This past weekend I raced the Muncie 70.3 in Indiana. This was my first time going to Indiana, but I felt like I was back at home in Essex County. The roads were dead flat and full of potholes, as well as surrounded by farmer’s fields on each side; nearly identical to Essex County. Just twenty days prior I raced Syracuse 70.3. There, I had a good swim and run, but was very unhappy with my bike. I had been tinkering with my cadence and decided to push 90-95 RPM during the race. Unfortunately, I did not have a power meter in that race and was unable to gage how hard I was going; mainly due to the significant change in cadence. Both the feeling in my legs, as well as the amount of time I gave up to the athlete’s in front of me, indicated that I had biked too easy. After the race, Cody Beals and Alex Vanderlinden both pointed me in the direction of Stages power meters. I contacted them and I must say, it was some of the best customer service I have ever experienced. They got back to me within four hours, and within twenty-four hours I had placed an order for a power meter. The power meter arrived in exactly one week, giving me a whole week to train on it leading into Muncie 70.3. That being said, my only real goal in Muncie 70.3 was to bike more to my ability level.
The day before the race, I did a swim on the race course. I figured the swim would be non-wetsuit. This is unfortunate for a weak swimmer, but I was feeling confident in my stroke, and I was up for the challenge. I woke up on race morning to find out that the water temperature was 74.5 degrees, and thus wetsuit legal. On this day, luck was on my side. I knew that I had just been given about a minute back (due to swimming faster with a wetsuit on, relative to the strong swimmers), so I figured I had more room to play with power output on the bike (i.e. try pushing a bit more, at the possibility of running a bit slower).
This was the first swim where I was feeling confident enough to line up right behind the largest group of swimmers on the start line (normally I line up to the far side of them). The canon went and I got out well. I was on a set of feet, but they began to fade by about 200 meters. This was unfortunate because during this time, a gap opened up between us and the big pack of swimmers ahead. I spent the next 1000 meters or so, trying to close that gap. Right around the second and final turn I finally bridged the gap to the large group. Once in the draft, it was significantly easier. I knew there was nowhere to go from here, so I just settled in and enjoyed the rest of the swim. On paper, I swam 26:31, but the timing mat was a ways up the road from the water. I am certain this was the best swim of my life, and I would not be surprised if in reality the actual swim was under 26 minutes. It was a long run up to transition, so I made sure to run it hard. Once out onto the bike, my girlfriend Erin notified me that I was only 2 minutes and 50 seconds down to the leader. This is the smallest deficit I have ever had in a 70.3 race. I wasn’t 100% sure, but I was pretty certain that super-swimmer Josh Amberger was the leader out of the water. It turns out, I was right.
I had initially intended on pushing 315-325w for the 90k ride. I had run a few tests on the CompuTrainer in the week leading into the race and I found that the Stages power meter tended to read 5-10w higher at these outputs. This meant, according to the CompuTrainer, I was intending to push 305-315w, which is realistically what I had been training to do. Once out on the bike though, I immediately knew this was too easy. 350w felt rather easy, at this time. I knew that was a bit ambitious, considering I was only doing 3 minuters at this output in practice, so I decided to tone it down a bit to 340w. The first 6 miles of the course were very bumpy. My intention here was to make it out without a flat. Once onto the highway I was able to settle in and just focus on power output.
The course was six miles to the highway, then two out and back loops of 22 miles each. At the first turnaround I was very surprised to see that Josh Amberger was still in the lead and that Andrew Starykowicz was about 15 seconds back. Andrew Starykowicz is the world record holder on the bike portion of the race at both the 70.3 and full Ironman distance. For Josh to hold him off for this long (18 miles or so) is a testament to how strong of a biker he is. I picked a landmark and then was able to calculate approximately how far back I was at this point of the race; it was something like 2 minutes and 30 seconds, so I figured at the very least, I hadn’t given up anytime to the leader. From here on out the bike was pretty uneventful, I just focused on keeping the power average at 340w. I managed to hold it here for the entire first loop (28 miles). On the second loop we were starting to have to pass the age-group athletes on their first loop of the course. I was yelling “on your left” every couple of minutes or so. A few times I had to stop pedalling and actually hit the brakes, as they were spread three across and there was no way to pass without going over into the other side of the road. That being said, I managed to hold 336w on the second half of the ride, for a total average power of 338w. In terms of watts/kg that’s about 4.65, as I weighed in at approximately 162lbs on race morning. I knew Starykowicz’s bike time from the year before was 2:00:45 or so, and my timer was reading sub 2:02 as I approached the dismount line, so I knew I probably hadn’t given up too much time to the leaders on the bike.
I was expecting to go into transition from a different entrance, so I was a bit disoriented when I got in, but I managed to find my rack and have a decent transition. Heading out onto the run course, I heard that I was 3 minutes and 45 seconds down from the leaders. I pushed more wattage then I had intended, so I was unsure how my legs were going to react. I don’t run with a watch, so I literally had no idea how fast I was running. Additionally, the first four miles of the run course had quite a few corners, so I could not see how far I was relative to the athletes in front of me. So, I just focused on relaxing my shoulders, getting my breathing under control, and keeping my leg turnover up. Finally, at about mile 4 I caught a glimpse of Starkyowicz. At this point, he was about 200 meters up the road. I kept my pace constant and tried to catch him by mile 5. This was a very cool moment for me, as I have been following Andrew for several years now. He was responsible for pushing the bike portion of long course triathlon to new heights. I read his blog regularly, and have learned many things about biking and training from it.
At this point I could see Amberger another 200 meters or so up the road. I continued to push the pace. I knew my dad was following along at home and I knew we hadn’t crossed a timing mat yet, so I set out to catch him by the turnaround, and beat him over the mat. It took a final surge, but I entered the lead about 1 meter before the timing mat, and 2 meters before the turnaround. At this point I wanted to continue to put out a solid effort all the way back to the finish. As I neared the finish I tried to take in the sights and sounds and feelings as much as I could. At around mile 12 a lady yelled at me, “way to go man, you were made to do this,” and that sent shivers down my spine, and brought a tear to my eye.
The finishing chute was a much different experience this time than in Muskoka last year. In Muskoka I could do nothing but cry, as the emotion was just too much to handle. This time round I felt something more along the lines of a release of anger and frustration. After Texas 70.3 I was devastated. I had never got a flat in a race before, and then in this race I got two. My dad flew from Windsor to watch the race, and so I felt a massive amount of disappointment. In St. George, I went two weeks early, had my mom fly out to watch, as well as my girlfriend, and then had what I consider to be one of the worst performances of my life. That one really stung and I began to question whether I should even be dreaming of competing at that level. This started to turn around in Raleigh and Syracuse as I started to get a better understanding of what works in training and tapering for me, as well as what is necessary in terms of equipment and nutrition. Muncie 70.3 was the culmination of many hard lessons. Crying was probably the furthest thing from my mind when I went through that banner.
After the race, we went to Burger King and I had a Whopper and two Whopper Jrs. It was wonderful. We then went back to the awards and then started the four hour car ride back to Windsor. All in all, it was a fun trip. I think now more than ever I have come to appreciate just how much goes into winning a 70.3. There are many variables that must be controlled. Additionally, luck has to be on your side. And most importantly, you need a good support team. I have the best support team in the world in my girlfriend, my parents, my girlfriend’s parents, as well as my friends and family. I know that my friend’s back in Windsor and Essex County are following along, and so when the going gets tough, I just have to think about them and I am able to find strength. I must graciously thank all of my sponsors as this performance is a direct byproduct of your support: Cycle Culture, Dr. Richard Kniaziew, Louis Garneau, Saucony, eLoad, CompuTrainer, Nineteen Wetsuits, Embrace Open Water Swimming, C3-Kinetico, and Multisport Canada.
Thanks for reading!