Thursday, October 31, 2013

Breaking Barriers: the Austin 70.3 Ironman Race Report

Preparing for battle.

Going to war.

That’s how I felt the days and weeks leading up to the Ironman 70.3 Austin race on Sunday. I felt like I was preparing my body and mind for an epic assault on my competition, ready to push my body to its breaking point. I went into every training session motivated by these aggressive and unusual (for me) thoughts, fuelled by something that I had been missing all year. I was focused, I was determined, I was fitter than I’ve ever been, and it was all about to culminate into a performance that I can be bloody proud of. It had been three years since I was in Austin for this race, the last time I was here I came 20th overall, won my age group by a fair chunk of time, and was one of the top (if not the top) amateur racer on the day, a defining moment in my career when I realized that maybe I, too, could race as a professional in this sport I’d fallen in love with.

But I digress. Let me preface the happenings of the Austin race with a quick blip on the radar of why it’s been so silent on here the last few months:

Every warrior needs a good lid. Pretty doesn't hurt either.
For starters, I’ve been in the process of moving, starting on September 29th, and has pretty much accounted for 97% of my time outside of training and working. It’s been a big haul, Jenn and I joining forces and moving in together, to the Vancouver neighbourhood of Dunbar: a perfect setting for mental clarity and comfort, as well as a prime and very ideal location for training. Less than 5 minutes from front step to trail head, multiple pools and open water swim venues within minutes drive, and smack-dab in the middle of some mighty fine riding routes, giving me the options of the flat time-trial friendly roads of Richmond and Delta, or the hilly and punchy routes through North Vancouver and beyond. It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been so worth it already. I’ve been mentally stronger, with the hunger to perform at the forefront of my mind. In the last 5-6 weeks before Austin, I had been having some of the best running sessions that I can remember, getting some incredible track work in and really smashing some tough interval sessions. I’ve finally found my running legs back, and I knew Austin would be a good day for me.

Now, let’s fast forward to Sunday’s race.

Yup. This is at the gym. Seriously.
My most awesome teammate Rachel McBride was heading down to Austin with me, ready to defend her title as 2012 Austin 70.3 Champion. She was extra-awesome to invite me to stay with last year’s homestay, Doug and Liz (and 8 month old Claire.) Arriving to Austin’s sweat-producing weather, I was absolutely blown away (and am still in disbelief) by Doug and Liz Vreeland’s incredible hospitality and generosity. Doug helped us pick out run and ride routes, even taking us to the local masters swim to swim along side multiple All-American swimmers and double Olympians (which was rather humbling, as they lapped us on a 200yrd set like we were standing still!!!) He even took us to his ‘gym,’ although I would probably rather refer to it as the Disneyland for Fitness Junkies; they not only had high-end fitness equipment (including spin bikes and all the other incredible machines known to man, as well as some that aren’t known by many,) but they also had a lap pool, full yoga studios, outdoor military-style obstacle course, outdoor gravel path for running, and a full service coffee bar. Oh, and how could I forget the LAKE! Yes, that’s right, they had a bloody LAKE in the back! Rachel and I took advantage of the lake, practicing our starts, finishes, and smooth water entries. You know, very professional business and such.

Practicing my smooth water-entry for race starts. Nineteen Rogue helps with the 'Hang Time.'

Getting close to race day, I was getting that feeling inside that has rarely shown itself in my career, the feeling that I knew I was going to perform well. Doug and Liz took incredible care of us, and come race morning I was rested and ready to go to battle. The days leading up to the sound of the gun going off felt like my body was preparing itself to suffer like I have never yet.

Extra rested and recovered, in the
best recovery tool I've ever seen, Recovery Boots!
So how did the race go? Well, let me tell you.

It was a bit of a shocker to wake up at 4am, look outside, and realize that it was raining so hard I couldn’t see the street lamp outside. Not how I expected to start my race morning in Austin. But, it faded away to a light sprinkle, and by the time I headed lakeside for swim warm-up, it had stopped.

Standing knee deep out into the water, green and pink fluorescent swim caps splashing and bobbing through the water, the rest of the pro field was warming up in the light glow of the morning sun. Some serious faces, some smiling and laughing (which, as you can imagine, I was a little closer to the latter,) but all looking fit and ready as I was. We lined up for the starting canon to go off, 15 minutes late (to give us more light,) and I was treading water right in behind Ben Hoffman and Richie Cunningham (which, in retrospect, wasn’t a good choice to park my arse for the swim start.)

BAM! The gun went off and it got furious as usual. It was down to fisticuffs instantly, a raging battle of testosterone and the unwillingness to give up the oh-so-coveted spot in the draft zone. It took about 300-400 meters before it started to spread a bit, and I was able to take stock of the situation. I managed to get on some feet that had me working fairly hard, but I was able to relax the legs and save some energy for the rest of the day. As we neared shore, I could see the clock closing in on the 26-minute mark, and I was able to race up the shore in 26 minutes and change, a fairly decent swim for me. I ran through transition in my usual sprint fashion, pushing my way past a few guys (whom I figured were moving at too much of a pedestrian pace for my liking,) grabbing my bike and ripping through T1 with one of the fastest transitions of the day, only next to the race winner Matt Charbot (who got through about 1 second faster.) I pride myself on my fast T1, and today was no exception.

My Nineteen Rogue helping to a solid 26 min swim.
Out on to the bike, the legs were working right away. It was push push push from the get-go, and I started putting targets on guys’ backs and picked them off. Fellow Canuckle-head Stephen Kilshaw was also racing, and he came by me after about 8 miles or so. I decided to go with him, and bumped it up to maintain contact with him (it’s a mental booster if you can stay within sight of the guy ahead of you!) We slowly reeled in guys one at a time, until we had made our way from 21st (out of the water for myself) up to the top 10 or so. I was working hard with a few guys, and when I looked back, there was a massive peloton of guys following right close. Like, a LOT of guys. Some of them were so blatantly drafting, the back of my aero helmet just nicked their nose as I turned to look them square in the face. I ended up burning a LOT of matches during the later stages of the bike, as I was frustrated by the drafting and only a few of us were up front trying to push the pace; the rest of the peloton would just suck wheel when we tried to get away. I’d say my favourite quote of the day was when a certain fellow Canadian came by on the bike, as we were working bloody hard, and said “Hey Nate, we gotta work it up here and drop-off this trash at the dump!” (pointing backwards with his thumb to the bunch behind us.)

Head-down, guns blazing.
I was attacking on hills as much as I could, but to no avail. I ended up riding with ‘Big Sexy’ Chris McDonald (another guy who used to be a bit on the heavy side, topping out at 250lbs in his prime,) for a bit, and in the last few km’s I made an attack and he came with, splitting the group apart a bit. We did manage to get into T2 a football field length (or two) ahead of them, but by then I was burning matches by the handful.

Thank GOD I brought a grown-up size box of matches to this race.

Good thing I packed my big-boy box of matches.

Being careful in T2, it took me a bit to get my socks and runner on. Testing out new shoes last weekend (yes, I was trying something NEW close to race day, the same way I screwed myself the last time I was here,) I managed to rub nickel-sized holes in my Achilles, forcing me to be extra careful when putting my gear on. I lost some time in T2, but I took off at a fairly solid pace onto the run course.

I could tell fairly quickly that I was going to have to suffer on the run today. A few guys passed me right away, and I just kept pushing after Chris McDonald, telling myself I would catch him no matter what. I knew there was someone way up ahead that was slowly coming into my sights, and about halfway through the run, I committed myself to the chase; the hunt was on. I straightened up, and really started to lean into it. Lucky for me, I dropped all my Powerbar gels just after mile 1 on the run, saving me some precious weight I needn’t carry around. Who needs gels anyways? So by the third (and final) lap I was starting to feel the effects of only having coke and water on the run course. I started to really give it, with the foggy vision coming on, legs absolutely screaming with every iota to ‘oh-please-God-make-him-stop,’ and even the dreaded ‘counting steps’ (something I do when I am really in the hurt locker.) I could see him up ahead, and with only two miles left I really punched the gas right through the floorboards. With nary a mile to spare, I managed to cruise by him, giving my best poker-face, and surged ahead. I managed to gap him quickly, but he put in a huge surge that had me redlined, pushing so hard I could barely see in front of me, people screaming in the crowds, my body ready to give out any second. I could even see I was closing in on another guy up ahead, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to close that gap. As I hit the second-to-last timing mat, I could only imagine Björn on his computer, screaming at the screen to “GO FASTER UP UP UP” as he watched me close the final minutes of the race (make sure of course, you read that line with a thick German accent!)
Still Smiling!

This race is the first one I’ve done that has timing mats every mile of the run course. For me, I know that every single one of my supporters who is following the race can see me crossing over every mat; they can see who is passing me, and who I’m passing. This brings a new dynamic to my racing: knowing the most important people to me are watching live results stream in; the people who drive me to perform to my utmost potential, to give me best effort, who I strive to make proud, because they are my TEAM! I know they are watching, I can ‘hear’ their cheering and vibes as I cross over the mats and hear the ‘BEEP-BEEP’ from the computers. As I was suffering immensely out there on the run course, that’s what went through my head. Hearing their voices, that’s my mental rocket fuel. Seeing my teammate Rachel McBride killing it on the run prompted me to get even uglier on the run course.

Coming through the LOONG finishing loop/chute, I could see that I had quite the gap on the guy behind me, but did I slow down to savour the moment? Hell no. I cranked it up and tried my best impersonation of a sprinter (FAIL) coming through the line just above conscious, somewhat disappointed I didn’t get under 4 hours, but elated to have left absolutely everything out on the run course (and certain to have knocked a few months off the end of my life.) As I crossed the line, I threw out a hug cheer, and then the body started to realize what I had just done to myself. Within steps I was bent over, hands on my knees, trying my best to hold myself up. As my world got darker and darker, I remember abruptly dropping to my knees (confusing the volunteers with my finish line ‘Cat-Pose’ yoga routine,) then feeling two rather strong guys grab me under the shoulders and pick me up, dragging me to medical as if I had overstayed my welcome at the All-You-Can-Eat buffet (engulfed in a full-on food coma.) I don’t remember much in between there and the medical cot, but I was so happy once I came to on the bed.

Moments later, I was chewing floor.

My main concern in medical was that Rachel McBride wasn’t incredibly far behind me, and I HAD to get to the finish chute to be there when she crossed. After a few minutes, Rachel and her cat-ears costume came through the finish line, running her way into second place! When someone on my team has an incredible performance, it gets me even more excited than when I perform well. Triathlon isn’t exactly a ‘team’ sport in the conventional sense, but Team Ossenbrink makes it even more than just a ‘Team’; we’re like a family. So when my family kicks some ass out there, I get über pumped up! Rachel got one MONSTER of a high-five, and that was it.

Rachel and I at the finish, photo courtesy of Doug and Liz Vreeland.

The season was done.

Mmmm....everything's better with Bacon!

Yup. Bacon.

It was time to relax and enjoy ourselves, and in our last few days we did just that. Doug and Liz (our incredible homestay hosts) had lined up some of the FINEST joints in Austin, something Rachel and I had been looking forward to for months. We were not disappointed. Performing some feats to test our gastronomical fortitude, we had the finest Austin had to offer; Hopdoddys Burgers, The Salt Lick BBQ, and Kirbey Lane Café (where I convinced them to put BACON in my Apple Cinnamon Pancakes! But don’t worry, they were gluten free!) Rachel, Kim, Kelsey and I enjoyed each other’s company during our last days of warm weather for the year, we even got out for some Stand Up Paddle boarding on our last day, which was a hoot!
The Salt Lick, one of Austin's FINEST!!! All you can eat meat.

The summary of my experience in Austin: much success! Every aspect of my race experience was outstanding, from working a new nutrition plan pre-race (with the most excellent of Registered Dieticians, Dana Lis,) to the events in the days leading up to the race (mostly courtesy of Doug and Liz Vreeland.) I am incredibly happy with my performance, it showed me I can really burn matches on the bike and still run decently, something I’ve been struggling with a lot this year. I am most impressed with my mental fortitude during the race, always an aggressive yet positive ‘WORK HARDER’ attitude, even when I was deep in Hurtville (remember, German accent and everything!) A 4:01 on a legitimate course, and 12th overall in a very strong field, the results reminiscent of an ITU finish, with competitors within seconds of each other. I hope to come back next year, and have even considered going down to race in Ironman Texas next year.

What to do now? It’s the offseason, so I have a few holiday calories to catch up on, some legs that need kicking back, and some much needed rest and recovery. I’ll realign my goals for next year with über-coach Björn shortly, and then we’ll start the build into the new year, preparing for the first race of the season for 2014, the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon.

I want to give a MONSTER amount of thanks to all my support team this year. Saying thanks doesn’t even scratch the surface of gratitude and appreciation that I feel for all these incredibly supportive people. My coach Björn Ossenbrink and our team have been instrumental in my build up to this race, keeping me mentally and physically inline with my goals during training. Speed Theory Vancouver and Distance Runwear have kept me supplied with everything I need to run and bike all the extra miles, as well as lending an ear for me to talk off! Thanks to Powerbar for fuelling me through all those miles; Compressport for helping me recover to the best of my potential, and performing to my best when I really need it. Thanks a ton to Champion System Canada, who helped me create the most badass cycling, running, and triathlon kits I’ve ever had the pleasure of donning! Nineteen Wetsuits has helped me swim to the best of my ability, in a suit that is truly top notch. Thanks to John and ECOS coconut water, for helping me hydrate, rehydrate, thoroughly enjoy my favourite beverage on a daily basis, and keep me healthy through the sweatfest I incur every day. Thanks to Travis Wolsey of Sungod Physiotherapy for keeping my body intact during the ugliest of times, and Dana Lis of Summit Sport Nutrition for helping me absolutely NAIL my nutrition for racing, training, and getting to the most ideal body composition for racing. Huge thanks to my first ever sponsor, Brad Alderson of Popeye’s Supplements Burnaby and Coquitlam, who has kept my nutrition cupboard stocked with all the vitamins and supplements to keep me healthy. Last, and certainly not least, a MONSTER thank you to all my personal family and friends in this sport, you all know who you are. You help me stay motivated, determined, and drive me through the toughest days when the little sticker ‘WORK HARDER’ just doesn’t quite cut the cheese. One of the people I'm most thankful for, and owe the most gratitude for, is Jenn. Without her incredible, undying support of my goals I'd be a train wreck. We're only as strong as our support network, and Jenn is rock-solid.

It’s Halloween night, and there’s some candy that needs handing out! Have a safe weekend everyone, happy training!!!


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