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!

Oceanside 70.3 Race Report

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

Oceanside sunset

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

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

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

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

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

Rob & Tyler at Ironkids booth

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Training update Feb 5th

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

11 hours total.

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

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

Training update Jan 22nd

153 days until IMCdA…

Lap pool @ Virgin Active Randburg, South Africa

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

18 hours total mainly swimming + biking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Training update Jan 2nd

I was happy to get a decent week of training despite having 2 x long haul flights in the middle of the week. 17.5 hours total with a lot of biking, a fair amount of running, but no swimming (mainly for logistical reasons).

view across JHB from cradle of humankind

I had a great new years day ride in the “cradle of humankind” – out past the Sterkfontein Caves, the site where Dr Robert Broom discovered a near complete skull of an early “hominid”/human ancestor in 1947

I was also pleased to have not been “bike jacked” – apparently this is rife in JoBurg but I’ve heard they target mainly high-end mountain bikes… so hopefully my Felt B2 Pro tri bike is less appealing to them… http://www.bicycling.co.za/articles/how-to-avoid-a-bike-jacking

 

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]

Ironman Switzerland Race Report

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

felt b2 pro

The race prepped B2 Pro

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

Carbalicious - my Friday "snacks"

Carbalicious - my Friday "snacks"

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

zurich

The Swiss countryside from the air

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

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

racked, wrapped & ready

racked, wrapped & ready

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

My race plan was pretty straightforward:

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

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

manic swim start

the start

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

try swimming smoothly in this

try swimming smoothly in this

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

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

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

fast n' flat near the lake

fast n' flat near the lake

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

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

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

Heartbreak Hill

Heartbreak Hill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons learned for next time:

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

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