Friday, August 31, 2007

IMC Race Report

No excuses

A few months ago I got an email from Scott Molina commenting on my sabbatical to help start up the Human Performance Institute at Wake Forest and my more “lenient” schedule. He closed by saying “You have no excuses, now” in reference to my ability to properly train the preceding 3 months before IMC without the constraints of my rigid schedule.

I knew he was right and that made the goal setting process for Ironman Canada all the more difficult. I typically create goals lofty enough to provide happiness if reached, yet attainable only through an effort that is exhaustive. The few times I’ve achieved those goals they have created a rare state of “calm” happiness. So, aided by Scott’s words, I was motivated to find a good goal.

After careful thought, I decided that running fast at IMC would give me the most satisfaction. Given my past personal run best of 3:31 at 2005 IM Brazil and perusal of prior IMC top age group run results, running 3:15 at Canada seemed to be a worthy goal.

My swim and bike plans were to conserve enough energy to reach my run goal. I planned to swim with my HR below 140, a HR avg on the bike of 137, and run with “poker pacing” strategy. The run pacing would be such that the first 3 miles were very easy (HR below 144), then HR of 145 through 32k, and elevate my HR the last 10k.

Through the summer, I used this strategy on all my runs. My early summer MAP tests on the track with a HR of 148 were 7:25/mile at sea level. As most people lose 20-30s/mile during an ironman marathon, I was concerned that my goal was overly ambitious, as the pacing strategy noted above would result in a 3:30 marathon. In many ways, the slim chance of reaching the goal substantiated it as being more worthy.

As the summer progressed, I gained confidence that my improving fitness would allow me to reach my goal. However, this fitness would need to be coupled with a very conservative swim and bike effort in order to access my run capability. At the end of July, I returned to sea level for a repeat MAP test and my pace had increased to 6:57/mile.

This gave me a boost of confidence during our last big training block. I was running smoothly and effortlessly. Perhaps I became a bit too confident; all my runs seemed fast and easy.

My race plan was pretty straightforward as I noted above. My pacing on the swim and bike at altitude during training gave me a rough idea of what sort of pace I would see on race day. I thought these efforts would result in approximate swim and bike times of 64 minutes and of 5:15.

I also knew that nutrition would be important. I planned on taking 2000 cal on the bike and 500 more during the 1st ½ of the run. Nutrition had been a significant issue for me in the past and I knew that this might prove difficult.

I started the swim with an easy, bilateral breathing pattern to avoid taking it out too hard and hope to continue that until I made the last turn buoy. However, my pace is a very common one and I went to my most comfortable single stroke pattern after only about 500 meters to remain relaxed among the congestion of swimmers. I resorted to intermittent BLB to assure myself that I wasn’t pushing too hard. But the swim remained relatively physical right up to the beach exit. Despite the constant struggle to find a clean swim path, I didn’t feel as if my effort had been excessive. The time was what I expected, I felt fresh, and assumed that I was successful in constraining my effort.

The positive feeling continued on the bike as I was able to take in nutrition within the first 15 minutes. This was a real success. That said, my heart rate was in the low 140’s and only occasionally drifting down to my goal rate. My power was ridiculously low…in the 150’s, so I decided to maintain that effort. People were blowing by me in groups of 3 and 4 all the way to Richter, but I kept to my modified plan. I had taken in 1000 cal at the beginning of the climb and felt great.

I’m a very steady, but conservative climber. I was continually shocked at how many people continued to pass me all the way through all three tiers of the climb. By the time I reached the bottom of the descent and realized how slow my pace was (19 mph), I made a conscious decision to depart from my pre-race plan. To paraphrase Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan going into the ring until you take your first punch”. It was evident that I was headed for a bike split that the fastest run I was capable would not have justified the overall finish time…this was the “punch” that changed my race plan.

I elevated my effort for the next 50 k (avg HR 147) to the top of yellow lake, but pace for that section was only 18 mph. I was still consuming nutrition and had taken in the remaining 1000 cal by the top of Yellow Lake. The new plan was to finish the bike strong and try to do my best to salvage a run.

I arrived in T2 after a 5:25 bike split from 171 watts and HR avg of 145. I was disappointed in the effort required to get that split and only hoped that I could miraculously pull of my run goal.

I started the run slowly and my legs did come around. However, I lost focus and stopped recording splits every mile. It wasn’t until I downloaded the splits onto my computer and calculated the splits from the large conglomerate times that I realized how much I lost focus. From miles 8-15 my splits were all ~ 7:15, an increase in pace of 30-40s/mile from the first 7 miles. I didn’t know that at the time b/c I only took 2 splits over the 8 miles. I assumed that I was running around 7:30’s. As most of us know, our math skills aren’t the greatest when you are that deep into the race. I was doing a good job of maintaining a HR of 145, but in retrospect I could have used the split data to avoid that much of a pace increase with a half marathon to go. I also didn’t realize that my last 3 miles were 10 minute/miles. It’s really humorous in retrospect…everything was literally moving in slow motion. I remember casually observing in “3rd party fashion” that the group ahead was pulling away. I remember thinking how odd it was that I didn’t seem to be gaining ground anymore. At this juncture, I felt I had no chance of now reaching my run goal. In fact, had I run 7:30 the last 3 miles, I would have run 3:15. I had no idea…

Here are the run splits from my watch:
1. 7:48/145/142
2. 7:31/146/143
3. 7:57/145/143
4-6. 22:22(7:27)/148/144
7. 7:48/150/146
8-10. 21:56(7:18)/149/146
11. 8:06/150/146 (big climb before turn around)
12-15. 21:44(7:14)/151/145
16-21. 47:41(7:57)/148/142
22. 7:57/146/145
23. 7:38/148/143
24-26.2 31:20(10:00)/147

So, I’m disappointed I didn’t reach my goal. Though I didn’t set a time PR, 45th overall was my highest finish in an M-dot race. Here are a few observations from the day that will help me at my next race.

Though I didn’t reach my run goal, I don’t believe it was the result of poor run fitness. I’m running faster and more efficiently than ever. I feel great about that and I hope to build on this in the upcoming year.

The swim was interesting in that my result confirmed what the training group repetitively recognized throughout the summer. Though I was certain I was going easy and below an avg hr of 140, it was really 145. This is despite spending 2 times a week swimming at different efforts and documenting speed and hr. I now know what intended effort is required to expend the correct energy on the swim. I think that an avg hr of 145 is ok for me. I came out of the water fresh and was immediately able to take nutrition. This is in stark contrast to prior races.

I consumed 400 cal/hr on the bike in comparison to 200 cal/hr in the past. This really made a difference when I decided to go harder on the bike. I never had that feeling that I wanted to quit at 80-90 miles on the bike and 13 miles on the run, whereas that has been a consistent feeling in the past. I also was able to take 500 cal by the half way mark on the run. I certainly felt that this was a big nutritional breakthrough. Short of 450 cal of powergel on the bike, the remainder of the nutrition was Infinit with an osmolality of 280.

My bike is still weak. This needs work…I will have to sort that out over the next year.

So, no excuses, Scott. Fortunately I remain determined to reach my run goal. This was a great learning experience and I look forward to the remainder of my sabbatical to incorporate more knowledge about endurance training and human performance. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs.


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Post from Penticton

A little update and a bit of the atmosphere.

Penticton is really pumped for Ironman. This should be on all of those people's list who like to do destination races.

As soon as you enter British Columbia (we drove in from Colorado), there is a sign that says "Best Place in the World". I can't verify that statement based upon the short duration that I've been here, but it is spectacular. Your entire drive from the border into town is surrounded by apple and peach orchards, wineries, mountains and beautiful lakes.

Penticton is similarly beautiful. The town is nestled between 2 incredibly beautiful and very large lakes. This resort town is packed and would be a great place to visit without the Ironman, but as the locals say, Penticton is defined by IMC.

The entire region embraces the race and the participants. When swimming at the local pool on Monday, an elderly gentleman approached us and inquired about our upcoming race. He had never raced, but volunteered for 14 years before his hip arthritis prevented him from working any longer. He proceeded to give us tips on the course and then wished us good luck. This episode has been repeated a multitude of times throughout the week by various volunteers, neighbors, and store clerks. Amazing!

The course is tremendous. Short of Hawaii, the swim venue is the best I’ve seen. (In some respects, ie lack of jellyfish, sharks, earthquakes & waves, it is even better). The bike course rolls through countryside similar to our car ride in. Skaha Lake, McLeans Road, Richter, Pass, the out and back at Keremous, and Yellow Lake are the ride highlights. A lot of patience is going to be required through the first ~80-90 miles. The out and back run is pretty flat with a few short climbs.

Well, that is it for now. I’ve registered, the bike is getting its last tune-up and adjustments, and I’m hunkering down until race day. Erin and I went to Safeway yesterday and I prepared for my rest day by buying a handful of $6 movies...the poor girls will be subjected to Lonesome Dove, On Golden Pond, and a handful of others I can't recall the name.

Thanks for all the well wishes and thoughts…I will need them all on race day.


Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Putting It Back Together

Since my last post, I've completed my biggest training weeks of the summer and taught a spine course in Niagara Falls. Assuming I would bounce back after a few rest days, I was bit suprised last week when I felt increasingly drained after every training session. I was able to complete a solid 23+ hours; that said, I was a little apprehensive in answering the eternal "approaching your 'A' race question"...How do you feel"?

After a few days reflection (and the comfort of regaining some fitness composure and a solid lactate run test), I'm certain "the plan" is right on schedule. I feel normal now and I'm beginning to get that internal buzz in anticipation for the race. I have new found appreciation for the TDF cyclists who describe not feeling their best a few days before the race in anticipation of coming around during the crucial 3rd week of the tour. Though I know I still have plenty of freshening remaining, I can "see" it all falling into place.

Part of the confidence in the plan is knowing that I've put in the training and I'm now moving into the execution phase. On race day, I won't be anticipating any sudden appearance of new talents or hidden fitness. My job will be to proceed with the plan I've prepared on the fitness I've gathered the preceding months.

In one of my prior posts, I discussed the success of endeavors relying upon ability, desire and social support. Fortunately I've been significantly blessed in this last trait...there is NO better support than my family. Erin and the girls have sacrificed a great deal to be here with me this summer. John, the eternal training partner, has been there every step of the way. And my parents-I look forward to "sharing" a 5th IM together.

The picture at the top...that was in late April at the end of my base training period. That is when worrying makes it difference...fear of showing up on race day undertrained...the motivation to train harder and more consistently.