Every race is a learning experience. Some races you learn a lot (we usually call those "bad" races), and some races you learn a little (good races). After every event I like to go through a recap in my mind and think about what I did well and what can be improved on. "Pleased but not satisfied," is a favorite saying of mine because I believe that being satisfied is a very, very dangerous place to be. It implies complacency and a lack of desire to do any better. Buffalo Springs Ironman 70.3 was a race in which I was very, VERY pleased with my performance. After a two-year hiatus from racing 70.3 and long course triathlon, this last weekend helped renew my passion for the sport and my desire to compete in the long stuff again.
How I prepared
My training going into Buffalo Springs wasn't exactly what I'd call ideal. When I was in college and racing professionally, I would train anywhere from 15-25 hours a week. This spring, from January 1 to race day, I averaged just a hair under 9 hours a week. There were some big weeks in there where I did 13-15 hours of training (never over 15 hours), and there were also some really low weeks of 2-4 hours. None of those low weeks were really planned, they just kind of happened because of work/life/laziness. A local Texas resident, Lars Finanger, wrote an article on Slowtwitch about racing Ironman Texas on less than 9 hours of training per week. I didn't set out to training low volume on purpose, it's just the way the numbers broke down when I took a look at them. Obviously racing 140.6 miles is MUCH different than 70.3 but it is still much different than the approach many athletes take to training for a long distance triathlon.
There are few things I did really well in my training and there are certainly a few things I need to do differently.
I had fun. I sort of did what I wanted with my training and didn't do something if I didn't feel like it. I knew that I wanted to race and compete again this year but after "retiring" from racing pro, I didn't have any sort of pressure to perform and thus it removed any pressure to train. I did what I wanted to do.
I rode my bike hard. When I rode my bike, it was usually either doing intervals, racing, or doing a long run. I had a few weeks of some Z2 work in January and February, but the rest of the spring it was usually Wednesday intervals of 4 by 7:00 min, 6 by 5:00 min, 2 by 20:00 minutes, or something similar. Those sessions helped bring my FTP back up after 12-18 months with minimal bike training.
I did some long rides. I didn't do a long ride every weekend, but I had a handful of really solid rides over the 3 hour mark, and a couple that were over 4 hours long. I didn't just piddle around on those long rides either. I rode a pretty steady pace the whole time with minimal stops.
I bought a new bike. We all know that the best part of triathlon is the sweet gear. The guys over at Ride Away Bicycles have taken care of me for quite some time now and I finally got to purchase a new bike from them! The Giant Trinity Advanced Pro 0 is a slick, fast machine and I couldn't be more happy with how fast it goes for how little watts.
I ran consistently. For about 4 months I pretty much felt terrible every time I ran. I was tight, stiff, sore, dead-legs, all of it. I think most of that was from riding my bike really hard but it was definitely frustrating at times to be running so much slower than I used to. I stuck with it though and just kept plugging in the long runs and a few interval sessions here and there.
I swam very little. There were sporadic weeks were I got in the water 3 different times but there were a lot of weeks that I only swam once, and sometimes only 600 to 1000 yards at a time. I was actually more worried about my swim going into Buffalo Springs than any of the other three. You'll definitely see me back on deck with the Masters of South Texas in the coming weeks!
I trained too much sometimes. I know I said that my overall volume was pretty low, but that's in part because I did some really big weekend of training, then was exhausted and lacking in motivation for a week or two. Actually, my last bike ride over 2 hours was 4 weeks before Buffalo Springs because I had a couple of lazy weekends where I did pretty much nothing except clean up the garage and catch up with accounting.
How I Raced
Going into the race itself, I was excited to compete again, as well as being partly nervous because I was entering unchartered territory in terms of my preparation. I was hopefully optimistic that a good day could see my going under 4:20 for the 70.3 distance. I ended up having a REALLY good day, going 4:15, and winning the whole race by 19 seconds. That was cool.
When racing, there are really only two things an athletes has control over- their effort and their execution. My goal was to nail both of those things. If I could execute the different disciplines and roll with the ups and downs I knew I had the drive to give 100% effort all the way to the line. Being rested and ready to suffer can go a long way when racing. I was definitely rested, and I was definitely ready to hurt as much as I needed to.
Swim- I had a great run into the water on the beach start and a clean dive. I was out in front briefly before some guys who had probably been actually training came by me and I relinquished my spot at the front. I swam the swim strong but controlled with good buoy navigation and drafting when possible.
Bike- I raced the bike smart and watched my numbers. I knew my FTP was right at 290 watts after my race at the Texas State Time Trial a month prior. My conservative goal was to hold 230-240 NP. My legs felt pretty good from the moment I got on the bike and so I gave myself a bit more leeway to ride harder. I raised the power output slightly during the headwind and uphill sections. When going downhill or with a tailwind I allowed myself to relax slightly and just tried to stay very aero. I had one scare around mile 30 of the bike when we started up a climb and my right quad started cramping. I was pretty worried because I knew it was WAYY too early for that to happen. I slid my weight back in the saddle and focused on using my glutes and hamstrings a lot more to let the muscle relax some and it didn't hamper me any the rest of the bike. The last 10 miles were tough just like they are in any race. My power was dropping and my legs and back were both starting to give out. I tried to stay aero and made sure I got the last bit of my calories in.
Run- Like I mentioned earlier, my legs felt terrible every time I ran for about 4 months leading into the race. Thanks to my secret weapon, Mr. Dale Londos, my ART and massage guy, my legs finally started to feel halfway decent while running about 10 days before the race. It was such a huge relief to feel like a runner again and was just the boost of confidence I needed to believe that I could run under 1:25 off the bike. After number long runs where I'd struggle to run under 8:00 pace, it was a bit of a stretch goal to run 6:30 pace for 13.1 mile. It was a little out there but it was a goal nonetheless.
The first mile or two of the run is always an assessment period where you're trying to figure out if the next 90 minutes is going to go well or if the wheels are going to come off at some point. My legs were definitely tired when I started running but my energy was good and I was very focused and motivated to try and run some people down. The eventual 3rd place finisher, Ben Fuqua, caught me around mile 2. We were in different age groups but had started in the same wave so it was simple math to know that if he crossed the finish line in front of me, he would beat me in the overall. I had a decision to make at that point. He wasn't running much faster than me but he was running faster. I could risk blowing up and go with him, or stick to my race plan and hope he slowed down the second half (and I didn't). I didn't like the idea of someone beating me so I lifted the pace to run with him.
Around mile 5 I took a gel and started to feel goodish (you never really feel "good" on the run) and decided to push the pace a little and see how Ben liked that. I opened up a gap and just kept rolling. Because I was feeling pretty good I neglected to take any calories or water as I started lap 2 of the run. That caught up to me when my pace crept from 6:10-6:15 per mile to 6:20-6:25. Then we went up a hill and I ran a 7:10. That hurt.
Going up and back down the hill I could hear Ben behind me again. I tried to push as hard as I could (without cramping) going down the big hill and onto the last out and back section. I debated letting him catch me and then running shoulder-to-shoulder and trying for a sprint finish but I opted to keep the pace up and not let him come up beside me. By mile 11, I was ready to be done with running for a while. My quads were on the verge of cramping and I was trying to keep my hips forward to take some pressure off of them. At the last turn-around, Ben was a solid 30 seconds or so behind me and I was pretty confident I could hold him off to the line. I'd been counting and eye balling the waves ahead of me the whole run and was hopeful that Ben and I were 1-2 in the race and the first of us two would win the race. In the last 0.5 miles my left inner quad (vastus lateralis) was spasming mildly but it wasn't enough to actually halt my stride. I was still slightly worried that everything might cramp all of a sudden but it didn't and I crossed the line with a fist bump and a really good feeling of satisfaction.
Exercising for more than 4 hours requires you to eat and drink while doing so unless you want to slow drastically. One of the biggest lessons I learned while racing pro was to eat A LOT during the bike ride because I'd need it on the back end of the run. My nutrition for Buffalo Springs was flawless and I've had a few people ask what I took so here's the breakdown. I'll also mention that I made the decision years ago to not be very superstitious when it comes to pre-race rituals and eating. This is what I ate before Buffalo, but at another race it might be different.
Day Before- I always a big breakfast after a morning workout with plenty of complex carbohydrates as well as some protein. I think I had a waffle, toast, hash browns and some eggs. Lunch was two peanut butter and honey sandwiches I'd brought with me at home + some bars while out training. Dinner was spaghetti with meat sauce at an Italian place. Also a bit of cake.  I also drank a bottle of beet juice throughout the afternoon. 
Race morning- COFFEE! I'd been cutting back on my coffee consumption the week of the race so race morning I rewarded myself with TWO cups. I honestly have forgotten what I ate for breakfast. I think it was a couple of muffins or something.  Also, more beet juice up until about 30 minutes before race start. 
During the race- My goal was to consume 1400-1600 calories during the race with about 1000-1200 of them on the bike. I decided I also wanted to consume a little bit of solid food to help settle my stomach (the honey stinger bar) and that worked out great. It's just kind of hard to chew while puffing and sweating. The temperature was really cool on race day so I didn't worry about taking extra sodium. If it were a hotter race than I would have brought salt tabs with me.
Pre-swim: 1 clif gel (90 kcal)
Bike: 1.5 scoops of Scratch (60 kcal), 1 waffle stinger bar (160 kcal), 1 First Endurance gel flask (350 kcal), 1 sleeve of shot blocks (200 kcal), 1 powerbar gel (100 kcal), 1 clif gel (90 kcal), 1/2 can of red bull (55 kcal). Water when I got thirsty.
Run: 1/2 can of red bull (55 kcal), 2 gels (190 kcal), liberal coke and gatorade (100-150 kcal). Lots of water.
TOTAL: 1400-1500 kcal
I pretty much got exactly what I wanted to hit, my stomach felt great the whole time, and I had the energy to really dig and suffer at the end when I needed to. The biggest thing I notice when I don't take enough fuel during a race is that my brain gets a little "foggy" and I start slowing down without even realizing I'm slowing down. When I'm fully calories up I feel very "present" and "in-the-zone" mentally.
It took my legs a long time to recovery from the effort I put in at Buffalo. It was over a week before I could run again because my muscles were so stiff, sore, and beaten up (back to Dale!). I don't consider myself to be a particularly sturdy or durable athlete. I get pretty sore and tired easily so I have to make sure I give myself adequate recovery going into and out of a big effort. I did get a long ride in the following week but it was hard and I wasn't very motivated to do it. Thank goodness for teammates that drag you out there anyways! I'm back into the swing of things now and getting ready for my first Ironman on August 27th in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho. Bring on the work.