May 05 2015

Ironman 70.3 North American Championships – St George

Published by under Races

ironman.com

Photo By Nils Nilsen reposted from Ironman.com

(photo courtesy of Ironman.com)On Saturday I competed in the North American Championships for Ironman 70.3, held in Saint George, Utah. I raced hard, set myself up for a top finish, and when my body gave in to the caliber of the course, I held on for a 10th place finish.

St George is a beautiful place. It’s in the southwest corner of Utah, surrounded by natural beauty that makes it easy to understand why the west was settled. The mountains surrounding St George also make for an especially challenging venue for a Half-Ironman, and it’s easy to see why World Triathlon Corporation has settled here for the North American Championships.

The swim course is in a pristine lake East of St George, where the spring-fed water is crystal clear and has just the right amount of crisp without being overly cold. We swam three sides of a rectangle around a red rock outcrop. John Bird, from Canada, was the leader throughout the swim. I was a few guys back. During this swim I had a very new experience: I could actually recognize the guys around me and I knew what was going on. For eight years I’ve been racing with pool goggles – the smaller the better – and making fun of guys like Kevin Collington for wearing what I jokingly referred to ask snorkel masks. Then a few months ago Blue Seventy sent me a pair of their Hydra-Vision goggles because they were out of the pool goggles I normally order. You can get them with polarized lenses, and the clarity is remarkable. Kevin, I’m sorry I ever made fun of your goggle choice.

I was third onto the bike, and after about 10 miles I found myself in a small breakaway. There are mixed reports out there of how small, but I think it was Brent McMahon, Tim Don and myself. Andrew Yoder came close to catching back on, but with a poor swim the effort to bridge proved to be a day-breaker for him.

The bike course is especially challenging. Comparing it to St Croix, where I’ve raced the past two years on this weekend, the weather is less challenging, but the course is equivalent. St Croix has continuous rollers and “the beast”, while St George has longer, sustained climbs, that take you to Snow Canyon with a six mile climb starting at mile 40.

I was pretty nervous about the bike. Mainly because I live in Chicago and any confidence I used to have on descending has  been trained out of me by trainer sessions and a lack of practice. It was also my first attempt to use SRAM Force 1 on a course that is a prime example of when common sense would tell you more gears are better.

(If you don’t care about my rather lengthy process of choosing to ride SRAM 1x, skip down to where I say “back to the race report)

A little background on Force 1: I took an internship at SRAM in their product management division last fall. One of the projects I was there for was the launch of a new road drivetrain featuring just one front chainring and no front derailleur. This is techonology that’s been widely accepted in mountain biking, and is becoming the standard in Cyclocross, but bringing the technology into the traditional road segments poses new challenges. First, gear density (the % difference in gear ratios between adjacent gears) is a much bigger deal to road cyclist than for mountain bikers. Second, road bikes go much faster, so in order to have sufficient high gears, you have to have a huge range to get the low gears that we need for easy rides and mountain climbs.

I rode Force 1 at Challenge Dubai in February, but that was a flat course and it was easy to justify taking off the small ring. The aerodynamics and weight upsides far outweigh the need for a small ring I was never going to use anyway. there I ran a 52 tooth front chainring with an 11-26 cassette. It was basically the same gear range and density that I would have used with a 2x (pronounced two-by) setup.

After that I did two gravel rides on Force 1 – the Barry Rubaix in Michigan where I supported a fellow SRAMmie to help him to a 5th place finish, and the SRAM 1x (“one-by”) product launch in San Louis Obispo where we took editors from around the world on a crazy off-road ride on road bikes to prove that we can ride 1x anywhere. At both of those rides I had no desire for an extra front chain ring, but ssomething kept telling me that it would be different for a hilly triathlon. I even had a discussion with Slowtwitch’s Dan Empfield about whether 1x could be used at Wildflower where I flat out said that for people using triathlon bikes on really hilly terrain, 2x drivetrains are probably the better choice.

I came to St George with my brand-spankin’ new Red & White 2015 Cervelo P5, freshly built with SRAM Force 1. It looked awesome, but I was still nervous about the gearing. I was running a 54 tooth ring with an 11-36 cassette. This gave me a slightly higher high gear and slightly lower low gear than the 53/39 front and  11-25 rear setup I had used last year (a 54-36 is exactly the same gear ratio as a 39-26, and the 54-11 is higher than a 53-11). So I knew I had the right range, but to get there I was losing some of the middle ratios and I was worried I would be “gear gazing” (a term I made up while analyzing this potential problem).

by Nils Nilsen – SRAM Force 1 on Ben Collins’ 2015 Cervelo P5

To analyze the downside of this problem I first created my own excel model, looking at the gaps between gears (there is one 17% jump in an 11-36 cassette, while my 11-26 never exceeds 15%). I looked at the speeds where I would be between gears, given my preference for 95rpm, and what my cadence variance would be in order to maintain that speed. Without knowing exactly how much of the race I would be at any of those speeds I really didn’t know if it would be a problem that at 28.5mph I would have to choose between 88rpm or 102 rpm (based on my training data, 102 wouldn’t be out of my normal range, but 88 would be).

To figure out specifically what ratios I would need for this race I reached out to BestBikeSplit.com. These guys have taken time trial analytics to a new level. They will take your FTP testing data, plus a course profile and create a specific race plan for you to set the best possible time on the course. I explained my problem and they jumped at the chance to play with the numbers and help me out. I sent them a bunch of Garmin files from past races so they could get an idea of my race power abilities, as well as my drag coefficient. They then built a race plan for me at St George and from that drew a frequency chart to show the percent of time during the race that I would be in any given gear, given 95rpm cadence as a target.

Here’s the chart:

 

 

image (2)

 

What’s important here is that this is what I would use if I had every gear from 11 up to 36. The 11-36 Cassette, however, has 11,12,13,15,17,19,22,25,28,32, and 36 teeth cogs. The majority of the missing cogs are barely used and aren’t much different from their closest peer (35 and 36 are < 3% apart). What made me worry is that the 14 is missing, which accounts for almost 12% of my race, and the 15 is (15-14)/14*100 = 7% away – meaning about 6rpm over my “ideal”.

Riding the course a couple days before, I realized my fears were likely not warranted. I rode Snow Canyon and some flats and descents – a 30 mile ride – with one of the guys from the SRAM neutral support crew. I didn’t have any problems on the flat sections and going up the hills it occurred to me that the 54-26 was letting me spin faster than my ride partner could on his 2x road bike.  It seemed I had both the range and gear density to be happy, and with a couple days to go my nerves eased up a bit.

During the race, the times I noticed that I didn’t have a front derailleur were when Brent was in front of me and I would yoyo into him as he shifted into the small ring for a hill (really three shifts, because you have to shift the front, then shift the rear a couple of times to get to the next ratio from where you were). While he was shifting a bunch, I was just one click away from my next gear, and it seemed to save me more than I expected. I never felt like I needed a gear that I didn’t have, and I had as much range as I needed. I loved racing on 1x, and I no longer think there’s a course that can’t be raced with it.

—back to the race report—-

Through the bike I felt great. I never felt like I was really pushing my limits and I was confident in my ability to run off what seemed to be a well paced bike leg.

Starting the run I was certainly tired, but not more than expected. I grabbed my hydration pack and started on what I knew to be a very challenging run course. I knew it was about three miles uphill. I had seen the course, and yet as I climbed those first three miles I began wishing they would end. I still felt good past the peak, and was holding onto second up until Tim Don passed me at mile 5. At the first of several turnarounds I saw I was still pretty far up from the next group and I really thought holding onto third would be no problem.

Then things went south.

Around mile six my GI system turned to liquid, I made a pit stop, after which my muscles turned to jello. I started running progressively slower until my brain could focus on nothing but the distance to the finish line. Every step was harder than the one before and as I finally approached the long three mile descent I found I couldn’t even come close to the pace I had held going up the same hill. I was fried, dehydrated, exhausted, and past what my current fitness would allow. I fought hard until the finish, but felt like I was crawling as pack after pack passed me in the final miles. In the last two miles I sank from sixth to tenth where I crossed the line.

After the race I had a moment where I thought this was the worst I’ve fallen apart at a race. Then I remembered Puerto Rico, and my first attempt at St Croix, and how I had finished in the hospital at both of those. Considering that, I’ve come a long way. I know early season races are tough to hit hard after long Chicago winters. But taking that chance – putting it on the line to see what happens – that’s what I enjoy about the sport, and I’ll keep taking risks. Sometimes they pay off.

Tim Don ended up winning the race. I found this out a couple hours after the finish when I emerged from the med tent. When Tim passed me at mile five we were a couple minutes down from Brent, and I assumed that Brent had held on for the win. Turns out I wasn’t the only one to blow up at the end, Brent just did it a little more gracefully and far more profitably. Congrats to Tim on the win, and to Brent for laying it out there with me through 56 miles on the bike and then starting off the run like a man without fear.

 

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Feb 28 2015

Challenge Dubai

Published by under Races

20150227_052517[1]I started off the season early this year with a new Challenge Family race in Dubai. I placed 16th there against a start list as glittered with big names as a world championship. I’m never satisfied with a finish behind other athletes but I don’t think I could have raced any faster, either through execution or preparation.

My 16th place finish takes into account a penalty of four minutes that was given to me and four other athletes for taking a wrong turn on the race course. There has been quite a bit of chatter about this on social media, Slowtwitch and other pro blogs, and I’ll give my take on it in the body of my race report. In short, I followed other athletes and what I believed to be an official through a turn. The markings on the course were either lacking or had been blown over, and I was too far back to see the lead vehicles. I knew from studying the course maps to expect a U-Turn and I had no doubt during the race that I was following the correct route. It cut about 2.3km off the length of my ride, and the officials decided to equalize that with a quite generous 4-minute penalty, which would have been about 30 seconds longer than our average speed would indicate that segment to take. So while I crossed the line in 10th place, my adjusted time placed me 16th.

It’s been a busy winter. Since my last race I took two months off – both needed and deserved after another strong season of racing in 2014. I traveled over the holidays with Abby, and we got engaged. I was elected to the USA Triathlon Board of Directors, managed to make Dean’s list again in my MBA courses at University of Chicago, and I started working at SRAM in Product Management.

When I signed up for such a busy schedule I figured I would keep active, but postpone serious training until March, when my MBA internship at SRAM ends and Chicago thaws a bit.

But then Challenge Family announced a “Triple Crown” series in the Middle East, with big prize money on the line and a massive $1,000,000 bonus at the end for the series winner. With about 9 weeks to go before the race I decided to put my head down and see if I could get myself in shape. I figured if someone was going to win that $1M it might as well be me. Plus, I’d never been to Dubai and it sounded like fun (it was).

For those 9 weeks my week looked like this:

Training:

Monday: “off day” yoga at lunch, or an 8 mile run with coworkers if my legs could handle it

Tuesday: 5-7:30 am brick (indoor, obviously), train to work by 8:30, swim 60 minutes at lunch, class from 6-9pm, home for some ice cream and bed

Wednesday: sleep in to 6am, work by 8am, 60 minute run at lunch with coworkers on the lakeshore (brrrr…), PM workout at WellFit Triahtlon Club (I lead a class there once a week), home by 9pm for a late dinner and bed

Thursday: 5-7:30am brick, work by 8:30, lunch swim, home by 7pm

Friday: 5-7:30 bike ride, lunch run from work on the lakeshore

Saturday: 2hr am swim, long trainer ride, long run on the treadmill

Sunday: same as Saturday

It was not an easy schedule, but I gained fitness as quickly over those nine weeks as I ever have, even with full-time training. The biggest sacrifice was in my social life. I gave that up for sleep.

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By the time Dubai rolled around at the end of February, I felt pretty good. I was putting out numbers on the bike that looked like mid-season power numbers. I knew my endurance was questionable without any really long efforts, but I thought I had a chance – and the only way I could find out is to go and give it a shot. My swim has never been too much of an issue, and my runs were periodically impressive – though it’s hard to judge efforts from under layers of clothing, face masks, and ski goggles to protect from sub-zero “lake effect” winds on the lakefront.

I arrived in Dubai with a homestay arranged through the Dubai Triathlon Club. My family was fantastic, keeping me fed and arranging all my transportation needs while I was there. They were definitely the highlight of my trip and no matter what happened on race day my trip would have been a success because of them.

The race itself was unique in location, but once on site it felt like any other high budget race (think high profile 70.3 or Rev3 race). That is to say that I felt right at home, and was able to prepare for race day without distractions from anything abnormal.

The swim was wetsuit legal, as strong winds had blown in and churned up cold water, dropping the temp to 21C the night before. As winds continued to pound the shore, the first leg of the race was really choppy, but I managed to stay near the front and was in fine position starting the bike leg of the race.

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I passed a number of athletes in the beginning and with the 20mph tail wind I was locked into my biggest gear, hitting sustained 30mph speeds on flat ground. But once the course changed directions I got knocked around by that wind. My disc was nearly blown out from under me on the first turn and I began taking roundabouts at gingerly speeds (not really typical of my riding style, but without any outdoor riding experience I’m a bit rusty with handling). I settled in around 5th place with a group ahead about 30 seconds and Andy Potts right behind me.

We rode straight inland and were on wide, clean boulevards in the middle of sandy, exposed desert. The signs had been blown over at most of the intersections and I was pushing pretty hard to stay in contact with the motorcycles and athletes ahead because it was hard to know going into a roundabout where I was supposed to exit. Typically there were cones planted at some point in the turn that indicated it was time to exit the circle. I later found out that I and four other athletes made a premature U-Turn at one of these intersections. I had no idea until several hours after finishing. It’s really too bad that it happened. It changed the dynamics of the race. I don’t remember any point in the race where there was not a motorcycle with us five, and even after we split into a group of three and a group of two there was still a marshal bouncing back and forth and keeping us honest. I ca only imagine that the marshal made the same mistake as us.

By the final 30km of the bike, as we headed back into strengthening winds my legs were making it clear that my volume has not been sufficient for the effort I was putting in. My power numbers were dropping to pathetic levels and the wind began to push me around. I felt my whole upper body tightening up to control the bike, which is counter-productive, as a relaxed body is much more efficient into the wind.image

Starting the run I had what is becoming a familiar feeling as I race more long distance races: pure relief to be off the saddle. I started running and felt awesome. All the fatigue in my legs from the bike seems to melt as I stretched out my torso and leaned into the wind. I was so relaxed I felt like my eyes close and my cheeks shake in the wind. My first couple of miles went by in 5:20 pace, and I dropped the men behind me. Unfortunately, this feeling passed, I woke up, my legs reminded me that had just put out far more effort than any of their training sessions this year, and with a tail wind on the 2nd 5k I struggled to hold the pace I had set out with. I ended up even splitting the 21k in 1:14:51, with five men passing me along the way. I crossed the line 10th and was lucky enough to be selected for drug testing. The chaperone was friendly, as has been my luck, and I made a new friend while wondering between massage, medical and anti-doping tents to recover from the race.

It was several hours later that I heard about the protest filed by some of my competitors, naming me, Potts, Bazone, Raelert, and Kung. I was confused because I didn’t believe I had done anything wrong. It did make clear why there were two SUVs right in front of Martin Jensen when he passed us 80km into the bike – he had apparently been leading the race and was passing us a second time. I remember yelling to the ref as he passed that he was drafting off the cars, and him making frustrated gestures of his own. In hindsight, the ref probably made the same wrong turn as us and was likely as confused as the rest of us.

So within minutes of getting back to my homestay I found out that I needed to find a ride to the host hotel for a hearing. It was 2:30pm at this point and the hearing was set for 3pm 20 minutes away. Giving up my long desired shower I headed to the hotel where the five of us, plus several of the guys who had noticed what went wrong were there. Going into the room Andy Potts and I expressed concern that this could turn ugly, with lots of emotion and money on the line. We were worried people would speak words they would regret. But this group was well mannered. The athletes protesting didn’t ever accuse us of malicious intent. They expressed that they too had been confused and it was luck that they had spotted some clue as to which way to go at that intersection. They admitted they had nearly gone the wrong way as well, and didn’t feel the athletes should be held at fault for the mistake. Those of us that had gone the wrong way were still confused about where, how, and why the moto with us had not informed us of the wrongdoing. We talked about it, then left for the jury to deliberate. I was told to stay at the hotel while they made a decision, but the decision never came. Hours later, at the award banquet I was finally called into a nearby tent where, just before award presentation, the group was informed that a penalty would be enforced.

By the time I made it home, around 9:30pm, I finally got my shower and then downloaded the file from my Garmin. I compared it to the course map and found that we had missed approximately 2.3km from the published map. Validated in the judge’s decision, I felt terrible for making a mistake, frustrated that the process had taken eight hours to reach a decision, and a sense of hollowness knowing that the dynamics of the race had been altered by a set of unfortunate events. At the time (in short) I was pretty upset.

Looking back, I’m really impressed with the conduct of the athletes involved. It makes me proud that with $300k on the line a group of athletes can sit in a room and politely and calmly discuss something so terrible as course cutting, without resorting to inflammatory remarks, or even peaking the kind of emotion that ruins friendships. I’m proud to be part of a professional group like this, and to know that my competitors respect my as much I respect them.

16th Place in a field of 70 world class professional men. I could make excuses about how hard it is training in Chicago and how busy I am, but in truth I love it. And if you enjoy what you do you’ll succeed. I don’t think I could have raced better in February, and I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes me. If Challenge Dubai is any indication, 2015 will be a great season.

Note: the images above are from Tri-Mag Germany – I didn’t take any during the race.

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Oct 27 2014

Q&A With Garmin

After the Lifetime Fitness Championships in Oceanside, California, I talked to the folks at Garmin about the race, andd the pressures I felt leading up to it. The interview came out better than what I could have produced in my excited but exausted post-race euphoria, so I’m reposting this interview from the Garmin Connect Blog below.

The long and short of it: I won the Toyota Triple Crown race – a 3 part, winner take all $50,000 prize between men and women. In the process I also came to a sprint finish with Cameron Dye for the Lifetime Fitness Series title, and came up second. I came home with two gigantic checks for my performance worth a total of $75,000 – my biggest triathlon payday to date. Check out the Interview:

RichCruiseFinishWe caught up with Ben Collins after his Toyota Triple Crown Series victory this weekend at Life Time Tri Oceanside to hear about how winning the first two events of the series (Life Time Tri Minneapolis and New York City Triathlon) prepared him for the final race and how he’s celebrating a successful season!

How does it feel to win the Life Time Tri Toyota Triple Crown?

I’m ecstatic! The dynamic of gutting men versus women is exciting so the Toyota has been able to bring a ton of attention to these races. Alicia Kaye had a great year and to edge her out for the title has taken months of focused training. I have never been as nervous as I was warming up for Oceanside and it was all I could do to direct all that emotion into the race. I raced as hard as I could on Sunday, but it was the months of preparation that made it possible to win the crown. I’m just so happy that it all paid off.

Walk us through how you were feeling this weekend… did you feel extra pressure leading up to the race?

Absolutely! After Minneapolis it seemed like Alicia Kaye was the clear favorite but in New York I had one of the best races of my career and reversed the standings. I was terrified going into Oceanside because while Alicia has been extremely consistent in her performances I’ve had a year mixed with great races and terrible races without really being able to predict which it would be. At high pressure races in the past I’ve made mistakes getting positioning penalties, crashing or some other stupid mistake that I cause by focusing too much on the outcome and forgetting that every step is important to get there. All this had my head spinning in the days leading up to Oceanside.

Was the possibility of winning the Triple Crown on your mind, motivating you during the race or did you need to block it out to focus?

It was absolutely on my mind but I knew that in order to catch Alicia I needed to focus on my own race and ensure that I made no mistakes. On the first turn coming out of T1 I crashed. I underestimated how slick the road was from dew and found myself sliding across the pavement on my side. Immediately I thought of the Triple Crown and told myself, "you can overcome one mistake but you’d better get your head into this and do everything else right." It was motivating in a pivotal moment.

RichCruiseBike1

Was there any particular moment when you felt certain that you’d won the Triple Crown?

I came off the bike with 4 minutes and 40 seconds to make up to Alicia – which is almost two minutes longer than in Minneapolis or New York. In that moment I thought for sure I had lost the Triple Crown but I wasn’t about to give up. At 5k into the run I had closed two minutes but that meant I was still not closing fast enough and my legs were starting to give out on the hills. In the last 800 meters of the race when I passed Alicia I thought, "this is it, you’ve got it!" But at that moment my lungs started tightening up and I went into a full-on asthma attack. Suddenly I wasn’t so sure, and until I crossed the finish line (and was dragged off to medical for an inhaler) did I truly believe that I had done it. It took every ounce of training and will power to get the job done.

Giant Check in AirportYou posted a picture on Twitter of your giant check at the airport – it must have been fun carting that around! Did it start any interesting conversations? Surely that isn’t something airport security sees very often.

The giant check is pretty wonderful. Most people think you’ve won a sweepstakes and say things like, "I wish I had won." Then you explain how you won and the expression changes form jealousy to wonder. This time was especially fun because I had the $25,000 check for placing second in the Life Time Series on top. When people asked if I really won $25,000 I would pull the second check from behind and say, "yeah, but I also won $50,000."

How do you think winning in Minneapolis and New York helped prepare you for Oceanside? Did having those wins under your belt help you feel confident coming into this weekend?

If anything it added pressure to the race. Those two races were exceptional and I knew I would have to repeat that kind of performance if I wanted to win.

How did this race differ from the previous two this year? How was it similar?

LTF_SeriesPodium

The field was different. In October you get a lot of talent from ITU and long course athletes who

 

are done with their respective championship races. I knew with these athletes there would be a much faster swim and that the run would be blazing fast.

 

At the same time, I knew Cameron Dye would take a flyer on the bike, Hunter Kemper would seek shelter in a pack, Alicia would dominate the bike and that I would need to be within a few minutes of her when I started the run. I knew who to pay attention to and I chose to ignore the athletes without a stake in the series.

How did you celebrate?

I had to get back to Chicago for class, so after a few hugs and smiles I left Oceanside. When I got home I had fresh baked cookies and ice cream waiting for me, and this weekend I plan to indulge in some of Chicago’s famous restaurants that don’t really fit into my training nutrition. It’s been a great year, but also really intense. I’m going to celebrate by taking a step away from triathlon for a bit and enjoying some of my favorite things: family, friends, urban living and the great outdoors.

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Sep 10 2014

2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championships

Published by under Cervelo,garmin,Races,Rudy Project

2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship - Mont Tremblant, Quebec, CAOn Sunday in Mont Tremblant, a ski resort town in Quebec, I raced the Ironman 70.3 World Championships. I placed 11th and was the first American finisher in 3:50:10. This was my first year committing to this distance I learned a ton through the experience.

Before I arrived in Mont Tremblant I made a point to ask several more experienced pros for advice on what tactics to use in a field of 50 talented men. The two competing philosophies were 1) go early and go hard and 2) wait until half way through the bike, then go really really hard. Both camps of advisors agreed that when I go, I should plan to spend at least 10 minutes trying to break the spirits of people trying to hang on.

clip_image001[4][clearly this particular advisor didn’t agree with my eventual choice of tactics]

The problem was, the men who were riding behind me were strong willed and too stubborn to let me get away on the bike. I tried the early tactic, I tried the middle tactic and I tried the late tactic, but when I hit the run I was in a pack of 17 men and my running legs were spent from the efforts. I ran a 1:18 off of a 2:05 bike split and a 22 minute swim. And it was a strange type of fatigue too, because it wasn’t that my legs were buckling, it was that I just couldn’t run any faster. I started off feeling pretty good. Running about 400 meters, to the top of the first hill, with the leaders. But when we started downhill my legs couldn’t keep up the pace and watched guys like Javier Gomez, Tim Don, and Jan Frodeno (the eventual podium) run away from me at an alarming pace. I took out my first 5 kilometers in about 17:30, which is the pace I trained for, but despite additional effort on my part, my pace only slowed.2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship - Mont Tremblant, Quebec, CA

In short, I put everything I had into the course. I raced as hard as I could, and finished 11th against what is being touted as the most talented 70.3 World Championship field in the races history. It was one of the most challenging races of my career, and I did my best.

Out on the bike it was an interesting dynamic. Basically Jan Frodeno, Josh Amberger and myself were the only three athletes to lead the race for the first 70 kilometers, at which point Joe Gambles took a few turns in an attempt to split the pack apart.

Despite our best efforts, it was impossible to get away from the athletes who were sitting behind us. Part of this is due to the talent of the group. It may be that some of the great runners are also great cyclists, but since they know they can run faster than the athletes around them they need only to stay close on the bike and have no desire to set the pace. It is also true that a race like this provides camera crews and  large bunches of athletes that move lots of air, such that to stay with a leader requires significantly less effort than to be the leader. And I, nor Josh, nor Jan – despite our best efforts – were strong enough to overcome that advantage and separate ourselves from the 15 athletes behind us. Still, I’m glad I tried. I put myself out there to try to get away and win the race. It didn’t pay off, but I’m more proud of 11th place with a failed attempt to win than with a 6th or 7th without the risk.2014 Ironman 70.3 World Championship - Mont Tremblant, Quebec, CA

A short side note, from an insider’s perspective it was pretty clear that Frodeno (above, left) was the strongest and best prepared man on the day. I really regretted seeing him place second. I estimate he put 10% more effort into the bike portion of the race than anyone outside the top 3 riders and he still ran a 1:10 on an extremely challenging course. But I guess that’s racing.

Next time I might make a smarter bet, but that’s what experience is all about.

 

 

A big thanks to Paul Phillips for letting me use these pictures.

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Sep 04 2014

Transamerica Chicago Triathlon 2014 Race Recap

Published by under Races

 

20140824_055353_AndroidThis year’s Chicago Triathlon fell on my second anniversary of moving to Chicago. As such, I felt like I should go ahead an win the race. I got sick of saying “I was second at the Chicago Triathlon” last year, and it just seemed right that I should be able to take advantage of a home-field advantage. It didn’t work out that way (expectations in racing will almost certainly work against you) – I ended up third against a tough field, despite great swim/bike splits. Maybe not my lofty goal, but damn, third is awesome!

The swim was really rough. Monroe Harbor had waves rolling in and against the wall, where we swim, it looked like a washing machine. Throughout the swim I was being thrown on top of people and had people being thrown on top of me. At one point I had a bit of an altercation with another athlete – I’m sure it was a misunderstanding, but after landing on him he turned and grabbed my shoulder and pushed me under. That kind of roughness is rare in the pro field because it slows down everyone involved. I managed to come out of the water in third behind Hunter Kemper and Cameron Dye. The long transition allowed Hunter and Cam to get a little ahead of me (my run speed from the water is not stellar this year), and I started the bike with a sizeable gap to Hunter and Cam with a bunch of other guys with me. Working hard I kept Cam in my sights, but was never able to close the gap to him. Around 16 miles into the race Greg Bennett passed me and he did close the gap to Cam. I hovered about 5 to 10 seconds back for the remainder of the ride and imagedismounted right behind the two of them with a big gap to Hunter and Tim O’Donnell.

A short aside to mention the changes to the Chicago Triathlon bike course: This year instead of two laps up and down Lakeshore Drive, we exited the lakefront after one lap and then did an out and back on Lower Wacker (lower refers to the fact that it is below the surface street, so we were underground and covered), then another out-and-back on the “busway”, which is a road that is normally closed to the public, used by the transit authority and charter buses. I loved the new route. It was really different from any other race course, it added some technical aspects to the race, and gave an experience that is impossible to have on my own. Plus, because there is only one lap, it allowed the pros to go off at 6am instead of 12pm, like we have in the past.

After New York I was pretty confident in my run fitness, and I expected to take control of the race when we got out feet back on the pavement.

Again, expectations in racing are never a good thing. Hoping is okay, but once those hopes turn to expectations you close off your minds ability to adapt to change. When I started running my legs were jelly. I had no pop in my stride and I felt all the fatigue of the work I put in over the past few months. At that point I gave up. I didn’t feel like I expected, and I wasn’t prepared to respond to the reality of the situation. This seems ridiculous. How hard can it be to just say, “run as fast as you can” even if you don’t feel as fast as you expected? But in the middle of a race, when your adrenaline is high and your brain is starved for oxygen, the answer is “it’s near impossible.” I ran poorly. Cameron and Greg grew smaller and I started thinking about external things, like my race next week and whether my dog would be at the finish line.

At four miles Hunter passed me and even though my legs were feeling better I couldn’t hang with him for more than a few strides. I ran it in for a 34:30 run split that is my slowest on the course.

Now, if you were paying attention I mentioned three people ahead of me, yet I finished third. Cameron ran off course, staying on the lakeshore north past the museum campus rather than crossing under Lakeshore Drive to the finish on Columbus. It was an unfortunate mistake, and by the time he realized it he was in sixth place for the finish.

20140824_111533_AndroidOf note in the results is the fourth place finish by Jason West, a first year pro, and as far I know, his first time finishing in the top of this type of race. I’m looking forward to seeing his name crop up more in the next couple years.

For my third time racing Chicago I’m pretty happy to be back on the podium. It was a tough race, and while I made some mistakes I still managed to do well. I look forward to trying for the title again next year, but I will know to control my expectations.

 

 

 

 

Sunset Before The Chicago Triathlon

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Aug 20 2014

The Breakfast Strawberry Shortcake in 10 minutes or less

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It’s been over a year now since I stopped making oatmeal every morning for breakfast. It changed when Abby came home one day and said she wanted to try making a “breakfast cookie” from a recipe she found on the internet. She boasted that it was Gluten-Free, and cooked in 3 minutes in the microwave, and came out like a giant cookie, only without any sugar added.

To make what you see above, skip to the recipe about half way down.

That recipe was pretty simple. mix into a microwave safe bowl an egg, half a banana, 2 Tbps ground flax, 2tbsp almond flour and 1 tbsp buckwheat flour, add 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp vanilla, mix it all into a thick paste, add chocolate chips or berries or raisins or whatever you want in it, microwave for 3 minutes and enjoy.

Easy.

And I followed that recipe, more or less, for about a year – changing the types of flour (quinoa, buckwheat, oat – all of which I can make myself using the Vitamix) – but pretty much sticking to the goal of creating a cookie.

Then I found myself at the Gatorade headquarters North of Chicago, and while I’d eaten this massive breakfast cookie before the 2hr drive, I was tested with blood glucose around 90 (pretty low). Since this is exactly the protocol I was following before a triathlon, it was clear that I was not getting enough carbohydrate before my races and I was starting off on an empty tank.

This is the analysis Gatorade did on my breakfast cookie (As you can see, my recipe had changed dramatically, including coconut flour, oats, a whole banana, even the occasional cocoa powder to turn it into a brownie):

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They told me which of my three standard recipes was best in terms of reducing fat and fiber, increasing carbohydrate, and then recommended a fourth recipe that improved the nutrition stats from the perspective of pre-competition or pre-hard training (the other three are better if you’re getting ready for a normal day and want a breakfast that stays with you for hours without spiking your blood sugar).

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The apple butter can actually replace the banana entirely, but that’s not the point here, they wanted to add sugar without adding fiber.

What I noticed is that when I took out some of the harder flours and used more brown rice or oat flour, and when the mixture was more liquid when I put it in the microwave I ended up with a much fluffier cookie. Almost approaching cake.

I started experimenting with more liquid, and reintroducing the baking powder (I was lazy and stopped adding it because I really couldn’t tell the difference in the cookies).

What I found is that brown rice and flax, together in roughly equal portions, along with enough liquid to achieve a cake-batter like texture before microwaving will produce a bready, even… cakelike result. Add cocoa powder and you can make chocolate cake. Add some quinoa and it’ll be like a multigrain muffin.

Next up: the recipe for 10 minute Strawberry Short Breakfast Cake

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Aug 07 2014

Panasonic New York City Triathlon 2014 Champion

Male Winner - Ben CollinsSunday I won the Panasonic New York City Triathlon, the fourth race in the Lifetime Fitness Series and my second win out of the four races. I’m really starting to hit my stride this season, and I’m really excited for the next few competitions.

Rounding out the podium were two awesome runners, Kaleb VanOrt and Chris Foster. The way the race played out it was an intense runner’s race, and I’m actually surprised I was able to hold off such a talented group of guys.

The Equalizer and the Toyota Triple Crown

In addition to helping me move up in the Lifetime Fitness Series, the New York City Triathlon was also the second in the three-part Toyota Triple Crown. For the Triple Crown races the men start behind the women by a predetermined handicap based on who is racing, the historical time gaps between those competitors, and the historical time differences between men and women at that race. For Minneapolis three weeks ago the time gap was 10 minutes and 2 seconds. Alicia finished 19 seconds ahead of me. This time the gap was 10:42, but I had one of the best races of my 775034-1002-0029scareer and finished 45 seconds ahead of her, putting the time difference between us going into the final race at 25 seconds and change.

Going into the race I thought the handicap was set too high. It was 40 seconds longer than Minneapolis with a race where the course records for men and women are both five minutes faster, so less time to make up more time.

Looking back at the race, Alicia ran really well. Had I put up a run like I normally have at this race I would have been a minute behind Alicia at the finish and out of contention for the Triple Crown. It took an extraordinary performance to catch her, and the fact that I was able to put time on her has nothing to do with the handicap, and more to do with luck and the kind of day that rarely happens in the sport.

The last race will be Oceanside, where Alicia beat me by three minutes last year. So all I need is to be 2:35 faster than a year ago, plus any improvements she makes from a year ago – it’s going to be tough, but the winner gets $50,000 from Toyota so I’ll have a little extra motivation on my trainer this fall. From the results of New York and Minneapolis, 25 seconds is a blink and is highly subject to how the Lifetime Crew sets the equalizer. What we do know is that it will be an exciting race.

Race Recap:

This was my fourth year at NYC Triathlon, and my second time setting a course record. It helped that the “slack tide” featured a ripping current in the Hudson, meaning our 1500 meter swim was just over eleven minutes long (not, however, even close to the course record held by Greg Bennett of 9:40). But even if you adjust the swim to a more typical 13:30 seen on this course in previous years, my finishing time of 1:43:25 still blows away the course record. It’s about five minutes faster than the record I set in 2011, and still a couple minutes faster than the record Jordan Jones set in 2012 (when the current was similar to this year).

20140803_050356_AndroidWhat helped is that I rode a 57:05 bike split, over 30 seconds faster than my previous course best of 57:40. Perhaps we can say the 35 seconds came from my switch to the P5 from the Cervelo P3 I was riding in then, or the reduced tire resistance due to wet pavement – either way my time is on par or better than my pervious best fitness in New York. In 2011 rode a minute slower when I won NYC and a month later at Hy-Vee I won all four bike primes and held on for the first lap of the run ( with a broken foot) to earn a fifth prime before Greg Bennett finally caught me and took over for the win. I’d say things are looking good for Championship Season.

What’s better, is that on a run course that is exactly the same length every year (you can’t really make Central Park smaller), I ran a personal best 10k of 31:40 to hold off Keleb VanOrt’s race best 30:13 (which may be a run course record).

If you can’t tell, I’m stoked about how the race went. I timed it to be a final test race before my peak training cycle leading into the Chicago, Hy-Vee, 70.3 Worlds triple that starts in three weeks, and it definitely gives me confidence to be able to compare my splits to previous years and see so much improvement.

One major bummer I will mention was the bad luck Cameron Dye experienced on the bike. We started side-by-side on the 40k course, and Cameron took over the lead early, as he like to do. Within five minutes, however, he flatted out. I thought he’d likely get some help fixing the flat from the roving mechanics, but it turns out they were offering Tubes but no air or pitstop. Cam was riding tubulars (as was I) and his race was over within 20 minutes of the starting gun. I hate what-ifs after races, and knowing that Cam is also racing incredibly well this year makes me wonder what could have happened if we’d been able to race to the finish together. It certainly would have been exciting!IMG_1371

Next Up:

This weekend you will find me in Milwaukee at the Super-Sprint National Championships It’ll be a pretty exciting race, so if you’re there for USAT Age Group Nationals, please stick around and watch. With the way the course is set up, you’ll see us come by the grandstands about 14 times in 50 minutes.

Chicago Triathlon is the fifth installment of the Lifetime Triathlon Series on August 24th and it starts my three-in-a-row race set to Worlds. August 31st is Hy-Vee US Championships and September 7th is the 70.3 World Championships. I’m both excited and nervous as hell!

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Jul 15 2014

Lifetime Fitness Triathlon Minneapolis

14465636249_c4d260413b_oSaturday I won the Lifetime Fitness Triathlon in Minneapolis. When I started racing professionally, Lifetime was the most prestigious race in Olympic Distance non-drafting, and it has been a dream of mine to be able to put a victory from that race on my resume. The fact that it still draws one of the most competitive fields, and that I won against three of the race’s past champions makes the victory that much sweeter.

What I didn’t win, however, were the races within the race. I had the fourth fastest swim, the second fastest bike and the third fastest run splits. I also lost the equalizer by 19 seconds.

The equalizer I’m referring to is the men vs women race for the Toyota Triple Crown. This is how it works: at Minneapolis, New York City and Oceanside the women will start ahead of the men by a predicted handicap (based on prior year’s results). The men try to catch the women by the end of the race and the man or woman with the fastest combined time (including handicaps for the men) for the three races wins the Triple Crown prize of $50,000. In Minneapolis I started 10 minutes 1 second behind the women and finished 19 seconds behind Alicia Kaye. Meaning for me to win I need to hold off the other men and be 19 seconds faster than Alicia in the next two Triple Crown Races on August 3rd and October 26th.

Here’s how it played out.aLTFM0124

The race takes place south of Minneapolis at Lake Nakomis. I exited the water this year right with Cameron Dye, Hunter Kemper and Kevin Everett. Through transition I lost some time, but in the first couple of miles I managed to pull even with Cameron. I wanted badly to take the lead, but it seemed like Cam was sprinting to keep my from passing him. It’s not the first time I’ve had that experience and I finally gave up and settle into my own pace. Cam pulled away from me slowly and by the last 10km of the bike I could no longer see him. Hunter fell back into a pack and ended up a couple of minutes down along with Greg Bennett, Kevin and some other guys. Chris Foster had a bad swim but moved up on the bike and started running within striking distance of the podium.

14465859387_6ca2d9a531_oI started the run with no knowledge of my distance from Cam, and it wasn’t until the first mile marker, with an out-and-back section over a bridge, that I saw I was about 40 seconds back. When I saw him he was passing Sarah McClarty, who was the second female at the time, and I started to wonder if Alicia could be close as well (out of transition I was told 3:55 to Alicia). I passed Sarah at mile 2, and by then I could see Cam up the road. I focused on breathing and turnover and by the 3rd mile I was within striking distance of Cam.

At the half way point I was told that Alicia was two minutes ahead, then moments later another spectator said 2:25. That’s a big difference! One means I had closed half the gap, the other time means I was still going to lose by a lot!

At mile 4 I passed Cam, and as he tried to stay with me I told myself to keep steady, knowing that a surge now could slow me down and I still needed to catch Alicia. At the bridge I thought I saw Alicia go by, but it may have been a mirage. I was really hurting as I headed into the last two miles and I could feel my lungs tightening up. Cam had fallen back and I knew it was now my race to lose. I wanted to catch Alicia, but I was legitimately worried that if I ran faster now I might now make it to the finish. It wasn’t until the six mile marker that I finally saw Alicia, but it was too late. She was entering the finish chute and I was too far back to catch her.

I crossed the line with a smile, won the men’s race, but still felt that sting of loss for failing to catch Alicia. Maybe in New York.

 

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Thanks to TriJuice.com and Nick Morales for posting some great pictures from the race.

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Jul 15 2014

Syracuse 70.3

Published by under Races

I finished 3rd in Syracuse today behind Andrew Yoder and Lionel Sanders.

It played out like this: Barrett Brandon took out the swim, and at 700 meters I took the reins and finished up the 1.2 mile, exiting the water first in 23:14 with Jimmy Seear, Barrett and John Polson right with me.

Andrew Yoder was 10 seconds back out of the water and he was with us on the bike by the time everyone got their feet strapped into the shoes. I thought there was a train of guys, but after the first hill, called “prison hill” because it goes by a prison, it was just Yoder, Seear and myself. I led for a while, Yoder led for a bit, then I led again. Around 5 or 8 miles in Yoder came around me with a mission and dropped both Jimmy and myself real quick. I kind of expected this going into the race. If you look at the race profile, the first 15 miles are all uphill, and that’s where Yoder really shines. I watched him ride at the Columbia Triathlon a couple years ago and I don’t know any other triathlete that can hit the hills like he can.

So Yoder took off and Jimmy and I rode together until mile 28 when Jordon Rapp caught up to us form almost 90 seconds of swim deficit. Jimmy hadn’t taken a pull the entire ride, though I knew this was his third 70.3 in as many weekends. He’s not really the type to sit in and mooch if he’s capable of riding faster so I figured he was just really hurting. Anyway, I was pretty confident that I would have a good run so I wasn’t took concerned with him hitching a ride 12 meters back.

At mile 46 I had been hitching a 12 meter ride off Rapp for quite a while, with Jimmy still right behind me. I passed Jordan and told him that Yoder was probably 5 minutes so we should work the last 10 miles and try to close some of that gap. I went ahead to take a pull but as we crested a hill, probably less than 30 seconds later, Jordan came back by me. I stopped pedaling, but I guess I should have braked to get out of the 12 meter draft zone faster. I thought I got out in time, but the ref didn’t think so. You only have 25 seconds to drop 12 meters back when you’re overtaken. With the downhill, even without pedaling, the ref said I was a few seconds over that and he gave me a red card, meaning I would have to spend four minutes in the penalty tent at mile 56 (right before T2).

Knowing I would be spending four minutes standing around staring at a stop watch, I took off and finished up the last seven or so miles going harder and putting almost 30 seconds on Rapp and Seear. I pulled into the penalty tent with 2:12:00 on my clock, which includes part of the first transition, so I would have been right around 2:12 or slightly under without the penalty. Instead I was 2:16, and started the run 7:30 behind Yoder and 3:30 behind Rapp and Seear and 2:00 behind Cody Beals and Paul Ambrose. So I was sixth with a lot of real estate to foreclose on if I wanted to get myself back into the race.

But you know, shit happens, and life is too short for battles of his word against mine. If the worst thing that happens this week is that a ref calls a penalty on me for something I may have very well been guilty of, that’s still a pretty good week. And I’ll be more careful next time.

And besides, I’ve been running quite well. As I ran out of T2 and someone on the sidelines told me it was 7:30 to Yoder I thought, “Andrew rode really hard, and not many people have run under 1:20 on this course. If I can run a 1:14 and he runs a 1:21, I could still win this thing.”

I took off feeling pretty good after my four minute rest interval. I ran the first six miles in 34 minutes, which was right on pace for my 1:14 goal.

The course in Syracuse is ridiculously hard. The first two miles are okay, other than a cross country section around a grassy knoll. At two miles we turn off the main road and drop down quickly into a neighborhood. The hill is short, but steep enough to fire up the quads. Then there’s the first aid station, and about a quarter mile later the pavement reaches for the sky. The climb is “wicked steep”, in the words of my gracious homestay. It kicks up for a couple hundred meters, then turns and keeps kicking for another half a mile. I finally saw Yoder after the first kicker, and at that point he was still about seven minutes ahead. Jimmy and Jordan were also way up the road, though Jimmy had dropped Jordan. The next two, Cody and Paul, were looking a lot worse and it looked like I was closing ground fast.

I passed Paul Ambrose around mile 5, once we had dropped back down the hill and reached the main road again. Jordan started blowing up on that seconds stretch back to transition and after the first loop I was on his heels, passing him around mile seven to move into fourth. I passed Cody Beals at mile 8 and earned myself one of the lead cyclists that were supporting the top three men and women.

Hitting the hill a second time at mile 9 I had to tell myself to pace the hill. As much as I wanted to keep closing on Jimmy and Andrew I knew that they were a long way off and I would need to have some strength left to get through those last 3 miles down the hill and back to the finish line.

At the top of the hill I could see that Jimmy was still a couple minutes ahead and Andrew was now four minutes, but shortly after they passed me (they were going down, me up) I heard a pitter patter of feet and Lionel Sanders came by me at a pace that I had no chance of matching. He was on his way to running a 1:09:55 half marathon on a course were nobody has run below 1:14 before.

Now back in fourth position, I just kept the pain flowing and hoped that nobody else could catch me. I lost my lead cyclist, but I could see Lionel’s cyclist up the road the whole way back. Then at mile 11 it looked like the orange t-shirt wearing cyclist was getting closer again. I dug deep and realized it was Jimmy coming back to me looking like the three-in-a-row 70.3 challenge was hitting him in the face like a strong Chicago wind. I caught him at mile 12 and he told me to “go get him”, referring to Sanders, who was already a minute ahead of me after two miles (my split for those two miles was 10:40, with the downhill, meaning he ran more like 9:40, or a 4:50 min/mile average pace from mile 10 to mile 12). I ran it in for third, with Jimmy holding off Cody and finishing fourth.

I did run my goal, splitting 1:14:19 for  a final time of 3:56:35, 2:42 behind Yoder (3:53:53) and 52 seconds behind Sanders (3:55:43). It was Yoder’s first 70.3 win, and I’m really impressed by his performance. We were riding the same bike, so I guess I have no excuse for being four minutes slower than him on the bike (plus another four for being an idiot and getting myself a penalty).

Overall, a pretty good day. A third podium in three races, and the points should secure my start at both 70.3 Worlds and Hy-Vee 5150 championships.

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Jun 12 2014

5150 Mont Tremblant Race Report

10271201_728087510583663_4483692194874885408_oSunday was the 5150 Mont Tremblant Triathlon – the first of four professional triathlon races held in Mont Tremblant, Quebec this summer, which culminate in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships on September 7th. I won the race decisively, posting the fastest split for each of the three disciplines and finishing in 1 hour, 55 minutes and 8 seconds for the 1.5km swim, 40km bike and 10km run. (full results here)

It was a gorgeous day in the small ski town north of Montreal. The temperatures at the start line were around 10 degrees (Celsius) but rose to 27 by the finish line, with clear skies and a crisp mountain breeze.

I write about the conditions so blissfully because the spirit of people in Mont Tremblant really captured my attention. There were large crowds and eager volunteers throughout the race, and because it is a resort town, the area was set up perfectly to handle a large weekend crowd. It was a wonderful race experience.

10329669_728077673917980_1275295565887527976_oBack to the race.

I led a small break out of the swim, and after a few kilometers into the bike I began pushing the pace to find myself alone at the first of three turnarounds. I rode my Metron 55 clinchers with 25mm open tubular Vittoria tires. With perfect road conditions I pumped the tires to 120psi and had a perfect combination of handling and low rolling resistance. It was a hilly course, and the light-weight carbon clinchers were excellent on both the climbs and the descents (where I broke 80 kilometers per hour (50mph) several times during the race).

I started the run with a lead of about 90 seconds, but after posting the fastest run split I finished with a lead of two and a half minutes over second place, Rudy Von Berg of Boulder, CO.

This was the first race in my career (pro or amateur) where I’ve posted the fastest split in all three disciplines. But there’s also one part of the race that I feel terrible about. With 2km to go I rear-ended another athlete and we both tumbled to the pavement with our bikes. 10371331_728072503918497_4066488518758751887_oIt was a long fast downhill into a right turn that led to a steep hill. I came around the turn trying to hold my momentum to get up the hill and in front of me was an age group athlete on his first lap. As I came up he must have moved to pass the cyclist in front of him and I hadn’t given much space. I was going so much faster that I couldn’t react in time and I collided with him. Luckily we both stood up and seemed okay. In my panic I just muttered “oh my… sorry… oh…” and then ran to the top of the hill with my bike, hopped back on and kept riding. All that was going through my head at that moment was “I’ve worked too hard already today to give up the win like this”.  A few minutes later I realized that even though I saw the guy walking I hadn’t even looked at his number and had no way to find out if he was in fact okay. I feel terrible that this happened. Even though the pro field often talks about the risks of multiple lap races, with the pros having to pass age-group athletes, and even though I can name several other pros that have had much worse collisions in these situations, I have always dismissed it as an abstract fear, not an ever present danger.

Perhaps the adrenaline helped me run faster, but if I could go back I would have spent some of that 2min 30sec lead making sure that the man I collided with was truly okay.

10293597_728070807252000_6004108132075651951_oOverall, it feels great to have my first win of the 2014 season, and the first “best split trio” of my triathlon career – and especially to accomplish this on the same roads where I’ll be racing the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in September. Next up is the Syracuse 70.3 on June 22nd.

[A huge thanks to Ironman Mont Tremblant for a great event, and for posting all these pictures on their facebook page!]

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