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Why So Serious? The 2017 Ironman Arizona Race Report

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It’s been almost a year since my last post. I am basically now a writer with an MD, so I haven’t had much time for pleasure writing. But, I know some of you tri-geeks want to know went down yesterday in Tempe, so I am here to enable your multi sport voyeurism. Shorter and sweet, hopefully to repeat.

Pre-race

Since restarting triathlon, I have made one promise to my self and my family: I am a participant now, not a competitor. My job has taken off, in good ways, but that means my hours are really unregular now. On top of that, my kids are older and now are participating in pretty much everything Montana has to offer. Finally, I have taken up a love for hunting in addition to my passion for fly fishing. So that means basically my dedication to training has worn thinner than the chamois of my 11 year bike shorts. Yes, I really do have 11 year old bike shorts I still use.

So coming into this, I had as much training as Trump did on how to use Twitter before becoming President. I also used no training plan. I felt I just knew what my body needed to get the job done, the job being solely finishing. I also prioritized. I barely swam, swimming only a handful of 4000 yard sets and about four swims total in November. I ran about three times a week, always consisting of a long run, an interval session, and a fartlek session. I did two 20 milers before the race, and usually hovered between 13 and 18 miles other weeks. For riding, I did TrainerRoad. If I got bored of workouts, I swapped into a fast Zwift session. I rode last outside before the Ironman in August. All my long rides were done on a Tacx Neo, the longest being 4:45. And that’s about it.

My “whatever” attitude applied to equipment as well. My wetsuit ripped a few years back, so I just found whatever cheap wetsuit I could get online instead of getting something made of fossilized shark skin. I didn’t upgrade my bike, even with all those fancy bottle systems I see out there these days. Same banged up Garmin. I didn’t even pack my bag until the night before it was time to leave. I was so sick of making this a big mental deal, I just wasn’t even thinking about the event until 24 hours of leaving. Of course, that mean I forgot my prescription sunglasses, but whatever…..I don’t need to see slow…..

Setup

Like I said, I was not going to make this a mentally taxing event. I showed up early at transition. Pumped my bike tires up. Took care of business in the porta-a-hells, then took a nap until the race start.

Swim: 1:16

My goal was to simply not drown. Drowning was going to make it difficult to finish the race I figured. It was a rolling start, based on your expected time. They had times on signs and you just got into the herd with your best guess. No, no one swims with the sign, but that would have been awesome. I did 1:13 with real training six years ago, and 1:23 at my first Ironman in CDA, so I jumped in at 1:20. Gun goes off and into the water we went. I took about ten minutes to walk up to the start after the official gun.

I set simple rules to guide the day. I used to be part of Endurance Nation, and those lessons served me well.  I told myself if I felt like I was racing while swimming, I was going way too hard. So I focused on form. Face down and good catch. It has been a while since I did an Ironman, and what I immediately got re-taught was how physical the swim was, even with the rolling start. Not on purpose of course, but I got a few good punches. It was also bolstered by the fact I was blowing by people. The water was again dark, not even being able to see my wrist in front of me. We also start the swim going into the sun, so that didn’t help. I was zig zagging like Rickard Stark totally should have. After running into more people than than the Seahawks offensive line this year….wait, the opposite of that…I ended up back on land unscathed. I didn’t wear a watch so I didn’t know what my time was….like I said, whatever. It was only after I found out 1:16. To me, this is a damn miracle considering how little I trained for swimming. Just goes to show that form can make a huge difference for middle packers like me.

T2 Find the Blow

Ok, in retrospect I wish I hadn’t been so “whatever” in transition. I walked to my bag from the swim, thanked the volunteers and wandered to the changing tent like I was window shopping. Big experienced Ironman Arizona tip for you newbies visiting: The changing tents are heated by vents that line the bottom of the tent canopy. So some of the folding chairs are right over the vents. I grabbed one, and by the time I was ready to leave, my feet had gone from numb to almost burning hot. I went to go pee, got some good sun screen (another experienced Ironman advice…unless your qualifying for Kona….get the sunscreen….not one strip of sunburn on me, even my lower back), and off I was with my bike.

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Bike: 6:37

Remember my mantra of “whatever”? Well, I found out the day before the race that my Quarq Elsa power meter was not communicating with my Garmin. Wouldn’t pair despite my geek attempts, and I’m Asian. (I can say that…I’m Asian). So instead of getting stressed and having an aneurysm, I just went with “well, go easy.” I had known from doing the race before and Endurance Nation that everyone and their grandma triathlete goes out way too hard on the bike.

So I went easy, LIKE CRAZY EASY. If you have ever wanted to know if you could finish the Ironman bike by literally soft pedaling, the answer is yes. And the Rich Strauss truth proved true again. First lap, I got passed like I was Harvey Weinstein hitchhiking. Second lap, less passing. Third lap, I was passing a few peeps. Probably what helped is that the wind was pretty bad. We had an uphill headwind the first two laps and then mixed on the third. Even with knowing people were going too hard, it was hard to lay back. I helped myself by saying “don’t forget that whole marathon thing” and by singing to myself. If I was breathing so hard I couldn’t sing (not on tune wise, that is a given) I was going to hard.

In retrospect, I totally undercooked the bike. My time was miserable. Went I got off, I felt like I basically hadn’t even ridden any. Next time, I will push this more, with a working power meter.

T2: Stil taking my time

Felt great coming off my bike. Walked over to get my bag and then took a leisurely change and some water to rinse the salt off my face. I crust salt like a tide pool in Death Valley. After revisiting the porta-a-hells (seriously, how bad is your aim when you create what looks like a chocolate cake got thrown against a wall behind the toilet seat), off I went. Ironman Arizona is a great spectator event with so many loops, and I finally got to give my wife a kiss during a race. Been waiting for that for like 10 years. Whatever feels right.

Run: It all comes together, 4:33

My strategy was to run walk. Run about 9:45 pace to each aid station, and walk for one minute. Keep my cadence high in the 170s (Garmin Footpod on board). Try to keep it together until mile 13, when I expected to crash hard.

I had learned from my Boise performance a few years back that two things propel me through the run: passing people and caffeine. Normally, when I get to the Ironman run, I feel like I’m doing taxes for a North Korean labor camp, aka like I’m dying a slow death for no reason. I wanted to avoid this like college students with wanderlust and a hankering for kim chi. I stuck with the plan. Run, walk, cola, repeat.

First mile, felt great. Second mile, felt great. I start passing people. I started alternating Red Bull and Cola. I started growing wings. My overall pace remained constant, around 10:30, and that is with my run walk strategy, and even a few stretch sessions. I always focused on keeping my cadence up and not settling into a shuffling form.

My goal was just to do well until I would eventually crash around mile 14. But mile 14 came around and I felt great. People were even commenting how strong I looked. And now I wasn’t just passing people, I was blowing by people. This only spurred me along more.

All in all, I had 13 half cups of coke, 13 half cups of Red Bull, and a fun size Snickers. And shut the front door, one aid station had freaking peanut M&M’s. I love these things, and I don’t get to eat them because my kid has a serious peanut and dairy allergy. I grabbed four cups and downed them.

The true pain only started in mile 25, as always. But as I turned the final corner, I knew this had been my most successful Ironman yet, even if not my fastest.

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Finis: 12:43, second fastest IM. Top 50% of age group, top third of men. 

Woh, what a ride. I could not be more pleased about yesterday. My family too. Those jokes about triathlon widows and such….well lets say that all jokes have some base in truth. My past IM events have been fraught with family stress, questions about what is more important, and more than just my own sacrifice. But not this time. We go to Boy Scouts. We go to church. I hunt on Saturday and Sunday mornings instead of riding. I take cello lessons and go with my daughter to her violin lessons. I swim went I feel Iike to need to reach nirvana, not when a piece of paper tells me so. I have fun while riding indoors. And with that, I can not just be a happy triathlete, but also still happy enough with my performance.

Thanks for the lessons Arizona. I’ll being seeing you in 2018.

A Tale of Neos

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It is the one. Well Maybe. Today, I want to share with you what I see as one of the most painful journeys to self satisfaction I have experienced in a long time. No, this is not a post about mind over matter in training with ridiculous references to the Matrix. This post is a more down to earth tale about man versus screwing.

First, some background. In 2004, I bought a 150 dollar trainer from Performance Bicycle to start my trip back into the cycling world. In the years between graduating high school and 2004, I had spent most of my training doing pizza and beer repeats. Since 2005, I have been using the same fluid trainer. Yes. Three Ironmans. 8 years of triathlon. On the same trainer. Here is what that looks like:

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My trainer and its tramp stamp.

In addition to undergoing a transition from no resistance to high resistance after about 15 minutes of riding, my trainer sounded like a train trying to stop on a dime. So after I completed and passed my medical boards, I decided to reward myself with fancy schmancy Tacx Neo. Merry Christmas to me!

Of course, the trainer was on backorder, so it took a month to even ship. No problems; I figured I had waited 11 years, I can wait another month. Then, in mid December I received word the trainer was on its way and would be arriving right before Christmas. Great, what joyous, perfect timing! Except for the fact that I missed the UPS guy! Looks like my wait was going to be a bit longer. Finally, in early January, the 60 pound box arrived, and I jumped like Ralph with his new BB gun.

Out of the box it went like a bacon from the pan. Thanks to the instructions, the assembly was a cinch. As everyone already knows, you have to buy a cassette to go with the Tacx. The hub is a cool EDCO Multisys. Basically it is a hub that excepts both Shimano and Campy. I slid on my Shimano cassette, but my Shimano cassette tool didn’t fit. So I just decided to tighten by hand as much as I could and loaded up my bike.

Okay, so I just couldn’t wait any longer and I loaded up Zwift. The trainer paired up like Taylor Swift and lipstick: flawlessly. A few minutes later, I was cruising Zwift bathed in the soft glow of LED light and navigating along automatically changed resistance. The first ride was everything I imagined. Smooth. Alive. No more crunching along in my highest gear while just barely scraping my FTP. It was like a dream come true….except for the loud clunking. Yes, the scourge of DC Rainmaker’s comment section emanated from between my legs.”Clack-clack-clack-clack” pierced through the nirvana that is the Neo.

Into emergency diagnostic mode I went. Like a patient with chest pain, I went through every possibility, proceeding from most to least levels of probability. Adjust derailleur. Adjust quick release. Check cassette. Re-tighten cassette. Oil chain. Oil cassette. Drink beer. Try different bikes. Get bike tune up by LBS. Nothing I did mattered to the Neo.

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So, after two days, I gave up to the one possibility I wished to avoid: my trainer was a fluke on the assembly line. Back in the box and back to Trisports it went. Exchange went smoothly, and after three weeks, another trainer was in my hand. Rinse and repeat and there I was again, clipped into my pedals. Cadence picked up and…..”Clack-clack-clack-clack!!!” After this, my mind was as fried as Jens Voight’s legs. In one last hope of desperation, I took my bike and trainer to Glacier Cyclery in Whitefish, Montana. I gave them my story and waited for the phone call.

There are some days you remember in your life. Your first kiss. Graduating from college. Your first Ironman finish. Thursday was one of those days. The bike store appeared on my phone, and I picked up the call with the trepidation of Wesley Snipes answering a call from the IRS. Was my bike framed cracked? Quarq bottom bracket busted? No. After all that, the culprit was…..a loose cassette!! Turns out, a few more turns of the screw with the proper tool was needed to cinch down the cassette. A campy cassette tool at that. This news was sort of like texting your friend that he left his phone at your house. Hilarious mixed with 2 shots of WTF.

The story came to the end this morning. Finally, after three months, I climbed atop my Christmas, Birthday and Boards present and pedaled off onto the Ironman Kona course. Whisper quiet. Smooth resistance changing with the terrain. Beautiful.

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They say that good things comes to those who wait. In this case, my problem solving skills can be looked at as an investment in awesomeness. Glad to finally have the trainer of my dreams…just wish it had arrived sooner!

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