Saturday, May 30, 2009

One last race report...For now

Today is Saturday and I am on my way to sit by the pool and enjoy the sunny weather. Today was also the Over the Mountain Triathlon in King's Mountain, North Carolina.

Quick recap of the days festivities: As usual, the 4:30am wakeup came slightly earlier than expected but after a restless night's sleep, I was honestly ready to wake up and get the day underway. Kristen was kind enough to drive me out to King's Mountain for the race start. Unique to this race, the point to point format offers a wonderful vista for the racers but always results in a logistical nightmare the morning of the race. I set up transition and arrived at the race start with five minutes to spare. I warmed up with my now trademarked "will not get hypothermia during the warmup" warmup which consists of jogging to the portolet and splashing around in the water right before the gun goes off. Well, its honestly a little bit more thought out than that but I believe that covers the highlights.

The swim was uneventful. I managed to sit into the second pack until the turn buoy where the pack splintered and one group went left while the other group went right. I decided to swim...well...straight and figured the groups would have to come back together before the swim finish. Luckily, I was right and the groups did come back together, unluckily (word?) it occurred right before the final buoy where it was a mad dash for the shore anyway. Onto the bike and into the pain locker. After roughly three weeks of what Marc would call 'reasonable volume' and I would call I cannot move off the couch by seven o'clock at night, I had little in the engine room to respond to the early pace. However, the pace settled and I was able to ride into sixth place coming off the bike. With the two leaders clear of the rest of the field, I was feeling confident in my running ability to bridge up and finish on the last stair of the podium. So I stopped racing and packed my gear up, got Kristen, got in the car and went to get lunch/sit by the pool. Seriously, though that's exactly what happened.

After much thought and prayer, I have decided to step back from the sport of triathlon. This decision did not come easy at first but as I thought more and more about it, it is the right one. For years it has been my goal to achieve something special and prove myself in the sport. At this point I have nothing left to prove. I have placed top ten in the world in my age group, I have won every age-group race I have entered at the half-iron distance and I believe I have distinguished myself as a contender at most races. I am not willing to sacrifice what is most important in life, relationships and careers, to pursue a hobby that should be nothing more than a lifestyle. With everything I have given 110% of my efforts to achieving my goals in triathlon but there comes a time when you need to get your head above the water and see if you are headed in the right direction. At this time I do not feel like I am headed in the right direction. With medical school quickly approaching my priorities need to focus more on gaining entrance into a top medical program rather than on a hobby. I am not willing to lose the one's I love and to throw away my academic career for another top podium spot.

It is difficult to step away from something that has been such a part of my life for so long. However, I find myself at a crossroads. I wish to leave a legacy but as a father, a husband, a doctor and then a finally at the end of the list a badass endurance athlete : ) Fear not I will continue to keep my fitness up just in the odd chance that Dean Karnazas might show up to an ultra-race in the near future that I might be running in...but for the time being I am going to enjoy interning in the emergency room/the local oncology team, performing medical research and exercising for fun because at the end of the day, "if its not fun..."

I want to thank my friends, family and sponsors from the bottom of my heart. Without your years of unquestionable commitment and support, I would never have been able to even attempt most the goals I sought to achieve. You make me recognize what is truly important in life and your advice over the last few weeks has been heartfelt and deeply insightful.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

White Lake Half-Ironman II Race Report

I never seem to be able to get much sleep the night after a half-ironman. Perhaps it’s the large amount of caffeine consumption throughout the race or an increased metabolic rate, but I always find myself lucky to get in six hours of restless shuteye. Regardless, here’s how it went down yesterday.

Leading into this race, I was very uneasy about my fitness level. Not to say that I was feeling out of shape but I had not put in a full week of training in a little over a month. Having been sick one week before Collegiate Nationals (ie. see Valdese Triathlon Race Report and the Valdese Swim Complex locker room for complete details), I had to take some time off to completely heal from the flu and then taper for Collegiate Nats. However, Collegiates flopped on me, with me getting hypothermic during the swim and bombing the rest of the race due to a lowered core temperature. Lame. Coming down from Collegiates, it was good in many a sense to come right back into exams. I really had targeted Collegiates for a breakout race and to be honest not getting the expected result left me questioning my goals and overall fitness level in the sport. The last two weeks have been a complete blur. Having a round of exams and then finals, left me bug-eyed and strung out, running on a coffee IV for roughly 14 days. Not the best training conditions. Many of my workouts over the last two weeks were cut short (to fit in more study time), altered (ie. cut short) (to fit in more study time) or skipped all together (to fit in more study time). I guess the only positive aside from making straight A’s on my finals (booya!) was that I would be completely rested for White Lake.

Kristen and I took off on Thursday for Charlotte, NC and spent the night. I got up and got in the normal pre-race day before workouts (15min run, 15min bike, 15min swim) and spent the remainder of the day waiting on grades to be posted and Kristen to finish visiting with the doctor (just a checkup), so we could begin the 3.5hr car ride over to Whiteville, NC. Since Kristen wasn’t getting out of the doctor until late there would be no way for us to make it to packet pickup the day before; however, thankfully packet pickup was still available at the race site the morning of between 5 and 6am. After a restless night in our crack motel (between the lights, sirens, horns, car alarms and a leaky sink, I was lucky if I got in 1.5hr of sleep), I got up at 3:45am and loaded the car. Kristen and I then drove the remaining 45min to White Lake, NC to just barely make the 6am packet pickup cut off time.

With an hour left until the start of the race, I set up transition, jogged to the port-o-let, took care of business, jogged back to transition and put on my wet suit. This concluded my new and improved, bulletproof, will-not-get-hypothermic warm up. The water temperature was reported to be 77degrees which was a far cry from the reported 53 degrees seen at Buffalo Springs Lake. I figured that since I would be wearing my wetsuit at Kansas 70.3, I might as well wear it here even though I had my kickass SpeedZoot with me. Alas, I’ll have to unleash the fury of the SpeedZoot another day. I waded out into the water, dolphin dived twice and was then informed by the announcer that the race would be starting in 45 seconds. ‘Cool,’ I thought, ‘Let’s get it on.’ I lined up right behind Alex McDonald, knowing that if I could at least stay with him for part of the swim I would be setting myself up for a decent swim; however, as soon as the gun went off, Alex was gone and I was drowning. The first 400m were fast, like Michael Phelps fast. We hit the first turn buoy and I spotted and realized that I was sitting in about 8th position. ‘Badass,’ I thought as I looked left to see Alex ‘IronDoc’ McDonald staring me in the face. ‘Badass,’ I thought again, ‘I’m with Alex.’ Apparently Alex breathes the left and I breathe to the right so since I was sitting on his hip we continued to stare at each other for the next 1000m. Awkward. As we rounded the last buoy, I drifted back behind Alex to conserve energy leading into transition, knowing that a good swim time was in the bag. The exit for the swim was a single ladder at the end of the dock. There were four of us in the chase group and it was an all out sprint to the ladder. I got there third and waited my turn before running the 200m into transition. Alex got to the ladder first and was about 15miles in the bike ride by the time I got to transition.

The first hour we were rolling mad thunder. I think I clocked through the 27mi maker at the hour. Knowing that there would only be water on the bike course, I brought a canister of Nuun with me; however, I had stacked my electrolyte tabs on top of all the Nuun tabs. So when we hit the first aid station, I dumped all the contents into my jersey and fished out the fizzling Nuun tabs and dumped four of them into my bottle (concentrated). I made up a few places on the bike course and could see the chase pack ahead of me on the long, flat straights. So around mile 32 I put in a surge as we started into a strong headwind section and caught up with the chase group. I was able to gage my position on an out and back section and realized that I was roughly seven minutes down on Kevin Lisska and two minutes down on the chase pack. Because, I can probably count the amount of long rides I have done on one hand this season, I really started to feel the wear and tear of the race around mile 47; however, I stayed calm and continued to focus on good nutrition and my own rhythm. Before I knew it I was sitting in roughly 8th position on the tail end of the chase group. As we headed into the last few miles of the bike and I was more than happy just to sit 10m off the back and stretch.

Nutrition on the bike:
4Gu’s, 6electrolyte tabs, 4Nuun tabs, 32oz concentrated Gu20 mix, 4 12oz water bottles

Oh yeah, I rode in my new kickass Rudy Project Helmet, not wanting to risk anymore helmet issues after what happened at Nationals. Here's a picture of me in my new helmet before the race (I know what you are thinking and yes, sometimes I like to carry a spear around in transition).

Into T2, I heard over the loudspeakers, “Here’s Josh Wheeler. Josh just completed his Human Genetics final two days ago and here he is racing today.” Awesome, thank you Kristen. I exited the run in 8th and moved instantly into 7th. The idea was to run at 6-6:15/mi range; however, at about mile 47 on the bike I realized that with the heat I might be better served to start out at a little slower pace than normal. I was racing with my Garmin 405 so I was able to track my pace perfectly. I backed it down to 6:25/mi pace and found myself smiling at how easy the pace felt. However, knowing that I have not run more than 30miles in one week in almost five weeks, I put my game face back on and prepared to enter the pain locker. What can I say about the run? It was freaking miserably hot and windy,
a reported 91degrees. The aid stations were sparse at best; however, I found my rhythm early and paced 6:20/miles to the turn around. At the turn around I was roughly a minute down on fourth and two minutes down on third, so I picked up the pace a little and moved into fourth overall. On the straight road, I could see that I was starting to make up some time on third place as he was slowing at each aid station for water. By mile 10 the gap had shrunk to roughly 200m and by mile 11 I was roughly 15seconds down. At that point I was getting some feedback from the racers on course telling me that the guy was starting to hurt (I was thinking they clearly do not know what I am feeling like). At mile 12 we made a left hand turn and had roughly 50m towards the final aid station. I knew that he was going to get water, so I took my fuelbelt off and tossed to the side. The aid station was right before a slight uphill section so I surged as he went towards the aid station and passed him on the hill. He responded and matched my pace. The hill leveled out and we started on the descent. With a mile left, I re-attacked on the downhill, surging and opened a small gap. We rounded towards the finishing straight and I checked my six as to not get tagged at the line only to see no one around. I did up my jersey and crossed the line in third overall (~4:20 total time) and won a free trip to the medical tent where I got two bags of IV fluid and some oxygen.

Run Nutrition:
Fluid intake was sporadic but took in a Gu/Electrolyte mixture every three miles that totaled out to 4 Gu’s and 2 more electrolyte tabs. My sweat rate was low due to large sodium intake during the bike, so I was able to focus more on managing my rising core temperature rather than fluid intake.