Thursday, September 20, 2018

Kona Profiles #4 - Brice Williams & the Ironman Itch!

The Ironman World Championships ("Kona") will be here before we know it, taking place Oct. 13th. As you know, it's incredibly competitive to qualify and a major accomplishment to do so. As we've done the last 2 years, we'll be catching up with our local Cinderellas... getting to know them as a tri community and cheering them on as they get ready for the ball!

Name:  Brice Williams

Age Group:  M4044 

Qualified:  Ironman Texas

Qualifying AG Place & Time:   5th   8:42:00

Splits:  Swim 54    Bike 4:30    Run 3:09

When we interviewed you last August, after you had crushed Ironman Santa Rosa, you are quoted as saying "I had already decided that this was going to be my last full distance race for a couple years." Sounds like you grossly underestimated the "Ironman itch!" Exactly how long did it take for the itch to re-manifest itself in your system?

That's actually a bit of a funny story. I asked my coach to back off my training after Santa Rosa, and I was going to do a 70.3 in Oct, back in North Carolina. Since hurricanes can sometimes crop up there at that time (as we currently see) I waited until the week of the race to sign up. And can you believe it? Sold out! So, I searched for another race on the same weekend and found the Great Floridian, not sold out. That's an interesting race - they have three race distances, one loop of their course, two loops or three. One loop of the course ends up being one-third of a full distance Ironman race, two loops two-thirds, and three loops is the full 140.6. I deliberated for a few days on whether to do the two loop race or full three loop race. In my mind, once you go 17 miles of a run, may as well go the full 26, so I signed up two days before the race to do the full distance.

That turned out to be a good thing. I really hadn't prepared for a full distance race, but also didn't really have time to worry about it, so I just went with the flow. That Saturday I ended up finishing first overall and even beat out a couple of professionals that showed up. It was then that I realized that I could do fairly well at the full distance triathlon without taking a large amount of time to train. After the race, I had a sit down with the family and asked them what they thought about the training load/family sacrifice leading up to the Great Floridian race and asked if they thought it was something we could handle a couple times a year. They were awesome and felt like it was still a sacrifice, but something fairly manageable, so I went ahead and signed up for Texas with the intent that I could even take my Kona slot were I so lucky.

Did any part of you regret not claiming your Kona slot after Santa Rosa last year, or were you at peace with it?

Totally at peace. It was the right thing for my family at that time.

Why did you choose Ironman Texas, and what were your thoughts on the venue, course & race in general?

I really like the time of year that Texas takes place, it's a Saturday race, it's usually hot (which for me is an advantage), it's fairly close to home (not a huge time zone difference from Utah) and Houston has great BBQ ;). The venue is awesome. The course is great. It was their first year using the freeway and it ended up being crowded on that part of the bike course and big groups formed up, but hopefully they will change things up next year to prevent bike drafting. I would do it again next year if the opportunity presents itself.

How did the race play out for you, and were you aware of your position throughout the day? Looks like there was an MMA style cage match going on in your age group... ultimately how many spots went to your AG, and when did you learn you had KQ'd?

During the race I had no idea where I was in my age group. I stayed close to my race plan throughout and tried not to worry what was going on with other people. With the rolling start someone finishing behind you may actually beat you in time, and I kinda feel that it's pointless to waste limited mental energy on uncontrollable things.

How did my race play out? This is a long answer, feel free to skip the boring details.

The swim was actually wetsuit legal, which, for me, is a bit of a disadvantage since my background is swimming and the wetsuit doesn't really help me as much as it does other people. I started in the front, and actually got beat up pretty good until we spread out. I lost the front pack of age-groupers, but settled into the second pack. My swim ended up being a touch slower than I expected (54:24), but coming out of the water, I let it go, and set out to have a great bike.

Once onto the bike I settled into my watt goals and nutrition plan. Things were going pretty much like I expected until...Around mile 40 or so I started getting swallowed up by a huge pelaton. My roommate at Texas and teammate, David Zimmet, was in that group of athletes and I pulled in next to him to chat about the situation. He is a strong biker and said, "look behind us". I looked back and saw a continuous stream of bikes three and four abreast, without any real breaks between them for as far as I could see. He said that he had tried several times to break out of this group, and he would just get swallowed up again and again by the same group. So, he (and I) decided that for this race, this was the way we had to bike.

There didn't seem to be any marshalls on the course to help break things up, and there really weren't any hills, so it was a "race day decision" to stay with this group of bikes and just own the drafting that we were all doing. None of us wanted to draft, but sometimes a race dishes up situations that you have to accept, adapt and move on. This was one of those situations. There really wasn't any other way to bike to your ability and not be in a draft group, just due to the large number of people on this freeway all at the same time. As we came off the freeway, things did break up better, and coming into T2 we had spread out a bit. But it was a fast bike (4:30) for me, and the legs weren't super toasted. It was going to come down to the run. Since the pelaton kinda swallowed up the faster swimmers and we all stuck together for most of the ride, all the faster guys were all coming into T2 within a few minutes of each other. It was almost like an ITU race, and we all know that the ITU day goes to the fast runners.

The run course is three loops and super fun. Lots of energy. I went out conservative for the first loop, then gradually upped the effort during the second loop and tried to hang on to that pace for the third. I had no idea when I would pass someone in my age group, but afterward I learned that I gained a fair amount of positions during the run. I think I came off the bike in like 15th place or something, and just steadily picked people off. There were a few times I wanted to slow down of course, but you just have to mentally dig deep and keep the pressure on. At mile 22 I felt a bit of stomach unsettling and slowed down a touch until if faded, then picked it back up. As I was coming into the finish area, I actually turned the wrong way and lost at least 30 seconds until someone redirected me (after that they put some cones out to make sure no one else got lost - you know your brain isn't really working well at that point).

That wrong turn ended up costing me fourth place in my age group, but you have to laugh about those things. Coming across the finish line I was shocked that I was coming in at 8:42. I didn't really know where I was in my age group, but I knew I had raced my best and whether or not that ends up with a Kona slot, is something totally uncontrollable. After regaining my composure, I grabbed my phone and checked results, saw that I was likely going to be in 5th place in my age group. Since Texas gets ~80 Kona slots, I figured I was safe to assume that I was going to be offered a slot. I had already decided to take it this year if I got one. So, I called the family and we celebrated over the phone. In the end there were 11 slots offered to my age group and I think it went down to 12th place.

What, if anything, do you plan to do differently this go around at Kona vs. last time (pre-race, race day, etc), and do you have any specific goals?

For one, I'm not going to mess with my tubes the day before. If anyone wants advice on how to get two flats early on in the bike course just ask me, I'm a pro at that. I have learned a ton since that last Kona race and am looking forward to applying the new knowledge to this next one. My nutrition plan is more simple and much better, my bike is going to be very different, and even the run has come a long way since then. Should be a fantastic race if things go to plan (but we all know that rarely happens).

I do have some specific goals in mind, mostly just controllable stuff like mental attitude, nutrition, thanking volunteers, being courteous and hitting my heart rate and wattage numbers. I don't have any time goals or placement goals. Those aren't things that are controllable anyway.

It appears you had a pretty good battle with an out of state guy (Kenny McDaniel) at the Brineman Half here locally. What did you think of that race, and what did it tell you about your fitness going into Kona?

Brineman was a fun race. The swim was perfect conditions and I was able to just focus on my form and cadence. On the bike I kept having to stop and put my chain back on. It was another beginner mistake. Changed out an old chain for a new one the night before the race, and the front chainring teeth were too worn for a new chain. Every time I pushed hard on the pedals the chain would pop off. I probably lost 5-10 min on the bike from having to pedal soft and stop and put the chain back on around a dozen times. Oh well, you learn from those mistakes. Kenny caught me at the end of the bike and passed me. Getting out to the run he was keeping a good pace, but my legs were able to hold a bit faster pace that day. After I passed him he kept dropping further back. It was a new PR for me for the half distance and I would like a crack at it again next year. I would love to break 4 hours, and if I bike to my potential I think that's a real possibility on that course.

Spoiler alert! By getting in the necessary 3+ Utah Triathlon Championship Series races (we take the average percentile performance of everyone's top 3 races) you are the new M4044 Championship Belt holder. What are your thoughts on the local race scene in general?

That's super cool. I need to somehow mount the belt on my bike when I go out on rides. I do enjoy the local races, it's fun to see friends and the whole scene is a bit more laid back than the bigger races. I will be looking forward to more of them next year.

Don't be modest here... objectively, when you're "on", are you Utah's fastest Ironman? Any friendly wagers with Jorge, BJ and others in the works for Kona?

Hah! If BJ, Jorge and I all show up to Kona at our best, I'm thinking I'm more chasing after them, not the other way around. You know we all have our strengths and weaknesses and some courses lend themselves to certain types of athletes. I do think Kona caters just a touch to some of my strengths, but it's anyone's game out there. BJ and Jorge both have more experience than I do and that counts for a lot, especially at Kona. I'll be giving it my all out there, you just never know how it will pan out. I just hope we all have a great day and perform to our best.

So... knowing your history with the Ironman itch, will you be gunning for Kona next year as well? If so, where will you look to qualify, and if not, any thoughts on what your racing focus/goals will be instead?

If the family is on board and I stay injury free I'll likely just do what I did this year: Texas, local races and Kona. I am planning on doing Oceanside this year too, and may even consider going to Boulder 70.3. It's really dependent on what family stuff is going down, that always takes precedent.

Anything else you'd like to share?

Just remember this stuff is for fun. Keep it in perspective and keep priorities straight. I really want to thank my family and especially my sweet wife Tawni. She is so willing to sacrifice so that I can participate in this sport. She is wonderful, as is all our support family and friends that help us with our journey.

Thanks also to my coach, Doug Maclean and QT2 Systems, and my sponsors, Zone3, Fusion and the Clayson Williams eye center.

Related Posts

Kona Profiles #1: BJ Christenson Back for #10

Kona Profiles #2: Laura Yost "Host With the Most"

Kona Profiles #3: Lee Weatherhead - The Chattanooga Choo Choo

Ironman Crusher: Interview with Brice Williams

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