Ah, it’s over. The race of the year is finally coming to an end. The race I’ve been training for, preparing for, hyping up, and qualifying for, is actually coming to an end in the middle of the hospitable, historic, and effervescent town of Zell am See, Austria. I’m barely running, but I’m grinning from sweaty ear to sweaty ear. My family is screaming my name and the fans are doing what they do best–making each of us athletes feel like true rock stars.
I haven’t written a race report in a while, and even this one has taken me nearly a week to write. There was no down time after flying back from Munich, Germany to Kona, Hawaii earlier this week. I transitioned immediately back into my leather dress shoes and gingham teacher uniform. With my Master program in secondary education in full swing with several assignments due and a classroom observation this week, I haven’t even had time to unpack my bags. It’s now pau hana and I can happily welcome this mini finish line that is Aloha Friday.
Let’s get straight to it. I had a lousy performance at the Ironman 70.3 World Championship. I’m proud of what I was able to muster, but that’s just it–10 out of 13.1 miles of the half marathon were just what I could muster. I did not train all year and prepare for months to muster the biggest race of my life. The intention was to race. The stated goal was to have a break-through race. However, as all of my fellow triathletes have noted–the run was hard.
Having qualified at Ironman 70.3 Boise in June, with an olympic race at the Hilo Triathlon and a sprint duathlon at the Greg Cameron’s Fireman Fund Biathlon in July, I had a solid three months of heavy training. I peaked at about 16 hours in one week. This is not exceptional, but with such a demanding schedule as a first year teacher has, I’m more than pleased with my consistent 15-hour/week training sessions. My coach, Mitchell Reiss, of Endurance Triathlon Performance America, set me up for an excellent race. He has consistently gotten me improvements while never once leading me to injury. We only gave myself about 10 days of a taper because with the 36 hours of traveling to Europe ahead of me, I knew I would have some good down time before the race.
The preparation and logistical planning for my family and myself to embark on spectating and racing a world championship event deserves a report all on its own. Let’s just say that I’m thoroughly impressed with Ironman, Zell am See, the volunteers, and my family for making all of prerace staging, so smooth and sensical. Perhaps I have blocked out any of the negative logistics, but I cannot complain. I never felt more prepared for a race in my life.
That’s not to say that I had any idea what a race that starts at 11:00am, Austria-time, would feel like. I had four whole days to adjust to the time zone that was 12 hours ahead of my tropical Hawaii time. I’m still not sure I’ve adjusted nor have I adjusted back (I’m in a strange place right now). I felt so ready though. My breakfast was simple and filling consisting of white bread, eggs, a splash of coffee, peanut butter and fruit. I had a fig bar, gu, and plenty of hydration with nuun electrolytes while suiting up in my xterra wetsuit. My pump-up tunes were blasting as I lathered on my final touches of non-petroleum vaseline and anti-chafing cream. The phone then got put in the dry-clothes bag and thrown in a pile of bags to be picked up at the end of the race. My bike was racked with two frozen water bottles melting away for me to slurp on in less than 40 minutes. My run bag and bike bags were dangling with the other outstanding, qualified, 1800 athletes’ respective bags that had our precious gear and attire to propel us forward into the known unknown that is a long course triathlon.
1.2 miles of swimming, 56 miles of biking, and 13.1 miles of running towered above me as I put on my goggles and swim cap and entered the water with my age group of 25 to 29 year old males. Thankfully, good and new friends, Tim Rea (AUS 26), Brett King (USA 27) and Mike Valunich (USA 29), were there getting loose and getting pumped for me to high five and get centered with. We were pumped. We all knew we were about to embark on a true journey of alpine adventure.
The cannon went off and I was told that a perfect smoke ring puffed forward as if Gandalf himself granted us permission to explode into this race. I stayed back as to not blow myself up in the early 500m of the swim as I’m wont to do. The contact between other swimmers and myself was minimal and I only got grabbed on the ass once while only elbowing someones elbow (?) once or twice. I found a red and blue wetsuit dude to pace off of and I got in someone slip stream to get in the zone. Utilizing my relatively new technique taught by Karlyn Pipes of Aquatic Edge, I made my pulls short and shallow with long reaches. I kept my stroke wide and kept my neck and shoulders as loose and relaxed as I could. A good friend and Bay Watch lifeguard of Venice Beach, Katie Wong, advised me to try to go as fast as I can while using the least amount of energy. I kept this in my head and stayed in someone’s bubbles as long as I could.
The water was the perfect temperature, somewhere around 67 degrees according to my body’s thermometer. It was clear and tasted delicious. The sun was shining and before I knew it, we were already turning around for the second half. Mr. blue and red wetsuit was still to my right and I kept him in sight, but he kept trailing off too right and I saw to my left that the “peloton” of swimmers was hugging those right buoys. I gave a few extra sightings on the yellow archway to welcome us back at the beach, and thought I may be drifting too far left. I made a move and dashed into the solo-ness with no one to draft off of to get into the pack on my left. This may have been a bad move because with 100m to go, I saw Mr. red and blue right next to me. I used up some extra energy making that sprint, when I could have stayed with him to end up at the same place. Oh well, I felt stoked. No leaky goggles, no serious head bangs or bone clatterings with other swimmers means I had a good swim.
A hand grabbed mine as I stepped out of the water, onto the stairs. The first thing I thought was, “Don’t you dare touch a button on my Garmin right now. I’m in Triathlon Mode and if you reset my data I’ll be pissed. Must. Have. Data.” Thankfully this volunteer only guided me up the steps without touching any buttons on my precious watch. I threw off my goggles and cap. I ran through the transition tent unzipping my wetsuit. I glanced at my watch: 28 minutes and change! This was a new PR for the swim during a long course triathlon. I was stoked. I thoughtfully disrobed my wetsuit and stuffed it in my bike bag after grabbing all the fun stuff out. I gobbled down my fig bar, attached my race belt with bib number, and clipped on my aero helmet. Within 200 meters, I’d be on my bicycle ready to rip down some buttery Austria,n asphalt.
The flying mount went smoothly and I slipped my feet into my rubber-banded shoes without incident. I spun my legs out and stayed loose for the first five minutes with a high cadence. I seemed to be passing quite a few people on the bike path and while getting on to the closed off road that was our bike course. Positions were then changing rapidly. I would pass the older age groupers who started before us while some even older age groups from the wave that started after us started passing me as well. The little village we sped through at a minimal climb was quaint and interesting. This road spit us out onto the main highway that would follow an ice-blue river down below us to the right. The highway had a gradual descent and was roaring fun. It was ours for the taking. I made sure to keep my distance from riders in front of me. I could already tell it would be a strategic challenge the entire race to ensure that I don’t get a drafting penalty by riding less than five bike-lengths behind the rider in front. There were so many athletes jockeying for position. The motorbike referees were out in full force visibly scrutinizing us.
All of a sudden, I was riding in a spread out pack of about six neon aerodynamic cyclists entering a tunnel about 500m long. It was as if we were futuristic speed demons blazing through a science fiction world as the dark tunnel lights streamed by us and the cavernous echo of our carbon wheels screamed around us. I shouted, “CHEE HOO!”, with no ability to contain my excitement. I was racing some of the best age groupers in the world inside of a alpine mountain somewhere in Austria.
The climb began quickly. This ascent was a popular topic of discussion before the race. Everyone asked each other if they had checked it out yet. Everyone had a different opinion about the steepness and toughness of this 2000ft climb. Some were intimidated, some were non-chalant about it. Personally, I was not afraid of the climb, but more so the descent afterwards. I had driven it with my support crew a.k.a. “Famille Sauvage” a.k.a. my family, the day before. We were in for a steep drop with four hairpin turns. I decided to not redline it as I had originally planned so I wouldn’t blow myself up. A German dude yelled “David! Go.” with a smile as he passed me. He was encouraging, not unfriendly. I then caught him in a few minutes and reciprocated the support. I was almost done with my first water bottle having taken a sip from my electrolyte bottle as well and had taken a caffeinated gu. Then I saw a new friend, Mike Valunich, pass me at a steady clip. I stayed with him and chatted for a minute or so. He described his frustration with the racers breaking the rules by drafting already this early in the race. I agreed, but changed the subject to how awesome that tunnel was. He agreed. I laughed to myself that the first real conversation I had with this new friend was in the middle of the biggest climb of the biggest race of my life. Probably not the most efficient time to have a chat and get to know someone. An ambulance with sirens on zoomed past us on the uphill. I let Mike go and soon after I saw him get stuck behind a pack of slow climbers. With a motorbike approaching him, I got a little concerned. I saw them say something to him and his pack and he turned his head in what appeared to be confusion. Later I found out that he indeed got blue carded for that. The refs were on a vendetta indeed.
A lady rider was being put into a stretcher with a full on neck brace on the side of the road. I have no idea who she was because I didn’t hear about any pro females getting into any crashes. There were no other women in front of our wave, so who knows who she was.
The final town of the climb was approaching. I tossed my first water bottle that was almost done and grabbed a fresh one. By then, that’s 200 calories, some electrolytes, and 750ml of water by the time I had about 1km of climbing to go. The packs of riders were thick. It was nearly impossible not to be five bike lengths behind someone at that point. This makes it even more ridiculous that Mike got penalized there. After the race I found out that a good friend and talented triathlete from Hawaii/Texas/Brazil, Toni, got disqualified for entering the left lane by crossing over the white line for a second or two only to avoid a pack of blocking riders on the climb. I even crossed over at one point to do the same just for a second. I’m lucky I didn’t get caught. His race was over before even the half way mark. Some people think the refs were on a vendetta to prove to the world that they were more strict and enforcing the rules more so than they did at Worlds in Mt. Treblant last year which was a “drafting fest.”
I took the 15% climb at the end as a fixie rider going up California St. in San Francisco would. I tacked back and forth utilizing the diagonals, looking odd to the beer-drinking, cigarette-smoking fans on the side of the road. This may or may not have been helpful. It lengthens the course effectively, but lessens the grade. Suddenly I remembered how I did not do nearly enough hip-flexor stretching and rolling. I meant to do that the nights before! I even brought my foam roller all the way to Austria. I needed to roll those out. THey get pretty tight and compressed during a long ride. A few hours later, I would greatly regret not rolling those out. The cows were waiting for us and the fans’ cowbells were ringing at the top where the Oakley archway welcomed us. I flipped my gears quickly to ready myself for the descent. Another ambulance came blaring up the climb and sped past me heading towards some poor soul on the descent.
It was over before I could even notice. I had to apply the brakes quite a bit. Had I ridden the course previously I would have descended much more confidently. I took is slow and steady letting a few athletes pass me who decided it was OK to cross over into the left lane. My carbon Williams wheels were squealing and I suddenly got paranoid that they would heating up so much to either melt my brake pads or elevate the temperature of the tube so much as to pop it. One rider was seen stumbling into the arms of a medic with the ambulance on the side of the road. There were about ten riders with their bikes on their sides while they mechanically changed their tubes. pumped my brakes and eventually was taking that soft left out of the last town while getting back into the aero position. It was time to roar.
My watts never really spiked to my observations going up the hill, they surely dropped while I descended. As I sped up to make up for lost time I saw I was pushing 400w which is above my threshold. I kept trying to tone it down, but it was just too fun! I was pushing 400-450w whenever I passed someone. My cadence stayed at 90rpm, but I was hauling and powering like a beast. This probably was not good in the long run (in the literal long run ahead of me). The scenery was breath-taking. The idyllic pastures were electrically green. The sparsely situated Austrian farms and churches were ready for tourist shops to make some postcards out of. The entire course was framed by the Austrian Alps with snow covered peaks and Mordor-like crags jutting at oblique angles to remind us how raw the tectonic plates beneath us once crashed.
A few motorbikes lingered next to me uncomfortably many times. I always slowed down to ensure I had at least seven or eight bike lengths in between me and the next rider. Once any of these motorbikes left, I was quickly passed by someone behind me to get in between me and the rider in front. It pissed me off greatly. They were ready to draft. I then would have to back off again. As we entered into northern Zell am See with some technical turns, the riders got bunched up. We were thick and it was exhilarating to feel like we were in a real road race. It felt like my first ever cycling race. Everyone was drafting. It was mayhem. I couldn’t back off even if I wanted to. Motorcyclist referees had barely enough room to get by. They were not calling out anyone thankfully. It was impossible to give anyone room. As we entered into the old village of Kaprun however, I was getting fed up with the drafters. I had been passed too many times by mini pelotons four to five riders deep. I kept feeling like there were a bunch of cheaters out here. I knew they weren’t malintentioned and I like to think they were just riding that way because of the quantity of riders and the narrowness of the course. Their brash lines of riders made me doubt this however.
A motorbike approached me as I was a few bikes back from a rider and said something. I put on my brakes to make sure I wasn’t called out. I then yelled at him to look ahead at the drafting peloton 200m up. He did the weirdest thing in response: he put a quieting finger to his lips and even over the roar of his engine and the wind in my helmet, I heard his awkwardly long, “Shhhhhh.” It was the longest shhh I’ve ever heard. Maybe 10 seconds of pure shhh-ing. I didn’t get it. Was he telling me to shut the hell up or else I’d be red carded? Or was he telling me to not make a scene because he saw what I saw and wanted to sneak up on them. After telling this same story to the legendary Magali Tisseyre, next to whom I sat on the glorious 13 hour flight back to the USA two days later, she agreed that the ref was actually on my side and was telling me not to give him away. This could be confirmed by seeing him flash a blue card at the pack of riders I was talking about.
I was losing steam by the end of the ride and I never got my average speed back up to even 22 mph as was hoped after that destructive climb that sent my average speed to 18mph after a roaring 26 on the first 20km. By the time I was unstrapping my shoes, preparing to dismount, I had consumed a total of four and a half 750ml water bottles, one of which was an electrolyte mix, one fig bar, and four gus. That’s only 500 calories with 400 of them being in gu form. I did not plan that well. I kept thinking on the ride that I should have had two more fig bars, or some solid food with a 200-300 more calories. One of those picky bars sitting in my backpack back at the apartment would have been perfect.
It was time to dismount. I hopped off smoothly and wobblyly trotted my bike back to the transition area. I wasn’t too stiff as I had feared. I made my way to the bike racks, left my helmet strapped on (I had no idea when we were allowed to take that off and didn’t want to risk getting flagged for taking it off early). A toilet! A lua! I ran towards it and decided to go use it. I timed how long it took to pee and it was only 10 seconds! That was a mental and physical relief. I did not want to have a repeat of HITS Napa Valley 2014 Long Course where I peed on myself during the run. That stinks. I grabbed my run bag, swapped out my helmet for my run stuff. I put on my shades, my Mizunos, and my lucky Wild Life hat (given to me by Lady Luck herself). The run was on.
I’m running the start of the race into town and the crowds are cheering! They’re all there for me! I’m winning! Oh. I realize as she passes that I’m right on the amazing Heather Wuertle‘s tail. The tall, Canadian is running at a 6:40min/mi pace, which is right where I wanted to be. I stayed with her for at least a mile. I cheered her on thinking she was on her last lap. She was only on her first! She slowly escaped me and I let her. I thought I should be at 6:50 or even 7. She was going, going, gone. Her form looked extremely fatigued, but her pace said otherwise. The heat was there as I rounded out onto the lake path. They said it was 85-90 degrees Farenheit. It didn’t feel that bad. There was close to zero humidity. I’m a Kona boy! I train in the oppressive, clothes-sopping sweat-filled heat that makes any workout look like I just fell into a storm drain. This dry heat was nothing! Or was it…
My pace kept dropping, every mile. It was disheartening to say the least. I took in a cup of gatorade and water every aid station. I didn’t take in any food or gus. That was stupid. I started walking through the aid stations to ensure I got in my calories and hydration. I kept feeling like the fluids weren’t going all the way down. It was a scary feeling because I’ve walked a race a few years ago having had this same sensation. It felt like the fluid was stuck at the bottom of my throat, not entering my stomach. The fans were cheering me on and the runners were inspiring me. I saw Evan and we shouted each other out. Along with Mike, Brett, and August as well. Then I saw Magali! She was in fourth place and I was running right with her on her final lap. I stayed with her for less than a mile, but it was so fun! To see these women run by me was humbling and inspiring. I couldn’t believe how fast she was at the end of a half marathon. I told her Bravo, but I don’t think she heard me. I stayed on her shoulder to try to use some of her energy. A hand-car racer came up behind us and another runner shouted at us to watch out. She was confused as we both thought this hand-car racer was someone on the wrong course. He was totally legit, we were just in a strange state of mind. I had to let her go too though, my pace was suffering.
I was damn near walking. I was struggling just to get back down to an 8:00 min/mi pace. The numbers just kept climbing and the finish line just kept getting farther away in my mind. I was still smiling, but I was not proud. This was my slowest half marathon ever. I started taking in red bull at the last 5k to go. I took in a couple of cokes at the next aid station as well. I was crumbling, but I carried on. I marched on. My fellow athletes passed me with a fury. Then I saw Thomas Vonach! A killer athlete from Hawaii was running swiftly and confidently. I let him pass but not without a pat on his sweaty back. He was charging. Then I saw him pass me again. I was so confused. He must have had to stop to go pee or something. It was all in slow motion from there into town. I saw my mom and dad. They had their awesome Go Wild! sign up. I blew them a kiss. My sister and her partner in crime were screaming my name and taking pictures. They were so awesome. Everyone was so awesome. I was so happy again and I pushed it for that last mile even though I didn’t even break a 9:00min/mi pace. The finish chute was there and I was staggering confusedly past the beautiful Austrian cheerleaders (full on pom-pom clad and choreographed dancing). I threw up my fists and it was over.
I have so many people to thank. This race had so much to do with all of the people who have supported me throughout the years. From San Diego, to Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco, to Kona, Hawaii, and the new friends I made at this race! I cannot thank the Oakland Triathlon Club enough. They’ve inspired me and supported me since their inception. Chris Van Luen has been there for me since we started the club a couple of years ago which is a living and thriving organism that I had no idea would be such a success as it is now. Bike Works Kona has had my back since I moved here and they’ve got me rolling and styling since I’ve known them. Thank you Bike Works! Hawaiian Ola keeps me healthy and pumped off some healthy local noni and fruits. While Oakley is keeping my eyes safe and dope. Another warm shout out goes to triple threat triathlon who has rooted me on since I met them last year. They’re a grass roots club with members across the nation on the rise.
Thank you to all of my friends and family for the love and constant encouragement. Sometimes I forget who I am, and you guys keep me in touch with myself! Finally, thank you to the keiki of Hawaii. They have given me purpose like no other has ever before. Their inspiring and persevering little selves motivate me to get intense and to stay focused. I’m in love with triathlon, but teaching and motivating the youth to become their best selves is my passion.
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