Saturday, June 25, 2011

Why Ironman? + Photo Dump

At some point while racing an Ironman, one thought goes through every racer's head: "Why I am doing this?" For me, the answer is because I enjoy the training process, but also because race day is a chance to test myself.

Our modern lives are arranged around being comfortable. Physical exertion is intentionally minimized, our climate is precisely controlled, every pain should have an instant cure, and any diet must include chocolate flavored (fill in the blank) so we can have our cake and eat it too.

With discomfort banished, we now demand instant satisfaction, instant cures from all ailments, and instant food. "Want to lose 20 pounds? With our special program you can lose all the weight you want without exercising and without changing your eating!" People buy that stuff, and not just once but repeatedly. Sacrifice is discouraged.

Tomorrow will not be an easy or comfortable day. Tomorrow I will not be thinking about work or bills or home decorating. By 2:00 PM tomorrow I will be thinking about my instant needs, not wants. Ironman is one of the few times when that change occurs -- when real needs fully occupy one's mind. The satisfaction I get from my race tomorrow will be directly related to the work I've put in and the sacrifices I've made.

Hopefully this post doesn't come across as a crazy rant! My guess is that if you've done a few Ironmans you understand what I mean.

My family and I drove from Denver to Coeur D'Alene earlier this week, opting for the scenic route. We passed through both Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone National Park, but didn't have the time to get too far away from our cars. Nonetheless, the scenery was spectacular and I plan on considering a circum-Yellowstone cycling trip next summer. Random photos below:

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ironman Fears + Solutions

Chris McCormack's new book, I'm Here to Win, is the inspiration for this post. While I don't love the book, it had enough useful information that I'd recommend it to any fan of the sport.

One point McCormack makes is that the goal of training is to perform well in races, not to accumulate training hours or push one's self to the brink. Race results, not training logs, define successful training. Triathletes have a tendency to over train, McCormack writes, because they often lack confidence in their ability to race well. Athletes want to bolster their confidence with huge training volumes, or by cramming in one more tough workout before each race just to make sure they've still got it.

I'm not immune to feeling a lack of confidence, especially this year. My training volume in preparation for CdA has not be as great as the past two years, and I don't have many recent race results on which to fall back. However, I have good reason to be confident for Ironman Coeur D'Alene.

Despite a lack of 5- and 6-hour rides, every test workout I've undertaken recently has shown great results. Last week I did a ride with 3 hours at under IM effort and averaged 22.2 mph with an average HR of 131 bpm. (I'll keep my power numbers secret for that one!) The route was two loops outside of Boulder and was nearly as hilly as CdA. That speed is faster than any IM bike split I've done and still came in 15 bpm lower than I can hold for an IM.

Just today I did a 3 hour ride with 1 hour at IM effort on Lefthand Canyon from Boulder to Ward and averaged 230 W at 147 bpm. For comparison's sake, 147 bpm has been my average HR for my last two IMs, while I've only averaged a bit of 200 W for each of those races.

These metrics are much more directly related to race performance than the number of hours of training I log. So, even if my volume isn't up to previous levels, my actual performances exceed benchmark workouts in past IM build-ups. In other words, I've got the fitness I need to perform well. I don't need to get more fit by squeezing in another training effort. Every time I have the urge to squeeze in one more workout from now until June 26, I will remind myself that the workout will likely do more harm than good.

Another insightful section of the book explains one of McCormack's mental strategies for race day. Defeat in an Ironman, he explains, occurs when one convinces one's self that quitting or slowing down is okay. McCormack developed a strategy that he uses to fend off the negative thoughts that all IM racers get.

The first step McCormack takes is to predict all the negative thoughts that might go through his head during the races, essentially creating a list of fears. Then, he comes up with a solution to each fear. This way, if a negative thought creeps into McCormack's head, he can quickly dispel it with his preconceived solution. This strategy helps him avoid rationalizing slowing down or quitting. A great example of this strategy is how McCormack overcomes the desire to ease up when the inevitable pain at the end of an Ironman sets in: he simply reminds himself that he's pushed through the pain before and come out fine. The pain is just temporary, he tells himself, and it actually a sign of a successful race.

I like the McCormack's strategy, so I thought I'd create my own list of fears and write my own solution here. This should help me quickly remember the solution and maintain a positive attitude throughout my race.

Fear: I swim slower than 1:05-1:08.
Solution: Remind myself that my fastest Ironman began with a 1:12 swim. I can have a slow swim and still be in contention to win my AG and be the fastest amateur. Plus, my cycling has been strong lately and I can make up a lot of time on the bike.

Fear: I get a flat tire or have a mechanical issue on the bike.
Solution: I've changed plenty of tires and can do so very quickly. Losing three or four minutes won't affect my overall position much. Again, my cycling has been very strong so I could ride several minutes faster than in the past, negating any time lost during a flat change.

Fear: My bike time isn't fast.
Solution: At Louisville two years ago, I had a horrible swim and what at the time I thought was a poor ride. I saved the race with an amazing run. I can do that again. I've likely run 15 minutes faster than anyone else in my AG, so I can make up a lot of time at the end of the race.

Fear: I feel exhausted at the end of the bike and worry that I went too hard.
Solution: It's a 112 mile ride, I'm supposed to feel tired at the end of it! I've run well under 3 hours in the past on tired legs; there's no reason I can't do it again. Even if my run gets off to a bad start, I can still run 3:20 on my worst days. The key is to keep moving onward and to know that I can have a solid run under any conditions. A good ride and even a 3:20 run will put me in a position to place high in my AG.

Fear: Liquid pools in my stomach during the run.
Solution: Take in some sodium and ease off the calories. Drop the pace for a moment. The feeling will pass. Once it passes, I'm right back in the game. I've seen my HR jump 15 bpm (a good thing) after taking in sodium to relieve pooling liquid in my stomach. Almost everyone goes through a bad patch in an Ironman. Those that do well stick it out.

Fear: I'm in pain.
Solution: Enjoy it! The pain and the challenge of overcoming it are why I sign up for Ironmans in the first place. It's not going to hurt me. Hell, if I don't hurt, I better speed up!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sunrise Triathlon

This was my first race since IM Louisville 9 months ago. I was curious to see how rusty I'd be and how pushing myself would feel.

Blah. A cold and uneventful 25 minutes. I was far enough back from the good swimmers that I passed a Team Timex lady a few miles into the bike, which wouldn't be all that bad but for the fact that the women's wave started several minutes after the guys'.

My cycling metrics have been good lately, so I was optimistic about putting up a good time "in the field". I know the course pretty well, and I know that the first few miles are the toughest because they're gradually uphill. My plan was to go really, really hard until the first downhill section on Hwy 36 (about 10-15 minutes into the ride), then push every uphill and flat section really hard until Nelson. At Nelson, the course is pretty much flat or downhill until returning back to the reservoir. I expected to be going ~26-27 mph or faster most of the way after turning onto Nelson, and therefore I figured pushing the effort there offers marginal benefits.

My plan seemed to go well, as I passed everyone in sight on the bike. The course offers a handful of vantage points that allow racers to see far up the road, and the course ahead of me looked clear. I was optimistic that there'd be no bikes in T2 when I returned, but unfortunately 4-5 guys beat me to the run.

My strategy is evident in the graph below, as my HR is highest initially, low along the Nelson decent, and then back up to normal Olympic effort around 75th Ave.

Normalized power appears to be ~270 W. Average HR was 158 bpm. Speed was 25.5 mph, which is a bit slower than expected.

The big question mark. I took a lot of time off running due to a still not completely healed Achilles injury. Would my speed still be there? Well, the good news is that I had the fastest run split at 5:54/mile at an average HR of 167 bpm. The bad news is that my run isn't good enough to overcome my swim.

3rd overall, 1st in 25-29 AG
Positives -- I am fit heading into CdA. My running is strong and near or back to my former level. My bike is also a strength.

Negatives -- My swim prevents me from actually "racing" anyone. It'd be more accurate to say I do an individual time trial every race, and then see where I end up. If I came out of the water near the front, I could gauge how hard I need to ride based on the power needed to stay at the front of the race. I have no doubt in my mind that I could have rode harder. Yes, a harder ride may have slowed my run, but if I started out with a good swim at least I'd be in contention. Better to die trying, as they say.

I'm considering basing my entire training and racing schedule next year around improving my swim. This idea deserves a post unto itself.

Finally, congrats to the winner, Drew Scott. He smoked me by 7 minutes. I had to look back at last year's 70.3 results and noticed I beat him by 20 minutes. (I remember his name from that race because at the awards ceremony the announcer made a point to mention Drew's father, Dave Scott, who did a race or two in his day.). He's a young guy but appears to have taken a giant leap forward.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


I'll start off with some pictures of my typical long run in Denver. It's a great running city, and I can pass through and around several large parks in the span of one long run. (I really should stop to shoot to avoid blur...)

The build to IM CdA is almost done. I'm taking a few days easy after an olympic race today -- report coming tomorrow hopefully -- then going pretty hard next weekend before commencing with a two week taper.

Here are a few benchmark workouts I've done over the past month:
-- Benchmark swims have been based solely on time and perceived exertion. I focused on very IM specific sets, such as 4 x 12 minutes with the evens at IM effort and the odds with paddles and a pull buoy. My goal here isn't so much to improve my swim time as it is to ensure I exit the swim feeling prepared for a solid ride and run.
-- Long ride 1: Warm-up, 2:45 at a bit below IM effort (21.6 mph average sans aero-gear over terrain a bit more hilly than CdA), and then 45 minutes of hill repeats up Lee Hill.
-- Long ride 2: A bit over 4 hours with 2:30 at a bit below IM pace on mostly flat terrain. In the 2:30 I covered 56 miles, again sans aero gear.
-- Long ride 3: The plan was 2 times up to Ward from 36 in Boulder, but I cut the ride short due to severe wind. Still, it was a noteworthy ride because I averaged a very easy 215 W at 135 bpm in the aero bars. Last year I did the same climb with a HR several bpm higher.
-- Long run 1: 45 minutes in the morning, 1:30 in the evening. The evening run included a warm-up, 3 times through 2 miles at IM effort + 1 mile easy. IM effort miles were in the 6:35 -- 6:50 range.
-- Long run 2: 9 miles at IM pace based solely on PE. Average pace was right around 6:50. I followed that up with a long steady hill climb and then a cool down for a total of 1:50 running.

So, things are coming along. Before the race I will post a detailed race plan, along with my fears for the race and solutions for those fears.

This week's song is a great listen on a sunny run.

(Jonsi, FYI, is the singer from Sigur Ros.)