• Derek Stone

The Daytona 500... I mean Challenge Daytona

Challenge Daytona!

Earlier in the year, several athletes, friends and myself signed up for Challenge Daytona. Covid-19 seemed to be an afterthought as restaurants opened back up and the summer heat made us forget about the long dark days inside. Ironman Florida went off, Ironman AZ 70.3 happened but then the cases began to rise. More events cancelled and Challenge Daytona seemed uncertain. Even the thought of traveling seemed to be reckless. I had athletes racing both Florida 70.3 and Daytona. Florida cancelled and several pulled out from Daytona. I was still on the fence, but I knew I was in peak form.

The weekend before the race I committed to heading down. I decided it wasn’t worth flying so I drove to Atlanta, worked, drove to Macon, GA and stayed the night. After an early wake up, I packed up and drove south to Daytona!

I was getting pretty excited at this point and honestly even the anxiety began to sink in. I wasn’t sleeping well either. I wasn’t so anxious that I was discouraged but I think I was just excited to be at a big event. I also found out many others from the Nashville area made the trip as well. I got into my hotel just outside the Daytona International Speedway and immediately got on my bike to shake things out from the car ride.

I rode to the stadium and found gate 40. Gate 40 was listed as the “pro” athlete entrance. Either way, I pulled up on my bike and asked how to access the track. The workers did a quick health screening and provided me with a wrist band that basically said I was Covid free! Yay!

It took me a minute to get on the track, but it was wild. I knew at this point only the pro athletes were out there. I zipped around the track several times watching the athletes hammer, coast, and interact with each other as they made their loops. After stopping, I saw Alister Brownlee (2x Olympic Champ) and he acknowledge me as I passed by! I didn’t want to be the guy that asked for a photo but in hindsight, I wish I would have. Moments later, he was getting his photo taken with his brother, Jonathon and Vincent Luis (2x ITU World Champ).

I made my way back to the hotel and connected with a friend from Nashville, Marshal Martin. We grabbed dinner at Bone Fish grill, I had the gnocchi, which was awesome, then parted to our respective hotels for the evening.

The next morning, I woke up and did a 20-minute shakeout run with several 30 second strides. I felt good and shut it down. After the run, I met with my athlete Matt and chatted with him a while before meeting Every Man Jack Teammates Jeff and Ignacio for a short ride. Jeff has done the race before and took us out on the first few miles. We then met up later at check-in with the intention to swim after… That didn’t happen! The check in process took FOREVER! We were on our feet for a long time, so I opted to grab dinner with Matt and his girlfriend at Carabas! Another early night.

Race Morning- I didn’t sleep well and eventually got out of bed at 4:00AM. I had a banana, oatmeal, beet juice, coffee, Gatorade and some type of bar. I got my belongings and met matt in the lobby at 5am and we departed for the race venue! Once we arrived, to transition, I had to go all the way back to the check-in (which was like a half mile away) to get a wrist band. I opted out of wearing mine because I didn’t have scissors to cut it. Got it, looped it and got into transition. I pumped my tires to 60PSI, you may think that’s low, but I ride tubeless which makes for a comfortable ride. Then I topped off my fluids and put 6 Gu Energy Gels in my bento box. I set out the rest of my items and went out for my warmup run and searched for the secret restrooms that tend to be empty! After warming up, I got my wetsuit on and made my way to the swim.

The Swim- The race was scheduled to start at 7AM. At 6:55, they played the National Anthem which also had a display of fireworks. I can’t say I’ve ever seen fireworks that early before! The swim start was grouped by estimated swim times. I put myself in the sub 26 minute group and lined up about 100 people back. They ensured everyone was 6 feet apart at the start by having each person stand by a cone. Once the canon went off, the lined moved quickly. As I jumped in the water, it was a shock to the system. A little cooler than I was expecting. I believe the temp was 65*. Not super cold, honestly, I think it was perfect but I didn’t expect it. I quickly got into a groove and began picking people off. After making the first turn, I wanted to push as I made my way back. The next turn came quick. It was at this time I realized I couldn’t see that well ahead of me. I keyed off another swimmer and did my best to draft in the water as we made our way to the swim exit. I got out of the water and my watch read 25:35. Perfect I thought! Time for a PR day!

T1- It went perfectly smooth. It was pretty damn long and they had the whole thing carpeted so it was easy to process my thoughts. I got out of my wetsuit, put on a Boco Gear Bro band to keep the hair out of my eyes, put on my helmet and off I went.

The Bike- My goal was to average around 245-250 on the way out. 259 would have been 80% of my FTP but I wanted to start a little slower. As soon as I got into my aerobars, I could feel my hip flexors. Oh no! I haven’t been in my TT position enough. I mean this was right away! I was concerned. Fortunately, that went away after a couple of miles and I began to feel very good. We did 2.5 laps around the Daytona Speedway which was pretty cool too! Once on the roads, I found a group of guys that seemed to be pretty mindful of drafting. We rotated throughout and it was defiantly fair. A marshal pulled up and monitored the distance as well. I am not aware of anyone that received a penalty. On the bike, my plan was to drink a bottle of fluid before the first aid station and take a new bottle. I also took a gel every 30 minutes. As I approached the first aid station, I missed a bottle of Base and grabbed a small water bottle. Shit! I needed sodium! I knew I needed to be diligent at the next aid station. Nothing exciting happened on the bike course. It was flat and fast. The temps were perfect and as the sun came out, it was a nice sensation as it hit the skin. Once I approached the 2nd aid station, I grabbed a bottle of base and nearly drank it all. I wasn’t sweating much but I knew I needed it! At one point a moto rolled up next to me with a camera. I hope I am on a cool show!

The last aid station I grabbed another bottle of base and settled in. By the way, whatever flavor they had in the bottle was terrible. I counted down the miles and was eager to get off. I lost a few guys I keyed off of and really wanted to get off the bike the same time, but they got away. As I navigated through the final miles, I got up on a turn and put my weight on my left leg. My quad nearly cramped. I drank every ounce of fluid I had on my bike at this time. I then could feel my hamstrings begin to yell at me. Oh no! I was nervous at this point. I ended up averaging 258w and a NP of 264. Watts/Kio 3.69. I was happy with this. 2:15 bike split

T2- Nothing special but it was time for me to mow some folks down. At least I thought

The Run!- I wore the Nike Vaporfly Next% and quickly settled into 5:50 pace. I began to cut down quickly, but I wasn’t in a rush. I felt good but I wanted to be patient. My goal was to run sub 1:14 for the half marathon prior to the race but at this point I wanted to ensure I made it to the finish line. I played it cool. As I continued to make my way through the course, I my rolling average got down to 5:40. Here we go! I was ready! I also knew if I ran a 1:14:00 I would break 4 hours. I caught a guy, Malachi Henry who was moving very well. He stayed with me and then began to pull me along. Once we hit mile 8, I began to feel the onset of the fatigue settle in. He continued to encourage me but ended up pulling away a tad by mile 11. I held on for dear life, trying to get to that sub 4 barrier. As I rounded the last turn on the speedway, which is forever when you’re running, I could see the finish line! Here we go! Well, I couldn’t get to the sub 1:14 mark but I ran 1:14:35. I probably could have used a gel on the run. I’m not sure why I never grabbed one.

Overall time was 4:00:15. 15 seconds separated me from that barrier! That was good enough for 8th place overall. Everyone showed up and everyone was ready to smash. And they did! It was a great race, a fast course with perfect conditions. Mixed in the pent-up energy ready to unleash from a year of no racing and people coming in peak form made for exceptional performances. I’m bummed I didn’t break 4 but happy for the opportunity to push myself against some talented athletes!

After the race I joined several friends at a bar for some beers and a burger. I ordered the burger between two krispy kreme donuts. I do not recommend! I also had truffle fries which were awesome!

As I sit here typing this, sipping on my glass of bourbon on my 3 day off, I am thinking about what I want to accomplish next year. It’s goal setting season and it’s almost time to get back on the horse!

I asked Instagram for questions I could answer. Most were but here are a few:

How am I ridiculously good looking while running 5:30s? Well, it is the kick ass kits!

Thoughts Coming out of the water? I was excited and ready to go!

Did the hard work on the bike pay off? Yes! I performed well but I still have a lot to gain and a lot of little things to work on and I am ready!

How do I run so dayum fast for so long? I just push myself to the limits and find out what I am capable of!

How did I run 1:14 without my hair moving? Every Man Jack Styling Clay of course!

What is your race morning hair routine? Honestly, I feel like I woke up with it looking okay in Daytona and I just rolled with it!

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