Rock/Creek Race Team member Josh Wheeler from Signal Mountain, TN won his division at last weekend’s Florida Ironman 70.3 Triathlon. Josh, competing in only his second Half Ironman, came in with an impressive 4:30:44. His performance at the race makes him a 2008 Clearwater 70.3 World Championship Qualifier.
After a challenging swim, Josh came out of the water 20th in his age group. He made up some time on the bike and came off the bike in 4th place, then made up nearly four minutes in the run.
Josh blasted across the line after an incredible run, winning the Men’s 18-24 age group. He collapsed over the finish line, having given the race everything he had.
Josh came in over a minute before his closest age group competitor, putting him in 28th place overall in a field of nearly 2000 racers. Congrats Josh!
Here’s the full story from Josh, with a mile-by-mile breakdown of the run:
Leading into this race all the stars seemed to line up perfectly. Getting down to Florida six days before the race payed off tremendously allowing my body to acclimatize to the heat and humidity plus recover mentally and physically from the last few weeks of school. I knew the course, my taper went well and I remained confident in my fitness.
I woke up about thirty minutes before my alarm was to go off on race morning (3:30am). Showered, shaved and ate my oatmeal breakfast. I drank 16oz of Gu20 before I got in the car. Having packed the night before, we were able to simply walk down stairs and get in the car. I wanted to get to the bus drop off at about 5:40am thinking that would give me enough time to finalize my transition area and get a good warm up in. We stopped for coffee and by the time we got to the bus it was 5:55am. Oh well, I figured I didn’t need that long of a warm up anyway. Standing in line, I got to shake hands and talk to Craig Alexander, who wished me good luck in his sexy Australian accent. The bus ride was smooth. Kept sipping on my second bottle of Gu20 as I strolled into the transition area around six o’clock.
I had a great transition spot. I made sure everything was dialed in before I left the transition. My tires were 145-150psi since I thought the road would be hot and the tires might expand on me a little. I made sure all my nutrition was secure and left transition around 6:10am with about twenty minutes left before my wave was scheduled to hit the water. Ran a few above LT pickups to get my heart rate up, stretched and walked down the beach start.
Waiting on my wave to get into the water I ran a few more strides to stay loose until the race announcer called us down. I felt I had a great starting spot. I was on the far outside in line with the first buoy. All the way until the gun went off I really did not get nervous. I simply remained focused on my game plan for the swim and listened for the cannon.
Once the race was underway, I ran as far as I could out into the lake and started to dolphin dive. I think I got in two dolphin dives before I abandoned the notion that I could dolphin dive and started to swim. I did not swim all out to the first buoy as I normally do in a race. I knew it was going to be a long day and I wanted to make sure I got a good position in the swim without having to red line my heart rate too early. On the way out to the first turn buoy I swam alone.
I saw a good pack forming to my right but they were about 30m off the buoy and I was swimming slightly slower than them but in a straight line, buoy to buoy. So I decided to hold my line for now, thinking I would intercept them at the first left hand turn. Once rounding the turn buoy and swimming over the top of a few of the slower swimmers from the previous wave, I found some feet wearing a green swim cap (aka my age-group) and stuck to his hip like glue till we made the second turn. I knew that I only had about 750m left in the swim and at this point felt comfortably uncomfortable.
I put my head down and started to hammer for the shore. The guys’ feet I had been drafting off of fell off pace so I left him for open water. To my right once again the same pack of swimmers had formed and they were still about 30m off the buoy line. I made the executive decision to swim diagonally and intercept them thinking that swimming in that pack would save some energy for the bike. However, by the time I bridged over to their group I realized that they were not swimming as efficiently as I would like, so I made the second executive decision to bridge back over to buoy and swim alone for the final 500m.
I dolphin dived twice to get out of the water and clocked my watch at 34:50. I was about four minutes slower than I thought I should have been but I didn’t panic, having learned my lesson earlier in the year at Collegiate Nationals. Instead I gathered myself up and sprinted through the transition area. I threw on my race belt, helmet and sun shades and was off. Unlike Collegiate Nationals, I had no trouble flying mounting my bike.
I knew I had the fitness, nutrition and race preparation to hammer the bike course. Right from the get go I start to peel back time on my rivals. My plan was to ingest a Gu by mile 8 and finish my first bottle by the first aid station at mile 22. I crushed the first twenty five miles splitting a few minutes under an hour!
The aid station was not at mile 22 like promised-rather it snuck up on me early at mile 15~ no matter though, by mile 15 I had already eaten my Gu and started in my second Gu as well as already finished my first bottle of liquid CHO. I slowed and grabbed a bottle of water and refilled my nutrition before discarding the bottle within the aid station. The long straightaways on the bike course seemed to fly by. I could see my competition ahead and one by one I set my cross hairs on the next man in line and powered towards him.
At the first turn around on the bike course I clocked on my watch that I was around 5-7 minutes down on my main competition. By the second turn around I had put three minutes into them and was now down around four minutes back. Their group looked solid though as they were sharing the pace setting really well. I came up on a decent cyclist around mile 27 or so that I thought could possibly share some of the work with me since once I passed him he re-passed me back.
This pissed me off since I am not used to being behind anyone on a race. I decided to do what I do best and be a front runner. I re attacked and he would then re attack. The hardest portion of the course was the section of the course I was most familiar with. I remember laughing at how easily I was biking up the hills, maintaining around 24mph!
I ate my third Gu right before I came into the second aid station, which unlike the first was at mile 34 where it should have been. At this point I was electric. I started in on my red bull to get some extra sugar and settle my stomach with the carbonation. That is when it started to rain. It only rained a few drops but it must of poured up the road. I felt badly for the other riders but it was their fault for swimming so quickly.
The guy (Harry or Howy from what I could make out on his name tag) kept attacking off the front. He was a big thunder cat so I figured what the hell let the guy have his day because once we get to the run I will skip past him. The only big hill came at mile ~36 and as was planned I simply eased my gearing and cruised up it. Once I got to the top however I put out a big surge to maintain speed and crushed through the next few rollers. At that point Harry ThunderCat was on the side of the road throwing up.
I felt badly for him but he was going way harder than he needed to up the hills. My fitness really took over. I only had good thoughts. I kept my arms loose and my shoulders relaxed. At mile forty I ate my fourth Gu and finished my second water and second bottle of Gu20. I checked my watch and realized that if I maintained 25mph I could get back to transition by 2hours and 30min which would make up for my poor swim.
I put my head down once again and went to work. The miles ticked by. It was misting and I was riding into a decent headwind but I was still holding 25mph at about 95rpms. I was really working hard at this point and made the call to eat my last Gu around mile 48 instead of waiting to mile 50. There was an aid station but I assessed my nutritional needs and decided I was good with what I had and need to not break my rhythm on the bike.
I also turned around and realized that I had a new thundercat drafting off me. I did not react verbally but rather put the throttle down for a mile and turned around to no longer see the him. That made me happy.
Coming into the transition area I was right on target, having maintained the necessary 25mph speed limit for the last 16mi. I only drank water for the last six miles since I knew as soon as I got started onto the run I was going to be ingesting calories. All told I drank two waters (32oz), 2 Gu20 (32oz) and 12oz of Redbull and ate 4.75 Gu’s. I clocked 2:23 and some change from my watch.
My second transition was the best of the year. I came off the bike around 15 or 16mph right behind one of my main rivals. I was stoked having made up almost seven minutes on him during the bike ride. I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my fuel belt and started the 13.1 death march.
Mi.1 – 5:37
I really really tried to run the first mile conservatively and since it was on pavement it felt super slow. I ate my Gu as planned but the aid station was not at mile one like promised so I drank from my fuel belt.
Mi.2 – 6:25
Since the first mile was fast I knew I had some time so I stopped and used the bathroom. I was severely dehydrated. I couldn’t believe it since I felt like I was not sweating on the bike and I had ingested over a gallon of liquid. My left knee/quad started to cramp so I drank some Red bull for the simple sugars. I threw water from the aid stations to try to cool myself but I was starting to overheat a little.
Mi.3 – 6:14
This was a good split for me. I even stopped and stretched my lower back. My stride did not feel rushed. I knew I was running slower than I wanted but I was passing the Pro’s so I figured everyone was running slowly. I simply did not panic and kept a good efficient foot strike. I ate my second Gu at mile three.
Mi.4 – 6:25
Coming into this mile it must have rained because I entered into a sauna. I really started to hurt right then. I had some bad thoughts about having two more laps like this left but I knew I couldn’t focus on those. I got the time split that I was still four minutes down. I did the math and knew I needed a mile a minute to get him on this lap. No problem.
Mi.5 – 6:29
Craig Alexander dropped out. Kinda of a buzz kill since he was one of my favorite triathletes. I was stuffing my jersey full of ice as my GI tract was shutting down. I knew I was not digesting fluid or CHO at this point so I made the call to keep my core temp regulated the best I could and make every effort to get to the line.
Mi.6 – 6:24
Heat was really really making my low back and feet cramp. I got in my third Gu but it took me till about mile seven to fully get it down. I think I had finished the water/red bull in my fuel belt at this point and decided to throw away the bottles since they were extra weight.
Mi.7 – 6:36
I was making up time on my competitors and I knew it. I started to think positive thoughts. I knew I only had one more lap left but it was such a bummer running by the finishing shoot a second time. I still was regulating my core temp with all the ice I had stuffed down my jersey. I knew I was cool since the ice was not melting at that point.
Mi.8 – 6:38
Cardiovascular drift started to set in and I had some trouble regulating my heart rate. At this point I focused on the fact that if I was feeling this badly I knew my competition whether in front of me or behind me was feeling even worse.
Mi.9 – 6:46
Last Gu. Choked it down. My left side started to go limp for some reason and I was leaning heavily on left leg. I kept trying to straighten myself up the muscles on my left side were just seemingly shutting down. I focused on technique and keeping a good working foot strike. I shut my mind down at this point. I just turned it off and told to do what I needed to do to get to the finish line.
Mi.10 – 6:59
I don’t remember this mile.
Mi.11 – 6:56
I don’t remember this mile.
Mi.12 – 7:27
Last aid station, my left side finally gave way and I collapsed. I knew it was coming for quite some time but when it did I just hit the dirt. Annoying. I remember the medical people trying to help me but I yelled at them because I was afraid of getting disqualified. I willed myself up and went chasing after my Clearwater spot. There was a guy with a 23 written on his leg and I was really scared that he was ahead of me because I knew I could not sprint. I tucked in behind him and as we rounded the final bend he turned right to start his third lap and I turned left toward the finishing tape.
Mi.13.1 – 7:32
It was surreal. I remember collapsing across the finishing tape. My legs were giving way about 50m out from the finishing line and finally gave fully out once I hit the line. I left it all out there and on that day it was good enough for a first place finish.
16th overall, 1st 18-24 Age-Group
2008 Clearwater 70.3 World Championship Qualifier
See the full (preliminary) results online here >
For more on Josh Wheeler and the Rock/Creek Race Team, click here >