It’s incredibly easy to write a blog entry about a successful race, so I will keep this relatively short on the race happenings and focus on other aspects of racing and training.
On June 24th I raced IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene and placed 3rd place in a time of 8h17:05. I went under the previous course record and almost 40-min faster than the last time I raced this event (2015) in what were very similar, extremely hot conditions as well. I still got beat by two incredibly strong, young and hard working, athletes: Sam Long and Justin Metzler. With my third place I also qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Kona, HI, later this year. In Kona only 50 professional male athletes get to compete every year alongside close to 2000 age group athletes. Considering the depth of the field at Ironman races nowadays qualifying as a pro is incredibly difficult. As it should be, really. I’m totally in favor of the current qualifying system where you basically have to finish either Top 3 or win one of the smaller full distance Ironman events per year to get a professional slot. It allows you to race a little less than the previous ranking system but makes you always (try) to race at your best.
I felt good from the get go. Instead of looking at the race as a competition against others, I looked at it as a day where I was doing a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike and a 26.2 mile run, all at paces that I have done in training and always focus on each sport at the time, independent of what others around me were doing. With temperatures for the day predicted to hit over 100F mid day I knew in advance that heat management, fueling and hydration would play a major factor on how the day would unfold. On cold weather races you can make a few more mistakes on the hydration/fueling side and still get away with a decent result. On hot weather races there’s little margin to error mostly because heat is a big limiter to performance. So my motto for the day was to stay cool, don’t over pace, do not lose track of hydration and be patient. And that’s exactly what I did for the entire day. I never really felt over heating – and if I did feel like I was going that way, I would slow down a notch and try to remove heat -, my energy levels were very steady throughout, I was patient even when there was “movement” on the pack around me during the race and conserved my energy well for when it matters the most at Ironman – the final 8 miles of the marathon. This race felt exactly as Ironman racing should feel: a long day of swim/bike/run at a “comfortable within the uncomfortable” pace, without any rock bottom low or going over my ability. I went mostly by feel the entire day even though I had all the metrics at a glimpse and peaked at them to hold back if the effort started to feel too hard. Ironman athletes don’t train to hit maximum efforts, we train to go at a best sustainable aerobic effort but all day long.
Looking back at the race I can say everything paid off. Easy to say when it’s done, not always easy to keep cool and stay within your ability. It terms of the competition there were moments that I started to question the plan namely when I could spot Lionel swimming on my feet, when the same Lionel and Cody Beals “attacked” on the first lap of the bike (we eventually brought them back), when Sam Long caught us and made a push at the front and both Lionel and Justin broke away, leaving me and Tim Rea to chase, and when everything started to burst into flames, figuratively speaking, on the marathon. I believe it go up to 102F on the day, and while I do spend most of the year in Phoenix, the heat in Coeur d’Alene just hits different. Especially when you are deep into an Ironman, an event that just by itself will break you and drain all your energy and fluid stock. I’ve hit the wall many times on Ironman and it’s hard get over it and stay upright. However, patience and control started to pay small dividends as we got into the fourth hour of racing: Cody eventually started to fade on the bike, both Sam and Lionel after the initial push to break away settled down a bit and weren’t gaining as much time, then on the marathon eventually Lionel faded, miles kept going by and I never hit any wall and while I hoped both Sam and Justin would have over paced their races at some point and paid for it on the final miles, they held on strong and I finished third with a performance I can be proud of.
Changes in training
After the race a lot of people came asking what did I do different this year. After all, while I have had my fair share of success in the sport, mostly in the 2013-2016 range, it has been a hot minute since I last finished in a podium at Ironman (since 2nd at IM Canada in 2016). I have still been a consistent top 10 performance at Ironman but not to the standard that I had previously set. My performances have been stagnant, especially as the sport got so much faster over the last few years.
Reality is that I’ve been doing this sport for over 15 years and it has been over a decade that I have been fully focused on the Ironman distance, chasing the sun for most of the year, leaving family, friends and life behind on many occasions to seek new or better locations to train, and after this long, constant uncertainty and putting sport over other things in life, staying motivated to do the needed work has been difficult. Over 2017-2019, I have found myself relying more on the workouts that sounded fun (=motivation) and ditching the workouts that I needed to do (probably solo). This meant I started to do a lot more group rides, group runs, races every weekend, random training sessions and less of the actual Ironman specific work. There is room to do the group rides, the group runs, the occasional races but there needs to still be a lot of Ironman focused session too and I was ditching those more often than not replacing them by erratic training at times. That didn’t yield the best results at Ironman of course. It made me a better group rider for sure, I stayed motivated in between the hundreds of races I would do but Ironman is a beast of it’s own.
Well, as soon as I started to do a lot more of what Ironman specific work is – which is a lot more of what I actually prescribe to my athletes as a coach! – I also started to feel stronger. Even if I didn’t really show it at Ironman Florida 2020 (still finished 7th tho!), St George 70.3 or Tulsa early in the year, I felt very fit at all this races. Of course there are other factors that likely helped me return to a legit Ironman performance namely the partnership with EXOS Performance with a strength routine to complement my swim/bike/run training, a return to focus on my regular diet and better eating habits (thanks to my wife!), more time spent on my TT bike versus never riding it, improving my aero position, working on my mindset, self talk and self confidence, etc., are just some of the small things that also add up and make a difference on race day at the level that Ironman is at the moment
Looking ahead with confidence
To succeed at Ironman you must have the desire and the determination but, maybe more importantly, you must believe in yourself and your ability to succeed. Without believing in yourself you have already lost the race. In every race you do you should exude a high level of self-confidence even if training wasn’t perfect leading up to the day or you start to doubt your abilities to actual still be good. I feel like this race shred a bit of light on the self confidence side, it showed that I can still do well at Ironman and is both relieving and motivating. Because desire and determination is something I’ve always had but as soon as you start to under perform your expectations and ability, you start to question a lot of things and the entire process is compromised.
What’s next? My full focus will now shift towards Ironman Hawaii on October 9th. I will be racing a few local events, namely the Mountain Man Olympic on July 11th and probably the 70.4 event in August. I also plan on doing Ironman California as a last go in the year after Hawaii and hopefully the course of this new event in Sacramento, CA, provides the opportunity to go sub 8 hours over the distance.
Thank you for reading,