Aug 20 2014

The Breakfast Strawberry Shortcake in 10 minutes or less


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.


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):


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).


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.



Thanks to 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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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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