7 signs that you are ready to take on an Ultraman

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For many people, the thought of Ultraman sounds a little crazy; 3 days, each of which takes about as long as an Ironman, seems intimidating at first (and indeed it should!). Ultraman originated as a challenge to circumnavigate the Big Island of Hawaii using swim/bike/run. It starts with a 10k point to point swim from the Kona pier, ending at Keauhou bay. You then jump on your bike and continue south before climbing up to Volcano, 90 miles in total. Day 2 is 171 miles from Volcano to Hawi, and day 3 is a 52 mile run from Hawi back to Kona.


 So how do you know if you are ready to take on this challenge? Of course I have done this race many times, and I’ve also coached a lot of people of various abilities to success at this distance. So I have a pretty good handle on what is required to take this challenge on. Note that you do not need to be fast in order to finish Ultraman, but you need a strong mindset and a lot of persistence. Here are some signs that you are ready for Ultraman:

You’ve done 10+ Ironman distance races and you are ready for the next challenge

Youv’e checked the Ironman box, but let’s face it, these days it feels like everyone is doing an Ironman. That feeling of the big challenge that first attracted you to Ironman is no longer there, and it feels like you could do an Ironman pretty comfortably. If you want to get out of your comfort zone, then Ultraman could be for you! For me, just that uncertainty of the 10km swim on day 1 felt really daunting, and honestly in my first Ultraman race I wasn’t sure that I would actually finish. Plus, the requirement to have a crew adds a whole new and interesting dimension to the event. If your teamwork is not up to scratch, you will fail!

You enjoy suffering. Actually more than that – you relish suffering

Suffering is par for the course at Ultraman. I have never done this race without experiencing the highest level of suffering at least once, and usually for extended periods of time. I mean let’s face it, even driving from Hawi back to Kona is a little bit painful. Riding it on a bike is no mean feat either. But running it!? Come on! You must be kidding me. Nope, there is no joke here. It is for real. But once you are in it, it actually doesn’t seem that bad. Until it does. Then it feels worse than you imagined it would. Finally it’s over and waves of relief are washing over you. The next day you wake up and enjoy the first of many days being unable to walk unassisted. Other than that, it’s great!

You are able to deal with adversity and unexpected situations

We’ve already covered suffering, which you may think is similar to adversity. But these are different things altogether. You see, adversity consists of multiple things whose sole purpose in life is to prevent you from finishing, and to inflict even more suffering on you than the regular default level of suffering. Some examples from recent memory include crew members not showing up, jellyfish stings,  life-force-draining currents, gale force winds, extreme rain, extreme heat, suicidal goats, erupting volcanos, malfunctioning equipment, road raging humans, vehicle failures, random spontaneous personality disorders, alligators. That is to name just a few. These things come up, and how you deal with these types of things will determine your readiness to take part.

You want to race in Kona, but on the scenic parts (unlike Ironman which is on the least exciting/scenic part of the Big Island)

For many, racing the Ironman in Kona is the ultimate dream. And then you race it, and realize it’s basically a bike ride on a highway through a lava-laden desert. In stark contrast, the Ultraman in Hawaii circumnavigates the entire island, covering 7 of the 8 distinct climate zones (we skip polar tundra but you are welcome to experience that before or after the race). Anyway, it really is a beautiful experience, and doing it by swim, bike and run is slow enough to really take things in vs doing it in a vehicle. 

You have the financial means to do this race

This is often a surprise to people, but wow the costs add up quickly! 

Entry fee: $1500-$2000 depending on which race.

Travel: flights for you and your crew, $2000-$8000 depending on where you’re traveling from. Obviously doing a local Ultraman is an easy way to eliminate most of this cost.

Accommodation: 3 days of the race plus at least 2 days before and usually 2 days after. That’s 7 days of housing that can easily reach $2000+ really quickly. Usually a lot more.

Food for you and the crew. Over and above your race nutrition, the costs for 3 meals a day (for you, your crew, and your family if they come along) adds up really quickly.

Equipment: at least one bike, but you are allowed a spare bike too. One TT bike is already expensive, so laying out another $4k-$8k on a second bike hurts the wallet. You can of course rent a second bike, which will only set you back a few hundred dollars. Or you can wing it and just go with one bike. Most people get away with this, but due to the adversity faced (see above) the chances are quite good that something happens with your primary bike. In 6 Ultraman races, I’ve rendered my primary bike useless on 2 occasions. One was a random tri bar pad failure and I had to switch to the second bike. The other was a crash rendering my bike unrideable, however I did not switch to the second bike due to my body being rendered as equally useless as the mangled bike. 

Coaching is also important, especially for first time Ultraman athletes. You could probably go it alone but you are bound to make mistakes that render all the above costs useless, and all that could be avoided by working with an experienced coach. This could be an investment of $300-$500 per month for at least 6 months.

So in summary, you’re probably in for at least $6K, more likely $10K+ which is obviously a significant amount of money.

You are physically capable

This sounds obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of ill-prepared people I see attempting Ultraman. So what kind of shape do you need to be in?

Swimming: Ultraman has a 10k swim. A 10K swim is hard. For Ultraman races with a lake swim, your swim performance can be quite predictable.  For Hawaii, you are faced with currents and rough waters, which means that being a stronger swimmer is important. If you cannot consistently swim long intervals faster than 1:50/100m, then you should focus on improving your technique. In our experience with coached athletes, by focusing on swim technique they can get to consistent paces of 1:40/100m and faster without any improvements in fitness. That is the ballpark you need to get to in order to comfortably swim the 10K without risking the day 1 cutoff time. 

Biking: It’s hard to measure biking ability in a way that is helpful in a general sense.  Watts/kg is a relatively good way of estimating what it takes, though. A rough benchmark if you want to finish the race is around 2 watts/kg. Of course, conditions could impact that, but for normal conditions that is the general benchmark. For a 75kg athlete this would be around 150 watts that you would need to average on day 2. For day 1, you first have to swim and therefore that will have the most impact on your ability to make the cutoff. 

Running: You don’t need to be fast to complete a double marathon in the cutoff time of 12 hours (a 12 hour double marathon is 13:44/mile or 8:32/km which is basically a fast walk). But you do need the stamina and endurance to make it. Just being on your feet for 12 hours is hard, and ideally you’d want to have a buffer in case things go wrong. You should aim to be able to hit around 11:30 per mile which gives you a 2 hour buffer for the inevitable disasters.

You have the time to do the training

You will need to have at least 15 hours per week available for training, especially in the last 4-5 months before your race. In addition, you will need to schedule at least a few weeks of 25-30 hours of training (not consecutively, but spaced out within the last 3 months). We have had athletes complete Ultraman on 10-12 hours per week, but they were really in danger of the time cut off every day, and that is not a fun way to experience Ultraman.

If you’re ready to start your Ultraman journey, sign up today!

New Ironman Boulder Bike Course 2018

Boulder 2018 has a new bike course. I think it will still be relatively fast, even though you have a few short, sharp climbs. Compared to previous years, there is less time spent on 36, and in 2018 you will descend Nelson road (FAST) instead of climbing it.

Here is the strava route and here is the GPX file. I made the turnaround on Hygiene road at a place which will make the course 112 miles, so let’s hope the organizers do the same! Also, here is the course in Best Bike Split, which as the name suggests, will allow you to predict your bike split.

Here is my summary of the new course:

  • start with out and back on diagonal – this will be flat and fast
  • west on Neva rd – slight uphill but still fast. Short kicker of a hill at the end
  • 36 to Nelson – rolling
  • Nelson eastbound – FAST – not technical but bring some extra balls since you may have a tailwind too.
  • St Vrain – gradual uphill with a kicker at the end
  • Hygiene eastbound – fast – road surface a little rough but not too bad
  • Hygiene westbound – gradual climb with a short kicker
  • 36 Hygiene rd to Lyons – quite fast and potential cross wind
  • 66 east – flat and fast – potential small debris from trucks
  • 75th, 73rd back to diagonal – fast and rolling

There are not really any technical sections – the time for good bike handling and confidence is on the Nelson and Hygiene eastbound sections, but they are not technical at all.

Finally, enjoy the beautiful scenery!


Ironman Boulder 2016 Race Report

Total: 10:12

1:00 Swim  (good)
4:55 Bike:  (started great, ended bad!)
4:11 Run/Walk (started well, then went downhill/uphill? from there)

image credit: Michelle Gray Photography

image credit: Michelle Gray Photography

I have to say, it’s pretty awesome doing a race in your home town. I get to train on every part of the course whenever I like, I can sleep in my own bed and eat my own food. There is no bike transport, and everything is easy to get ready. On top of that, I know many of the volunteers, supporters and other athletes. So it’s a lot of fun and not much stress at all!

Since I had already turned down a Kona slot at IMAZ, and I wasn’t planning on taking one here either (although I did think about it), my main goal of the race was to have a big training day, and go sub 9 hours. I was also going to ride the bike pretty hard, as to make the run a bit harder. Using bestbikesplit.com I calculated that something in the region of 4:25  would be achievable on around 250 watts. This was close to the bike course record, so I had that in the back of my mind as a goal. I programmed the course into my Garmin so that it would give me the ETA while I was racing, to see if I was on target for the time goal.

My day started very early. Despite living less than 3 miles from the start, it was mandatory for all athletes to take a shuttle from Boulder High School. So I had to get a taxi 8 miles to get to the shuttles, then get a shuttle all the way back to the swim start. I woke up at 3am, had 3 scoops of UCAN plus a serving of Isopure Colombian coffee whey protein. I had a small amount of oatmeal but I had zero appetite so couldn’t get much down. The zTrip (taxi) arrived at 3:45am, a seemingly cool Rastafarian driver chilling to the beats of Bob Marley as we set off towards downtown. However, not all was as it seemed. This guy kept on randomly swerving his car, accelerating and decelerating, and braking, despite us being the only vehicle on the road. Soon we came up on two yellow school busses that were side-by-side… fortunately for us a 12 foot gap opened up in between them, which coincidentally was exactly the length of the taxi, so no problem we squeezed through!  I wondered if I’d actually make it to the start line in one piece… then lucky for me the road was blocked so I could get out and walk the 2 blocks to the High School.

I first put my frozen bottle in my run bag, then dropped off my special needs run bag before getting into the school bus. It was a short ride to the swim start, and I arrived around 4:45am. There was plenty of time to pump tires, set up nutrition and then chill out before the start. I hung out with Chris Blick (ex Dimond now Roka) until the start, and it was cool to see my athlete Amy Craft who was also using this race as an Ultraman training day. Her husband John was already practicing his crewing duties, with a backpack full of water, gatorade and athletic-friendly snacks. He even gave me a bottle of water which saved me a long walk over to the athlete water area (thanks John!).


Me and Chris – ready to rock

Chris and I headed over to the swim start at about 6am, and quickly dipped in the res to get some water in the wetsuits. Then we just hung out until the start. I saw Conrad Rodas a few minutes before the start – I let him go right to the front since I knew even with an all-out effort he’d be too fast for me. I also saw a guy that beat me in the previous weekend’s Bare Bones 3 mile swim (Andy Freeman), but I knew I could swim with him so I stood just behind him.


Me looking serious. Chris not so much

Me looking serious. Chris not so much

At 6:20 the cannon sounded and we were off. I started a few rows back to let the really fast guys go. Since we hadn’t warmed up I started as easy as I could, just to try and settle into it on Andy’s feet. For the most part I had very little contact, but a few hundred meters in, Andy stopped suddenly (presumably google malfunction), then gave a huge breaststroke kick right into my face with his heel – I got a nice shiner to show for that one!

a heel to the face will do this

a heel to the face will do this

The rest of the swim was pretty relaxed. I lost Andy but had feet to draft off for about 75% of the way. I did zig-zag a bit which always seems the case in this lake. A few times I felt that I was swimming way too easy, so I would start swimming really hard. However I was not gaining much ground over the people around me when I did that, so in the end I just settled back into the easy pace until the end.


I exited the water just over an hour, in 41st place overall, which was slightly faster than expected. I ran up the ramp and found my neighbor Lara Edwards (Billy’s wife) who was volunteering as a wetsuit stripper. She made me lie on the grass and they had the wetsuit off in no time at all. I picked up my transition bag, which only had my helmet inside, and ran through the change tent, only stopping to give the volunteers my wetsuit and goggles. I put on my helmet and then put my sleeves on while I was running to the bike (I swim with the sleeves rolled down, even with the wetsuit swim).

I got to the bike, ran up the hill to the mount line and then started my favorite part of the day! The first 20 miles of the bike course is a rolling/hilly section that goes past my house. First, there is an out-and-back section along hwy 119, which allowed me to see the leaders coming in the opposite direction. I did a quick time check when I passed the same place and was about 10 minutes back. Conrad and I had spoken before the race, and based on our assumptions that he would be 10 minutes ahead, and the difference in our planned bike power, we estimated that I’d catch him at around the time that we started lap 2. So I was on track at this point. A part of my pacing strategy was to avoid the temptation to ride the hills hard, and just keep my power around 250 watts. I was feeling really good, so I went a little over this, ending up around 265 watts but it didn’t feel like I was working too hard. I did, however, work hard a few times dropping a Colombian guy named Felipe.

Let’s take a short interlude to talk about Felipe. My very first experience with him in this race I thought to myself “This guy belongs in Kona”. Now, many of you may think that’s a compliment, but let me explain what I mean. You see in Kona, there is this phenomenon that you don’t really see in other races. You pass a rider, and next thing he sprints back past you, realizes he can’t sustain the power, and then sits up right in front of you and slows down. The rules say that you need to drop back 12 meters once someone passes you, so stuff like that really kills your momentum. But at Kona, it feels like more than of 3/4 of riders do this. In the end, I believe he did get his Kona slot (congrats Felipe) so all of you racing on October 8th, be sure to say hi to him when he blasts by then sits up in front of you on the big island! I can assure you he won’t be the only one…

Anyway, so I burned some matches riding away from Felipe, and soon he was out of sight. This section ends with a fast descent down Lookout road with a sharp left turn into 75th. I saw my friend Adam Hecht on the corner who was doing a superb job of cheering! Next I saw Billy Edwards wearing a clown wig, who told me I was now in 11th place, 9 minutes back. A few hundred feet later I saw Michelle and the kids – she somehow managed to take a few photos, give me a split, and cheer at the same time!

Thanks Michelle for the photo! Taken while cheering and making sure 2 kids didn't run into the road

Thanks Michelle for the photo! Taken while cheering and making sure 2 kids didn’t run into the road

Now that I knew how far back I was, I could count off the number of people I passed.  Between this point and mile 46, I worked my way up to 6th place. Having said that, I was obviously “in the zone” since I actually passed Conrad without realizing it. I must have counted him in my head, but been oblivious that it was him I was passing. As I turned onto hwy 66, I did a time check with the ETA on my Garmin. It had me arriving at 11:51am, which was pretty much on track for my plan. I could see a rider in the distance ahead of me (which I think was eventual winner Clay Emge). My power up to this point was on track, 259 watts, but I was feeling really good so I upped it a bit and focused on the chase.

This is me still feeling good. About to overtake Conrad but so focused I didn't see him.

This is me still feeling good. About to overtake Conrad but so focused I didn’t see him.

About a mile down the road, I felt the dreaded thump, thump, thump of my rear wheel… UGH – a flat tire. I jumped off the bike and initiated Plan A, which was my latex canister. I always use one in training so that I’m familiar with how it works and how well it works. Usually, it take 30-45 seconds to fix a flat using this method. It all started well, and the tire inflated. But as soon as I took the tube of the canister off, the foam started spewing out of the valve. It went all over the wheel and there was nothing I could do to stop it. Plan B… let’s change the tube. All good and well, except that the tire was now so slimy from the foam that I couldn’t get it off. I tried for several minutes but to no avail. Fortunately, the race neutral support guys arrived soon after this. They helped me change the tube, but alas it would not inflate (another valve issue). He had another tube in the vehicle, so we tried that one, and third time lucky, it worked). While I was standing there watching everyone pass me again (Conrad Rodas, Bob McRae, Steve Johnson, Frikkin Felipe and more than 10 others), I thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the break and drink some of my nutrition. This sounds like a smart thing to do, but really it wasn’t, because I was already 100% on top of my fueling before the flat happened, and I was already pretty much at the max.

All in all I was on the side of the road for 15 minutes, and when I got back on the bike I felt terrible. Firstly, my legs were now cold and stiff. No problem – I could just ride easy for a few minutes until it came back. Secondly, I now felt bloated and sick, probably because I was just eating stuff for 15 minutes without being too conscious of how much I was having. My power was just not there – I was now struggling to hit 210 watts – and even at that power I didn’t feel good at all. Also, my bike time goal was now obviously out of the window, and I really didn’t feel like chasing those guys down all over again. So mentally I started to try and figure out some new goals. I figured that since I was riding easy now, I may as well use the time left to solve my GI issues and save my legs for the run. For the next 90 minutes I pretty much just drank water, and eventually my stomach cramps disappeared. I started taking in fuel gradually, and then felt better and better towards the end. Mentally I still felt despondent about the bike. I was coming in around 4:55, over 30 minutes slower than expected. Still, I was arriving at about 12:20, so with a decent 3:15 run I could still go under 9:20. I was also feeling very happy that my stomach was now all good again.

I dismounted the bike and then started the very long run into T2, on the Boulder High School athletic track. I handed off the bike, grabbed my run bag and made my way to the change tent. Clown-haired Billy Edwards was easy to spot, waiting with Brandon Watson to take my bag and get my stuff ready. These guys were awesome! It felt like I sat down for about 15 seconds and they had me ready to go. I started the run and immediately felt great. I always try and run by feel (EASY) for the first few minutes and then look at my Garmin to check the pace. My goal was to start at 8 min/mile (3:30 marathon) and then speed up if I felt good later on. I was a bit shocked when I looked down – pace was reading 6:52 per mile which is way too fast (that’s a 3 hour marathon). I tried to slow down as much as comfortably possible, but still was hitting just over 7 min/mile. Just before mile 2 I stopped to use the porta potty, so including that stop I was back on goal pace (2nd mile 8:15). The next few miles I was in the low 7’s but I felt good so I just kept going. I went through 10k in about 45 minutes, which was a little faster than I would have liked, but I still felt good. Over the last few months I’ve been struggling to get my run speed back, so overall this speed represented a good training breakthrough for me.

I was also on track with calories – one can of mountain dew and 6 Glukos energy tabs, for about 250 calories. Then suddenly at around mile 8, I couldn’t take anything more in. Even water was tough to take down. I had some Mexican coke waiting in special needs at mile 10, which I managed to get down. But after that, everything was a struggle. I ran with Conrad for a while, which helped a lot – it was fun to run with someone and shoot the breeze a bit. I got progressively slower as the run went on.  I was happy to see Michelle around mile 15. I walked with her a bit and it was great to have a conversation in the middle of this run. I saw John Craft after that, but he had changed clothes since I saw him that morning, and I was a bit out of it, so I couldn’t figure out who it was until he said “Rob! It’s me, John!”… that should probably have been a sign that I was not quite “with it”! Around that time, I came across a woman (#632) lying on the ground, convulsing and throwing up. I stopped to help her and see if she was ok. She was totally out of it, asking me what she should do. I told her to try and throw up as much as possible, get some water, and walk it out. I stayed with her until the medic came and then continued my run. She was only at about mile 4, so I thought there was no way she was going to finish. But I’d later see her crossing the line in the race day video – anything is possible!

After mile 16, I started walking the aid stations, and my walks got longer and longer. I wasn’t even looking at my Garmin any more, I was just running the pace that I could run.  Michelle rode next to me on a bike for a bit – it was really good to have a bit of company out there. I saw Amy Craft a few times on the run, going the opposite direction – she was looking strong which made me feel better too. She is going to nail that Ultraman run!

The last 6 miles was painful. Literally every step hurt. I’ve never had that in any race before (even the Ultraman 52 mile run was not this painful), and this is the first race where I’ve had to walk downhill just because my quads hurt that bad! I saw Adam Hecht again with 5k to go – not only was he cheering for me, but he made all the other spectators around him cheer for me as well… that’s another great thing about a hometown race – so much local support!

Looking better than I felt down finisher chute

Looking better than I felt down finisher chute

I never thought those last 3 miles would end, but eventually they did. Michelle, Adam, and my teammate Bob McRae were all at the finish line. Bob had an amazing race with an age group win and a superb time of 9:12.

Me and Bob McRae - he totally crushed this race with 6th overall and an AG win in 45-49

Me and Bob McRae – he totally crushed this race with 6th overall and an AG win in 45-49. Thanks Adam for the pic

So, it may have not been the race I wanted, but it was a great training day that kicks off my Ultraman Hawaii build. I had a great swim, my bike performance was great (until it wasn’t) and I have some run pace back. As with all bad races, I like to take away some learnings. The 2 main learning for me are 1) don’t take in too much nutrition if you’re standing around for 15 minutes 2) I need to come up with a simpler run nutrition plan for Ironman racing.

Overall, I loved this event and I hope to do it again in 2017!

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Ironman Boulder Bike Course Preview (2016)

The IM Boulder Bike course is fast and not technical. It has some elevation gain but it’s mostly just rolling. The longest hill is Nelson rd but it’s not very steep. I race this course with a 54 tooth chainring and an 11-23 cassette.

Here is my strava route map for the 2016 course. My very short summary of the sections:

  • Out of T1, down and up diagonal: take it easy and settle in, be careful and be patient at the turnaround on the bike path (where you transition from southbound diagonal to northbound, just over 2 miles in)
  • 52, 287, Lookout is hilly. You’ll be feeling fresh and tempted to ride too hard. Don’t. Unless you’re one of my rivals, then I suggest you go for the strava KOM on all segments in this part of the course.
  • Jay Rd is a false flat (slight uphill but you won’t even notice)
  • 36 is rolling
  • Neva Rd is super fast and a great surface. This is most technical part of the course, even though it’s not technical at all.
  • Nelson Rd is the longest climb, but it’s not super steep.
  • Back on 36, heading to 66 is fast.
  • The rest is flat or rolling
  • Be careful going over the railroad tracks just after Hygiene on 75th. Every year hundreds of bottles are ejected here. (and also, make sure your bottles are secure so that they do not become part of this statistic)
  • Repeat the above, except for the 52, 287, Lookout section

Here’s a quick video of the “technical” parts of Neva Rd – as you can see, nothing to worry about.

Ironman Boulder Swim Course Preview

I recorded a short video looking at the Ironman Boulder Swim Course. It’s just a quick recording I made to help those who are unable to check out the course beforehand (since there is no pre-swim of this course). Apologies for the windy turbulence in the audio, but this was just a “quick and dirty” recording!

The key points:

  • It may or may not be wetsuit legal, come prepared for both
  • The visibility is bad, and most people don’t swim straight here. So choose good reference points to sight off, and sight often
  • Don’t go out too hard, it’s not fun going into oxygen debt at 5000ft!
  • Use a good anti fog. I use Sven Can See, see link below

The links for the retailers and products I mentioned:

  • If you want to swim in the reservoir before race day, drop in at the Boulder Aquatics Masters Open Water Swim on Tuesday and Thursday at 6:10am ($15 drop in fee)
  • Anti Fog: Sven Can See – I use the Anti Fog Spray (use code ROBGRAY15 to get a 15% discount on your order)
  • Colorado Multisport 2480 Canyon Blvd
  • To get a wetsuit or swimskin, visit the Roka booth at the expo.

Good luck and swim safe!

Boulder 70.3 Race Report



Quick facts:

Swim: 30 min (not bad since I was still standing on the beach when the gun went off!)
Bike: 2:06 (happy with that time, although it’s only 54 miles not 56, but from what I can tell 2nd fastest age group bike split after Steve Johnson who is also on a Dimond. Fast bike!)
Run: 1:51 (one of my worst run performances in a triathlon, but it’s what I had on the day)
8th place in M40-44 (shows that you can still go top 10 with a great bike and terrible run)

So, Boulder 70.3 – my first “home town” race.  The main goal of entering this race was to have a goal to work towards after Ultraman Florida. That ultra stuff made me a bit slow, especially my run, so I entered the 70.3 as a way to force myself into getting a bit of speed back in the legs. A week before I did the Colorado Triathlon (Olympic distance) with the same goal – to get a bit of sharpness back and tune me up for the 70.3

Doing a race in your home town makes things quite a bit easier:

– no bike transport, so your bike is just ready to go without much prep
– you can sleep in your own bed
– you can eat your own food
– so there is a lot less stress around race day

On Friday night I slept very well, got up early, ready to ride the “beater” mtb to the start (15-20 min ride). Then Michelle got up and said “I’ll just wake up the kids and drive you there”. Awesome – that will make things easier! So we drove off, got about 2 miles from the rez, and traffic came to a complete stand still. Ok no problem I still have an hour before the start. The traffic was slow, but I managed to scrape through and get into transition 15 mins before it closed (but an hour later than if I’d just ridden the mtb there. I quickly filled the torpedo bottle, pumped my tires and exited transition by 7:10. My wave was starting at 7:30 so I still had enough time (so I thought)  to get the wetsuit on and relax a bit. I pulled on my wetsuit bottoms but left the top unzipped while I drank some water and sat on the grass. The pro women went off, then I heard the announcer say “last call for men 40-44 orange caps”… it was only 7:20 so I thought it was strange that they were making a last call 10 minutes before my wave. Then I looked and saw all these guys in orange caps waiting in the water already. “Orange caps 1 minute to go”… oh crap.

And here I am standing on the beach trying to zip my wetsuit up… I run down the beach to the start, while zipping my suit up. Dammit I need to switch my garmin on… it comes up and I haven’t saved yesterday’s bike workout. dammit dammit. I save/delete/whatever that ride and get it into open water mode (still running to the water’s edge). As I get it into open water swim mode, the gun goes off. I see Michelle and the kids on the side and wave hello before diving into the water, while pushing start on my garmin. I don’t want to lose any valuable data! I’m literally the very last athlete to enter the water, but oddly this doesn’t phase me at all. I settle into a strong rhythm and swim all the way through my wave, with the exception of a few guys at the front who I just couldn’t catch up to.

About half way through the swim, I started overtaking some female pros. By the end I would have overtaken 5 female pros, so I knew I was at least not swimming that badly. The odd thing about those pro women is that they seem to be severely  lacking in tactical skills. I was swimming faster than them, but not by much. I would have been an ideal drafting target for them, but none of them got on my feet. It would have been legal for them to do that, and they probably would have cut a few minutes off their time, but they pretty much just ignored me as I swam past them.

For the last few hundred meters, I couldn’t see any other swimmers close by, so I just settled in and pushed hard to the end. I had planned on taking off my wetsuit in the water (because it’s easier) but when I tried to take it off, I had a near wardrobe malfunction when my LG bike suit came off with it. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to notice  that was happening, so I quickly put the bottom half back again! It was a long run to transition, and I used the time to put my sleeves on (I swim with the sleeves of the LG bike suit rolled around my waist). I was encouraged to see transition pretty much full, so I knew I was in a good position. I jumped on the bike and settled into a steady pace for the first few miles (242w for the first 3.5 miles). I overtook another 2 female pros before the 3 mile turnaround, and then once off the pedestrian path I hit the hammer a bit since I was now warmed up. Diagonal hwy, Jay, 36 up to Neva rd was 276w. After that, I was pretty much alone until I hit another group of female pros around mile 30. Neva/63 to Nelson was just a steady cruise at 260w. I started the Nelson road climb (about 4.5 miles) expecting to hit some higher power on the climb, but for whatever reason the power didn’t increase much on the hill – I averaged 277w even though I was targeting around 315w. After that I was back on the flats and the power came back again. My power up to the end dropped down to 260w but I was now riding by feel, just going for a solid tempo effort.

Here are some bike stats:

Normalized Power: 265w NP
Average Power: 255w AP
IF (Intensity factor) .90 (which +- equates to 90% of threshold power, about right for H.I.M.)
Variability index (VI): 1.04
Training Stress Score (TSS): 171 (which is about ideal for a HIM bike)
Average Speed: 25.6 mph (max was 46 mph)
Link to TP file

After turning from 66 onto 75th, my brain was obviously cloudy because I was confused as to what road I was on. And this is a road I ride several times every week! I was still alone and had not seen another age grouper yet. I had no idea what place I was in, but I knew there was at least one guy in my wave ahead of me on the swim, and I had not yet seen another age grouper on the bike. I turned into T2 with my best every half iron bike split (2:06) which I was super happy with (note it was only 54 miles not 56). As I wheeled my bike around the corner I saw 2 bikes already racked – one which I recognized as Steve Johnson’s bike (who by the way biked 2:05, also on his Dimond).  I knew there was no way I’d outrun Steve, so I started off the run hoping to just protect 3rd place. I settled into a comfy pace of 6:50 per mile, which I thought would be fast enough to hold off 4th place, especially since I didn’t think anyone behind me would be that close on the bike. A big mistake I made here was not taking my bottle of nutrition on the run. In the rush at the start of the day, I’d left my run bottle in my bag which was now lying under a tree. It was pretty close to the run course, but I didn’t go and get it, since that would feel a bit like “outside assistance from myself” – plus I knew it would be pretty easy to just get some calories at the aid station. This was where my next mistake came in – I didn’t really take anything except water at the aid stations. It was so hot, that the last thing I felt like was gatorade or coke, so i just stuck to ice and water. Considering I advise many athletes on fueling strategies for racing, this was both ironic and not-very-smart. Due to the heat I was walking all the aid stations anyway, so it would have been easy to get some more calories down if I’d had the presence of mind to do so.

The run went ok for the first few miles, then the heat just beat me down. It felt like my heart was over-beating (like palpitations), and it just didn’t feel like it would be healthy to push the pace. The last time I felt like this was Kona 2015, which was about the same temperature. My extra layer of high tech “bioprene” wasn’t exactly helping either. For those interested in acquiring bioprene, the method is very simple: just consume 1000 calories more than you need every day, and you will stack it on!

The Boulder 70.3 run course is 2 laps around the reservoir. There is zero shade, and a variety of surfaces – spongy grass, undulating dirt, and a bit of pavement. To be honest, it’s not the most fun run course. On lap 1 I averaged 7:42 / mile, but as I started lap 2 I really didn’t feel great.

Now, a quick aside to talk about positive splits vs negative splits. A negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st half, and a positive split is the opposite. In general, good pacing can result in a negative split. Originally I had wanted to pace this as a negative split, but I thought to myself “I really shouldn’t be thinking in a negative way, let’s be positive. I don’t need negativity in my life… so for the sake of positivity, let’s do a positive split!!!”

So on lap 2 I degraded to 8:48 / mile, which is basically my ultraman pace! It’s funny how your body just reverts to a certain pace when things get really bad. Even though my run pace was slow, it felt like I had given everything I had on the day, which is all you can ask for really. The best thing about this bad run experience is that it’s a good kick in the pants to get me back on track before Ironman Boulder. The 2 main things I need to do: a) get my weekly run miles up to 50-60 miles per week and b) go on a bioprene elimination mission. To be competitive at Boulder Ironman, I’ll need to drop to about 72kg (I’m currently 78kg). That is also what I need to weigh in order to survive the run at Ultraman Hawaii in November, so getting there by August will be a good start… I’ll aim to gain 1-2kg after Boulder, but then lose it again after I complete my final big UM training block.

So the 3 lessons!
1. Get to the race much earlier than you think you should
2. Don’t leave your run nutrition in your bag
3. Don’t be fat for a hot race!

Ultraman Florida Win (The Executive Summary)

In business, we use the “Executive Summary” a fair amount. The goal is provide the reader (usually a busy exec with very little time) the pertinent facts without them having to read through reams of information. Now, my race reports end up being very detailed, which is useful to many people, but it’s a lot of reading! The purpose of this post is to provide a short summary of the race for the reader, but it also allows me to get something out there, and then spend more time on the detailed report.  Here goes!

Last weekend I won Ultraman Florida, a 3 day event that includes a 6.2 mile swim and 90 mile bike on day 1, a bike ride of 171 miles on day 2, and a double marathon (52.4 miles) on day 3. It was an exciting last day, where my 56 minute lead was whittled down to a narrow winning margin of 8 minutes. Half way through the run, the projected finish time had my winning margin down to only a minute!

Day 1: 10k Swim 2:48 (first out of the water), 90 mile bike 4:33 (after day 1, 36 min lead)
Day 2: 171 mile bike 8:06  (after day 2, 56 min lead)
Day 3: 52 mile run 7:53 (winning margin only 8 minutes)
Total time 23:22:12
 – Full results here

There was some good coverage around this race:
–  IMTalk episode 501 (my interview starts at 28:33) was before the race and episode 504 (starts 30:50) was after the race.
– Zen and The Art of Triathlon podcast episode 615
– I did an interview with slowtwitch after the race
– I also did an “ask me anything” thread on slowtwitch which is a great concept – basically any questions goes, and there are some interesting ones in there!

Rob Gray and the crew at the finish line of ultraman florida

Left to right: Kevin Coady, Ethan Davidson, Yours Truly, Chris Blick, and “The Postman” Brian Post. Photo Credit Michael Noonan and Bob Badalucco

– With the goal of racing the Ultraman World Championship this year in Hawaii, I decided to do Ultraman Florida in Feb 2016.
– Preparing over the Colorado winter was quite tough. Having last year’s winner Billy Edwards as my neighbor sure helped, since he had to go through a similar thing for 2015 and could give me sage advice along the way.
– It all came together, though, and I managed to win the race with a very narrow margin of 8 minutes
– I was first out of the water, and extended my lead on the day 1 and day 2 bike legs
– Day 1 conditions were very tough (very windy, mostly a cross headwind). My Dimond bike was a real advantage here, the beam design prevents most of the “shunting around” that happens in gusty wind conditions. The aerodynamics make a big difference. I rode about 10 minutes faster than anyone, at very low power (less than 180 watts average, which is the same effort as my easy recovery rides). The amazing Ice Friction Chain also helped to make sure I saved as many watts as possible!
– I was in a new wetsuit (Roka Maverick Pro) which was super comfy and enabled more range of movement than any other suit I’ve swum in
– Day 2 I started very strong. My aero pad came loose on the rough roads, and snapped off after 2.5 hours. Luckily my crew turned around a complete bike swap in just over 5 minutes. They were like an F1 pit crew!
– I went into day 3 with a 56 minute lead
– The guy in 2nd place was running 1 minute per mile faster than me. With a run of 52.4 miles, you do the math! It was destined to be very close!
– The gap after the first 26 miles was down to 27 minutes!
– I had to dig extremely deep to maintain focus and pace on the last 26 miles
– My crew really helped me to get it done, and in the end I negative split the double marathon to take the win (negative split is where you run the 2nd half faster than the 1st). My shoe of choice – the Hoka One-One Clifton 2. Hokas have opened a different dimension of training and racing for me. On a double marathon, the high degree of cushioning really saves your legs, and helps you to finish strong, when going long!
– Nutrition was a combination of home-made fuel on the bike, and Glukos Energy products (my favorite is the tabs on the run)
– I had an amazing crew. Coach Kevin Coady from California, Ethan Davidson and Chris Blick from Dimond Bikes in Des Moines, Iowa. I can honestly say that crew selection is a critical  part of success in a race like this! Oh, sorry Dimond Van, I almost forgot to mention you!

Full report is on it’s way. I’ve gotten many questions about equipment choice, nutrition strategy and about my goals for Ultraman Hawaii. I’ll aim to cover as much of that then.

In the meantime, enjoy some other pics from the race…


Pre-race tune up with the crew!

Pre-race tune up with the crew!


Finish line day 1, the lava bike still looks clean and happy!

Recovery time!

Recovery time in the Dimond Van!

David: "don't worry about me, mate, I'm just here to finish"... he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker

David: “don’t worry about me, mate, I’m just here to finish”… he forgot the part about him coming here to put me through the hurt locker


The day 2 start line – it’s like Noah’s ark you set off 2 x 2

Aero time, day 2

Aero time, day 2

The reserve bike also got a chance!

The reserve bike also got a chance!


Me with the women's champion Jessica Duree

Me with the women’s champion Jessica Deree. Her shirt says “you got chicked” which was true for many of the UMFL male athletes…

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 Arizona 2014 Race Report

I do these race reports for a number of reasons. First of all, I hope that it provides some value to those who are thinking of doing this race in the future. It may also prove useful to people doing another Ironman race, since many of the principles and lessons apply to any race. Secondly, I hope it provides some useful insight into my preparation and training. The real work in succeeding at this distance happens long before the race begins. I love the iron distance because of all the variables at play, that come together on race day to determine your success or failure; training, physiology, nutrition, gear, life balance, health, weight, body composition, mental outlook, stress, attitude.



Let me start this race report with some background as to why I entered Ironman Arizona in the first place.

  1. it’s relatively local (I live in California). When you have a family, this is a pretty important factor. It just makes things a lot more difficult if a lot of travel is involved.
  2. it’s a fast course. I’ve never raced a “fast” course so I was looking to do a good time
  3. The Triforce team had a whole contingent racing. We decided last year to do this as a “team race”, and we all volunteered at the race in 2013 to get our entries. It’s a lot of fun racing with friends.
  4. I’m tired of training hard over winter to do a spring Ironman, and wanted to KQ far in advance of Kona. This was a “one shot” race to KQ. If I didn’t qualify then I wasn’t going to try again for 2015.

With 5 weeks between Kona and IMAZ, I wasn’t really sure what the recovery situation would be like. The basic structure would be race kona, recover, build, short 1 week taper, IMAZ. The “recover” block would just be as long as it takes. I determine a recovered state by doing “low HR TTs” where I measure pace vs HR on the run and power vs HR on the bike. I need to see a run pace of around 7:00 – 7:15 @ 145 bpm on the run, and 260w @ 134bpm on the bike.

Based on past experience, I know that I recover much faster when I do light activity after a race vs complete rest. So the day after Kona I went for an easy 1.5 hour ride just to get the recovery process going. I also swam every day – swimming is such a great recovery tool; no weight bearing stress and full body activation especially if you include other strokes.

I managed to recover pretty quickly – it was about 10 days after kona when I resumed “real” training. We decided that I would do a 3 week block and 1 week taper. The purpose of this block would mainly be to maintain bike and swim fitness, and hopefully gain a bit more run fitness. I didn’t do much volume at all, no runs over 12 miles and most bike rides 2 hours or less (1 x 4 hour ride). Swims were also relatively short (for me) – not much over 4K per session but most of it was at high intensity.


CTL chart

CTL of 113 going into IMAZ vs 140 going into Kona

as you can see, not a lot of volume since my big kona build in August

not huge mileage but pretty consistent except for the week after kona, where I did zero

Coming into the taper I felt really good. Swim form was pretty good; did a few open water swims in 57-58 mins and a few pool swims in about 55 mins (as 10 x 400m). Bike power was good, and run form seemed ok, but I would feel fatigue / soreness setting in at any distance over 10 miles. Despite that, I had faith that by race day, my run endurance would be ok again. So, I was feeling positive as race week rolled around, and ready to go! The one other element of pre-race prep is diet. For 7-10 days out, I eat a high fat diet with less than 150g carbohydrate per day. Based on my metabolic testing, this type of diet change has the biggest role to play in race-day fuel utilization (in terms of fat vs carb). I then eat about 400g of carbohydrate in the 24-30 hours before the race, which replenishes some glycogen without affecting fat burning very much. This type of diet prep results in a burn rate for me of about 650 carb calories per hour at 250 watts (and about 480 fat calories per hour, for a total of about 1100 calories per hour).

Let’s take a quick step back for a minute and talk about my race goals.

  1. Get a good time. I felt I would achieve this unless something went really wrong. I wanted to swim under an hour (a long term goal I’ve had), bike around 4:40 and run around 3:15 – finishing close to 9 hours which would be a PR (my fastest IM before this was 9:40 at Kona).
  2. Qualify for Kona. This would be tougher. The M35-39 field would be super stacked, with at least 10 kona regulars and 5-6 guys who are definitely capable of sub 9 on this course. As it turned out, 5 of the top 6 age groupers overall were in M35-39 and there were only 4 kona slots. With most other races, you will find one or two really fast guys turn up, then it drops off pretty fast, meaning that I could make a few mistakes and still possibly be in a position to KQ. However in this race, I would have to have a perfect race, plus some other guys would need to not have a great race. Before IMAZ, I decided that if I didn’t qualify, I would not try to KQ again for 2015. So it was a “one shot” chance to do it, which really focused my attention and motivation to succeed.

Looking at my age group contenders it dawned on me how tough this task would be:

Kevin Coady: also my coach! He’s gone sub 9 at Arizona before, and has gone low 9’s in many other races. Very capable of running 3 hours or less.

Adam Zucco: this guy is an animal swim-biker, with 70.3 as his forte, he’s no slouch when it comes to Ironman. He dominated Oceanside and St Croix 70.3 earlier in the year (and probably a few other races that I don’t know about). If this was a 70.3 race, Adam would probably beat all of us by a big margin! Like me, he had just come off kona 5 weeks before so I thought we might have similar fatigue issues on the run.

Scott Iott: This guy’s forte is the iron distance. He’s gone sub 9 before and low 9’s in many other races. His strength is the run, capable of 3 hours or less in an IM for sure.

Steve Johnson: another runner and “9 hour guy”. Steve and Kevin have faced off in a number of races so I was familiar with his name. Like Kevin, to have a chance against him I’d need to start the run at least 10-15 mins ahead of him off the bike (or he would need to have a bad day!)

Trevor Glavin: He’s a friend of Adam and Scott –  a great swimmer and a solid all rounder being a long-time xterra guy (but the swim is for sure his strength). He has multiple low 9 IM finishes to his name and seems to be super consistent in his execution – pretty much every IM he’s run about 3:15. He finished Kona 2013 almost 30 mins faster than me and 2014 13 mins faster. I felt I would be able to make up the swim difference on the bike, and for me a 3:15 is realistic on a good day.

Adrian Lawson: this guy was not on my radar before, but it turns out he has some pretty solid results with some regular finishes in the 9:30ish range (including kona).

Ivan O’Gorman: I’ve raced Ivan a few times although I’ve never met him. He’s a very good runner (like 3 hours and under) but I thought he’d have too much of a gap to make up on his swim (he’s in the 1:15-1:20 range). Still, his swim deficit on me is about equal to my run deficit on him, so he could very well be a “last mile threat”.

Li Moore: my teammate who has beat me twice this year over the 70.3 distance. IMAZ would be his iron distance debut, so that was in my favor. I’m a faster biker than him but this guy can run 6:30s all day, so  even with a big deficit off the bike he could run me down no problem (and he did just that in both of those races this year). I tried to get him to eat a lot of McDonalds in the weeks leading up to race day.

So, usually there will be one guy like this that turns up, not nine! I honestly didn’t feel my chances were very good, that I would need to have a perfectly executed race, even to be in contention for one of the four kona slots. Thus, my main goal was to get a PR, and if I happened to be in a position to KQ I’d consider myself lucky.

Race week
I flew down with the family on Friday (the last day to register). We stayed in a house (a must if you have a family!) so after dropping all our stuff there, I headed down to register and collect my bike. By the time I arrived there was no line (registration closed at 5pm, I arrived at 4:40) so everything went pretty fast. At 4:55 I collected my bike from TriBike (they closed at 5pm too!) and took it over to the guys at Dimond to have some bosses installed for my Torhans Aerobento. Those guys are awesome – so much support for me at both Kona and IMAZ. I saw pro Thomas Gerlach there and we chatted for a while about my bike, aero stuff and tires – I know him from slowtwitch but I’ve never met him in person – great guy with some good advice and perspectives! I then dropped my disc wheel with the mechanic to have new ceramic bearings installed, after which I quickly checked out the swim course from the bridges with my teammates (Kevin, Li, Snickers and Andrew) and then headed back home to relax in the hot tub.


On Saturday, I spent far too much time on getting my bike ready. I put new tires on, did all the race numbers and spent some time adjusting shifting etc. before doing a quick test ride. It should have taken 45 min max, but for some reason it took me 3 hours to do all of that. Probably because I spent about half of that time tracking down my 3 year old son who was chasing pigeons around Tempe Beach Park (and unlike his dad he is the FASTEST runner in his age group!). I got back to the house around 4pm and then settled in for some extreme relaxation and eating! Most of the evening was spent in the hot tub. Dinner was pretty simple – some home made fish tacos, veggie pizza, some sweet potato and a single IPA. About 400g carbohydrate throughout the day, with a fair amount of fat and protein too. I’m very conscious to make sure that I’m at a calorie surplus before a race – the last thing you want is to enter a catabolic state on race day. Well, that’s my excuse anyway!

That night, as always, I slept terribly. It always happens and I’m used to it. It feels like I don’t sleep all night, and then plunge into a deep sleep just before my alarm goes off!

Race day
I got up at 4am, and went directly to the kitchen to eat my meal. My big change for this race was to eat a relatively high fat breakfast with very slow release carbs. I had 50g IsoPure Colombian Coffee whey protein, 300ml coconut milk (the one you buy in a milk carton) and 3 servings of plain UCAN superstarch. In addition, 3 x gluten free pancakes with a lot of butter and peanut butter spread on them. About 800 calories.

At 5am my taxi arrived, and I was in Tempe about 20 mins later. The roads were closed so he had to drop me on the north side of the Mill St bridge, which actually turned out to be a good thing because there were 5 port-a-potties on that side (for the run course) with absolutely nobody around, so I got to use one without standing in line like everyone else in transition.

I got to my bike, checked my tires (105 PSI rear, 95 PSI front), put my bottles on and checked the brakes for rubbing. Everything was ok so I put my wetsuit on, put my run bottle in my run bag and then found Kevin in T1 (his bike space was next to mine). Usually both of us are still doing stuff as the swim is about to start, but this time we were both ready well in time, and headed down to the swim start early enough to see the pro start.

t1 We then got in the water and swam to the front right where we lined up. Soon we were joined by some teammates and others that I knew (Li, Snickers, Andrew and my work colleague Derk). The start was delayed for some reason, but soon we were on the cusp of starting so we secured our positions and braced ourselves for the start. I was lined up about 30m from the right hand side, right in front, directly behind 3 guys who “looked fast”.  In the photo below, I’m one of the white AWA caps on the right of the green kayak.

Now, before I get into the details of the swim, it’s time for a short intermission while we talk about the swim course. The buoys are lined up to follow the contour of the lake, which is not the fastest line. You basically want to imagine that the only thing that matters is the far turnaround buoy, even though you cannot see it from where you are. So my plan was to start right, swim a tangent to the middle of the Rural bridge, turn around, keep right and then aim for the 3rd column on the mill st bridge.IMAZ swim tangent I didn’t wear a garmin, but this is the line I think I took. The yellow dots are sort of where I think the outward markers were, the orange dots where the return markers were (the orange ones are probably different – I wasn’t even looking at them, but you get the general idea)

 Swim (0:59) goal sub 1 hour. I’ve been working on that goal for over a year and this was my final test to see if all that work has paid off.

As the canon fired, I started fast but not too fast, just keeping a steady tempo effort. I was immediately clear of any crowds and had zero contact. There were 3 swimmers in front of me and I kept on their feet. After a few hundred meters, just past a boat ramp, the lake curves to the right. The 3 guys (and one girl) in front of me started following the contour (longer) so I left them and started the tangent on my own. I kept on waiting for the crazy fist fight that is typical of an IM swim but nothing came! I was totally alone until the turnaround, and even there I had zero contact. After the turn I kept right, despite everyone else going left. 3 other swimmers joined me in going right, and I recognized one of them as my teammate, Snickers (John Nickerson). He was easy to spot in his helix wetsuit and AWA white cap. I jumped on his feet for a bit, but at the next curve in the lake I swam left while he kept more to the right. The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful (that’s a good thing!) and I came out of the water about 10 seconds ahead of Snickers. T1 was a quick transition – I tried to waste minimal time by putting on my helmet while running into the change tent, and then running with my shoes to the bike and only putting them on when I got there. My bike was racked next to 2 of the great guys in my age group: Kevin Coady (who is also my coach) and Scott Iott. Kevin’s bike was still there and Scott’s was gone (I just hoped it hadn’t been gone for that long!)

Time: 59 min – mission accomplished!

Bike (4:49)
I got to the mount line, got on my bike and turned the pedals. I heard a strange grinding sound then snap! my chain broke… I looked down and saw my chain lying on the ground. I had no spare chain, no way to fix it, I thought my day was over. It’s hard to describe the feeling when that happens. I started trying to figure out what I could do, when a security volunteer (thank you Rocky – you saved my race!) ran up to me and told me that the Tribe Multisport mechanic was just up the road. So I ran with my bike for a few hundred yards until I found him. He had a bunch of tools and a master link for my chain, and he set to work fixing it straight away. I decided to eat a gel while I was standing there doing nothing, watching everyone come by. Snickers was already past me, Andrew came next, then I saw Kevin. Not only was I losing any advantage I had gained on the swim, but the guys at the front of the field were getting away from me. Since there was nothing else I could do about it, I didn’t really stress much about what was happening. Ironman is a long day, and anything can happen. I decided that I would just do my best with what I could control, and that a few minutes lost here would not mean the end of my day.

home straight

 Six and a half minutes later I was back on the bike. There was still a strange rubbing sound coming from my front derailleur, and it looked like it was skew. However, I could ride and I could shift gears, which was the most important thing. I tried not to tell myself that the friction loss from the metal rubbing on the chain would not make a huge difference, but I think at the back of my mind I doubted that. However my speed vs effort was pretty good. Most of the time I was over 25mph between 250 and 260 watts, which was pretty good. That helped put any fears of “lost watts” to rest and I just got on with the race. Mentally I was now riding pretty hard, trying to catch up the lost time (even though I didn’t want to “burn matches” doing that). So I kept a steady but high effort all the way up to the top of the Beeline, in the process catching my teammates again. I kept a solid effort on the descent too, without much coasting at all. At this stage my mouth was very dry, I felt dehydrated despite taking in a lot of water. In fact I had been sacrificing my calories a bit in favor of drinking water, but no matter how much I drank I still felt dry. Coming down the Beeline was pretty nice on lap 1. It was fast and there was very little bike traffic. It was getting windy out there (to me the wind felt very similar to Kona) but as per usual my Dimond bike was super stable in the wind, even with a Zipp 808 up front and a disc on the rear I felt no sketchy moments at all. The reason I went with the Dimond in the first place is because of the clean lines and great aerodynamics (and because chicks dig it), but the biggest unexpected difference has been in the handling on long fast descents in the wind. I don’t consider myself a great descender, yet here I am on the leaderboard of this strava segment for the descent.

As I hit the turnaround for lap 2, I focused on taking in the calories. I knew that I needed to get in around 500 calories per hour at 250 watts (I was at 247 watts at that point), but I had prioritized taking in water, so I decided to dial back the effort a bit and focus on finishing my first bottle (1000 calories) by the top of the beeline. I was quite diligent about doing that, without neglecting the water intake. Lap 2 was pretty tough. The slow riders were out, the wind picked up and it felt hot even though it wasn’t.  I really had to stay focused in order to avoid the slower bike traffic, and in a few cases I was forced to do “bad” things, but that were better than crashing. At one point I was making a pass, and the slower cyclist moved over to the left. There was a pothole directly in front of me, with oncoming cyclists the other way, so I had to swerve to his inside and pass him on the right. It all happened in a few seconds and I feel that was the right course of action to take, even though I shouldn’t have done that. The second time, I was making a pass coming down the beeline, and a slower rider just pulled out in front of me to make a pass too. I had no option but to briefly swerve onto the yellow line and then back again. This was dangerous since I was between the reflectors, which if I hit them could have had bad consequences, but it was the only place I had to go. I’m really not surprised that there were a lot of crashes out there. The gusts of wind also didn’t help – pushing riders all over the place.

Most of the day I was passing riders, but as I made the far beeline turn on lap 2, a super fast guy came past me on a Cervelo P5. I stayed a bit further than legal draft behind him (about 10 meters) down the hill and back into town. It was kind of nice, using him as a human shield. I stayed very aero and only paid attention to him – he seemed to be very in control of his bike and he was riding sensibly, so I left him with all the mental stress of riding past the slower riders, I just had to shout a bit to let them know I was there too.  Later I would find out this was actually a guy in my age group named Adrian Lawson, a very solid athlete that I didn’t even know about until race week. I think he actually had the fastest age grouper bike split of the day, but he ended up with a DNF (it looks like he stopped after the bike). Needless to say, I was not able to stay with him on lap 3. At one point I was riding 300 watts and not able to keep up, so I just let him go.

 As I came back into town for lap 3, Kevin’s wife Caroline shouted to me that I was 8 mins back on the leaders. That was encouraging for me, since I knew that both Adam Zucco and Trevor Glavin would have outswum me, and I expected Adam to outbike me by a fair amount too. Add to that the time lost with the chain problem and I thought I’d be 15 mins down or so. I kept things steady until the beeline hill and then started cranking it. However, it just FELT like I was cranking it, in reality, the super strong wind was making for tough conditions that made me feel like I was working a lot harder than I actually was.  It turns out that I steadily lost power on each lap (247w, 237w, 230w), with perceived exertion going up.

 I counted down the minutes getting to the top of the beeline turnaround. It was such a sufferfest, but I knew once I turned it was basically downhill all the way back. Not quite but that’s what it feels like. I used the hill to finish as much of my nutrition as possible, but I didn’t get through it all. I still had about 700 calories left on my bike once I was done. Once I hit the final Beeline turn and started my descent, it felt a surge of renewed energy, like a horse on the home straight. It was even windier now, and more congested too so passing was very difficult and quite dangerous, but I managed to make it back unscathed. The return trip back to T2 felt super fast. I saw Scott Iott in front of me at some point and made the pass with several miles still to go. Being such a good runner, I knew he would catch me, but any minutes I could put into him would help for sure.


From Ironman live coverage: as you can see at this stage I was 10 min down on Zucco, 5 min down on Trevor, 3/4 min on Doug and Adrian, 2 min down on Steve. Scott was about 30 seconds behind me.

 It’s a very good sign when you arrive in T2 and there is almost nobody there. I think there were 2 other guys in the tent. The great thing is that there are a lot of bored volunteers who all jump in to help. So I had 5 guys helping me get ready for the run. One guy on each shoe, another guy sorting out my run bottle and another guy getting my number belt and sunglasses ready.  Thanks – you guys were awesome!

 Here are some bike numbers for the power geeks

TP file (bike)
TP file (run)

 NP: 238w
AP: 230w
IF: 0.73
VI: 1.03
w/kg: 3.05

Lap 1: 247 watts 1:31 (only started this lap time after the chain was fixed)
Lap 2: 237 watts 1:34
Lap 3: 230 watts 1:36

Total time 4:49 (4:42 riding time – excluding the chain “stoppage”)

 Run (3:16)
I started the run just a short way in front of Scott. I felt super comfy but my garmin was showing 6:30 pace. I deliberately slowed down, since I was aiming to pace it out at 7:30. Despite my best efforts at slowing down I still went through mile 1 in 7:07. I saw Caroline and she told me that Trevor was leading and was 8 minutes ahead. I figured he must have biked in with Zucco and that Adam was still with him.


4 of the top 5 in M35-39 wore Cliftons

4 of the top 5 in M35-39 wore Cliftons

 The first 4 miles is an out-and-back, and I saw Adam as I was somewhere between mile 1 and 2. I figured he was at least 1 mile ahead. Scott ran past me at the 2 mile mark. He was running quite a bit faster than me, and I was running 7:15 pace. I thought that he was running a little bit fast but he looked very comfortable. I was feeling good enough to run with him, but I just let him go. I knew that a 3:15 was about as good as I was going to run, so running faster than that would just be a very poor pacing decision for me. I saw Kevin coming the opposite way when I was somewhere near to the 4 mile mark. I figured he was about 10 mins behind me. I didn’t see anyone else, it felt like a ghost town out there, literally with tumbleweed rolling across the dust!

From that point onward I just got everyone else out of my mind. This was my race to execute as well as I could, without being concerned about anyone else. I just focused on keeping the pace steady, holding it back and maintaining 7:30 as best I could. Even though it felt easy now, I knew it would feel a lot tougher on lap 2. I started the run with a bottle of frozen fluid (2 servings of UCAN) that I planned on finishing between 30 and 45 minutes. It lasted me an hour and then I switched to coke. I would just stop at every 4th/5th aid station for about 10 seconds filling up the bottle, then run a bit faster to make up my average pace. That worked a lot better than Kona where I stopped more frequently (no bottle). I saw Kevin again somewhere on the north side loop, and he was still about 10 mins behind. I knew then that if I didn’t fade at all, I may have a chance at 5th/6th place. As I finished lap 1, the crowd support was amazing. It really pumps you up as you run through that whole beach park area, with so much support and encouragement. I saw Scott as I started the out-and-back section, and he had made really good progress. He must have been about 11 minutes ahead of me (or more) at that point. A few minutes later I saw Adam and he was only about 4 minutes ahead of me. That really fired me up to keep going. 7:30 was now a lot harder to maintain. It required a lot of focus and digging deep, just to maintain the same pace that felt so slow to me an hour earlier. I just kept on plugging away but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t see Adam in front of me. At mile 20 I saw Caroline again and she said that Adam was 4 minutes ahead of me. Dammit, he must have made a recovery! I then tried to push the pace a bit more. If I could cut 15-30 seconds per mile then I might have a chance of catching him. I gave it everything I had. Aid stations whirled by. I rationed my coke so I wouldn’t have to stop again to refill. With 3 miles to go I tried to up the pace again. I managed a sub 7 mile somewhere in there but it hurt quite a bit so I backed off a little. I pushed and pushed, chasing this mythical Zucco creature that loomed ahead of me somewhere. With a mile to go, my legs were crying out for me to stop. I just ignored them and told myself that I could rest my legs the whole winter. It was just 7 minutes of pain to potentially make up a single place – a place that could make the difference between a KQ or not. It felt like I was at my limit now, but I was only at 7:20 pace with my legs crying out. I still didn’t see Adam but I was determined not to give up. I ran up the finishing chute knowing I had given it my all for a finishing time of 9 hours 11 minutes. I high fived Kevin who was standing in the grandstand (he pulled out half way on the run).  I was elated.


This year I’ve not had a single PR, but I made up for that today with a 29 minute Ironman PR, a 4 minute swim PR, 6 minute bike PR and a 1 minute run PR. I got my medal and made my way to the massage tent, which was populated with pros and M35-39 athletes! I saw Trevor, Scott and Steve but no Adam. I then found out that Adam was actually behind me – I had passed him at some point in the last 10K without seeing him. Steve Johnson won, Scott was a very close second (with a sub 3 marathon), Trevor was 3rd and I was 4th. Adam was 5th but he got an early Christmas gift from Santa Steve who declined his kons slot. So I’m really looking forward to racing with these guys in Kona again. It was honestly a real honor to be on a podium with guys of this calibre. Casting my mind back to that moment when my chain broke… remember an IM is a long day, anything can happen so keep going and never give up!

I’m super motivated to work on my run during the winter. Gaining 15 minutes on the run will get me sub 9, which now feels like a realistic goal. I think with the right work it is within reach.

The “stacked” podium: Steve Johnson, Scott Iott, Trevor Glavin, me, Adam Zucco. It’s like a training bible sandwich - but we all know the filling is the most tasty.

The “stacked” podium: Steve Johnson, Scott Iott, Trevor Glavin, me, Adam Zucco. It’s like a training bible sandwich – but we all know the filling is the most tasty!



Kona 2014 Race Report

Here’s my (belated) download of the Kona race. I went 9:43 this year vs 9:40 last year. I swam faster, biked a bit slower and ran exactly the same.

I was pretty happy with my race. Even though I only got 48th in my AG I feel it was the best I could have executed (except I would have liked to run a 3:15 instead of a 3:30, but that will take a more focused and specific run block to get right next time). Overall I feel like I can still make some big gains on the run, which I’m looking forward to doing! Oh, and I beat Apollo Ohno 😉

Here is my report.

There is a short summary to start, with a more detailed account further down, and then a comparison of 2013 and 2014 at the bottom (edit: formatting went crazy so I copied the data into a linked google doc). I thought that would be interesting because there was only 2 minutes difference year on year. I biked a lot easier and was not much slower. Most of the reason for that I believe to be aero gains from new bike and position.

Swim: 1:03
Very happy with the swim, the hours of training have paid off. Even though I was hoping for sub 60 min, going 63 min on a slower year was a result I was happy with, and set me up for a much easier bike ride. Total distance on my garmin was 2.7 miles, pace 1:28 / 100m
Bike: 5 hours flat.
IF 0.69, NP 226W, AP 205W, VI 1.10
The funny thing I was only 5 mins slower than 2013, on 10 watts lower NP, in tougher conditions. I attribute most of that to the new bike with a cleaner setup, more aero and most importantly enables a much more aero position. You can see in the pics below I’ve got a nice flat back (I was coasting down Kuakini here, I’m a little more upright when pedaling normally). I stayed in aero pretty much the whole way, except a few times I sat up on Hawi climb, and sometimes when being passed I had to sit up in order to fall back to legal distance. I’ve drawn up a comparison table of 2013 vs 2014 at the bottom which is some pretty interesting data. The Dimond was super stable in these conditions. Everyone will tell you how windy it was, this bike was rock solid.
Run: 3:30
Ran very conservatively up till the energy lab, with the goal of laying down the pace back on the Queen K. It went mostly to plan, except the last part. I just couldn’t pick it up in the last 10K (in fact I slowed). But overall I feel like I executed most of the race well.
Bike setup:
Dimond Superbike with di2, power2max PM, rotor 165mm cranks, zipp vuka stealth bars + bta mount, tririg omega brakes, zipp 808 rear, zipp 404 front. Torhans Aerobento with a hole cut in it for the di2 junction box. Dash TT9 saddle with Caffelatex mounted between the rails. Spare tube + co2 velcro’d onto the saddle and wrapped in 3M electrical tape. I really like my setup it’s nice and clean. The bike as you see it here is exactly how I raced it

[flat kit]

[race number bolted to seatpost – nice and clean]

[my setup enables me to stay pretty aero even while drinking]

Long version
Started just right of the large TYR pontoon. Had clear water for about 5 mins, until everyone merged, then it was pretty much white water until the turn. I swam wide and stayed left, then if any congestion happened I could just stay left and avoid it. The extra swim form paid off because everyone around me was a decent swimmer, meaning I had great feet to follow most of the time. With a slightly long course and my wide turns I swam 2.7 miles in 1:03 which I was happy with (1:28 / 100m avg pace) http://tpks.ws/kOUf
The way out was quite a bit faster than the way back (1:22 /100m out, 1:34/100m back)
Up the stairs, took swim skin top off, hit the showers. I should have rinsed my eyes out – they were burning with salt for a good part of the ride. You then grab your bike bag and run to the change tent. I had a bottle of ensure in the bag, which I managed to easily chug by the time I hit the change tent. The volunteer helped me pull the top of my octane on – so that was pretty quick. However I ran out to my bike with my cap and goggles still on, so I ran back quickly to hand them to the volunteer. Grabbed the bike and off I went.
Coming out the water 4 mins faster than 2013 made a huge difference, because I started riding with a higher % of racers, instead of trying to catch them from behind. I kept it super easy for the first 30km. A few guys blasted past me on Kuakini but I just let them go. As for the others, there were some huge packs up until mile 20/30. These were really unavoidable due to so many athletes being out at the same time. I think the officials did a great job of enforcing the drafting rules, by letting everyone get sorted out for the first bit, then clamping down hard once everyone was out on the queen k. I was pretty lucky in that I was stronger than most riders in the packs, meaning I could just lay down constant power, and slingshot wheel to wheel for a long way while still being legal and not burning any matches (I was still riding well within myself, about 235 watts vs the 255 that I thought I would be riding at this part of the day). Most riders were doing their best to stay legal, but I saw some blatant wheel sucking too. I was happy to see a full penalty tent All the way to Waikaloa felt like a nice easy warmup – just past the resorts we were hit by a strong headwind and I managed to get clear of the packs pretty easily.

The cross winds were also pretty crazy – at one point I got blown all the way over to the left hand side of the road. There were still a few good riders out there so I had company most of the way up to the start of the Hawi climb.
As we started climbing up Hawi, the head/cross winds were pretty incredible. Even though we were climbing (relatively slowly), it was difficult to let go of the bars at all without losing control. At that point I was getting pretty worried about the descent, since we’d be hit by the same winds, but at 40mph+ downhill!
The Hawi turnaround came pretty quickly, and yet again the penalty tent was overflowing. This was the last time I saw any big packs – there will still a lot of riders out there but it was now very easy to stay legal. The Hawi descent was a lot easier than I was expecting. I coasted for most of it. My new Dimond bike was incredibly stable in the crosswinds, I didn’t have a single sketchy moment and it gave me a huge amount of confidence on these exposed windy sections.
A few guys blasted past me on the Kawaihae climb, but since I was already doing 300 watts I let them go!
Back the on Queen K, and it was into another headwind for a bit, before going through the most fun part of the day. Leading up to Waikaloa, a tailwind hit us and just pushed us along like crazy. I was doing 44 mph without even pedaling! At that point I was 3:45 into the ride, and a quick mental calculation had me thinking that a 4:3X would be on the card if this wind kept up. Unfortunately, 4 mins later we were hit by a headwind that slammed us right back to 18 mph, then 12 mph… ok, so back to a 5 hour estimate!
Guys were now dropping like flies – clearly the conditions had taken their toll! I kept it pretty even, just burning the occasional match to jump gaps. I kept on taking in water at the aid stations (one bottle at the beginning of the station, one at the end, drinking ¾ and dumping the rest on my back).
I was still feeling great at the 100 mile marker – which was surprising since I’m usually very ready to be done by 90 miles. The remainder was pretty comfy and I was now passing a lot of people. I rolled into T2 feeling nice and fresh – the litmus test being when you hand off your bike and try to run – in 2013 I was super wobbly and in 2014 I felt fresh and ready to run.
In T2 I changed out of the Octane and into a speedo + run singlet (great cooling!). I do lose quite a bit of time doing that so one day, if I’m in contention for a podium etc. I’ll probably just run in the Octane.
I started the run feeling strong. My goal was to run 7:30/mile, which felt painfully slow for the first mile. I held the 7:30 for most of it, but them some weird quantum physics took place around 0.8 miles and I went through mile 1 in 6:59. I managed to hold around 7:30 pace for most of Alii drive, up until Palani hill where I walked. Back up on the Queen K I was still feeling strong, but running within my comfort zone like Kevin had told me to. I kept it comfortable all the way into the energy lab, and then stopped at special needs to pick up another bottle (next time I won’t do that). I walked again at various points up the energy lab hill then prepared to unleash the pace back on the Queen K. However, the unleashing wouldn’t come! As hard as I tried to push, there was no answer… my perceived effort was rocketing up and my pace was dropping. I calculated that I just needed to stick to 8:00/mile to beat my 9:40 from 2013, which I managed until mile 23 but then I did 3 x consecutive 9 min miles which put that plan to bed. I put in a 7:03 for mile 26 which made for a nice strong finish, but it wasn’t enough to sneak under my 2013 time. Still, on a tougher day, I was very happy with a time only 3 minutes slower.
Overall, I thought I executed the race really well. I still need to figure out the final part of the run, but I think with another couple of Konas I’ll be able to nail that too.
Next stop, Arizona! That’s going to be a super competitive race in M35-39, and I’ll actually be super lucky to KQ there. So my primary goal is to get a fast time (I’ve never raced a fast Ironman course, so looking forward to seeing what’s possible!)

2013 vs 2014
I thought it would be interesting to take a look at 2013 vs 2014. I originally pasted in a table here but it comes out in a weird format.
Here is a link to the data in a google doc