Ironman Champion...Inventor...Business Owner

TJ Tollakson is the Swiss Army Knife of People...A true Renaissance Man. He is an Ironman Champion, Mad Scientist Inventor, and Owner of Rüster Sports and Dimond Bikes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Fall down, get up!

The comeback continued...

After a successful Austin 70.3 and Ironman Arizona at the end of 2016, I made big plans for 2017 and I was sitting well in the Kona Points to get back to the Big Island. I had to rush my recovery from Fabellaectomy surgery on June 28, 2016 to get in my races but all felt good. I raced a full Ironman less than 5 months after an open knee surgery. I knew I was pushing the boundaries of my body but I also had some time for rest and recovery after the race. My surgical (right) knee was a bit sore at the end of Ironman Arizona but nothing out of the ordinary. 19 days after Ironman Airzona I was back doing my strength training routine and I was in my basement doing TRX lunges when I tore the root of my meniscus in my right knee (the same knee I just had surgery on 5 months prior). The two injuries were unrelated other than racing an Ironman less than 5 months post surgery put all my soft tissue at risk and my knee just couldn't take extreme loads. Tearing the meniscal root is not like tearing the meniscus (which is also painful). Tearing the meniscal root involves a complicated surgery where they drill a hole through your tibia to reattach the meniscus. It would also mean I would have to spend 6 weeks on crutches (0% weight bearing) letting the bone and knee heal. I made the trip back to Vail, Colorado to the Steadman Clinic and visited Dr. Matt Provencher again. I tore my meniscal root on December 8. I had an MRI to confirm the injury on December 15. I had surgery in Vail on December 29. Since I was on a tight timeline and the holiday season was among us, I am extremely grateful for the fast-tracking of the surgery.

I spent a few days in Vail for the surgery and recovery at the Howard Head Physical Therapy center. I made the flight home solo and with two nerve block pain machines on me to keep me comfortably numb. Apparently that drilling a tunnel through bone really hurts. I came home to a pretty crazy house with a 3 month old baby and two other children under the age of 4. Ashley was an angels to put up with me during this period where I was basically a 4th kid in the house. They don't make it easy to carry around a baby and while using crutches.

Once off crutches I had to re-learn how to walk and gradually work on my range of motion. I had some major atrophy in my right leg (which until now was always my dominant leg). Most of the atrophy was in my vastus medialis (VM, the big quad muscle on the inside of each leg just above the knee). I could spin on a bike right away but my range of motion was limited and I had to raise my saddle to make complete pedal strokes. It was a long and laborious rehab process but I was able to start running again on April 30, almost exactly 4 months after surgery (just like the doctors planned). This was a short 20 minutes done as 4x(1 min jog, 4 min walk) so it was really only 4 minutes of running.

I had to very slowly build up my running but I did my first race, a local sprint, Hickory Grove Triathlon, on May 23 (3 weeks after I started running). Now it was only a 5k but it was still significant for me because I was back racing. I finished 3rd in that race to a couple of local guys but all I really cared about was being able to race, going fast takes time. 5 weeks after that sprint race I was able to race and win a local Olympic Distance, Copper Creek. I still had a long ways to go as I had only run a total of 132 miles for the entire year (and now the year was half over). Three weeks later (and another 90 miles of running) on July 18, I did my first 70.3 of the year in Racine. The swim was cancelled and it turned into a bike-run, but I was able to run a respectable sub 1:20 after a hard bike and finished 8th in a solid field to snag the last bit of prize money ($500!) The following week was my last ditch effort to make it to Kona as I raced Ironman Lake Placid. I had a great front pack swim and led most of the bike to exit the bike with Brent McMahon and Andy Potts. I needed a second or better to get me into Kona and quickly my lack of run fitness started to show as I was in third place trailing Brent and Andy. The worst part of the run was not actually my fitness but the excessive downhill running at the start of the race. I could tell my knee was not going to hold up for the entire marathon and being in third place would not qualify me for Kona. I decided to pull the plug and drop out of the race after 9 miles of running. This was definitely the right decision for my future but it was hard to see another Kona Qualification pass me by simply because I could not race enough to qualify. The plan had to shift to Ironman Wisconsin. I had originally scheduled another 70.3 in August at Steelhead 70.3 in Michigan, but if I was going to race another Ironman in 7 weeks I was going to need all the training I could get especially on my run volume.

Ironman Wisconsin was on my list of must do events but the timing of the event was always difficult because it is so close to Kona. In 2015 when I was not aiming for a Kona slot there was no pro race and last year there was no pro men's race. 2017 would be the year I tackle IM MOO! My training was very good building up to the race but I was still lacking volume. I did the best I could with the time I had and came into the race fit and ready to perform. I had a great front of the race swim followed by a bike that put me into T2 in third place but one of the top 5 bike performances on that course of all time. I managed to tough out a 2:58 marathon and hold on to a second place finish from a fast charging Patrick McKeon (who set a run course record in 2:43!) as I passed a fading Andrew Starykowicz (who set a bike course record with a 4:24!) who finished 4th. Luke McKenzie was in a total league of his own that day smashing the overall course record by over 14 minutes to take the win. I definitely wanted to win that race and my performance was still the second fastest Ironman Wisconsin time in history, but it happened to be on the day when Luke established a new time standard. I garnered 1600 Kona Qualifying Points for 2018 and a $7500 second place prize check. Things were looking up.

7 weeks after Wisconsin I was ready to tackle another 70.3 for the year in Austin, TX on October 30. My flight was cancelled on Friday afternoon so I ended up traveling on Saturday morning the day before the race which is never ideal and it left me a bit tired. I was still in the best shape of the year and I wanted to prove it. I have twice been second at this race including the previous year. I wanted to win. Race morning was super cold with temps in the high 30's as we exited the water in our wetsuits. I made the mistake of not putting on any gloves or arm warmers in transition and this came back to haunt me. I was so caught up in the speed of transition from the other front pack swimmers that I just grabbed my gloves and arm warmers and stuffed them in my jersey. 10 miles into the bike my hands were frozen and I put on the gloves but it was too late. I was miserable and I could not take corners hard or press my shift levers well enough to race the course. The end result was a bike time SIX FREAKING MINUTES SLOWER than last year. Worse yet, I was so cold off the bike I couldn't unbuckle my helmet or put on my shoes in transition. I had to ask a volunteer to unbuckle my helmet for me. I lost over a minute to the rest of the field in T2 but I still had a sizeable lead after posting the fastest bike split. I was caught on the run about 3 miles in by the eventual winner and a mile and half later by 2,3,5 place finishers. I ran with these guys for a couple of miles but the pace was just too much for me and I had to back off. I finished 4th with a decent run (about 1 minute faster than last year which was my first race back after the fabella surgery!). Overall it hurt to have such a slow bike split and then the worst pro T2 by over a minute. I was 3:17 behind winner, Franz Loschke but I new it was time I gave up by making a poor clothing choice early in the race. I love cold weather racing but I finally found my limit of how much cold I can handle. Lesson learned.

The final race of 2017 was an attempt to learn about proper heat acclimating. I was actually scheduled to race back-to-back 70.3 events with Western Sydney and Cartagena but a hamstring stain the week before Sydney saw me pull out and focus solely on Cartagena. To prepare for a hot humid race in early December while living in Des Moines, IA I was confined to a lot of indoor training with a humidifier and space heater. Acclimation went well, but man it was obviously how much I need to adjust when racing in the heat. Cartagena was a super hot swim with water temps in the upper 80s so I played it really chill on the swim but still came out with the leaders. It took a while to bike into the lead because my T1 was a bit slow as I had to put on my race kit after choosing to swim bare chested in a TYR brief! It was the right choice because I didn't overheat in the swim and ruin my day. Once I was in the lead on the bike I never looked back. I was flying on the way home from the single out and back bike course and hit my fastest 40k of all time in 48 minutes and the bike course record at 2:03:35. I held on to the lead through the first half of the run but was eventually caught by Kevin Collington and in the final few miles by Horst Reichel. It was good result to end my short season. I didn't have the volume this past year to perform up to my potential but I have a great start on next season with a total of 2380 Kona Points out of a needed ~3500 to qualify.

Work Hard!


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Making a Comeback!

Incision Scar 3 weeks post-op
Knee Comparison 3 weeks post-op
After a successful fabella removal surgery on June 28, 2016, I began the long process of rehab. I spent a couple of weeks on crutches, then gradually had to teach myself to walk again then eventually run. The goal was to be aggressive with rehab but make sure I didn't have any setbacks. I decided my first race back would be the Des Moines Triathlon (Olympic Distance) on September 4. My total run volume before the race was less than 30 miles but I had a goal to race at 6:20 per mile pace for the 10k run and I did just that. It was not an impressive race, but I did have the fastest swim and bike. The aerobic engine was strong but the peripheral system was not quite ready to support fast running. I finished 6th, just one spot out of the prize money, but damn it felt good to be back racing.
Swim File:
Bike File:
Run File:

I did a photo shoot with TYR in Long Island on Friday September 16 then stayed on the island to race the Mightly Hamptons Triathlon (Olympic Distance) on Sunday the 18th. This was only two weeks after Des Moines, but my run was progressing well and I had the goal of running sub 6 min miles. I was very close to my goal, but fell just bit short with a 6:02 average. I won the race and it always feels good to win, but this was just another step in the right direction. I came home from the race and Ashley and I welcomed the birth of our third child and second baby girl, Frankie Mae Tollakson on September 20. Ashley has been a total saint and allowed me to keep training and sleeping through the whole process.
Swim File: 
Bike File:
Run File:

The training kept progressing and the next race on the schedule was Austin 70.3 on October 30. I never built up my run volume to my preferred race volume, but I did have 160 miles over a 4 week block. I would normally prefer to be over 200 miles in a 4 week block before a 70.3 and a little more before an Ironman. All things considered. I was healthy and ready to race.

Austin, Texas was unusually warm and humid for October and there was a dense fog on race morning. The worst of the fog was on the lake and the buoys were not even visible. The swim was delayed then eventually cancelled. The race moved to a time trial start with one pro starting every 30 seconds. I was number 10 and started 4:00 back of the first athlete. Matt Hanson was :60 in front of me and Chris Lieferman was :30 in front of me. I caught Matt Hanson about 11 miles into the ride then caught Chris Lieferman about 30 miles into the ride. Chris was able to stay with me for the remainder of the ride and we eventually picked up Joe Gambles as well. I was impressed with Chris's riding. I was misdirected by a volunteer right before T2, and so I came in just behind Chris and Joe, but we were all close. I made a small error in not wearing socks on the bike (for the duathlon) so my T2 was a bit slow. I was pacing the run with my HR just like coach Jesse prescribed. I was in the virtual lead of the race for a few miles but Chris Lieferman was gradually pulling away from me, and Michael Raelert was starting to catch me. I kept to the plan and kept my HR low until the last lap of the run and then let it loose. I had a negative split run and ended up posting a run 1 sec faster than Michael Raelert. Chris proved to be too fast for me and easily won the race. Matt Hanson was fast on my heels and posted the only sub 1:15 run with a smokin' 1;11. I was happy to place 2nd on the day, and finally win some prize money. The cancelled swim actually hurt me on the day. as the swim is typically a strength. This was yet again, just another step in the right direction for the season goal of Ironman Arizona.
Bike File:
Run File:

There were only 3 weeks between Austin and Arizona and I did this exact same double in 2012. This time however, I was totally smashed after Austin 70.3. It took me way longer to recover then I caught a cold from kids 10 days before the race. I thought I was going to be totally unaffected but it turned into a nasty chest cough the day before the race. My only major concerns going into the race revolved around my lack of run volume. I've raced plenty of Ironmans in my life so this was nothing new, but this was definitely my lowest run volume going into an Ironman. My longest run was 16 miles and I had one day were I did a 9 mile run in the morning and an 8 mile run in the afternoon for a total of 17 miles. Despite not having the run volume my race specific intensities were going well so I was happy with the quality of my running.

The swim was probably the warmest in Ironman Arizona (November) history. It was still wetsuit legal but upper 60's felt great. I started all the way on the left side of the swim and took it out hard and had clear water. After about 5 min solo, I noticed a large group to my left and merged with them. I sat in the group for a while until I noticed there was at least 1 swimmer off the front. I went to the front of the group and tried to close the gap but it was too much. I actually felt pretty terrible at this point in the swim, and slowed my pace considerably trying to let someone else do the work. Nobody came around (until Philip Graeves just before the finish). I led most of the front pack out of the water only because I wanted to minimize time to the swimmers in front. My chest cough was rough getting out of the water as it hurt to take a deep breath, but I was more focused on quick shallow breathing.

Once on my bike, I quickly went to the front of the race. Cameron Wurf passed me quickly but then I spent most of the ride in second place. I had two guys riding behind me for most of the ride until they fell off the pace at the start of the third lap when Lionel Sanders passed me for second place. My power on the bike was low, I was struggling to hold power that is normally quite easy for me. I focused instead on being efficient, using my watts to my advantage and staying as aerodynamic as possible. I had my lowest power ever at Ironman Arizona with an AP of 257 watts and an NP of 262 watts. I also had my fastest time with a 4:11 bike split. Link to my Training Peaks File here: This should tell you something about the conditions on the day. I was very happy to get off the bike and start running. I kept my run HR and pace very controlled. I quickly passed Cameron Wurf to put myself in 2nd place behind Lionel Sanders. It was only a few miles later that Brent McMahon passed me and I was back in third. My nutrition was totally dialed. I took one Glukos gummy every mile along with on course electrolyte drink. I did have to make a porta-potty stop about mile 10, at the TriSports aid station under the bridge. It was great to have Seton Claggett (CEO of TriSports) timing my potty break and shouting words of encouragement as I emptied my bowels. After the relief, I didn't have any cramping and felt well fueled for the marathon. . I was however starting to struggle to hold my pace and HR right about 13-14 miles into the run. My pace gradually slowed as I struggled to keep my HR reasonably high. I was soon in survival mode to get to the finish mile at a time. I was close to breaking the 8 hour mark, but my pace at the end of the marathon was just a little too slow.

Bike File:
Run File: 

I was nowhere near Lionel Sanders who went on to break an Ironman World Record and Brent McMahon who finished in 7:50. I crossed the line in third with an 8:02:30 for my fastest time of my career. I was a couple of minutes up on 4th, but very happy to cross the finish line on the podium at an Ironman. This is my 5th time racing Ironman Arizona and I have 5 podium finishes, 3x3rd place finishes and 2x 2nd place finishes. Each year I have posted a faster time and I am still yet to win the race. I am at least making strides in the right direction. This was a great finish to 2016 and a great way to commence 2017. I am sitting in a solid spot with Ironman Kona Qualifying Rankings and look forward to taking a journey back to the Big Island in 2017 (after some more solid racing in 2017). I am super thankful to be healthy and back racing. Cheers to family, health, and passionately pursuing what you love.

Work hard,


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Fabella Bone is Connected to the Knee Bone?

What the hell is a Fabella bone? Fabella (from Latin, small bean), is a small sesamoid (floating) bone embedded in the tendon of the gastrocnemius (calf) muscle behind the lateral condyle (outside bump) of the femur (leg bone). The fabella bone is present in 10-30% of humans and is often thought to be formed as a result of muscle stress on a joint. It acts like a pulley allowing the muscle tendon to apply more force to the muscles. Extremely rarely, this fabella bone can cause lateral (outside) knee pain. There are very few published studies on the cases and almost all incidences of fabella syndrome occur in high level (professional) athletes.

As it turns out, my fabella bone had worn a nice little groove in the cartilage of my femur causing pain when running. It took a long time to figure out exactly what was causing my pain, and even once it was figured out, it wasn't a sure solution as it is often a constellation of problems causing the pain.

On January 2, 2016, I was doing a 13 mile run on the snow/ice covered roads in Des Moines, IA. About 8 miles into the run, I jumped from the street to the sidewalk and my right foot slipped on the ice then came to an abrupt stop. It hurt, but I continued the run. I stretched that evening then went to bed with very little pain. The next morning I could hardly get out of bed my right knee was in so much pain. I took it easy for 3 days and my knee was about 90% better and I resumed regular training. I had an MRI, X-Rays, and Ultrasound of my knee and all came back normal with no significant pathology but a possible strain and/or tendonitis in my popliteal tendon. 
I went down to Clermont, Florida, in February for the QT2 Pro Camp and put in three really solid weeks of training but left camp with a very sore knee. I had a second read on the MRI and it confirmed what the original read suggested. Strong in-tact knee with no major pathology but some possible tendinitis of my popliteal tendon. I continued through physical therapy and training and was managing the inflammation and pain. I was training, but was not training at the full volume I wanted to race a full ironman, but adequate for 70.3 fitness. 
I delayed the start of the season until New Orleans where I was unable to actually finish the race because I was left stranded on the side of the road at mile 46 with a flat tire and a broken valve extender. Next on my list was to race Eagleman and before the race I had stem cell injection in my knee to aid in the inflammation and healing of the tendinitis. I was back to running with little to no pain but just before the race I tweaked my knee again during a training run and decided I need to get in contact with the folks at the Steadman Clinic in Vail, Colorado, where I had two previous hip surgeries (both with great success). I scratched the race at Eagleman to figure out what was wrong. 
We did another MRI in Vail, and the same results showed up. No major pathology of the knee but some possible tendinitis of the popliteal tendon. I was fine to keep training and racing, it was really just a matter of pain management and it didn't bother me swimming or cycling and I was able to run on flat surfaces with little to no pain. The popliteal tendon attaches the small popliteus muscle to the femur behind the knee and is used for stability primarily when running on hills. I was careful to keep most of my running flat while letting the tendontiis calm down and managing the inflammation. I was icing regularly and using Voltaren anti inflammatory cream to manage the pain and inflammation. 
I was all set to race in Mont Tremblant for the 70.3 and had a front pack swim, came off the bike with a pack of guys in second through sixth place and ready to run. On the first big downhill of the run about 1 mile into the run, I could feel my knee slightly give way then it started causing me a ton of pain. I had not been doing much hill running in training to keep the tendinitis at bay, but what I felt during the race was just too much pain. The pain grew more intense and I finally gave up on the run at mile 3, got some ice at medical and withdrew from the race. I flew back home to Iowa that night disappointed and in a lot of pain. I had a follow-up appointment after the race scheduled for Monday evening in Vail with Dr. Matt Provencher. I flew back out to Vail on Monday and saw him in his clinic that evening. Dr. Provencher did an exam of my knee and I tested positive for fabella syndrome. Dr. Provencher and Dr. Robert LaPrade agreed to add to me to their already full surgery schedule, on Tuesday June 28 at 7 AM to remove the fabella. 
These are both world class physicians who have worked with some of the top athletes in all sports. Dr. Provencher was formerly the medical director of the New England Patriots and Dr. LaPrade has done surgery on many of the most famous sports stars around. I arrived at the hospital in Vail at 5:30 AM and the doctors were there early to greet me and we started the surgery at 6:30 AM...ahead of schedule. The operating room was crowded with PA's and fellows eager to see the results of this rare combined super surgery of Dr. LaPrade and Dr. Provencher. What they found during the surgery was  I had a small tear of my meniscus (which was not present on the MRI taken just 3 weeks before). My popliteal tendon had severe tendinitis (from the fabella) which they debrided. They did a small release on my IT band to allow more movement and less friction in the area as a preventative measure. My peroneal nerve was also highly inflamed so they did a neuropathy to move the nerve away from the inflamed tendon. They also removed the fabella bone which was about the size of 3 dimes stacked on top of each other. My fabella bone had rubbed a groove in the cartilidge of my femur and had caused severe peroneal nerve irritation along with popliteal tendonitis. The surgeons extracted the fabella bone and now I have no posterior lateral knee friction. I just had this surgery one week ago on Tuesday morning and I spent last week in Vail doing rehab at the Howard Head Physical Therapy Clinic.

So what now? 

It is early July and I just had knee surgery. I am only 2000 points away from qualifying for Kona and still have 3 more races to score to get there. My hope was to score two 70.3 and race one Ironman and get all the necessary points to put me back on the start line in Kona. The reality is that I must undergo a 6 week rehab after this surgery and then rebuild my fitness. I don't know the rest of my race schedule but I am currently planning on racing the Des Moines Olympic Distance Triathlon on September 4, hopefully one or two 70.3 races, then Ironman Arizona on November 20.

I believe my best racing is still ahead of me and will take on this rehab with all the zeal of vigor of a champion.


Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Change is the law of life." John F. Kennedy

Change is inevitable for all of us and everything must change at some point. This year I am changing triathlon coaches. I first met Cliff English while living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs in 2005. Cliff began coaching me in 2009 and for 6 years I made steady improvements in my training and racing. 2009 I raced Ironman Arizona and went 8:20:22 and finished 2nd. 2015 I raced Ironman Arizona and went 8:04:17 and finished 3rd. This was my fastest Ironman to date and also shows a solid 16 minute improvement on the same course over a span of 6 years. I had many highlights while under the tutelage of Coach Cliff, most notably winning the 2014 Ironman North American Championship in Mont Tremblant but also winning my first Ironman in Lake Placid in 2011. Overall, Cliff coached me to 8 Ironman podium finishes and all of my personal bests. I will forever be grateful for the time under Coach Cliff and I learned a ton about the sport of triathlon, but even more about myself as an athlete. 2016 is a big change for both Cliff English and for me. Cliff is now the head coach for the first ever women's NCAA division I triathlon team at Arizona State University. I know this a role where Cliff will excel and thrive. While Cliffwill be keeping a small roster of ITU and Ironman athletes in addition to his head coaching responsibilities at ASU, I felt it was time we both adjust our focus a little for improved results. 

Moving forward I will be coached by Jesse Kropelnicki at QT2 Systems. Jesse is an accomplished coach with a great resume and roster of professional athletes. I will be joining Jesse and his squad of professional triathletes at his annual pro camp in Clermont, Florida in February. I felt Jesse was the right coaching change for me at this time because of his detailed emphasis on strength, diet, and race nutrition. Jesse is an engineer by background and also an entrepreneur running one of the largest triathlon coaching companies in the world. I put my complete trust in Jesse as I move forward and focus on qualifying for Kona in 2016 and racing Ironman Brazil in May. As I move forward in my professional racing career it is important to build upon the knowledge and experience I have gained thus far. So as Coach Cliff hands off the reigns to Coach Jesse, I am both thankful for all the knowledge and expertise bestowed upon me by Cliff and optimistic that my best racing is still ahead of me under the guidance of Jesse. 

Work Hard,


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Millimeters of Gain…and Millimeters of Pain

Life as a professional triathlete is all about incremental and compounding gains. Often viewed as millimeters of gain, compounded over time, these gains are like bricks stacked on top of each other. While small and insignificant is each lonely brick, together they build the most brilliant and sturdy structures. I’ve been busy stacking bricks over my career as a professional triathlete for the past 10 years, and while the bricks of an athlete are never permanent and you must constantly stack more bricks to replace the ones that disappear over time, you become more proficient at stacking bricks each year. I have a huge base (pile) of bricks and the knowledge and experience to quickly and intelligently stack them. Even the best laid plans can result in one brick being just a millimeter off and causing the entire stack to come crashing down.

The Dimond on the Rocks in Kona
Saturday, October 11, 2014 was the Ironman World Championship and I was entering the race with a full stack of bricks ready to race. I knew I was fit and had the confidence of winning my last Ironman race, the North American Championship event, by a large margin of victory. The 8 weeks between events was far from ideal, and with all the crazy things I have going on in my life, sometimes the far from ideal is a bit too much to surmount. My workouts the past few weeks were all on target and I was feeling fresh and ready to go. I made the difficult choice to travel with my employees, family, and a nanny. Since I have two young children under the age of two, having a nanny with us was important if I was going to even attempt to have my children with me. Looking back, I loved having my children there, but it was probably a bit too much for me. Just as the positive bricks of fitness and improvement benefit the athlete, the bricks of stress and distraction deter the athlete. I was a bit too over confident in my ability to deal with the stress and distractions. On Friday morning before the race, I was bent over my bike adjusting my rear derailleur when I had a sharp and sudden back spasm causing me to collapse on the ground. I've dealt with back problems for a very long time and have two bulging discs in my back. I’m no stranger to this type of pain or occurrence I was forced to retire from an Ironman in Los Cabos in March for the same reason, with numbness and tingling down the back of my leg. I know how to treat the pain, and I work very diligently to make sure my back is strong and healthy so it never happens at an inopportune time. Having a back spasm with nerve pain the day before the Ironman World Championship is definitely an inopportune time. Immediately I was pissed, but then told myself, I've dealt with this so many times before that I knew just how to deal with it. I stretched on the floor, the sat with my Compex activating my back for the next hour. I went for a short 30 min ride and felt awesome, so I had little to be concerned about. I repeated my Compex session and the stretching at night and I was ready to go. 
Dimond Group Ride in Kona, 19 Dimonds all together

The morning of the race, I never even thought about my back. It felt fine, so I had no reason for concern. I went through my normal morning routine and made sure to stretch my back as normal and felt nothing out of the ordinary. The swim start was chaotic as usual but I was on Freddie VanLierde’s feet for a while and felt great. Soon my back started to ache and I could feel myself not pulling as hard on my right side (where my back was hurting). I was instantly distracted from the task at hand and found myself swimming all over the place. Trying not to panic, I told myself to stay calm. I’m still in a great position and swimming well. Soon there was a fracture in the main group just ahead of me, but I wasn't even cognizant of the break until it was too late. I just wasn't paying enough attention. I sat in my little group of swimmers and it was very easy. Towards the end of the swim, the pace slowed so much I decided I needed to charge to the front and minimize the loss to those in the lead and pulled the group to shore. Not ideal, but not the end of the day. I was still out of the water with a large group of great cyclists.

Signing Cards at the Compex Booth
I was the first in our group through transition and on my bike, but immediately my back and glute were a problem. Within the first mile, I was all of sudden last in the group then dangling off the back. I was trying to push hard, but just could not muster the power. Seems odd for how low the power requirements are for an Ironman. My HR was never in a danger zone, but I just couldn't keep up. I was soon dropped and riding solo. I gradually started picking off riders who were falling off the pace in front. At the turn around I was passed by Bart Aernauts and one other guy. I couldn't stay with them. I was passed by Michi Weiss about mile 88 and stayed close enough to see him all the way into town (even though he was a ways up the road). My back was causing so much pain, I was only able to stay in my aerobars for about 10 minutes at a time before standing up to stretch. Not ideal, but I tried to be smart about my efforts and make the most of them. I found myself riding on the left side of my saddle unintentionally trying to produce more power from my good side while easing off my right side and the nerve pain. I was dreaming of the finish of the bike so I could start my run and end the nerve pain in my back and leg.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Richard Melik of Tri 24/7
on the flight to Kona!
Once off the bike, it was apparent (especially to anyone watching me run in transition) that I was in a whole lot of pain, but I had a lot of confidence in my run training and was thinking with a very easy 112 mile bike ride, I could possibly have one of my best runs ever. The nerve pain was more severe on the run and sent shooting pain down my right leg with each right foot strike. I told myself in a few miles I probably wouldn't even notice the pain so just continue. Much to my dismay the pain just got worse and at the run turn around I decided to call it quits. I stopped and chatted to my support crew. Told them I would jog back to transition and turn in my chip. I had a few miles to debate the decision in my head and walk and ran my way back towards Ashley. When I got there the decision was made. I was retiring from the race. I was in enough pain that it hurt to walk and had I been in the lead of the race or even having a good race, I probably would have pushed on, knowing it would cause more damage and pain, but having a bad day and causing my body more pain and possibly more problems by continuing, just doesn't make sense. 8 weeks ago, I felt invincible and my body felt amazing as I won the North American Championship.

What a difference 8 weeks can make and one small millimeter of a difference and my sciatic nerve is impinged, sending shooting pain down the back of my leg. One millimeter of a shift is all it takes, and as professional athletes we are always on the verge of pushing that limit just one millimeter too far and disaster strikes.
Ethan Davidson, COO of Ruster Sports with
my son, Theo in Kona!

I had an amazing time in Kona and there were some great takeaways including these highlights.
  • ·         Being with my family in Kona
  • ·         Catching up with friends, athletes, and sponsors
  • ·         Two of my best friends since childhood were at the race
  • ·         I was certified by Clean Protocol
  • ·         I had a blast re-enacting an entrance from my favorite movie
  • ·         21 Dimonds raced in Kona placing us 16th in 2014 Lava Magazine Kona Bike Count
  • ·         Maik Twelsiek led the race while riding a Dimond bike
  • ·         Celebrating another successful season of racing with a finale in Kona

  • ·         Getting to know all 21 athletes who raced a Dimond in Kona

  • A special thanks to all my sponsors and supporters for making this all possible!
  • TYR Sport and TYR Endurance Sport

The North American Ironman Champ, checking in his Bike!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ironman Mont Tremblant Race Report...The Road To Victory

North American Championship
I knew I was taking a big risk waiting until August to race an Ironman in 2014. My 20th place finish at the 2013 Ironman World Championship didn’t leave me many points, so if I wasn’t going to race two Ironman races in 2014, I was going to have put all my chips on the table for the North American Championship race in hopes of grabbing one of the last 10 qualifying spots for Kona. It was a lot of pressure, but at the same time it really wasn’t all that different than the old system of slot allocation (the current system Age Groupers follow). Regardless, it was still a big task. Battling a back and hip issue late last year and early this year set me back a little -  and I knew I wasn’t as fit as I needed to be heading into St. George 70.3 or Kansas 70.3, but I still thought I was fit enough to have good (not great) races. After Kansas 70.3 I took the entire next two months to train and prepare for this event. No racing, just proper preparation for an Ironman. My daughter was born on June 17, and my fitness dropped to a season low three days after her birth, but then I started my build. I always tell myself, 99% of life comes down to one simple axiom, “Never Panic”. Patience would be extremely important as I would have to methodically build fitness for the next two months to put myself in a position to win the race. My coach, Cliff English, came up with a game plan, and I spent the next two months dedicated to preparing for IMMT. 

I arrived in Montreal on Wednesday August 13. I traveled with one of my aerospace engineers, Matt Cymanski, who would serve as my Sherpa and personal bike mechanic. We had a homestay with the Alix family in town. Pauline Alix was working with the race organizers and they graciously hosted both Matt and myself, but also fellow professional and dear friend, Mathias Hecht. Luckily, I took a few years of French in school and have spent time in France, so I was able to crudely speak with the French Canadians.
My race prep while in Mont Tremblant was pretty low key, but I was sleeping about 10 hours a night. Having gone from a house with a newborn to the homestay made a huge difference on uninterrupted sleep. I had Matt take care of my Dimond while there. He packed and unpacked it from my Hen House, changed my race tires, and did some minor fine tuning.

The night before the race I cooked a nice dinner of an 8 oz beef tenderloin (filet mignon), brown rice, pasta with pesto, bread and butter, and my mom’s wonderful carrot cake for dessert, washed down with water and an Ensure Plus shake. Plenty of calories for tomorrow, but not too much.
I woke up 2.5 hours before the race start and had a breakfast of a whole wheat bagel with PB and J, 2 Ensure Plus drinks, half a bottle of TYR Endurance Sport, and Red Bull. Forty-five minutes before the start I had the other half bottle of my TYR Endurance Sport and a packet of PowerBar Cola Gel Blasts. Twenty minutes before the start I had another Red Bull. Mathias I are were fortunate enough to have Jerome Alix (brother of our homestay), drop us off in the morning with our bikes, right next to transition. I setup my transition, added my items to my transition bags and headed over to the swim start. I spent some time stretching and relaxing in the grass before the start, slammed that last Red Bull and headed into the water for a warmup. I felt great in the water and decided to use the full sleeve TYR Freak of Nature wetsuit for the swim. It is always a tough choice for me unless the water is really cold because I love the freedom of a sleeveless wetsuit. The water was cool but not overly cold at about 68* F.

I loved that the start was a beach start because I feel it is one of the few fair ways to start a race, even though I believe a dive start is the fairest. I started on the left side of the swim next to Andy Raelert and Eric Limkemann and felt the pace was solid, but comfortable. It was pretty cool to have 2000 Olympic Gold Medalist, Simon Whitfield leading us on the paddleboard. I quickly noticed there was a large front group swimming to my right inside the buoy line. I kept an eye on them and made the jump to bridge over once I found myself leading the small group I was swimming with. I did most of the swim next to Mathias but kept making sure there were no gaps opening up ahead. The water was shallow for quite a ways when exiting so the gaps stretched out a bit, but not much. I had a quick transition and was on my bike and ready to hammer.
I had aero shoe covers on my bike that I practiced with before and took the extra few seconds necessary to pull them over my Sidi T3 Air shoes (I wouldn’t need the extra ventilation). I felt amazing on the bike for the first 10 miles or so, then suddenly started to feel really bad. My HR was a bit too high so I let Andy Raelert pass me on an uphill.  He coasted in a tuck on the downhill so I just followed suit and it happened to work wonders for me.  It seemed to work as my HR dropped from 169 to 140 bpm. Suddenly I was back and feeling like a million bucks. I knew I needed to keep my HR under control the rest of the race. Andy passed me a few times on the bike, but he was the only one to change positions with me as the rest of the competitors were content to sit behind and let us dictate the pace. My plan was to be patient but keep the pace honest until the short steep hills around mile 45 or so. Once I was on this section, I hit it pretty hard on the Dimond (putting out 340 watts for 14 minutes), but it was very short and punchy so I had a one minute power of 414 watts and peak 20 second power of 504 watts. This was enough to fracture the group and only Raelert made a valliant effort to stay close. I held between a 90s and 3 min lead on Andy for the rest of the bike while the rest of the competition continued to fall back. I stuck to my plan of one PowerBar Gel every 20 minutes on the bike with a packet of PowerBar Cola Gel Blasts at the turn around. I started the bike with a bottle of Limao flavored TYR Endurance Sport.  The remainder of the bike I consumed only water as a beverage. On the last hilly section of the bike, around mile 100, I hit it pretty hard again, but not near as hard as before. At the finish of the bike, I had around an eight minute lead on Andy.

I started the run with a big lead, but knew I had one of the sport’s fastest runners chasing me. I trained to race a 2:49 marathon and knew I needed to hold 6:27 per mile to get there. I concentrated on holding that pace and maintaining my cadence around 92 steps per minute. I told myself to focus on my race and make Andy do the work to try and catch me. At the first turn around I had put about another minute on him.  Things were looking good, but I could tell he was still mentally in the game and chasing. At the second turn around (back in transition) I extended my lead to over 13 minutes and Andy was suddenly looking behind at 3rd place instead of ahead at me. I kept the pace as solid as I could. I consumed one PowerBar Gel at mile 3, mile 6 and mile 9. I drank nothing but water until mile 10 where I switched to coke and water and a few RedBulls (when available). There was RedBull on the course which was new to me, but a favorite to have.  Sadly, it was not available at every aid station. Everything was going as planned and my pace was solid and steady. Around mile 21 I saw Andy for the third and final time and he was more than two miles behind me. I quietly smiled to myself and thought “You just won this race, now just don’t lose the race.” We’ve all seen some of the epic fails of the past where an athlete with a big lead collapses and can’t crawl to the finish line for the win. So, I slowed my pace and walked through the last aid stations. My HR dropped considerably and I focused on getting my nutrition and hydration. There were several fans who wanted to high five me and celebrate as far back as 10k to go, but I told myself not to celebrate until you can see the finish line. As I came into town, it was an unbelievable feeling. I was elated and overjoyed. Finally I was back racing at my ability level.
It has been a long journey since my race at Ironman Lake Placid where I felt like I was racing to my potential and I have struggled with injuries and setbacks since then. It feels amazing to be back in the winner’s circle.
A special thanks to all of my sponsors and supporters, I couldn’t race without your support.

YMCA Healthy Living Center
Photos Courtesy of Nils Nilsen Photography