Ironman Arizona 2014 Race Report

I do these race reports for a number of reasons. First of all, I hope that it provides some value to those who are thinking of doing this race in the future. It may also prove useful to people doing another Ironman race, since many of the principles and lessons apply to any race. Secondly, I hope it provides some useful insight into my preparation and training. The real work in succeeding at this distance happens long before the race begins. I love the iron distance because of all the variables at play, that come together on race day to determine your success or failure; training, physiology, nutrition, gear, life balance, health, weight, body composition, mental outlook, stress, attitude.

Let me start this race report with some background as to why I entered Ironman Arizona in the first place.

  1. it’s relatively local (I live in California). When you have a family, this is a pretty important factor. It just makes things a lot more difficult if a lot of travel is involved.
  2. it’s a fast course. I’ve never raced a “fast” course so I was looking to do a good time
  3. The Triforce team had a whole contingent racing. We decided last year to do this as a “team race”, and we all volunteered at the race in 2013 to get our entries. It’s a lot of fun racing with friends.
  4. I’m tired of training hard over winter to do a spring Ironman, and wanted to KQ far in advance of Kona. This was a “one shot” race to KQ. If I didn’t qualify then I wasn’t going to try again for 2015.

With 5 weeks between Kona and IMAZ, I wasn’t really sure what the recovery situation would be like. The basic structure would be race kona, recover, build, short 1 week taper, IMAZ. The “recover” block would just be as long as it takes. I determine a recovered state by doing “low HR TTs” where I measure pace vs HR on the run and power vs HR on the bike. I need to see a run pace of around 7:00 – 7:15 @ 145 bpm on the run, and 260w @ 134bpm on the bike.

Based on past experience, I know that I recover much faster when I do light activity after a race vs complete rest. So the day after Kona I went for an easy 1.5 hour ride just to get the recovery process going. I also swam every day – swimming is such a great recovery tool; no weight bearing stress and full body activation especially if you include other strokes.

I managed to recover pretty quickly – it was about 10 days after kona when I resumed “real” training. We decided that I would do a 3 week block and 1 week taper. The purpose of this block would mainly be to maintain bike and swim fitness, and hopefully gain a bit more run fitness. I didn’t do much volume at all, no runs over 12 miles and most bike rides 2 hours or less (1 x 4 hour ride). Swims were also relatively short (for me) – not much over 4K per session but most of it was at high intensity.

 

CTL chart

CTL of 113 going into IMAZ vs 140 going into Kona

as you can see, not a lot of volume since my big kona build in August

not huge mileage but pretty consistent except for the week after kona, where I did zero

Coming into the taper I felt really good. Swim form was pretty good; did a few open water swims in 57-58 mins and a few pool swims in about 55 mins (as 10 x 400m). Bike power was good, and run form seemed ok, but I would feel fatigue / soreness setting in at any distance over 10 miles. Despite that, I had faith that by race day, my run endurance would be ok again. So, I was feeling positive as race week rolled around, and ready to go! The one other element of pre-race prep is diet. For 7-10 days out, I eat a high fat diet with less than 150g carbohydrate per day. Based on my metabolic testing, this type of diet change has the biggest role to play in race-day fuel utilization (in terms of fat vs carb). I then eat about 400g of carbohydrate in the 24-30 hours before the race, which replenishes some glycogen without affecting fat burning very much. This type of diet prep results in a burn rate for me of about 650 carb calories per hour at 250 watts (and about 480 fat calories per hour, for a total of about 1100 calories per hour).

Let’s take a quick step back for a minute and talk about my race goals.

  1. Get a good time. I felt I would achieve this unless something went really wrong. I wanted to swim under an hour (a long term goal I’ve had), bike around 4:40 and run around 3:15 – finishing close to 9 hours which would be a PR (my fastest IM before this was 9:40 at Kona).
  2. Qualify for Kona. This would be tougher. The M35-39 field would be super stacked, with at least 10 kona regulars and 5-6 guys who are definitely capable of sub 9 on this course. As it turned out, 5 of the top 6 age groupers overall were in M35-39 and there were only 4 kona slots. With most other races, you will find one or two really fast guys turn up, then it drops off pretty fast, meaning that I could make a few mistakes and still possibly be in a position to KQ. However in this race, I would have to have a perfect race, plus some other guys would need to not have a great race. Before IMAZ, I decided that if I didn’t qualify, I would not try to KQ again for 2015. So it was a “one shot” chance to do it, which really focused my attention and motivation to succeed.

Looking at my age group contenders it dawned on me how tough this task would be:

Kevin Coady: also my coach! He’s gone sub 9 at Arizona before, and has gone low 9’s in many other races. Very capable of running 3 hours or less.

Adam Zucco: this guy is an animal swim-biker, with 70.3 as his forte, he’s no slouch when it comes to Ironman. He dominated Oceanside and St Croix 70.3 earlier in the year (and probably a few other races that I don’t know about). If this was a 70.3 race, Adam would probably beat all of us by a big margin! Like me, he had just come off kona 5 weeks before so I thought we might have similar fatigue issues on the run.

Scott Iott: This guy’s forte is the iron distance. He’s gone sub 9 before and low 9’s in many other races. His strength is the run, capable of 3 hours or less in an IM for sure.

Steve Johnson: another runner and “9 hour guy”. Steve and Kevin have faced off in a number of races so I was familiar with his name. Like Kevin, to have a chance against him I’d need to start the run at least 10-15 mins ahead of him off the bike (or he would need to have a bad day!)

Trevor Glavin: He’s a friend of Adam and Scott –  a great swimmer and a solid all rounder being a long-time xterra guy (but the swim is for sure his strength). He has multiple low 9 IM finishes to his name and seems to be super consistent in his execution – pretty much every IM he’s run about 3:15. He finished Kona 2013 almost 30 mins faster than me and 2014 13 mins faster. I felt I would be able to make up the swim difference on the bike, and for me a 3:15 is realistic on a good day.

Adrian Lawson: this guy was not on my radar before, but it turns out he has some pretty solid results with some regular finishes in the 9:30ish range (including kona).

Ivan O’Gorman: I’ve raced Ivan a few times although I’ve never met him. He’s a very good runner (like 3 hours and under) but I thought he’d have too much of a gap to make up on his swim (he’s in the 1:15-1:20 range). Still, his swim deficit on me is about equal to my run deficit on him, so he could very well be a “last mile threat”.

Li Moore: my teammate who has beat me twice this year over the 70.3 distance. IMAZ would be his iron distance debut, so that was in my favor. I’m a faster biker than him but this guy can run 6:30s all day, so  even with a big deficit off the bike he could run me down no problem (and he did just that in both of those races this year). I tried to get him to eat a lot of McDonalds in the weeks leading up to race day.

So, usually there will be one guy like this that turns up, not nine! I honestly didn’t feel my chances were very good, that I would need to have a perfectly executed race, even to be in contention for one of the four kona slots. Thus, my main goal was to get a PR, and if I happened to be in a position to KQ I’d consider myself lucky.

Race week
I flew down with the family on Friday (the last day to register). We stayed in a house (a must if you have a family!) so after dropping all our stuff there, I headed down to register and collect my bike. By the time I arrived there was no line (registration closed at 5pm, I arrived at 4:40) so everything went pretty fast. At 4:55 I collected my bike from TriBike (they closed at 5pm too!) and took it over to the guys at Dimond to have some bosses installed for my Torhans Aerobento. Those guys are awesome – so much support for me at both Kona and IMAZ. I saw pro Thomas Gerlach there and we chatted for a while about my bike, aero stuff and tires – I know him from slowtwitch but I’ve never met him in person – great guy with some good advice and perspectives! I then dropped my disc wheel with the mechanic to have new ceramic bearings installed, after which I quickly checked out the swim course from the bridges with my teammates (Kevin, Li, Snickers and Andrew) and then headed back home to relax in the hot tub.

 

On Saturday, I spent far too much time on getting my bike ready. I put new tires on, did all the race numbers and spent some time adjusting shifting etc. before doing a quick test ride. It should have taken 45 min max, but for some reason it took me 3 hours to do all of that. Probably because I spent about half of that time tracking down my 3 year old son who was chasing pigeons around Tempe Beach Park (and unlike his dad he is the FASTEST runner in his age group!). I got back to the house around 4pm and then settled in for some extreme relaxation and eating! Most of the evening was spent in the hot tub. Dinner was pretty simple – some home made fish tacos, veggie pizza, some sweet potato and a single IPA. About 400g carbohydrate throughout the day, with a fair amount of fat and protein too. I’m very conscious to make sure that I’m at a calorie surplus before a race – the last thing you want is to enter a catabolic state on race day. Well, that’s my excuse anyway!

That night, as always, I slept terribly. It always happens and I’m used to it. It feels like I don’t sleep all night, and then plunge into a deep sleep just before my alarm goes off!

Race day
I got up at 4am, and went directly to the kitchen to eat my meal. My big change for this race was to eat a relatively high fat breakfast with very slow release carbs. I had 50g IsoPure Colombian Coffee whey protein, 300ml coconut milk (the one you buy in a milk carton) and 3 servings of plain UCAN superstarch. In addition, 3 x gluten free pancakes with a lot of butter and peanut butter spread on them. About 800 calories.

At 5am my taxi arrived, and I was in Tempe about 20 mins later. The roads were closed so he had to drop me on the north side of the Mill St bridge, which actually turned out to be a good thing because there were 5 port-a-potties on that side (for the run course) with absolutely nobody around, so I got to use one without standing in line like everyone else in transition.

I got to my bike, checked my tires (105 PSI rear, 95 PSI front), put my bottles on and checked the brakes for rubbing. Everything was ok so I put my wetsuit on, put my run bottle in my run bag and then found Kevin in T1 (his bike space was next to mine). Usually both of us are still doing stuff as the swim is about to start, but this time we were both ready well in time, and headed down to the swim start early enough to see the pro start.

t1 We then got in the water and swam to the front right where we lined up. Soon we were joined by some teammates and others that I knew (Li, Snickers, Andrew and my work colleague Derk). The start was delayed for some reason, but soon we were on the cusp of starting so we secured our positions and braced ourselves for the start. I was lined up about 30m from the right hand side, right in front, directly behind 3 guys who “looked fast”.  In the photo below, I’m one of the white AWA caps on the right of the green kayak.

Now, before I get into the details of the swim, it’s time for a short intermission while we talk about the swim course. The buoys are lined up to follow the contour of the lake, which is not the fastest line. You basically want to imagine that the only thing that matters is the far turnaround buoy, even though you cannot see it from where you are. So my plan was to start right, swim a tangent to the middle of the Rural bridge, turn around, keep right and then aim for the 3rd column on the mill st bridge.IMAZ swim tangent I didn’t wear a garmin, but this is the line I think I took. The yellow dots are sort of where I think the outward markers were, the orange dots where the return markers were (the orange ones are probably different – I wasn’t even looking at them, but you get the general idea)

 Swim (0:59) goal sub 1 hour. I’ve been working on that goal for over a year and this was my final test to see if all that work has paid off.

As the canon fired, I started fast but not too fast, just keeping a steady tempo effort. I was immediately clear of any crowds and had zero contact. There were 3 swimmers in front of me and I kept on their feet. After a few hundred meters, just past a boat ramp, the lake curves to the right. The 3 guys (and one girl) in front of me started following the contour (longer) so I left them and started the tangent on my own. I kept on waiting for the crazy fist fight that is typical of an IM swim but nothing came! I was totally alone until the turnaround, and even there I had zero contact. After the turn I kept right, despite everyone else going left. 3 other swimmers joined me in going right, and I recognized one of them as my teammate, Snickers (John Nickerson). He was easy to spot in his helix wetsuit and AWA white cap. I jumped on his feet for a bit, but at the next curve in the lake I swam left while he kept more to the right. The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful (that’s a good thing!) and I came out of the water about 10 seconds ahead of Snickers. T1 was a quick transition – I tried to waste minimal time by putting on my helmet while running into the change tent, and then running with my shoes to the bike and only putting them on when I got there. My bike was racked next to 2 of the great guys in my age group: Kevin Coady (who is also my coach) and Scott Iott. Kevin’s bike was still there and Scott’s was gone (I just hoped it hadn’t been gone for that long!)

Time: 59 min – mission accomplished!

Bike (4:49)
I got to the mount line, got on my bike and turned the pedals. I heard a strange grinding sound then snap! my chain broke… I looked down and saw my chain lying on the ground. I had no spare chain, no way to fix it, I thought my day was over. It’s hard to describe the feeling when that happens. I started trying to figure out what I could do, when a volunteer ran up to me and told me that the Tribe Multisport mechanic was just up the road. So I ran with my bike for a few hundred yards until I found him. He had a bunch of tools and a master link for my chain, and he set to work fixing it straight away. I decided to eat a gel while I was standing there doing nothing, watching everyone come by. Snickers was already past me, Andrew came next, then I saw Kevin. Not only was I losing any advantage I had gained on the swim, but the guys at the front of the field were getting away from me. Since there was nothing else I could do about it, I didn’t really stress much about what was happening. Ironman is a long day, and anything can happen. I decided that I would just do my best with what I could control, and that a few minutes lost here would not mean the end of my day.

  Six and a half minutes later I was back on the bike. There was still a strange rubbing sound coming from my front derailleur, and it looked like it was skew. However, I could ride and I could shift gears, which was the most important thing. I tried not to tell myself that the friction loss from the metal rubbing on the chain would not make a huge difference, but I think at the back of my mind I doubted that. However my speed vs effort was pretty good. Most of the time I was over 25mph between 250 and 260 watts, which was pretty good. That helped put any fears of “lost watts” to rest and I just got on with the race. Mentally I was now riding pretty hard, trying to catch up the lost time (even though I didn’t want to “burn matches” doing that). So I kept a steady but high effort all the way up to the top of the Beeline, in the process catching my teammates again. I kept a solid effort on the descent too, without much coasting at all. At this stage my mouth was very dry, I felt dehydrated despite taking in a lot of water. In fact I had been sacrificing my calories a bit in favor of drinking water, but no matter how much I drank I still felt dry. Coming down the Beeline was pretty nice on lap 1. It was fast and there was very little bike traffic. It was getting windy out there (to me the wind felt very similar to Kona) but as per usual my Dimond bike was super stable in the wind, even with a Zipp 808 up front and a disc on the rear I felt no sketchy moments at all. The reason I went with the Dimond in the first place is because of the clean lines and great aerodynamics (and because chicks dig it), but the biggest unexpected difference has been in the handling on long fast descents in the wind. I don’t consider myself a great descender, yet here I am on the leaderboard of this strava segment for the descent.

As I hit the turnaround for lap 2, I focused on taking in the calories. I knew that I needed to get in around 500 calories per hour at 250 watts (I was at 247 watts at that point), but I had prioritized taking in water, so I decided to dial back the effort a bit and focus on finishing my first bottle (1000 calories) by the top of the beeline. I was quite diligent about doing that, without neglecting the water intake. Lap 2 was pretty tough. The slow riders were out, the wind picked up and it felt hot even though it wasn’t.  I really had to stay focused in order to avoid the slower bike traffic, and in a few cases I was forced to do “bad” things, but that were better than crashing. At one point I was making a pass, and the slower cyclist moved over to the left. There was a pothole directly in front of me, with oncoming cyclists the other way, so I had to swerve to his inside and pass him on the right. It all happened in a few seconds and I feel that was the right course of action to take, even though I shouldn’t have done that. The second time, I was making a pass coming down the beeline, and a slower rider just pulled out in front of me to make a pass too. I had no option but to briefly swerve onto the yellow line and then back again. This was dangerous since I was between the reflectors, which if I hit them could have had bad consequences, but it was the only place I had to go. I’m really not surprised that there were a lot of crashes out there. The gusts of wind also didn’t help – pushing riders all over the place.

Most of the day I was passing riders, but as I made the far beeline turn on lap 2, a super fast guy came past me on a Cervelo P5. I stayed a bit further than legal draft behind him (about 10 meters) down the hill and back into town. It was kind of nice, using him as a human shield. I stayed very aero and only paid attention to him – he seemed to be very in control of his bike and he was riding sensibly, so I left him with all the mental stress of riding past the slower riders, I just had to shout a bit to let them know I was there too.  Later I would find out this was actually a guy in my age group named Adrian Lawson, a very solid athlete that I didn’t even know about until race week. I think he actually had the fastest age grouper bike split of the day, but he ended up with a DNF (it looks like he stopped after the bike). Needless to say, I was not able to stay with him on lap 3. At one point I was riding 300 watts and not able to keep up, so I just let him go.

 As I came back into town for lap 3, Kevin’s wife Caroline shouted to me that I was 8 mins back on the leaders. That was encouraging for me, since I knew that both Adam Zucco and Trevor Glavin would have outswum me, and I expected Adam to outbike me by a fair amount too. Add to that the time lost with the chain problem and I thought I’d be 15 mins down or so. I kept things steady until the beeline hill and then started cranking it. However, it just FELT like I was cranking it, in reality, the super strong wind was making for tough conditions that made me feel like I was working a lot harder than I actually was.  It turns out that I steadily lost power on each lap (247w, 237w, 230w), with perceived exertion going up.

 I counted down the minutes getting to the top of the beeline turnaround. It was such a sufferfest, but I knew once I turned it was basically downhill all the way back. Not quite but that’s what it feels like. I used the hill to finish as much of my nutrition as possible, but I didn’t get through it all. I still had about 700 calories left on my bike once I was done. Once I hit the final Beeline turn and started my descent, it felt a surge of renewed energy, like a horse on the home straight. It was even windier now, and more congested too so passing was very difficult and quite dangerous, but I managed to make it back unscathed. The return trip back to T2 felt super fast. I saw Scott Iott in front of me at some point and made the pass with several miles still to go. Being such a good runner, I knew he would catch me, but any minutes I could put into him would help for sure.

top10

From Ironman live coverage: as you can see at this stage I was 10 min down on Zucco, 5 min down on Trevor, 3/4 min on Doug and Adrian, 2 min down on Steve. Scott was about 30 seconds behind me.

 It’s a very good sign when you arrive in T2 and there is almost nobody there. I think there were 2 other guys in the tent. The great thing is that there are a lot of bored volunteers who all jump in to help. So I had 5 guys helping me get ready for the run. One guy on each shoe, another guy sorting out my run bottle and another guy getting my number belt and sunglasses ready.  Thanks – you guys were awesome!

 Here are some bike numbers for the power geeks

TP file (bike)
TP file (run)

 NP: 238w
AP: 230w
IF: 0.73
VI: 1.03
w/kg: 3.05

Lap 1: 247 watts 1:31 (only started this lap time after the chain was fixed)
Lap 2: 237 watts 1:34
Lap 3: 230 watts 1:36

Total time 4:49 (4:42 riding time – excluding the chain “stoppage”)

 Run (3:16)
I started the run just a short way in front of Scott. I felt super comfy but my garmin was showing 6:30 pace. I deliberately slowed down, since I was aiming to pace it out at 7:30. Despite my best efforts at slowing down I still went through mile 1 in 7:07. I saw Caroline and she told me that Trevor was leading and was 8 minutes ahead. I figured he must have biked in with Zucco and that Adam was still with him.

 

4 of the top 5 wore Hoka One One Cliftons

4 of the top 5 wore Hoka One One Cliftons

 The first 4 miles is an out-and-back, and I saw Adam as I was somewhere between mile 1 and 2. I figured he was at least 1 mile ahead. Scott ran past me at the 2 mile mark. He was running quite a bit faster than me, and I was running 7:15 pace. I thought that he was running a little bit fast but he looked very comfortable. I was feeling good enough to run with him, but I just let him go. I knew that a 3:15 was about as good as I was going to run, so running faster than that would just be a very poor pacing decision for me. I saw Kevin coming the opposite way when I was somewhere near to the 4 mile mark. I figured he was about 10 mins behind me. I didn’t see anyone else, it felt like a ghost town out there, literally with tumbleweed rolling across the dust!

From that point onward I just got everyone else out of my mind. This was my race to execute as well as I could, without being concerned about anyone else. I just focused on keeping the pace steady, holding it back and maintaining 7:30 as best I could. Even though it felt easy now, I knew it would feel a lot tougher on lap 2. I started the run with a bottle of frozen fluid (2 servings of UCAN) that I planned on finishing between 30 and 45 minutes. It lasted me an hour and then I switched to coke. I would just stop at every 4th/5th aid station for about 10 seconds filling up the bottle, then run a bit faster to make up my average pace. That worked a lot better than Kona where I stopped more frequently (no bottle). I saw Kevin again somewhere on the north side loop, and he was still about 10 mins behind. I knew then that if I didn’t fade at all, I may have a chance at 5th/6th place. As I finished lap 1, the crowd support was amazing. It really pumps you up as you run through that whole beach park area, with so much support and encouragement. I saw Scott as I started the out-and-back section, and he had made really good progress. He must have been about 11 minutes ahead of me (or more) at that point. A few minutes later I saw Adam and he was only about 4 minutes ahead of me. That really fired me up to keep going. 7:30 was now a lot harder to maintain. It required a lot of focus and digging deep, just to maintain the same pace that felt so slow to me an hour earlier. I just kept on plugging away but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see Adam in front of me. At mile 20 I saw Caroline again and she said that Adam was 4 minutes ahead of me. Dammit, he must have made a recovery! I then tried to push the pace a bit more. If I could cut 15-30 seconds per mile then I might have a chance of catching him. I gave it everything I had. Aid stations whirled by. I rationed my coke so I wouldn’t have to stop again to refill. With 3 miles to go I tried to up the pace again. I managed a sub 7 mile somewhere in there but it hurt quite a bit so I backed off a little. I pushed and pushed, chasing this mythical Zucco creature that loomed ahead of me somewhere. With a mile to go, my legs were crying out for me to stop. I just ignored them and told myself that I could rest my legs the whole winter. It was just 7 minutes of pain to potentially make up a single place – a place that could make the difference between a KQ or not. It felt like I was at my limit now, but I was only at 7:20 pace with my legs crying out. I still didn’t see Adam but I was determined not to give up. I ran up the finishing chute knowing I had given it my all for a finishing time of 9 hours 11 minutes. I high fived Kevin who was standing in the grandstand (he pulled out half way on the run).  I was elated.

 

This year I’ve not had a single PR, but I made up for that today with a 29 minute Ironman PR, a 4 minute swim PR, 6 minute bike PR and a 1 minute run PR. I got my medal and made my way to the massage tent, which was populated with pros and M35-39 athletes! I saw Trevor, Scott and Steve but no Adam. I then found out that Adam was actually behind me – I had passed him at some point in the last 10K without seeing him. Steve Johnson won, Scott was a very close second (with a sub 3 marathon), Trevor was 3rd and I was 4th. Adam was 5th but he got an early Christmas gift from Santa Steve who declined his kons slot. So I’m really looking forward to racing with these guys in Kona again. It was honestly a real honor to be on a podium with guys of this calibre. Casting my mind back to that moment when my chain broke… remember an IM is a long day, anything can happen so keep going and never give up!

I’m super motivated to work on my run during the winter. Gaining 15 minutes on the run will get me sub 9, which now feels like a realistic goal. I think with the right work it is within reach.

The “stacked” podium: Steve Johnson, Scott Iott, Trevor Glavin, me, Adam Zucco. It’s like a training bible sandwich - but we all know the filling is the most tasty.

The “stacked” podium: Steve Johnson, Scott Iott, Trevor Glavin, me, Adam Zucco. It’s like a training bible sandwich – but we all know the filling is the most tasty!

 

 

Kona 2014 Race Report

Here’s my (belated) download of the Kona race. I went 9:43 this year vs 9:40 last year. I swam faster, biked a bit slower and ran exactly the same.

I was pretty happy with my race. Even though I only got 48th in my AG I feel it was the best I could have executed (except I would have liked to run a 3:15 instead of a 3:30, but that will take a more focused and specific run block to get right next time). Overall I feel like I can still make some big gains on the run, which I’m looking forward to doing! Oh, and I beat Apollo Ohno ;-)

Here is my report.

There is a short summary to start, with a more detailed account further down, and then a comparison of 2013 and 2014 at the bottom (edit: formatting went crazy so I copied the data into a linked google doc). I thought that would be interesting because there was only 2 minutes difference year on year. I biked a lot easier and was not much slower. Most of the reason for that I believe to be aero gains from new bike and position.
Summary:

Swim: 1:03
Very happy with the swim, the hours of training have paid off. Even though I was hoping for sub 60 min, going 63 min on a slower year was a result I was happy with, and set me up for a much easier bike ride. Total distance on my garmin was 2.7 miles, pace 1:28 / 100m
Bike: 5 hours flat.
IF 0.69, NP 226W, AP 205W, VI 1.10
The funny thing I was only 5 mins slower than 2013, on 10 watts lower NP, in tougher conditions. I attribute most of that to the new bike with a cleaner setup, more aero and most importantly enables a much more aero position. You can see in the pics below I’ve got a nice flat back (I was coasting down Kuakini here, I’m a little more upright when pedaling normally). I stayed in aero pretty much the whole way, except a few times I sat up on Hawi climb, and sometimes when being passed I had to sit up in order to fall back to legal distance. I’ve drawn up a comparison table of 2013 vs 2014 at the bottom which is some pretty interesting data. The Dimond was super stable in these conditions. Everyone will tell you how windy it was, this bike was rock solid.
Run: 3:30
Ran very conservatively up till the energy lab, with the goal of laying down the pace back on the Queen K. It went mostly to plan, except the last part. I just couldn’t pick it up in the last 10K (in fact I slowed). But overall I feel like I executed most of the race well.
Bike setup:
Dimond Superbike with di2, power2max PM, rotor 165mm cranks, zipp vuka stealth bars + bta mount, tririg omega brakes, zipp 808 rear, zipp 404 front. Torhans Aerobento with a hole cut in it for the di2 junction box. Dash TT9 saddle with Caffelatex mounted between the rails. Spare tube + co2 velcro’d onto the saddle and wrapped in 3M electrical tape. I really like my setup it’s nice and clean. The bike as you see it here is exactly how I raced it





[flat kit]


[race number bolted to seatpost – nice and clean]

[my setup enables me to stay pretty aero even while drinking]

Long version
Swim
Started just right of the large TYR pontoon. Had clear water for about 5 mins, until everyone merged, then it was pretty much white water until the turn. I swam wide and stayed left, then if any congestion happened I could just stay left and avoid it. The extra swim form paid off because everyone around me was a decent swimmer, meaning I had great feet to follow most of the time. With a slightly long course and my wide turns I swam 2.7 miles in 1:03 which I was happy with (1:28 / 100m avg pace) http://tpks.ws/kOUf
The way out was quite a bit faster than the way back (1:22 /100m out, 1:34/100m back)
T1
Up the stairs, took swim skin top off, hit the showers. I should have rinsed my eyes out – they were burning with salt for a good part of the ride. You then grab your bike bag and run to the change tent. I had a bottle of ensure in the bag, which I managed to easily chug by the time I hit the change tent. The volunteer helped me pull the top of my octane on – so that was pretty quick. However I ran out to my bike with my cap and goggles still on, so I ran back quickly to hand them to the volunteer. Grabbed the bike and off I went.
Bike
Coming out the water 4 mins faster than 2013 made a huge difference, because I started riding with a higher % of racers, instead of trying to catch them from behind. I kept it super easy for the first 30km. A few guys blasted past me on Kuakini but I just let them go. As for the others, there were some huge packs up until mile 20/30. These were really unavoidable due to so many athletes being out at the same time. I think the officials did a great job of enforcing the drafting rules, by letting everyone get sorted out for the first bit, then clamping down hard once everyone was out on the queen k. I was pretty lucky in that I was stronger than most riders in the packs, meaning I could just lay down constant power, and slingshot wheel to wheel for a long way while still being legal and not burning any matches (I was still riding well within myself, about 235 watts vs the 255 that I thought I would be riding at this part of the day). Most riders were doing their best to stay legal, but I saw some blatant wheel sucking too. I was happy to see a full penalty tent All the way to Waikaloa felt like a nice easy warmup – just past the resorts we were hit by a strong headwind and I managed to get clear of the packs pretty easily.

The cross winds were also pretty crazy – at one point I got blown all the way over to the left hand side of the road. There were still a few good riders out there so I had company most of the way up to the start of the Hawi climb.
As we started climbing up Hawi, the head/cross winds were pretty incredible. Even though we were climbing (relatively slowly), it was difficult to let go of the bars at all without losing control. At that point I was getting pretty worried about the descent, since we’d be hit by the same winds, but at 40mph+ downhill!
The Hawi turnaround came pretty quickly, and yet again the penalty tent was overflowing. This was the last time I saw any big packs – there will still a lot of riders out there but it was now very easy to stay legal. The Hawi descent was a lot easier than I was expecting. I coasted for most of it. My new Dimond bike was incredibly stable in the crosswinds, I didn’t have a single sketchy moment and it gave me a huge amount of confidence on these exposed windy sections.
A few guys blasted past me on the Kawaihae climb, but since I was already doing 300 watts I let them go!
Back the on Queen K, and it was into another headwind for a bit, before going through the most fun part of the day. Leading up to Waikaloa, a tailwind hit us and just pushed us along like crazy. I was doing 44 mph without even pedaling! At that point I was 3:45 into the ride, and a quick mental calculation had me thinking that a 4:3X would be on the card if this wind kept up. Unfortunately, 4 mins later we were hit by a headwind that slammed us right back to 18 mph, then 12 mph… ok, so back to a 5 hour estimate!
Guys were now dropping like flies – clearly the conditions had taken their toll! I kept it pretty even, just burning the occasional match to jump gaps. I kept on taking in water at the aid stations (one bottle at the beginning of the station, one at the end, drinking ¾ and dumping the rest on my back).
I was still feeling great at the 100 mile marker – which was surprising since I’m usually very ready to be done by 90 miles. The remainder was pretty comfy and I was now passing a lot of people. I rolled into T2 feeling nice and fresh – the litmus test being when you hand off your bike and try to run – in 2013 I was super wobbly and in 2014 I felt fresh and ready to run.
In T2 I changed out of the Octane and into a speedo + run singlet (great cooling!). I do lose quite a bit of time doing that so one day, if I’m in contention for a podium etc. I’ll probably just run in the Octane.
Run
I started the run feeling strong. My goal was to run 7:30/mile, which felt painfully slow for the first mile. I held the 7:30 for most of it, but them some weird quantum physics took place around 0.8 miles and I went through mile 1 in 6:59. I managed to hold around 7:30 pace for most of Alii drive, up until Palani hill where I walked. Back up on the Queen K I was still feeling strong, but running within my comfort zone like Kevin had told me to. I kept it comfortable all the way into the energy lab, and then stopped at special needs to pick up another bottle (next time I won’t do that). I walked again at various points up the energy lab hill then prepared to unleash the pace back on the Queen K. However, the unleashing wouldn’t come! As hard as I tried to push, there was no answer… my perceived effort was rocketing up and my pace was dropping. I calculated that I just needed to stick to 8:00/mile to beat my 9:40 from 2013, which I managed until mile 23 but then I did 3 x consecutive 9 min miles which put that plan to bed. I put in a 7:03 for mile 26 which made for a nice strong finish, but it wasn’t enough to sneak under my 2013 time. Still, on a tougher day, I was very happy with a time only 3 minutes slower.
Overall, I thought I executed the race really well. I still need to figure out the final part of the run, but I think with another couple of Konas I’ll be able to nail that too.
Next stop, Arizona! That’s going to be a super competitive race in M35-39, and I’ll actually be super lucky to KQ there. So my primary goal is to get a fast time (I’ve never raced a fast Ironman course, so looking forward to seeing what’s possible!)

2013 vs 2014
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at 2013 vs 2014. I originally pasted in a table here but it comes out in a weird format.
Here is a link to the data in a google doc

Dimond – a man’s best friend?

I’ve ridden a Specialized Shiv since 2012. Over this time I’ve gradually tweaked my position and setup, but eventually ended up unable to get low enough. I was as aero as I was going to get on it, short of resorting to workarounds such as super thin dust cap + and special “below extension pad mounts”. So I decided to start my search for a new bike, with optimal position being the starting point. I began with a clean slate, visiting Jim @ Ero several months ago for a fit on his Retul fit bike. I chose Jim because he understands aerodynamics, power, comfort, and the combination of all these things working together. I’ve been to too many fitters who hear that I’m racing Ironman and immediately set me up for a more relaxed, “comfortable” position. Personally I place the premium on aero, as long as it doesn’t create too much discomfort.

Jim started by getting me into a super aero position, and then tweaking my position until maximum power vs RPE was reached. What was pretty interesting, is that I was unable to see my power output, Jim just told me to ride at the same perceived effort. With just a few small tweaks, I was putting out about 40 watts more at the same RPE than I was in both a “higher” and “lower” stack setup. The pic below shows my new fit vs the position on my shiv. The red line is the same in both pics to show you how it’s different. Basically it’s longer and lower.

So next was the bike choice. We narrowed it down to a few options: Trek SC, Felt DA, Cervelo P5 and Dimond.

I really like the Trek SC because it’s super aero, has a great design, excellent storage options, and nice clean solutions for cable routing etc.  I also really like the P5 – what a fine machine and superb quality.  As for Felt, I would have considered the IA but it wouldn’t fit me, and the DA just seemed like I’d be choosing an older design from them, and tweaking the fit would have been a bit harder than the Trek and P5.

Now, the Dimond really stood out for me because of it’s unique design, which I feel could *possibly* be more aero than the others, and *possibly* offering some level of energy saving due to the beam design (I don’t have data on the energy saving, but I’ve spoken to several people who have raced on beam bikes and all of them talk about better running off the bike). I also liked the fact that they are hand made here in the USA and I was super impressed with the personal attention I received from the guys at Ruster Sports.

So, with my decision made, I reached out to the guys at Dimond who accepted me to race on team Dimond for the remainder of this season. Next up was component choice. This is what I went with:
– Shimano di2 groupset
– Zipp vuka stealth bars with zipp BTA mount
– tririg omega brakes (really love the aeroness of the center pull)
– power2max type s power meter with rotor cranks and praxis chainrings
– saddle: originally planned on using my Sitero saddle, but the rails are oval and don’t fit the clamp. At the moment I’ve got my ISM TT but I’ve got a Dash TT.9 on order. I considered the Fizik Tritone but I don’t think having 2 x bottles on the side is as aero as a single bottle (and I don’t need 2)
– wheels: I have existing zipp wheels. Most races will be disc + 808. Kona will be 808 + 404

I’ve ridden it a few times outside. I love the position (feels super fast), and the bike is very stable in cross winds. I was riding in heavy wind with an 808 in front and it felt fine, not as sketchy as I’ve felt in the past. Possibly due to the “open” rear end of the bike.  Speed-wise it seems pretty fast. On some of my local loops I’ve got times about 2 mins faster (48 min vs 50 min) at the same power output as the Shiv. I wouldn’t read too much into that though, since
My first race on it will be The Big Kahuna in Santa Cruz (half iron) and then Kona (808,404) followed by IMAZ (disc, 808). I really look forward to finding out how it performs under pressure!

Here are some pics so far (took them with phone). Still need to do some cable cleanup, especially that rear brake cable coming up in the front.


Ironman South Africa – a sprint finish for the podium!

Ironman South Africa has been a “bucket list” race for me, for a number of reasons:

rob4kona – I grew up in South Africa, but I’ve never raced there
– My parents would be able to see me race an Ironman for the first time
– My brother-in-law Grant and I have shared many adventures since we were “young”, so it would have special meaning to take part in an Ironman with him.
– It would be awesome to stay in a friendly home environment, catered by sister Nikki!
– It’s a beautiful course (even more so this year with the new bike course).

The Short Version:
09:53, 3rd place M35-39 (that means a kona slot too), 29th overall. Pretty happy with the result considering relatively low training volume
Swim 1:03  (under-performed but still a PR). 23rd in AG, 176th overall
T1: uneventful besides passing 38 people, 5 of whom were in my AG. Came out of T2 in 16th
Bike 5:19  342 TSS, .80 IF, 236W NP, 215 AP, VI 1.1, Pw:HR -1.98%, 6000ft elevation gain (there were some nice fast downhills but I descended like a bit of a chicken). Worked my way up to start the run 32nd overall, 4th in AG. Here is my bike data
Run 3:24 (not my best time but I was happy with that considering the tougher than average bike course, and strong wind during the run). Finished 29th overall, 3rd in AG. Here is my run data.
Sprint finish to take 3rd place! my fastest mile of the day was mile 26 (6:30) with the last half mile @ 5:44/mile… That made the day super exciting.

– It was a tight race in M35-39 with only 90 seconds between 2nd and 4th
– Fantastic course, amazing people, superb event organization
– as with all Ironman races, I learned something new. This time I finally nailed my pre-race nutrition (i.e. in the week leading up to race day, and the 2 days prior)
– St Croix 70.3 will now be a “pressure-free” race and I can focus on having fun!
– Full details and pics in “long version” below!

The Long Version:
After IM Los Cabos in 2013, I decided to not race another early season Ironman again. I had a great race in Cabo but the long training days over the dark/cold winter are really tough; it’s just a lot easier getting big training done in the daylight hours of summer. However, after Kona in October, I decided that I would like to race IMSA in 2014, since I may not get the opportunity to do so again soon. The race seldom sells out, so I was pretty relaxed about getting my entry in. The day I decided to pull the trigger, the event sold out! Appraently the fact that it was the 10th anniversary made it that much more appealing to everyone! I put my name on the waitlist, but honestly didn’t think I’d get a place. A few weeks later I received the confirmation that I was in! I was already entered for St Croix 70.3 on May 4th, so after talking through it with Coach Coady, the plan was basically to do IMSA on half-ironman training, with a 2 week IM specific block before IMSA.

From Dec 1st through April 1st, I only averaged 14.5 hours per week (low for me), with two bigger 25+ hour weeks in March (big for me). Everything was high quality with very little “junk” in there. Most of December and January would be focused on improving my swim, and just maintaining good bike and run fitness. I also took a really long time to get back into running shape after Kona. In fact it wasn’t until February that I saw some vaguely decent numbers coming back (by decent I mean pace vs HR for specific efforts). So February and March were solid training months, getting back my form just in time for two high volume, high quality training weeks (mostly run bike with a little bit of swimming) as my build for IMSA.

total volume leading up to IMSA

total volume per week leading up to IMSA

If you exclude swimming from my weekly volume, you can really see I did low volume (but very high quality) for most of winter. Most of it was under 10 hours, but I ramped it up for the critical IM build phase.

bike-run only

With 3 weeks out I did my single race rehearsal, which was one of my best race rehearsals to date:

swim: 2.4 miles in 55 mins (pool, no wetsuit, feeling very easy)
bike: 3:45 @ 238 watts NP (feeling comfortable)
run: 8 miles @ 7:00 / mile (feeling “easy”)

With the return of my form, my race confidence also returned. I was now looking forward to race day, and I knew that I had done enough work to race for a chance at a kona slot.

PMC sidebar: For those that train with power and are familiar with TSS/ CTL etc. here is my Training Peaks performance management chart. Peak CTL 2 weeks out was 144. My peak before kona was 170, but that was 3 weeks out. However, my CTL with 2 weeks to go was also around 144. My main take away from that data is that it’s critical to time your taper correctly, taking into account your ability to recover, and how fast you lose fitness. There is a trade off during the taper, where you are gaining freshness but losing fitness at the same time. You want to arrive on race day being fresh enough, but without losing too much fitness. I think we can still fine tune the taper a little bit, as I was feeling “like superman” on April 1st.

CTL - all

I flew out to South Africa on Sunday evening, a week before race day. 38 hours and 3 flight connections later I landed in Port Elizabeth. Jet lag was going to be an issue, so I had started getting into the new time zone on the plane, by taking melatonin at my “new” bedtime, followed by benadryl to keep me sleeping. I slept sporadically on the plane trips, but it must have been ok quality wise, since I arrived feeling quite fresh.

My parents met me at Johannesburg airport and flew down to PE with me. It was really great to see them again (I’d last seen them 18 months ago).

With my dad at the Boardwalk

With my dad at the Boardwalk

My sister Nikki met us all at PE airport and whisked us back home to get settled. It was great to see Grant and my two nephews (Ben and Caleb) again, and after some rigorous unpacking Grant and I headed off for a quick bike ride. I felt amazingly good, as I said before “like superman”. The watts were falling from heaven without much effort at all. This was a good sign, although I always get a little worried when I feel so good and race day is still 4 days away – I need to be feeling like that ON race day! I knew that I had to do just enough training to “keep the rust off” without building any more fatigue. We did a quick swim that night then back home for dinner.

feeling like superman

feeling like superman

Talking about dinner, I have been fine tuning my race-week nutrition, and this was my first test during an actual race week. Basically I would eat high fat low carb from one week out, then boost the carbs on Friday, eat normally Saturday, race Sunday. Most meals were made up of stuff like bacon, eggs, avocado, and some veggies. More details on that below, but I feel like I’ve nailed the protocol and will repeat it for future ironman races.

On Thursday we went to register. I took a bit longer because I had to stand in the “internationals” line and Grant could go in the “locals” line. I had to sign an extra credit card form, which would serve as payment should they have to take me to hospital during the race, and avoid being taken to a state hospital (which you really do not want to happen in SA). I was a little reluctant to put all my CC details on a piece of paper, but I’d rather be defrauded than end up in a state hospital!

Registration done!

Registration done!

On Friday, I did a 10 min easy run followed by 3 mins @ VO2Max pace (a bit faster than 5K pace). This in theory boosts the uptake of glycogen into the muscles once you start eating carbs again. I followed this workout immediately with a high-glycemic carb breakfast (waffles and syrup, yeah baby!), and then 50g high GI carbohydrate per hour for the remainder of the day. High GI is good in this case, you DO want an insulin spike because insulin is a storage hormone that is needed for glycogen to be effectively stored in your muscles. It’s important to not eat too much at once, and spread it out at about 50g/hour. To make it easy, I made 900g of white rice (cooked weight), and mixed that with some honey, cinnamon and condensed milk. I would then eat 200g of that per hour until it was done (5-6 hours). I also ate some sweet potato for lunch, a few slices of pizza and some oatmeal for dinner.

Saturday was back to normal, but relatively high carb eating. Oatmeal breakfast, hake (white fish), white rice and sweet potato for lunch, sweet potato mid pm snack and a large bowl of oatmeal for dinner. I also took 2 scoops of Osmo pre-load.
I went to sleep at 8:30pm and slept soundly until 11:30pm. After that I was lying awake the rest of the night. I decided to get up at 3am and eat breakfast (small bowl of white rice mixed with ensure) so it had time to “pass through” by morning time. Grant was awake too, so there there 2 of us were, foam rolling in the lounge at 3am! I finally fell asleep at about 4am, only to wake up to my alarm 30 minutes later. Well, at least I got a good night’s sleep on Friday night!

Race Day

All the bags were packed, so after a quick bathroom visit I put on my tri suit, wetsuit (bottom half only), put some sunscreen on and then we jumped in the car, chauffer driven by my sister Nikki and my Dad to the start. Grant and I quickly pumped our tires, I put my nutrition on my bike and then we got into the water for a quick practice swim. After that we got out, said hi and bye to my folks, Nikki and and the boys, before getting into the “wave 2 start chute” behind the pros on the beach.

 

ready to rock n roll!

ready to rock n roll!

We were about 3 rows back, on the right hand side, ready to rock and roll! We then spotted the first cheater of the day. There was a short guy with a beard in the front row, wearing a blue seventy helix with floatation pads stuffed down the side of his legs! The other guys were joking with me that I clearly bought the “non-premium” helix ;-) Unfortunately there is no way to identify someone on the swim, so I assume he just got away with it…

Swim (1:03:02)

With 1 minute to go, I adjusted my cap and it tore down the middle. Fortunately there was a referee standing on the beach and he was able to give me a new one with 30 seconds to spare. Half a minute later, BOOM! the canon was fired and we were off… I ran down the beach and towards the right, diving under the waves and started to swim. I started off strong but steady, and didn’t have very much contact until the first turn, where I had some but not as much as I’ve had in the past. I found a set of feet and just settled in behind him. He seemed to be sighting well, so after a while I just put my head down and followed him. We were swimming right of the main group, maybe a little further than we needed to, but I took the option of just staying on his feet.

Screenshot 2014-04-14 at 4.11.33 PM

I’m in there somewhere on the right (wide turn)

At the half way turn, he followed the main bunch, who were now swimming too far to the right. Grant and I had worked out the sighting during the week, and figured out that we need to aim straight for the radisson hotel on the way back. These guys were swimming far to the right of that, so I decided to leave the group (and the good feet!) in favor of swimming straight. It turned out to be a good decision, as I made some ground on that group of swimmers. I found a new set of feet and followed him most of the way back. We rounded the final buoy and started the final 300m back to shore. As we were getting close, I saw some swell approaching and decided to catch a wave in. My intentions were great, however my foot and calf cramped up as the wave got to me, so instead of catching a ride I got pummeled underwater – LOL. Once out, there was a little run up the beach, and up some stairs, under the arch where the timing mat was. I saw the clock reading 1:03, which although was much slower than I would have liked, was a lot better than I’ve seen in the past. By the way, Grant does virtually no swim training and came out 30 seconds behind me… damn that’s annoying! ;-)

I grabbed my bike bag off the rack, headed into the change tent, stripped the wetsuit and put on my helmet, then started the fairly long run to the bike racks. I passed quite a lot of guys who were running in their bike shoes (I was still barefoot). It turns out I actually passed 38 people in T1! That’s free time! After a rather long run around to the bike racks, I grabbed my bike and headed to the mount line. As I jumped on, I heard something fall to the ground. Fearing it was some part of my bike, I looked back and saw my digital pressure gauge lying on the ground. For some reason I had left it in my shoe! Oh well I wasn’t about to go back for it now…

Bike

I saw Nikki as I rode out of T2, she said I was 17th in my AG coming out of the swim. This would help me track my place as I progressed through the field on the bike. As planned, I started off riding easy, allowing me to warm up and get the blood flowing into the legs.

captain t1

 

Shortly after the start, it’s pretty much a gradual uphill for 7 miles, where I kept the power on the higher end of my race pace, but not too high (for me, this meant around 250 watts). After the climbing there is a long fast downhill where I was hitting 42 mph (68 kph) – the wind becomes slightly gusty and side-on half way down this hill, and my bike was shaking around a bit. Holding on for dear life, I made it down but made a mental note to go a bit slower on lap 2. After a long fast rolling section with a tailwind, we turned right into the new hilly section of the course. The climbs were pretty manageable, and I had to really hold myself back; my power was reading above 300w and I was trying to stay at around 280w. Several bikers flew past me, stomping up the hill like their lives depended on it. I had to be really self controlled here and not give in to ego. In most Ironman races outside of kona, I’m usually the one doing most of the overtaking, and this time there were quite a few guys riding past me, fast. I managed to keep my composure and ride my own race, sticking to the plan I had trained to. After the hills, there were some long fast downhills, where I think I lost quite a bit of time due to riding like a chicken. There was one hill after Colleen Glen, where it’s pretty easy to get up to 45 mph / 70 kph, but the catch is that there are two speed bumps half way down! I took them at about 38 mph but there were guys flying past me over these things… kudos to them, I really need to grow a pair!

Going all the way down you get to the farthest end of the bike course, with amazing views of the maitland sand dune and the Indian ocean. The scenery truly is spectacular! One more climb, followed by another fast downhill on rough road surface, and you get to to a long coastal stretch back home, on this day straight into a headwind (easterly wind, unusual for this time of year). It was a long grind, with great views, all the way back to transition and the start of lap 2. I knew I was on track for a slower time than expected, so any time goals were immediately discarded and I began to focus on the numbers that matter.

Ironman South Africa 2014 from Bigshot Media on Vimeo.

It was time for a quick check on nutrition. I had already gone through 1500 calories in 2.5 hours, on the upper end of my intake range. Based on my metabolic testing I knew I was burning 800-900 carbs/hour at this pace, but only taking in 550-600. I could feel that I was at the max of my intake ability (slight feeling of “fullness”), so I decided to hold back for 40 minutes and only take in water. I also took a look at my TSS (if you don’t ride with a power meter, this won’t mean anything to you). In general I would aim for a TSS of around 300 for an IM bike split, maybe a little more because I’m able to take in a higher than average number of calories. However after lap 1 my TSS was reading 170, which was way more than it should have been. So in addition to backing off the nutrition for a bit, I decided to dial it back on the bike for a while. I focused on keeping RPE (perceived exertion) at around 4/10 creeping up to 5/10 on the hills, and I took every single opportunity to coast where I could, over 28 mph. The wind had picked up on lap 2, and I was even more cautious on the downhills. Guys would get about 60-70 seconds ahead of me on the downhills, but I kept on telling myself that I wouldn’t be able to run with a broken arm! It was a huge relief to get to the bottom of Maitland hill – I knew I’d get home in one piece from there without wiping out. The downhills were done, but I was faced with the final menace – 50km of riding into a heavy headwind. I focused on keeping my watts steady, I didn’t push too hard, and just tried to conserve as much energy as possible. My watts were still too high, but I was just doing what I needed to do in order to move forward!

At this stage I wasn’t sure how I was placed, but I knew I was doing ok since I had passed a few pro men, and then rode past Natascha Badmann who was struggling with her small body into the wind. I focused on getting the last of my fuel in, with the marathon now within sight I had to be prepared and ready to run well. I knew I had biked a little too hard, and that I would be at risk of glycogen depletion on the run if I didn’t slow down and eat more.

As we drew near to T2, I saw a few of the male pros on their first lap of the run. I didn’t see any age groupers, but I knew there will still some ahead of me. Despite riding easier, my TSS was still really high, now almost at 350. I knew that I’d need to start running on the conservative side in order to finish strong. I entered T2, grabbed my run bag, put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my bottle (frozen coke), sunglasses, garmin and cap and headed out on the start of the marathon.

Run

I started off at what felt like a very easy pace. I was aiming for 7:15-7:30 / mile, so I was surprised when I glanced down at my garmin and saw 6:55 / mile. I knew this was too fast, so I eased up. When I looked down again I was at 6:40 / mile! I consciously just let it flow and ran as easily as I comfortably could, but I still went through mile 1 in 6:52. Miles 2 and 3 were similar with 7:03 and 7:10. After that there is a bit of uphill, and no spectators, through the “university section”. I did a few miles around 7:45 before settling in to my goal pace of 07:30. At this stage I was in 4th place, but I didn’t know. I knew I was in the top 6 (there were 6 slots) but I really had no idea what place I was.
The crowd support was fantastic. It was great to see my mom and dad, Nikki, Ben, Caleb, and other friends Ron, Shara, Tam, Roy, Brian, Brendan, Neil, Louise and more! This is what it’s like racing on home turf! Halfway came by pretty quickly, then it was the next 5 miles that were a bit of a grind. 07:30 no longer felt easy, in fact 07:45 felt like hard work! I was trying to get more coke down but was just really sick of drinking. I allowed myself a few miles over 8:00/mile until I hit mile 18, when I started to dig deep. I told myself just get through the next few miles, and then you’ll just have 10K to go. I’ve done 10K hundreds of times. I told myself that I just needed to dig deep and imagine I was starting a 10K right then.

IMG-20140406-WA0004

Meantime, back in California at some ungodly hour, Michelle was checking the athlete tracker and sending updates to my family via whatsapp. She knows exactly what type of info I need, which was super useful as I ran past Nikki who told me I was in 4th place, 3 minutes behind 3rd. I tried to go a bit faster, but couldn’t manage much of an increase. Laps 19-22 were all slower than 8:00/mile and I wasn’t gaining at all. At mile 23 I threw my bike bottle away and just focused on getting my form right. Every step was a very conscious and deliberate effort to get me back into the zone. Soon things started flowing again, I was moving fast and feeling more natural. As I headed back into town, I was running strong. At this stage I was more relieved about my ability to defend 4th place, than I was on getting to 3rd. I just assumed that I would not catch him. I ran past Nikki for the final time, and she told me I was catching him. Honestly I thought she was just saying that to make me feel better, but about 30 seconds later, with 2km to go, this guys runs up behind me, looks at my number and then starts looking me up and down. I see that he has 3 bands on his wrists, meaning he’s on his final lap. I (correctly) assumed this was 3rd place who I had just  passed without knowing it. I look him in the eye and throw down the gauntlet – you up for a sprint finish? Without hesitation he says nothing and just bolts away from me. As if by magic, my heavy feet spark to life and I give chase, staying right on his heels as we make our way to the finish line. This guy was smaller than me, and I knew he would have the edge over a long distance, but that I would probably have the edge in a short sprint. As the adrenaline kicked in, staying with him seemed effortless, and I started preparing myself mentally for the right moment to make a move. I knew that if I started too early, he would outrun me. I cast my mind back to my school days as a 400m athlete, and mentally put myself back in that situation, prepared to do a 400m sprint. I blocked out the fact that I was at the end of an ironman! We ran past my Dad – I heard him shout “go, Rob, you can take him! Take him Rob!”. We went past my mom, past Brendan and past several other people that I knew. All of them were shouting my name. All fatigue evaporated and I was ready to surge. We were still about 800m out, and I could see the bridge across the road which I knew was close to the finish line. We were now flying along at about 5:30/mile, weaving in and out of the slower runners who were now on their first lap. I patiently waited, the only thing I could hear was our feet pounding the pavement in unison. I could now see the coned section of the finishing chute looming up fast as we veered right, increasing pace with every stride. We were now running under 5:00/mile as we turned the final corner before the red carpet. I felt the energy surge through me as we took the corner, I stepped wide and past him on the outside. It felt like every fiber of my being was bursting with power as I accelerated down the red carpet, not looking back until I was over the line, safely in the unexpected podium position! Huge thanks to Lionel Roye for giving me a run for my money. Afterwards I checked his results on athlinks and he’s a badass athlete (regularly in the low 9s for ironman distance). I am honored to have had the opportunity to race him. He has, however, vowed revenge in Kona where we hopefully repeat a sprint finish down Alii Drive… (although given that he beat me by 30 mins in 2013, he’s probably safe!)

HR shooting up

HR spikes from 148-168 for the fast finish

That final sprint had me amped for hours. I had a quick massage before seeing my family in the finish area. They were over the moon with excitement and there was much celebration!

outside the massage tent with nephew Caleb and my Mom

outside the massage tent with nephew Caleb and my Mom

We then went back to the sidelines to support Grant. He was still looking strong despite having some major GI issues. It was a special moment being able to greet him as he crossed the finishing line. Even though this is an individual sport, there is something incredibly unifying about having overcome the same tough day together, suffered through the pain, and reached the finish line.

grant rob finish

The next day we attended the rolldown, and I’ve got to say the IMSA organizers really made this a celebration. What usually is a rather dull formality was turned into a real high production event, with Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman/WTC, handing out a lei on stage to all Kona qualifiers. I was super stoked to meet my online friend Matteo (who raced in my AG @ IM Los Cabos and see him realize his long time dream of getting that kona slot! Congrats Matteo!


The awards banquet was superb. Great food, great atmosphere, and a super fun time!

Overall I cannot say enough good things about this race. The organizers are a level above all other IM races I’ve done outside of Kona in terms of the level of professionalism and their attention to detail. The course is spectacular (although tough), and the PE locals are super friendly and welcoming. If you are looking for a great race to do, do this one!

Can I turn myself into a “real swimmer”?

Of all 3 sports in triathlon, swimming is the most technique-dependent. Real swimmers will tell you that unless you swam competitively as a child, your time is better spent working on your run and your bike. Some had the “privilege” of swimming 30+ km per week from the age of 8, and others were only introduced to the pool during adulthood. I find myself somewhere in between.

tyler haka

ready to hit the water!

I started swimming at the age of 2, however this was recreational (and for safety) rather than competitive. I did swim competitively at school, but all this entailed was turning up to swim meets and swimming. I never did any training.  I competed in 50m freestyle, breaststroke, and individual medley (only because I was one of the few 12 year olds that could swim butterfly). I also did a bunch of water based activities such as kayaking, canoeing, spearfishing and free diving. So I’ve always been comfortable in the water, I’ve just never trained as a swimmer. When I started in triathlon, I never really swam in training for sprint and olympic distance races. However when I signed up for my first Ironman in 2011, I started to take it more seriously. I was living in San Jose, California at the time, and was fortunate enough to be very close to the Santa Clara swim club, where I joined their masters group. Initially I had no idea what I was doing. They were talking about “leaving on the one thirty”, “doing 400 descending” and “four by fifty with twenty five drill, twenty five stroke ascending”… this was like Greek to me! After the first few sessions I got my head around the lingo, and saw some good initial progress from swimming with this group. At this stage I was swimming between 2 and 4 times a week, for weekly totals of between 8000 and 10000 yards. Most of my swim sessions were alone but I tried to swim with the group once or twice a week. My main frustration with the group swimming was that they did a lot of “non freestyle” work (hey I’m a triathlete, I just want freestyle!) and there was a lot of waiting around between sets. I’m pretty time efficient with my training so waiting around annoys me; that’s also a reason I avoid doing a lot of group rides on the bike… I did my first few Ironman races, with pretty average swim times. (1:12, 1:07, 1:06). I was getting faster by a few minutes each time but never really got faster than 1:06. My main training focus at that point was on biking and running, which was the right place to be spending time. Over the next 2 years my race times improved a lot, but my swimming times (especially at Ironman distance) were pretty static:

Ironman races:
2011 IM Switzerland: 1:15 679th out the water top 44% (my first Ironman, started at the back)
2011 Vineman: 1:07 161st out the water
2011 Challenge Henley: 1:06 77th out the water
2012 Ironman Coeur d’Alene 1:13 601st out the water (broken ribs)
2012 Ironman Cozumel 1:08 299th out the water (this was actually a decent swim, but in bad conditions)
2013 Ironman Los Cabos 1:09 221st out the water (bad swim in good conditions)
2013 Ironman Hawaii 1:07 818th out the water

Half Ironman races:
2012 Oceanside 34:47 441st out the water
2012 Wildflower 34:47 841st out the water
2012 Big Kahuna 27:09 43rd out the water
2013 Oceanside 30:50 448th out the water (short?)
2013 Big Kahuna 25:02 22nd out the water

So I’ve improved a little with half iron distance, but my iron distance swim times have not really improved, despite being in “better swim shape” each year.

After my poor Kona swim,  coach Coady and I were talking about this, and whether it was worth even putting the consistent effort into my swim training, if my results were not going to be much different whether I trained or not. He suggested that we experiment with a big swim block over the winter. He talked about a few principles that he thought would work:

– swim every day
– big focus on pulling
– high mileage and high quality

Then he made the mistake of telling me a story about Brett Sutton, saying that Macca’s only chance of being in contention for the olympics would be if he could swim 6 days a week, 30k per week. I then forgot everything else coach said, and latched onto these words as my mantra for what I wanted to achieve. This would be all or nothing. I’d swim as much as possible, aiming to build up to 30K per week for as long as it took to see results.

The good results came faster than expected! I started with around 25K, and will build up to 30K during January. But after just a few weeks of 20+k per week, my paces started improving dramatically. The key benchmarks that I use are 400m TT, 200m TT, 10×200 10×400 and 15×50 (what’s the consistent repeatable time interval). Longer benchmarks, done less frequently, would be 1000m TT and 3800m straight (ironman distance 2.4 miles).

Benchmark times (november, december)

200m (2:51, 2:35)
400m (6:01, 5:20)
10x200m (3:00, 2:48)
10x400m (6:16, 6:03)
15x50m (40 sec, 36 sec)

So I’m encouraged that the big bet is paying off. It’s yet to be seen whether this translated into good open water times, but I’m optimistic. I’m going to continue ramping up until I hit 30K and see if that makes a difference.

The types of workout vary:

I seem to get faster when I include 2 x “vo2″ sessions per week which is basically a set of 15x50m on one minute, coming in as fast as I can repeat without slowing more than 10%. So if I do the first interval in 36 seconds, I stop when I can’t come in faster than 40 seconds. When I’m able to repeat it 15 x, then I try to increase the speed. That seems to have improved my economy at slower speeds too.

I do a lot of 200s and a lot of 400s for my “distance sets”.

I did one “breakthrough workout” of 10km which reset my mental perspective of what a long workout is. I’m thinking of maybe doing this once a month.

At least 2 workouts per week 6km or more

“Short” workouts are about 3km with a high focus on speed/vo2 set

2-3 x per week do 1500-2500m on the vasa ergometer, which is basically a very swim-specific strength workout that in my opinion is much more effective than swimming with paddles.

I’m now ramping up the volume again, and will repeat some benchmarks in a few weeks time. It will be interesting to see if it was a once-off boost or if I will continue improving!

UPDATE: now at the end of 2014, I have some measurable data to feed back. I did 3 Ironman races this year, all with swim PRs. I swam 1:03 and both IMSA and at Kona (people say the Kona swim was tough this year, and I was 4 mins faster than 2013). And then I broke 1 hour to swim 59 min at IMAZ. As for the benchmarks, I haven’t really improved much in the individual TT distances, however my 10×400 repeats has improved quite a bit.  I can now pretty comfortable swim 10×400 coming in under 6 mins for each rep. On the Thursday before IMAZ I did that workout and was coming in at 5:45-5:50 for most of them. Most importantly, I figured out that I can sustain the improvements I’ve made by doing a short, big swim block before a race. So, in “maintenance mode” I just do 10K-15K per week and don’t lose a lot of speed. Then before a race, I bump it up to 25K+ for 3 weeks, and don’t taper at all (just rest 2 days out). That’s the formula that works for me, and I’ll probably stick with that for now. I could probably gain another few mins with a lot more work, but my swim is no longer a big limiter.  Over this coming winter I’ll be doing a lot of indoor swim work on the vasa erg. I think it’s a unique tool that offers some interesting possibilities that a pool cannot offer. So I’ll be experimenting with that and seeing what happens.  Time to focus on getting that run split down now! I’ve got at least 15-20 mins lying on the table waiting for me to take it…

Kona Race Report

overall time: 09:40 (swim 1:07, bike 4:55, run 3:29)

The Lava Fields

The Lava Fields

Bike numbers:
1st half: 236 watts (NP) | 24.07 mph | 126 TSS
2nd half: 239 watts (NP) | 21.65 mph | 150 TSS
Total: 236 watts (NP), VI 1.06, IF 0.75, 275 TSS
TP file

Equipment:
Bike: Specialized Shiv with Shimano Di2
Wheels: Zipp 808/404
Power meter: Quarq
Saddle: ISM Adamo TT
Helmet: Giro Selector
Storage: Specialized Fuel Cell (flat kit and food), Fuelselage (bladder with 1300 calories), 1 x bottle between bars, dark speed works bento (800 calories of food)
Computer: Garmin Edge 510
Clothing: TYR Pro (swim skin), Pearl Izumi Octane (bike suit), speedo (run outfit)
Shoes: Specialized Tri-Vent

Nutrition:
Morning: 2am Oatmeal, whey, raisins, water
4:30 coffee, sushi rice cake approx 300 cal, 2 x envirokids rice bars
6:30 rice cake 250 cal

Bike:

  •     140 cal (btb bottle with gu brew)
  •     800 cal 4 x “sushi” rice cakes in fuel cell
  •     1200 cal in Fuelselage (maltodextrin + fructose + IM perform)
  •     600 cal in bento (3 bags powerbar cola chews)
  •     500 cal 3 x IM perform from aid stations (3 x 175 cal less some “spillage”)

Total on bike: 3240 calories (avg 650 per hour)

Run: 2 x bike bottles coke in hour 1 (600 calories), then random refills (at least one bottle per hour)

 

_____________________________

The “short version”

Swim: felt great, very relaxed, thought I was fast! I wasn’t. Clearly too relaxed…

Bike: Glute seized in the first minute of bike. Couldn’t even pedal properly with that leg. “limped” for 25 mins before I could ride well. Then I was onto the queen k and up to *almost” race pace for the remainder.  Tailwind!… went through 56 miles in 2:18 despite the “limping”. Headwind on the way back! Felt great at the end of the bike.

Run: couldn’t get anywhere near race pace. Probably residual effect of the glute cramp? Cruised 8 min miles to come in 3:29… much slower than the 3:05 I had planned despite running in a speedo. Some chick did “ass slap” me as I ran by with a mile to go, which is a result in itself!

Overall: amazing to be part of this event! wow – superb organization, amazing atmosphere! LOVED every minute of it (except the glute seizing). I even loved the energy lab. Finish on Alii drive was amazing!

___________________________________

The “Long version”

I’m somewhat conflicted with my post-race feelings about my first time in Kona. On the one hand I’m really happy to have completed it in an “acceptable” time, to have been a part of this amazing event, and all-round having an incredible experience. On the other hand, I put everything on the line in my prep, I planned and executed my training to the tee, but massively under-performed on the day (at least in relation to the amount of work I put in to the preparation). I’ll cover my prep as well as race week in this report, with a high emphasis on the prep.

This is my 4th year of triathlon, 3rd year of IM racing. Kona was my 7th Iron distance race (one of which, Cozumel, was a DNF). I’ve learned a lot with each race, but there is something special (and intangible) about Kona that no other race can really prepare you for. My qualifying race was IM Los Cabos, which in 2013 was definitely a more difficult course than Kona (except for the run which was flatter but hotter). Los Cabos was in March, so I had over 6 months to dedicate purely to Kona prep. I left no stone unturned in my prep for Kona. There were 3 main areas I focused on: fitness & training, aerodynamics and nutrition.

Fitness & training

I did not compromise my training at all, which was quite difficult given that I have 2 young kids (a 2 year old and a 3 month old). My goal was not to just take part in Kona, but to do well. “Doing well” meaning a podium finish in my age group or better. Looking at previous results this would mean that I needed to come in faster than around 09:10 (it turns out that in 2013 I would have had to go sub 9 – wow!). I broke this up into the individual disciplines to figure out what I could realistically do:

  • swim in 60-63 minutes
  • bike around 4:50 (for me this would mean riding around 240 watts)
  • run around 3:00 – 3:10 (my “race pace” training would need to be between 06:30 and 06:50 / mile)

Breaking it up like that enabled me to focus on specific areas that needed improvement, and then work with my coach on nailing each one and then putting it all together.

Swim: I’ve got a history of underperforming in my Ironman swims. Things started to improve after June, when my pool times were good enough (1:17-1:20 / 100y) and I had a few good sub-30 half ironman swims. So I was pretty confident that just maintaining my current form would be good enough to get me to 60 mins in Kona. Kevin Coady (both my coach and age group adversary!) was in about the same shape, so we were swimming a lot together in training and planned on swimming together at Kona.

Bike: Kevin put me on a few high intensity training blocks that really boosted my power numbers in the months after Ironman Los Cabos. The idea was to boost my power and then dial in the longer race pace efforts as we got closer to Kona.  I was in really good shape coming into Kona, actually in better shape than I needed to be in order to achieve my 04:50 goal. This was a good thing because it meant I could ease off on the bike a little, to set myself up for a great run.

Run: I really upped my game in terms of running consistency. I was regularly at 40-50 miles per week, a few approaching 60, and a big focus on race pace runs (6:45-6:55 min/mile) come august/september.

The chart below shows my weekly run volume. As you can see, it increases until September then I dropped the volume down again leading up to Kona.

Run volume

Putting it all together:

I had several key “milestone workouts” along the way… these are workouts that indicated I was on the right track with key measurements like bike power and run pace after a hard bike effort.

So going into Kona, I was very confident in being able swim “steady” for an hour, ride 250w+ followed by a 6:50 pace run. All the things I would need to do in order to come in around 9 hours. In the final weeks before Kona I also did many hours of heat prep (riding in hot garage with no fan, running at midday in ski gear, extended sessions in the sauna and steam room).

For the number geeks out there, here is my training peaks performance manager chart (PMC). If you train with power, I highly recommend using the premium version of training peaks, because you get tools like this. It’s probably the #1 thing that I use to track my training load and recovery. Combined with common sense, you can really optimize your training and recovery, avoiding burnout/over training as well as under training. For those not familiar with the PMC, here is a very quick summary of how it works: each swim, bike, run workout is assigned a training stress score (TSS). Your 7 day average (the pink line) is your Active Training Load (ATL). Your 42 day average (the blue line) is your Chronic Training Load (CTL) and represents your “fitness”. Training Stress Balance (yellow line) measures “freshness” or how recovered you are. So the idea is to gradually increase the blue line over time, through blocks of increased ATL, with recovery in between them. And then as race day approaches, your taper should increase your “freshness” while maintaining as much “fitness” as possible. CTL is actually a pretty good predictor of race performance. For example I know that to go sub 10 in an Ironman race, my peak CTL before tapering should be at around 130-140 TSS/day. Everyone is different, but there are some good benchmark ranges on the endurance corner site that will give you a good starting point. Once you’ve done a few races, I recommend benchmarking off yourself rather than using something generic. I also analyze swim, bike and run CTL individually to make sure that one sport is not dominating (for example a high swim CTL is not going to have as much impact as a high bike or run CTL)

TP PMC

As you can see from the chart, my CTL peaked at 163 TSS/day, an all time high for me. This was exactly where I felt I needed to be in order to come in around 9 hours. For comparison, my CTL before Ironman Los Cabos was around 140.  I went 09:42 in Los Cabos which is a tough course.

Aerodynamics

But it’s not just about the fitness… I also spent some time down at the ERO facility in LA, fine tuning my bike setup, position and clothing choices. Jim got me lower than I’d been before, and we validated that the sleeved octane suit I wore in Los Cabos would save me more time than the “cool” sleeveless suit I was originally planning on wearing in Kona. I also validated that *for me* my Giro Selector helmet was by far the best choice. Jim@ERO has found the Rudy Project Wingspan helmet to test very well on most people. But on me, the Selector was much faster. My dark speed works bento, bta bottle, and my profile design aero bottle on the seat tube (for flat kit) all tested faster with them on than without (good news that fuel and flat kit didn’t come at a penalty!).  I also tested arm coolers, 2 piece suit and a 1 piece suit, all of which had an aero penalty. I didn’t test wheels because I was going to ride zipp 808/404 combo. All in all I spent 3+ hours with Jim which was a very worthwhile investment. I would have liked to spend another 3 hours with him dialling in my fit on the retul bike, but we didn’t have time. The results would also have been difficult to implement since I’d need to replace the stem and bar on my shiv with something that allows me to get into a lower position… I’ll be doing that over the winter so that I have time for testing, tweaking and getting used to a new position.

Nutrition

Through metabolic testing I knew that @ 250w I would need to consume over 650 calories of carbohydrate per hour to avoid depleting my glycogen stores too much. Through practice, I fine tuned this so that I would front load my nutrition with over 750 calories per hour and then drop it to around 500 per hour as the race went on. For the run, I would drink coke (A LOT!). I also ditched gels and bars in favor of “real food” after reading the Feed Zone Portables book. I experimented in training with making my own “sushi style” rice cakes, adapting the ingredients to suit my needs (rice, honey, sugar, cinnamon).

Equipment failure!

2 weeks before the race, things started going wrong with my bike! First of all, I was fine-tuning my seat height when my fitter noticed that the carbon on my shiv was cracked near the seat clamp. She sent it off to Specialized to be fixed, which they did in record time. However, when the bike arrived back, the Di2 wire connection to the internal battery had snapped off during transit. Since this seatpost battery was a custom installation by Calfee design, nobody local had the expertise or spare parts to fix it. I called Calfee up and they were kind enough to clear their schedule to help me. I drove down to Watsonville and waited while they rewired my bike. I then tested it (all good!) packed it up and took it to fedex for shipping. PS The great thing about riding a Shiv is that Specialized FedEx’d our bikes to Kona for us (for free). With all that bike stuff now taken care of, I could get myself ready to fly 2 days later.

Kona!

We arrived a week before the race. I needed a week to unwind from the stress of traveling with 2 young kids! I would honestly rather do another Ironman than do a 5 hour flight with kids… seriously.

traveling with kids: only one of these bags is mine!

traveling with kids: only one of these bags is mine!

Anyway, the atmosphere in Kona was incredible! This is the first time I’ve actually purchased much stuff at an Ironman expo – of course everything “Ironman World Championship” branded – coffee mugs, beer glasses, bags, shirts, cycling kit, jackets. I’m guessing I spent close to a HIM entry fee on stuff there! I also got some cool limited “kona edition” Saucony Kinvara 4 shoes.

saucony

Check-in was super fast and efficient. Kevin and I went to check in together, and we were done in about 10 minutes. There must have been over 50 volunteers just helping with registration. It felt like the ratio was around 10:1 volunteers to athletes. They had a huge banner outside with all the athletes names printed on it – pretty cool!

kona checkin

 

We got a cool goodie bag including some TYR googles and other cool stuff. The one difference to other races is that all the race numbers etc. are just super high quality – you can see that they did not skimp at all, really aiming to deliver a top notch experience for us.

the goodie bag

the goodie bag

I did a few rides out on the queen k on Monday and Tuesday (about an hour each) just to test my bike out and feel the winds. Tuesday was windy – gusting up to 30 mph. I rode in a long sleeve Castelli Body Paint skin suit just to see how hot it felt, and it was actually quite cool in the wind. However you’d need to be houdini to get into that thing in T1, so I was sticking with my plan of racing in the Pearl Izumi Octane. I planned to run in a speedo, so I tested that out in the Kona heat and it felt great. I was already well acclimated to the heat, and I continued the heat prep during the week by wearing warm clothes during the day.

Here is a pic of Tyler leading Kevin and me in some version  of the “Haka” after our speedo prep…

tyler haka

 

Race day

I had left the family in Waikaloa, and I was sleeping at the Royal Kona resort Thursday and Friday night. I went to sleep at about 8pm, and slept well until about 1am when I woke up for no real reason. I tried to sleep again, but was not successful. At 2am I decided to eat breakfast (oatmeal, whey, raisins) and then went back to sleep again. I got up for real at 4:15, ate a big rice cake with honey, drank a big cup of coffee (thanks Caroline for getting up at 3:45 to go and buy coffee for me and Kevin!). At 5am we went for a quick jog “to get the system going” – I did my run in only a speedo and running shoes. The funny thing is nobody batted an eyelid at my attire. We started walking over to the pier at around 5:50. We got there just after 6am, and we were probably the last people through body marking and went to set up our bike nutrition, pump tires etc. They weighed us after body marking, and I was a bit shocked to see the scale tip out at 170lbs (I arrived in Kona at 159). Luckily Kevin was also heavier than expected so we decided that the scale must be wrong.

I somehow managed to lose Kevin in T1, but fortunately we had decided to meet in the water on the far right, so I found him pretty quickly once I swam to the front. We had practiced swimming together – it’s really useful to have “feet you can trust” instead of random people that can’t navigate. We settled in about 5 rows back and waited for the canon.

Swim (1:07)

People started swimming about 5 seconds before the canon went off. This created a bit of confusion, and when it did really go off, some slow swimmers who had seeded themselves right at the front, got swum over by me and others (sorry about that, but next time only go to the front if you are FAST!). I lost Kevin within the first 10 seconds in all the white water, and it must have been 5 minutes before I could see any blue at all. All through that crazy washing machine, I did feel surprisingly relaxed. The pace was a little slow, but you can only swim as fast as those around you if you get stuck in that situation. I felt really good on the swim – nice and relaxed – and I thought I was doing ok because everyone around me looked like they were swimming well, and they were swimming with good form. I wasn’t wearing a watch so I didn’t know that I’d had a bad swim when I exited the water. That’s probably a good thing because I could just relax and get ready for the bike without stressing about making up time. I pulled the top of my TYR swimskin off as I exited the water, and started pulling the octane on (it was rolled down to my waist). I managed to get it on, and then as I got into the tent, a kind volunteer “helped” me to take it off! I explained that I actually wanted it on, and he helped me to get it back on in no time at all. I jogged to my bike picked it up and ran to the T1 exit. The clock read 1:10 as I exited, so I knew that I need to ride around 04:50 to still be on track. I did a semi flying mount and started riding easy.  At this point, Kevin was only 37 seconds in front of me, but that was about to change fast!

 

Bike:

I knew immediately that all was not well. It felt like every muscle in my body was over-contracting, on the verge of seizing. I settled down and tried to take it easy. I felt my glute tightening up, so I pressed my fingers into the tight spot to relieve it. As I pressed in, the muscle “balled up” completely and I could hardly move. I knew from a past “episode” in 2012 that it may eventually come right, so I just soft pedalled for 25 minutes (average 145 watts) until I started feeling better. I saw Kevin coming down the little hill towards Palani, about 5 minutes ahead of me already! By the time I hit the Queen K highway, I was pretty much up to race power and settled in at 240-250w. Now that I was up to speed, I started passing a lot of people. All the way up to Hawi, not a minute went by when I didn’t have to pass someone (or was being passed). There were so many people out here! I’m used to getting clear of the masses pretty quickly, but I was surrounded by people the entire time. There are aid stations every 7 miles, and I took 2 bottles of water at most of them. One went into the bottle cage (fitting badly) and the other I emptied over my body as a proactive cooling method. This worked quite well. I usually start off drinking 2 bottles of water in the first hour and then just drink to thirst. It must have been quite hot because I was drinking a lot more than usual. I didn’t count, but I would guess that I went through at least 12 bottles of water. I only peed twice during the 112 miles which is probably a good amount (not too little, not too much).

 the pic below was taken about 2 miles into the bike… you can see how congested it was

around mile 2

around mile 2

I went through 56 miles in 2:18, testament to the good tailwind we had going out. I saw Kevin coming down from Hawi as I was going up, and made a mental note of the time. A few minutes later I reached the turnaround, and started pushing harder to try and make up some time. I was sitting at my goal watts now (around 250w), passing a lot of people going down Hawi. I went passed the “kevin check point” 5 minutes after him. So at least I was not losing more time to him; we were riding about the same speed which was reassuring. There were a few small peletons that kept on passing me and then slowing down, which was a bit annoying. I’d literally have to sit up, at about 120 watts, just to stay legal distance behind them. I’d then wait a minute or so before overtaking the whole group (7-10 riders) in one go and then settling back in. A few minutes later they would surge and pass me again. This went on for about 15 miles. Eventually I got tired of them so I put in a few minutes at around 270 watts to get clear of them, and then settled down again. That was the last I saw of them. Hopefully they ended up in a penalty tent somewhere. As I went past Waikaloa, the headwind got a bit worse, so it was just head down, stay in aero for the last 25 miles or so. I had finished all my nutrition at this stage, so I took IM Perform at the final 3 aid stations. Before long we were back in town and headed towards T2. I was happy to at least have gone sub 5, and I was super happy that the muscle spasms had not ruined my day entirely. I unclipped from the pedals, coasted towards the Banyan tree (dismount line landmark) and gave my bike to the volunteers. These guys did a great job, there were so many people coming in at this time, and they managed to juggle all these bikes and get them safely racked again.

I heard Mike Reilly announcing Kevin’s name as I entered T2, which meant he was exiting. I changed out of the octane suit, into my speedo, run singlet, socks and shoes, grabbed my frozen coke bottle and some spray on sunscreen, and headed out over the timing mat. I saw the race time of 06:10 as I ran out, and made a quick mental recalculation of my goal. I was no longer interested in a top 10 finish – I knew that was off the table already – but I thought I’d still be able to finish between 09:10 and 09:20. My plan was to hold back for the first 13 miles and not run faster than 06:55/mile, then a little faster up till mile 18, then give it everything I have to the finish.

Run:

I started off slower than intended since we ran up a hill out of T2, but over the course of the first mile there is some downhill too, and I went through mile 1 in 06:58, pretty much on plan. However it felt like I was running a lot faster than that, so I knew it would not be sustainable. I settled down into what felt comfortable, which ended up being 07:30 – 07:45 for the first 9 miles. I just couldn’t run any faster than that. I’m not sure what was causing my run issue, I just assumed that my range of motion was being limited somewhat by the earlier glute cramping.

After Palani, I slowed to around 08:20 for pretty much the rest of the race. Miles 11-16 are on the Queen K highway, which seems to go on forever. 16-20 is an out-and-back into the energy lab. I really liked this section because you can see the ocean for most of it, and the aid stations really did a good job of keeping the energy high and upbeat. As I ran into the energy lab – I saw Kevin running out. I checked my watch to get a time split, which later I would find out was over 20 minutes. The energy lab was uneventful. I remember there was one aid station serving Campbell’s soup – and I was wondering who would want hot soup in the Kona heat!?? Once out of the energy lab, I did a quick mental calculation that if I stuck to 8:15 or faster per mile, I would make 09:40. This helped to focus me on hitting the 8 minute miles, but I couldn’t help thinking how ridiculous it was that I needed to “dig deep” to hit 8:00/mile.  It was great to eventually see Palani road, and I knew that it was only a mile left from the bottom of Palani to the end. The last mile was great! As we turned onto Alii drive, the crowd was loud, enthusiastic and just amazing. I ran down the chute high fiving as many people as possible. Apparently I even high fived my wife Michelle without realizing it! I was glad to be done but just enjoyed soaking up the incredible atmosphere. I didn’t achieve my initial goal, but I was just so grateful that I even made it to the start line, that I overcame the bad cramps and made it to the finish line too. This was my first kona, and at least now I have a goal to beat next time!

kona finish

The road to Kona starts now!

I took a short break after Ironman Los Cabos and Oceanside, with several weeks of unstructured training (still swim, bike, run but basically doing whatever I felt like doing). I did some fun events, like the Silicon Valley Long Course triathlon where a marshal sent us the wrong way and I ended up riding 84 miles instead of 56, and I did the Tour of California Time Trial which is a super tough TT course.

TT start – Tour of California stage 6 San Jose

I also did some aero testing with ERO at the Veldodrome in LA, which yielded some super interesting results! Basically the position and equipment changes I made will save me about 9 minutes in an ironman… I might do a write up on that experience but I don’t want to give too much away! Let’s just say, that based on the findings I think we’ll see some different types of equipment surfacing at Kona in the next few years ;-)

Anyway, now it’s time to get back to serious training! There are only 4 months before Kona, plus I have this little “race rehearsal” 3 weeks before in the form of Ironman Lake Tahoe… other than that I have no big races planned, so I can just focus on my training. I might do a few local races just to keep sharp though. Oh, and I forgot to mention we are expecting our 2nd child in June – talk about loading a lot on the plate!

I haven’t lost a huge amount of fitness. My swim is better than ever and my bike is strong. My running is pretty bad but on the way up. Coach Coady has me running 6 days a week now which really helps me to get back in running shape. The training structure for Kona is pretty simple:

Swim: maintain form, do lots of open water simulations in the pool, and improve speed. At the moment I am fast enough to swim a 1 hour Ironman swim, I just need to make sure I can do it in open water with 1500 other people… Kevin and I have been doing a bunch of OW simulations in the pool at work (like 4 of use sharing a lane, fighting for position and doing a lot of drafting), which is making a big difference.

Bike: I’m going to do several high intensity blocks over the next 2 months, with the goal of increasing my threshold power (currently around 310 watts, would be nice to get it up around 330). Then August / September do more endurance and race specific prep.

Run: focus on frequency with 6 runs a week, about 40 miles, building up weekly mileage as high as I can, with gradual increases. Once August hits, will focus more on race specific prep, and incorporate heat prep.

I’m a big user of Training Peaks, and their performance manager chart is a very useful tool for me. I plan my volume around a constant and gradual increase in critical training load (CTL), and building in enough recovery, measured by the training stress balance (TSB). You can see from the chart below that I’m only just ramping up the volume now. The pink line is my short term workload (7 day average) and the blue line is long term (42 day average). You can expect to see a decent increase in the blue line over the coming months, with a few spikes in pink.

CTL chart

 

Oceanside 70.3 race report

This was my 2nd year doing Oceanside. Having just come off a successful Ironman Los Cabos 2 weeks prior, I had no idea what shape I would be in. My plan was to swim hard (and see if my poor swim in Cabo was an anomaly or that my swimming has regressed), bike hard and then run whatever I could manage.

Swim: 30 mins (4 mins faster than 2012 but shorter course, actual pace slightly slower)
Bike: 2:26 (9 mins faster than 2012, 15W more, and 3.4 w/kg vs 3 w/kg)
Run: 1:35 (4 mins slower than 2012)

The day before the race was a slight disaster. I flew into San Diego at midday, with ample time to get to Oceanside and register. Tribike Transport had shipped my bike directly from  Cabo to San Diego, so I picked up my bike and then started my journey up to Oceanside.  However the Friday traffic was insane and it took me over 1.5 hours just to get to Carlsbad. I first checked into the Sheraton so I could drop my bike off, and thought I’d just inflate my tires and take it for a quick spin. This is where things started to go wrong. My tire wouldn’t inflate, so I took off the valve extender, to deflate the tire first. It slipped as I pushed it, and fell through into my wheel. I tried everything I could to deflate the tire but nothing worked. I took it with me to registration, to see if the mechanics could deflate  it, but they couldn’t either. Ok so it was time to trash a new $20 latex tube. A quick poke and it was deflated. We took the tire off and saw that the valve extender has actually fallen into the hollow area of the Zipp 808 wheel. It was just clanking around in there with no obvious way to get it out. The mechanics  just laughed when they saw what had happened. nice… I spoke to the Zipp people and they said I should just ride with it – after all Zipps are designed to be pretty much indestructible they said!
I continued the checking process, walking around with my clanking carbon wheel. I got my numbers and stuff and headed back to the hotel. It was way after 6 now, and I still had to test my bike out. I quickly replaced the tube, inflated both tires and headed out for a quick spin. 5 mins into the ride and whooooosh! puncture on the rear! $20 Latex tube #2 gone… time for lucky #3! This time it held up, but it was getting late so I kept my ride to a very short 5 mins and went to get the rest of my stuff ready. I quickly put all my numbers on my bike, helmet, race belt, and then got to the gear bag stickers. Ummmmm ok where are my gear bags? It seems that they didn’t give me any! A quick email out to my Triforce teammates confirmed that you actually had to go somewhere else to pick up the gear bags, which nobody told me. This was just bad on the organizers part – I’ve done a lot of races and I just take it for granted that my stuff is all going to be there. Anyway, it was after 8pm so nothing I could do about it now, so I settled in for my dinner of chicken, salad and rice, got my final things packed and turned in for an early night.

I slept like a log, woke up at 3:30, an hour before my alarm but I was awake, so figured I’d just eat, get ready and go. It’s a very quick drive from the Sheraton to the race parking (about 10 mins) so I was there with plenty of time to spare. I picked up some extra gear bags, set up my run stuff in T2 and then rode my bike down to the swim start and T1 (about 10 mins ride). I quickly racked, got ready and then headed down to the start.

The conditions were a lot better than 2012. The water was warmer and calmer, the weather in general was mild / warm, and I think the wind on the bike course was the same, or possibly a little windier.

My swim went ok. 30 mins which was 4 mins faster than 2012, but the course was long last year (or at least I possibly swam it long). As you can see from my training peaks file, in 2012 I swam over 2300 yards at an average pace of just under 1:30/100y and in 2013 I swam 2100 yards in just over 1:30/100y. Maybe I get points for consistency, but I did put a lot of work into my swimming in 2012, and I had improved a lot by November, yet I seem to be back where I started now (poor swim in Cabo and in Oceanside).  As an example, here is my file from Big Kahuna last September where I averaged 1:23/100y with less effort than yesterday at Oceanside. I need to figure this out, but at least I know what I really have to work on before Kona!

Bike: The bike was good. I just rode hard the entire way. The sensible way to ride Oceanside is take it easier on the first half and keep some energy for the way back (hills and wind). However, I was in Ironman shape so figured 56 miles would be ok to go hard the whole way. I felt great for the whole bike.

2:26, 23mph avg speed, 254 watts NP,  3.4 w/kg (based on avg power not normalized) – here is my file

Run: The run started really well. I was feeling very comfortable and hitting out the miles at 6:30/mile which was on plan. I actually thought I would manage a bit faster than that, but was expecting the possibility of going slower. I held this pace for the first 5 miles, and then suddenly the wheels came off completely. I had fueled well, but my body was just very fatigued (lower back, hamstrings) and I could barely hold 08:30/mile. I just held it together (barely) to the end and came home in 1:35 for the run, 4 mins slower than 2012 but I’m in much better run form. I was hoping this wouldn’t happen, but for me 2 weeks is just too soon after an Ironman to give it a hard effort again.

OverallI was happy with my day, obviously disappointed that I couldn’t man up enough on the run to bring it home, but happy to be done and now HAVE A BREAK for at least a few weeks!

Team Triforce wins the small clubs division at Oceanside 70.3

I was really happy to be there with a top bunch of guys from the Triforce team. We really had a blast, winning the division 5 club category (small tri clubs) by over 11000 points! We naturally celebrated post-race in Triforce style with a speedo party in the hotel hot tub!

 

 

 

 

bike

Mexican Revenge!

Ironman Los Cabos Race Report

Los Cabos

Short Version
Ironman Los Cabos, 17th March 2013
My 3rd attempt at Kona qualification, this time nothing went wrong!
Total time 9:42
2nd in M35-39 AG, 5th amateur, 26th overall
Swim 1:09 (9 mins slower than planned)
Bike 5:07 243 watts normalized power, avg HR 140 bpm link to TP file http://tpks.ws/Lfmg
Run 3:19, avg HR 147 bpm

I swam easy/relaxed, biked like an animal and ran comfortably. I was super happy to qualify for Kona. Although obviously the highest achievement was receiving IMTalk’s Age Grouper of the Week award ;-) see http://bit.ly/AGOW2013

I nailed my nutrition in this race. Here is a link to my nutrition report.

Long version
On November 25th 2012, when I pulled into T2 after 112 miles of biking without being able to keep down food or liquid, I quit Ironman Cozumel without even attempting the run, and returning to Mexico was the very last thing on my mind. I’d had a very long season, with pretty much no break since my first Ironman (Switzerland in July 2011). I had planned on qualifying for Kona at IMCdA in 2012, but was hit by a car 5 weeks before, breaking 2 ribs. I still gave it a shot but I was just not in good enough shape to make the cut, missing a slot by 15 mins. Ironman Cozumel was meant to be my redemption race. I flew to Mexico in the best shape of my life, but I got slammed by a virus the night before. I still gave the race a go, but the GI bug resulted in 5 porta potty stops during the bike and my subsequent withdrawal from that race. I never wanted to return to Mexico, but within a few days, I found myself online, booking my spot at the inaugural Ironman Los Cabos. I vowed to return fitter than ever and christened this race my “Mexican Revenge”…

I decided that this time, I would spend as little time in Mexico as possible, to reduce the chances of contracting a bug before the race. I took all my own food, drank only bottled water, and lived like a hermit in our condo, briefly venturing out only to collect my bike and my race packet, and to buy more bottled water. In retrospect this was all overkill. San Jose del Cabo is much more “first world” than Cozumel – it’s basically just an extension of California including the familiar comforts of starbucks and McDonalds, not to mention a large grocery store called “Mega” which is larger and better stocked than most US supermarkets.

Leading up to the race, there was much speculation on the unofficial Facebook page, a fantastic resource that brought more than 400 of us together in anticipation of this “never-done-before” race that nobody knew much about. There were debates about the bike course elevation – some said it was 3900ft, some said it was 7400ft… and boy am I  glad that I trained for 7400 ;-)

People wanted to know if it would be windy, if there would be sharks, whether wetsuits were allowed, were disc wheels allowed? What cassette size to use etc.

First of all let me say this was the toughest IM course I’ve ever done (this was my 6th). It’s very similar to Ironman Coeur d’Alene, except the swim is warmer, with less contact and better visibility (and only one loop). The bike is a bit tougher and slower. The run is about the same. The weather is a lot hotter and there was more wind in Cabo this year.

We stayed in a condo in a complex called “Alegranza” which is just above the golf course, on a hill. It’s about ½ mile from the finish, and about 1 mile from the Grand Faro hotel, which is where the expo / registration happens. I slept pretty well on Thursday night. Friday night was different. I was nervous. I’ve never been nervous before an Ironman, not even on race day. I was definitely feeling the pressure to perform here. I had invested so much time and effort in my past 2 Ironman races, made so many sacrifices and put so much on the line to achieve my goal, that I couldn’t face a 3rd “unlucky day”. That night I dreamed that someone stole my running shoes from T2 and that I had to run the marathon barefoot. I duly instructed Michelle to take my extra pair of running shoes and leave them in the stroller on race day in case that happened!

After setting 4 alarms for 3:30am, I went to sleep at about 9pm Saturday night.  I slept ok, woke up 30 mins early at 3am and ate my signature rice pudding breakfast, consisting of white rice mixed with 1 x EFS Liquid shot (Kona Mocha flavor). I got dressed, picked up my bags, made a double espresso and headed out the door. I was feeling really good, and calm yet excited. I walked down the road to the Best Western (one of the host hotels) and just missed the bus. I waited in the lobby for about 30 mins with some fellow athletes for the next one to arrive. After a 15 min journey we were dropped at the top of the road, and walked about 10 mins in the dark down to the swim start. I quickly put my nutrition on the bike, then took it over to the mechanics to get my tires pumped. They inflated them higher than normal (115 PSI) which I’d be grateful for later. Time flies when you’re having fun, and before I knew it was already 6:15. I put on my wetsuit then headed down to the warm up area, a small bay adjacent to the starting bay, the same area where we would finish. I only had time for about a 5 min warm up then walked over to the start. We watched the pros go off and then 15-20 mins later we lined up and the siren sounded! Our long day had finally begun!

This was one of the most pleasant swims I’ve had in an Ironman start. I started in the front, 3 rows back to the right of the beach. I had zero contact over the first 500m to the first buoy, before we turned parallel to the beach for the long 1500m back straight. At some point in the middle of this it got a bit congested. A guy was coming from my right, pushing me to the left, where there was another guy. So I was making contact with both of them (unavoidable). The guy on my left then got fed up with me, stopped swimming, turned around and physically pushed my head under the water. Having played water polo in school, my first reaction was to pull his leg back and punch him in the face, but I calmly just let it go – you don’t want to get agro about some idiot so soon in the day! Secretly I do hope he had a really tough day… The rest of the swim was uneventful. I could feel a bit of current on the way back to shore, but it didn’t seem too bad. I was shocked when I got out of the water and saw the clock reading 1:09. I was expecting a swim time of an hour, maybe 1:05 if something went wrong. But 1:09 was ridiculous for me. To give you an idea, I do my slow “cool down” set in the pool, without a wetsuit, faster than that!

Fortunately for me, the swim is the shortest part of the day, and I had plenty of time to make it back. I took off my wetsuit as I got out of the water, making it easier to run up the hill to T1. I grabbed my bag, ran into the changing tent, put my wetsuit in the bag and ran to the bike. My shoes were already clipped in, and my helmet was waiting on my bike, so I put it on, grabbed my bike and headed out the transition area. I jumped on the bike, and then headed up a steep little hill with intermittent cobble sections until we hit the main highway. As I hit the highway I put my feet in my shoes and eased into the long part of the day.. In the past I’ve experienced severe glute cramps if I don’t ease into it, so I kept it steady / easy for about 5 mins before building up to my race effort. The good thing about a slower swim is you pass a lot of people on the bike! I came out of the swim in 223rd place so I had some catching up to do…

You start with an out and back section from Palmilla to San Lucas where you turn around. The road is continually rolling (with some short steep sections too), and there is no flat part at all. Before long the pros started coming back towards us, and I started counting. Kevin (my coach) had said that I should aim to be top 100 at the first turnaround, top 50 on the 2nd lap and then work my way up until the end of the bike. At the first turn I had worked my way up to place 103. I passed another 20 more people and then was alone for a long time, until we hit the long toll road hill going up to the airport close to the end of lap 1. When you look at the elevation map, this looks like it’s going to be the worst hill but it’s actually one of the mildest, even though it’s about 4 miles long. I passed a lot more people on this hill and on the exposed section in the desert out n back section. There is a very exposed bridge where I nearly got blown off my bike by the gusts of wind, but I managed to hold on for dear life. Then it’s back down the long hill and on to lap 2. I went through half way in around 2:34, so at that stage I thought I was on track for a sub 5 bike split. I had averaged 241 watts, and I was planning on riding lap 2 just above 250 watts, which I thought would get me back a fair amount of time. Onto lap 2 and I put down the gas. Again I was alone for about 20 mins, before I started hitting the small packs of female pros. I was now flying, tucked into a very aero position and cranking out 260-275 watts on most of the short hills. There was a headwind on the way to San Lucas but it didn’t really bother me. The turnaround came in no time, and then I was riding back to San Jose with a nice tailwind/ rear crosswind. The wind picked up quite a bit on the 2nd lap. The long toll road hill was tougher this time around, and I stayed out of aero on the exposed section, which cost me some time but prevented a possible crash! At the far turn around, I almost came to a complete stop because the wind was so strong. I had to get out of the saddle and really stomp just to get going. I saw a few backmarkers still on lap 1 drafting each other here. To be honest I don’t think it was malicious, just a case of survival! There was one short hill (10% grade) and then a long downhill between me and the final ride into town. At this stage I could see that a sub 5 was not going to happen, but it was clear that I had still had a decent ride.

When I arrived in T2 it was like a ghost town. There was nobody in the change tent and the run bag racks were full. So I knew that I must have made up some good time. Unfortunately, the volunteers couldn’t find my run gear bag. I thought my Friday night dream was coming true and that I’d have to run the marathon barefoot! I was grateful for that one day when I did a 15 miler in my Vibrams… at least that was some preparation. After about 1.5 mins, the “manager” came and eventually they found my bag. Into the change tent, I made up some of the lost time with 7 little mexican kids helping me put my shoes on, take my helmet, pass me sunblock, give me my water bottle. I still made it out in 2.5 mins which is not bad, but without the delay I would have had a super fast T2 time.

This is the first time I’ve started the IM run quite high up the field (I was now top 30, although at the time I had no idea what place I was in my AG). It’s kind of a strange experience; the road is empty, and the crowd + volunteers have all this pent up excitement that gets unleashed on you. The crowd support really amped me and found it pretty difficult to hold back at first. I glanced down at my garmin to see my pace, and it was showing “00:00”. I use my avg pace view a lot in Ironman racing because my pace somehow feels different than it does in training. At the start of the run I often go out too fast, so I use the pace to hold myself back. And then from half way I use the pace to push myself harder (I often think I’m running faster than I am). This non-working Garmin was a distraction I didn’t need right now. I tried resetting it but that didn’t help. I still had heart rate and lap time, so I decided to just run according to feel, and manually hit the lap button at the odd mile marker to check my pace. I used heart rate as a very rough indicator of effort. I was at around 156 bmp which is 6 bpm higher than my target cap. But it was very hot so I gave myself the 6bpm “credit” since I was feeling very comfortable and relaxed.

My target pace was just over 07:00 per mile, so I was a bit surprised when I went through 3 miles averaging 6:40 / mile. I knew this would not be sustainable so I immediately slowed down, aiming to get my HR back down to around 150 which I knew would be closer to my intended pace. After 6 miles I passed a guy who I thought was in my AG who was now walking. Soon after a guy in 30-34 flew past me – he must have been doing close to 6 min/mile! Soon after I saw Michelle and she told me I came off the bike 2nd in my AG. Since I had just passed that other guy I thought I was now in the lead, but I wasn’t sure. Either way, I knew that I was 1st or 2nd, and since my goal was to get the Kona slot, I was assured of achieving my goal as long as I didn’t screw it up! My strategy changed immediately – I eased up to a steady pace and stopped “pushing”. The only thing now standing between me and my slot would be cramping, seizing quads, or something else that could result from running too hard. I focused on steady intake of fluids (I drank only Pepsi the whole run), a little salt, and keeping myself cool. The aid stations at this race were PHENOMENAL. By far the best Ironman aid stations I’ve ever seen (yes, even better than the super-organized IM Switzerland). They were placed every km, and were fully stocked with ice, ice-cold water, pepsi, gatorade, gels, bananas and lots more stuff. I took 2 waters at every station and drenched myself to keep cool. I must have thrown about 5 buckets of ice down my tri suit in total. And it was easy to keep my bike bottle topped up with fluids without having to stop once.

The run is 3 loops of over 8 miles, it’s flat and rolling with a few easy hills that break it up nicely. Some people said the run was boring but I thought it was great. On each lap, you run half way down the finisher chute, which is packed with spectators. It’s a huge boost to get the cheers of the crowd to keep you going, and is something to look forward to each lap. I was still feeling good as I went on to my 3rd lap. I just kept running, refilling my bottle with pepsi and keeping cool with water and ice. At this stage I still thought I was winning my age group, but nobody had passed me yet so I was still just running comfortably. About 1 mile from the end, a guy in my age group came past me. This woke me up out of my daze and I put my foot on the gas. I accelerated past him and did the last mile in about 6:40. He must have been on a different lap, because when I checked the results, 3rd place was more than 10 mins behind me, but at least I had a strong finish! I was elated to have finally nailed my Kona slot, and to have had my best race ever, with a PR on the toughest course I’ve done.

The finish area was great. I skipped the food, had a quick ice bath and then headed to the massage tent which was empty except for a few pro women and a lot of bored massage therapists. I offered to help them out with their boredom, and I had 2 of them working on me for about 40 minutes! They were really good and I’m sure that helped alot with my recovery.

There were some mexican kids who obviously mistook me for someone else because they all wanted my autograph, and to have their picture taken with me :-)

Another possibility is that they had already heard the rumour that I would become Age Grouper of the Week on IMTalk, the world’s premier Ironman podcast!

All in all this was a great race, but a very tough race. It was very well organized and the crowd + volunteer support was amazing. The swim was really great although too long (many of us measured over 4.2km on our GPS watches). The bike is tough, which is fine as long as you expect that (there was no official guidance on the course prior to race day, just speculation). The run is awesome. Nice and rolling which breaks it up a bit compared to a pancake flat course. The only improvements that come to mind are to fix the speed bumps and potholes on those few sections of the bike course. Besides that, the road conditions were very good.

Lastly, the awards ceremony on the Monday evening was the best that I’ve ever been to. It’s in an outdoor waterfront area in Cabo San Lucas, with loads of restaurants, bars etc. around it. There was a great buzz with cool music and just generally a great atmosphere.

In closing, I’d highly recommend this event, as long as you don’t underestimate the difficulty of it. If you want an easy Ironman, this isn’t the right one for you. But if you want a challenging race in a great location with amazing support, do it!

See you in Kona!

Ironman Los Cabos Nutrition Report

This is the first time I’ve posted a separate nutriton report, mainly because I finally got it right! The most critical for me is getting the bike nutrition right, since you can’t take nutrition on the swim, and you just take in what you can on the run (I take only liquid calories in the form of coke and pepsi, maybe a gel if variation is needed). For my full race report click here.

Ironman Food!

In the past I’ve only taken in around 400 cals/hour (mainly because I didn’t think I needed more than that). Through some initial (and quite experimental) metabolic testing I knew that if I was going to push hard on the bike, I’d need to take in over 500 cals, preferably more. So I lpanned my nutrition out, tested it several times on training rides and then in my Ironman rehearsal workout 3 weeks before race day. During my rehearsal, I managed to take in over 650 cals/hour but in cold conditions. I figured that around 550 would be ok in the heat.

I’ve got to say it all went very well. Here is a breakdown of both my pre-race and during-race nutrition:

 Pre Race
During the taper I ate lots of veggies, a high % of protein, but very little red meat and no processed carbs (the only carbs came from fruit and veggies). From the Thursday I started eating a higher % of carbs, mainly rice & oatmeal, no gluten or fiber. I think the no gluten paid off well, even though I have no official gluten issues, it seems to make it easier on my GI system to process other foods.

Friday: HUGE bowl of oatmeal with whey protein, some eaten at breakfast and some at lunch. Rice and tuna mid afternoon, and a light dinner of rice and vegetables.

Saturday: Pancakes for breakfast, rice and veggies for lunch, light dinner of rice and vegetables. Some rice bars during the day, and a bowl of oatmeal just before bed.

Race morning: “race day rice pudding”: 1 cup white rice mixed with 1 x EFS liquid shot kona mocha flavor.
1 x Starbucks frappuccino (you buy this in a glass bottle)
Cup of coffee (double espresso with hot water AKA Americano)
3 scoops IM perform, sipped frequently between leaving home and starting the swim
1 x gu gel 45 mins prior to swim
1 x gu gel 15 mins before swim

Bike: 5:07 243 watts normalized power, avg HR 140 bpm link to TP file

Approx 2820 cals, 560 per hour
– 200g maltodextrin, 100g fructose, 2 x IM perform scoop, 2 x nuun in Shiv bladder (1350 cals)
– 2 scoops IM Perform, 1 scoop Scivation Xtend (BCAA) + some fructose between the bars (200 cals)
– 2 x clif bars, broken into 6ths, in the bento (500 cal)
– 12 x gummy worms (390 cals)
– 2 packet cola blocks (380 cals)
– water to thirst

Garmin set to beep every 5 mins. Alternate every 5 mins food with gel in Shiv Fuelselage (bladder). eg
0:05 – 1/6th Clif
0:10 – 1 sip from bladder

I first finished the Clif bars, then moved onto the powerbar cola chews and gummy worms

Run
I left a bike bottle filled with Coke in T2, and then just refilled that with Pepsi from the aid stations. I did that on the go, I didn’t stop once on the run. Total run nutrition
– about 3-4 liters of pepsi (no idea really, just kept sipping every 2 mins)
– 1 x clif shot bloks Margarita flavor (180 cals)
– 1 x gu gel
– drank water to thirst

Overall I was very happy with my nutrition. I took in a lot of calories on the bike with no gastric distress, and I got through the whole race with zero toilet stops (first time ever).  Next step is to get this right for Kona, which means taking a similar approach but practicing it a lot in hot weather. Los Cabos was almost as hot as Kona but not as humid which makes a big difference.