2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

I woke up on day 3 with pretty sore legs, not exactly how you want to feel before a double marathon! I had a light breakfast of rice pudding, and a packet of UCAN just before the run start.

With a 5 minute deficit to Inaki, and only 40 minutes ahead of Tony, I had to decide on a race strategy. I had trained for 2 possible options: the conservative option would be if I had a big lead going into day 2 – I’d start super easy around 8:00 min/mile down from Hawi, and then settle into an easy/steady pace along the Queen K. The aggressive option would be to run at my “non suicidal” sustained limit down from Hawi (around 7:15 pace) and then settle into 8:00 pace once on the Queen K.

The decision between the 2 strategies really came down to my goal. If I wanted to win, I should adopt the all-or-nothing approach. If I wanted a safe podium, I should adopt the conservative approach. To be honest, in my mind Tony was the real threat. If we each had our best day, he would run close to 6:30 and I would run close to 7:00. I knew Inaki’s best day would be around the 7:00 mark too. To be honest, I really thought Inaki’s big performance on day 2 would hurt his day 3 run. So, knowing my own limits well, I opted to start at around 7:15 pace and see how things unfolded over the first half marathon. I was there to win, and I would rather give it everything I had, blow up and come 10th, than be conservative and come 2nd or 3rd.

To my surprise, my legs started feeling really good after the first 5k. Jochen and I were running exactly the same pace, on target for my planned 7:15 / mile effort. We went through the first half marathon in around 1:40, Tony was about 2 minutes ahead, and Inaki was 7 minutes behind. This gave me a lot of confidence that I had chosen the right plan. It seemed like I was keeping Tony at bay, and that Inaki was paying for his day 2 effort.

Down from Hawi - feeling good!

Down from Hawi – feeling good!

Jochen and I passed through the marathon mark together in 3:29 and I was still feeling good. I was on the Queen K, and I was mostly a little faster than planned (about 7:45 instead of the planned 8:00 pace). My legs were still sore, but they were not getting any worse, so I just kept going. My nutrition was on track at 300 calories per hour and I was feeling strong. It was also apparently up to 85 degrees now out in the lava fields, but I still felt cool. I was just drinking normally and everything felt good.

Still feeling strong

Still feeling strong

Jochen started slowing down around mile 28, so I went off solo for a while. Then at mile 38, it was like I was suddenly hit with a sledgehammer. Every single step felt like someone was chiseling away at my quads. I could not help but slow down to manage the pain. A short while after cresting the scenic point hill, Inaki passed me. I knew I was only going to get slower from then on, so I knew the win was now out of reach unless he completely blew up. I also knew he would be spurred on after taking the lead, and that blowing up was not likely.  It then became all about pain management for me. I would get to the finish line, I just needed to make sure I could actually still move forward in order to get there. The final 12 miles was mostly spent walking, with a bit of running thrown in. It was the most painful 12 miles of my life, but eventually I got to the “99 mile marker” which is the turn off the Queen K onto Makala drive. I stopped to let Ian take a picture of this momentous milestone, before jogging to the finish line. To my surprise, I crossed the finish line to finish 2nd overall, with just 4 minutes to spare over Tony.

Finally done!

Finally done! Ian and Chris managed to get me there in one piece!

I have no regrets over my decision to race hard. To be honest, I’m sure my quads would have also died with the conservative strategy, probably just a few miles later. I gave it everything I had in me over 3 days, but on this weekend Inaki just executed a really superb race.

Instead, it has given me significant insights into how I can better prepare for this race. I did do a lot of downhill running in training, but I don’t think it was enough. So over the winter I’m going to do a big run block to lay the foundation for some epic run training next summer. Then, I’m going to do very frequent long downhill runs in order to prepare my quads for the stress of this race. Plus, I’m going to spend a lot more time in the gym over winter working on strength (both for the run, and to prevent those post-swim glute cramps).

In conclusion, this race is simply amazing. I’ve been to Kona 3 times before this, but my experience those times was just a sliver of what the island has to offer. The Ironman takes place on the most boring part of the island, whereas Ultraman takes you on a crazy whirlwind tour of everything this spectacular place has to throw at you. Even if I had come last, I would have been so happy to be a part of this experience. May it be the first of many to come!

Here is the strava flyby for day 3


 

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 2

We left Hilo at 5am, all the way up to Volcano for the 6:30 start. After a bit of circling around we found the start line. Basically, the whole downhill section is a no-feed zone, so crews just drop off their athletes and then drive back down the mountain. It was pretty cold, and fortunately for me, my crew member Ian Hersey had come prepared with a rain jacket and gloves for me. Given that all my previous trips to Hawaii were for the Ironman, the thought of cold weather never even entered my mind. Anyway, that’s what a good crew does!

Being the first finisher on day 1 meant I got to start right at the front. My race plan for the day was to start at a moderately hard pace, mainly to prevent anyone making a kamikaze break off the front and forcing me to chase on a wet & sketchy downhill. That tactic worked, with only Tony O’ Keefe making a pass in the first few minutes. This was really good for me, since he has ridden these roads many times before, and it was my first time ever seeing them. So I just followed Tony all the way to the bottom of the hill. It started raining pretty hard on the way down, so once again I thanked Ian (in my head) for bringing the rain jacket and gloves. As we neared the bottom of the hill, Tony and I were approaching a green light. I put in a surge to draw up alongside him in case it turned on us. My prediction came true, and we just scraped through as it was turning orange. Next we made a right turn at the Ace Hardware, and were met with a red light where I stopped to remove my camelbak and rain gear. Chris was standing at the light, so I just dropped my camelbak with him. Next thing Inaki came through and didn’t see the red light. He was almost taken out by a large pickup truck, but fortunately it saw him and stopped before squashing him. I was so amazed by what had just happened that I forgot to remove my rain jacket and gloves, then the light went green so I just rode on. I’d just have to try and undress on the fly over the next few miles! They say never try anything new on race day, and I realized now that I had not practiced undressing while riding my tri bike. I can easily ride my road bike with no hands, but the tri bike is a different story completely. I resorted to riding one handed, and pulling the clothes off with a combination of contortionism and using my teeth as a temporary hand. I managed to get one sleeve off the rain jacket, and then Ian ran next to me performing an excellent “sleeve yank” to get the other one off. Success! Next was my tight long sleeve Fusion aero top, which I had underneath the rain jacket. That was a bit more difficult but we managed to use the same technique to remove it a few miles later. Lastly, the gloves came off (literally and figuratively) pretty easily and then I was fully undressed for the day.

Tony, Inaki and I were all riding together at the front for most of the next section.  My plan was to just stay with those guys all the way into Hilo, where there is a series of traffic lights. My only goal was to not get left behind at a red light while someone else got through in front of me. As it turned out, I unintentionally made a break and created a small lead of around 2 minutes.

Just before the red road section there is a long descent; I rode it in an aero tuck without using the brakes at all, and by the time I got to the bottom Tony and Inaki were nowhere in sight behind me. So I entered the red road section (which is also a no feed / no crew zone) completely alone, with a gap ahead of the other guys that I had not intended to create.

The red road is just gorgeous. It’s a rollercoaster road under a canopy of tropical foliage, running right next to the ocean with virtually no traffic.

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I just rode steady through this section, and then eased off on the way back into Hilo, seeing if the guys would catch up and ride with me for a bit. I made it through most of the Hilo lights, and got caught at 3 reds, which I thought was a good result. I steadily made my way out of Hilo and started the rolling section towards the Hakalau bridge, where there is a one-way closure for bridge repairs. I was still 1.5-2 minutes ahead of Inaki at this stage, but then got stuck at the red light. I was at the light for a few minutes, and Inaki drew up alongside me just before it turned green. After that we rode together for a bit, at a pretty decent effort. I could tell he was trying to drop me since he was riding harder than we had ridden up the Volcano yesterday (when I’d put 7 minutes into him). I just kept it steady and let him stay in front of me. I knew I could ride a long way at that power, and I thought he would struggle to sustain it (based on the previous day). We rode together for over 40 minutes, and then he put in some big surges. I was riding over 300 watts to stay with him (350+ on the surges), which I knew for me would be too much to sustain, so eventually I just let him go, thinking that he would blow up further down the line. I clearly underestimated him, but I have no regrets about my decision; I had to ride within my own capability, stick to my own race, and chasing him would have been a mistake for me.

That next section, from the 3 gulches (wow, much beauty!) all the way up to Waimea, was a tough section for me. It took 1:41 and I only averaged 211 watts (about 25 watts lower than my typical Ironman power). I knew I needed to save something for the tough Kohala mountain climb, so it felt like I was riding at the limit of what was sensible for me at that point. During that section Inaki put 17 minutes into me. I thought it was suicidal, but it turns out that it was a great move on his part. He obviously was very familiar with that section and knew exactly what his limits were.

Mile 125 heading to Waimea

Mile 125 heading to Waimea

As I passed through Waimea, I readied myself for the big climb. I felt good, my nutrition was on track and I was ready to put in a final big effort. I had trained to hit this hill close to 300 watts, but the most I could muster was around 240 watts for the 30 minute effort. Although this was below target, I managed to claw back about a minute from Inaki on the climb.

Climbing the Kohalas

Climbing the Kohalas

Then came the most exhilarating section of the entire course – a 13.5 mile descent down into Hawi – it’s a super fast descent with some gusty winds in some parts. I hit 50 mph down there, once again very thankful that I was riding a 303 up front. I managed to make up another 60 seconds on this section, but still ended 15 minutes behind Inaki, making his overall lead around 5 minutes.

day2-finish

 Chris washed the bike while I showered and refueled. I ate a whole tub of rice pudding, a snickers, 2 marmite sandwiches, a bottle of pomegranate juice and I was still famished! We drove down the mountain and ate some lunch at Cafe Pesto in Kawaihae, before checking into the Mauna Lani for the night. I had a good recovery session in the hot tub overlooking the beach, before heading up to the room for a good night’s sleep.

Strava Flyby for day 2 lets you see how great Inaki’s move was

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 1

I was happy to wake up feeling good. I had felt nauseous and bloated since my flight on Monday, but I felt ok now and could stomach a bowl of oatmeal and some toast. We drove the 10 minutes to Kona pier and I got out to get ready. Then I realized that I’d already made my first mistake and left all my swim nutrition at the house. No problem, Chris “The Transporter” Blick spun the tires, did a few handbrake turns, and was back with my bottles in a flash. I talked John my swim escort for a bit and then put on my wetsuit, had a drink of water and headed down the steps and into the water. I made my way to the front and then did some deep breathing to fully relax and get totally calm before the start. I don’t warm up at all for a 10k swim, since you can just do that during the first km! Steve King counted us down and then we were off!

Ready to roll in my Roka sleeveless

Ready to roll in my Roka sleeveless suit

You basically swim the first 6 miles of the Ironman run course; from the pier down to the Kona Surf Hotel at Keauhou. My plan was to swim nice and easy, and keep the leaders somewhere within sight. There can be some fast swimmers at this race, and I didn’t want to let them get too much of a lead. However, with 5 minutes I noticed that it was in fact ME that was in the lead. I double checked my effort to make sure I was going easy enough, but I still continued to build a lead.

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I went through the Kona Ironman turnaround in about 27 minutes, which is about the same I do there (for some reason I’m always a bit slower on the return leg), so I knew I was going at a decent pace, even though the effort was moderate. I went through the first Ironman distance (3.8km) in 54:49 which was faster than I expected. This is about the same pace I swim “moderately easy” in a pool with a wetsuit or sim shorts, so I knew that we at least had neutral current, or perhaps even a slightly favorable current.  I took a feed at that point (Glukos Energy Drink) and noticed that there were about 3 or 4 swimmers about 50-100m behind me. At the same time, I got stung in the face by some jellyfish, which gave me a bit of extra energy! The jellyfish sting also resulted in a more tucked chin i.e. I was looking directly down with my chin tucked into my neck, to shield my face from direct contact. That also most likely resulted in a good body position. Ok, so fueled by venom, I upped the tempo a bit, and by the 6km mark the chasers had dropped off quite a bit further. I went through the second Ironman mark in 54:54, so pace was still very consistent. For the final 2.5km I really gave it all I had left in the tank. We must have had a slight head current since the pace slowed a bit, even though I was swimming as hard as possible.

I was super happy to be first out the water in 2:29, and also to have dipped under the 2:30 mark, which is a big milestone for me in 10km race time.

 

Kate was not far behind, I could see her getting out of the water as I was getting on my bike. I opted to swim in bike shorts and put on a Castelli T1 aero top in T1, with one of the main reasons being that I could tape my number on prior to the race and not get it wet during the swim. I also chose to wear socks and my regular bike shoes, mainly for comfort, plus I had done most of my long rides with those.  I did take a bit too long to get the top on, but I guess that happens if you’re my size and trying to get into a size “S”!!! One thing I would do differently next time, is spend some time putting some more chamois cream on. The water there is super salty, and it got pretty abrasive later on in the ride.

Since I’ve had previous issues with a cramping glute when getting out of the water, I had a vial of HotShots waiting with my crew. Chris asked if I wanted it, and I said no because I felt ok. Boy, did things change fast about 200m into the bike! BOTH glutes just seized up completely, and I was hardly able to pedal at all. To give you an idea, in training I was comfortably hitting about 280 watts up the first hill, and now I could only manage 188 watts (whilst screaming out in pain!). Fortunately, I’ve experienced this several times in other races, so I knew that it would eventually come right.

I still don’t know what causes these cramps. The only thing I can think of is that during the swim my core is very engaged, and since all my swimming is in a pool, my muscles are used to getting short rests when I flip turn. I’m thinking I should figure out some yoga poses that can strengthen these muscles in the right way (cobra, upward plank etc.)

As you can see, this swim position engages a fair amount of "core"

As you can see, this swim position engages a fair amount of “core”

So, I’m weaving up the climb at 180 watts, shouting out in pain, when fortunately my crew drove past and I waved them down. Chris gave me the HotShots (a freebie with most Ironman swag bags these days) and within about 10 minutes the severe pain had subsided. At least I could pedal now, but still not able to get into the aero position. Near the crest of the hill, Kate caught up to me and passed me. She’s a pretty strong rider and took the lead for a while. As she rode past, I noticed that she was riding a deep wheel on the front. I’m not sure if she checked the forecast, but we were due to be hit by SUPER WINDS later in the day. Personally I had opted for a Zipp 303 NSW, which I’m confident in riding in any conditions. Right now, conditions felt perfect for an 808, so I hoped that I had been accurate in my weather assessment.

After about 30 minutes I could finally get my glutes stretched out and was able to get into aero. As soon as we hit the first series of downhills, I dropped Kate pretty quickly. I’m probably 20kg heavier than her, plus I was a lot more aero, so it did not require a ton of effort to make up time on the descents. I was mostly at around 35 mph which is not that fast, but the conditions of the roads didn’t really allow much faster on that. Day 2 would be a different story, with many occasions for 50mph+ on the descents.

I didn’t see anyone else for the rest of day 1. As we turned west along the southern end of the island, we were hit with brutal headwinds. I say headwinds, but any slight turn in the road meant an effective change of wind direction. So it was actually difficult to predict where the wind was going to hit you, making handling very tough on the descents. I would be weighting my body in one direction and suddenly the wind would hit from the other direction.

A little bit of wind!

A little bit of wind!

Here is a video of Bob Babbitt trying to say something without much success!



The wind was so strong that I got hit by a tree branch that was being blown across the road like tumbleweed. It was unlike any conditions I’ve ridden in before!

 

Mile 71

Mile 71

 

Once the climb to Volcano started, I suddenly saw Inaki’s crew pull up alongside me. I knew then he must be close. A bit later I saw my crew and they told me he was 3 minutes back. It was time to dig a bit deeper! I went out of cruise mode and into “Ironman race pace mode”. I could only sustain that for about 30 minutes, before I eased off a bit, back to “long ride moderate pace” for the remainder of the day. I was opening up the gap every time I got a new split, so I just continued the same effort up to the end. By the time I crossed the line, I’d rebuilt a bit of a lead, back to 10 minutes. I was very happy with my effort, as well as the fact that I now had a sense for my opponent’s efforts and what they could sustain for long periods (or so I thought!).

Upon crossing the line, I did a short interview with slowtwitch and a short video interview with Bob Babbitt (unfortunately poncho man was left behind in Kona, presumably having more pressing ukelele-playing commitments).

 


Strava Flyby for day 1 let’s you see how things unfolded between Inaki and me

 

I spent a few minutes getting is some recovery fuel (half a bottle of tart cherry juice, 2 marmite sandwiches that my Mum had made, and a rice pudding),  then had a quick shower and jumped into the car for the trip down to Hilo where we were staying. In retrospect, I should have stopped at McDonalds for a few burgers on the way. If I analyze my post-race fueling, I did just fine on calories and carbs, but I could probably have upped the protein a bit, since when I got to day 3 my legs were sore; something that is not very common during training. Also, if you’re eating a high % of carbohydrate it’s actually pretty difficult to get in enough calories, so you need to get in some fat and protein once that initial 2 hour fueling window is done. A good refueling plan would be high carb for about 2 hours, then add in some more normal foods including a decent amount of fat and protein, then a dinner with a good amount of fat and protein, with a high carb meal just before bed.

Recovery session

Recovery session

We had a crew recovery session in the hot tub and then got an early night, ready for day 2.


2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 2
2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Preparation

This is how I trained during race week!

This is how I trained during race week!

I’ve had Ultraman Hawaii as my goal A race for a few years now. The reason I did Ultraman Florida was to guarantee my entry into the race. There is a wildcard/waitlist option, but with that you only find out in August if you’re racing in November. Since I knew that more prep would be required, I went down the traditional route of doing a qualifying race.

The added benefit of having done Ultraman Florida is that I had a very tangible idea of what was involved in the dynamics of such a race, the training required, and logistics of a 3 day event with a support crew.

My training for Florida and Hawaii were vastly different. For Florida, I had to train over the cold Colorado winter, so I got by on the absolute minimum, averaging just under 15 hours per week in the 3 months prior to race day. For Hawaii I could prepare during the Boulder summer, and got the double benefit of many sunlight hours, as well as pretty hot conditions throughout.

Final 3 months Florida Hawaii
Peak CTL 126.8 167.1
Hours per week (avg/max) 15/24 21/28
Run miles per week (avg/max) 30/55 41/91
Swim yard per week (avg/max) 9000 12000/25000
Bike hours per week (avg/max) 8/17 12/23
Training load for UMFL vs UMWC

Training load for UMFL vs UMWC

Training structure
Swim: 
I didn’t really do much different to regular Ironman swim training, except for a single 11k swim. Everything was 5k or less, usually about 4k. I did place a big focus on strength (lots of paddles, plus work on the vasa indoor trainer). In the final 3 weeks, many workouts were only 2-3k but high intensity and lots of paddles. In most races this year my swim has been pretty good, so I didn’t see the need to spend a lot of time on it.

Run: In the final build I had at least 6 weeks of more than 55 miles per week, and a single big 91 mile week. I trained on similar terrain to Hawaii, but based on what happened on race day, I don’t feel that I did enough long downhill running at a fast pace. Next year I will be sure to do much more of that.

Bike: I did several long rides over 140 miles, and a lot of shorter riding at higher intensities. I’m happy with my bike prep and there is not much I would change at all.

Nutrition: I have my race nutrition pretty much dialed in, so the new focus was all around daily recovery. I spent a lot of time at CU Sports Medicine, experimenting with different refueling strategies and measuring glycogen levels for each one. The LCHF people will have a heart attack reading this, but I now know that I am able to eat 1000g of carbohydrate in the 18 hour window between stages and pretty much replenish my glycogen stores!

Equipment choices

Swim – Hawaii is wetsuit legal, and I went with a Roka Maverick Pro sleeveless suit, which is no longer in production but was kindly dug out of the warehouse by the Roka guys and given to me for this race. This was a superb choice – it was not too warm and without the sleeves I had plenty of mobility with zero shoulder fatigue.

For goggles I went with Aquasphere Kayenne which I find really comfy and have great visibility. I treated them with the new Sven Can See anti fog formula, which I chose because it’s durable and I knew would enable clear vision for the whole 10km swim.

Bike – of course I was riding the Dimond, with an identical spare bike provided by Chris (which happened to be the one I ended up riding in Florida). The main changes compared to Florida was no disc wheel (not allowed) so I used a Zipp 808 with a Zipp 303 NSW on the front. I also had a Zipp 808 NSW front wheel but I never ended up using it due to the insanely crazy winds we had. I also used Enve extensions instead of the original 3T extensions that I previously used. That allowed a slightly more controlled, albeit less aggressive position on the bike. Having now completed Hawaii, I’d say that stability and handling should always be the primary consideration. The conditions you experience are significantly worse that what you would have experienced in the Kona Ironman if you’ve done that. Bottle choice was an XLAB Torpedo for hydration and an aero bottle on the downtube for calories.

Run – I wore an Under Armour heatgear compression top (which was great), north face better than naked shorts, and 3 pairs of Hoka One One running shoes – Valor, Clifton and Clayton (not at the same time of course, that would be ridiculous). Oakley Jawbreaker PRIZM provided the eye protection (wow, amazing eyewear!) and socks were courtesy of Feetures.

2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 1
2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 2
2016 Ultraman World Champs – Day 3

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