Sunday, October 20, 2013

Ironman World Championships 2013: 35th Anniversary

This was my 7th year racing in Kona. Sometimes that experience can be good and sometimes it can…well let’s just say you know what lies ahead. The Kona race is so unique for many reasons. The course is not the most challenging, but when you add in the heat, humidity, and level of talent it all combines into one challenging race. My preparation this year was quite good coming into the race. My coach, Paul Regensberg, and I had worked on a bike focus block early in the year. Then we set my season up to slowly build into fitness so I would be peaking later in the year. I started the race season off a bit behind on my threshold levels but I used the month of June to build into form. By the time of 70.3 Worlds in September, the early season bike focus was starting to pay dividends. We then used the five weeks following the 70.3 race to fine tune some aerobic fitness. My bike and run fitness were the strongest to date as a result of the season’s plan. My swim was a little behind my 2011 fitness, but not by much. I was healthy and excited going into this year’s race, no excuses. My average training volume was 13.5 hours/week, which is right in line with my previous years. Swim: 1:01:31
I am very happy to report that my swim was relatively uneventful this year. I usually dread the start of the swim due to the hand to hand combat that normally takes place for the first 400 meters. I was able to get out well and I got clean water right away. I was so surprised by this that I had to look around me to make sure I had not gone off course. The swim out to the turn was calm and quick this year with flat water. I hit the final turn buoy at 28 minutes. The favorable currents, that we had on the way out, slowed progress a bit on the way back. I was able to keep clean water on the return trip and I exited the water feeling fresh and ready to go. It was not one of my fastest swims, but it was sufficient to put me up towards the front of the amateur race. Bike: 4:53:46
I had made my way through the first transition without any delays. I hopped on my QR Illicitio excited for the bike course. I hit my Joule GPS to start monitoring my heart rate, power, and cadence. That’s when I experienced my first pitfall of the day. My heart rate was not registering and thus my Joule was not recording any numbers (It was set to start by heart rate). I had worn my heart rate strap during the swim as I always do. The salt water must have gotten in and fried the monitor. The end result was that I spent the remainder of the day without any heart rate and power information. I went old school with perceived effort. In any Ironman, athletes are always presented with challenges that cannot be foreseen. This happened to be mine for 2013. A former pro said to me back in 2004: “that’s racing” when I experienced my seat post collapse during a race. If you race long enough, everything you can imagine will happen to you. The key is to have a back-up plan and try not to get flustered by the challenge. I attempted to at least get my power recording to start by switching my Joule over to GPS activation, but after about 5 unsuccessful minutes of scrolling through the different screens I realized it was not in the cards. I had several athletes inquire as to what the heck I was doing as they rolled past me. Finally, I decided to put my head down and get back in the race. I do all of my training and racing with heart rate and power, so I know what the perceived effort should feel like. I rolled along the first twenty five miles feeling good. It was starting to get hot, but we did not have any winds. In fact, we didn’t hit any winds until we were almost up to Hawi at the 60 mile mark. Then we caught some of the usual headwinds before we crested the hill. However, the winds were relatively mild this year. My nutrition intake was going well and everything felt in order at this point. I had managed to move up 200 places to 177th place overall at the turnaround. I started my first dose of X2 Performance just before Hawi, then I took a 2nd one right before turning back onto the Queen K heading back into Kona. I knew that the ride back into town on the Queen K would be mentally challenging and I wanted to be ready for it. The winds started to pick up around the 80 mile mark. It is not uncommon to catch a headwind here, but we also were getting a side wind. This was the first time that I had to ride with a tilt this late in the race. It almost always happens on the way up to Hawi, but not on the Queen K. My energy levels started to dip at this point, so I went to the Powerbar Performance Energy Blends. I had put three gels into a flask that I picked up at the special needs area. I worked really hard into the winds to stay aero and move forward at a decent clip. One of the classic moments I had during this section was when an athlete rolled past me in the back of a large pack of riders. As he rolls by, he says “look at this peloton”, he proceeds to stay right on the back of the pack. However, a race marshall pulled up shortly after that and nabbed a guy in the group for a drafting penalty. I felt a little better after seeing that. It can get a bit discouraging, when you are working so hard, to see packs of riders ease past you. I crossed the timing mat at mile 90 having given back 18 spots since Hawi. My energy levels were starting to drop again. So I decided to go to Cola at this point. I was hoping that the simple sugars would give me a boost and settle my stomach. It worked for a little bit, but then I really started to suffer. I came off the bike in 218th place. I had been passed by another 23 athletes over the last 22 miles. I had managed to avoid cramping the entire bike ride until I tried to get my feet out of my shoes. Both of my hamstrings locked up on me as I was rolling into the dismount area. I was able to shake one leg out, but I had to have one of the volunteers hold my bike as I pulled my foot out of my shoe still attached to the pedal. I was pretty stiff as I ran through the 2nd transition. I was not feeling well at this point, but I was hoping that things would come around once I got out on the run course. Run: 3:15:01
The best way to explain how I felt the entire run was TERRIBLE. I am used to coming off the bike and not feeling great in Ironman races, but I can usually loosen up once I get settled in after 2-3 miles. However, I just felt terrible the entire run. I was shocked when I hit my splits for the first 3 miles on my Timex Run Trainer 2.0. I was seeing 6:40sh splits, but I felt so bad. My strategy was to run for 5k then walk the next aid station. I was able to hold this strategy until the 8 mile mark. At that point I had to start walking each aid station the remainder of the race. I had to go into survival mode. I knew it was going to be a long day and my goal had changed to just keep moving. I kept telling myself that I would come around. It never happened. I had to use my salt tabs and my peppermint-ginger pills as I was cramping and my stomach felt very queasy. My lowest point came as I was exiting the natural energy lab. My left hamstring locked up on me and my stomach felt terrible. I had to stop and massage my hamstring to get it to release. I shortened my stride after that and just focused on getting to the next aid station. Once I got to the 22 mile mark, I actually started to feel a little better. I was very fatigued, but it was probably the best I had felt the entire run. I made a deal with myself that I was going to run the remainder of the race. I was a little concerned when I got to Palani. I thought my hamstrings might lock up on the downhill section. So I kept it pretty easy until I got to the bottom of the hill. Then I opened things up a bit. I felt fine muscularly and I just wanted to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. Finish: 9:15:43 7th M40-44/ 117th Overall
In summary, I was very happy with how I finished the race on this day even though I did not have the race that I was trained for. I was carrying my best fitness ever coming into the race and the weather conditions were the best I’ve ever experienced in Kona. However, that’s Ironman racing. You never know what’s going to happen during a 140.6 mile race. I hope I am fortunate enough to continue racing for many years to come.