Fine tuning ironman nutrition with metabolic testing

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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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











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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Some notes on the course

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

link to race files:

bike, run

Challenge Henley Race Report

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

Danesfield House

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

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

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

ready to go

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

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

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


bike bags at T1

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

swim start at dawn

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

Safety Boat

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

final kayakers briefing 10 mins to go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

running in the rain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Race Summary:

Total time: 10:28

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




Short Version of this post:

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



Challenge Henley in 10 hours? The Plan

I will be doing Challenge Henley this weekend, with a goal of doing it in 10 hours. This is an Iron distance race (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) and I am reasonably comfortable with what I’m able to do at the moment, having 2 recent Ironman races fresh in my memory – Ironman Switzerland July 10th (11:02) and Vineman July 30th (10:18). I will be taking some learnings from both those races into this one in order to try and take another 18 minutes off my time. I’m not going to swim much faster so I will need to gain time on the bike and the run. Here’s the plan – it will be interesting to look at this afterwards and see how close I get! If you happen to be online on Sunday you can track the progress of athletes in real time using the Challenge Henley Athlete Tracker.

Swim – 1:10 (may be lucky and do it a few mins faster)
Transition 1 – 2mins
Run – 3:25 (this is best case if all goes to plan)
Transition 2 – 2 mins
Bike –  5:20 (see plan below)

Total: 09:59

The swim and the run are pretty constant, but the bike offers the opportunity to ride more strategically. By saving energy on the bike, you set yourself up for a good run. There is no way that I will run a 3:25 marathon if I go too hard on the bike. Having said that, I know I have a little more in me on the bike based on my recent races, the questions is will I overdo it? Well, there is only one way to find out and that’s to do it! My plan for the bike is below. This is based on riding at specific power outputs and being pretty disciplined in not going too hard, especially in the beginning.

[You can scroll around the embedded spreadsheet below if you need to see the whole thing]


I will allow myself some flexibility in the 2nd half to push it a bit harder if I’m feeling good. The idea is to put in extra effort on the hills, where wind resistance does not play as much a role as on the flats & downhills. When you are going 40kph+, extra power output does not translate into a significant amount of extra speed.

As you can see, this plan has to be executed perfectly if I want to go sub 10. However, I will not stick to this plan “at all costs” for example if something goes wrong on the bike (something usually does), I just accept that and adjust the plan on the fly, in order to do the best that I can. After all, the main reason I do this is because I enjoy it, breaking 10 hours would just be a bonus!

If you’re also racing this weekend – good luck and enjoy it!

Vineman Race Report

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

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

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

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

The Journey

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

The Big Day

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

Crazy T1

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


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

Swimming in the Russian River

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

swimmers walking through the river

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

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

Biking through wine country

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

The Big Bloat

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


The Red Hot Poker Neck

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

The Run

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

a quiet T2


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

left quad gets deformed by the impact

The Result

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

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

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

Lessons Learned

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

What’s next?

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

Vineman Prep

It’s just 3 weeks after Ironman Switzerland, and my next one is the Vineman on Saturday 30th July. It’s not an official Ironman branded race, but it’s the same distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run).

Vineman Swim Course in Russian River, Sonoma

Fortunately IMCH is fresh in the mind so I can make a few tweaks and experiment with some changes. I feel pretty relaxed about it, so I’m going to go out a little harder this time and see how it goes. The general plan is as follows:

– Swim: start faster and avoid the masses. Luckily Vineman starts in waves so there are fewer people than the 2200 in Switzerland.
– Bike: aim for 215 watts average (at IMCH I aimed for 190W and averaged 204W), not sure if this will translate into a better time since Vineman is mainly rolling hills, no long flats and no long downhills, also no bad uphills.
– Run: take on more nutrition, and try to stick to 5:00/km then go faster if I feel good

I definitely want to go under 11 hours, but I think Switzerland (11:02) is a faster course so it’s difficult to tell what will happen. Basically I’m going to put in the effort that would give me a 10:30 in Switzerland, and hope that it turns out to be only 30 mins slower in the Vineman…

Looks like we will have great weather (84F, 28C). I’ve pretty much done nothing since Ironman Switzerland, except for a few open water swims in Hawaii last week, so either I’ll be well recovered or have lost some fitness… but I don’t think I’d lose much endurance in a few weeks… I’ll soon find out!

The long road to Ironman

The beginning

I’ve being doing various endurance activities for several years, but I’m relatively new to triathlon, having completed my first Olympic distance races in July & August 2010. How I got into triathlon in the first place is a whole other story . Anyway, in August 2010 I signed up for Ironman Switzerland, which gave me about a year to prep. The plan was to focus on building a solid endurance base doing a lot of running and biking, and for swimming just focusing on improving technique.

At that point I was working in London with a 1:15 commute each way, so I mainly had to do my long rides/runs on weekends. I did, however, figure out a good way to combine training and commute time by riding to and from work a few days a week (90km round trip), which was significantly more pleasant than traveling in on the train!  Once or twice I also ran into work which enabled me to get my long run in during the week, the only down side being the 4am departure… and my work colleagues who thought I was nuts running 52km in to the office before work


Running focus

Between September and November I was doing 8-12 hours a week, but with a fair amount of running since I was training for the Florence marathon. I completed a very cold, rainy, but flat Florence marathon in 3:23 which I was satisfied with. After Florence,  I had a very lazy December, not doing much in snow-bound England except a few 2-3 hour runs and some mountain biking, interspersed with some swimming just to keep form.

The plan goes wrong

January to the end of March was pretty much a write-off since I was in the process of relocating to California, and work pressure was at an all time high. Most days I was doing 12-14 hours of work, but I just pressed through it knowing it was temporary. I managed to do some maintenance exercise but it was usually less than 4 hours a week and by no means quality training, so I lost a fair amount of fitness.

The plan goes right again

Every cloud has a silver lining, and the move to California was the best thing to get me back on track quickly. Silicon Valley is about 45 mins south of San Francisco, with a warm mediterranean climate. My commute is about 10% of what it was in London, there are more pools than you can imagine, and the valley has a vibrant tri community. The Google office in Mountain View also has an amazing setup: plenty of healthy food, several gyms, two endless pools and subsidised massage therapy. All of this combined enabled me to up my training hours to 12-17 hours per week, increase my work hours, and still be left with more personal time than I had before.

I needed to get back on track super-fast by really shocking my body into submission, since Ironman Switzerland was now only 3 months away. The hilly off-road horseshoe lake trail marathon, which takes place in the skyline ridge open space preserve, seemed just the right thing. This worked well and I was soon back on track with some long bike rides (150k+) and regular swimming. For running I focused mainly on tempo runs and intervals (4 x 8 mins @ 5K pace with 2 mins rest), but I didn’t really run much more than 2-3 times per week.

With a month to go before Ironman CH, I did my last really big week, which was a full week training, followed by the silicon valley long course triathlon on the Saturday (zero taper) and a long hilly 185km ride on the Sunday. The weekend alone was 12.5 hours of training and I felt it was as big as I could go at that stage. The next week (4 weeks to go) was normal training, followed by a 3 week taper.

Training with Power

At this stage, I also decided to buy a power meter. Many experienced ironman triathletes swear by them since you can ride your entire IM bike leg to a pre-determined plan, ensuring you don’t push too hard or too little. I chose the Powertap Pro+ which is only 80g heavier than the top of the range powertap but half the price. Based on a few weeks of use, I can definitely say that this is probably one of the most useful pieces of equipment that I have bought.  The most important thing was to do a power threshold test, which would enable me to work out my power zones. The easiest way to do this on your own is to find a flat road, warm up for 10 mins and then ride as hard as you can constantly for 30 mins. Your average power output is your estimated “threshold power” upon which you can base you power zones. The idea is that in an Ironman race you aim to stick to around 70% of your threshold power during the bike leg.

My first test I did on June 18th, and got a reading of 262 watts for the 30 mins. I was, however, not fully rested, so I did another test one week before Ironman after 2 weeks of tapering. This time around I got a reading of 272 watts, which meant that if I worked on 70% of threshold, I should aim for an average power output of around 190 watts during the race.

The Taper

I never taper enough, so this time I decided on a full 3 week taper, based on coach Kevin Coady’s advice on the triforce blog. The main difference in this approach is that you first  fully recover from your last big effort, then you keep yourself sharp by incorporating some short, high intensity efforts into easy training sessions. I’ve got to say, this worked pretty well for me. I did a lot of swimming during the taper which helped to maintain fitness with little recovery overhead, running was kept to a minimum (not more than 30 mins) and cycling was done at low efforts.

I also took the opportunity during the taper to lose some extra weight by focusing my diet on high protein, low fat and low carb. This will not work for everyone but it works well for me, and I managed to cut down by 3kg (6.6 lbs) in the final month. I only started eating a higher carb diet again 5 days before the race, and to be honest I could have started 3 days before and it would have been ok.

Final prep

By this stage I was fully recovered, feeling fitter than ever, and was leaner than I had been in a long time (73kg, 7% bodyfat). Ideally I should be at about 5% bodyfat and 71kg, but given that I had been 79kg in March, I was ok with the progress. The bike was ready. One final experiment for me was adding aero disc covers to my wheel – this enabled me to ride with my powertap training wheel, without sacrificing the aero capabilities of my normal race wheel, a Zipp 808. It also meant I didn’t need to buy a Zipp 808 with powertap for racing, so I spend $80 instead of $2000.

I didn’t try these at all in training, only once during my final power test the week before, but I figured it was low risk and if it all went wrong I could rip them off during the race.

I arrived in Zurich feeling fit, motivated, healthy and itching to race!