© 2014 Stirland Rae Photo
People ask me why I do this over and over. The best thing I’ve come up with is, “Because I have to. I don’t know how to live my life any other way.”
– Rebecca Rusch, WHY?
(Someone on the Slowtwitch forum asked why I was doing all these races – five 70.3s in six weeks. This was the best thing I could come up with…)
It started out as a twofold goal:
– qualify for Kona
– become a better athlete
The qualify for Kona part, had it been the only priority, would have been relatively easy to do at any Ironman, IMLP being the most obvious choice if all I wanted to do was qualify.
Mathematically, when I designed the new KPR points system – and this was confirmed by basically everyone else who ran similar scenarios, it seemed like it would take about 3500 points to qualify. Ironically, it ended up taking EXACTLY 3500.
So between IMTX and IMAZ, I had just over 2500. I had some “filler” – like 100 points or so from IMSG and Oceanside, but basically, all I *needed* to qualify was a 4th place at an Ironman. Outside of Kona, I have never placed lower than 4th in ANY Ironman except my very first one, where I was 5th. So, I was 99% sure that I could do one more Ironman and get enough points to make it into Kona.
However, I didn’t actually think that was a good plan, because I didn’t see it benefitting me in any way long term as an athlete.
As [random anonymous Slowtwitch asshole] rightly points out, “it’s not like he has a chance at top-5.” I’d say that is an accurate current assessment. I think in 2012, when I was racing REALLY well, I had a legitimate chance at 6/7/8 in Kona if I had not raced Leadman 250 in Bend three weeks before. But I think I haven’t raced to that level (the level I showed at IMTX & IMNYC 2012) since then. And 6/7/8 is not “top-5.” Even at my best, I don’t think I have yet shown top-5 form. Top-5 potential? Sure. But so what. What exactly is “potential”? Potential definitely won’t feed my (now larger) family. And I beat the shit out of a lot of that potential anyway.
Mostly, I chalk this up to bad self-management. I raced five 8hr races in 10 months – IMTX ’12, IMNYC ’12, Leadman 250 Bend ’12, Kona ’12, & IM Melbourne ’13. I was sick in Melbourne, and that combined with not totally shutting it down to recover post-Melbourne set me up for a pretty shitty season last year with the low point being a Kona DNF.
This year started out also pretty shitty at Oceanside, and that’s when I decided to make a coaching change. The prep I did for Ironman Texas was good. Really good. Probably the best prep for an Ironman I’ve had since 2012. Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case, when you make a change, there’s an adjustment period. I felt REALLY good leading into Texas, until about three days before the race, when I started to fade. Ultimately, it wasn’t a total negative – the reason I was able to do the training I did for Texas was that I was finally healthy and in a good headspace. So I did too much because it felt easy. And, as with all things physical, there’s a lag with fatigue. But I came out on the short end of the stick – a wetsuit swim in warm water didn’t help, but that was probably more the difference between hanging onto 2nd vs fading to 4th than it was winning vs. not. I was tired during the race, and ended up fading. That 4:19 was an underperformance on the bike given the conditions. And a 3:02? Well, yeah… I was so tired that I didn’t even register on the crowded Texas run that Justin Daerr passed me with about 1/2 a mile to go (ironically, that 300 point differential between 3rd and 4th would be the difference between an easy road to 3500 and what ended up being a much more challenging route). C’est la vie.
A win at Texas would have gotten me in. But when that didn’t happen, I needed a plan B. I knew from the Texas build that my health was back after 2013 and that my ability to do the training needed to win a race was also back.
So what was missing? I figured it was racing skills. I raced very little in 2013. My swim made very little progress, despite strong improvements in the pool. I was pretty much the same athlete that I had been in terms of how I was able to do well and what I could do well at.
Those limiters are all a huge problem when it comes to being a guy who CAN go top-5 in Kona.
So I figured I’d try to get the points and ALSO improve as a “racer.” I’d try to improve my swim. I’d be able to test in real scenarios things that offered a supposed advantage (like the Pearl sleeved trisuit, which tested really fast in the windtunnel, but which I cannot swim with pulled up in), to further refine nutrition (I had to pitstop again in Texas and I felt like I’d lost my handle a bit on really being dialed on IM nutrition), and to just get better at racing – transitions, tactics, etc, etc, etc.
Syracuse was not a great race; for reasons that I still don’t understand, my hip locked up after my run Saturday morning and just would not cooperate on the run on race day. Been fine before and since.
Lubbock was a great race, though in fairness, if I was to design the PERFECT half-Ironman course for me, that’s it. If I had realized then that the Pearl suit slowed me down in the water, I think I win that race. But that was my first sense of, “oh yeah, this is RACING. I can be good at it. And I like it. A lot.”
Vineman was another subpar swim thanks to Pearl suit, but it was a great race from a pacing standpoint, so another improvement. Getting back to being really steady. That was my most evenly paced race. And I think a good reminder of both the positives and negatives of that.
In Racine, i didn’t have a great day (bad pacing on the bike), but finally – for the first time in close to two years – I actually raced from start to finish. A good swim, a dumb bike but then followed by a tough (though not super fast) run. But it was a race. A real race. I crossed the finishline with nothing left. I just bent over and wanted to die. For the first time in a LONG time. 10th place was shitty, but whatever. I remembered how to race. I didn’t have the fitness to back it up since I hadn’t done a “real” week of training since some time in April, but that’s easy to correct. THAT is easy to fix. The racing brain? Much harder.
So I decided to race again. I wanted to race again. So I headed to Calgary.
I had a best ever swim, coming out in the front pack, swimming on the feet of an Olympian and U-23 ITU World Champ (Will Clarke). I rode a tactical bike, not just a sit on the front and ride steady (though I did sit at the front for about the last 80km of the 90km); I raced the bike. And I managed to break everyone except Potts, again, without actually preparing on the bike the way I would for a big race. And then I ran really well – holding Brandon at the same margin – for 1/2 the run. In the second half? Well, I just ran out of steam. Five 70.3s in six weeks will do that to you, especially when the last block of real training you did was about five-six weeks before you even started knocking down these races. I thought I might have been able to outkick Brandon if we’d been about 1km closer to the line when he passed me, but the last surge I had – what I would have needed to kick off of – made me know there was no way I could hold it for 2km. But again, I raced it. Start to finish. I finally felt like a racer again.
The first couple of these races, it was like no big deal to recover, because in some ways, I was just going through the motions. Like doing “half-of-an-Ironman.” Calgary and Racine? Those hurt. Those were tiring. Because those were full on races.
Does this mean I’m a top-5 guy? I wouldn’t say that. What I will say is that IF I do ever cross the line in Kona in 5th or better, it will be precisely because of this and because i didn’t choose just to go “do” an Ironman so I could get into Kona.
Right now, I’m not sure what the rest of the year will hold. Surprisingly (because I never intended to race this many 70.3s), I actually qualified for 70.3 WC, and I think I’ll probably go, because it’s a great chance to simulate a WC swim outside of Kona and to keep racing sharp.
I might do another 70.3 before the end of August – maybe Brazil, just because Brazil seems hella cool, but I’m not going to chase a Q slot. I think I’ve got a pretty good chance that SOMEONE will turn it down from this first cut, but I’m okay either way. If not, I can just keep racing – and keep improving – and that may even be the better plan long term anyway.
When I had my best season ever – 2012 – I went 4:00 to start the year at Wildflower. That’s the 6th fastest time EVER on that course – a course that has seen basically every great 70.3 racer in the world race it at some point (Macca, M. Raelert, Potts, Llanos, Terenzo, etc). I don’t think that’s coincidence. Wildflower is – like Lubbock – the perfect course for me, but I still needed to have the tools to go fast on it. I think at some point, I lost those. I would say now, I feel like I have them back. Now just need to put some fitness behind them…
The TL;DR version is this: Paulo wrote a tweet a few weeks ago that said, roughly, “I love it when guys who are killing it at 70.3 decide to ‘step up’ to Ironman. Because I know they’re gonna get slower.” So this was basically the inverse of that.
Why am I doing a bunch of 70.3s? Because I wanna get faster. THAT is the reason.