Revenge is mine!! almost....
Two years ago I signed up and raced the inaugural Revolution3 Half Ironman at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, CT. It was 2009 and I was coming off my first Ironman year in 2008. The problem with having completed (not raced) an Ironman is that anything after the IM that is shorter doesn't seem like much (even when it is). This was the case with Rev3 in 2009. I didn't have much of a base and raced it like an arrogant A-hole. I nailed the swim and hammered the bike. I got in this mini dual with local age grouper Tim Steiskal. He is a very strong rider so we pushed each other throughout the entire hilly 56 mile bike ride. I entered t2 ahead of Tim, however he would win on the day as I paid tremendously for the effort, more specifically I arrived at T2 with serious cramps in both hamstrings and both quads that eventually led to a run walk half marathon of 2+ hours. Fast forward 2 years to June 2011 and I have a plan in mind.
Even though I was again coming off racing an ironman the previous season, I was much more prepared in my approach to Rev3. I wanted my revenge and I was going to get it by racing smart. One of my strengths this year was my mental game. I had a new found confidence in my abilities which played a huge role in the outcome of my race this year. So much in fact that it really go me thinking, can your mental game be too strong? Can you have so much confidence in yourself that you push yourself too far? These are some of the questions I have been asking myself as of late.
My wave started at 7:20 am, 30 minutes after the pro men and 20 minutes after the first age group wave. Ryan and Andy would be in the same wave that started a little while ahead of me. Because of this I would be gunning for them, and they both knew it. As my wave made it to the waters edge I looked out at the swim course and made my plan. The last 2 races I completed began with me racing to be the first person in my wave to the first buoy. By doing this I would get clear water and be out ahead of the pack. While this worked well in Florida, it didn't work out as well at White Lake. This time I decided to pick my line, and instead of sprinting ahead of everyone, I would find a good steady tempo and at least try and stay even with the front swimmers. By doing this I wouldn't be wasting energy and I may even find someone to draft off of. Althought the latter didn't come to fruition, I did have a very steady and very comfortable first couple hundred meters. I found myself at the front of the pack and swimming a very straight line to the first turn buoy. The trouble came at the first turn when I discovered the glaring sun. The back straight wasn't as accurate a line, however I maintained my speed and as far as I am aware, was only passed by one person (Tim Steiskal). As I made the second turn and headed back to the beach I found myself nearly stroke for stroke with another local stud, Brendan Heller. Brenden races for Bryant Tri and was actually down at IMFL in November volunteering and contemplating signing up. This kid has a lot of heart and the talent to go with it. Him and I made our way to the beach in what ended up being 2 of some of the fastest swims on the day.
Once I was out of the water I made quick work into T1 and before long was out on the bike.
Rev3 Quassy's bike has a reputation for being incredibly challenging. Over the 56 miles, it has 3800' of elevation. My plan for the bike this time around was to have an average heart rate around 169 or 170. If you remember my avg HR at White Lake (on a flat course) was 173 and that was too high. I figured I would drop it a few beats but still be a bit above my target HR from 2010 (163). This was all because I feel I can ride a little harder than originally thought and still have gas in the tank for a strong run. Once again I found myself going back and forth with a specific rider, but this time it wasn't Tim, instead it was Brendan. Both of us were riding smart so it tended to be me passing him on the uphills and him passing me on the downhills.
At mile 33 I caught up to Andy who said he was feeling good and "sticking to the numbers." This would end up being a great decision for Andy as he ended up having a smoking fast run for a very hilly 13.1. One down, one to go, where is Ochoa?? Shortly after catching Andy, we hit the out and back portion where I thought I would see Ochoa...wrong. He was further up than I expected which was great for him, but made me play some mind games.
The second half of the bike was fairly uneventful. As far as I was aware I was in first in my division and moving along well. I wouldn't say that I was crushing the bike, but I also wasn't being passed that often. Over the course of the final 5 miles I was passed by 2 people in my age group, thus entering T2 in 3rd place in my division. T2 was once again uneventful and all that was left was the run.
I left T2 feeling the need to hit the head, however I was so set on getting on the run course that I went right passed the sani-can. About half a mile into the run my stomach wasn't feeling right so I found some bushes, took care of business and was back running agian. A few hundrew feet up the road I still wasn't feeling well so at the 1 mile aid station I stopped and used the jon again. These minor stomach issues would slow down my first 2 miles to about 7:00 pace, and considering they were down hill I knew I had some work to do to make up for it.
Between mile marker 1 and 3 I began to feel some cramps in my quads. They weren't serious but they also weren't temporary. Let the mind strength begin. For the next 9-10 miles I would be playing mind games with myself to keep the cramps at bay and continue moving forward at a good clip. I was passed at mile 2 by another age grouper moving me to fourth, however a little further up the road I passed one of the guys that passed me on the bike and moved back into third place. Between miles 3 and 5 I was passed again by someone new (moving me into 4th). It was also in this stretch that I caught Ochoa who was also having a fantastic race. I gave him a little warning that Andy wasn't far behind as they are in the same age group.
Between miles 5 and 6 was the first of 2 out and backs on the run. I noticed that one of my fellow age groupers was fading and I was making up ground on him. When I caught him I tried to drop him but he was able to stay with me. The two of us would end up running shoulder to shoulder for the next 5-6 miles. In my mind this is when the race really began.
The more I think about it, the more I truly believe that the mental aspect is more than 50% of racing triathlon successfully. I haven't been as consistent with my training this year as I was last year, and yet, I was running almost 30 seconds per mile faster than I was in July of last year. I was able to accelerate to try and drop this guy, and I was also able to respond to his accelerations and prevent myself from being dropped. Whether I had the fitness or not, my mind kept me in the race as the miles ticked by. Think about it, up until mile 6, my splits were: 6:39, 7:21, 6:28, 6:40, and 6:53. After catching this guy and running with him my splits were 6:29, 6:30, 6:44, 6:14, 6:12. The second 5 miles were nearly 2 minutes faster, and there were more uphills in the second 5 miles!
This race was AWESOME!! My legs were on the edge of seizing up in cramps, my heart rate was up, and I was running shoulder to shoulder with the same person for 5 miles! I was thinking well ahead that I would need a little something extra for the last mile as it was uphill. I couldn't wait to get there. Just before the 11 mile marker we caught 2nd place in our age group. Up until that point the 2 of us were running in 3rd and 4th. Once we caught 2nd place he joined us and now there were 3 of us running together all in the same age group with just over 2 miles to go! This is the kind of race I always hope to find because (with the exception of White Lake) I feel very confident in my closing kick (althought it may not be as strong as Bevan Docherty)
The way we were now running was single file and I was in the middle. We were on the second out and back when it happened. I lost focus for what seemed like half a second and my left foot found a crack in the pavement. I didn't injure my ankle, however the normal cadence I had had up until this point that was keeping the cramps away was broken and it resulted in the worst bilateral hamstring cramps I have EVER experienced. They literally stopped me dead in my tracks and shortly there after put me on the ground. I was on the ground trying to get back on my feet when Andy came by telling me to focus. I kept massaging my hamstrings and trying to stretch them. Everytime I would try to stand up they would lock up and back down I would go. I finally got to the point where I was able to stand. After a few awkward steps forward I was able to slowly get back to running. The mental strength kicked in again. I was now running and hoping to get some time back. When I hit the 11 mile marker my watch read 9:22. I was sidelined for 3 minutes. Even though I wasn't able to get back to my previous pace, I got through the final 2 miles in 7:24 then 7:39 for the unhill mile. I crossed the line in 4:44 with a 1:30 run split.
I was very happy with my performance. I had gotten my revenge on this course, and even though I cramped pretty badly, I still had a 1:30 run split and finished 4th in my age group.
I left this race with 2 main questions on my mind. The first was what would have happened if I had been there with the other 2 age groupers with one mile to go? The second thing I asked myself is, can your mental strength be too strong and allow you to push yourself to potential injury? Althought I didn't injure myself, I couldn't help but think it is possible. With Providence 70.3 coming up, I feel that I have dialed in my abilities accurately enough to establish a race plan that will allow me to ride hard (harder than both half irons in 2010) and still put out a fast run. The key to Providence will be remembering to take my salt tabs as I have forgotten them at both races so far this year. If I do that and really nail my training these last few weeks, I truly believe that I will have an ever better race than last year.