Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Pumpkinman 70.3 Race Report -- Becca Hung

Pre-Race Day – Saturday, September 12

Thank goodness my significant other, Roger, is so patient with me. I feel I can get worked up over little things on both pre-race and race days, but Roger never fails to be patient with me during those moments. A total of 5 MIT Tri members were competing in Pumpkinman and we drove one of them, Phil, and his girlfriend. We arrived at the race site, Spring Hill in South Berwick, Maine, to pick up our race packet (race chip, tracking numbers, etc.) and the venue looked quite amazing in the dry, sunny weather. I was also pleased by all the cute pumpkin decorations. Though, I felt intimidated that all the racers at packet pick up seemed to have bikes that were a lot more than mine (and mine’s not that shabby!).

After packet pick up, we checked into our hotel and met two other MIT people, Zuzka and Justin (but only Zuzka competed), for dinner at a Thai restaurant. I really wanted to order rice, but Roger made a comment earlier that day that he thought rice was known to be a constipating agent (is this even true?) and so I opted for pho for dinner. We got to bed probably around 9:30pm that night. We had to get up around 4:30-4:40am in order to make sure we were at the race site by 6am for a 7am race start!

Race Day – Sunday, September 13


I’m pretty into food and I get concerned about food logistics when I’m not in the comfort of my own home. I knew our hotel room came with a mini fridge and a microwave. I brought pierogies and grapes with me for breakfast because I wanted something savory to offset the sweet things I’d be eating during the race (by the way, why are almost all endurance foods some kind of dessert-y/sweet flavour?).


We got to the race site a little after 6am and I thought this would be plenty of time to set up for transition, but things did not go very smoothly! The race day weather was rainy and on the cold side. Quite a contrast to what we saw yesterday at packet pickup. The transition area was super cramped and I felt it impossible to get into a comfortable set up at all. With the rain, everything was getting wet and complicated. I planned to electrical tape my gels to my bike’s top tube, but the rain made it impossible. I wanted to pre-rip my bars, but decided against it because didn’t want the rain to get all over my nutrition. I super duper had to pee, but the line for the portapotty did not die down enough before I had to be at the beach for the swim start. So I went to the swim start with a super full, uncomfortable bladder. Not using the portapotty before race start made me nervous because I didn’t even get a chance to see if I had any poo to get out. So I was hoping for no poo emergencies during the race. I also didn’t have enough time to eat a banana I planned on eating before race start.

Swim 1.2 Miles (40:40, 1:56/100 yards, 6/11 in AG)

As soon as they let us into the water, I totally peed. The swim was two 0.6 mile laps in a pond. Luckily, I’ve always felt pretty comfortable in open water swims so I didn’t feel stressed or panicked at all during the mass start swim. During the first lap, I did worry about how slow I was going, but by the time I was on the second lap it seemed to fly by. This past year, I’ve been able to get down to 1:40-1:45/100 yards split, but I always slow up a ton during races. I have too much of a conservative mindset when I race. For Pumpkinman, my goal was to be under 2 minutes or my 100 yard split. So being 1:56 is ok in my book even though I know it’s not fast or my best. Towards the end of the swim, I felt the need to super have to pee again, but wasn’t able to pee before I finished the swim. So again I have an uncomfortable, full bladder going into T1.

Powderhouse Hill Climb Challenge (1:46)

The Pumpkinman 70.3 has a 250 meters hill climb challenge from the swim exit to the bike transition. This is timed as a separate stage. My goal was to not walk this, but my shuffle run up this was not far from a walk. Roger met me when I got out of the water and managed to run alongside me as I did this hill climb, which was super motivating! In fact, he ran faster than me when he is recovering from an Achilles injury and hasn’t started running yet. I guess this is how we get him to rehab faster!

T1 (6:31)

I definitely wasted a lot of time here. However, I am proud to say that I did not have that usual light headed or dizzy feeling when I get out of the swim during a triathlon. I felt pretty good physically in T1. Mentally, I was kind of a mess. All I could think about was my full bladder and when/how should I empty it? There were two portapotties in the transition area (had a little bit of a line), but my head wondered if there would be any on the bike course and if I should pull over on the bike course to pee. I also had to remember to pre-rip my bars so that I wouldn’t fumble with them on the bike. I shoved a chia bar in my mouth and finally decided to use the transition portapotty before starting the bike.

Bike 56 Miles (3:13:13, 17.4 mph, 8/11 in AG)

It certainly was not fun doing the bike in rainy, cold weather! I felt like I had to bike slower and more cautiously due to the wet roads. There were a few points on the bike where I had negative thoughts and didn’t want to be at the race anymore. I did get pretty cold on the bike, but I’d go through periods where I’d forget about it and then remember it again. The bike course was also two loops and, again, the second loop seemed to go by so much faster for me at least mentally.

When I started the bike, I felt pretty darn hungry and that worried me because I thought that meant I was in for some serious bonking during this half ironman. I made a plan to eat ~100 calories every 30 minutes. I ended up eating 3 chia bars and 2 gels. I carried 2 bottles of diluted pineapple juice on the bike to get some additional calories and potassium, but only went through 1.5 bottles.

Throughout the summer, I’ve been able to pull off 17.6-17.9 mph in triathlon races so I was hoping to get at least 17mph on the bike at Pumpkinman. However, when I was estimating how long it’d take me to do Pumpkinman, I gave myself the conservative goal of doing the bike at 15mph if I had a horrible day. Even though 17.4 average mph over 56 miles is not one of the top speeds out there, this is a big deal for me as not too long ago I was someone who used to ride 13-15 mph for only 20 mile distances.

And yet again at the end of the bike leg my bladder was super full!!

T2 (3:20)

I wasted time in transition again! When I arrived at my rack, I saw that some inconsiderate racer racked her bike in my spot and totally ruined my transition set up and space. I wasted time being angry about this and trying to figure out where to rack my bike. I got into my run gear, made sure I had 2 gels on me, and then b-lined to the portapotty to relieve my bladder. Then I got the case of the stupids and couldn’t figure out how to get to the run start from transition and was not comprehending the directing volunteer. I figured it out in the end!

Run 13.1 Miles (2:02:34, 9:22/mile, 7/11 in AG)

The run is my favourite leg in a triathlon. I know I’m not considered a fast runner, but mentally it is the easiest for me during a triathlon. When I started the run leg, I actually felt pretty great physically, but forced my body to play a conservative race because I didn’t want to bonk and I didn’t want to walk any of the run. My fastest half marathon split is 8:49/mile. A few teammates have said they feel the half marathon time is ~10 minutes slower when doing a half ironman, but I didn’t believe them. I was afraid I’d be pushing 11 minute miles during the run of Pumpkinman. I still do not own a GPS watch or triathlon watch so I don’t know my exact splits during the Pumpkinman run, but based on the (normal) watch I wore and the mile markers, I think I ran very conservative 10 minute miles for the first half and then let myself push harder the second half of the run. I was kind of surprised at how great I felt physically throughout the run and, because I kept doubting if my body would allow me to finish the whole race, I would not allow myself to go 100%. But I did cross that finish line!!!

Total time 6:06:17 & post race thoughts

My super conservative time goal was 7 hours if I was not having my fastest day. So I think I did well coming under my time goal, but perhaps my time goal was way too generous and not challenging enough. I was not sore the following week, which means I did not push hard enough during the race! Overall, I had such a fun time doing the race and am interested in doing another half ironman. Except the next one, I’ll need to do some better mental and physical preparation to get me to push myself harder and not hold back. The next 70.3 I do, I better be super sore after it!

Pumpkinman 70.3 was my A race for 2015 and also my last triathlon for 2015. Leading up to it, I was really looking forward to relaxing after it and taking a break from a rigorous workout schedule. Now that my 2015 triathlon season is over and I no longer have a 70.3 to immediately train for, I actually feel a little weird and empty! I did lighten up my workout schedule after Pumpkinman (but also due to life events) because I think this is important for me physically and mentally, but at the same time part of me wants to maintain the previous rigorous workout schedule to fill some kind of void. Anyways, I’ll be reducing my workout load for a period, but hope to be right back at it whenever the time is right. I’m not sure when that will be yet.

And HUGE thank you to everyone in my life who has supported and mentored me! I couldn’t be a half ironman without the support and mentorship of others!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Race Report Buzzards Bay 2015 -- José Alvarado

Ah, Buzzards Bay. This race was special for me. For those that don’t know me well, here is a brief history of my involvement with sports:

1983–2006: I avoided all sports at all costs
2006–2013: I started dabbling on-and-off in hiking, casual cycling, easy swimming, speed skating, and cross-country skiing
Summer 2014: I joined the MIT Triathlon club and started training at age 30
Sep 2014: Buzzards Bay sprint (1:35:24)
Apr 2015: Season Opener sprint (1:16:30)
Aug 2015: Cranberry Trifest olympic (3:10:39)
Sep 2015: Buzzards Bay sprint
Oct 2015: Cape Cod half-marathon

So as you see, racing Buzzards Bay 2015 was an important benchmark for me. I had a clear goal: to do better than Buzzards Bay 2014! Now, I’m not a competitive person at all. I recognize others have many more years of training. But I can absolutely enjoy racing against my past self. I’m a generally positive person, and I firmly believe that many years— even decades!— remain before I reach any sort of “peak” in my life. I always learn, evolve, and improve and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past two triathlon seasons as a way of broadly advancing mind, body, and soul. So Buzzards Bay 2015 is my first opportunity to cleanly quantify this advancement. How did I do?

2014: 1:35:34.3
2015: 1:28:42.9

Indeed, success! Seems I shaved 6:51 off my last race. When I glowingly boasted to my loving and supportive husband, his reaction: “hmm, so after a whole year of consistent training, you improved by only seven minutes?” Ha! (Note that an understood irony playfully accompanies his statement: he himself has not and could not currently finish a triathlon. Our relationship thrives on our mutual ability to produce self-defeating sarcasm, cf. the art of chindogu.)

What does bug me though, is that it turns out that the 2015 times did not include the mini-run, whereas the 2014 times did. I don’t know why. Accounting for this blunts my 6:51 reduction to only 3:44.

But “only” ~four minutes? Triathlete please! I know well enough that I am in the “well, at least he tried” stratum of my competitive age category. But I remain 100% proud of my accomplishments. Besides, digging through the data, it turns out I mostly wasted time dawdling in transition. I still improved my pace on all three disciplines. And I yet have room to learn and grow, which is what I thrive on most. Here are the lessons I learned:

2014: 2:33 per 100 yd
2015: 2:18 per 100 yd

Technically, I improved my swim performance. But I expected to do better. My 2:33 pace from last year reflected how bad I was at open-water swimming. I couldn’t swim straight. I couldn’t sight well. My stroke technique was sloppy. I lost my breath, panicked, and frequently reverted to back- or breaststroke. Training over the last year yielded great results: I vastly improved my stroke technique with Coach Bill. I trained more frequently in open water. I’ve increased speed. I can swim longer distances. I’ve learned to breathe on either side. I sight more efficiently. Based on all this training, I expected big gains. In fact, I raced my first olympic distance triathlon a few weeks ago at Cranberry Trifest. There, I swam 0.9 mi at 1:57 per 100 yd. That was a very satisfying performance! But there I swam in a calm, freshwater lake, and began on a gentle time-trial start. Meanwhile, Buzzards Bay was a feral mass start. I did everything wrong: I positioned myself toward the front of the pack and rushed. I pulled and kicked as fast as I could to get ahead but soon my body felt a shock from the sudden sprint. And while swimming away from shore to buoy 1, I breathed in a healthy mouthful of seawater, had a coughing fit, and panicked. The following several minutes were torturous. I alternated between freestyle and kicking on my back to regain breath and nerves. But by buoy 2, I recovered my rhythm and felt better. I did a great job sighting buoys and was able to swim straight. I didn’t push it, to prevent another panic, but I regained a healthy pace and passed some of the slowest swimmers. Lessons learned: Position myself at the back of the pack and let the beasts at front duke it out. Warm up gradually at the beginning of the race and conserve energy for a bit, and then ramp up effort. Importantly, do not kick hard! Or it’s also possible to use a two-beat kick, which I only remembered was an option as I was finishing up the swim.

2014: 3:03.9
2015: 3:06.9

I spent ~15 sec while emerging from the water to unzip the top of my wetsuit with the idea that this will shave off some time on the mini-run. Ha.

2014: 3:34.5 
2015: 4.53.8

My focus was to improve pace in the three disciplines, not necessarily to micro-optimize transition. OK, OK, a 5-minute T1 is one of those guilty pleasures that compares to a 40-minute hot shower. But I allowed myself indulgence after that swim.

2014: 17.9 mph
2015: 19.1 mph

Consider that I do not have a road bike. I always mean to save up and buy one, but I spend way too much of my money on travel. (That and Fluevogs.) Also, I am very happy with the Jamis Coda Sport I own. It’s a sturdy hybrid bike that does everything, including commuting, bad roads, and heavy loads. But it is heavy. It is not optimized for top speed. It doesn’t even have drop handlebars! So I’m really pleased that I broke 19 mph on this clunker— especially considering that I cannot stop enjoying the beautiful landscape around me rather than zeroing in on a target to pass. Clearly, training has helped: coffee rides, spinning, hill repeats, leisure rides, and daily commuting all continue to make me stronger. Lessons learned: Keep it up! In the winter, I will continue to commute. I’ll keep attending— and also leading!— spin class. But I find rides on icy roads are unenjoyable and dangerous. Instead, I’ll return to TRX strength training. This will also help with my favorite wintertime cross-training activities: speed-skating (with Bay State Speedskating) and cross-country skiing (with friends, sometimes on my own). I might get my act together, too, and finally buy a road bike for the next season. But I still feel my most worthwhile gains come from improving my body’s performance and strength, not in purchasing expensive gear.

2014: 1:19.0
2015: 2:28.7

I needed extra time because this year I decided to put on socks in T2, not T1. Next time I may just forego socks entirely.

2014: 8:22 per mi
2015: 7:44 per mi

OH YES. The run went just the way I wanted. Breaking 7:45 is a great milestone for me. I felt great throughout the entire run. My form felt spot on. I maintained high cadence. I was mindful of firing my glutes, raising my knees, and elongating my legs. I often recalled Coach Bill’s advice to lean forward from my ankles. That said, I still find it non-trivial to feel out the right 5k pace. (Contrast this to my ongoing half-marathon training, where I quickly learned that a 9:00 pace is comfortable and sustainable.) I do want to push it and run hard. But three things prevent me from going all out: 1. I don’t want to exhaust my energy too early. During 3–5 mi runs, I too often forget to pace myself, and my split times slow down by 20% or more over the course of the run. 2. I race to do something healthy for my body, not to destroy it. Running can easily lead to injury. I often choose safety over speed. 3. I don’t want to trigger breathing problems. They happen when I alternate between running very hard and recovering, particularly on either cold or hot, humid mornings. Sometimes my chest tightens (asthma). Sometimes my sinuses get stuffed up. So, as before, I finished this run thinking “what if I pushed it a little more”? Then again, I’ll happily take an injury-free 7:44 pace. It also compares well to the 9:01 I pulled at Cranberry. Lessons learned: Train more strength. Keep pushing it on short runs. Determine what my 5k pace should be. Keep practicing running form. Extend my legs further. (I’ve recently started stretching once an hour at my desk. This should help.)

  • Half-iron triathlon: cross the finish line
  • Marathon: cross the finish line
  • Open-water swim races: find comfort racing in open water, ~1:45 pace over ~1 mi
  • Olympic triathlon: ~1:50 swim pace, ~8:00 run pace
  • Buzzards Bay 2016: iron out transition wrinkles, ~1:45 swim pace, 20+ mph bike (preferably with my clunker for benchmarking), 7:00–7:15 run pace
Finally, as much as this report and journey has been inwardly focused, I couldn’t have done it at all without encouragement and guidance of the fine folks around me at MIT Triathlon. It was a pleasure racing with Sam, Brian, Jordan, Lisa, Cheng, and Alex. Furthermore, I’ve enjoyed training with everyone on the team so far, and look forward to continue alongside veterans and newcomers alike.

Time (2014 → 2015)
Pace (2014 → 2015)
14:53 13:26
(2:33 2:18) per 100 yd
3:03.9 3:06.9

3:34.5 4.53.8

46:51 43:58
(17.9 19.1) mph
1:19.0 2:28.7

25:55 23:58
(8:22 7:44) per mi
1:35:34.3* 1:28:42.9**

*includes mini-run     **does not include mini-run

Saturday, September 19, 2015

A Great First Triathlon Season! -- Leora Cooper

My first triathlon season has made for a really great summer! Some of you have done many triathlons, but I am sharing my newbie experience in the hopes that I can encourage some “on the fence” people to get out there and try it!

Putting Together a Plan

I’d been thinking of doing triathlon for nearly a year when I finally signed up for a race this past May. I was never a fast runner or swimmer (and I had almost no experience biking), so I wanted to sign up for a scenic race. That way, I could relax into the landscape instead of focusing on pain during the race. I chose the mid-August Westborough Off-Road Sprint Triathlon – a ¼ mile swim, 5 mile mountain bike, 3.2 mile trail run – because the distances didn’t seem daunting as independent events, though I knew I couldn’t know how difficult they might be when done consecutively. I quickly realized that I needed to sign up for a more intimidating race in order to scare myself into actually training properly, so I also signed up for the mid-September Lobsterman Olympic Triathlon (0.92 mile swim, 25 mile bike, 6 mile run).

I had planned to sign up with some friends, but they all backed out (for legitimate reasons) and so I ended up training alone. The training was difficult, but I loved getting to know the Boston area by running and biking long distances almost every day. Unfortunately, business travel in July meant my training became somewhat spotty. I don’t think my race performance suffered as a result, but it definitely rattled my confidence beforehand.

Westborough Offroad Sprint Triathlon

Fast forward to race day. After four nights of stress dreams about everything that could possibly go wrong, I arrived a nervous wreck at the start line. But as always happens, the atmosphere of the area was infectious. Between the pump-up music, getting to walk around barefoot in the grass with a sassy purple anklet (my timing chip), and getting to chat with other triathletes, I started to calm down.

As I expected, I loved the swim. I loved having company in the water and the awesome comradery among the swimmers. (Yes, people swam over me, but it didn’t really bother me). And best of all—I wasn’t the last person to leave the water!

I’d been warned to practice the transitions for the race, with particular care for the bike to run transition. So I practiced that – but unfortunately, I never practiced the swim to bike transition. I emerged from the water out of breath, dizzy, thirsty and confused to see everyone else running to the transition area! I was thinking, “Wait! Can’t we all just walk?”

But I powered through and pulled myself together out onto the bike course, to face another surprise. I had wrongly assumed that a mountain biking course would have a few pebbles around, and some grass – possibly a bit of mud if I was unlucky. So I brought out my borrowed old hybrid bike . . . only to discover large and pointy rocks, tree roots, narrow paths and endless mud. As everyone barreled past me on their fancy mountain bikes with actual suspensions, I told myself that maybe triathlon wasn’t really for me and I was in over my head.

But around mile 4, I started to get the hang of the obstacles. All was not lost! I finished the last mile with a smile on my face.

Starting out for the run, however, I was a bit too excited. Moving too fast on my shaky post-biking legs, I twisted my ankle. But soon I found my feet again, got moving, and really enjoyed the run. I’d done trail running before, so I knew better what to expect. I cheered loudly with the volunteers as I passed them and finished the race with another huge smile. My one complaint was that the last mile of the course was completely in the parking lot, where I could see the finish line but had to run away from it. That was a bit mentally tolling, but overall, I had a strong finish with a total time of 1:20!

Overall Time: 1:20:13.6, Swim: 9:30, T1: 2:32, Bike: 34:51, T2: 0:51, Run: 32:30. Overall Place: 30/37.

Photo: Heading out for the bike! Looking good! (Credit Michael Lynn)

Finishing was substantially more difficult than I had anticipated, however. I realized that with only a month left to train for Lobsterman – at more than double the distance – I could use a bit of help.

Lobsterman Triathlon

With encouragement from Becca Hung, I started joining the MIT triathlon club workouts, and what a difference it made! I learned about training on hills and about doing high intensity interval training to get stronger. And I met other triathletes to talk to about training, random triathlon facts and life in general. Making training into a social experience also helped me push harder, both to keep up with my teammates, and because I was distracted from thinking about slowing down or taking it easy.

A few weeks before Lobsterman, I learned that the swim portion would be in cold ocean water. I convinced Coach Bill to take some of us out to Nantasket Beach to practice swimming in the ocean. This was surprisingly challenging! The water tasted terrible, I constantly got water in my mouth from trying to breathe into waves, and I panicked every so often when I would try to sight at the bottom of a wave and look up to see only walls of water. But Jordan helped calm me down and Coach Bill taught us some tricks. By the time I finished the swim, I was almost comfortable!

The week before the race, I was confident that I would finish it - especially since I had misread the distances and thought that each leg would be longer than it actually was.

I drove up the afternoon before the race to pick up my race packet and discovered that Winslow Park in Freeport, Maine (the race location) is breathtakingly gorgeous! I arrived just as the swim clinic ended, so I got to meet some of the other racers, including a few first-time triathletes.

I wanted to scope out the swim, to settle my nerves, but sunset turned out to be a bad time for this. A fishing boat was coming in, and fish were jumping out of the water all over the place. I am deathly afraid of getting eaten by or even touched by a fish - so the jumping fish did nothing to settle my nerves. But the distance looked doable, the buoys were big, and the water was very calm, so I went to sleep thinking the swim would be fine (so long as I wasn’t attacked by a very malicious haddock).

The next morning, when I got into the 61 degree water in my wetsuit for the practice swim, I was very happy for the warmup time to get used to the bracing temperature! When my wave got into the water, there was a subtle current moving toward the shore with the tide. This ultimately helped us finish faster at the end but made for a lot of bumping into each other as we waited for our in-water start.

I ended up in the middle of the pack for my age group – an improvement over last time! I settled into the rhythm of my stroke, starting humming along to Fantasia, and relaxed for the rest of the swim. I got out of the water with a huge smile on my face, ready to see 25 miles of Freeport on my bike.

In the first transition area, I got stuck in my wetsuit and flailed around, until I realized I hadn’t unzipped it all the way! Finally, I ran out of the transition area, mounted my bike, and with a quick wink at my lovely boyfriend (who was valiantly waiting for me), I was off! The course involved almost constant hills, which meant that people with fancy bikes were passing me on every climb. I was initially pretty nervous about all the hills, but I settled into them, and I actually did them more quickly as I progressed through the course. I even passed a few people during some of the last climbs!

The run turned out to be the hardest part of the race. I had practiced biking hills, but I hadn’t practiced running them, and the run course was just as hilly as the bike but without the breeze, and I was tired. To pump myself up, I started cheering for everyone I passed. I may have been one of the loudest runners, but by the time I neared the finish line, I had a huge smile on my face and I was sprinting to cross the line. I had finished with an overall time of 3:34!

Overall Time: 3:34:59.8, Swim: 36:29, T1: 4:01, Bike: 1:43:41, T2: 1:43.8, Run: 1:09:05. Overall Place: 274/306, Division Place Women 25-29: 13/19.

Sadly, there aren’t many races left in the Northeast this year, and so my first season is over. I can’t wait to improve my strength and techniques for next year! And of course, I can’t wait to keep training with the triathlon club and to meet more amazing and enthusiastic athletes! I’m already browsing trifinder to choose my races for next season!

TL;DR: Triathlon is really fun, Lobsterman is a really beautiful race, and mountain biking is not as simple as it may seem.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Our own little Ironwar at Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2014- Race Report

Our own little Ironwar at Ironman Mont-Tremblant 2014- Race Report

This is a re-post from the original on Samuel's blog. The original report can be seen here: Ironman Mont-Tremblant Race Report

“Sometimes the impossible just takes longer.”

Originally posted on Samuel's Blog: http://samueljohns.com/post/111164823894/our-own-little-ironwar-at-ironman-mont-tremblant

It was late November, middle of the New England winter, and 9 months out from Ironman Mont-Tremblant where I heard these words for the first time. On my first phone call with my coach, Jason, I opened myself up and put my dreams, goals, and aspirations on the table for him:. “Jason, I’d really like to go sub 10hrs and qualify for Hawaii this year.”

“Samuel, sometimes the impossible just takes longer.”

I thought, "Oh wow! Did he just say that!“ Yet, he went on.

"Samuel, the best thing you can do to have the ability to achieve that, is to not think about it and focus on becoming the best trainer you can be, each and every single day. Become the best trainer you can be.

I took that statement literally.

Becoming the best trainer I could be:

Simplify: Remove distractions and simplify complexities in your life. A few key changes:
  • Turning my bedroom into a calm, well organized, peaceful place to be was the first step. 
  • Moving technology devices away from the bed. 
  • Installing blackout curtains making my room pitch black for high quality sleeping. 
  • Adjusting space for storage of bike trainer and workout clothing/equipment for simple/fast set up each day/week. 
Reading: The 5 books I read cover to cover on topics of creating states of flow, becoming the best one can be, mental toughness and the path to mastery. All highly recommended reads!
Training: I had 258 days to dedicate to practice. Not everything was going to be perfect, yet on each given day you give what you have and muster your best effort on that day. Below is the data that gave me the confidence, come race day, of knowing that I was ready for the challenge of completing my first Ironman.

Training by the numbers:
  • 56 Rest days (the most important stats of all) 
  • 303 Scheduled workouts 
    • 300 completed workouts 
      • 91 swims 
        • 233 km or 145 miles 
        • 83 hours 
        • 65,000 calories 
      • 84 bike rides 
        • 3,700 km or 2,299 miles 
        • 158 hours 
        • 94,000 calories burned 
      • 90 runs 
        • 987 km or 613 miles 
        • 101 hours 
        • 72,000 calories burned 
      • 14 bricks (bike+run) 
        • Stats combined in bike and run stats. 
      • 7 Other (Hiking, Snowboarding, Cross Country Skiing) 
        • 137 km or 85 miles 
Build-up Races:

  • 5km: Super Sunday 5k Run for Cancer 
    • 18:05, 2nd overall, improved personal best time by 38 seconds 
  • 10km: Malden Road Race Rotary 10k 
    • 38:43, 7th overall, improved personal best time by 4 minutes 
  • Half Marathon: Gloucester Twin Lights Half Marathon 
    • 1:25:21, 10th overall, improved personal best time by 11 minutes 

  • Harryman Olympic 
    • 2:29:49, 11th overall, 2nd in 25-29 Age Group 
  • Mont-Tremblant 70.3 
    • 4:43:10, 89th overall, 12th in 25-29 Age Group, improved personal best by 40 minutes 
  • Mass State Olympic 
    • 2:04:31, 31st overall, 7th in 25-29 Age Group, improved personal best by 16 minutes on the same course last year 


Race week

“Silly shit happens during the taper” said Sue (my swim coach).

Low and behold, quite a bit of silly shit happened during the taper:
  • Snapped my bottle cage from my reckless swinging leg. 
  • Got hit by a car on my bike for the first time (fortunately I was fine and it was my mountain bike). 
  • Patrick and I denied a rental car at Logan Airport and waiting 3 hours before issue was resolved… 
  • Etc… 

Once we arrived in Mont-Tremblant, after an awesome drive and chat with Patrick (the gringo racing in his first triathlon), everything all of a sudden became calm and relaxing. Thankfully there was no more “silly shit.” It was surreal to finally be there living the dream. Enjoyable dinners with friends and plenty of laughter—especially when mine and Patrick’s awesome "Go fast packages!” gifts arrived from our friends Meg and Kayle.

Three days before the race I reviewed my training log and this was one of the biggest confidence boosters. I could see my progress in my own words. In December I was struggling through, with a bad form and increased levels of fatigue due to the increased load. Come July, challenges were easily conquered and my comments reflected that. 5-6 hour strong brick brick sessions would breeze by and 20 mile runs would be finished at 4:10/km (6:40/mile) pace. The solid training was behind me, I was ready, I was relaxed and everything was moving smoothly.


Race Morning: A sense of calmness…

The gods were looking out for us. After a week of heavy rain and cold conditions in Mont-Tremblant, the weather was absolutely perfect; slightly overcast and a sense of calmness in the air as the clouds broke over Mont-Tremblant in the background of transition. A very smooth race morning followed. With the checklist in toe, the tires were pumped, power meter synced, and a nice conversation with a volunteer topped off the transition setup. Heading over to the swim start, I looked to my right. The water conditions were calm and there was a mist over the surface. Truly gorgeous to be racing in such a beautiful setting and I was feeling good. 


It’s go time. It’s my time. It’s swim time.

The plan was to start slightly to the left and go out hard, getting into the second or third pack of swimmers. Positioning worked well, being very well placed right at the start of the swim. As the gun went off I was amped to give this race everything I could! As I dove into the water my goggles fell straight down my face. Off to a great start, I calmly (quickly) stood to re-adjust them and kept moving. The goggles still had some water in them from the first dive in, yet I kept swimming with it for a while to stay with the pack. About 150m in, I was in the pack and was then kicked right in the face which jolted my goggles off my face again. I decided to stop briefly to adjust them and remove the water. It worked out fine, as I was still in the pack and was able to maintain a draft off a couple of guys for the next couple hundred meters.

Approaching the first turn, about 200m out, I noticed a pack of bright pink caps reaching the turn around. This was alarming, as these were the caps of the female pros who had started 3 minutes ahead of me, suggesting that I was going out a little too hard. I dialed things back a bit, knowing there was a long day ahead and burning matches early on in the swim would cost me dearly later on. I settled and focused on my key mantras for the swim, maintaining a strong stroke through the turn around. There were moments where my focus would slip briefly and my mind would drift, thinking about other aspects of life. To regain focus I would visualize myself as Sum Yang during his 1500m world record swim (thanks for sharing Mitch) and try to execute the same level of focus he showed during that swim. Moving across the back section, the main pack I was in had moved ahead and I was now swimming with clear water in front of me with no pack and no drafting. Upon reaching the second turn, I really started to look for drafting opportunities, almost to my detriment. Zig zagging to try getting on the hip or feet of other swimmers.

With about 600m to go I decided to just hold my line and take advantage of any drafting if the opportunity arose. The swim exit was non eventful, with a strong kick over the last 200m and then spotting a big guy for the wetsuit stripping, as planned, went really smooth. The swim could have been better from a focus perspective, yet it was still pretty close to my goal time of 1:04-1:05 and it was time to ride (my favorite), so running into T1 I was smiling already.

Swim Time: 1:07:04 Overall Rank: 311/2,304 Age Group Rank: 29/99 

Photo: Swim exit, still catching breath… 


T1: Mont Tremblant has quite a long T1 with a 500m run to the transition tents. With wetsuit over my shoulder and a smile, I ran towards the transition tents. Transition was fairly seamless, with the key tip from Brandon (MIT Tri Team) to make bags identifiable with a solo cup over the draw string and then the fluro pink tape tip from Sue. It made things super easy to find.

T1 Time: 6:02


Bike (lap 1): At the center of the yoyo… 

Photo: Smooth road surface hey? 

Confident in my ability on the bike, I started out strong and feeling good. Typically I feel some soreness/tightness in the legs at the start of the ride, yet once settled I’m good to go, which was no different today. The early stages of the bike were very congested and ensuring that you stay outside the drafting zone was quite difficult. I exchanged a few words of support with fellow Bostonian (Michael Silva) in his Harvard uniform and he returned the favor noticing my MIT tri kit.

In the first few miles, I could hear/feel some slight rubbing of my brakes, yet when checking the front break they were all good. I considered stopping to check the rear, yet wanted to keep moving with the pack, so decided to shut it out of my mind and keep moving.

As we approached the highway after the first 10 miles there was a pack of around 10-15 guys going back and forth in position. The majority of them not adhering to the 7 meter drafting rules. I tried not to let the group bother me and just get settled into my own pace, following my targeted power zones etc. A little challenging at times with a few moments of needing to free wheel as the referee came to break up the group. The most interesting part was to see the temperament of the other racers in the early stages of the race. I was maintaining a constant pace and power output, yet every time I would pass a few of the guys, only a few minutes later they would come blowing past me to get back in front, only to be passed again a few minutes later by me moving at a consistent pace. I was feeling really strong and smooth on the bike as we approached the turn around on the highway.

The Mont-Tremblant course is known for being hilly, yet the majority of the hills are followed by some solid descents allowing for recovery. As I had ridden the course multiple times before in both the 70.3 seven weeks earlier and back in October, I knew what to expect. Just after the first turn around on the highway, I saw Billy Hafferty from the Boston tri team who I’d met a few weeks earlier. We exchanged a few words of encouragement and discussion on how each of us were feeling. Billy mentioned that he was “hanging in there”. I was feeling quite strong and pressed ahead of Billy up the hill. As we approached the second aid station, I swiped a banana and tried to swipe a second yet was unsuccessful, fortunately I still had a few on board. By this stage the pack of guys with me on the bike had reduced down to about 6 and we exchanged position a few times as we headed towards St-Jovite. Once through St-Jovite and back onto Montee-Ryan heading back to Mont-Tremblant, I took the lead of the pack and just put my head down, getting into a groove. Just before heading into the back section of the course, I took a slight look back, noticing the pack had split up and there were now only two guys within visual distance before starting the hilly back section. Through the back section, plenty of matches could be blown and there is still one lap to go. At the base of every climb I would put it in the smallest gear possible and just spin up the hills, ensuring not to blow out the legs. The strategy worked and I felt fresh starting the second lap. The first lap was completed in 2:33 @ a normalized power output of 249W. 

Photo: Getting settled in the early stages of lap one

Bike (lap 2): The lonesome lap…

At the start of lap 2 there were still 3-4 guys with me from the large pack on lap one. Not even 5 mins into the second lap 1-2 of them stopped at the special needs station and I’m not sure what happened to the others, yet they were no where to be seen. I just put my head down and pushed out hard seeing if I could maintain a power output of 255W (NP) for the second lap. Getting into my own zone, it took me 45mins-1hr to realize that I hadn’t seen anybody since the special needs station at the start of lap 2. I was now out on the highway, with no one in sight behind me or ahead of me, aside from one female pro who had stopped with a flat tire. This is where things got a little boring and a little lonely, just cranking through the wind on the 117 (highway) with no one around, it was actually kind of peaceful, apart from the fact of needing to pee.

My plan was to pee on the bike, as I’d practiced it well in training. Yet when you’ve been crouched in the same position for 3hrs with a seat providing some pressure on your groin, it can be a little challenging to get your bodily functions to work as normal. After about 30 mins of built up pressure, I was finally able to relieve myself on a nice gradual descent. Interestingly, not less than 30 seconds later I had the first guy pass me in about 45 mins. He rides by with a huge smile on his face. I turn to him with a grin, saying “Oh boy does that feel good!” Strange little moments you share with other participants out on the race course.

Upon reaching the turn around on the highway and feeling much better having relieved myself, I was still feeling strong and putting out some strong watts (250W+ NP). With a long way to go, I felt it would be wise to dial back a little bit and maintain a steady pace without blowing too many matches before the run. The journey back to town was also a little more fun, as I started to catch some more guys ahead of me on the bike and I saw a few more Boston tri kits floating around. Through St-Jovite and back on Montee Ryan for the final time, I needed to pee again! With only 30 mins on the bike to go and all hills, my opportunity wouldn’t come until I reached transition. I just put up with it and shut it out of my mind as best I could.

Heading into the back hills for the final section of the bike course, I started to mentally prepare myself for the run, thinking about my running mantras and just focussing on starting the run right. This was particularly helpful, as it made me stay focussed on not blowing my legs out in these final hills. Once again, it was the smallest ring and just spinning up the hills. Second lap completed in 2:39 @ normalized power output of 242W.

Bike time: 5:14:12 Pace: 21.39/mph Watts: 244W NP Overall Rank: 69/2,304 Age Group Rank: 8/99 Strava File 

Photo: Getting ready to dismount into T2


T2: “We have an Aussie in the house…"

As I dismounted from my bike, I hear over the loudspeaker “Oh we have an Aussie with us!” followed by “Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi” as I run through transition. It was a nice little pep up and some motivation before starting out on the run course. I saw (heard) Patrick’s family as I entered the tent which was also nice.

T2 Time: 2:44 


Run: The real fun begins…

Exiting the tent, I got a glimpse of the clock, 6hr30. Right on pace with my goal time and feeling really fresh for the marathon ahead.

Nicolas Warren you are awesome! For those of you that don’t know, Nicolas is one of my closest friends in Boston and it was his friendship and encouragement that got me into Triathlon. It was so awesome to have you right there on race day. As I exit T2, Nicolas is charging down the run shoot, shouting “Samuel!! You’re in 8th place!! You’re in 8th place!! Go and get them!” Prior to the race I was not sure about needing or wanting updates on my position, yet this was a great little boost and Nicolas’s enthusiasm flew through me like it was my own blood. 

Photo: Exiting T2 pointing at Nicholas

Now its time to break the run down into a few sections:

1km-4km: I couldn’t run slower…

I felt a million dollars and was moving so fluidly I couldn’t even slow down. This made me a little nervous as I was running about 15-20 seconds per km faster than my target pace this early in the race. I tried to slow myself down, yet was finding it challenging. I saw Isabel and Colin at km 2 as I smoothly climbed one of the early rollers. I was smiling from ear to ear, loving every second of the race. Feeling settled and still smooth 20mins in, I take in my first serving of dates. Still all smiles at this point.

5km-15km: The gambler in me comes out…

After taking in the first serving of pitted dates, the built up pressure of not peeing for a while started to catch up with me (I was thinking to go in T2, yet completely forgot) as I started to digest the dates. As I ran past a few porta potties and an aid station at km 5, I say to myself “I’ll be fine just keep moving”. By km 6, a small situation begins to unfold. The type of situation my friend Colin (aka Bruce) likes to call “The Gambler”. I needed to fart to release some of the built up pressure, yet wasn’t sure what would happen if I did. I took a chance and for a split second thought I was going to be on the losing end of this bet. However, my luck turned around and I held on to win this hand of cards.

At km 7 I took advantage of the porta potties this time around. 40-50 seconds later I was back running again and feeling much better. This is a lesson learned that it is much better to run free of any discomfort, versus trying to push through the discomfort in aid of losing time. I was running much better, yet this section would prove to be the toughest of my race physically and mentally. At the next serving of dates (taken every 20mins), only a few mins later my stomach flared up again, not bad, yet if I kept eating it would continue to get worse. Following the plan B, I dialed back on all nutrition for a few km’s to let my stomach settle. With the pain still lingering at km 12-13 I decided to take in some flat coke to settle things down a bit. It worked well and I started moving with a little more freedom.

At this point, I gotta give a shout out to my awesome support crew out on the run course, Isabel, Eleanor and Colin! They were everywhere, riding up and down the run course, cheering me through the trees and just being in the right spot at the right time, when I really needed a boost. Also, the run course is phenomenally beautiful. Set alongside Lac Mercier and running on the old decommission railway line the Parc de Nord. Just beautiful!

On my way back into town I had seen my friend Billy again. Billy was looking strong and we exchanged a few encouraging words.

15km-30km: The power of William and Chloe’s smile…

Approaching the village on my first loop, I started having flashbacks from my surging finish in the half ironman, only 7 weeks prior. It gave me a real boost and there was real sense of happiness for being out on the course really pushing myself. Also, I knew I was about to see 4 of my most favorite people in this world, my brother, his wife and their two gorgeous little kids Chloe and William. I spotted them up ahead and started waving, putting my arms out like an aero plane and charged towards them with a huge smile. Passing by, I gave both William and Chloe a little tickle before tackling the last hill into the village. It was the boost I really needed. Check out their little “Team Sambo” Ironman shirts below. Enjoying the jumping castles too :) 

Photo: William and Chloe enjoying the jumping castles in their Ironman shirts.

If you haven’t seen or heard about the run course at Mont-Tremblant, it is definitely something to experience. Imagine a little cobble stoned French Village, lined with little shops and crowds cheering you all the way through the chute. Not to mention that it is a 600 meter downhill run through the village. You can’t really complain to the race directors about this finish line. I saw Nicolas and Kosta for a high 5 as I enjoyed the village.

At the base of the village (the halfway point of the marathon) I took a spot check on my overall run time 1:52, which was slightly off pace for my target and I came to realize that it was going to be hard/impossible for me to reach my goal time of sub 10hrs. I would have to run a blistering second half to make it in time. For a moment this bothered me, yet a few seconds later I shut it out. This photo says it all at the halfway point, fortunately Chloe and William must have been standing right next to a photographer and as you can see I’m all smiles and waving as I start my second lap.

Photo: A wave and smile for William and Chloe starting lap 2 of run.

The early stages of the second lap would prove to be challenging, with the rolling hills and mentally struggling to find the boost to start running harder/faster and I was probably spending a little too much time assessing my pace/time etc. Once through the rollers and out onto the rail trail again (Parc de Nord) Isabel was there and gave me the heads up that Patrick was just ahead of me on his first lap, “Pat’s ahead, go catch him!!” was the shout out. As it peacefully starts to drizzle rain, whilst running through the (somewhat) forest, I saw Patrick up ahead, a moment I’d been excited about all day. A surprising little pinch on the bum and a “Oh I’ve been looking for that sexy ass all day!” comment from me, was the perfect comical moment as I pushed towards the turnaround point. With the words of encouragement from Patrick, “Go gett'em man!!” The peaceful rain eased as I hit the turn around and this was a slight turning point in the run for me.

With 12km to go, my original plan was to follow a pacing plan up until this point, then run the last 12km based on feel and if the opportunity presented itself then I would feel comfortable to “race” or just push the pace all the way to the finish. It is important to recognize that the race doesn’t start until this point. Going too hard too early can put you at risk of not finishing or finishing much slower you had hoped. If you’d burnt all your matches earlier in the race, like a few guys were doing on the bike.

30-34km: Go with the flow, just run, just run…

At the turn around on the Parc de Nord, I made a conscious decision to not look at my watch for the remainder of the entire race, not even when it beeped or alerted at me. Just run and enjoy the last miles of what has been an awesome journey. 9 months of training and preparation to get me to where I am. Just embrace every aspect of it and enjoy the last 12km of my first ironman.

My mind began to smile, reflecting on all the training, the build up races, the little (yet so large) motivational comments and quotes of inspiration shared by close friends, it was just awesome. My body started moving more freely (at least it felt that way) and I just ran. It felt so calming and soothing. Getting into my groove again, finding a second wind so to speak. I saw Zuzka (a fellow MIT Triathlete) on the way back in and she was looking strong. We exchanged some brief words of encouragement, which was another nice little booster. One of the benefits racing with fellow teammates. 

34-42km: Our own little IronWar…

Getting closer and closer back into town, I realized that I hadn’t seen Billy on the out and back section of the the Parc de Nord. I started to wonder: “Where’s Billy? Did he blow up? Is he ok? or did I miss him and he’s close behind me?” I was on the look out for him, so I was concerned that he had dropped off or had some issues. These questions played out in my head for 5-10 mins, before, all of a sudden I hear from behind me “Keep it going bud, only 4 ½ miles to go! Let’s do this!” It was Billy. He was moving well and went ahead of me by a few meters. This was the defining moment in the race for me: Who is going to show up today? Are you going to have the power to stay with him? Should I stick with him? Never a question really. I moved up alongside him as we entered the final gravel section of the Parc De Nord, with 7km to go.

Running shoulder to shoulder, double breasted, along the narrow track we went for the next 2km without saying much. My mind was digging deep, asking myself “Who is going to show up? You can either let this go or you can grasp the experience you’ve dreamed of thousands of times.” It was surreal to be placed in this position. I had meditated and visioned myself ‘racing’ the final stages of the Ironman, a thousand times over in the past 12 months. Ideally for a Kona qualification spot which was not the case here, yet that didn’t matter. I was fully alive and mentally ready to race!

For the first 2km of running with Billy, I didn’t really know how Billy was feeling, as I hadn’t seen his face and we exchanged very few words. As we approached the end of the rail trail (Parc De Nord) section, turning the corner on Chermain Du Village, there was a live band playing, apparently the same song, over and over according to Billy! This comment from Billy gave me a subtle sense of his mental state and fatigue. This is where the race really began for me, thinking, this is my chance to gradually wear him down as we approach the finish line, with a touch over 5km to go. The situation reminded me of the 2010 Hawaiian Ironman, that I had watched many months earlier. Chris McCormick and Andreas Raelert ran toe to toe over the closing stages of the race. Macca stayed about 3-4 feet in front of Andreas, to form a mental barrier and maintain control of the race. Right at the turning point of the corner on to Chermain Du Village (5.5km to go), I got a huge boost from Colin and Isabel cheering, and surged up the little hill with the plan to stay just in front of Billy and manage the pace for the rest of the race. Not over exerting myself, just gradually pushing the pace based on feel.

Photo: Billy and I turning onto Chermain Du Village for the last time.

I couldn’t see Billy any more, yet from time to time I would hear his breathing in the background getting slightly heavier and a sense that he was starting to hurt. The fact he was in a Boston tri suit also helped, as the runners coming the other way would shout out “Go Boston!” which would keep me updated on how close he was, depending when they would cheer. Isabel was riding alongside us shouting words of encouragement at both of us, encouraging Billy to take the lead and for us to work together, I remember this vividly “Take the lead Boston, take the lead, work together! You’re a team out here!” Little did Isabel know, I was not going to let Billy in front of me, regardless of any benefit from pacing etc.

With about 3.5km to go, we exited the street for a moment onto this slight downhill path through the trees. At the top of the path, I picked it up a gear and heard a groan/loud breath from Billy. I pushed down the hill, and at this point my confidence started to grow and I could tell he was starting to really hurt. Still couldn’t shake him off though! As we entered back onto the street we were still close together and both pushing hard. I was burning too. Funnily enough, our friend Meg (who introduced Billy and I to each other only weeks earlier at Walden Pond), came running by in the other direction shouting words of encouragement for both of us.

Isabel sprouts up again, out of no where. With a little less encouragement or suggestion for Billy to take the lead, I think it went something like this “Crush him, don’t let him pass you! You’ve worked hard for this, push it all the way! Don’t let him pass you!! Crush him!!” The phrase “Crush him” may be a little extreme and not exactly what she said, yet it was intense, and for any of you who know Isabel, this is very much unlike her. It made me chuckle, even though I was thinking the exact same thing. My adrenaline started to rise as we moved closer to the finish, and crossing the little bridge with a view of the lake (where it all began 10hrs earlier) and the mountains in the back drop, I chucked my unused pitted dates away (thinking I need to be as light as possible for the final sprint), it was game time. Time to step up to the challenge and leave nothing in the tank.

Having raced the course once before I knew we had two short, but steep, climbs to go over the last 2km. Waiting for a surge from Billy to come at some point, I was trying not to blow my gas too early for the sprint finish, and didn’t really know where would be the best place to surge. Fortunately, I didn’t need to make that decision, as we passed the swim start and approached the first of the last two hills, a 46 year old guy (not Billy) comes bursting past me at a 100 miles an hour. Out of shock and the thought that this guy was Billy making his surge, my body just took off. Surging up the hill chasing this guy up and over. 

Photo: Samuel and Billy 2km from the finish. 100m before the surge.

The gas was on full throttle! Charging towards the finish with 1,500m to go. Nicolas and Kosta were there again, running alongside me for a couple hundred meters. Entering the final hill up into the village my friend Clint charged all the way up the hill with me, shouting “You’ve worked so hard for this, give it everything, leave nothing behind!!” It was a strange feeling, as I could feel my legs going into this state that they’ve never been before, just exploding and burning as I surged up the hill. Physically, I could feel the burn and pain. Mentally, I couldn’t feel the pain at all (well at least now, looking back on it).

At the top of the village, I got the chance to glance back down the hill to see if I could see Billy. From the quick glance I couldn’t see him. Now is when I realized that I about to finish (thanks to the 600m downhill village run :) ) and I flew down through the village giving it everything, all the way to the finish. Coach Bill had asked me to jump twice as high as I did at the finish line 70.3 (half Ironman), which I started preparing myself to do, yet my legs just couldn’t muster anymore. I was also shocked again, by a late surge from the same 46 year guy I’d chased up the hill, thinking it was Billy again. I took a little leap and slapped the clock as I crossed the finish line. 

Samuel Johns, you are an IRONMAN!! :)

Run Time: 3:40:12 Pace: 5:13 min/km (8:24min/mile) Strava File

Overall Time: 10:10:14 Overall: 94th of 2,304 Age Group 25-29: 9th of 99


The feeling was unbelievable. I put my arms up in the air and started crying (with some loud groans gasping for air) with tears of joy and accomplishment. Going into it, you can try to imagine how you’re going to feel, what you’re going to say to yourself. In actuality, you never really know how you’re going to feel or what it is going to be like. Isabel came shouting (again :)) over the fence pointing at me, “You did it! You did it! You did it!” which is a moment I’ll remember forever. Words can’t really describe the emotion, it was just awesome! Finishing an Ironman is something I’d dreamt about doing for a long time and to experience it the way I did, resulted in this outpouring of emotions. All whilst, trying to calm my breathing down after the 5km sprint to the finish. The last mile was a 6:40 min/mile.

Billy and I hugged it out in the finish line area. Sharing congratulations to each other on the epic finish. So appreciative to have shared such a special moment, with another awesome competitor and a great bloke. Billy, if it wasn’t for you mate, this race would have had a completely different ending, I guarantee a much slower one for me at least. Thanks for pushing my limits and sharing what was the best 25 minutes of my sporting life to date. Always at the infancy of what is next. 


The inspirational last hour of Ironman

During the last hour of the Ironman (after showered and maybe taken a nap) you head down to the finish line to watch the real heros and inspiration of Ironman finish. To say it was “electrifying” or “inspiring” wouldn’t really do it justice. Something you really need to experience to believe it. Seeing people push their physical and mental limits for 17 hours and still be putting one foot in front of the other was amazing! The last competitor came in at 4 mins to midnight with a time of 16:56. Her entire run leg was completed in the dark, after 1hr22 mins in the bike to run transition. Epic stuff! 

Photo: Kayle, Patrick, me and Meg enjoying the final hour at the finish line. 


This was not a solo journey…

I’ll be forever in debt for the level of support and encouragement I received over the two year journey towards IMMT. Triathlon often gets a bad wrap for being a selfish sport, which is a little unfair when you peel back the layers on the life long friendships formed and support provided to others. Yes, at the end of the day finishing time is listed next to only one name, yet there are so many people who have had an influence on your achievements and experiences. This is one of the reasons why I love the sport and the community.

Patrick, you’re the voice: You’re naivety and curiosity to challenge the unknown is inspiring. Here’s how the story began, on what was Patrick’s last day at TripAdvisor before heading out to crush it at ROMP. (Keep in mind he had downed a few beers at this point of the conversation)
  • Pat: “Oh so what are your big goals for 2014? 
  • Samuel: I’m thinking of doing an Ironman! 
  • Pat: Which one and when? 
  • Samuel: Mont Tremblant in Canada, late August. 
  • Pat: I’m in! Let do it, send me the details. 
For someone who had never done a triathlon before and who could hardly swim 9 months before race day, you sure know how to step up to the challenge. The experience wouldn’t have been the same without ya mate! Epic swim time too! 

Photo: Finish line smiles with Patrick and Samuel, time for some food!

  • Jason Gootman (Tri-Hard Endurance Coaching): Your training plans, guidance and mentorship has taught me a lot about myself and triathlon. Thank you for listening and allowing me to grow in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Thanks to Will Kirousis your coaching partner in crime too, his support when needed was super helpful. 
  • Coach Bill (MIT Tri Coach): Ever since I rocked up on the pool deck at MIT, on a cold February night in 2013, you’ve been welcoming, a great influencer and a tremendous support for my development. Thanks for all the swim coaching and the Tuesday morning track sessions! 
  • Sue S (swim coach): You calming presence and depth of knowledge was priceless, thank you for being there every step of the way and teaching me to paint beautiful green lines. 
Race day support crew and awesome friends: I’ll challenge anyone to show me a better support crew than this one. Love you guys, thanks so much! 

Photo: Kosta, Kathy, Clint, Isa, Samuel, Eleanor, and Nicholas post race.

  • Colin Kennedy (aka Bruce): Where to begin? It starts with the Friday morning commuter rides in 2011, going out of your way to teach me the craft of cycling and what it means to ride with a mate, trusting me to ride 10cm off your wheel for hours on end. In V we trust. The brains of MIT are still trying to figure out how our surgery to be joined at the hip during the 2013 season workout so well, it will be a year I’ll never forget. From training together, bike setup, equipment advice, race strategy and friendship, you’ve always been there. It was so special to have you at IMMT charging up and down the run course! Looking forward seeing you shine at Cyclocross Nationals in 2015! 
  • Isa Brachmann: Your calming influence, both on land and water (where you really belong), along with your mental support was invaluable. You were there for each swimming breakthrough (crazy fist pumping at the end of the lane) and I’ll never forget the cold November bike ride where I don’t think you said anything, which was perfect. I was inspired to see you “cruising” in NOLA, smashing the swim and having a great race. New Zealand already feels special and we haven’t even arrived yet. Bring on the “You’re cruising!!” in NewZ! 
  • Eleanor Wiseman: Your daily inspiration, encouragement and beaming smile is priceless. There were many training and racing days where it lifted me to new heights. The early season running races fun, your thoughtful conversation and caring friendship I’ll hold dear to my heart forever, not to mention the skype dance moves. Thank you for playing a huge roll on race day wearing my Sammy K t-shirt and cheering through the mega phone. Looking forward to NewZ! “Lets do this shit!” 
  • Nicolas Warren: When someone (me) needed a friend, you were there and through your genuine care for others, you inspired me (and still do) to tackle my dreams. I will never forget your small act of kindness in early 2012, that was the spark of this journey and a friendship I look forward to enjoying for the rest of my life. To have you there running beside me during the last 1500m was truly special. 
  • Kosta, Kathy and Clint: From early days in Boston and our retreats in the mountains, you guys have really stood by me all the way. So awesome to have your support and love on race day! Thanks for making the journey! The finish line sprint from Kosta and charge up the hill from Clint was epic! Say YES to life! 
  • Anthony, Julie, William and Chloe: Hard to put my heart on a piece a paper because you guys would take up too much room! Thank you for your continued love and support! Seeing my little munchkins half way through the run was the highlight of my day. 
  • Arnout and Justin (there in spirit after an epic day at the IMMT70.3):Thanks Mr Flat Belly. 
  • Patrick’s family: Thanks for making the trek out from Colorado to support Patrick and I, your support was awesome! 

Training Partners and Other supporters:
  • My awesome family: The crew were lighting it up on the family facebook feed from afar! Thank you mum and dad for all the car rides to basketball, cricket and football etc. Life and this experience wouldn’t have been completed if it wasn’t for you. 
  • Little Nemo: Your shining (shivering) day around Manhattan was the impertise for me to take the leap on registering for IMMT. The beauty in the night sky and courage in the sunlight across the Catalina will never be forgotten and played over and over in my head during the last 20 km’s of this race. Thank you for giving me permission to shine :). 
  • Felix: Your last few hundred meters of the Boston marathon this year showed a level of humility and compassion for running that really touched me and inspired me on those long training days. Not to mention your courage through the journey of Ironman training, letter boxes and all. Thanks for the inspiration and learnings. If my race report is half as good as yours, I’ll be happy :). 
  • Zuzka: The definition of Ironwoman = Zuzka. Thanks for the company on the long training rides and the encouragement on race day. I look forward to seeing you in Kona one day, hopefully in 2015! Keep chasing that dream! 
  • Bryce: The man of few words, yet when you do say something it packs a lot of punch and is filled with learnings. Thanks for keeping me honest and stirring me up to push my boundaries. Your insights related to Ironman training really helped me get settled and focussed. Thanks for sharing and being an inspiration with both your Ironman journey and open water swimming triumphs, the next ocean should be fearful of this guy, just like the newbies in the fast lane of ant MIT swim practice :). 
  • Ben Rubin: Your encouragement and advice to become the best I can be is priceless. From the meditation teaching at Burning Man, to making me aware of mindfulness and guidance on forming good habits. All key aspects of my training I thoroughly enjoyed and owe you a lot for. 
  • Meg MacSwan: Happiness is surely a state of mind. You live by this value each and every day. The ice bath at Mass State was comical and still makes me chuckle. Thanks for the Walden training swims and for your beaming smile out on the run course. The courage you showed through your own journey to IMMT was inspiring and gives great strength to those around. Thank you for sharing your strength. 
  • Thanks to all those who supported me and joined for a few training sessions: Mitch, Sam, Maddie, Becca, Morgan, Allie, Dina, The MIT Triathlon Team, The MIT Cycling Team, JH, Ashley B, Ashley H, Justin G, Shaffer, Fan and Claire, work colleagues at TripAdvisor. 


Nutrition Strategy- 25 Banana Plan

For those interested here was my nutrition strategy for race day. Note my run strategy was altered due to suffering stress during the run:

4:20am- 4:42 Breakfast
  • Jar of Apple sauce 
  • 2x tablespoon almond butter 
  • 1x Banana 
  • 1x scoop of whey protein 
  • Sip 20 ounces of water after breakfast until race start. 
5:42am: Caffeine Pill: 250mg
  • 1 ¼ caffeine pill taken with water 
6:27am: Banana 15 mins before race start

Bike Nutrition:
  • ~1,000mg of sodium per hour 
  • 150mg of caffeine per hour 
Run Nutrition:

Per Hour:
  • ~1,000 mg sodium per hour 
  • 150mg of caffeine per hour 
Actions if suffering nutrition distress/digestive issues:
  • Step 1: Hold off on intake and let stomach settle, before starting intake again. 
  • Step 2: Sip little amounts of water to keep up hydration. Small amounts of water could help with dilution of carbohydrates. 
  • Step 3: Sip coke a cola and dilute down with water to settle stomach. (this was my approach from km 12 to 42) 

The journey continues! :) See you in New Zealand!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Arnout's Timberman HIM Report

Timberman Half Ironman 2014, Gilford NH

Since I enjoyed reading the race reports from other team members, I’d like to share the experience I had doing the Timberman Half Ironman in Gilford, New Hampshire. To paraphrase trending scientific triathlon literature: ‘I wanted to do a half Ironman. I trained for it. I did it.’1 Most importantly, I had a great time during the race as well as during the months preparing for it.

My pre-race preparation started by the end of November, when I signed up for the race. Doing the Buzzards Bay sprint (run-bike-run due to a cancelled swim) and a total of four swim workouts triggered me enough to sign up for a half. The first months I only attended the Tuesday night swim training, but slowly I got more engaged with the team and added track practice, another swim workout and weekend rides to the repertoire.  To mix up the training workouts, I did the season opener sprint, the Harriman Olympic and the Mass state Olympic, and by the time Timberman came around I felt ready to race.

Race morning

Race morning started very relaxed. We had rented a house with the team close to the start and my bike was already in transition, so little to worry about. After a large bucket of yoghurt with cereal, bananas and honey and a few sandwiches I still had plenty of time, so I took a nice long shower before I submerged myself in bodyglide and chamois butter.
At the race site I set up my transition stuff, took my first gel of the day with ‘espresso love’ and went for a little stroll to facilitate disposal of the last bit of unnecessary race weight. When I walked over to the swim start I felt good, though still a little nervous about how I would distribute my energy over the different parts to make my goal time. These nerves quickly disappeared when I overheard two fairly big guys discussing their race plan; “Deep in the red, all the way!!”. Then I just got smile on my face and decided to figure it out along the way.

Swim (1.2 miles 33:56)
The swim was in Lake Winnipesaukee; three legs in super clear water. I ate my last banana and went in the water to warm up for the age group start. Since I’m not the fastest swimmer, I decided to take off hard and try to find a slightly faster person to draft off. Inspired by Samuel’s race plan, I lined up on the left behind two big guys and went for it. I didn’t experience too much contact and was able to stay on their feet until the first buoy. Then we bumped into a lot of swimmers from earlier waves, which made me switch a few times between people to draft of. I may have done some additional yards in the process, but it gave me something to focus on and in retrospect I couldn’t have done it this fast on my own. The last leg of the swim I picked up my pace and kicked a bit more to get the blood to my legs.

T1 (2:25)
Transition 1 went pretty smooth. I had my wetsuit stripped by a volunteer, dried my feet, put on socks and shoes and ran out of transition for a flying mount start.

Bike (56 miles 2:39:40)
The bike part was a ‘scenic, out and back bike course with plenty of rolling hills and several challenging hills ranging from 3% to 9% grade’. I took off pretty conservative since the ‘challenging’ hills were all in the first 12 miles and tried to keep above 20mph after that. My nutrition plan had basically come down to taping as many energy bars to my frame as possible and eat something every 15-20 minutes. I figured 9 GUs, 2 packs of shot blocks and 2 crumbled cliff bars should get me through the 3 hours I was aiming for. Well, at least it gave my neighbors in transition a good laugh. I also had one bottle with water, one with 2 tablets of nuun electrolytes and I grabbed and tossed water bottles for a few sips of water at every aid station.
The first 28 miles went down pretty easy, because of a slight elevation drop (no pun intended). The course was a fairly boring freeway shoulder, but I enjoyed watching/passing people and the simple fact that I was doing the race. I finished the first half with an average of 19.3mph and already envisioned myself transitioning from the bike to the run. That optimistic feeling slowly disappeared by the time I thought I had done 45 miles while in fact I had only done 35. I was starting to get bored, my butt was getting sore and all the water I drunk to wash down the GUs was starting to put pressure on my bladder. I figured I could hold it till transition and that if I would go faster, I would get there earlier. The projection of T2 porta-potties gave me a boost of moral, but the pressure remained, and after a few miles I decided roll up a sleeve and let it out. I felt reborn. I picked up my pace a bit more and by the time I got back to the ‘challenging’ hills I was really getting into it. Making sure to stay as ‘aero’ as possible on the up and downhill I finished the second part of the bike averaging 22.5 mph.

T2 (1:08)
Transition 2 went as planned. I jumped of my bike right before the line and ran into transition. Changed into my running shoes and put on my race belt on the way out.

Run (13.1 miles 1:36:52)
The run consisted of two loops ‘along the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee and offers views of the White Mountains, along with plenty of rolling hills.’ I don’t remember seeing the White Mountains, but the rolling hills and the crowds made the run a lot more fun than the bike part.
Based on what I heard from others in the team, I decided to start relaxed and aim for 8 minutes per mile for the first 1-2 miles. I was pretty pumped when I came off the bike and running and running slower than 7:30 min/mile was more difficult than I thought. After a mile I felt that the relieve on the bike had not been sufficient, and I stopped at a porta-potty to shake out the last bits.
Coming out of the porta-potty, I almost literary ran into Felix. After being alone on the course for a few hours this was a very pleasant surprise. Since we were both wearing the exact same MIT kit, we decided to team up to please the crowds. We tested different drafting techniques and had a good time chatting, and the first lap was over before I knew it. Although we were clowning a bit, we were still running a decent ~7min/mile pace. I guess it’s true that you run faster with a smile on your face.
In the second lap, Felix suggested to pick up the pace after the turnaround point, though as soon as he mentioned that he already started to speed up. Since he’s a faster runner (and he had conserved his energy drafting behind me for several yards) I had to consider my options. I felt good and confident to keep running at the same pace, but since I hadn’t run more than a 10k in preparation I was afraid the man with the hammer would be waiting at mile 11 if I stayed with Felix. Also, I was on track to beat 5 hours which was faster than my wildest goal time, so I decided to keep my rhythm and let him go.
I alternated water and sports drinks at every aid station and at mile 11 I still felt strong. I started picking people in the distance and try to catch up. One girl was particularly hard to catch; every time I came close, she would throw back a skittish look and sprint away. Apparently she was leading in her age group and every time she saw me coming with my long manes she thought her medal was in danger. This catchup drill added some extra speed to my last few miles and I finished with a big smile on my face.

Final time 4:54:01

Final thoughts
After the race I felt that it had all come together. Not just the race and the weekend with the team, but the whole preparation that had started many months before. Looking back I realize I could never have gotten to this result alone and joining the triathlon team turned out to be key in my preparation. Although you have to put in the hours yourself, it’s a lot easier to do it together with a great bunch of people and get some guidance on the way. During the workouts and on little trips I learned a lot from teammates about training plans, gear, nutrition and race preparation. And a lot of other nonsense that turned out to be very useful; “is it more aero like this, or like this” became almost a mantra during the race. Also training with coach Bill made a big difference. His tips and videos helped me to get from “a banana falling out of a tree” to something that at least looks like a swimmer. Thanks to the whole MIT tri team, in particular Isabel, Eleanor, Justin, and unofficial mentor Samuel for making it such a great year.


1.       Moser 2014. IM Canada 2014 race report