The moment I found out I made it:
Saturday, December 1, was the Grant Park Turkey Trot 5K in Chicago. I was in town for Thanksgiving, and knew I would be close, so I couldn’t pass up the option to take part in another Windy City race. I was staying in a hotel on Michigan Avenue with my wife, her cousins, and her mom. The hotel had a grand pool, where I got in a quick 600 m the night before – my first swim since the Poconos. Shhh….
I ate a huge dinner at Kiki’s Bistro, where I had a super cheesy pizza the size of a plate and various desserts. I was still feeling full when I woke up on race morning – never a good sign – so I didn’t eat anything. My wife and I were sharing a room with her cousin, so I got dressed in the bathroom and snuck out of the room at 7 am to get to packet pick up in Grant Park.
I ran just over a mile to get to the packet pick up. It was about 31 degrees, with a wind chill to make it feel like 25 degrees. I wasn’t sure what to wear, because it was expected to warm to 40 by the end of the race. I ended up in my typical winter ninja outfit: black tights, a tech t covered by a long sleeve covered by my black Nike jacket, hat and gloves, and my Rev3 buff.
I was nicely warmed up by the time I got there. But I also had 45 minutes to wait until race start. I got my packet, pinned my bib. I took trip to the porta potties, and tried to stay warm near a wall by the bathrooms. I did a little active stretching and lunge matrix warm up, and with 10 minutes to the race start went to drop my bag. I took my jacket off and checked it, and went to the start corral.
This was a Turkey Trot and a family-friendly event with some children and many walkers. I intended on running, and knew I wanted to line up near the front. I saw the 10 or so guys who I expected to win and lined up by them.
With four minutes to the start, I decided another bathroom trip would be a great idea. I ran to the porta potties and back with a minute to spare. That was a good warm up.
The race was one mile up, one mile back along the lake to the aquarium, into Grant Park, and a loop to the finish. I kicked too hard when I saw the finish line without realizing there was still about .15 miles left. I hit the 3 mile sign when I thought I was going to be at the finish. Rookie mistake to not know the course! Still, no one passed me. I expected to average about 6:20/mile with my foot injury and not really running since September. I was surprised to run 6:12 averages. I was definitely racing it, but felt untrained and slower than my potential. I also felt my pizza for about half the race.
I had one photo from an old NYRR race that looks like all of my skin is falling off my face. I’ve always said it was my worse photo. But the photographers had to have a field day looking at the photos of me from this race. The photos look like it hurt more than I remember it hurting. It was a 5K! It was not this serious!!
After the race, I saw a guy in a New York Running Company shirt. I asked if he was a NYer, or just ran the marathon. He actually works at the Running Company, so we talked and took a photo. I drank some hot cider, gathered up a few protein bars and cookies (but didn’t eat any – still wasn’t hungry) and did my deck a day while waiting for awards. I knew I did well, but wasn’t sure how many people ahead of me were in my age group. I didn’t win anything (5th in AG) but I would have won the AG I’ll be in next year – something to consider for next November. Then I walked back to the hotel.
By the numbers
Temperature: 31 start, 38 finish
Weather: clear and beautiful, very sunny
Number of times I hit the bathroom before the race: 4
Number of times I did that because it was warmer than outside: 3
Big burps I let out on the run: 1
Number of people who passed me: 2
Number of people I passed: 3
Nutrition consumed in race: 0
Hydration consumed in whole race: 0
Hydration consumed after race: 2 ciders, 2 coffees
Layers of shirts: 3 before, 2 during, 1 for photos
Layers on legs: 2
Number of 5Ks I’ve ever raced: 1
Finish time: 19:12
5th place age group
15th place overall
Last weekend, one of the athletes I coach raced his A race – Ironman Maryland. His goal was to hit a time of under 11 hours, with his previous Ironman time at 11:40. We worked together for three months with a plan that integrated the strength training and Bikram yoga he enjoyed, as well as workouts to fit around his busy travel schedule.
Empire Tri Club posted a blog recap of Matt’s race and an interview with him and me about our experience. Matt was an awesome athlete to coach – he was intentional about his training, very open to feedback and suggestions, and he asked a lot of questions, which showed me that he was truly invested in his training.
Below is the interview from the Empire blog – spoiler alert: HE CRUSHED IT.
Here’s the post:
Matt Tambellini is living proof of what a year of hard work and focus can do for your race. The 33-year-old finance worker from NJ has been competing in triathlons since 2010, but got serious about the sport in 2012. After a few years of sprint & olympic tri’s, Matt signed up for Ironman Coeur d’Alene in 2013 (his first full distance tri). He hit his goal of going sub-12 hours (11:40 to be exact), but had a self-proclaimed “awful run” and knew knew he could do a lot better. He joined Empire Tri Club about a month after his race, and started working with Empire Coach Chris Mosier in the months leading up to IM Maryland on Sept 20, 2014.
Matt’s results at Ironman Maryland are astonishing. Not only did he beat his Personal Best by 1 hour 15 minutes – but he also crushed his 11 hour goal-time that he set for himself (10:26)!
We caught up with Matt and his coach Chris this week to learn more…
[E]: Empire Tri Club
[M]: Matt Tambellini
[C]: Chris Mosier
[E]: Matt, tell us a little bit about your athletic background.
[M]: I’ve always played a lot of sports…baseball was my main sport growing up. I played competitively through college.
[E]: What goals did you set for IM Maryland? Anything in particular that enticed you to sign up for this race?
[M]: My main goal was sub-11. Timing was the most important factor when signing up for the race. Late season and relatively close to home made IM MD a no-brainer.
[E]: How did your training for this Ironman differ from the past Ironman?
[M]: I worked with a coach (Chris Mosier) for the three months leading into IM Maryland…I didn’t really follow a program leading up to CDA so obviously this experience was much different.
[E]: What did you find most beneficial in working with a coach?
[M]: The mix of speed and interval work, combined with consistent check-ins and encouragement from Chris were definitely the most beneficial aspects of working with a coach.
[E]: Chris, anything in particular that you think helped Matt during his training?
[C]: Matt was successful in part because of his commitment to strength training. He maintained regular once or twice a week functional strength sessions all the way up to his taper week, which helped his core and muscular endurance in his race.
[E]: How did you two communicate & stay on track?
[C]: Matt and I had weekly phone calls, which helped me keep track of his progress and modify his schedule when he was traveling for work. He had a pretty busy schedule but he really made the commitment to hit his workouts, stay on top of his nutrition, and prioritize rest. He was open to new ideas in his training and he trusted the plan.
[E]: What was the biggest challenge you faced going into this race?
[M]: I cramp a lot…so my biggest challenge was sticking to nutrition and hopefully avoiding cramps. I knew I was trained enough to him my goal, but cramping was one thing that could put it in jeopardy.
[E]: Do you get nervous before big events? Any rituals/superstitions to help ease your nerves?
[M]: I was incredibly nervous before this race…it was all I thought about for the month leading up to it. A little bit of meditation and a lot of sunflower seed chewing helped me ease my nerves.
[E]: Did your race go according to “Plan”? At any point did you feel like you hit the wall? How did you get through those tough parts?
[M]: My race was a bit different than planned. The swim, which is usually my easiest discipline, was much more challenging than I thought. The bike was much faster than I could have imagined and the run was pretty much according to plan. There were definitely some points on the run that I felt like a wall was coming, but I think mental toughness (and a little bit of cola) was the key to getting through it.
[E]: One of the most frequent questions we get asked is how to fuel properly for an Ironman. What was your nutrition plan? How’d it go?
[M]: I thought a LOT about nutrition given my past cramping ailments…my plan was at least 300 calories/hour on the bike along with salt pills and a consistent dosage of salt/electrolytes every 10-15 minutes on the run. It worked pretty well as cramps were minimal.
[E]: What was your first meal post-race!?
[M]: I wanted nothing more than a calzone after the race! Every topping you can think of!
[E]: Any friends / family / teammates you want to thank for supporting you during your race / training?
[M]: Definitely a big thank you to Chris. There’s no doubt that my experience wouldn’t have been nearly as good without his guidance. Caitlin Alexander also deserves a shout out as she helped motivate me on many a Saturday morning for early morning bike rides. Last but not least, thanks to Sara Hunninghake for introducing me to Normatecs!!!
[E]: Looking ahead, what are your plans for next season? Will you be signing up for another Ironman? Any goals for your next race?
[M]: Next season I’d like to connect with the team more and compete in a team-sponsored 70.3. My goal will be to break 5 hours, as I haven’t broken that in the half distance yet.
[E]: Chris, you must be very proud as a coach. Any last thoughts?
[C]: Matt was the type of athlete every coach would love to have: he was goal-oriented, gave me great feedback, and asked a lot of questions. I couldn’t be prouder of Matt – he worked very hard for those results and it was great to have him exceed his goals.
Sunday, September 14 was the Rev3 Pocono Mountains Olympic and Half distance triathlons. My wife and I LOVE the Poconos, and the race was in the place we typically stay, so we used time share points to book a house and chose to work it as a hybrid race and vacation. The best kind of races, I think.
This was a team race for Empire Tri Club so I knew other people would be there. Four teammates stayed with me, and the house was large enough to comfortably host a team dinner for 10 people the night before the race. There’s something to be said about having different rooms. And a kitchen! I liked this much better than hotel life.
This was going to be my last race of the year, and before a busy three days.
On Saturday, every athlete had to rack their bike at T1. This was a point to point race, with T1 located about 20 or so miles from T2 and the finish line. It was a lot of running around the day before the race: first to the finish line and race expo to get my packet and hear the mandatory race briefing, and then to T1 to rack my bike, then my house mates and I went grocery shopping to prepare for the team dinner. All of this in the cold, cold rain. I had not packed appropriately for wet or for cold.
Back at the house, Hallie flexed her catering skills while Cameron DJed. Olof had supplied beer and Caitlin brought homemade cookies. The team came over for a mega dinner and everyone took off around 8:30 pm. We were all sorting transition bags and gear by 8:45 pm (courtesy of the house having a dishwasher, I think), and everyone was in or around bed by 9:30. That’s too early for me. I played on my phone for a while and then turned in around 10:30 pm.
I was up at 4:30 am along with the rest of the crew. We prepped breakfasts and put on race tattoos while Cameron DJed again – probably the first time I was okay with music (or talking) so early in the morning. Then: coffee, grab stuff, and out. We drove to T2 and the finish line to set up T2. I had an easy morning because I was doing the aqua bike race, and had no T2. I looked at my space and then left to hop on the shuttle, which took us back past the house again and over to T1. I ate a bagel with chocolate peanut butter and drank some Pre Race mixed with Accelerade. I don’t typically drink that but I had forgotten my drink mix and Hallie saved my morning.
When I got off the bus at T1, I could see my breath. I was shaking. I had on my kit and a wind breaker and didn’t want to take it off. Transition closed at 6:40 am so I rushed to set up my bike gear and pump my tires, and then put my wetsuit halfway on and got in line for the bathroom. I left my socks on to save my feet until the swim. It was 45 degrees and I hated everything.
The swim was in a lake, with one section so shallow that my hands hit the rocks. I got up and walked that part (I DON’T CARE!). The rest of the swim was uneventful. It was a little longer than the distance they said – and I know this not because my time was slower, but because everyone’s times were slow. I didn’t have a gps and cannot confirm, but this is my suspicion. The swim felt horribly slow, although my time was better.
In all, the swim was actually okay, although it took about two thirds of the swim for me to adjust my attitude about the race. I hated everything in the morning. I hate being cold. The water was the warmest part of the morning so I actually didn’t mind it. I sighted okay and didn’t get kicked, so that’s a success. And my goggles actually worked flawlessly, so that was cool too.
My left (formerly injured) shoulder has been hurting for about 10 days, so I had low expectations of the swim – as I often do. I got out of the water with a pinch in my back near my shoulder a bit worse than it had been, but I can’t really complain. The last two times I swam? NYC Triathlon and Gay Games. I exited the water in the middle of the pack.
I entered T1 just before Joe, a friend also doing the aqua bike. He’s a very strong cyclist, a coach and instructor at Tailwind Endurance, and a beast of a racer. I saw him run out as I was getting my wetsuit off my feet and trying to get into my socks. I thought that was it – but I was putting on my jacket no matter what. Cold + wet is even worse than just cold.
I saw Joe in front of me about 100 feet when I started riding out. The first few miles were fast descents – I don’t have the weight so he gained a little time on me, but I passed him around mile 10. I felt the pressure of having him behind me the entire race, and I timed my lead at the turn around points: there were three 180 degree turns around park “toll” stations. I did not have much time on him, even going into mile 40. At mile 50 or so I saw he was less than a minute behind me, so I really pushed.
The good thing about racing an aqua bike is that you can turn it inside out on the bike and not have to worry about putting together a decent run. I kept thinking about this while riding. I tried to keep a strong cadence and full pedal strokes. Then I’d grit my teeth and grind it out for a while. It was good enough for the fastest bike split of the aqua bike.
I started the bike with only my half filled bottle of drink from the morning. At half way I threw it and grabbed a bottle of Gatorade Endurance. I forgot my gel in my morning bag so I took in no other water or nutrition. Not a solid plan. I didn’t bonk on the bike ride, but I think I suffered later in the day because of this.
The final miles of the bike route were through the run course on some hilly sections. I cheered for all the runners and saw I had a gap behind me, but I still pushed as hard as I could through the final stretch to make sure Joe didn’t catch me. I didn’t know that he dropped his chain somewhere out there, which bought me a little time.
The final stretch was through a few driveway paths, and then there was the dismount line going into T2. I got off my bike and sprinted with it to the transition timing mat, which served as my finish. DONE.
There was no T2 for me, but I still had to get my finish photo and medal. I had joked with my teammates about wearing my wetsuit across the finish to be funny… so I got my swim bag and put it on, along with my helmet and glasses, and one shoe. Not sure why one shoe. Why not? Joe finished and we chatted, and then I walked out of T2 and on the first section of the run course to get to the finish line. I walked across and enjoyed my Jumbotron photo. Then, the standard wet towel to medal and visor to chip return to food to gear bag to cheering. I saw the ETC people who did the Olympic distance and ate some food with a few people.
In the finish area I checked my results and grabbed my race receipt and then waited to make sure it was right. I also took a ton of photos.
By the numbers
Temperature: 45 start, 60 finish
Weather: clear and beautiful, no wind
Number of times I thought about not doing the race while in T1: at least 7
Number of big gulps of lake I took: surprisingly, none
Big burps I let out on the swim: 2
Number of times I walked during the swim: 1
Number of back strokers I passed on swim: none – the 1 guy was going as fast as me
Number of 180 degree turns on bike: 3 (nearly 4)
Number of spiders I saw in the house: 3
Wildlife I saw on the course: 1 snake, 1 lizard, 1 deer carcass, 1 roadkill raccoon
Number of bears I saw: 0
Number of bears on the course: at least 1
Finish time: 3:14:26
1st place overall
Bike: 2:30: 01 (average 22.4 mph)
SPECIAL SHOUT OUTS:
Andrew & Kate for doing their first halfs!
Hallie for getting 1st place AG and 5th overall in her first Olympic attempt
This weekend is the Rev3 Poconos race – my first and only Rev3 race (now that they have merged with the Challenge Family). The Athlete Guide came out on Tuesday and had a few interesting points about the race. Here are my quick impressions leading up to the weekend:
- Two transitions and point to point race. I did this in my first half (Ironman 70.3 in Providence, Rhode Island). Pain in the ass.
- Lake swim. Okay.
- Much flatter bike course than I had heard or had imagined. A quick decent and then rollers.
- I don’t care about the run because I’m not doing it. (more in a minute)
- I need to leave immediately after to catch a flight to Denver.
I booked this race in April, back when my leg was hurting badly. I registered for the Aquabike Half, which is a 1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike and DONE. I’ve never done one of these before. I’m excited. I think it was a wise choice then, and a decent choice now because I’m not totally pumped about this race. After being totally drained after Gay Games, I’ve admittedly let my training slip a bit in the last month.
I imagine I will still have a decent race. There is the “what if” – as in, what if I had fully trained for this, how would I have done – but to be honest, I’m exhausted. It’s been about three weeks of waking up every day feeling totally empty and spent. I have been training consistently since the beginning of September last year when I was cleared from my collar bone surgery and immediately started my 140.6 training. I’ve had a stellar season. I’m ready to be done.
Not the most enthusiastic way to go into a race, I know. I’m looking to have fun, cheer on my teammates who actually DID do the work, and end my season happily.
Stay tuned for results!
The Challenge Family, a global entity, has scooped up the Rev3 races; moving forward, old Rev3 races will be produced as Challenge Family events. The press release email sent from Rev3 today says all of the Rev3 staff will remain intact, with the only difference being the brand in which they produce the events.
Sounds like good news for Rev3’s pocketbook. Time will tell how the races end up. I’ve volunteered at Rev3 races in the past, and I’ll be doing my first Rev3 race this month in the Poconos.