My confidence was riding high after back-to-back 1st place finishes in my first two triathlons this year (Trinona and Minneapolis). Thus far this year I had a fantastic stretch of training this spring where I built a solid base for the year. I focused a ton on my cycling and swimming. There was a stretch where I put in around 18-20 hours per week, swam 20k yards per week, and about 200-250 miles in the saddle.
If nothing else, the absolute key for me this year has been consistency. With a lot of life things figuring themselves out, and a lot less traveling, I’ve been able to really build.
And it’s all starting to pay off. At the Minneapolis Triathlon two weeks ago, I clocked my first sub 2:10 Olympic distance time. So, I finally feel I’m in a place where I’m seriously contending for the podium each race.
I took that confidence into last weekend, when I raced my first 70.3 of the year: Toughman MN up in Chisago City.
Heading into the race, the one wildcard was the weather. I knew my training had been pretty solid, but for the most part, I haven’t raced in really hot/humid weather this year. Minneapolis was a little on the warm side, but with a 6:45am start, it wasn’t bad.
Last weekend the weather forecast called for highs in the 90’s with tons of humidity. Aside from riding and running towards the middle of the day on a few occasions, I also continued with regular sauna sessions – anything to help my body adapt.
My pre-race nutrition plan stayed mostly the same with a few small adjustments to my race-day nutrition to account for the weather. One thing I did try the day before the race was blending one of my meals to help with digestibility. So, instead of my typical salad for lunch, I made a smoothie with a good combination of greens, berries, UCAN Superstarch, avocado, coconut oil, and some nut butter. It seemed to work. For dinner, I veered from my success with Chipotle last race (though I did have it the prior night for dinner) and went for something equally simple: fish, white rice, and roasted veggies.
Breakfast the morning of the race was a little leftover white rice, a banana with almond butter, and extra strong coffee with coconut oil mixed in. And then 45 minutes prior to race start I consumed a serving of UCAN with about 10 ounces of water. All pretty standard for me.
Because of the hot/humid weather, I focused a bit more on having a game plan with my hydration/nutrition during the race. I used the same stuff – a combination of water and UCAN – but just made sure to have extra UCAN on board (mostly because your body tends to burn more glycogen in hotter temperatures) and to be judicious with water intake. Also, the more I could throw water on my head and the back of my neck to keep cool, the better.
A slight blessing came on race morning. Instead of intense sun and no cloud cover, it was pretty overcast. And thankfully, the clouds hung around for my entire race. So, even though it was brutally humid, at least there wasn’t much sun on top of that.
I didn’t find out my swim wave until race morning. Unfortunately, I drew wave 5, which was the second to last wave for the half-Ironman distance. So, instead of swimming in the lead packs in open water, I had to navigate around other athletes the entire way. And I mean “drew,” because there really wasn’t any system to determining swim waves. It wasn’t by age group, male or female. It was totally random. Not the greatest of systems. Anyway, it turned out to be less of an issue than I thought.
Oh, and then there was the lake water. Temperature was 77, so barely wetsuit legal. And, let’s just say it wasn’t the cleanest of lakes. The first 200 meters were filled with seaweed.
When it came time for my wave to enter the start corral, I made my way to the front. Each of the six waves were mass starts, so I wanted to make sure I got a clean start with some good open water before I came upon the group ahead of me.
My swim felt great. Aside from having to sight a bit more than usual to navigate swimmers ahead of me, it was pretty smooth. Instead of trying to weave through everyone, I took a slightly wider line. So, I didn’t necessarily take the shortest path, but it was pretty clear.
With that being said, I felt even more satisfied with my swim split. My goal was 30 minutes, and as I stepped out of the water and onto the beach, I looked at my watch…exactly 30 minutes.
Now the fun part, running up this ridiculously steep hill. I could’ve taken it quicker, but didn’t want to spike my heart rate too much. Nice and methodical up, and into T1.
Swim: 30:56 (1:28 per 100 yds)
I mounted my bike in a small crowd of other athletes – maybe 5 or 6 others. I found a small opening to the inside and jumped onto my bike. The first mile or so was all about navigating out of this pack. On top of trying to get my feet into my cycling shoes, the beginning (and end) of the bike course featured a very odd obstacle. We had to ride across a small patch of grass to go from the road to a paved path.
Once I got back on the roadway it was time to get to work. Unlike Trinona and Minneapolis where my legs felt fatigued and heavy, I felt super fresh on the bike for this race. After a much shorter time of getting my legs warmed up, I pulled away from the small group I was in.
The first few miles of the bike course were shared with the sprint course, so it was a bit crowded. I spent much of the time riding on the left, trying to get around a lot of people. There was one athlete that kept getting close to my rear wheel, would think about passing, but would then back off. He rode next to me for a bit too, much longer than the designated 15 seconds to pass another athlete. Every time I felt him within 3 bike lengths and drafting off me, I turned and glared at him.
Then, once my legs felt warmed up, I pulled away. He couldn’t keep up.
Overall, I thought it was a solid bike course, a very favorable profile. A fair number of rollers, but plenty of opportunity to push some big gears and crank up the speed. The road surfaces, for the most part, were descent. Some nice sections. My one scare came on the big downhill heading down the bluffs toward the St. Croix river. The road surface was really dodgy, lots of filled in potholes and uneven pavement. I rode in my largest gear, which meant the chain was a little loose and bounced around. At one point I thought I felt the chain drop. I looked down, slowly pedaled. A shot of anxiety hit my stomach. But, after a few seconds of looking down, everything seemed fine. I shifted gears. Phew. Everything was okay.
Okay, back to work.
Towards the end of the bike, as I usually tried to do, I got out of the saddle a fair bit, trying to loosen up my hip flexors from 2+ hours riding mostly in the aero position. Coming into T2 I still felt really strong.
I was disappointed with my previous two bike splits this year and this time I felt solid, really solid. In fact, in comparing the bike splits (granted not always fair because of the difference in profile) my average speed was FASTER in this race over 56 miles than it was over 26 miles at Minneapolis.
Bike: 2:27:13 (22.7 mph)
Leaving T2 the same short, steep hill that I ran up into T1 greeted me. Coming out of transition, my legs felt really good. Just as I headed away from transition and down one of the main roads, I could see a familiar face walking towards me. I didn’t expect him to come, but there was my father-in-law. He gave a loud “way to go, Craig.” What a great surprise. Thus far the only cheers I heard came from my only (but most important) fan, my wife Stephanie.
I felt energized now. I ran the first mile in a solid 6:30 pace.
But, a couple miles in, the humidity began to take its toll. My right quad started to tighten. It didn’t cramp, but it was certainly on the edge. All my focus went into properly hydrating at every aid station I came upon, cooling as much as possible (pouring water over my head and running throw the sprinklers that were set up), and holding the only sustainable pace I could. If I slowed up too much or overexerted myself and I knew my leg would cramp.
I made the switch from UCAN over to whatever was on the course. It wasn’t my original plan, but it was out of necessity. Sometimes, ya just gotta do it. I took on some Gatorade, which helped ease some of the tightness. My pace picked up a bit. I started passing a few athletes.
But around the halfway mark, the mental game really started. A few athletes passed me, and I could tell me pace slowed. Not to mention, the middle 8-9 miles were probably the toughest of the course – all rollers. So, you taxed the quads on the downhills, then immediately engaged the glutes and hamstrings on the uphills. No breaks.
The last 3 miles I really faded. Looking back on it, I don’t think I took on enough fuel late in the bike and early on the run given the weather conditions. A few of those athletes I passed early in the run subsequently passed me in the final 2 miles. I was a bit disappointed with this. Usually when I make a pass on the run it’s for good. It’s definitely a good takeaway from the race though. I know what I need to work going forward.
I finished strong though. And boy was it great to have a couple supporters at the end. Big thanks to my wife Stephanie and father in-law for your support.
Not to mention, I loved having an extra hand to run and grab me a Coke after crossing the finish line. That right quad that was on the verge of cramping for most of the run? Well, immediately after crossing the line, it finally did. Medical staff immediately came up to me, but I waved them off. I’ve had this happen before and I knew exactly what to do.
I guess I can take away one thing from my cramping just after the finish line. I judged my capabilities on the day pretty well. I sucked every last ounce of energy before my body threw in the towel.
Overall I was quite happy with the performance. Everyone’s times were a bit slower on the day because of the conditions. In fact, there was only one athlete to break 4:15:00. My 4:33 was good for 3rd in my age group and 15th overall. Another great result and a very positive stepping stone to build from.
Overall: 4:33:53 (3rd in 30-34 / 15th overall)
And my third straight podium!