In 2022 I decided that I was going to step up my triathlon game. I was going to do a 70.3 in 2023 to test the waters, so to speak, and then do a 140.6 in 2024 assuming the 70.3 went well. The plan was to have the 70.3 be my A race in the fall of 2023 and then schedule a 140.6. However, one of the bad influences in my life pointed me to a race-signup list that showed which members of the DIRT community were participating in which races for the year. This particular bad influence, Jeff, plus a good influence, Andy, were both signed up for Ironman Maryland (along with a bunch more “maybes”).
I met Andy when both of our families happened to be at the same general beach area, and I got a run in with him early in my trip, which was the tail end of his trip. However, I wanted to meet Jeff face-to-face and I thought that this would be a great opportunity not only to see some friends I interact with on a daily basis online in-person, but it would also be a great opportunity to get some support and encouragement for my first big race. So with that, in February of 2023 I bit the bullet and signed up for Ironman Maryland that September (I also signed up for a non-Ironman branded 70.3 for the spring of 2023).
I had perused training plans on TrainingPeaks and opted for the 80/20 Triathlon: 2023 Edition IRONMAN® Level 3 (Run Pace and Bike Power, 7-19 Hours per Week). It is a 23 week plan, so almost 6 months. I crave somebody or something telling me what to do for my training, both in terms of weekly/periodic training blocks and within each individual workout. The ability to export these workouts into a Zwift format where I could just turn off my brain with ERG mode for my bikes, and just do a few taps to the pace on the treadmill made it easy to comply with the prescribed workouts.
The very nature of Ironman workouts is that nothing is actually hard, don’t get me wrong, the workouts aren’t easy, but with one exception the failing didn’t happen because I couldn’t hold a high wattage for a certain period of time, or because I couldn’t get that last few steps at the prescribed pace. The failing happened due to life (and all of the other workouts).
My wife knew what a time commitment the training would be and was supportive. I shifted workouts around to accommodate work and school schedules. Mostly I was able to wake up early enough to get at least the first workout of the day done before I had to get my kids ready for school. I would often do the second workout of the day during a work meeting that didn’t require my participation. I’m not an evening worker-outer, so if I couldn’t get my workout in before the end of the workday, I either shifted it to another day or just wrote it off.
Swimming is by far my weakest event, but this particular training plan had me in the pool 3-4 days per week and since I don’t have a pool in my basement, those were always the easiest workouts to skip. I did try to be a real human, husband, and father, so when family vacations came up, I basically threw the bike and swim portions of the training plan out and made a half-hearted attempt to replace the volume with running. It went OK.
The plan culminated with four of the last five weeks peaking with essentially a seven hour brick workout. It was during this period of the plan that I had my only true failed workout. I had shifted a 16.5 mile run to be the day before I was supposed to do a brick with a six hour bike and one hour run. I hit the long run, but I could only manage four hours on the trainer and skipped the run entirely.
Doing a six hour ride on a trainer is not easy, from a mental perspective for sure, but also from a seat comfort position. It is really amazing what a difference riding inside vs outside makes in this regard, even with a rocker plate. I was also generally a little miffed about doing six hour rides as part of the training plan since my target time on the bike was sub-5:30. Regardless, it was good training for my nutrition and my mental fortitude. The other “failure” I had was due to life and it was another seven hour brick that I didn’t even attempt due to vacation. It was unfortunately the last key workout in the entire training plan.
As I was stalking Andy on Strava, he made a comment on his last big ride to the effect that the hay was in the barn. That got into my head and I couldn’t stop thinking about the hay I had harvested during this 23-week training plan. The hay was there, but the problem was, this was a A Song of Ice and Fire winter for me, which is to say, I had no idea if the winter was going to be a few months, or a few years. I had a fixed amount of hay that I harvested, but I had no clue if it was going to be a relatively comfortable winter, or one that I barely survived.
When I did the 70.3 in May of this year, I tried a combination of liquid and solid nutrition. I was using Gatorade Endurance, GUs, and Skratch Labs rice krispies. I quickly found out that it is very, very difficult to not only open food while in the aero position, but I had a hard time chewing. So for the 140.6, I decided to go for a liquid-only nutrition plan on the bike. I tested this out on all of my long rides - basically two bottles with a Gatorade Endurance concentrate that should be enough carbs and sodium for the entire ride. I took a sip every 15 minutes, which was good for ~80 carbs/hour. I have a pretty weak stomach and I never felt great with this nutrition plan, but I also never felt terrible, just a low-level discomfort after a certain period of time, sometimes. Since the discomfort wasn’t consistent and the liquid-only approach was so convenient, I decided it was worth the risk. One thing that I did not address was the amount of sodium intake I had. I just assumed with the Gatorade Endurance that if I hit my carb goals the sodium would take care of itself. This would come back to bite me very, very hard.
Run nutrition for me is laissez-faire. In training, I don’t carry water with me, instead opting for water fountains along my route.. When I’m on my treadmill, I drink from a water bottle. I typically don’t take nutrition unless the run is over two hours, in which case I use whatever GUs I happen to have on hand. Nothing calculated - just one every 45 minutes. Jeff talked about walking during his Ironman marathons, so I had no concerns about walking through every aid station and drinking water/gatorade and eating the gels they provided. The general plan was to listen to my stomach, drink at every station, take a gel at every other station (stomach willing), and gut it out, pun very much intended. I won’t ruin the conclusion here, but I think the concept of -it is hard to measure intake when you aren’t in control of the portion size- is not a valid excuse for not coming up with an actual nutrition plan.
When I registered for the race, I opted for the mail-the-transition-bags option, which allowed me to do the athlete check-in on Friday, which was otherwise expressly forbidden. I knew that I would not be able to get to Cambridge Maryland on Thursday in time for the packet pickup with my wife’s work schedule. I drove up before my family so we wouldn’t have to take the kids out of school and they could get their soccer game in on that Saturday.
The end of the two plus hour drive on Friday was one of frustration as I had the expectation that I would pull up to a parking spot right next to the bike transition area and I’d be able to rack my bike without even getting out of the car. Somehow that expectation was not met and I ended up having to drive around looking for a place to park and then walking a lot. There was a lot of walking the day before the race. Not ideal. Other than the walking, everything was easy. Check-in, easy; bike racking, easy; gear drop off, easy. After I got my bike racked I got in touch with Andy who was about to head to lunch. The timing was perfect - he and his wife Sarah were nearby and picked me up and whisked me away to a lunch spot they picked out.
It was one of the restaurants participating in the meal voucher program, where Ironman gives you a $25 voucher to a participating restaurant that you can use during the long weekend. It seems nice until you realize that you just prepaid for a meal and it’s unlikely that you will recoup your full $25, but whatever. The important part was lunch with Andy and Sarah. This was the first time that I met Sarah. I didn’t get a chance to see her when Andy and I met up at the beach. It was awesome to share a meal with a fellow DIRT and spouse. I’m not the best conversationalist but we had no shortage of things to talk about. Andy is just an age-group ahead of me in life, so it felt a little bit like a sneak peak into what my life would be like in a handful of years.
After lunch, Sarah was kind enough to drop us off at the athlete briefing while she battled for a parking spot. The briefing lasted about an hour, which was a lot longer than I was expecting. My general feeling on race briefings is that I don’t actually learn anything new in them, but I experience a ton of anxiety if I don’t, so I make it a point to go. This day was a bit of an exception, since this was my first Ironman branded event and my first 140.6. And while I think I had already read all of the material that was covered in the briefing, somehow hearing it in person helped settle my nerves some.
After the briefing, I finally made it to my AirBnB, which was a tiny house on the race course about 15 minutes away. When I initially booked the place, I did so with the expectation that my wife and two kids would not come. That was a silly expectation (much like my parking space next to the transition area), but there was a fold out couch for the kids and the bed was big enough for me and my wife. Honestly, the biggest issue was the fact that the bed was in a loft and I did not stop to think that it might be difficult for me to ascend the ladder to access said bed after 11 hours of swimming, biking, and running.
The next issue was that the house was on well water and it was not treated. I had to go out and buy some water just to have and to fill my water bottles with for the race. I also got some popcorn, because that is my go-to nighttime snack. I like to think that it gives me the extra sodium I need before a race.
After I got settled in, I reached out to my mom who drove up from Virginia Beach and we met up for dinner. Normally I have pasta with chicken for dinner before a race. My version of carb loading. But both Jeff and Andy kept talking about having pizza for dinner before a race, so I figured if those two pros can do it, why not me? Of course, instead of pizza, I went for a calzone, but potato potato. My mom was very excited for the race and made sure I knew how proud she was of me. She made it sound like me doing all of the training was the hard part, but I had to correct her and let her know that doing the training is easy - taking care of two young kids while dad is riding his bike again is the hard part. She didn’t buy it, but I’ll sing Jenny’s praises to anybody that will listen about how she supported me and our family during this six month training period.
After dinner, I went home and made my plan for the morning. I already had my breakfast mapped (overnight steel-cut oats with peanut butter, honey, and banana), I had my Gatorade bottles pre-filled with the powder and added the water to them, plus my other water bottles, I figured out what time I was waking up and where I would park.
I went to bed at 8:30 and woke up at 4:20. I made my coffee hoping to start the day with a clean slate, but to no avail. I ate my breakfast, got in my kit, grabbed my morning bag, and headed to the shuttle parking area. I made it to the transition area at about 5:30. I put my bottles on my bike and went to find a pump, which was more of an ordeal than I would have thought because there were a bunch of broken pumps, but eventually got my tires to where they needed to be.
I made sure to see Andy and Jeff and I met Jeff’s friend Kristy who was also racing. I then went to find my mom who was meeting me there. At that point, they started making announcements that the swim was being delayed for an hour due to the conditions. Not much later, they announced that the course was being shortened to 918 meters. Part of me was happy since swimming is my weakest event, and part of me was disappointed since I wanted to do the full 140.6. WIth the deaths at Ironman Ireland recently, I understand the need for caution and I appreciate the concern for my safety (or at least the concern of a PR disaster which results in my safety).
I just chilled for that extra hour, doing everything I could to mentally calm myself. It was chilly that morning so I got in my wetsuit. I purchased a new (to me) long-sleeve wetsuit out of fear of the jellyfish; however, based on Andy’s recon the previous day which indicated that jellyfish were a nonfactor, I opted for my tried and true sleeveless suit (I brought both with me to Cambridge). Finally, it was time to start lining up for the swim.
The swim was self-seeded and due to the conditions there were individual starts spaced out five seconds apart. Since I put myself in the middle of the 1:10 pace group, I had a while to wait. When I jumped in the water, I felt good. I’ve done brackish swims before and this was another one of those. The water was warm, but not uncomfortably so (there was concern as to whether the race would be wetsuit legal, and if it weren’t for a precipitous drop in water temperature over the previous two days, it would not have been).
I had purchased some new goggles to use for this race. A new pair of Speedo Vanquishers with their anti-fog coating intact. I felt amazing swimming to the first buoy. This race was great because it was counterclockwise and I have a bias of breathing over my left shoulder which made the sighting much easier for me. I had no problems making it to the second turn buoy. From the second turn buoy to the final turn buoy, my goggles started fogging up, but the distance was short enough that it wasn’t really an issue. However, going from the last turn buoy to the water-exit was hard. I never found anything to sight off of. I just kept swimming hoping I would see the boat ramp where you exited the water. Eventually I found it, but I feel like it was much more difficult than it should have been. Part of that was because it was not a straight shot from the final turn buoy to the ramp. I made a 90 degree turn and expected a straight shot, but really I need to make a 75 degree turn to get to the ramp. I thought I was imagining things during the race, but looking at my GPS track after the fact shows that I did indeed have to keep shifting myself and that it was not a straight shot.
I made it out of the water in 17:04, which was good for 32nd in my age group.
This was my first experience with wetsuit strippers. Since I was wearing a short sleeve suit, I didn’t need that much help, but it was certainly easier with them there. My bib number was 1203 which was awesome because that meant that my transition bag was only three deep in the row of transition bags. No time wasted finding it. I grabbed it and made my way to the changing tent. The changing tent was also a new experience for me. Having a chair to sit down in was a pretty nice luxury.
No problems in transition and I was out of there in 4:49, which included the quarter mile between swim exit and bike start and a pit stop at the bathroom.
I went into the bike with a general idea of what my power should be - under 225 watts. Probably closer to 200-215. Easier said than done, though. With such a short swim, I was amped to go and I had a hard time reigning it in, especially with the amount of traffic around me. I was passing a lot of faster swimmers and wanted to make sure I did clean passes.
My normalized power was 229 watts for the first hour. After the first hour, I didn’t have to try to reign myself in. In the second hour, I came across Jeff. Somehow I managed to pass him, to be fair, that was after he passed me, though, and he passed me again shortly after I passed him.
I also got passed by Kristy, who came down from Canada with Jeff, multiple times. Except, I didn’t recognize her! I didn’t see her in her kit when Jeff introduced us, but I took note of her kit when she passed because it was so cool, and then when I saw her after the race it clicked. (Kristy, by the way, totally rocked the bike, finishing first in her age group).
The course was great for an indoor rider such as myself. Nothing technical. The only thing I had to worry about was the wind. Doing the same power, going into the wind I would drop to ~16mph and with it at my back I was around 26mph. Considering the fact that elevation was not in play, I was amazed at what a difference that wind made.
One of the things that my family asks me is how I can manage riding the bike for 5+ hours and my answer is always the same - I do it 15 minutes at a time. I picked up a water bottle to top off the water bottle on my aero bars at every aid station. Drinking enough water was never an issue, which was great. In fact, I had to make two pit stops for the restroom, so I felt like my hydration and nutrition game were on point.
One of the coolest experiences of the race was seeing DIRT pal John on the course. He mentioned that he would be coming down for the race and it was such a jolt of excitement to recognize him in time to shout out and have him do the same. It wouldn’t be the last time I saw him at the race.
My aero positioning left a lot to be desired. I bought an aero road bike in preparation for this race, slapped on some aero bars, worked on my positioning and called it a day. I was good for about 90 minutes of the ride before I got a crick in my back that I had to work out. I was able to stretch out and relieve the crick, but the further into the race I got the more stretching I had to do and the less effective it was. Other than my back, I was more comfortable on this ride than I was on any of my endurance indoor rides, so that was a positive.
Post race analysis was extremely disappointing. My normalized power for the ride was 214 watts. Jeff, who is a very similar size to me had a normalized power of 212 watts. But he was also 30 minutes faster than me.
(can you guess which speed track is Jeff’s and which is mine?)
I know that Jeff has worked very hard to optimize his aero position and the nominal gains with things like using latex tubes, but damn - it is still crazy the difference between a dedicated TT bike and a converted aero road bike. If I had realized it was this big of a difference, I would have gone with a dedicated TT instead of the bike I got. Unfortunately, I’ve used my bike budget for the next decade or so, so the only gains I’m going to be getting for my next 140.6 are going to be made via sweat and tears.
My goals for the bike was under 5.5 hours. I simply extrapolated from the 70.3 that I did in about 2.5 hours to get my goal time.
I came in at 5:20:33 which I was happy with (until the post race analysis).
Much like T1, T2 was a breeze. I racked my bike, ran by my bag, which was easy to find at the front of the row and headed for the changing tent.
Normally, I ride sockless and put socks on at the run, but today I put on socks for the ride and then put on a fresh pair for the run. I stashed all of my bike stuff, put on my hat, sunglasses, and really weird race belt (the clasps on it don’t align to any race bib I’ve ever had. I’m not sure why I haven’t just spent the $5 on a new one), and obviously my shoes, and I was out of the tent to hand off the transition bag to one of the wonderful volunteers. I wasn’t quite sure where the starting arch was for the run, which only mattered insofar as my watch transition time (and run time) wouldn’t match the official time exactly.
Official time was 4:45.
I felt really good coming off the bike. It must have been the adrenaline. I was trying to start at an 8:30 min/mile pace and maintain that for the entire run. Of course, I went out too fast often going under 8 min/mile, but for the first hour I did average 8:30, so that’s a plus. After that it was a steady decline (incline?) in pace. I was wearing my Saucony Endorphin Speed shoes, which are their cheapest set with a carbon fiber plate in them. But something was wrong with them. About four miles into the run, they were squeezing my right foot way too tightly, to the point where I had to stop and try to adjust them. The adjustment did nothing except to make my legs start seizing up (always keep moving!), so I just kept running in pain the entire time for the next 22 miles (I had what felt like a golf ball in my foot for ten days after the race before it finally resolved).
The course was good and terrible at the same time. Doing loops was mentally difficult, especially the backside where there weren’t as many spectators. They gave out wristbands to help keep track of which lap you were on. One of the silly thoughts I had during the race was to wonder how they would collect the bands at the end of the race.
The highlights of the run were seeing my mom (even if she didn’t see me), seeing John (again!), and seeing my wife and kids, who made a fun sign that I now have hanging behind my trainer.
The most interesting thing about this particular run is that I never hit the wall. It was just a steady, constant degradation of pace and spirit. Most likely I hit the bike too hard.
I was aiming for 3:45-4:00 but ended up with 4:11:08.
I was not in a good place after the race. I knew I needed to eat and so after taking a few minutes to gather my wits, I went to the food tent where I got a burrito. I took a bite and almost choked on it. I could barely get it down. That was the only bite of food I could muster that night. My stomach was revolting and I got sick multiple times. The following day was more of the same, I couldn’t even keep the saltines that I nibbled on down. I can’t begin to express how frustrating it is to be that hungry but not be able to eat anything.
By the second day I was able to keep food down, but it took a week before I felt normal again. I was well prepared to be sore and chaffed after the race, but I never expected that I would have GI issues that severe. Several friends suggested that I was dehydrated and/or had heat stroke. If you look at my post race picture and see how much salt I lost, you might agree that not enough sodium was my issue. I’ll definitely bring some salt packets for my next race.
Will I do another one - probably. Just a matter of when. Six months of training is a huge commitment that I’m not ready to make anytime soon. I’m looking forward to some unstructured, unproductive training where I just get to take my dog for a run and do some silly Zwift races.