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