Andrew Raynor Dover
By Mike Tarrolly for Crushing Iron
I think it’s important for people to write race reports. It helps you remember where you did well and what you need to do better next time. Over the years my recaps have morphed from flowing gibberish about every hotel lobby conversation into something more like “things I learned” with the hope that someone else can pick something up. So, yes, there are little things that happened but mostly this is about how my training for this race unfolded when I got onto the course. It wasn’t perfect, but it was the first time I didn’t feel obligated to buy a “Ironman Name Shirt” so I might be on the right track.
- Age Is Just a Number – I started triathlon at age 49. I’m 56 now and have done seven Half Ironman races. This was my best performance to date. So, age is definitely a number . . . but most everything that happened in this race began back in December. My running has been very consistent for 5 1/2 months, including a C26 run camp that was a bit of a game changer for me. We talk about it non-stop on the podcast, but consistency is king.
- You Can’t Always Get What You Want – If I’m totally honest, I thought I was going to race faster. Isn’t that always the case? But, it was mainly because of how I’d been running. The consistency was one thing, but I was also throwing down some intense work, including tons of hills, even on recovery runs. I guess the reality check is always the race. The hard bike followed by the hard run. The good news is, even though I closed pretty hard in Chattanooga, I think I would have been able to hold the general pace of my run for quite a bit longer. That’s what gives me the most optimism moving toward Wisconsin. #trainingday
- Sleep Might Be The Hardest Part of Race Weekend – We had a TON of C26 athletes hanging around and while that meant a lot of mental juggling, I loved it. Friendly faces and good conversation is a really good way to take your mind off the race. That said, somewhere in my subconscious I was concerned about that Saturday night sleep……… but great news! I fell asleep around 7:30 and remember feeling very excited about that as I drifted off. After some wicked dreams, I woke up naturally, reached for my phone to check the time and it was 9:00! I’d slept for 1.5 hours and was now royally f*cked. Yep. I turned on basketball for a while and eventually resorted to reading the Bible because, frankly, I don’t understand it and I thought it would fatigue my brain. No such luck as I got swept away by the book of Revelation and the only true revelation I had was that I had fall asleep again, then wake up in about 3 hours. One of these days I’ll get rest before a race.
- School Bus Nerds – There’s something very appropriate about shuttling triathletes to the swim in yellow school buses. There is a first-day-of-school awkwardness that makes everyone on the bus seem like a child. And isn’t that that point? We all do this sport to reclaim a bit of our youth, right? And I can’t help but wonder why we are so driven to feel this way? Maybe it’s simple. We want to feel young and the idea of chasing money and cars and power really starts to get old after a while. So, after standing in line, I hopped in the front seat of the bus. Prime territory. Hot seat. Podcast host. Ready to share all his knowledge about this race. And one by one, people blew by me like I was cold product. Finally the very last guy getting on plopped down next to me and fiddled with his goggles the whole ride.
- The Look in Their Eyes – Swim starts fascinate me. I strolled through the throngs of lycra listening to the patented Ironman morning mix tape and surveyed people’s eyes. I love wondering what’s going on in people’s minds. There is so much nervous energy before a swim because it’s one of those moments that creates a looming danger. I think that is good for us, but so many things these days are getting soft and protected. It’s the main reason I’m so adamant about the mass starts in triathlon. They are great opportunities for us to test ourselves. When we do hard things, day-to-day life seems a little bit easier. I was genuinely excited to take Mother Nature’s latest test. As I surveyed the course, I noticed a few orange buoys tucked up against the shoreline and my first thought, “these mother f*ckers are going to shorten the swim.” They’re going to take away an opportunity. But … the pros went off and it looked like they were doing fine. Yeah, they struggled a little, but it’s an upstream swim for 200 yards. Harder is the point. I put my ear plugs in and started to get a lather going in my wetsuit. Then, Tracy tapped me on the shoulder. I pulled out my ear plugs and she said, “Did you hear the announcement?” Nope. “They are shortening the swim.” WTF. Yep…First Louisville… now this one. That’s two in a row for me and I’m not a happy camper at this moment. I grunted a bit, then swore a couple times for effect and tried to re-group. The one thing I always tell myself in that situation is “DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE THE SWIM JUST BECAUSE IT IS SHORT.” Anything can happen and if you take it lightly, the next thing you know you’ll be getting run over and way off course and filled with anxiety. Focus, Mike.
- Maybe Gadgets Aren’t So Bad After all – I have never been a gadget guy, but about 15 of my training rides for Chattanooga were done with a power meter. That doesn’t mean I actually “used” it as in set up my next workout based on power, I just used it . . . and paid a little more attention to this mystery called power. The thing power helped me with most was my pedal stroke. I finally saw in black and white what it felt like to push 300 watts vs. 250. It was things like that that helped me take it just a little bit easier on hills. And maybe even more important, it showed me how much I was leaving on the table for flats and gradual declines. Dear Mike, Just because you’re going 23 mph doesn’t mean you’re actually pedaling hard. It’s hard to push your power on declines and I gained confidence with bigger gears and “stealing speed” at different points on the course.
- Riding By Feel – All that said, I still didn’t feel comfortable enough to race with the power meter, well, that and I had a brand new Flo 90 that was sitting in the corner flirting with me for for the month leading up to Chattanooga. So, about 2 weeks out, I started riding with Flo instead of the power tap wheel. It felt amazing from the minute I pushed play. I was definitely riding differently and frankly my favorite part of riding with Flos is the sound. People can hear you coming from a block away. My plan for this race was pretty simple. I would use general MPH targets, but in a way that married the feel of my internally calibrated power meter. Stay under control and in the 20-20.5 mph range until the top of that short steep hill around mile 27, take the effort up a notch for the next 15 miles (which seem mostly downhill), then finish strong but under control for the last 12 or so. My goal was to use that fast section to get my average pace right around 21 mph by the top of that two mile climb at the 44 mile mark. I pretty much nailed it to perfection and rode the last stretch really strong. My bike computer said I finished at 21.69 mph, but I later noticed the distance read 58.5 miles, so something must be set wrong considering my race speed was 21.2 mph.
- Old Guys Are Fast – So, in my mind I’m thinking, hmm… 21.69 mph… I have to be somewhere close to the running in my age group off the bike, but as I ran past several people I know who would have pointed that out, they kinda looked at me like I was Hines Ward in the Energy Lab. Well, maybe they just didn’t want to say anything because of how people are spread out on the course and Ironman Tracker can be tough to read like that. So, I just ran. *As it turned out I was 21st off the bike out of 136 in my AG… some of these guys are fast!
- Stay Cool Young Man – I knew the one thing that could bite me hard on this run was the heat, so I made cooling priority number one. I actually used a shoulder bag cooler as my gear bag that morning and put two small and one medium sized ziplock bags of ice in there before the swim. Oh boy I thought that was clever! I also pre-loaded my run belt with two small flasks of Skratch and 3-4 gels in the zip pocket. When I left T2 I slid the small ice bags (now somewhat melted but still cold) into the back pockets of my kit (which hit the damn spot on my lower back) and slowly dripped the big bag of ice water over my head as I ran out of transition. My goal was to be cold (blooded) as I hit the course and this really helped. Of course this process started on the bike at every aid station where I always grabbed and extra bottle of water for cooling and grabbed two for the last 12 miles of the bike.
- Running Blind – It didn’t turn out to be as hot as we’d thought, but the heat was another reason I wanted to get in and out of the water as soon as possible. The bike was surprisingly shaded and while I never felt that hot out there I forced myself into a constant stream of cold water on my head, neck, and legs. As I left T2 it seemed to pay off as I felt pretty solid, even after climbing the first hill. I stayed controlled and waited for one thing . . . that unforgettable feeling you get when bike legs turn back into run legs. Be patient, homie! Yes, I was pretty patient, and felt pretty good, but was still in a weird limbo about mile 4. Not tired, but not explosive. I didn’t wear my Garmin for the race, but reset my chrono on at the first two aid stations to get an idea of my pace. After doing this twice, I said, “F*ck it, just run, dude.” And that’s what I did. Besides, the face of my watch had fogged up and I was wearing contacts, so I couldn’t read it anyway.
- Where Are My Run Legs? – I guess it’s around mile 5 where they have the out and back double aid station, I slowed down at the end to get enough ice and took several cold sponges. The freezing water hit me like a shot of adrenaline and my run stride hit me like lightening. I ran freely to the bottom of Battery Lane and had to reign it in for my first time up the hill. I felt strong and was starting to build confidence, mainly because I knew I’d done this in training and I was feeling things more in my lungs than my legs.
- Let It Rip – At the end of my first loop I saw coach Robbie on the pedestrian bridge and he gave me the ole, “Let it rip” command. I agreed, but those kind of thoughts are relative. I’d love to say that second loop was a joy and I kept getting faster and faster until I did cartwheels across the finish line, but it started getting hard. I had to really focus and turn up my effort. I don’t want to say I ran that “hard” but I was strong. My new goal was to be steady, not stop, and get to the top of Battery again and THEN let it rip. That’s pretty much what happened, but it was a fight. I passed a shit load of people on both bridges and by the time I saw Coach again, I thought, yes, I made it. I’ll just coast down the big hill to the finish with a nice race. But, he had other ideas . . . “You gotta pick it up, finish strong!” Ugh… I had no clue what that meant, but . . . was I back in the running for something? No watch, no time, no nothing and he’s telling me to leave it all on the course for the last 3/4 of a mile. So . . . I did. And believe me running hard down that last hill isn’t as fun as soaking in the sights. It was the toughest part of my day and in my mind I figured out that I wasn’t in the running for a podium, but I had a shot at sub 5 hours. I finished right with Scott, C26 teammate, and asked if he could read my watch… he got real close, squinted and said, “4:58, I think.” And that’s what it was. While I felt really good about that and knew the sub 5 time would deceive a lot of people into thinking it was a great race, I knew that shortened swim gave it a major asterisk.
Conclusion: Even though it was my best Half Ironman performance to date, it technically wasn’t my fastest. Back in 2014 (when I was practically a teenager) I did Muncie in 5:05 but my swim was around 36 minutes that day (vs. 19 minutes at a shortened Chattanooga swim). My bike and run were faster at Muncie, but my bike and run at Chattanooga were better. I was in control the entire day and never cringed when I saw a mile marker. It was more like they were blowing by than they were a nuisance. And I felt much better afterwards at Chattanooga. Now, some could say I didn’t leave it on the course, but Chatt’s bike and run are a little bit harder, and well, I’m a little bit older. So, don’t let age determine how you feel.