You bet! twitter.com/ericashleynj/s…
Where to start….
Best place is probably landing in Kona last October with severe pain in my lower back and having battled a hip injury throught the last 2 months of my preperation for my second Ironman World Championship race. I had lofty goals for that race. I wanted to better my 9:40 of 2007 and to try and claw my way up to the AG podium. My coach and I worked so hard through 2010 and I had some very good results but I started the race a little tired, a little banged up, and mentally I think the uncertainty won the day as I slowly ran across the line in 10:29 and into my wife’s loving embrace. I’ll never know what I was capable of really going that day, I do know I lost the mental game. I wanted to correct that.
So 2011 I decided to focus once again soley on the 70.3 World Championships as I did back in 2008 when I managed a respectful 10th in M35-39. I did a lot of running over the winter and set some new PR’s in various distances including a 1:19 half marathon. I felt confident my run was back from the brink of the previous year and I was better then ever. My triathlon season began with two overall wins at local Olympic races and a 3rd OA at the DeuceMan Half. I had targeted Vineman 70.3 once again to be my qualifier and had what I felt was the best executed race of my life that day to come in 2nd in the AG. I began to believe that I could show up at 70.3 Worlds and have a legitimate shot at the podium although being 6min behind the Vineman AG winner Chris Hauth gave me the reality check that there were some guys out there who were in another league. I would have to find another level if I wanted to contend.
Race morning dawned without the excessive heat we have been enjoying for the past 2 months here in the Southwest and only a gentle breeze. The sky was clear and I knew the heat would come eventuially. I also felt that the heat would plat in my favor come the run as I am well acclimated and perhaps others were not. As the sun rose over Lake Las Vegas, I watched the pro men start with my friend and fellow ZOOT Ultra Team mate Jim Atkinson, who is also in my AG. We had our sweet new ZOOT Speedsuits and got into the water together. It was warm but the cool morning dry air gave me a little chill and as I stood on a lone rock before toeing the line, I shiverd in anticipation. How bad did I want this? Time to find out.
Swim- 34:00, 54th in AG
I lined up towards the left of the bouys as the course did curve that direction about half way down. This also put me in some early, clean water. I swam haed for the first few hundred yards and then tried to settle in. I was in a small group and there was a suprising amount of contact. Nothing rough, just some bouncing off other swimmers and having to make a lot of course corrections to avoid. In a race of this caliber, if you aren’t a super swimmer, you swim in a pack the whole way and this would be no different then Kona. So I accepted the crowding and did the best I could to stay steady.
As I began to head back, I found my local group had grown to about 8 guys and we were all jammed together trying to swim the same line. I started to get very frustrated as the pace seemed..and clearly was..so slow and everytime I would try and break free, I would run up into someone who had the same idea. I was trapped like a tuna in a net and swimming about as fast. I hit the exit stairs and took what I knew would be a painful look at my watch. Good grief…
During the long run around the back of the lake to get to T1 I had a moment to reflect on my endless swim and my likely current placement in the AG, in other words bad and worse. I knew Jamie and all the folks supporting me would see that and be rightfully concerened thst possibly one of my legs had fallen off. But as I rounded the corner, there was coach Nick cheering for me and when I looked at him I knew what he was thinking. You can do this, time to bike your way to the front, I thought. I grabbed my bike and ran the long switch back up to the mount line and now my race began.
Bike- 2:24:14, 3rd in AG
Right out of T2 you climb 2 miles out of the Lake Las Vegas resort area to the highway. It was during this ride I had my come to Jesus moment. I glanced at my Garmin to check my HR, which was above my target effort and I made the decision to just go by feel. I knew I would “feel” great for a while and then could very quickly stop feeling great and then start walking the run. But this was the World F’ing Championships and I was going to RACE not pace.
So with a new found sense of purpose and the dismal swim slowly reeceeding in my rearview mirror, I put my head down and got to work. I was spinning great, my legs were responding, and I was flying by people. I attacked every hill, jumping up out of the saddle for every climb and pedaling until I would spin out on the descents. I would glance every now and again at my HR just out of idle curiosity but I never let it be a limiter. I was racing a bike race in my mind. I made sure to be very dilligent with my hydration and nutrition knowing how many candles I was burning. I was also looking up at the clear, blue sky and thought please, BRING THE HEAT. I knew my best chance towards the end of this race would be if the heat and constant sun would start to hammer my competition. I did bricks in 110+ degrees and I was ready for it.
Around mile 31 I passed my team mate Jim and wished him well…and silently hoped I good gap him as I know he’s a solid runner. Then there I was feeling like a bike superstar at mile 42 climbing out of the park when I was passed and ropped like a bad habit by Laurent Galbert. I had no response for what would be his 2:17 bike split, he just rode up the road and dissapeared. I got Jalbert’ed big time and it was an honor.
The last 14 miles through Henderson are dull and ugly and I was feeling the fatigue. I looked down at my HR and saw 148, about 4bpm’s lower then my target but still pretty solid. At this point I reverted back to HR pacing but not to back off but to try and hold that 148, it was all I had and it would have to be enough, so hold it, Bryan. It was also at this point I realized I would be well below 2:30, which is what I figured would be a good split on this course for me. So as I climbed up to T2 the million dollar question was could I run. And if I could, how hard would I be willing to go?
When I arrived at T2 there was only one other bike in front of me and I was able to do a smooth flying dismount and hand my bike of to a volunteer. I heard from my family the bike handlers were overwhelmed when too many bikes showed up at once. I ran towards the tent, received my gear bag and another volunteer helped me get sorted.
Run- 1:28:51, 10th in AG
As I ran onto the course, I tried to split my Garmin which was in MultiSport mode but for some reason it just started doing lap splits. I had wanted to try and run to average pace but I couldn’t pull up that data so just like on the bike I said screw it, put your head down and go as fast as you can. I ran down the hill for the first 1.2 miles and felt good, I was running a 6:17 pace according to my results. At the first aid station I took some gel from my flask and water and started the climb. My legs were turning over well as I climbed back to T2. I began to think my run was going to show up for the party.
As I came past through T2, I saw Jamie and she yelled out I was in 7th and closing up on 6th. That was my first check on my placing in the AG. I wasn’t dissapointed, I was close to cracking the top 5 but even if I didn’t, I was proud that I was doing the best I could as opposed to just sitting in. Then not more then 30 seconds later I ran by my coach and he said I was in 3rd and 2nd was just up ahead! WTF? As I climbed the hill I was sure he was just BS’ing me trying to motivate me to run faster. I climbed the second hill and from bottom to top averaged 7:29 pace.
As I came back down, it was starting to get warm and I was comfortable just grabbing water and some Perfrom as I went by the aid stations. I noticed a lot of people were taking the sponges and dousing themselves with water. My ally the heat was starting to take it’s toll. I felt good and knew that though the sponges feel great, they make your shoes a wet mess. I would avoid them and keep running while otheres slowed to get one. As I passed by Transition to complete the first loop, I saw Jamie again and now she said I was in 4th, Ironman.com was having updating issues and with the two wave start format for my AG, it was having trouble keeping us all staright.
4th?! OK, hold the phone, I am in this and I have to keep pushing. I made it back down to the bottom of the hill averaging 6:17 again. At the turn, I could see Jim was also running and wasn’t too far behind me. I figured he must be 5th, the final podium spot. Now I knew what I had to do. I had to stay ahead of him to be sure I had some wiggle room in case some one in the wave behind is really running fast but not in the current online results. I went back up the hill, my legs really starting to fatigue but I brought my pace down to a 6:43. The course was very crowded but it was motivating to not only be flying by people in various points of their own run and personal distress but to come by all the spectators so frequently.
At the top of the climb on the second loop, I really began to feel it. I pushed so hard I was starting to fade. I treid to use the descent to recover some but felt my turnover was slowing. Time to hit the Coke. Jim was edging closer and I was running out of real estate. This time back down my pace was 6:30 but it felt even slower. The doubts began. He’s going to catch you. You are going to start going backwards.As I came by to complete lap 2, I saw my Mom, Aunt, and Uncle and gave them a little smile and held up one finger. One lap to go.
Amazing how far 4 crummy miles can seem when you are at the end of a race and then end of your personal rope. Nick was yelling GO! Jamie was yellin GO! and as I went to the bottom of the hill for the last time I tried to gather myslef. I knew this would come down to the final trip up the hill. I made the turn and very quickly saw Jim. He was within 200 yards. The first part of the climb was a blur. I was staring the the concrete just in front of my feet, swerving through traffic, running scared. As I made the last pass by Transition, Nick was there. He looked me square in the eye’s and said this is it, this is what you trained for, this is where you knew you would need to go. Less then 2 miles left and I was going to a dark place.
As I climbed Green Valley Rd. for the final time, I was in a daze. My hamstrings were twinging with cramping and everytime I put on a surge, I would only be able to hold for 10 seconds before I slowed again. I could see the traffic light up ahead where the turn was and it never seemed to get closer. I stopped trying to get aid, I didn’t have time and there was no point, I needed to RUN. I was very relieved to hit the turn..and there he was. Jim was now within 50 yards tops. I looked won the hill towards the finish about a mile away and emptied the tank. I have no idea how fast I was going but I knew it was all I had. I refused to look back, I just looked down at the light where the trun to the finish line would start. Right before making the turn, I afforded myself the look back and didn’t see Jim’s gold and black ZOOT kit. I made it. I made the podium at the 70.3 World Championships.
Final Time- 4:31:39, 4th in AG
As soon as I crossed the line I took a few steps and stopped, bending over, hands on my knees, and let the hurt wash over me and pass by. Two volunteers came over to help me start moving again and gave me some water. Within a minute I felt better and thanked them as I turned to wait for Jim. He came through and we had a nice hug. He had no idea he made the podium as well. It was a great moment to share with my team mate.
I want to give thanks to all of the amazing support I am so fortunate to be a beneficiary of. Jake, Molly, and the entire team at ZOOT are so wonderful to me and our entire team. They make me feel very special and it’s an honor to represent them and the entire company. I also want to thank our other sponsors,Ridley Bikes, GU, ZIPP, FuelBelt, and Garmin. My family for all their love and especially Jamie for putting up with me. And this year I want to give a special acknowledgement to my coach Nick Goodman of DURAPULSE Perfromance Company for putting me on the start line in the best condition I have ever been in. I was so well prepared for this race and I owe it all to him. He is my Jedi Master.