May 26 2014

Lifetime Fitness CapTex Triathlon 2014

Published by under Random Thoughts

20140526_110757_Android20140526_110634_AndroidI came in 2nd today at CapTex. Cameron Dye won, making it two in a row for him in the series. This is my fifth time racing here, and I’ve been 10th (I think), 5th, and then twice in third. This year was my best finish and also the first year without any weird problems (police boats turning the pro field around mid-race, late starts, penalties for rules that aren’t in the book, etc.) – I have to give it to Lifetime that this race is run much more smoothly since they bought it a year ago. That said, it wasn’t a smooth day for everyone. Lightning storms hit around 11 am while there were still hundreds of people out on the course, and when the police gave the word everyone had to run for shelter.

20140526_115845_AndroidFor me it was a good race. I felt off, like I wasn’t able to rev it up as I normally would. Part of that could be that it’s still early in the season. Part of it could be related to the pulmonary edema I had just three weeks ago. Regardless, I can’t complain about 2nd place. It’s a great finish against a solid field at a race that’s never easy.

One great highlight from today was that my run was the 3rd fastest. I’m moving in the right direction, and looking forward to hitting my form this summer when it really counts.

For now, back to Chicago. I’m hoping to race the Mont Tremblant 5150 in Quebec on June 8th – I just need to figure out how to get there!

As you might guess by looking at this post, nobody seemed to take any pictures today, or at least they aren’t posted yet. I’ll update if I find any race pics other than people huddled by the convention center to get away from the storm.

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May 25 2014

Smile, or so it goes

Published by under Random Thoughts

Every now and then I stop and wonder what exactly I have done with my life. Returning to Chicago after a botched half ironman in Saint Croix, my lungs still aching from the (admittedly stupid) decision to finish a race while coughing up blood, I found myself deep in one of these melancholy states. Except melancholy really doesn’t describe it because – while I was (am, will probably continue to be) questioning my goals and motivations and wants – my emotional response to all the uncertainty has been a chronic cheerfulness. I mean, life is pretty good back in Chicago. Abby is here, and with spring in the air my dog has been ecstatic to run with me again. Sure, my friends and family are freaked out about the whole bloody sputum thing, but – one way or another – I’ll figure this out like every other obstacle that threatens my goals. See, the things that really matter aren’t really caught up in my finishing time in Saint Croix or whether I win my next race, or the one after that. I’ve had a crummy spring, but through it all I haven’t lost any friends (I’ve made some wonderful new ones), and (while it may not be as lucrative as when I’m winning) I still get to triathlon for a living.

Here’s a photo series with some of the highlights of my first couple weeks back:


My dog didn’t seem to notice I was gone.20140521_185141_Android

Asics opened a new store in Wicker Park, and I went to the opening night with Chicago Area Runners Association.




[left]: Odin got to play with Andrew Starykowicz’s pups while we went out for long rides North of the city.

[right]: Abby celebrated being home with gluten free pancake brunch, all ready to go when I got back from the group ride.


20140514_173033_Android 1

I got some cool new gear, like my Rudy Project Wing 57 and the Cobb JOF in pink


I went to the Gatorade Sport Science Institute for some physological testing. They tested my metabolic requirements at various running speeds, my sweat rate, and the electrolyte concentration of my sweat. It was really cool, but I only got a picture of the lobby.


We stayed the weekend in Milwaukee with my college friend, Mike, and his wife. Above is Mike carbonating our homemade ginger beer with his home made carbonator. Mike is training for a trail marathon run and I joined him for a long run in the woods. It was really fun.


Abby and I went on a tandem bike ride in Milwaukee too. Now I want to buy a tandem bike and drag her on all my long training rides. She can even have the pink saddle if she’s willing to keep me company.


My dog is quite handsome. This is us by the Museum of Science and Industry, enjoying the last weekend before the beaches open in Chicago. I know, I post a lot of dog pictures. If he had thumbs I’d make him take pictures of me, but it’s hard to be the photographer and the subject.

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May 09 2014

Captain Morgan Ironman 70.3 Saint Croix 2014

Published by under Random Thoughts

This is my race report for what was meant to be the capstone of a six week training trip in the US Virgin Island. I headed down to Saint Croix on March 25th, six weeks ago, and trained as hard as I could on the island. I wanted to get used to every inch of the 70.3 mile course and to acclimate to the heat so that I could avoid any heat related issues at my races this year. Last year I crushed the first two legs of the race and I wanted to prove that with proper preparation I could finish the job in dramatic style. Yeah, I had a bit of an attitude – though until now I believe I hid it pretty well – and I also felt like I needed to prove something. I wanted to prove to myself that my races at the beginning of last season were a preview of my capabilities and I wanted to put a cork in all the whispers telling me I can’t race so hard and that I need to slow down. (Seriously, screw that, I will race as hard as I can whenever I toe the line. If I fail before the end it’s because I failed to prepare or because of nutrition or some element of luck, but if I have to race lite then maybe that race just isn’t for me.)

It started off well this year. I had a solid swim, and it was easy. I swam with Tim O’Donnell (eventual winner), Josh Amberger, Brad Kahlefeldt, and Sam Douglas. I took the lead on the bike in the first mile and as I passed TO he said “be smart this year Ben” or some such warning that was considerate, but that was already part of my race plan. I knew with perfect road conditions that it would be hard to get away in the beginning, and it’s true that the real race starts at the top of the Beast – a 1200 meter climb that averages around 15% grade – around 21 miles into the 56 mile bike course. I felt good so I went to the front and pushed the pace a little. I wanted to make sure the gas was on leading up to the Beast, and I thought that after a tough climb I could keep the heat on and make the rest of the pack suffer to stay with me. The last 16 miles of the bike course are by far the hardest and I wanted anyone still with me to be tired when they hit the relentless series of 10% grade “rollers” on the east end of the island.

A great plan, but when we got to the base of the beast my intentions became dreams. We started climbing and I just couldn’t get my pedals to turn over. I didn’t have the torque that I’ve had every other day of training on that hill. I was slower on my ascent that any other day in the past 6 weeks, and I lost 45 seconds to the other men. I spun over the crest and kept my effort up much higher than what I could sustain, but I wanted… needed to close that gap and a straight section into the wind (like miles 25 to 39) is normally where I can make up time gaps like that. It felt like an ITU race, where you have to lay it all out there to make a pack. In five miles I closed the gap to 20 seconds and thought I could give it one more push to close what was left. That’s when the cramping started. My quads and adductors clenched – bilaterally – the first cramping I’ve had in six weeks in Saint Croix. I had to back off momentarily to let them release and as I let off the gas I noticed that I was coughing. Now, it sounds strange, but when you’re in a race – even a 4+ hour race, you tend to focus on the race more than your body. It really hurts to push that hard and if you can focus on the road, the competitors, the need to take the lead then it takes the focus off the pain and off the suffering. When you have to back off for cramps it shifts that focus from external anchors to internal and suddenly you notice everything that’s going on with your body that was being ignored. So I may have been coughing for a minute or 30, I have no idea, but when I noticed it was when the cramping shifted my focus. It was wet coughing and I was cramping and I was struggling to push recovery watts. I was falling apart and my lungs were full of fluid. I knew my dream of victory was gone, but I was determined to finish the damn race. First I thought of Abby. I had promised her that I would stop if I ever had symptoms like in Quassy last year when I was hospitalized. But since I had already decided not to stop I favored the plan of focusing on the cramping and ignoring the coughing.

Around mile 45 I was caught by the chase pack, including Greg Bennett. I was climbing Grassy Point, and as they came by Greg told me to just stay with them until the top of the climb. I did my best and my legs clenched and felt like the muscles were ripping apart as I pedals squares to the top. I audibly moaned in pain but made it to the crest with the group and followed them for another mile before being dropped on the next double digit grade. It was amazing how fast I was dropped this time. I saw them crest a hill right ahead of me and when I made it over the top the last of the pack was already nearly out of sight. I was in a bad place. and the coughing was getting worse.

With a mile to go on the bike we round this corner, fresh off the last descent, and ride paralell to the run course all the way to transition. Last year I saw the eventual winner, Richie Cunningham, coming through that turn as I was running out. So when I saw Tim and Brad running past as I rounded that turn I knew I was 10 minutes down already. I also knew there was no way I could run well I my current state and that the smart thing to do would be to call it a day. And any other day I probably would have, but with everything I put into this race, and all the emotions tied to last year’s heat stroke during the run – I had to finish. I started off walking. I tried to jog and when I did the coughing became uncontrollable. I walked a lot. Volunteers encouraged me to run, I kept walking. I jogged when the coughing stopped, walked when it started again. The cramping was gone, but I couldn’t exert myself and breath at the same time. It got better as I went and the second lap of the run I was able to jog easy without much trouble. It actually seemed to help my lungs to breath really deeply. I finished in just under 5 hours, and certainly I was the last of the pro men. I don’t think I was even close to the top of my age group, time-wise. But I finished. And I did 20140423_183549_Androidit for me, which in itself is a shift from the motivation I had going in. I wanted to prove to you and everyone else that I could destroy one of the hardest courses in triathlon. Instead, I proved to myself that I could finish a race, even if I was no longer “competing”.

My trip to Saint Croix wasn’t “capped” by the race. And in a way that’s okay. The experience I had on the island was incredible. I really enjoyed spending time with my homestay family, the Gleasons, my swimming crew at Cain Bay, the dolphins swim team, the VI Tri Club members, the local cyclists who showed me around and helped me get through my tougher training days, and all the other individuals that make Saint Croix such a wonderful place. All ego aside, it’s the people of Saint Croix that made this race in particular such a draw for me to return to. It would have been nice to 20140414_183155_Androiddo well, but when I look back at the trip I’ll probably remember far more about the people and the training and the great times I had in Saint Croix than the five hours of suffering I did on my last day.

For now it’s back to Chicago for recovery and rethinking. Was this caused by an illness, or something else? My next race will be CapTex on May 26th, and I’m looking forward to getting back to the Olympic format that I know so well.

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May 01 2014

The Beauty and the Beast

Published by under garmin,Races,Training,Travel,video

The St Croix 70.3 bike course is known for being one of the hardest courses in triathlon. This segment, which is .75 of the 56 mile bike course is what people here call “The Beast”. I recorded it in real time on a training day. I averaged about 6 watts per kilo for this climb and my average speed was around 8mph. I’d like to claim it’s all downhill from here, but I think the east end, which comes another 20 miles after the top of the Beast is the most trying portion of the course. There are plenty more hills that kick up over 10%, but nothing quite as daunting as this. I guess this is the “spice” in the Captain Morgan’s Ironman 70.3 Saint Croix. Enjoy.

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Apr 28 2014

Captain Morgan Ironman 70.3 St Croix Bike Course Video

Published by under garmin,video

I made this video with my Garmin Virb. My laptop is not super fast for video editing so I didn’t add sound or captions or anything. You’ll see “The Beast” when the elevation starts climbing. The video is at 30x speed so even though the Beast took me 6 minutes it’s only 12 seconds on the video. I also didn’t realize that the distance meter resets every time I restart the camera, so at mile 39 (when I start the East End Loop) and 14 miles later (When I finish the loop) the meter restarts.

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Apr 13 2014

San Juan–Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico 2014

Published by under garmin,Races

I faced my fears at Ironman 70.3 Puerto Rico this year. One year ago I collapsed from dehydration at mile 10 of the run. If you  didn’t read that race report, it’s worth looking back to. It highlights some of the more scary things that can happen when you push your body too far and don’t give it the fluids and fuel it needs.

This year I finished. I came in fourth, and yet part of me is still more proud of the epic failure from 2013 than this all-around “okay” but nothing “spectacular” performance this year.

20140413_105318_Android[Dehydration makes me look super ripped!]

I had a solid swim, but not great – and at over 24 minutes, certainly slower than the standard I’ve set for myself. I came out of the water 3rd, but 45 seconds behind David Kahn (U of Texas Swimmer).

[Jay Gleason, my homestay in St Croix, on the 500m run from swim to transition 1 – why don’t they count that as part of the 13.1 miles of running?]

20140413_075548_AndroidI took the lead on the bike pretty early, but by 10 miles into the race Andrew Starykowicz came by me and dropped me within a matter of a few miles. By mile 40 I felt like I was blowing up, and a little after 50 miles into the race, after Andi Boecherer and Will Clarke had caught me, I looked down to find my tire was getting soft. A moment later on one of the few turns in the race the sidewall blew out and what air was left hissed out in a matter of seconds. I rode the last 5 miles on the flat tire and lost about 4 minutes to Andi and Will, and started the run almost 10 minutes behind Andrew. Still, even without the flat I was way off the 1:58:12 bike split from a year ago. So while it was a solid effort, again I found myself performing below my own standard.

Onto the run I found myself in position to catch Andi if I had the type of run I had at the Monterrey 70.3 a month ago, but whether it was the heat or my mind fearing a repeat of last year’s failure that held me back, I wasn’t running well at all. I ran a 1:25, which was faster than Andi (1:27), but slower than Andrew (1:22, – he won) and much much slower than Will Clarke (1:17). Overall, the course was much hotter than a year ago, and it showed in the slower times had by all – but my deficit from last year’s splits was more than weather related, and with 3 weeks in the carribean to acclimate, I really have no excuse.

20140413_101253_AndroidStill, I finished 4th and earned my first paycheck of 2014 (at less than a month’s expenses it’s not much to write home about, but it’s something). The key there is that I finished. That alone required that I run past “the wall” – the part of the course where we run for about 1.5 miles along the water in front of Old San Juan with a giant stone wall on one side and lava rocks and salt and sun on the other sdie – four times. Every time I ran past the wall I had images of myself a year ago, stumbling and crawling over the rocks, so desperate for water and cold that I was determined to swim out into the ocean. Four times during the run I had to remember how I collapsed on the wall in the shrinking shade and begged other competitors to send help, and how I waited for what seemed like a lifetime for a motorcycle cop to show up and help me get off the course.

I faced my fears, and I overcame them, but I don’t feel like I proved what I wanted to. I wanted to show myself that I could ride at world record pace and run like a champion. Instead I proved that I can race with the best, overcome bad luck (the flat) and finish a tough race in the heat. I have some work to do before I’m back to the level of a champion, but I certainly respect what it takes to be there more than I did a year ago.

Triathlon is a sport of fitness, mental fortitude and an abundance of luck – and none of those come easy. I didn’t have enough of any of those this year in San Juan, but the season is long and my will is only getting stronger. it’s back to the chopping block. There’s work to be done, and in three weeks I get to try again at the St Croix 70.3. I’ll be there training until then and I will be ready for the conditions. I can’t perform any miracles in 3 weeks, but I can certainly do my best to make sure that my luck and mental strength is back to where it was a year ago. It’ll be hard to run past where I collapsed on the St Croix course last year without thinking of how terrifying that experience was, but I won’t let it hold me back. I’ve learned a lot about fueling and hydrating my body over the last year, and I will do everything I can to make sure I’m capable of racing at the intensity I want for the duration of the race.



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Apr 08 2014

Lifetime South Beach Triathlon

Published by under garmin,Races

On Sunday I raced the Lifetime South Beach Triathlon. It’s one of my favorite races, and this is the sixth time I’ve done the race. In the past I’ve done really well here. It’s a really fast course, mostly flat and it comes in the beginning of the year when I’m anxious to get out and see what all the winter training has earned me. This year didn’t go as well. It just wasn’t my day – no excuses – I raced with everything I had and it earned me sixth place. It may be a reflection of my fitness – perhaps I let the nasty winter get to me – but it may have also just been a bad day. They happen to everyone. I’ll race again this coming Sunday in Puerto Rico at the San Juan 70.3 – it might go better.

A quick recap of South Beach. I swam poorly. I exited the water way out of the front group, swimming alone through some rough water. It took a while before I saw anyone on the bike and I didn’t actually catch the group ahead of me until about half way through the bike. Even then I rode to the front of that group but never was able to shake them. Brooks Cowan started the run right behind me, and despite putting up a better run than most of the guys in the field, I was still caught around mile four, which put me in sixth place – where I crossed the line.

Cameron Dye won the race for the second time (he won in 2011), Greg Bennett was 2nd, Michael Poole 3rd and Eric Lagerstrom was 4th ahead of Brooks and then me.

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Mar 30 2014

Training Trip–St Croix

P1010160About a month ago it occurred to me that Abby wouldn’t need to be in Chicago for about 6 weeks. She just finished her second year of medical school and has over a month to study for her Step 1 medical boards. After that she starts rotations and will never have another vacation until she’s old and grey. I was planning to take classes this spring and then take the summer off from school to prepare for Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant, but if I did that it would mean I needed to be in Chicago while Abby did not and She would have to be in Chicago while I was free to train somewhere else.

Within a few days of this realization I had cancelled my plans to take classes in Spring Quarter and we had booked tickets to St Croix in the US Virgin Islands. Why St Croix?

It’s beautiful P1010154

  1. It’s hot
  2. It’s sunny
  3. There’s a race here that I would really like to go finish this year
  4. It’s close to both of the races I’m planning to do in April (Lifetime South Beach and San Juan 70.3)
  5. My homestay family from last year is amazing and had offered to either put us up or help us find a place to stay for an extended period of time P1010179
  6. Abby needs internet and a phone and as part of the US it’s easy for her to get both here.
  7. it’s beautiful.

Here are some pictures I took on my first few days in St Croix. Above is me at Point Udall, which is the eastern most point of the island (and the United States). Then some pictures from this morning’s open water swim as the sun came up over the hills.



I’m convinced there is no such thing as a flattering picture after an open water swim, and looking at how many chins I have on this selfie (the camera was tied to my draw string), I am certain it is not possible to get a flattering picture in the middle of an open water swim.

I’ll keep posting pictures throughout my trips. For now, I’ll leave you with the Edge 810 file from my first bike ride here on Wednesday.

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Mar 28 2014

Racing Triathlons With A Running Watch

Published by under garmin,Races

I just looked at my Training Peaks dashboard and realized that the Monterrey 70.3 file recorded by my Garmin 620 measured 70.6 miles – pretty accurate for a running specific watch! I don’t have one of the new Fenix 2 triathlon watches, so I used the Forerunner 620 – a watch meant just for running – to record my HR throughout the race. It doesn’t do the fancy bike stuff (like pair with the Vector Pedals), and you can’t change sports or do a multisport mode during the race, so it’s definitely not as good as using the Forerunner 910 or the Fenix 2, but it did record my HR and I wanted to see the running form metrics that only the 620 and Fenix 2 are capable of recording.

Check out the file here on Garmin Connect. Obviously only the last 13.1 miles are runninng, but I did start a new lap as I ran through T2.

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Mar 26 2014

Monterrey Ironman 70.3

Published by under blue70,Cervelo,Races,Travel

I wrote a race recap a week ago on my flight home from Mexico, but at the time I was still really confused about my race and I didn’t know how to describe the race without sounding like I was making up excuses. Now that I’m pretty sure I’ve figured out what happened I’ll tell you about the race and then how I diagnosed several issues that kept me from riding my bike like I normally do.

I was first out of the water in the swim. The swim in Monterrey is actually why I wanted to do the race. I went to this venue for a World Cup in 2010 and I consider this swim course to be one of the three most unique and fun swims in all of triathlon, with Escape from Alcatraz and the 2011 Hy-Vee swims being the other two. I really like technical swims that favor an intelligent race to get ahead. The swim for the Monterrey 70.3 was in a shallow manmade canal that is kind of like a two mile long swimming pool. It’s clear, chlorinated water, about 4ft deep and 20 yards wide. it meanders along like a lazy river and when there aren’t races going little tour boats run up and down the canal. Unlike most swims, there’s a real advantage to being in front at this race. The stone walls throw wakes around and people farther back often complain about the choppy water. Plus, if you do a little homework and figure out the best line through each of the curves you can really shorten the swim over someone less prepared.

An interesting fact I realized as I was writing this: this is only the third time as a pro that I have won a swim, and in all three of those races it was wetsuit legal and I was in a Blue Seventy Helix – I thought swimmers were supposed to do worse in wetsuits? Maybe not all wetsuits are created equal?

Out of the water the race changed course – so to speak. I slipped on the wet soap stone and fell on my butt. Tim Don – who eventually won the race – ran by me and I never saw him again. I got back up but managed to get stuck in my wetsuit (not enough lubricant on the ankles) and several more people passed me. I wasn’t really that worried, I mean, it’s kind of nice to let someone else set the pace for a few miles as I get in fluids and nutrition at the start of the bike. I put on my helmet and sunglasses and ran out to the mount line.

The bike course looked on paper like a great course. Flat and rolling with nutrition every 10km. I thought this course had the potential to be a sub-2 hour course. Saturday as I was running around getting ready for the race I realized the flaw in that plan. There was about 2 miles of rough cobbles on each of three laps. The aid stations were located at the bottoms of hills (meaning in order to get a bottle you have to give up all the momentum you gained going down the ramp) and with 2800 people the second and third laps were not conducive to head-down, super-aero riding. Still, the course should have been a sub-2:10 bike segment, and it was for the podium contenders.

My estimations were correct, but I was not one of the contenders. Things went really poorly and – while I normally love racing my bike – I felt like I was fighting my equipment the entire day.

I came off the bike alone and frustrated and it took a lot to convince myself that a half marathon was worth doing. But things turned around quickly.

I started the run at a moderate effort, but I felt good running. Pretty soon I started seeing some of the guys that had passed me on the bike and I focused on inching toward them. By half way through the run I had moved up a couple of places and was coming up on another athlete. I ended up with the fourth fastest run of the day, and moved back up into a 10th place finish.

So what can I make of this? My swim and run show that I’m coming into fitness for the season as planned, but my cycling – normally my strong point – was horrific. I honestly wanted to find a brake rubbing or a flat tire or something clear and mechanical, but when I returned to transition to pick up my bike I couldn’t find anything obvious. After a week of diagnostics, however, I think I have an answer to the perfect storm of not-my-day.

First, I had a problem with my front brake the day before the race and had to use a borrowed cable brake in place of the hydraulic calipers that the Cervelo P5 is designed for. About half way through the race I noticed that every time I used the brake it was pulling sideways and rubbing slightly, forcing me to reach down and manually adjust. The rear brake seems to have shaken loose on the cobbles and was also not in perfect alignment. Those were quick and easy fixes, but even together they wouldn’t have accounted for a bike split 20 minutes slower than the leaders.

This week I took the bike into Running Away Multisport in Chicago. I had the hydraulic brake fixed and asked George, the head mechanic to look over the bike to see what he could find. He spent hours going over the bike, and gave it the most attention it’s had since it was new at the end of 2012. There were a number of “issues” but I’ll summarize by saying it’s worth finding a great mechanic and spending the money to give your bike some serious TLC.

The bike itself may have had a few problems, but at the end of the day it’s the person who throws his leg over the bike that makes it fast. In Monterrey I made a few rookie mistakes leading up to the race that had my legs more fatigued on race day, standing around at a bike shop rather than sitting, running around town more than normal and which contributed to my inability to handle the accelerations and intense efforts required to properly ride the short hills along the course. Part of that poor preparation was due to an ambitious bike fit just 13 days before the race. At the bike fit I wasn’t really planning to race so soon, and I anticipated having several weeks to adjust to three big changes: a short cockpit, shorter cranks, and oval chain rings. The problem is between travel and having maintenance done on my P5 I was only able to ride the new setup four or five times before leaving for Mexico – clearly not enough.

All of this together meant that on race day I was fatigued, and fighting extra resistance through a setup that I was not yet efficient with. Lessons for the future? Even an early season race to “test my fitness” should be approached professionally and with the rigor of detailed planning that goes into the most important race. Just because I plan to train through a race means that staying off my feet when I am able is even more important than when I’m fully rested. My body may have been fit enough for a good race, but my brain was clearly not ready for the task. Next up is the Lifetime Fitness Series opener, the Nautica South Beach Triathlon – I will be prepared.

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