New partnership with Anti Fog Manufacturer “Sven Can See”

I’m happy to announce a new product partnership with the producers of anti-fog gel Sven Can See® . Ultraman starts with a 10km swim which takes 2.5-3 hours, so you want to make sure that your swim googles don’t fog up during the race. I also use it on the visor of my aero helmet to stop it getting fogged up.

rob-gray-winter

 

What’s even better, is that I can use it all year round even when I’m not racing triathlon. Sven Can See® works in normal temperatures, humid areas and in extreme cold. It has been tested successfully in the Canadian Arctic in temperatures as low as –20 ?F. It works on many different kinds of lenses, including ski goggles, sunglasses, swim goggles, and skydiving goggles.

It’s easy to get on Amazon: Sven Can SeeTM Anti-Fog Spray or find a retailer near you

Boulder 70.3 Race Report

 

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Quick facts:

Swim: 30 min (not bad since I was still standing on the beach when the gun went off!)
Bike: 2:06 (happy with that time, although it’s only 54 miles not 56, but from what I can tell 2nd fastest age group bike split after Steve Johnson who is also on a Dimond. Fast bike!)
Run: 1:51 (one of my worst run performances in a triathlon, but it’s what I had on the day)
8th place in M40-44 (shows that you can still go top 10 with a great bike and terrible run)

So, Boulder 70.3 – my first “home town” race.  The main goal of entering this race was to have a goal to work towards after Ultraman Florida. That ultra stuff made me a bit slow, especially my run, so I entered the 70.3 as a way to force myself into getting a bit of speed back in the legs. A week before I did the Colorado Triathlon (Olympic distance) with the same goal – to get a bit of sharpness back and tune me up for the 70.3

Doing a race in your home town makes things quite a bit easier:

– no bike transport, so your bike is just ready to go without much prep
– you can sleep in your own bed
– you can eat your own food
– so there is a lot less stress around race day

On Friday night I slept very well, got up early, ready to ride the “beater” mtb to the start (15-20 min ride). Then Michelle got up and said “I’ll just wake up the kids and drive you there”. Awesome – that will make things easier! So we drove off, got about 2 miles from the rez, and traffic came to a complete stand still. Ok no problem I still have an hour before the start. The traffic was slow, but I managed to scrape through and get into transition 15 mins before it closed (but an hour later than if I’d just ridden the mtb there. I quickly filled the torpedo bottle, pumped my tires and exited transition by 7:10. My wave was starting at 7:30 so I still had enough time (so I thought)  to get the wetsuit on and relax a bit. I pulled on my wetsuit bottoms but left the top unzipped while I drank some water and sat on the grass. The pro women went off, then I heard the announcer say “last call for men 40-44 orange caps”… it was only 7:20 so I thought it was strange that they were making a last call 10 minutes before my wave. Then I looked and saw all these guys in orange caps waiting in the water already. “Orange caps 1 minute to go”… oh crap.

And here I am standing on the beach trying to zip my wetsuit up… I run down the beach to the start, while zipping my suit up. Dammit I need to switch my garmin on… it comes up and I haven’t saved yesterday’s bike workout. dammit dammit. I save/delete/whatever that ride and get it into open water mode (still running to the water’s edge). As I get it into open water swim mode, the gun goes off. I see Michelle and the kids on the side and wave hello before diving into the water, while pushing start on my garmin. I don’t want to lose any valuable data! I’m literally the very last athlete to enter the water, but oddly this doesn’t phase me at all. I settle into a strong rhythm and swim all the way through my wave, with the exception of a few guys at the front who I just couldn’t catch up to.

About half way through the swim, I started overtaking some female pros. By the end I would have overtaken 5 female pros, so I knew I was at least not swimming that badly. The odd thing about those pro women is that they seem to be severely  lacking in tactical skills. I was swimming faster than them, but not by much. I would have been an ideal drafting target for them, but none of them got on my feet. It would have been legal for them to do that, and they probably would have cut a few minutes off their time, but they pretty much just ignored me as I swam past them.

For the last few hundred meters, I couldn’t see any other swimmers close by, so I just settled in and pushed hard to the end. I had planned on taking off my wetsuit in the water (because it’s easier) but when I tried to take it off, I had a near wardrobe malfunction when my LG bike suit came off with it. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to notice  that was happening, so I quickly put the bottom half back again! It was a long run to transition, and I used the time to put my sleeves on (I swim with the sleeves of the LG bike suit rolled around my waist). I was encouraged to see transition pretty much full, so I knew I was in a good position. I jumped on the bike and settled into a steady pace for the first few miles (242w for the first 3.5 miles). I overtook another 2 female pros before the 3 mile turnaround, and then once off the pedestrian path I hit the hammer a bit since I was now warmed up. Diagonal hwy, Jay, 36 up to Neva rd was 276w. After that, I was pretty much alone until I hit another group of female pros around mile 30. Neva/63 to Nelson was just a steady cruise at 260w. I started the Nelson road climb (about 4.5 miles) expecting to hit some higher power on the climb, but for whatever reason the power didn’t increase much on the hill – I averaged 277w even though I was targeting around 315w. After that I was back on the flats and the power came back again. My power up to the end dropped down to 260w but I was now riding by feel, just going for a solid tempo effort.

Here are some bike stats:

Normalized Power: 265w NP
Average Power: 255w AP
IF (Intensity factor) .90 (which +- equates to 90% of threshold power, about right for H.I.M.)
Variability index (VI): 1.04
Training Stress Score (TSS): 171 (which is about ideal for a HIM bike)
Average Speed: 25.6 mph (max was 46 mph)
Link to TP file

After turning from 66 onto 75th, my brain was obviously cloudy because I was confused as to what road I was on. And this is a road I ride several times every week! I was still alone and had not seen another age grouper yet. I had no idea what place I was in, but I knew there was at least one guy in my wave ahead of me on the swim, and I had not yet seen another age grouper on the bike. I turned into T2 with my best every half iron bike split (2:06) which I was super happy with (note it was only 54 miles not 56). As I wheeled my bike around the corner I saw 2 bikes already racked – one which I recognized as Steve Johnson’s bike (who by the way biked 2:05, also on his Dimond).  I knew there was no way I’d outrun Steve, so I started off the run hoping to just protect 3rd place. I settled into a comfy pace of 6:50 per mile, which I thought would be fast enough to hold off 4th place, especially since I didn’t think anyone behind me would be that close on the bike. A big mistake I made here was not taking my bottle of nutrition on the run. In the rush at the start of the day, I’d left my run bottle in my bag which was now lying under a tree. It was pretty close to the run course, but I didn’t go and get it, since that would feel a bit like “outside assistance from myself” – plus I knew it would be pretty easy to just get some calories at the aid station. This was where my next mistake came in – I didn’t really take anything except water at the aid stations. It was so hot, that the last thing I felt like was gatorade or coke, so i just stuck to ice and water. Considering I advise many athletes on fueling strategies for racing, this was both ironic and not-very-smart. Due to the heat I was walking all the aid stations anyway, so it would have been easy to get some more calories down if I’d had the presence of mind to do so.

The run went ok for the first few miles, then the heat just beat me down. It felt like my heart was over-beating (like palpitations), and it just didn’t feel like it would be healthy to push the pace. The last time I felt like this was Kona 2015, which was about the same temperature. My extra layer of high tech “bioprene” wasn’t exactly helping either. For those interested in acquiring bioprene, the method is very simple: just consume 1000 calories more than you need every day, and you will stack it on!

The Boulder 70.3 run course is 2 laps around the reservoir. There is zero shade, and a variety of surfaces – spongy grass, undulating dirt, and a bit of pavement. To be honest, it’s not the most fun run course. On lap 1 I averaged 7:42 / mile, but as I started lap 2 I really didn’t feel great.

Now, a quick aside to talk about positive splits vs negative splits. A negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st half, and a positive split is the opposite. In general, good pacing can result in a negative split. Originally I had wanted to pace this as a negative split, but I thought to myself “I really shouldn’t be thinking in a negative way, let’s be positive. I don’t need negativity in my life… so for the sake of positivity, let’s do a positive split!!!”

So on lap 2 I degraded to 8:48 / mile, which is basically my ultraman pace! It’s funny how your body just reverts to a certain pace when things get really bad. Even though my run pace was slow, it felt like I had given everything I had on the day, which is all you can ask for really. The best thing about this bad run experience is that it’s a good kick in the pants to get me back on track before Ironman Boulder. The 2 main things I need to do: a) get my weekly run miles up to 50-60 miles per week and b) go on a bioprene elimination mission. To be competitive at Boulder Ironman, I’ll need to drop to about 72kg (I’m currently 78kg). That is also what I need to weigh in order to survive the run at Ultraman Hawaii in November, so getting there by August will be a good start… I’ll aim to gain 1-2kg after Boulder, but then lose it again after I complete my final big UM training block.

So the 3 lessons!
1. Get to the race much earlier than you think you should
2. Don’t leave your run nutrition in your bag
3. Don’t be fat for a hot race!

Ultraman Florida Win (The Executive Summary)

In business, we use the “Executive Summary” a fair amount. The goal is provide the reader (usually a busy exec with very little time) the pertinent facts without them having to read through reams of information. Now, my race reports end up being very detailed, which is useful to many people, but it’s a lot of reading! The purpose of this post is to provide a short summary of the race for the reader, but it also allows me to get something out there, and then spend more time on the detailed report.  Here goes!

Last weekend I won Ultraman Florida, a 3 day event that includes a 6.2 mile swim and 90 mile bike on day 1, a bike ride of 171 miles on day 2, and a double marathon (52.4 miles) on day 3. It was an exciting last day, where my 56 minute lead was whittled down to a narrow winning margin of 8 minutes. Half way through the run, the projected finish time had my winning margin down to only a minute!

Day 1: 10k Swim 2:48 (first out of the water), 90 mile bike 4:33 (after day 1, 36 min lead)
Day 2: 171 mile bike 8:06  (after day 2, 56 min lead)
Day 3: 52 mile run 7:53 (winning margin only 8 minutes)
Total time 23:22:12
 – Full results here

There was some good coverage around this race:
–  IMTalk episode 501 (my interview starts at 28:33) was before the race and episode 504 (starts 30:50) was after the race.
– Zen and The Art of Triathlon podcast episode 615
– I did an interview with slowtwitch after the race
– I also did an “ask me anything” thread on slowtwitch which is a great concept – basically any questions goes, and there are some interesting ones in there!

Rob Gray and the crew at the finish line of ultraman florida

Left to right: Kevin Coady, Ethan Davidson, Yours Truly, Chris Blick, and “The Postman” Brian Post. Photo Credit Michael Noonan and Bob Badalucco

– With the goal of racing the Ultraman World Championship this year in Hawaii, I decided to do Ultraman Florida in Feb 2016.
– Preparing over the Colorado winter was quite tough. Having last year’s winner Billy Edwards as my neighbor sure helped, since he had to go through a similar thing for 2015 and could give me sage advice along the way.
– It all came together, though, and I managed to win the race with a very narrow margin of 8 minutes
– I was first out of the water, and extended my lead on the day 1 and day 2 bike legs
– Day 1 conditions were very tough (very windy, mostly a cross headwind). My Dimond bike was a real advantage here, the beam design prevents most of the “shunting around” that happens in gusty wind conditions. The aerodynamics make a big difference. I rode about 10 minutes faster than anyone, at very low power (less than 180 watts average, which is the same effort as my easy recovery rides). The amazing Ice Friction Chain also helped to make sure I saved as many watts as possible!
– I was in a new wetsuit (Roka Maverick Pro) which was super comfy and enabled more range of movement than any other suit I’ve swum in
– Day 2 I started very strong. My aero pad came loose on the rough roads, and snapped off after 2.5 hours. Luckily my crew turned around a complete bike swap in just over 5 minutes. They were like an F1 pit crew!
– I went into day 3 with a 56 minute lead
– The guy in 2nd place was running 1 minute per mile faster than me. With a run of 52.4 miles, you do the math! It was destined to be very close!
– The gap after the first 26 miles was down to 27 minutes!
– I had to dig extremely deep to maintain focus and pace on the last 26 miles
– My crew really helped me to get it done, and in the end I negative split the double marathon to take the win (negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st). My shoe of choice – the Hoka One-One Clifton 2. Hokas have opened a different dimension of training and racing for me. On a double marathon, the high degree of cushioning really saves your legs, and helps you to finish strong, when going long!
– Nutrition was a combination of home-made fuel on the bike, and Glukos Energy products (my favorite is the tabs on the run)
– I had an amazing crew. Coach Kevin Coady from California, Ethan Davidson and Chris Blick from Dimond Bikes in Des Moines, Iowa. I can honestly say that crew selection is a critical  part of success in a race like this! Oh, sorry Dimond Van, I almost forgot to mention you!

Full report is on it’s way. I’ve gotten many questions about equipment choice, nutrition strategy and about my goals for Ultraman Hawaii. I’ll aim to cover as much of that then.

In the meantime, enjoy some other pics from the race…

 

Pre-race tune up with the crew!

Pre-race tune up with the crew!

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Finish line day 1, the lava bike still looks clean and happy!

Recovery time!

Recovery time in the Dimond Van!

David: "don't worry about me, mate, I'm just here to finish"... he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker

David: “don’t worry about me, mate, I’m just here to finish”… he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker

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The day 2 start line – it’s like Noah’s ark you set off 2 x 2

Aero time, day 2

Aero time, day 2

The reserve bike also got a chance!

The reserve bike also got a chance!

 

Me with the women's champion Jessica Duree

Me with the women’s champion Jessica Deree. Her shirt says “you got chicked” which was true for many of the UMFL male athletes…

Ironman Arizona 2015 Race Report

IMAZ was my 2nd race of the 2015 season. Kona was my first race, and I feel IMAZ was a much better day for me, probably because it was cold, and not hot at all. With the exception of the swim I feel that my result reflects my current form (which is ok, not great). I ended up with 9:19 and 2nd in M35-39. I had a terrible swim (I swam faster in Kona this year with no wetsuit, rough conditions and a longer course!). I need to figure that out, I should have been 5-6 minutes faster. I’m a bit heavier than I was at IMAZ 2014, which was the last time I wore my wetsuit. I had the bike of my life and my run was a little slow but still a respectable 3:30 which I was happy with given that I’m not in the best run shape right now.

I’m really happy with a 9:19, even though my primary IM goal now is to go sub 9 (next chance, IM Boulder 2016!). I don’t plan to do Kona in 2016, as I’m focusing on Ultraman, so above all I wanted to have a really solid training day out there and race hard with no fear of consequence.

I had some really bad cramping issues in my left glute the day before the race, so I woke up feeling like a gorilla had been punching me all night. Other muscles would also just randomly cramp for no apparent reason, which is a bit concerning when you have a big race day ahead. The good thing about knowing ahead of time that you’re going to have cramping issues, is that you can anticipate it, and I was able to manage it during the race. I cramped at the start of the swim, bike and run, but I just relaxed and focused on maintaining a steady effort for 10-15 minutes and they went away each time. So in the end, the cramping really was not much of an issue. I was very satisfied being able to get through the day in one piece, the 9:19 and 2nd place was a bonus!

Swim: 1:05 was a massive underachievement for me. To give you an idea of my current pool times, in the last 3 weeks I did a 1 mile (1650m) TT in 23 minutes and several 1km TTs in 14 minutes. My “all day pace” with no wetsuit is about 1:28/100m. So in theory going under 60 mins in an IM should feel very easy. I felt like I was in shape to swim around 56/57, which at least would have put me within closer reach of Scott Bowe who I thought would swim around 52, and ahead of Steve Johnson who’s just been sitting in the hot tub every time I go to the pool 😉

The rolling start was a mess at IMAZ. Basically you enter via a wide set of steps, perpendicular to the direction of the course. So even if you line up near the front, if you are towards the left then you are actually several rows back once you jump in. Then once you’re in, it’s chaotic until you get clear of that. Given that the goal of this rolling start idea is safety, I think they failed at IMAZ. The mass start is much safer a) because you get to warm up b) there is more than enough space for everyone.

Since my basic speed is quite good, I got clear of the mess pretty quickly, but I just felt very awkward for the whole swim, kind of the same feeling you have after not swimming at all for a few months. I also felt very constricted and out of breath. It took a huge amount of mental focus to stay calm. Maybe I’m too fat for my wetsuit who knows! Within about 15 minutes I knew I was going to have a bad swim time. When the people around you don’t look like competent swimmers, it’s a bad sign (since they are ahead of me, I probably look worse than they do!). Every pair of feet I found was either zig zagging all over the place, or swimming in the wrong direction. So I just swam alone the whole way.

Bike 4:37 – very happy with that. From what I can tell by looking at the top 10 in each AG this was the fastest amateur bike split.  Here is a link to my bike data. The plan was to bike a bit harder than usual, like I will at Ultraman. Pretty much using IMAZ as a long, intense training day. The presence of competition, plus having aid stations makes it a great opportunity to do that. My first lap started off with bad glute cramps, but they resolved after 10 mins and that lap was done at an intensity factor of .85 which is closer to what I might ride in a half ironman. Laps 2 and 3 were more crowded so I had to ease off a bit more often with an IF of .81 which felt like a steady all day pace. My VI was 1.03 which is the lowest I’ve ever had in an IM. This was a bike PR and my best executed IM bike to date. I also had a very tasty nutrition assortment. On the bike, I flavored my malto/fructose mix with 2 bottles of “hand crafted” Q ginger beer, which was awesome. Definitely keeping that. I rounded it off with 8 gummy worms and 2 bags of powerbar cola chews, averaging 430 calories per hour. The XLAB Torpedo bottle is a great addition to my setup. I started with that, plus a bottle of my mix mounted directly to the Dash TT.9 saddle. My only take from aid stations was 2 bottles of water. I feel this really helps at IMAZ because the aid stations can get a bit congested, especially on the later laps.

My bike setup is below. Zipp 808 front, Super 9 disc rear, 54/44 Rotor Q rings (which they say is equivalent to 56 at “peak” ovality, a huge asset at IMAZ, I didn’t spin out at all). Rotor 3D+ 165mm cranks, 3T Aduro bars, Dash TT.9 saddle with Pave Pria . I switched out the Conti tires for Turbo Cottons that Rappstar kindly lent me. Tririg Omega X brakes, Di2 shifting. Icefriction coated DA chain.

This was my IMAZ race setup, except for the tires and a rear bottle cage

This was my IMAZ race setup

 

 

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BTA bottle is an XLAB torpedo directly mounted onto the 3T bar, in an XLAB Gorilla cage

Run: 3:30 I felt great getting off the bike, made a quick porta potty stop on mile 1, and then settled into a steady pace just going by feel, around 7:10/mile. At around the 10k mark I could feel my hamstrings starting to tighten up, like a very dull cramp. I also had minor shooting cramps on the outside of my glutes, which I just ignored but my pace did slow a bit for the same perceived effort. I hadn’t seen Scott or Steve at all the entire race. I knew Scott would be way ahead out of the swim, but I thought I would have been close enough to Steve to at least see him. Later I would find out that Steve unfortunately DNS’d and that Scott would eventually beat me by 30+ minutes, which explains why I saw neither of them! Other than that I had no idea what place I was during the race. I started the run with Jack Toland who won the 18-24 AG, but he left me behind within the first mile. It started to rain pretty hard, and I knew the cold weather would demoralize some people. Since my last few training runs were in the snow, it actually felt pretty mild to me! I knew it would be a race of attrition so I just kept a steady pace, didn’t walk, and just kept going.  I saw nobody else in my AG, and nobody else that I even knew. On lap 2, the gravel path had turned into a mudbath. I tried to run on the grass but it was all mushy, so I ran on a single file line of bricks for as long as I could. I found Jack again around mile 17, and we ran together up until around mile 20. Side note: The warm chicken broth at the aid stations was just incredible! I was feeling good so pushed a little harder towards the end. My last mile was a superb 7:03 – I should get a side job as Tim Noakes’ poster child for his central governor theory!

Here is a comparison of my 2014 vs 2015 IMAZ runs. You can see a definite slow down around mile 10. A key difference is probably the mental aspect of competition – in 2014 I was chasing down Adam Zucco, in 2015 I was on a long training run with no idea of my place or who was ahead or behind me. Here is my data file. The other aspect may have been run nutrition. In 2014 I was robotic about calorie intake, in 2015 I just didn’t feel like taking much in, but I should have forced it if I wanted to maintain good pace.

For those that are interested, here is a comparison of all my IM bike splits to date

OveralI was very happy that I got through it all without much going wrong.  The awards ceremony was great – the Dimond team got 7 KQs in addition to 3rd, 5th and 6th in the pro race  (TJ, Jordan and Maik) so a great day for Dimond! It was also fun to “give away” my Kona slot to someone who really wants to go there.

Dimond with full equality 2nd places in 35-39 ;-)

Dimond with full equality 2nd places in 35-39 ;-)

The best part of the day though, was that an athlete of mine got a kona slot rolldown in 40-44. He has put in so much work and really deserved it. He was actually in much better shape than me going in, but he didn’t have an ideal day out there. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster going from disappointment the day before, to the high of a kona slot when it wasn’t expected. As a coach, it’s actually more exciting when one of your athletes gets a slot than when you get one yourself!

Kona baby! Fred and Mike Reilly

Kona baby! Fred and Mike Reilly

Right now I’m straight into Ultraman training. I’m back on the bike and in the pool, but will wait a few days until I’m ready to run again. Then it will be a series of 100+ mile run weeks, lots of swimming, figuring out  my wetsuit problems, and maintaining bike form until February!

 

 

Kona 2015 Race Report

Every triathlete dreams of one day racing in Kona. It’s a venue steeped in history and has a strange type of magnetic allure to it that keeps you wanting to come back. I have had the privilege of racing there the past 3 years, but even if I qualify I will not be going back in 2016 since I’ll be focusing on other types of races. Kona is brutal. Don’t get me wrong, it is an amazing experience, but it’s not what I would call a fun day out. In fact it feels like each time I do it, I leave a little bit of my soul out on the lava fields…

robgray.org dimond-0057

Here is a brief recap of my 2015 race…


Summary – total time 10:31  (swim 1:04 |  bike 4:57  |  run: 4:21)

Overall I was happy with swim/bike performance, the run was clearly slower than expected (my past 2 Kona runs were 3:30). It was much hotter than usual which affected me pretty badly. I also came down from altitude this year (Boulder) and I think I need to modify my usual heat prep to account for different blood plasma “behaviour” coming down from elevation to sea level.


Going in I didn’t have high expectations. I KQd at IMAZ 2014 so had a longer off season than usual. I slowly got back into things but was really busy at work all the way through July. Since work pays the bills, it gets priority! I also have 2 small kids age 2 and 4, and I’ve found that it’s a lot of extra work to play my part as a Dad at this age. It’s not so much the extra time it takes, but rather the complete randomness of stuff that happens when you have small kids. For example, you plan a long 5 hour ride on a Saturday, but when Saturday rolls around one kid is sick and has to be taken to the doctor, and someone needs to look after the other kid. Either way, you need to be flexible on your training plans and adjust when things like this happen. You can still get great training done, you just can’t expect it to be predictable. You need to be open and flexible, otherwise it will get frustrating and cause unnecessary stress (which is obviously counter-productive).

We also moved from California to Boulder in August. Anyone who has moved across country will tell you that the process is pretty draining. But once we were in Boulder I got an excellent training block done, just at the right time too (the final 8 weeks before Kona). It’s really interesting to me, how with many years of “base”, you can train for a relatively short time (like 6-8 weeks) and be in decent shape for an Ironman. Anyway it was actually kind of nice going to race Kona without any aspirations, and just treating it as a big (and hot!) training day for IMAZ and Ultraman Florida.

Below is a chart of my weekly volume going in:  avg about 11 hours per week, with a few 20 hour weeks thrown in. Usually I’m doing 25-30 hours per week in an IM build.

kona training volume 2015

I was a little worried about my swim, since the Kona swim “takes no prisoners” – at least on the bike you can slow down and on the run you can stop, but on the swim you just get crushed and swum over if you get it wrong. I did virtually no swimming in 2015. What I did do though, was high intensity and focused on quality. I don’t think I swam more than a 200m interval until 3 weeks before race day. However, with 3 weeks to go, I did a lot of long sets (mainly 800s and 400s) which I think helped me get my endurance back just in time.

You can see in the chart below how low my swim volume was in comparison to previous years. Based on that I was really happy with a 1:04 swim in Kona. The course is a bit long (2.5 miles instead of 2.4) and conditions were apparently tough.

kona swim volume 2014-2015

By the time race day rolled around I felt pretty good about my training. My swim has come back quickly, my biking was solid, and my run was acceptable (not great, but acceptable).

I estimated my race splits to be 1:06 swim, 5:00 bike and 3:45 run… and on the whole, things worked out.

Swim: 1:04 http://tpks.ws/mpZv At the time I was pretty happy with that as a kona swim time, given my swim shape. After the fact when I realized it was a slower day than usual, I was even happier with it.

I started left of middle, next to the large orange pontoon. My “short course speed” helped me get clear of the initial melee and I had virtually no contact the whole way. My initial pace after about 5 mins, when I glanced down at my garmin, was 1:12/100y (presumably current and draft assisted). I got to the turnaround in about 27 mins, so obviously some current on the way back slowed us down.

Bike: 4:57http://tpks.ws/yyKJ Just a pretty steady effort, around 230 watts most of the way. This year I rode an 808 up front and it was perfectly fine. I love the handling of the Dimond and I just flew down Hawi (probably passed about 60+ guys going down). The 55 tooth rotor q-ring probably also helped a bit 😉

Run/Walk: 4:21… it was at least 10 degrees hotter than any other Kona I’ve done, so I started off slower than planned. I also was in better run shape the other years. I settled into what felt like a very slow 8:30/mile. However after about 10 miles I just started overheating. Even though I had done what I thought was a good amount of heat prep, I continually felt like I was in a sauna, at that point where you really just need to get out. So I would stop, walk and ice myself through aid stations, and eventually in between aid stations too. With any time goals out of the window, it was actually nice to be able to walk whenever I felt like it. That was much more enjoyable than pushing through and suffering! Jan Frodeno was coming down Palani as I was going up, so I stopped there to cheer him for a bit. I walked the whole way up Palani and then continued the run/walk along the Queen K. Into the energy lab, it got a lot cooler and it was overcast, so running was much more manageable again. For once, the final 10k was actually pretty nice.

So, overall it was great to be a part of the Kona experience again, and I am looking forward to NOT going back for a few years (well, at least not 2016)…

And now, some amusing Kona observations:

  1. About 150 guys passed me in the first 10 miles of the bike. I was riding at about 260 watts, most of them would have been over 300. I passed pretty much every one of them again before Hawi. This seems to be an annual Kona phenomenon.
  2. The german triathlon federation must have a bike prime for who can get up Palani Rd the fastest. Every year, there is some muscled up german dude who sprints up Palani as hard as he can. This year I was at about 300 watts going up palani and this guy sprinted past me out of the saddle, must have been doing at least 700w!
  3. There was this guy on an old cheetah bike, looked like a hand-me-down from Natasha Badman, with 650c road wheels. This guy was severely directionally challenged. He kept on passing people on the right, snaking all over the road, and then once when passing through an aid station he drank a bottle of water and then threw it straight over his LEFT shoulder – missing my head my about 2 inches. After than I put in a surge, for my own safety, and left him behind.

Key learnings: I think the heat acclimation is my main learning from this year. I need to figure out a new protocol, one that doesn’t involve getting to the island 4 weeks early. My current workaround for this problem is to just not do Kona or other hot races! Easy solution… and someone who really wants to go there can take my spot. I might go back one day when I feel that I can put in the preparation to properly honor that course as a World Championship Race. until then I will just potter around other races and enjoy some new challenges (like Ultraman!)

Ironman Arizona Nutrition Report

I always get a lot of questions about nutrition for Ironman. Actually, “fueling” is probably a better term, since we’re talking about race day fuel strategy rather than day-to-day healthy eating.

Fuel is definitely the “4th discipline” in an Ironman, and in my view is as important as swim, bike and run. The longer the distance, the more critical it becomes. Many an athlete has been relegated to a slow walk half way through the marathon because of issues relating to fueling (too much, too little, or just the wrong approach).

Despite starting with a solid understanding of the theory, and with several references to build on, it still took me a lot of races to really figure out my nutrition for Ironman racing. Ironman Los Cabos was the first race where I felt that I totally nailed my nutrition plan. My subsequent races built on top of that, but still have to be tweaked depending on conditions. For example in cold weather I can absorb a lot more than in hot conditions. And in very windy conditions it can sometimes be difficult to fuel on a specific schedule, because you prioritize not crashing over taking in extra calories!

So going into Ironman Arizona, I used my Los Cabos nutrition plan as a base, but I still had a few tweaks to make:

  • in the 10 days before the race I would predominantly eat a high fat diet. Based on all the testing I’ve done, what you eat in this window has a large impact on how your body uses fat vs carb on race day. If you’ve never done this before, it will probably take longer than 10 days. I followed that protocol for Ironman South Africa which worked well for me. The change I made this time, was to reintroduce carbohydrate the day before the race, instead of 2 days before the race.
  • The biggest change I made was my race day breakfast. In the past I’ve eaten a lot of calories, mainly high carb with a bit of protein and fat. My breakfast consisted of 4 scoops of UCAN, 1 scoop of IsoPure Colombian Coffee Whey protein, and 3 small “crepes” filled with butter, peanut butter and honey. About 900 calories, a lot from protein and fat but still a decent number of carbs. Based on my testing, a breakfast higher in fat would result in a higher % of fat used as a fuel in the early parts of the race.  The reason for burning more fat is not so that I can get ripped, but so that the precious glycogen (carbohydrate) stores can be spared. Even a very lean athlete has enough fat stores to fuel several back-to-back marathons (in terms of caloric value), yet glycogen stored in the muscles and liver might be 2000 calories if you are lucky. So, the more you can spare glycogen, the better.

So, back to Arizona. Before a major race, I always do another metabolic test, at my specific power output goals on the bike, to validate both my total and my carbohydrate calorie requirements. I do this test during a long ride on the trainer, where I’m riding at Ironman race pace. Each “bucket” in the chart below is a 15 second average measurement. I just take the peak bucket any time after 3 mins into a 5 min interval and use that for fuel planning. In this case those values are 645 kCal/hour CARB and 478 kCal/hour FAT at 260 watts.IMAZ fuel test

 

I then make an assumption about starting glycogen (I conservatively estimated 1200 calories), before calculating the burn rate of swim/bike/run. This calculation is purely an estimate, since the actual energy requirements can vary quite a bit on race day. But it’s a reasonably good estimate, that if you are conservative in your estimations can help you plan for “worst case scenario”. It’s also a useful mental exercise to do this, just to be very aware of the different factors that affect this, so that on race day you can make some accurate adjustments based on what actually happens.

day plan

 

Note that the above calories are ONLY CARBOHYDRATE calories. Fat and protein have very little fueling benefit when ingested. Protein does have some benefit in that it prevents muscle breakdown, and of course fat and protein can make you “feel better”. So I tell people to eat fat and protein if they like it, or if it makes them feel good, but they need to be aware that by doing so they are using valuable “stomach space”, essentially leaving less space for carbohydrate, which is the thing that is actually going to fuel better performance. Your body can get more than enough fat to use as fuel from it’s own stores. There is no need to eat it too (other than to make you feel nice). I do take in a little protein and amino acids, but I don’t factor those in to my calorie calculations.

Ironman Arizona Race day nutrition

Ok, so finally we get to the point of this post, which is what I took in on race day

Breakfast:
As described above, my breakfast consisted of 4 scoops of UCAN, 1 scoop of IsoPure Colombian Coffee Whey protein, and 3 small “crepes” filled with butter, peanut butter and honey. About 900 calories, a lot from protein and fat but still a decent number of carbs. Between breakfast and the start of the race, I just drank water and a light BCAA (amino acid) solution. No more calories until I got on the bike. I wish I had taken a 2nd bottle of water, because I was super thirsty by the time we started the swim. I’m guessing this was due to the dryer air in Arizona.

Bike:
I use one bottle between the bars, and another bottle behind my seat. I saw a lot of people with 3 or 4 bottles on their bikes, which I think is really unnecessary. With aid stations every 10 miles you certainly don’t need 3/4 bottles. It’s just extra weight for no reason.

  • 2 bike bottles with just over 1000 calories each. I make my own simple “liquid gel” with 8oz tart cherry juice, 160g maltodextrin, 80g fructose.
  • 2 packets of power bar cola shots (200 calories each)
  • 2 gels in my pocket (200 calories)

The goal was to get through about 500 calories per hour on the bike. I managed to do this until the wind really picked up, then I was holding on to my bike more than drinking from a bottle! For 2015 I’m experimenting with the Torhans Aero 30 bottle – it has a straw so you can drink without taking your hands off the bars. Anyway, at least I was conscious of the fact that I needed to get the calories in, so I would take every opportunity to get it done, whenever I could. I ended up getting through both bottles, but none of the cola shots. As I came into T2 I took one of the cola shot packets with me for the run. So, even though I was under my calorie goal, my power was also less than planned so I felt that I was covered.

Run:

I tried something new on the run at Arizona. Instead of starting with coke, I would start with a bottle of UCAN (2 servings) for the first hour. I froze my bottle so it was nice and cold. I could get a few sips out but then I had to add water in order to thaw it a bit. I was done with the UCAN after about an hour, after which I would stop every 5th aid station or so and refill the bottle with coke. I ate a few power bar cola shots whenever I felt like it (mile 13 onwards) and that was it. I was initially a bit concerned that the UCAN would be too slow to release, but it seemed to work quite well for me. I felt constant energy throughout the run, and the coke definitely gave a boost when it was needed in the latter part of the marathon.

Conclusion

High fat breakfast: definitely worked well for me. I’ll be doing this again for sure. Next time will drink more water up till race start.
Windy bike: will be experimenting with the Torhans vs my current “bottle between the bars”
Run: will definitely do the split approach of starting with UCAN then switching to coke. I also like the little hand strap of the camelbak bottle, better than running with just a bike bottle in hand. Maybe I’ll experiment with one of those “bottle holsters” – which I’ve avoided in the past because I don’t like having anything around my waist.

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.

 

imaz-front

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 security volunteer (thank you Rocky – you saved my race!) 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.

home straight



 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 in M35-39 wore Cliftons

4 of the top 5 in M35-39 wore 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!