Following my first ever Iron-distance race in June in Venice, Italy, I came back to Boulder, Colorado, where I believed the mountains, friends, and familiar training groups were the answer to coming unstuck.
Unfortunately I still went through a deep burn out and depression period. I’ll spare you the details, but you can imagine I wasn’t the cheeriest person to be around. Living the sport life is such a rollercoaster of extreme highs and extreme lows.
Luckily, thinking about Challenge Aruba at the end of October brought a smile to my face, and was the motivation I needed to get some panic training in. I owe it to the awesome swim & run group training environment available here in Boulder to get me out the door. Thanks to Boulder Striders, CAC Boulder Masters Swim, and Boulder Track Club!
* PRO TIP: Next time you’re in a slump, I’d recommend you join a Master’s Swim group, and a Run Group. They make the training fun & social, the miles & the hard work fly by, and the human contact (coupled with the endorphins) is a great depression & anxiety relief. *
Challenge Aruba came around at the end of October, and it was a much needed change of environment. The Ocean, the island vibe, the happy locals, and the upcoming race provided a much needed distraction as well as a clear focus. The weather was harsh: heat, humidity, and 30kt winds.
* PRO TIP: When acclimating to hotter environments, try NOT to be in an air-conditioned environment EXCEPT when sleeping at night. Try to get used to being in the heat & humidity, albeit AWAY from direct sun exposure (which simply fries you!). *
I love coffee, so I always try and get properly caffeinated before the start by sucking down on a CLIF double-shot espresso gel 15' prior to the start. Since the gun went off 10' before sunrise, we were literally swimming in the dark, which made it an obvious choice for the TYR Special Ops 2.0 clear lenses.
* PRO TIP: always pack a few different lens tints, to suit any weather conditions. *
Not having trained the swim as hard core as I had in the past, I chose to start conservatively, and rather build into the 1.9k ocean swim.
* PRO TIP: A word of advice from being in countless beach starts: don’t go striding down the beach like Usain Bolt and start off swimming like Lochte in the 50 free! Chances are that, unless you’ve trained for it specifically, you’ll go anaerobic and suffer for it throughout the rest of the swim. *
The swim took us far out into the choppy ocean, which made it a favorable condition for my Ocean-swimming (as opposed to pool-swimming) style. As an aside, I’d be happy to dive further into this topic.
I found myself off the front of the race with Andy Potts, who I’ve gotten to chat with quite a bit in Aruba and I have now the utmost respect for, who – just fresh off his Kona 7th place and 1st American – led most of the way and did some incredible sighting in the rough choppy & windy conditions.
We crossed the swim exit banner dead-even, quite a ways off the front from the chasers. It was my first time swimming in the TYR Torque swimkin (as all my prior races this year had been wetsuit legal), and I’m happy with its performance, comfort, and ease of use. I had forgotten to put on Bodyglide, and still came out unchafed!
Not having done structured training on the bike as of late, the bike leg was the big unknown for me. But then again, I try to remind myself that “it’s just swim-bike-run”. I’ve done a million hard bike rides, and this will just be another one of those.
* PRO TIP: It’s funny how such a physical sport like triathlon often comes down to mindset & mental fortitude more so than your legs/heart/lungs. *
I knew from the start that I wouldn’t have had the pop nor the commitment to go to that dark place required to break off the front off the race and drop Andy. I didn’t ride by power (measured with my Pioneer power meter) like I usually do, and rather chose to ride by feel settling into whatever pace felt comfortably uncomfortable for the beginning of the 90k ride. I have done enough 90k TTs to know that later in the ride, coupled with the heat and the wind, that same comfortably uncomfortable pace would escalate to uncomfortably uncomfortable, and it’s just a matter of gritting your teeths just a bit harder.
* PRO TIP: When the going gets tough, I like to ask myself: “What else would I be rather be doing right now?”. For me the answer to your question so far has always been “There's no place I'd rather be than right here & right now pedaling my bike hard!”. If that’s not the answer you come up with, then maybe you’re in the wrong sport! *
Potts and I swapped the lead at the front a bunch of times, and I had so much respect for him racing like he was 1 week after a great result in Kona. Towards the end of the ride (maybe 75k) we got caught by an on fire (almost literally, given his watts and the heat we were riding in) Cody Beals. I knew he was the man to beat. He’s talented, hungry, smart, and had been chasing the win all year long. Like I’ve gotten to experience before from him (ouch!) and I know he tactically trains for it, he attacked us at I’d guess 400w, and neither I nor Andy could match. But I knew that if we kept in contact, there was a good chance we’d catch him on an upcoming technical downhill section (I knew Cody does all his riding indoor in Canada). Andy rode that section super well, and I simply followed his line, and we bridged back to Cody. Then we rode it all 3 together into T2.
I was happy to have chosen the Easton Aero55 deep wheels over a disc wheel, which made the windy ride much more manageable, and was able to never come out of the aero position (except turns).
For anyone interested in my bike NUTRITION:
It was definitely an unenthusiastic ride from me, and it turned out the same watts as my 180k TT at Challenge Venice.
* PRO TIP: don’t rely too much on your numbers as you ride, because a) you’re not playing a videogame in which the closest you are to a certain number, the better off you are, and b) sometimes it’s better not to know how BAD or GOOD you’re riding! *
I hadn’t done ANY running off the bike since Challenge Venice over 4 months prior, and I was actually genuinely curious to see whether my legs would feel either AWESOME or CRAP after the 90k ride. It turned out the latter.
Nonetheless, earlier in the year for months on end I had done about 2 short hard runs off the bike per week (20-40’ long) under the coaching of Purplepatch fitness, so I was optimistic that the leg conditioning, neuromuscular pathways, and mental resilience was still hiding in there somewhere!
After about 1 mile feeling like a "donkey dipped in cement" (Matt Dixon's favorite way of addressing my running), I found my legs and got into a rhythm. Again, I went with no watch, because I knew in this harsh weather conditions the pace would be irrelevant. It was not fast running by any means, but rather managing the conditions. 10% of it was on deep sand as well. It was fun to run on the beachwalk among all the locals & tourists staying at the hotels lining the course.
* PRO TIP: When running a half-marathon in the midst of the day in the Caribbean, forget your training paces, target paces, PRs, etc, and rather focus on your effort level, finding a "comfortably uncomfortable" rhythm, hydrate at every aid station, and do anything to keep your core temperature low. *
NUTRITION & HYDRATION: I had 2x CLIF gels (1x caffeine and 1x non-caffeine) throughout the 21k run, a few sips of coke, and at every aid station I had 2 gulps of water (the cups were small)
*PRO TIP: Cooling strategies. Dump water on your head as much as you can. Suck on some ice cubes, and hold some in your hands as well. *
Overall, I'm happy to finally get back on the podium, and experience the thrill of racing again after a down period. That bubbly always feel good on stage...especially out of a running shoe! :)
I owe a big THANK YOU to the following organizations that allow me to do what I love for a living:
ARUBA RUN COURSE CLEANUP
Triathlon can be a selfish pursuit.
For months now I've been looking for a way to use my athlete platform and my training & racing around the world as a way to have a positive impact on our precarious and rapidly deteriorating environment.
To me, swimming biking and running represent the ultimate freedom, and the expression of human potential.
Yet, it seems like in our pursuit to be faster, we often forget about the environment we so dearly depend on and value in our training sessions.
After seeing race courses worldwide littered with cups, gels, water bottles, wraps, and all sort of trash, I have made a commitment to help out the volunteers clean up after our own mess.
In Aruba, the organizations and the volunteers did an amazing job cleaning up the majority of the trash from the course immediately following the race, but the day after on the run course cleanup I organized we still filled over 5 full garbage bags of cups, gels, bottles, sponges, and all sort of other waste.
We, the triathlon community, have a responsibility to leave the race course CLEANER than we found it. I understand triathlon attracts a certain breed of people, but it would be nice if we stopped obsessing over PRs, placings, splits, in favor of caring a bit more about our Earth and one another.
Please get in touch if you want to get involved and start a movement to make the sport we love a bit greener and a bit more caring for the beautiful surroundings we train & race in.
It’s now been almost 3 weeks exactly after racing my first ever Iron-distance race at Challenge Venice on June 11 (3.8k swim, 180k ride, 42k run), and I think I have finally got a hold of my emotional and physical state to jot down a few thoughts...
First, a few words about the 9h:02’ race that saw me finishing in a less than thrilling 7th pace, after leading off the front on the the swim and the 180k ride.
To recap 9 hours of racing in a few words: that was a long, mentally taxing, and strenuous day of exercising.
The 3.8k point-to-point straight swim took place along the bridge connecting Venice to Mestre. Even though the water was extremely warm & the air torrid, it was deemed wetsuit-legal. Just a few strokes in, I was ready to be done.
I focused on "throwing the arms over" (Aussie slang I got to learn to love), and 50’ odd minutes later, I came out the other end in the lead.
Usually I'd be disappointed to have people in tow, but this time I was almost relieved to see Casadei (local favorite) on my tail to keep me company on the 180k bike.
We held a solid consistent pace throughout the ride in the flat, windy & hot countryside around Venice. Towards the final 30k or so, Casadei faltered a bit and dropped off, while I maintained the same pace and led into T2.
TTing on the flats in the bars for 4h30’ at a consistent power output was mentally very very draining, and was happy to be off the bike. (Check out the Strava file below)
The marathon in 100 degrees weather was certainly where the race was made.
At every station I would dunk myself in the ice buckets, which is what kept me alive throughout the marathon. I ran feeling strong (albeit slow it appears) for 30k, collecting a plethora of colorful bracelets along the 5 loops course.
At 30k I crumbled and begun walking for “a bunch of Ks” (it’s all a blur really). I was ready to be done, but mustered all the mental energy I could to get running again, just to finish my first Iron-distance race, so I could finally say I did “a real triathlon”, tell the grandkids one day, and never have to do one ever again! It ended up being a 3h30’ run, which could have been worse, but could have been much better...
Now a few bullet-points to concisely think back to the race, and hopefully be of some help to someone out there.
THE POST-RACE STRUGGLE
After the race I felt tired of course, happy with finishing the race, but feeling a bit puzzled by the fact that at the end of the day I had achieved yet another MEDIOCRE race result, which was not on par to my expectations and not reflecting of all the hard & long training months, the sacrifices, and all that this sport has required of me.
My coach Matt Dixon of Purplepatch fitness prescribed me a 2h ride the Monday following the race and on Tuesday a 2k swim and a jog, but all I could muster was a spin on the cruiser bike to the lake for 10 VERY BAD strokes. The rest of the week was all prescribed OFF, doing something active. Too bad Italy was in the middle of a heat-wave, so anything outdoor was an additional struggle: I got myself out of the house mainly to go do something on the water, be it windsurfing, some sort of swimming, and a hike up high in the crisper air. It didn’t involve any triathlon.
During that week I was a very unpleasant person to be around, and honestly depressed. I was very physically, mentally, and emotionally drained, and the lack of structure training and no endorphin release added to it all.
When it was time to get back into training after a week like that, I simply couldn't muster the energy, and have delayed my "come back" to structured training.
The mental, physical, and emotional struggles have continued now for almost 3 weeks post race. I have gotten on my bike twice since the race. I’ve flopped around in the open water almost every day because being in the water cheers me up, but haven’t gotten around to doing a set in the pool, and I’ve been feeling like running, but my legs would refuse to keep going shortly after. Just now coming close to 3 weeks later, I ran 1h with some efforts, and did a nice 45' open water swim where finally for once I wanted to go hard so I let it happen.
MAYBE only now approaching the end of the 3rd week, I’ve begun to see the light, and some sort of motivation to get back into training has resurfaced.
Just sharing my experience with my first Iron-distance race and how (badly) I've coped with it, hoping that it might help someone with their own road to recovery!
More to come...
(Action pics courtesy Jose Luis Hourcade www.joseluishourcade.com)
Waterman turned Professional Triathlete. From Lake Garda (Italy) to Colorado by way of Hawaii. Coming soon to a race near you! :)