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:
- 1x 24oz bottle with 1 scoop of CLIF Hydration mix
- 2x 16x oz water in the Shiv Fuelselage bladder (refilled at aid station)
- 2x single-shot Mocha CLIF gels
- 4x no-caffeine CLIF gels
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. *
- Challenge Aruba: Bas, EJ, and the rest of the team. You gave us an awesome hospitality, a great race, and I love your little happy island!
- Divi Resorts: By far the most convenient & luxurious accommodation I could have asked for. Your sushi buffet is to die for, and your staff is so cool!
- TYR: Bryan, work hard race hard, right?! Thank you for giving me a chance when I needed it. Best swim gear out there.
- CLIF: There isn't a company out there that better suits my passion for the environment and the outdoors. You're the leader in business sustainability, and I'm happy to align my racing with your values. Grazie Leah.
- Easton Cycling: The Aero55 tubeless wheels are a no-brainer for me. Fast, supple, reliable, durable. Can't wait to outfit my whole bike with Easton components & drivetrain this Winter. Keep up the great work Craig!
- Nutrex Hawaii / BioAstin: Spirulina and Astaxanthin (BioAstin) keep me healthy, injury free, and young! Thank you for harvesting the coolest microalgae on the plant. You rock Agnes, Stephanie, Julie, and team!
- Apogee Sports: Stephane & team, your training & racing apparel has been performing exceptionally, and everybody seems to love the vibrant colors & designs. Much success in the US!
- Challenge Family: Zibi, Belinda, Nina... Professionalism, family atmosphere, true challenge. This is what triathlon is all about. Let's bring more events to North America now!
ARUBA RUN COURSE CLEANUP
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.