Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Leon's Triathlon Race Report

Leon's Triathlon - dubbed as the "World's Fastest Triathlon."  Yes, I can see that this course can be fast, but not world's fastest.  In comparison, I'd say Memphis in May was a much faster course, even with the flooded streets that we had a few weeks ago.  Regardless, Leon's gets the rap of being the "world's fastest" because a decent chunk of the bike course is on an old closed 6 lane highway.  There are some very small inclines/declines and with going back and forth, there are a lot of 180 degree turn arounds (which equals lots of slowing!).  

The weekend started out for me on Friday morning.  I made the trek out to beautiful Hammond, Indiana to set up PowerBar.  With the race drawing a lot of media, I figured this would be a great plug for PowerBar and get some good exposure.  I worked with Leon in the weeks leading up to the race to secure a spot for PowerBar to be at the expo.  Much of Friday was just the set up and getting familiar with the area.  They were setting up over 2000 flags out on the run course to honor our vets which was awesome.  I provided some PowerBar samples to all of those that helped set up.  Once finished with work, I hopped onto the bike and did a little bike course recon.  Overall, not much to see, lots of funky smells, and a fair amount of potholes and 180's.  The wind also seemed to play into factor as I was either going 19 or 31 mph.  I took note of a few best lines on the road and called it quits after 25 miles of riding.  Back into the truck to make the drive over to my parent's house in Schaumburg as it was a bit closer to the race site.  Only problem was that traffic was awful the entire way back and resulted in a near 3 hour trip!

Saturday was the expo demo day.  Vendors from Urban Tri, Endure it, Pacific Health, Oakley, Skechers, and other were all present.  I made the trip out around 7:30am, got there to put out the product and prep my expo space.  I was also able to grab my packet and gear for the race the following day.

Reppin' the best nutrition out there! Cool bikes also draw attention to the booth!

Overview of the expo area -- I'm off to the left!

Throughout the day, I was able to see a lot of the local triathletes, catch up, and talk to anxious first timers about some tips and advice.  One of my favorite parts about working the expos is interacting with the new athletes and helping them with any pre-race questions that they have.  

With the race being broadcast on Comcast Sports Network, the camera crew were around most of the day shooting bits for their coverage.  Robbie Ventura, one of the guys doing commentary (and a former Tour rider!) noticed my bike and wanted to do a small piece on electronic shifting.  So we were able to shoot a side story about why I ride electronic and the benefits of it over mechanical.  Fun stuff!  (We also shot it right in front of the PowerBar get-up, so PB should get some press!).  

Near the end of expo, I was scheduled to do an interview since I was of the pre-race favorites.  How cool is that?!  They pulled me aside and put me in a green room, asking all sorts of questions about my strategy, strengths/weaknesses, and why I love the sport so much.  Hopefully I didn't make too much of a fool of myself…but we will all see come July 4th when it is aired on tv!

After the interview, I packed up my PowerBar product into the truck as the expo was over.  Whew, a long day out in the sun from 8:30am to 5pm.  I threw on my wetsuit to go preview some of the swim course.  I also wanted to test out my new wetsuit as the one I was using ripped two days prior, so this one was brand new. A few others told me that there was a sand bar about 200 meters out from the finish.  It was shallow enough to stand up and run/walk through.  I swam that section and practiced running and diving through it to get a slight speed advantage.  Post swim, it was into the truck and straight over to Sammy's Bikes in St. Charles.  I had another interview session lined up with the EGO media crew as they were putting together a video of our tri team for the race.  Media everywhere!  I met Jacqui over at Sammy's and jumped right in answering similar questions that I was asked earlier.

Jac doing her interview!

Since we knew it was going to be time crunched, we had a dinner reservation out in Geneva to grab our pre-race meal.  Side-note- Jac was racing the North Shore Half Marathon the next day.  You can check out her race report on her blog Jacqui's Blog.  We ended up at The Country House since they had Buffalo/Bison Burgers, Jacqui's pre race ritual meal.  I wound up just ordering a chopped chicken salad, as I wasn't too hungry…possibly too many PowerBars eaten during the expo..I can't stay away from those new wafers!

Bison burger!
After dinner, it was the hour drive back to Schaumburg.  Getting in at 9:30, I still had to prep my bike, bags, gear, and nutrition for the race the next day!  I was thinking to myself…when am I going to be able to go into a race rested and truly ready??   I threw in a new latex tube into the front 808 wheel, pumped the tires, affixed race numbers, and put my PowerBar Perform mix into a baggie to fill race morning.  While brushing my teeth, I realized I forgot one important pre-race necessary----I had stubble legs!  Into the shower to get them cleaned up!

Hopefully some day my kids don't think it's weird 

From there, it was off to bed as it was nearing 11pm.  Maybe next race I'll get a good amount of sleep?


Jac and I both got up at 4:45 to head to our respective races.  I wanted to be out the door by 5:15, but was a little slow moving due to still being tired.  I was lucky enough that my dad decided to make the trek out to be the support crew for the day.  

With no traffic (and a quick stop for a cup o joe at the double D), the trip took only 50 minutes, and I arrived at 6:20.  This gave me an hour before transition closed.  I filled my front aero bottle with PowerBar Perform (2.5 scoops), arranged all my gear, then was off for a quick ride on the bike to make sure it was running smoothly.  Back in transition, I racked my bike, then went out for a short 1 mile run to wake the legs up.  I didn't feel great, but didn't feel bad.  So overall, I was unsure of what the day was going to give me.

Transition Set-Up
Once they kicked us out of transition, I grabbed my swim gear and met up with the EGO p/b Sammy's Bikes team.  We were gunning for the overall co-ed team title which would record the top 2 male and top 2 female times.  

The whole gang ready to go!

We were all treated to a national anthem sung by Jim Cornelison, who is the one that does it for all Chicago Blackhawks games.  The crowd was extra excited since the Blackhawks would be playing game 7 later in the day (unfortunately it didn't go in their favor).  From there, we were all corralled up like farm animals and taken off to the dock to jump into the water.  The atmosphere was rocking…helicopters up in the sky, tv and camera men in boats, and 100's of anxious athletes waiting for the gun to go off.  

Before the race started, I knew there were going to be a few quick guys, but knew my main competition was going to be good friend Adam Zucco.  He and I both had early season races which led us to highly coveted Ironman World Championships slots later this year in Kona, Hawaii.  I knew we both weren't in prime condition to smash the course, but also knew that it was going to be a battle until the finish line as we have different strengths.  Adam is a good swimmer, but even better cyclist.  I'm talking about a guy that has times competitive with most pro triathletes.  His run is also good, but I knew I could go faster.  So the plan was to try and limit the damage from the swim / bike, then make the surge on the final leg and see if there was enough real estate to catch him.  

I lined up next to two of my teammates, Audrey and Victoria.  Both are up and coming super-stars in the sport and great swimmers.  I knew I would be around their speed and hoped that I could hop onto their feet and get a ride around the swim course.   Primarily breathing to the left, I was happy to have the buoys on my left side for the entire swim.  

From the gun, I knew Adam would be gone as I cannot swim at his speed, so I focused on myself and maintaining contact with the two girls.  To my surprise I was actually up ahead of them and swimming on my own for the first 600m or so.  I knew they would be close, so backed off a little bit and sure enough I saw pink caps of two girls off to my right hand side.  I jumped in behind him and followed their lead from then on.  At the turn to head into the final stretch, I took a bad angle and actually lost contact with Audrey.  I started to swim way too far to the inside and before I knew it, the girls were gone and up ahead.  Luckily, I had one other guy right with me and caught onto his draft.  I followed him up until the sand bar area.  I stood up, did a few dolphin dives, and pulled about 10 seconds ahead of him as he just swam right through.  I made another bad turn though, and he came out of the water right with me.  

Swim time- 22:28 

Rank- 30th overall

Looking at my watch out of the water, I was a bit discouraged as Leon's has been known for a quick swim.  I caught a shout out from the crowd that Adam was about 2 minutes ahead.  Perfect!  I figured as long as I kept the swim to no more than 2 minutes, I might have a chance.  

Into T1, I threw on the helmet, grabbed the bike and off I went.  I passed Audrey and Victoria as we were heading out onto the road.  From the first few minutes, I could tell my legs didn't feel as good as they did in my last race at Memphis in May.  It was a struggle to keep my watts up, and each time I tried to push, I ran out of energy and felt the legs seize up telling me no.

Shut up legs and up the pace!
I told myself to relax, keep the pressure on, and maybe the legs would open up and start to feel better.  With the first out and back section, I was able to see the lead vehicle coming at me.  Adam was in the lead and looked smooth and strong.  I took a mental note of the time and saw that he was 2 minutes 10 seconds ahead within the first 5 miles.  It was time to limit the damage on the bike!  

I made my way through the field pretty quickly and moved into 2nd place by the 6 mile mark of the 25 mile bike course.  As soon as I moved into 2nd, a moto and tv crew showed up and started covering every move I made.  On the highway, the winds were blowing a strong cross-wind.  I tucked as much as I could, kept pushing, but the watts still wouldn't stay high.  My second time check, I saw I was 2:30 down.  So I knew I was losing ground at a decent rate.  My legs were barking back at me and no amount of mental push through would allow me to go any faster.  It was as I neared the end of the first loop of the bike that I questioned, 'why did I have to choose a sport that is so painful???'  I tried thinking of other activities that I could be good at that wouldn't require such pain.  Maybe golf?  Chess?  Or better yet, become a bike mechanic for a pro cycling tour team?!

Time to push those thoughts aside though as I saw my support crew.  I got the encouragement that I needed as they said I was still only 2:30 down, so my time gap didn't increase since the last check.  As I headed out for the second lap, we were forced right back into the headwind.  It really drained me this time, and I could tell my body just wasn't on for the day.  I told myself that regardless of how I felt, I had to push and never give up.  You never know what can happen over the course of a 2 hour race.  

Back onto the old highway, I was still rolling along in 2nd place and distancing myself away from the rest of the field.  But the other problem was that Adam was distancing himself away from me.  I took another time gap and he moved the gap up to 3 minutes.  I was in trouble, especially since there were still 8 miles to go on the bike.   

Once back onto the final stretch, I really pushed to limit the damage and try to bring some time back.  

Bike Split- 58:16 (25.5 mph avg)

Rank- 2nd fastest

Into transition, I saw the tv crew saying that Adam was close to 3 minutes 45 seconds ahead.  A FAST transition to the run thanks to the help of the T1 transition belt (using magnets to snap the belt together, no thinking required!-

T1 Race Belt
Onto the run, my specialty!  I focused on a quick turnover and constantly reminded myself that I can make up the time gap.  Similar to the bike, my legs didn't seem to respond and had that 'heavy' feeling to them.  

To make things worse, my watch shut itself down, so I had no clue how hard I was going.  It was purely based on feel from then on!  I really wanted to know how fast (or slow) I was going because often, when getting off the bike, I am running fast, but it doesn't feel fast since I just came off the bike.  So it is nice to have a gauge of how hard I am actually going.  It was VERY difficult to stay positive as it felt like I was running 7 minutes per mile pace.  Thoughts of just trying to hold off the guys in 3rd / 4th place were creeping into my head.

Near mile 1, a pickup truck rolled up next to me with the tv crew hanging out the back.  They were doing commentary on how I had a quick turnover and looked strong, which gave me some confidence.  Chris Lieto, a triathlon star, was in the back of the truck telling me to go a touch faster.  He kept urging me, saying if I just went a little faster, I could catch for the win..which was an awesome feeling.

Lieto in action, thanks for the encouragement!

As I neared mile 3, I caught my first glimpse of the lead moto with Adam right behind.  He looked to be a FAR ways up the road, but at least I could see him.  I took a landmark on the course (such as a certain tree or twist in the road) and would start counting in my head until I got to that point.  At around 3.5 miles, I counted that I was only 75 seconds down.  That meant that I had made up 2.5 minutes within those 3.5 miles.  I then knew I had a shot!  

I continued to play the counting game to pass the time and take my mind off of the pain of running.  Finally, at mile 5, I caught Adam, told him great job, and made the pass.  The lead moto was relaying info over radio saying we had a new leader, number 21!  I pushed for the next few minutes until my gap really opened up.  I took a quick glance back and knew I had it locked down.  I was able to relax and bring my run pace back and really enjoy the final 800 meters of the run.  The entire course was lined with American flags (over 2000 of them!) to honor and salute our veterans.  

Run Course lined with flags

I ran down the chute with a great sense of accomplishment and told myself---this is why I do this sport.  It is worth every second a pain and discomfort out there.  

After crossing, I was grabbed to do a few interview with the local papers as well as the tv crew.  It really felt like I was a celebrity!  

Run Split- 34:39 (5:34 / mile avg)

Run Rank- 1st

Total finish time:  1:58:04

1st Overall

I even was showered in a milk bath as I crossed the line-

Perks of winning???

To make things even better, the EGO p/b Sammy's team took away the Coed team title with solid finishes from Alex (4th overall), Victoria (3rd female overall), and Audrey (5th female overall).  

When all was said and done, it was a great race and a phenomenal showing by the team.  It was nice to be out there and execute a good race even when the body isn't feeling up to it.  A big shout out to Adam as he pushed me all the way until the end.  

Thanks again to all my sponsors and supporters (EGO p/b Sammys, PowerBar, Saucony) as I couldn't do it without you all!  Make sure to mark your calendars as the race will be aired on July 4th on Comcast Sports Net.  Time TBD, but I'll try to update with specifics as we get closer.  

Top 3 Overall
Bling Bling-- Winner's Watch

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