Once in Racine I racked my bike and the did a short 1.5 mile warm-up run with some speed drills and strides on the end. I heard them announcing that 2x Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander was in town to defend his title. I had no idea he would be racing. Craig Alexander is an abosolute legend in the sport of triathlon. Just before I was about to head out to the swim start he passed by me and asked if I had any chain lube he could use for his bike. I said that I did and Craig Alexander said, "You are a legend mate!!" I couldn't believe this legend was calling me a legend. After he used it I headed to the swim start with my training buddy Adam Bohach who was also competing in the race. The swim started about a mile down the beach and we jogged part way before putting on our wetsuits and getting in the cold Lake Michigan waters to warm up. The water temperature was about 65 degrees which is perfect for a wetsuit swim. I enjoy swimming in cold water. After a few hundred yards they were calling for the pros to gather at the starting line. I took my place there and picked out the guy I wanted to swim with. Patrick Evoe is a pro triathlete from Austin, TX who is very good. His one weakness is the swim and I was really hoping I could stay with him in the swim because I knew he would be a great guy to bike and run with. He has multiple top 5 Ironman and 1/2 Ironman finishes in his career. He is sponsored by Little Caesar's Pizza and wears a really sweet Little Caesar's jersey. He is very easy to pick out in the crowd.
SWIM: The swim started very fast which I completely expected. I knew it would calm down once positions had been established. I stayed on Patrick Evoe's feet through the first turn bouy about 300 yards into the race. After we made the turn I lost his feet but I was still in a big group so I wasn't too worried. I figured he would be in this group for awhile. I hung onto that group until about the 700 yard mark and then it started to separate. I was between two guys and couldn't decide which one's feet to stay on. I picked the right and it was the wrong pick. The guy on the left slowly left us and we were on our own with a couple guys on our feet. I stayed with this guy for the remainder of the swim. The effort was not difficult. I was hoping we would get out of the water in good shape but we kept swimming and it felt like it was getting really long before we made the final turn to head in to transition. I was thinking the swim felt like 33 minutes and I would have been very disappointed with that. When I popped up to get out of the water I saw the clock at 28:50 which was a solid swim for me. I was very thankful it was not 33 minutes as it felt like. We had a long run through the sand which Adam and I both thought may have been the toughest part of the race. The swim time didn't stop until we got to transition so my official swim time was 29:50. In looking at the results I'm very happy with the swim improvements I've made. I was about 5 minutes behind the leaders. In San Juan last March I was 9 minutes behind the leaders. I was only 90 seconds behind a big pack of guys who got on the bike together. I was 55 seconds behind Patrick Evoe when I got on the bike. I know if I want to continue to improve it will be important for me to get out of the water with more riders. If I could stay with that big pack that was 90 seconds up that would make the bike portion much more enjoyable with more company. In the pro races guys tend to ride in packs separating themselves by 10 meters which is the legal draft distance. There is still a slight benefit from being 10 meters back, especially when there are multiple guys in a line. Overall I'm definitely on the right track with my swimming. Much of this credit has to go to my swim coach Stacey Zapolski. I started working with Stacey a week after my race in San Juan and it's helped tremendously. The other thing that has made a big difference is swimming in the Xterra Vendetta wetsuit. I started the race next to 2 other guys wearing the Vendetta. It's a ridiculously fast suit. Last week Adam and I swam 3x 1000 meters to the end of our lake and back. The first 2 were with the wetsuit on and in the Vendetta I swam 14:05 and 14:15. I took the Vendetta off for the last one and swam 16:15!! 2 minutes slower without my wetsuit over 1000 meters is a big difference.
BIKE: When I got on the bike Jen yelled that I was 55 seconds down to the Little Caesar's guy. I knew he was my ticket to a great race so I went really hard for the first 5 miles to see if I could catch him. When I still couldn't see him I decided I better settle into a more managable pace. I passed one guy in those first 5 miles but had no idea what place I was in. Just after the 5 mile mark the pro I had swam with Ryan Rau went by me. He wasn't going too much faster than I was so I knew this would be a good chance for me to ride with someone and hopefully we could pull back some of the guys who were falling off the pack in front of us. We were both careful to drop out of the draft zone as we traded positions over the next miles. For one, I don't want to be known as a guy who cheats so I want to ride legally. I probably stayed closer to 15 meters than 10 because I was paranoid of getting a penalty. The second reason is that there were a lot of motorcycles patrolling the course and I didn't want to give them any doubt about whether or not I was riding legally. We didn't pass anyone until about mile 35 when we went by a guy who had been dropped by the pack ahead of us. At about mile 40 Ryan asked me if I wanted to trade off and on every mile. He had probably been doing 60% of the work up to this point. I was hanging on. I said that I would do my best and we traded spots every mile the remainder of the race. I began to feel much better in the last 15 miles. I had finished my GU Ironman brew and was taking salt tablets regularly. I had 2 GU gels during the ride and 2 GU Chomps. This was the least amount I carried with me in a 1/2 Ironman yet. My training buddy Adam and I are very different with our nutritional habits in a race. He is a minimalist and I tend to carry the buffet. We had talked some about our nutritional setup and he decided to take a bit more and I would be carrying a lot less with me. I was also craving water the 2nd half of the ride so I took water at the bike aid stations. In the last 5 miles we passed 2 more guys who had fallen off the pack ahead of us. I entered transition with a bike time of 2 hrs. 15 minutes, 2 seconds. It was an average speed of 24.9 mph. I had originally hoped to ride faster than this but after talking with Indiana pro triathlete Daniel Bretscher last week I changed strategies. He had a great race the weekend before in Muncie, Indiana and he told me the key was riding conservatively and having a great run. It was hot out then and he said lots of guys suffer on the run when it's hot, especially if they have ridden too hard. I decided that would be a better plan for myself so I road a bit more conservatively. For my wheel selection I went with the Zipp sub-9 rear disc and the Zipp 1080 front wheel. With the course being very flat and the wind being minimal this was a perfect wheel selection. They even handled the extremely bumpy ride very well.
RUN: I had a very good transition to the run. I was 11th off the bike but passed one guy in transition. Within the first mile I moved into 9th. The most difficult thing about moving from the amateur division to the pro division for me has been finding the motivation to run hard when there is no prize on the line. They only had money to 5th place in Racine and I knew 5th was WAY ahead of me. I had to find something to get me motivated to dig deep on this run. As an amateur I always had a top overall finish or some trophy to run for. Now I would have to find something to keep me going on this hot day besides an award. I made my mind up that I would be really excited with a top 10 finish. I knew that I would have to run hard if I wanted to stay in the top 10. The temperatures were rising quickly in Racine. It was expected to get into the mid-90's and it was humid. The sun was out bright as ever so that made it feel even warmer. I was dumping water on myself at every aid station and was looking for cups of ice to dump down my jersey. Those would met within a minute but they gave me a minute of good relief. I had my GPS watch on but I was really frustrated that I couldn't get it to pick up the satellites while I was moving. I should have turned it on in the morning and just left it on but I didn't think it would be so difficult to pick up the satellites so for the first 5 miles I had no idea what pace I was running. I tried to stay in a good rhythm and the watch finally "located satellites" at about 5 miles in. My pace was 5:44 the first time I saw it. I was quite surprised by this as it didn't seem like I was running that fast and I knew it would be a run that turned into "survival of the fittest" in the heat. My pace hovered between 5:50 and 6:05 for the rest of the first loop before I made the turn to head back out for my 2nd and final loop. At the turnaround my good buddy Zeb Gilliam and my wife Jen were yelling to me that I was less than 30 seconds from the next guy and about 1 minute 10 seconds from 7th. I was beginning to suffer but thought how awesome it would feel to finish in the top 7. I dug deep and passed one guy at about mile 8 and then just before the turnaround nearing mile 10 I looked up and saw Craig Alexander. It was obvious to me that he was having a terrible day but I was excited when I passed him and it moved me into 7th. He gave me some words of encouragement as I continued on. I give him a lot of credit for staying in the race. Many of the top pros choose to drop out when they are not racing well. They don't want their names to be in the results that far down. Craig is a great ambassador for our sport and it says a lot that even on his worst day he refuses to drop out. I was really hurting in the last few miles and there were a lot of guys ahead of me that were on their first loop so I was losing track of what place I was in. My pace had slowed down to about 6:20/mile on the way back in. After the race Jen asked me if I saw her "artwork" out on the course. I said no and she was really disappointed. I guess when she went on her 9 mile run in the morning before the race she stopped and spent 30 minutes carving "Dream Big" and "Live Uncommon" into the middle of the road on the run course in hopes that I would see it for motivation. To be honest if I saw it, I probably would have thought, "Wow, that is a coincidence, those are two of my catch-phrases" not realizing she was the one who wrote them. Needless to say her support at the race was plenty for me and I appreciated the effort. Out on the course I kept reminding myself how good it would feel to get to the line in 7th. Without realizing it I had passed another guy in those final miles. As I approached the finish line people were yelling to me that I was in 6th. It was a great feeling finally getting a result in a pro race that proves I can be competitive at this level. A lot of hard work went into this result. I crossed the line 6th overall with a time of 4:07:45. Complete results from the race can be found by clicking here. It was not the time I thought I could go but that had to do with the hot conditions we had to race in. My run time was one of the better ones in the pro race with a time of 1 hr. 20 minutes. The place was higher than I imagined I would be and I was really excited about that. The 5 guys who beat me are all full-time triathletes and I later learned I was the 2nd American finisher. The top 2 were from Australia, 3rd was the Little Caesar's guy who is from Texas, 4th was from the UK, and 5th from New Zealand, and then the guy from Le Claire, IA. 7th was from New Zealand, 8th from Australia, and 9th was from Clinton, IA...my training buddy Adam Bohach!! Adam was the top amateur, beat 1/2 the pro field, and ran the fastest 1/2 marathon of anyone in the race at 1:17:00. I was super excited that we both had such great races. I don't think it's a coincidence that only 3 of the top 9 guys were from the US and 2 of us train together and live 20 miles apart. I don't think I could have had the result I did without finding Adam to train with this winter. It was a tough day on the course with the heat so intense. Congratulations to all the finishers who did this race. What an awesome way to celebrate physical fitness by being able to do a 1/2 Ironman on a very hot day. That is definitely what Live Uncommon aims to see more of...people being active and striving towards goals while maintaining balance in life.I met Jen at the finish line and she was really excited for me. She knew I was pretty pumped up as I was finally able to put my arms up in celebration at the end of a race. Thanks to my good friends Zeb and Jazzie for making the trip up from Chicago to watch. It was awesome getting time checks from Zeb during the run. About a month ago I was getting lots of advice from people about how I should probably not be coaching myself. I never doubted my fitness and kept positive even when the past races were having crazy things like extra loops around tractors and bike crashes going on. I knew I was fit and it felt good to reaffirm to myself that I can do okay making my own training plan. With 2 kids, a wife, and a full-time job I enjoy making my own training schedule and being able to put my family first. I like being able to organize my own workouts around our crazy family schedule. I like testing myself with Training Camps like I had a month ago. I knew that would tear myself apart but I also trusted that I would come out of it a few weeks later stronger than ever. I think it worked out just like I was hoping. I'll spend this week recovering and then next week I'll do a 5 day training camp before a week of higher intensity. Following that week I'll get rested up and hope for an even better race at Steelhead 70.3. After earning my pro license I was set on proving that I belonged. Yesterday I certainly proved that I belong in the pro field. Now I'll be aiming to climb the ladder to higher places...and maybe even earn some money racing...I missed by 1 place yesterday. What started out as a "Big Dream" is beginning to take shape. Thanks for reading. DREAM BIG!