Kona 2015 Race Report

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

robgray.org dimond-0057

Here is a brief recap of my 2015 race…


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

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


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

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

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

kona training volume 2015

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

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

kona swim volume 2014-2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now, some amusing Kona observations:

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

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

Ironman South Africa – a sprint finish for the podium!

Ironman South Africa has been a “bucket list” race for me, for a number of reasons:

rob4kona – I grew up in South Africa, but I’ve never raced there
– My parents would be able to see me race an Ironman for the first time
– My brother-in-law Grant and I have shared many adventures since we were “young”, so it would have special meaning to take part in an Ironman with him.
– It would be awesome to stay in a friendly home environment, catered by sister Nikki!
– It’s a beautiful course (even more so this year with the new bike course).

The Short Version:
09:53, 3rd place M35-39 (that means a kona slot too), 29th overall. Pretty happy with the result considering relatively low training volume
Swim 1:03  (under-performed but still a PR). 23rd in AG, 176th overall
T1: uneventful besides passing 38 people, 5 of whom were in my AG. Came out of T2 in 16th
Bike 5:19  342 TSS, .80 IF, 236W NP, 215 AP, VI 1.1, Pw:HR -1.98%, 6000ft elevation gain (there were some nice fast downhills but I descended like a bit of a chicken). Worked my way up to start the run 32nd overall, 4th in AG. Here is my bike data
Run 3:24 (not my best time but I was happy with that considering the tougher than average bike course, and strong wind during the run). Finished 29th overall, 3rd in AG. Here is my run data.
Sprint finish to take 3rd place! my fastest mile of the day was mile 26 (6:30) with the last half mile @ 5:44/mile… That made the day super exciting.

– It was a tight race in M35-39 with only 90 seconds between 2nd and 4th
– Fantastic course, amazing people, superb event organization
– as with all Ironman races, I learned something new. This time I finally nailed my pre-race nutrition (i.e. in the week leading up to race day, and the 2 days prior)
– St Croix 70.3 will now be a “pressure-free” race and I can focus on having fun!
– Full details and pics in “long version” below!

The Long Version:
After IM Los Cabos in 2013, I decided to not race another early season Ironman again. I had a great race in Cabo but the long training days over the dark/cold winter are really tough; it’s just a lot easier getting big training done in the daylight hours of summer. However, after Kona in October, I decided that I would like to race IMSA in 2014, since I may not get the opportunity to do so again soon. The race seldom sells out, so I was pretty relaxed about getting my entry in. The day I decided to pull the trigger, the event sold out! Appraently the fact that it was the 10th anniversary made it that much more appealing to everyone! I put my name on the waitlist, but honestly didn’t think I’d get a place. A few weeks later I received the confirmation that I was in! I was already entered for St Croix 70.3 on May 4th, so after talking through it with Coach Coady, the plan was basically to do IMSA on half-ironman training, with a 2 week IM specific block before IMSA.

From Dec 1st through April 1st, I only averaged 14.5 hours per week (low for me), with two bigger 25+ hour weeks in March (big for me). Everything was high quality with very little “junk” in there. Most of December and January would be focused on improving my swim, and just maintaining good bike and run fitness. I also took a really long time to get back into running shape after Kona. In fact it wasn’t until February that I saw some vaguely decent numbers coming back (by decent I mean pace vs HR for specific efforts). So February and March were solid training months, getting back my form just in time for two high volume, high quality training weeks (mostly run bike with a little bit of swimming) as my build for IMSA.

total volume leading up to IMSA

total volume per week leading up to IMSA

If you exclude swimming from my weekly volume, you can really see I did low volume (but very high quality) for most of winter. Most of it was under 10 hours, but I ramped it up for the critical IM build phase.

bike-run only

With 3 weeks out I did my single race rehearsal, which was one of my best race rehearsals to date:

swim: 2.4 miles in 55 mins (pool, no wetsuit, feeling very easy)
bike: 3:45 @ 238 watts NP (feeling comfortable)
run: 8 miles @ 7:00 / mile (feeling “easy”)

With the return of my form, my race confidence also returned. I was now looking forward to race day, and I knew that I had done enough work to race for a chance at a kona slot.

PMC sidebar: For those that train with power and are familiar with TSS/ CTL etc. here is my Training Peaks performance management chart. Peak CTL 2 weeks out was 144. My peak before kona was 170, but that was 3 weeks out. However, my CTL with 2 weeks to go was also around 144. My main take away from that data is that it’s critical to time your taper correctly, taking into account your ability to recover, and how fast you lose fitness. There is a trade off during the taper, where you are gaining freshness but losing fitness at the same time. You want to arrive on race day being fresh enough, but without losing too much fitness. I think we can still fine tune the taper a little bit, as I was feeling “like superman” on April 1st.

CTL - all

I flew out to South Africa on Sunday evening, a week before race day. 38 hours and 3 flight connections later I landed in Port Elizabeth. Jet lag was going to be an issue, so I had started getting into the new time zone on the plane, by taking melatonin at my “new” bedtime, followed by benadryl to keep me sleeping. I slept sporadically on the plane trips, but it must have been ok quality wise, since I arrived feeling quite fresh.

My parents met me at Johannesburg airport and flew down to PE with me. It was really great to see them again (I’d last seen them 18 months ago).

With my dad at the Boardwalk

With my dad at the Boardwalk

My sister Nikki met us all at PE airport and whisked us back home to get settled. It was great to see Grant and my two nephews (Ben and Caleb) again, and after some rigorous unpacking Grant and I headed off for a quick bike ride. I felt amazingly good, as I said before “like superman”. The watts were falling from heaven without much effort at all. This was a good sign, although I always get a little worried when I feel so good and race day is still 4 days away – I need to be feeling like that ON race day! I knew that I had to do just enough training to “keep the rust off” without building any more fatigue. We did a quick swim that night then back home for dinner.

feeling like superman

feeling like superman

Talking about dinner, I have been fine tuning my race-week nutrition, and this was my first test during an actual race week. Basically I would eat high fat low carb from one week out, then boost the carbs on Friday, eat normally Saturday, race Sunday. Most meals were made up of stuff like bacon, eggs, avocado, and some veggies. More details on that below, but I feel like I’ve nailed the protocol and will repeat it for future ironman races.

On Thursday we went to register. I took a bit longer because I had to stand in the “internationals” line and Grant could go in the “locals” line. I had to sign an extra credit card form, which would serve as payment should they have to take me to hospital during the race, and avoid being taken to a state hospital (which you really do not want to happen in SA). I was a little reluctant to put all my CC details on a piece of paper, but I’d rather be defrauded than end up in a state hospital!

Registration done!

Registration done!

On Friday, I did a 10 min easy run followed by 3 mins @ VO2Max pace (a bit faster than 5K pace). This in theory boosts the uptake of glycogen into the muscles once you start eating carbs again. I followed this workout immediately with a high-glycemic carb breakfast (waffles and syrup, yeah baby!), and then 50g high GI carbohydrate per hour for the remainder of the day. High GI is good in this case, you DO want an insulin spike because insulin is a storage hormone that is needed for glycogen to be effectively stored in your muscles. It’s important to not eat too much at once, and spread it out at about 50g/hour. To make it easy, I made 900g of white rice (cooked weight), and mixed that with some honey, cinnamon and condensed milk. I would then eat 200g of that per hour until it was done (5-6 hours). I also ate some sweet potato for lunch, a few slices of pizza and some oatmeal for dinner.

Saturday was back to normal, but relatively high carb eating. Oatmeal breakfast, hake (white fish), white rice and sweet potato for lunch, sweet potato mid pm snack and a large bowl of oatmeal for dinner. I also took 2 scoops of Osmo pre-load.
I went to sleep at 8:30pm and slept soundly until 11:30pm. After that I was lying awake the rest of the night. I decided to get up at 3am and eat breakfast (small bowl of white rice mixed with ensure) so it had time to “pass through” by morning time. Grant was awake too, so there there 2 of us were, foam rolling in the lounge at 3am! I finally fell asleep at about 4am, only to wake up to my alarm 30 minutes later. Well, at least I got a good night’s sleep on Friday night!

Race Day

All the bags were packed, so after a quick bathroom visit I put on my tri suit, wetsuit (bottom half only), put some sunscreen on and then we jumped in the car, chauffer driven by my sister Nikki and my Dad to the start. Grant and I quickly pumped our tires, I put my nutrition on my bike and then we got into the water for a quick practice swim. After that we got out, said hi and bye to my folks, Nikki and and the boys, before getting into the “wave 2 start chute” behind the pros on the beach.

 

ready to rock n roll!

ready to rock n roll!

We were about 3 rows back, on the right hand side, ready to rock and roll! We then spotted the first cheater of the day. There was a short guy with a beard in the front row, wearing a blue seventy helix with floatation pads stuffed down the side of his legs! The other guys were joking with me that I clearly bought the “non-premium” helix 😉 Unfortunately there is no way to identify someone on the swim, so I assume he just got away with it…

Swim (1:03:02)

With 1 minute to go, I adjusted my cap and it tore down the middle. Fortunately there was a referee standing on the beach and he was able to give me a new one with 30 seconds to spare. Half a minute later, BOOM! the canon was fired and we were off… I ran down the beach and towards the right, diving under the waves and started to swim. I started off strong but steady, and didn’t have very much contact until the first turn, where I had some but not as much as I’ve had in the past. I found a set of feet and just settled in behind him. He seemed to be sighting well, so after a while I just put my head down and followed him. We were swimming right of the main group, maybe a little further than we needed to, but I took the option of just staying on his feet.

Screenshot 2014-04-14 at 4.11.33 PM

I’m in there somewhere on the right (wide turn)

At the half way turn, he followed the main bunch, who were now swimming too far to the right. Grant and I had worked out the sighting during the week, and figured out that we need to aim straight for the radisson hotel on the way back. These guys were swimming far to the right of that, so I decided to leave the group (and the good feet!) in favor of swimming straight. It turned out to be a good decision, as I made some ground on that group of swimmers. I found a new set of feet and followed him most of the way back. We rounded the final buoy and started the final 300m back to shore. As we were getting close, I saw some swell approaching and decided to catch a wave in. My intentions were great, however my foot and calf cramped up as the wave got to me, so instead of catching a ride I got pummeled underwater – LOL. Once out, there was a little run up the beach, and up some stairs, under the arch where the timing mat was. I saw the clock reading 1:03, which although was much slower than I would have liked, was a lot better than I’ve seen in the past. By the way, Grant does virtually no swim training and came out 30 seconds behind me… damn that’s annoying! 😉

I grabbed my bike bag off the rack, headed into the change tent, stripped the wetsuit and put on my helmet, then started the fairly long run to the bike racks. I passed quite a lot of guys who were running in their bike shoes (I was still barefoot). It turns out I actually passed 38 people in T1! That’s free time! After a rather long run around to the bike racks, I grabbed my bike and headed to the mount line. As I jumped on, I heard something fall to the ground. Fearing it was some part of my bike, I looked back and saw my digital pressure gauge lying on the ground. For some reason I had left it in my shoe! Oh well I wasn’t about to go back for it now…

Bike

I saw Nikki as I rode out of T2, she said I was 17th in my AG coming out of the swim. This would help me track my place as I progressed through the field on the bike. As planned, I started off riding easy, allowing me to warm up and get the blood flowing into the legs.

captain t1

 

Shortly after the start, it’s pretty much a gradual uphill for 7 miles, where I kept the power on the higher end of my race pace, but not too high (for me, this meant around 250 watts). After the climbing there is a long fast downhill where I was hitting 42 mph (68 kph) – the wind becomes slightly gusty and side-on half way down this hill, and my bike was shaking around a bit. Holding on for dear life, I made it down but made a mental note to go a bit slower on lap 2. After a long fast rolling section with a tailwind, we turned right into the new hilly section of the course. The climbs were pretty manageable, and I had to really hold myself back; my power was reading above 300w and I was trying to stay at around 280w. Several bikers flew past me, stomping up the hill like their lives depended on it. I had to be really self controlled here and not give in to ego. In most Ironman races outside of kona, I’m usually the one doing most of the overtaking, and this time there were quite a few guys riding past me, fast. I managed to keep my composure and ride my own race, sticking to the plan I had trained to. After the hills, there were some long fast downhills, where I think I lost quite a bit of time due to riding like a chicken. There was one hill after Colleen Glen, where it’s pretty easy to get up to 45 mph / 70 kph, but the catch is that there are two speed bumps half way down! I took them at about 38 mph but there were guys flying past me over these things… kudos to them, I really need to grow a pair!

Going all the way down you get to the farthest end of the bike course, with amazing views of the maitland sand dune and the Indian ocean. The scenery truly is spectacular! One more climb, followed by another fast downhill on rough road surface, and you get to to a long coastal stretch back home, on this day straight into a headwind (easterly wind, unusual for this time of year). It was a long grind, with great views, all the way back to transition and the start of lap 2. I knew I was on track for a slower time than expected, so any time goals were immediately discarded and I began to focus on the numbers that matter.

Ironman South Africa 2014 from Bigshot Media on Vimeo.

It was time for a quick check on nutrition. I had already gone through 1500 calories in 2.5 hours, on the upper end of my intake range. Based on my metabolic testing I knew I was burning 800-900 carbs/hour at this pace, but only taking in 550-600. I could feel that I was at the max of my intake ability (slight feeling of “fullness”), so I decided to hold back for 40 minutes and only take in water. I also took a look at my TSS (if you don’t ride with a power meter, this won’t mean anything to you). In general I would aim for a TSS of around 300 for an IM bike split, maybe a little more because I’m able to take in a higher than average number of calories. However after lap 1 my TSS was reading 170, which was way more than it should have been. So in addition to backing off the nutrition for a bit, I decided to dial it back on the bike for a while. I focused on keeping RPE (perceived exertion) at around 4/10 creeping up to 5/10 on the hills, and I took every single opportunity to coast where I could, over 28 mph. The wind had picked up on lap 2, and I was even more cautious on the downhills. Guys would get about 60-70 seconds ahead of me on the downhills, but I kept on telling myself that I wouldn’t be able to run with a broken arm! It was a huge relief to get to the bottom of Maitland hill – I knew I’d get home in one piece from there without wiping out. The downhills were done, but I was faced with the final menace – 50km of riding into a heavy headwind. I focused on keeping my watts steady, I didn’t push too hard, and just tried to conserve as much energy as possible. My watts were still too high, but I was just doing what I needed to do in order to move forward!

At this stage I wasn’t sure how I was placed, but I knew I was doing ok since I had passed a few pro men, and then rode past Natascha Badmann who was struggling with her small body into the wind. I focused on getting the last of my fuel in, with the marathon now within sight I had to be prepared and ready to run well. I knew I had biked a little too hard, and that I would be at risk of glycogen depletion on the run if I didn’t slow down and eat more.

As we drew near to T2, I saw a few of the male pros on their first lap of the run. I didn’t see any age groupers, but I knew there will still some ahead of me. Despite riding easier, my TSS was still really high, now almost at 350. I knew that I’d need to start running on the conservative side in order to finish strong. I entered T2, grabbed my run bag, put on my socks and shoes, grabbed my bottle (frozen coke), sunglasses, garmin and cap and headed out on the start of the marathon.

Run

I started off at what felt like a very easy pace. I was aiming for 7:15-7:30 / mile, so I was surprised when I glanced down at my garmin and saw 6:55 / mile. I knew this was too fast, so I eased up. When I looked down again I was at 6:40 / mile! I consciously just let it flow and ran as easily as I comfortably could, but I still went through mile 1 in 6:52. Miles 2 and 3 were similar with 7:03 and 7:10. After that there is a bit of uphill, and no spectators, through the “university section”. I did a few miles around 7:45 before settling in to my goal pace of 07:30. At this stage I was in 4th place, but I didn’t know. I knew I was in the top 6 (there were 6 slots) but I really had no idea what place I was.
The crowd support was fantastic. It was great to see my mom and dad, Nikki, Ben, Caleb, and other friends Ron, Shara, Tam, Roy, Brian, Brendan, Neil, Louise and more! This is what it’s like racing on home turf! Halfway came by pretty quickly, then it was the next 5 miles that were a bit of a grind. 07:30 no longer felt easy, in fact 07:45 felt like hard work! I was trying to get more coke down but was just really sick of drinking. I allowed myself a few miles over 8:00/mile until I hit mile 18, when I started to dig deep. I told myself just get through the next few miles, and then you’ll just have 10K to go. I’ve done 10K hundreds of times. I told myself that I just needed to dig deep and imagine I was starting a 10K right then.

IMG-20140406-WA0004

Meantime, back in California at some ungodly hour, Michelle was checking the athlete tracker and sending updates to my family via whatsapp. She knows exactly what type of info I need, which was super useful as I ran past Nikki who told me I was in 4th place, 3 minutes behind 3rd. I tried to go a bit faster, but couldn’t manage much of an increase. Laps 19-22 were all slower than 8:00/mile and I wasn’t gaining at all. At mile 23 I threw my bike bottle away and just focused on getting my form right. Every step was a very conscious and deliberate effort to get me back into the zone. Soon things started flowing again, I was moving fast and feeling more natural. As I headed back into town, I was running strong. At this stage I was more relieved about my ability to defend 4th place, than I was on getting to 3rd. I just assumed that I would not catch him. I ran past Nikki for the final time, and she told me I was catching him. Honestly I thought she was just saying that to make me feel better, but about 30 seconds later, with 2km to go, this guys runs up behind me, looks at my number and then starts looking me up and down. I see that he has 3 bands on his wrists, meaning he’s on his final lap. I (correctly) assumed this was 3rd place who I had just  passed without knowing it. I look him in the eye and throw down the gauntlet – you up for a sprint finish? Without hesitation he says nothing and just bolts away from me. As if by magic, my heavy feet spark to life and I give chase, staying right on his heels as we make our way to the finish line. This guy was smaller than me, and I knew he would have the edge over a long distance, but that I would probably have the edge in a short sprint. As the adrenaline kicked in, staying with him seemed effortless, and I started preparing myself mentally for the right moment to make a move. I knew that if I started too early, he would outrun me. I cast my mind back to my school days as a 400m athlete, and mentally put myself back in that situation, prepared to do a 400m sprint. I blocked out the fact that I was at the end of an ironman! We ran past my Dad – I heard him shout “go, Rob, you can take him! Take him Rob!”. We went past my mom, past Brendan and past several other people that I knew. All of them were shouting my name. All fatigue evaporated and I was ready to surge. We were still about 800m out, and I could see the bridge across the road which I knew was close to the finish line. We were now flying along at about 5:30/mile, weaving in and out of the slower runners who were now on their first lap. I patiently waited, the only thing I could hear was our feet pounding the pavement in unison. I could now see the coned section of the finishing chute looming up fast as we veered right, increasing pace with every stride. We were now running under 5:00/mile as we turned the final corner before the red carpet. I felt the energy surge through me as we took the corner, I stepped wide and past him on the outside. It felt like every fiber of my being was bursting with power as I accelerated down the red carpet, not looking back until I was over the line, safely in the unexpected podium position! Huge thanks to Lionel Roye for giving me a run for my money. Afterwards I checked his results on athlinks and he’s a badass athlete (regularly in the low 9s for ironman distance). I am honored to have had the opportunity to race him. He has, however, vowed revenge in Kona where we hopefully repeat a sprint finish down Alii Drive… (although given that he beat me by 30 mins in 2013, he’s probably safe!)

HR shooting up

HR spikes from 148-168 for the fast finish

That final sprint had me amped for hours. I had a quick massage before seeing my family in the finish area. They were over the moon with excitement and there was much celebration!

outside the massage tent with nephew Caleb and my Mom

outside the massage tent with nephew Caleb and my Mom

We then went back to the sidelines to support Grant. He was still looking strong despite having some major GI issues. It was a special moment being able to greet him as he crossed the finishing line. Even though this is an individual sport, there is something incredibly unifying about having overcome the same tough day together, suffered through the pain, and reached the finish line.

grant rob finish

The next day we attended the rolldown, and I’ve got to say the IMSA organizers really made this a celebration. What usually is a rather dull formality was turned into a real high production event, with Andrew Messick, CEO of Ironman/WTC, handing out a lei on stage to all Kona qualifiers. I was super stoked to meet my online friend Matteo (who raced in my AG @ IM Los Cabos and see him realize his long time dream of getting that kona slot! Congrats Matteo!


The awards banquet was superb. Great food, great atmosphere, and a super fun time!

Overall I cannot say enough good things about this race. The organizers are a level above all other IM races I’ve done outside of Kona in terms of the level of professionalism and their attention to detail. The course is spectacular (although tough), and the PE locals are super friendly and welcoming. If you are looking for a great race to do, do this one!

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)

 

_____________________________

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!

___________________________________

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

The road to Kona starts now!

I took a short break after Ironman Los Cabos and Oceanside, with several weeks of unstructured training (still swim, bike, run but basically doing whatever I felt like doing). I did some fun events, like the Silicon Valley Long Course triathlon where a marshal sent us the wrong way and I ended up riding 84 miles instead of 56, and I did the Tour of California Time Trial which is a super tough TT course.

TT start – Tour of California stage 6 San Jose

I also did some aero testing with ERO at the Veldodrome in LA, which yielded some super interesting results! Basically the position and equipment changes I made will save me about 9 minutes in an ironman… I might do a write up on that experience but I don’t want to give too much away! Let’s just say, that based on the findings I think we’ll see some different types of equipment surfacing at Kona in the next few years 😉

Anyway, now it’s time to get back to serious training! There are only 4 months before Kona, plus I have this little “race rehearsal” 3 weeks before in the form of Ironman Lake Tahoe… other than that I have no big races planned, so I can just focus on my training. I might do a few local races just to keep sharp though. Oh, and I forgot to mention we are expecting our 2nd child in June – talk about loading a lot on the plate!

I haven’t lost a huge amount of fitness. My swim is better than ever and my bike is strong. My running is pretty bad but on the way up. Coach Coady has me running 6 days a week now which really helps me to get back in running shape. The training structure for Kona is pretty simple:

Swim: maintain form, do lots of open water simulations in the pool, and improve speed. At the moment I am fast enough to swim a 1 hour Ironman swim, I just need to make sure I can do it in open water with 1500 other people… Kevin and I have been doing a bunch of OW simulations in the pool at work (like 4 of use sharing a lane, fighting for position and doing a lot of drafting), which is making a big difference.

Bike: I’m going to do several high intensity blocks over the next 2 months, with the goal of increasing my threshold power (currently around 310 watts, would be nice to get it up around 330). Then August / September do more endurance and race specific prep.

Run: focus on frequency with 6 runs a week, about 40 miles, building up weekly mileage as high as I can, with gradual increases. Once August hits, will focus more on race specific prep, and incorporate heat prep.

I’m a big user of Training Peaks, and their performance manager chart is a very useful tool for me. I plan my volume around a constant and gradual increase in critical training load (CTL), and building in enough recovery, measured by the training stress balance (TSB). You can see from the chart below that I’m only just ramping up the volume now. The pink line is my short term workload (7 day average) and the blue line is long term (42 day average). You can expect to see a decent increase in the blue line over the coming months, with a few spikes in pink.

CTL chart

 

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 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!

 

7 tips for a fast Ironman Recovery

How long does it take to recover from an Ironman race? Scour the forums and there are loads of opinions on how long you should wait between IM races (some say 6 months, some say 9 weeks, some pros have done back to back IM races 1 week apart). Do a google search for “Ironman Recovery” and there are plenty of articles out there with loads of advice about what to eat, when to do what etc. etc. Many of these articles are written by sports scientists and coaches who are probably better qualified than me to talk about the theory of our sport. So what qualifies me to share yet another opinion? Well, I have recovered successfully from several Ironman races. In fact recently, I have done 3 Iron distance races in 10 weeks:

Ironman Switzerland July 10th (11:02), then 3 weeks later…
Vineman July 30th (10:18), then 7 weeks later
Challenge Henley Sept 18th (10:28)

Obviously everyone is different, but for me 3 weeks is enough to recover. I did no real training between IMCH and Vineman, I just tapered again during the 3 weeks (1 week recovery, 1 week short efforts to sharpen, 1 week rest).

For the next one I had 7 weeks, which meant I could actually do some training in between:

1 week rest (8 hours)
1 week build (14 hours)
2 big weeks (training camp style, 23 & 22 hours)
3 week taper

In this case I was able to handle a reasonable training load of 14 hours after 1 week, and a high training load in weeks 3 & 4. So what are the secrets to good recovery?

1. Prepare well
If you are well trained, your recovery will be faster. The main cause of muscle damage is the run, so having some decent mileage in your legs will limit the soreness. Biking fitness is even more critical though, because this is where you spend the longest part of your day. I know several athletes who never ride much more than 4 hours on their weekend training rides. That’s not enough. My usual long ride is around 6-7 hours, and is at least 5.5 hours. This will enable you to start the run less fatigued, but it will also limit the total stress of the day. If your training rides are only 4 hours long, then an Ironman bike leg is going to feel very tough.

2. Get your race nutrition right.
If you run out of carbs during the race (aka “bonking”), this will impact your recovery after the race. Keep well nourished and you’ll race better plus recover better. Try to eat straight after the race if you can (I usually can’t). Make sure you take in a lot of protein. I always have a protein shake after my race, sometimes two.

3. Eat a lot of protein.
My 2 shakes after the race give me around 70g protein which is key. Continue taking in protein for the whole week, at least 2g per kg of bodyweight per day. I like to take in 3g per kg per day. In the week following a race I eat whatever I want, provided that I take in my 220g of protein every day. Most sports scientists will tell you to eat a lot of carbs for recovery, but they are thinking in terms of glycogen replacement  which will enable you to do a hard workout again. Your goal is not to do a hard workout, it’s to recover from muscle damage. Protein is what will help you to do this. Carbs help too but not if you don’t eat enough protein. I eat eggs /egg whites for breakfast, lean meat for lunch and dinner, plenty of veggies, plus 2-3 protein shakes throughout the day.

4. Get active
Although tempting, don’t sit around doing nothing in the days after your race. Some type of active recovery will get blood & oxygen flowing to your muscles which will speed recovery. I generally avoid running and stick to light swimming & cycling. A 20-30 min light session every day will get you recovered faster than being a couch potato. Do some stretching each day, and I really love using my triggerpoint grid roller.

5. Sleep
Try to sleep more than usual. This will enable the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) that will aid your recovery. Avoid sugars before you sleep, they will stop HGH secretion. Try to add in a short nap during the day if you are able to do that.

6. Lots of water
Drink, Drink, Drink as much as you can (within reason). This will help to flush toxins from your system which will get you back on track quickly. Also make sure you eat foods rich in anti-oxidants which will complement your water guzzling (my favourite antioxidant food = blueberries)

7. Plan your next race.
Once your IM race is over, your massive goal is now over, your purposeful training is done. This means that you might feel lost and without purpose. Book your next race.  Personally, I book my next IM race, but then also something sooner like a local half marathon or 10k. I really enjoyed doing my IM races so close to each other because it meant that I had to be on form once, and then just capitalize on that form for the other 2 races.

So in conclusion – Ironman recovery can take a lot quicker than you think! Good luck and speedy recovery!

How long does it take to recover from an Ironman race? Scour the forums and there are loads of opinions on how long you should wait between IM races (some say 6 months, some say 9 weeks, some pros have done back to back IM races 1 week apart). Do a google search for “Ironman Recovery” and there are plenty of articles out there with loads of advice about what to eat, when to do what etc. etc. Many of these articles are written by sports scientists and coaches who are probably better qualified than me to talk about the theory of our sport. So what qualifies me to share yet another opinion? Well, I have recovered successfully from several Ironman races. In fact recently, I have done 3 Iron distance races in 10 weeks:

Ironman Switzerland July 10th (11:02), then 3 weeks later…
Vineman July 30th (10:18), then 7 weeks later
Challenge Henley Sept 18th (10:28)

Obviously everyone is different, but for me 3 weeks is enough to recover. I did no real training between IMCH and Vineman, I just tapered again during the 3 weeks (1 week recovery, 1 week short efforts to sharpen, 1 week rest).

For the next one I had 7 weeks, which meant I could actually do some training in between:

1 week rest (8 hours)
1 week build (14 hours)
2 big weeks (training camp style, 23 & 22 hours)
3 week taper

In this case I was able to handle a reasonable training load of 14 hours after 1 week, and a high training load in weeks 3 & 4. So what are the secrets to good recovery?

1. Prepare well. If you are well trained, your recovery will be faster. The main cause of muscle damage is the run, so having some decent mileage in your legs will limit the soreness. Biking fitness is even more critical though, because this is where you spend the longest part of your day. I know several athletes who never ride much more than 4 hours on their weekend training rides. That’s not enough. My usual long ride is around 6-7 hours, and is at least 5.5 hours. This will enable you to start the run less fatigued, but it will also limit the total stress of the day. If your training rides are only 4 hours long, then an Ironman bike leg is going to feel very tough.

2. Get your race nutrition right. If you run out of carbs during the race (aka “bonking”), this will impact your recovery after the race. Keep well nourished and you’ll race better plus recover better. Try to eat straight after the race if you can (I usually can’t). Make sure you take in a lot of protein. I always have a protein shake after my race, sometimes two.

3. Eat a lot of protein. My 2 shakes after the race give me around 70g protein which is key. Continue taking in protein for the whole week, at least 2g per kg of bodyweight per day. I like to take in 3g per kg per day. In the week following a race I eat whatever I want, provided that I take in my 220g of protein every day. Most sports scientists will tell you to eat a lot of carbs for recovery, but they are thinking in terms of glycogen replacement  which will enable you to do a hard workout again. Your goal is not to do a hard workout, it’s to recover from muscle damage. Protein is what will help you to do this. Carbs help too but not if you don’t eat enough protein. I eat eggs /egg whites for breakfast, lean meat for lunch and dinner, plenty of veggies, plus 2-3 protein shakes throughout the day.

4. Get active
Although tempting, don’t sit around doing nothing in the days after your race. Some type of active recovery will get blood & oxygen flowing to your muscles which will speed recovery. I generally avoid running and stick to light swimming & cycling. A 20-30 min light session every day will get you recovered faster than being a couch potato.

5. Sleep
Try to sleep more than usual. This will enable the release of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) that will aid your recovery. Avoid sugars before you sleep, they will stop HGH secretion. Try to add in a short nap during the day if you are able to do that.

6. Lots of water
Drink, Drink, Drink as much as you can (within reason). This will help to flush toxins from your system which will get you back on track quickly. Also make sure you eat foods rich in anti-oxidants which will complement your water guzzling (my favourite antioxidant food = blueberries)

7. Plan your next race. Once your IM race is over, your massive goal is now over, your purposeful training is done. This means that you might feel lost and without purpose. Book your next race.  Personally, I book my next IM race, but then also something sooner like a local half marathon or 10k.

Post-Ironman Power Test

Today I did another power test, 6 days after Ironman Switzerland. The purpose of this test is to compare it to my pre-Ironman power tests and gauge my recovery. The test is a standard power threshold test, where I warm up for 10-15 mins then ride as hard as I can for 30 mins, taking the average watts for the 30 mins as my threshold at power. For more info on testing protocols check out Joe Friel’s blog post on setting zones.

I started training with a power meter in June, so I only have 2 previous power tests to work with:

June 18th:  261 watts – after a heavy week and not recovered
July 2nd: 272 watts – after 2 weeks taper & 1 week before IM CH, fully recovered

So the goal today was to see if I was anywhere close to the 272 watts, that would tell me if my state of recovery was similar to what it was 1 week before IM (272 watts). Surprisingly, I managed 282 watts, which implies that I was a complete slacker during the Ironman race and should have raced harder… or it could mean that the IM race somehow made me fitter in one week and that my recovery plan is working well. Perhaps an alternative explanation is that I need to practice doing these tests, and they will get more accurate over time. However I have been doing this type of test for many years to get my heart rate zones, it’s just the power measurement that’s new.

date avg power avg HR distance
June 18, 2011 261 – splits 155 17.97
July 2, 2011 272 – splits 155 19.98
July 16, 2011 282 – splits 156 19.55

 

You’ll notice that my average speed was higher during my July 2nd test. This is probably due to it being slightly more windy today, plus I was wearing my normal helmet and not my aero helmet.

Either way, the good news is that it means I’ll be ok to race Vineman (Ironman distance) on July 30th. Bring it on!



Ironman Recovery

Here is my Ironman recovery plan. I’ll let you know if it works well or not.  This is the 5th day since the race and I’m feeling about 90% recovered now. I need to recover fast because I have another one in just over 2 weeks from now (Vineman). My main areas of focus for a quick recovery are 1) to ensure that my nutrition during and immediately after the race are well planned & executed and 2) to consume a high protein diet in the days following the race.

Protein time

Protein time

1. Ensuring my race nutrition is well executed.

I seldom lose weight in a long race, making sure I consume enough carbs but also some protein during the race. For IM Switzerland I used the bike leg to consume a lot of nutrition: in the first 40km I drank 750ml of electrolyte, 750ml water, 2 x gels and a bar. Thereafter I had a gel every 20-30 mins, which is the frequency that works for me. I also consumed about 2L of coke and another 2L of water. On the run I find it difficult to eat but I managed 1 or 2 gels per hour and energy drink at every station. Once I finished, I had about 4 cups of the Powerbar recover drink. I tried to eat but I just wasn’t hungry. About 2 hours later I managed to eat a cheese burger.

2. After the race: eat lots of protein

in the days following the race, I aim to eat as much protein as possible in order to aid muscle recovery. I don’t focus on carbs since the goal is not to replenish glycogen stores, but to repair damaged muscle. Despite what people may say, you don’t need a high carb diet to repair your muscles. I aim for over 2g  of protein per kg of body weight per day, so for me the goal is 150g. To get there without eating a whole lot of meat, I supplement with protein drinks, egg whites and amino acids.

3. Training: don’t do nothing

I try to do some light exercise – “active recovery” for at least a week. This means swimming, and very easy running / cycling. This gets the blood flowing to your sore muscles, delivers oxygen to them and will help you recover sooner.

Anyway, that’s just the plan, I’ll let you know if it works out for me! So far I’m feeling good, I’m aiming to do a power test tomorrow morning in order to gauge how recovered I actually am.

[update: power test went well, 10 watts higher average power than my pre-IM test]