Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Kona 2018 Recap

Summary

It took me a long time to even start writing this race recap.  Beyond being busy with work, family, holidays, etc. I've had to think a lot about the race and my personal investment in this sport.  The day after the race had I announced that I was taking an indefinite period away from the sport.  I had to take the time to think about what it means to me.

Kona was my 16th Ironman start, fifth time at Kona, and 11-years since my first time racing on the Island.  It also represents the highest level of training and fitness I have ever logged, by a large margin.  While I did achieve my highest placing (6th in the age group) and fastest time on this course (9:30), I am disappointed that the performance did not reflect the level of investment in preparing for the race.  That said, I remain convinced that it's possible that I will one day reach my goals at this elusive venue.

This race recap is mostly about the race, but what underlies all of this is my love for the sport and the unending pursuit of my potential.  Further, I know that I am incredibly fortunate to have the health to even train for such a thing -- I will never forget that.  Lastly, none of this would be possible without the support of my friends and family -- thank you so much!

Race Prep

Diet

My diet was "normal" going into this race, as it had been all year long.  However, to avoid GI system inflammation, I did avoid gluten and dairy the few days prior to the race.  Most importantly, at the advice of Dave Scott, I refrained from the carb-restriction diet I typically do race-week.  This last point was a big departure for me, as I have typically cab-restricted before most of my prior Ironman races.

Swim

I only include the swim-prep because it would seem omitted otherwise.  I did nothing extraordinary for the swim prep.  I maintained the intensity and kept attending the masters group at least once per week.  While not shown anywhere, I also included several Vasa sessions.  My swim fitness was likely near where it was for most of the season.

Bike

#Dimond In the Rough

With proven bike fitness, I knew I did not need to do a great deal of work on the bike.  Nonetheless, I maintained a solid build, knowing that bike fitness could enhance my race running ability.  To this end, I wanted to achieve a higher level of bike fitness as compared to IMB.  The chart below shows the bike CTL, where I peaked out at 85 points.

What was exciting to see was that as the volume continued to rise, so did my performance metrics.  The chart below shows that my estimated VO2max kept rising substantially -- especially the bike -- after IMB.  These estimates come from the excellent Garmin Forerunner 935.  I know the estimate is reasonably accurate because I did a bike physiology test in September that demonstrated a bike VO2max of 60 mL/kg-min.  While these physiologic metrics are not extraordinarily high, the important thing for me is that my performance levels appeared to be rising -- along with the training volume.

Running

In every race of this season, I felt like my running form eluded me.  Indeed, I lost Boulder-70.3 by a mere 13-seconds due to my poor run.  However, my bike fitness and performance was through the roof.  Thus, I decided to apply some of the training principles to running that I felt were responsible for my bike performance.  While there are a few bike training themes that I think work for me, the one I wanted to apply was two big days separated by one day.  Specifically, I planned & executed two long runs separated by one day for the six week Kona build.  After IMB, I ramped the long run from 14 to 18-miles -- doing one Sunday and then another on Tuesday.  Further, these were negative-split runs, with the return effort at the high-end of IM race effort (145-149-BPM).  Indeed, I was running "back" at a 7:20-min/mile pace with a HR of 145-BPM.  I peaked my run 5-weeks out of Kona with 18-miles on Sunday & 18 on Tuesday.

Based on the gap between my run training and race performance, I wanted to up the fitness as compared to IMB.  I somewhat arbitrarily chose to increase the fitness level by 10%, as measured by the Chronic Training Load (CTL).  I peaked at a run CTL of 57 points for IMB; so, I was targeting a peak of 65 rCTL points for Kona.  As can be seen from the Performance Management Chart (PMC) below, I did hit that target peak rCTL.  Further, I maintained that level through September until October 2nd (11-days prior to the race).  As I write this, I realize that this might seem like a short run-taper, but the taper actually started a week or two prior as seen in the orange dots ramping down from a Training Stress Score of 256 (on 9/9; a 20-mile run).  Thus, the taper was more gradual with more frequent, shorter runs.

The PMC shows just aggregate training statistics, but the chart below shows more specifics.  The build, decline, and subsequent ramp in July was Boulder 70.3.  After that, the run volume and pace were very consistent and peaked at the end of August.  The pace zone represent easy (8:45-8:03/mile), IM-pace (8:02-7:22/mile), and threshold (7:22-6:40/mile) as blue, green, and red, respectively.  One can see that the majority of my run prep was at IM-specific pace.  The yellow line represents the volume in miles per week.  July through September, the average volume was between 40-50 miles per week.

Lastly, as shown previously my run performance continued to rise as indicated by the VO2max.  So, both the training load AND performance condition were rising.

General Fitness

The structure of a typical build week looked like this (starting on Thursday, as that is when the cycle seemed to start).
  • Thursday: AM 70-90-mile IM pace ride + 4-6 mile brick run
  • Friday: Mid-day swim 3k + 90-minute torque spin class
  • Saturday: AM 80-100 mile IM pace ride + 5-9 mile brick run
  • Sunday: AM long run; PM 2k swim
  • Monday: AM swim 3k + 1-hr hard spin class
  • Tuesday: AM long run
  • Wednesday: AM track workout

During the 3 months of July, August and September I had a total of four days OFF.  My general training plan simply allows me to take days off when I am tired or not performing as expected.  Otherwise, I keep pushing.  The overall PMC below shows that build, peaking at 146 CTL points -- the highest level I have ever achieved.  For reference, I peaked at 120 CTL points going into Kona 2016.


Heat Training

As it had been a mild September in Colorado, there was little opportunity to heat train outdoor.  Also, I did not have the appetite to heat-up and humidify the pain-cave.  Thus, I decided to use a different protocol -- post-workout dry-sauna sessions.  I started these sessions much farther out from the race than I typically do -- probably a good 2-months prior.  I did ~20 such sessions of at 30-60 minutes after a workout.  In addition, I did these sauna sessions without re-hydrating from the workout.  As an example, I recall several sessions after my long-run ramp of 14 to 20-miles, where I'd sit in the sauna at 140*F for 1-hour immediately following the run.  I know the body core temperature must have remained elevated, as one morning I returned from the run at 157-lb; and after the "hotbox" I weighed 154-lb (3-lb lighter than IMB18 race-weight).

In addition to the sauna heat work, I also arranged travel to arrive in Hawaii 10-days before the race so that I could acclimatize to the heat.  The day after arriving, I had planned on running 16-miles in the heat of the day.  The next day I rode 80-miles during mid-day.  The next day, I had a 13-mile run planned.  The pace was WAY off, I had to cut short the runs, and each of these training sessions severely depleted me.  It was so bad, I wondered whether I could even finish the race -- forget accomplishing my lofty expectations.

After this initial panic, I reached out to several trusted and experienced folks for advice, asking whether I should soldier-on or reel it back.  Some of the feedback helped me understand that perhaps I had dehydrated myself in these initial exposure to the heat.  Indeed, after focusing on re-hydrating (huge bowl of bone broth with lots of salt), I was back to normal the next day.

Based on this experience, it was clear to me the post-workout sauna protocol was not effective -- for me.  Perhaps this approach may work for others, but I was a non-responder.

Mental Training

In 2016 I picked up a Muse Mediation device and started using it about a month prior to Kona 2016.  As I commented in that race recap, I did not appreciate the benefits of the meditation until the chaos of the mass swim start, where I remained calm, collected, and quick -- I set a swim PR!

Since then, I have not meditated every day, but picked-up the practice in prep for some races or just to maintain some good mental training.  The most benefit I have found (with regard to triathlon) is that it is extremely useful in handling the stress of threshold sessions -- remaining calm and breathing through the intervals.  The idea of meditating in prep for triathlon may seem like a stretch, but I have absolutely found benefit in various aspects of life -- including handling ornery young kids, getting to sleep better, and pushing through physically difficult moments.  In short, it gives me another positive coping mechanism.

I resumed meditating in prep for Kona and actually achieved a new level, which required meditating for 40-minutes straight.  In addition, I logged 28-days back-to-back as I went into the race this year.  I felt I was well-prepared for the physiological challenges of this race.

Training the Gut

Historically -- especially in Kona, my GI system was the main limiter in races.  Thus, this topic is perhaps the most important of all training I did specifically for this race.  After consulting with several folks on the topic of overcoming GI distress during the race, the most common advice I received was to "train the gut".  What I had done historically was to train my body to burn fat, with MANY training sessions performed in a fasted or severely carb-restricted state.  What I had NOT done historically was trained my body to withstand a high intake during the race.  So, as part of the Kona build, I did both rides and runs using the nutrition I had planned for the race, both in quantity and type.

During the bike of races, I would normally consume ~275kCal/hr of maltodextrin-based solution.  My drink of choice had been EFS Drink, which has worked very well.  However, in order to consume even more (300+ kCal/hr), I started experimenting with adding fructose to maltodextrin in a variety of ratios, the most common being the traditional 2:1 (malto:fructose).  In the one of the big brick days, I was able to consume 300kCal/hr of this malto/fructose solution on the 4.5 hour bike.  Then, at mile-4 of the run, my lower GI felt like it was going to blow-out -- I was reduced to a walk.  At that time and throughout that , I was distraught that my "gut training" was on the wrong track -- and, even worse, I did not have a "plan-B".  But what I realized later that evening was that this "failure" was exactly what I needed.  Through this failure, I realized the main source of my GI distress during races was consuming the fructose in the Gatorade during the run.

So, my nutrition plan involved eliminating the fructose from the bike solution, which was easy and then finding a replacement for the calories on the run, which was a little bit of a challenge.  What I decided to try was carrying two EFS Liquid Shot flasks for the run, which would suffice for the first 20-miles; then use coke for the remainder of the run.

The following week, I tried this strategy consuming 300kCal/hr of EFS Pro (which worked well) on the bike.  I then started the 6-mile run with a 400kCal flask of EFS Liquid Shot.  While the racing plan was to do a shot of EFS before each aid station and wash-down with water, during this training run I had no water.  So, I ended up consuming all 400kCal within the first 20-minutes of the run.  To my surprise, my gut was solid throughout the remainder of the run!  My finding of fructose being the culprit was now verified with both a positive (failure the week before) and negative (success and absence of GI distress) cases.  My race nutrition plan was hatched!

The importance of this seemingly minor point cannot be over-stressed.  The MAIN limiter of all my IM racing seemed to be an issue of my past!  All that was left was to prove during an actual race.

At this point in the training cycle I still had another several bigger days to train the various systems.  So, I did a mix of both my traditional carb-restricted sessions in addition to "race simulation / gut training" sessions, including a 100-mile bike + 9-mile brick run.  That second big-day session worked as planned, finishing the big-day running at a 7-min/mile pace -- at altitude, in the heat (90*F).

Race Expectations

Based on my fitness level and performance in training, I was in the best Ironman condition of my life.  I had the confidence built in 2016 that I could execute a solid swim and bike at Kona.  What remained was the run.  I was setting new PRs during the long runs, while the overall raining volume continued to rise.  I was running better than ever in my life.  Lastly, I think I had figured out a nutrition plan that would keep my GI system happy.

Based on my training, I estimated the following splits for the race.  Based on historical results, these times would yield a course age group record, a first place position, or at least podium.

Race Report

Pre-race

My sister and brother-in-law (Brenda and Dave) took the kids the night before to allow an easier and early night. (Thanks again guys!)  It also allowed Christine to take me to the race site in the morning.

The plan these days is to finish (solid) breakfast 2-hours before race start.  So, I had planned on finishing near 5am.  I changed breakfast up a bit knowing that I would benefit from some extra sodium and fluids, and it helped me get out of the dehydration hole the week prior.  I had a large bowl of chicken bone broth with lots of salt.  In addition, I had two toaster waffles with Almond butter and jam.  And -- of course -- coffee!  I also took with me a large bottle of water with a serving of EFS drink to sip before the race start.

We arrived at the race venue just before 5am and established a plan where to meet after I got everything prepped.  I knew from 2016 it was going to take a while, especially body marking.  However, after getting through a narrow bottleneck leading into body-marking, I found myself through the process in just a few minutes!  Transition prep was pretty fast and I made my way out to meet Christine.  I found her as the sun was coming up and the light changed dramatically.  Simultaneously, the environment was electric, exciting, chaotic, and serene.  I was so happy to be here at this moment with Christine -- ready to take on this huge challenge.

Swim (Estimated: 0:59 to 1:02 / Actual: 1:02:45)

I seeded myself near the front (perhaps 1-guy back) and in the middle (left to right).  I kept looking at my watch to get ready for the ensuing chaos.  As the cannon boomed, we were off.  My main goal was to remain calm, keep my face in the water, and just get into a good rhythm -- while pushing hard to get ahead of the main group.  As with prior years, it was full body contact for at least 15-20 minutes.  There were periods of relative order, broken by stochastic moments of a bunch of alpha-males occupying a limited physical space.  That aside, I was able to maintain my composure.  After the turn-around, it cleared out a bit.  I knew I was swimming well because I was able to stave-off the fast female age-groupers who started 5-minute behind.

For the most part, I was able to draft for perhaps 75% of the swim.  I exited the water feeling solid and in control.

In hindsight, I am really surprised that the swim time was slower than my estimates.  I swam slightly faster in 2016, but I have consistently swam MUCH faster this year vs 2016.  Further, in the practice swim the week before, I swam a pretty comfortable 1:01.

Bike (Estimated: 4:37 to 4:49 / Actual: 4:37:30)

T1 was fast and uneventful (thankfully) -- unlike 2016!  I was expecting to come out of the water in the top 10% of the field (200 guys ahead of me), so I expected it to be somewhat sparse.  I was wrong!  It seemed like there were hundreds of people in front of me.  In fact, there were likely 450 age-groupers out of the water before me.  Based on the tracker, I started the bike in 26th of the AG.  As a result, it was "bunchy" and a little scary until we got onto the Queen-K.  My pacing plan was to hold a steady power of 225-Watts, especially in the early stages of the bike.  However, I was probably at the end of the field where it was starting to get crowded, with hundreds of guys of similar capabilities bunched together.  Some people respect the rules and try to ride legal; some just cheat and draft.  In such a circumstance if you try to ride legal and let the pelotons go ahead, you're left watching literally hundreds of guys ride up ahead of you with no end.  I'd like to say that I had thought this all through and decided my strategy of going off the front was the best choice.  However, I didn't have that forethought and did decide to stay ahead of the main peloton that kept "harassing" me.  It was clear that I had more bike strength, as the little pitches on the road would push them back, I was able to get out ahead -- but with some pretty hard surges.  Then, as the grade reversed, the group would catch me again.  So, we repeated this game all the way to Hawi (at 60-miles into the bike) and then down the descent (to 70-miles).  Finally, at this point my bike fitness allowed me to continue riding away.  It's such a great feeling to be strong when the field is thinning out and going backwards.  Looking at the tracker, I improved my position from 9th in the AG at mile 59 (turn-around) to 4th at the end of the bike.

Due to the shenanigans for the first 60-miles of the bike, I was not able to execute the bike plan.  My normalized power was 238-Watts (about 5-Watts high) and average heart rate was 141-BPM (3-BPM too high).  In retrospect that was not as bad as I thought.  

Once clear of the field, I was able to hold a more steady power.  The return power was 200-Watts (229NP), but my heart rate was rising (143-BPM; 5-BPM above plan).  I suspect the aerobic decoupling (rising HR for a even power) was a result of the rising temperature.  

Overall, I rode at 220-Watts & 141-BPM average (233NP), which is an IM PR.  This compares with IMB18 of 205AP/225NP/143BPM.  The power was about 5-Watts below plan.  Heart rate was 3-BPM over plan, which does not sound like much, but it has to come from somewhere (read on).

Bike nutrition was per plan with the first bottle of EFS Pro consumed by the time I picked-up the second (which also had 1x scoop Pre-race in it) in Hawi.  In total, it was 282kCal/hr on the bike.  The EFS Pro worked very well and I never felt bloated.  The only odd thing was, while I was drinking proactively, I did not pee on the bike.

Run (Estimated: 3:09 to 3:18 / Actual: 3:41:18)

T2 was quick and smooth.  I took a few seconds to put on the Desoto Arm Coolers to protect against the intense IR heat.  With my hand in a grocery produce bag, I was able to pull them up quickly.  I also put one of Christine's old (pink) t-shirts on my head, which covered my ears and would help keep my head wet.  In hindsight, I am not sure if that was all to helpful.

The run pacing plan was to hold a steady heart rate of 145BP, which -- on paper -- correlated with a 7:26/mile pace.  The nutrition plan was to take a shot of EFS from the flask before each aid station and wash it down with water.  As I started the run, I kept the effort in check.  However, at mile-1, I deviated from the nutrition plan -- my body seemed to want coke.  From that point forward, I allowed myself to drink coke instead of the EFS.  In hindsight, I am not sure I could stomached the gel.

I saw the family near mile-3 on the run and they told me I was in 4th of the AG.  This was the first time during the race I knew my position.  The news was neither a boost nor a drain -- I was right on plan, knowing that if I maintained the pace I could still win the AG.

Making the way to Pilani, I was smart about the hill and power-walked short sections to keep the HR down.  Once I peaked and started the little descent, I could feel the day's effort in my legs and whole-body already -- it was getting hard!  Soon after, I started to feel a little bloated and needing a porta-potty break.  At mile-12 I saw a good opportunity to take that break.  Fortunately, the break demonstrated that my GI system was operating properly (no diarrhea, which was typical by now).

At that point, the run had become really hard and I was just half-way through the marathon.  It was not leg limitation or pain, but a whole body fatigue; I was just out of energy.  With all the training I had done, all the prep, I could not believe I was in this position.  This race was not turning out how I had expected.  I did not know, but I was then in 3rd position of the AG, a position I held until mile 16.

The negative thoughts kept returning and I was not doing a good job of managing them.  At one point, near mile 16, I allowed myself to accept a lower placement.  It was a sublime resignation; I guess I did not want it as bad as I had thought.  In retrospect, this moment, this lapse, and succumbing to the negative thoughts is what haunts me, and largely defines, the race.

As we descended into the energy lab, I felt my left sock or insole bunching.  So, I decided to fix it.  So, I sat-down, pulled off the shoe and fixed whatever was bothering me -- likely something I could have easily lived with had I been in a better mental state.  It was probably due to that delay that I moved into 4th position.  As I got into the Energy Lab, I actually started walking a bit.  I'd restart by focusing on 10-breaths -- another meditation coping mechanism.

As I got back out onto the Queen-K, I took a shot of the EFS with the Pre-race in it near the mile 21 aid station.  After walking that aid station and getting the water I needed I restarted and was actually able to push the pace.  For a short while after that aid station I was actually running near a 7:30/mile pace.  However, it was not sustainable.  Regardless, things seemed to stat clicking a bit better.  I was no longer walking between aid stations.  The Pilani descent was pretty painful, but manageable.  However, when I hit the bottom I was hurting incredibly bad, but I was so close to the finish.  My first coach, Muddy Waters, saw me and told me to "stay strong".  All I could do was grimace as a slogged by.  As I made my way onto Ali'i for the last little stretch, I tried to take in the scene and sights, but I was in so much pain.  I hit the carpet, but instead of being filled with elation, I was severely disappointed.  This was the ONLY IM race in my career I've finished feeling something other than complete bliss.

As I review the run, it appears that my troubles began as soon as I got out on the Queen-K.  My heart rate started to drop and so did my pace.  The Energy Lab was a horrible section, and the return on the Queen-K was not much better.  What's also clear is that the pace was way off my training.  At 136BPM, I could normally run a 7:50/mile or so, but I was a good minute per mile slower.
  • Miles 0-7 (base of Pilani): 7:30 / 149BPM
  • Miles 9-15 (Queen-K): 8:08 / 143BPM
  • Miles 15-20 (Energy Lab): 8:57 / 136BPM
  • Miles 20-26.2 (Queen-K): 8:46 / 136BPM

What went well

  • Swim calmness -- Like 2016, while the swim start was chaotic, I was able to remain calm.  I remain convinced that meditation has improved my coping skills during stressful time such as these
  • The last 40-miles of the bike -- That portion of the race was mine to shine.  The crowds were left behind and I remained strong
  • When things went badly during the run, I kept turning to the meditation practice of counting 10-breaths -- Bad spot occur for nearly everyone.  The important thing is to establish a positive coping mechanism
  • GI distress was nearly absent on the run -- This is likely the most important advances of my triathlon career

What did NOT go according to plan

  • The swim was a good 1-2 minutes slower than I had expected  -- I cannot explain why the swim was slower than expected.  I was drafting well and swimming strong & efficient
  • The heart rate on the bike was higher than expected for the power I was holding.  Overall, it did not feel that hard, but my heart rate was 3-BPM higher than plan (138 vs 135-BPM).  Over a 4-5 hour period this additional cardiovascular stress adds up
  • I was not able to hold a steady or appropriate power for the first 60-miles of the bike due to the crowding of the course and one peloton that I kept trying to stay in front of.  In hindsight, my response to this situation probably yielded the best outcome
  • I deviated from my nutrition plan on the run -- Perhaps it was the heat, but my guy was not ready for the EFS gel.  I trust my gut over my head, so this too was probably the best course of action
  • I fell apart on the run, starting at mile-12 -- I paced the run well up until this point; so, I am still scratching y head as to the cause of this "failure"

Possible causes of the failure to race to my potential

  • Chronic over-training: Being that my training was at an all time high, I was vigilant of over-training.  My sleep was good; and I was getting a solid 8-hours a night in addition to short naps several days a week.  My weight and mood was stable.  I remained motivated to train; and, my performance kept rising.  During the build cycle, there were never any signs of over-training.  However, it was the end of a LONG season with lots of hard training and racing
  • Acute over-training: I did some pretty hard training the first three days on the island; and it put me in a pretty big hole.  I seemed to dig out quickly and fully, but that did occur just 7-days before the race
  • Over-biking: 
    • I rode with a higher heart rate at IMB18 (143BPM vs 141BPM) and still ran better at IMB; so, it's unclear whether this was the cause
    • However, as I looked across four races, including: IMB16, Kona16 (BBS estimated power), IMB18, and Kona18 a trend seemed to emerge.  As my average power rose, my run split suffered

  • Nutritional deficiency ("bonking") due to over-biking -- It's possible due to the higher normalized power that I consumed more carbohydrates than planned, which would impact the ability to run well
  • Heat Training Non-responder -- Even though I had prepared as much as reasonable, the run still felt really hot.  At this point, I am nearly out of ideas of how to handle that stress better
If you have made it this far and have some ideas on this topic, I'd appreciate hearing them!

Things I [think I] Learned

  • Fructose is my enemy
  • I can actually drink Coke as my nutrition through the entire marathon
  • The post-workout sauna sessions were ineffective in acclimatizing me to the heat of Kona

Race Report Card


Sunday, August 12, 2018

2018 Boulder 70.3 Race Recap

Summary

I went into this race the most "fit" I've ever started a 70.3 race.  Yet, my body did not cooperate with my aspirations.  I had two main goals for this race: (1) ride more steady, and (2) demonstrate my run strength.  I did accomplish the first goal, but fell quite short of the second.  With the passing of several days since the race, I feel pretty confident that I did not race to my potential because the Lyme disease seems to have returned.

Race Prep

After IM Boulder, I took most of June to relax and reset a bit.  I did get some really good running in while we were camping, but the bike and the swim training took a back seat.  However, July was a solid month, but it has been a bit of a struggle to ramp the volume.  I logged a bike and/or run every day, except one during the month.  Like the early season, I returned to a good amount of intensity, with the basic week shown below.  The Saturday before the race, I actually hit a season peak running CTL of 60 (68 in TrainingPeaks), running 64-miles the week before.  Biking CTL is still coming up slowly, but was in the 58 (66 in TP) range.













Two weeks prior to the race I did a 5-day carb restriction diet and shed 5-pounds.  Because the training schedule was standard, I ended up burying myself on Thursday the week before the race.  It took a few days to dig out of that hole, but by Sunday I felt reasonably well again.  I also did the Creatine + Ribose loading the week leading into the race.  Based on how I felt race day, it did not give me the effect I felt in the prior 2-3 times I've tried this protocol.

On Tuesday race week, I set a new 18-minute bike power PR during my threshold interval workout; the run track workouts the week prior and race week were solid.  And, my swimming was really coming around, showing in my splits and power on the Vasa.  In short, all signs were showing positively that this would be a solid race.

While I have seen some very positive training response, my health has definitely been a bit of a struggle.  As an example, my asthma had returned in a cycle that was bad enough to wake me in the middle of the night several times.  In the last few months, I've returned to the Lyme Disease doc and learned a few days before the race that I still have one of the Lyme co-infections, Babesia.  I have a suspicion that this infection explains the challenge I have faced in ramping my training volume and the less-than-optimal race-day performance.

Race Report

Goals

  • Ride more even -- While IM Boulder was an incredible ride, I still left some time on the table because my average power was lower than planned.  My variability Index (VI) for that ride was 1.10.  I set-out to ride Boulder 70.3 more steadily and raise the average power to ride faster
  • Demonstrate my running strength -- I had put in a huge amount of work running this season and have set some race run PR's.  I was well-prepared to show another PR, especially with better bike pacing
  • Win the age group -- I have been on a roll this year, with 3 AG wins and one 2nd place finish.  I knew my main competition would be Silvio Guerra, but I also knew that he'd have a lot of ground to make-up when his feet hit the ground after the bike 
  • Race well enough to move me into the #1 USAT ranking position -- I am currently in 2nd place in the M50-54 AG, beat out by Robert Skaggs -- a SOLID short-course guy.  If I get 97+ USAT points for this race, that would put me in #1 position

Race Plan

Like IM Boulder, I established a pacing plan that optimized the combined bike+run splits by distributing the heart rate through both disciplines.  The image below shows that plan.  It should be noted that this bike power is SIGNIFICANTLY higher than any other HIM at Boulder I have attempted.  However, I did ride at 238Watts (NP) for the first loop at IM-Boulder this year.  So, this plan should be doable.


Pre-race

Prior to getting to the reservoir race morning, this was one of the most relaxed races I have experienced.  Perhaps it was because I was distracted with a busy and stressful work week, or that it was a local race.  Everything seemed so easy and low key.  Registration was quick and actually quiet.

Race morning, arriving at the reservoir and fining a mile-ling line of cars to turn into the reservoir changed all that.  I had planned on arriving at transition near 545am, giving me 75-minutes to prep everything.  As I arrived at 535am, finding this long line of cars, I wondered whether it was going to be another stressful start.  I had even considered driving up to Tom Watson Park and running into the reservoir (2-mile), but traffic control made that impossible.  However, entering the reservoir southbound on 119 was MUCH faster than had I stayed in the northbound line.

I eventually made it to the reservoir and was in transition near 6am, which still offered plenty of time before the 7am closure.  I was greeted with a nice compliment during body marking; the the volunteer responded to my age (50) as "well preserved".  As I setup the transition, I saw a few friends, like Steve Bell and, then Rob Gray with whom I spent the rest of the down-time chatting about all things long-course.

Swim (Estimated: 31:00 / Actual: 31:15)

This race was another rolling start.  And, like IM Boulder, there were a lot of people self-seeded ahead of me in the 30-33 minute group.  At the start, I saw Bryan VanMeveren and then Silvio Guerra.  My goal for each swim is to start as smoothly and comfortably as possible, resisting the trained panic response.  As the race organizers have figured out to do the rolling start quite well, this plan worked flawlessly.  Again, nearly zero contact the whole swim.  I was able to get into a comfortable rhythm pretty quickly.  And, like IM Boulder, I was in passing mode.  Of the 200+ people ahead of me, I probably passed 100 during the swim.

Post-race analysis shows that I was 4th out of the water in my AG, and only 30-seconds off the #1 position.  I am very pleased with this result and glad that the swim work over the last few years is starting to materialize during races.

As I swam with my new Garmin, I was curious whether I swim straight or not.  Based on the map below, it looks like I do a descent job, but could still work on sighting a bit more.

Bike (Estimated: 2:10:12 / Actual: 2:12:43)

I took a new approach of using the Garmin 935 with power brackets and alarm.  I still had my Powertap Joule that I used, but only to check nominal power (240Watts).  I did NOT consult HR during the entire ride; nor did I use any of the prior methods of correlating speed and power.  Of course, as I ascended I rode with more power, but that is intuitive.  Basically, I tried to stay between 220-260Watts the entire ride.

As I started the ride, the power felt harder than expected.  My legs were burning quite a bit, but I knew I was well within my capabilities.  After a while things started to ease up a bit and felt a bit better.  However, I did feel what might be best described as heart palpitations; like I was "stressing" my heart more than usual.  That aside, the ride went pretty well and, again, I was in passing mode.

At mile 40, I got a bee sting in my left upper thigh.  I pulled the bike shorts fabric away from the skin in an effort of also removing the stinger, but I am unsure how effective that was.  Other than the temporary distraction, and the post-race discomfort the impact was pretty minimal.

The actual time was about 2.5-minutes slower than plan, which is likely due to the average power being lower than planned.  I was shooting for an 240Watts nominal, but only achieved 225Watts average.  However, the normalized power was 238Watts.  While I was a bit short of planned power, post-race analysis showed the bike split was 4th among all the age-groupers.  I was also very pleased to see I was within a few seconds of uber biker Rob Gray.

Run (Estimated: 1:29:29 / Actual: 1:37:20)

As I started the run, the arches in my feet and the muscles on the front of the lower leg (tibialis anterior) were BURNING.  As a result, I had a difficult time dorsiflexing.  This was the same thing that I felt during the first few miles of Ocala earlier this year.  So, I told myself just hang in, modify the form, respect the edge.  I also though that perhaps this would be a good way to force pacing the run well.  Other than the distraction of this discomfort, I felt like I was running reasonably well, but not great.  By mile 6 the burning subsided and I was better able to hold a more familiar form.  As I made the pass through transition, I told Pete Alfino that I was "almost warmed-up".

Surely, the second loop felt better than the first.  I was able to negative split the run and run about 5-seconds per mile faster on the second loop.  Still, though, I felt like I was running OK, but not great. 

Near mile-11 Darren De Reuck told me Silvio was coming and was 3-minutes behind.  The report was probably accurate, but perhaps 1-mile old -- meaning, I had more like a 2-minute lead at that point.  I was able to respond to this news, but only slightly.  It was just enough motivation to push me to the end.  However, as I reached the final turn before the finish -- perhaps 200 yards -- Silvio caught me.  I was in disbelief!  He actually decimated a HUGE lead with an incredible run.  In the end, Silvio beat me by 13-seconds with a well-deserved AG win.

Because I was able to hit my target HR and actually elevate it on the second loop suggests my poor run performance was NOT a result of pushing too hard on the bike.  In both TX70.3 and St George, I rode with a higher power, but still ran faster.  Thus, my goals for Boulder 70.3 were reasonable.  In hindsight, it's possible that the 64-miles of running the week before may have been too much, too close to the race.  Or, indeed it was the Babesia that limited my run.   

Post Race

Describing the post-race week as a roller coaster is an under-statement.  The evening of the race I felt like I was coming down with a cold.  The next three days, the right side of my head, jaw, and ear were painful due to swollen glads and a persistent, yet radiating headache.  This seemed like it could be a neurological symptom of the Babesia.  In addition, by Wednesday, I could not hold a heart rate above 120BPM without extreme discomfort in my chest.  I was also experiencing some pretty significant depression, with some really,really negative thoughts.  I was concerned that my season was over, with no hope of even training for Kona.

However, things seemed to take a positive turn Thursday where I was feeling a bit better.  And, on Friday I had a breakthrough bike session.  So far, I have been able to re-establish some really solid training and had one of the best runs in YEARS this morning.

Lastly, while Boulder 70.3 was not quite the race I wanted, several positive outcomes did occur, including:

  • The swim performance was excellent
  • The bike performance was excellent
  • The run was OK
  • It was a well-fought race which resulted in a good outcome on a season-basis
As a result of the last point, I earned enough points to achieve a current Ironman 70.3 ranking of 5th in the World and 1st in the US.





Tags: Rob Gray, Bryan VanMeveran, Silvio Guerra, Kevin Konczak, Steve Bell, Daren De Reuck

Saturday, June 30, 2018

IM Boulder 2018 Race Recap

Summary

Ironman Boulder marks the fourth time I raced the venue and my 16th Ironman start.  I achieved 3 of 4 of the goals I had set prior to the race.  But I remain hungry for and convinced I can achieve the 4th -- I still want to go sub-9.  Approaching 50-years of age, this achievement would be remarkable.  I am most proud of staying in the moment and "respecting my edge" all day long.  While the ride was the highlight of the race, I probably "over-biked", which cost me about 5-minutes overall.  Also, because I did not ride as steady as planned I left about 8-minutes on the table.  The bike was the 9th fastest overall, including the male pros.  While the run was "slow", it was still the 27th fastest run overall, including pros and nearly 20-minutes faster than the next in the age-group.

I am so thankful for the health I have that allowed me even to train.  And also thankful for the support from my fiends and family that make this all possible.

Race Prep

The full race prep is in the post.  However, to summarize:
  • I first focused on Swim volume and peaked that volume New Years Day with a 10k swim.  I maintained 2-3 sessions per week with the masters group at the Y, along with 1-2 more on my own per week
  • Starting in January, I then ramped the run -- both intensity and distance.  I peaked in March and maintained that level until June
  • Early-season bike and run training was marked by high-intensity work every day, except the log-run day (Sunday)
  • I did not start doing Ironman-specific bike sessions until ~5-weeks out of the race

Final Race Prep

With regard to final tuning prep, I used nearly every technique that I've used in the past.  It might have been too much because I felt HORRIBLE Thursday, Friday before the race, which is not a settling feeling!  Here's a recap of the techniques I used:
  • Heat training -- Leading into the weather had been very mild, but I wanted to be prepared for a hot race day.  (Mother Nature did not disappoint!)  I started about 10-days out and was only able to log 3x run sessions where it was "warm" (not hot) where I was able to add additional layers and simulate high heat indices.  Regardless, I was able to elevate the sweat-rate in these sessions to where I could lose 5-pounds of water per hour.  In addition, I added NIR sauna sessions (~40-minutes @ 140*F) after normal workouts 3-5 times
  • Creatinine & Ribose -- Before TX70.3 & St George, I loaded with Creatinin and Ribose.  In both of those races, I felt like a rock star.  So, I replicated the protocol, which was simply taking ~5-grams of Creatinine and ~5-grams of Ribose twice daily for 7-days before the race
  • Gluten & dairy-free (mostly) week before -- Unlike 2016 where I was Paleo + gluten & dairy-free for months, I decided to cut out these substances for the week prior to IMB.  I was generally successful, but had a few breaches of small amounts.  In hindsight, I am not sure I noticed much of a difference
  • Carb-restriction then reload -- This protocol is likely the source of feeling so poor the few days before the race.  I've used this technique since 2007 with good success.  It involves cutting net carbs to the lowest level possible for 5-days (Sunday through Thursday) and then carb-loading for 2-days (Friday & Saturday).  During this time, I typically lose significant weight.  This time, I went from ~162-pounds to 157-pounds
  • Taper: I've been noticing a trend in races where I've done well where there is symmetry about zero of the Training Stress Balance (TSB) the day of and day after the race.  For example, for IM-Boulder I hit a TSB of about +30 the day of the race and about -30 the day after.  Of course, the individual bike & run TSB's are also symmetric about zero as well

Race Recap

Prior to the race, I published a post that included the split estimates & race plan.  That plan was revised the day before the race after conferring with Rob Gray on the strategy of pushing the bike on a hot day, knowing the run will be slower due to the heat.

Pre-race

The day before, my buddy Chris Douville so graciously offered to take me to the race in the morning.  Race morning, he picked me up at 4am and I had breakfast on the road, which consisted of: coffee + 2x almond/peanut butter & jam sandwiches on gluten-free bread + 2x bananas.  I like to finish breakfast no later than 2-hours before the race start, so I was done by 420am.

Beautiful Race Morning Sunrise 
We arrived, found parking pretty quickly, and I was able to use a secret bathroom (thanks Chris!).  After dropping the special needs bags, we were on the shuttle within minutes.  We arrived at the reservoir at 510am, 10-minutes earlier than plan.

I first got the bike all prepped and went to put the Garmin in my run bag.  However, to my dismay, the run bag was not to be found!  Wow, what a way to derail a perfectly-planned race -- NO SHOES!  After looking around a few times, I got some help.  The lead volunteer (Meg?) told me they would find it while I was out on the swim & bike.  While that was a nice gesture, I was not so willing to allow all of this prep, planning, and excitement to race to go down the drain.  I started brainstorming with Chris what we could do.  The working plan was to have Christine call my mom to get earlier child care, so Christine could come earlier than planned -- all the way to the res -- with a backup bag.  Once that plan was established, I focused on getting ready for the swim start, which was getting pretty close.

Mikhail Ivanov and Bob, ready to Race!

Swim (Estimated: 1:01 to 1:04 / Actual: 1:03:06)

As the Boulder swim was a rolling start, the large group started to form along the boat ramp.  As I was running behind a few minutes, I had to wade my way toward the front, as I had planed to seed with the 1:00-1:10 group.  However, there were probably 500+ people in front of that wave sign.  So, I edged-up to where there were ~300 people in front of me.

The cannon boomed and the herd started moving slowly to the water.  They were letting about 2-4 people go at a time and it looked pretty clear.  Once I got to the water, I quickly dove-in and started swimming.  My initial focus was on establishing a regular and relaxed breathing pattern.  Fortunately, the throttling of athletes into the water allowed me to get into a rhythm very quickly.



The plan was to swim steady along the first stretch and pick-up the pace after the first turn.  The swim was completely open, with essentially NO contact during the entire swim!  During the swim, I was in extreme passing mode.  There was one person who looked like a good draft, but they were just a bit too fast so I let them go.  Thus, I swam solo the entire time.  I probably passed 200 people during the swim, which correlates with my overall placing out of the water of 103rd (including the pros, who probably all swam faster than I).

Bike (Estimated: 4:25:00 to 4:31:30 / Actual: 4:31:59)

T1 was was uneventful and I was feeling fine getting on the bike.  However, I was completely unaware of the initial segment of the bike in the reservoir, which was like a criterium!  After getting out onto the diagonal, I was in beast mode.  I had my power plan, but I also had the confidence of great bike strength.  I wanted to get to the front of the field quickly so I could just focus on my pace.  After making the initial turn-around @ 55th, I settled into the power/speed plan.  However, I noticed that my heart rate was elevated by a good 5-10BPM.  I stuck to the power plan, which was easy riding northbound.  After making the turn-around at Airport and hitting mile 10, I passed the my first female pro.  As I made my way up Neva, I was trying to pace myself to the plan, but was distracted by my elevated HR.  I decided to stick with the plan, which was based on power and ignore HR.  I figured it would settle on the Nelson descent.  In training, my HR would drop to ~120 on the descents, but on race day, it remained near ~130+.  Regardless, I decided to stick with the power/speed plan.

I was riding as planned, taking in calories and water on the descents.  At the bottom of Hygiene, I saw Rob Gray near the turn-around and he offered me some good encouragement.  After accumulating enough fluids, I was able to pee @ mile 50.  Most of us know that it's critical to be able to pee on the bike at least once.  This was an early pee, so I knew I needed to stay on top of the hydration.  This high sweat rate is evident on my tri-suit in the image below.
Riding to Plan near Mile-50 (or 110)

During the first loop, I was picking off riders and the field was getting pretty thin.  As I got to the 63rd turn, the road was taped with three options.  Really?!  I need to be able to be lucid and make good decisions during the Ironman!?  The section of the course here was definitely a bit confusing and I suspect a lot of people made the wrong, early turn onto 63rd.  Fortunately, I made the correct choice and continued on, south toward 55th for another loop on Diagonal.  As I started started the second loop, I allowed myself to calm a bit more, in fact allowing the watts to drop a bit.  This was not fatigue, but rather a conscious decision to ride a little more conservatively knowing I had pushed pretty hard on the first loop.  In hindsight, I really did ride the bike based on feel and sort of "consulted" the power meter, rather than racing per the plan.

During the second descent on Nelson I came upon a rider in a familiar-looking kit.  It was Silvio Guerra!  I could not understand how I was passing Silvio at this point.  I figured he must have run into a problem during the swim (panic attack) or the bike (serious mechanical) and he was on his first loop.  I learned later that Silvio was one of the poor folks who made that early turn at the confusing section at 63rd.  (After realizing the error, he completed the missing section after his second loop, but was unfortunately disqualified after finishing the entire race.) 
The Friendly Rivals: Silvio Silvio Guerra & Bob McRae
The heat was rising as the day progressed.  Also, the wind picked-up noticeably on the second loop.  And, it was a sort of cruel wind -- hot and in your face during the climbs up St Vrain and Hygiene roads.  I stayed aero as much as I could, knowing that this weather presented an opportunity to net a faster time.  (It's faster to have a headwind on the uphill and tailwind on the faster descent.)

Bike Pacing

As is said, "hindsight is 20-20".  However, after doing enough postmortems, hopefully some learning occurs!  The chart above shows in red the power plan, which was based on BestBikeSplit's 200+ intervals for the race.  I simplified that power plan to be usable during the race.  The blue is my actual power.  In purple is the accumulated difference in Watts, which should be a flat line about zero -- indicating a well executed plan.  One can appreciate the larger variation in power between the plan (red) and the actual (blue) power.  Upon closer inspection, it looks like most of that variation is below the red line, which is time riding below the plan, likely at higher speeds.

Overall, my normalized power was 225Watts, which was slightly above my plan of 222Watts.  The first loop was 216/232 (AVG/NP) and second 194/216 (AVG/NP).  What is remarkable is that the second loop was only 0.1MPH slower, yet 16-20-Watts lower in power.  For the normalized power of 225Watts, I was ~8-minutes slower than predicted.  While perhaps a minute of this time may be explained by the slower segment at the start, I suspect most of that time (~7-minutes) was because the average power was lower than BBS's power plan would suggest for a 225-Watt NP.  Had I done a better job at sticking to the power plan, and holding a more constant power I could have ridden another 7-8 minutes faster with the same normalized power.

Bike Nutrition

Bike nutrition has become increasingly simple.  I started with a 600kCal bottle of EFS drink (carbs + Amino Acids) on the beam.  I finished that bottle by the time I hit special needs and exchanged for an identical bottle, but with 1-scoop of Pre-race.  I finished that second bottle by the end of the bike.  Thus, that is 1200kCal on the bike, or 267kCal/Hr.  My stomach was fine during the entire ride and never did I feel bloated; in fact, I felt slightly hungry during the ride.

Run (Estimated: 3:20:30 to 3:29:30 / Actual: 3:34:43)

Coming off the bike, my combined swim & bike put me in second place overall (among the AG finishers), with only the eventual race winner leading me.  Later, I learned that I started the run with a 34-minute lead on the second place of the age group.  As I rolled into T2, Chris made me aware that they found my bag.  Actually, I don't remember even thinking about that risk during the swim or bike.

The run bag requires special discussion...I later learned that my run bag was actually just buried under several other run bags!  It was there the whole time!  Even after I looked twice and the lead volunteer looked twice, we did not see it.  So, lesson learned: pick-up other bags until you see yours or the ground!  I also learned later, that Chris had actually made a round-trip from the reservoir, via bus to downtown, back to Arvada then back again to make me a replacement run bag filled with run shoes, sock options, run nutrition -- made from prior photos...What an incredible friend and incredible support!  Thank you so much Chris!
Chris' replacement run bag
T2 was quick and uneventful.  I donned my DeSoto bolero and headed out for some hot marathon fun!  At the very first aid station, I was offered a nice, cool, wet washcloth, which I used to clean my face.  As I started to throw it away, I realized I could use this valuable piece of cloth.  I had the very fortunate thought to put the washcloth on my head and then pull the visor down over it.  From this point forward, my ears were protected and my head remained cool & wet!  This technique will be a staple going forward!

I knew it was going to be a hot and long rest of the race, so I focused on the plan, which was to settle into a comfortable pace -- respecting my HR limit of 150BPM set on my watch.  I passed a guy (probably an age-grouper by mile-1).  At mile 2-3 I saw Kevin Konczak, who beat me in 2015 and I met the first time.  In retrospect, I was amazed that I recognized him given the circumstances.  I said hi and re-introduced myself.  He ran along and took some photos.  Thanks Kevin!  Around mile-4, I was informed I was the 4th age-grouper to pass.

I felt really relaxed and NOT hot for first 6-8 miles.  I walked each aid station, dumping water over my head and ice down the back.  The bolero was working very well keeping my arms protected from the extreme exposure (direct sun + 9% humidity + altitude) and cool with the evaporating water.
While not so fashionable, the bolero and washcloth were invaluable on the run
Right around mile-9, I saw the family the first time at Scott Carpenter Park.  Christine, Ariel, Geneva and Kendall were at that section with the signs they all made (thanks Geneva!)  A bit later, I saw my sister Brenda, Dave, and Amanda.
Signs of encouragement

Right around this time it started to get hard, which correlated with the (first) need of a porta-potty break.  Somewhere around that time I saw Rob Gray again.  He informed me of my huge lead and that the only consideration was my goal time.  Regardless, I stuck with the plan, which was to find, push, and respect my edge.  During my first porta-potty break, I was passed by an EMJ guy, which put me in 5th place on the course.  Then, near mile 13, came Juan Valencia, "the Columbian" as I call him.  I knew Juan was racing again this year.  I recognized him from 2016 and he stood out to me with his incredible ability to hurt.  In 2016, he was a few minutes ahead of me, so I could see him on the turn-arounds.  Every time I saw him, he was suffering badly, but maintaining his lead on me.  This time, I had passed him on the bike, but he caught me here on the run.  I heard him coming up on me and I could hear the suffering.  All I said was, "Columbia?".  His responded in the affirmative and I told him how I admired his ability to hurt.  He shook my hand and he made the pass.  (I later learned that he raced IMTX in 8:27 and won his AG there!)

Somewhere between mile-9 and 16 or so, I had to make another porta-potty break.  My stomach was OK, but my lower GI tract was filled with water.  I have to figure this part of racing hot Ironman's out!

Chris was on his mountain bike and was encouraging me during most of this second loop, which felt incredible hard.  I felt like I was slogging along at a 9-minute pace.  Actually, though, I was running reasonably well considering the earlier effort and the conditions.  I later learned that my run split was the fastest among the AG finishers (Silvio still beat me by 17-minutes!) and nearly 20-minutes faster than the next fastest in the AG.  Chris kept encouraging me along the way.   At mile 24.5, he said, "just one and a half miles to go!"  Unfortunately, that was one of the longest 1.5-miles I have ever run.  The uphill grade to the turn-around seemed to take FOREVER!  However, I was able to pass a different EMJ guy near mile 25.  The downhill section after the turn-around did not offer as much relief as I was hoping.  However, at that point I knew I was moments away from one of my favorite parts of life -- running down the finishing chute of an Ironman.

As I entered the finishing chute, I heard Mike Reilly call, "Bob McRae!  Dominating the age group!  You Are An IRONMAN!!!"
You Are An IRONMAN!!!

Run Pacing

The plan was to hold a constant HR of 148BPM.  However, due to the heat and the elevated HR on the bike, that was not possible.  Sure, I could have pushed momentarily, but I could not have sustained the planned effort.  The run may be best split by the following segments, which is based on my stable HR:

  • Miles 0-10: 
    • Average HR=147BPM (near plan)
    • Pace: 7:45/mile (just 5-sec/mile below plan)
  • Miles 10-14 (after first porta-potty break):
    • Average HR=142BPM (6BPM below plan)
    • Pace: 7:48/mile (8-sec/mile below plan)
  • Miles 14-finish (after second porta-potty break):
    • Average HR=138BPM (10BPM below plan)
    • Pace: 8:09/mile (39-sec/mile below plan)

Run Pacing


Run Nutrition: Water & Gatorade through mile-13; then coke.

Race Execution Postmortem

When looking at the bike & run combined, I was able to hit an average HR of 141.7BPM, which was just shy of the estimate of 143BPM.  My prior understanding that overall race HR is my race limiter I was reinforced because I ran to the best of my ability after a big cardiovascular effort on the bike.  As previously noted, my HR was elevated on bike, which resulted in an inability to hit the target HR on the run.  So, relative to my plan, I "over-biked" the race.  The analysis below shows the effect of over-biking had on the overall race time.

Planned, Actual, and Optimized Race Pacing

Several notes/observations may be made from this analysis:
  • HR was elevated on the bike -- likely due to the heat, which resulted in 3-watts lower than the estimate
  • The bike split was ~9-minutes slower than the estimate -- mostly probably due to riding with more "uneven", with a higher normalized power as compared to the average power
  • The run was ~18-seconds/mile slower than training runs, which was close to my original estimate of 15-sec/mile
  • Over-biking resulted in a ~5-min gain on the bike, but a ~10-min slower run (ignoring the porta-potty breaks).  So, while I had been admonishing myself for "pushing the bike", the net difference was only ~5-minutes

Race Goals

Prior to the race, I had set the following goals in order of personal importance.
  1. Execute the best race I possibly can -- that means finding my edge all day long.  While this is highly subjective, I feel that I accomplished this goal perfectly.  Several times during the run, I pushed up against my "edge" and was able to maintain the effort there for long periods of time.  At no point did I let up from that edge
  2. Go "sub-9" -- based on the estimated splits, it was possible, but the day had to have been perfect.  In retrospect, I left about ~10-minutes on the table due to less-than-optimal pacing.  Even with optimal pacing, I would have been still 7-minutes shy of 9-hours.  However, the race conditions were not conducive to a sub-9 race -- it was windy on the bike and hot on the run.  As an example, Juan Valencia did 8:27 @ IMTX, but 9:10 @ IMB.  Also, looking at six racers' run splits at other, recent races they ran 12% faster than at IMB.  For me, that would result in ~22-minutes on the run, which would put me well under the 9-hour mark
  3. Win the M50-54 AG -- Considering I won by ~50-minutes, this goal was well-met
  4. Kona Slot -- I had a great day and was able to secure a spot to the "big dance"

Mantras / Themes

Before the race, I established the following mantras/themes:
  • Execute the plan -- I did allow my HR to remain elevated on the bike, but I wanted to experiment at bit.  The net affect of this decision was to show that over-biking does result in a slower time, but not a substantially slower one
  • Be flexible -- Allowing my HR to elevate on the bike was "plan B".  Also, I did not panic about the missing run bag and it not distract me from executing my swim and bike
  • Find and sit on my edge & respect my edge -- These two separate mantras became one.  I found and respected the edge ALL DAY long

Tags

Rob Gray, Chris Douville, Betty Donovan, Christine Ventura, Silvio Gurrera, Kevin Konczak, Geneva Douville, Brenda Freeman, Dave Freeman, Amanda Freeman

Friday, June 8, 2018

Ironman Boulder Race Plan & Estimates

Summary

I am writing this post to help solidify my confidence of my potential to perform at Ironman Boulder, 2018.  This is a companion post to the more extensive, Ironman Boulder Prep -- 2018 vs 2016, as that article describes the basis for most of these estimates.  Also, this post describes my race plan.

Race Plan

Mantras / Themes

Throughout the race, my main themes will be:
  • Execute the plan -- don't get caught-up in "racing" and don't let the things that go wrong (they will) get in the way of my race
  • Be flexible -- be ready to improvise and/or switch from plan A, to plan B, etc
  • Find and sit on my edge -- I know my body through countless hours of training; I know what my limits are and can push for long periods of time when finding that edge
  • Respect my edge -- This goes to being flexible.  The edge may change from one minute or mile to another; I will be mindful and respectful of that flow

Swim

I'll plan to seed toward the front of the 1:00 to 1:10 group.  As always, I'll start easy -- focusing on establishing an easy breathing pattern.  After getting comfortable, I will raise the effort level.  My focus then will be on long, strong, efficient strokes.  After the first turn, if there are some fast feet I'll attempt to draft, but will more likely swim solo.  In the beginning, I'll site every 5-breaths, but extend that later in the swim when I know I am swimming straight.

Bike + Run

The bike & run racing plan is based on minimizing the combined bike + run splits by distributing effort optimally across both disciplines.  By knowing the correlation between pace/power/split and heart rate, I constructed a simple table that allows optimizing the heart rate between the bike and run with with constraint that the overall heart rate should not exceed 143BPM for the day.  This HR is higher than 2016 by 2BPM, but i ave been able to elevate the HR this season.  I also added 15-sec/mile due to the heat forecasted for the race.  Using Excel's solver, the following optimal pacing plans are established for the bike & run.


Bike

Traditionally, I used a very simple pacing rule I call Power-Speed Index (PSI), which establishes the appropriate power based on the speed using a fixed index.  As compared to BestBike Split's (BBS) power plan, the PSI results in a larger variation of power, which is not optimal for split time or running off the bike.  Thus, I will modify my bike pacing plan this year to use BBS's power plan, but simplified for actual intra-race use.  (BBS is great, but the power plan has 170 intervals with different power, which is not practical for use during the race).  So, I will use a plan like this (hopefully I can remember it!):
  • Baseline speed & power will be 25MPH & 215Watts
  • Power = (25MPH - current_speed) x 5Watts + 215Watts
In words: for each MPH below baseline, I will add 5Watts.  For example, if my current speed is 21MPH (e.g., base of Neva), the power should be (25-21)*5 + 215 = 235Watts.

This pacing plan is reasonable based on my estimated heart rate of 139BPM at baseline power.  For reference, my HR for the bike in 2016 was 139BPM.

Bike Nutrition: I'll plan to consume ~250kCal/hour of EFS drink:

  • One ~600kCal bottle on the beam 
  • Pickup another ~600kCal bottle at special needs.  This second bottle will also have a scoop of Pre-race in it

Run

While the run effort is established in the bike+race plan, I will actually just use the heart rate specified (148BPM) as my target, with the running watch set to alarm when I go over.  During the first 4 miles (up hill), I'll focus on hold back just a bit.  The middle 17-miles I'll just focus on maintaining the effort.  And the last 5-miles (net up hill), I will push the pace as much as I can.

Heat Management: I plan on using a DeSoto bolero for the run and keeping the arms wet to help cooling.  Additionally, I am considering running with a large-brim hat to keep the sun off my face, ears, and neck.

Run Nutrition:

  • First half: Gatorade unless my stomach is upset, then water
  • I'll prepare a concentrated EFS drink + Pre-race flash for run special needs.  I typically that flash available, but have rarely used it
  • Second half: Coke + water

Estimated Splits

It should be noted that these estimates represent the potential performance based on training and past racing.  In 2016, I actually raced within the range of my estimated splits: the swim & bike were on the slower end and the run was on the faster end.  These estimated splits below assume I have a reasonable day and that the environment and my body cooperates with my pacing plan.

Swim

The following approaches may be used to estimate my swim split:

  • Using my current 500-yd time trial compared to 2016, along with the 2016 swim split: 6:36 x 1:07:54 / 7:00 = 1:03:50
  • Recent BAM Swim at the Boulder reservoir of 2.65-miles (according to my Garmin) in 1:09, which equates to a 1:02:30 swim split
  • Using my recent swim performance of top 2-3% of the AG at St George and TX70.3, along with the top 3-percent of the AG @ IMB over the last two years of: 1:02:32, 0:59:55 yields a swim split of: 1:01:14

Bike

For the estimates & the pacing plan, I added 3BPM to the training data, as that was consistent with 2016's experience.  BestBikeSplit (BBS) will be used for many of the estimates below.  The day before the race (this morning), I updated the BBS's course to use Rob Gray's recorded public course. of 112.17 miles.  The following methods may be used to estimate the bike split:
  • Using BBS and the planned normalized power of 222Watts results in a split of 4:24:57
  • Assuming a normalized power 5% below that results in an upper estimate of 4:31:29
  • My training rides have been near 22MPH.  However, these rides have been about 15-Watts below my race plan, which equates to about 0.8MPH.  Historically, I have found a 1.3MPH difference between training and racing the same course and same power.  Thus, it would be reasonable to ride at 24.1MPH for the race, which results in a split of 4:39:20

Run

While the race plan establishes the effort for the run, the main variable is the pace.  The following methods may be used to estimate the pace and run split:
  • [Added day before the race] Given the forecasted temperature, it would be reasonable to add some time to the training paces.  Thus, the range of run splits should include an upper end of 15-seconds/mile slower paces.  This slowing is reflected in the predicted splits below.
  • While 2017 was a bust, I still set a new run PR (1:32:29) in the Half Ironman (HIM) distance at Santa Rosa.  That run split is a reasonable representation of my 2016 Boulder run fitness.  At TX70.3 this year, I set a new HIM PR run split (1:30:38; as well as a bike power PR).  Using the aforementioned HIM run and IM-Boulder 2016 split (3:21:39), provides the first estimated split of: 1:30:38 x 3:21:39 / 1:32:29 = 3:17:37 to 3:24:10
  • Using the pace and hear rate from the long runs this season, results in a pace at race effort of 7:45/mile and a split of 3:23:07 to 3:29:40
  • Using the same approach, but looking at segments within those runs results in pace of 7:25/mile and split of 3:14:10 to 3:20:43

Overall

This summary rounds to the nearest 30-seconds and assumes 8-minutes for T1+T2.  Also, the run split includes the 15-sec/mile slowing due to the heat.  Thus, a sub-9-hour performance is possible, but an outside chance; my estimating skills would have to be excellent, the weather would need to cooperate, and things would need to go perfectly well on race day.

Race Goals

These goals are listed in order of personal importance.
  1. Execute the best race I possibly can -- that means finding my edge all day long
  2. Go "sub-9" -- based on the estimated splits, it's possible, but I'd have to have a near-perfect day
  3. Win the M50-54 AG -- I feel like IM-Boulder is MY race.  It's "my home-town" and I've done it each year since inception, except 2017
  4. Kona Slot -- I am ready to go back and achieve greater things in Hawaii, but -- of course -- I need to earn that right first

Risks, Concerns, and Fears

  • [Added day before the race] Is the heat going to ruin my plans for the run?  I heat trained to the extent possible, but it was not as extensive as the forecast suggest might be necessary 
  • First, will my run come together as it has in the HIM races this season
  • The bike plan is quite conservative with regard to effort, which puts the burden on the run for a great day.  Will I be able to maintain an elevated HR on the run, as planned
  • Will my stomach cooperate?
  • Did I peak too close to the race?

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Ironman Boulder Prep -- 2016 vs 2018

Summary

I am writing this summary to provide a comparison between two seasons to help understand the foundation of performance, which is health, training, and general preparation.  There is good deal of similarity between the two seasons, but also some enhancements preparing for Ironman Boulder this year.  For example,

  • Going into Boulder, 2016 I had three months of reasonable heath upon which I was able to add training.  Coming into Boulder this year I have a full five months of solid training and health
  • I am currently about 8-pounds heavier than in 2016; extra weight is gained muscle mass, which has manifested in more swim speed and bike power
  • I am now swimming in the top 3-percentile of the age-group, versus 20-percentile in 2016, which means about a 5+ minute faster swim split
  • I was still able to accumulate a greater bike training load as compared to 2016
  • Also, at the same effort level, I am producing ~12 more Watts as compared to 2016, with equates to about 7-minute faster bike split
  • My running base is "deeper" now as compared to 2016
  • In 2018, to enhance late-race fitness, I included 3-4 big acute training blocks of 3-days vs only one in 2016
  • My swim, bike, and run performance during Half Ironman races in 2018 is showing significant improvement over 2016

General Health

Early-2016 was when I started noticing something was wrong with my health and engaged NourishBalanceThrive for help.  We started to peel the onion, discovering and addressing layers of issues.  May-2016 was when I started to regain some footing on my health.  Part of the intervention involved going gluten & dairy free and doing Whole30.  By June, I felt like things were moving in the right direction and my training & race performance reflected that.  Thus, going into IM-Boulder, I had three months of training on reasonable health.  Attempting to train while ill is like over-stuffing a bag -- things will overflow and the bag will burst.

In 2017, I had to completely pull the plug from training and racing; my training and racing was just not progressing well.  I went back to the Lyme doc that was treating me in 2012 and we discovered I still had two co-infections, which were likely the cause of the issues going back to 2016.  After the first 3-month treatment protocol, the more dominant of the co-infections, Babesia, had been beaten back.  The next three months killed the second, Bartonella.  Also during this time, we discovered the crawlspace in our house had three mold species that were at extremely elevated levels, which were surely not helping matters.  So, we engaged an incredible local firm to mitigate the mold, which was present throughout the house.
Toward the end of 2017, I started to feel like I could slowly resume training.  I was sleeping better, and able to add a progressively greater training load.  I started with the swim, then resumed running -- after having completely stopped running for three months.  By the end of January, I had established a training load greater than all prior seasons.  Without good health, that is not possible.  Since then, I have been able to add both intensity and volume.  Thus, coming into IM-Boulder, 2018 I have a full five months of solid training and health.  Different from 2016, my diet is far more "relaxed" now; I am enjoying my burritos and burgers, and cocktails on occasion.  I am currently about 8-pounds heavier than in 2016.  One might think that the different diet could be to blame, but I am at least as lean as 2016, which means the extra weight is gained muscle mass, which has manifested in more swim speed and bike power.

Nutritional Prep

While my diet has been far more relaxed in 2018, I have still maintained regular & frequent carb-fasted and/or cab-restricted training sessions with no carbs since the night before, including:
  • a few 18-20 mile morning runs
  • nearly every Monday morning swim/spin session (~2-hours)
  • nearly every Wednesday swim/torque-interval session (~2.5-hours)
  • each of the longer brick days, including the 100-mile ride + 5-mile run on 250kCal or carbs
So, I am perhaps even more nutritionally prepared to burn fat as compared to 2016.

Mental Training

A month prior to Kona, 2016 I started meditating with Muse.  As I note in the Kona race recap, I did not appreciate the benefits until in the midst of the race, which was perfect!  However, as I did not start this practice until later in the year, I did not have the benefit of this mental training going into Boulder-2016.  I have noticed this year that tap into the regular, relaxed breathing technique practiced during meditating during threshold interval sessions.  While I have not maintained a regular practice of meditating, I had resumed a few weeks ago.  I suspect this "refresher" may come to my aid on race day this year.  

Swim

Similar to 2016, I established a big swim block in the winter, which culminated with a 10k swim on New Years Day, 2018.  Different from 2016, I have been swimming with the "masters group" at the Y, which has surely helped my technique and speed.  I started 2016 with a 500yd time-trial time of ~7:00.  This year, I was able to reduce that time to 6:36, which represents about a 6% improvement in speed.  This improvement in swim fitness has translated into the races as well, where I am now swimming in the top 3-percentile of the age-group, versus 20-percentile in 2016.  What this means at the Ironman distance is about 5-minutes improvement in the swim.

Bike

In general, the bike training between the two seasons has been very similar.  What's new in 2018 is that I am teaching spin class twice a week now.  What that means is I am teaching a high-intensity spin class the day after my long run.  It's been tough, but I think it's helped build more bike strength.  I have also transitioned my torque intervals from a solo activity to a spin class.  I have enjoyed helping other folks get stronger too!

What is different this year is that the early season (February - April) were solely intensity focused.  Every single bike session was intensity based, including:
  • Monday: 1-hour spin (IF ~ 0.90)
  • Wednesday: 1-hr VO2max intervals (IF ~ 1.00)
  • Friday: 1-hr Threshold Intervals (IF ~ 0.90)
  • Saturday: 90-min Torque Intervals (IF ~ 0.90, but at 60RPM)
It's likely a small impact, but worth mentioning, that I started using my first road bike outfitted with PowerCranks for my sessions at home.  I was surprised at how quickly I was able to adapt to this setup and am confident it has made my pedal stroke more efficient and strong.

Also different from 2016 is that I deferred the longer bike sessions until just 6-weeks prior to IM-Boulder, where in 2018 I started 9-weeks out.  While the longer-bike phase was shortened, the number of longer rides was just one fewer than 2016 (6 vs 7).

Additionally, while I tried to keep the torque intervals throughout the season in 2016, there were only two such sessions in the day before the long rides.  However, in 2018 I have been able to do 5x torque interval sessions the day before the long rides.  These back-to-back sessions surely accumulate to additional bike strength, especially in long-course racing.

While the long ride phase was shortened, I was still able to accumulate a greater bike training load as compared to 2016.  The bike Performance Management Curve (PMC) shows I hit a peak bike bCTL of 72 (~81 in TrainingPeaks) in 2018 vs 64 (~72 in TP) in 2016.

What is also different about 2018 is more bike power at the same heart rate (HR).  That difference is clearly seen in the chart below.  For example, at 135BPM I produce 220Watts vs 208Watts (NP), in 2018 vs 2016.  To put this into Ironman bike split perspective, this 12 additional watts result in a 7-minute faster bike split on the IM-Boulder 2018 course for the same level of effort. 

Run

I ramped the running volume pretty quickly in early 2018, which allowed me to achieve and maintain a peak load for a full 12-weeks prior to IM-Boulder.  That is, I did not need to "cram" the run volume in to prep for the race this year.  In 2016, I ramped more slowly and only held the peak load for 4-weeks prior to IM-Boulder.  I think that the longer training load base will result in more robust legs for the run this year.  Also, as a result of the faster ramp I was able to get in 6x 20+ mile runs in 2018 vs 4x in 2016.

While my running base is "deeper" now as compared to 2016, I don't feel as confident in my run training as I did at this time in 2016.  I have been more fatigued for many of the longer runs, and as a result, the heart rate and pace has been depressed.  Also, the pace is about 10-seconds per mile slower at the same heart rate in training as compared to 2016.  That said, my race performance this year has surely surpassed that of 2016, including the run (see below).

Bigger Days

While IM-Boulder 2016 was a HUGE breakthrough and a near-perfect race, I still faded on the last 6-miles of the run (I slowed to an 8:22/mile pace vs 7:37/mile on the ascent).  The limit I faced was general, central fatigue.  In order to stave off that slowing, I decided to build a training plan that involved longer days than I had in 2016.  These longer days took a few different forms, including adding a run at the end of the longer bike sessions -- something I did not do in 2016.  Also, I ended up including a longer ride than I had done in 2016 -- a single 110-mile ride.  I also did a moderately "big day", where I swam 4km, rode 80-miles, then did a 1-hour heat training run later in the afternoon.  Lastly, I extended my long run to a single 22-mile run.  These various sessions resulted in a higher acute training load, which may be seen in the image below.


This graph shows the rolling, cumulative 3-day Training Stress Score (TSS) for the 90-day period preceding the race.  I chose 3-days because I have found that whatever I can do in 3-days of training, I can do in a single-day of racing.  The farthest-right blue point for 2016, was IM-Boulder, which was a TSS of 690.  In 2016, I achieved a TSS > 690 only once at about 6-weeks out of the race.  In 2018, I have achieved a TSS > 690 4 times, including in the last two and three weeks.  I believe these higher acute training loads, closer to the race will leave me fresher toward the end of the long day.

Heat Training

In 2016, I completed 8x heat training sessions.  This year, heat training has been challenging because it's been so mild.  Nonetheless, I have been able to log 4-5 sessions so far, including some infrared sauna time.  With a few more days remaining before I need to remove all stress, I should still be able to get some good heat exposure.

Race Performance

In 2016, I had a great race at Ocala in March, where I recorded a personal best (PB) half-IM (HIM) power on the bike.  I raced next at St George in May, where I placed 20th in my age-group, which was the best I had placed previously at that venue -- another PB.  Then, in June I won my age group at Boulder HIM (a first) by 7-minutes, with a solid run.  All signs were looking positive for IM-Boulder.

So far in 2018, I had a fair race at Ocala, where I went in quite fatigued from training.  The next weekend, I won my AG at TX70.3 by 8-minutes with a huge PB in the swim time & placing, bike power -- 10-Watts higher than in Ocala, 2016 -- and PB in the run split.  Five weeks later, I set a huge PB at St George, placing 2nd in my AG -- cutting 27-minutes off my prior time, with another PB bike power and run split on that course.  In short, my swim, bike, and run performance in 2018 is showing significant improvement over 2016.

Summary

As compared to 2016, I am swimming faster in the pool and riding with more power.  Also, I have established a higher training load for biking, and held my running base for 12-weeks.  Early season was marked with a higher level of intensity and I deferred the long bike sessions, allowing me to peak closer to the race.  I have also established some bigger days as compared to 2016.  Race performances indicate that there is even greater potential for IM-Boulder as compared to 2016.