Prior to heading to Virginia I tried to think about everything I would need for the race (lights for bike and run, wetsuit vs. speedsuit, helmet - aero or not, wheel choice, nutrition...). Without knowing the water temperature or weather I decided to pack the kitchen sink and hope that I was prepared for anything. I packed a full wetsuit, sleeveless wetsuit, speedsuit, road helmet, aero helmet, sleeveless jerseys, sleeved jerseys, tri shorts, tights... Basically anything I thought would be useful.
In an event like this you are required to bring your own support crew. My parents almost did not make it. My dad was hospitalized for a number of days leading up to the race due to a bleeding ulcer. He spent 3 of those days in the ICU and received 6 pints of blood. He was released from the hospital the Sunday prior to the race. I thought they would end up staying home at that point, but they really wanted to come. My mom made sure they had the doctor's consent and they were on their way. It meant so much to me to have them both there. As usual, Jess, Seth, Saige, and Zac were there to support me. Ann and Alex Bowman made the long drive from Tallahassee to be there for me and my family. My wife's grandparents and mother also came to Virginia; they did a great job cheering me on, but most importantly they helped entertain the little people during a large portion of the bike.
I arrived in Virginia 5 days prior to the race. My plan was to spend a few days getting used to the course, weather, and water temperature. The water was very warm - maybe 80 degrees. That made the wetsuit debate an easy one... speedsuit for me. Even if the water temp dropped to 77 or 78 degrees I preferred to not risk overheating in a wetsuit.
The next big decision was which helmet to wear - aero vs. road. I was leaning towards the road helmet due to it being lighter. 224 miles is a LONG way to go so I thought a lighter helmet would probably serve me better. However, if the weather was going to be cooler I would consider the aero helmet as it would help keep me warmer and be faster. The weather ended up being in the mid to upper 80s during the bike...road helmet, specifically my Rudy Project Kontact+ helmet. The Kontact+ is very light and has plenty of air flow, which keeps my head cool.
Which running shoe to wear was a no brainer. I have been running in Spira shoes for 4 years now and love them. I decided to go with the Spira Stingers. Yes, the racing flat. I have been doing most of my long runs in them and have not had any issues due to lack of cushion or stability.
Nutrition was easy for me. I have been practicing the same nutrition for months now. I am a big believer in practicing your nutrition as often as possible prior to the event. My nutrition plan consisted of First Endurance Pre-race, First Endurance Ultragen, First Endurance OptygenHP, First Endurance MultiV, Gatorade Pro, Carbo Pro, Thermolytes, PowerBar gels, uncrustables, cliff bars, and water. The addition of the uncrustables was new for this distance; the rest of my nutrition was broken in during my Ironman training last year
The morning of the event I woke up at 2:15 AM as I could not sleep. If you have read my blog before you know that the random early wake up is not new to me. I decided to begin the fueling process. I ate 2 servings of Cream of Rice cereal and drank 24 ounces of Gatorade Pro. While prepping my transition I ate 1/2 a cliff bar and drank 12 ounces of water. 30 minutes prior to the start of the event I drank First Endurance Pre-Race mixed with Gatorade Pro, Carbo Pro, and 1 Thermolyte tab. The First Endurance Pre-race really helped me to focus and provided a nice pick me up heading into the start of the race.
When I had about 15 minutes until the swim I started to get ready... I put on my speedsuit lubed around the seam lines to prevent chafing. I prepped the goggles with anti-fog spray and put on my cap. When I looked around, I noticed that everyone else was wearing wetsuits.... Hmm... At that point I was hoping I had made the right decision as I have found a speedsuit to be 5 sec slower than a wetsuit per 100 meters.
The whistle blew and we were off for the start of the swim. The swim was a 12 laps out and back course. My plan was to stop every 3rd lap for fluids and Sportslick lube as needed. I quickly settled into a pace and just relaxed. At the first turn around I had already opened up a pretty good lead. That was a good sign... There was one very shallow part on each loop that had people scraping their knuckles on the bottom. In order to keep swimming instead of walking during that stretch I needed to alter my swim stroke and pull wide. Overall things were relatively uneventful during the swim. I did manage to cut my elbow on a rock on lap 7, but it was not deep enough to require medical attention so I continued on. My goal for the swim was 2 hours... I ended up at 1 hour 58 minutes for the swim.
I stayed relaxed during T1. I hit the lockeroom and decided to shower before heading out on the bike. I used Sportslick to lube my tri shorts in hopes of not chafing and of preventing anything that its anti-fungal components were designed to prevent. I put on my sleeveless jersey, Desoto shorts, 2xU calf guards, and bike socks. Once I was dressed I headed out to my QR CD0.1 bike and put on my helmet and bike shoes. On the bike course I tried to relax and settle into a rhythm. All I kept thinking about was all the freakin U-turns - 90 of them. I had 2 loops, roughly 10 miles, completed by the time the next competitor entered the bike course. Being out on the course before the other competitors allowed me to get comfortable with the hills and the U-turns before I had to start worrying about the other riders.
It turns out I shouldn't have been so worried about all the U-turns. On one hand, I am not the best at U-turns and the result is a slower loop. The upside was huge though. With the course being short loops I was able to interact with everyone much more. This made the ride more enjoyable. The kids were cheering for me when I went by the transition tent. The other cyclists were even encouraging. Nik was great to ride with until he was pulled out for medical reasons. Paul and I had a good banter going. Chris was smiling the whole damn ride- don't even ask me how that was possible because I have no clue. Jaime was cracking me up. Ghislain was keeping me focused. Everyone there made such big impressions on me. I had fun cheering them on as well.
My goal for the bike was simple, stay under 15min 30 seconds per loop, 45 loops... In the early stages I ended up peeling off 13-14 min loops. I did my homework before the race and knew that the fastest cyclist usually would only go 15-16 minutes per loop on this course. After 56 miles I was still holding the pace and feeling comfortable. My competitors had all dropped off the pace. This left me with the decision to keep going at my current pace or to slow down knowing that the pace was much faster than I expected to hold. I decided I would just go with it and see what happened. At the 112 mile mark I checked the Garmin and I was at 5 hours and 19 minutes. This was much faster than I had anticipated, but I was still feeling good. I remember watching the Garmin and at 181 miles I said to myself that this is my longest ride ever, which happened to follow my longest open water swim ever. I knew I should be fatigued, but I was still feeling good. In fact, I actually picked up the pace from mile 120 -180. At about 185 miles I started to really feel the time in the saddle and had to re-lube a few times prior to completing the 224 miles. The other racers and the support crew were all very encouraging as I flew through the bike course. Jess, my mom, and Ann had a great system going to provide me food, fluids, and lube. When all was said and done I completed the 224 mile bike in 10 hours 51 minutes (a new course record, previous bike course record was 11 hours 39 minutes). The QR CD0.1 was very comfortable and handled well for all 90 U-turns. At this point in the race I was an hour ahead of where I thought I would be.
My nutrition on the bike was to alternate 24 ounces of Gatorade Pro, Carbo Pro, and Thermolyte with 24 ounces of water. Every 45 min I was either eating a mini-Cliff bar, 1/2 of an uncrustable, or a PowerBar gel. At hour 4 and 10 of the bike I added First Endurance Pre-race to the Gatorade mix to help me stay focused on the race. As you may have seen on Jeff and Ann's facebook page, a bit of Pepto made it into one of my uncrustables somewhere during that bike as well.
T2 had a little drama. On one end of the loop, I was told I was finished when I reached the other end. My Garmin numbers agreed. However, after reaching the other end of the loop and my last lap of the bike I was told I had one more to go. There were a number of people who were timing me during the bike as they were very surprised at my speed and consistency. They all came to my side and had the timer review the splits and it turned out that Garmin and the original count was right. They had one loop at 27+ min as they missed one of my splits... Awesome to know that people had my back because there was no way I wanted to get back on the bike and do an extra loop.
The run had many highs and lows. I started the run feeling good. I ran some early loops of the run course with my kids and Jess. It was a lot of fun to have them run with me. I cannot tell you how excited the kids were to be able to run with me. I managed to peel off 20 miles in 2 hours 40 minutes. I was feeling pretty good until my stomach started to get tight and I stopped absorbing fluids. I started to walk a little which turned into a lot. Ann Bowman race/walked some loops with me and helped me to work out the abdominal tightness. By that time I am afraid that the damage was done. My knees and ankles managed to swell, bruise, and were very painful. My Achilles started to really ache. At that point I started keeping tabs on the other racers in an effort to run on an as needed basis to try to minimize any injuries that might arise as a result of pushing through the pain. It was at this point that I realized how blessed I was to have the support crew I did. Seth, Saige, Zac, and Alex all ran with me throughout the night. They would sleep for a bit and then wake up raring to go. Their happy moods were contagious. Jess and Ann also continued taking turns running/walking with me. That run could have been a mental beat down. It ended up being full of precious memories. Seth even told me his favorite part of vacation was running with me during the race.
25 hours and 6 minutes after starting the race I managed to cross the finish line. The finish was very cool as the family was able to cross the line with me. The race exceeded my expectations. All the competitors were wonderful. Their determination was inspiring. The feeling of community between the racers, their support crews, the volunteers, and spectators is something that I have not experienced at any other race. When you enter a race the like Virginia Double Iron Triathlon you are not there to win, you are there to finish. That really changes the event as everybody is there to support each other and creates an atmosphere unlike any other race I have been privileged to participate in.