Ironman Cozumel Race Report (DNF)

This was 5th Ironman, and my first Ironman DNF. So what’s the point of a race report? Well, hopefully it’s helpful to others who may be considering this race, and it’s probably most useful for me to get this disappointing result off my chest!

 

Pre-swim on Friday morning

Going into the race I was in the best shape of my life. I was pretty much set to qualify for Kona without having to race too hard. By the numbers I would have been close to a time of 9 hours. I’ve spent a lot of time improving my swim, my power on the bike is at lifetime best, and my run has been consistent and good enough for an Ironman run of a little over 3 hours. This was my comeback after I got hit by a car a month before IMCdA, and I had drawn up a very detailed plan of my race which had me on track for a decent time…

Arrived in COZ feeling ready!

This was my race prediction based on the plan:

  • Swim: 59 mins based on my pool times (1:20/100y steady pace in the pool), and a 1:02 I swam in an easy open water training swim in Hawaii 3 weeks before the race
  • Bike: 240w average which would give me a bike split of around 4:40
  • Run: 07:00 – 07:10 per mile getting me through the marathon in around 3:10

So give and take 3-5 mins in each transition and some margin for error, I was projecting a time in the low 9’s (not as good as Coach Coady’s recent 8:56, but hopefully still decent!)

Kevin's amazing IMAZ time from one week before

The amount of prep I put into this race was significant. I put in 15-20k of swimming a week, 40 miles of running a week, and since Cozumel is a flat and hot bike course I did most of my bike training on an indoor trainer in the aero position.  Most weeks were 20+ hours of training, meaning I often had to get up at 4am. I had no social life. I did everything to prevent illness, including doing stuff like obsessively carrying around hand sanitizer! It was all worth it – with a week to go I was in the shape of my life, healthy, well rested and ready to race! I even arrived in Mexico early, to reduce travel stress, get familiar with the course and make sure all my gear was in working order, without any time pressure.  Given the potential for dodgy food and water in Mexico, I even brought all my own pre-race meals (oats and whey protein) and only drank bottled water. We even brushed our teeth with bottled water. I avoided public places and made as little contact as possible with other athletes.

I took an easy ride around the island on the Thursday, and felt great. I kept it easy, averaging under 210 watts. I took it up to race pace a few times and I struggled to hold myself under 260 watts. Hitting my target of 240 watts on race day would be pretty easy and would leave me plenty of juice for a great run.

The preparation was perfect. Then with 2 days to go everything changed. My 1 year old son was up all night vomiting. It lasted less than a day then he was ok again. My wife got violently ill on the Friday night, and she couldn’t move all of Saturday. I was still feeling fine, although at the back of my mind I had the sinking feeling that I would get this GI bug too, I just hoped that it would be on Monday and not Sunday! I was also a little concerned since I had lost my appetite and not eaten since 3pm, however I just put that down to being full from the tons of carbs I had eaten the day before…  I was still hydrating and getting in plenty of salt. I estimate I took in 12-13 Nuun tabs throughout the day and 4+ L of water.

I had finished my race prep by 5pm; bike was racked ‘n ready, bike and run gear bags dropped off at T1, power bars cut into quarters, dusted with whey powder to prevent “sticking”, 2 x EFS liquid shots mixed with water in a bottle, ready to transfer into the Shiv bladder in the morning. All race gear was ready to just pick up and leave. By 6pm I really didn’t feel well. I went straight to sleep without eating. I woke up at 11pm with a bloated gut, weird since I hadn’t eaten in over 8 hours. I started cramping and then it hit… I spent most of the remainder of the night on the toilet, interspersed with a few hours of sleep. It’s not unusual to sleep badly the night before an Ironman, so this didn’t bother me. Besides I had gotten plenty of sleep in the days before. When I woke up at 4am I couldn’t face solid food. I just drank 2 x starbucks pre-made frappucino drinks (200 cals each) which I knew would be enough to at least get me going. I also took 2 x immodiums in an attempt to stop the squits. Our condo was near to a host hotel, so I walked across and got on the bus. I was feeling much better now, and was determined to at least complete the swim and attempt the bike. I couldn’t let all this prep go to waste without even trying.

I arrived in transition around 5am, where we got body “re-marked”. They had already marked us the day before so it was just a case of touching up. I then went and set up my bike nutrition, took my bike to the mechanics to get the tyres pumped, and then set up my rack ready to go: I would be riding in socks since I had a bad blister on my heel, so I coated the inside of my socks in vaseline and put them on my towel, ready to slip on after the swim. I also set up my shoes attached to my pedals for a quick exit from T1. One quick mention on the organization – this was the best transition area I’ve seen to date: plenty of space – at least 2m each side of my bike and volunteers everywhere ready to help.

I then did a final toilet stop. I brought my own TP since I’d read reports of them running out in previous years. I’m glad I did since the toilet I chose was sans TP and in my “current condition” that would have not been a very good thing! Unfortunately the Immodiums had not seemed to take effect, so I took another one after that. Our race started at 7am, so I took a gel at 06:15 then another at 06:45. I struggled to keep them down but I managed.

Swim
At 06:50 I made my way out onto the pier and jumped into the water. We had not been allowed to warm up so I did a few sprints. I started making my way over to the left had side, in order to line up a few rows back, but very near the front, on the inside line. We had about 800 yards to swim before the first turn, so plenty of time to settle in before the inevitable “first turn mayhem”. As I was making my way towards the front, everyone suddenly started swimming. I figured I must have missed the start siren so I quickly started my watch and launched into a sprint. After about 30 seconds, a pair of jet skis scooted in front to try and stop us.  False start! They pushed us back a bit, then patrolled up and down so keep us at bay. About a minute later the real siren went off and we were underway. I expected this swim to be non-violent because there is great visibility and lots of space. How wrong I was! I started a few rows back, on the inside line, and the contact was very rough. It was complete white water for at least the first 5 mins. Even though the visibility was close to 100ft, I could see nothing but white. I swam over a few slow people who had seeded themselves at the front. If that was you I’m sorry, but next time you’ll probably not make that mistake again – it’s happened to all of us. About half way to the first turn, I had swum past the slower people and was in clearer water. I was on feet almost 100% of the time, and I didn’t need to sight since you can see the long line of swimmers under the water, and you can see the buoy lines from at least 60ft away. We were swimming over the coral reefs so there were lots of fish to see, not to mention the submarines and divers along the way. I was feeling great – the water was rough but I was holding down the gel and it felt like I was swimming at a good pace. Effort wise it felt like I was swimming around 1:20 / 100y.  As we approached the first turn I could feel the current surging a bit, but it didn’t feel that bad. We then turned and headed down the long stretch (with the current). I couldn’t really feel any difference in the current. I found a good set of feet and just stuck there down the back straight. I went through half way in 28 mins, a little slower than expected but still on track for sub 60 mins (so I thought). We headed around the final turn, to head back towards the pier.  I immediately felt the the difference in speed due to the current. Progress was slow. The feet I was following got a bit erratic and was zig zaging a bit, so I swam across to find some more feet. I knew it was critical to draft here because of the current, so I swam extra hard to get to a group in front of me. I consciously worked my arms and shoulders hard. They were burning now, but I worked them even harder, telling myself that I wasn’t going to use my arms for the rest of the day. It felt like an eternity before I saw the pier approaching. I glanced at my Garmin and saw 1:06:xx – at first I thought this was some type of mistake – how could I be more than 10 mins off my pace? I swam even harder, got to the exit, and the clock confirmed my fears – 1:10:xx – one of my worst IM swim times ever, and I was in the best swimming shape of my life!

Swim time: 1:10
Pace to first turn (against the current): 800 yards, 1:52/100y
Pace along back straight (with the current): 2000 yards, 1:02/100y
Pace back to pier (against the current): 1400 yards, 2:20/100y

The exit into T1 was simple and clean. I unzipped the top half of my swim skin, grabbed my bag, headed directly to the bike, but was sent back to go through the change tent (you need to go through the tent even if you aren’t using it). You also need to leave your bike bag in the tent, so I ended up quickly putting my helmet and glasses on before chucking my bag down and heading to my bike. I put on my socks, stuffed an EFS liquid shot down the front of my top, stuck 2 gels in my pocket, then ran off with my bike for a swift T1 exit. I saw my coach Kevin Coady just before the exit. He shouted that it was a very slow swim and that I was at least in the top 10%. All was not lost! I jumped on the bike and then slowly started making my way through the field.

Bike
The plan was to ride easy for the first 10 mins (220 watts or so) until my legs and glutes ease up. This all went according to plan and I spun lightly at a low steady effort through the large groups of bikers. I decided to check that my gels were properly in my pocket, and that’s when I felt a weird piece of material fluttering around in the wind. I couldn’t make head or tail of it until I looked down, and realized that I had left my swim skin on! Frikking idiot!!! What the hell!? I guess the problem is that it’s so unobtrusive, you kind of just forget that it’s there. I tried to look on the bright side, that at least it was probably quite aero. I decided to put on the top half again, zip it up and then just go for it. Luckily for me it wasn’t too hot, and I was actually ok riding in it. It seemed to keep moisture on the surface and was actually pretty cool. Having said that, I would not recommend riding in a swim skin!

I took in half my EFS liquid shot in one go (200 cals) and settled into my pace. I was struggling to hit my power numbers. 240 watts usually feels quite easy for me, and I was putting in a lot of effort to get near to 230 watts. I then decided to ignore my watts and just ride by feel. The most important thing for me is to not overdo the watts in the beginning, and clearly this was not going to happen. My speed was good – I was averaging just under 26 mph while riding less than 220w. When I rounded the island to the windy east side, my speed dropped as expected, but by the end of the first lap I was just under 24 mph… so on track for around 4:50 or faster, and if I could ride the 2nd half closer to my target wattage I’d be on track for 4:40 or faster, getting me back on track after that terrible swim. Besides the swim skin issue I was still feeling ok, but as I started lap 2 all of that changed.

I couldn’t keep anything down. I started the first lap with a mixture of coke and BCAA in my bottle between the bars. I finished that after 25 miles and switched water. I had power bars cut into 1/3rds in my darkspeedworks bento, the plan ws to eat 1/3 every 20 mins. I just couldn’t stomach any of it.  Water: came back up. Bars: came back up. EFS: came back up. I then started bloating really badly. I wasn’t sure what was causing it since I wasn’t taking in any food. Maybe it was the 3 immodiums I had taken… I had no idea. I was just getting worse and worse. Hopefully I could ride it out till the end of the bike and then visit the porta potty in T2. Soon I could no longer remain in the aero position, my stomach was just too bloated and painful. 15 mins later desperation kicked in… I needed to find a port potty, and pronto! After what seemed like an eternity, the aid station arrived and I made a beeline for the toilet. The volunteers were great and rushed over to hold my bike while I visited the loo. Inside that portaloo, it was like armageddon taking place. I literally exploded as I sat down. This was diarrhea like nothing I’ve ever experienced – like an endless supply of water just gushing out. I have no idea where it all came from since I had already been on the toilet all night, and I hadn’t eaten in over 20 hours. I sat there for about 5 mins, and eventually the bloat had subsided. I got my bike back from the volunteers who had kindly restocked my drinks while I was “busy”, and started back on my quest again. Ok, 5 mins is not too bad, I can make this back quite easily, I thought. How wrong I was. I got back on the bike and started riding again, but couldn’t even manage 200w.  For me this is pretty poor, bearing in mind that my lower steady training rides average about 210w. I went through 56 miles in 2:25, which still put me in contention. However it was pretty much downhill from there… For the remainder of the ride, it was pretty much the same story, but progressively slower; take in water/food, some of it comes back up, stomach bloats, stop for toilet, repeat. On lap 3 I saw Michelle, so I stopped to give her my swim skin – at that stage an extra stop was not going to really matter, and at least I’d be a little more comfortable for the remainder of my suffering. About half way through my final lap I had decided that I would not start the run. Not only was I out of contention, but I was now severely dehydrated and pretty much on zero fuel. Running a marathon would not only be miserable but also dangerous.I “limped” my bike through the final half of the lap, very relieved to finally be at T2. The bike course measured a little long at 113.5 miles.

Bike Time: 5:38, 184w NP, 20 mph

Lap 1: 205w NP, 23 mph
Lap 2:  184w NP, 21 mph
Lap 3:  155w NP, 17.5 mph

I dismounted, gave them my bike, ran to the porta potty for my final stop of the race. I then tried to explain to the medics that I was dehydrated, but all they did was send me to an ice bath! I then tried to find coach Coady and his wife Caroline, but I was without my phone so had to just walk through the crowds in the hope of finding them. This quest was unsuccessful, so I just got my bike and headed back to the apartment, where I spent the rest of the day trying to get some fluids down (and keep them down).

 

Recovery time on the Mayan Riviera

The next day I still couldn’t keep anything down, but finally on Tuesday afternoon I managed to eat something and keep it down. I had been hit with a 48 hour stomach virus on the only 2 days this year that it really mattered! To say I was disappointed is an understatement, but I’m now over it, ready to move on, and I will be back to take Mexican Revenge on March 17th 2013 in Ironman Los Cabos. This time I will arrive as late as possible and will be bringing all my own food with me!

 

2012 Ironman Coeur d’Alene race report – 10:05

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the moments before you die, they say that your life flashes before your eyes. For me it was a little different. My fingers clamped down on the brake levers in a vice grip, as my bike skidded in a futile attempt to avoid the Mercedes that had just turned directly into my path. In the split seconds before impact I instinctively turned my back towards the windshield, which probably saved my life. The last thought to go through my mind was “this is sure going to ruin my training session”. I lay motionless on the road, struggling for air, unable to move. I tried to wiggle my toes. At first I felt nothing, then slowly but surely movement began to return. The driver was standing next to me shouting “oh my god, I’ve killed him! I’ve killed him!” which to be perfectly honest was not very helpful to me right then. I was reasonably sure that I was still alive, but for a moment I wondered if he was right, that maybe this is what happens when you die. Fortunately he was wrong – after a bumpy trip to the ER I was diagnosed with broken ribs, at the back a few inches away from my spine. Based on the vehicle damage, the paramedics said that I was lucky to be alive. My small backpack packed with work clothes absorbed some of the shock, and probably did a good job of protecting my spine. Someone upstairs was definitely looking after me 🙂

GPS file of the crash… love the “spatter effect”

I was hit by the car on May 23rd, a month before Ironman Coeur d’Alene which was on June 24th. I had been The trip back from the hospital was excruciating. Any bump would send a hot knife stabbing through my mid-section. I had no idea how I would be able to race, but I was determined to make it. I trained so hard all through winter, and was just getting back on track after overcoming a case of extreme saddle sores that rendered me unable to do ANY training for 2 weeks. How was I going to train with broken ribs, and would I even be able to race on June 24th???

TSS, CTL, TSB and other fine acronyms
My goal was to qualify for Kona, which meant aiming for a time of around 09:30 at IMCdA. I knew what I had to do in terms of preparation. I’m a trainingpeaks user, and this year coach coady had me really train to the numbers.  To be in KQ shape, I would need to peak at around 150 Critical Training Load (CTL) which is based on TSS (Training Stress Score). TSS is a training stress score give to each swim (pace), bike (power) and run (pace + elevation) workout. Your CTL is the average TSS per day over the last 42 days (customizable). This means building up your volume, incorporating rest + recovery in a smart way, and gradually improving over time. I didn’t really have an off season, so I had been training since my last IM race in september 2011 (Challenge Henley). You can see my CTL as the blue line in the graph below. I peaked at 138 CTL just before Oceanside 70.3 – after which things went a bit downhill when an infection put me out of action for a few weeks. I was just getting back on track when I got hit by the car…

Rehab
With broken ribs, I couldn’t swim run or walk and I didn’t ride my bike outdoors once until IMCdA. I was intent on doing whatever I could to salvage all the hours I’d put into my training over the winter. All I could do was ride on the indoor trainer, keeping as still as possible. This was painful, very painful, but sitting on the bike was actually less painful than lying down on my back. Having been sidelined for 2 weeks following Oceanside, I was grateful to at least be able to do something. So I endured multiple mindless hours on the trainer for the next few weeks. I managed 12-14 hours per week on the trainer, some weekends I did 4 hours each day indoors! I was finally able to swim and run (in pain) during the 10 days before IMCdA. All I could do was run slowly on the treadmill at 11:00 per mile, so I just cranked up the gradient in order to add extra effort.

A few days before IMCdA, I had to make a call as to whether or not I would race. I was pretty nervous about the high contact swim that IMCdA is notorious for, but in the end I decided to go for it. My actual race plan was determined for me – I didn’t have much choice: I would have to avoid all contact during the swim, push it on the bike, and then go at whatever pace I could manage on the run.

Logistics
We flew up to Spokane on Thursday evening, and stayed at the Davenport hotel (nice place but far). I headed over to the expo on Friday to register, pick up my bike and make sure everything was in working order. We then headed back to Spokane for an early night. I was in bed by 9pm and up early Saturday morning (3:30 am), just like I would be on race day. I drove over to CdA early, went for a swim and short ride before racking my bike. For a change, I was done by lunchtime (instead of the usual 6pm) meaning I had good time to chill out and relax for the rest of the day back in Spokane.

Pre-Race Nutrition:
On Saturday I ramped up my carb consumption, avoiding fibre where possible, taking in greek yogurt, non-fat pretzels, white bagels, chocolate milk and plenty of raw oatmeal. I also took in a lot of electrolyte solution (maybe 6 Gu Brew tablets) in order to boost hydration. I prepped all my final race day nutrition, stopped drinking at around 5pm (pee avoidance strategy) and was in bed by 8pm. I got a few hours of sleep before waking up at midnight, 2am, 3am, then getting up at 4am. I kind of expect this type of sleep pattern before race day, which is why I try to get plenty of sleep in the days leading up to the race. The good thing about waking up so often is that I continued eating during the night.

Race Day:
I woke up at 4am, ate 2 x white bagels with honey and drank one of those cold starbucks coffee drinks. The taxi picked me up at 4:30 – Michelle and Tyler would drive the rental car through later in the day to support me. I arrived at T1 around 5:15, took my bike to stand in line for the air compressor, and sorted out my bike nutrition while waiting in line. 2 x 5 oz EFS kona mocha shots (400 cals each) in the Shiv Fuelselage, topped up with 10oz water. In the bottle between the bars I had 3 x scoops IM perform + 2 scoops Scivation Xtend (BCAA). 2 x chopped up cliff bars and 3 x gels in the DarkSpeedworks bento box.
Once the tires were pumped, I racked my bike and put on my wetsuit. I also saw that Brian Taylor (we connected on G+ because of IMCdA) was racked near to me so I went to say hi. It’s really great to finally meet online friends in person – he was looking calm and collected – check out his race report… I headed over to the swim start – and had to squeeze through the crowd of athletes to get down to the water. We were not allowed to warm up, so I just submerged myself underwater to get used to the cold. I recommend that you at least do this, otherwise the shock of the cold could cause panic. There will be plenty of other things to make you panic so take care of this and make it one less thing to worry about!

Swim:
Within a few mins of submerging myself, it was time! I started near to the front, but far to the right in order to avoid being swum over, and to avoid having to swim over others. This meant an extra 200m of swimming but I think it was worth it. There was a lot of jostling and contact, even where I started. This congestion continued for the whole swim, but at least I was swimming at a comfortable pace. At each buoy, things would get crazy again but then settle down a bit. After lap 1, I looked at my watch and it said 35 mins, so I knew I was in for a slower time than expected. I picked up the pace on lap 2, but to no avail as I finished my swim in 1:13… one of my worst times ever.

T1
I took T1 much easier than usual (like 5 mins versus the normal 2). I didn’t want a repeat of my Wildflower “ass seizure” getting onto the bike. We were also not allowed to keep our shoes attached to the pedals, which meant putting them on first. I took off my wetsuit, stuffed it into the bag, put on my helmet, glasses and arm warmers, picked up my shoes and went to retrieve my bike. I ran with my bike to the mounting point, stopped, put on my shoes and then mounted. This felt much more clumsy than being able to do a smooth flying mount onto the bike, but hey the rules are the rules.

Bike
My glutes were really tight getting onto the bike, so I purposefully kept my power < 180 watts for the first 10 mins or so, until they eased up. After that I hammered it down to try and make up some time for my bad swim. I capped my watts at 255 but caught myself spiking up to 265/270 at times. I settled down by the time I hit HWY 95, and stuck at around 230-235 watts for the first lap. Nutrition wise, I finished most of the EFS on lap 1, and took in 1 x bottle of IM perform per aid station. This was a little too much and I started to bloat a bit – so I switched to water for a while towards the end of lap 1. I did my first lap in 2:34 (avg power 226 watts), then picked up the pace a bit for lap 2, aiming for a negative split. Things were going well untill I hit the hills on HWY 95 again. The wind had picked up and it was hot. I just sat in the saddle cranking it out at a steady pace into the wind but it was hard work. I had a few guys drafting off me all the way up the first set of hills, but I finally managed to lose them before the turnaround. I ate most of the cliff bar (broken into 1/6ths) during lap 2, plus 2 x gels and the remaining water. I didn’t get my negative split, and came back into town for a 5:15 bike split, at an average of 221 watts.

T2
My T2 was 2 mins, a lot quicker than T1. I just dumped my helmet, put on socks and shoes, some sunscreen + hat and a bottle of flat coke. I then headed off into the unknown – would I be able to run with my broken ribs!!??

Run
I started off at what felt like an easy pace. I saw coach coady on the sidelines, and figured he must have crashed out or something (he was on track to win our age group). I later found out he was hit by a van! He shouted out that I was really high in the field, and that I should keep steady. I went through 2 miles in just over 14 mins, which I thought was a little too fast. I slowed down a bit, with the goal of running the first half easy and then hammering for the final 13 miles. However, after mile 3 I slowed to around 7:50 and settled in there. I had to stop for a toilet break (I’ve never made it through an IM without this happening – I need to figure that out!). I pretty much stuck to that pace as far as possible. The hills before the turnaround slowed me to about 09:30/mile, but I made up a little on the downhills. On the way back I saw Michelle and Tyler on the side of the road, there in full support! Michelle said that I had come off the bike in 10th place. This gave me the energy to keep going and not stop at all till the end of the race. I saw Kevin again as I went through halfway, and he shouted out that the others were not running well. I was hurting a bit at this stage, and just had to push myself through to mile 16. I was chugging down coke where possible (they didn’t have it at every aid stations) and I grabbed Gu gels where possible (they mostly had strawberry/banana flavor which is disgusting, so luckily found a few tables serving vanilla / raspberry / chocolate mint). I kept a steady pace for the next few miles. The ribs were holding up but I just couldn’t speed up. At mile 23 I upped the effort considerably. Michelle shouted that there were 2 guys in my age group 5 mins ahead. However I was still only managing about 7:40 / mile. Nevertheless I pushed as hard as I could to catch them. I put in my best effort and crossed the line in 10 hours 5 minutes. Although this was a personal best time for me, I was disappointed to have not gone under 10 hours. Having said that, I knew that I was not going to be able do a 09:30 with broken ribs, so I felt satisfied that I had at least managed to finish in a decent time.

Even though I missed my goal of Kona qualification, and missed my target time by a long way, I gave my absolute best possible effort on the day and left nothing on the table. In the coming months I would also realize that those endless trainer sessions would provide a step change in my future training capability. So in some sense, there was much good that came from a bad situation.

 

Some notes on the course

Coeur d’Alene is a beautiful town, nestled on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, about 45 mins east of Spokane, WA. The race has been run for the past 9 years, and will continue to run at least until 2017.

Race Entry: IMCdA seems to sell out within a few weeks of opening (early July). Ironman Foundation slots are usually available right up until the race (at least they were in 2011).

Where to stay: Everything decent in CdA was sold out by the time I booked, so I stayed in Spokane. I’d say this is probably a little far, but very much an option. On race day I took a taxi to the start. It picked me up at 4:30am and I was at T1 by 5:15. However I’d say book early and try to stay in CdA or nearby.

I found it to be a tough course, but not overly tough. The swim is cold and rough, the bike is fairly hilly (but still fast) and the run is flat with 2 hills at the turnaround.

Swim:
The water is cold, and the swim start can be pretty violent. If you’ve done many mass start tris before, you will be used to the mayhem, however in past races I’ve done, the mayhem usually lets up after the first turn and everyone settles into a rhythm. This race was different; I started all the way to the right since I had broken my ribs several weeks before and wanted to avoid contact. This meant swimming extra distance (I swam 4.1km in total) but I missed the very violent chaos of the middle and left. However there was still a lot of contact, and it continued throughout the race. There were even people swimming over each other as we exited the water! The water is also cold (it was 58F). The cold combined with chaos means there is a high likelihood of panic. There were quite a few waves that had picked up, and I took a few breaths of water during the first 800m. I’m the last person to panic, but I did start to freak out a few times. It took all my strength just to relax, slow down, breathe deeply and recover my composure. My recommendation is that you mentally prepare for this stressful scenario – don’t pretend it’s not going to happen! I swam a 1:13 – my pace was 1:46 / 100m and I swam 4100m (300m over). I was expecting to swim around 1:05 so the swim was slower than planned.

Bike:
The main change in 2012 was to the bike course. Basically you start in town, do an out and back along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive to the Higgins Point cul de sac, then out and back on highway 95. I found the course to be hilly but relatively fast. The first out and back is pretty quick. Then there is a no pass zone going across the bridge onto the 95, before hitting the rolling course out to the turnaround and back. The way out is a fair amount of steady climbing, and the way back is pretty quick – a few hills but in general quite fast. The wind picked up for the second lap which made things harder on the on the long steady climbs… I also picked up a few parasites that stuck on my rear wheel without taking a turn in the front. Secretly I hope they cramped up on the run 😉

Run:
The run course is quite fast, but there are 2 hills at the turnaround which will slow you down a bit. My pace was 1:00 to 1:30 per mile slower going up these hills. On a normal day they would be fine but after 112 miles on the bike they feel pretty tough.

link to race files:

bike, run

Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

Ok, this is going to be a much shorter race report than normal. Hopefully I can just convey enough info for people doing this race in the future…

Oceanside sunset

Race Summary
Swim: 34 mins (cold, salty)
Bike: 5:35 (including a flat which took approx 3 mins to fix. conditions = cold, salty!)
Run: 1:31

Location
We stayed in Oceanside and this was a good idea. I stayed on the run course about 5 mins from the expo and T2, so convenient for checking in etc. but also for my family to support me on the run (they literally had a 30 second walk to the run course).

Course
T1 and T2 are in different places. Bear this in mind for race morning – it takes at least 10 mins to ride to T1 from T2. I dropped my run kit off the day before, so on race morning I just rode easy to the start which doubled as a good warmup.  The bike course is hilly but still quite fast. The run is flat 3 laps with a few very short, steep inclines.

Race Plan
My plan was to test out my full Ironman nutrition plan, which is basically 1/6th Clif bar every 10 mins interspersed with drinking Ironman Perform every 10 mins. My garmin beeps every 5 mins and I alternate bars then IM Perform. For the run, it’s  liquid only. In terms of pacing the plan was:

Swim: just do what I gotta do to get to the bike
Bike: cap my power at 255 watts on the flats, 300 watts on the hills (note I said cap not average, that means I try to stay under that). FYI my FTP measured 2 weeks before race day was approx 306 watts.
Run: aim for 7 min/mile (faster 2nd half if feeling invincible)

Rob & Tyler at Ironkids booth

Race Day
Up at 3.30am, ate 2 x plain bagels with honey. Rode bike in the dark to T1. Some people were walking their bikes because they had so much stuff. Get a bag with all your stuff and ride your bike otherwise getting there will take forever. Alternatively I saw some peeps riding in their wetsuits… not for me but still an option. Got to T1, it was pretty chilled with plenty of space so it was quick to rack bike and get ready. The swim starts in waves, for which people line up in batches. This gets congested so make sure you leave your bike and head to the start with at least 10 mins to spare, to allow you to get through the crowds. There was a guy in front of me who missed his wave and had to start the swim alone. About 3 mins before your wave start, they let you  jump into the water and swim over to the start line (it’s an in-water start). The water here is cold, salty and seemed to taste of 2 stroke fuel at times!

Swim
The swim start is pretty calm compared to a mass start like you get at Ironman races, and the groups are small. The water was cold and choppy but overall I had a good swim. The buoys are well aligned, highly visibile and you have smaller buoys along the course. It helps if you can breathe on the left since sighting will be easier (buoys on left). Despite the rough water I sighted pretty well, I swam a little further than expected according to my garmin (about 2100m rather than 1900m) but I was satisfied with a 34 min swim on this course. Most people were about 2-3 mins slower than expected.

Bike
It was cold and raining so I’d left arm warmers on my aerobars. This was a very good idea and really helped on the cold and wet bike course. When I did Challenge Henley last year, I suffered with uncontrollable shivering for the first half of the bike, in similar conditions, which took a LOT out of me physically. This time I was relatively warm for most of the ride. I started off riding pretty conservatively, not pushing much above 245 watts. About half way I heard the dreaded sound of a flat tire (another thing in common with Henley). This time I fixed it pretty quickly, in about 3 mins. I do practice changing flats and this paid off on race day. When I got back on the bike, I pushed a *little* bit harder to try and make up some time. There is a big hill on this course and I rode it steadily, conserving my energy for the return trip. The second half of the bike course, heading back to Oceanside, you are met with a headwind. A lot of people blow up on this part because they overdid the first section. I rode steadily into the wind, increasing my power to around 250 at times, and coasting on the downhills. I passed a lot of people on this section. In what felt like a relatively short time, we were heading back into Oceanside and into t2.
Time: 2:34 (2:31 if you exclude the flat tire)
Normalized Power: 239 watts
Average speed: 21.5 mph
TSS: 156 (TSS – Training Stress Score – is a measure of effort used by trainingpeaks.com based on your FTP – in theory for a full Ironman you apparently should not have a bike split of more than 300 TSS if you want to run well)

T2
I had a really good T2. In fact my T2 time was faster than Andy Potts the winner! If this was a transition competition that would be awesome! However it’s not, so let’s forget about that and move on…

Run
It was now hot and sunny, which was actually a relief after the cold & windy bike. I started off a little fast out of T2, at about 6:45 min/mile. I slowed to around 7 min/mile and then just ran steadily the rest of the way. I consumed liquids only on the run. I averaged 6:56 min/mile on the run and finished in 1:31. My brain still thinks in metric, and for some reason I thought 7 min/mile would get me there in 1:30. I was aiming for a sub 1:30 half marathon so I was a little bummed to miss it, especially since I thought I was on track with a little extra to spare. Anyway, that will teach me to next time brush up  on my old fashioned measurement systems before planning my race according to them!

Overall – I really like Oceanside and will be back again next year!

 

Race Report: Morgan Hill Marathon

Sore legs and a new Personal Best!

On Sunday 23rd October I took part in the Morgan Hill Marathon, a beautiful & scenic race taking place around the town of Morgan Hill, which is about 25 mins south of San Jose in Northern California.

Uvas Reservoir

It felt strange to be running a marathon without first swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112 miles! Psychologically, this makes a big difference because you know that the distance is not going to be a problem, and it turns into more of an actual race against the clock. More than anything I was curious as to what time I’d be able to do in a straight marathon compared to an Ironman marathon leg.

As the name would suggest, the Morgan Hill Marathon is pretty hilly. The first few miles are relatively flat, and then you climb up to the Uvas reservoir, have rolling hills until about 15 miles, then a really steep downhill before hitting the final 10 miles which is pretty flat.

morgan hill marathon course elevation

course elevation, pace, cadence and heart rate

I wanted to test my limits, so my race plan was to head out as fast as possible, running at a heart rate of 1-2 bpm below threshold for as long as possible (my threshold is around 170, and I was averaging about 168). I would aim to run at this pace until I broke. Easy plan to stick to…

Pre race I didn’t  do much tapering. It felt like enough of a rest that I didn’t have to ride 112 miles first 😉 but I basically did a hard workout the weekend before and took 1 week of recovery, doing very little running and a few long bike rides. In terms of nutrition I was on high protein, lowish carb for most of the week, with a relatively carb-heavy day 24 hours before the race (no sugars, mainly raw oats & veggies, with a homemade pizza thrown in for good measure). The day before I also did some pre-race sharpening as prescribed by my taskmaster Coach Coady.

On race day, I got up at 5am, had a large bowl of rice crispies and a latte at home before driving down to Morgan Hill. I got there an hour before the start which was enough time to get another coffee + powerbar at the local Starbucks/Safeway. As a warm up I re-did my race sharpening workout (3 x 1 min @ marathon pace + 2 x fast strides) and some stretches. I packed my gels into my tri vest according to my race nutrition plan I tried to take in a little more compared to Ironman races, mainly because I would be running at a much higher intensity. At 168 bpm I’d be burning a lot of glycogen, whereas during an Ironman I don’t run much above 145 bpm, where I am using a high % of fat stores and am therefore less carb dependent. My planned intake was 1 gel every 15 mins, which worked out fine for me.

I started out pretty fast, but not too fast, about 7 min/mile. I was part of a small group of 3 that would run more or less together until the 19 mile mark. I stayed at a consistent pace of around 6:55 or so for most of the first half, going through halfway in just over 1:30. I felt very good at this stage, like I was holding a little back. The other 2 guys were about 45 secs in front of me at this stage. From here on I picked up the pace a bit to around 6:50 min/mile, with the goal of running a negative split. However, I did take the time to look around – the scenery was just stunning – such a beautiful course! Just before the 16 mile mark, we met the half marathon runners who were at around 8 miles. The course went up a pretty long hill before plummeting down (90 meter altitude drop in 2km). Once we hit the flats I was feeling super strong. I could see the 2 other guys in front and I set out to catch them, which I did at about mile 18. One of the marshalls called out that we were in positions 8,9 and 10th. Although a top 10 was nice, I was more concerned with keeping up this pace so that we could get there in a sub 3h. We were flying along the flats now at around 6:40 and I felt invincible. At 20 miles one of the other guys faded so it was just the 2 of us now. I was still feeling good. I was constantly measuring my pain on a level of 1-10, and it was around a 2 or 3. Suddenly, shortly after mile 21, I just started slowing down and the other guy dropped me. I just couldn’t go much faster than 7:15 / 7:30. By mile 23 the time was about 2:41, and I couldn’t get myself faster than 7:00 min/mile so I knew I’d miss the sub-3. I still pushed though, and the pain level escalated from 3 to about 7 in a very short space of time. The last mile felt like an eternity although I did it just under 8 minutes, it was very painful.

I crossed the line in 3:06:37, in 9th place overall and 1st in my age group. This was a new personal best for me, 17 minutes faster than I did Florence Marathon a year ago. I know that sub-3 is within grasp with a little extra distance in the run training! I would at least be very happy with a 3:06 at IMCdA next June… must just get off my butt and train harder!

PS: Post race, I actually feel worse than after an Ironman. It’s 2 days later and I still can’t really walk down stairs!

Challenge Henley Race Report

I woke up at 3:30am, an hour before the multiple alarms were set to wake me up, and 3 hours before the start the race. I sleepily reached over to my bedside table and grabbed a few of the Tesco Golden Syrup pancakes that I’d stacked there for the main purpose of midnight carbo-snacking.

Danesfield House

I washed them down with a half bottle of electrolyte drink and then dozed off for a further hour before my 4:30 room service arrived. A warm bowl of oats, 2 hot cross buns and a cup of strong coffee later got the engine running and I was ready to go.  I took a quick peek out of the window and was met with complete darkness.

We were staying at Danesfield house, a grand country manor built around 1750, set high above the banks of the upper Thames river on the road between Henley and Marlow.

I got dressed, put on my timing chip, grabbed my wetsuit and headed out the door, bracing myself against the icy cold air. Michelle drove me the 4 miles to Henley Business School, where I would start this long day with over 1000 other long distance triathletes. We were all here to take part in Challenge Henley, an Ironman distance triathlon (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) set in the beautiful English countryside around the historic town of Henley-On-Thames, about 40 miles due west of London. This would be my third Ironman distance race in 9 weeks, so it felt like “business as usual” rather than like I was about to do a huge race.

ready to go

It was about 5:30 when I got to the start, the first signs of dawn only just appearing through the blanket of mist hanging over the river Thames as I headed towards the bike transition area.

Massive spotlights bathed the river in a bright white light as the safety kayakers made their final checks on the buoys that would mark the 3.8km swim course. I pulled on my wetsuit just to keep the cold out as I headed over to my bike do the final checks and to fill my water bottles.

I was racing with only 2 bottles this time; one aero drinks bottle and one mounted behind the seat. The aero bottle got the usual mix of half coke half water, while I filled the other bottle with Xtend, an amino acid drink that I use a lot in training. It was now 6am, 30 mins before the start, and I was 100% ready to go which was a slight departure  from my usual habit of arriving as the start gun goes off!

 

bike bags at T1

The vague light of the emerging dawn cast perfectly still reflections on the calm river. It was 5 degrees C outside, and as I jumped into the 15 deg water it actually felt warm in comparison. I spent about 10 mins warming up, the water felt fast and smooth and I was now itching to go.

swim start at dawn

I was in the first wave, which consisted of pros and everyone who planned on finishing under 12 hours. Before we knew it, everyone was gathered at the start line and the countdown began. “One minute” the starter announced over his loud speaker. I felt the butterflies start. This was it, we were almost underway. “thirty seconds”… the water was now alive with 150 people all anxiously treading water. “10 seconds”. The beeps of hundreds of stopwatches pinging through the air. We all counted down from 10 in our heads. “ok” said the voice. Then there was a kind of an awkward moment where we weren’t sure if the race had started or not. The front line of swimmers just started swimming. “no, no come back” over the loudspeaker. Realising it was futile to communicate with a bunch of people already swimming, the announcer quickly changed his tune.. .”ok, go go go , just go”… so off we went.

Safety Boat

I got a fast getaway this time,  avoiding most of the usual argy bargy and quickly finding a pair of feet to draft behind. I settled into a good rhythm and just focused on working at a steady pace. The first half was upstream towards Henley, and I tried to stick as close to the side as possible in order to minimize the impact of the current. As the river twists, this becomes a tradeoff since you actually swim further by taking the “long way around” the corner. The great thing about swimming in a river is that it’s a lot easier to sight, because you have a riverbank as a reference point along the way. I was in a good steady rhythm until about 3/4 of the way out, when the front swimmers of the second wave came through, just as we were going through a narrow part of the river. For those of you that haven’t done competitive open water swimming, let me explain what happens when you mix fast and slower swimmers. There is no time for pleasantries or manners – it’s just an unwritten rule that survival of the fittest prevails.  This means that it is not uncommon to endure kicks in the face, elbows, fists and people swimming right over you, pushing you underwater in the process. Triathlons compound this problem because a large percentage of athletes are not historically swimmers, so the spectrum of ability is pretty vast. I am somewhere in the middle, an “average” swimmer, so I need to swim over slow people in the beginning, but I also get swum over a fair amount.

final kayakers briefing 10 mins to go

It was just a minute or two of craziness, elbows and kicking as the faster swimmers caught us. It felt strange to have this happening half way through the swim, because it’s unexpected. One minute you’re in the zone, the next you’re being dunked and shoved. During this whole process I lost the feet that I was following, so I found a new pair. I followed this guy until after the turnaround, but then looked for a new pair because he was zig zagging all over the place.

I soon found a great “pair of feet” who was also a magnificent navigator.  I just dropped in behind him and followed all the way to the end, only sighting every few minutes to make sure he was doing a good job! I still felt really good by the time I saw the ramps going up out of the water. For me, the swim is just a formality that has to be dealt with. I see it as purely a way to get me to my bike, where the real work begins. I’m never going to be one of those guys that can do the swim in 48 minutes (I took 1:06) so I just conserve my energy and take it at a steady pace. I got out of the water and picked up my red bike bag which contained my helmet, oakleys and a warm top (no socks for me on the bike), before heading into the changing tent.

I’m not a fan of long transitions. There were about 30 people in the tent when I got there, most changing outfits completely and taking their time to get their cycling kit on. I was already wearing my tri suit under my wetsuit, so it was a matter of quickly (thanks to baby oil on ankles and wrists) pulling off the wetsuit, putting on my helmet and running to the bike. You basically leave your wetsuit etc. in the bike bag and the volunteers just take care of it… awesome stuff. I had a super quick transition of 2 minutes 43 seconds which was the 8th fastest of the day. I feel some level of satisfaction knowing that I got changed faster than many of the pros… and I “passed” about 20 people in the changing tent. However, this is not a dressing competition so let’s not get ahead of ourselves, ok? I was pretty warm when I came out of the swim, so I opted not to take my extra bike jersey with me. Little did I know what a bad mistake that would be…

I got onto the bike and felt super strong as I accelerated out of the business school grounds and onto the main road. My new Vittoria tyres felt super smooth and I was steadily cranking in my big gear at around 250 watts, around 40kph. It was still really cold and the artificial wind chill from the bike speed didn’t help much. About 3km in, I turned out onto the main course and started pushing harder. Suddenly I seemed to lose traction and my bike wobbled a bit… this familiar feeling filled me with dread. I knew what this meant: a flat tyre…

After sharing my feelings with my new tyre in no uncertain terms, I pulled over and started the process of fixing it. I’m one of those obsessive types that spends time in my lounge at night practicing my tire changes, so I knew that I could get this done in about 3 minutes, maybe 5 if I took my time. What I didn’t bank on was that my fingers were still numb from the cold water, and I couldn’t even remove my wheel. Fortunately a kind marshall was right there and he helped me get my wheel off. About 20 people had passed me already, and this just added to the pressure of getting back as fast as possible I quickly changed the tube but then couldn’t use my fingers to get the tire back on again. Again Mr marshal helped out a bit and finally we got it sorted.  By this stage about 40 riders had passed me and I had lost 10 minutes, more than double what I should have.  I felt really angry with myself a) for letting this happen in the first place and b) for not fixing it fast enough. This 10 minute break had also caused my core temperature to plummet and I was now shivering uncontrollably. I channeled this anger into wattage as I got back on my bike and started powering up the hill. My original plan was to take it easy in the beginning, but I now felt like I needed to make up the time and get warm in the process. I made quick progress, passing about 15 riders in the next 2km. As I was nearing the top of the first uphill section, an ambulance came screaming past, knocking one of the cones flying straight towards us. It missed the guy in front of me by no more than a few inches. I hate to think what would have happened if he had been one second slower!

The downhills were fast, but very challenging due to the uncontrollable shivering that was still plaguing me. I now wished that I had taken that extra bike top at T1. The weather wasn’t playing ball either. The forecast sun wasn’t appearing, instead replaced by cold rain. I tried to get warm by riding harder, but it just wasn’t working that well. The only option was to wait it out. Living in California has been great for training, but it’s probably made me a bit soft where cold weather is concerned. Give me the heat any day.

About 2.5 hours into the ride, the sun finally showed its face. I soaked up the warm rays, letting it slowly defrost my frozen skin and muscles, priming them to do some real work. The rest of the bike leg went pretty much according to plan. I got my nutrition right this time – no solid foods just a gel every 20 mins. The aid stations were very well run, so massive kudos to the volunteers who ran them so well. I found that I actually never used my second bottle. I just filled the aero bottle with water at each station and that was sufficient. If you have frequent aid stations, you really don’t need to carry 3 bottles with you – one is more than sufficient.

I was now nearing the end of the 180km bike leg. The last 11km is some downhill and then flat, so it’s a good opportunity to coast along, rest the legs and prepare for the run. It is, however, also tempting to crank out the speed on the flats and make up some time which I desperately needed to do.  I settled on a compromise and held a steady 210 watts for the last 15 mins, averaging an acceptable 43kph. I finished the bike leg in 5:27 which if you take off the 10 mins from the flat tire was pretty much what I had planned (5:17 vs 5:19 planned).

I felt great riding towards T2, I was finally warm (although my sockless feet were still frozen) and my legs felt strong. As I entered T2, I handed my bike to the volunteers, picked up my run bag and got changed. I fumbled a little with my socks since my feet were still numb but still completed T2 in an acceptable 2 mins 44 secs. I grabbed my clif shot blocks and headed out of the tent to start my marathon.

At this point I was trying to do some mental calculations regarding my target time of 10 hours. I knew that I’d had a good swim (by my standards 1:06 is ok, even though my swimmer friends would scoff at such a time), so added to my bike time of 5:27 plus the transitions, I was now at around 6:40 into the race. I needed to run a 3:20 marathon in order to reach my target, and I knew that I had the current fitness level to do that.

running in the rain

I would just need to maintain a steady pace of around 4:45 per km, which at that point felt pretty easy for me. My mistake was getting greedy… I figured that if I could run a little quicker, I could run a sub 3:20 marathon. I was feeling great at a pace of 4:30 so I foolishly stuck to that. I went through 5km in 23 mins but by 10km I had slowed down, going through in 49 min. I quickly reverted my goal to maintaining 4:45, but psychologically I was now losing the battle since I knew I was slowing down. These middle 20km I really struggled. Although the course is relatively flat, the surfaces varied a fair amount from smooth tarmac to hard packed dirt, stones and long green grass. The grass is a double edged sword – it’s easy on the body, offering much needed impact absorption, but it’s also high resistance so you need to put in a greater effort than you do on a paved road. I was just so tired, but it wasn’t the tiredness caused by lack of carbs (aka “bonking”), it was actual tiredness, as in “wanting to sleep”.  I’ve never really had that while running before, and I’m not sure what caused it. Perhaps it was something to do with the 2 hours of freezing on the bike, that may have contributed somewhat to this feeling of fatigue – I don’t know. I actually fell asleep  a few times, only realizing that I had been sleeping when I woke up. If you’ve ever fallen asleep while driving, it’s kind of the same thing. I had now slowed to below my target pace. There was no way I was going to make a sub 10 now, and I knew it. Mentally, it was very tough to stay motivated when I had no reason to push myself harder than required. I had shifted from achievement mode into survival mode. I just broke it down into segments and focused on reaching specific points along the course. The final 2km on each lap were the easiest because of all the fantastic supporters gathered in the town. My wife Michelle, and friends Steven, Alissa and their kids Luke and Natasha were there offering encouragement every lap. And there were literally thousands of supporters who were cheering throughout my entire marathon and probably well after I was done. I’d really like to thank those guys, the support makes a massive difference!

Once I had completed my third lap, with only 10km to go I picked up my pace again. Not due to some miraculous recovery but rather that I just wanted to be done. For much of that last lap I could visualize the nice warm bath that I would be in later on, surrounded by pizza.

That kept me running faster than faster towards the finish, and before I knew it I was back in Henley running down the red carpet and over the finish line in 10:28. I had missed my goal of a sub 10 but I was very pleased to be finished. They directed me to the finisher’s tent where my “street clothes” bag was already waiting for me on a chair (they have spotters who look for your number and get your bag ready for you). I scoffed down a plate of pasta, relaxed for a bit and then headed out to meet my “support crew”. At this point I really should mention how fantastic the organization was of this race, they even outdid the meticulous Swiss which is saying a lot… well done to the folks at Challenge!

I was on my way back to the car, eager to get into that warm bath, when I remembered that I needed to collect my bike! I headed back to the T2 area where my bike was waiting for me along with my run and bike transition bags, hopped on the bike and rode back to the car park. 20 minutes later I was relaxing in a lovely warm bath, content that I had completed a decent day’s work.

Before the water had even cooled, my mind was already buzzing with my plans for the next one, how I was going to cut 6 mins off my swim, 20 mins off the bike, and at least 25 mins off the run. The next one is already booked! Ironman Coeur d’Alene next June. I’ve got 9 months of hard training to get 45 mins quicker and secure that Kona slot…

But right now I’m happy to be done with my 2011 season. This was my third Ironman distance race in 9 weeks, so I’m pretty tired now and looking forward to chilling out for  a bit before the hard work begins…

Race Summary:

Total time: 10:28

Swim: 1:06:29 T1: 2:43
Bike: 5:27:50 T2: 2:44
Run: 3:48:20

 

 

>>>>

Short Version of this post:

I did Challenge Henley on 18th September. Very cold. Good Swim 1:06. Fast Transition. Got a puncture, took 10 mins to fix. Froze on bike. Sun came out. finished bike 5:27. Ran. Slowed down. Fell asleep while running. Finished strong 3:48. Total time 10:28. Had a nice bath & planned next race.

>>>>>

 

Vineman Race Report

Hot on the heels of Ironman Switzerland, on Saturday I competed in the Full Vineman, an Ironman distance race (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) held in the beautifully scenic Sonoma valley.

I had waited a week after Zurich to see how I felt before booking Vineman, I was lucky to recover fast so I thought I’d give it a bash.  One of the great things about the Vineman race is that it doesn’t have the whole corporate Ironman thing going, so you don’t need to book a year in advance just to take part. My goal was to improve on Ironman Switzerland (IMCH), with a slightly agressive race plan. To summarise, the goal was to go sub 11 hours by:

– improving my swim time, going out harder than before
– increasing my “wattage plan” for the bike i.e. aiming for an average of 215 watts vs my IMCH goal of 190 watts
– maintaining a consistent pace on the run, and avoid walking (aim for 5 min/km)

If you want to skip the story you can go straight to the results at the end of the post…

The Journey

This is probably the only Iron distance race within a few hours drive, so the prep was a little more relaxed than usual. My bike was still set up from Ironman Switzerland a few weeks before (I hadn’t ridden it since then), so it was just a case of packing my race day gear and then heading up on the Friday afternoon. The plan was to drive back straight after the race, and we were very fortunate to have found a place to stay that would allow a single night booking over a weekend (only because they had a last minute cancellation). The Vineman is a unique race in that the transition areas are 17 miles apart i.e. you leave your running stuff in a town called Windsor, and your bike stuff is where the swim in held in Guerneville. Although this sounds complicated, it actually works out ok because you put all your run stuff out the day before, and in the morning you just turn up with your bike, rack it and swim. But back to Friday afternoon… I had to get from Mountain View up to Windsor High School near Santa Rosa, for the mandatory pre-race briefing and to drop of my run gear at the transition. The traffic was a complete nightmare and the 1.5 hour journey ended up taking about 2.5 hours. We eventually arrived in the pretty town of Windsor and headed over to the school. The first thing I had to do was attend a pre-race briefing, which is basically a 25 min video that they play for you in the school gym hall. I’m pretty sure they could have covered everything in about half the time. I think they warned us about “the sharp turn at mile 5.3” about 7 times… anyway I then got my hand stamped as proof of attendance, then headed over to collect my bib & timing chip. They then weigh you for some reason. I was slightly shocked and scolded myself for a perhaps rather over-ambitious carbo loading regime when I weighed in at 170 lbs (I was 163 when I weighed a week earlier). I was also given a wristband that granted me access to the transition area, so I proceeded to go and set up my gear for T2. It looked kind of strange seeing a transition full of shoes & hats but no bikes. I put out my shoes, socks, hat, sunglasses and then started the drive to the lodge in Monte Rio which is not far from the start in Guerneville. This was about a 50 minute drive from Windsor, and I was very glad to be doing it now rather than in the morning like many other people who were staying in Santa Rosa. We opted to ignore the sat nav  and took the scenic route, winding through beautiful green vineyards as the golden glow of the setting sun cast it’s final light on the tranquil rolling hills. We arrived at the Highland Dell Lodge in time to grab a quick bite – as if I hadn’t eaten enough already I opted to top  up the carb stores with a fine pasta pomodoro before heading to bed. Since we were pretty close to the start, I could afford a nice lie in, so I set my alarm for 5.15am.

The Big Day

I woke up about 10 mins before my alarm, ate a rice pudding, a stroopwafel and two blocks of chocolate before quickly getting dressed, loading my bike, waking up Mrs Chauffeur and grabbing my wetsuit. It’s a quick 10 min drive to the start, and I was able to be dropped about 300m away which was great. It was now 6am, so I had 33 mins before the start which seemed like plenty of time. Well… how wrong could I have been?

Crazy T1

The transition area is set up on the gravel of Johnson’s beach, with carpeting going down either side. There were different sections for each race and category (full vineman, barb’s race and the aquabike) but all the signs were only on one side of the racks.

T1

This meant that everyone entering T1, exiting T1 and heading to the swim start were all trying to use the same carpeted path, so basically one crazy mess!  I eventually found the racks for my age group but there was no space left (one good reason to get up earlier!). I ended up creating some space, quickly racked my bike, defogged my goggles downed 2 x gels and started putting on my wetsuit when I heard the starter gun for the first wave, meaning that I only had 3 mins to get to the start! I was zig zagging through the crowd, while pulling on the top half of my suit and getting a few desperate sips of gatorade in where possible. I made it to the water’s edge, found a helpful soul to zip me up, put on my goggles and bam! the starter horn sounded.

Swimming in the Russian River

I dived into the warm Russian River and managed to catch the group within a minute or so. Fortunately, the separate group starts meant there were only about 170 people in my wave so there was no crowding (or at least a lot less than in a mass ironman start). I went out pretty hard on the swim and then settled into a steady pace.

swimmers walking through the river

Wow, it felt really good to be able to just swim for once instead of fighting! I only got kicked in the face once which was a lot less than usual. Being a river made the swim pretty interesting and unusual. Firstly it’s a lot easier to sight because the river banks are close by, and there is a big bridge in the middle so you can aim for the pylons. Secondly there is a slight flow, so you start by swimming upstream, then turn around and head back downstream, and repeat. To make matters even more interesting, the river is really shallow in some parts (like 50 cm) so you can touch the bottom with your arms. Some people got up and walked but I opted to swim where possible, especially downstream where swimming is definitely faster than walking. This is the first triathlon swim that I have actually really enjoyed – uncongested, interesting location and unusual topography.

I exited the swim in just under 1:08 which was a decent improvement for me. Ideally I want to get this under an hour but this was 8 mins faster than IMCH, a decent improvement mainly due to being able to actually swim. I easily spotted my bike in T1 from the yellow rear-mounted water bottle, took off my wetsuit and packed it into the transition bag that then gets transported back to the finish. That part added a little extra time but I had a decent transition time of 02:44.

Biking through wine country

Due to the early morning rush, I hadn’t put my bike into the easy gear, a schoolboy error especially since there was a short hill right at the beginning. A few power stomps later I was at the top and heading out into the early morning freshness of the russian river valley. Interestingly my maximum heart rate for the entire race was at the swim to bike transition (162). Given that I was experimenting a bit with this race, I went out pretty hard on the bike,  averaging 236 watts for the first 45 mins (I was supposed to be riding at around 215), but I was feeling really good and I needed to get warm – my heart rate was averaging around 145 which was well within my comfort zone. For most of the first lap I was passing people, and at about 50km settled in with a group who was riding about the same pace. There were about 5 of us strung out about 10 meters apart just churning it out at a comfortable pace. I rode away from them on the one “big” hill at around 70km with one other guy, who subsequently rode away from me.   I was consuming carbs regularly throughout the ride. I always start with a coke/water mix in my aero drink, electrolyte mix in one bottle and full coke in another bottle that I mix with water in my aero drink at aid stations. I was taking in one Gu gel every 20 mins followed by 1/4 bar 10 mins later. I was washing them down with Gatorade since the people handing out water seemed to be napping as I went through the aid station… but more on nutrition later… right now I was surprised to look down at my computer and see that I was approaching 90km (half way) – it didn’t feel like I had ridden that far yet, and I still felt good just cranking it out steadily. I went through half way in 2:38 so on track for a sub 5:20 ride… then at about 115km it all went wrong…

The Big Bloat

My stomach started  getting bloated and cramping. It also felt a bit like I was bonking due to lack of carbs, which I knew wasn’t possible since I’d had plenty to eat and drink. When the cliff bars started repeating on me and I began vomiting,  I thought it might be a good time to ease off a bit, so I stopped eating until I felt ok again, which was at around 150km. By now the sun was beating down and it was getting pretty hot. I had one more gel then just drank liquids from that point onwards, since I was still bloated with a gut that was not well pleased with me.

 

The Red Hot Poker Neck

With about 10km to go, I felt a sharp red hot burning pain in my lower neck. If I kept my head still it would go away, but every time I moved my head at all, the shooting burn would return. It was so bad that I wasn’t even able to look down at my computer. I knew it was due to being in the aero position for so long and that it would be gone when I got off the bike, so I just kept my head still and rode as fast as I could just to get to the end quicker. I came into T2 with a bike time of 5:25, so I’d lost about 10 mins on the second lap, which in the greater scheme of things was not too bad.

The Run

The transition area was relatively empty so I could tell that I was doing ok (at this stage I was placed 39th overall). I quickly racked the bike, pulled on my socks & shoes and hit the road, skipping the first aid station since I couldn’t face anything at this point.

a quiet T2

 

The Vineman has aid stations every mile on the run, which is just awesome. By mile 2 I was feeling ok again, and I started to eat. They were handing out these Cliff Shot Blocks which are like massive jelly babies. It was the first time I had tried them but I ate them as often as possible, even though you shouldn’t try new things in a race. I was lucky and it all worked out ok for me. This run course was tough! It’s a 3 loop course, with three hills on each loop, one of them brutal, the rest was rolling. Even though it was difficult, it was really beautiful running past all the vineyards, and the crowd support was really something special.  I managed to stick to my plan of 8 min/mile (5 min/km) for most of the way, but the steep parts of the hills just slowed me down too much, even though I didn’t walk. I felt good for most of the run and the last mile through the crowds was really fantastic. I crossed the finish line for a marathon time of just over 3:40. I was hoping to run a 3:30 but given the hills and the heat I was ok with the 10 min deficit.

left quad gets deformed by the impact

The Result

I finished in 10:18, 17th place overall out of 821 finishers, which I was pleased with – a 44 min improvement over Ironman Switzerland and I managed to achieve my goal of a sub 10:30.

Swim: 7 minute improvement (1:08 vs 1:15)
Bike: 23 minute improvement (5:25 vs 5:48)
Run: 18 minute improvement (3:40 vs 3:58)

Some bike stats:
avg speed: 33 km/h
max speed: 67 km/h
avg heart rate: 140 bpm
max heart rate: 162 bpm (swim to bike transition)
avg power: 213 watts
avg cadence: 86 rpm

Lessons Learned

1. I can push harder on the bike without a negative impact on the run
2. Get scientific on the nutrition. From now on I’m going to make my own maltodextrin/fructose combo (2:1) for easy digestion.
3. A good, solid run makes all the difference. I need to get my normal marathon time down to 3 hours before the end of the year.

What’s next?

My next goal is sub 10 hours, so my coach Kevin Coady has his work cut out for him! My next booked Ironman races are in 2012 (California 70.3 which will be my first half IM, and IMCdA in June), but I’m sure I will find something sooner that wil strike my fancy. I’ve got the Northern California marathon on Sept 18th – it will be a nice change to run a marathon without first doing 112 miles on a bike!

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

On July 10th, 2011 I took part  in Ironman Switzerland. As I previously wrote, my race prep had some rough patches but ended very well, leading up to the final weeks where I felt fit and ready to race. My bike was all prepped and ready to be packed for the journey.

felt b2 pro

The race prepped B2 Pro

I needed to stop over in London since I had several work commitments to attend before flying to Switzerland over the weekend. The weather report didn’t look good – rain forecast for the whole weekend. On the afternoon of Friday 9th July, Michelle and I left London City airport for Zurich. I was well stocked with plenty of carbs – the pic below shows my Friday snacks… I ate all of that by 2pm…

Carbalicious - my Friday "snacks"

Carbalicious - my Friday "snacks"

We flew in to a magnificent view of the Zurich countryside, dark rain clouds interspersed with radiant shafts of bright sunlight, illuminating the lush rolling hills below.

zurich

The Swiss countryside from the air

At this stage I still wasn’t really nervous – just very excited to get on and race. We got a taxi to the Sheraton Sihlcity, which is about 2km from the start, so pretty convenient. There are also loads of places to eat nearby; I settled for a large Calzone at a place called Vapiano and then headed to bed.

On Saturday morning I got up early, put my bike back together and started getting my stuff ready. You would think that the fact that I’d already packed it all for a flight would make this a quick process, but I seemed to faff around forever making sure that I had everything sorted out. We then took a bus to the start area at Landiwiese so that I could go and register. The place was already buzzing as they had a 5150 triathlon (normal international distance) taking place. When we arrived, I realised that I had left my USA Triathlon card at home, but fortunately they accepted an online version from my phone – result! I picked up my bag, timer chip and a few goodies from the Ironman shop before heading back to the hotel. After a light lunch, I rode my bike down for the 4.30 bike check-in. There were no instructions of what exactly we needed to bring for the bike check-in, so for future reference you need to bring your bike, helmet and race number (the one that you will wear). They then take a photo of you with your bike, so that they can check it again when you take your bike after the race. I racked my bike, and covered it with the IM issue pastic bag to guard against the overnight rain.

racked, wrapped & ready

racked, wrapped & ready

I headed back to the hotel, went to Vapiano again for a large plate of linguine, then headed back to the room for the final round of faffing. I must have spent at least an hour “getting stuff ready”. Despite all the packing and checking, I almost forgot my timing chip which would have been a disaster. I’m used to picking it up on race day, so it’s not even on my pre-race checklist (it is now). By 10.30 I was pretty tired so I went to bed, setting two alarm clocks (just as well since one didn’t work). I still had no pre-race nerves so had a really good sleep. I woke up at 4.45, got dressed, had a bread roll with ham & cheese (expertly crafted by Michelle the night before) and headed down to take the 5.19 bus towards the start (which of course being swiss the bus arrived at 5.18 and 55 seconds). 15 mins later I was in the transition area, unpacking my bags and getting the final details ready. It was a beautiful day with only a few clouds, so it looked like we were set for perfect conditions.

My race plan was pretty straightforward:

  • survive the swim – goal 1:10 but main aim is to just get it out the way
  • bike – start easy &  hold back, stick to 190 watts (see race prep post for details), refuel every 20 mins on gel or bar, drink coke/water mix. goal 5:50
  • run – start at a pace that is easy for me (5min/k) – goal 3:40 (secretly hoping to run 3:30)

At 06:30 we all started heading to the swim start. The aquamarine water of Lake Zurich looked warm and inviting, and at 21C it certainly was. At 7am the pro race started, we had a few minutes to go, so I took up a position near to the left hand side of the field which would hopefully mean a relatively clear path, even if it resulted swimming a little further. The following minutes whizzed by and before I knew it we were off – all 2200 of us jostling for position in the churning blue washing machine.

manic swim start

the start

To my surprise I saw about another 250 people on my left that seemed to have appeared out of nowhere, so instead of being on the edge I was now in the middle of this big mess. The swimming was stop and start for at least the first 1000 meters, making it very difficult to find any sort of rhythm.

try swimming smoothly in this

try swimming smoothly in this

My goggles were also sliding up my face which was strange, and has never happened before. I eventually found my rhythm and started to swim well, when we got to the end of the first lap and had to swim under a bridge, run up a ramp over an island and then back into the water for the second lap. I was now swimming well, but  faster than the group I was with so I kept on bumping into slower swimmers, with little room to swim around them. I eventually just swam behind someone else’s feet and took it slow to the end. I felt fine at the end of the swim, pretty much the same as I feel after a regular 1500m swim. I don’t really get that about swimming – why 3.8km doesn’t feel much harder than 1.5km. Anyway, I was pleased to be done with the swim.

I entered T1 feeling good, quickly changed out of my wetsuit, stuffed a few caffeine gels into my pocket for the end of the ride (to help with the run), put on my helmet & sunglasses then exited. To save time I always put my shoes in the pedals and secure them with elastic bands to the bike, which means I can run barefoot through T1, making things a lot easier than trying to run with cycling shoes on.

After a 2:47 transition, I got on the bike and felt great. The first 30km is flat, so I just focused on spinning easily through my gears and settling in. I was shocked to look down at my Garmin and see that I was riding at 300 watts, way over plan! It felt like I was putting in no effort, but I needed to stick to the plan so I eased off a little and settled in at around 200 watts, taking in a few gels, a bar, a bottle of electrolyte and some coke to replenish what I had lost on the swim. The Zurich roads are pretty fast and I was cruising along at around 39km/h (24mph), passing a lot of people. There were quite a few groups that I needed to get past, and it was pretty difficult to ride without drafting. I ended up sticking to the middle of the road and just accelerating in short bursts past the groups before settling in again on the right. It looked like a few people were drafting for way too long, but the eagle-eyed swiss officials were on top of things and I saw a fair amount of riders waiting in the penalty box at 30km.

fast n' flat near the lake

fast n' flat near the lake

When I got to the first drinks station, they were just serving water (not food/energy drink as the race guide had stated). Luckily I was equipped with enough food to get me through to 60km so I just took a water bottle. The water from this station tasted like they had rinsed inner tubes in it, so I mixed it with some coke to improve the taste.

From here, we entered the hilly section. There are a few short, sharp climbs & descents and then at around 50km there is a climb called “the beast”. It’s not really as bad as it sounds, about 4km long followed by a short descent then another 5km hill. I stuck to the plan here and didn’t ride much over 230 watts up the hills. A few energetic germans flew past me, stomping on the pedals, but I just kept the constant power output easing up the hill. The hills were also a good opportunity to get out of the aero position, stretch out the back, and talk to a few of the guys around me.  After the hills, there is a long flat and then a fast descent back down to the lake. If you had a road bike here with drop bars, you could probably make up a lot of time on the descents. I was hitting just over 70km/h going down but my bike would start shaking around a bit at faster speeds, whereas my road bike handles 85km/h + easily.  Being keen to stay safe and not crash out, I remained conservative down to the lake. Even with my careful riding my brakes were overheating on the corners, filling the air with the smell of burned rubber (reminiscent of the drinking water at water station 1).

Once back at the lake, it was fast and flat back to the main start area, then a quick 10km out and back, up a short climb called heartbreak hill. This is a truly amazing experience, riding up this hill, jam packed with spectators that cheer you on in a deafening roar of cheers, cow bells, horns, whistles, drums and trumpets. I could feel the emotion welling up inside of me, but managed to bottle it up and retain my dignity 😉

Heartbreak Hill

Heartbreak Hill

I went through 90km in about 2:50 which was on track, and I was still feeling fresh. I was using the avg lap power function on my garmin to make sure I was sticking to plan (by pressing lap every 20-30 mins). I was actually slightly over plan at just over 200 watts. However I was still feeling ok so I pushed a little harder on the next flat 30km of lap 2, staying comfortably around 41km/h. By this time, many of the stomping euro climbing heroes were rather tired and I passed about 80 people on this flat section.  My heart rate was still quite low, averaging at around 140 bpm, so I felt confident that I was saving enough energy for the run. I pushed a little harder on the beast this time round, and I remember a group of british spectators chanting “kill the beast! kill the beast!” which at the time was good motivation!

Down the hills and onto the flats, the last 20km was pretty much a formality and I used this as an opportunity to take in two caffeine gels and another bottle of water. My bike leg had gone according to plan, my power output was a little higher than anticipated at 204 watts. Here is a link to my splits (just random lap times that I used to calculate avg power as I was riding)

Ride summary: 5:40, 180km, 204 avg watts, 1487m elevation gain, avg cadence 84rpm, avg speed 31.8km/h (just under 20mph)

Arriving in T2, my legs felt like jelly as I got off the bike, but they came right quickly as I racked the bike & ditched the helmet. I usually run sockless, but for Ironman I figured socks would be sensible. I chose my Nike compression socks just to give my calves some extra support. Putting on socks adds about 30 seconds to transition but I think it’s worth the time, considering blisters would cost you a lot more time than that. T2 took 2:40, I grabbed a few gels, a half packet of haribos, and then set off on the run at a moderate pace of 5min/km which I thought would be sustainable and get me back home for just over a 3:30 marathon. The run is 4 flat laps, looping back and forth along the crowd-lined avenues. These spectators were really incredible – not one minute passed without someone shouting GO!ROB GO! (your name is printed on your number).

I felt very comfortable, passing 10km in 50 min which was still on plan. Michelle was cheering me on at the end of the first lap which was just when I needed some encouragement – talk about perfect timing. At about 13km, the sunshine vanished and it started bucketing down with rain. The wind was howling, huge raindrops were slamming into our tired bodies, and massive puddles were forming on the ground. I had slowed down and I started getting cold, so I tried to run a bit faster to warm up. By this stage I wasn’t even checking my time any more. The thought of having to run about another 30km was pretty grim, and it took a lot of effort just to keep going. I allowed myself to walk through every 3rd water station, but as the race went on I found myself really pushing the definition of where a water station ended. One of them was about 1km after the start of each lap, followed by a short hill, and I managed to convince myself that since there were still cups on the ground going up the hill, that I was entitled to walk until the end of it!

The most difficult part of the run for me was between 14km and 25km; it was mentally very tough to push through that, and I’m sure the driving rain didn’t help much. When I hit 26km, the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came out again. I told myself that I basically had 10km to go (after which I would still have another 6km, but I told myself  I’d think about that when I got there). I continued drinking water & coke mixed, and even had some soup which was great.  So far my nutrition was working out perfectly with no issues. I even tried one of those red bull energy shots which they were handing out – I think it helped but I don’t think I could have too much of that stuff. I continued walking every few water points, and then at around 32km I suddenly came right and settled back into a faster pace for the last 10km, running all the way, even through all the water points. My energy increased through the last 5km and by the time I got to the finish I felt like I could easily carry on. If only I could have swapped that feeling at the 12km mark!

I crossed the line in 11:02, just missing a sub-11 but I was very happy to have completed it more or less to plan. In the finishers tent, they offered us some food and a non-alcoholic beer but I just wasn’t hungry at all, and the last thing I felt like was beer. The most I could manage was the powerbar recovery drink and a forced-down hot dog. I hung around for a bit, soaking up the atmosphere and then cheered a few of the runners on.  I then collected my bike and rode back to the hotel, showered up and enjoyed an expensive swiss-priced burger king (equivalent of about $14 for a cheese burger).

I had a really good night’s sleep, woke up early the next morning and took a slow 50 min ride along the lake front before packing up the bike and heading back to London. It’s now 2 days later and I actually feel pretty good. I felt worse after running Florence marathon last November – maybe it’s because of the relatively lower heart rate and slower pace…

Lessons learned for next time:

  • it’s worth doing more anaerobic swim training just to start fast, miss the chaos, and find a slightly faster pair of feet to follow.
  • maybe push a bit harder on the bike
  • probably do a little more run training. I think I was a bit overconfident on the run and didn’t put in enough running hours
  • it’s definitely worth sticking to the pacing strategy. I feel like I did this well and it worked for me – now I just need to up the pace!

What’s next? I’ve entered IM Coeur d’Alene 2012 – I definitely want to aim for a sub 10 in that. In the meantime I’ll enter as many IM distance races as possible just to get a bit more experience at the distance… maybe Vineman in 3 weeks time??? tempting…