Friday, October 21, 2016

Ironman 70.3 World Championship Race Report

We're super proud of Cassie Whittington (Ohio) for qualifying for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships and making the journey Down Under for this prestigious race.

In her own words, this was an amazing trip and race experience that she will never forget!

Before qualifying for the World’s at Eagleman 70.3, I signed up for the first ever Ironman branded race in Ohio. I was super excited to get to race in front of my friends and family. The only problem was Ohio was just two weeks before the World Championships. While this was enough time to recover properly, the two races, with the extra travel time required for Australia, wasn’t ideal for me.

I was just getting use to my new Argon 18 bike when I found out I had to ship it to Australia three weeks before the race, which meant before the Ohio race took place. The Thursday before Ohio I jumped on my older bike I hadn’t been riding, and something about the position change caused my ankle to tweak a little. Luckily I had two days before the race was taking place, so I rested the ankle and hoped for the best. On race day, my ankle felt fine during the swim and only hurt slightly during the bike, and luckily was okay for the run. I ended up having an amazing race, finally breaking 5 hours with a time of 4:56. This was enough to qualify me for World’s next year, a good feeling to have going into the race this year!

A few days after the Ohio race, my ankle started to feel worse. I decided to avoid running and had three massages on the ankle, hoping it would help. I had to fly out on Tuesday for Australia, and on that morning I couldn’t even place weight on my ankle (start the FREAK out!!). I PAINFULLY made it to Australia, with the 24 hours of travel to get there only making things worse as I hobbled through the airports. The 14 hour trip from Los Angeles to Brisbane was painfully long, both in duration and the fact that my ankle was throbbing most of the way. My ankle was swollen, it was definitely impinged, and I could barely walk to the expo to Athlete check-in. I’m sure my competitors were wondering what I was doing limping through the line. I checked in, grabbed my bike from TriTransport (had a quick panic attack, the brakes rattled loose on the flight and weren’t working but the bike mechanics fixed them), and went to my perfectly located apartment RIGHT across the street from the race start to take a quick nap and try to adjust to the 15 hour time change forward. I began doing banded distraction of the ankle…which I continued for the next three days along with plenty of self-massage with a lacrosse ball. This gave me temporary relief, enough to feel a little more confident that I didn’t fly all the way to Australia only to be unable to race.

Since running and biking were out of the question, I attempted an ocean swim. Mooloolaba was simply beautiful with the sun shining and athletes everywhere. The weather felt perfect except for the wind was horrible! It was so bad that the surf club advised that nobody go out into the water! Well, athletes were still swimming so I thought I would try since I would be in a wetsuit. There were big swells and crashing waves (this isn’t Ohio!), so after getting killed by waves, swallowing a ton of salt water and swimming nowhere, I quit after 10 minutes and a messily 200 yards….the only part of the race I was calm about now was scaring me! Being tossed and tumbled made me motion sick, which would show up again race day. I tried to remain positive and smile through all of these obstacles, because it’s insane to complain and be negative when you are at the WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS IN AUSTRALIA! There were athletes from 83 different countries, and I was simply in awe of the magnitude of this race. I enjoyed the parade of nations and the welcome dinner, making friends from all over the world. It was now time to chill and hope for the best race morning…I had so many people sending well wishes that I couldn’t help but be excited and grateful for all the love and support I had, no matter what happened race day.

Race morning was gorgeous!! The wind was much calmer, making EVERYONE breath a huge sigh of relief. My ankle was still impinged, but wasn’t extremely painful like the days prior. I was hopeful and figured no matter what, I was finishing this race! The only positive about the injury was that it allowed me to stay relaxed since my expectation for the race was now only to finish without permanent damage to myself.

I set up my transition and headed down to the start to watch the pros go off, as my wave was the last one so I had a few hours to spare. I’ve yet to figure out why they have our age group go last, as it means we have to pass many slower age groups, but I’m not sure my complaining will get anything done. I stood by many of the pros as they got ready to race, feeling lucky to be able to race alongside such amazing athletes.

The ocean swim had me a little nervous since I’d never raced in the ocean, but it did not start on the beach but instead was a deep water start and I was very thankful for that. Our age group was huge and it was a very chaotic swim with bodies everywhere, I never found clear space and was being hit the whole time. The chaos did help me forget about the ankle for the time being! The rocky-ness of the swim plus swallowing salt water made me a little motion sick, so I swam the whole race breathing every stroke so that I could focus on the sky, which seemed to help. If I took multiple strokes before breathing, something about looking down made me nauseas. I was thankful when the swim was over, yet nervous to run on the ankle to transition for the first time. Swim time was 30:51, not a bad start to the day but not as fast as I had hoped for.

Transition was narrow and LONG, a half mile long to be exact – it took up five blocks of street. Most of that had to be run in my cycling shoes, so I was extremely cautious jogging to my bike with my ankle and was actually shoved to the side by numerous competitors. Definitely my first experience with full on contact in transition! It was a reminder of how serious this race was.

Jumping on the bike is where the fun began. The ankle felt weird from the get-go, so I had to be cautious putting too much pressure on the right pedal. I typically mash the pedals and ride at a very low cadence, but with the ankle I had to pedal lightly and fast. I had a large group of girls in my age group around me, so that was fun as we all kept trying to get ahead. We were going fast for the first 30 miles on a straight highway averaging over 23 mph and I was feeling great since my legs were very well rested. But I knew what was ahead, so I tried to keep myself in check.

At mile 33-ish came a very steep close to 20% grade hill, a grade I certainly have never ridden or seen in my life. I couldn’t believe how many people were walking their bikes up the hills. There was no way I was going to do that, so I weaved through the carnage and got to the top, afraid to death to stand on my pedals because of the ankle, so I tried to do the climbs seated most of the way. I thought climbing was an absolute blast, but the descend was scary! I never had a chance to ride or drive the course before hand, so I didn’t know how the descends were or where the sharp 90 degree curves were, so I had to slow down quite a bit to feel safe. I also didn’t have the handling skills on my new Argon since it’s relatively new and I haven’t ridden it much yet. I lost a lot of ground riding my brakes down the hills, as many flew by me, but I was okay with that. Coming into the last 10 miles, I had a few girls blatantly drafting off of me, which was annoying. I went about my own race without worrying about it. My bike split was 2:42.

Starting out on the run, I felt great. I always try to avoid looking at my watch during my run and just go on feel. I actually do the whole race that way, only looking at time to fuel and never wearing a heart rate strap or using a power meter to gage intensity or looking at my speed splits. For some reason I glanced down at the 3 mile marker and was excited to see 20 minutes…I started to feel good about things! THEN the hill at mile 6 is when my ankle got impinged again and I would get sharp pain on landing. I walked it out for a minute and then managed to run on the outside of my foot to avoid the pain, which was awkward and slowed me down.

I was having an interesting conversation with myself at this point, but certainly wasn’t going to stop. By mile 9 it felt loosened up again and the pain lessened. I began staring at the ground, never looking at the crowd (I wish I did because they were amazing!), and just counting every single step to distract my mind away from the ankle pain. I found a nice pace that felt okay with the ankle, but then by mile 11 I started to cramp in my right hamstring. 

 This has happened before with my left hamstring, but never the right leg…which I attribute to the awkward running gate I had to do because of the ankle. I did walk it out a little, and at this time I looked around at the amazing crowd support along the whole finishing chute. It was so cool, and felt like the crazy fans you see at the Tour.

I began seeing people in my age group passing me, but I knew I just couldn’t do anything about it because my body wasn’t cooperating and I was doing the best I could. I grinded it out and found that finish line! Finishing time was 5:06, enough to place 31st in my age group. Races like this teach you a lot about yourself and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to race!

I am so thankful for all the love and support I received from my friends and family and work family at Goodbodies. Having everyone behind me got me through the toughest race I’ve had. Thank you to Triple Threat Triathlon for the support and Argon 18 for the FAST bike.

Monday, October 17, 2016


B.J. Christenson is a local legend in my state, a 9x Kona Qualifier who has won more races than you can shake a stick at.

After this year's Ironman World Championships???

Let's just say the legend has grown...

Paul Bunyan territory.

Kick back and enjoy this read... hopefully it inspires you to do something epic yourself, in any aspect of life!

The Ironman World Championships in Kona, HI was supposed to be my “A” race in 2016. In fact I hardly raced this year trying to put together a race at the world championships that would finally let me step on to the podium and collect a coveted Umeke. On my final training ride the day before I left for the Big Island I decided to go do some testing to verify the machine was ready to perform. I have a route that I have taken over the past 10 years and have numbers telling me where I am at relative to myself and wanted that last bit of confirmation I was ready. I set out on the ride feeling quite good and after my first 2 intervals I was feeling very optimistic about my fitness. I had 4 intervals left and debated on whether to eat some nutrition before I started my 3rd or after. I decided it would be better to eat after the 2nd and then again after the 4th. Well I took my gel after the 2nd and proceeded to put the wrapper in my back jersey pocket. As I did this I began to veer off the road and when I got back to my handlebars I realized I was getting dangerously close to riding off the road. My anxiety was at full alert as I tried to save it but at the last second my front wheel slipped off the edge of the road and down I went. As a result of the crash I landed on my side and shoulder blade. I felt a deep sharp pain in my back as it happened and thought I may have torn a muscle. I sat on the ground for a minute or two digesting what had just happened and as it sank in I knew I was pretty hurt. A kind man picked me up off the ground and took me to the instacare and with each passing minute I knew I would not be OK to race or at least race the way I had intended.

As a result of the crash I fractured my Scapula for the 3rd time. Albeit the left one this time but nonetheless I was broken and the race was happening in 9 days. After confirming the break I had to decide if I would even go to Hawaii. I decided I would go because after all the freight had been paid and let’s be honest Hawaii with a broken wing is still a great place to be. I called my friend Mike Mamales and Arwa Jundi over to help me pack. Because I had fractured this bone before and that surgery would not be needed I knew that in 9 days it could be possible, albeit slow and painful, to finish before the 17 hour cut off. The Doctor was kind enough to call in a larger prescription so that I would have enough pain medication if I needed it. I knew I couldn’t take my super-fast Dimond race bike out of fear of stabilizing in the hard winds in Kona. I took my old bike with shallow rims and hoped it would be enough. I still didn’t know about racing but thought I would come prepared if I felt it was possible.

The trip over wasn’t too bad at least not when you are taking some good meds and I arrived in Kona with my gear and an attitude of I still have 2 good legs and one good arm. Some people have a hell of a lot less than that and besides I am still in HI. My friend Bob Macrae from the Dimond club picked me up and had to take me under his wing a little while I mended. He was looking fit and focused and also ready to smash the day. I spent a few days doing very little and decided to see if I could swim with one arm fast enough to make the cut off. We went to the swim venue and low and behold when the weight of the arm was supported by the salt water of the ocean it didn’t hurt as much. I couldn’t use it but at least it didn’t hurt. I swam .5 of a mile with one arm and after looking at my watch I knew that as long as I didn’t get hit in the shoulder or grabbed by another swimmer I would be able to complete the swim in time.

After another rest day the next test was to see if I could ride and stabilize the bike in the wind. So Bob escorted me through town as I was scared to death of falling again and I did a 30 mile ride on the Queen K and felt confident I could complete the bike portion. I knew that in order for me to make it I would have to stop at each aid station to drink and eat because doing it on the bike was not going to work. I started to feel more optimistic that it would be possible. I hadn’t ran yet because moving and bouncing my arm caused the most pain.

The Thursday before the race in Kona there is an annual tradition known as the Underpants Run. This is a great way for athletes and family and friends to blow off steam and run around town in their undies of course. This was the only run I did for the race and it hurt like hell. I started to think walking the marathon might be my only option, peppered in with some bouts of jogging. If something was going to keep me from finishing this was probably going to be it.

Race day came and it was time to see just how far this one arm bandit could go. I decided I would start in the back of the swimmers and wrap my arm to my waist with saran wrap out of fear of having it grabbed by another swimmer. My friends Mike and Dan wrapped me up and I headed into the ocean. My strategy was to stay consistent and not panic and take my time and be safe. This was a new adventure and I was going to see the race from a new perspective. One of the coolest things about being hurt was that I no longer felt pressure to perform and was able to relax and really soak up the experience of bobbing around in the pacific waiting for the cannon to fire. Usually I am on the front row wrestling with other men for the perfect start and running through my head how I would attack the day. This time I relaxed and waited and watched the sea turn white without much anxiety other than stay clear and try not to let the women who would start 15 minutes later kill me when they caught me. I let the fish swim away and started my 2.4 mile pacific tour with one arm and one mindset. The mindset was that this was going to be one very long day but I would do my very best to see it through.

I finished the swim in 1 hour and 40 some odd minutes so I was happy to have some time in the bank. I walked into transition calm and collected and rinsed the salt water off of me. I changed into cycling shorts and a jersey because I knew that if I was going to take my time I was going to be comfortable. I walked to my bike and laughed because it was the only one left on my rack. I walked to the mount line and saddled up. The one part of the entire bike I was most afraid of was in the 2nd mile. You do a small loop in town and part of that loop is a steep descent down Palani with a sharp left hand turn. I was able to rest my broken arm on the left bull horn and do the steering and most of the braking with my right. I descended cautiously and made it safely around the corner. Once that was over I felt some relief other than I still had 110 miles to go and the sun was out for blood. My plan of riding and stopping worked great even though I think some people were wondering why I kept stopping only to repass them again later. I saw some of the same bikes dozens of times throughout the day. One thing I began to appreciate even more than ever was the volunteer force at these races. Being in the back you get to see the carnage from all the racers who went through the aid stations as if a tornado had gone through. I mean every aid station had water bottles and garbage spread for at least a half a mile and there were thousands of bottles. The other thing I noticed is that the people in the back often get the raw end of the deal.

Towards the end of the bike aid stations had run out of water and reinforcements were not there yet. They did have Gatorade but I started to feel bad for the times I would take a bottle just to rinse off or cool down when I was at the front end of the race. You think the race organizers should have enough but when they run out before more can get there people suffer for it. In the future I will try to remember that. God bless the volunteers they put up with a lot and because of that we as athletes get to do what we love. I think I will try to volunteer more often and would love to see it as a prerequisite to racing. I took a pain pill about 8 miles before finishing the bike knowing I might need to take the edge off a little for the run.

I finished the bike in 6 hours and who knows how many minutes, I honestly haven’t looked, I just knew I was well ahead of the cut off and that if I needed to walk the marathon I had a fair amount of time in the bank to do it. I got off my bike and walked to transition not feeling the best but hoped a change of clothes and some cold drinks would pep me up. I took my time and changed into my running clothes and put my arm in a sling. Sure enough I felt a little better and set out on a jog starting to feel the pain soften from the narcotic.

My plan was simple and that I would run as long as I could and walk through each aid station, also known as my life rafts. This plan worked like a champ for about 16 miles but the shortened gait and pain in my hips were taking their toll. By mile 20 I walked through the aid station and found I couldn’t jog anymore. By this time I had befriended another athlete not having a great day either and we had settled on walking to the finish knowing we had plenty of time in the bank to do it. The run was a lot of firsts for me. The first time I watched the sunset in the race. The first time I got handed a glow stick. The first time I ate chicken broth. The first time seeing once again what the volunteers do to make this race happen. When I finally made it to the finish line I was overcome with joy. I mean real joy and gratitude for so many people. I thought often of Jason Crompton and grew my side burns out in his honor. There are many finish lines in life and the parables one gains from this race are countless. I have come away with a new perspective and a new fire burning.

The motto of the ironman is that anything is possible. Life has lots of obstacles and challenges and they come in different shapes and sizes. Sometimes they prevent us from doing what we had originally intended but it will open up a new path that just might give us a new perspective and new outlook that would have never been possible without it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Ironman Maryland Race Report

We're super proud of Elaina (Iowa) and Michelle (Minnesota), who competed at yesterday's Ironman World Championships in Hawaii. Speaking of Kona, Julia Slyer (New York) has already punched her ticket for 2017... here's her report from her Kona qualifying performance at Ironman Maryland. 

Congrats Julia!!

Although Maryland has been seemingly plagued by bad weather, the race itself was exceedingly well run, and with the exception of a spread out finish area / transition / parking situation, I thoroughly enjoyed my somewhat unusual race day experience in Cambridge. The volunteers were top-notch, and the race director Gerry Boyle is a step above the rest. The only reason I won’t be returning in 2017 is my newly punched ticket to the World Champs!

Swim (or not…)

My goal for the swim was to come out before 1:10, and generally not give up too much time to some of the stronger swimmers in my age group. I was a bit nervous given the chop on the Choptank River on Friday, but was told by several other athletes that the forecast for Saturday was calm. Either way, I was ready to survive the swim and hopefully not see any sea nettles. The self-seeded start was scheduled to go off at 6:45am (before sunrise), and at about 6:43 it was announced that water safety was delaying the start for 30 minutes. After finding my mom and grabbing a jacket to stay warm, we watched the lifeguards attempt to launch their kayaks and paddleboards with little success. I hopped back in line at about 7:10, ready to go, and watched the clock hit 7:15 with no announcement or movement. A minute later, the swim was cancelled and a mass exodus towards transition ensued.

I was a bit disappointed to miss out on the swim, but being my weakest discipline, the change didn’t affect my race much, and I agreed with the safety decision. The only downside was having to take off my wetsuit (which I had already peed in…). All I can say is that my mother is the ultimate Iron-supporter and luckily had a garbage bag in her backpack.

Bike (shortened to 100 miles due to major flooding)

Goals: Average Power 150-160W, HR under 152 bpm, nailing my nutrition plan

I got some really solid bike training in during my first month of school in extremely flat Buffalo, NY, so I was really looking forward to seeing what I could do on such a flat course (~2000ft elevation as opposed to ~5000ft at both IMLP and Kona). Originally, my goal had been 5:36 over the full 112 miles, or 20 mph average. I ended up sticking with my power, heart rate, and speed goals even without the swim and with a shortened bike, and it served me well.

this isn't Julia, but gives you an idea of the day!
Because there was no swim, the bike had a time trial start by number (lowest to highest). As #152, I was happy that I wouldn’t have to weave around a lot of people and risk drafting penalties, but also a bit nervous to be starting ahead of and completely separate from my competitors in my age group. (This is one of my not-so-favorite parts of Ironman’s All World Athlete program). Because I am a middle of the pack swimmer, I’m used to racing to the front, not from the front. I took it as a challenge and decided to use my confidence on the bike to my advantage. I concentrated on racing my own race and not getting caught up with the fast age group guys passing me from behind. With the exception of missing my first sports drink at aid station 1, I matched my nutrition plan exactly and felt great. The course was beautiful for the most part, but the wind was unrelenting all day. I could have pushed a bit harder, but because of the run conditions, I’m glad I held back just a bit and saved my legs for the marathon.

Time: 4:56:29

Avg. Power: 155W

Avg. HR: 150 bpm

Avg. Speed: 20.1 mph

Run (actually the full length!)
Goals: HR 150-156 bpm, 8:30 pace

After a not so stellar run at IMLP (which cost me a Kona slot), I’ve focused more on my running and nutrition to ensure I don’t bonk and have the power in my legs for a strong showing. I started out quite a bit faster than I planned to, running the first 13 miles at a 7:50 pace. The run course was totally flat, with two separate out-and-backs and aid stations every mile on the dot. I was feeling great until about mile 9, when an off-road (and extremely muddy) section took me by surprise. The change of terrain shot my legs a bit, and the second time over this section around mile 11 left me feeling a little drained. By this point, both my mom and my coach were telling me I could slow down a bit, presumably because they knew I had a large lead and didn’t want me to bonk in the second half of the marathon. Around 14 miles, I started to feel a bonk coming on, and took their advice (begrudgingly) by walking the aid stations in order to get all my nutrition in. I was still maintaining 9:00 miles and I was happy with my plan.

The fun really started around mile 18. The road heading towards transition on the run course floods every day at high tide, but due to the high amounts of rain all week, the river was higher than usual. About 100m of the road was under a few inches of water, and while most people were not so happy, I was in a good mood and also a little warm, so I decided to lay down and cool off. Unfortunately no one got a picture, but repeating this in all the large puddles made the run much more fun and bearable. Another section of the course was soon under water as well, and I decided to walk all the flooded sections to save some energy. The only real downside was the heavy shoes and blisters from wet socks. Considering the conditions, I’ve very happy with my time, although I’m curious to see how much I could have broken my 3:44 PR by if the streets were dry.

Time: 3:45:23

Pace: 8:36

Avg. HR: 165 bpm (oops!)

Takeaways – 8:46:33

Although I’m bummed that the race was cut short and would like to have seen what my times would be for the full 140.6, I’m proud of my performance at Maryland. I pushed hard and more importantly remembered why I love this sport and this distance. I also achieved all of the goals, the foremost one being to qualify for Kona again! Placing 1st in F18-24, I qualified for the Ironman World Championships for 2017 and get to return to the Big Island next October to see what more I can do! I’m looking forward to the next year of training and I can’t thank my family, friends, and coach enough for supporting me and believing in me throughout this journey!