Can I turn myself into a “real swimmer”?

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

tyler haka

ready to hit the water!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Benchmark times (november, december)

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

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

The types of workout vary:

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

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

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

At least 2 workouts per week 6km or more

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

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

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

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

Kona Race Report

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

The Lava Fields

The Lava Fields

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

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

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

Bike:

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

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

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

 

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The “short version”

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

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

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

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

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The “Long version”

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

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

Fitness & training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Run volume

Putting it all together:

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

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

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

TP PMC

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

Aerodynamics

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

Nutrition

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

Equipment failure!

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

Kona!

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

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

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

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

saucony

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

kona checkin

 

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

the goodie bag

the goodie bag

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

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

tyler haka

 

Race day

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

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

Swim (1:07)

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

 

Bike:

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

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

around mile 2

around mile 2

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

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

Run:

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

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

kona finish

Oceanside 70.3 race report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Team Triforce wins the small clubs division at Oceanside 70.3

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

 

 

 

 

bike

Mexican Revenge!

Ironman Los Cabos Race Report

Los Cabos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you in Kona!

Ironman Los Cabos Nutrition Report

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

Ironman Food!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fine tuning ironman nutrition with metabolic testing

It’s often said that nutrition is the 4th discipline in Ironman. Eat too much and you bloat, slowing you down. Eat too little and you bonk, slowing you down or even worse, stopping you in your tracks. In an ironman race I burn around 10,000 calories. The body stores about 2000 calories in the muscles and liver as glycogen, meaning that a minimum of 8000 calories need to come from food taken during the race, as well as body fat. But how much comes from body fat, and how much needs to come from “on board nutrition”? In the past I’ve worked out my nutrition based on good advice, followed but trial and error during training and racing; basically eating as many calories as possible without bloating or cramping. In an effort to get a bit more scientific about nutrition, I decided to experiment with a metabolic test.

During the test you wear a mask connected to a machine that analyzes the amount of oxygen and CO2 in your breath. This allows you to calculate the % of calories that come from fat vs carbs, as well as the total calories per minute. With input from Coach Coady I drew up a test protocol where I would ride at increasing intensities every 5 minutes. I would then be able to see how much fat vs carbohydrate is burned at each different intensity:

15 mins @ 220 watts (steady state effort / zone 2)
5 mins @ 230 watts (lower Ironman race pace)
5 mins @ 240 watts (upper Ironman race pace)
5 mins @ 250 watts (half Ironman race pace)
5 mins @ 275 watts (gradual hill in a race)
5 mins @ 300 watts (steeper hill in a race)
10 mins @ 240 watts (return to Ironman pace after a hill)
1 min @ 300 watts
1 min @ 320 watts (threshold)
1 min @ 330 watts
1 min @ 360 watts
5 min @ 220 watts cool down

The results were pretty interesting – or even slightly confusing! You can view an interactive chart of the test here and a static image with some additions/annotations below.

chart-zones

At 200W, it’s pretty much 50/50 carbs (yellow line) and fat (green line). Interestingly it’s not constant, but shifts up and down all the time.  It also seems that as I change efforts, the fat burn rate goes up for a bit. A good example is as I switch up to 275W, my % fat burned goes up to 63% – so for 2 mins after increasing effort, I was burning more fat than carbs. Very soon after that, however, I’m burning almost 70% carbs.

270W

as I increase to 275W, the % calories from fat goes up!

As I step it up to 300W, the same thing happens. The % fat hits a lower peak, but still reaches 50% / 50% for a short while. Then the % carb rises sharply to 80%

300W

I then returned to 240W, where I entered a good fat burning state again (60% fat 40% carb),  higher than the first time at 240W, despite my heart rate being a lot higher (167 bpm now vs 144 bpm then)240WThen I hit the fast ramps at the end (300,320,340,360 watts), and by the time I finish 1 min at 360 watts I’m burning 100% carb and 0% fat, at a rate of 1600 calories per hour!

360W

 So overall it was an interesting test, yet it was not as conclusive as I imagined it would be. I got the info I was interested in, which was what I’m burning at Ironman race intensities. But I’d like to do some repeat tests to see the results at lower intensities, and maybe another time also go beyond 360W just to see what happens at the max (we hadn’t designed this as a VO2 max test). I’d also be interested in following this test with a run test to see what my metabolic rate is like at Ironman running pace. And maybe a test after 3 hours of riding to see if that makes a difference. In fact there are so many variations I’d like to do, maybe I should just buy my own testing rig 😉

 

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!

 

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!

 

Training update Feb 5th

This week was a recovery week, just as well since I was mainly trying to get over the jetlag + get back into the full swing of things at work.

11 hours total.

I got a few decent swims in and some indoor trainer sessions on the bike. Only started running properly again on Friday. My injured knee seems 100% ok now, the rest was worth it.

A good end to the week today was the Kaiser Permanente Half Marathon in Golden Gate Park. I’d highly recommend this race – very scenic, very flat, very fast. Got a new PR of 1:22 so things seem well on track for the Oceanside 70.3 which is now less than 8 weeks away

Training update Jan 22nd

153 days until IMCdA…

Lap pool @ Virgin Active Randburg, South Africa

This was a different week of training – a good mix of endurance + intensity

18 hours total mainly swimming + biking

Monday long (4:20) ride with 7 x 10 min tempo intervals. To give you an idea of tempo interval wattage (231,233, 236, 232, 226, 242, 246). Followed by 40 min transition run. I was still quite sore from the previous day’s half marathon so I ran very slowly.

Tuesday swim 3000m mainly consisting of 12 x 100m intervals @ approx 1:32 s/100m + some pull sets with paddles + drills.

Wednesday swim 1000m TT 16:40 – I didn’t pace myself very well, I need to work on that. I also need to improve my endurance, I tend to get out of breath in the pool with harder efforts.

Bike intervals (1:10) tempo + threshold. A short but intense workout on the trainer.

Thursday 1 hour hilly run workout. My knee gave issues at the end of this so I cut it short and skipped runs for the remainder of the week. Most likely caused by the steep 3km downhill at the end of my sunday half marathon… just need to ice & not run for a few days.

Friday 1 hour of bike intervals – mainly 9 min tempo (for me approx 230W) with a few 1 min threshold intervals thrown in to “flush the legs” and some steady riding in low 200’s (watts). 30 min recovery MTB in evening.

Saturday I entered a 3km open water swim event. This was a non wetsuit swim – I’ve actually never done a stand alone open water swimming race (except for once when I was 16 years old). The mass start was actually a lot more civil than your typical Ironman event – I only had contact a few times before getting some space. The one thing that did surprise me was the lack of directional skills in most of these swimmers. I had expected them to be more competent than triathletes. I tried to follow a few feet but due to their zig zagging all over the place I decided just to swim it alone, with no drafting. The course was 3 laps of 1km. I just swam steadily for the first two laps and then gave it my all on the 3rd lap. The results haven’t been posted online yet, but I think my time was around 56 / 57 mins which was disappointing since I was expecting to do it in around 50 mins. On the plus side, this has spurred me to work harder in the pool and to incorporate some more OW swims in order to get really good at sighting & direction.

Sunday long ride (192km, 6:20). This was a tough ride, TSS of 374 (TSS is Training Stress Score, which is a measure used by TrainingPeaks to determine training stress of individual workouts and training stress over time). To give you an idea of typical TSS, my TSS for the bike leg of Ironman Switzerland last year was 258, Vineman was 285 and Challenge Henley was 324. So this was a tough workout!

Overall a good week, my #1 goal right now is to let me knee recover and get back to running ASAP!