The moment of truth.
Going into an event with 70+ miles of racing and a 5 week tapper sets you up for a difficult moment of truth. My wife asked me more than once in the week leading up to the event, “Have you been biking enough?” an innocent question that I could not face yet. It was too late to do anything about it so I responded with a curt, “sure I have.”
For the first ninety minutes of the Ironman Boise 70.3 I maintained myself at the front of the race while doing so with some of the best pacing and form of my life. I have been in this situation before but often stretching my boundaries and burning matches. This time, I found myself in the dream scenario with the skills to deliver a most satisfying performance; flirting with your potential.
Hope. Hope can be a dangerous feeling in triathlon. Hoping to regularly race at the front and beat other professional athletes that swim, bike and run around the world in their swimsuits for a living is akin to running full speed across a thin iced lake every day in the spring; eventually you are going to fall in before you get to the other side.
It can be hard for me not to get caught up in having a feeling or desire for a certain race outcome to happen. At a simple level we race for a desire to do well. That desire is not there to the extent it was in my younger days. Now, the desire is more about potential. Triathlon is a wonderful challenge to find your best self; not just your strongest body, but your strongest mind and soul as well.
Often, poor or tough race experiences bring out the strongest lessons. If you understand the lessons you can begin grappling with the next lesson. Applying this new understanding of reality allows you to adjust and find more joy in racing and more importantly life in general.
This was the 7th year of the IM Boise 70.3 and the first year I haven’t focused on it. I have evolved into a much stronger athlete over those 7 years and the experiences from each of the previous years at Boise’s race have been monumental in my development as an athlete a coach and person.
2008: finished 16th being way under prepared in almost every category but wanted a chance to race a big event at home…and loved it.
2009: finished 13th with a very strong race and vastly improved from 2008
2010: DNF I raced at the front with Crowie in one of the most exciting races of my life but I held onto hope much longer than my body could handle and blew up on the bike. Getting behind on hydration/nutrition with too much intensity was sending me to the med tent. With my wife 8 months pregnant; I wisely pulled out in the run.
2011: Very ready for a strong race but came down with a virus and did not start the race
2012 Finished 7th in the year the Bike was shortened to 15 miles due to cold weather. Had a great swim and run but 5 of the 6 guys in front of me were probably 5 of the better runners in triathlon and my weapon that year would have been biking.
2013: Came down with a virus just a day or two before the race; shouldn’t have started but I was so well prepared I had to give it every chance. I pulled out in the bike and was very sick for the next 10 days.
2014: I decided that I would stay focused on Olympic distance races, so for the first time I didn’t come in with laser focus on Boise. I would be peaking for the 3 race weekends in a row with a focus on the vroom, vroom tactics needed for the 2 hour-ish races. First race was to be Captex 2 weeks before. But I came down with a cold and did not go. That race was to set me up nicely for Escape From Alcatraz which was going to be maybe my main event of the year. I missed the boat!!!???!!! Now I’m coming into Boise with less than ideal race fitness and definitely missing some bike endurance. Ah well, I’m in great form and good fitness so I’m hopeful for some gritty racing.
High Noon on the second Saturday in June: Lucky Peak
I have swum against Josh Amberger a number of times but never been on his feet more than a moment. He is with out a doubt one of the strongest swimmers in our sport. He is consistently swimming at the front and with big international competitions. Every male swimmer in the water wanted to minimize the damage to Josh in the water. The gun went off and Josh and I took off drag racing. Heading north I took the inside easterly position. After a few minutes without having to redline it became clear I had amazing form in the water.
I became the swimmer. Years of work shutting off the mind and just being took over.
We changed pace several times from hot to hotter. Coming into the first buoy I noticed Brent was nicely tucked in, enjoying both of our drafts while everyone else had been gaped. This motivated me to pick up the pace and without spiking the HR, (I’ve been working diligently on my turnover) I increased the tempo and went around the buoy first and accelerated out of it. I was hoping for a strong counter from Josh to shake off Brent, but it seemed Brent was too strong. Around the second buoy Josh and I went back to vying for the lead side by side with some subtle attacks. I stayed on the eastside now, keeping Josh between me and the direction of the wind.
Around the last buoy it became apparent our blows were not going to knock off Brent so I settled in behind Josh’s feet as we turned into the wind; an attempt to save energy for the long day ahead.
I love the swim finish at IM Boise 70.3, with my family and friends being there, several still waiting to start the race I want to get the day off to a good start for everyone. I take the lead through transition.
On the bike I took the lead but went easier than I wanted or felt I should be going. Again, recognizing how long the day would be + the hot and windy conditions, I was very aware of conserving energy and hitting hydration/fueling needs. It wasn’t long before Brent took the lead and I stayed comfortably back 12 to 20 meters. Feeling like the pace was too comfortable but being at the front of the race and only concerned with staying there as easily as possible.
After about 5 miles of our comfortably fast pace Luke Bell was able to bridge up the minute gap we had on him from the swim. He wisely sat at the back of the train and recharged.
Josh took the lead with some aggression going up the gravel pit hill and I was happy to see someone take the lead from me after holding it longer than I wanted. Everything went smooth as we finished up the last bit of headwind for a few miles and made the turn around past mile 25.
Here Luke went to the front and hit us hard. I saw it coming and reacted well. I did not have a sense of urgency and it seemed like just a little bit more effort would close the gap any second. After several minutes of this very strong sustained effort the gap still grew. I held on to the hope, everything was going so well and the race situation had gone close to perfection for all the variables I can control on race day.
This race is about conserving and I could not have drawn up a better plan than what took place the first 90 minutes. And yet, out of nowhere I was blindsided with less than optimal energy. With hindsight a simple matter of recent bike fitness. But I’m hopeful. Always hopeful that the stars will align and all the variables for racing as strong as possible without anyone being able to step on your heart will happen. The assassins of triathlon are here to stomp on your heart. They are masterful at taking that last bit of hope that you have and kung-fuing your heart right out of your chest.
The moment of truth came when Luke Bell, after 20 miles of riding at the back attacked us. I saw it coming and responded quickly. It never felt like something I wouldn’t be able chase down until suddenly after a few minutes of chasing it became clear the gap was growing. “Now or never”, I knew in my mind. Did I have an explosive 30 seconds to catch back on? The legs just did not respond like they have for me in past races. The moment of truth; magnified the fact that although my form is outstanding the fitness was not there to back it up.
Setting yourself up with a fast swim and knowing your bike form is better than ever and the past 10 years of riding will surely be enough base to keep you at the front; sets you up for a lot of heart stomping. 6 times in the second half of the bike; an assassin would ride up and through me and each time making sure to do further damage to my bleeding heart.
Triathlon is a humbling sport; everyone has their heart beaten up by someone stronger on the day at some point.
The professional triathletes play this game over and over again with only one athlete strong enough on the day to finish without having the heart ripped out. Ha.
You will get broken over and over again. The key is getting up again and again.
These triathlete assassins are like light-saber waving Jedi Knights, they are masterful and peaceful and genuine but when challenged they will take you to your limits only to show you that you can go further, come this way if you can. You won’t and can’t always make it but it sure is fun to try.
It takes a lifetime of hours upon hours and days upon days, and weeks upon weeks and months upon months and years upon years and decades upon decades to be able to set the stage for a peak performance in triathlon. Just when you gain new insight and begin to master a new level, you slip and drop the ball on a previous level. It’s an exciting place to be. Some level of frustration is the driving force to continue the training fresh and with renewed passion.
Why do you race?
It has evolved into more meaningful and transcendent experiences. You start out just learning what it means to be in a race. You finish. Then, you begin the long journey of trial and error learning to become faster at the simplest game in the world…getting from a to b before everyone else. Eventually, it becomes a lifestyle. You appreciate the day to day training just as much as any race. You focus and become more present in all aspects of life. You pull back the curtain on racing and dive into the true essence of competition; to go forth together to discover what is possible. The journey continues to deeper levels of satisfaction for the simple ability to race and celebrate fitness with endless challenges and self-discoveries. Racing is like a diamond, it takes enormous amounts of heat and pressure over a long time to create a beautiful stone.
Thanks to my family and friends for their support. I do my best to balance life but moving at this level takes a bit of ‘putting on the blinder’ in this world.
Thanks to RODS Racing for giving deeper meaning to what it means to race.
Thanks to some awesome sponsors that enable me to compete with the strongest athletes in the world: