MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: IMFL 2011 & More

It has now been a full 367 days since I finished the 2010 edition of Ironman Florida.  Over the last year things have changed in many aspects of my life.  Since the triathlon part of my life is more interesting and pretty much all of it and what you all really want to hear about, that’s the part I will stick to.  With that said, lets begin!

Some of you know that I have been to Kona once before in my life, for those of you who didn’t know…now you do.  It was back in March of 2009 on a family vacation, before I understood what an Ironman triathlon was all about.  I had an amazing time on the island.  The funny part about the whole thing was that when we left the airport we turned left and headed to the Hilton Wakiloa instead of going into downtown Kailua-Kona, thus even though I have been to the big island I never went near the epicenter of triathlon.  Instead I traveled along much of the bike course by car on our various sight seeing trips.  It was during this trip when I suppose the triathlon seed was planted in my head.  This because when I was at the resort I kept seeing dudes wheeling around there fancy bikes (this was March so they were just out for training/pleasure) and all I could think about was who they were going to go ride there bikes for over 2 hours straight.  How naive right?  I am not joking for exaggeration when I say that either, I literally had no concept of what really went on when training for triathlons, no less an Ironman triathlon.

Anyway, during the summer of 2009 I entered a couple short triathlons after I decided to purchase my first road bike and subsequently signed up for a 1/2 ironman distance race, that being the 2009 Musselman in Geneva, NY.  Then, just a week after the Musselman race where I trudged in with a 5:25 I boldly took the next step by driving through the night to Lake Placid and signing up for the 2010 IMLP.  Yep, after just over 2 months of toying with triathlon I decided it was time to do an Ironman…seems logical right?  My mantra has always been to do something 100% all the way or not at all.  So that’s what I began to do, I put my mind to the task and gave it my full attention.  My life slowly morphed into one that was centered totally around the sport, this was for the good..believe me.  Some might see that as lame but honestly when a person finds something that truly fits them from a lifestyle, personality, and happiness standpoint…well their is nothing lame about that at all.

So there I am, its November of 2009 and I have begun to train for not just IMLP, but also IMFL which I decided I would do in 2010 as well.  Why? Well 2 is always better than one right?  Oh how little I knew and how far of a journey I had in front of me.  It was around this time that I truly believed I could race in Kona.  Its almost laughable that I thought I could KQ at IMFL in 2010.  Sometimes not really knowing or understanding is bliss.  All I had to do now was to train and become what I wanted to be, which was good…respected for what I spent my time doing; in a sense I wanted what most people want…validation.  I’ve always been decent at many sports across the board, and when I say decent I mean it because I was never a prodigy or great at anything, but I had enough hand-eye coordination, smarts and the ability to endure to get by and fit well on teams.  However, triathlon offered me the opportunity to totally re-define myself and achieve success purely based on how hard I wanted to work and how much time I was willing to devote to the task.  I’ve learned more about myself in the past 2 years than in the 23 previous.  The beauty of this sport and why it will always have appeal no matter what the big corporations do or how inflated it becomes is that the clock never lies.  What you do on the race course once the cannon blasts is totally yours and it does not matter how it looks or what it took to get there.  The only thing you are left with is a set of numbers at the end of the day.  I am by no means demeaning the experiences along the way because some would presented a valid argument that everything in life is about the journey’s that are taken along the way…and truthfully I agree with that 100%, but in the sense of personal achievement in the sport of triathlon you train and mold yourself to excel on race day.  For most that means training one full year, 365 days, for 1 race on 1 day.  No mulligans, no do-overs.  What you have after that one day is a set of numbers as your report card.  In order to better your odds of a passing grade you train and train so that on race day all that is left is for you to execute at the ability you already have.  The simple fact about triathlon is that as many have said before me “You can look it up”.  Talk all you want about how you train, what your volume is, your nutrition, your personal life, your injuries, etc…all that it essentially shakes out to be is a time, a series of numbers.  All of these numbers mean something very different to each individual.  I guarantee you that the 16:58 meant just as much, maybe more to that person than it did to the winner who broke the North American Ironman distance record with a sub 8 hour time.  One’s perception of time is the only difference.  Well since I need to wrap this section up and get on to the actual race  I will conclude by saying that after IMFL 2010 I wrote some numbers of my own down.  I had signed up for IMFL 2011 and I knew with another year of training I would be coming back a different athlete.

Those numbers added up to around a 9:45 and as of last week I had written down even loftier goals of :59, 5:00 and 3:15.  Yes, these were my hypothetical “great-day” scenarios which would put me around a 9:30 or less.  I wasn’t 100% I was in 9:30 shape but I knew if I had a smooth day without mechanical issues that I’d be very close.  I knew I had improved over the past year and last Saturday was my final test.  All the races and training before Saturday were preparation for this day.

My parents and I flew down to FL on Wednesday and I took care of registration, bike build, grocery shopping and everything else that day so that the rest of the week could be totally focused on relaxing and getting myself ready to race.  I spent Thurday and Friday playing scrabble, watching The Walking Dead and getting my last couple of workouts in.  I even broke down and bought an episode of The Walking Dead on iTunes once I had watched all of season 1 on Netflix.

On race eve I was in bed by 7PM and slept right on through to 4AM, no restlessness or nervousness disrupting me.  Race morning consisted of about 600 calories of assorted foods, a trip to the bathroom and a really warm shower to warm me up before I hit the Panama City Beach which was chilly on this November morning.  Luckily by dressing properly in my $10 walmart hoody and $5 walmart slippers I was very comfortable, aided by the fact that it was about 5 degrees warmer than the previous year at race start time.  I was very comfortable and relaxed.  My parents dropped me off at transition, I got marked by a girl (always a female who lays ink on this body on race day….always) and then went to check my bike before I headed to the beach.  As I was pumping my front tire I noticed that the tire’s valve was looking weird and that the tip of the valve was dangling.  The tip ended up falling off when I gave it a little twist and so I figured I’d better change out the tire even though it was still holding air.  Thanks to the wonderful IM bike guys they changed my tire for me so I didn’t have to sweat about it and could continue getting ready for the race.

Down at the beach I met up with my friend and local pro Kristin White, we chatted and I wished her good luck as she headed to the water for the PRO start.  After that I said goodbye to my mom and handed what has now become my lucky $10 walmart hoody.  Right before the start I met up with my friend Ken Koppenhaver, wished him all the best and finally got myself focused on the task ahead of me, which was to start the race with a sub 1 hour swim.  In my two prior IM’s I have always started the swim a bit cautiously in terms of my placement.  However, feeling I had improved as a swimmer I decided to put myself front and center and get right in the mix from the get go.  Out to the first turn buoy it was pretty crowded and I was hitching every ride I could from those around me, the turn was a cluster and the way back to the beach was pretty quick as I found a buddy to draft off of most of the way.  I was back on the beach with the clock reading 38 minutes.  Subtract 10 from that due to the Pro’s starting 10 minutes ahead of us and you have a 28 minute first loop.  I was happy but I knew I needed to stay consistent and keep pushing as the second loop would be a bit slower as there would be less of an overall draft to take advantage of based on the field thinning out after 1.2 miles.  On the second loop I caught a good draft on the way back to the beach and went over the timing mat in 59:56.  When I went over the mat I calculated that it was a 59 something…i just didn’t know how close I really was.  Those 4 seconds meant that I could finally say I swam a sub-hour swim.  Anyway, I swam under 1 hour and my first goal of the day was accomplished.  The next thing to do was get through T1 and get onto the bike warm and comfortable so I could let it rip.  With the awesome help of the volunteers in transition I was able to get my craft baselayer, socks and bike jersey without any issues and I was off any running.  Other than almost getting pushed into the transition barrier by a couple eager cyclists all was good through T1.  Over the first 10 miles I got my nutrition in and went about my business.  The wind was in our face over the first 40 miles or so but it wasn’t to bad.  Nothing of real note over the first 56 miles other than when we were on that stretch of road that is extremely bumpy.  It simply was driving me nuts, I hope they repair that road in the future…future bikes of triathletes will appreciate this.  One thing I will say about the bike is that when you are able to swim under or right on about an hour it is a different world on the road.  Last year I swam a 1:03 and biked a 5:25.  I was more or less surrounded by people all day long.  However, this year I saw 59:56 and biked 5:05.  I was pretty much on a solo vision quest for 112 miles.  Over the first three hours I did have one guy who would periodically pass me and then I would pass him.  This went on for a while and we ended up exchanging a few words of encouragement, and commiserated about being so alone.  His name was Serge.  I know that it is not pronounced “SURGE” but all I kept thinking about in my head was POWER SURGE!!! YAHH!!!

On the way back to the beach we had some tailwinds which heaped increase the avg mph and kept me on target for my pace even though my power dipped slightly below my pre-race plan.  Over the final 56 miles only one person passed me, and yep, he was in my Age Group, all decked out in a trek/kswiss triathlon kit.  When he came up on me before the short out and back about 15 miles from T2 he informed me that he had been trying to make some ground up on me over the last 40 miles but hadn’t been able to close the gap.  So with this ultimate complasault he went on ahead of me.  I passed him once more during the turn around section but then once we got back on the main drag to the beach he went on ahead and I just let him go.  He went ahead about 200 yards or so and pretty much stayed there for the duration.  Since he was in my AG I had a little motivation to keep tabs on him but I knew that I would be able to make up any ground he gained on me during the run, and if not…well then he was the better athlete.  It was also during this time, the last 15-20 miles that I had my “lowest moment” on the bike.  The wind was starting to annoy me and I could tell I was not totally “all there”.  This was only worsened by the fact that once we turned onto Beach Front Road for the final 6 miles of the course it was like being directed into a man-made wind tunnel due to all the Condo’s that line the road.  These final miles plain sucked due to the wind smacking you in the face and blowing you all around.  But the dude who passed me wasn’t going anywhere so I knew that the wind was the same for everyone.

I rode a 5:05 averaging 22mph over the 112 miles.  My nutrition consisted of 1 powergel package over the first 5 minutes for immediate nutrition out of the swim, then I sipped from a bottle that contained 10 powergels and water.  In addition to sipping the powergel bottle I drank from two other pre-made powerbar endurance mix’s (3 scoops + water in each as well as 1 scoop of both base amino and base salt).  I ate 1.5 powerbars between hours 2-4 on the bike and probably drank the equivalent of 2 water bottles and 2 powerbar endurance bottles that I took on at aid stations.  I am not 100% on all that I took on during the bike in terms of hydrations but that’s what I remember right now.

So I was back into T2 in 5:05, just 5 minutes over my goal of a 5:00 ride.  With the wind on course and the fact that my power dipped slightly over the final 20-30 miles I was happy wit the 5:05.  I guess the closest think to a hiccup in my race happened when I entered T2 and turned a corner to grab my run bag.  As I made the turn I still had my bike cleats on and did a Tom Cruise like Risky Buisiness slide for about 5 feet before I regained control of my body and played it off like I had meant to do it.  I played it off real cool, you know like I had meant to do it so I could impress the chicks in transition.  Believe me, they knew and were impressed.  (Note to self: learn how to do the flying dismount so you can ditch the bike cleats before running into the changing tent)

I quickly changed thanks again to the wonderful volunteers and once again the changing tent was mostly empty thanks to me training hard enough to not enter T2 at “peak hours”.  I hit the run feeling less than spectacular but was informed as I ran out onto the course by my friend and Syracuse 70.3 race director Kenny Hammond that I needed a 3:18 marathon to be in around 9:30.  This seemed like a pretty daunting challenge based on the way I was feeling at the moment.  I knew I had 26.2 miles ahead of me and I wasn’t exactly bounding with excitement.  However, since Ironman is such a long race I knew I just needed to get started and I would come around eventually.  The first mile was un-paced and I just tried to run easy as my garmin connected to the satellite’s.  After about 1/2 a mile I started to see my pace.  The 7:06 felt very easy but the first mile always does.  My goal was to cruise through the first 10K and re-evaluate how everything was going once I reached the state park.  Over these 5 miles I passed the fella in my AG who had passed me on the bike over the last 15 miles.  He had come out of transition about 50-75 yards ahead of me and stayed that way for about 2 miles.  I was watching how he was running and noticed that he was almost bounding, his heels were literally touching his butt on every stride.  I knew that with this stride he probably wouldn’t be around for long.  I eventually passed him and continued on my journey.  At about mile 4 or so I rolled up on my friend and Pro Triathlete from Syracuse, Kristin White.  We exchanged a couple brief words and then got back to work.  Miles 1-6 went smoothly, the pace was between 7:10-7:25, anything in between was fine with me as I wasn’t working to hard yet.  At mile 6 as I entered the state park Team Eggers gave me an update on my AG standing and informed me that I was in 5th place according to IMLive.com  However, since I knew I had passed at least one in my AG since the last timing mat I knew that I was looking at 4th place or so.  Cool to know but it still didn’t mean much to me since I had 20 miles to go.  Then about a mile later in the state park I passed two guys running in identical racing kits side by side.  A little strange IMO, especially 12 miles into an Ironman marathon.  I think that at least one was in my AG so now I was looking at 3rd place or best case scenario 2nd.  Yep, very nice.  But a lot or work to do still.  It was also at this point that a lone spectator informed me that I was in 20th place in the OA Age Group field.  So 20th place, still feeling good…I could deal with that.  Kudos to that dude for doing all the counting.  I trudged on taking a couple pulls from my red bull flask, a little bit at a time to extend the high as long as possible.  During the solitary 2 miles in the state park I took away 2 main things.  One was that I had a received a nice energy boost by seeing my parents at the park entrance on my way in and my way.  A plan I had created so that they could both see me twice in about 15 minutes and that I could get a real boost at the point furthest from the finish line. The second thing was that I still felt comfortable holding sub 7:30’s.  At the same point in the previous year I was struggling to run around 8 minute miles.  It was here I really knew that I could have a solid respectable day if I could hold it together.

On the way back to the turnaround at mile 13.1 or so I have three things that stick out to me.  1.  I took the fastest porta-potty break of the day, I’d put it up against any athlete.  I was in and out in 15 seconds, for real! 2. I took a very nice 10 second pee behind a bush, and it was awesome. 3. I got passed by the eventual winner who set a North America world record with a sub 8 hour race.  During this pass I may have been on IMLive.com coverage, anyone see me?  haha  I hit the turn around and then starting at mile 14 it got a little ugly for the next 4 miles.  I started losing energy and my legs were feeling heavy.  My HR which was not responding to my effort for the entire run began to dip even lower…a bad decoupling event if you look at it that way.  I got a bit worried and started walking the aid stations to keep getting in my nutrition (cliff bloks, powerbar perform and water).  I really began focusing in on 1 mile at a time, running as strong as I could from each aid station to the next.  It was over these 4 miles that I took my walks and got myself sorted out.  I still had not looked at my overall marathon time now knew what my exact AG standing was.  However, no one was passing me even at my low points which was a good thing.

The proudest moment of the marathon came shortly after I saw my parents at mile 18ish.  I entered the park for the second time and when I hit mile 19 something clicked for me and I began to pick it up a bit.  I decided that it was time to go, time to use all the endurance, strength and mental power I created during the previous 11 months.  By no means was I blowing the race up but when your struggling to keep the pace under 8 min miles for 4 miles and then can start dropping the pace into the 7:35-7:45 range, its a big deal!  Only one dude passed me over the final 6 miles.  He may have been on his first loop I just couldn’t tell.  Then again he could have been an 18-24 AG’er who was running really well.  I will have to check if one of them beat me.  The only thing that really ticked me off about when he passed me was that he had a woman, mom maybe? who was riding a bike right next to him chatting away, probably giving him standings updates, etc..I couldn’t make out the exact details but would have appreciated if the lady could have divulged some info to me as well.  Anywho, he went on his way and I went on mine..he running a lot faster.  Kudos to him.  From mile 20 on I ran strong, no surges but pretty consistent.  With about 4 miles to go I finally looked at my overall run time and saw that if I could keep it below 8 min miles that I would be right around a 3:20, real close to the 3:18 Kenny had told me would put me in around 9:30.  I ran steady and kept looking for landmarks ahead to tell me how far I had to go.  Soon enough I had made it to the home stretch which is a little less than a mile long and the false finish line (inflatable thing that tells the announcer your name which is 50 yards before the finish line) is in sight.  I still didn’t know where exactly I was in the AG placing but some spectator informed me that with about a quarter mile to go I was in 12th place in the Age Group race.  At this point there was one guy ahead of me by about 50 yards.  I decided to track him down figuring 11th is better than 12th.  I was able to drop it down a notch and ended up finishing ahead of him by about 15 seconds.  So yeah, I’m that dude who picks it up in the finishers shoot and brings it home strong.  And it was a good thing I did because 2nd place in my age group finished less than one minute behind me.  Just after I crossed the finish line Team Eggers informed me that my time of 9:31 had won me my Age Group and punched my ticket to Kona!  This caught me by surprise and I don’t know if I responded to them accordingly.  I think I just told them I was pretty tired and that the run was tough.  Truthfully I was pretty freaking psyched, it had just caught me off guard.  Usually it takes a 9:00-9:10 to win the 25-29 AG at IMFL.  A 9:31 is a respectable time but I didn’t think it would take the win.  I guess I should take this opportunity to thank the stud Euro’s who usually show up and throw down the speed.  Its nice of them to let this short pudgy American take the win.  I appreciate it guys!

Overall Results 2011

1st AG 25-29, 37th OA

Swim: 59:56 (2010 – 1:03)

Bike: 5:05 (2010 – 5:24)

Run: 3:19 (2010 – 3:39)

Overall the biggest takeaway for me from this race is that I am capable of a lot more.  I cannot wait for 2012 and all that it will bring.  There is a lot of work ahead of me as I start my trek across the country to Porland, OR where I will be starting fresh and looking for new opportunities that will hopefully bridge my passion for triathlon with an actual income.  Be it working part time at a bike shop or having the ultimate success of landing something with the likes of Nike.  Big goals huh?  Yeah, they are…but you always gotta DO IT BIG!

I am paid in full for both the 2012 70.3 World in Vegas next September and Ironman Worlds in Kailua-Kona next October.  I will be there to race and am extremely lucky, excited and blessed to have the opportunity to participate in both of these races.  All I can say is that 2012 is going to be an interesting year.  I hope you all will continue to check in on me along the way.

Remember to always “Put Your Name On It”

-Matt

PS: Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way.  The last two and a half years have been a truly incredible journey and I am extremely grateful to have had the experiences I had had already.  Qualifying to race in Kona next year is simply amazing and I can’t wait to race alongside all of the elites.  Achieving this really means a lot to me because it is something I set my sights on right from the start.  Some may have looked at me and called me overly ambitious in my goals but I knew that If I truly put my mind to something that I can achieve it.  Sure I had a lot of luck and things go my way in the process but at the same time you always have to put yourself in a position to succeed and to grasp the opportunities when they present themselves.  I believe that is what has happened to me.  I prepared myself and got myself to the starting line so that I could put my hat in the ring.  That’s all anyone can do.  I hope that this hard work and willingness to put myself in the right positions will follow me as I move to Portland, OR because I am really going to need it.  All of this can really be summed up by two words “Be Present”.  If you can always be in the present in each moment you will always give yourself the best chance at succeeding in whatever you are doing.  So thank you to all those who have helped me achieve my goals.  There are truly to many to name, but you know who you are!

Signing that Kona Paper
IMFL 2011 25-29 Podium

7 Comments on “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: IMFL 2011 & More

  1. Congrats Matt! Great race report. Very inspiring. I’m super proud of what you’ve accomplished.

    ~Jenna

  2. You’re a jerk. I was all set to train to go 9:45-10 at IMWI to match your pace and now go and throw this kind of wrench into my plans? Sweet.

    But seriously, great race. You deserve it, and you know it. I’ll be cheering for you in Kona, I hope.

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