Thursday, August 20, 2015

Mont Tremblant Race Report - How To Blow a KQ

Step 1: Spend close to three hours trying to figure out why your darn power meter won't calibrate hours before bike check in. Never got power meter calibrated prior to race.

Step 2: Forget HR monitor at condo on a hot and humid day, when having HR as a 2nd metric would have probably been very helpful. Katie got the HR monitor for me out on the run course, but it was probably too late at that point.

Step 3: Wear a sleeved black suit on a hot and humid day, when there should have been a 'Plan B' if the weather was not ideal. Not change into running gear at T2.

Step 4: Get injured during training and miss three weeks of running. Pool running and the elliptical machine simply don't replace real running.

These are things that I'm thinking in hindsight that led to my second failure to KQ. In 2013 I was oh so close to qualifying, and I felt that this time I would be better off, knowing the course, and having learned from the past. However, it was not to be.

IMMT 2015 was my fourth time racing at Tremblant, and I felt this was a big advantage. I knew the course, the transition zone, the area, and felt it would play in my favor. I was feeling as good in the water as I did a few years ago, and my bike felt even stronger than in the past. I had a bit of a running setback in early June with an Achilles injury that forced me to take off three weeks of running, but after that I had eight solid weeks with good running. I also made the point of nailing down a specific nutrition plan and felt like it was my time and my race.

The day began with the a unappetizing breakfast of 3.5 cups of unsweetened applesauce, a scoop of whey protein and 1/4 cup of raisins all mixed together. This was my second time with this breakfast, and by the 5th or 6th spoonful it's fighting a gag reflex to down it all. By the time I was done I was hoping finishing the breakfast was the hardest thing I'd do that day.

In my three previous Tremblant races we've stayed in the village, and had a very short walk to the transition area. This year Katie's folks were coming and they got us a timeshare condo just out past where the run course heads onto the bike path. We saved a good chunk of money, but looking back, I think this was detrimental to my race. Each time we went into the village (packet pickup, bike drop off, day of race drop off) I had to walk a good deal farther than was ideal. All of this extra walking in the hot conditions probably wasn't helpful. If I race IMMT again I'll definitely stay in the village.

Katie and I left the condo at 4:50 and she dropped me off right around 5:00. I got into transition, dropped off my special needs bags (wouldn't end up using either one), then loaded the bike with nutrition and my bike computer. The Powertap still wasn't calibrating, but it was giving me power numbers. I was a little concerned, but couldn't do anything about it.

The walk to the swim is quite long - around 1/2 a mile, and I chatted with a teammate on the way over. The porta-pottie line was very long, and I only had around 15 minutes after getting out to pull the wetsuit up, toss my morning clothes bag into the back of a dump truck, and get down to the start. I had a few minutes in the water to take a few strokes, then headed to the start.

Other than a few points of contact, the swim was pretty uneventful. I found a few folks who were swimming at a similar pace to draft off at points. My open water swims had been going pretty good of late - 1:22-1:25 avg pace, so I was hoping to be in the 1:03-1:04 range, but I only came out of the water a few seconds quicker than two years ago in 1:06:28. I know it wasn't a big deal and quickly had the wetsuit off curtesy of the strippers, then headed to T1.

I tried to be a little quicker than two years ago, and was able to be out on the bike in a shade under 5 minutes. I settled in and let just about everyone fly on by, keeping power under 240-250, even on the first few hills. I was using Best Bike Split to guide me, but as the time went on, the intervals seemed way off. For those who are not familiar with BBS, it's a website that factors in weather, course, bike, rider, etc to predict a time. You can also download the ride and it tells you what power to target for each segment. In my case, the entire ride was broken into 161 segments, but they were off and the ride 'ended' at mile 103 with some beeping and a congratulatory message. Not quite! I hit 'start' and rode out the remainder of the course.

Anyway, back to the first portion of the course. IMMT is a pretty hilly course, but there are only a few real steep sections. Nearly all of the course can be ridden in the aero bars, and I tried to stay as aero as possible throughout the day. BBS had predicted a time of 4:53 on 244 watts. As I didn't have my HR monitor, I decided to be a bit more conservative, and targeted around 10 watts lower for the first loop. Once I got out to route 117 there was a steady climb for a few miles before a steep descent. After the descent it was essentially a pretty flat out and back to the base of the hill that we just went down. Again, I let folks go on the hill, knowing they'd come back to me.

Eventually, I made my way back past the transition zone and realized that I was going to have a pretty fast first loop. Going up the steeper stuff I was glad I'd opted for the 11-28 cassette and was able to keep power at or just above FTP on even the steepest grades. After the turn around I ended up finishing the first loop right around 2:24. I was pretty shocked with the time as my average power at that point was around 232 watts. I was feeling pretty good and taking in hydration and nutrition. I realized that a bike time of around 4:50 wasn't out of the question.

The second loop got quite a bit warmer, and I made a point of taking a bottle of water at each aid station, spraying most over my body, then taking a few squirts before tossing it. My power was slightly lower on loop two, but I knew it was getting hotter, I didn't have my HR monitor, and I didn't want to overcook things. I still felt like I was being smart and riding well within my means. As I neared the end of the second loop I was still feeling good and knew I was near the front of the AG. My A goal had been coming off the bike right around six hours, and it turned out to be 6:02 when I entered T2, riding a 4:51:01 bike split on 228 AP, 235 NP. I was 3rd in my AG.


My legs felt just ok as I ran to the transition tent. There was only one other person in the tent with me, and I was out and on my way in just under two minutes. Immediately, I knew that my run legs weren't happy. In my race two years ago I felt great off the bike and averaged around a 7:35 pace for the first six miles, but made the mistake of taking in no nutrition. This time I was targeting a 8:00 - 8:10 pace for the first six miles and taking in nutrition. I wasn't feeling great, and had to stop to massage my left hamstring right after the first mile. My pace for the first five to six miles was where I wanted, but it didn't feel like a jog. I knew I was still in a good position relative to the AG and began to think that if I could average 8:00-8:10 I may be ok. However, having this mindset so early on in the race and 'hoping' to simply maintain what should feel like a real easy pace was not a good thing.

I began thinking about my uncalibrated power meter and wondered if I had actually put out a higher wattage. I was making a real point of staying on top of nutrition and hydration, but it didn't seem to make me feel any better. The run plan was to have a Cliff Block every two miles and a gel every 45-50 minutes with a Saltstick, as well as 4-5 oz of Gatorade at each aid station. It was around mile seven to eight that I began being passed by folks in my AG. It was demoralizing to see them running off at a pace that should have been easy for me to hold. Maybe it was the heat getting to me, simply not having the running miles that I needed due to my injury in June, over biking, but I was feeling like complete garbage and just not mentally there. I made it back to the village for the end of the first loop in 1:48. Again, I told myself that if I doubled that I'd run around what I ran two years ago, which was still a crappy run time of 3:35.

However, things continued to go downhill and my pace crept up towards 9:00 miles. I tried to think of all my long runs, where I felt great and where 7:30 pace felt like a walk in the park, but it did no good. The second loop was the typical death march where I simply went from aid station to aid station, walking the aid stations. The one positive thing out on the run course was my family. On the second loop I saw Jackson and he had a huge grin and was waving at me - it picked me up for a bit and Katie said I ran off much faster than on my approach. Moments later I simply wanted the race to be over and get back to the finish area.

The last 4-5 miles were run around a 9:30 pace. I crossed the finish line dejected, but glad to be done, finishing with a run spilt of 3:50. My total time was 9:54, good for 13th in the AG, 69th OA, and actually a two minute improvement on two years ago, but still not remotely close to what I expected. Had I been able to hold an 8:00 pace I would have finished 2nd in the AG. In the finish area I sat down and tried to have some chocolate milk. This was not the best idea, as soon I was feeling nauseous, and soon had medical staff around me. I ended up throwing up, and was taken into the medical area. I was weighed and blood was taken to check sodium levels, but everything was fine. I was worried that Katie wouldn't know where I was, and had one of the medical staff text her. Eventually, Katie figured out where I was, but couldn't come in. After around 1 1/2 hrs I was released and hobbled out to see her. We gathered my stuff, got my bike, then walked out to a location where I could wait. She rode her bike back to the condo, and around 45 minutes later was back with the car to get me and my gear.

                      Trying to look good for the camera around mile 23, but felt horrible.

As I mentioned at the start, there are many things that I did that contributed to my failure to attain my goal of a KQ. The power meter will be a question in my mind. All of my long rides, and I did six rides of 100+ miles, were done at 235-245 watts AP. 228 watts should have been an easy ride, and my only thought is that by being unable to calibrate the power meter I was actually putting out more watts than was displayed. Combined with the heat and humidity, wearing a black suit, and not knowing my HR, I could have been over doing things, and didn't really feel it.

Two years ago I had a 5:06 bike split on 232 AP. I'm just wondering how I was able to go 15 minutes faster on lower watts. Yes, I made a few changes to my bike and wore an aero suit, but to go that much faster I'd think I'd have to have a higher wattage. In 2013 I had no injuries and was more consistent in my running. However, I don't think this would have led to such a drastic slow-down on the run. I averaged 30-35 miles per week of running for a good chunk of time. However, maybe I need to increase this a bit in the future to have a better run split.

My thoughts going forward, are to tackle shorter distances for the next few years, maybe taking on another IM when I age up into the 40-44 in three years and am the young guy there. I need to become a better runner and am thinking I'll target PR's in the 5k, 10k and half marathon over the next year or two. Next year I'm thinking I'll race two HIM's, possibly Patriot and Timberman, as well as a few Olympics and sprints to work on my overall speed.

Lastly, I'd like to say a huge thanks to my family for their support. Katie has been very supportive of my racing and training. The long Saturday rides are very hard, being away for so long, and I'm now looking forward to having lots more time to spend with Katie and Jackson. We are actually headed off today to Europe for a week, visiting Ireland, Spain and France, and staying with Katie's brother in France for four nights. It should be a fun end to the summer before the school year starts up again.

I'd also like to thank Colin Cook at Peak Tri Coaching, who believed in me and crafted a training plan that put me in a good position to get to Kona. I simply didn't execute on race day. Leslie Why was also very helpful in creating a nutrition plan and race plan for me to follow.

It's now time to rest for a bit and rise another day. I still feel like I have a KQ in me, it'll just have to wait a few years.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Seconds Count!

In my last crack at qualifying for Kona I came to realize that seconds matter no matter the race distance. I won a sprint tri a few years ago by three seconds and I missed a KQ by seven seconds two years ago at IMMT. This time around I'm going into the race with the mindset that every second matters. This means everything from setting up a clean, aero bike to dialing in how and when to take in nutrition.

I've grown in the past two seasons since what I deemed a failure in 2013 at IMMT. My goal for that race was very simple - qualify for Kona, and I felt that based on training it was a forgone conclusion. However, Ironman is a very long day, and little mistakes can have big consequences. I came off the bike in 2013 feeling great, so great that I neglected to take in any nutrition for the first six miles. I was running my goal pace and feeling awesome. However, between mile six and eight I quickly realized that not taking in calories was not a wise decision. I ended up with a run that was 15-20 minutes slower than what I was capable of. That will not happen this year.

I'm working with Leslie Why, a nutritionist who is a coach with PeakTri Coaching. I've altered my diet over the past several months and have a nutrition plan laid out, starting with race week nutrition and correct carbo loading. Race day breakfast and a clear hydration and nutrition plan for the race are mapped out. I really feel that this is my missing link that I lacked two years ago.

I spent a lot of time after IMMT two years ago thinking about those seven seconds. There are so many ways to save time over the course of an Ironman, and it took me quite some time to get over my 'near miss.' I feel that I have planned for this race much better than in the past. I plan to be at least one minute quicker in overall transition time. I won't rush, but will be deliberate and have absolutely no down time. I took a little over seven minutes in transition two years ago, while the top AGers were around 60-90 seconds quicker.

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I've made several changes to the bike, which should result in big time savings. These include: lowering my front end about an inch, adding a TriRig front brake, getting a new saddle, changing out my aero helmet, getting a sleeved race suit, removing my cadence sensor, and changing my BTA bottle and Garmin mount. Of course, the engine has to do most of the work, and I've been feeling very good on the bike. The goal is somewhere in the 240-250 watt range on race day. All of this should result in a faster bike split than in 2013 (dependent on race day conditions, of course).

As coach Colin frequently says, "Swim and bike for show, run for dough." He has done a fantastic job of embodying this saying, and I aim to join him. I plan to be smart on race day, and know that based on previous results that a time around 9:30 has been 2nd in my AG the last three years. I plan to be conservative on the run, and will target a pace in the 7:40-7:45 range for the first half of the race. This should put me in a good position to finish the race strong and be near the top of my AG. I also hope there will be no need to make a porta-pottie stop late in the race (90 seconds there at mile 19 two years ago!).

An Ironman is a long day for everyone, be it near 8 hours for the top pros to 17 for the midnight finishers. Regardless of time, seconds do matter. I aim to save as much time as possible on race day be being smart (not rushing) so that I can look back at my race and be pleased with how I executed my plan.