Recent Club News & Ramblings

October 21, 2015

Michal Kovac IMMD Race Report

Well, my 2015 triathlon racing season ended with a cherry on top! Thanks to an unprecedented move by Ironman, the October 3rd Maryland race was first cancelled (due to Hurricane Joaquin) and then rescheduled to October 17th, one day before I would turn 37. I was ready to go on October 3rd, so having it cancelled 3 days before was disappointing. Then it was back and I was ready to take it on, even more excited and thankful for the extra rest.



I started triathlon as an overweight office dude at age 30. From the time I was 17 as an exchange student, through my 20’s, there was no outlet for the athlete in me. I was focused on building – family, house, education, career, etc. I would play golf and snow ski but that was not enough to prevent the growth of my BMI. Over the years, I put on 60 lbs and felt lousy. My 30th birthday made me think more long term and I signed up for a 5k. Disgusted by my result, and inspired by all those old guys and girls who ran like the wind, I registered for a sprint triathlon at my alma mater. Swim 300 yards – how? I learned to swim. Once I got through that race (still disgusted with my result), I saw the light. Soon after, I signed up for an open water sprint and like many triathletes, I was hooked. So after a few years of constantly training, changing my diet, paying for coaching, buying and upgrading gear, buying more gear, many injuries, many PR’s, and lots of sacrifice, I was feeling strong and fast. I thought I might get close to qualifying for triathlon’s big show – The Hawaii World Championship in Kona. The goal was big. I had only done one full ironman before, and it was in 2012. I knew what I was getting into with regard to training hours. Thankfully, my wife and kids also understood and supported me when it got tough. It took up my head space for nearly a year.



In late 2014, my brother in law Mike Farish and I registered for our main races in 2015 – Ironman Eagleman 70.3 in June and Ironman Maryland in October. Both on the same course and both flat. One hot, one cold. We also wanted to get some coaching help and after considering several options, joined Endurance Nation which is an online coaching club. Coaches Rich and Patrick worked with us to develop a sensible roadmap for the season, and placed us in the appropriate training plans, specifically for the races we signed up for. We were then left to self coach by learning from their online resources and a super helpful community of athletes with more experience than we had. This was a great recipe for us. We did a lot of training together, and held each other accountable.

In addition to the two races in Maryland, I raced the Try Charleston Half in April, and several sprint triathlons in the Setup Events SC series. It was good to have small goals that all lead up to the big goal. Beginning July 3rd, it was time to truly focus on the A-race and put in consistent training for 12 full weeks.



On July 5th, Sunday morning around 9:30 as I was coming back from a bike ride, I watched in disbelief and in slow motion as a red Durango pulled out in front of me and left me no choice but to lay the bike down and slide on my right side in hopes of avoiding impact at 24mph. I slid under the car, between the wheels, and heard the carbon crunching sound I never want to hear again. The rear wheel rolled over my bike, pinching my right leg down while it was still clipped into the pedal (thank God for that). The front derailleur pierced my skin and buried itself inside my calf muscle. Somehow, by the grace of God my leg did not break and I lived to tell about it. The bike took all the breaking. It was too close! Only inches further and my pelvis would have been squished like a grape. After this dramatic day in the ER with my family, I was not sure if I could complete the training or if I could race in the near future. Luckily, I made a quick recovery and in 4 weeks was back to rebuilding the fitness I missed. On a new bike… well a used one but new to me.



We rented a house 30 minutes away from race site with other MBTC members – John and Trish Mulloy, Diego Sosa, Mike Farish and me. This was great for the company and the advice we all shared. Definitely need to do this next time we have a big race within the club. I will even cook!


The preparation for ironman can be exhausting. Double and triple checking that you have every bag ready, visualizing the transitions and having anything you may need to wear and eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on race day is like preparing a space shuttle for take off. Ironman does a great job with providing directions and organizing the flow to help with the process but it still takes a ton of thinking to get ready. It literally makes you just want to start the race already.



Mid-October weather in Maryland eastern shore can be volatile. We had a good idea from watching the forecast that it will be chilly and windy. And that it was. Morning temp was 46, high of 57, water temp 63, wind 15-20mph from the Northwest. Gusts about 25-30mph. Small craft advisory made the Ironman staff cut the swim to 1.2 miles and then change it again to 3000 meters before the start at 7:30am – delayed from 6:50am. As you may imagine, all the athletes were not thrilled – they want to get the chance to earn the medal by going the full distance of 2.4 miles. Did not bother me too much. Still an Ironman, still Kona slots. Still a long day.


The night before was not sleepless but not restful. Wake up at 4:00am, chow down a big bowl of rice, big bowl of oatmeal with banana, blueberries, and apple sauce, and try to stay hydrated before the start of race. Nerves took care of the morning routine in transition. I forgot my goggles in the car – had to run back and lost sight of my mates. Just before the start, I found Diego who helped me zip up the wetsuit and soon we were off.


Once the time trial swim start rolled into the choppy river, my face hit the cold water, and I immediately swallowed a big gulp of dirty Choptank brackish. Not pleasant and not the last. It was choppy. Felt like I was moving through a lot of people during the first lap, but then on the second lap there was quite a bit of congestion. I had to swim around and over the late-starters that were on their first lap. Sorry slower swimmers! The swim was cold but not too bad. I felt slight cramping in my calves as I exited the swim in about 47 minutes. The wetsuit strippers nearly tore my watch off the wrist, and timing chip off my ankle but it was still faster than taking the wetsuit off myself. Cold! Lots of shivering men in the changing tent tried to rush and put on the bike clothes and it was getting chaotic. I had a chair to sit on while an awesome volunteer knew exactly how to help me. I am sure he was a triathlete himself. Still took me almost 8 minutes to get on the road – should have taken 5. I had to use the porta potty in T1.


I had a plan for the bike ride. Ride at 200 watts no matter what my speed is, or which direction the wind is blowing, or what other riders are doing around me. I stuck to this plan, but the challenge was drinking my nutrition because I had to pee all the time. I held it in painfully from mile 10 to mile 56 when I stopped at the special needs station and used the porta potty for 4 minutes. I need to learn to pee on the bike like the fast guys! While in the special needs area, I grabbed my next two bottles of Hammer Perpetuem and tossed the empty ones. Once again, the volunteers were super helpful. The second half of the bike ride was considerably more windy. I was really glad to see Mike around mile 70 – he was on mile 20 of his first lap. He made the swim cutoff and I was really glad to talk to him for a moment. He said “I think you are in the top 25-30!” I caught a lot of the riders that passed by while I was in the bathroom, and felt like I was back in my original position. Nobody drafting off me, and nobody in front of me. Just me and the darn wind. The last 30 miles were once again painful because not only did I have to pee again, but on top of that I had to keep drinking my nutrition, or the run was going to suffer. The watts were staying where they needed to be, spinning the pedals was easy, but the urge to pee while sitting on your prostate gland is just miserable. I rolled into town in just over 5 hours and immediately hit the porta potty in transition. Boy, did that feel good. Chills!


Starting the run about a gallon lighter and fully fueled-up was too easy. I was brilliantly advised by experienced and generous Kona finishers Turby Wright and Carol DeFazio to only watch my Heart Rate. “Don’t even look at pace, don’t worry about others running past you. Just keep the heart rate low – aiming for the average heart rate of the bike ride.” This went on for 6-7 miles – and they passed me for sure. Lots of them. Go ahead, I thought, I will catch you later. Then I started to talk with the guy running next to me, Tyler Quinn from Pittsburgh. He was running the same pace as me and we got to know each other pretty well. When we started talking, he was on mile 1 and I was on mile 9 of the 3 lap course and for the next 12 miles we ran together. Tyler is a thermo dynamic engineer working on his Ph.D. in exercise physiology. Great kid, and a good long distance athlete at age 23. We had a lot to talk about and kept each other in the  zone. My original plan was to run faster after mile 6. But I kept holding back and running easy through mile 13. Then it started to feel like running but it was not hard. Mile 16 (my old nemesis from the last ironman) came and went without any change to my stride. So did miles 17-20 and I still felt great. I picked it up 10 beats on the heart rate monitor and ran a fast mile 21 when I noticed my calves were starting to cramp. I slowed back down, took some salt and the cramps went away. There was a good boost coming my way as I passed most of the guys that ran past me in the beginning. They were walking now, or running with pain and falling sideways like they were about to collapse. The final 2 miles felt much better than I anticipated; I finished feeling strong. Unlike a standalone marathon where the last few miles are a miserable death race, I could have kept running at the end of this race. My marathon best is 3:00 and I just ran a 3:26 in an ironman – plus it was easy! What? Did I leave something out there? Maybe I did leave a few minutes on the course. But that feeling of finishing strong was worth missing the Kona slot. I was 10th in my age group, and the top 4 qualified for the big show. Good luck to them in 2016!


Total time of 9:34:10 was good but not good enough for the stiff competition. Still, I am no elite athlete. So to finish 26th overall in a big race has beat all my

expectations. I can try again for Kona later, maybe when I turn 40? For now, it’s time for me to get back to my three boys and my wife; to spend this passing time with the ones I love. I plan to race in the Setup Events SC Sprint Series in 2016 and to make family weekends out of these short but painful races in some beautiful places in our home state. Ironman is an awesome way for anyone to find

out what their limits are. I found out that many of those limits are only in our own head. The lesson learned is that Anything is Possible!

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