about 5 feet away from me for the remainder of my transition, just staring at me. Like he thought I didn't know my own damned lungs and would surely collapse and expire if nobody was around to assist. I am thankful for the was just amusing.

Once I settled the debate of gloves vs no gloves(ended up going without because I kept fumbling trying to get them on my damn hands) I grabbed my bike and exited transition.

I hit the road and immediately accelerated to...woah...28 mph! Ok! Actually, the bike was out and back, downhill on the out and uphill into the wind on the back. So yeah, my first 6 miles were gonna be speedy. On the way out, I passed one guy and got passed by another, neither in my age group. Sweet! As I approached the turnaround, I'd have an opportunity to see how many guys were ahead of me. I counted 4 or 5 before I headed back uphill. On the return journey, I slowed down but was still moving pretty well. I got passed by 6 or 7 riders, but none were in my age group. So I estimated that overall, there were maybe 11 or 12 people in front of me by the time I rolled back into transition. My 12 mile bike split was 32:37, averaging 22.1 mph! My T2 time was 1:30, which is pretty awful for a sprint tri, but I didn't have my quick laces on my shoes and fumbled greatly tying them.

I kicked out hard on the run, and was crushing a sub-8:00 pace for the first quarter mile until the altitude reared it's head and got me breathing way too hard again. Additionally, the run course trended uphill for the first half, so I slowed quite a bit. I was absolutely sure that I'd get passed at some point in the run and I kept checking my six to see if anybody was gaining. Coast was clear for the time being. My first mile clocked in just over 8:00. I made the turnaround and got a good look at who was chasing me. I had a decent gap between myself and the next racer, though I wasn't able to see his age on his calf. Just to be safe, I pushed a little harder into the downhill section to maintain that gap. After a while he didn't seem to be gaining any ground. Mile 2 was just at 8:00. At some point, a spectator informed me that I was in 13th place. Seeing as how 6 or 7 of them were definitely not in my age group, I started to wonder if I might end up placing after all. The final mile opened up into a straightaway alongside the road and I could see the guy behind me. He was within striking distance, but I wasn't slowing. I charged in, finishing Mile 3 in 7:30 and finishing the 5K run in 23:22, an average of 7:32 min/mile.

DAMN I was breathing hard, but DAMN it had felt good! Sherrie's mom in law, Francine, was at the finish line and captured my post-race face. There were event photographers, but I have yet to see anything posted from them.
This man needs his inhaler, please and thank you!
Sherrie did awesome! She would've placed in her AG, except she flatted on the bike.

Final time was 1:08:49. Not too shabby! Sherrie and I stuck around to see if I'd get any awards, and to drink some free Sam Adams summer brew that they had on tap. I talked with some other racers who were waiting around for awards and met a nice guy named Derek who is also racing Boulder on Sunday.

Finally they announced the winners. Overall winners had come in around 1:01, which is ridiculous. They finally got around to my age group and wouldn't you know it, I won the damned thing!
There's a first time for everything.

Can you believe this shit?!?!?

To be fair, one of the overall winners was in my age group, but I guess they decided that they would get overall awards and then the NEXT person would get age group awards. That was me. So technically, I was 2nd in my age group. Still happy!
Two Buck Chuck w/ a custom label. 
Super happy with how I raced. Super satisfied with my physical state of being and the training I've put in for Ironman Boulder. I've been mostly just relaxing this week with the exception of a quick swim today, and yesterday we went whitewater rafting, which as it turns out is kinda sorta maybe just a little bit fun.
Ghost-face Loental crushes some Class V rapids.
Tomorrow we head to Boulder for the final leg of my Colorado journey. We'll pick up our race packets and swap our wheels out for some Zipps we rented for the race. After all, Isabella can't go to the ball without some pretty shoes. I also anticipate a quick spin Thursday or Friday and possibly a run on the Boulder Creek path where the run will be held.

I'm not sure if I'll have wi-fi at our hotel. If I do, I anticipate a final pre-Ironman blog entry to happen Friday or Saturday night. Just in case I don't have wi-fi, or if I just get lazy, I'll now give you the low down for what I expect to happen on Sunday. It's basically the same splits I needed to get my sub-12 that didn't happen at Ironman Florida in 2012.

Swim: 1:10 or less
Bike: 6:00 or less
Run: 4:30 or less

With a liberal 20 minutes budgeted for transition, that's a sub-12. The swim should be right on the money for my goal, possibly less. Boulder Reservoir should be wetsuit legal and calm. The bike is more of a question mark. Currently, the weather is forecasting clear skies, light winds, and a high of 81 degrees and negligible humidity. That's basically perfect race weather. So having had almost 2 weeks to adapt to the altitude, really the story will end up being told by my legs. The bike course has rolling hills, but should be pretty fast, especially since they rerouted the course to avoid some road repairs from last year's mudslides...which conveniently removed the largest climb on the course.

And of course...the run. If I don't torch my legs achieving my bike goals, the run goal really really should happen. If I can run 20 miles at WyCo and average 10:30, maybe just maybe I can eke out a similar pace on pavement after a whole bunch of swimming and biking.

In any case, I'm super excited for this race. I'm keen to hit my goals, but I'm more jones-ing to simply race well and have a damned good time! I have daydreams about coming off the bike well hydrated and well nourished and just blasting out onto the run with a smile on my face and a comfortable pace, high-fiving everybody I pass and just enjoying the shit out of the whole freaking thing!

That, my all I've got to say. This will be Ironman #3 for me. T-minus 3 days!

Bib #1560, killing bears every way, every day!


My brother Chris caught the Ironman bug again. He has signed up for Ironman Canada 2015 in Whistler, BC. Wouldn't you know it, he went and convinced me to sign up as well! So Ironman #4 will commence in T-minus 359 days. Mark your calendars. I may need Matty Mullins to make me another race poster because this is gonna be an epic throwdown for one of the bigger Loental World Records, and of course to decide which of us our dear mother should love more.

THAT is all.



Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Summer of 2014: Revenge, Recovery, Recommitment, and Revenge!

"You said "revenge" twice..."

"I like revenge."


Yes, I've already spoken at length about the sweet and delicious revenge I exacted upon my race arch-nemesis, Ironman Kansas 70.3. If you are just tuning in to this summer's mayhem and haven't heard about that one, do yourself a favor(or whatever) and CLICK HERE! 

Moving right along to...

Recovery AKA "Recovery?"

I had plans to recover from this race properly and build mileage back up in a sensible and timely manner in preparation for Ironman Boulder. I really did. Promise. 

Summer Intro Run
And to be fair, I did pretty decently. Actually...for once I think I did it right. Good for me! The following Saturday, I did the Trail Nerds Summer Intro Run, a splendid 2.8 mile race. For goofs, I decided to do it as fast as I could, and when I arrived it appeared that very few of the fast people I know  of were racing. It looked like it might come down to a race between myself, Eric Viera, and Keith Dowell (cheeky British kilt guy). Ben mentioned me in his pre-race instructions. "If you get confused, just follow Danny." Even HE seemed to think I was a top contender. 

Weird? Yeah...weird.

Anyways, the race started and the three of us bolted out to the front of the pack and led everyone onto the singletrack. Keith, Eric, and myself remained the front 3 until the trail opened up to a wide gravel road near the turnaround. Orange-shirt-guy behind me took this opportunity to immediately pass us all like we were standing still. Keith and Eric appeared to have no interest in THAT action, so I decided to go for it and try to catch him. 

It wasn't a true out-and-back course, and the return journey to the finish line was MUCH hillier, but I at least knew the course pretty well from my occasional appearances at the B.A.R. (Beer Appreciation Run). The guy in the orange shirt(you can see him in the above photo) soon disappeared from sight, but I at least thought I might be able to hang on to 2nd place if I didn't explode on the hills, and MAYBE if Orange Shirt DID explode on the hills...well...I wasn't gonna get ahead of myself. 

I fought through the hills as best I could. I walked on some of the steeper portions, though I kept a wary eye behind me to see if anybody was closing in on my 2nd place glory. I didn't see anybody. I gutted it out through the hills and finally hit the long and glorious downhill before it flattens back out to the finish. Still no sign of orange shirt. I busted into the clearing with nobody even close behind me and strode in for 2nd place, a Trail Nerds visor, and a hearty handshake from Bad Ben. 

I had run 2.8 miles in 19:27, which is a sub-7:00 pace. AT FREAKING WYCO! Didn't think I was even capable of that, much less a week after a half ironman. Orange shirt had beaten me by well over a minute. Oh well, I'm not that kinda fast. It was cool to race though. 

The following day was supposed to be the Corporate Challenge triathlon, but it was cancelled due to inclement weather. And that's a pity because based on last year's times, I thought I might have been able to finish top-10 and earn some age group points for Children's Mercy. Bummer, dude. Maybe next year?

Recommitment AKA 

"The Final Training Surge"

The following weekend was my first century ride of the year at the Tour of KC Gran Fondo. Del had signed up as well and I was looking forward to riding with him and testing my speed on a long hard day. The heat hit me pretty hard and I began falling apart around mile 50. I had a few 2nd winds, but for the most part I just got beat down. I even resorted to drafting off of Delaware for a good chunk of the 2nd half of the ride, simply because I needed to finish by a certain time in order to make it to a gig with my band later that day. Del was riding super strong, luckily. The last 10-20 miles were a real struggle, but I finished. AND I made it to the gig on time with literally minutes to spare...aaand the gig ended up being delayed about 45 minutes. Womp womp. 

Heroes For Hospice 5K

The following day, on sore and pitiful legs, I ran the Heroes For Hospice 5K, an event conceived, organized, and and executed by my dear friend Karli Ritter. You may know her from the Fox 4 morning show and from previous cameos in my blog. She's a wonderful person. With absolutely no experience race directing of any kind, she was able to get over 500 people signed up and raised well over $20,000 for local hospice organizations! 

Training continued to go well, and then I heard about Koach Karl's Hardest "Half" on the 4th of July. This consisted of a "no electronics allowed" run through the not-so-nice parts of Kansas City(Troost, Prospect, etc) which then looped back downtown to hit all the big hills in the city(WWI Memorial, Summit, Hospital Hill, etc). It had been a long time since I had *intentionally* run unplugged and I found it to be a real breath of fresh air. Letting my body dictate the pace kept me comfortable for the entire run, and I even had a good surge in the 2nd half, which I very likely had a negative split on. No way to know for sure though. It was great to run with friends for most of the day, and really great to listen to my body for once, rather than telling it what to do. 
We also got heckled by a prostitute. Hooray!

The following day, Delaware had planned a final long ride for us. I knew I needed another century ride, especially because of how poorly the first one had gone. The plan was to ride from Kansas City to Allen, KS where we would meet up with his wife Jess for a barbecue and then catch a ride home with her. The goal was not to maintain a particular pace, but simply to get the hours in the saddle. I remember one of my big failures in training for Ironman Florida was that I didn't get in enough long rides and was unable to maintain aero position for the duration of the 112 mile bike split. We got the pedals turning early and were moving before sunrise. 7 hours later, I made a left onto a gravel road and was greeted by some of the best grilled meat I've ever eaten. Delaware had to drop out around mile 85 because he was starting to experience either electrolyte imbalance, heat stroke, or possibly both. Not sure, but he was feeling dizzy, tingly, and out-of-sorts. After Wifey SAG picked him up, I continued and finished the journey solo. My overall speed wasn't impressive, but it was a big confidence booster for me that I never bonked. Add in the heat, humidity, net elevation gain, and hilly nature of this ride, and I'm super stoked with how it went!

Yet again, the VERY NEXT DAY, I ran the WyCo "Fire" 5K, an out-and-back on the Three Sisters, or more accurately, the Three Bitches: The three(actually four) big hills in the last few miles of the WyCo loop. I wasn't sure what kind of legs I'd have for this, but I ended up finishing 8th place! 
Catching some air on the Three Bitches

Up until this point, I had been tentatively planning on running the 10 miler at Psycho Psummer the following Saturday. After WyCo "Fire", I had this weird itch to do the 20 miler instead. It seemed risky, given that WyCo has a reputation for beating you up and injuring you. But it was a full 3 weeks before Ironman Boulder, and I technically have never gotten in a 20 mile run as a part of Ironman training. This stupid impulse began to make more and more sense the more I thought about it. And when I pitched the idea to my massage therapist, she thought it would be ok, and I was sold!

Revenge: Part II AKA 

"The Unexpected Race Report"

So having decided to do 20 miles as a training run instead of 10 miles as a "see how fast I can go" I got to thinking how best to approach my last long run before Boulder. I didn't think I wanted to push myself too much, and I recalled that when I last did the 20 miler in 2011, it not only destroyed me, but it also ended up being one of my worst races of all time...ever. So with that in mind, I figured a light-hearted approach might be best. I thought back to Koach Karl's Hardest Half. It really had been an absolute joy to run unplugged, especially in the midst of triathlon training, where every single thing is micromanaged and scrutinized. I decided I wanted to do Psycho Psummer completely unplugged once again. I would simply run by feel and enjoy my day, regardless of how slowly I went. I just needed the miles at this point. It's hard to know if that decision played a big part in the outcome of this race, but I have a strong feeling that it did. 

I signed up for the 20 miler at packet pickup the day before the race. Keith was working the table and offered me a beer. So for the next three hours I helped out with packets, drank beer, and exchanged race stories with the cheekiest Brit I know. While working, I had the delightful opportunity to meet Kaci Lickteig, an utterly delightful ultrarunner from Omaha, NE who delightfully won her first 50K here a few years ago. She also delightfully placed 6th at Western States this year. Did I mention that she's delightful? Seriously, maybe one of the friendliest strangers I've ever met. She reminds me a lot of my "Favorite Person On The Planet", Deanna Culbreath...who also happens to be a ridiculously friendly ultrarunner who wins long races. In the fantasyland of my mind, I'd like to see Deanna and Kaci race each other. It would be epic!

Anyways, laid back, casual, and comfortable was my mindset on race morning. My status that morning was "20 miles at WyCo. No watch. No expectations. Let's see what happens." I lined up with the rest of the 20 mile and 50K runners as Ben gave his usual pre-race speech. The horn sounded and I went to press the Start button on my non-existent watch. I laughed quietly to myself as I began running. 

First lap, working the hills
As usual, I wanted to be near the front of the pack to avoid slow conga lines and awkward passing on the rough terrain of the first few miles on the bridle trails. As a result, I needed to push the pace a bit early on, but I don't think I pushed quite hard enough to be short of breath at any point. I kept my cadence high on the hills and walked a few of the worse ones. I have a funny memory of a guy who must've scouted the topo of the course, but had clearly never actually run it. On one of the bigger hills before the first aid station, he shouted out to anyone within earshot...he probably thought he was doing us a solid by sharing his Must Know beta on the course..."Hey you guys, this is the worst hill on the course."


To be fair, it was a pretty stout hill. And on paper, maybe it was the "biggest". But anybody who has ever run at WyCo knows that nothing on the summer loop comes close to the misery, the suffering, the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the humiliation of the Three Bitches.

I passed Topo Guy and never saw him again. It's too bad because he looked pretty fast. I stayed within myself up to the first aid station, staffed by Eric Viera, and to my surprise Taylor and Robert! I had met Taylor and Robert in September when I crewed and paced at The Bear 100! They had recently moved back to KC from California and I'm pretty sure they both got sweaty hugs. I grabbed some quick orange slices and got my bottle refilled and got back to it. A short stretch on the road led back to the trailhead for some of the finest singletrack in the area. I suddenly felt really good and decided that I needed to gun it, and the next several miles zipped right by on the twisting and turning Boy Scout trails. I was completely in the zone and everything flowed beautifully. 
I saw Bob Hall hanging out in his canoe taking pictures just before I hit the road and arrived at the Dam Aid Station, staffed by Moosesomething. Additionally, Mudbabe Lisa was helping out there and grabbed me some S-caps and some ice for my hat before I headed across the dam. 

My cadence was still plenty high and everything felt amazingly smooth. I upped my trail karma by picking up some empty gel wrappers on the road and deposited them in the trash can that was literally 50 yards away from where they were dropped. Some people...

I don't remember much else about my first loop aside from the fact that it was absolute bliss. It was amazing to simply not care how fast or slow I was going and just enjoy the pure, simple act of running. The Shelter 14 aid station was fantastic, staffed by Terri, Wayne, and a few others. The last aid station before the Three Bitches was covered by Janee, my pom-pom toting crew sweetheart from OT100. 

Finishing my first loop
Mile 90 takes awesome pictures!

I think I passed some people on my first tussle with the Three Bitches, but I honestly don't remember. I was just cruising and enjoying myself. I finished my first loop to loud cheers from Ben and other volunteers as I blazed across the timing mat and headed over to the aid station. I tossed my water bottle to a volunteer, chugged some coconut water from my drop bag, ate a Honey Stinger waffle, and then got a Tums from another volunteer. I was in and out in no time and headed back out for my 2nd loop! 

Obviously, my legs started to fatigue a bit as the miles piled on, but I was still moving really well. I passed a girl and guy who were running the 20 miler together. They looked like they were both suffering. The funny thing is that they had both smoked me at the WyCo "Fire" 5K a week earlier. So that was a really nice confidence booster! 

I passed a guy on the bridle trails who looked to be cramping really badly. I instructed him to ask for S-Caps when he got to the aid station coming up. Not sure, but I think he was a 20 miler. I started wondering how I was doing in the overall standings, but didn't give it too much thought. Upon arriving at the aid station, Eric Viera offered me bacon. And it was amazing. A few more orange slices, S-Caps, and a full bottle of water, and I was off. I could hear some runners gaining on me as I made my way through the singletrack. Eventually a lady caught up to me and was content to stay behind me for the time being. Another lady caught us and we all stayed together for a bit. My legs were starting to feel heavy and at some point they both passed me, and even though they were both doing the 20, I really didn't care. This wasn't about racing, it was about running. So I just ran and kept the smile on my face. 

It was definitely heating up at this point, and I kept fresh ice in my hat to stay cool. At one point I dumped some of the water in my bottle onto my head and was shocked to realize that somewhere along the line somebody had filled it with HEED instead of water. Oh I smell like sports drink. 

And sweaty mud. Yeah, people probably won't notice.

One thing I really loved about the 2nd loop was that I began passing some of the slower 10 mile runners. Seeing these people out there getting it done is so inspiring to me, and I love giving them words of encouragement and pats on the back as I go by. It's my way of paying it forward from the times that race leaders have lapped me and done the same. Approaching Shelter 14 for the 2nd time, I passed a mother and her young son and even got a high-five from the little guy! It's totally awesome seeing such young kids who already are excited about living an active lifestyle!

As I made my final trip traversing the Three Bitches, I kept wondering if I'd end up catching the 2 ladies that had passed me earlier. It didn't end up happening, but I had still had a complete blast running! I had a huge smile on my face as I approached the finish line. I had absolutely no clue how long I had been running, but I was still jubilant about a fantastic 20 miles. That alone was a huge success for me, especially in the heat, and ESPECIALLY because I got to exorcise the demons of my epic blowup here 3 years ago. 
...was a good day.

Keep in mind, the shit-eating grin I'm wearing in the previous two photos was worn without any knowledge of what I was about to discover. I was happy simply because I had enjoyed myself.

As I crossed the finish line, I saw Ben. He went over to the table, presumably to grab a finisher medal and 20 mile sticker. But he also picked something else up. A glass trophy of some sort, from what I could tell. I getting an actual award for something? 

The first word that came to mind immediately exited my mouth, rather loudly.


Incredulousness is the word I'm looking for...
Kristi Mayo of Mile 90 Photography may have captured the exact moment when my brain short-circuited at the sight of Ben about to hand me a trophy. I yelled "Bullshit" at him a couple more times in the 10 yards between the finish line and where he stood waiting to fork over the hardware. He handed it to me and said, "Congratulations! 3rd place male". I stood there dumbfounded with a stupid smile on my face. Kristi captured THAT moment too. Thanks, Kristi.

So THAT happened. And I still had no idea what my finishing time was. They later posted some results and I finally learned that I had done 20 miles at WyCo in 3:35. Which is way WAY faster than I thought I was capable of. I'm extremely curious if I would have run as well if I had worn my watch and paid attention to my pace. I suppose that's a mystery I'll never solve. The amazing thing that occurred to me is that within the span of just over a month, I was able to revisit the two worst races of my entire athletic career and easily vanquish them both in fine style. These recent results have even got my wheels turning about future possibilities and I've already started tentatively planning my fall and winter race schedule. Obviously, I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I'll just say that I've got some pretty crazy goals that I'd like to throw myself at once I recover from Ironman Boulder. 

When I crossed the finish line at Wyco, Ben informed me that my stellar finish was likely the result of the good karma I had earned by suggesting he install a bottle opener on the side of the Trail Nerds truck. I like that thought. But ultimately, I think I simply have hit the training sweet spot. Not too little and not too much. And I did this mostly with the help of circumstance and dumb luck. My ankle injury has kept my running mileage quite low, but I was still able to do it consistently and I still ended up getting in my long runs right when I needed to. As of today, I am in full taper mode and I have not a single complaint about the physical state of my body. 

I am swimming stronger than ever before, biking faster and longer than ever before, running really well, AND I think I've finally gotten my summer nutrition strategy nailed down. At this very moment, I'm hanging out in Silverthorne, Colorado acclimating to altitude at 9000 ft, and Ironman Boulder is 10 days away. 

I'd say I'm in a pretty good place and I can't wait to see how things shake out on race day! 

Thanks for reading!

Until then, 


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Ironman Kansas 70.3: Tasting Sweet Revenge

I did it. I finally did it. I finished my race report!

I mean...I finally had a good race at Ironman Kansas. Yes, the race report took longer than expected, but to be fair, I've still been really busy with training and I've been in the middle of buying a house, so LAY OFF! I was saying...

After three attempts and three times beaten down, I finally conquered my triathlon nemesis. This time, I stood victorious. This time, I won. This time...

Well, let's start from the beginning. To catch up on my history with this event and some pre-race thoughts, click here

Otherwise, let's take a trip back in time, about a month ago...

In the days leading up to this race, I was cautiously optimistic regarding the weather forecast for Sunday June 8th. They were calling for highs in the mid-70's, cloudy, and light winds. Could it finally be that this race would not be the sweltering sufferfest that I had become uncomfortably accustomed to? Honestly, I never let myself believe it, even for a moment. There's a saying that basically everyone who doesn't live in San Diego has regarding where they live, and it is, "If you don't like the weather in <INSERT PLACENAME>, just wait five minutes, durr hurr hurr."

Pre-race sunrise selfie
Ok, maybe I added that last bit because it's basically true anywhere. Yes, weather is unpredictable. It is "educationally guessable", but not predictable. There's a whole branch of science dedicated to educationally guessing what is gonna happen, but even they screw it up sometimes. 

I digress...basically my attitude was to expect the worst and hope for the best. Regarding the forecast of nearly perfect race weather, I would believe it when it happened. 

Morning dawned on what I had began to refer to as the "Day of Reckoning". There was a pleasant chill in the air, which was a comforting sign of possible good things to come, yet I remained skeptical. It could all go to hell in no time flat. 

I did all my normal pre-race stuff, drove out to the race site, set up my T1 and T2. Looking out at the swim course, I was delighted to see glassy smooth water. Perhaps I would finally get the swim split I knew I was capable of. I found Delaware in T1 and together we headed back to his campsite to hang out for the hour between the pro start at 6:30 and my own swim wave, Male 30-35 L-Z, which would begin at 7:30. Once again, the very last swim wave of the day. 

I had a mini-freakout regarding an inhaler that I thought I had left in the wrong transition, and I walked all the way back to T2 to retrieve it, only to discover when I returned that I had left an extra in the exact spot I had intended to leave it for use before my swim. Gotta work on that whole "trusting myself" thing, apparently. I guess that brisk walk was a good warmup?

We finally hiked down to the swim start when our respective wave times were imminent. We greased up, squeezed into our wetsuits, did some last minute self-reflection and contemplation/goggles check, and waited the final 10-15 minutes before Go Time. 

Waiting with my good friend
Jess snapped a photo of us before we headed over to the queue of triathletes slowly trudging towards the water. I don't think my smile quite disguised how nervous I was. 

I'm not sure if I'm the only one who feels this way, but any time I line up for a triathlon swim start, I look around and am overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy. Everybody else looks so fit, so fast, and I just assume they're all gonna smoke me. Usually I just play it off and tell myself, "Well, they can have it. Triathlon isn't my life, it's just a hobby." Which is true. But I sure trained a shit-ton this year, and I'd bet that somebody in that queue of neoprene clad 30-somethings thought the same thing about me. Just some thoughts...

Del's wave started 4 minutes before mine. This was significant in our friendly triathlon rivalry. I expected a faster swim and a faster bike split, but fully expected him to torch me on the run. It was all a matter of how much time I could put into him on the bike. If and when he passed me on the run, he'd need to steal back 4 minutes to capture the victory.

The Swim: Target time - 35:00

My wave finally hit the water's edge. We swam out to the starting area and floated around for the final few minutes before our official start time. My plan was to start towards the front, but on the outer edge in case I wasn't as fast as I thought. The horn sounded and we began swimming. I may have started off a bit too aggressive as evidenced by being somewhat out of breath pretty quickly. My wonderful habits of breathing on both sides and taking more strokes between breaths were gone within a few minutes and I was back to the trusty old "breath on the right every time", or as my brother Chris calls it "breathing every breath".

Photo by Aidan Dysart, Ironman Tahoe 2013
There is one thing I noticed during this swim that I had long suspected, but never experienced. When you are swimming at the front of your age group, especially one as competitive as M30-35, the bumping and jostling you experience is quite a bit more aggressive. It isn't just incidental contact like I was used to, but purposeful and strategic. There is a lot of physical jockeying for the good lines, or to stay on the toes of another swimmer, and if somebody else wants to be where you are, they're gonna take your space if you let them.

I didn't let them. And that made me feel like a brass-balled badass.

As usual, with a wetsuit and in murky lake water, it is nearly impossible for me to gauge how fast I'm moving, and the buoys aren't close enough together to help. So I just swam hard and tried not to think about time. I hadn't decided beforehand if I was going to look at my watch during the swim or not. In any case, when I hit the first turn buoy, a cursory glance showed me that I was nearly halfway done and 15 minutes had elapsed. Holy Smokes! It was at that moment I realized things were indeed going quite well and that I might have a chance to do something special that day! I refocused my efforts and made quick work of the short length to the next turn buoy which would point me back towards shore.

I don't think I looked at my watch again because I knew I was already hauling as much ass as I could haul. I did notice that the water had gotten a tiny bit choppier since I had started, as evidenced by the fact that every now and then I'd get a mouthful of water instead of air when I breathed on my right. My breathing had finally calmed down enough that I was able to alternate sides and take more strokes like I had done in training. I eventually settled on a pretty reliable '2 stroke-breathe-4 stroke-breathe' pattern that more or less saw me through to the finish.
Swim, I defeat you!!!
The moment of of many truth-y moments that had arrived. I hit the boat ramp and was helped up on wobbly legs by a volunteer. As I crossed the timing mat, I looked down and my watch said 33:05. I looked up and immediately noticed Jess on the sidelines cheering and I flashed 3 fingers twice to let her know how well I had done. I was ecstatic! I had finally swam as well as... nay... BETTER than my expectations! That was a PR by more than three minutes!(Boulder 70.3 was 36:40)

I was expecting a slowish T1 because I had planned to wear a long sleeved top which is exceedingly difficult to put on when wet, but I had budgeted myself 10 minutes for both transitions and was not overly concerned. I wrestled with the top, took in nutrition, and for the most part was not graceful at all. At some point when I was just about ready to go, I did see Delaware trot off towards the bike start, so I assumed I had exited the water about the same time as him(but 4 minutes ahead) and he simply didn't spend as much time primping and preening in transition. I expected to see him again before too long on the bike. (He later told me that he had seen me pass him right before the swim exit)

Finally ready to spin, I grabbed Isabella off the rack and trotted towards the exit. I mounted my trusty steed, clipped in, and headed uphill.

The Bike: Target time - 3:00 or less...

As I spun fast up the first hill, I passed Ken, the coach for Midwest Triathlon Coaching. I said "Hey Ken!". I don't think he recognized me. You see, earlier this spring I had considered paying him to coach me for the season. Firstly, it was WAY more than I could afford. Secondly, I still thought I hadn't hit my own personal plateau before I would need any sort of training assistance. Basically, I still like doing things my own way, by myself, and seeing where that gets me. In the past few years, I've been pretty blown away by the results, especially lately!

So as I passed Ken, I crested the hill and settled in for the ride. I had been training a high cadence, so my focus was to maintain 90-100 RPMs whenever possible. I took it easy through the first few miles and hills getting out of Clinton Park, and then started to dig in once I hit the dam. I knew Delaware was somewhere ahead of me. I was confident that I'd catch him, but I was curious as to when it would happen, and more importantly, how much time I could put into him before the run.

The miraculously favorable weather continued. Temperatures were still cool and the winds were light. I kept having this feeling that it was all too good to be true and became convinced that karma wouldn't allow it and would give me a flat tire to make up for it. Luckily, my paranoia was unfounded and my ride was more or less uneventful.
Powering up the "dam" hill

I was aiming for an average between 19 and 20 mph, and for at least the first half of the ride, my overall average was just above 20! I eventually spied Delaware's signature orange jersey up the road as I approached the out-and-back turnaround around mile 25. I had closed the gap almost completely when I made the turn and passed him shortly after. For the next few miles, we yo-yo'd back and forth a few times on the rolling hills, but I slowly pulled away from him. I was feeling fantastic and was still averaging close to 20 mph!

I rolled through hills that had seemed torturous and unreasonable two years ago. To be fair, the last time I raced this course it was 90+ degrees, humid as hell...well...actually, I'm guessing hell would be more of a dry heat...hmmmm....hell doesn't sound so bad when you put it that way...


It was 90+ degrees, humid rainforest? And the winds were out of control. Trying to "spin easy" up these hills, directly into an unrelenting headwind, was simply out of the question. Two years ago, my race was torn up, shat upon, set on fire, and flushed down the toilet on these very same hills that I was currently powering through with a god-damned smile on my face! I could tell not everyone was having as good of a day as me. To remedy that, I tried to be the most obnoxiously positive asshole on the course that day. I passed one rider in particular on, in my opinion, the worst hill on the course. As I surged by, I told him something along the lines of "Hey, you're looking great! Keep it up! My isn't it a beautiful day?", to which he/she responded something along the lines of "Meh...grumble grumble...phooey.", to which I responded, "Well, would you rather be sitting in an office?", to which they responded something along the lines of, "Well, that's actually a fantastic perspective you've given me. Thank you, obnoxiously positive asshole! And a good day to you!"

So maybe that's exaggeratingly paraphrased, but it does impart the gist of the interaction.

(I'm aware that "exaggeratingly" isn't a word. Deal with it.)
Bringing it home
To be honest, there's not a lot more to tell about the bike. It went so much better than I could have imagined. I knew I'd probably break 3 hours, but I didn't expect to average 20 mph for the whole ride! My previous bike split PR was, once again, from Boulder where I came in at 3:02:09 on a course that I consider easier than KS, despite the altitude. Today, I rolled in with a blistering new PR of 2:48:17!

My second transition of the day went smoothly and with minimal fumbling. I hit the inhaler once again to ensure happy airways and bleeped my watch over to Run mode as I exited onto the run course, glancing momentarily at my overall time. 3:30 on the nose. That's right...I was exactly two hours and 13.1 miles away from my ultimate fantasyland goal of finishing in 5:30. Every half-ironman I've ever attempted, I had the goal of a 2 hour run split. It had never happened. Would it happen today?

The Run: Target Time - 2:00 or less FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE?

I came out hard. Really hard. Maybe too hard, but I can't say I regret the way things turned out. My first mile was 8:00 exactly. My second mile was 8:13. Then reality decided to let itself be heard and my pace fell, but not too badly. I didn't explode...I simply settled in. And my settled-in pace seemed like it might just do the trick. But let's not get ahead of myself. This is a tough course, and it was starting to warm up a bit. And I still had to do battle with The Hill twice. The Hill is a real bitch. The park road descends back down to an aid station close to the boat launch where the swim began. And then it comes right back up, reminding you exactly how weak you are as it laughs at you. Did I mention the asphalt turns into molasses on The Hill? feels that way at least. 

Sure, I had to walk a few times. But it was mostly by choice, not by necessity. I "could" run, I was just choosing to take a break. And my walk breaks were short and purposeful. 10-20 strides to catch my breath and let the legs recover a bit. Even with The Hill, even with the walk breaks, even with the "molass-phalt", my 3rd and 4th mile clocked in at  8:58 and 9:26, which is well within "might do the trick" land. 

Hear ye, hear ye...according to a  Google search, nobody else has used the fake word "molass-phalt". I went and invented another word. Go forth and spread the word about how clever I be. 

(Though interestingly, I did discover that molasses has been used in a non-petroleum based bioasphalt.)

Having survived my first go with The Hill, I was now on the flatter part of the course that looped through the park campgrounds. Plenty of spectators to cheer, but much more exposure to the increasingly present sun. Luckily, I was still moving very well and kept my pace right on target through it all. I stayed faithful to my nutrition plan: Two honey stinger chews and two salt caps every half hour, and plentiful water. The next five miles ranged between 8:44 and 9:15 which was still right on target, though I was definitely starting to feel the heat. There were several spectators that had hoses and high-powered squirt guns, and I made good use of each and every one of them. Staying cool was a big priority for me, and I continually put fresh ice in my hat to help achieve that end. 

In the last mile of my first loop, I found myself running with a very fast looking lady. She was heaving loud breaths and grunting. I could tell this was her last loop and I could almost FEEL that she was coming down to the wire for a PR...or hell, maybe an age group podium. I ran stride for stride with her, giving her words of encouragement and trying to keep her moving. A few times she fell off pace and I'd urge her onwards. She would respond and match my pace once again. I asked no questions, because speech is just not a priority when you're in that zone, right on the razor's edge between success and failure. As I turned off towards my 2nd loop, she split off towards the finish line. I sincerely hoped she got what she wanted. She sure wanted it badly. I hoped my words and presence had helped in some way. 

I crossed the halfway point in around 55:30 and was stoked to have an extra 4:30 to work with on my second loop. 

I stayed on pace for the first few miles of the 2nd loop. As I made the final descent before my 2nd hoedown with The Hill, I got passed by a guy. He looked like one of those guys I felt intimidated by before the race. He was absolutely FLYING. He looked lean, mean, and fast. Like he was genetically engineered for the sole purpose of crushing triathlons and making women faint with one flash of his tanned, shaved legs. He disappeared from sight very quickly. I rounded through the aid station at the bottom of the hill. My legs were starting to feel the punishment, and I took a few walk breaks on my way back up, but nothing excessive. That trip up The Hill would've gone about as fast as my first time through. But it didn't. That mile was my slowest of the day at 10:38, but it was definitely my proudest. Here's why... 

There's this thing about the trail running and ultramarathon community that I love so very much. Even in a competitive race setting, there's this unspoken rule that you always help out when you can. I've seen podium finishing runners stop to help back-of-the-pack runners who were hurt or in trouble. Trail runners stop to pick up trash...I did it at the Perry half marathon in May, even though I was fighting for a top-3 finish and I knew another runner was hot on my heels. It's just this awareness that we're all in it together, that nobody is too fast or too important to be above these things. 

Anyways, there I was slogging my way up The Hill for the last time, and who did I spy up the road? Super fast, genetically-engineered Uber Tri Guy! Except something was different about him. He was no longer crushing. He'd slowed significantly...and then it happened. As I looked on, his leg seized up in what looked to be a horrific cramp and his slow trot turned into an agonizing limp. He was in trouble, for sure. As I came alongside, without a single thought to how it might affect my own race, I stopped and walked with him. I asked him if he was cramping, and he confirmed that he was. Again, without contemplating that I had only brought enough for my own race, I reached into my racebelt pouch and withdrew two S-Caps. He didn't have any water, so I handed him my water bottle and the S-Caps and told him "You need electrolytes. Take these. At the next aid station I want you to take in as much salt as you can. Potato chips, pretzels, whatever you can get your hands on." He dutifully downed the capsules with a swig of my water and gave me my bottle back with a brief word of thanks. I still hadn't even considered that this might be an out-of-the-ordinary thing simply because that's what I'm used to. And then another racer who had witnessed the exchange and looked absolutely dumbfounded said to me, "Wow...good for you. That was really big of you to help him out." 

Well, I did learn from the best. Ben, Sophia, and all the rest taught me well. I'm proud to count myself as a Trail Nerd! And yes, I did just spend three paragraphs bragging. Well....technically most of my race reports are composed entirely of bragging, but you folks still read them nonetheless. 

With the last of the climbing done for, I continued onto my last loop through the campgrounds. If I recall correctly(and this isn't certain by any means), Delaware passed me around mile 9 or 10. I made a brief attempt to match his pace and make it a race, but he was just too strong and too fast for that to last very long at all. He left me in the dust. And then awhile later, he passed me again. 


He had stopped to pee. Minor detail. Whatever, he was destroying this race as well and he left me in the dust once more. I was fairly certain he'd be able to put at least 4 minutes into me before it was all done. And I wasn't upset in the least. He put in the training and he deserved every bit of this. 

At this point in the race, I knew I was guaranteed to destroy a PR that day. The big question was whether or not I could eclipse my best-case-scenario super-happy-funtime-fantasyland theoretical goal of 5:30. Like the lady I had paced into the finish on her last loop, my own race was beginning to come down to the wire. I knew I'd have to dig really deep to make it happen, and unlike previous attempts at this race, I had finally arrived with the proper training and appropriate nutritional strategies to give myself a fighting chance to tango with the last 5K like I needed to. I finished mile 11 in 9:39, which was my wakeup call to start gritting my teeth and putting the screws to these last few miles. As always, when I'm pushing at my physical limits, the weird, out-loud, self pep talk began.

Come on, Danny. You've got this. Come on, kill the bear...kill the bear....go....go....GO!

And so on and so forth, eliciting strange looks from other racers, but I remained unapologetic in my weirdness. Whatever works, right?

Knowing that regardless of the outcome, it was going to be beyond my wildest dreams, I started getting pretty emotional. I alternated between grunting from exertion, choking back tears, and wearing a big shit eating grin. To prove this, allow me to present Exhibit A and Exhibit B. These photos were taken within seconds of each other. 

Mile 12 showed my increased effort was paying dividends: 9:20. I really needed to put the nail in the coffin on my last mile, and I had the energy to burn. I stepped on the gas and flung myself forward. Grunting, crying, screaming, muttering strange motivations to I passed the final aid station, grabbing a cup full of water and dumping it on my head, I whooped loudly and joyfully because I had done it. My final mile was the 4th fastest of the day at 8:48, and all that was left was to make my turn onto the finishing straightaway to calmly and stoically stride across the finish line. You know...act like I've been there before? Like this was no big deal?

Subtle, no?

Calm? Stoic?

Fuck that RIGHT in the ear. This was full-blown mafia style curb-stomp payback. This was for every time this race had beaten me down and left me in tears wondering what the hell went wrong. I finally got one over on the old bastard! And the feeling was infinitely better than I could have imagined!

Final run time: 1:57:14, beating my previous PR of 2:05:30 from IMKS in 2011.

Overall time: 5:27:00, a PR by well over half an hour. It felt good.

It felt THIS good.
After getting my medal and photo-op, I stumbled out of the finisher area where Del and Jess found me. I was ecstatic at how my race had gone, and I triumphantly declared that there would be no visit to the med tent today!

Which brings us to...

The Med Tent: Danny's Fourth Triathlon Discipline

Listen...I'm not a superstitious guy. I know that saying something out loud doesn't change the course of future events...but COME ON! I've gotta have at least SOME respect for Mother Karma Superior. She's a bitch, but she knows which way is up.

Anyways, with that obvious foreshadowing out of the way, let's talk about food. I remember that in the last mile, my stomach was groaning almost as loud as I was. I was downright starving. I wanted food and lots of it. Together, Delaware and I walked over to the food tent, grabbed some chocolate milk, and then loaded our plates with a burrito, bananas, and heaping piles of potato chips. As I sat down, I took a single bite of a potato chip and instantaneously became unhungry. Suddenly the thought of putting food in my stomach made me want to vomit. I was able to get down the chocolate milk, but the solid stuff was completely uninviting.

I also began to get the sense that my airways weren't as fine and dandy as I had originally thought. I had caught a cold the previous month and had never really cleared the last of the gunk out. I was coughing a bit, but not much. That tickle in my throat just wouldn't go away. We sat there for awhile and finally decided this food was simply not going to get eaten. I left a pile of chips and an untouched burrito behind as we left the food tent to head back to the campsite. At this point, I could feel it starting. This wasn't just a gunk-clearing cough. Though I really didn't want to admit it, this was the beginnings of an asthma attack.

Shit damn it fuck. There's no way I was gonna live this one down.

As we headed towards the exit of the race expo area, I finally admitted out loud that I was going to check out the med tent after all, since my airways were slowly starting to close up. I tried to stay calm and take deep controlled breaths, but in the 25 yards between where I stood and the med tent, my coughs would become more frequent and my breaths would become increasingly more wheezy and desperate. I tried...I really tried to keep it together. I simply could not.

In the last 10 yards stumbling towards the med tent, everything basically went to hell. I walked up to the medical volunteer and with tears streaming down my face I was able to sputter out the words, "I need a breathing treatment."

They brought me in, sat me down, hooked me up to nebulized albuterol, and started taking my vitals. My oxygen sats were in the low 90's and they couldn't even get a blood pressure on me. Not sure what that was all about. I took long slow deep breaths and everything began to loosen up. The panic I had experienced 2 years ago was absent. I knew exactly what was happening and was dealing with it in the calmest way I could. I knew this treatment would fix what was wrong, and it did. Oddly enough, my hands and lips began tingling like crazy. This had also happened in 2012, and my previous theory of low calcium turned out to be wrong. I had been supplementing my nutrition with a Tums every hour on the bike and the run, and I had pounded chocolate milk immediately after finishing. What the hell gives?

After the race, I stumbled upon another theory. Hyperventilation can cause tingling in the face and extremities as well as the cramping I had experienced last time. So hooray science, I've got a new theory to test the next time I have an asthma attack! The heavy breaths I was taking to maximize the effect of the nebulizer were giving me lower than normal levels of carbon dioxide in my blood, possibly causing my symptoms. Next time, after finishing my treatment, I'll have to ask for a paper bag so I can test my theory by rebreathing some CO2 and seeing if that resolves the symptoms.

Moving forward, I think I'm just going to have to expect that asthma attacks are just a thing that happen to me after hard races. While I may feel fine immediately after finishing, it's half an hour after where I seem to run into trouble. So...lesson learned...

Once my airways were happy again, I commented that I was a little bit cold. I figured they would give me one of those space blankets and send me on my way. On the contrary, they laid me down in a cot and wrapped me in a space blanket, a normal blanket, folded me into a burrito cocoon of warmth, and told me to stay put. While it seemed unnecessary, I wasn't going to complain. I laid there for awhile and just soaked it all in.

I thanked every medical volunteer several times as I emerged from my cocoon and left the med tent. I headed back to the campsite where I rejoined Del and Jess to lounge in camp chairs and cheer on runners still out on the course.
The face of supreme satisfaction
Thanks to all of you who have supported me in my training and followed my splits on race day. It is always encouraging to know that I've got my own little fan club cheering for me on the internet. Big BIG thanks to Delaware who helped get me out of my funk early this year. Your encouragement when I was all kinds of broken has made a huge difference in how my season turned out thus far. And thanks to everyone for being patient as I slowly synthesized this experience and finally got it written down.

Next up, recovery and ramping up to Ironman Boulder! Some exciting things have happened! Stay tuned!