Jen and I left the Quad Cities at 2:45 and drove to Chicago where we boarded the Southwest plane after paying $50.00 to ship my bike. This rate is much cheeper than any other airline I could find and was the reason we chose Southwest. Many of the airlines now charge $150.00 or more each way to ship bikes. Our flight arrived in Austin, TX around 9:30 on Friday evening and we got our rental car and headed for the hotel. This was quite an adventure as we had left our GPS unit in our car at Midway Airport in Chicago. We were going to rent one but of course they were sold out so we took the small, less than detailed map they gave to us. After driving for 20 minutes we spotted our Super 8 hotel and then realized we had no idea how to get off the interstate to actually get to the hotel. This was quite an adventure as we were not used to the Texas interstate system that uses frontage roads along the interstate and if you miss your exit you have to drive 3 miles or more past the exit to the next one, then do a u-turn and drive back the other way. We tried for 45 minutes to find the way to the hotel that we litterally could have hit with a baseball throw from the window of the car. Eventually we pulled in to the Super 8, got the bike out of the car which was a tough process since we had a mid-size rental car (the largest they had available). I got to the front desk and of course they did not have our reservation. They informed me that there were 3 Super 8's along the interstate and we must be at a different one...GREAT! We repacked the bike into the car and spent another 30 minutes finding the correct Super 8. Finally at about 12:30 we were in our correct hotel and I was ready to hit the bed for a good night's rest.
On Saturday we drove to the Travis Expo Center and I picked up my packet. We then listened to the professional race panel of speakers and I went for a short swim of about 1,000 yards in the lake. It was cool, but not too bad, probably around 70 degrees. I made sure to have all my nutrition lined up and ready to go for the race. On Saturday evening Jen and I found a restaurant that was showing the Iowa/Michigan State football game. We joined a group of about 30 U of Iowa alumni to watch the Hawkeyes. The game was one of the most boring I've seen until the last 2 minutes...it ended as one of the most exciting games I've ever seen as Iowa remained undefeated on a last second touchdown. It was great meeting some big Hawks fans in Austin and celebrating a huge win. That was just what I needed to get me fired up to race on Sunday morning.
On Sunday I woke up at 5:00 a.m. to eat my favorite pre-race breakfast...a Belgium waffle covered in peanut butter and honey. I've used this one for many big training rides on Saturdays and a couple of my longer races. I packed all the ingredients and even brought my own waffle maker from home to make sure I had everything I needed. At 5:45 Jen and I headed for the race site. I had checked my bike in on Saturday and everything was ready to go. I decided to race the 808 Zipp front wheel with the 1080 Zipp rear wheel since it was pretty windy on race morning. I love this wheelset and had raced it three times before this one in Austin. I had won all three of those races so leaving the disc wheel in the car didn't worry me. Upon arrival at transition it was still dark and as you can see from this picture the guy with the head lamp was able to create enough light for everyone to find their bikes. My wave was scheduled to go in as the 11th wave, beginning at 8:15. The professional wave was first to enter at 7:30. I was out warming up and missed the guy who parachuted in with the flag during the national anthem but Jen caught some pictures for me. After a mile warm up and some speed drills and strides I put the wetsuit on and headed to the beach for my start. I was not able to get a swim warm-up in which didn't bother me too much since I couldn't warm up in the water before Chicago either.
SWIM: My wave had about 200 people in it and my plan was to get out hard breathing less than normal so I could swim a little faster to get away from the mess. When the gun sounded I took off fast from the far left position so I could site the other swimmers to my right. After about 300 yards I settled in behind a guy and drafted well for about 300 yards. I was feeling good and could tell his pace was slowing down so I sited another pack about 20 yards ahead and pulled out from my drafting spot and worked hard to move up to the next pack. It took me about 5 minutes to catch them but once I did I stayed right on their feet and let them pull me in the rest of the way. It was by far the best strategic swim I had all year and I was feeling good about the swim. I exited the water 11th in my wave and 100th overall for the swim split. It was 29:32. This wasn't a great time but I knew the swim was accurate length compared to the short swim in the last 1/2 Ironman I did in Racine, WI earlier in the summer. I knew I would have trouble breaking 30 minutes when I saw the first pros exiting around 23-24 minutes. On my run up to my bike I was getting some small cramps in my hamstrings and knew that meant I would need to take in lots of fluids on the bike or it could be a long day. I was in and out of transition pretty quickly and found the road to be very crowded with riders from the earlier waves.
BIKE: On the bike I began passing riders very quickly. I'm estimating there were over 1,500 athletes out on the course already when I began so that would mean it would be very crowded for most of the ride. I was making sure to call out when I passed groups of people so I could avoid any potential dangers. The course had lots of rolling hills, none which were killer. It also had a ton of turns so we were constantly going into the wind and then having the wind with us. I set my computer to average speed and hoped to keep it at or above 24 miles per hour. I told Jen later that during the first 20 miles on the bike I was being a little bit of a loony tune. I was trying to keep my mind off the race due to the length of the 1/2 Ironman. I was giving lots of enthusiastic positive words to riders I passed with a big smile on my face. Things were feeling great and the riding was not hard. I was passing people by the dozens and having a blast riding the course. I got plenty of crazy looks as I would look for people with names on their race bib so I could encourage them by name as I passed them. The fun continued in this manner until about mile 25 when a guy went blazing by me...now it was time for the fun to end and the pain to begin. I have only been passed on the bike twice this year...normally the faster riders are already ahead of me by the time I get out of the water. When this guy went by me for some reason I thought he had probably started in the wave 3 minutes behind me and I knew I couldn't give up too much time before the run. I let him get about 10 meters ahead of me and I went with him for about 2 miles before I realized I was way over my threshold pace. I knew I would have to back it down or I would risk serious problems later on. I let him go and settled back into my own pace much more tired. I made sure to eat and drink lots on the bike. I think I put down over 100 ounces of fluid, 5 Hammer Gels, and a bunch of food that I had loaded into my Bento Box. Jen had told me I was crazy for carrying a buffet on my bike. I wanted to make sure I didn't bonk so I ate and ate and ate...The last 10 miles got a bit long and I was ready to begin the run. My average speed was at 24.2 which I felt pretty good about as I entered transition but I didn't know how far ahead the guy who passed me was. When I entered transition there were no bikes around mine at all. I knew I was having a good race and thought to myself that I must be in the top 3...my goal for turning pro next year. I left the bike and headed out on the run putting on my Garmin GPS watch and sunglasses.
RUN: Out of transition I took a cup of water and dumped it on my head. I grabbed another and dumped it also...not expecting to be dumping a cup full of Coke on my head... I took off at what felt like a pretty conservative pace but when I glanced down at the mile mark I was 5:42. It didn't feel very hard so I thought I would stick to that pace. My running workouts lately have been my best ever and it had left me with tons of confidence heading into this race. At the 3 mile mark I was averaging 5:45 pace but the problems began there...the buffet I had eaten during the bike was not settling well in my stomach. It was becoming more painful to breath and running fast only made it worse. My stomach was giving me sharp pains with each breath. I began to get seriously worried about this. Here I was in my peak race of the season hoping to be in the top 3 and all of a sudden I was running 6:30 pace and it was killing me to breath. For the first time all season I was having serious problems in a race. I was debating my options...continue to slow down...stop and stretch my diaphram...stop and walk for a bit...I didn't know what to do. When I saw Jen at the end of my first lap (it was a 3 loop course) I said I was cramping pretty bad and she gave me the "suck it up" look. I felt like my stomach was being pressed in by my jersey and in an Ironman event you can't take the jersey off so I decided to pull the bottom of the jersey up to let my stomach hang out. Although I'm sure I didn't win any "cool looks" awards for this move it seemed to help almost instantly. The difficulty I was having in breathing began to subside and by mile 5 I was feeling almost no pain again. My average pace had slowed to 6:02. I was thinking if I could average 6:10-6:15 I would still have a shot to be top 3. I settled back into a comfortable pace and was still passing the crowds of people who were beginning their first loop of the run. At mile 7 I passed the guy who had passed me on the bike. I recognized his long socks and I thought I needed to find a way to put 3 minutes on him over the last 6 miles...30 seconds per mile. I wasn't sure I could do it because he looked pretty good when I passed him. When I came through my second loop I knew I feeling much better than after my first loop. My average pace was still at 6:02. I began running harder knowing I needed to make up time. At mile 11 I got a time check on the guy with long socks and I was 2:30 ahead of him. I knew if I had a solid finish I could get the 3:00 I needed on him. The last 2 miles I pushed hard and tried to keep from running into the hundreds or thousands of people on the narrow run course. My feet were burning bad with lots of blisters and I wanted badly to finish the race so I could take my shoes off. In the last 1/2 mile I got a huge cramp in my hamstring. I had to back off a little bit. I thought about my friend Dave Terronez who did many Sunday long runs with me. I ran a 1/2 marathon with Dave about a month ago and had to witness a series of terrible hamstring cramps he suffered through in the last mile. I didn't want that to happen to me so I shortened my stride a little and tried to keep the pace as high as possible without getting another one of those awfully painful cramps. When I entered the arena to finish I was hoping to run straight into the chute but found out we had to run a loop around the arena. Although it was only a hundred yards or so I wanted to be done. When I was running the loop the announcer called my name and said I was an amateur heading for a podium finish. I crossed the line excited by the race time...4:09:24. I thought that the race was solid enough for a top 3 finish but really hoped for a win. I was hurting bad with cramping but when they offered me a wheelchair I had to decline. I could not let myself be wheeled away in a chair. I waited for the guy with the long socks and he came in about 5:00 after me. He came up and congratulated me. I asked what wave he was in and he said it was the same one I had been in. I congratulated him on an outstanding bike split and in a language I could barely understand he said he was a professional cyclist from Canada for Team Cofidis (which I knew raced in the Tour de France). He said, "I race Lance Armstrong". At that point I was pretty pleased that I had actually stuck with the guy for 2 miles. As it turned out he had a faster bike split than any of the professional riders. My run time for the 1/2 marathon was 1:17:00. It was the 20th best run split including the professionals and was the top run split from my wave. As I later found out in looking at results I was down to the 2nd place finisher by 4:00 heading to the run and needed all of the 4:30 gap I put on him in the run.
When the results were posted I found out I had placed 18th overall behind 17 professionals which meant I was the overall amateur champion. Complete results with splits can be found at http://www.mychiptime.com/searchevent.php?id=4104 (the pro athletes are all numbered under 100) Everything I had worked for over the past year...all the miles, swim yards, weight lifting session, plyometrics, core work, lunges, and drills had paid off. I used to ask my athletes when I coached, "Was it worth it?"...they knew exactly what I meant. I ask myself the same question, "Was it worth it?" Without any doubt in my mind, "Hell Yes!" It was worth every minute of the countless hours of training. From the lonely hours spent on the trainer at night to the runs under the moon, to the times I was lifting weights when most people were sleeping, it was worth every second of the training. More than the pro license, the overall amateur title, the improvements in races, the journey was worth more than I can describe. This journey has take me from 202 lbs. to 161. This journey has given me confidence that all things are possible if you have a dream and are willing to pay the price to reach it. I paid the price. Next year I will be racing against some of the best triathletes in the world when I enter professional races. I don't ever envision myself being a pro that makes lots of money in this sport but I do believe I can compete with them and belong in the same race with them. I have so much more improvement to make and it will begin in 3 weeks.
Jen and I enjoyed the rest of our trip in Austin by visiting Lance Armstrong's bike shop, checking out the University of Texas track and football fields and the trophy shrine that go along with it. I even enjoyed a huge Oreo shake from Jack in the Box, a fastfood joint in the south that my grandparents took me to when I was younger and we would visit them in Texas. This trip was paid for with some money my grandma left me when she passed away this summer. I know grandma was smiling down on me deep in the heart of Texas where she used to spend every winter. This performance couldn't have been possible without Jen traveling with me. It was the best mini-vacation I've ever had and she helped make the entire trip a whirlwind of fun. Healthy Habits, Zipp, and Kaminski Pain and Performance Care believed in me when I went to them with this crazy idea about wanting to be a professional triathlete last year. Thanks to all of them for the enduring support and help in making this dream a reality. Next week's post will be devoted to thanking all the wonderful support I've had. The only downside of the trip was that when we boarded our plane I watched from my window seat as they tossed my Zipp bag of wheels onto the plane and sure enough...when we arrived in Chicago my Zipp disc was cracked in two spots and had 3 dents in it. I'm hoping that Southwest will take care of that as I filed a damage report immediately after we landed. Thanks to anyone who stuck through this long post. I hope this dream of mine has helped to inspire you that anything is possible if you're willing to pay the price. I have and I will continue to as I move through the professional ranks next year. Thanks for reading! DREAM BIG!