2012 New Orleans Ironman 70.3 Race Report

     I really needed to have a good race here. It’d been too long since my last race. Lesson learned from this winter is that I need to race a little earlier in the year. It’s not that I hadn’t tried this year. I was supposed to race Sri Lanka 70.3 in February, but the travel arrangements fell through just before the race. I was planning on racing San Juan Ironman 70.3 in March, but I had a hamstring pull and had to cancel the race and trip. So when I left to race Ironman 70.3 New Orleans April 22nd, I felt more than a little rusty. In fact I had more race nerves than usual. I had a lot of self-doubt going into the race. Training for the winter without a race as a fitness checkpoint was a challenge, my good buddy and training partner of several years Richie Cunningham moved away from Austin, then when I had my string of injuries in February and March, it left me less than confident going into New Orleans. On April 1st this year, I went to Galveston as a co-host announcer for the Ironmanlive broadcast of Ironman 70.3 Texas. Being the US Pro Championships, the race attracted a large and talented field. As the announcer, I watched the race from the sidelines. Initially, I thought this may be a good thing to watch the race, that it would make me want to race. The opposite was true. Since I was already experiencing feelings of self-doubt, watching the guys race and seeing how fast they looked put more doubt in my head.

     When the start gun sounded in New Orleans, I told myself that I just needed to get a race under my belt to get my year under way, knock the rust off, and get the feeling of racing back. I was happy finishing 5th in the race and getting my confidence back. I was questioning my biking fitness, but in this race, I had one of the fastest bike splits. Then off the bike I ran a 1:15:24 half marathon, one of my fastest. I came out of this race feeling like myself again, confident, excited to race again, and ready for the coming season. Before this race, I was questioning my race schedule. I had several scenarios in my head. I wasn’t sure if I’d be ready for Ironman Texas at the end of May. Texas makes the most sense because it’s a close drive to Austin, therefore making it an inexpensive race. Timing wise, it fits well with the rest of my year. I can race Texas on the 19th of May, then come back to Austin for a week of recovery, and then pack up the car and head out to Boulder for the summer just after Memorial Day weekend. New Orleans was my fitness test to see if I was ready for Texas. Coming out of the race, I decided to pull the trigger on Texas and go for the full Ironman 4 weeks later.

     New Orleans 70.3 was a little different than your average race. Because of the weather, the swim was cancelled and we had a duathlon with a 2 mile run, 52 mile bike (storm debris on the road forced a road closure), then a 13.1 mile run. The swim is supposed to take place in Lake Ponchatrain which is massive in size, but is only an average of 6 feet deep. This means that when the winds blow, the waves and chop kick up quickly across the lake. A front had blown in with sustained winds of 25-30mph and gusting much higher. The lifeguards, police, and fire department rescue teams called off the swim. In fact, we were told that the New Orleans Police and Fire only had 3 boats that were rated to go into the size of waves that the lake was experiencing on race day. The call to cancel the swim was made the day before, so going into race morning, we knew it’d be a duathlon.

     My race warm-up was a little different knowing that we’d start with a two mile run. I got in a good 3 miles of running warm-up, with plenty of strides and surges. I had a feeling with 30 pro guys starting like a running race, the testosterone level would make for a quick start…..I was right. I wanted to stay in the main group on the run, but I also didn’t want to dig too deep a whole for later in the race. I figured that tapping into the lactic zone on the legs could make a difference later. On a swim, if you push too hard at the beginning, the lactic build up in your lats, shoulders, and arms really doesn’t bother you later in the race.

     When the gun went, the pace went wild right away. Later many of the guys were saying they thought the pace wasn’t that hard and it was comfortable; all lies. I remember thinking during those first two miles “you boys know that we still have over 3.5 hours of racing ahead of us, right?” They were treating it like a 5k running race. For the first mile, I was hanging a couple seconds off the back of the group. Brandon Marsh was just ahead of me. He said his GPS tweeted at him as we cranked through the first mile right at 5:00. I never set my watch because I didn’t want to know the paces. On the second mile, I dropped back probably 10-15 seconds from the group. I knew it was too hard and almost all the guys pushing the pace at the front would wonder why their running legs didn’t quite have the spunk later in the race than their used to??

     I came in just a little behind the main group of about 20 guys. I passed a few in transition. As I got on the bike, I could see the line of guys ahead. I caught the main group within a mile. Wow, this was the first time EVER in a race that I’m with the main group starting the race. Normally with the swim, I’m starting several minutes back and have to bike with only me, myself, and I. I sat in the back of the group for a few minutes. I have to say that it is much much easier to be in a pack than biking alone. This race made me realize that much weaker cyclists can still have good bike splits if they’re with a group. Biking alone is much harder. I worked up a few spots and found myself right behind Richie. I decided to glue myself right behind him (legal distance of course) because he always knows where to be. Every time he’d move up in the group, I’d do the same. I could see the line was long with still another 6-9 guys ahead of us with many more behind. We went up and over a few bridges and that’s where I felt those gnarly cross winds. There were a few moments I was a little scared because of those winds. Going over one of the bridges, I got sick of some of the guys at the back of the group. Everyone was bunched up and a couple guys in the back were riding squirrely.

     I didn’t want to be part of that junk in the back half of the group, so I decided to push up to the front, put in a pull, then I figured someone would come to the front to relieve me. When I came to the front, I could see the three riders who had broken away from the group up the road. TJ was off on his own, but together behind him were Tom Lowe and Trevor Wurtelle. They were about 300-400 meters up the road, so I thought I’d use my turn on the front to put in an effort to pull the group up to Tom and Trevor (or at least not let them pull away). After about five minutes, I looked back and I was alone. I wasn’t trying to attack the group, but I had pulled about 50 meters ahead. It was decision time, I was in no-mans land alone with a big group behind and three guys up the road. I thought, "how often am I in the mix this early in a race?" Normally, I’m working my way back from a few minutes down. This time I had a chance to be mixing it up in the front, so I pushed on. It took me a lot of energy and several minutes to catch Tom and Trevor, but eventually I bridged up alone. When I caught them, I was a little tired, so I sat behind and just tried to recover for several miles. Eventually, Tom pulled away from Trevor and I. About 2/3 through the bike, it was TJ up the road, then Tom about 20-30 seconds up on Trevor and I, then the main pack of about 10 guys about 45 seconds back.

     We turned into a headwind and I started feeling fatigued, so I backed off a little. Trevor started pulling away. I was thinking that I may just pedal my pace and when the main group caught me, jump in and be recovered. I felt a bike coming up on me, thinking it was the main pack, but it was actually Chris McDonald (aka Big Sexy) on his own after he broke away from the group. It was just enough to pep me up. I went with Chris and sat behind him for a few minutes. Then I started feeling good again. I passed Chris and did a turn setting the pace. After a few minutes, he traded off the front again. As he passed, he said “let’s keep the pace high and not let the pack catch up.” Chris pulled us back to Trevor and the three of us linked up until the end of the bike. We rolled into transition together. I was first out of our group onto the run with TJ about 3 minutes up the road and Tom somewhere in between us.

     Chris and Trevor passed me right away on the run. I couldn’t tell if they were hauling or if I was running slow. As we got out of transition I heard the announcer saying that Richie was coming into transition alone, so I knew he had broken away from the group and was 30-45 seconds behind us. Then as we ran further down the road I could hear the announcer indicate the main pack was coming into transition, so I knew we had a minute or a little more on the group.

     Trevor kept pulling away, but Chris’ gap stayed at about 25-30 meters for about 2 miles. My legs felt terrible for those first couple miles, but then I felt my stride slowly coming back. Over the next two miles, I clawed my way back up to Chris. He and I ran together for a bit, the Richie caught us. The three of us stayed together for a little, but then Richie started pushing on. I did my best to stay on Richie’s shoulder and Chris dropped back a little. Richie kept the pace high and he started opening a gap, but I just tried to keep the gap as small as possible. It kept growing, but only a yard at a time. Richie eventually ran himself into 2nd place from 6th off the bike. He had the fastest Ironman 70.3 run of his life. At the end, he was only 10 seconds behind the leader.

     Trevor eventually caught both Tom and TJ and went on for the win. He executed a great race. Tom stayed in second until Richie caught him and pipped him at the line. I was holding on 5th pretty strong, but there was a young Aussie slowly reeling me in. I thought I was pretty safe when I saw him at the turn around at mile 9. Then I saw him again at mile 11 and he was only about 20 seconds behind me and was gaining. With only 2 miles to go, that’s only 10 seconds per mile. That was the moment where the real digging began. I asked myself how mad would I be if I let him catch me. I asked myself if it was worth really hurting for the difference in prize money between 5th and 6th place. He and I talked after the race and he said at that moment from his perspective, I put in a surge that broke his will to chase. It’s funny, that from my perspective, I was running scared. We may think that we are the ones on the ropes, but we never know how the other guy is feeling.

     I finished the race happy with how my body responded, even after all of my self doubt before the race. I had fun in New Orleans and would probably go back to the race again. The race director secured a new swim sight for future years in an enclosed harbor behind a breakwater, so if the winds kick up again, the swim shouldn’t be canceled. The race used to end down in the French Quarter right by Café du Monde, so I’d love to see the finish back downtown again to make one of the best finish lines in the sport.

     For now, I’m just putting in the last few sessions of work before Ironman Texas, getting acclimated to the heat, and resting up. More to come in a few weeks.

      I really want to thank Little Caesars Pizza for their support of me and my racing. Their belief in me is so important for me be able to do what I'm doing in this sport.  TYR Sports is providing me with the best wetsuits and speedsuits in the sport. PowerBar's nutrition products have been a key part in my training and racing. I'd also like to thank RecoveryPump for their support. RecoveryPump has been a critical aspect of my training and recovery and I truely believe the product has helped to take my training to the next level.  Jack and Adam's Bicycles in Austin are always there to help support me and my racing. I want to thank Felt Bicycles for putting me on such an amazing bike, the 2012 Felt DA. HED Cycling has provided me with the best wheels and aerobars on the market. Champion System Clothing has provided me with the race and training clothing that you see in my pictures. Advanced Rehabilitation in Austin helps to keep me healthy for training and racing. Hill Country Running Company is a great help with my running equipment. SBR Sports Inc's products are also a great help for racing and training. Also I want to thank my family and friends for their unending support for me. Without these people and sponsors, I would not be able to pursue this dream.



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