Ultraman 2017 – World Champion!

Through hard work, careful planning, smart racing, and a bit of luck, I was fortunate enough to claim the win in the 2017 Ultraman World Championship. In this race report I’ll give you an overview of the training that led to this win, as well as a recap of the race itself.  First of all thanks to my crew Ian Hersey, Michael Bush and Cary Craig. And of course the extended crew Michelle who has to deal with me the other 362 days of the year! My ninja-mechanic Will Pennino of Roadworx. Ivan O’Gorman my local bike fitter (who continued the great base fit work I did with Jim Manton in LA). Darren de Reuck, Colleen de Reuck and Joanna Zeiger who run with me twice a week and have helped me really develop my run this year. Lisa Lessing and Monica Byrn for killing me in the pool 3 x per week. Matt Bottrill who regularly destroys me on the bike.  And thanks to nutrition sponsor Glukos who have really looked after me, and anti-fog sponsor Sven Can See (with a 10k swim you can’t afford foggy goggles)! Also a shout out to Cuan @ Oakley for keeping my eyes sharp with the shades.

Training

I decided to take a different approach this year, and focus on quality before quantity. The main reason behind this, is that I have a lot of years of endurance racing under the belt, and I wanted to “undo” the slow run pace that I had developed as a result of that. Since the run was my downfall in 2016, I also spent a year focusing on run quality. I did very few long, slow runs, and aimed to do two hard group runs a week with Darren de Reuck’s Colorado Racing Club. 

Most of these group runs are about 10 miles, so what I would often do is run 8 miles to the group start, run with the group, and then run back home again. That meant my long runs would be 20+ miles, but the middle part is very high quality. I never ran more than 28 miles in training, and in the final Ultraman build my longest run was just over 20 miles. 

In the pool, I just swam with the masters group in Boulder several times a week, and supplemented that with some solo sessions. Most of the masters sessions were coached by Lisa Lessing or Monica Byrn, both of whom make me do a lot of work in that 4k of swimming! I also did some individual video analysis coaching with Eney Jones at Swimlabs who really helped me fine tune my open water technique.

On the bike, Matt Bottril gave me some sessions that made me suffer like never before in the quest for glory, and I’m pleased to say that it paid off!

Training volume may surprise you – most weeks were under 20 hours – the two biggest weeks were 23.5 hours. My average for the last 3 months was 18 hours per week, my longest run was 28 and my longest ride was 6 hours. 

Equipment

I also made some changes to my bike setup. I moved from a medium Dimond to a small Dimond to get a lower stack, and I also moved to a 1X setup with a 56t chainring and an XTR (mountain bike) rear derailleur and 11-40 cassette. This has on the most part been a great setup, but on day 2 of Ultraman I dropped the chain 4 times, so I’m second guessing this decision a little. I used new extensions, the Zipp Vuka Stealth 110 which I really love. I experimented with an Enve bar but I ran out of time to get enough rides on it before the race, so I just stayed with the 3T Aduro bar on my primary bike and had the Enve on my spare bike. I really like the adjustability of the Enve bar, so I’ll probably swap them out for 2018. For wheels, I used a Zipp 808 on the rear and a Zipp 454 on the front (borrowed from crew chief Ian Hersey). The 454 is marketed as a wheel that handles very well in the crosswinds, and I can say that the marketing speak is true; it felt extremely stable even in very heavy winds. 

The Race

My goal for this race was to win. That was absolutely my mindset – that I would race to win. If it came down to a choice between racing hard to win, at the risk of blowing up and coming 10th, I’d rather fall apart in my quest for the win than play it safe and come second. My main competition was Tony O’ Keefe, 56 year old veteran of the race, Jeremy Howard who is a great swim/runner, and Arnuad Selukov who is actually very close to me over all 3 disciplines; he usually swims a bit faster than me, I usually bike a bit faster than him, and we run about the same. 

Day 1: 10k swim followed by 90 mile bike

In both other Ultraman races that I’ve done, I was first out of the water, but for this race I was sure that Jeremy Howard would outswim me. I was right! I took off at a comfortable pace, and within the first 2k he was already about 300m ahead of me. There was another swimmer just ahead of me, which I thought was Arnaud Selukov, but later found out that it was actually Mauro Ciarrocchi. Even though Jeremy was a long way ahead, I didn’t panic and just swam at a solid tempo until the end. I exited the water 11 minutes behind him, 4 minutes behind Mauro, but 12 minutes ahead of Tony and Arnaud. 

I passed Maruo in T1 so I actually started the bike in second place. I was feeling really good on the bike, and had to dial things back a bit to stay within my power targets. About 10 miles in, I’d gained 4 minutes back on Jeremy so I knew I was going to catch him at some point. I passed him at 26 miles, and he didn’t look like he was having a good day on the bike. I just held a steady effort until the final 20 miles and then rode a solid tempo to the end. I did a short interview with Bob Babbitt and then waited for the other guys to come in. 17 minutes later, Jeremy rolled through. Arnaud arrived 38 minutes after me and Tony was 1:10 back. I felt comfortable with that amount of lead over Tony and Arnaud, but I knew I would need more than 17 minutes on Jeremy. 

Day 2: 170 mile bike

As usual it was wet and rainy at the start of day 2. It’s about 25 miles of downhill from Volcano to Hilo, so there is good opportunity to get some speed. My plan was to take it easy to begin with and try not to let a big gap open to whoever would go off the front. As we got rolling, Arnaud asked me if it was a controlled start, and I said “no mate, you can just go for it”, which he proceeded to do! Tony and I pushed a steady tempo and caught Arnaud after a few minutes. We stayed together until about half way down, when my chain dropped. Since we were going about 45 mph, I decided not to stop and just freewheel until my speed dropped off. That was 12 minutes of zero pedaling! I was still going reasonably fast (41 mph) but Tony and Arnaud were probably closer to 50 mph and they soon opened a fairly large gap of 1-2 minutes (they were out of sight so I’m not sure of the exact gap). At this point I wasn’t feeling that great, like I was still very much in need of a warm up, but I kept things steady and didn’t want to waste energy chasing them down so early in the day. I caught up to Tony at around mile 50 on the Red Road, and we rode together all the way to Hilo. At that point the gap to Arnaud was 5-6 minutes. As we approached Hilo, we got a time split of 4 minutes to Arnaud, which surprised me since I wasn’t riding very hard. We both just kept a steady effort and then got caught at a red light in Hilo that took 1.5 minutes to change (it felt more like 5!). Once we got through Hilo, Tony dropped off the pace a bit and I started to focus my efforts on catching Arnaud. Since we had been closing on him before, I thought that if I rode just a little harder then I would catch him for sure. However, Arnaud had other plans! The next time split I got was 6 minutes, then 8 minutes, then 9 minutes. He was on fire! I started to push hard, but the legs just felt dead. At this point it was still raining, but as we got through Waimea and entered the Kohala mountains, the sun came through but of course accompanied by massive wind! 

I’ve ridden the Kohala Mountain road several times, but I’ve never experienced it as windy as this. At 77kg I’m relatively heavy, and the 40mph gusts were pushing me all over the place. One of my athletes Amy Craft was also racing. She’s very light and all I could think about was how it was going to blow her all over the road. I’m pleased to say that she battled through it and emerged in one piece. Near the top of the climb, I got a split on Arnaud of 8 minutes. So I had clawed only a minute back on the climb. The final 14 miles is a long, fast, and technical descent on sketchy road surface down into Hawi. It feels a little bit dangerous at the best of time, and now it hard started drizzling again and the wind was and I knew he was going to descend faster than me (because he had to, and also he’s a great descender). I played it super safe on the 14 mile descent into Hawi, with my primary goal now being to get to day 3 alive. I rode the brakes all the way down, and by the end they weren’t really working at all. The lack of braking also affects the speed at which you can descend, since you’re unable to brake in time for tight corners. So I just kept it safe, with a max speed of just 35mph (for comparison, Arnaud hit 55 mph down there). I’ve never been a fan of disc brakes for triathlon, but for this race I think there is a good case to have them. 

I ended 14 minutes behind Arnaud, but 24 minutes ahead of Jeremy. So overall I had 24 minutes on Arnaud and 40 minutes on Jeremy. Since I knew Arnaud and myself run about the same, I was mostly concerned about Jeremy. My estimation was that he would run about 6:45 on the day 3 double marathon, and I thought that my realistic time would be something like 7:15. That didn’t leave much room at all for anything to go wrong.

Day 3 – double marathon 52 miles

In 2016, I suffered from severe quad failure at mile 38, and pretty much had to walk it in. This year I really wanted to avoid that. Besides doing a lot more downhill running in training, I also decided to revert to the run/walk plan that took me to the win in Florida. I spent a fair amount of time debating the right strategy with Ultraman Australia winner Richard Thompson. He would make suggestions, I would try it in training, and then make some tweaks to the plan. I eventually ended up doing exactly what he suggested in the first place! I did my first walk break just 2 miles into the race – and I have to say that people thought I was completely smoked. Other crews looked at me in pity as they saw me “struggling” so early on in the race. But my crew kept me in check and made sure I stuck to the plan. At the 10k mark, Arnaud was already 7 minutes ahead of me. Instead of panic, this actually filled me with hope. I’ve been there, done that, and it did not end up well. 

By the half marathon mark, Jeremy was 14 minutes ahead and Arnaud was just over 12 minutes ahead. At that stage I just kept to the plan of sticking to 8 minute miles. 

Slowly but surely I started moving up the field, passing one runner at a time, catching up to Tony just before the marathon mark. At this stage, we were just under 10 minutes behind Arnaud, but over 22 minutes behind Jeremy. If both Jeremy and I continued at the same equivalent paces, he would win by 4 minutes, so I would have to step it up a bit in the second marathon if I wanted to close that down. 

I felt like I still had another gear, but still I held back and just kept to the plan. I know how hard it gets after Scenic Point, so I wanted to keep some in reserve in case I needed it.

Talking about Scenic Point, that’s where I made the pass on Arnaud, exactly at the point where Inaki passed me in 2016. He looked like he was struggling but at least he was still moving forward. I really love his gutsy performance – he was willing to risk it all for the win which I really respect. By mile 39.3, I’d moved into 3rd place on the run. Jeremy was 25 minutes ahead, so I’d managed to hold the gap relatively constant over that third half marathon. 

With 10 miles to go, I stopped the walk breaks. I could tell that they were no longer helping, and when I was forced to stop (at a red light) it was very hard to get going again. So I just kept things ticking over and focused on running with good form. Ian Hersey was still pacing me, and was repeating the mantra “fast, light, smooth” and something else that I can’t remember now. That really helped me to stay in the moment and just focus on moving forward in an efficient way. It’s also helped running with Colleen de Reuck twice a week, since her gazelle-like run form is ingrained in my mind. When I started losing form, I would just imagine running like her, and immediately things would pick up again. 

I got word that Jeremy had finished in 6:24 – holy crap that is fast! So I now had a target time of 7:04 or faster to secure the win. Doing the math, I basically had to hold 8 min miles for the last 5 miles in order to get it done. I was still feeling good so I picked up the pace a bit. It felt like I was running about 7:30/mile, but my garmin was saying that my pace was 10:15/mile. After a mile or so I called out to Ian to give me his Garmin pace. He assured me that we were running faster than 8:00 pace, so from then on I ignored the Garmin pace, went old school and just hit the lap button every time I saw a mile marker.

At mile marker 96 (about 4 miles to go), Ian started cramping so he gave me my water and he stopped on the side of the road. Unbeknown to me, the crew was actually running low on water, so he had stopped drinking in order to make sure that I was well taken care of. It must have killed his soul seeing me extravagantly pouring precious water all over my head while he was dying of thirst. I am totally in his debt for the sacrifice that he made for me to take the win. With about 2 miles to go, it felt like I was going to start cramping so I proactively took one of those HotShot drinks that we get for free at Ironman races. I have no idea if it works or not, but I got to the end without suffering any cramps. 

This is the guy that pushed me beyond what I thought I was capable of

Mile marker 99 is located just before the Makala Rd turn, which I think is about a mile from the finish. I still had about 11 or 12 minutes in hand, so at that point I knew that I could take the win as long as nothing went wrong. I focused on not running too fast, since it did feel like I was on the verge of a cramp. As I made the turn into the Old Airport, my watch read 6:57 – I said to my crew that if we hit the gas I’d make it under 7 hours. So with about 500m to go, we hit a high tempo all the way to the finish line. I dipped under 7 hours with a finish time of 6:59:33 – even better is that I managed to negative split the double marathon (3:30 for the first one, and 3:29 for the second one.

 

A finish line interview with the 2017 Ultraman World Championships overall winner, Rob Gray
#umwchawaii

Posted by Bob Babbitt on Sunday, November 26, 2017

 
2018 is going to be an interesting race… Inaki will be back to race me head-to-head, and rumor has it that uber biker David Hainish who won Florida this year will be making an appearance.

 

Ironman Texas 2017 Race Report

Often you hear people say “I didn’t quite have the day I expected” – and usually it means that they had a bad day. Well, I had a day that I didn’t expect to have, but for the reason that it actually went better than I expected it to. On the face of it, it looks like I had a great result on very little training. But there is a bit more to it than that, and is a good illustration of what I call a “high priority focus strategy”. Basically, in a nutshell that means I only do the most important things, and pretty much ignore everything else. In this case, that meant highly focused bike training, race-specific run training, and no swimming. Why did I decide these things?

  1. The bike is my strength, and after taking the whole of December off, my FTP was very low and I was not in good biking shape. This would mean that unless I fixed it, my bike would become a liability instead of a strength. So regardless of my race schedule, I focused on getting back into biking shape, initially just by starting to bike regularly.
  2. This year I’m taking a different approach to my run training. Instead of building up a base of high volume easy running, I’d be doing two race pace workouts a week and the rest easy. Race pace being Ironman and 70.3 race pace. I figured that with 2 x Ultramans under my belt in 2016, I already had a solid foundation of slow running in place and I would be better served by focusing on “weekly miles at race pace” instead of just “weekly miles”.
  3. As for the swim, I didn’t see any value in spending many hours in the pool, only to gain 3-5 minutes in an Ironman. So I basically did no swimming (until I decided to enter IMTX, more about that below).

I entered Ironman Texas with 10 days to go, with the goal of doing it as a big supported training day. I’d been considering the event as a part of my schedule but hadn’t actually pulled the trigger. I was focusing the first part of the year on the race weight experiment, where the goal was weight loss and NOT performance. I was almost certainly NOT going to race IMTX. However, during the final 3 weeks of that project (the cake phase), I saw some surprising performance improvements (even though I was not losing weight). My FTP jumped from 281w to 313w, which is a much bigger increase than usual. Granted, 281w is a much lower starting point than usual, but it had been sitting around that level since January with no improvements (which is to be expected when you’re at a constant calorie deficit). That performance gain was a signal that I would at least be able to perform on the bike at IMTX at a reasonable level. With a few long training rides, I could get into shape relatively quickly.  My run shape was ok, but I’d done no long runs. Everything was shorter stuff like 8 x 1 mile repeats @ around 6:45 pace. Certainly not my typical “Ironman training”. I hadn’t run longer than 14 miles between January and April, with a low (but consistent) weekly mileage of around 22 mpw. The main difference with my run training this year is that I have fewer long slow runs, and more medium length runs done at race pace. And a few runs with long slow warm ups, a middle part faster than race pace, and a slow cool down. 

As for swimming, there was pretty much zero. I averaged 1500m of swimming per week, way off the usual 15-20k per week that I do when training properly for an IM. So with 2 weeks to go until race day, my biggest concern was the swim. My swim shape was terrible – on Monday 10th April my 100s were at least 15 seconds slower than what I would consider “race ready” (on some I was struggling to come in on 1:40 which is slow for me) and my 200s were coming in at about 3:25 instead of the 2:55 that I would expect when in good shape. The positive side was that my swim form usually returns quite fast, so my theory was that with 10 days of solid swimming I would be in good enough shape to get through the swim without totally falling apart. I aimed for 4k of swimming per day, every day until the race. On some days I only had time for 2.5k, but on those days I would focus on short, hard reps (like 25s, 50s and 100s), making best use of the time I had available. By Friday 14th April, I felt in good enough shape to join the masters group at CAC Boulder, but I downgraded myself from my usual 1:30 lane to the 1:40 lane because I was not fast enough. I managed to make it through that workout to the end (which was an accomplishment) and then I did 2 big swims over the weekend. On Monday 17th I joined the masters group again, but this time in my normal 1:30 lane. My form suddenly returned and I was hitting 2:45 for my 200s and 1:22 for my 100s. This was very reassuring for race day and I knew that I would be ok on the swim. 

So my *best case* expected times for the race was around 1:05 swim, 4:40 bike and 3:30 run, purely based on how I had been feeling in training. I posted this on our Triforce community group, and one of my athletes (Fred) said he’d send a nice bottle of Brunello if I broke 1:05 on the swim! I’d be thinking about that a lot in the Woodlands Lake!

Here are some of my TP charts Jan-April

 

I did not taper at all. I just didn’t have the fitness base to justify it. I knew there would be 2 light days before the race due to travel, and I accepted that I could be fresh enough with that short break. I would have lost too much fitness had I tapered for longer, and I think it was the right decision. 

Diet wise, I aimed to be at a calorie surplus, and with carb heavy distribution, in the final 2 days before the race. During those days I also do a few short but hard workouts that help to accelerate the glycogen storage. I’m not going to lie, there is nothing I love more than eating a ton of carbs! Not something I get to do very often, and is probably part of the reason I love racing!

This race was also a chance to test out some new gear (literally new gears). I’ve been experimenting with a 1X chainring setup and it worked fantastically. I used a 56t front chainring, with an 11-40 cassette. However I didn’t need all those gears and never went higher than the 21t on the back. But, I will most likely need all those gears for IM Boulder, so I was really just testing that whole setup, and I was pleased with the outcome.

56t 1X setup

My workouts on Thursday and Friday before the race were ok but I didn’t feel on top form. I felt a bit heavy and lethargic, like I do when I’m adapting to a big training block. My hope was that I would come around just in time for race day, so I didn’t worry too much about it. After all, my goal was to just have a big, fully supported training day out there, so I wasn’t overly concerned about being totally tip-top-race-ready.

For once I got a really good sleep the night before, and I woke up fresh and ready to go.  I drove down and found a parking spot at 4:55am, thinking that most people would aim to arrive at 5am. It was a good call – I got a parking spot really easily, and then 5 minutes later all these cars turned up at the same time, all looking for parking while I chilled out listening to some pre-race tunes.

I headed over to T1 and set up my nutrition, pumped my tires and then started the rather long walk to the swim start. This distance should not be underestimated. I thought it was about a mile, but it seemed to take forever to get there. I left transition just after 6am and only got to the start about 3 minutes before the pro men cannon went off (I’m guessing around 6:30?). 

I quickly dropped of my bags and then went through to the front of the swim start group, about 4 rows back. It was non-wetsuit, and I felt I would swim about 60 minutes, based on my rapid improvement over the previous weekend. A few minutes later the cannon sounded, and we started moving into the water. The weird thing is that I didn’t see a timing mat on the water’s edge. Usually with these rolling starts, they have a timing mat there, so your time only starts once you get into the water. They seem to have counted the gun time, not the chip time, which explains why my official swim time was about 15 seconds slower than my garmin swim time. I’m not sure if this is actually what happened, and I hope it is not, because that would mean that the people at the back of the line would be getting falsely slower swim times than they should.

I felt quite good during the swim, and everyone around me looked like good swimmers, which is usually a good sign that I’m having a good swim. I went through 2km in 30 min flat, so I thought I was well on track for my 60 min time and securing that bottle of Brunello. However we then turned into the canal, on the way to the finish line, and that just seemed to take forever. I exited the water in 1:04:45, plus about 10 seconds to get to the timing mat, and I crossed the line with a garmin time of 1:04:58 – 2 seconds to spare for Brunello time! Of course due to the whole gun-time vs chip-time thing, I was actually 2 seconds slower than Fred’s Brunello Benchmark, but I’d only found that out after I finished.

T1 was super smooth. I pulled on my sleeves and put on my helmet as I ran to the change tent, so the only thing I had to do once in there was take off the bottom part of my swimskin, and grab some nutrition out of the bag. I took one Glukos gel (they are nice and liquid so no need to wash down with water) and I put a pouch of Powerbar energy blasts (200 calories) down the front of my top. I saw Derk (one of my athletes) right behind me. He usually swims 58/59 minutes, so I felt better about my 1:05 swim. Little did I know he was thinking the same thing about me. So basically we were both feeling reassured by our mutual poor swim performance! Derk ended up going sub 9, so his swim didn’t matter much after all. Anyway so I got my bike, ran down the muddy field, and hopped on at the mount line with no issues. I rode easy for the first 5 minutes while eating the bag of cola blasts, adjusting my sleeves and various other housekeeping tasks, and then got down to the business of riding!

As per usual, I attracted  “Kona guy” – that’s one of those riders that muscles past you with a grimace on his face (sometimes out of the saddle sprinting) and then slows down in front of you. You then pass him, and he doesn’t want to be passed, so he passes you again and then slows down. And so on and so forth – those of you who’ve raced Kona know that guy. Eventually I just let him go past and I sat 12m behind him until the 50 mile mark. The effort felt too easy for me, but it was less taxing than playing a ridiculous cat and mouse game for a few hours! Once we got to the far turnaround, I put down the gas a bit and dropped him, and then I was alone for the rest of the bike.

photo credit Aaron Palaian

I knew I was doing ok when I was only seeing FPRO and the occasional struggling MPRO (like fellow Ultraman Peter Kotland). After I got off the highway for the final 7 miles, I could see a group of riders ahead of me. At first I thought it was the front of the AG race, but when I finally passed them it was actually the front group of female pros. To avoid a drafting penalty I had to take the whole group in one shot, which was a pretty hard 40 second effort. A bit further up the road I passed eventual female winner Jodi Robertson, who was riding quite hard and seemed extremely comfortable. 

With the course being a bit short (110 miles), T2 snuck up on me unexpectedly – I went around a corner and suddenly it was there. Since I hadn’t looked at the course at all, I had no idea it was there, so I hadn’t unclipped my feet yet. That made for a slightly awkward dismount, but I sorted it out quickly and made my way to the empty change tent.

I’m really happy with the pacing and power distribution of my ride:
Total: 4:31, 240w NP, 233w AP, VI 1.03, 265 TSS, .77 IF
1st 90 minutes: 233w NP (goal was to start at 234w and take it from there)
2nd 90 minutes: 241w NP (feeling good)
3rd 90 minutes: 247w NP (finished nice and strong)

I got my run stuff on quickly and headed out the tent.  Jodie blitzed transition, and exited about 20 seconds ahead of me. I was aiming to start at 7:45-8:00 pace, but went through mile 1 in 6:50. It felt super easy so I just stuck with it and continued to run by feel. One by one the female pros ran past me – it was fun to watch their race unfolding in front of me and I could see right away which ones were going to run well. 

By mile 10 my average pace was 7:24 – and I was momentarily tempted to shoot for a sub 9. With a rough mental calculation I figured that 7:30 pace average would get me done around 3:15 and sneak under the 9 hour mark. But somehow my special needs stop slowed me down a bit and by 11 miles my average was around 7:40. So I just resumed my goal of treating it as a big training day and continued running by feel. By the way, the special needs was worth it, with a Starbucks Frappucino waiting for me there (it’s good cold, it’s good hot too, so a win-win no matter what the weather!).

Derk passed me at around mile 11 and he was looking great! He ended up running 3:01 – the slacker couldn’t find another 90 seconds somewhere!??? Although he might say the same about my 4:31 bike split… but on a serious note, it’s so rewarding having an athlete that you coach outperform you on race day, in fact so much more than performing well yourself.

For the rest of the run I just hung in there and tried to keep moving forward at a relatively slow run pace. I was just happy to not be walking, especially given my lack of long runs. 

The Woodlands run course is now one of my favorites. Ok it’s on concrete path for most of the time, but the route varies a lot between running through shaded woods and along the crowd-dense canal path, and there is so much support! One of my Ultraman athletes (Amy) was out volunteering so I got to see her multiple times which was fantastic. I also saw her hubby John a few times – he was at this area called catapult corner which is just an insane part of the course – so much crowd atmosphere you can’t help but the “catapulted” through there. 

Just before the finish, I saw Brian, another of my athletes who was on his second lap. I was happy to see him looking strong and I knew he was going to make it. There was a little doubt a few weeks back when we was struck with illness for 3 weeks, but he pulled through on the day and made it in for a strong finish. 

They say a bit part of endurance racing is the mental aspect, and I have to say that racing Ultraman set me up to be able to finish this race on much less training than I should have done. My total quad failure at Ultraman Worlds was still fresh in my mind, so any discomfort I experienced during the IMTX was inconsequential compared to that. By comparing the pain in my mind, IMTX seemed really comfortable, whereas before I think I would have experience it as a much higher level of discomfort/pain. 

Crossing the finish line, I had no idea what place I was or what my time was, but I thought I was somewhere in the top 7 or 8. It was therefore with huge surprise that I discovered that I’d finished 3rd. With 10 slots in M40-44 (which ended up being 11 with a re-allocation) I had made my 5th year consecutive KQ with a surprisingly low degree of preparation on the face of it. However, as I said if you dig a little deeper, you can see the benefit of FOCUS. From January through April, my focus was heavily on regaining bike fitness, and focusing run training almost exclusively on race pace. Pretty much zero swimming, because for me the difference between swimming and not swimming is about 5 minutes. But with the bike focus, I was able to comfortably lay down a great bike split and set myself up for a comfortable KQ with a relatively average run (I’d say to KQ in 40-44 you should at least be able to run a 3:30). In fact everyone in the top 10 of the AG (except me) ran under 3:25.

I was obviously very happy with this result. I felt I executed very well and on top of that it was a great training day. Next IM will be Boulder in June, which will be a chance to experiment with a few more things. Right now, I’m thinking of doing a focused run block and seeing where that gets me for Boulder. Plus, of course, my swim has now come back (even though the IMTX result doesn’t reflect that) so I will maintain it by swimming almost every day.

Ultraman Worlds is still my A race, so Kona will be a big training day for that. You can expect me to be in good swim shape, very good bike shape, and I hope to be in Ultraman run shape by October. That will mean a fast swim/bike and a steady but somewhat slow run (but hopefully better than my very consistent 3:30 Kona run split – I’ll be happy with 3:15)

Finally, everyone expects to see a nutrition report in my race reports. I will actually do a dedicated post on that, but here is the summary:

Race week: no low carb like I usually do, mainly because I didn’t taper, and I needed to support my training load right up to the end. So high carb and pretty healthy food. Big carb load Thursday and Friday, with a decent proportion of my newfound carb load food “Angel Food Cake”. Day before race day, I had the traditional burger and fries but no beer this time (didn’t feel like it).

Race day: Oatmeal (pre soaked night before). Bagel with almond butter and honey. 4 x Ensure shake (not all at once). No food after 4:30am up to race start at 6:40am.

T1: 1 x Glukos gel sachet (they are great, no need for water).

Bike: 2600 calories (4.5 hours). About 570 per hour (probably 550 once you account for spillage). Glukos energy drink, Powerbar cola blasts, 2 packets black forest organic gummy worms (in Boulder it is well known that organic gummy worms are much faster than regular ones), and then my big calorie mix of maltodextrin, fructose a50 nd ginger beer. All liquids in Torpedo and CX Chrono bottle on the downtube.

Run: 650 calories so 185 per hour. I’m not really able to take in much more than that while running. Glukos energy shots, Glukos energy tabs, Glukos energy gels, and a Starbucks Double Shot Mocha drink (in a can from special needs bag).

Yeeeehaw – Ironman Texas preview – my big training day!

Since I finished the race weight project a little earlier than expected, and since I experience some very good performance gains the the final 3 weeks of cake-eating, I decided to pull the trigger and enter Ironman Texas (April 22nd), as a big training day for Ironman Boulder in June (11th).

This will be an interesting exercise in “Just in Time” training. Basically, I’ve maintained my bike and run with regular training, at a level at which I can just launch into an Ironman build at short notice without any issues. This “base” is not very time intensive. In fact my weekly hours between January and April has been under 11 hours per week. Most of that has been biking and running, since my swim volume has averaged 1500m per week (for comparison, my normal swim volume training for an Ironman is 15-25km per week). My longest run before I entered Texas was 14 miles, and most rides were not longer than 2 hours.

So with 2 weeks to go, I had a bit of work to do, especially on the swim. 1500m per week just really nothing, and my swim was in terrible shape. Last Monday, I was struggling to swim faster than 1:35/100m for short intervals (like 100m) and my 200m intervals were coming in at over 3:20. My strategy was to swim every day, as far as I could before my form would break down, building up to where I could manage 4000m easily. That took about 7 days (17k of swimming), and by this Monday (April 17th) my swim was back on track. My 100m intervals were down to 1:22 and my 200s were down under 3 minutes, under 2:50 if I swam hard. Plus I could get through 4k of swimming in one session with not too much fatigue.  So we’ll see how race day goes, but I’m confident that I will at least make the distance.

Biking has been going well. I haven’t done any long bike rides (4 hours max, with a few 3 hour rides). But my power is good, so expect a decent bike split at Texas. I’m guessing it will be under 5 hours but I’ve never raced there before so I’m not sure. Best case 4:40, worst case 5:00.

Running is a bit of an unknown. No long runs at all, although I got in 18 miles last Friday. I feel my pace is where it needs to be, but not sure about my endurance at all. On race day I will just start with a run/walk structure (9 min run, 1 min walk) and see how things go. I expect I could run a 3:30 marathon if everything goes well. Probably more around 3:45, but I really just don’t know.

But whatever happens, I will be there with quite a few friends, and two of my coached athletes. So just being there for a big supported training day will be fun!

Cake day 21 – its done! Also it’s not

Ok so after 3 weeks of cake, I am finally done! 3 weeks is a bit too long for losing 1kg, so clearly I enjoyed it a little too much…! It could also be that as I’m nearing a low weight, the weight loss rate slows down a bit, but I think it’s safe to blame those baked goods for the slow progress.

On the plus side, I experienced some very good performance gains in my training, which was definitely not expected. My FTP (Functional Threshold Power on the bike) increased from 281 watts at the beginning of this project to 313 watts by last week. That’s only about 15 watts less than my all time best. My run also seems to be in reasonable shape. My swim is not, but that is mainly because I have not been swimming at all (maybe a topic for another post?).  Anyway all this performance improvement is a good thing, and I would certainly always give up rapid weight loss if it means my performance will increase. But as I’ve said before, it’s best to focus on one or the other, I just happen to have got lucky getting a performance increase while on a weight loss project. As you can see though, weight loss was almost non existent while my performance was increasing.

So, the main project is done! But, it’s also not done, because I’m interested in seeing what happens now that I return to normal eating, with a focus on training performance. That means higher calories, with healthy foods that help to support my training and recovery. It is about time, since bizarrely I have been craving salads and vegetables!

I will also throw in some experiments along the way – at some point I really want to see if that rapid weight loss I experienced in the ice cream phase was just coincidence due to the timing of ice cream within the project, or because the calories are very predictable, or some other reason. I did not expect that at all, so it will be fun to repeat it and see what happens.

In other news, I decided today to enter Ironman Texas (which is in 2 weeks time). That will be an interesting experiment because I have not been doing any real Ironman training. Between January and April I averaged under 11 hours training per week, with only 22 miles of running per week and 150 miles of biking per week. My average swim distance is 1500 meters per WEEK!!!! That is a 10th of my “normal minimum” of 15k per week when training for an Ironman.  So, I will definitely be able to finish the race, but I’m treating it as a big training day. I will not be competitive at all. I think I will just survive the swim, I’ll do quite well on the bike, and I will do as well as I can on the run, maybe a 3:30 marathon is not out of the question. Probably closer to 3:45. So possibly an overall time of 10:15-10:30 depending on how things go. 

I’ll be doing some last minute Ironman training this week, and won’t taper at all for the race, so at least I will arrive fit(ish) but not very fresh. Either way, it will be fun to race with some friends and have a good time out in the Woodlands on April 22nd! One great discovery I made during cake phase, was Angel Food Cake, which is pure carb (both complex and simple carbs) and no fat at all, so I will be incorporating this into my carb load for sure! Plus some burgers and ice cream the day before race day – my secret weapon!!!

Also, when I get some time, I will do a post with a recap of the whole race weight project. Lately I’ve been pretty busy so I need to squeeze in the time to get that done.

 

Cake Day 14 (plus a few days of review)

Ok so we are two weeks into cake. And it’s been a lot of fun – maybe too much fun! I’ve managed to gain 1kg, but that gain came with a benefit… First of all, last Monday I did an 8 mile run in Breckenridge up to over 10,000ft elevation, without a severe degradation in run pace. That’s the first time ever that I’ve had a good run at high altitude. Secondly, I did an impromptu FTP test during my Thursday ride and had an unprecedented 30+ watt increase in FTP compared to my last test this year. My working theory is that the weight gain and performance improvement go hand in hand. There is no proof of that, and there are a lot of variables, so it really is just a hypothesis.

The one “experiment within an experiment” that I’ve done with the cake phase, is to “eat back” my burned calories. That actually introduces a lot of room for inaccuracy, because measurement of exercise calories is not super accurate. It’s reasonably accurate, but if you burn 3000+ calories in a day, even a 10% variance can impact your weight loss goals significantly. So as counter-intuitive as this sounds, it can actually be easier to lose weight if you don’t do a huge volume of training. That way you just set a daily goal (in my case 2200 calories) and add nothing back in for exercise. However, if you’re training a lot, you need to fuel and recover in order to support that training. My plan is to add calories back once I am no longer focused on weight loss. That way, a gain of 1-2kg here and there is no issue when your focus is on performance, because your priority is on fueling your workouts and your recovery really well. That’s where food quality AND calories become very important. Usually, in that “performance phase” I focus on food quality, but don’t pay enough attention to getting in enough calories.  So I will still track calories, but the focus is on making sure I eat enough. I’ll be doing some trial and error to nail down the numbers that I use. In a way, this last 2 weeks has accidentally helped me to define that. I used a baseline of 2200 calories and added back ALL workout calories, so I’ll start with that when I begin to focus on performance. I also learned that during the weight loss phase, it’s a mistake to add back ALL workout calories. I’ve actually lost the most weight when training the least, but sticking to a specific number each day and not adding any workouts back in. It just simplifies everything and (for me anyway) seems like a very good strategy.

So the plan for the next 2 weeks: stay on cake (yay!) but don’t add any calories back. If I have a particularly taxing workout (like a 4 hour ride), I will just fuel that workout itself at around 300 calories per hour, but not add the exercise calories or the workout calories back in.

In a way, I like the fact that this experiment has had a few surprises and things that didn’t work as expected. All of that helps me to learn more about what to expect and be able to tweak my “real life” nutrition and training accordingly. So the longer term view is to get to 73kg on cake, then focus on performance and training for a while and just see where my weight settles (without letting it get much higher than say 75kg). And then at some point I really want to try the ice cream phase again to see if I can repeat that rapid weight loss phenomenon I noticed during this project. I’m mostly expecting that it was just coincidental with the timing of the project phases, but it would be really awesome if it works again!

 

 

Ironman Boulder 2017 Bike Course

Ironman Boulder has a new bike course for 2017. It’s 3 loops of fast rollers, but it’s a bit over distance at 114 miles, so don’t count on a fast bike split even if it is quite fast. There are no technical sections, but there are a few sections that I would call “key sections”:

  • Neva Road Eastbound is nice and fast with a great surface. You can take the turn from 36 at full speed and the first corner can be taken in aero. 
  • Nelson Road climb is about 4 miles. It’s a grind and you’ll probably have a headwind, but it’s not steep. Maybe 4% grade. Try to stay in aero, especially on later laps when you’re tired – that’s when you need to be aero. Sitting up into a headwind is the worst thing you can do. Having said that, there are some little kickers along Nelson that may be sheltered from the wind, where you can sit up briefly to get some relief from being in aero for so long.
  • St Vrain Rd starts with a fast descent and two blind corners, but they can be taken at full speed. However, on laps 2 and 3 this section will be congested so please be very aware of other riders. There is one pothole on the flat section of St Vrain road but hopefully they fix it by race day.

For route maps, here is a link to the route on MapMyRide
Here is a link to the course on Best Bike Split
Here is the GPX file download

Here is a video I shot of the course

 

 

Cake Day 10

Posts have been a bit sporadic as we’ve been up in Breckenridge on a short ski vacation. It has been remarkably difficult to find cake up there, so I tweaked the diet to include anything that’s been part of it before. So I got to partake of a very good burger at Blue River Bistro which is a great little restaurant in Main Street Breck. 

I did manage to get hold of some ice cream sandwiches too, but they were just boring Klondike Vanilla Ice Cream sandwiches, which were very middle of the road and bland.

I found two donut shops but they were never open… go figure.

From a workout perspective, I had a surprisingly good run. I say surprising because it was at an altitude of 10,000 ft (peaked at 10,300ft/3140m) and I managed to hit 7:45/mile average on an 8 mile negative split run workout. The negative split was “designed”, by running the first 4 miles uphill and then back down for a total of 8. So not really the same as doing that on the flats. But anyway, usually my runs at an altitude this high are really slow, so I was happy with the performance. 

I should be able to get a weigh-in done by the end of the week. Due to the super high quality of my recent workouts, I’m guessing that I may have not been restricting calories enough. However I’m ok with that 1) it’s great to get some decent workouts in after 7 weeks of reduced calories and compromised training and 2) because I would love to continue eating cakes for a few more weeks.

PS here is the day 7 video – I did do a blog post for that day but it somehow got deleted…


 

Cake Day 6 – Red Velvet Cheesecake

Today was a day to look forward to – with the recently acquired red velvet cheesecake from last night’s dinner. I went out on a workout, not expecting much, but it ended up being superb! Almost 2 hours at around 250w, which in my current bike form is really good. So that’s 5 days in a row of solid bike rides… there may be some virtue to this whole cake thing after all…

 – link to video – 

The red velvet cheesecake was very good. I would highly recommend it. But I have no idea how one might fit that in after a meal at cheesecake factory. On it’s own was enough for sure.

Totals 3,785 calories 353g carbs 86g fat 77g protein

Cake Day 5 – Cheesecake Factory

Finally I actually got to eat some cheesecake at Cheesecake Factory… usually I’m too full by the time I finish my main course. I had the dulche de leche cake which was great, plus I took a red velvet cheesecake home for the next day.

 – direct link to video – 

Plus it was Donut Friday at work, so I started the day off well with a chocolate donut and a cream cheese danish. It was a big calorie day, somewhat offset by the bike ride fortunately! Post ride I had my Ultraman stage race staple, Kozyshack rice pudding, which is high carb and great for eating straight after a hard training session.

Totals 4,288 calories 459g carbs 78g fat 159g protein

Cake Day 4 – a dozen donuts!

I went to the grocery store to get supplies this morning, and happened upon a box of a dozen freshly baked donuts. It seemed irresponsible to turn that offer down – I mean a baker had slaved away in the early hours of the morning just to make this happen. So I bought a box. I also bought a cheesecake, two cannoli, and some chocolate lava cakes.

– Video –

I never thought I’d eat all 12 donuts, but it just ended up happening, and conveniently fitted well into my daily calorie goals (2040 calories for all 12).

Unlike day 1, I actually quite liked these donuts (clearly!), and I didn’t feel terrible either. Workouts were kind of average but not bad at all.

Totals 4,077 calories 484g carbs 190g fat 111g protein