Ohio 70.3 Race Report – 7/23/23
This race was awesome. This is the second year I’ve done this race, and also the second year the race has been held in Sandusky, Ohio. A quick backstory…this race used to be in Deleware, Ohio. It was announced to be held in Sandusky about 2.5 years ago, and I immediately jumped on it. My wife’s family has a lakehouse in Sandusky, Ohio! So naturally, it makes sense for me to race out here! I’ve ridden this course countless times and I absolutely love it out here. We spend a lot of our summer weekends out in Sandusky, so this race is kind of special to our family. Family support at races like this is very important. Having experienced the great support last year, I knew this would be an awesome race for me. Let’s dive into the race report.
The city of Sandusky
This city is pretty cool. Ironman Village seems perfectly placed, right by Jackson Street Pier. Nestled in perfectly, with the single transition area only 2 blocks away from the swim start. It really is a great start to the race. The downtown atmosphere is great in Sandusky. The run course has TONS of opportunities for support and hype. That’s important and plays a role in how these races are perceived. More on that when we get to the run.
Really no issues at all here with driving to the destination, parking cars, walking, etc. Unlike Happy Valley 70.3, everything is all very close together. There is only one transition area, making things simple. Before the swim, it was announced that the swim would be wetsuit “optional.” That means the water temperature was recorded between 76.2-82,9 degrees F. At 76.1 degrees, the swim is wetsuit “legal,” meaning all athletes can wear their wetsuits without penalty or adjustments to placing, etc. In a wetsuit “optional” race, athletes can still wear their wetsuits, but are then no longer allowed to compete for podium spots, qualifications for worlds, etc. So technically, I could have raced in my wetsuit since I am nowhere near age group qualifications, etc. However, I made the decision to skip the wetsuit and wear my swimskin. The swimskin is not buoyant, so it is legal to wear in a wetsuit “optional” event. Unfortunately for me, it was the first time I ever wore my swimskin. I do NOT advise this and it was a mistake of mine for a couple reason. 1) I put it on backwards initially, and didn’t realize it until I attempted to pull it up 10 minutes prior to the race. I quickly got out of line, changed it around, and got back in line. And 2) it chaffed my neck BAD during the swim and it stung for the rest of the day. Had I worn it prior to the race, I would have been aware of this and prepared better. Oh well.
This is a hard swim. It was hard last year, and it was hard again this year. I was better prepared for it mentally this time around. I knew my time would be slower than a typical race, so it didn’t surprise me when I came out about 8 minutes slower than my typical pacing. Last year I was expecting a full 10 minutes faster for my swim time. So when I came out of the water last year, I was pissed off when I saw 10 minutes slower than expected. This year, not the case. I knew it would be slow and it didn’t bother me at all. The swim is slow for a few reasons. First of all, the swim entry is a jump off a boat! Pretty awesome. But since you’re jumping off a boat, the official swim START line isn’t for about 10-20 meters into the swim. Not ideal, but it’s a cool swim start. The swim begins with about 200m straight out, then a sharp left. This straight-away is the longest straight-away of the swim. Although the swim is protected, early morning makes this direction against the current. After this long straight-away, another hard left, then a quick hard left again. Now there are two lanes of athletes swimming in opposite directions. The difficult part about this is that the athletes are wayyyy too close to one another, in my opinion. I’m not sure why these lanes are so close to each other, since there is tons of space to expand the distance between swimmers going out and swimmers coming in, but I digress. The fact that these lanes are so close to one another presents an issue. It creates somewhat of a “washing machine” or “blender” effect. Noone was aware of this last year. So tons of athletes were frustrated with the difficulty of the swim. I think Ironman chose to leave it as is for the simple reason of just leaving it a difficult swim. Why not? If you don’t like it, don’t register. (that’s what I’m guessing Ironman is thinking about the swim course design) I’m not a huge fan of it, but I also kind of like that it’s difficult. So I actually swam well, but finished in about 47 minutes. A full 8 minutes slower than Happy Valley 70.3 just 3 weeks ago (a swim where I intentionally pulled back my effort in preparation for a tough bike course).
I love this bike course. I’ve honestly probably ridden it 15 times or more in the past two years in preparation for each of these races. I rode it most recently by myself in about 2 hours and 37 minutes. I pushed it hard like a time trial to see just how fast I could ride during the race.
***Side note. I was dealing with a left hip/groin injury before Happy Valley 70.3 that prevented me from running at all in the 3 weeks leading up to that race. During Happy Valley 70.3, I crashed my bike badly at mile 50. Subsequently leading to a concussion and now a right hip/side injury. So leading into Ohio 70.3, I essentially had NO run training for 6-7 weeks. Yes, I jogged a couple times, but couldn’t really TRAIN the run appropriately. That being said, I rode my bike much more than normal and my bike fitness was in a great spot. So I rode this bike course hard during the race***
I rode this one tough. I had no idea how my run would feel during the race. But in the week or so before Ohio 703, I had attempted a couple run-offs that felt good ONLY after I pushed the bike pretty hard. So that led me to push the bike pretty hard during the race. I think this was my best decision and I’m glad I did it. The course is completely flat, so it’s essentially full gas the entire time. No brakes, minimal coasting. I ended up with a bike split of 2:34 and I was thrilled with that.
I actually started the run off feeling incredible. I was averaging in the mid 9’s per mile for about 6 miles and for that first hour, I actually thought I could hold that pace. I was surprising myself. I realized between miles 6-7 that I would NOT be able to hold the pace. It was important that I start walking the aid stations and fuel as best as I could. I did that and still ended up having a decent run (considering I didn’t really train the run). I averaged 11 min/mile. Not good for me AT ALL. But for this race, I was pleased. It came out to about a 2:35 half-marathon. Again, not ideal but I was happy with my effort. The run course also has a ton of spectator interaction. I love that. A lot of my Victory Multisport teammates were there cheering everyone on. That’s probably the best thing about VMS in my opinion; the crew of teammates who tag along to these races in support of others…just amazing and appreciated that so much during the race, just like at Happy Valley. So thank you to that VMS crew! (#irondads) But even moreso, my wife was able to get all three of my daughters on the run course to cheer me on and say hey. I saw them all multiple times and it just absolutely made my day. A lot of family came out to support me at Ohio and it was an incredible feeling. These races are hard. Over 70 miles. You get to the point of feeling like you want to quit multiple times. You often feel like “why am I even doing this. I wish this was over.” Etc. Etc. But seeing family can change your attitude quickly. I loved seeing everyone, it makes the world of a difference, so thank you to my wife and all family who came out to support me.
In total, I raced 5:58. This is the EXACT time I raced this course last year. On the surface, one might look at that and think, “hmm. why no improvement over a year?” But for me, I look at that and I celebrate it. Here’s why. I have 3 kids. One of whom is only 3 months old. I started putting a lot more effort and time into coaching my own athletes this season. I never once followed any formally structured plan. Did I “wing it”? No, but I had no formally structured program. I lifted a lot more this off-season, so I came in about 10 pounds heavier than last year’s racing weight. Lastly, I couldn’t run for about 7 weeks of this season. So yes, I look at the EXACT same finish time as last year as a victory. One I definitely celebrated!
Now that this race is over, I’m excited to rehab all of the injuries. Left hip/groin, right hip/side, and my concussion. Thankfully, the concussion symptoms were almost completely gone the couple days following the crash, so now I’m focusing on my lower body injuries. The off-season is a time for just that; repair, rehab, rest, and building for the next season. Since Ohio 70.3, I’ve actually been able to run, and that’s exciting. Things are looking up and I’ll be following a fairly strict off-season schedule in preparation for 2024.
Because in 2024, I’ll be heading to Lake Placid for 140.6.
That did NOT go as planned…
I had a pretty lofty expectation for the Happy Valley PSU 70.3 this past weekend. I went to Penn State for a short time as an undergraduate student, I am a very big Penn State fan, I LOVE State College, my triathlon team sent 30+ athletes to the race, and I had about 10 of my own athletes racing!! It was a big weekend for me, and I was excited for it.
Looking back, I can say that all of those variables likely created an unnecessary amount of stress on the day, but I still felt super excited and that I was handling it appropriately. I was honestly MORE excited to see how my athletes performed. Sure, I was focused on my own race, per usual, but racing a 70-mile race WITH my athletes was a cool feeling. I hadn’t raced any triathlons since OH70.3 last season in late July, so nearly 1 year.
**I’m going to give a quick recap of how the day went for me, but will dive into much more detail on an upcoming podcast episode**
The swim was just gorgeous. One of the best Ironman swims I’ve ever been a part of. With only TWO turns on a clockwise course, this was ideal for me. I’m a right-side breather so this was very comfortable. The water temperature was 75, making it a wetsuit-legal swim. This wasn’t necessary for me, but it was helpful to have the wetsuit I suppose. I swam well. My goal was 40 minutes. I’m capable of a bit faster, but the bike course is challenging, and I wanted to come out of the water feeling fresh and ready to attack. I came out in 39 minutes, so I was off to a great start.
This bike course is the hardest I’ve ridden. Thankfully, I rode it before race day with some friends. A beautiful bike course, with nonstop rolling hills and two very steep climbs. The entire course totalling just over 3600ft of elevation. Up to the first climb was very simple. Some rolling hills, lots of speed and smooth roads. I was able to average over 20mph at a low heart rate up to the first climb. Things were certainly going as planned up to this point. The first climb came around mile 28, and it was 1 mile long, averaging about 5% incline. At one point, the incline touched 15%, but just for a moment. This climb was very steep, but short. I was prepared for it and executed well. My effort on the bike was near perfect, to be honest. I was closely monitoring my heart rate before each of the hills, and that allowed me to calibrate my overall effort. I conserved quite a bit for the hills and it paid off, as I slowly passed a lot of other athletes during each of the climbs. Between climb 1 and climb 2, there was a stretch of about 10 miles. These were fast miles once again! I picked up more speed and slowly started passing more athletes. I was able to conserve my energy for the big climb efficiently. Still feeling great. The big climb came around mile 40. Again, I was prepared for this, having ridden the course before race day. This climb was nearly 800ft of elevation over 3 miles, averaging 7% incline. Honestly, not too bad of an incline, but 3 miles is a fairly long climb. Once again, I passed many athletes on this climb. One of my own athletes saw me passing people and gave me some kudos. I was feeling great. After this climb, the course is essentially over! With only 13 miles to go, it’s a nice cruise into T2. I finished the climb and started calibrating my effort so that I could give the run a good effort. I slightly pulled back my effort so I could recover my heart rate. I was very in tune with how my legs were feeling, and honestly I was VERY confident I could put forth a sub-6hr day with a 9:30-10:00 average mile pace during the run. That was my big goal and I was on pace! Here’s where things went bad…
The course is essentially constant rolling hills. I made a pass on an athlete during a small rolling hill, and as the hill started descending, a sharp left hand turn approached. The road was wet because it was raining for at least an hour during the bike. Since I had gained speed from making a pass, I needed to hit my brakes before the turn. I hit my brakes harder than I would’ve liked, and my back tire begain fish tailing on the wet road. Once this happened, my center of gravity was compromised and I went over my handlebars at 29.2 mph. I landed directly on my head, right shoulder, and right side of my body. I laid there in a daze. Did not feel good. My head was dizzy, I was seeing stars, and eventually realized my hip was messed up. To what degree, I wasn’t sure. After about 5-8 minutes, I slowly got up and gave my bike a look. Everything seemed okay, but since I wasn’t sure, I went very slow for the last 7 miles to get to T2. So now I’ve lost the 8 minutes on the side of the road, and even more time because I was cautiously riding back to T2. I didn’t realize how bad my hip was because the injury was so acute. I had plans for a 2:55-3:00hr bike split and ended up with 3:13hr. My run would also be greatly affected.
I took my time in T2. Still in a daze, with a headache, wondering if I should even continue the race. I quickly decided I would continue. This run was essentially a SLOG. I wasn’t even able to hold a 10-11minute mile pace. Uncharacteristic for me. I was defeated and got quite emotional on the course. All of those factors I mentioned earlier started to resurface. I felt happy, sad, defeated, alone, determined, proud…it was a mixture of good and bad, and I was dealing with it in real time at a VERY slow pace and while in pain.
I ended up finishing the day around 6:40hr total. About 45 minutes slower than my goal of sub-6hr. Frankly, it is what it is. EVERY race is different. Literally every single race can be so incredibly different. Weather, sleep, fueling, mechanical issues, shoe laces, etc….the smallest variable can change the entire course of the day. This race simply became a war. Will I finish the race? became the question. I wanted to finish badly, so I decided to just make it happen. Finishing on the 50-yard line of Beaver Stadium was almost a dream come true. I love State College and this feeling made it all worth it.
I did go to the medical tent post-race, got a diagnosed concussion, and I took it easy all week this week. Thankfully, my head is fine! Now I’m dealing with some very deep muscle bruising. Thankfully nothing is broken.
I’m proud of this finish. It wasn’t what I had in mind, at all. But this race took a turn for the worse, and I was still able to battle it out and experience a great day with my teammates and athletes! I’m hoping to give Ohio70.3 a solid effort in a couple weeks. Thanks for all the support!