Just to preface this posting, my name is Ben Winterroth and I am moving down from Baltimore to DC in early June for work. I've heard such great things about DCTriClub and I'm really looking forward to meeting some new triathletes in the area.
Warning: Extremely long race report!
After doing relatively well at my first Ironman in Louisville last year, I decided that with some more focused training I might have a chance at Kona. A trip to the Big Island has always been a goal of mine since starting triathlon two years ago, but I knew that the odds weren’t in my favor. Moving up to the 30-34 age group (undoubtedly, the most competitive) certainly wasn’t going to make things any easier, so I took on Mike Matney of Fitness Concepts as my coach. He helped Steve Levickas get to Kona, so I knew he could make a difference in my training. Having a coach would also help me maximize my training time, as having a full-time job and finishing up my final semester in graduate school was extremely time consuming. As such, Mike was able to put together an amazing training plan that fit in a manageable 17-hours in my peak weeks.
I started with Mike in early December and planned on Ironman Wisconsin being my “A” race of the year and Kona qualifier. Nine months was simply too long to wait, so I signed up for Ironman St. George as well. In theory, this would give me two shots in a calendar year. I knew that training for a May triathlon was going to tough, especially when the majority of St. George athletes are from California and Arizona, where they can train comfortably year-round.
With only five months of training before St. George, Mike had me focus on technique on both the bike and run. We worked on my pedal stroke and running form, making me as efficient as possible. Nutrition became equally as important. Using two VO2 tests (one baseline and one right before race), I was able to see that my body had transformed from a carbohydrate burner to a fat burner, meaning that my body could rely less on ingested sugars and simply use my fat as energy. As you will see in the following race report, this was instrumental at St. George.
Mike and I decided a three-week taper was best after such an intense peak program of training. My longest run was 23 miles with a build up during the last seven miles. My longest bike was only 95 miles, but involved tons of climbing. Quality riding is more important than distance, especially for a mountainous course like St. George. I put in lot more time in the pool than I did for Louisville last year. Mike’s training plans also included a great deal of strength training and drills that I had never used before and I am certain that helped improve my swim time by nearly 8 minutes.
I arrived in St. George three days before the race to get acclimated to the heat and get the lay of the land. Except for packet pickup, I stayed away from other Ironman athletes and all of the hoopla associated with the race. I shopped at a local supermarket and got all the stuff to make my own breakfast, and lunches. I stuck to oatmeal for breakfast and turkey sandwiches for lunch. Mike told me not to carbo load before the race and that the taper would naturally refill my depleted glycogen stores. I had a nice portion of spaghetti and meatballs the night before the race at around 6pm, which gave me enough time to digest before the next morning.
I woke up at 7am the day before the race and did a 40-minute ride in the hills around my hotel. After dropping off my bike, I ran for another 20 minutes. Later in the day, I headed over to the swim course and did a 10 minute swim in the lake. With 58 degree water, I quickly became disoriented and got ice-cream headaches. After talking with some locals, I went to a nearby running store and picked up a neoprene cap and earplugs…problem fixed!
I woke up at 4am and had a bagel with peanut butter and made a bottle of Infinit sports drink to go. I hopped on the hotel shuttle to downtown St. George, where I got on another shuttle to the reservoir, which was 30 minutes away. T1 and T2 were in separate locations, which was fine for me, but was a logistical nightmare for my dad who spent half the day running around to various parts on the course.
I prepped my bike, which included a bottle between the aerobars and one behind the seat. My bike (Giant Trinity Advanced SL) doesn’t have any bottle mounts on the frame itself, so I had to jury rig the aerobar and behind-seat mounts. I made concentrate solutions of Infinit for both bottles and was planning on switching between concentrated Infinit and water as my primary nutrition. I also had a gel flask in my back pocket for backup. After getting everything set up, I put on my wetsuit, neoprene cap and earplugs, and waited in line. The pros went off and the line slowly moved towards the water. I did some hard strokes in the water to get warmed up and lined up towards the front left of the course. I am a right-handed breather, so this would give me an opportunity to look at the pack to my right to keep my line (Another awesome Mike Matney tip). The gun went off and I attempted to settle into a rhythm but was bombarded with kicks to face and elbows to the head…one of which knocked my goggles off. This was my first mass start swim (Louisville was time-trail start). I immediately became anxious and panicked and with my breathing off, I wasn’t getting enough oxygen. I wasn’t even 400 meters into the swim and doubts started to fill my head and at one point I didn’t even think I could continue. I calmed down with a couple of breast strokes, got my rhythm back and found some clean water. I surged ahead but was still part of a large and pack and stayed with them until the half-way point when a bunch of them started falling back. With about ¼ of the course to go, I found myself with only one other guy around. We were steaming towards the finish and kept to his outside, but slightly behind to draft him a bit. I exited the water feeling great, used the wetsuit strippers and ran towards the changing tent. I concentrated on a solid T2 time (around 2.5 minutes), grabbed my bike and headed out
The bike course is no joke and I knew that with the 7000 feet of elevation, 90 degree heat, and poor road surface (mostly chip-seal) that I would have to concentrate on moderating my power output and taking in proper nutrition. Mike taught me to balance power, heart-rate, and perceived effort and this would be vital on a day like this. Not five minutes into the bike, I ran into trouble. My rear bottle of Infinit concentrate popped out after hitting a rough patch of road. Half of my nutrition was now gone. Time to change race strategy to include nutrition from aid-stations. At least I had my bottle between the aerobars…or so I thought. A few minutes later the rough road jarred my front bottle mount loose and sent my bottle along with Garmin 500 computer flying into the air. It took me a few seconds to comprehend what had happened and for another 10 seconds I thought about leaving everything behind. Knowing how important the cycle-computer would be for heart-rate and power measurement, I turned around and biked 30 seconds back to find my computer. Five or 10 other athletes cycled by as I jumped off my bike to look in the desert sand to find the Garmin. Not thinking straight, I removed the computer from the mount and left everything else on ground. Now, I was stuck with no bottle holder, no drink, and no way to attach the cycle-computer to my bike. I held the Garmin in my hand for the time being.
The first 25 miles of the bike was slightly uphill and mostly rolling. When I got to the first aid station, I had to put the computer in my back pocket and grabbed a bottle of water and powerbar gel. I used the same strategy throughout the race, basically holding a bottle of water between the aerobars and supplementing with aid station gels and saltstick caps every 30-45 minutes. I would take the computer out of my pocket whenever the wind picked up or during any climbs to make sure I wasn’t going over my peak power wattage. Knowing how hard the run was going to be, I purposely held back on the bike to save my energy. During the last hour of the bike, I took in a gel almost every 30 minutes to make sure I had enough calories for the run.
Before the race, I couldn’t comprehend what 2700 feet or run elevation looked or felt like. The only thing I could compare it to was the Baltimore Marathon, which I thought was hilly at 600 feet of elevation. Problems started immediately out of T2. I forgot my watch in my transition bag, and I didn’t notice until a mile down the road. My race plan involved on me knowing both my pace and heart rate. Now, I would have neither and had to rely solely on perceived effort. The course immediately starts uphill with a gentle climb before turning right onto Red Hills Parkway a monster hill that takes you high above the city of St. George. At this point the temperature was 94 degrees. I took in two waters and a gel at the first aid station, but was extremely bloated from all of the gels I had on the bike. I kept the water intake at each aid station constant, but didn’t take in any more gels or food until mile 13. Both the uphills and the downhills were killing my quads by the halfway point, so I used a dirt and gravel track on the side of the highway on the descents. This absorbed most of the shock and saved my legs a bit for the end of the run. With ten miles to go, I was passed by two 30-34 age groupers, but I decided not to chase…not yet at least.
My Ironman running philosophy has always been to treat the first 20 miles as a warm-up and then use the last 10k as the real race. Although I didn’t have a watch to gauge my effort so far, I knew that I had enough left in the tank to chase down the two guys (Thomas and Brandon) who passed me. My dad told me that I was 9th in my age group, so I knew that I had to make up some ground in these last few miles to qualify for Kona. With a 1.2 miles left I saw Thomas and Brandon running side-by-side a few hundred meters up the road. With 1 mile left I was within a few meters and debated whether to make a surge now or wait until closer to finish line. I decided to go for it then and used every last ounce to blow by them. I hoped they wouldn’t even notice, but Thomas shouted “oh #$@%$, there he goes” and chased after me. Brandon said he couldn’t keep up and fell behind. For almost a mile, Thomas and I ran neck and neck at something close to a 6:30 minute/mile pace. Neither of us wanted to give up, but alas, with 100 meters left, I fell behind and finished 20 seconds after him.
In terms of training, I couldn’t have been more prepared. I am so thrilled at the improvements I have made in only a few months under Mike Matney. He has transformed me from an above average age-grouper to someone who will now compete with the world’s best in Kona. This was all achieved with 17 hours of training at my peak. I am excited to see where he can take me, now that I have graduated and have more time on my hands. In a mere five months Mike has cut my Ironman swim time from 1:05 to 56 minutes. More importantly, he helped cut my Ironman marathon time from 4:05 to 3:31…and this was on a course with 2700 feet of elevation. His race strategies and nutritional suggestions were also instrumental in getting me through the race successfully. Plenty went wrong during this race, but Mike incorporated backup strategies in my race plan that allowed me to adapt to the conditions. Being physically prepared for an Ironman is only half of the equation; Mike has added a new level of mental toughness to my training and racing, turning me into a more complete triathlete. I don’t have any other experience with coaches, but I can honestly say that working with Mike Matney has been a pleasure and I really look forward to seeing what he can help me accomplish in the future. If anyone has the desire to improve any aspect of their triathlon disciplines, I highly recommend talking to Mike. Many of you already know him, but for those who don’t, he can be reached at email@example.com
Thanks for reading!
Total time: 9:55:43
31st overall including professionals
Wow! Awesome job Ben! Is St. George always that hot? I'm impressed that you were able to switch to your backup plans for nutrition after losing both bottles and bike computer mount.
I don't think it is usually that hot, although the weather is incredibly variable out there. It was much colder last year and many people dropped out after the swim because they couldn't get warm. This year I think it was the exact opposite with many people dropping out due to the heat. Great support though and some of the best scenery I've ever seen in a race.
Super impressive! Congrats on an awesome race.
You should consider joining the DCTri Elite team next year. There are some studs on that squad that you can train with. Phil Schimdt (former elite team member) KQ last year. Zachary Britton (former elite team member) is looking at the Olympics. There are also a few pros, former pros, and a bunch of top notch age groupers floating around within DCTri. Phil probably knows all of the fast people in the club.
Tuan is right... you should def join the elite team next year! And you should come out to the club-wide happy hour on Thursday to learn more about DC Triclub!
Thanks guys! I'll look into the elite program, but I'm not sure what it entails or how I submit my name. I'll search around the website and see what I can find. I'm still commuting from Baltimore until the end of the month, so I'm not sure I can make it to happy hour tomorrow. Any of you guys coming to Columbia Tri?
We have a ton of people racing at the Columbia Triathlon. We will also have a strong showing at Eagleman, DC Triathlon, Rockett's Landing, Nation's Tri, and Club Championships in Myrtle Beach. Check out the Race section of this website to see what other races we're sending people to.
It was great to read your race report and see how you stayed mentally/physically strong with all of the crazy things that happened with your nutrition and HR/Power data. Sounds like you have a great coach. You should give props to yourself as well for getting in all of your training, working full time and finishing up school! That's not easy to do! I'd be interested in chatting with you about IM Louisville. That's my A race this year. Hopefully it won't be 100 degrees like last year! Also, I can give you some information about the elite team. I'm the Program Coordinator and a member of the team. I'll email you.
Great race and congratulations!!
Luke - I'll be there, so if we (DCTri) have a tent, I'll definitely stop by.
Courtney - Louisville is still fresh in my mind so I'll be able to give you some good advice. You'll really enjoy the race if you can manage the heat. Fortunately, DC has similar weather to Lousivlle at that time of the year so you should be well prepared.
I enjoyed reading your race report. The sprint finish must have been crazy. Great work and congratulations!