Sept. 30, 2019–303 had a chance to catch up with Sam today and talk about his win at IRONMAN Chattanooga. Sam has had a very busy race season with mixed results–mostly good but some not as good. Yesterday he tried something new–and it worked, and he won.
He started the year out winning the Napa Marathon and then raced Oceanside 70.3, St. George 70.3, Chattanooga 70.3 (winning it), Victoria 70.3, Boulder 140.6, Lake Placid 140.6, Boulder 70.3, 70.3 IRONMAN World Championship in Nice and now IRONMAN Chattanooga. Exhausting!
But in Chattanooga he tried something different. He rode his bike without a computer. And he rode a new bike, not having had a professional fit and only having ridden it about 500 miles. He had the bike shipped from Nice directly to Chattanooga, only having put a few miles on it the week of the race yesterday. And he also discovered something about his bike that explained his slower than expected time in Nice.
In August he switched from a Trek to a Cervelo P5 Disc, fitted himself as best he could, put in less than 500 miles (about a weeks worth of riding for “Go Long’ Sam Long”) and shipped the bike to France for the IRONMAN 70.3 World Championship.
In Nice, Sam said, “I did ok and I did use a computer and I was disappointed in my speed because my watts were actually pretty high.” Not understanding the weird correlation to his speed and watts, when he got to Chattanooga and when reunited with his new P5, he noticed his brake was slightly rubbing—ah ha, that explains it!
Thinking back to recent races Sam said, “I kept getting discouraged on the bike and too focused on watts and speed and all that overthinking sabotaged my last two races. So I decided to change it all up and race without a computer. In recent training rides, I started putting the computer in my pocket trying to get more in tune with my perceived exertion. Then when I got home I would look at the files and I started to teach myself how I felt versus how I was actually doing.”
Yesterday in Chattanooga, Sam’s strategy was two fold and simplified on the bike; to focus on how fast I was going but making sure I felt fresh and not worry about stats, just ride feeling good and taking measures to come off the bike feeling fresh for the run. For example he says, “when I got to downhill, rather than keep pedaling to maintain watts, I simply coasted, enjoying the break and knowing it would help me on the run.”
The strategy clearly worked and he came off the bike nine minutes in front of Matt Russell. When asked how he got such a lead, Sam said, “I don’t like riding in a big group (not drafting, but pacing) so about mile 40 I decided to try to break it up figuring a couple of guys would go with me. And feeling fresh, I simply pushed a bit more and in about five minutes I looked back and noticed nobody responded, so I just said to heck with it, and kept on going!”
Getting off the bike nine minutes ahead also affected his pre-race run strategy. “Originally I was going to take the first lap conservatively and then push on the second. But when I realized I had a sizable gap off the bike, I pushed more than I planned on the first lap and figured to hang on for the second.”
13 miles in, Sam had a 13 minute lead having completed the first loop in 1 hour and 26 minutes, putting him on pace for a 2:52 marathon. He knew that was pretty much impossible to maintain in the heat and humidity. But he kept pushing trying to do the math at how fast his competitors would have to run to catch him. Still worried, they could be doing at least one minute per mile faster motivated him to keep that gap and keep pushing.
“At about mile 22, when I finally realized I was likely to win. My first thought was don’t screw this up and thinking that at my current 7:30/mile pace I was running, if Matt started running a 5:30/mile pace he might still catch me! I wasn’t thinking straight clearly, but I started having doubt if you can believe that!”
Of course nobody caught him nor was going to run that pace late in the race in the very hot weather and Sam crossed the line almost ten minutes before Matt did.
With so many up and coming bike manufacturers in the triathlon market, athletes are starting to venture away from the bigger names. At this year’s IRONMAN World Championship, the numbers show the shift has begun.
Cervélo Reigns Again at Kona Bike Count but Gap Closes
A group of 30 industry experts came together on Friday to tally the makeup of all 2,500 bikes to check-in on the Kona Pier ahead of the Ironman World Championship.
The count has served for years as a global bellwether of buying patterns among athletes in the endurance triathlon space.
Toronto-based Cervélo again took top honors in the bike category, but the decade-long leader had 74 fewer bikes on the pier this year than last. The big movers chipping away at Cervelo’s lead were Canyon (28 more bikes than last year), QR (13 more), Dimond (12 more), and Scott (10 more).
Zipp again won the wheel category, but with 287 fewer wheels than last year.
IRONMAN is celebrating 40 Years! Today’s 30 Days to Kona features the skinny on the athlete bike check-in.
The athlete bike check-in procession in Kona harkens a similar vibe to the red carpet at the Oscars, or at least I assume so (never been to the Oscars, yet). As athletes move along the line, IRONMAN announcers and personalities such as Paul Kaye, Michael Lovato, and Greg Welch provide quite the commentary for spectators. Notable athletes are interviewed as they pass by the MC’s tent.
Along the barricades you’ll find industry professionals and experts counting all the various bike brands, wheels, power meters, and anything of note coming through the line. Back in 2015, I remember being asked what skin suit I’d be wearing on race day. “RŌKA, of course!”
And the giveaways are quite impressive. Some of the major bike brands have been known to hand out limited special edition Kona t-shirts and other swag to their respective racers. I was able to snag a PowerTap dry bag the year I raced as an owner of a PowerTap G3 Hub amongst other fun items.
For the past several years, Cervélo has been the reigning king of bikes in Kona with Trek, Specialized, and Felt following behind (561, 261, 216, and 177 respectively – from triathlete.com). Canyon is proving to be a contender with the largest jump in numbers from 2016 to 2017 (39 to 102). They might just give everyone a run for their money this year with distribution expanding to North America most recently.
Bike porn spectating this year in Kona might be the beginning to an interesting drinking game for those who will be there. Grab a camp chair, find a shady spot, and let the games begin. For every Trek bike, take a shot. Zipp wheels, take a shot. You get the idea!!!
This morning Jen Findley and I were honored to attend a very special WITSUP Brunch in a foothills mansion high above the cacophony of the Kona Race Week activities at sea level.
An annual event celebrating women in triathlon, the sold out Witsup Kona Brunch featured triathlon legends Mirinda “Rinny” Carfrae and Rachel “Joycey” Joyce, moderated by WITSUP “Chief,” Stef “Steffie” Hansen (who is quick to note, one may only address her by this moniker if you are an IRONMAN World Champion). This is the “fourth or fifth” year of the event (and one we will not miss in the future).
Sponsors Cervelo and Ceramic Speed were well represented with signage and prize drawing giveaways.
Our plates piled high with delicacies prepared by Stef’s “chef” husband Brett, we settled in to luxurious chairs as she opened the casual Q&A session by introducing “Two of the most wanted athletes in the world,” Rinny and Rachel.
Stef introduced Rachel, pointing out that the Boulder-based pro completed three IRONMAN races in just ten weeks (including winning IRONMAN Boulder!) after giving birth to her first child, Archie, just 13 months ago.
Rinny was next, asked about what it was like to be in Kona and not be racing: “Izzy is taking most of the focus – it’s very different being here without the anxiety of racing, and just supporting Tim (O’Donnell).”
It was then Rinny’s turn to ask Stef a question… In her trademark feisty and spirited way, Rinny asked Stef point blank if she plans to have kids. Once the room settled down after some barbs and an eruption of laughter, Stef admitted she’d “never been embarrassed on stage.” She then turned serious: “I find the subject fascinating because it’s a dilemma for athletes – age groupers or pros – pregnancy affects sponsor relationships, requires a break from training and racing; it’s one of the biggest challenges in being a pro triathlete, and any working professional. It concerns me – what would happen with WITSUP? I’m not ready to compromise that. Not now. Eventually. But not until it can be my number one priority.”
There were many murmurs of agreement from the attentive audience, most of whom were women, some Kona athletes and some not, and a good smattering of supportive men.
“Moving on,” Stef commanded, slyly changing the subject. She asked Rinny what it has been like “getting back in shape after having a kid.”
Rinny responded that so far she’s had just two runs and two swims – and, she “pulled out sore” after 20 minutes on the run. “It’s gonna be tough,” she said, succinctly.
Rachel responded to the same question, saying, “It taught me patience. I remember my first swim – I was completely exhausted after just 1500 meters – it was so different from being so in shape before. I had to switch my mindset to looking forward, instead of back. I couldn’t rush it. I had to focus on, ‘I’m better than I was last week.’
She continued, “It was hard work, especially the core strength. When I stood at the start line of my first race back I thought, ‘Wow, six months ago I was only walking around the block. You have to take baby steps. Don’t rush it.”
Stef then asked, “It’s similar to injury, then, taking it day by day, right?”
Rachel responded, saying it is similar to injury in that you need to look forward at your progress, and not wishing you were back to where you were before. Then she added, “You have all that, plus breastfeeding. Your body’s main function is to support another human. And the physical changes, like wondering, ‘when will my stomach stop jiggling?’ I felt like my legs weren’t attached to my top half – there was no ‘pop.’ It’s a foreign feeling. My body felt disconnected getting back into training. You have to be patient.”
Rinny was then asked if the past 6-7 weeks since Izzy was born have been similar to the rest she usually takes after Kona. Rinny replied dryly, “Well, this has been 6 or 7 weeks of doing nothing, and also I had a human come out of me.” The room erupted.
She continued, “My core is lost after having to make way for all the expansion. But I’m sitting here listening and trying to take lessons from what Rachel said. I’ll look ahead. Next year I want to be back here and be a contender.”
Stef paused dramatically, and commented, “The best contraception is talking with you two.”
The discussion then turned to race day strategies. Stef asked, “How do you switch off your usual ‘nice’ personalities to “terminator” mode on race day?”
Rinny responded, saying, “When I started (as a pro) I struggled with my friendships with competitors, how to manage that. But I learned that when gun goes off it’s a war… you must be no one’s friend.”
Stef and Rachel joined in with some barbs, Stef saying, “The smack talk is starting now.” Rinny responded, “This year it’s ok because I’m just watching … but next year – looking at Rachel -all bets are off.”
Rachel commented, “You have to think of it that they’re just people I want to be ahead of – I’m very single-minded. It doesn’t matter whether you’re friends or not.”
Nodding agreement, Rinny added, “At that point in the race (during the run) we’re all suffering, so you feel bad. You want to say “sorry- but I’m going on ahead of you.”
The conversation went on to cover advice for the strong Queen K cross-winds (“Trust your bike – it was designed for the wind – try to relax into it”), descending from Hawi (Rinny: “Put it in the biggest ring and go for it!”), and Race Week nerves (Rinny: “I want that – it shows the race matters to you;” Rachel: “If I didn’t feel nervous I’d wonder what was wrong”).
And then the Hot Topic: For pro women after having a baby, they have to do so many races in order to get points for Kona… there is no current carry over or accommodation for maternity leave…
Rachel noted, “We want to have the best women and men racing in Kona. We need to work back from that. Despite fitness before giving birth, it just takes a long time (to get back in shape). We need to look at other sports and consider how to take maternity leave. It’s very complex – we need a statistician to sort rankings, and look at the possibility of carrying over points from the prior year.”
Rachel continues, “There isn’t an easy answer. Women need to not rush back and risk injury – we need to accommodate that.”
Agreeing, Rinny added, “We want the best athletes in their best form – whether it’s a point system or whatever. There are lots of different ideas, and we need to look seriously at the rules.”
Stef concluded the topic saying, “We need a better solution – there’s not a perfect solution, but there is a better way.”
After some talk about finding your “zone” on the Kona run (Rachel says, “The blanker and freer you can keep your mind the better… think about rhythm, nutrition, form”) and a possible 2-day race formula for Kona, like 70.3 worlds in Chattanooga (both women were in favor of it “to showcase the women’s race properly”), the discussion turned more philosophical.
If not triathlon, then what career would you want to pursue?
Rinny explained she studied physiology and kinesiology in college, and she would likely pursue those fields. Rachel, a former lawyer said, “I definitely like the law, but I’m not sure I’d go back to a law firm.”
And, finally, the most memorable moment over time on the Big Island?
“Winning in 2013 ,” Rinny answered without hesitation. “I had won in 2010 and then I had a couple of not-great years. Winning in 2013 validated that it wasn’t a fluke – the day flew by went perfectly. And it was also pretty special because Tim came in 5th. It was the most memorable.”
(Stef pointed out that they were engaged, noting the famous photo of Rinny jumping into Tim’s arms, laughing and saying “you needed the money for the wedding, right?”)
Rachel found her first time at Kona as the most memorable. “I didn’t yet identify as a pro triathlete – I felt out of depth.
I came 6th that year – I came in 4th off the bike, and I heard Greg Welch saying, ‘I think we’re going to see this one go backward…’ I thought, I’ll show you. It was so memorable. It was not my best race, but it ewas the start of a proper pro career.
Predictions for the pro field on Saturday? Rinny was quick to say, “I’ll answer that. I’d pick Rachel or Daniella for one and two, and then Heather (Jackson) or my dark horse pick – Lucy Charles. She’s my dark horse.”
Be sure to check out the WITSUP website for all the “Wahine Warrior” videos of Kona pro women!
After an astonishing 11-year career as a pro triathlete, Mary Beth Ellis competed in her final race at the 2016 Ironman World Championship
Mary Beth has had one of the most remarkable careers in the history of triathlon: Nine Ironman wins (in just 19 starts), six Ironman 70.3 victories, an Alpe d’Huez title, the 2015 ITU Long Distance World Championship, and numerous course and discipline records.
But it isn’t the number of wins that inspires us (although it is impressive). Rather, it’s more about how she trained, competed and ultimately triumphed. This was true right from the start: After being diagnosed with osteoarthritis in 2005 and learning she would never run marathons competitively, she went against doctor’s orders and traded in her running career for triathlon. The rest is history.
“It has been an incredible journey, and I couldn’t have asked for a better support team,” Mary Beth said upon announcing her retirement before Kona 2016. “I am so very grateful to have ridden Cervélo in all my Ironman races and am so proud of what we have accomplished together.”
The feeling is mutual. We at Cervélo are grateful to Mary Beth for all she has given to her chosen sport. To celebrate her phenomenal career and legacy, we reached out to prominent figures in the triathlon community and asked them to share the ways in which they were inspired by “The Honey Badger.” We didn’t have to ask twice.