Guess who's going to Hawaii in October !!!!!!!!!!
I had the race of my dreams at Ironman Arizona 2006 erasing 45 minutes off my best Ironman time by finishing in 10:15 and placing 4th in my age group qualifying me for the World Ironman Championships in Kona, Hawaii!!
I can't wipe the smile off my face. What a day! On my September 1st, 2002 Blog I made a bold declaration that wanted to work toward qualifying for the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. Back then, I figured it would take "a few years". It ended up taking 3 1/2 years of racing and training and learning to finally accomplish that goal. In that Blog report 4.5 years ago I said that I was NOT especially gifted genetically - just an average guy, and I still believe that. I think what differentiates me is my sense of determination and sharp focus. I didn't give up and continued to chisel away at that goal. Without intending to sound preachy, I really believe that we can accomplish almost anything with the right mix of determined focus, relentless pursuit, honest self-evaluation and smart planning.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe quote - "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."
Here is how the day went down:
At 6:30 am on Sunday, April 9th, the Ironman race officials directed the 2000-some triathletes into Tempe town lake for the open water start of the swim leg. We had to swim to the starting line which was about 100 meters down the channel and under the bridge and tread water for 30 minutes until they fired the start gun.
My biggest fear on Ironman day is always the swim start. I absolutely hate it. I always get pummeled and it's just no way to start the day. This was no exception. Even as we hovered in the water for 30 minutes, the small area behind the starting line got so crowded where I was, that I was getting kicked from other swimmers as they treaded water. When the gun fired at 7:00 am, it was mass mayhem. It feels like you are swimming on a mix of slippery neoprene-clad bodies and water with arms and legs slapping you all over. It felt like it lasted for 20 minutes, but I'm pretty sure we all got spread out and into our own water by 10 to 15 minutes into the race which isn't really so bad. I swam most of the 1 mile down leg along the concrete wall and tried to angle into the turn around buoy. I inadvertently ended up swimming the return leg on the inside of the buoys. My arms felt OK and I just kept trying to maintain an effort level equal to my 1 minute, 50 second / 100 meter training pace in the pool. This would have netted me a swim time of around 1 hour, 10 minutes, but I climbed up the stairs exiting the water at 1:14. I was disappointed because someone trying to qualify for world championships really needs to finish in the top 5% and my 1:14 was top 41% (which happens to be my best % swim finish, but it still sucks).
This is me and my Iron-virgin buddy Matt who was doing his first Ironman. He ended up having an awesome day with a top 28% finish in his age group which is pretty amazing for a first timer! The guy stretching off to Matts right is another friend and fellow Calgarian Myles Gaulin. Myles won a Hawaii slot by winning our age group at Ironman Wisconsin last fall and ended up missing first place in this race by only 4 seconds.
With temperatures predicted to top 30 degrees C, I made the decision to conserve a bit on the bike, and I'm really glad I did that. It was my original goal to try to maintain 220 to 230 watts during the bike leg, but after considering the weather forecast, my lack of heat training, and the fact that my running has recently been pretty darned efficient, I decided to focus on a watts target of 210 watts, starting with 200 and slowly moving up during the race.
The bike was a flat, 3 loop course, so it was easy to get into aero position and just stay there. Since I was 844th overall out of the water, and finished the bike race 65th overall, I calculated that I passed over a thousand other cyclists. I rode almost all of the first two laps of the three lap bike course in the left lane passing all the riders to my right. It's easy to avoid drafting penalties when all you do is pass, because there is no rule to break aside from the 20 seconds you get to pass someone. I can't imagine what a pain it would be to have to manage 4 bike lengths between me and the guy in front of me who is riding at 'almost' the same speed as me.
My first lap wasn't that great. My watts average from the SRM power meter was only 189 with a highish 143 bpm heart rate. My legs really hurt for the first 40 minutes or so, and I really don't know why. Perhaps it takes 40 minutes for the blood to drain from my swim arms to my bike legs. This discomfort definitely kept the watts low for the first loop, but I was happy to note an average speed of 35.52 kph. I felt great for the second and third loops and ended up averaging 192 watts, 140 bpm, 35.81 kph and 71.8 rpm for a bike finish time of 5:03 which was the second fastest bike split for my age group. So far, the heat was not an issue at all and I was feeling really good, strong and ready to see what I could do in the marathon.
As soon as I hopped off my bike, an excruciating pain shot up from the outside of my right foot up my leg. Ouch!! Man that hurts. I immediately recognized the feeling - something that I've had to deal with since my very first Ironman. And, since is awful pain goes away after about 30 to 40 minutes, I have forgotten to record it in my race reports and as a result, have never really dealt with how to eliminate it. I think that on the bike, I am pushing my right foot to the right and smashing it into the wall of my bike shoe. I don't really feel it while on the bike, but when I get off and stand on the foot, it hurts like hell. I popped a few Advil and just tried to run/hobble as best I could until the pain started to slowly dissipate in about 40 minutes. During that 40 minutes of misery, Myles passed me and I knew that he was having a good race. I also caught another Calgary friend and cancer survivor Mike Gorman who had an amazing 53 minute swim and a decent 5:25 bike split. He was starting to slow down quite a bit on the run, so we ran together for a while and tried to motivate each other.
As my foot pain faded, I started to focus on increasing my pace and focusing on my hydration, sodium and nutrition. I finished my first of three laps at a 9:08 min/mile pace. As my comfort increased, so did my speed and I was able finish the second lap with an average of 8:51 min / mile. Still not as fast as I wanted. I really picked up speed in the last lap. As I approached the final 3 miles, I knew that I was going to make it and felt enough confidence to really pick up the pace. I wasn't wearing a watch, so all I was going on was how I felt. I picked the pace up to what I figured was about 7 min/mile and I felt amazingly great - no issues at all. I just powered through those last 3 miles feeling like I probably could have maintained a pace like that for more of the marathon. During the last lap, I tried really hard to simply focus on my running, my hydration, sodium intake and nutrition and NOT on where I was with respect to my finishing time. Since it was a 3 lap run course, I had no idea if the runners I was passing were on their first, second or third laps. Even as I passed others in my 45 to 49 age-group (your age is written in felt marker on your calf), I had no idea how many were in front of me that I needed to catch, or how many were behind.
As I neared the final stretch I allowed myself to imagine for just one second that perhaps my finish time 'could be' somewhere around the 10:30 to 10:40 mark. I knew that with todays conditions, that time might not be enough to qualify. I rounded the final corner to the cheers of spectators and the announcer and saw for the first time that I had about 100 yards to break 10:15 !!! I also noted that another 44-49 year old was directly in front of me! I tried to spring in front of him, be we were too close to the finish tape and I crossed 3 seconds behind him. I ended up missing THIRD place by 3 seconds!
I was met in the finishers area by Helen and we proceeded to try to figure out how I had done. Cody phoned from Calgary and had been following me on Ironmanlive.com. He told me that I was 80th overall and 4th in my age group. I couldn't believe it! I was both ecstatic and skeptical. Almost to good to believe and I was really afraid to allow myself to believe that I had qualified. I knew that something must be wrong - that there must be some finishers in my age group that had for some reason not been accounted for yet.. or a computer problem or something. I spoke with the guy who finished directly in front of me and his wife told me that she had been counting finishers and that she was pretty certain he was in third place. That would definitely put me in fourth.
This is funny: not more than a minute after I crossed the finish line, this huge green ATV hauling some boxes drove over my foot! It hurt quite a bit and I screamed, but the tires were soft enough that it didn't do any damage at all. The driver felt really bad and parked the ATV, got out and came over to apologize. I was laughing and told him that it wasn't a problem.
Helen and I went back to the hotel room and I wanted to check the internet for myself:
There I was - in 4th place. It still hadn't changed.
On Monday morning we went to register for Hawaii and it was only then that I realized that I had really done it.
Then we went to the awards banquet and they call the top five up on stage and present each with a plaque. What a thrill that was! For 9 Ironman races over the last 6 years I have watched the top 5 presentation with awe and respect wondering if I would ever make it up there. This was my day!
So - what did I do different during this training cycle that took 45 minutes off my best finishing time? I really don't know, but following are all the possible reasons:
1. Bike training
My bike training was very different than usual. According to my training schedule, I logged 103 total bike training hours over the 8 weeks prior to Ironman Cour d' Alene last summer. That compares to 90 hours for Ironman Arizona which is very close. The difference is in the number of long rides - way down this year due to having to ride inside on the mag trainer. Rides of 4.5 hours or longer were limited to just THREE quick rides this year, 1 outside ride in freezing February, and 1 ride 2 weeks prior to race day. The other 4.75 hour ride was inside with a few 4 hour inside rides. Last year, I did 7 rides of duration longer than 4.5 hours and most of those were 6 hour rides with a couple of 7 hour rides.
Also I was able to complete a full cycle of MAP and endurance interval watts based training from my coach Jason Yanota. People wonder how time spent at 300 to 400 watts on a mag trainer could possibly benefit an Ironman bike split, but I think the proof in right here for you. I barely did any long rides at all and yet I had absolutely no problems holding my goal wattage for the entire Ironman bike leg - and had plenty of energy to spare for the run. With Jasons bike program, I was on the bike almost every single day and I believe that counted for something.
Aside from a PR 5:03 bike split at IMAZ, I also saw some of the lowest heart rates at fixed power outputs I have ever seen since I started training for triathlon 6 years ago. I believe this is due to Jasons training program, and possibly some due to all of the recumbent 24 hour training I did leading up to Ironman Arizona.
2. 24 hour record attempt training
It is entirely possible that all of the long, long, long distance training I did on the M5 recumbent lowracer during July, August, Sept and Oct had some effect on my basic bike fitness. I know the recumbent position is very different, but it is possible that at least some of the training I did spilled over to my road bike geometry fitness.
3. Run training
I took 15 minutes off of my best Ironman marathon time in Arizona and in training, I had been noting the lowest heart rates I have ever seen on fixed paces. For example, my 8 minute per mile run pace (that equates to a 3.5 hour marathon) has been 140 heart rate for at least 4 years. I've been seeing heart rates at 128 to 132 bpm consistently at the 8 min/mile pace for a couple of months now.
The major change I made to my run training was LESS distance in my long runs (following the diminished bike distances trend). I built up to 3.25 hour very slow long runs 8 weeks away from Ironman AZ and was advised by Dave Ramsay to cut that was back and start to pick up the speeds on my long runs. He thought that I should be building my long runs up to no longer than 2.5 hours, but they should all be at my goal 8 min/mile pace. Plus, he recommended that all my other training runs during the week should be at least at this 8 min/mile pace - some even faster. And that's exactly what I did. I reverted my long runs back to 1.5 hours and worked my way back up to only 2.5 hours, 3 weeks away from IMAZ. All the running was at this faster pace, and I followed almost every hard bike training session with a fast, 30 to 45 minute run.
My weight in the middle of my training cycle was around 162. Two days before the race, I dropped down to 156 due to the fat loading diet and was about 158 on race day. Last year at IMcda I weighed in at the low 150's. The extra weight is definitely a bit more fat, but probably also some lean tissue earned by the short Creatine build cycle that I did many weeks ago. I really don't think the Creatine did anything to improve my performance because none of my training speeds or efficiencies increased any more than what I would typically expect from standard training.
5. Fat loading diet
I had been reading the research on fat loading and I thought it could be especially applicable to an Ironman distance endurance event. The diet is basically 50 to 60% fat with the remainder carbohydrates and protein. You eat like this for 6 to 7 days, then 2 days of strict carb loading then compete in your endurance event. The fat loading process does 3 things:
1. It teaches your body how to burn fat instead of carbs because there is so much fat available from your diet and so little carbs.
2. It makes the fat more readily accessible for energy because the diet is so rich in fat that it becomes available as gobbles floating around in your muscle cells.
3. Since you have restricted your carbohydrate intake for 6 to 7 days, when you do start eating carbs, your body super-compensates and stores more carbohydrates in the muscles that normal. This excess of fat and carbs can be used on race day.
The research has shown an average of 4% gains on endurance and this 4% is considered a non-significant increase because it isn't over the 1.8 standard deviations that chance would permit. However, if the 4% is consistent enough from experiment to experiment then a 4% increase could be statistically significant (not enough research yet) and 4% on an average Ironman finishing time of 11 hours is almost 30 minutes which is HUGE. Also, the endurance time interval on the experiments I have read about are all much shorter than Ironman. I believe the diet could be more effective for longer ultra endurance events.
My fat loading diet calculator, schedule and details are in my training log - click on the tab that reads "food, water, sodium, load diet"
5. Years of training to build economy
And finally, there is the possible reason that all economy is a result of years and years of cumulative training. Simply the miles logged in running, swimming and cycling over the years will eventually result in increases in economy and efficiency allowing the athlete to cover more distance faster and with less energy expenditure. I have heard that it takes an average of 3 to 5 years of endurance training to build your efficiency up to the point where you are fit enough to compete for a Kona slot. I am certain is this true to some extent, but I doubt that it could be worth 45 minutes of total Ironman time over only a year.
Here is my updated race chart showing all 10 of my Ironman race finishes and where I placed as a % of my age group. The red line shows the overall average trend of swim, bike and run finish % placements.
Where to go from here?
Well, I will start training for Kona this summer, but I am going to start training for another 24 hour HPV distance record attempt first. I hope to mount another attack on the record sometime in July. Then my goals for Kona are going to be to get through day and enjoy the race - nothing more than that.
After that, I would like to register for Ironman Canada 2007 and see if I can't place in the top 3 in my age group to qualify for Kona again. This would most definitely mean a SERIOUS revision of my swimming training - and mostly my swim technique. As you can see from the chart above (light blue line), something seriously must be wrong with my swim stroke to be so very far below where I should be swimming. This will most definitely mean hiring a swim coach and PLENTY of work! But I believe I can do it, and I am motivated to make the effort. Taking 15 minutes off my swim time would have put me in the running for top three in Arizona and breaking the 10 hour mark! (That means a finishing time that starts with a NINE!!!) One hour swim times or less are definitely the average swim times for Kona qualifiers - that's where I need to be.
I can't end my Blog post without a couple photos of the wreckage this race left behind:
I forgot to take off my neck chain before the swim and it got caught between my neck and the back of my wet suit during the swim. Half-way through the swim I was starting to feel it and near the end of the swim, it was almost all I could think about. When I got on the bike the chain simply fell off my neck because the rubbing had worn away the leather rope!
And - the standard parting shot of my black toes.
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