Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Kona Preview & Predictions 2015 - Men's Race

The Ironman World Championships in Hawaii is around the corner (Saturday, Oct. 10th). Here's a little preview of the men’s race, with a women’s version coming soon!

First of all, here’s the breakdown by country of the men’s field (as of now at least):

Germany: 8
USA: 8
Australia: 5
Spain: 5
France: 4
New Zealand: 4
UK: 4
Belgium: 3
Canada: 3
Brazil, South Africa, Switzerland: 2
Austria, Bermuda, Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden, Ukraine: 1

A little recent history

From 2007-2012, the 
Thunder From Down Under was untouchable at Kona, with Aussies Chris McCormack (2007 & ’10) Craig Alexander (2008-09, ’11) and Pete Jacobs (2012) all doing serious work on the biggest stage. Before that, Germany had a 3-year run with the combination of Normann Stadler (2004, ’06) and Faris Al-Sultan (2005). Finally in 2013 a new country was represented, with Belgian Frederik Van Lierde flying a bit under the radar on his way to an impressive victory. Germany reclaimed the top spot last year, with “uberbiker” Sebastian Kienle breaking through as many expected he would. The USA’s Ben Hoffman surprised many with his 2nd place finish, with Germany’s Jan Frodeno rounding out the podium.

With Alexander and McCormack now either retired or very close to it and Jacobs having slipped a bit since his 2012 win, the Australian flag (at least on the men’s side) is not expected to be on the podium this year. On the other hand Germany is stacked, with defending champ Sebastian Kienle and former Olympic Gold Medalist Jan Frodeno expected by many to go 1-2 one way or the other. Frodeno took 3rd in his Kona debut last year despite a flat and a (some would argue) bogus penalty on the bike. He beat Kienle head-to-head at both Ironman Frankfurt in July and the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Austria a month ago and is considered by most to be the favorite.

In addition to these two frontrunners, the men’s field is considered to be among the best ever assembled. A slew of competitors have a chance to make some noise, and it’s expected to be a tight, tactical race.

Lionel Sanders
Here’s a quick summary of who I’d like to see win:

Andy Potts (USA): Former Olympian will lead the way out of the water as always – Potts has consistently placed in the Top 10 and was 4th last year. Would love to see him break through, becoming the first American winner since Tim DeBoom in 2002.

Lionel Sanders (Canada): His story of drug addict turned one of the best triathletes in the world is well-known, to the point where some other pros probably get sick of hearing it... but how can you not cheer for this guy?? By all accounts no one trains harder than him, can he pull off something magical in his Kona debut?

Jan Frodeno (Germany): Yeah in some ways this is like cheering for the Yankees, but Frodeno “deserves” it after such an incredible year. He has more pressure than anyone going into the race, and I’d be happy to see him come through in the clutch.

Romain Guillaume (France): Who?? Yeah that’s right, my boy Romain. Our team is having our 2nd annual Fantasy Football-esque game with each teammate getting 4 random names, a point system, etc. I got 3 women pros and this guy from the “autodraft.” Monsieur Guillaume actually pulled off a 10th place finish last year, so stranger things have happened I suppose. On y va Romain! Tu peux le faire! LET’S GO ROMAIN, YOU CAN DO IT!!

Prediction for the men’s podium:

Jan Frodeno (Germany)
: the overwhelming favorite, but all the pressure is on his shoulders (and legs) and he’ll have a huge target on his back. The likes of Kienle, Van Lierde, and many others won’t go down without a fight, but you don’t win Olympic gold without being extremely tough between the ears.

Brent McMahon (Canada): since I’m going with the consensus favorite as my pick, I have to roll the dice a bit with the other two podium predictions: Darkhorse #1 is McMahon, a former Olympian who is all business on race day and very consistent. This will be his Kona debut, so a bit of a wild card, but he’s a smaller guy who should adapt well to the conditions on the big island.

Tim Don (UK): Darkhorse #2 This guy is coming in under the radar, but is wicked fast. I watched him take the North American 70.3 Championships vs. a stacked field earlier this year. He seems to be an all or nothing guy… I predict either a monster race or a DNF.

Tim Don, Brent McMahon, & the legendary Andreas Raelert went 1,2,3 at St. George,
although the stakes will be much higher in Hawaii

Should be an incredibly entertaining race! Follow live coverage Saturday October 10th on

Friday, September 25, 2015

Pre-Race Check In: Ironman Chattanooga

The season may be winding down, but we've got a few teammates with huge races still on the schedule. This Sunday, both Chad Zeman (now North Carolina) and David Fernandez (Florida) will take on the 2nd annual Ironman Chattanooga in Tennessee. I had some trouble tracking down David, but managed to check in for a few minutes with Chad. Best of luck to you both!

So my sources tell me you forgot your helmet… is this true?

Yeah, for real. Luckily I gave pro triathlete Ben Collins, a Rudy Project sponsored athlete, a ride to Chattanooga. Long story short I’ll be able to borrow a Wingspan for the race!

How did that come about, giving Collins a ride?

There’s a Facebook group for the race, as there is for every Ironman, and I saw something about someone whose ride from Atlanta fell through. I didn’t know anything about the person, but was passing right through there so I volunteered. Turned out to be Collins, a pro whose specialty is short-course racing. Chattanooga will be his first full-distance Ironman.

Can you give me a high-level assessment of how Ironman Lake Placid went just over two months ago?

I had a great swim, then on the bike I had a plan to focus on my normalized power over the course of the ride. In hindsight I pushed too much, especially on the 2nd loop. I put in too many hard efforts in an attempt to move the needle on my average power. My nutrition strategy also wasn’t the best, and those two things combined to me walking much of the run.

When we talked before that race, it was clear that you were putting a ton of pressure on yourself. Is it the same going into IMCHOO, or do you have a different mindset?

Totally different mindset. For my last two Ironmans (Wisconsin and Lake Placid) I was trying to go for it, trying to set a huge PR. This time I’m focusing on doing what I know I can do, and whatever I get, I get. My strategy will be more to look at my power over shorter intervals, for example a 10-sec average, along with my heart rate as opposed to normalized power. I’m also hoping to execute a better nutrition strategy.

So no specific goals for this one?

Only to beat my two college buddies who are doing the race!

On that note, how do you feel about the showdown between you and Triple Threat teammate David Fernandez?

Well, rumor has it he twisted his knee pretty bad a few weeks ago, so I hope he’s back to full strength. As a general rule they say double your 70.3 time and add an hour to project an Ironman time… qualifying and racing Worlds this summer he went ~4:30 so that would put him at ~10 hours. Only with a banged up knee do I have a chance of getting to him, but it’s good to have people on the course to motivate you.

ideally we'll see a replica of this photo finish between our two teammates

How has your training gone since IMLP?

My recovery was great… it’s a lot easier after walking so much of the run! In training, every other week I seemed to alternate between being super motivated and “eh.” It was weird, but I’ve maintained my training pretty well I think.

What do you know about the course?

It’s a down-current river swim. I guess there are “gates” in the river that control the strength of the current, and last year they were all open. Rumor has it they’re closing some this year, but it’s still a down-river swim. That can save you 5-15 min over your regular IM swim depending on what they do with the gates. Making up for that is the 116 mile bike course… the original 112 mile course was deemed not to be safe enough, so the way the safer roads went made it 116. That said it’s only 3-4k of elevation gain, vs. for example Lake Placid with double that. The first half of the run is flat, but the 2nd half is really hilly. You have to be patient on the run because of those hills.

How’s the vibe in the Ironman Village?

Right now it’s raining, and the expo is a mud pit. For race day though it’s supposed to be 60’s-70’s, should be a nice day.

What was the deal with some locals trying to sabotage the race last year? Something about pouring oil on the bike course?

Yeah, motor oil and tacks! Thankfully they caught it and cleaned most of it up before the masses came through.

Will we see a repeat?

Doubtful, but I guess you never know!

Related Post:

Sunday, September 20, 2015

President's Physical Fitness Challenge

With school back in session, the Triple Threat national team is currently doing a little East vs. West challenge based on the infamous President's Physical Fitness Challenge.

Remember back in the day when you had to run a mile, do a shuttle run, something called the "V-sit," and other tests of strength and courage??

This challenge is similar in nature, but with only two tests:

2) 100-YARD SWIM

We wanted to share this with readers and encourage you to do the same challenges yourselves. For the mile, ideally you'll strap on your PE-issued short shorts and roll up to a high school track near you for 4 laps of glory. The 100 is an in-water, push off the wall sprint (4 lengths in your standard 25-yard pool).

Test yourself! Of course you can remain anonymous, but if you're willing we'd love to hear how it goes.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Challenge Cedar Point Race Report - Dave Fisher

After checking in with us pre-race, here Dave Fisher (Connecticut) gives us a recap of his first Ironma... I mean, Full Distance Triathlon... I mean Challenge Cedar Point. And by that I mean 140.6 miles. Whatever you call it, we're proud of the guy!

A race report - at least for me - has served as a utility for capturing impressions and choices I have made during races to help me in future races. They are a record I use for analysis, not for capturing touchy-feely stuff, although sometimes that creeps in. In this case, though, I have to deviate significantly from the template, as it's my first 'full distance' triathlon. I want to get something out of the way's stupid, but I'm going to refrain from saying 'Ironman' because that's a brand, not a distance, and while most people only understand what you're talking about if you say, "I did an Ironman," this wasn't an Ironman branded race, it was a Challenge family race. Well, I lied, I'll say it once. I am an Ironman. I made it 140.6 miles by swimming, biking, and running. Off we go into RememberLand!

Cedar Point is a jetty out into Lake Erie in Ohio, nestled up against the town of Sandusky. Cedar Point is also the name of an amusement park that claims to be the Roller Coaster Capital of the World. With acres of 400 foot vomit launchers like this...'s hard to disagree. I chose not to sample the local wares, preferring as always to keep my ass below my armpits. Sandusky itself is a picturesque - albeit empty - town that seems frozen in time, roughly around 1955. I wouldn't have been surprised to see Marty McFly walk by at any moment.

It so happened that the day before the race the streets of Sandusky had been shut down for an auto show, so with lines of classic cars lining the roads and 50s rock and roll blasting from loudspeakers, it went far over the top in delivering the sensation that it was from another era. I arrived late on Friday, giving myself Saturday to get checked in and settled, with the race on Sunday morning.

On Saturday morning we received an email warning that overnight, high winds had destroyed several tents at the race site, and that the swim was in jeopardy of being cancelled due to riptide conditions in Lake Erie. Additionally, the bike check in was moved to race morning, because they didn't want the bikes exposed to the wind overnight for fear they'd all topple on each other. Well, holy crap.... 

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Pre-Race Check In: Challenge Cedar Point

Looks like there's more than one big race this weekend! I caught up with Dave Fisher (Connecticut) as he took turns chilling out and rocking out on his way to his ironman-distance debut at Challenge Cedar Point. Go get'em, Dave!

So where are you right now?

Somewhere just west of central Pennsylvania. I've got another 4 hours or so, but like my race I'm trying to not go too much by time... just results!

What have you been rocking out to on the drive?

I've actually been listening to a mellow band called Dawes and some Alexi Murdoch. I bought 5-6 records that I've been going through (editor's note: you know you're dealing with a true musician when "records" is mentioned, right?). That said, I have turned a little Led Zeppelin on to wake myself up.

Are you a big pre-race music guy? I kind of am myself, depending on the race though.

Pre-race makes you think of the whole "high school locker room blasting Metallica" thing... I tried that a few years ago but I have a weird relationship with music as I was a professional musician for a while. It was a fun ride but tough to raise a family on the typical musician's salary! I like mainly mellow stuff... think Enya, then even more mellow. I'll put a soundtrack in my head and play it 400 times over the course of the day... I guess that's why I got into endurance stuff!

How are you feeling going into Challenge Cedar Point?

Man, I don’t know. In some ways, the longer the race, the more you know what to expect. It's more on execution... you're not going to do something too different from training. If so, you'll blow up. You've done all the studying, and you probably won't get an A, but you probably won't get below a B- either. Just don’t screw it up! It's gonna be a very sprirtual day, as it's been a tumultuous summer of highs and lows. I've been in this really odd headspace since my best friend of 25 years passed away. He was my brother, no other way to put it. I haven’t figured it out, but Sunday’s gonna help.

This is the best therapy money can buy, right? 

Yeah that's the cool thing about this sport. We do our best to make a social thing. But like religion it can be a very personal thing that can help get you through stuff. Sometimes it's less physical and more spiritual, without sounding too hokey.

What do you know about the course?

Based on history, the swim course can go one of two directions. Depending on the wind it can have a pretty nasty chop, so they'll pick whichever direction is best. The weather looks great though... overcast and 60’s, which is fantastic. The swim will be two triangle loops with a quick run on the shore in between. The bike is flat, flat, flat... I think the total climbing over the 112 miles is like 1000 ft, which is nothin. It’s just gonna be tuck, nutrition, dial that power number in and plug along. The hard thing for me is that I train in CT and NY, where I can’t leave the house without climbing 1000 ft. With no hills there are no breaks, so it might get a little monotonous. The run is a flat two loops, but it's pretty jagged, with lots of turns and stuff. Hills don’t treat me well, so I'm grateful for the flat course.

Any goals in mind?

I'd be lying if I said I didn’t have a target in mind but I'm trying not to worry about it too much; it's more about the effort. My swim could be 1:05 or 1:20. If I go above what I'm capable of on the bike I'm gonna cook myself. Hopefully no cramps or GI issues on the run and I just get there. I should be somewhere around 7 hours coming off bike.

What are your thoughts on the Challenge / Rev 3 merger over the past year? Was that good or bad for the sport?

That's a great question. Based on what I’ve seen, the takeover of Rev 3 hasn’t done anything in the US but change the colors. Same people, same course support, and it's always been professional. Rev 3 was very supportive of families, with bouncy castles at the finish, sign making stations, kids allowed to cross finish line with you, etc. How it should be. The WTC (Ironman) is more strict. That said, I haven’t raced Challenge overseas. Challenge Roth looks epic, almost like Kona. I haven’t seen the equivalent in the US brand, but you have to think it's going there. They have a presence and if they continue to respect the athletes like they do, being flexible but professional, they should grow market share.

Challenge does have a stupid looking logo compared to Ironman. Let's just say I'm not gonna get that thing tattooed on my leg. It's like my opinion on European art. I just don’t get it!

I also wonder what does the announcer yell when you cross the finish line, a la "You Are An Ironman"... maybe a simple "You’re done?"

Whatever they say, go cross that line, come back and report!


Friday, September 11, 2015

Pre-Race Check In: Ironman Wisconsin

Katie Foster (Nebraska) decided to double down on this year's Ironman training, tackling IM Wisconsin this coming weekend after Boulder last month. Here she checks in with some of her thoughts before the big day. Best of luck, Katie!

WEEEELLLL…this pre-race check in may be a little dull but here goes: I would never have guessed myself to be the one who signs up for an Ironman two weeks before race weekend. It’s not my personality. I’m a PLANNER. I plan things years in advance, so this is new territory for me. BUT, after Boulder I was feeling good, like I still had some tri to leave on the course before hibernating for the winter. I didn’t want the season to be over.

I looked at a few races and of course, most were sold out, but WI happened to have a few foundation slots left. I mulled it over for a few weeks after Boulder, trying to come up with an overwhelming reason why it couldn’t work. Is it dangerous? Can it hurt my health to do 2 IMs in 6 weeks? (I searched all over slowtwitch looking for other overly zealous triathletes talking about the same thing.) How can I possibility get this to work with just a few weeks of planning? (Hotels were available, and the race is within driving distance. Plus, no new tri gear needed.) Oh yeah and there’s this: 1) No one to go with me – this is where my running buddy, and friend, Melanie, is the hero. She is a busy mom of three (and a PTO President!) and is regularly doing things for others. She rearranged her family schedule and important PTO obligations and gave me the GO to sign up. She was unwavering in her enthusiasm. This race doesn’t happen without her. 2) High race fee - Ultimately my unbelievably supportive hubby said “go for it!” and he signed me up. Once registered, I thought, did this just really happen, did I sign up and is this DUMB?

Wisconsin was my first exposure to Ironman. I was a cheerleader in 2011 and 2012. It was an awesome experience and probably the reason I love Ironman as much as I do. Madison is a beautiful city, the crowd support was unbelievable on the swim, bike and run course. September is a busy month for me with family birthdays and my kids' school activities, so I figured WI would not be a good race for me, any year. I guess that’s the upside to signing up so late. I had most of my kids’ schedules figured out for September, and was able to plan parties around the race. SO, here I am, my girlfriend and sister are planning to drive with me and cheer while my husband stays home with my kids to keep them in school, coach, run around all weekend to games, practices and parties, etc. I am always aware of the sacrifices my family makes to support my tri-addiction, and those generosities offered to cheer me on race day. Many thanks.

Four days out the weather in Madison looks AMAZING. Exactly what I would hope for. 48-68 with less than 10 mph wind. Hopefully that does not change. I’m ecstatic to try this course out. I know everyone says it’s hard, and I anticipate it will take me a lot longer and I plan to be conservative. My plan is not to repeat my hydration mistakes I made in Boulder. I was able to get in contact with a coach who provided me with a nutrition plan so I just hope I can execute it on Sunday. Like always, I am humbled by the enormity of an Ironman, and all the things that can go wrong. My approach is to plan for the worst and hope for the best. (Don’t lose my goggles in the water/don’t wreck on the bike/hope my body works/pray a lot, and ENJOY the experience!)

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Ironman 70.3 World Championships Race Report - David Wild

Ah, it’s over. The race of the year is finally coming to an end. The race I’ve been training for, preparing for, hyping up, and qualifying for, is actually coming to an end in the middle of the hospitable, historic, and effervescent town of Zell am See, Austria. I’m barely running, but I’m grinning from sweaty ear to sweaty ear. My family is screaming my name and the fans are doing what they do best–making each of us athletes feel like true rock stars.

I haven’t written a race report in a while, and even this one has taken me nearly a week to write. There was no down time after flying back from Munich, Germany to Kona, Hawaii earlier this week. I transitioned immediately back into my leather dress shoes and gingham teacher uniform. With my Master program in secondary education in full swing with several assignments due and a classroom observation this week, I haven’t even had time to unpack my bags. It’s now pau hana and I can happily welcome this mini finish line that is Aloha Friday.

Let’s get straight to it. I had a lousy performance at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I’m proud of what I was able to muster, but that’s just it–10 out of 13.1 miles of the half marathon were just what I could muster. I did not train all year and prepare for months to muster the biggest race of my life. The intention was to race. The stated goal was to have a break-through race. However, as all of my fellow triathletes have noted–the run was hard.

Having qualified at Ironman 70.3 Boise in June, with an olympic race at the Hilo Triathlon and a sprint duathlon at the Greg Cameron’s Fireman Fund Biathlon in July, I had a solid three months of heavy training. I peaked at about 16 hours in one week. This is not exceptional, but with such a demanding schedule as a first year teacher has, I’m more than pleased with my consistent 15-hour/week training sessions. My coach, Mitchell Reiss, of Endurance Triathlon Performance America, set me up for an excellent race. He has consistently gotten me improvements while never once leading me to injury. We only gave myself about 10 days of a taper because with the 36 hours of traveling to Europe ahead of me, I knew I would have some good down time before the race.

The preparation and logistical planning for my family and myself to embark on spectating and racing a world championship event deserves a report all on its own. Let’s just say that I’m thoroughly impressed with Ironman, Zell am See, the volunteers, and my family for making all of prerace staging, so smooth and sensical. Perhaps I have blocked out any of the negative logistics, but I cannot complain. I never felt more prepared for a race in my life.

That’s not to say that I had any idea what a race that starts at 11:00am, Austria-time, would feel like. I had four whole days to adjust to the time zone that was 12 hours ahead of my tropical Hawaii time. I’m still not sure I’ve adjusted nor have I adjusted back (I’m in a strange place right now). I felt so ready though. My breakfast was simple and filling consisting of white bread, eggs, a splash of coffee, peanut butter and fruit. My pump-up tunes were blasting as I lathered on my final touches of non-petroleum vaseline and anti-chafing cream. The phone then got put in the dry-clothes bag and thrown in a pile of bags to be picked up at the end of the race. My bike was racked with two frozen water bottles melting away for me to slurp on in less than 40 minutes. My run bag and bike bags were dangling with the other outstanding, qualified, 1800 athletes’ respective bags that had our precious gear and attire to propel us forward into the known unknown that is a long course triathlon.

1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 miles of running towered above me as I put on my goggles and swim cap and entered the water with my age group of 25 to 29 year old males. Thankfully, good and new friends, Tim Rea (AUS 26), Brett King (USA 27) and Mike Valunich (USA 29), were there getting loose and getting pumped for me to high five and get centered with. We were pumped. We all knew we were about to embark on a true journey of alpine adventure.

The cannon went off and I was told that a perfect smoke ring puffed forward as if Gandalf himself granted us permission to explode into this race. I stayed back as to not blow myself up in the early 500m of the swim as I’m wont to do. The contact between other swimmers and myself was minimal and I only got grabbed on the ass once while only elbowing someones elbow (?) once or twice. I found a red and blue wetsuit dude to pace off of and I got in someone’s slip stream to get in the zone. Utilizing my relatively new technique taught by Karlyn Pipes of Aquatic Edge, I made my pulls short and shallow with long reaches. I kept my stroke wide and kept my neck and shoulders as loose and relaxed as I could. A good friend and Bay Watch lifeguard of Venice Beach, Katie Wong, advised me to try to go as fast as I can while using the least amount of energy. I kept this in my head and stayed in someone’s bubbles as long as I could.

The water was the perfect temperature, somewhere around 67 degrees according to my body’s thermometer. It was clear and tasted delicious. The sun was shining and before I knew it, we were already turning around for the second half. Mr. blue and red wetsuit was still to my right and I kept him in sight, but he kept trailing off too right and I saw to my left that the “peloton” of swimmers was hugging those right buoys. I gave a few extra sightings on the yellow archway to welcome us back at the beach, and thought I may be drifting too far left. I made a move and dashed into the solo-ness with no one to draft off of to get into the pack on my left. This may have been a bad move because with 100m to go, I saw Mr. red and blue right next to me. I used up some extra energy making that sprint, when I could have stayed with him to end up at the same place. Oh well, I felt stoked. No leaky goggles, no serious head bangs or bone clatterings with other swimmers means I had a good swim.

A hand grabbed mine as I stepped out of the water, onto the stairs. The first thing I thought was, “Don’t you dare touch a button on my Garmin right now. I’m in Triathlon Mode and if you reset my data I’ll be pissed. Must. Have. Data.” Thankfully this volunteer only guided me up the steps without touching any buttons on my precious watch. I threw off my goggles and cap. I ran through the transition tent unzipping my wetsuit. I glanced at my watch: 28 minutes and change! This was a new PR for the swim during a long course triathlon. I was stoked. I thoughtfully disrobed my wetsuit and stuffed it in my bike bag after grabbing all the fun stuff out. I gobbled down my fig bar, attached my race belt with bib number, and clipped on my aero helmet. Within 200 meters, I’d be on my bicycle ready to rip down some buttery Austrian asphalt.

The flying mount went smoothly and I slipped my feet into my rubber-banded shoes without incident. I spun my legs out and stayed loose for the first five minutes with a high cadence. I seemed to be passing quite a few people on the bike path and while getting on to the closed off road that was our bike course. Positions were then changing rapidly. I would pass the older age groupers who started before us while some even older age groups from the wave that started after us started passing me as well. The little village we sped through at a minimal climb was quaint and interesting. This road spit us out onto the main highway that would follow an ice-blue river down below us to the right. The highway had a gradual descent and was roaring fun. It was ours for the taking. I made sure to keep my distance from riders in front of me. I could already tell it would be a strategic challenge the entire race to ensure that I don’t get a drafting penalty by riding less than five bike-lengths behind the rider in front. There were so many athletes jockeying for position. The motorbike referees were out in full force visibly scrutinizing us.

All of a sudden, I was riding in a spread out pack of about six neon aerodynamic cyclists entering a tunnel about 500m long. It was as if we were futuristic speed demons blazing through a science fiction world as the dark tunnel lights streamed by us and the cavernous echo of our carbon wheels screamed around us. I shouted, “CHEE HOO!”, with no ability to contain my excitement. I was racing some of the best age groupers in the world inside of an alpine mountain somewhere in Austria.

David & 4th place pro Magali Tisseyre!

The climb began quickly. This ascent was a popular topic of discussion before the race. Everyone asked each other if they had checked it out yet. Everyone had a different opinion about the steepness and toughness of this 2000ft climb. Some were intimidated, some were nonchalant about it. Personally, I was not afraid of the climb, but more so the descent afterwards. I had driven it with my support crew a.k.a. “Famille Sauvage” a.k.a. my family, the day before. We were in for a steep drop with four hairpin turns. I decided to not redline it as I had originally planned so I wouldn’t blow myself up. A German dude yelled “David! Go.” with a smile as he passed me. He was encouraging, not unfriendly. I then caught him in a few minutes and reciprocated the support. I was almost done with my first water bottle having taken a sip from my electrolyte bottle as well and had taken a caffeinated gu. Then I saw a new friend, Mike Valunich, pass me at a steady clip. I stayed with him and chatted for a minute or so. He described his frustration with the racers breaking the rules by drafting already this early in the race. I agreed, but changed the subject to how awesome that tunnel was. He agreed. I laughed to myself that the first real conversation I had with this new friend was in the middle of the biggest climb of the biggest race of my life. Probably not the most efficient time to have a chat and get to know someone. An ambulance with sirens on zoomed past us on the uphill. I let Mike go and soon after I saw him get stuck behind a pack of slow climbers. With a motorbike approaching him, I got a little concerned. I saw them say something to him and his pack and he turned his head in what appeared to be confusion. Later I found out that he indeed got blue carded for that. The refs were on a vendetta indeed.

A lady rider was being put into a stretcher with a full on neck brace on the side of the road. I have no idea who she was because I didn’t hear about any pro females getting into any crashes. There were no other women in front of our wave, so who knows who she was.

The final town of the climb was approaching. I tossed my first water bottle that was almost done and grabbed a fresh one. By then, that’s 200 calories, some electrolytes, and 750ml of water by the time I had about 1km of climbing to go. The packs of riders were thick. It was nearly impossible not to be five bike lengths behind someone at that point. This makes it even more ridiculous that Mike got penalized there. After the race I found out that a good friend and talented triathlete from Hawaii/Texas/Brazil, Toni, got disqualified for entering the left lane by crossing over the white line for a second or two only to avoid a pack of blocking riders on the climb. I even crossed over at one point to do the same just for a second. I’m lucky I didn’t get caught. His race was over before even the half way mark. Some people think the refs were on a vendetta to prove to the world that they were more strict and enforcing the rules more so than they did at Worlds in Mt. Treblant last year which was a “drafting fest.”

I took the 15% climb at the end as a fixie rider going up California St. in San Francisco would. I tacked back and forth utilizing the diagonals, looking odd to the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking fans on the side of the road. This may or may not have been helpful. It lengthens the course effectively, but lessens the grade. Suddenly I remembered how I did not do nearly enough hip-flexor stretching and rolling. I meant to do that the nights before! I even brought my foam roller all the way to Austria. I needed to roll those out. They get pretty tight and compressed during a long ride. A few hours later, I would greatly regret not rolling those out. The cows were waiting for us and the fans’ cowbells were ringing at the top where the Oakley archway welcomed us. I flipped my gears quickly to ready myself for the descent. Another ambulance came blaring up the climb and sped past me heading towards some poor soul on the descent.

It was over before I could even notice. I had to apply the brakes quite a bit. Had I ridden the course previously I would have descended much more confidently. I took it slow and steady letting a few athletes pass me who decided it was OK to cross over into the left lane. My carbon Williams wheels were squealing and I suddenly got paranoid that they would heating up so much to either melt my brake pads or elevate the temperature of the tube so much as to pop it. One rider was seen stumbling into the arms of a medic with the ambulance on the side of the road. There were about ten riders with their bikes on their sides while they mechanically changed their tubes. I pumped my brakes and eventually was taking that soft left out of the last town while getting back into the aero position. It was time to roar.

My watts never really spiked to my observations going up the hill, they surely dropped while I descended. As I sped up to make up for lost time I saw I was pushing 400w which is above my threshold. I kept trying to tone it down, but it was just too fun! I was pushing 400-450w whenever I passed someone. My cadence stayed at 90rpm, but I was hauling and powering like a beast. This probably was not good in the long run (in the literal long runahead of me). The scenery was breath-taking. The idyllic pastures were electrically green. The sparsely situated Austrian farms and churches were ready for tourist shops to make some postcards out of. The entire course was framed by the Austrian Alps with snow covered peaks and Mordor-like crags jutting at oblique angles to remind us how raw the tectonic plates beneath us once crashed.

A few motorbikes lingered next to me uncomfortably many times. I always slowed down to ensure I had at least seven or eight bike lengths in between me and the next rider. Once any of these motorbikes left, I was quickly passed by someone behind me to get in between me and the rider in front. It pissed me off greatly. They were ready to draft. I then would have to back off again. As we entered into northern Zell am See with some technical turns, the riders got bunched up. We were thick and it was exhilarating to feel like we were in a real road race. It felt like my first ever cycling race. Everyone was drafting. It was mayhem. I couldn’t back off even if I wanted to. Motorcyclist referees had barely enough room to get by. They were not calling out anyone thankfully. It was impossible to give anyone room. As we entered into the old village of Kaprun however, I was getting fed up with the drafters. I had been passed too many times by mini pelotons four to five riders deep. I kept feeling like there were a bunch of cheaters out here. I knew they weren’t malintentioned and I like to think they were just riding that way because of the quantity of riders and the narrowness of the course. Their brash lines of riders made me doubt this however.

A motorbike approached me as I was a few bikes back from a rider and said something. I put on my brakes to make sure I wasn’t called out. I then yelled at him to look ahead at the drafting peloton 200m up. He did the weirdest thing in response: he put a quieting finger to his lips and even over the roar of his engine and the wind in my helmet, I heard his awkwardly long, “Shhhhhh.” It was the longest shhh I’ve ever heard. Maybe 10 seconds of pure shhh-ing. I didn’t get it. Was he telling me to shut the hell up or else I’d be red carded? Or was he telling me to not make a scene because he saw what I saw and wanted to sneak up on them. After telling this same story to the legendary Magali Tisseyre, next to whom I sat on the glorious 13 hour flight back to the USA two days later, she agreed that the ref was actually on my side and was telling me not to give him away. This could be confirmed by seeing him flash a blue card at the pack of riders I was talking about.

Above is what triathletes worldwide are saying when they find out David sat next to Magali Tisseyre on the flight home.

I was losing steam by the end of the ride and I never got my average speed back up to even 22 mph as was hoped after that destructive climb that sent my average speed to 18mph after a roaring 26 on the first 20km. By the time I was unstrapping my shoes, preparing to dismount, I had consumed a total of four and a half 750ml water bottles, one of which was an electrolyte mix, one fig bar, and four gus. That’s only 500 calories with 400 of them being in gel form. I did not plan that well. I kept thinking on the ride that I should have had two more fig bars, or some solid food with a 200-300 more calories.

It was time to dismount. I hopped off smoothly and wobbly trotted my bike back to the transition area. I wasn’t too stiff as I had feared. I made my way to the bike racks, left my helmet strapped on (I had no idea when we were allowed to take that off and didn’t want to risk getting flagged for taking it off early). A toilet! A lua! I ran towards it and decided to go use it. I timed how long it took to pee and it was only 10 seconds! That was a mental and physical relief. I did not want to have a repeat of HITS Napa Valley 2014 Long Course where I peed on myself during the run. That stinks. I grabbed my run bag, and swapped out my helmet for my run stuff. The run was on.

I’m running the start of the race into town and the crowds are cheering! They’re all there for me! I’m winning! Oh. I realize as she passes that I’m right on the amazing Heather Wuertle‘s tail. The tall, Canadian is running at a 6:40min/mi pace, which is right where I wanted to be. I stayed with her for at least a mile. I cheered her on thinking she was on her last lap. She was only on her first! She slowly escaped me and I let her. I thought I should be at6:50 or even 7. She was going, going, gone. Her form looked extremely fatigued, but her pace said otherwise. The heat was there as I rounded out onto the lake path. They said it was 85-90 degrees Farenheit. It didn’t feel that bad. There was close to zero humidity. I’m a Kona boy! I train in the oppressive, clothes-sopping sweat-filled heat that makes any workout look like I just fell into a storm drain. This dry heat was nothing! Or was it…

My pace kept dropping, every mile. It was disheartening to say the least. I took in a cup of gatorade and water every aid station. I didn’t take in any food or gus. That was stupid. I started walking through the aid stations to ensure I got in my calories and hydration. I kept feeling like the fluids weren’t going all the way down. It was a scary feeling because I’ve walked a race a few years ago having had this same sensation. It felt like the fluid was stuck at the bottom of my throat, not entering my stomach. The fans were cheering me on and the runners were inspiring me. Then I saw Magali! She was in fourth place and I was running right with her on her final lap. I stayed with her for less than a mile, but it was so fun! To see these women run by me was humbling and inspiring. I couldn’t believe how fast she was at the end of a half marathon. I told her Bravo, but I don’t think she heard me. I stayed on her shoulder to try to use some of her energy. A hand-car racer came up behind us and another runner shouted at us to watch out. She was confused as we both thought this hand-car racer was someone on the wrong course. He was totally legit, we were just in a strange state of mind. I had to let her go too though, my pace was suffering.

I was damn near walking. I was struggling just to get back down to an 8:00 min/mi pace. The numbers just kept climbing and the finish line just kept getting farther away in my mind. I was still smiling, but I was not proud. This was my slowest half marathon ever. I started taking in red bull at the last 5k to go. I took in a couple of cokes at the next aid station as well. I was crumbling, but I carried on. I marched on. My fellow athletes passed me with a fury. Then I saw Thomas Vonach! A killer athlete from Hawaii was running swiftly and confidently. I let him pass but not without a pat on his sweaty back. He was charging. Then I saw him pass me again. I was so confused. He must have had to stop to go pee or something. It was all in slow motion from there into town. I saw my mom and dad. They had their awesome Go Wild! sign up. I blew them a kiss. My sister and her partner in crime were screaming my name and taking pictures. They were so awesome. Everyone was so awesome. I was so happy again and I pushed it for that last mile even though I didn’t even break a 9:00min/mi pace. The finish chute was there and I was staggering confusedly past the beautiful Austrian cheerleaders (full on pom-pom clad and choreographed dancing). I threw up my fists and it was over.

I have so many people to thank. This race had so much to do with all of the people who have supported me throughout the years. From San Diego, to Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, to Kona, Hawaii, and the new friends I made at this race! I cannot thank the Oakland Triathlon Club enough. They’ve inspired me and supported me since their inception. Chris Van Luen has been there for me since we started the club a couple of years ago which is a living and thriving organism that I had no idea would be such a success as it is now. Bike Works Kona has had my back since I moved here and they’ve got me rolling and styling since I’ve known them. Thank you Bike Works! Hawaiian Ola keeps me healthy and pumped off some healthy local noni and fruits. Another warm shout out goes to Triple Threat Triathlon who has rooted me on since I met them last year. They’re a grass roots club with members across the nation on the rise.

Thank you to all of my friends and family for the love and constant encouragement. Sometimes I forget who I am, and you guys keep me in touch with myself! Finally, thank you to the keiki of Hawaii. They have given me purpose like no other has ever before. Their inspiring and persevering little selves motivate me to get intense and to stay focused. I’m in love with triathlon, but teaching and motivating the youth to become their best selves is my passion.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Skye's the Limit! Interview with Skye Moench

Skye Moench (formerly Murphy) has been turning heads on both the local and national tri scene this season, including a dominant, overall win at Ironman 70.3 Boise in June. If all goes to plan, she will seal the deal on her pro card at Silverman 70.3 in Vegas next month. Among other things, here Skye talks about her breakout 2015 season, some bad luck (despite stellar performances) at USAT Nationals, and the excitement level of tax accounting vs. triathlon.

What's your athletic background and how did you get into triathlon?

My athletic background is running. I started running because my dad was into running and got my sister and I into it in elementary school. I stayed involved with track and cross country teams from junior high through high school, ran my first (and only) marathon at age 16, and I’ve just been hooked and kept up on running since. The last few years I really got into half marathons and trying to push my PR lower and lower. I LOVE that distance. As far as the other triathlon sports go - I grew up knowing how to swim, but was never part of a team. My mom had my sisters and I in lessons at a young age, but that was pretty much it. Biking I picked up in the summer of 2010 when I was able to buy myself a road bike, and I’ve been hooked on that ever since! I’ve been able to make a lot of good cycling friends who have pushed me up all the canyons here in Utah. I’ve put in a ton of miles (and elevation gain) in the last few years on my bike, so it’s definitely not foreign to me.

Skye's triathlon debut
How did I get into triathlon? It’s funny, because I wrote a huge paper in high school all about doing a triathlon. Apparently I really wanted to do one back then, or at least thought it would be cool, but I obviously didn’t do much about that. I “officially” got into triathlon when I was at BYU and I had a good friend who had caught the triathlon bug. He knew I was really into running, and thought I’d make a great triathlete, so that’s when the seed was really planted. There was a “Cougar Tri” at BYU (a baby sprint) my friend told me I should do, and he offered for me to use his TT bike so I could do it. I bought some bike shoes so I could clip into his pedals, learned how to clip in a few days before the race, and I was good to go! That’s how I got into triathlon!

Like many triathletes, I enjoy analyzing results... I did some digging, and going back to when I moved here (2011 season), I haven't seen your name too often since you exploded on the scene this year. Were you in hiding over the past few years, racing a lot and I somehow missed you, or has 2015 just been a huge breakout year for you?

Haha! Great question! I haven’t been in complete hiding, and I’m definitely not new to a race startline, but this year has been different than years past. My first tri was in 2009, and I probably did two triathlons a year after that, except in 2014 I didn’t do a single triathlon. Along with a couple tris, I would typically do 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, bicycle hill climbs, and other relay/race events. I would usually do pretty well in any of these races - almost always top 3 overall, so I wasn’t just hanging out in the back, either :). In 2014 I was really into the half marathon and pushing my PR, so that’s pretty much all I raced.

With that said, 2015 has been a big breakout year for me in triathlon! It’s been a really fun ride! I decided in February that I was kind of over the desk-job life and that I really wanted to follow my passion for triathlon. Despite not being a total triathlon junkie the last several years, I really did love triathlon and thought it was the sport that I could be the most successful in if I really gave it my full attention. Long story short, I went part-time at my job and hired a coach after the April 15 tax deadline with the full intention of seeing if I had what it would take to race professionally in triathlon.

BAM swept the women's podium at Toughman
One race where I did see your name was the Utah Half in 2013. Comparing to this year's race, the newly branded Toughman Utah Half (Aug 22), you improved your swim 13 min to 26:38, bike 9 min to 2:21, run 10 min to 1:27, and overall time ~33 min from 4:49 to 4:16. You finished 3rd overall, behind a guy from Idaho (who I learned got 6th overall at Boise 70.3) and only a minute back of a local, legendary beast named Rory Duckworth. 4:49 is already a stellar time, but to what do you attribute this huge improvement?

I attribute this huge improvement to a few things: I got a coach (Wes Johnson of Balanced Art Multisport), I went part-time at work, and I have made my training and triathlon a top priority. If I had to pick one of those, it’d be that I got a coach. While I trained a lot before, it wasn’t really that intentional. It was just like “Oh, I’ll run 8 miles this morning, then go climb Big Mountain after work. Maybe I’ll go to the pool later this week.” Having a coach makes it so all my training has a purpose, and I’m pushing myself and recovering the way I need to in order to get better, plus I train specifically for the big races on my schedule. I swim almost every day now, train around 20 hours a week, and since I’m not working full-time, I’m able to still have somewhat of a life and get the recovery/sleep that I need.

When I met you minutes before the start at Boise 70.3, you mentioned you would be going for your pro card for 2016. At what moment did you make that decision and have the inner belief that you could do it?

I made the decision to try and go pro back in February when I asked my boss if I could go part-time, and when I called Jen Johnson (my coach’s wife) to talk about joining their training group. At first I think I told people I just wanted to “see how good I could get,” but that was my way of saying “I’m going to try to go pro” without sounding crazy.

on her way to a 1:27 half marathon split
I quickly just started owning that I wanted to go pro - it’s easy to own it when you have a coach and people around you who think you can do it too. I would say that I had the inner belief that I could go pro when I made the decision to change my work and training situation. But even before then, I would watch the pros at Kona, I would read interviews with the pros, and I felt inside like if I wanted to be a pro, I could. I would just have to really go for it, and that’s sort of what I’ve done this year.

So it sounds like that's still the plan! What's the process/gameplan for becoming pro?

That’s still the plan! The actual process to qualify is pretty simple - just certain criteria for certain races that you have to meet. I would have had my pro-card after Age Group Nationals (you qualify if you place top five overall at the Olympic distance), but I got a couple biking penalties that bumped me from third place. It was never THE plan for me to get my pro card at nationals, but it would have been nice to take that pressure off. So the plan is to qualify at Silverman 70.3 on October 4 - I’ll have to place top three overall amateur female, and finish within 8% of the women’s pro field.

It was a non-pro race this year, but you went out that day in Boise and were the first female finisher overall... by over 11 minutes!! No two race days are identical, but comparing to the pro women at the same race in 2014, your 31:40 swim would've been 5th among pros, 2:36:32 bike 7th, 1:30:10 run 4th, and 4:42:05 5th place overall. How much confidence did that give you that you can go out and compete at the highest level?

Boise was a great confidence builder! My coach told me he thought I would take the overall female win. I thought that was a bit ambitious at first, but then I realized I had to think that I could do it if I really wanted to win it. Leading up to the race I was nervous, but then just told myself that I was ready for this and I decided that I was just going to go for the win. Boise was my first BIG race with a coach, and really first big triathlon at all. I’d only raced local up until that point, so it was fun to think that I’d be exposed to some new talent at an Ironman branded race out of town.

1st overall female by 11+ minutes!
As far as comparing times, it’s definitely fun to compare and see that I’d probably be able to hang with the pros - makes me feel good about transitioning to the pro field. To be honest though, I was really wanting to race Boise faster than I did, so it only motivated me to get back to work and get faster. The glory of winning lasts about a day, and then it’s onto the next and trying to improve even more. But no doubt, I gained some confidence in my abilities that day.

What was your experience like at USAT Nationals in Milwaukee, and what distance of racing do you feel most suits you?

MIlwaukee was a lot of fun, but it was also a big roller coaster for me! My coach pitched the race to me as something that would be fun, and something I wouldn’t be able to do once I went pro, so I should just come do it. Though we were planning on me racing, I didn’t register or book my ticket until about 10 days out! A couple weeks before the race, my coach brought up how I could get my pro card there if I went top five. I thought that was a little ambitious cause this was going to be a big race - a National Championship! I had never raced at a race that big, but again, I realized I had to think it and believe it for it to really happen, so the week before the race I just decided I was going to go for top five and get that pro card thing over with!

I raced the Olympic distance on Saturday - my first EVER Olympic distance triathlon. Before the race I wanted to cry because I felt super grateful to be there racing, and I felt so nervous because I wanted to do really well. I let that feeling last about 20 seconds and then switched my brain to race mode. The Olympic race went great! I swam well, biked really well, and ran my way to third overall and first in my age group! I was ECSTATIC when I crossed the line. It was surreal - I was at a national championship and I just went top three. Later in the day, my mom texted me and said “there are penalties showing up on your time now! I am freaking out! What’s happening?!” Enter sick feeling in my stomach! We checked the results, and sure enough SIX minutes of penalties were added to my bike time.

I went to the penalty tent to talk about it and they told me I had two position penalties, which means I was staying on the left too long after passing. I felt sick. I wanted so badly to just go back in time and not stay on the left! I had no idea that was a rule (lesson learned - read the rules!), and I was so worried about a drafting penalty that I figured it would be smart to look like I was always passing (which I pretty much was!). I cried. It moved me down to 21st overall, so goodbye pro card, goodbye podium. My coach reassured me that the penalties didn’t change my actual performance. It definitely helped me that my coach took it well, and I quickly got over it and told myself I would just get my pro card at Silverman. Plus, I was racing the Sprint distance the next day and I really couldn’t afford the mental or emotional stress, so I just let it go.

Sunday came - I couldn’t believe I was racing AGAIN. Back to back felt crazy! But I was excited to go out and race hard again, and hopefully not get any penalties! I had no idea how I would do on the sprint, but decided to go for top five. The only worry in my mind was my feet! I TORE my feet up racing in the Olympic the day before - no socks didn’t go so well for me. I taped my feet up like crazy, and I must have looked so ghetto - literally had electrical tape around both my feet hoping it would keep the bandaging on during the swim. The electrical tape worked great, just in case anyone is wondering.

My goal for the Sprint was to split my Olympic time in half, which pre-penalty was 2:07. I didn’t quite make that goal (1:05 was my time), but I did end up finishing second overall female! The highlight of the sprint was running my fastest 5K time ever, even being off the bike and having raced the day before. I ran an 18:48 with my taped up feet, and my pace was faster than my 10K off the bike the day before, so that was awesome! Of course I was pumped about the second place overall finish - it definitely made the bike penalties a little less painful for me :). I thought several times how cool it would have been to ACTUALLY be top three both days, but what can you do. I knew in a few days that I wouldn’t even be thinking about nationals, and I would be focused on my next race.

Needless to say, I learned a lot that weekend. Learned some new race rules, learned some tips for traveling for races, learned what racing back to back feels like, and learned that I was one of the fastest age groupers in the nation. It was a successful weekend, and I’m glad I decided to go!

What distance best suits me? In the age-group world, I think I can go out and do really well at any distance. In the professional world, it’s a totally different story. The professional short course racers are incredible swimmers, and I just don’t have that background. I do love the Sprint and Olympic distances, but professionally I think I’m best suited for the 70.3 distance right now - a good combination of speed and endurance. That’s what I’ll be focusing on next year, and I’m really excited to see what I can do in that distance!

Do you have anything already scheduled for 2016 and what are your goals for your first year of professional racing?

Nothing is officially scheduled yet because I’m not officially pro, but I’ve talked with my coach about doing Oceanside 70.3 in March. It’s a big, competitive race for the pro field, so it would be good to see how I stack up racing other pros. I want to do St. George 70.3 in May if I can - it would be fun to race in my home state!

Everyone knows triathlon is not the most lucrative sport in terms of $ (although some would argue it is more exciting than accounting) Do you plan on keeping your day job at Ernst & Young, taking a leave of absence, resigning, etc?

Haha! DEFINITELY more exciting than accounting. Right now the plan is to stay working part-time at EY. I am on a 65% flexible work arrangement where I work three days a week at home, and two days a week in the office, and it works out to be about 5 hours a day. Being able to work from home is key - I don’t have to spend the time or energy getting ready and driving into work, and I can go to workouts in the middle of the day or take a nap if I really need it. I am able to support myself and my triathlon passion doing what I’m doing, so for now it’s working out well. Some days I still feel really overwhelmed by the demands of my job, or I’ll stress about making it through a busy season being part-time, but I just have to tell myself to chill out and enjoy each day. I feel really grateful and lucky to have a boss who is supportive of me keeping my professional tax career going while I try to seriously pursue professional triathlon. I definitely don’t take this opportunity for granted. Hopefully I can pick up some solid sponsors and win some prize money in the future to help supplement, but for now I will keep doing what I’m doing!

What motivates you to put in the hard work you do?

I don’t like losing!! I just like being really good at whatever I do. Call it perfectionism, over-achiever, whatever you want. I just call it passion and being driven to be the best at what I do. When I’m in, I’m ALL in and I do it right. When I start racing pro, I know I’m not going to be the fastest pro, but then I have something new to chase. This year it’s been chasing that pro-card, so next year I’ll be chasing the other pros, quite literally!

Thanks for the time, Skye, and best of luck at Silverman and beyond!!

Of course this interview reminded me of Notorious BIG's 90's classic Sky's The Limit. Chorus above, full song (radio edit, this is a family site :) here. Keep on pressin on, Skye!

Follow Skye's journey to the professional ranks @missskyemoench