IRONMAN Santa Rosa Race Report – July 29th, 2017
Well, sometimes you just have to roll with the punches… IRONMAN Santa Rosa was one of two races I’ve circled on my race calendar for 2017 after winning IRONMAN Louisville last October. I was really excited to prove to myself that I could put up another big performance and showcase all of my hard work I’ve put into this off-season. I had a tune-up half Ironman race in Wisconsin in early June and was starting to feel better than ever. I was setting myself up for that “perfect” Ironman build, or so I thought… The very first build weekend I went down for the count with a foot tendon issue (tibialis anterior tendinopathy) which is basically tennis elbow for your foot. This completely sidelined my running during the entire five week build and any time I would even attempt a run would result in a setback. During those five weeks, I was filled with frustration, anger, disappointment, you name it. I felt completely helpless knowing my best medicine was time and rest… As I got closer to the IRONMAN, I gave up on attempting any “trial” runs. The next time I would be running, it would towards the finish line at Santa Rosa!
At the end of a long day in Santa Rosa, I ended up 6th overall with a time of 9:16:56. I’m quite pleased with how the day played out. What I really took away from this race is that you really don’t need to have a “perfect” build to perform well. Your fitness you’ve built up over the year(s) of consistent training is just as, if not more, important than the build itself, so don’t count yourself out if things don’t go according to plan… I also learned that I need to deal with injuries on the mental side better. I was hanging my head way to much thinking my perfect race is over. I’ve learned from Santa Rosa that I love to race IRONMAN because of the journey and comradery, not because of what place I get… When things don’t go to plan in the future, I’m confident I’m much more ready to roll with the punches now! Below is a summary how my day unfolded.
We flew into Santa Francisco Wednesday night and made our way over to Santa Rosa on Thursday. I was in awe of the beauty of Sonoma County. Everything from the mountains, vineyards, wildlife, blue sky and perfect weather made me strongly consider throwing my plane ticket back home away! What a great place to have an IRONMAN!
We rented a house about 25 mins outside of town and completely in the thick of wine country. It was nice to stay away from the hustle and bustle of downtown. The main focus the day before the race was to keep off my foot as much as possible and keep the nerves in check. A glass of Sonoma’s finest helped me hit those goals! It would be an early night with the alarm clock set for 3 am…
After a rude awakening by my alarm clock, I put down my usual breakfast smoothie that I scale depending on my calorie needs. For this IRONMAN, I targeted 1400 calories that turned out to be equivalent to an entire pitcher full… I nearly vomited trying for that last gulp, I think I need to consider some denser calories for IRONMAN racing next go around… After breakfast, we drove up to Sonoma Lake which was about 30 mins outside of Santa Rosa. I quickly went through and got my bike set up and tried to figure out how Transition 1 worked. I asked a good eight people before I figured out how the whole setup worked. Literally every other person would tell me something different or be completely confused themselves. I probably should have done my homework! After chatting with my swim coach, I made my way down to the swim start. Time to do this thing!
Lake Sonoma rarely gets above 70 degrees, so it was a pretty much guarantee that it was going to be a wetsuit swim, or so I thought… With record high temps so far this year pushed the lake temp all the way up to 76.1 degrees, missing a non-wetsuit cutoff by just a couple of tenths! When it gets that hot, you are actually hoping for it to be a non-wetsuit because it can get quite toasty in a full sleeved wetsuit.
With all of the unknowns of this race for me, my primary goal of the swim was to swim moderately comfortable and exit the water feeling good and relaxed. If I hit my sub one hour goal, great! This was a self-seeded swim start that would start right at sunrise (6:10 am). I’m definitely starting to enjoy these self-seeded swim starts as you still get all of the “fast” guys at the front, yet you don’t have to be nearly as concerned about “missing” the pack at a wave start. I started at around 50th place in line and was in the water within a minute after the cannon went off. The first stretch of this two loop course, I tried to stay relatively comfortable and grab onto a draft when I could. Right when we turned unto the backstretch of the first loop is when the race started to get interesting… All of a sudden there was a thick layer of fog and we were staring directly into the sunrise. I literally could not see a sighting buoy until it was within five feet of me. All you could really do is follow people in front of you and hope the herd of cattle were heading in the right direction!
After I exited the water at the end of the first loop, they were just finishing up getting all of the 2000 participants into the water for the first time. This meant it was going to be fairly congested this time around, one of my main complaints with a two looped system. I found myself swimming in terrible position quite a bit where the buoys were on our right and I’d be on the far left of the pack. This adds up to a lot of extra yards on a course with this many turns. I definitely need to continue to work on my navigation around swim courses in the future. All in all, I accomplished my goal of feeling very good and refreshed exiting this beautiful swim course with a less then optimal swim time. My swim coach, Laura, and I will keep working hard on that!
Results: OA – 87th out of 2149, AG – 17th out of 109, 1:03:18 (1:30/100 yds)
Definitely the longest T1 I’ve done to date! They make you run up a very steep boat ramp a good 1/3rd of a mile, zig-zag around transition and the changing tents, before finally making your way to your bike. This transition can cause your heart rate to fly through the roof if you let it. I was also very nervous about hurting my tendon running uphill. It would have been a very long day if it got aggravated early… I ended up taking it very easy and made my way to my bike.
Being a relatively weaker swimmer, it’s always fun to blast by people early on the bike to give you that much needed mental boost. I did zero recon on this bike course ahead of time, but from what I heard it would be fairly hilly and technical in the first half then nearly pancake flat in the second. Given the temperature would be in the mid 80’s during the run, I targeted a moderate bike power of 245 watts. I would play it fairly conservative in the first half working on getting my heart rate down and “flattening” the hills, then put out very consistent power in the back half. Hopefully this would mean make up significant ground on the leaders later in the day. For the most part, I raced my race, but man there was some fast swimmers AND bikers out there today!
The first few miles leaving transition were a rush! It was a fairly steep downhill down some pretty curvy and technical roads where you are going well over 40 mph. Being a good bike handler, I was able to zip by most people and even caught up with someone riding their top tube in aero. He must have thought he was in the Tour de France or something! At the bottom of the decent came the fairly consistent rolling hills. None of them were too significant in length, but was certainly steeper than I was expecting, especially after looking at the elevation map of the course. For the next 30 miles, I’d ride consistent power and slowly make more and more passes. There was just one guy that blew by me like a bat out of hell and seemed to vanish into the sunrise… I’d go the entire race without seeing him again, yet he never finished the race. Hopefully he’s alright!
At mile 30, there was an out-and-back for a couple of miles. This was the first time I could tell where I was placed. There was already people finishing the out-and-back as I arrived and a good 20 people on that stretch. This was definitely disheartening, but kept telling myself there is a lot of race left and keep telling myself to race my race. I also was putting a heavy emphasis on nutrition and hydration, taking a Huma gel every 10 miles and Gatorade Endurance in all of the miles in-between. This came out to roughly 400 calories/hr which was spot on for this race. The next 30 miles were pretty uneventful as we headed into town and to the start of our two flat loops.
The loop wasn’t nearly as fast as I was expecting because we had some winds start to kick up, but man did I feel strong! I definitely felt like I was holding myself back the entire bike! I knew I would be needing all the extra energy I could get on the run, and just kept slowly ticking away at more and more riders. On the back half of the race, there was about a 2 mile section of absolutely terrible roads. It was really my only complaint about this entire race, but man it was definitely was something to complain about… The first time through, I was reaching for nutrition and was nearly launched off of my bike when the rough patch came out of nowhere. After getting it together, I just held on for dear life for the next two miles. You really couldn’t avoid the potholes because the entire road was absolutely covered. To make matters worse, there was sporatic shade which made the rough patches really sneak up on you. Luckily, I kept it upright and had a nice chiropractor adjustment in the process!
Coming into transition I was absolutely pumped because I felt so strong and was flying by riders at the end. With the bike power I had in additon to how I felt, I really was expecting to be in the top 3 or 5 at the most coming into T2. My sails were completely deflated when I saw about a dozen bikes sitting on the racks…
Results: OA – 6th out of 2149, AG – 2nd out of 109, 4:51:01 (23.09 mph)
I flew into T2, handed my bike off to a volunteer, and then made my way into the changing tents. A lot of negative thoughts were flying thinking my day was over. I just tried to bring it in and focus on the task at hand, a short little 26.2 mile run…
I rarely was able to get out of my aero position on the second half of the flat bike course. This lead to my lower back being completely locked up at the start of the run. One positive was that this shifted my focus away from my foot tendon! I knew the back would loosen up eventually, so I just tried to stay calm and focused. I broke this course down in thirds, which was awfully convenient considering it was a three lapped course. The first lap was all about playing it conservative, just like I had in Louisville. I put up a 148 HR (Zone 2) cap as well as a 7:00/mi cap. On the second lap, I would remove any speed cap and let my HR up another 5 beats or so if I was feeling good. I knew my lack of running fitness would catch up on me in the third lap, so that would be TBD…
After about four miles, my lower back loosened up and I was feeling great! I was holding steady 7:00-7:15 miles and had a nice and low HR (144 BPM). Being self admittedly, not the fastest racer in high heat, I tried something new in this race. I ended up wearing a cooling towel around my neck and would dump cold water on it at every aid station. Given the temp was in the 80’s, this sure felt nice! Although it certainly was not a “magic bullet”, I’m confident it marginally helped me to maintain a cool core temp. I would also dump ice down the front of my jersey every chance I could get! I started to pass a few people and just had one person, Matt Ison, the eventual 3rd place finisher blast by me running about 6:30 miles. I made it about halfway through the run before the heat and lack of running fitness slowly started to catch up to me…
At that point, it just turned into survival mode and damage control… I literally started to cramp everywhere. I’ve never had to rely too heavily on extra salt, but it was definitely my saving grace for that second half of the run. Every time I would start to feel the tingling sensation in my quads, I’d take a good lick of base salt. After a few mins, the sensation would disappear before sneaking up on me again the next mile. I repeated this routine until I was licking base salt every ¼ mile! Let’s just say I went through an entire container of base salt in the last miserable hour and a half… I ended up walking and even stopping at every aid station to try and cool my body down. At one point, I grabbed an entire gallon of water off the aid station and dumped it over my head. Let’s just say I was in survival mode!
Luckily, it looked like a few people were hurting as much as I was and I slowly made my way up the leader board. I ended up pacing behind an EMJ guy, John Savage, for the last 7 miles or so. He was definitely a class act and we would exchange high fives at various turn arounds. That definitely helped me dig deep and work WITH him to rope in a guy or two at the end.
Their mile markers were all placed in wrong spots throughout the course. The last “mile” was a good 1.6 miles and I began to think I would never see the finish line! Once I turned the corner and saw the finish chute, I was so relieved this long day was finally coming to a close. Phew…
Results: OA – 9th out of 2149, AG – 3rd out of 109, 3:14:04 (7:24 min/mi)
I ended up finishing 6th overall in a very competitive race. I am definitely pleased with how this race turned out considering what I’ve been through the last month and a half. I raced with no regrets and left it all on the race course. What more could you ask for?!
After putting about a dozen ice packs all over my sore legs and downing a plate of sushi, we went and watched two other Team BBMC racers finish, Dan Luhman and Darin Spindler. There is so much energy around the finish line, it is definitely something worth sticking around for after you finish. The next morning was awards where the 25-29 AG showed their dominance with the top 5 all in the top 8 overall!
Overall Results: OA – 6th out of 2149, AG – 3rd out of 109, 9:16:56
Racing IRONMAN is definitely a team effort and I’m blessed to have one of the best! Thank you to my family and friends for all of the support and encouragement. It definitely helps me dig deep knowing people believe in me. A special thank you to my swim coach, Laura Becherer, and her daughter, Kelley Becherer for making the trip to California to watch me race. Thank you to my chiropractor, and ART guru, Dr. Tislau for your work in getting my sore foot to the start (and finish) line! Thank you to my triathlon coach, Blake Becker, and the rest of Team BBMC for getting me ready to race despite the setbacks.
Last, but not least, thank you to my amazing sponsors that allow me to race with the best on the best equipment! Thank you to Quintana Roo, I definitely feel like a rocket ship on the PRsix! Thank you to Zone 3 USA, the Vanquish wetsuit has been hands down the most comfortable wetsuit I’ve been in. Thank you to Epix gear for designing the most flashy race suit on the course! Thank you to Huma Gels which continue to allow me to hammer it on the race course and have zero worries about GI issues. Those days are long and gone for me! Thank you to Creekside Chiropractic for keeping my body functioning at a high level. Active Release Therapy (ART) has been my secret weapon to recovering quickly! Thank you to Attitude Sports for providing the best mechanical services around and keeping my equipment dialed in!