106West Race Review

I’m calling this a “race review” rather than a “race report”, because it was the first time that this event was run, and most people who read this won’t care about how my race went, but rather things that I learned from doing this race.

This is the world’s highest triathlon, starting at over 9000ft with a 1.2 mile swim in Lake Dillon, a beautiful lake just a stone’s throw away from the Keystone and Breckenridge ski areas. After the swim, it’s a tough 56 mile bike ride that starts off flat, then climbs up Montezuma Road to 10,200ft before returning to Dillon for a second lap. The run is mostly flat, on a bike path around the gorgeous lake. The race starts late (9:15am) which is AWESOME. It’s so great to not have to get up super early.

Due to the elevation, tough bike course, and potential for bad weather, there were many questions in the lead up to this race:

  • How cold will the swim be?
  • Given the high elevation, what’s a good pacing strategy for the swim?
  • Is a road bike or tri bike better?
  • What clothing is required?

Water temp: The water was cold. I’m guessing in the 50s (F). If you’ve done Oceanside, it was a bit colder than that. If you’ve done Couer d’Alene, it was almost as cold as that. We were allowed to wear booties and gloves but I chose not to, and I was fine. If the race was longer, I would probably wear them. I also did not wear a neoprene cap, but it probably would have been a good idea, certainly no downside in doing so.

Swim Pacing: I deliberately tired to start slowly, but it was still too fast. I had watched the earlier waves come out the water, and everyone looked drunk. At the first turnaround, I experienced a strange sensation that I’ve never had before. I got very dizzy and felt like I was going to black out. At that point I was in the front pack in the wave, about 100 meters in front of the main pack, so I just stopped, then did breaststroke for a while until I felt better. I started swimming again, but much slower than before. It’s a 2-lap swim, and at the end of the first lap the main pack had caught an overtaken me. I just let them go, mainly because I didn’t feel like dying that day. By the end of the swim, my main thought was how happy I was that it was not an Ironman.

Road vs Tri bike: I brought both bikes with me, but I did not pre-ride the course. Basically, the course is flat and rolling up until Keystone. Then you climb and descend Montezuma Rd. I ended up choosing a tri bike, and I was fine on that. If you’re a terrible bike handler you may wish to choose a road bike. I don’t think a road bike would’ve been much slower for me. The main thought was that the road bike might enable me to descend faster, but I did test the descent the following day on my road bike and it was slower than my tri bike.

Here is a video I shot of the descent. You can see it starts a bit technical, and the road surface is not great. But nothing super bad.

The one amazing thing about this race was the road closure. We had 3 lanes for the bike, 2 full lanes and a shoulder, plus an empty lane between bikes and cars. And Montezuma was 100% closed to traffic. So probably the safest bike course I’ve ever raced on.

Pacing wise, I couldn’t ride very hard. To my legs it felt easier than Ironman effort. My power meter wasn’t working so I don’t know for sure, but based on feel it was easier than IM and I would estimate I rode around 220 watts (Ironman I ride about 240, half ironman usually about 260). Every time I rode harder than that, I’d feel a bit dizzy and disoriented (presumably the altitude). But it was a fun course and a pleasure to ride.

On the run, I had another weird sensation. Every time I ran faster than 8:00 / mile I would be super out of breath. In comparison, I’d have to run close to 6:00 / mile at sea level to be breathing the same way. It’s weird because your legs are ok, your breathing is just crazy. But I just slowed down and enjoyed the run – it’s so beautiful and what a pleasure to be able to run with that scenery!

What I’d do differently:

  • Well, it probably wasn’t a good idea to spend the week before at sea level in Mexico at an all-inclusive resort!
  • We were very lucky with the weather. I would have been totally unprepared if it was cold. I had no gloves or jacket. I would definitely pack winter gloves and an extra warm top, and if it was cold I’d change into that in T1. I’d also pack a warm skullcap to wear under my helmet. At a minimum, these warm clothes and gloves would be nice to have in the morning before the race, even if the weather is good.

Will I be back next year? Of course if the schedule allows! What a great race and superbly organized. But if you’re coming from sea level, be prepared to dial back your effort and enjoy the day!

Ironman Boulder 2016 Race Report

Total: 10:12

1:00 Swim  (good)
4:55 Bike:  (started great, ended bad!)
4:11 Run/Walk (started well, then went downhill/uphill? from there)

image credit: Michelle Gray Photography

image credit: Michelle Gray Photography

I have to say, it’s pretty awesome doing a race in your home town. I get to train on every part of the course whenever I like, I can sleep in my own bed and eat my own food. There is no bike transport, and everything is easy to get ready. On top of that, I know many of the volunteers, supporters and other athletes. So it’s a lot of fun and not much stress at all!

Since I had already turned down a Kona slot at IMAZ, and I wasn’t planning on taking one here either (although I did think about it), my main goal of the race was to have a big training day, and go sub 9 hours. I was also going to ride the bike pretty hard, as to make the run a bit harder. Using bestbikesplit.com I calculated that something in the region of 4:25  would be achievable on around 250 watts. This was close to the bike course record, so I had that in the back of my mind as a goal. I programmed the course into my Garmin so that it would give me the ETA while I was racing, to see if I was on target for the time goal.

My day started very early. Despite living less than 3 miles from the start, it was mandatory for all athletes to take a shuttle from Boulder High School. So I had to get a taxi 8 miles to get to the shuttles, then get a shuttle all the way back to the swim start. I woke up at 3am, had 3 scoops of UCAN plus a serving of Isopure Colombian coffee whey protein. I had a small amount of oatmeal but I had zero appetite so couldn’t get much down. The zTrip (taxi) arrived at 3:45am, a seemingly cool Rastafarian driver chilling to the beats of Bob Marley as we set off towards downtown. However, not all was as it seemed. This guy kept on randomly swerving his car, accelerating and decelerating, and braking, despite us being the only vehicle on the road. Soon we came up on two yellow school busses that were side-by-side… fortunately for us a 12 foot gap opened up in between them, which coincidentally was exactly the length of the taxi, so no problem we squeezed through!  I wondered if I’d actually make it to the start line in one piece… then lucky for me the road was blocked so I could get out and walk the 2 blocks to the High School.

I first put my frozen bottle in my run bag, then dropped off my special needs run bag before getting into the school bus. It was a short ride to the swim start, and I arrived around 4:45am. There was plenty of time to pump tires, set up nutrition and then chill out before the start. I hung out with Chris Blick (ex Dimond now Roka) until the start, and it was cool to see my athlete Amy Craft who was also using this race as an Ultraman training day. Her husband John was already practicing his crewing duties, with a backpack full of water, gatorade and athletic-friendly snacks. He even gave me a bottle of water which saved me a long walk over to the athlete water area (thanks John!).

rob-chris-im-boulder

Me and Chris – ready to rock

Chris and I headed over to the swim start at about 6am, and quickly dipped in the res to get some water in the wetsuits. Then we just hung out until the start. I saw Conrad Rodas a few minutes before the start – I let him go right to the front since I knew even with an all-out effort he’d be too fast for me. I also saw a guy that beat me in the previous weekend’s Bare Bones 3 mile swim (Andy Freeman), but I knew I could swim with him so I stood just behind him.

 

Me looking serious. Chris not so much

Me looking serious. Chris not so much

At 6:20 the cannon sounded and we were off. I started a few rows back to let the really fast guys go. Since we hadn’t warmed up I started as easy as I could, just to try and settle into it on Andy’s feet. For the most part I had very little contact, but a few hundred meters in, Andy stopped suddenly (presumably google malfunction), then gave a huge breaststroke kick right into my face with his heel – I got a nice shiner to show for that one!

a heel to the face will do this

a heel to the face will do this

The rest of the swim was pretty relaxed. I lost Andy but had feet to draft off for about 75% of the way. I did zig-zag a bit which always seems the case in this lake. A few times I felt that I was swimming way too easy, so I would start swimming really hard. However I was not gaining much ground over the people around me when I did that, so in the end I just settled back into the easy pace until the end.

 

I exited the water just over an hour, in 41st place overall, which was slightly faster than expected. I ran up the ramp and found my neighbor Lara Edwards (Billy’s wife) who was volunteering as a wetsuit stripper. She made me lie on the grass and they had the wetsuit off in no time at all. I picked up my transition bag, which only had my helmet inside, and ran through the change tent, only stopping to give the volunteers my wetsuit and goggles. I put on my helmet and then put my sleeves on while I was running to the bike (I swim with the sleeves rolled down, even with the wetsuit swim).

I got to the bike, ran up the hill to the mount line and then started my favorite part of the day! The first 20 miles of the bike course is a rolling/hilly section that goes past my house. First, there is an out-and-back section along hwy 119, which allowed me to see the leaders coming in the opposite direction. I did a quick time check when I passed the same place and was about 10 minutes back. Conrad and I had spoken before the race, and based on our assumptions that he would be 10 minutes ahead, and the difference in our planned bike power, we estimated that I’d catch him at around the time that we started lap 2. So I was on track at this point. A part of my pacing strategy was to avoid the temptation to ride the hills hard, and just keep my power around 250 watts. I was feeling really good, so I went a little over this, ending up around 265 watts but it didn’t feel like I was working too hard. I did, however, work hard a few times dropping a Colombian guy named Felipe.

Let’s take a short interlude to talk about Felipe. My very first experience with him in this race I thought to myself “This guy belongs in Kona”. Now, many of you may think that’s a compliment, but let me explain what I mean. You see in Kona, there is this phenomenon that you don’t really see in other races. You pass a rider, and next thing he sprints back past you, realizes he can’t sustain the power, and then sits up right in front of you and slows down. The rules say that you need to drop back 12 meters once someone passes you, so stuff like that really kills your momentum. But at Kona, it feels like more than of 3/4 of riders do this. In the end, I believe he did get his Kona slot (congrats Felipe) so all of you racing on October 8th, be sure to say hi to him when he blasts by then sits up in front of you on the big island! I can assure you he won’t be the only one…

Anyway, so I burned some matches riding away from Felipe, and soon he was out of sight. This section ends with a fast descent down Lookout road with a sharp left turn into 75th. I saw my friend Adam Hecht on the corner who was doing a superb job of cheering! Next I saw Billy Edwards wearing a clown wig, who told me I was now in 11th place, 9 minutes back. A few hundred feet later I saw Michelle and the kids – she somehow managed to take a few photos, give me a split, and cheer at the same time!

Thanks Michelle for the photo! Taken while cheering and making sure 2 kids didn't run into the road

Thanks Michelle for the photo! Taken while cheering and making sure 2 kids didn’t run into the road

Now that I knew how far back I was, I could count off the number of people I passed.  Between this point and mile 46, I worked my way up to 6th place. Having said that, I was obviously “in the zone” since I actually passed Conrad without realizing it. I must have counted him in my head, but been oblivious that it was him I was passing. As I turned onto hwy 66, I did a time check with the ETA on my Garmin. It had me arriving at 11:51am, which was pretty much on track for my plan. I could see a rider in the distance ahead of me (which I think was eventual winner Clay Emge). My power up to this point was on track, 259 watts, but I was feeling really good so I upped it a bit and focused on the chase.

This is me still feeling good. About to overtake Conrad but so focused I didn't see him.

This is me still feeling good. About to overtake Conrad but so focused I didn’t see him.

About a mile down the road, I felt the dreaded thump, thump, thump of my rear wheel… UGH – a flat tire. I jumped off the bike and initiated Plan A, which was my latex canister. I always use one in training so that I’m familiar with how it works and how well it works. Usually, it take 30-45 seconds to fix a flat using this method. It all started well, and the tire inflated. But as soon as I took the tube of the canister off, the foam started spewing out of the valve. It went all over the wheel and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Plan B… let’s change the tube. All good and well, except that the tire was now so slimy from the foam that I couldn’t get it off. I tried for several minutes but to no avail. Fortunately, the race neutral support guys arrived soon after this. They helped me change the tube, but alas it would not inflate (another valve issue). He had another tube in the vehicle, so we tried that one, and third time lucky, it worked). While I was standing there watching everyone pass me again (Conrad Rodas, Bob McRae, Steve Johnson, Frikkin Felipe and more than 10 others), I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the break and drink some of my nutrition. This sounds like a smart thing to do, but really it wasn’t, because I was already 100% on top of my fueling before the flat happened, and I was already pretty much at the max.

All in all I was on the side of the road for 15 minutes, and when I got back on the bike I felt terrible. Firstly, my legs were now cold and stiff. No problem – I could just ride easy for a few minutes until it came back. Secondly, I now felt bloated and sick, probably because I was just eating stuff for 15 minutes without being too conscious of how much I was having. My power was just not there – I was now struggling to hit 210 watts – and even at that power I didn’t feel good at all. Also, my bike time goal was now obviously out of the window, and I really didn’t feel like chasing those guys down all over again. So mentally I started to try and figure out some new goals. I figured that since I was riding easy now, I may as well use the time left to solve my GI issues and save my legs for the run. For the next 90 minutes I pretty much just drank water, and eventually my stomach cramps disappeared. I started taking in fuel gradually, and then felt better and better towards the end. Mentally I still felt despondent about the bike. I was coming in around 4:55, over 30 minutes slower than expected. Still, I was arriving at about 12:20, so with a decent 3:15 run I could still go under 9:20. I was also feeling very happy that my stomach was now all good again.

I dismounted the bike and then started the very long run into T2, on the Boulder High School athletic track. I handed off the bike, grabbed my run bag and made my way to the change tent. Clown-haired Billy Edwards was easy to spot, waiting with Brandon Watson to take my bag and get my stuff ready. These guys were awesome! It felt like I sat down for about 15 seconds and they had me ready to go. I started the run and immediately felt great. I always try and run by feel (EASY) for the first few minutes and then look at my Garmin to check the pace. My goal was to start at 8 min/mile (3:30 marathon) and then speed up if I felt good later on. I was a bit shocked when I looked down – pace was reading 6:52 per mile which is way too fast (that’s a 3 hour marathon). I tried to slow down as much as comfortably possible, but still was hitting just over 7 min/mile. Just before mile 2 I stopped to use the porta potty, so including that stop I was back on goal pace (2nd mile 8:15). The next few miles I was in the low 7’s but I felt good so I just kept going. I went through 10k in about 45 minutes, which was a little faster than I would have liked, but I still felt good. Over the last few months I’ve been struggling to get my run speed back, so overall this speed represented a good training breakthrough for me.

I was also on track with calories – one can of mountain dew and 6 Glukos energy tabs, for about 250 calories. Then suddenly at around mile 8, I couldn’t take anything more in. Even water was tough to take down. I had some Mexican coke waiting in special needs at mile 10, which I managed to get down. But after that, everything was a struggle. I ran with Conrad for a while, which helped a lot – it was fun to run with someone and shoot the breeze a bit. I got progressively slower as the run went on.  I was happy to see Michelle around mile 15. I walked with her a bit and it was great to have a conversation in the middle of this run. I saw John Craft after that, but he had changed clothes since I saw him that morning, and I was a bit out of it, so I couldn’t figure out who it was until he said “Rob! It’s me, John!”… that should probably have been a sign that I was not quite “with it”! Around that time, I came across a woman (#632) lying on the ground, convulsing and throwing up. I stopped to help her and see if she was ok. She was totally out of it, asking me what she should do. I told her to try and throw up as much as possible, get some water, and walk it out. I stayed with her until the medic came and then continued my run. She was only at about mile 4, so I thought there was no way she was going to finish. But I’d later see her crossing the line in the race day video – anything is possible!

After mile 16, I started walking the aid stations, and my walks got longer and longer. I wasn’t even looking at my Garmin any more, I was just running the pace that I could run.  Michelle rode next to me on a bike for a bit – it was really good to have a bit of company out there. I saw Amy Craft a few times on the run, going the opposite direction – she was looking strong which made me feel better too. She is going to nail that Ultraman run!

The last 6 miles was painful. Literally every step hurt. I’ve never had that in any race before (even the Ultraman 52 mile run was not this painful), and this is the first race where I’ve had to walk downhill just because my quads hurt that bad! I saw Adam Hecht again with 5k to go – not only was he cheering for me, but he made all the other spectators around him cheer for me as well… that’s another great thing about a hometown race – so much local support!

Looking better than I felt down finisher chute

Looking better than I felt down finisher chute

I never thought those last 3 miles would end, but eventually they did. Michelle, Adam, and my teammate Bob McRae were all at the finish line. Bob had an amazing race with an age group win and a superb time of 9:12.

Me and Bob McRae - he totally crushed this race with 6th overall and an AG win in 45-49

Me and Bob McRae – he totally crushed this race with 6th overall and an AG win in 45-49. Thanks Adam for the pic

So, it may have not been the race I wanted, but it was a great training day that kicks off my Ultraman Hawaii build. I had a great swim, my bike performance was great (until it wasn’t) and I have some run pace back. As with all bad races, I like to take away some learnings. The 2 main learning for me are 1) don’t take in too much nutrition if you’re standing around for 15 minutes 2) I need to come up with a simpler run nutrition plan for Ironman racing.

Overall, I loved this event and I hope to do it again in 2017!

 

Ironman Boulder Bike Course Preview (2016)

The IM Boulder Bike course is fast and not technical. It has some elevation gain but it’s mostly just rolling. The longest hill is Nelson rd but it’s not very steep. I race this course with a 54 tooth chainring and an 11-23 cassette.

Here is my strava route map for the 2016 course. My very short summary of the sections:

  • Out of T1, down and up diagonal: take it easy and settle in, be careful and be patient at the turnaround on the bike path (where you transition from southbound diagonal to northbound, just over 2 miles in)
  • 52, 287, Lookout is hilly. You’ll be feeling fresh and tempted to ride too hard. Don’t. Unless you’re one of my rivals, then I suggest you go for the strava KOM on all segments in this part of the course.
  • Jay Rd is a false flat (slight uphill but you won’t even notice)
  • 36 is rolling
  • Neva Rd is super fast and a great surface. This is most technical part of the course, even though it’s not technical at all.
  • Nelson Rd is the longest climb, but it’s not super steep.
  • Back on 36, heading to 66 is fast.
  • The rest is flat or rolling
  • Be careful going over the railroad tracks just after Hygiene on 75th. Every year hundreds of bottles are ejected here. (and also, make sure your bottles are secure so that they do not become part of this statistic)
  • Repeat the above, except for the 52, 287, Lookout section

Here’s a quick video of the “technical” parts of Neva Rd – as you can see, nothing to worry about.

Ironman Boulder Swim Course Preview

I recorded a short video looking at the Ironman Boulder Swim Course. It’s just a quick recording I made to help those who are unable to check out the course beforehand (since there is no pre-swim of this course). Apologies for the windy turbulence in the audio, but this was just a “quick and dirty” recording!

The key points:

  • It may or may not be wetsuit legal, come prepared for both
  • The visibility is bad, and most people don’t swim straight here. So choose good reference points to sight off, and sight often
  • Don’t go out too hard, it’s not fun going into oxygen debt at 5000ft!
  • Use a good anti fog. I use Sven Can See, see link below

The links for the retailers and products I mentioned:

  • If you want to swim in the reservoir before race day, drop in at the Boulder Aquatics Masters Open Water Swim on Tuesday and Thursday at 6:10am ($15 drop in fee)
  • Anti Fog: Sven Can See – I use the Anti Fog Spray (use code ROBGRAY15 to get a 15% discount on your order)
  • Colorado Multisport 2480 Canyon Blvd
  • To get a wetsuit or swimskin, visit the Roka booth at the expo.

Good luck and swim safe!

Finally – getting some fitness

When I lived in London, I used to catch the number 65 bus to get into town. Most times, I would wait for ages with no bus arriving, then all of a sudden 4 busses would arrive at once! In the end I mainly would just walk the 1.5 miles into town because it was just quicker than waiting forever for 4 busses to come at once.

My fitness this year has felt similar… I’ve been diligent in getting the work done, but I’ve had no real indication of fitness improvements at all. And then suddenly in one week, I had breakthrough workouts in both running and biking!

Last Friday (June 24th) I went out for a long 18 mile run. The idea was to start out by feel at an “easy effort”, then finish with some faster efforts. Up until this week, I’ve been stuck in “ultra mode”, unable to really get comfortable at paces faster than 8:00/mile. But on this run, it was different. I started off by feel, and was hitting 8:00/mile feeling very easy for the first 9 miles. Then I picked it up, and was comfortable running low 7’s for the remainder of the run. Overall 18 miles with an average of 7:40/mile – slower than my fast days, but a huge improvement over any runs I’ve done this year.

Then on Sunday, I went for a long ride. In the beginning I didn’t feel great, but I just kept the effort easy for the first couple of hours. Then after 3 hours I picked up the pace to a higher effort, just under “Ironman race pace”. At 4:45 into the ride I stopped for a quick coffee, then I started heading back home. I was feeling pretty good, so I decided to do a quick loop north of Boulder (Nelson, 36, 66) which is a hilly part of the Ironman Boulder course. As I started the loop, I felt very good, so I spontaneously decided to do an FTP test (usually performed as a standalone workout of 20 minutes all-out). Ever since moving to Boulder last August, I’ve struggled to sustain any efforts over 300 watts, but today I found myself easily riding over 330. So I pushed it a bit harder, and ended the 20  min TT with a normalized power of 344 watts, which was a huge step from all my previous efforts here at altitude, and it’s pretty close to my best sea level efforts.

Both of these workouts have been huge confidence boosters. They took a while to happen, and unlike the #65 bus, they have actually come just in time to give me a nice boost before Ironman Boulder, taking place on August 7th.

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

IMG_20160220_065347995

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

 

 

robgray.org dimond-0037

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!)