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  • Michael Gordon

Team update and Onionman report!

Well, again it's been too long since my last post, but Blue Mountain Endurance coached athletes and club members have been hard at work prepping for the upcoming season, so time for an update. In addition, the south-eastern Washington world triathlon championships recently took place at the 24th Onionman Triathlon, and I was lucky enough to be in town to catch up with friends and even got to race this year again.

Race week cruise around the valley!

This spring many of the Blue Mountain Endurance triathlon crew have been focused on building for an ultimate goal of taking on the half or full Iron distance races at Ironman Canada-Whistler on July 30th this year. With the help of BME coaches Javin Berg and myself, the training plans have been built to help battle the rough winter that many in the northwest faced, and happy to see so many great improvements at this year's Onionman race as an intermediate goal. Javin has been an invaluable part of the team with his vast knowledge of the sport and endless enthusiasm, the team has been flourishing and are staying happy and healthy...very excited to see how Ironman goes for Javin (who's both coach and athlete) and the entire crew! They worked very hard together through the winter and were also aided by the help of Kevin Thonney and his generous support of the Bicycle Barn indoor training rides several times a week, fortunately for everyone, the weather has improved and people are now free to enjoy the endless miles of dry roads to ride around the Walla Walla Valley. I felt very lucky to be able to travel with my son, Lane, back from Maine (while Kara had work in Seattle) to visit family and catch up with the training group. In addition, the sunny skies and 80 degree weather reminded my that summer will again arrive here in the northern hemisphere at some point :)

Since I was in town, I also couldn't pass the up the chance to race one of my favorite events of the year.

While I've not been training for triathlon in any way recently, I knew that my head and heart would get me through the race if I used my experience of the course and also didn't try to overplay my lack of fitness on race day and just try to race smart and with patience. One other plug I should give is that I've had some great help from two awesome chiropractors on opposite sides of the country. In Walla Walla, I was able to get back to see Dale Elmenhurst who I've known and worked with for over 20 years, he knows his stuff and is great at helping get athletes put back together. Here in Maine, I've been seeing Jamie Raymond who does great chiropractic work with many runners and athletes of all kinds. I feel very fortunate to have such knowledgeable people helping put me back together!

Picture perfect race morning!

During my week in town, I was able to join soon-to-be Ironwoman Liz Wiley for a swim workout at the pool (my first pool swim since the last time we swam together in February!), then joined the BME training group on Thursday before the race for a good open water swim, followed by a tempo ride and easy run on the course. I also was lucky to catch up with a couple of runners I used to coach from the Whitman Cross-Country team, we went for a run and caught up on life, and they told me about their post graduation plans since they were heading off into the world after that weekend.

On race day I woke with an excitement to race that I'd not had in years. Even when I raced every weekend I frequently felt the nerves or anxiety that often comes race morning when you start to doubt why you're planning to do what you've (voluntarily!) signed up to do. Being so far removed from the race mentality I used to have, allowed me to view the race as a fun opportunity, rather than having a bit of the race morning nerves that sometimes exist. In addition, the weather was perfect for racing, with not a cloud in the sky, no wind, and quickly warming temperatures already into the mid-70's an hour before race time.

I got to race sight and got transition area set up with my gear that hadn't seen a starting line in years. Fortunately I'd left my time trial bike, shoes and helmet in Walla Walla, so was able to pull them out of storage for race day. I got to catch up with some old racing friends from out of town that I frequently only see at Onionman, as well as all the local racers and friends who come out to help support the event. As usual, before I knew it everyone was headed to the swim start and I was realizing I had to get my wetsuit on to get in the water.


All the podium contenders lined up on the far left as usual...

For those who know this race course and treat this as a competitive event, they may have noticed that many of the more competitive racers start as far left on the beach as possible at the swim start. This is not an accident as it certainly cuts the tangent to the first swim buoy, as well as eliminates traffic from swimmers on both sides. So, when I got to the water I headed as far left as was allowed and ran into the usual suspects of podium finishers at this race including David Gettle (who's raced Onionman 16 of the last 17 years now!), Matt Sheeks (pro triathlete and defending Onionman champion), Luke Elmenhurst (state level high school swimmer doing his first tri, but primed to go after the cash award for fastest swim split), Javin Berg (a top masters level athlete and BME team boss!) as well as many other athletes from around the NW looking for a good first open water race to test their fitness.

Going into the race with little-to-no swim and bike fitness, my goal was to keep swim and bike at 80% and never feel like I was really pushing hard. When I was racing, and training, consistently I could throw caution to the wind at Olympic distance races and go hard all day, but with changes in life, there had to be changes to my mentality at races too, so I figured I'd gamble and try not to overdo things early so I could potentially get to the run and see what I had left...two years earlier I raced under similar circumstances and hit the run with the worst leg cramps I've ever had during a race, so my goal was to just be able to start the run relaxed and then decide how hard I could go.

BME women getting ready for start!

The horn sounded and we took off into the cool waters of Bennington lake that had been topped off just the day before with run-off from the mountains. I expected to get out at a solid tempo and then hopefully slide into a group that I could draft off for the swim, knowing I didn't have the fitness to solo a hard effort. After about 200 yards, I had seen Luke Elmenhurst, David Gettle and one other athlete (who I later found out was Patrick Trabert) gap the rest of us, but I was surprised that no one else had come around me. I worked at a solid tempo just to keep a good rhythm going and holding the shortest line I could to the first turn buoy. In my usual routine, I cut the turn buoys as tight as I can so that I don't swim any further than needed, but as I glanced behind me at the first buoy I realized I had a train of 4 or 5 swimmers hanging out behind me. I wasn't feeling stressed in the swim at all, so I figured I'd just keep swimming a straight line and if someone felt like picking up the pace they could come around and help, but I certainly wasn't going to be picking up the pace, I wanted to stick to the plan of keeping things very controlled.

At the start of lap two, I felt a couple tickles on my toes from the swimmer on my feet; I was starting to get a little tight in my back muscles, so I back off the pace slightly to encourage them to pull through. The rest of the lap was nothing special, I tried to jump in and draft a bit with the group, but was reminded my open water group swimming skills were a little rusty, so got gapped off the group a bit near the end, but wasn't too worried about the few seconds lost; I reminded myself I was just trying to enjoy the day and not press too hard early in the race. Looking at race results later, I saw that I came out of water at the back of a 5 person group (swimmers 4-8) that was about a minute down from the third swimmer, and about a minute up on the 9th swimmer. Pretty much right where I wanted to be, and feeling good about not wasting any energy. I exited the water and headed into transition with a relatively relaxed pace. I slipped on helmet and shoes and headed out, passing a few swimmers from my group in T1.

Heading out of T1, onto the bike course...

Heading out on bike, I stayed relaxed and tried to use the free speed of coming down the hills from the lake. Heading through the community college parking lot about 2 miles into the race I found myself next to Matt Sheeks again who I've raced with for many years. Matt has been selected to again race the World Duathlon Championships as a Pro for the US this year, so he was getting in shape again for that event by coming down over to Onionman for a swim/bike workout as he is recovering from a foot injury so I knew he wouldn't be running during the race. We settled into a good tempo and traded positions a few times coming up to the first climb at 5 mile road. Going up the climb I tried to back off a bit and not overdo it, and even took the time to stand up and coast down the back side of the hills and get in some calories (again sticking to my plans of not over-extending myself early, even if it meant giving up valuable time to the leaders).

Javin getting ready to hunt down some swimmers!

Speaking of leaders, I figured by this point David Gettle would have made his usual move and be near the front of the race. The course has two turn around points, so it gives athletes the chance to take time checks and see how the competition is moving. Riding down Russell Creek road is a blast as your carrying speed downhill and riding on a buttery smooth road going 30+ miles per hour, I looked up ahead as we got closer to the turn around and saw the familiar site of the lead motorcycle coming back up the road. Of course, the familiar figure of David Gettle's 6'4" body crunched into a super aerodynamic tuck was the first rider I saw coming back, with no one in sight behind him. I took a quick time check so I could check time at turn around and found I was about 4 min. back at this point. I also saw that another rider, Patrick Trabert, was between David and I, so I kept the pressure on a bit not knowing much about this athlete and his run ability.

Liz and Laura heading out on the bike.

After the turn around, I started the long false flat back up Russell Creek to the Scenic Loop climb, but this is also a fun chance to get to see other racers coming back and cheer on some of the Blue Mountain Endurance athletes heading the opposite direction. Matt Sheeks and I continued to trade positions a couple more times and he came around me heading up Scenic Loop as I was taking another time check on David. At this point, we were about 6 min back and figured I'd give up a bit more time in the final 6 or 7 miles of bike, but also knew that if all went well, I could likely make up that time if needed. The unknown elements at this point where how my legs would hold up coming off the bike, and also who the other athletes in the race would fair out on the run course. Going over 5 mile road for the final time, I was passed by another athlete I wasn't familiar turned out to be Jason Jablonowski who I had the pleasure of visiting with for a while after the race, he's prepping for Victoria Half IM, then IM Whistler, so was in town open water triathlon season kick off.

I started to prepare mentally for the run by shaking out my legs a little as we headed back towards T2. I also managed to get down all the food and fluids I had with my as I could tell the temperature was going up and could become a factor on the run. I realized after the race, that I put down about 600 calories by the 90 minute mark of the race, this is a lot of food (averages out to my goal of about 300 calories/hour, but took it on pretty quickly), but I always have found if I can get it down and doesn't upset my stomach that I do much better this way.

Getting ready to get off the bike...

I got into T2 and racked my bike...this was the moment of truth for me. Two years ago as I went to put on my shoes, both quads locked up so bad I literally had to stand in transition and just beat on them to get things to come loose to where I could even start hobbling. This year, my right hip went tight for a moment right when I put on my shoe, I gave it a couple hard thumps with my fist and jumped up and down a couple times, then got the other shoe on and started to put one foot in front of the other. I grabbed an extra water bottle and Hammer gel as I left transition and immediately ate the gel and drank the water, then poured some over my kit to keep things cool. Within 90 seconds of starting the run I started to feel normal again and put the fears of muscle cramps in the back of my head. Now it was time to start racing and I had Patrick and Jason both 30 seconds up to start chasing. Like I said earlier, I wasn't familiar with either of these guys so wasn't sure what to expect, but figured if any of us were going to catch David we'd have to get moving quickly as I had been told he was more than 7 minutes up starting the run. The Onionman course is not exactly blazing fast as it has about 2 miles of dirt trail, a few sharp turns and a turn around, and a long grinding false flat of 3 miles to conclude the also is almost completely exposed so on a day that got into the low-90's, it didn't leave a lot of room for errors on the run course. Once I started to get my run legs under me, I started to pull in Patrick and Jason who were separated by about 30-40 yards at this point. I passed both of them right around the 1 mile mark and then headed over the wooden bridge that crosses Mill Creek. After looping around Rooks Park, runners head down hill for a fast couple miles to the turn around, and it's a great chance to do your fastest couple miles of the run, as well as start searching the distance for runners to pick off. I really started trying to get my legs to turn over here and make as much time as I could, not knowing how David was feeling at this point. I glanced at my watch for miles 2 and 3 and saw splits of 5:25 and 5:18, so figured I was making time, but didn't know how much. As we got closer to the turn, I thought I saw a runner and realized it was David and I was indeed making up time. I went by him and gave him and encouraging slap on the back and tried to get him to hold on for 2nd place, but also knew that the heat and effort David puts out on the bike can be a that often pays off for him in the form of many race wins in the NW, however also can lead to a tough run, just as it can for anyone who goes off the front solo. I always admire David's courage to race from the front, it's what makes triathlon fun in my opinion as we all have different strengths and have to play the cards were dealt. Once I got past David I knew that barring a major melt down, I'd be ok, so just tried to keep the pace solid and maybe post the fastest run as I always feel like it's good for the race winner to give an honest effort.


Being an out and back course, this point in the race is great if you're feeling good as you get to see friends coming the other direction and cheer them on. I got to see both Javin Berg and Dan Elsom hammering down the trail moving their way up in the race and looking strong. Then caught a glimpse of BME athlete Marcella Rietz trying to get her first overall win at Onionman as she was holding onto a slight lead over eventual winner Alexia Turzian from Sun Valley, ID when I saw them pass. 3rd and 4th for the women was another close race between Seattle's Amanda Kennedy and BME athlete Liz Wiley, both ladies ran very strong races to finish in the top 5 overall. Also sneaking into he top 10 overall was BME athlete Amy Hartford, who'll also be taking on Ironman Whistler in July with Javin, Marcella, and Liz.

The race also marked a bit breakthrough for many of the BME training group who took home first time triathlon finishes and/or big PR's in the process. Many of these athletes are also preparing for the Half Iron distance event at Ironman Canada-Whistler as well. Congrats to all the BME athletes and Walla Walla athletes and volunteers for making this a truly special event and one that makes me proud to come home to.

Congrats to those Blue Mountain Endurance athletes who've worked so hard so far this year to set PR's and/or finish first Olympic triathlon last addition to those mentioned above they include: Sheila Eslinger, Laura Berg, Becca Lastoskie, Ananda Oliver, Megan Paul, Able Fisher, Theresa Hampson

For full results, check here: ONIONMAN RESULTS

Also, check out the awesome race pictures from James Richman Photography. Thanks James!!

Next up for the team, a strong of athletes will be taking on Victoria Half IM in preparation for Ironman Whistler in July. Also, a couple of athletes will be racing the USATF National Mountain Running Championships this weekend. Hopefully we'll have some more race reports coming up soon, so stay tuned...

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