Swim Update 1

I am feeling inspired this morning after swimming a lifetime best set. First, I should say, I have swam 11 practices with the local swim squad. I am studying under the tutelage of Mike McWha, who for history buffs, was co-captain of University of Michigan along with Andy Potts. I also have David Tilbury Davis overseeing my whole program.

I’ll start with the set, mainly because even I am a bit freaked out by it. The reason I am freaked out is because I have been swimming 1:20/100m for years now. If I did 20×100 on 1:30 I’d probably come in right around 1:20 across the board for all of them. If I did 10×200 on 3:10, I’d probably come in 2:40 across the board for all of them. If I saw a 2:39, or even a 2:38, that was a REALLY GOOD interval!

I have been doing this set for a few months now. David Tilbury Davis wrote it for me as he thinks it’s a good gauge for me, of actual swim improvement, and not just increased effort. The set is 4×200 leaving on 3:00 with a Finis Tempo Trainer set at 72 strokes per minute. Then 100 easy on 2:00. Then 3×200 leaving on 3:00. Then 100 easy on 2:00. Then 2×200 leaving on 3:00 with a Finis Tempo Trainer set at 72 strokes per minute. Then 100 easy on 2:00. Then 200 leaving on 3:00. I should mention, I started doing this set in an 85 degree YMCA pool, so I continue to do it in this pool. One of the beauties of doing a test set in a warm pool, is that it is very difficult to “muscle” an improvement. Most of your improvement will come from increase in propulsion and reduction in drag. The reason for using the Tempo Trainer is the same. You are not allowed to take anymore strokes each time you perform the set, so if you go faster, it is because you are either getting increased propulsion from each stroke, or reducing drag.

For the set today, I found 3:00 to be too easy for the first round, so left on 2:55. For round one I went: 2:36, 2:35, 2:34, 2:35. For round two, without the Tempo Trainer and leaving on 3:00, I went: 2:33, 2:33, 2:33. For round three I went: 2:35, 2:34. And then for round four without the Tempo Trainer I swam a lifetime best 200 of 2:32. It’s an interesting experience improving when you have been stagnant for a very long time. Every interval I am actually amazed at what the clock has to say. I think a piece of me was unsure if I’d ever really improve any more at swimming. Even last year, if I swam an all-out 200, I might JUST break 2:35.

So where do I think the improvement is coming from? One of the things Mike keeps saying to me is to “get over the arm and drive the body forward…don’t push the arm back THROUGH the water.” That is a very difficult concept to wrap your head around. Quite frankly, I’ve intellectually understood what that means but I had never really seen it applied very well for any continuous length of time. Now that I am swimming alongside good swimmers every day, I get a first hand look at what “getting over the arm and driving the body forward through the water, as opposed to pushing the arm back THROUGH the water” looks like, as the swimmers in the lanes next to me lap me quite regularly. It’s actually quite amazing to watch how far FORWARD the athletes move with each arm stroke. There is very little SLIPPAGE with each stroke. It’s almost like there is an invisible ladder under the water that the athletes are climbing.

With Mike continuing to drill this comment into my head, and watching the other athletes lap me, climbing the “invisible ladder,” I set out to figure out where the heck the “invisible ladder” is. Over the last few weeks I have definitely started to get a slightly better sense of this invisible ladder, and how to hold onto it. I can feel that I am driving my body forward, as opposed to pushing my hand back through water, slightly better than I had been several weeks ago.

I don’t think anyone can describe to you how to climb the invisible ladder. It’s like trying to describe to someone how to use your arms or legs. How do I use my arm? I don’t know, I just do! I think learning to climb the invisible ladder is done in a similar fashion, but WATCHING  other people climb the invisible ladder is both motivating, and instructional. This is one reason why I don’t think I will ever go back to swimming by myself. I think some coaches would argue that the basis of climbing the invisible ladder is a good “early vertical forearm” and pushing water straight back as opposed to left or right or down. Though I won’t dispute this, I do believe it is very possible to have a good early vertical forearm and push water straight back, yet still not drive the body forward and climb the invisible ladder. I think it’s far more complex than that, and has more to do with HOW force is applied on the water. I think this is why you can find a fast swimmer who exemplifies every style of swim stroke.

So, what are you waiting for? Join a swim club and learn to climb the invisible ladder! I am starting to believe that it is possible to improve, however stagnant you may feel.

Pucon 70.3

I’m back and starting to recover from the race and travel to Pucon. On the way back home, we were delayed several times and it ended up taking over 28 hours to get back to Windsor. It actually was quicker for us to get to Brisbane Australia, then Pucon Chile! It was all worth it though. The race was amazing, the people were amazing and the place was beautiful. If you’ve never been to this race or part of the world before, I highly recommend you go! You will not regret it!

First things first, I was blown away by how much community support the race received, as well as how much there was to do. The three days leading into the race was filled with all sorts of events for people of all ages and ability levels. It was amazing to see hundreds of young kids flying around on their road bikes on a criterium style bike course, during the kid’s triathlon. For every event, the course was completely closed to traffic, and the streets were lined with cheering people.

Secondly, I was blown away by how much media interest there was in the event. If you were in North America, you probably didn’t even know the race occurred. On the other hand, it was shown live in just about every country in South America! I’m talking real deal live coverage; the best live coverage I have ever seen for a triathlon. You can get a sense of what the coverage looked like here:

http://www.tvn.cl/especiales/ironman/lionel-sanders-se-queda-con-el-primer-lugar-2259481

I am used to press conferences at North American races where there might be two or three media outlets and at best 50 people. At the press conference for this race, there were probably 50 media outlets, and standing room only in a large banquet hall. Long story short, triathlon is alive and well in South America!

 

I was most excited for the swim. I have been swimming with a club for the first time in my life and had attended 10 practices leading into this race. Without a doubt I have improved in the pool, in this short amount of time, so I was interested to see what would happen on race day. In all honesty, I am actually a bit disappointed in my swim. Old habits crept back in the first 400-600m and I swam quite panicked and rushed. I actually got dropped from the group who I eventually came out of the water with. The swim was basically a 950m loop that you then got out of the water and ran 80m on the beach to then do another 950m loop. On the run on the beach I could see that I was about 20m down on a group of swimmers that I had never come out of the water with before. By the turnaround on the final loop I had gained composure over myself, started swimming a more efficient stroke, and bridged the gap on the group in front of me.

I made a tactical error though and inserted myself in the middle of the group. I had two swimmers in front and one swimmer on my left and right with nowhere to go. The pace was very easy, but there was nothing I could do. By no means do I think I could have dropped this group, but with a better tactical decision upon joining the group I think I could have pushed the pace the final 475m. These are experiences I have never had in my career, which I think is a good sign that the swim is improving. My deficit to the front of the race was about 3 minutes, and as I said above, I have never come out before with athletes like Jesse Thomas and Mario De Elias. They are usually a minute or two ahead of me.

Out onto the bike I was dismayed to find that I was not getting any power readings. When I got to the race in the morning I turned on my bike computer and was amazed that it immediately picked up my power meter, without waking it up. I also thought it was weird that when I calibrated the meter, it showed a calibration number that was in a much different range than I was used to. I didn’t think much of it at the time though. I knew then that I had connected to someone else’s power meter. Unfortunately, the computer won’t connect to my power meter while riding, so I knew that I would be riding this bike based on feel. I have learned this lesson before (to check that my computer is connected to MY power meter) but I don’t have it written down on my pre-race checklist, so forgot. In the future, I will be sure to add this to the checklist!

Everything was going smoothly on the bike. As I neared the turnaround I could see that I was still about 2 minutes down to the front of the race. I was impressed with how hard Felipe Van De Wyngard and Felipe Baraza were riding. I like when guys lay it out there on the line and race to the best of their ability, and I could tell that they were doing just that. When I made the turn I suddenly started to hear a loud thud coming from somewhere on my bike. When I accelerated it accelerated, and when I decelerated it decelerated. I thought perhaps I had a flat tire, but both front and back still had good pressure. I checked to see if my bottle cages were loose and they were all good. I couldn’t figure out what it was, so I decided to block it out. I never caught the front of the race on the bike, but I did catch a glimpse of Felipe Ven De Wyngard in T2. I was about 15 seconds down.

After the race Oscar Galindez (six time Pucon 70.3 champion) tweeted at me that my back tire exploded about 5 minutes after returning my bike to transition. My theory now is that the latex tube in the back tire bubbled, causing the tire to bubble and rub somewhere on my bike. Luck was on my side on this day that it didn’t explode sooner!

 

By about the 2 kilometer point I entered the lead of the race. It is without a doubt the hardest run course I have ever done. Steep ascents and descents, on a three loop course. I decided to not use a watch for this one and just run off of feel. It was actually quite refreshing to do a run without any concept of time. It allowed me to take in the course and the many cheering spectators. I came up one steep hill and saw the Villarica volcano off in the distance. I thought to myself “You are in South America; swimming, biking and running for a living, with a volcano as the backdrop. This is fricken’ amazing!”

Almost the entire 7km course was lined with people. You couldn’t help but want to push yourself. I ran hard from start to finish. Many times throughout the run I thought to myself that this race needs to be a 70.3 World Championship. It would make for an honest and fair race, and would be an experience that no one would ever forget. The finish line was amazing. It is the loudest and most crowded finish line I have ever crossed.

The post-race press conference was an interesting experience. There had to have been 20 or 30 microphones all jumbled together on the table. I felt like I was at a post UFC press conference, or one of the “big 4 sports” in North America. They asked me the first question (which had to be translated to English) and realized I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, and then never asked me another question. I vowed then that if I ever came back to Pucon I would buy a Rossetta Stone and at least learn some basic Spanish.

I can’t think of a single negative thing to say about this race, the organization or the community. It was world class on every level. I really hope to do a World Championship here at some point in my career. I want to give a big thanks to everyone for reading and following along. I know a lot of people in North America didn’t get to experience much coverage, but wanted to. Erin fully intended on periscoping the race, but for some reason periscope wouldn’t work on a 3G cellphone network. Next up, I will put my nose to the grind stone and swim with the local club hardcore until Oceanside 70.3. I intend on giving regular updates with the progression in the meantime.

 

2016 By the Numbers

I pulled all of these numbers off of my TrainingPeaks account. My season ran from December 7th 2015 to November 20th 2016. It should be noted that some of these numbers will be skewed downwards, particularly the weekly averages. TrainingPeaks operates on a Monday-Sunday week, but a lot of my training weeks did not fall this way. Regardless, it gives you a good picture of what I did this year:

Total swim distance: 989927m

Total swim time: 286 hours 8 minutes

Average swim pace for year: 1:44min/100m

Average daily swim distance: 2829m

Highest daily swim mileage: 7000m

distance-by-day-swim

Total run distance: 4109km

Total run time: 265 hours 23 minutes

Average run pace for year: 3:52min/km

Average weekly run distance: 82.2km

Highest weekly run mileage: 138km

Highest daily run mileage: 42.2km

weekly-run-distance

Total bike time: 397 hours 52 minutes

Average daily bike time: 1 hour 8 minutes

Highest weekly bike duration: 14 hours 3 minutes

Longest daily bike duration: 5 hours

weekly-bike-duration

Average weekly training duration: 19 hours 1 minute

Highest weekly training duration: 29 hours 27 minutes

Total number of complete off days: 52

duration-by-week

duration-for-all-three-sports

Below is what the training intensity distribution looked like on the bike. Zone 1 is 0-215w. Zone 2 is 216-275w. Zone 3 is 276-340w. Zone 4 is 341-390w. Zone 5 is 391-420w. Zone 6 is 421-550w. Zone 7 is 551w+. I log all of my run training by hand as I do most of it on the treadmill, but I am confident the run intensity distribution would look similar.

time-in-power-zones-bike

This training produced these results in order:

1st Panama 70.3 (Pan American Championship)

1st Oceanside 70.3

1st Texas 70.3

1st St. George 70.3 (North American Championship)

1st Mont Tremblant 70.3

2nd Racine 70.3

2nd Wiesbaden 70.3 (European Championship)

9th 70.3 World Championship

29th Ironman World Championship

10th Island House Invitational Triathlon

1st Ironman Arizona

The highlight of the year for me: St. George 70.3. Jan Frodeno handed me my ass here in 2014. I was miserable for days after but eventually saw the light and changed my attitude and orientation towards the sport for the better. The lessons learned in that race have formed the basis of every race since then. It was deeply satisfying to go back there and redeem myself.

St. George Finish

Thanks for reading and following along this year. Enjoy the holidays!

IMAZ Lessons Part 3

I know it’s old news, but I wanted to finish my series on the Lessons of IMAZ. Better late than never…

After Kona I had a chat with Dave Scott. He had a suspicion that I am a very quad dominant rider and runner. I described to him the “cliff” that I had been falling of on the bike in recent Ironman races. Something like: “ I am riding along feeling great, then suddenly it’s like I can’t produce any power whatsoever. It’s tough to believe it is rooted in nutrition as once my feet hit the run course I feel better. And it’s also tough to believe it is rooted in over-biking, as I usually ride at equal or lesser percentages of FTP than my competitors.” He got me thinking about the idea that the name of the game in Ironman is efficiency. Those who spread the work load more evenly across the muscles will be able to sustain greater power and faster run paces, for longer.

Earlier in 2016 I moved to a much less aggressive position on the front end of my bike. The goal being to make the TT position more comfortable. I didn’t realize it at the time but this new position resulted in a significant shift in muscle recruitment to my quads. Initially, I did notice that my quads were burning significantly more in workouts than ever before, but after a few weeks this went away, so I didn’t think much of it. I stuck with the position all year and posted the fastest bike split in: Panama 70.3, Oceanside 70.3, Texas 70.3, St. George 70.3, Mont Tremblant 70.3 and Racine 70.3. In Kona, I was riding well, but then fell off the aforementioned “cliff” at around 120km.

I certainly don’t attribute this “cliff” in Kona entirely to position and muscle recruitment. As mentioned in my previous posts, I didn’t have the legs to go the distance. But, I do remember a time when I was able to hold good power for an entire Ironman, with very little to no lull, and then run decently well off of it. When? Ironman Florida in 2014. For those who don’t remember, the swim in that race was cancelled due to rip currents. Of course, that will skew the data a bit, but that alone is not enough to account for the entire effect. In that race, I held 313w for the entire bike. Through 90 miles the average power was 318w, so it was a pretty evenly paced bike. Off the bike, I ran a 2:43 marathon, including a port-a-john stop. Up until Ironman Arizona 2016, that Florida performance remained my best bike-run over the distance. The discouraging part was that that was my first professional Ironman! In the last two years I feel that I have improved markedly in all aspects of training, nutrition and racing. One thing that I did do differently in Florida, was that I rode a VERY aggressive position.

Kona 2016 was such an embarrassing experience, I figured I really didn’t have anything to lose by making significant changes to my position. I decided to drop my front end as far as it would go by removing all the spacers on my handle bars and between the frame and stem. As far as it would go was not good enough. Doing some video analysis while riding, I noticed I still didn’t look as aggressive as many of my competitors (Jan Frodeno and Sebastien Kienle for example). I decided to purchase a -20 degree stem to get the front end down even further. The stem was so aggressive that my bike shop Cycle Culture had to machine out the dust cap in order for it to fit properly. Doing video analysis after this, I looked a lot more like my competitors.

From an aerodynamic perspective I was pretty certain the position would be faster, but what I was most interested in is what the position would do to my muscle recruitment. After my first ride in the new position, my glutes were excruciatingly sore for three days. Here are my comments from TrainingPeaks the day after this first ride:

“Sore as hell, in the back side (glutes, hams and even lower back) I think due to position change”

Over the next couple of weeks I adapted significantly to the new position. Without a doubt, my glutes were firing more forcefully and earlier on in the pedal stroke. What I think dropping the front end did was force me to recruit my glutes more. At such a closed hip angle, the quads are pretty much useless. In order to turn the pedals over you have to first recruit the glutes, and then as the hip angle opens, the quads can begin to fire. In a less aggressive position it is possible to fire the quads a lot earlier in the pedal stroke, which over time can allow you to develop a significant imbalance. I definitely don’t think my glutes weren’t firing, but I am certain that my glutes were not working nearly as hard as they could have been working in the less aggressive position.

Another thing I noticed over the next couple of weeks was that my run legs felt a lot more fresh coming off the bike. I think running well off the bike is rooted in efficiency while on the bike, so if the biking load is being spread more evenly across the muscles, it would make sense that the run legs would feel better.

This was all fine and dandy, but the true test was going to be at Ironman Arizona. In Arizona, I averaged 318w for the first 3 hours and 30 minutes (321w NP). My power did drop for the final 35 minutes, but a great deal of this was a conscious decision as I knew the race would be won on the run, and at this point I was in second place only two minutes down from the leader. For the final 35 minutes I averaged 290w (294w NP) and my total average for the bike was 315w (317w NP). This was a new best power output over the distance, surpassing my old record from Ironman Florida 2014 by 2w. But, this time round there was a swim!

Out onto the run, my legs felt very good. I would say it is the best they have ever felt coming off a 4+ hour bike. I went through the first half of the marathon in 1:18:30 or so and it felt relatively easy and controlled. Of course, the final 10 miles were significantly more painful, but I attribute a great deal of this to still not having the endurance to cover the entire distance.

So, what is the take home message here? First, efficiency is the name of the game in Ironman. Second, the glutes are potentially the strongest muscle in your body, so make sure you are using them to the best of their ability. Third, position on the bike can have a significant effect on how you recruit your muscles, so keep this in mind as you hone what position works best for you.

Update: For those interested, the drop to the front end between Kona and IMAZ was just under 70mm. 25mm removed from under arm pads, 12.5mm removed from under stem, ~30mm drop gained from going from -6 degree to -20 degree stem at 120mm.

IMAZ Lessons Part 2

There were two more useful lessons I learned in the days after Kona and that I applied leading into IMAZ. This first one came from my training advisor David Tilbury Davis. He had a look at the training I had been doing over the last couple of years and noticed that I rarely do my swimming first. Most of the time I swim second, usually after a bike workout, and sometimes I would swim third, after both a bike and run workout. I won’t go as far as to say I was unaware of this. I have had many people make the suggestion over the last couple of years to swim before doing my bike and run sessions. In all honesty, the only reason I have not swam first thing has been pure laziness. I hate waking up early. I have preferred to wake up around 8am, sit around for an hour and a half and have breakfast and a coffee, and then get onto the bike once I feel fully awake. I would usually do a two hour bike workout, then have lunch. By the time I was getting to the pool it was usually after 2pm. This also happens to be the time of day where I am really feeling like having a nap.

I’m not sure why this particular time the suggestion got through my thick skull. I have a feeling the embarrassment from 70.3 Worlds and Kona played a role. As well, having my ass handed to me in the water by literally every single athlete at the Island House Triathlon, also added to my receptivity to suggestions. When I got back home from Island House I vowed to start waking up early and getting my swim done first thing in the morning, before any other exercise sessions. In the beginning, it was hard, but I quickly got used to the routine. I would truly describe this suggestion as life changing. I was finishing my swim by 8:30 am. I don’t know why, but being done a session by 8:30 really motivates you to stay on task for the rest of the day. I would start my bike workout at 11:00am, and then would start my run workout by 2:30pm. I was often getting finished training before 5 o’clock, and then going to bed at 10pm. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I can’t remember the last time, I had so much free time. In the past, it was nothing out of the ordinary to get finished training after 8pm.

That aspect of this change was great, but that’s not the interesting part. Over the course of the three weeks leading into IMAZ my perception in the water was improving noticeably. One of the major issues I have in the water is that as I increase the intensity I drop my elbow progressively more, pushing less water directly backwards than I would if I kept the forearm more perpendicular to the bottom of the pool. I was amazed at how much more conscious of this I was becoming, and how much more able I was to make changes to this movement, especially under load. A few days before IMAZ I said to Erin “my feel for the water is getting really good.” The night before the race my dad told me he had a gut feeling I was going to have the best swim of my life. I said to him, “maybe, my feel for the water is really good right now.” I don’t know if I have said “my feel for the water is really good” at any other time in my entire career. The next day I had a lifetime best swim, and came out with individuals who were 4 minutes ahead of me just six weeks prior in Kona.

This improvement shouldn’t be of much surprise though. The one thing that I think I have neglected over the last five years has been just how neuromuscularly intensive swimming is. “Feel for the water” and proprioceptive awareness in the water is a predominantly neurological phenomenon. Biking and running put significant stress on the body from a neurological and muscular standpoint. Thus, biking and running before swimming is going to significantly impair this perception. As well, our body in water weighs about 10% of what it does on land. It is likely that our perceptive ability in water is something like 10% of what it is on land, predominantly because the only time we experience using and maneuvering our body at 10% of its land weight, is when we are swimming. Swimming first thing allowed me to utilize a lot more of that “10% of land perception” and by the end of three weeks my “feel for the water” had improved markedly.

Another interesting thing to point out is that I did not taper the swim into IMAZ whatsoever. Gerry Rodrigues has been saying this for years. As a weak swimmer, my perception in the water is poor relative to better swimmers. Tapering the swim into a race does not improve my feel for the water. Tapering the swim into a race makes sense for a good swimmer because their feel for the water is significantly better, and significantly deeper ingrained, and so shedding some swim fatigue sharpens that perception. For a weaker swimmer it makes more sense to swim as much as usual or even more leading into a race, as this will help to improve that perception a lot more than shedding fatigue will help improve that perception. Both the week leading into IMAZ and the week before that were my highest volume swim weeks since mid-June.

Long story short, if you are not swimming first thing, or at the very least, doing your key swim workouts first thing, you are selling yourself short. In just three weeks of swimming first thing every day, I noticed a significant improvement in my perception, and this translated directly into better swimming. I am excited to get back to the chopping block next week, and swim first thing every day for a year! In my next post I will share one more lesson, but this one pertains to the bike.

IMAZ Lessons Part 1

As I mentioned in my post-Kona analysis, I had a suspicion that because I was in good top-end shape from peaking for 70.3 Worlds, my endurance would come quick. I wasn’t 100% sure though, so I basically spent the 5 weeks after Kona testing this hypothesis. There are three crucial areas that you can improve endurance in when preparing for an Ironman:

  1. A long run.
  2. A long ride.
  3. A long day.

My goal for the five weeks leading into Arizona was to do my best to improve in all three areas. For the long run, I started off with a steady state run of 30km and slowly increased this run to 40km over the course of four weeks. I don’t think biking is nearly as taxing on the body as running, so I immediately forced myself to do a 5 hour ride, and then did two more of these over the next four weeks. I also built up my interval workouts to a point where my final workout took 3 hours. With regards to a long day, I think it is safest to piggy back this day onto your long ride. So, on the long ride / long day, I would do a 1 hour swim in the morning of about 4km, then have a quick bite to eat and hop onto my bike for five hours, then run 1 hour off the bike.

The first 30km run in this block was very taxing. I averaged 4:18/km and it was very challenging at the end. This made me certain that a great deal of my problems in Kona stemmed from a lack of endurance. The same was true of my first long ride / long day. I averaged 231w for the ride, and nearly fell off the bike afterwards it hurt so bad. The run off the bike was also quite challenging, as I averaged 4:19/km.

Endurance progressed very quickly from there. In my next long run I travelled 35km at an average pace of 4:04/km. I felt pretty good through 28km. In my next long ride / long day I averaged 255w on the bike. Admittedly, I still had a major lull around 3 hours, but by 4 hours I got through it and the 5th hour was significantly easier. My hour run off the bike had improved as well. This time round I averaged 3:59/km and yet it felt easier than the last time.

In my final long run I travelled 40km at an average pace of 3:57/km. I didn’t have a lull until about 35km this time. On my final long ride / long day, I held 261w for 5 hours, and there was close to no lull the entire time. Once again, the run off the bike felt even better than the previous time, and yet I ran 3:56/km, which was 3 seconds per kilometer faster than last time. It was at this point that I started to feel confident that I would be able to put together a much better race in Arizona than I did in Kona.

In Arizona I was able to hold good power for about 3.5 hours. Unfortunately, my endurance started to wane and for the final 35 minutes I averaged 280w, which is about 30-40w less than my target. On the run I was able to hold pace for about 16 miles. Up until this point I was averaging 3:45/km. Unfortunately, my endurance started to wane and for the final 10 miles I averaged 4:06/km. Both of these performances were significant improvements on Kona, but both still were not perfect. This is to be expected though as I only had 5 weeks to work on improving my endurance. I think with one more 5 week stint, I could have got into the best possible shape my current system would allow.

If you have been following along for a while now, you will recall that my major lesson from Kona 2015 was that spending lots of time at race pace does not make race pace easier. My conclusion was that spending time significantly above race pace and the remainder of the time significantly below race pace, is what makes race pace easier. I took this conclusion one step further in 2016 and decided that in order to get my intervals as high as possible above race pace, I was not going to do any sessions with unnecessary levels of volume. Since I was focusing on the 70.3, the necessary volume was 2 hours on the bike and 20 kilometers on the run, as this is the time/distance covered in the race. I still think this is the best way to prepare for a 70.3, and even an Ironman.

Doing long bikes, runs and days throughout the year puts unnecessary fatigue into the body. That fatigue will show itself in your high-end interval workouts, and you will not be able to push the upper limits as high as you could if you were not doing those long sessions. Once the body is in good shape I don’t think it takes long to build endurance. I think it takes about 10 weeks to build up the volume to the point where you will be able to RACE an Ironman from start to finish, to the best of your ability.

In summary, I think the best way to prepare for an Ironman is to focus on pushing the upper limits as high as you can get them for most of the year. If I was preparing for Kona for instance, and I started training on January 1st, I would spend the vast majority of January through to the end of June focusing on pushing my Vo2Max and Lactate Threshold paces. And then, around mid-July (about 10 weeks before Kona), I would continue to push those upper limits, but I would then start systematically increasing the volume of my long run, long ride and long day. The hope for this phase of training is that I can eventually exercise for the duration the Ironman will take me, without much taxation. You must keep in mind though that once this phase starts, it is very unlikely you will be able to produce the same Vo2Max and Lactate Threshold paces because you are introducing a lot more fatigue into the body due to the increased volume. But, it is still important to work these upper values. Once again, I think it is very important to stress that these long sessions are very little about pace. They are about stimulating the muscles for the duration you plan to compete for, so that in the race, they will continue to fire properly from start to finish, allowing you to RACE an Ironman from start to finish.

There are two more valuable lessons I learned in the five weeks after Kona that I think may be of value. I will present these in my next post.

IMAZ ’16 Analysis Part 2

I will go right back to the beginning. After a very disappointing experience at 70.3 Worlds I was actually quite depressed for about two weeks. It was not due to a disappointment in myself, but more of a bitterness about how the race unfolded. I learned an interesting lesson here. Your body’s recovery mechanism is greatly influenced by your mind. Usually I am feeling a lot better after a race, about three days later, but after this one it took me nearly two weeks to feel any semblance of recovery. I tried to put in some quality training in the month after the race, but just about every workout was sub-par, and I just didn’t have it in me to do any decent level of volume.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I should have pulled the plug on Kona. I just hadn’t put in the necessary work to race an Ironman. I thought though that because I was in such good top-end shape, having peaked for 70.3 Worlds, that I might be able to gut out a decent Ironman. I said many times to Erin and family members leading into the race, that Kona was either going to go really good or really bad. There would be no in between. Unfortunately, it went really bad. At 70.3 Worlds just one month prior, I had the fastest run split. At Kona, I walk-jogged the final 23 kilometers of the marathon, and had one of the slowest run splits among the pro men.

If you need motivation, walk-jog the final 23 kilometers of the Ironman World Championship. The embarrassment from this performance stung. I did an analysis after (which you can read HERE) and realized that I simply just had not done an adequate amount of volume to be able to RACE an Ironman from start to finish. In the six weeks leading into Ironman Arizona, the only thing I did was try and gradually build up my volume in both a long ride and run, as well as in my interval workouts. With about 8 days to go before Ironman Arizona, I was finally starting to feel some confidence that I could go the distance.

I will be completely honest. I had been swimming very well in practice the final two weeks leading into Arizona. I had very little lull in my 5 hour ride just 8 days prior to the race, and about 9 days prior to the race I was able to do 2x1hour at 325w with ease. On the run, I was able to run 40km with a lull only starting around 30km, and I was able to do 4x5km at 10.5mph and this felt pretty controlled as well. I reflected on these three attributes and knew that if I could put them all together it would produce a fast time. I am a student of the sport, and have been aware of Marino Vanhoenacker’s official Ironman World Record time of 7:45:58 for many years. I thought that maybe, just maybe, on the perfect day, I could take a stab at that time.

The gun went at 6:40am. My mantra for the swim was “8 out of 10”. One of the major things I have struggled with in swimming is relaxing. Having grown up running my mind and body is programmed that the more pain the better. For the most part, this is true for running, the more pain you feel, the faster you go, but this couldn’t be further from the truth for swimming. If I swam at 8 out of 10, in reality this would probably be closer to 9.5 out of 10, but that little bit of control would allow me to sustain the stroke better, and adopt better form.

I got out well and was on some feet. I noticed a gap opening up in front of the person I was drafting, so went by them and bridged the gap. A little while later I noticed another gap opening, and passed that person and bridged the gap again. I rounded the turn buoy with two swimmers in front and a few swimmers behind and beside me. A little while later I found myself in front of everyone. A few minutes went by like this and I started to think that perhaps I was going the wrong way. I did a half back stroke pull to see if there were people behind me, and it turned out there was. I was leading the pack that I am used to missing and then watching slowly pull away from me. I hadn’t realized how much I relied on them to show me the course! I then started to think that perhaps I was having a really bad swim, and was actually leading a pack that I am usually ahead of. I emerged from the water and noticed the person next to me was Pedro Gomes. He had to take a double take at me because we have never come out of the water together. He actually said to me as we were running to get our gear bags, “wow you had a good swim!” Pedro swam over 4 minutes faster than me in Kona, so this put me in a good mind set for the rest of the day.

Out onto the bike, I knew I needed to be patient. My new training advisor and mentor David Tilbury-Davis advised me to “be patient, be wise, be ruthless.” I repeated this probably several hundred times in my head throughout the ride, as well as “an Ironman’s a long way.” I was holding about 320w through the first hour. It felt so easy that I thought perhaps my power meter was malfunctioning. My target power for the ride was 310-320w though and I vowed to stick to the plan. Despite it feeling easy, I backed off a little bit and let the average come down to about 316w by the end of the first 60km loop. By the halfway point of the bike the average was back up to 318w.

Around three hours it was starting to become a lot harder to hold the power. I realized then that my power meter was functioning properly, and I was very glad that I had not deviated from the plan. At around 3.5 hours I was really starting to hurt, and instead of killing myself to hold the power, I decided to drop it and ride closer to 270w. This was hard, but not so hard that I felt like I was burning matches. In the end, I averaged 315w, for a bike time just under 4 hours and 5 minutes. Getting onto the bike I noticed my swim plus T1 time was a little over 55 minutes. I knew going out onto the run course that my composite time until that point was a little over 5 hours and 1 minute, and that in order to have a chance at getting under Marino’s mark I would need to run a sub 2:44 marathon.

My run legs felt pretty good. I didn’t look at my watch for the first 3km or so, but when I did I saw I was averaging around 3:45/km. I knew this was too hot, but I also knew that it was very unlikely that I would have the endurance to the go the full distance. I put in 5 quality weeks of training post-Kona, and I definitely improved my endurance significantly, but it was not going to be enough to run a steady pace from start to finish. I decided that I would try and build up some fat, so that when my endurance did start to wane, I might still have a shot at getting under the time.

Through the half-marathon the average pace according to my watch was 3:44/km. At this point I was definitely starting to hurt. I knew I needed to average about 3:54/km for the entire run, so I lapped my watch and then my goal became to keep the average pace for the second half of the run under 4:04/km. I was really starting to hurt by 15 miles. By 17 miles the wheels were starting to fall off. Another three miles passed and I was really starting to slow. By this point, the average pace for the second half of the run was about 3:58/km, and things were going downhill fast. It was at this point that I threw in the towel. I couldn’t imagine carrying on at the pace I was running for another 8 miles. I thought to myself “7:48 is a really good time. There’s no shame in that!”

I persevered onwards for the next 5 miles knowing that Marino’s mark would live to see another day. I kept the pace as honest as I could because I still wanted to produce a fast time, but I stopped looking at my watch. And then, right around the 23 mile marker, I had a great surprise. My fiancée Erin MacDonald had ran out to this point of the course and started yelling at me, “You’re still on pace! The record is yours if you want it but you’re going to have to pick up the pace!” This happened just before an aid station. As I was going through the aid station I grabbed a cup of ice cold water. I don’t know why but the moment the cold water hit the back of my throat I woke up. Erin’s words had penetrated my thick skull. I realized that if I did not pick up the pace, and give it everything I had for the final 3 miles, that I would regret it for the rest of my life. Almost instantaneously I was able to pick up the pace and get back down to 6 minute miles. It hurt so much that I actually had to start yelling at myself outloud in order to keep the pace. “Come on! Come on!” is what I was yelling through gritted teeth. Athlete’s going the opposite direction on the course very likely thought I was insane. And I probably was pretty close to insane at this point.

With about 100m to go I came around the final corner and could see the clock. It was still in the 7:44’s. I knew then that I would get under Marino’s mark. It was then that I started to get the tears down the cheeks and the shiver down the spine. The first image I encountered when I found out about this sport in 2009, was of Craig Alexander winning the Ironman World Championship that year. Here is the image (not sure who to credit for this image at this point as it has been widely circulated):

craig-kona-2009

That image has been on my wall ever since then. You never know what is going to happen, and you never know which race will be your last. To pay homage to Craig for the inspiration he has been to me in my career, I did my best impersonation of his finish line crossing:

imaz-finish

 

This is a moment I will never forget. This certainly isn’t the end of the journey, but it is definitely a step in the right direction. If there is anything I have set out to prove through my triathlon career it is that it doesn’t matter where you start. If you decide to make a positive change for yourself; if you surround yourself with good and positive people; and you work hard and persevere through the many struggles that you are bound to encounter; there is not a single doubt in my mind that you can do anything or go anywhere. I hope this performance adds a little more proof to that belief.

I think it is important to note that the distance has been covered faster two other times in the past: once by Andreas Raelert (2011) and once by Jan Frodeno (2016), both at an event called Challenge Roth. Ironman does not acknowledge these as official records though because they did not occur in official Ironman events. I think both Jan and Andreas are two of the greatest athletes to ever do the sport and deserve recognition for having produced faster times over the distance. To even be mentioned in the same paragraph as them is a true honour, and they have both been massive sources of inspiration for my career.

In my next post, I will do a final analysis of my training leading into the race and provide conclusions as to how to properly prepare for an Ironman.