This blog is a continuation from my last blog post “My Kona Journey: Part 5”. I would suggest reading that blog before reading this one.
“The five S’s of sports training are: stamina, speed, strength, skill, and spirit; but the greatest of these is spirit.”
– Ken Doherty
I did it! I achieved my biggest goal of my Ironman career! I qualified for Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.
Focus now: recover from Ironman Brasil and start ramping up training for Kona. During the 2 week rest and recovery after Brasil, I have to admit that the post-season blues set in. I know this sounds strange because I had accomplished my biggest goal… but suddenly, I didn’t have that next big goal to chase. Don’t get me wrong; I was very happy that I qualified to compete at Hawaii in October. But, I knew that I needed a new, challenging goal to chase to keep me focused in training and, probably most importantly, to keep my motivation high for those hard training days ahead. After much thought and discussion with my coach, I determined that a top 5 finish in my age group at Kona fit the bill perfectly. The top 5 athletes per each age group are recognized at the Award Ceremonies the following day after the race. It is the highest honors that an amateur Ironman athlete can earn.
Finishing in the top 5 at Kona will be no easy task. I will need a good training plan, to stay injury-free, and to stay highly motivated. Most importantly, I need to believe that I could achieve this goal. There have been a few athletes that I’ve raced against locally around Michigan who have finished in the top 5 at Kona. So I had a good idea on where I stacked up in the competition. Also I’m a tall and lean athlete which puts me at an advantage of dissipating heat as long as I can stay hydrated. My current level of fitness was a little behind where I needed to be to achieve a top 5 podium spot, so my coach and I laid out a plan of attack to put me in the best possible position at Hawaii.
Looking over the past year results at Kona there was a very consistent trend for the top 5 times. For the swim the top 5 have been around a hour or 1-2 mins faster. For the bike the top 5 have been between 4:53 to 5:00 hours- which are fast times considering the heat and the wind. For the run the marathon times have been between 3:00 to 3:10 hours. I felt comfortable doing the swim in a hour or less considering I’ve always been under a hour in my past Ironman competitions. My coach and I felt that the bike was the area where I needed the most improvement- I needed to get 5 to 10 minutes faster on the bike to put me under a 5 hour bike time. As for the run, as long as I rode within myself on the bike and properly hydrated I can run between a 3:05 to 3:10 hour marathon. I was a little surprised that I was not too far off from a top 5 performance. However, I may be a little naive since I never raced in the Kona. But, I made it this far and I was determined to do my best… “go big or go home!”
Once we had a plan of attack I started getting back into a normal training routine 2 weeks after Ironman Brasil. Coming off of Ironman Brasil I needed those 2 easy “down” weeks so I could recover physically and mentally. In addition, shortly after the race, I was sick for 5 days which added additional stress to my body. Mentally it took me 10 days to get my desire to start training hard again. When I got back to training the strategy was to focus on the bike and maintain my swim and run fitness.
During the month of June I gradually ramped up my training from 8 hours per week to 16-17 hours per week. On June 17th I did the Kalamazoo Klassic 10K and 5K. I won the 10k which was my 3rd 10k title at the Klassic and one hour later I finished 2nd in the 5K run in a time of 16:15. Overall I thought it was a successful day considering it was only 3 weeks post Brasil. The Klassic is one of my favorite races in Kalamazoo due to the support and people so I always like to fit it in my schedule if I can.
When I got to July my training was going really well. I was having some of my best long rides of my career. I was executing or exceeding my power targets during all of my bike workouts. On July 16th I did the Tri Del Sol Olympic distance Triathlon which was a breakthrough race for me. I had a good swim, a great bike, and a solid run. During the swim I was in the lead after 200 yards and stayed in the lead for the rest of the race. I had my best career power average on the bike. I broke my previous best olympic distance power average by over 20 watts for the 23 mile bike ride. By the time I got to the run I had a 3 minute lead so I could relax and enjoy the run a little bit. My Tri Del Sol performance was a big confidence booster heading into August where I planned on doing the USAT Olympic Distance Age Group Nationals in Omaha, Nebraska.
The biggest racing month of the year for me was in August. In August, I did the Ready or Not 5k, USAT Nationals, and Michigan Titanium. The Ready or Not 5k is a small local race in Otsego, MI that is put on by the Otsego High School running club. I’ve been doing this race since 2001 when I was a freshman at Otsego. It’s always been a tradition for me to do this race every year to support the club. This year the course was changed due to construction so it ended up being 3 miles instead of 3.1 miles. I ended up finishing 2nd in a time of 15:19 which I was happy with considering I haven’t ran that fast in over 3 years. The overall winner was the very talented Alex Comerford who is a Junior at Otsego.
The following weekend after the Ready or Not was USAT Nationals which took place on August 12th. I put high expectations on myself going into Nationals. Base on my Tri Del Sol performance in July I felt that I was going to have my best finish ever at Nationals. My previous best overall finish was 17th however each year Nationals get more and more competitive so you have to keep improving just to keep up. I’ve been doing the USAT Olympic distance Nationals since 2013 so I had a good sense of the competition and were my current fitness would place me in the overall rankings. On race day I felt rested and ready to go. I did a 2 mile run warm up that felt great so I knew my run legs were ready to go fast. During the race I had a solid swim and got out of the water in my highest position ever. I was excited to start the bike leg because this was my biggest improvement for the year. I rode well for the first 5 minutes then later on I was not holding my goal power. I wasn’t feeling as powerful on the bike like I did in Tri Del Sol. So I had to forget about riding at goal power and instead focus on holding a consist power and try to negative split the 2nd half. I did negative split the ride and it still ended up being my 2nd best career power average for the bike leg. When I started the run my legs were feeling great. At the .5 mile marker my watch was showing a 5:24 min mile pace so I knew I was going to have a good day on the run. I ended up running the flat 10k course in a 33:18 which was the 2nd fastest run of the entire competition. In fact that was the fastest road 10k time I ever ran period! I ended up finishing 3rd in my age group and 8th overall in the competition. If I had a better bike I could’ve climbed a few more spots but overall I was still happy with how the race went. It was my highest finish at Nationals.
The final race in August was Michigan Titanium. My original plan was to do the half iron distance. However, I had a issues with my left calf that was giving me some discomfort when I ran on it. I was concern about running on my calf and making it worse so I decided to do a Full Aquabike instead. The Full Aquabike was a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike. In hindsight it was the right call because the big goal was to stay healthy for Kona. I ended up winning the Full Aquabike and it was a great Ironman training day! To recap the race, on race morning it was really fogging on the lake which made it difficult to sight buoys during the swim. At the start of the swim I took the lead and then I eventually got lost halfway through the first lap. In fact, I had to stop swimming to ask a Kayaker where the next buoy was at. Fortunately everyone else got lost behind me as well so I was just the leader of the lost boy’s club. The fog eventually cleared up and by the 2nd lap of the swim I was able to find my way around the course. I was the first athlete out of the water and the first to start the bike. My goal for the bike was to break 5 hours which was 22.4 mph average. My biking legs were feeling good and I ended up riding the 112 mile course in a 4:53! For once I paced the ride very evenly and I didn’t have any really bad patches. I beat my previous best Ironman bike distance by 10 minutes and Titanium was a hard course! It was just one of those days where things were clicking. Now if I can do that same ride in Kona then I’ll be in a good position coming off the bike.
After Michigan Titanium I had one more race before Kona and that was the Reeds Lake Triathlon Olympic Distance on September 9th. I didn’t have any high expectations for Reed’s Lake but I just wanted to do a race in September to keep my competitive spirit going. In addition, I’ve never did Reeds Lake so it’s always been a bucket list race. I ended up finishing 2nd overall in the race behind Todd Buckingham who finished 3rd overall at the USAT Nationals this year. The morning race temperatures were in the low 50s which is cold for a triathlon. I was able to stay warm during the swim because of the wetsuit and thermal cap but once I got to the bike I froze. On the bike my feet and hands were numb. When I got to the T2 transition it took me longer than usual to unclip my helmet and put my run gear on because I had hardly any grip strength with my frozen hands. When I started the run I could not get my legs to go at all because they were so cold. It was a weird feeling to not feel your feet during the first few miles of the run. I just had to laugh it off and just keep running along. I was able to see the race leader and I figured out that he had at least a 3 minute lead on me. I was in 2nd place and there was no way that I was going to catch the race leader so I just ran fast enough to hold onto my position. What I enjoyed most about this race was the food and beverages afterwards:)
In summary I had my best summer triathlon season ever. I was faster in every race compared to previous years. After Reeds Lake I had 5 weeks to go to Kona. The next 5 weeks would be solely focused on Ironman training and tapering for the big race.