Blowing Up at Lavaman

Lavaman Triathlon race report: April 10, 2016

I’d never raced triathlon only one week after another triathlon. Lavaman, an Olympic distance triathlon would be on April 10 while  Ironman 70.3 Oceanside was on April 2. I stayed loose and rested all week. I made sure to get decent sleep and eat well. After a few days of no training after Oceanside, I did some short, workouts with only a little bit of high intensity training. Olympic distance triathlon is only 1.5k (0.93mi) swim, 40k (24.8mi) bike and 10k (6.2mi) run. I felt ready to rip through an oly race and run a 5:50/mi pace on the 10k. All of this looked like it would be happening until the run began that day.

The swim was going to be my fastest. With an Xterra speedsuit ready to rock and feeling at ease in the warm Anaeho’omalu Bay of my new home-waters in Hawai’i, I knew I could stay near the front pack. Unfortunately the day before I decided to go against my rule of thumb of never trying anything new on race-day, by bringing my older pair of Aquasphere Kaiman goggles which are tinted. The sun shines in our faces when swimming back to the beach in the morning, so I thought it would be a good idea. These three-year-old goggles however are apt to leak. I tried them out the day before and they didn’t leak for at least a few minutes. So I decided to race with them. Within 10 yards, they leaked. My left eye was blind and burning and my right eye was looking through a foggy lens. I was lost on that swim. I led a few guys totally astray a few times. At one point, I even stopped, emptied my goggles, figured out where I was then restarted my stroke. I wasn’t even sure for a second if I was still heading east! I chose to just stick to the bright orange blur with legs to my left. That would be local boy, Sam Corace from San Diego. He’s a pro on Team Bioastin.

Starting with the pros was an amazing opportunity. Lavaman let’s anyone who wants to race as Elite into the first wave. It seems like it self-selects because there were only a dozen of us and we were all very competitive.  Matt Lieto, Ben Williams and Tim Marr were the three pros whose names I recognized on the start list. I made friends with Sam Corace and caught up with Matt, Ben and Tim. All of us were in the top seven elite field. My friendly rival, Chris Gregory was of course in that top seven as well. I met Chris last year at Lavaman and he was surely set to destroy his last race time. Talking smack with all these dudes before the race was super fun. I had a great time just talking story with them about triathlon, the pro-life and student-growth opportunities within triathlon.

With the water temperature above 78 degrees Fahrenheit, no one was allowed to wear a wetsuit. I was stoked, but with the leaky goggle, I floundered compared to what I could have done. Regardless, I had a quick swim besting myself from last year and this year it was choppier and no free speed from a suit! I came out of the water in 22:33 with a few of my Kona Aquatics masters buddies! I consider Jim McCleary and Danny to be some of the fastest men out here and yet I came out of the water right next to them. If I didn’t have to stop during the swim to figure out if I was indeed heading east and having to stop and sight for way too long–I could have gotten in way faster. Next time, don’t try old goggles again for the first time on race day.

My T1 transition wasn’t too bad. I lost a few seconds there, but I was ready for a killer ride. My T1 time was 0:59. I kept my nutrition simpler for this oly race, but I may have carried too many calories. I had 200 calories in my bottle, 100 calories in gummy chews and another 100 in goo with some caffeine. I hit 30mph pretty quickly with a tailwind on the way out. Chris Gregory passed me within the first five miles–bad sign for me. He was mashing with a low cadence. To keep up with him, I had to hold 320W with an increasing heart rate already flirting with z4.

I never caught the blue guy in the Army kit, but all systems were a go. I felt strong, not worn out or anything. I was taking in my calories as planned. I did accidentally start to turn early one exit before the turnaround like a rookie. That was right after I passed Sam on the bike. That felt good. He caught me again after the turn around while I was taking my gummy chews. I did overtake him again though. I took my goo and finished my drink taking in about 400 calories on the ride coming in hot. The head winds were ferocious for the last five miles. I never really let my watts drop below 270 (my average for my last 10 mile TT on the same course 6 weeks ago). I also was working hard enough to be in the high zone 3 and low zone 4 heart rate range for most of the ride. That scared me a little, but I dismissed it since after all this was an olympic race. I finished the ride in 1:03:25 which is 23.8 mph on average.

Dragon Ball Z in full effect (photo and joke credit: Tim Niere)

After a lengthy T2 transition (0:42) where Sam gained 0:30 on me and almost passed me out of transition, we were running hard through some old lava gravel. I have to work on my transitions apparently. They aren’t horrible, but they are not professional. I was near double the times of the pros in transition, losing a good minute or two overall. The first mile of the run felt great at a 5:59 pace! I was shooting for just that and hoping to ascend my speed as the miles went on. That did not happen.

5.2 miles to go with Sam Corace hot on my heels.

My heart rate was dropping as I tried to catch my breath or swallow. It is a bizarre thing that has happened once in a race before and almost in another race. It feels like the gummy chews are stuck at the bottom of my throat or the top of my stomach. I kept having to swallow and spit. I thought maybe I would throw up. I just kept trying to swallow, but I couldn’t. I was breathing fine and my heart rate was dropping. My legs were fresh, but my mind was fixated on this stomach or throat issue. Perhaps it was that I only drank half of my water bottle on the ride with a full bottle of concentrated electrolyte mix. Perhaps 400 calories is too much to try to digest in such a short race. I had the gummy chews only 30 minutes before I started my run. That was the same nutrition I had at the race that this happened at before (Morgan Hill Olympic Triathlon 2013). It’s still a bit mysterious to me because it is so hard to describe the discomfort. It’s like wanting to take a huge breath, but not getting to at the last minute. It was like the dull ending pain that one may feel at the last moment of a hiccup. It just stayed there like a little anchor holding me back from my real pace.

That moment you realize: You. Just. Exploded.

I caught Tim early on and Sam was ever at my back losing a bit of steam himself. Though I kept track of him when I could in fear that either he would pass me, or someone would pass us both. I couldn’t take any of the aid or my none energy shot. I only sipped water and even felt like I had to walk through most of the aid stations. This helped a bit. By the time I got to mile five, my lump was going away and I was mustering up more strength and speed. On the lava trail I felt more of myself! It was so bizarre. I made no real attempt at a sprint finish. The clock read 2:06 and I wasn’t very proud. I heard my name and the applause for me as I finished so of course I smiled. Deep down though I felt like a real amateur.

Sam and I quickly made our way to the water and kind of sunk in in our own embarrassment. We both were not proud and frankly ashamed. Now I’m not going to weep or cry because I ran a 39:49 minute 10k, which is a 6:26 min/mile (if the course was 10k, but I think it’s actually short). I do however want to say that my legs were not tired at all. My body was though. My mind was as well. Tim mentioned a term to me: accumulated fatigue. This may have been part of the case. My digestive and cardio-vascular systems were still recovering perhaps. One whole week should be good enough, I felt. However I think that the week of recovery was still on my feet. As a teacher during the school year, it’s hard to get proper recovery. One must be horizontal to really recover as my buddy Matthew Seymour taught me. He told me I’ll never go pro if I keep this teaching job. Being on my feet all day is only hurting me. The competition is not on their feet all day.

To be frank however, olympic distance triathlon is very hard. I may simply have not been ready for the intensity of nearly sprinting for two hours straight. To play in the big leagues, I have to be able to do this.

Again, this is no pity party or excuse factory. However, I don’t feel too celebratory about this one. I feel excited to have gone through this swallowing experience again however. I feel motivated by the pros and Chris Gregory. I am also damn inspired by the first timers and rookies out there. My high school triathlon club, the Konawaena Tri Club, did an amazing job with Rama, Cody, and Ragan finishing strong taking 2nd and 3rd in the under 18 division. My friend from high school, Melissa Bernal, competed and other friends did their first ever triathlon! Christina Reyes who is from my alma mater high school as well and Juan Espinal, who also teaches in Kona, tore it up for their first race ever. It was really inspiring to see how calm and collected they were on such a brutal course. The course and conditions were difficult (hot and windy), but also so picturesque–they will be both spoiled and well-prepared for any Olympic distance tri after this one.


Lawrence “Rama” Barrett and Ragan Leslie

Finishing in the top 10 is still something to be proud of. I couldn’t have done it without my family and friends. Thanks to the crew at Bike Works Kona for making sure I was all straightened out after only putting my bike together after Oceanside three days prior. Thanks to Hawaiian Ola for the immunity and energy all week and on the morning of the race to sustain my healthy lifestyle. The Oakley sunnies were a must on that glaring and scorching run course as well.

Here is the link to the official Lavaman 2016 results. Here are my individual activities on Strava for my ride and run.

Screen Shot 2016-04-15 at 9.08.23 PM
9th place. Three non elite division racers bested me as seen here with the two-three digit bib numbers. Hats off to these talented athletes.

Lavaman 2017 will be a real eruption of performance though. I’ll see you all there ready to draw a smile face on anyone’s calf that needs it.

Matt Lieto told me it’s his tradition to have someone draw their favorite happy face on their calf before a race.





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