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Race Report – Ironman AZ – Nov 15, 2015
By Todd Ehrlich
In summary, it was an amazing day. For the most part, the swim and ride went according to plan, and while I wasn’t able to keep the pace that I was hoping for on the run, I’m thrilled with my overall result.
I woke up at 3:45 after a solid night of sleep. No pre-race jitters. I had a little bit of nerves during check in Thursday, but after picking up my bike from TriBike Transport and going for a spin, they quieted down.
I ate a quick breakfast (oats, banana and a tube of mashed apples, bananas and berries). I’m 47 years old and am back to eating baby food.
In going to get dressed, I found notes and cards from my family, including an audio-card from my boys. That reduced me to tears; so maybe I was slightly on edge.
The 30 minute drive to the race was uneventful. Upon arriving, I loaded my drinks, fuel and bike computer while sipping UCan. After a long wait at the porta-potties, I donned my wetsuit, dropped off the morning bag and cued up with the 1:10ers.
When the cannon fired, the line moved quickly. I was in the water before I knew it, definitely less than 2 minutes. I felt the swim went pretty much according to plan. The staggered start left room to maneuver and I was able to get into my rhythm pretty quickly. There was a decent amount of contact, but the only real shot I took was an elbow to the goggles at the last turn buoy.
The course is a long rectangle, and you can’t see the far end from the start. In hindsight, I wish I had scouted it better because from what I saw on the map I expected the turnaround to be sooner. Not a big deal, just distracting, constantly wondering where it was. The other thing I would have noticed is that the buoys were not lined up straight; in fact they made more of an hour-glass rather than a rectangle. On the way out I sighted on the nearest buoy which drew me towards the center of the lake only to have to angle back towards shore to hit the turn buoy. On the way back, I started sighting on the furthest buoy I could see. I’m having trouble getting the data off my Garmin, but it’ll be interesting to see the route I actually swam.
T1 went pretty much according to plan. It’s so nice having the wetsuit strippers. The runs in to
transition and out to the mount line were both a little longer than I had anticipated prior to arriving, but I had walked them the day before, so knew what I was in for. My only mistake was I forgot to leave my bike in an easier gear for starting. Also, I know that you now can leave your shoes on your bike (new this year), had I known, I would have practiced for it; but I wasn’t going to try to figure it out on race day.
Only one surprise on the ride: rain, and a lot of it. Actually, other than taking the few corners a little slower, it really didn’t impact the ride much and was kind of nice to have it rinse off the sticky Gatorade that had sloshed over the bottle and my hands.
The ride is 3 laps of an out and back course. The first half of the out is flat, followed by a false flat up and ending in a 2 - 3.5% climb for the last couple of miles. The return trip is mostly down and a lot of fun.
The first lap went pretty much according to plan and took about 1:50. The winds were pretty quiet and the adrenaline was pumping hard. The second lap was just over 2 hours, including a 3 minute porta-potty stop; big line. The winds had picked up significantly, or course blowing down the hill and the rain started coming down in earnest around the turn around point. The final lap was about 1:56. The rain had let up for the final dash home. The only down point was that as the storm rolled out of town, the winds shifted, and the final flat, which should have been a tail wind, was in my face.
Fueling for the ride went mostly according to plan, I had planned on 3 EFS flasks, 4 waffles, plus a Gu or two from the aid stations. At the last minute, I threw an extra EFS in my shirt pocket and it turned out to be a good thing. I’ll blame it on the rain and the cold and not my butter fingers, but I dropped two of the flasks when they were about half done. Fortunately, no one saw, and I didn’t get a penalty.
This is where I felt the impacts of the cold and rain. I could barely feel my fingers and feet, and it took me forever to get my socks and calf sleeves on. Note to self, no socks next time. I had planned on bypassing the tent all together, but I went in so I could at least start off with dry socks and shoes. This transition took about twice as long as I had hoped.
Coming out of transition, I was high as a kite and running too fast; but I couldn’t slow down. I even told myself to slow down, but I just couldn’t. I took a quick potty stop at the 2 mile aide station and used that time reset my pace.
The next two miles were tricky because the course dropped to a dirt path along the lake and it was muddy and slippery, and we had to zig-zag around puddles. And one point I slammed my shoulder into a sign because I was watching my footing as I dodged a puddle. It really would have been embarrassing to DNF because was I knocked out by a “please curb your dog” sign.
Around mile 7, I thought I was going to start seeing my fuel again. I think I ate too much at the start of the run. I slugged an EFS flask over the first two miles, picked up a Gu at miles 3, 5 and 7 and guzzled 2 – 3 cups of water and/or Gatorade at each aid station. My family told me afterwards that when I saw them at mile 9, I didn’t look good. I switched to nothing but water for the next 4 miles and things settled down. Then I was able to resume grabbing a Gu every 2 – 3 miles and working some Gatorade back in.
The run is two loops around a horseshoe shaped course. The hardest part of the whole race was the first lap. In addition to the mud and not feeling well, I felt like was the slowest the person on the course. The pros and age groupers who were on their second lap were flying by me and since running is by far my weakest leg, those who started the run at the same time as me all seemed much faster. Runs go by more quickly if you have someone to talk to, but that never happened on the first lap.
The second lap was much better. It sounds cruel, but it was fun running with people at my pace only to see their jealousy when they learned I was on my second lap. It was also surprising that several times I’d be running and talking with someone, only to have their watch beep and them say “time to walk”.
The one goal I accomplished on the run was to not walk except in the aid stations and only long enough to get my fluids in without pouring half of them down my front. It felt great not to walk the half mile long, 2 – 3% hill which 90% of people were walking on the second lap. This might have been the only point where I was passing people on the first lap.
I’m pretty sure there is little in life that can match the feeling of running down the finishing chute at an Ironman. It was a culmination of a journey that formally started a full year in advance. It’s easy to look back and nitpick your plan for where you might have been able to do a little more; but in my case, I don’t think there were very many of those moments. Things didn’t always go to plan. Starting the year with a stress fracture didn’t help, but I it gave me time to focus on swimming, turning it into my strongest discipline. I missed a few workouts along the way because of travel or family conflicts, but I can honestly say that I never missed one or cut one short because I was too tired or didn’t feel up for it, and based on that, I’m ecstatic with my result, knowing that I gave it all I had.
TTEndurance had a strong showing at the 2015 Tour de Greenwich on Sunday, 9/15, represented by Eric Sydor, Beth Allen-Reilly, Gregg Ziebell, and Karen Ziebell. While a bit of a tricky race day, given wet conditions … and a couple of steep climbs – the TTE Team rode away with remarkable results!
Eric took second place in his age group and 13th overall, while impressively shaving 6 minutes off of his prior performance in Tour de Greenwich – finishing the 20 mile course in 0:50:29, an exceptional 23.8 mph average. Gregg, returning to the race after a 16 year hiatus, took an astounding 16 minutes off of his prior performance, finishing the course in 1:00:01, an outstanding 20.0 mph. Beth rode a superior race taking first place in her age group, finishing in1:08:35, an impressive 17.5 average! And finally, as a last minute entry (yes, about 10 minutes before they were lining up!) Karen entered her first cycling race and rode away with her first podium appearance, taking third place in her age group with a 1:09:56 finish, an incredible 17.2 average!
Despite slick conditions, the TTE’ers had a great morning – fantastic results and smiles abound!
On Labor Day Weekend Steve Skinner took on the Green Mountain Stage Race. Here is an account of his experience:
Last weekend I participated in the Green Mountain Stage Race. It was my first pure bike race ever, and I thought I’d write a race report to share with the club.
I have always been intimidated by racing. Mostly the crashes. But I got swept up in the post-Mt. Washington euphoria and signed up. YOLO.
As the day got closer, I got more apprehensive. Especially once I found out I was the only one from TTE going. The GMSR is a 4-day race. The first day is a time trial and the second day is a 53 mile circuit race. I figured I’d at least do those two and then maybe go home after that.
Stage 1 was a 5.7 mile time trial. How bad could that be? Looking at the profile of the course, it didn’t look too bad. Uphill for the first 2.5 miles or so for a 450 foot ascent, then a false flat down, then a .5 mile uphill at the end for another 150 foot climb. I figured I’d go slightly over threshold for the uphill part, then slightly below for the false flat and then drain the tank for the last half mile.
The start is pretty cool. Everyone starts at 30 second intervals. They hold you up while you clip in, then the clock beeps out the last five seconds before a solid beep at the start. Just like a real race!
I felt pretty good coming out of the gate. The hill was pretty steep but I was handling it OK. Then I looked down at my power meter and I’m pushing 140% and already redlined the hearbeat. So much for a controlled ascent. Still felt pretty good until about 300 meters from the top of the hill and then I was gassed.
On the false flat I was thinking I should be going faster. But I saw that I was catching the guy ahead of me so maybe I wasn’t doing so bad. As I got to the last little climb I already had nothing left, but I passed another guy and struggled up the hill. I was feeling OK for my first race. After all, I had passed two guys and nobody passed me. Then 200 feet from the finish I got passed by a guy who started a full minute behind me. Just blew right by.
So I ended up 30th out of 43 riders. A pretty lame showing. Someday I’ll learn to pace myself in time trials (and maybe get stronger – yeah, that would help).
The course for day 2 was a 19 mile circuit that our group did 2.75 times, for a total of 53 miles. There was a 500 foot climb at the beginning with a KOM and then a sprint at the finish line, which we also crossed 3 times for sprint points each time. Of course I decided to ignore the KOMs and sprints and focus on survival. My goal was to stay with the main group as long as possible.
Again, to a novice the start is pretty cool. VT state trooper leads us out with lights flashing and a motorcycle leads us the whole way. Luckily they neutralized the first hill, so I didn’t have to worry about getting dropped the first time. Then, the descent. We got going close to 50 on the descent, and I was on my brakes frequently. Surprisingly, I felt pretty safe. People hold their lines well, and increase spacing on the descents. Then the road flattened out and looking at my computer we were already 13 miles in. We were doing an average of 25 and I was hardly working at all. MUCH easier than one of our Saturday rides. Maybe this isn’t so bad.
We get to the climb, and I thought there was a bout a 50% chance of me getting dropped. But again, it wasn’t that bad. I think the lead guys figured neither of them could put any time on the other leaders, so nobody was really pushing it.
Then we came to the last sprint. I had been riding near the back of the pack all day, but I thought I’d move up a little bit and see how I could do. At the 500 meter point, they block off the whole road and let the group spread out. We were going over 30 MPH and to my left I hear a clanging of metal and see someone go down pretty hard. Then the guy to the left of me scoots right to avoid it and bumps me. I held my line and he kind of bounced off. After I figured I was OK I just kept going and ended up 15th in the sprint. Nothing fantastic but not bad given how far I came from. A little bit of redemption from the time trial. Plus, I’d had my first contact and came out fine. Even the guy that went down got back up and finished the race. I actually felt pretty safe the whole time. I decided to stay and do the third day.
Even with my confidence slightly restored I was apprehensive about day 3. It’s a 65 miler that goes over two of VT’s “gap” climbs: Middlebury Gap (6 miles and 1,200 feet of climbing) and then finishing at App Gap (actually 2 climbs over 10 miles with 2,000 feet of climbing and the last 500 meters tops out at 20%). Again my strategy was to stay with the lead group as long as possible. Getting dropped would lead to a very long day.
The biggest risk of getting dropped was the Middlebury Gap, which comes at the 30 mile point. Everything had been fairly calm up to that point. As we started going up, things started off pretty calm. Then halfway up the leaders turned on the gas. I was huffing and puffing big time. By the time we got to the top there were about 8 riders at the top and I was almost a minute back. Uh-Oh. At the top there were five other guys in the same position so we raced down the descent and then pace-lined it hard for about four miles and finally caught up. After gunning it on the climb and then the pace line I was really spent. But at least we had caught the group. Was a cool bonding experience for our little informal team.
Then of course the leaders sat up. A few others started catching up. All that work…
As App gap kept getting closer, I was thinking about the pain that lay ahead but also that soon it would be over. Over one short but steep bump, and then “baby Gap” (the first section of App Gap) and I was still with the lead group. That was the best I could have asked for. At the bottom of the second section I decided to just treat it as a TT and let the group go. I ended up 3 minutes behind and in 12th place, but I think if I had tried to stay with them I may have been walking up the last 500M.
My plan was never to stay for day 4. It was a crit – a 1K lap in downtown Burlington with 6 turns and one annoying climb at the finish. 25 laps total. I had always heard crits are dangerous, so I was going to skip it. I had no hotel, no clean kit to wear, nothing. But then in the euphoria of day 3…
I only slept 2 hours the night before. I was VERY nervous about crashing. But morning came and I was committed to go through with it.
The atmosphere around a crit is pretty exciting. Everything is close – you can almost see the whole course. There are lots of spectators and an announcer that calls a play-by-play. There is a pace car. It was an Audi A6: it needed to be something that could corner well. Speeds can get up to 40 MPH in a downhill corner.
I didn’t really understand how crits work, but if you get dropped and are close to being lapped they pull you from the race. If you get pulled before the 13th lap you don’t even get a time – it’s a DNF. Otherwise they calculate a time.
The start of the race was like one of our Tuesday night rides when we get to Beachside. But it lasts for 15 minutes. The first 10 laps were absolutely balls to the wall. My legs and lungs were screaming.
On lap 4 or so some guy caught his handlebars on a piece of tarp and went down. Took one other guy with him, but not too hard though. But overall I felt much safer than I thought I would. The group was pretty strung out, and most turns were single file. Two-wide at the most after the first couple laps.
After lap 10 things slowed down a little. Either that, or I was learning to carry my momentum through the turns a little better. Probably a combination of both. After lap 20 I thought I was going to be able to stay with the lead group through the end – a miracle in my mind. I had been toward the back of the lead group the whole time, so I knew I had no chance at the sprint. In the end I was 20th but I got the same time as the winner. The guy that won the sprint was a 58 year old guy that probably weighted 220 lbs. Unbelievable.
I ended up 13th in the General Classification, which was way better than I thought I could.
This race was an amazing experience. While I was very intimidated going in, I felt almost as safe as I do on our group rides. THIS OR SOMETIHNG LIKE IT WOULD BE A REALLY FUN EVENT TO TAKE A TTE GROUP TO. And there is lots of stuff for families to do. The Sugarbush area has cool waterfalls, mountain biking, kayaking, gliders, craft fairs and amazing farm-to-table food. And Burlington is a very cool city with lots going on.
I was much better prepared than I though due to all the stuff the TTE team has been teaching us. Pace-lining, the Sherwood work, gutting it out on climbs, screaming starts on Tuesday night, etc. It all applied.
This is probably the most fun biking thing I’ve done and I sincerely encourage more of us at TTE to give it a try