The Arizona Ironman Sunday 13 April 2008

Here’s a picture of the victor of the women’s race of Austria IM. Inspired by her and Tom Lowe’s performance, where he came fourth overall in around 8 hrs 15 mins, I’ve been into my archive.

To win my age group in the same race I would have needed to have gone under 8 hrs 59 mins – How’s that for a goal?  So it’s time to review some past performances, lessons and continue the discussion started in March on this blog on how best to deliver optimum performance:

The Arizona Ironman Sunday 13 April 2008

It was one of those days when everything is going so well you wonder how long your luck is going to hold. From breakfast to arriving at the race venue, pumping my tyres and finding my position in the water everything went to plan. I was set for a fine day in Ironman paradise. It is hard not to be inspired when you are lined up with 2035 other athletes bent on the same goal – to swim 2.4 miles, cycle 112 miles and run 26.2.

The 2.4 mile swim proved blissful. Even the initial “argy bargy”, where legs and arms flail to find some space, was brief and painless. I was soon in my stroke pattern and making the most of the clean, though murky, waters of Tempe Town Lake by Phoenix, Arizona. The advice of Claudio, the local coach, to follow the edge of the lake and avoid the scrum seemed prophetic. However, I reckon that I may have gone too wide for the swim, for the angle across to the turn around buoy was pretty steep. This probably accounts for my time being 3 minutes down on the race over the same distance, in the same lake, just one week before.

Lesson one. Take care to take a really good look around whilst swimming. The previous week, I had taken in a few strokes on my back, which cost nothing.

Lesson Two. Start work on my back stroke.

Having exited the swim and noted my unexpectedly slow swim time I executed a first transition according to the plan and peddled out into a freshening breeze and rising temperatures. This was nothing that I wasn’t expecting so felt in a positive mood. I followed my feeding plan with religious zeal, forcing down a litre an hour of a protein rich (Perpetuum) and Ensure Plus , plus a mix containing about 750 cals with a Gu gel and water every 30 mins. After about 2 hrs 30 mins I had had enough. I was now into sipping water, a little Gatorade (that was far too rich) and continuing with my salt tablets. I tried more Gu (100 calories per sachet) but it was a struggle to take more than one per hour. For the last 90 mins of the bike I satisfied myself by anticipating an Ensure Plus (350 cals) at the beginning of the run. I was riding to keep something back for the run, but the laps were taking too long, starting at 1 hrs 45 mins and slowing, giving a total of 5 hrs 39 mins. Still it was great just being out there, the desert was beautiful and there was plenty of speedy action on the downwind leg. I took another 750 calorie bottle at the bike special need station and consumed that with difficulty. I was mighty glad to nail the bike.

Lesson three. The nutrition piece was the toughest part of the bike. Truth is it had not been properly rehearsed. All those long winter and spring rides were undertaken with electrolytes, bars and Gu. I must train with the stuff I am going to race with. I also must come up with a more palatable way of getting calories from the bottle into my stomach.

The run is a mystery. At no stage did I bonk, so from that perspective my nutrition plan worked. At no stage did I overheat, the photos of my Lawrence of Arabia garb and my ice packed neckerchief offer testimony to the precautions taken. However, I was frightfully cautious with the temperature 95oF. Fearing the heat, length and fatigue I stopped at the majority of the aid stations to replace ice and take on fluids. I had taken a couple of sips of Ensure in T2 but really couldn’t eat anything substantial. The upshot was a 90 mins first lap of a three lap course – this was destined to be a long day.

I sacrificed my competitive edge for a mindset of survival soon after I started the run. I started at a comfortable 8 mins mile pace but then delayed a at aid stations ruining the gains from a steady pace (note – I did not walk once between stations). Jo said that I looked controlled and relaxed, but clearly not someone in a hurry. Having Jo and the boys as spectators for the first time was reassuring, not finishing was never a consideration. In fact from an endurance sports perspective I felt psychologically strong. Like life’s journey there’re no short cuts so I remained determined to relish each step. Runners will understand when I report that I avoided that reach for the line mentality; I stayed in the zone. I conclude that it was fear of the heat that curtailed my aggression. At the run special needs I managed no more than a couple of sips of Ensure Plus. Throughout the run I managed half a gel and towards the end a few orange segments.

Lesson four. When racing in the heat you need to have a bottle with you to sip because even at only a mile between aid stations your throat will become parched.

Lesson five. I am not in the habit during training runs of rehearsing the eating at set mileages. Again my rehearsals have been electrolyte and Gu when I feel like it, this needs to change.

Lesson six. Remember the psychological strength I felt from taking each step.

I finished the race slower than my first race in 2003 The Longest Day which was 11 hrs 15 mins, this is disappointing. Now, with the gift of hindsight, I can reflect on what I should have done. 1) Had a more technically specific training plan. 2) Rehearsed the nutrition plan. 3) Not got out of bed at 0400 hrs 4 days in a row before the race if I did not get to bed at 0800 hrs. 4) Undertaken fewer long winter rides with roadies, instead longer more intense brick sets, a series of 2 hour swim, bike, run brick sets total 6 hours with nutrition. 5) Had a better weights programme . 6) Accepted no excuses: I undertook none specific training, in Sept, Oct and Nov. 7) Left nothing to chance, no mediocrity or “social training”, for there is no chance of a Kona slot without a cunning plan. 8) If I couldn’t of found a race specific or session specific race partner, able to train at the right intensity, then got used to training alone. 9) Paid better attention to the guidance of Gordo Byrn http://www.gordoworld.com

There is yet much to be encouraged by. A top 10% finish (261 out of 2035 including 500 DNFs); I was not alone in finding it a tough day. Many people including the professionals finished well below expectations. I now have a fantastic base for the forthcoming season. Race preparations and administration went according to the text book. I made some great friends in Arizona including but far from limited to: Keith Rieger, Chris and Michelle, Cris, Denise, Tony, Spencer, Nick, Claudio and Shaundo. Jo and the boys witnessed the Ironman experience for the first time. I survived to fight another day!

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