Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Ironman Norway Report (long one)

Failure. People often react to failure in one of two ways. The first is to simply fail, then move on and not try again, assuming that you can't do it. Maybe you think you aren't cut out for whatever you may have tried to do. The second option is to learn from failure and then try again, taking what you learned and moving forward once again. This second approach has been the way that I lean into triathlon training and racing. Over my eleven years of racing triathlon I feel I've had a total of maybe two or three races where I looked back at the race and felt everything went as well as it could have and I achieved my best. That means that the vast majority of my races have been failures, at least in my eyes. However, with each failure came more learning, progress, and strengthening of the mind and body.

In 2013 I set the goal of qualifying for Kona. I had the mindset that I could achieve it pretty easily, even reserving a hotel months in advance of my attempted qualifying race. That year I had a coach (Steve Johnson of Dark Horse Multisport) for the first time, and hit just about all of my workouts. I swam more then ever (60-70k yards a month for a majority of the season), I put in lots of 100+ mile rides, and was running quite well. However, executing and race planning were my downside. I was fit, but didn't know how to execute. I also had little experience with long course nutrition, and did a horrible job of getting calories in on race day. I ended up missing a KQ roll down slot by one spot - 7 seconds was the difference. However, looking back it was a lot more than seven seconds that cost me that race.

In 2015 I once again set out on the KQ quest, working with my good friend Colin Cook as my coach. Unfortunately I developed an Achilles injury a few months out from the race and had to take nearly a month off from running. On race day I somehow forgot my HR monitor on a very hot and humid day - I came off the bike 2nd in my AG but my lack of run fitness and the weather led to me missing a KQ by a few spots.

After that race I vowed to not try another IM until I got faster at the 70.3 distance. Over the past few years I lowered my 70.3 PR to 4:21 and also did 4:16 at a race (Pumpkinman) that has a slightly short bike course. Last summer I gave Ironman another shot at Lake Placid. Again, the injury bug popped up two weeks out from race day and I had to pull out halfway through the run, again in a great spot to qualify (in 2nd in my AG at that point).

At some point last year I saw a report on the inaugural Ironman Norway, and thought it would be cool to race in Norway. Chatting with Katie, we decided it would be a great family trip and could combine it with visiting her brother in Hamburg. Then the planning began. Getting to Haugesund, the race site, wasn't as simple as hopping onto a plane. Four of us, luggage for two weeks, and all of my race gear would be in tow. We ended up flying British Air to London on a Monday night, then on to Copenhagen. We stayed in a hotel at the Copenhagen airport on Tuesday night and experienced our first Nordic breakfast spread - for the next week we had amazing breakfasts each morning - yum! On Wednesday we flew to Stavanger and via two buses, made our way to Haugesund. Our flight leaving Copenhagen was delayed, and as a result nearly missed the bus to Haugesund - 'running' from the airport bus to the bus to Haugesund with all of our gear was definitely something funny for others to watch!

One thing that I new would be important was eating food I was accustomed to, so I ended up bring along well over ten pounds of food to eat in the days leading up to the race. As it turned out, the breakfast spread provided a great variety of food, and I was able to stock up for the day by making a few turkey sandwiches each morning and grabbing some apples, pears, and nuts too.

In prep for this race I purchased my first my first bike case - a SciCon Aerotech 3.0, which worked out great. It did take me around 1 1/2 hours to pack everything up, as I had to adjust things a few times, and I really wanted to make sure the bike and gear inside was secure. Katie ended up dropping me off at Logan Airort with a bunch of gear before heading back to her parents house. She then left our car and her dad drove her and the kids back to the airport. 

Our flight to London was on an A380 - the plane that has two levels and can hold over 600 people. It was pretty cool to fly on such a big plane, but once on board you really have no clue as to how big the airplane is. We were on the bottom level, and the ceiling is contoured to replicate being on a 'regular' airplane. Eventually, the kids fell asleep, but Katie and I didn't get much sleep - my watch said I got around two hours, but I'm not even sure I got that much.

As I mentioned before, the breakfast spreads at that the hotels we stayed at were pretty unreal. Tons of fresh fruit, a huge variety of meats & cheeses, and lots of different yogurts. Eggs cooked virtually every way, a plethora of breads & baked goods, breakfast cereals, mueslis, granolas, and the list goes on. Here is a picture of Hannah enjoying our first breakfast at the Copenhagen airport hotel. The video is from our six nights at the Scandic Maritim in Haugesund. 
  After having our first amazing breakfast it was onward to Norway. It was great to have kept our luggage on the luggage carts in our hotel room, and we simply pushed them back to the airport. Our flight to Stavanger in Norway was only just over an hour, but the flight ended up being delayed, as the pilot was delayed flying in from another European city. We eventually left around 45 minutes late, and Jackson really enjoyed being able to walk out to our small airplane. SAS is what we flew on the flight from Copenhagen to Stavanger (and the return leg as well). 

Due to being late in arriving in Stavanger, we were pretty crunched for time. Luckily the airport there is relatively small, and all of our belongings arrive quite quickly. We were able to get onto a bus towards downtown to try connecting to our bus to Haugesund. Our bus for Haugesund was departing at 3:10 and we arrived in the downtown area a block from the bus station with less than ten minutes to go. Trying to roll/carry all of our stuff over mostly cobbled roads must have looked pretty comedic to the outside observer, but we made it and loaded things onto the bus, just sitting in our seats as the bus pulled out for the 2+ hour ride.

The ride was very fun and went by quickly. We went through over 15 km of tunnels under several fjords, as well as a 25 minute ferry ride across another fjord. We passed many small Norwegian villages and saw lots of sheep and cows in fields. Here is a view looking out the front of the ferry as we pulled out across a fjord.
Finally, close to 40 hours after departing Boston we arrived in Haugesund (late Wednesday afternoon)! Even though the bus station was only 2/3 of a mile from the hotel we filled up two taxis with our gear. The hotel we chose to stay in was the host hotel for the race, with registration and other events just downstairs. It also had an awesome playroom for the kids, and they probably spent well over 10 hours in the playroom during our stay! The first evening we just ate in one of the restaurants in the hotel. Getting to sleep was always a challenge with being so far north. Sunset wasn't until after 11:30 pm, and it really didn't get that dark until after midnight. With sunrise at 4:30 am, there wasn't that much truly dark time. We found that when Hannah didn't have a nap she could be asleep by 8-8:30, but there were a few nights that the kids were up close to 10 pm! Our sleep was messed up as well, and on our second night at the hotel (Thursday) I lay in bed for nearly three hours before finally falling asleep. The combination of a six hour time change and it still being light certainly didn't help. The coverings over the windows could have been a lot better, and we tried our best to stack luggage and other things against the curtains to block as much light as possible. 

On Thursday after partaking in the breakfast spread Katie took the kids out for a bit to explore and look for playgrounds. I built up my bike and then went for a 20 mile ride. Things on the bike went together pretty smoothly, but the rear derailleur was acting up and jumping around a bit. After my ride I went downstairs to registration - virtually empty on Thursday morning. There were six bike tech guys sitting there with not much to work on. After getting my registration done I asked if I could bring my bike for them to look at. It turns out there were two issues. First, I'd somehow missed putting on a spacer with my cassette, and it wasn't completely tight. Second, my derailleur hanger was bent a little and I didn't have another along. They did what they could, and it ended up working fine with shifting during the race. So a big thanks to the XXL bike tech folks for helping me out. Below are a few horses I happened upon during my first ride in Norway.

We went out to a pizza place for supper on Thursday - I had one of my turkey sandwiches from breakfast. There seemed to be around 10 pizza places within a ten minute walk of the hotel! The kids were exhausted from a long day, and were in bed by around 8:30 - good for a Norwegian summer bed time. I was hoping to get a good night of sleep, but the body wanted none of it. As I mentioned before, I lay awake for over three hours, finally falling asleep some time after midnight.

The following morning (Friday) I got up and jogged to the swim start, carrying my swim stuff. The swim venue was a small lake (pond?) with a two loop course. The original swim course was essentially one loop that had a ton of turns. I think the race director and crew decided two loops would be a lot easier in terms of buoys and lane lines - there was a blue 'lane line' that you always kept to your right, making for very easy navigation! After returning from my run/swim/run it was off to breakfast with the kids while Katie got in her workout in the gym. A little time in the playroom after breakfast, then it was time to get our rental car for the day to do a bit of sightseeing.

We rented a Mini Cooper, which was a bit of a tight fit with two car seats, and headed south to find some beaches and coastline to explore. It was one of the better weather days, and we only encountered a few showers. The picture below is of Jackson exploring some of the rocky promontories along the coast. Katie and Hannah are down near the water on the beach. Hannah had a ton of fun wading into the cold water, and at one point sat right down. She needed a complete clothes change after our time at the beach!

On Saturday morning I was up early and rode my bike to the swim start along with my swim stuff, dropping them off. I went for a 20 minute ride, and the rear derailleur was much better than on Thursday. After the ride I got in a 15 minute swim, then biked back to the hotel. Katie headed to the gym and I took Jackson and Hannah down to the breakfast. It was great to be able to have my usual pre-race breakfast of scrambled eggs and pancakes - so much variety at the buffet! The race briefing followed breakfast at 10 am. The remainder of the day was pretty low key - lots of time in the playroom for the kids. Bike and bag check in was from 3-7 pm, so I went and did that on the early side. Transition for the race was on a soccer pitch, so a great surface to have it on, and very spaced out - way different than any races I've done in the US in terms of proximity of racks. 

I knew going into this race that the weather in Norway was not always bright and sunny. Last year's inaugural IM race was sunny with temps in the 70's, which is flaming hot for Norway. The first few days that we had in Norway were pretty decent - a bit of spotty rain, a constant breeze, and high temps right around 60 degrees F. However, as race day approached, the weather forecast called for a good amount of rain and a steady wind. Honestly, I almost looked forward to it -i t wouldn't be Norway without some good Scandinavian weather! In the screen shot below I have no clue what was up with the 86 degree temp in Thursday - that definitely wasn't accurate!

Race morning arrived, and I was up at 3:45 for my breakfast. I've gone away from the primarily applesauce breakfast in favor of a plain bagel, Cliff Bar & Gatorade. Breakfast opened up at 4:30, and I went down to get two coffees. Then it was on to the shuttle, which left from right in front of the hotel at 5 am. It was cool and breezy and I made the decision to put my wetsuit halfway on at the hotel. I'm one who likes to get to transition early, so I was on the first shuttle with one other athlete - a German fellow named Oliver, who happened to be from Hamburg - our destination after Norway. We chatted for a bit, and he said he was going to Kona this year via the legacy program, and I said I hoped to see him there. Transition was pretty much a ghost town when we arrived - although already very bright. No rain yet, which was a positive!

I was able to get my stuff set up pretty quickly and then go over to make sure my bike and run bags were all set. With the iffy weather forecast, I decided to put arm warmers and gloves into my bike bag and also put socks on. I was wearing calf sleeves under the wetsuit, so I didn't have to worry about putting those on.

The swim start was at 7 am, and around 6:45 we began lining up. They had announced at the race briefing there would be a group of up to 50 athletes allowed to start at the front, and then 5 athletes every five seconds after that. Even though I'm not a stellar swimmer, I made the decision to be in the front group. The Norwegian national anthem was played, and soon it was time for the show to begin.  The swim went relatively well for me, and I ended up with an Ironman PR, coming out of the water after the first loop at just under 31 minutes. I purposely decided to take it a little easier on loop number two, knowing I wanted to be fresh for the bike. When I exited the water I saw 1:03:xx on my watch - I was pretty psyched with that swim time, and I headed towards transition. My official swim time was a tiny bit over 1:04, which is a two minute IM swim PR. It had begun to rain during the last lap of the swim, and apparently there was thunder and lightning off in the distance. At the awards ceremony the following morning the RD said he was very close to pulling everyone out of the water - although not sure how that would have happened.

The two transitions are where things went pretty bad on race day. My combined transition times were over ten minutes, and the top athletes were in the seven to eight minute range. Taking two minutes off my overall time would have put me 2nd in the AG instead of 4th and I wouldn't have spent so much time agonizing about how many slots there'd be in the AG. Most of the wasted time was in T2, so we'll get there later. Due to the weather I was a bit unsure of what to put on. I decided to put arm warmers on as well as gloves. I got the arm warmers on, but then decided against the gloves, and stuffed them in the rear pocket of my trisuit.

Soon, I was on my bike and starting to head north. The two-loop bike course could be split into three basic sections. There is around 12 miles heading out of Haugesund that is on good quality road. After that you turn onto a very technical section that is just about all one lane roads that are constantly up and down. Think of those very narrow sections you see in the Tour de France, add rain, wind and hills and you've got it. This section is around 15 miles long, and, once done, you're about halfway finished with one of the laps. The remaining section of each loop was still very up and down, but you didn't have to focus quite as much on the twists and turns. Due to all of the turns and short, punchy hills, coupled with wet roads, I spent 25 minutes not pedaling at all. In better conditions I could have carried quite a bit more speed through many of the turns and would have felt confident attacking the course a bit more. As a result, my AP ended up being around 15-20 watts lower than planned, and my bike time was quite a bit slower than Best Bike Split had predicted (by around eight minutes).  My AP ended up being 217 and NP 226. The plan had to be around 235 watts for AP with NP being in the mid to upper 240's.

At some point near the end of the first loop there was a lull in the rain, and I decided to take my arm warmers off. Ten minutes or so later the rain returned with a vengeance, along with some thunder and very bright lightning. What would a race in Norway be without some savage weather? At times the rain was so hard that it was very painful on any exposed skin. It was definitely an experience to look back on and feel glad that I came out in a good spot. In every other IM race I've done there are times I get into a 'dark spot' on the bike and need to do some self talk. This never happened in Norway, and I think it's because I always had to be focused on the course. There were no stretches longer than a half mile or so where you could simple tuck your head and ride as aero as possible. You had to be present at all times, and by doing so time went by pretty quickly. However, by the very end of the second loop of the bike I was definitely looking forward to the run. This was a good thing, as I'm usually not that confident about heading out on the run in an IM.

Getting back into T2 there were very few bikes racked - always a good thing! However, here is where a nearly cost myself a trip to Hawaii. Running with my bike to the rack I hit stop on my bike computer, and then tried to save the ride. It wasn't saving, and stupidly I stood there for about 30 seconds trying to get it to work. After that wasted time (still not saved), I ran over to get my run bag. Unlike other IM's I've done, the change tents were very small (you can see them in the background of the transition area above). They looked like little tents from an encampment of soldiers attacking a castle in the middle ages. And they were tiny! The one I went in had a guy about the size of Henry VIII, completely naked and just standing there. He told me, as I tried to change, in a pretty thick accent that he was all done (not sure what he was done with, though). There were no chairs in the tent, but two cots that looked like they'd be good for a 12 year-old Boyscout to sleep on. I decided against trying to sit on one of the camping cots, and I did a complete change - trisuit off and tri shorts on along with a running singlet. Wet socks off and new ones on - then running shoes on. I put all of my bike stuff into my bag and then went out and hung it back up. Not being able to sit down for getting dressed cost me some time - those who didn't do a complete change certainly were much quicker. However, in every IM I've needed to go #2 on the run, and I've found getting a sleeved suit off and on is not very time efficient. Maybe I'll revisit this in Kona - we'll see...

Finally...........onto the run! I felt confident about my running and the goal was to hold the HR in the low 140's. However, by the time the run started my HR monitor strap had dried off - funny with all that rain earlier! As a result, my HR data was quite a bit off - picking up run cadence - for almost the first of the four loops. The run course was essentially four out-and-back loops through the town of Haugesund, parallel to the waterfront. It was a rolling course, with a few punchy hills near the finish section, which also happened to be almost next to our hotel.

At the turnaround point on lap one I quickly jumped into a porta-pottie, and that mile split ended up being the slowest (8:11) of my first 15 miles. Each of the four times at the turnaround you got a different colored 'scrunchie' bracelet - I guess this is a European thing. One thing that a lot The pace settled into the upper 7:30's for the most part, and I was feeling pretty good. However, around mile 10 or so my body said enough with my Cliff Bloks. I turned to the on course nutrition, and began hitting the Coke - as it turned out this was a bit to early! I ran by our hotel eight times and I was able to see the family on four of those eight trips by. Katie gave me some updates, telling me I was initially 2nd off the bike, but had dropped back to third (due to the crap transition). For nearly the whole run I held onto third spot, but in the last few K's was 'passed' in the standings by someone who'd started behind me.

GO DADDY!!!!! 
In the last 11 or so miles my pace dropped off a bit - probably lower blood plasma levels due to less electrolytes and simply relying on Coke for too long. I was running more in the 8:10-8:20 range, but the legs felt pretty good - I tried to focus on the turnover and running tall, but the pace didn't drop by much. In this time frame I came upon Scott Black, who had contacted me right before the race. He had traveled to Norway from NH for the same reason as me - chasing a KQ. He had come up one spot short before, and unfortunately that was the case for him again - third in the M55-59 AG with two slots. I tried encouraging him, and he did likewise for me. At the very end of the race there there was a 'golden mile' loop to run along the waterfront - this included the hardest hill of the day - save the best for last, right?

Finally, I was at the turnaround with less than half a mile to go. The guy who ended up finishing third in the AG was around 30 seconds behind me, but at that time I still thought I had 3rd. I finished the run strong, and my emotion showed on my face - it was the first IM where I felt I'd raced pretty well (maybe excluding transitions!). My total time was 9:41, not the sub 9:30 I felt I could have done with better weather and a slightly faster run, but still a 13 minute IM PR. My family was waiting along the side of the finish, and I sat down. I immediately felt pretty nauseous, and ended up throwing up what seemed like 1/2 a gallon of Coke - I guess I went to the magic potion a bit too soon! The medical staff helped me out and took my vital signs. My blood pressure was very low and I was chilled. I ended up getting an IV (five attempts to find a vein for someone who's biggest phobia is needles isn't the best thing!), and I was in the medical tent for around 45 minutes. I'm glad I was able to see the family prior to getting sick, and they knew I wasn't not feeling well.

I eventually felt a bit better, and the folks in the med tent encouraged me to get up and walk a bit. I got a little bit of food and then went to the massage tent. I sat next to the guy who won my AG and, at the time, still thought I'd held onto 3rd. Only after getting my massage and then trudging about 500 feet to the hotel did Katie tell me I had dropped to 4th. I knew my AG was the largest in the race, and by just doing the math there were five slots on paper (finishers in my AG, divided by # of total finishers, times 30 slots). However, when giving out at least one slot to every AG five slots wouldn't work. I knew there would probably be three slots, with a chance at four.

On Monday morning I over-indulged in a huge breakfast, and then at 10:00 headed to the awards ceremony. I would have liked to have been on the stage, but a KQ was the ultimate goal, so a sat through the awards for the 140.6 and then for the 70.3 (the events were held on the same day, with the 70.3 starting once all IM swimmer were out of the water a bit after 9:00 AM). Finally, it was time for the WC slots. I was very antsy, and they began with the oldest AG's. When it was announced that Scott's AG would only get two slots I was bummed for him. When the second guy in his AG took the slot, Scott yelled out 'Are you sure?' getting a big laugh from everyone. I know Scott will persevere and get his slot soon!

I knew that the M45-49 was the next largest AG to mine - if that group only had three slots it was almost certain that the M40-44 would receive four slots. Katie and the kids arrived, and I walked down to see them. They were outside of the larger room where the awards were, and when it was announced that M45-49 had three slots I gave her a big hug - almost certain there would be four in M40-44........and I was right! Squeaking in wasn't exactly the goal - that had been winning the AG, but a KQ is a KQ, and I'll take it. I carried Hannah up on to the stage with me to accept my slot. As it turned out, another slot was reallocated to M40-44, but I'm glad it didn't have to work out that way for me.

Over the course of our six days in Norway I managed to meet several folks, including a guy named Ã˜ystein Eriksen, who had qualified for Kona at Louisville back in the fall. He had met Colin at that race - small world in triathlon! He ended up taking 3rd in his AG (M35-39) at IM Norway, and he was supportive of me at the end of the race, when I wasn't feeling that stellar. I'll be seeing him in Kona!

Tuesday was departure day from Norway - we packet out all of our gear and took a large taxi van to the bus station. The trip back to Stavanger was pretty easy, heading back on the ferry and through the tunnels. Our flight back to Copenhagen was delayed a bit, so we hung out in the airport for a little while. My brother and his wife ended up meeting us at the Copenhagen airport (they live in San Francisco). They were planning on doing some sailing in Sweden, and hadn't planned to still be in Copenhagen, but their bags had gotten lost. As a result, they were able to hang out and have dinner in the airport with us. Hannah looks super excited about having her photo taken! After hanging out with Uncle Jon and Aunt Marissa, it was off to get the rental car and drive to a hotel around 20 minutes away. We stayed at another Scandic hotel - I'd definitely recommend them for anyone traveling in Scandinavia - they have very good breakfasts and nice accommodations. 

One hitch that happened back at the Copenhagen airport involved my bike. I'd paid in advance to store it at luggage facility at the airport, but there was a hand written sticky-note saying 'we are closed.' I initially had no clue as to what I should do. It certainly wouldn't fit in our rental van (European vans are quite a bit smaller than those in the US). I then thought of the baggage room at the airport hotel we'd stayed at a week earlier. I ended up walking back to the family, and telling them of my plan to go to the hotel and plead for them to store it. I walked to the hotel - nice that it was connected to the airport and less than a 10 minute walk. I may have fudged the truth a bit - embellishing the fact that maybe the 'we are closed' was permanent, and they agreed to put the bike in their coat room. So I was then off, leaving the $$$ bike in a coat closet for a week, with hopes it would be there upon our return (it turned out to be fine, and was still there a week later). 

The following morning we drove to Hamburg, Germany, where Katie's brother Ted lives and works. The stretches of German highway without speed limits are pretty unique - going a steady 150 kph felt like walking when some cars went by at much higher speeds! We spent four nights with Ted, going to the Zoo and sightseeing in the city, including Miniature World, which has over 15 kms of small-gauge train tracks. It happened to be the weekend that the ITU held races in Hamburg, and I was able to watch the end of the women's race and the whole men's race. In hindsight, it wasn't nice to be away from the family for a couple hours after Katie spent so much time with Jackson and Hannah in the time leading up to and during race day in Norway. I have lots of pictures of happenings in Hamburg and then two days in Legoland prior to heading home, but that could be a whole other post.

Plans going forward are a sprint triathlon on Nantucket in just nine days, and then 70.3 Maine in late August. I'm going to do a couple weeks of harder efforts and Vo2 type intervals to reintroduce a little speed prior to getting back into more of the endurance work starting in August. 

Here are some final takeaways from our trip:
- Tons of Europeans smoke - a much higher percentage than in the US - yuck!
- Scandanavians love their meats - especially bacon - and breakfasts are the real deal - yum!
- Don't drive in the left lane on German highways unless you are going 100+ mph
- European triathletes are darn fast!
- Coffee in Scandinavia is very tasty and they have fancy dispensing machines w/many options
- Pizza is very popular in Norway - kids were at least happy with that food option

Until the next time...

1 comment:

  1. I did the IM Haugesund too. Congrats on your KQ, but even more impressive to me was your overall PR on that course in those conditions! All the best in your next IM ;)