Sunday, July 6, 2014
Challenge Atlantic City Race Report and Results
Sorry for the delay in getting this race report up. Immediately after returning home I turned around the next morning and went on a family vacation to Chicago. It has been one week since I raced Challenge Atlantic City and that has given me time to reflect on the race.
On Thursday, June 26th I boarded a flight on Frontier Airlines for Trenton, New Jersey. I flew out of Chicago and a big reason I decided to do this race just 5 weeks ago was because I got round-trip air for only $160.00. As a bonus I was able to get by with my bike as a piece of checked luggage for only $30.00. The flight to New Jersey was only 2 hours and I landed in Trenton and stayed in a hotel since it was after 10:00 PM when I arrived.
Friday morning I drove to a town outside of Atlantic City where I met my homestays for the weekend. HUGE thanks to the race management for organizing homestays for pro athletes. I had the absolute pleasure of staying with Tom and Cyndi Flournoy and lived like a King during my time in Atlantic City. This was the first time I have done a homestay and it was AWESOME! Tom was also doing the race and he was extremely helpful in showing me around the area and taking me to the race site. The meals were fantastic! I couldn't have asked for anything better! Tom's good friend Eric Schrading was hosting female professional Alyssa Godesky and we all went to the race expo together on Friday to get our packets and afterwards had a very nice dinner. Tom and I swam about 2,200 yards on Friday. I was a little worried about the water temperature not being cold enough to wear wetsuits. The cutoff temperature for the pro athletes is 71.5 degrees. The race website was posting temperatures daily and they were changing a lot anywhere from 76 degrees to 66 degrees. The website where I signed up said expected water temps this time of year are mid-60's so I was very optimistic about swimming in a wetsuit. Being a weak swimmer I'm much better when in my Vendetta sleeveless.
After getting about 4 hours of sleep I was awake at 2:30 to get some breakfast and get my stuff ready to drive to the transition on race morning. The race start time was 6:00 AM for the pros which was the earliest I have ever started a race. The forecast was perfect with temperatures expected to be in the mid-70's for the high and light winds. I arrived and made last minute preparations with my bike, jogged a short warm up, and got ready to swim. Before I got ready to swim they made the announcement that the water temperature was 80 degrees!! No one would be in wetsuits. I didn't let it bother me because I was preparing for a non-wetsuit swim. I knew it would add about 8 minutes to my swim time because I had done my last swim in Lake G without a wetsuit and I was nearly 2 minutes slower per 1,000 yards.
SWIM: I counted 24 professional guys in the start corral. I was hoping to be in the top 10. Immediately upon jumping into the water I got a cramp in the arch of my foot! How can I get a cramp before I even start a race when all I had done the past 72 hours was sip on water. I had gotten up 4 times to pee each night the 2 nights before the race. Before the national anthem was played some guys jumped out of an airplane and provided us with some entertainment. When the cannon sounded I swam relaxed breathing every 3 strokes to the first turn buoy which was only a couple hundred yards away. I found myself on a set of feet but saw a group of 3 ahead of me so I put in a mini surge and made my way up to the group of 3. Before I knew it we were a group of five turning around the 2nd buoy and we had a long way to go in the bay. The swim was in an ocean bay west of the boardwalk in Atlantic City. It was one loop with a couple out and back turns so the entire course was almost in the shape of a "Y". I was excited about being in a group of 5 and figured I must be swimming well because I've never been in a group of 5 during a pro race. I stayed in the group comfortably until about the half way point of the swim when we had to go around our first part of the top of the "Y". As we swam toward the buoy in the middle of the channel I could immediately tell we had a strong current pushing against us. The ocean tide was difficult and it seemed like a 1 minute red-line effort to make the turn buoy which was only 20 yards away. I was hoping to get the current back but we had to swim out of the channel where the tide was not strong before we turned again so we never really seemed to have the current with us. The current split our group and I spent the rest of the swim trying to stay on 1 set of feet. I knew it was starting to feel really long before I got out and expected to see a time well over an hour. I was correct as I reached the end of the swim in 1:11:05. My swim time ranked 22nd of the 24 pros. I was happy to be out of the water and heading toward my bike.
BIKE: Out on the bike I quickly hit the split to start pacing with my Garmin. A big reason I signed up for this race was because I wanted to gain experience pacing the bike leg of an Ironman with power as my guide. My goal was to stay in a range of 225 to 230 watts for the duration. My plan was to hit the split to restart my average every 14 miles. The reason for this is because after riding 50 miles or more it takes a big change to affect the overall power average and I wanted to make sure I kept the average under control throughout. I immediately noticed my bike was not registering power. Not good! This is why I was racing. I hit the button to find the power tap and it said it could not be found...what is going on? I've never had this happen before. I shut the Garmin off, said a quick prayer and turned it back on. Power found!! I immediately hit the split to start my first of eight 14 mile segments. I got right into my power zone of 225-230 and focused on staying there. I went through the first 14 miles with an average power of 224 watts and average speed of 23.6 mph. I hit the split to start my 2nd segment. I had not been passed but had only passed 3 of the pro females that were ahead of me and one guy who had flatted early on. The wattage felt easier in the second segment and we had about a 10 mph tail wind along a highway. It made for super fast speeds on the flat New Jersey roads. I was hoping I would be 36:15 or better on each 14 mile segment. I was worried my wattage goal would give me a bike split that was too slow. In training rides 225 watts was only getting me 22-22.5 mph. I wanted to be at least 23.0 mph. With race wheels on and an aero helmet I was easily ahead of the speed goal. I went through the 2nd segment also at 224 watts with an average speed of 25.84 mph. I was way ahead of my goal time but knew I would have the tail wind coming back. After the 2nd segment we were on the first of 2 loops before we would head back. The aid stations were spaced about 15 miles apart and I was taking a water to put in the fuelselage of the Specialized Shiv at each station. Between my aero bars I was using an X-Lab setup with an aero bottle for the first time. I had my 1,000 calorie drink in it and sipped along the way. I had my 2nd 1,000 calorie drink behind my seat that I was pour into the X-Lab bottle whenever the first one was gone. I loved the X-Lab system. I never had any fluids spill out and it was easy sipping with the straw that tucks into the bottle when not using. My 3rd 14 mile segment my average watts increased to 233 and my average speed was 23.74 mph. I was feeling great. My legs were better now than they were when I started the ride. This felt so easy pacing with power. I had passed the female leaders but still could just barely see a guy in front of me when we began our 2nd loop and I started to mix in with the amateurs that were on their first loop. My 4th segment my average watts were 232. I was keeping things consistent. My average speed was 23.7 mph. I went through the 1/2 way point way ahead of my worst-case goal of 4 hours 50 minutes. I was at 2 hrs. 19 minutes on pace for a new bike PR of 4:38. I knew the 2nd half would be tougher because we had a long stretch of headwind coming along the highway we took out to this town. On my 5th segment I was 230 watts. My average speed was 24.2 mph. I was still feeling good. The 6th segment was 223 watts. I was at 22.88 mph on this one. It was here I began feeling pain on the bottoms of my feet where my clips are at on my pedals. I was starting to get hot spots on my feet and I knew it was from a lack of long rides. I signed up for this race knowing I was not going to have the Ironman training in that I would typically have if this was my highest priority race of the year. I was hoping my base fitness would be enough. The lack of long rides was going to catch up to me. On the 7th segment my feet began hurting really bad and my average watts dropped to 207. With each pedal cycle my feet hurt worse. I was beginning to try to pull up on the pedals more than push down in an effort to relieve the pain in my feet. The hot spots were getting worse than I have ever experienced. I now had to combine that with the headwind which was stronger than the tailwind we had 4 hours earlier heading out on the highway. It made for a brutal last 14 miles. My average power on the last segment dropped all the way to an abysmal 171 watts and my average speed was 18.9 mph. I had managed to go from a great bike split to one slower than my goal. I limped into transition a wreck with a total bike time of 4:52:20. It was the 15th fastest pro bike split of the field but one I thought I let a lot of time slip away in the last 30 miles.
T2- I normally don't have a write up for transition in a race recap but this one is different. About 50 miles into the bike I could feel the chafing beginning where guys don't want to chafe. I said a few unkind words to myself when I realized at that time I had forgotten to put chamois crème in my bike shorts before the race. I had a new tube in my bag and just completely forgot and I would pay dearly for that. Immediately after handing my bike over to a volunteer I ran for my transition bag which was at the bike racks rather than the changing tent. I grabbed the chamois crème and opened it realizing I hadn't even taken the seal off. I got the seal off and spread as much as I could in my shorts hoping to relieve that pain on the run. I was not in good shape. Due to trying to change my pedal stroke the last 30 miles to alleviate the hot spots on my feet I had managed to really tighten up my hips and glutes by pulling up harder on the pedals than I was pushing down. I stumbled my way to the change tent and was "that guy" that everyone points at because I was barely moving. 2-3 guys came flying by me running effortlessly and I was just struggling to put one foot in front of the other. When I got to the change tent I knew it was going to take some time to get ready to run a marathon. I sat down and started stretching my hips and glutes. I was able to make some progress but I took my time stretching knowing I had a long run ahead of me. While I was stretching one of the race officials told me if I was not going to continue I needed to hand in my chip. What the heck! I did not come all the way to Atlantic City to DNF!! I would run/walk 4 hours if that is what it took to finish this race. After stretching for 8-9 minutes I made my way to the port-o-john and then headed out on the run course. My 2nd transition was 13 minutes!!
RUN: My GPS watch located satellites within a 1/2 mile and when the watch came on I found myself running under 7:00 mile pace. It didn't feel that difficult and my hip was loosening up with each step. I couldn't believe how fast the first mile passed and I heard them announce that Chris McCormick was walking at mile 6 so I figured he would drop out. Then I saw another pro walking backwards and realized he had dropped out. I was gaining confidence moving up to higher places just due to the DNF's. I also passed 2 of the guys who had passed me in transition as I stopped and stretched. The first 1.5 miles took us to the boardwalk and as I got there I realized how fun this run was going to be. There were people everywhere and it was a beautiful day out. Thousands of people were out and about on the boardwalk with most of them not realizing why we were running through until later. I began interacting with people on the board walk as I walked by. The miles passed quickly and I was in a great rhythm running 6:45 pace. I set a new goal of running a marathon PR. As the miles clicked by I gained more confidence this was achievable. I started asking spectators to text Jen back home to tell her I felt great. A couple of them even called her and started yelling to me that Payton and Owen said to "Dream Big". This was huge boost to my spirits. The top 10-12 guys were way ahead but I could tell some of them were suffering. I wanted to delay my own suffering as long as possible. At every aid station I dumped ice in my pants, drank 2-3 cups of water and kept going. I looked forward to each aid station and always thought about getting to the next one. I went through a couple rough patches that didn't seem to last terribly long. I would drop to 8:00 pace but then get it back to 7:15 or so after the aid stations. The volunteers were nothing short of AMAZING and they were asking way before the aid station what I wanted so they would yell down and have it ready. I took in so much aid from the stations I forgot all about my special needs bag. At mile 20 I knew the run PR was going to be close. I had to make sure I didn't start running 8:00 miles. I had moved into 12th in the pro race but 10th was still 10 minutes up on me. I had one guy hovering between 1 and 2 minutes behind me and he was gaining. At mile 23.5 he had my gap down to 30 seconds. At mile 25 I could almost feel him coming up behind me and I was able to drop my pace back down to 7:00 for the final mile and finish 20 seconds ahead of him. My marathon time was 3:08:10 which bettered my old PR of 3:10. I was thrilled. After a difficult swim and the problems I had at the end of the bike and a 13 minute T2 I managed to get 12th in the pro race, 14th overall, and missed getting paid by only 6 minutes. My marathon time was 7th fastest in the pro race. After feeling like I was on my death bed in T2 I was able to get things back under control and leave with a new level of confidence that if I can put things together I can be competitive in a pro race. Overall my time was 9 hrs. 26 minutes, 29 seconds. Complete results with splits are found here.
I have recovered well from the race. It has easily been my best recovery. Only 1 week later I feel like I could have raced this weekend if I had to. I rode 70 miles yesterday and had a little bit of knee I'll be careful with. My quads were VERY sore in my run Thursday but that seems to be gone now. I was really proud of my homestay Tom for finishing in 12 hrs. 20 minutes. His friend Eric tore it up with a 9:50 and Alyssa Godesky took home a great pay day of over $3,000.00 for getting 4th in the women's pro race in just over 10 hours. We had a great time chatting about our races afterwards. Congrats to all the finishers. The sun was out without any clouds on the run and made for difficult conditions. I also have to say I LOVED the atmosphere that Challenge put on for this race. It was super well organized and I think Challenge can provide real competition to the Ironman brand. I've done 4 Ironman branded races and have not been as impressed with any of them as much as I was with Challenge Atlantic City. They have athletes in mind when they plan these races and want athletes to have the best experience ever without making as much money as they can but cutting corners. The CEO of Challenge was out on the course cheering for athletes and congratulating them at the finish line. It is easy to see why this brand has been SUPER successful in Europe and I hope to see the same levels of success in the US. I would have loved to bring home some money for the iHope Foundation but it wasn't in the cards this time. Before Ironman Chattanooga I'll put in the training that I normally would before an Ironman and I am confident after this race that I'll have my best one ever. Thanks to everyone who sent well wishes and congratulatory texts, messages on FB, and e-mails. It means a lot to have your support. Huge thanks to all my supporters and sponsors for allowing me to chase this dream and to all those who have helped contribute to the iHope Foundation. Your support gets me excited about using my gifts to give back to our community. DREAM BIG!!