Friday, October 26, 2018

Kona Race Report 2018: Julia Slyer

Julia Slyer out of New York is simply amazing... check out her race report from the Ironman World Championships!

Kona 2018 was probably the most fun I’ve ever had in a triathlon. After a disappointing race and age group placement last year, I had a fire burning in my belly all season to punch my ticket to the big dance for the third time and get back out in the lava fields to show Madam Pele what I’ve got. I had a few setbacks early in the season, but clearly my training whipped me into shape once the summer got started. I had some spotty training in April and May as I was approaching graduation and, ahem, enjoying college life a bit as I had been so focused on training for all four years of school. I also had my first ever DNS at Rev3 Quassy 70.3, making the game time decision to pull myself due to bronchitis literally two minutes before the start.

Luckily, I ended up having a great race at Ironman Lake Placid in July, winning my age group and qualifying for Kona, as well as clocking the second fastest age group female bike split in some seriously challenging conditions (hello confidence boost!). After about two weeks of forced rest and recovery while volunteering in Cambodia (so hot, so humid, so much air pollution) I was ready to jump back into training and give the last block everything I had. I ended up getting in some amazing workouts in August and September, and I really feel I was in the best Ironman shape of my life when I got to the Big Island.

Swim – 1:10:32

I decided to line up a bit back from the front and further to the left this year to try to avoid the washing machine effect of 650+ uber-competitive women starting at once, and it seems to have helped me successfully avoid the thick of it. I only got swam over once, and even found some feet to hang onto on the way out. I started the swim feeling fantastic – a bit of a surprise considering that my swim training has been almost non-existent since IMLP (pools are the worst). However, about ¼ of the way through the swim I developed possibly the worst headache of my life. I figured it was probably from my swim cap or goggles, but having had some massive leaking issues with my goggles in all my practice swims, I didn’t want to take the chance of adjusting my goggles. I ended up pretty much leisurely swimming my way back, and was honestly expecting a much slower time. I was so happy just to get out of the water and take my goggles and cap off, and even happier to see it was still 2 minutes faster than my 2015 split!

T1 – 3:53

I rinsed under the cold showers for way longer than I normally would because the cool water felt so good on my head, and thankfully my headache went away. I grabbed my nutrition (2 gels and 3 packs of blocks) out of my bike bag, tried to get through the ridiculously crowded changing tent as fast as possible, and went down the wrong aisle to grab my bike. Cue about 5 seconds of panic when I thought someone else was out on course on my rocket bike until I spotted it.

Bike – 5:11:22 (28 minute PR!), 166 W, 21.7 mph

I was so happy to finally be out on my bike! One of my 2018 goals was to break 5:30 and I felt I had the fitness to do it on this course. I felt great immediately, although my boyfriend later informed me that I looked so slow while getting my shoes on at the very start that he thought I might actually fall over! Once I got going, I immediately started passing people. I had no idea how far back I was in my age group, but I knew I usually passed a ton of girls on the bike at Kona, so I was excited when I flew by about 10 girls in the first 15 miles or so. Turns out I’d exited the water in 28th (out of 36) in my age group, which is definitely the furthest back I’ve ever been.

I had planned to use my own liquid nutrition on the bike, alternating between Infinit and red Gatorade that I’d concentrated in my bottles, and mixed with aid station water in my aerobottle. About 30 miles in, I decided this was not going to work for the rest of the ride, as my bottles were so hot that they wouldn’t mix with the cold water. I chucked my Gatorade concentrate and went only with diluted orange Gatorade endurance for the rest of the ride, which my stomach handled much better than I expected.

I was keeping an eye on my power and heart rate, and even though my power was at the low end of the 162-172W range my coach had given me, my heart rate was pinned at 160bpm, and I felt like I was flying past the majorly drafting groups so I decided to keep taking it “easy.” I knew I hadn’t been passed by any girls in my age group, and only about 10 women passed me over the course of the entire bike. Every 10 miles I would look at my splits, realizing I was well over 20mph. Heading up to Hawi I felt great, but was mentally preparing myself for the headwind on the way back – which never came! Feeling fast but a little disappointed since my bike handling skills usually give me an advantage, I killed it on the descent.

*Drafting rant ahead.* I was then informed that a woman had been drafting on me nearly the entire first 70 miles, slow pedaling and never making a move to pass. After she was called out by the woman who informed me, she seems to have dropped back, but not after getting a 22mph pull for about 3.5 hours. Especially at this level of competition, it’s just ridiculous to blatantly cheat and take advantage of others. Do better, drafters. *End rant.*

I passed three more girls in my age group on the way back, and realized around mile 70 that I may break 5:20 for the bike split. After I passed an 18-24 girl around mile 85 and she tried to stay with me, I decided to drop the hammer the last 25 miles to put some time into her. I managed to increase my average power by 5W in a little over an hour, and felt great doing it. I was super excited by my time and I knew when I got off the bike that I was somewhere within the top 5 in my age group.

T2 – 3:09

It was nice to have an uncrowded changing tent, and the volunteers practically dressed me and got me out on Ali’i Dr. super fast. I took a gel to make up for my lack of eating on the bike and ran out smiling my head off ready for the marathon.

Run – 3:54:53, 8:53 min/mile

I started out strong on the run with 3 sub-8 minute miles, which was the pace I’d been training my long runs at, but I knew from my heart rate that I needed to slow up to avoid blowing up and losing my position. At this point my race became less about the time and more about running a smart marathon to ensure I ended up on the podium. I decided the best way to keep my heart rate down and stay cool was to walk the aid stations, so that became the game plan for the rest of the run.

After drinking Gatorade Endurance for most of the bike, I couldn’t even think about drinking it on the run as well. I stuck to water and Coke, taking some Base salt a few times, and dumping ice down my kit and water on my head to stay “cool.” I knew it wasn’t going to be my fastest marathon but I was still feeling pretty good until I got out onto the Queen K around mile 8 and started dry heaving every time I had liquids. Not the most fun way to spend a marathon.

Heading in to the Energy Lab my legs were feeling good still. I saw at the turn around that I was running in 4th, with one of the girls ahead of me walking, and 5th place fairly close behind me still running strong. At this point it became a game of not getting caught while realizing I still needed to run my own race and not blow up or mentally freak out. I managed to pass a girl who was walking for 3rd at mile 23, and just pushed as hard as I could to the finish without looking back. Turns out I beat her by 48 seconds!

Finish – 10:23:46, 3rd place F18-24, 24 min PR!

The finish line was amazing, and I remembered to celebrate as I crossed! I stopped my watch and then immediately felt my legs absorb the 140.6 miles and needed a volunteer to haul me over to the medal tent, where I found out I had placed 3rd! This is definitely my greatest athletic achievement so far, and the most fun I’ve ever had during a race. The conditions were great, my fitness showed, and I had the time of my life achieving my giant goal for the year. A huge thank you to my crazy supportive family and boyfriend, amazing coach and awesome sponsors for helping to make this year and this performance possible. Now to have some free time and do “dangerous” sports with my offseason!

Monday, October 22, 2018

Kona Race Report 2018: Cassie Whittington

We're always super proud when a teammate qualifies for and races on triathlon's biggest stage, the Ironman World Championships. Here's Cassie Whittington's (Ohio) Kona 2018 race report, which is an awesome read. Some races throw curveball after curveball at you, but Cassie never gave up (and still threw down a very solid time!).

Congrats to our friends Julia Slyer (New York) and David Wild (Hawaii) for their Big Island performances as well!

Kona 2018 was an adventure for me. I’ve been feeling down that I wasn’t able to have the day I wanted, but always thankful to be able to race on this stage against the best in the world.

Preparation for the race wasn’t the easiest. Six weeks out from the race I injured my left achilles and had to take some time off of all three sports as I couldn’t push off the wall swimming, put pressure on a bike pedal, or run without pain. After some time off, I finally felt great again, only to roll my ankle on a run two weeks out from the race. Both injuries made me step away from training for a bit, at a time where my training volume and intensity needed to be the highest. When I would train, I felt completely exhausted, my legs felt heavy, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to push hard. Despite these set-backs, I was looking forward to racing and seeing what extra rest would feel like on race day.

I felt calm coming into race day, as last year's experience allowed me to understand the course more, particularly how rough and aggressive the swim is, how windy the bike is, and how hot the run course is! Last year I ended up with hyponatremia after the race, so I wanted to perform some sweat testing while in Kona to help determine my sweat rate and sodium loss in Kona conditions so that I could better fuel on race day this year and avoid the medical tent. I first did a bike sweat test with Gatorade and discovered I needed 1,000mg sodium and 38 ounces of water each hour…totally replaceable on the bike where I can carry multiple bottles.

The next day I worked with Levelen and performed a more detailed bike and run sweat test. The bike test came back similar, with a loss of 1.4 L an hour and so to replace 75% of that I needed 36 ounces of water an hour and 1,006 mg sodium an hour. The crazy numbers came with the run, which weren’t that shocking because I’m well aware of my super high sweat rate running. Running I lost 2.2 L water an hour, so to replace 75% of that I needed 55 ounces an hour, not easy running. I, however, lost 2,660 mg of sodium an hour, more than most people need in an entire day. This was going to be much harder to replace while running and my current nutrition plan included taking in 1,700mg an hour. Making some electrolyte changes the day before the race was not the best idea, as I would find out later.

The swim went great this year. I think it is one of the hardest aspects of the race because of how aggressive it is and swimming is not my background or strength. Swimming in the ocean also makes me motion sick. I didn’t start right at the front like last year, but chose to start further back to avoid some contact. Well this didn’t help at all, as the cannon mass start just makes it so chaotic and you feel like you are in the middle of a washing machine of people all fighting to get ahead. I remained calm, was ready for the hour of punching and kicking and large gulps of salt water I would ingest, and even looked around a bit at the beauty of the course. I came out around 1:08 and was happy, as I knew I could make up time later on the bike and run and didn’t need to kill myself in the swim, just use it as a warmup.

Transition was super fast and I jumped on my bike and was glad to feel strong, as my last few weeks my quads felt very tired and sore. Around mile 10 I hit a big bump and something broke loose in the front of my bike and I lost both my water bottles. I stopped to check my front wheel and straighten it out, left the water bottles behind without worry as the first aid station I would replace them, and went on. Except the problem was still there, something on the front of my bike was off alignment or broken and rattling. I didn’t have many options but to ride on. When I stood on my pedals on uphills, the front wheel shifted so much it rubbed on the frame. Lesson learned quickly, I couldn’t stand on my pedals.

My sprained ankle also hurt when I stood on the pedals, making me a bit nervous that it would limit my running later. All this worrying about what was wrong with my bike slowed me down as I was trying to ride cautiously over any bumps, but I was still averaging 20 mph and got up the largest climb without standing up and was happy to have the fast return to town. Well what happened when I hit the bump was that I forced my tube to bulge out of my wheel and when I started flying down Hawi, the tire rubbed too much and too fast against the frame and popped the tire. I pulled over, pretty sad that my shot of a really great day was over, but I could still change the tire fast and have a good day. I changed the tube, threw on the CO2 cartridge to inflate it, and NOTHING! It wouldn’t work. So I sat there for 10 minutes until the race support van found me, feeling very defeated watching hundreds of people fly by on what should have been the fastest part of the course for me.

The mechanics tried the CO2 as well and said it must have been empty (what’s the chances?!?), grabbed their own pump and pumped the tire. Except the tube kept popping out of the wheel when we tried to inflate it fully. They took it back apart and tried to put the tube in correctly multiple times, and then the fifth time said it was good and they put it on my bike, and I went off. About a minute later, the bike started rattling like crazy and making noises. Now I was just praying the bike would stay together until I got to transition, still 60 miles away! At mile 80 the front skewer rattled completely open and the front wheel almost flew off, luckily I saw it happening and stopped again, tightening everything on the bike yet again and hoping for the best. I am use to being surrounded by other cyclists in racing, but I had fallen so far behind that I was on the road all alone.

It was a very lonely time, with lots going through my head. It is very hard to push your limits and race without others around you encouraging you to push a harder pace and keep with the group. I was still thinking I could end this race on a high note with a great marathon, which kept me from going to a dark place. I kept riding very conservatively, trying to avoid any bumps in the road, as any jolt made the bike make even more noise. The rattling of the front bottle cage alone almost drove me crazy! My back began to hurt, something I haven’t experienced before but was most likely due to absorbing the shock of the rough ride. I was SUPER thankful to make it to T2 without any more flats and my bike in one piece! When returning the bike later that night, I found out the tube popped out again. The mechanics thought I may have bent my wheel when I hit the first bump and knocked my headset loose as well, so every revolution of the wheel made the whole bike rattle.

I was never so happy to start a marathon in my life, with the intent of passing as many people as I could. The first 6 miles I knew I had my running legs that day and this was going to be fun. I was being super careful to keep up with my exact nutrition plan, but with the sweat testing I decided to add 2-3 extra Gu electrolyte tabs with extra water to bump up my intake closer to the 2,600mg sodium mark and 50 ounces an hour. Maybe it was this, or maybe my body just wasn’t having it that day, but at mile 6 my stomach started cramping and I needed to go to the bathroom. This was the first time in my 5 Ironman history (and 5 half-Ironmans) that I had ever stopped to go the bathroom.

I went and was confident I wouldn’t have to go again. Well that just wasn’t the case for me that day. From mile 10 on I stopped at every single bathroom on the course…my goal just being to run to the next mile marker and praying there was a porta-potty there and hoping I’d get there in time. I tried curing my stomach problems with coke, bananas, oranges, Gatorade, pretzels, ANYTHING they had along with my typical nutrition I carried. But whatever I put in my body came right out. At mile 22 I started puking the second I put a gel in my mouth. I was on the pitch black Queen K with absolutely no one around me wondering what the heck was going on! The good thing is that quitting was never a thought, my only thought was HOW LONG IS THIS RACE GOING TO TAKE ME?!?

Well, I got to the finish line with a time of 11:42. I tried to take it in and smile, and walked right by the medical tent thinking I was just fine. I went to get my finishers picture and almost passed out. I laid down on the ground, my whole body cramped up, my hands curled into balls and everything was tingling from head to toe. Medical put me into a wheel chair and took me to the med tent, where they drew labs and found out my sodium was low and my potassium was 2.1 The doctors exact words were “HOLY SHIT! This can’t be right! How many times did you get sick??” I guessed I puked or shit my brains out (sorry people) 8-10 times. They gave me anti-nausea meds, an oral potassium, then hooked me up to an IV but didn’t want to start it until they could confirm the labs a second time. Well the second draw showed my potassium even lower, under 2. So with 6 blankets on top of me, an IV pumping, one doctor asking me questions to make sure I was coherent, another doctor feeding me bananas and chicken broth, and a third med just trying to get me to relax my body, I finally felt good enough four hours later to sit up! So I got up and went to the midnight finish so I could see the truly amazing and motivating athletes of the day!

I had bigger goals for myself on race day than what I was able to achieve, but that wasn’t the day I was dealt. I still tried the best I could and am in no way mad at my effort, just extremely disappointed in the result and the fact that I didn’t get to truly compete. Some races just don’t go your way. Some races are simply about perseverance and overcoming difficulties. But as I said before, I am still thankful to be able to race in Kona with the best athletes in the world. AND I am MOST thankful for all the people who support me no matter what my race outcomes are.