At the end of 2021, I was never going to race a 140.6 again. I’m trying to remember how this all fell into place… I probably waited too long to write this, but here goes.
I crashed at mile 56 on the bike at IM Wisconsin 2021. I finished, but it was my second disappointing finish there and I was frustrated with long-course racing. Ah, I remember, then I was given the chance to race at Challenge Roth in 2022 by our parent company, UVEX.
COVID was still relevant at the beginning of the year, and I told myself if I was going to train up, I was going to get in a race. The scrapes and bruises healed, I knew my fitness had been great at IMWI, I was aging up to the 45–50 age group, so I looked for an opportunity to qualify for Kona. Des Moines was in its first year, was the North American Championship (20 extra slots), and was drivable. Click, ca-ching, registered. 2 Ironman races.
MiTi offered a sale that was ½ off, I would already be in shape and it’s fun doing a local race for fun. Click, ca-ching, registered. 3 Iron distance races.
So that was the plan, we all know how #4 happens.
This was my real race. I was in great shape, the goal was to qualify, nerves were high! Hot forecast, high 80’s to low 90’s, no clouds.
Swim (1:05) – Great swim, one of my best. Two loops in small Grays Lake. Went off time trial style, congestion was there but not terrible. Each loop had a small run (40 yds?) across a small peninsula that juts out into the lake. Interesting, not terrible.
On loop 1, the pros came through, I could tell by the different cap color and the wake they left behind. I tried to grab some toes, ha, fat chance. Amazing how they navigated through the crowded field. I cramped a little on the second reentry and took it easy the last couple hundred yards.
T1 (7:25) – Long run from the water, across a road, to a GIANT field that was transition. They could have fit 10,000 athletes. Sunscreen and onto the bike.
Bike (5:14) – Jumped on my bike, threw on my visor and quickly realized something was wrong when the visor started flying off. I caught it with my hand at one point. The one downfall with the UVEX helmet is the magnets have tended to come off. I glued them back on that weekend. Apparently, I put one back with reversed polarity. I lost a second one and it was enough to barely allow it to stay on. I nearly threw it away 10x as I just couldn’t get it to stick into place.
Finally, about mile 30 I got it to seat with only a small gap at the top left. Anytime over 30 MPH it would chatter and flap but somehow it miraculously stayed on the rest of the ride. Course is a net uphill the first half and net downhill the way back, a big rectangle and wind can be a factor. I caught it pretty good. Only slight headwinds on the way out and some great crosswinds with a slight tail that brought me most of the way back.
One near death experience at about mile 75 was the only issue. I lifted off the saddle to pee going down a decent descent. Hit a bump and my right foot came out of the pedal. I fell and thankfully landed on the saddle. Big swoop left, then right to save it. Holy crap. Took about 5 seconds to coast and then back at it.
T2 (4:24) – Still a decent run, more sunscreen, temps are getting hot and it’s sunny, slight breeze is going to help. Threw on my shoes and got going.
Run (3:29) – I came off the bike feeling the best I’ve ever felt. I had to consciously tell myself to slow down, or the heat was going to eat me up. Course was 2.5 loops around the lake and into downtown with an out and back section that was very exposed, and tree-lined so the breeze was minimized.
Relatively flat with a few hills as you get downtown. It became immediately clear, a good run was going to be about cooling. Water, ice, every aid station anywhere you can stuff it. I finally saw Kari coming back from the first full lap. She told me I was 6th . Not where I wanted to be, but within striking distance with a full lap to go.
I circled to the finish line and heading out for the final lap, and she gave me a new update, 7th . What? Nobody passed me?? Had to be something to do with start times in the swim. To get Kona slot, I knew I had to get to at least 5th or maybe even 4th . I pushed as far as I think I ever have that second loop. I only walked the aid stations and with temperatures peaking at 90 degrees, it was a miserable and painful last hour or so. The mile markers were measuring about .2 long versus my Garmin, so I thought I might break 10 hours, but they got it all back at the 26-mile marker and it finished spot on at 26.2. I ended up grabbing 4th and a Kona slot for the second time.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been that sore after a race but damn it was worth it. This might have been the best shape I’ve been in, and I would love to see how fast I could go on a 75-degree day. I think I could have neared or bettered my PR of 9:43.
3 weeks later… and another 90-degree day…
Given the result at Des Moines and the expectations of my coworkers, I wanted to have a good result at Roth.
Kari urged me to take it easy, I figured I’d get out there and see how I felt. I recovered on a week of vacation in Colorado, then made sure I could run the two weeks leading up and gave it a go.
Jet lag this time over was the worst I’ve experienced. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep until the night before the race. Thanks, Gabriele, for all your help as my sherpa and travel buddy that week!
Swim (1:09) – Pretty slow. Legs felt like they were sinking the entire time. I don’t love that swim, the canal is boring, just up and back, sun in your eyes every time you breathe the way back.
T1 (3:06) – I don’t remember a thing, must mean nothing happened. My bike was in some backfield split off from the main transition, so felt like a little longer run than it could have been.
Bike (5:22) – Good bike, about the same as last time. I didn’t ride very steady; I’d go through waves of wind or bursts of energy where I’d have good power and good speed or just felt a little off. Solarer Berg hill was amazing as ever, especially after the race had been cancelled/delayed the prior two years.
Two loops, some great climbs and descents. More wind this year than I remember the last time. I traded spots for most of the bike ride with my Italian coworker from UVEX so that was fun to have someone else out there.
T2 (3:18) – I came in ahead of Silvio but passed him on the way out. We high-fived and I hit the course.
Run (3:29) – Another HOT day with full sun. My legs felt good out of the gate but again, I told myself to hold back. Most of the first 20 miles of this course are basically pancake flat. The miles clipped away easily and there was a good breeze where we ran next to the canal. Silvio passed me about 6 miles in and he was moving. I didn’t think I’d see him again. I picked up the Des Moines strategy very quickly,
ice/water over the head and down the suit every chance you get. Pace was steady.
About mile 14, I realized I was pulling Silvio back in. I passed him about mile 15 after we exchanged a few motivating words with each other. Around mile 18 it set in I wasn’t recovered, and it was going to be a slog on the way back to the finish.
Mile 20 begins a 2-mile climb into the town of Buchenbach. I think I walked 1.5 miles of it up and the way down wasn’t much better. I’d mix in running where I could, but the grade made it feel like someone was stabbing me in my quads.
The last two miles I was able to pull it back together a bit and met a young German guy and we paced off each other the last couple miles. He had 6-month-old twins at home, trained for the race and was even still married.
Finished on fumes but still with a pretty good time and just in front of Silvio who was closing in hard the last few miles. We grabbed a burger and a beer after to celebrate.
6 weeks later… and when there should have been 90 degrees, it was 70…
I told myself I was going to go easy, just a long training day. I tried, but it’s still a long hard day.
Swim (1:15) – Easy paddle, no pressure, time reflected it, ha.
T1 (8:54) – full change into bike kit, slow run out of the water, might have even walked some.
Bike (5:50) – New bike course, out and back with some new sections of road I hadn’t ridden. Didn’t feel good for most of the ride, but no pressure, just get it done. Stopped to use porta johns and grab Vaseline a few times and chewed up a few minutes off the bike.
Kari said I probably shouldn’t do this one… she was right.
T2 (10:45) – Another full change, I think I also had some food. Saw an old friend, Chris, in T2, and got the lowdown on his race.
You can cover a lot in 10 minutes…
Run (3:52) – I went easy. My legs were bad, and I knew it pretty much right away.
I was able to muster a run for the first half of the race. But, at mile 13, I started a run/walk – I can’t remember if it was 4/1 or 6/2 minutes split. The run walk was a good idea. My mile splits came down from close to 10 minutes back to mid 8 or 9 minutes. Good to know but it still sucked and I just wanted to be done.
I do love this race though. Local, so well run and a familiar face around every turn. I saw Kari and Cassie out there many times, along with so many other friends and teammates.
I was able to cross the finish line with Cassie which was really special and definitely the highlight of the race. Well, that and the guy at the finish line who said he saw he was in my age group and described how he powered past me for the victory in the last mile, ha.
8 weeks later… and mid-80’s, but we knew that was coming…
The motivation to get after those last weeks of training was hard to find. I told myself I could go out there and have fun but that’s easier said than done. You just want to perform and see how you can do on that course.
The two-day format had mostly cons. Earlier arrival required, housing is even tougher to find and even more expensive, I missed having the mixed field. Having said that, volunteering for Day 1, and being so close to the action was so awesome. I really enjoyed it. I don’t think it helped my race, but I’d do it again, I might even go out just for that.
Swim (1:08) – 1:08 in open ocean, no wetsuit, I’ll take it. Wave starts by AG, so smaller than the mass start I did last time but no less rough. It was a 20-minute melee over what felt like the same 12 sq ft of water. Everyone is just similarly paced and there’s nowhere to go. I took the hardest shot in the goggle I’ve ever had. Completely filled one eye. I endured it until the turn-around and was able to get some space to stop and empty. I found some good feet on the way home and finished in what felt like a faster second half.
T1 (6:14) – I’m not sure if this is a result of the 2-day format, but IM really cut back on volunteer support and amenities in Kona. Changing tent support was non-existent. Sunscreen was in tiny pouches lying on a table. Try rushing to your bike while opening and spreading 6 ketchup packets of sunscreen on yourself. At least give us a couple of big bottles with a pump on top…
Bike (5:32) – Didn’t feel like I had it the first half. We did have a headwind on the way out, but it wasn’t miserable until the climb up to Hawi. I just felt like I was going backwards, I didn’t feel like I could hold my target power and just gave and backed it down a bit. I enjoyed watching the pros come past and all the fast age groupers.
My wave was one of the latest to start so the aid stations were a little more torn apart than I normally see. Holy crap, does this sport use a lot of plastic water bottles. IM needs to figure out something sustainable to do there, I hope they at least have them recycled. I’ve never seen so many empty bottles in my life.
The bike was hot, whoever said that the wind was like a hot hairdryer is right. On the way down from Hawi, the wind switched favorably and the boost in speed also gave me a mental boost. I had a good second half and pushed my bike back to a respectable 20 MPH average (for me).
T2 (8:42) – Long run around the pier with your bike, no catchers, another IM cut, more self-applied sunscreen packets with slippery fingers that can’t open them in a barren changing tent then out on the run.
Run (4:33) – I knew early on it wasn’t going to go well but didn’t think it’d be quite as bad as it was.
Pretty early, within the first 4 miles, I could tell my legs weren’t there. I had the desire to walk every hill and my HR peaked quickly on every ascent. I saw Kari at the turn on Ali’I and let her know the scoop and that I might be a little slow.
Another IM shortcut was reducing the number of aid stations. I was accustomed to hydration and ice every mile, but at Kona, aid was now suddenly spaced more than a mile and a half apart. That extra half mile without ice or water was definitely noticed.
By the time I got back to Palani I felt cooked. I walked up at a fast walk and started running again at the top, but it was short-lived. I employed the MiTi run/walk strategy for a while and it went ok but by the time I could see the old turn down to the energy lab I was in walk uphill and shuffle downhill mode.
The sun was unrelenting, and my skin felt like it was frying. Add to it, I wasn’t aware of the course change (my bad) and you now run past the Lab and down in about a mile past. In my mind, this meant it probably shortened up the time spend down there. I didn’t piece together that Ali’I had been shortened quite a bit. It mentally crushed me when I saw we had to turn down towards the water back the way of the old course. More miles, more time, more walking.
I got over it and as the sun started to set, I began running a little more again. Surprisingly, I was in a good spot mentally. I could understand why I was where I was in that race, and it made sense. It still didn’t make it fun though. It sucks being out there that long.
Kari walked out 2 miles and finally met up with me at about mile 24. We walked together for a bit. Chatted about things. I love her. We made a plan to meet up at the finish line and I took off and told myself I’d run the rest of the way (it’s all downhill).
I crossed my first finish line in the dark (kinda cool) and had Mike Reilly call me in one last time, my 13th Ironman finish.
1) 4x Ironman in 4 months is too much for me, especially if I think I’m going to perform at the top of my game.
2) Listen to your wife.
3) You’ll never know unless you try.