You don’t play triathlon. You play soccer; it’s fun. You play baseball. Triathlon is work that you can leave you crumpled in a heap, puking on the roadside. It’s the physical brutality of climbing Mount Everest without the great view from the top of the world. What kind of person keeps coming back for more of that?
– Chris McCormack
Early in the season a good friend gave me an insightful book to read: Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. To be honest, this book was way over my head. However, I gained some valuable insights regarding my work ethic in triathlon and life.
The author describes the world in three elements. Those that are:
- Fragile – elements that are weakened or harmed under any volatility, disorder, and stress (David Tindall’s ego, for example).
- Robust – elements that resists volatility, randomness, disorder and stressor, and stays the same.
- Antifragile – the element that becomes better and stronger as a result of volatility and stressors.
Although this book has nothing to do about the sport, I found that it directly correlated with my triathlon life. I’ve undergone the stresses, sacrifices, and long training hours of Ironman for the past six years. Look me up on Athlinks and you’ll see my progression in this sport. I’ve experienced volatility and disappointing results. Through these stresses, I’ve adapted and improved. The weakest of species eventually disappear, leading to a stronger, less fragile species. It’s my nature to always give it my absolute full effort, strive to be at the top of the podium, and leave no regrets on the race course.
I am antifragile.
Entering the big boy age group this year, I knew I was in for a challenge. I had to limit mistakes, execute my race strategy, and be extra diligent about improving daily. My coach, Kurt Perham, did a great job on getting me primed and ready for Ironman Arizona. He constantly reminded me to pace myself throughout the year. We put all the eggs in the basket for this race. My main objective was to win my age group and qualify for Kona for the third straight time. November 15 was going to be my day. I had one objective: lay it all on the line and get my third straight Kona slot.
Living two miles from Tempe Beach Park, I felt an obligation to defend my home turf. I knew lots of fast local guys racing: Stephen “Crowie” Hannaman, David Tindall, Simon Holzapfel, John Argue, and Dallas Louden. My good friend, Colin Cook, was also out to put me to shame for the fourth race in a row. I watched Rudy for motivation.
No one, and I mean no one, comes into my house and pushes me around.
I averaged 18 to 24 hours a week during my build and peak phase for IMAZ. My longest bike was 125 miles, and averaged 200-250 miles per week. My longest run was a run/bike/run brick, which included a 12 mile aerobic run, a two hour aerobic bike, and followed by 13.1 mile race-pace run. My peak running week was 54 miles. I got to the pool 3-4 times a week and averaged around 10-15k yards per week.
One aspect Kurt and I really focused on this year was getting me faster on the bike by improving my position, choosing the most aerodynamic gear and equipment, and paying close to every single detail of my bike and fit. We made big changes and my training rides were faster than ever before.
As always, I looked up every guy in my age group and ordered them by USAT ranking. There was some pretty stiff competition. I knew I needed my “A” game to be on the podium. I felt very confident about my fitness and mentally prepared for the big day ahead.
First off, the time trial start WTC has recently implemented is complete bullshit and unsafe. It is unfair to all the age groupers competing for a Kona slot. Yes, I believe in “racing your own race,” but earning a slot often comes down to seconds, and knowing your exact position during the race is critical. The swim start was self-seeded so people’s start times were all over the board. Making it even more dangerous, the timing start mat was at the top of a narrow set of stairs that led into the water. As anxious triathletes stepped over the timing mat, people were pushing and shoving each other to get in the water. As I entered this water, I was praying I wouldn’t get clobbered or punched in the face. I’m a fan of age group waves and mass swim starts, but this self-seeding crap was completely unfair.
WTC – Please, I beg you… bring back the mass swim start and let us race!
I lined up in the sub 60 minute group. I was confident I’d be around an hour.
I saw Erica McClurg and my eyes lit up. I swam with her at Masters and knew she was a legit, experienced swimmer aiming for sub 60 minutes. I lined up directly behind her, hoping the Asian Sensation could stay on her feet.
I’m amazed by the number of people in the sub hour group, who immediately starting breaststroking. Seriously people? Apparently there were 2:20 cut-off swimmers in my wave to give them an added 10 minutes… another reason this self-seeded start was bogus.
Okay, bitch session over, my apologies.
I stayed on Erica’s feet for about 95 percent of the swim. I trusted her navigation and rarely sighted. The second half of the swim really broke up as it was just me and her for most of the way back. Her bright pink swim cap was easy to follow. Besides the first 10 minutes of the swim, I kept my effort smooth and I never over-exerted myself.
Exiting the water, I looked at my watch and saw 59:xx. Holy shit! Michael Phelps is in the house! It was my first sub 60 minute swim ever… a dream come true. Watch out folks, Ellie found out how to swim! I sprinted through the long transition into the change tent.
Swim time: 59:56 (1:33 per 100m pace, PR) – 7th AG
T1 time: 3:47
I had pre-stuffed all my nutrition in my jersey pockets before the swim, so all I had to do was dry off my feet, put my socks and shoes, clip on my helmet, and go.
As I ran with my bike out of transition, some guy stopped right in front of me and I screamed at him to get out of my way. Ellie was all business today.
My coach broke up the race in three segments:
- Focus phase – The entire swim, and 20k into the bike.
- Patience phase – The rest of the bike + 10k of the run
- Toughness phase – 10k+ miles of the run
The first loop of the bike was uneventful. I was riding mostly by myself, and I was shocked to be passing women pros early on. I clocked the first loop in 1:34 (23.8 mph). I was flying and felt really good. No one was passing me and I felt like I was towards the front of the amateur race. Other than the small climbs, I never felt like I was over-exerting on the bike. I constantly reminded myself: patience Elliot, the race hasn’t even started yet.
Nutrition started right away. I carried 10 Accel gels on me (one every 30 minutes), two Honey Stinger Waffles (hour 1 and hour 2), a Perfect Bar (hour 3.5), caffeinated Salt-Stick pills (one every 20 minutes), and alternated Scratch and water for hydration. This is the same exact nutrition I practiced on countless training rides and it has worked well for me.
Colin Cook caught me around mile 45 and I made a quick decision to pace with him (within legal draft distance). I would have let anyone else go, but I made the decision to get out of my “patience” phase and take my first risk of the day. I wasn’t racing for a finisher’s medal… I wanted to win and I didn’t want Colin to get away. Being in the same age group, I knew his strength was the run (3:04 in Canada) and I would need to be within a couple minutes of him off the bike in order for me to stand any chance against him. My buddy, David Tindall, saw us heading down the Beeline and he said we were flying. On loop two I clocked myself around 1:35 (23.6 mph).
Lap three is where the engines started to sputter. My legs got really heavy and my power numbers dropped significantly. A few age groupers and women pros began to pass me. Thoughts of my past Kona performance crept in my head. However, I have been working on visualization techniques that kept my mind in the game. I kept reminding myself: Ironman isn’t supposed to be easy and I don’t have to being feeling good to put together a solid performance. I let Colin go and spent much of the 3rd lap spinning, being as aerodynamic as possible, and trying to get some life back in my legs.
It also began to rain heavily on the 3rd loop of the bike, which made it a little dangerous. By this point of the race, I was lapping many people and I played it safe at aid stations, not being too aggressive. I made sure to brake and take corners very conservatively. I was never cold, though, and the rain did not affect my physical or mental performance.
Around mile 100, Stephen Hannaman, caught me. He looked strong and in good spirits. I kept him in sight and knew he’d be a good running buddy.
Entering T2, I got some energy back from the cheering crowds, but definitely didn’t feel as good as I did in Canada. My legs felt heavy. I took a deep breath as I hit the dismount line, handed off my bike, and headed towards the change tent.
Bike time: 4:55:19 (22.76 mph, PR), 5th AG
T2 time: 2:20
Stephen and I entered the change tent at the same time and we sat next to each other. I played it cool, acting like I was feeling fantastic. In reality, I was hurting. This could possibly turn into quite the shitshow but I was going to lay it all on the line. I wanted this day to turn into a pure guts race. Bring it on buddy, I told myself.
I wasn’t completely confident at the start, but my legs strangely came back to life as I ran the first several miles with the happiest pro ever, Amber Ferreira. This was, by far, the highlight of my day. We laughed together. I gave her bunny ears in front of the photographers. We became besties, as we lifted each others spirits. The early miles flew by. At mile four, I saw Colin stopped next to my coach. Sadly, he later found out he had pneumonia and had to drop out of the race.
I saw my coach and asked him where I was in the race. He knew I was between 2nd and 5th, but didn’t know for sure. The self-seeded swim start made it hard to track positioning throughout the race.
I continued running with Amber. We were ticking off miles effortlessly.
Around mile 10, I looked back and I lost her.
Saddened by my loss, I saw Simon Holzapfel quickly approaching. Earlier in the year, he ran a 2:30 open marathon. I knew I was with good company. We ran side-by-side for a few miles. I knew this was his for try at Ironman distance, but he looked great. We chatted a bit, which helped distract me. At the halfway point, I looked back and he had stopped to use the restroom. I never saw him again.
Starting the final loop (13.1 miles) of the run, all alone, I could feel myself fading. I had lots of fans out there cheering for me. Buddy the Elf (my friend, Ryan Hardy) even made an appearance, acting like a complete ass clown in yellow tights. I give him best costume of the day award.
I hardly ever cracked a smile as I ran with my eyes closed quite a bit trying to block out the pain and fatigue. I’m sorry fans. I do appreciate all of you being out there in the miserable cold and rain.
At mile 16, I saw Kurt and I said I felt crappy. I still had over 10 miles to go!!! He reminded me to “stay smooth, relaxed, and keep up the high turnover.”
The last 10 miles of the race were the darkest moments I’ve ever experienced in a race. At times, I felt like I was on the verge of collapsing. My vision was blurry. My legs felt like lead. I poured Coke over my head. Deep down, I love this moment of Ironman racing. It’s these moments that make me feel alive and truly test my character. I love pain.
I kept repeating to myself: “don’t give in, don’t give in, don’t give in.” I never walked.
Running the last loop was tough because 1) I had no one to pace with, and 2) it was easier to give in to the pace of the slower runners, which I was lapping. I broke the course up in micro sections. In each section, I made a goal for myself. From McClintock to Priest, I made a goal to pass 30 people. From Priest to Mill I was going to keep a cadence of 180. These tactics helped distract me from the pain and loneliness.
At mile 23 as I crested Curry hill, I saw Kurt one last time. He knew I was in a world of hurt. Later, he told me I looked like I was going in-and-out of consciousness and my eyes were rolling towards the back of my head.
I wish someone gave me splits throughout the race. Later talking to my friend, Bryan Dunn, and even my mom (both tracking me online), they knew 4th place was slowly creeping up on me the entire marathon. I wish I knew because I would have have never let him get close to me. Next year, I am paying someone to give me exact splits and positioning throughout the race.
As I was on the finishing stretch on Rio Salado (around mile 25.5) I saw a M30-34 calf. Although I had no clue where I was in the race the entire day, I knew this guy was on his second lap and passing me. I tried so hard to stay on his feet and in his draft, but I failed miserably. I had nothing left in the tank. I had a hunch the pass may have meant a Kona slot, but I had absolutely no strength to keep up. It still kills me to this day that I couldn’t hang.
Just before entering the finisher chute, I handed Jenna a rose and gave her a kiss. Jenna has been my main supporter in all my Ironman shenanigans. She rode her cruiser bike next to me on countless long runs to hand me water and nutrition, she travels and cooks for me, and she brings the fun to triathlon/life. Thank you for everything, Jenna.
I don’t remember running down the finishing stretch.
I saw the finishing video later though. Oy.
3:21:45, 7:42 pace, 4th AG
Overall time: 9:23:07
4th AG, 55th OA, 17th amateur out of ~2,500 athletes
The most unappealing Ironman finishing picture ever.
Medics quickly carted me off in a wheelchair.
Two hours in medical and one IV later, I’m alive!
I’m not going to harp on it much, but I ended up missing Kona by 41 seconds. The late pass on the run proved to be detrimental. Yes, I am disappointed and I’ve been playing the “what if” game with myself for countless hours. It’s haunting me right now. At the end of the day though, I gave the race everything and have no regrets.
Winning my age group in Canada was a dream come true, but Ironman Arizona has brought the fire back in my eyes. I’ve failed many times before, but I’ve proven to myself that I can accomplish anything if my heart’s in the game. My dreams have been shattered, but this defeat will make me stronger than ever. The eye of the tiger is back for 2016. I am antifragile.
4th place M30-34 podium:
Little dog (9:41) had a great race!
The two Ellie’s reunite.
Thanks all for your continued support!