Backwards Logic

This article is inspired by a recent The Real Starky interview with Craig Alexander. I highly recommend you listen to the interview because Craig is a truly class act (I don’t believe the interview is public yet, unless you become a Patreon of the show, but it should be soon). He has probably been my biggest inspiration within the sport. Since December 2009 I have been staring at a picture of him winning Kona that year; banner over the shoulders, teeth gritted, Australian flag in hand. You can tell that every one of his comments come from a place of great wisdom.

Around 5 minutes into the interview my first blog post on the 70.3 World Championship comes up, particularly my comment that there is a significant draft effect occurring at the current 10m draft zone, in a race that we call “non-drafting”. Craig Alexander agrees with me that there is a draft effect occurring. He goes on to say that during his time as pro athlete ambassador to Ironman, the general sentiment coming from the pros was that a 20m draft zone is needed to make the race truly non-drafting.

The general discussion for the next couple of minutes afterwards is that being a good swimmer “earns” you the right to take part in the draft effect that occurs at the current 10m spacing; that the swim is very important because being in that pack saves you a lot of energy. This same comment and logic has been the general sentiment coming from the more critical readers of that blog post. In fact, after writing that post, I was a bit surprised at how many times that comment came up. The logic goes something like this:

“Don’t try and change the system. Become a better swimmer so that you get to participate in the drafting dynamics. The guys who were ahead of you are better swimmers than you, and thus earned the right to receive that drafting effect, and take part in those dynamics”.

Quite frankly, I think this is completely backwards logic. What these upholders of the status quo are failing to realize is that the 10m draft zone not only disadvantages myself, Andreas Drietz, Sebastien Kienle, Andrew Starykowicz, and anyone else known as an “uber-biker”, but anyone who is even remotely confident in their biking ability. Said another way, the only group the current 10m draft zone BENEFITS is the “strong swimmer – weak bikers”.

Let’s use Josh Amberger as a case study. Amberger lead out of the water at 70.3 Worlds by nearly a minute. This is absolutely amazing swimming, to be able to gap and put nearly a minute into a swim pack of approximately 25 guys. Amberger is a very good cyclist, who can hold his own on the bike very well. After about 20 minutes on the bike, Amberger was swallowed up by the approximately 25 man pack coming up strong behind him. Amberger’s weapon is his swim-bike ability, and that was rendered useless in a race with such a large draft effect.

I will bet you that after the race Amberger was thinking something to the tune of: “what the hell was the point in me swimming hard, if I was just going to get swallowed up by a huge semi-draft legal bike pack?” This highlights another problem with the current 10m draft zone. It breeds mediocrity. Amberger will be much less likely in future races to take the swim out hard. Just like in ITU racing, it is pointless to swim off the front and not take a group of guys with you. You will expend unnecessary energy, only to be swallowed up by the huge pack behind you. Amberger would have been much better off to save energy, and sit in second or third place in the swim pack, letting someone else do the hard work.

Let’s use Andreas Drietz to do another case study. His swim is much closer to where my swim supposedly “should be”. He came out of the water about 20 seconds down to the main group of swimmers and bridged the gap very quickly. As usual, he immediately went to the front of the group and tried to create separation. Unfortunately for him, the course was dead flat, the winds were very light, and the draft tail was very large. There were also some very good cyclists near the front of the pack who were able to respond to his attacks. Despite being one of the best bikers in the sport, he was unable to create separation. Suddenly, guys who have no business biking within several minutes of him, were biking the same speeds…and judging by the race coverage, able to sit up and soft pedal while doing it!

Andreas’ situation is probably one of the biggest injustices that occurred in that race. He is a very good swimmer and an amazing biker, but his bike was rendered useless because of the current 10m draft zone. If it truly was a non-drafting race, there is not a doubt in my mind that he would have finished top 5. Unfortunately, he finished 11th, with no money, likely no bonuses from sponsors, and a lot of disappointment. But remember, he “earned” the right to experience that!

From Andreas’ perspective we also see where the mediocrity is bred on the bike. If you’re a strong swimmer and a strong runner, where is the incentive to expend energy unnecessarily on the bike? Over time, Ironman racing will look progressively more like ITU racing, where the strong runners all “sit-in” and let the better bikers do the work. Quite frankly, from my own perspective, if and when I do make the front bike pack, why in the world would I do any work whatsoever on the bike? I had the fastest run split after a completely solo bike ride, thus there is no incentive for me to exert any unnecessary energy on the bike. This is the logic that the current 10m draft zone breeds.

In summary, you don’t “earn” the right to get a draft effect on the bike. It’s a flaw in the current system, and that system needs to be updated.

The Treadmill Revisited

Hopefully you have had a chance to read The Preface. It is important because that is the last time I did the majority of my running outside. When I look at those workouts I am quite impressed. If I am being completely honest, I’m not sure if I could do a single one of those workouts right now. I think the amazing part about those workouts, is that I did most of them with ease. For instance, on March 10th I did 3x5k w/3mR and went 15:51, 15:34, 15:24. Erin paced me in that workout, and I remember being able to chat with her for the first two repeats. On June 12th I had a training partner, one of Canada’s top middle distance runners, Connor Darlington, and we were supposed to start the workout with a 5km tempo run in around 15:50. That was pretty easy on my own, let alone with a training partner, so once we got started we realized that was just far too relaxed. We ended up running the 5km in 14:52 instead.

Your first thought might be that I was probably focusing mainly on running at that time, which allowed me to run faster. In all honesty though, I was doing a lot of structured bike riding then; about 6-8 hours per week, not much less than I do now (I average 10-12 hours per week now). As well, I was probably swimming more often then than now (30km/wk+ week in and week out). I was also in school full-time as well. I would say, I actually have less “life stress” now than I did then. The only vast difference now is that I do most of my running on the treadmill.

Before I present my conclusions I’d like to delve a bit more into the timeline. Up until winter 2012 I had done 99% of my fifteen or so years of running, outside. In winter of 2012 I got a gym membership and started doing the odd run on the treadmill. It started to get really cold in December, and I started doing progressively more runs on the treadmill. For January, February and a bit of March 2013, I did most of my running on the treadmill. I was preparing for Around the Bay, a 30k road race in Hamilton at the end of March, and I was unsure what kind of performance to expect of myself, having done most of the preparation on the treadmill. There, I ran 1:36:52 (equivalent to three sub 32:20 10ks in a row), and it is then that I think the seeds of the treadmill were planted. But, as the weather got nicer, I went back to doing all of my running outside, which consisted of many of the workouts presented in The Preface.

Throughout 2013 I did a whole bunch of road races, some of the better ones being 30:48 for 10k, and 1:06: 30 for half marathon (and that includes a stop into the washroom). I then had my professional triathlon debut at Muskoka 70.3, where I ran 1:10:58 in my first half marathon off the bike, after a very hard ride. I then went back to school and ran cross-country, all outside. In November of 2013 I was running on a downhill trail that was covered in ice. I lost traction at one point and my knee bowed inwards quite painfully. I vowed that day that running outside was too dangerous, especially through the winter, and that I would run on the treadmill from now on.

That was short lived though. I ran on the treadmill exclusively for December and January and then went to Tucson for the next 2.5 months. I had intended on running on the treadmill there too, but it was just too nice outside, and so I scrapped that plan and ran the next 2.5 months on the pavement. When I finally got back to Canada in mid-May I got my own treadmill. Old habits die hard though, and I still spent the next month or so, doing most of my runs outside. Finally, by mid June, I had converted all of my running over to the treadmill, even though it was Canadian summer. That year I didn’t do nearly as many pure running races, but I did do a lot of 70.3s. Some of my better runs off the bike were: 1:09:56 in Raleigh, 1:09:54 in Syracuse, 1:10:54 in Muncie, and 1:09:36 in Racine.

For the rest of 2014, I continued to do close to all of my running on the treadmill. In early 2015 I still was putting together some half decent running. In the beginning of the year I ran 1:13:12 off the bike in Oceanside, and I also ran 31:09 for a local 10k. But, admittedly, at least over the longer distances, and especially running off the bike, there seemed to be something missing. For the rest of the season, things just went down hill. In Galveston I ran 1:12:20. In Mont Tremblant I ran my season best 1:11:14, when pushed to the absolute limit for 10 miles of the run with Taylor Reid and Jesse Thomas. Then I ran 1:15:39 in Muskoka, and 1:15:46 in Racine. At Ironman Texas I ran 3:11:22 and at Ironman Mont Tremblant I ran 3:00:27. By this point, something was unmistakenly missing from my running. In 2014, I was running 1:09 off the bike pretty consistently, and in a race like Muncie, where I entered the lead 10k into the run, I was still able to run 1:10, having not pushed the second half insanely hard. Whereas in 2015, it took everything I had to run a 1:11.

The astute observer will recognize that I spent much of 2015 over-training, and probably over-racing as well. I do believe this played a role in the decrease in performance. But, regardless of the fatigue, there still was something missing in my running. Something that I had developed over the years, but that I was now forgetting. The only running I did outside in 2015, was in the 20 or so days that I spent in Kona, before the world championship race. One thing that I recognized on the run during the race in Kona, was that my accessory muscles seemed to be breaking down and fatiguing, and my running muscles were also starting to lock up, I believe due to the pounding of the pavement. In the final 10k of that race it was quite difficult to even move my legs.

That’s when I started to wonder whether exclusive treadmill training really was as great as I had originally thought. I decided in early 2016 that I would start doing a couple of runs every now and again, outside. Having done so much running on the treadmill for so long, I was probably hypersensitive to the differences between the two. There definitely was a quality in running outside, that was missing from the treadmill. It’s difficult to describe, but my best stab at it is this:

Outside, the propulsion must be created by one’s own effort. Once the propulsion is created, you can then sit at a particular pace and learn to relax, recruit muscles better, breathe better etc. which in turn reduces the perceived exertion at constant pace. You then can decide what to do with that decrease in perceived exertion, which if you’re interested in high performance running, the choice is often to increase the pace, and repeat the process all over again. It was through this process that I was able to get myself to a point in early 2013, where I could run 15:50 for 5 kilometers, and hold a half-decent conversation while doing it.

I’m not exactly sure why this process is much more difficult on the treadmill, but it is. In the last 1.5 years that I have spent running on the treadmill, I don’t really remember having the sensation described above. Whereas after a few runs outside, I get the sensation very quickly, and get better at the process quite rapidly. I think once you have learned to do something, it becomes easier to re-learn if you have forgotten it, so I would imagine this is at work here.

In 2016, especially towards the second half, I feel like I am finally starting to get back to the running I was doing in 2013/2014. The only change I have made is that I am doing 2-3 easy runs outside per week. I have not done a single interval workout outside this year, aside from a couple I did during a week spent in Florida in March. My last two runs off the bike were: 1:09:20 in Wiesbaden, and 1:10:34 in Mooloolaba (where admittedly this was a run for pride, and I feel could have been faster if it was for something more significant). In 2017, I will continue to test these ideas. I would like to start incorporating an interval workout a week outside, into the program as well. I don’t see any reason why the workouts listed in The Preface, cannot be attained again. If anything, I should be able to exceed those workouts, as I no longer have the stress of school in my life.

So, in summary, I am not saying that the treadmill is bad, or will inhibit performance. I think you can get in great shape off of exclusive treadmill running. Can you get into the best shape possible off of exclusive treadmill training? I don’t think so. But, keep in mind, there is always a trade-off. I think the more running you do outside, the higher your risk of injury. The pavement is hard, the treadmill is soft. I think the more miles logged on hard surfaces, the shorter your longevity in running, and the higher the risk of complications as time goes on. There is also lots of debris outside that presents the risk of sprained ankles etc. It doesn’t matter how great of shape you are in, if you are injured. I’m not sure of the exact ratio yet, but so far, I have a feeling a sort of 60-40 or 70-30 principle might be at work here.

In order to achieve your best run performance, with the least amount of risk I think you should do something like 60 or 70% of your running on the treadmill or another very soft surface, and 30 to 40% of your running on more solid surfaces, like the ones you race on, creating the forward propulsion yourself. Of course, there is a lot more depth here than meets the eye. If you don’t have a training partner, and you’re not great at pushing yourself, then I would take the treadmill any day over outdoors. The treadmill is great when motivation is low. Set the ‘mill to a challenging pace, and your incentive to keep going is that you don’t fly off the back. The treadmill is a great tool, and must be used appropriately.

Since my thoughts on the topic have changed, I thought it was appropriate to provide an update. It is often quoted that I do all of my running indoors, and this simply is no longer the case anymore. Thanks for reading.

The Preface

This post is a preface to my next post, which is a long overdue update on my thoughts on treadmill running. Here I present to you 10 of the better run workouts I did back in 2013. All of these workouts were done either on pavement or on the track. I will just present the data here, and then make some comparisons and draw conclusions in my next post. I wrote the workouts out using my shorthard workout terminology. Just in case it’s not clear, the first one is to be read like this:

“February 13th: 6 kilometer warmup, to three by 3 kilometers with three minutes recovery in between each, where I went 9:26, 9:29, 9:34, to 5 kilometers cool down. “

Here is the data:

February 13th: 6k w/u to 3x3k w/3mR (9:26, 9:29, 9:34) to 5k c/d.

Mar 10th: 5k w/u to 3x5k w/5mR (15:51, 15:34, 15:24) to 6k c/d.

April 9th: 5k w/u to 4x2k w/3mR (6:10, 6:16, 6:05, 6:13) to 4x1k w/3mR (2:56, 2:55, 2:54, 2:55) to 7k c/d.

April 25th: 5k w/u to 2x5k w/5mR (15:53, 15:54) to 2x3k w/3mR (9:27, 9:32) to 5k c/d.

May 16th: 5k w/u to 3k w/3mR (9:21) to 10x800meters w/2mR (2:20, 2:19, 2:18, 2:19, 2:21, 2:19, 2:21, 2:18, 2:20, 2:22) to 2k (6:34) to 6k c/d.

May 19th: 5k w/u to 2k w/3mR (6:24) to 2x1mile w/3mR (4:51, 4:46) to 5k w/5mR (15:35) to 2x1mile w/3mR (4:51, 4:49) to 7k c/d.

May 23rd: 5k w/u to 5k w/5mR (15:45) to 1mile w/3mR (4:41) to 6x400meters on 200meters jog (66, 66, 65, 65, 65, 65) to 3k (9:26) to 4k c/d.

June 4th: 4k w/u to 3k w/3mR (9:11) to 4x1k w/3mR (2:53, 2:54, 2:54, 2:53) to 4x400meters w/2mR (63, 63, 62, 61) to 3k c/d.

June 12th: 6k w/u to 5k w/5mR (14:52) to 5x800meters w/2mR (2:18, 2:16, 2:18, 2:16, 2:13) to 3k c/d.

June 29th: 5k w/u to 8x1k w/3mR (2:55, 2:54, 2:54, 2:54, 2:54, 2:54, 2:53, 2:55) to 4k (12:39) to 4k c/d.

In a few days I will post my updated thoughts on treadmill running. Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

My Invention

I present to you “The Subjectivity String©”:

subjectivity-string

After my last post, some of the scientifically minded have argued that after running the 10 meter draft zone (I call it 10 meters because that is the space between bikes) through some computer models, they have determined that at that distance there should be no draft effect occurring. My response to this is that this simply does not agree with real world experience. I think most professional triathletes who have been part of one of these “legal draft packs” will agree. But, let’s assume that the computer models are correct. The result of this assumption is that athletes are not riding with the 10 meter space between bikes.

In reality, this is very likely contributing to the problem. Though I do believe there are some athletes who are blatantly breaking the rules, I do believe most athletes are not doing it intentionally. I believe the problem is rooted in the subjective component of the 10 meter draft zone. I will bet you $100 that if you had 10 people mark off what 10 meters looks like on the ground, without being able to pace it out, the majority of those people would be off by several meters. Now imagine trying to make that judgement while pushing pedals as hard as you can, traveling at well over 40kph. In all honesty, I have no idea what 10 meters looks like, so in the event that I was riding in one of these packs, I would be completely guessing if I am actually riding “legally.” In packs in championship races you have ten or twenty athletes guessing what 10 meters looks like, some of whom are really trying to push the limit, and ride right on that guesstimated line.

The other side of this coin- and I believe this is also a major contributor to the current problem- is that the officials also don’t know what 10 meters looks like, they are just guessing. Officials are human beings and have a conscience. The penalty for drafting is 5 minutes. If you give someone a 5 minute penalty you have completely ended their race. Officials are reluctant to give penalties because they know they are just guessing as to what 10 meters actually looks like. No one wants to go to bed at night wondering if they wrongly awarded a penalty, and ended someone’s race. It’s easier for officials to just not award penalties, that way they can sleep at night. On a similar note to this, there have been many athletes who have been awarded penalties, who believe they were wrongly penalized. Of course these situations are going to arise when both parties are just guessing as to what the 10 meter distance actually looks like!

That’s where the “Subjectivity String©” comes in. It’s a 10 meter long string with a washer on the end of it. You attach it to your rear chainstay and then the washer ensures that it stays strung out 10 meters behind you. All the guesswork of the 10 meter draft zone has now been removed. Athletes can see exactly how far to ride behind another athlete, and they can push it as close to the limit as they want. But, the moment they cross that line, they are now breaking the rules. From the official’s perspective, the zone is now clear as day and can be policed very sternly. Officials can even ride with a camera if they want, and if they catch an athlete in the zone, they can snap a quick picture. They can then show the athlete the blue card. If the athlete feels the referee is wrong, the referee can show the athlete the photograph. This way the referee can sleep at night, and the athlete cannot dispute the penalty.

I hope you can see that I am trying to be a little humorous in this post. But the idea presented is what I think could really help solve a lot of issues on the bike in Ironman triathlon. I challenge the engineers among us to develop this piece of technology. The big thing is that it needs to project 10 meters from the back of the bike, and it needs to be visible to both the athlete riding behind the bike, and an official riding on the motorcycle beside. I would gladly put up money to have this technology developed, and I believe many of my professional counterparts would contribute as well. Once the technology exists, we can then have WTC make this mandatory for all professional athletes to have equipped on their bikes (much like helmets and brakes), and be working properly before every race. Referees can also have a few on hand in the event that an athlete’s device malfunctions. The referee can ask the athlete to stop and put a new one on.

Sometimes an analogy helps to understand an issue, so here is my stab at describing the issue at hand: We live in a day and age where many sports are doing 360 degree photographic replays to determine whether a ball was over the line or not, yet in triathlon we haven’t even figured out how to paint the lines! Imagine tennis or football being played with imaginary lines! In long distance triathlon, both athlete and referee are relying on imaginary lines, and those imaginary lines can make or break an athlete’s race.

By virtue of the fact that earlier this week I flew over the Pacific Ocean at close to 1000kph for 14 straight hours, I am confident that someone can develop this technology. You might be able to make some money (there are over 1000 professional triathletes; and of course, there is potential to market this to the AG field as well), and you will help for the betterment of our sport.

If the computer models are correct, and there truly is no draft at 10 meters, then with this technological advancement we will have solved the drafting issue, and made the Ironman bike truly non-drafting. Who will answer the challenge?

70.3 Worlds 2016

70.3 Worlds has been a tough race to swallow. In the months leading into the race, I said to myself many times: If you keep the swim deficit to 3 minutes, push 360w on the bike, and then run 3:20/km for the half-marathon, you will win the World Title. On Sunday, I came out of the water with a little over 3 minute deficit, averaged 364w normalized power on the bike, and then averaged exactly 3:20/km for the run. It was good for ninth place, nearly 3 minutes behind the front of the race. I can’t get down on myself, as this is likely the best performance of my career, and was exactly what I had hoped to accomplish.

It’s obvious that my assessment of what is required to win a World Title was way off. I think the root of the problem was that I based my assessment on the races I had done earlier this year. Those races had many great athletes, who were also in the race yesterday. What they did not have was a very large and well organized front pack on the bike. What I failed to appreciate prior to yesterday, was just how strong the drafting effect is, when in that front bike pack. Despite pushing the highest average power I have pushed all year, I still was out-biked by nearly twenty guys. The reason the pill is difficult to swallow is that off of lesser power outputs, in prior races this year, I was able to pull back 3 to 5 minutes from many of those same people.

As the rules currently stand, the draft zone is 12 meters from front wheel to front wheel, which makes the space between bikes 10 meters. It is obvious from Sunday, that despite this distance, there is still a significant draft effect occurring. That is where the rules currently stand, and everyone played within those rules, so I can’t be upset with any of my competitors. I would say the reason this particular performance stings so much is because of my expectations.

We describe the Ironman bike leg as being “non-drafting.” One would think that if it is truly “non-drafting” then there should be no draft effect occurring on the bike whatsoever. This just simply is not the case. Unfortunately, I came to this race thinking it would be a non-draft bike, and had a rude awakening. In reality, as the rules currently stand, Ironman biking is “semi draft-legal.” I have not done anything to change the rules, so I can’t complain about the rules.

I think everything happens for a reason though, and suddenly this issue means a lot more to me. Moving forward I see only two options for the future of Ironman racing. Either we stop pretending that the bike ride is non-drafting, and call it what it truly is: A semi draft-legal bike; or we change the rules and the method in which they are enforced, so that the bike ride is truly non-drafting. That way no one’s expectations differ from the reality that they experience, and athletes can make more informed decisions on which races to do and which ones to stay away from.

Moving forward I am going to investigate which direction the pro field would like to take. I will say, in speaking with some athletes after the race, there certainly seems to be a sentiment that the rules need to change. It appears that Ironman racing has evolved significantly over the last few years, yet the rules have remained the same. Perhaps a 12 meter draft zone created the desired effect in the past, but this is not the case anymore.

Of course, I am very aware of the age old argument: Why don’t you just swim faster, so that you can participate in the draft dynamics? My response to that argument is this: You are missing the point! If I was a front pack swimmer, the draft rules would still be disadvantageous to me. As you saw on Sunday, the uber-bikers like Andi Drietz and Sebastien Kienle were unable to get away; largely because of the sheer size of the pack, and the fact that the drafting effect becomes progressively larger, the further you go back in the pack. If the race was truly non-drafting then the race would have looked significantly different.

Another argument that I am sure will be made is that the pro men have already voted in favour of “semi draft-legal” racing, by virtue of the fact that many of the top contenders rode as a pack, spaced exactly 12 meters apart. My response to this argument is: Not everyone was in that pack, and not everyone who was in that pack wanted to ride within that pack. I think many guys were forced to adopt a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality. And of course, everyone who was not in that pack, was disadvantaged by that pack.

I greatly appreciate everyone’s messages and support before, during and after the race. I gave it everything I had on the day. Moving forward, I will be hitting the pool hardcore, while rallying for change.

Wiesbaden 70.3

After Racine 70.3 I was left feeling a bit deflated. Though I attribute a great deal of the poor performance there to things that could have been better controlled (nutrition, pacing on bike, training leading into the race, etc.) in the back of my mind I was still left wondering if perhaps I had peaked too early in the season, and my best was behind me. I had a strong feeling that in order to race to the best of my ability at 70.3 Worlds I would need to do another race beforehand in order to prove to myself that I’m actually in good form. Wiesbaden 70.3 happened to be just enough time after Racine but before 70.3 Worlds, that I could put in two decent training blocks, and then do a taper into the race. It was also far enough away from 70.3 Worlds that I could come home and put in one more solid training block before heading to Australia. I decided to sign up for the race.

Wiesbaden 70.3 also happened to serve as the European 70.3 Championship. This meant that it would be a very competitive race. About a week after signing up for the race (and booking my flight and hotel) I found out that Wiesbaden 70.3 is regarded as one of the most challenging bike courses on the entire 70.3 circuit. Initially I thought this would be good and advantageous for me, because I thought all this meant was that the bike course was hilly, much like St. George. Indeed, it is hilly, but what makes this race so much different than any other race that I have experienced, is that the descents are not on big wide open highways, but on very narrow roads through small villages. I don’t think there is a single downhill section on the course that does not have a sharp hairpin turn or S-bend that is preceded by a sharp descent.

Being someone who grew up in perhaps the flattest place in all of Canada, where the largest hill within 100km is a reclaimed garbage dump, as well as someone who has spent a great deal of my bike hours on a stationary trainer, I was very intimidated by the course. I actually considered taking a 100% loss on the flight and hotel and not going. I not only was worried about being severely embarrassed by my European competitors, but was also worried that I would crash and suffer an injury that would cause me to miss 70.3 Worlds and/or Kona. But, sometimes you need to get out of your comfort zone, so I boarded the non-stop flight from Detroit to Frankfurt.

Immediately upon arrival Erin and I drove the bike course. With hindsight, I’m not sure this was a good idea. I couldn’t believe just how technical the bike course was. There had to have been 40 or 50 descents, most of which were very steep and at some point went around a sharp corner, or even several of them back to back. For the next three days leading into the race my only goal was to ride around and try to learn how to ride a bike on this new style of road and terrain. In that time, I got moderately comfortable with the roads, enough that I felt like I might be able to make it off the bike without dying.

I thought with 100% certainty that the race would be non-wetsuit. The days leading into the race were actually rather cool, and the race ended up being wetsuit legal. I didn’t cry when they announced this one hour before the race. The swim course was also very technical. Trace a wine glass with a perimeter of 1900m onto a lake…that is pretty close to what the swim course was. I recognized Boris Stein, the defending champion, about 1 kilometer into the swim. I knew this meant I was having a good swim. I also thought my only ticket to having a decent bike split was to shadow him on the bike and watch the lines he was taking through the corners, so I was very happy to see him. The pro women started only 2 minutes behind us, and one of the best swimmers in the sport: Jodie Swallow, was in the race. When I didn’t see her pink swim cap fly by me by 200m to go, I knew I probably had just swam my life time best swim. I was about 2:30 down to the front of the race, which had several active ITU athletes in it, so this was by far the best swim of my career.

It was a split transition, meaning the bike would be point to point. It also was organized like an Ironman race in that you had to put all of your gear in bags and then grab the bag off a rack as you are coming out of the water, and then put your gear on in a change tent. I put my helmet and race belt on, then threw my wetsuit and cap in the bag and ran back towards the swim to re-rack my bag. I couldn’t figure out what a lady was yelling at me in German as I was headed backwards, but eventually I figured out you weren’t supposed to re-rack your bag, but rather drop it with some volunteers in the opposite direction I was headed. I had a 20 second lead on Boris out of the water, but after this I was a few seconds behind out onto the bike. I immediately surged and went right to the front of the pack, of which Boris was the leader.

I knew that in order to run well I was going to have to bike as steady and as controlled as possible. I settled into about 350w at the front of the pack. On the first descent I found out that I am a very bad descender. I think Boris was a bit annoyed and came by me immediately. I didn’t dare pass him as my goal for the remainder of the race was to shadow him. Unfortunately, this plan was short lived. On the next descent I had perhaps one of the more humbling experiences in my career. It was a moderately steep descent into a fairly tight corner. Boris didn’t have to break aero position. I got out of the TT position and had to hit my breaks for fear of crashing. Boris immediately opened up a 50 meter gap. I think Bart Aernouts was a bit annoyed now and he came by me to bridge the gap to Boris. My new plan was to stay third in line and shadow them both. On the next corner they put a good 100m into me, and I took the corner in what I thought to be a fairly aggressive manner. New plan: stay in contact with them as long as possible.

At the bottom of the hills I would spike the power very hard and try and close the gap. The descents were just too close together, and despite many 400w+ intervals, the gap got so big I could not bridge it. That was the last I saw of Boris. Once out on my own, with no feedback from anyone in front as to whether the corner could be taken in the TT position, or how much you needed to brake, or what line to take, I was forced to ride the corners even more cautiously. New Plan: Ride the downs cautiously, ride the ups very hard. I knew this could potentially fry my run legs, but I had no choice. If I both rode the downs cautiously and rode the ups conservatively, I would have an embarrassingly large deficit off the bike.

Fortunately, there was about an 8 kilometer section about 30k into the course that was pretty much all uphill. I rode it hard and passed quite a few names who I knew were major contenders for the win. On that section I posted my by best 10 minute and 20 minute power I have ever posted in a 70.3: 423w and 402w respectively. I got a time update from someone and found out that Andreas Drietz was over 4 minutes up the road. I knew that was already likely too much of a deficit to catch him on the run, but I stayed positive and reminded myself that it’s not over until it’s over!

I came off the bike in fifth place with about a six minute deficit to Dreitz. Once again, I grabbed my bag off the rack and ran to the change tent. I opened my bag and was taken a back. Someone had stolen my shoes and replaced them with a different brand! Then reality kicked in and I realized I had grabbed the wrong bag. I ran back, and fortunately, my bag was there!

I’ve been doing a lot of running. I find once I start getting over the 120-130km/wk range my run really starts to come around. Due to the massive power spikes and lulls on the bike, I knew there was a high probability that my run legs were not going to feel good. I settled into a pace that felt comfortable, and constantly reminded myself to relax the shoulders. My watch beeped and I went through the first kilometer in 3:14. I knew then that I was going to have a good run. At about 3 kilometers I caught up to Patrick Lange- winner of Ironman Texas with a blistering 2:40 run off the bike. Dude can run. We ran the next kilometer side by side. My watch beeped: 3:07 for the kilometer.

For the rest of the run I just stayed focused on running to the best of my ability. I knew I was pulling back time from everyone in front of me. At about 6 kilometers I entered 3rd place. At about 14 kilometers I pulled up next to Boris. I was impressed. He was not going down without a fight. For some reason, I enjoy suffering, and a piece of me smiled when I knew I would have to run the remaining 6 kilometers hard, in order to hang onto second place.

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About a quarter mile from the finish I finally got to see Andreas Drietz, just as he was about to round the corner into the finishing chute. He probably was grinning because he was about to win the European Championship, but to me the grin said “payback’s a b***h, aint it?” (as the tables were turned in Oceanside and Texas). But, in all honesty, if there was anyone I had to lose to in that race, it was him. Not only is he a great athlete, but he’s a really good guy. So much so, he consoled me at the finish line by saying, “You have North America, I have Europe, now we settle the score in Australia.” You can’t not like the guy!

All and all, I am very happy with the race. I got exactly what I came for: I am confident that I am in good form, and that I can execute a good race in Australia. Thanks for reading and following along!

Racine 70.3 2016

What a day. This one stings a bit. The race was originally to start at 7am, but then due to increment weather the swim was cancelled, the bike course was shortened to 30 miles, and the race wasn’t to start until 10:30 am. The race was to be a time-trial start, with everyone let off in 30 second increments from each other.

I went off first. I did not have any plan whatsoever for the altered race distance and format, and eventually I think this mistake lead to my unravelling. The race starts up a very steep hill. I surged up the hill pushing over 500w. I then pushed very hard for the remainder of the bike, doing large surges out of every corner. This is very uncharacteristic for me. If you ask me how I think the best way to ride a bike is, I will say “dead steady power output leads to the fastest running.” For some reason I threw this out the window. About midway through the bike I was burping up my sports drink, meaning, it was not emptying from my stomach. I attribute this to riding at too high an intensity, as well as eating too close to the race start and still having breakfast food in my stomach (when the race was cancelled I went back to the hotel and had a second breakfast).

Stomach issues set the tone for the run. I came off the bike with a little under 3 minute lead on Matt Chrabot. I felt decent for the first while but could not, nor did I want to consume anything. I knew it was hot and that I had to consume something, so I tried to force water and sports drink down. It did not agree well with my stomach and I started to develop a stomach cramp. Around 5 miles the wheels started to fall off. My leg turnover started to drop considerably. Then I started to have the sensation I needed to use the port-a-john. It hit me really hard and really fast. I made it to mile 6 and stopped in to the washroom. A one-piece suit is great, but very tough to get on and off in the middle of the race.

The second half of the run was nothing but a struggle. I felt terrible, and to add insult to injury my mind was no longer in the race. By mile 9 I had already conceded the victory to Matt. I actually thought to myself, “you are going to finish second today.” This is how I know nutrition played a large role in the performance. The first thing to go when I am in a calorie deficit / dehydrated, is my competitive spirit. Contrast that with St. George 70.3, where I got the nutrition right, and you would have had to have taken me away on a stretcher before I would concede the victory to Sebastien Kienle.

Matt caught me right around 12 miles. I had no response for him whatsoever and congratulated him on a race well done. Unfortunately, another wave of stomach upset hit me, but this time there was no port-a-john around. I will spare you the details, but I stopped, walked, and had another episode of Ironman Arizona. I ran through the finish line feeling very embarrassed. I knew Erin was still periscoping and wanted to get off the camera and away from everyone quick. Unfortunately, there was drug testing afterwards, and so this was going to be a complete reliving of the Ironman Arizona experience. Fortunately, Erin had a fresh set of clothes for me in my backpack, but unfortunately a man had to watch me clean myself, as you are not allowed to leave the sight of the drug testing chaperone once you have completed the race.

I then went to drug testing and set a new record for longest duration to produce the 90mL sample of urine. I consumed 5L of liquids in 3 hours and 4 minutes, and produced exactly 90mL. That is with two attempts where literally nothing came out, and two partial samples. This is amazing because the race only took 2 hours and 20 minutes. To me this means that not only did I botch the nutrition during the race, I must have come into the race dehydrated as well. 7 hours after the race, I had consumed over 7L of liquids, and still had no desire to go pee.

 

Why did all of this occur? Leading into the race, I took a risk. 70.3 Worlds is my focus, and I did a full taper into Mont Tremblant 70.3 just three weeks ago, so I decided to train much harder than usual coming into this race. On the Sunday prior to the race I did 7x5min@435w on the bike to 10min@380w; then later in the day did 7x1km@3:02/km. On Monday I did 2hours@275w straight to 10k@3:55/km. Tuesday was 2x30min@370w to 15min@370w on the bike; then later in the day was 7x2km@3:17/km. Thursday was 2x15m@380w and 400w; then later in the day was 5x1km@3:14, 3:12, 3:10, 3:06, 3:02. I do not believe that this added fatigue played a role in the result, but I do believe the choice to train into this race set the tone for the day. Mainly, I think I did not give the race or the competition the respect it deserved.

I will say, if I had to lose to someone on the circuit, it would be Matt Chrabot. He is genuinely sincere, and an all around good guy. He has offered me many nuggets of wisdom over the years, asking nothing in return. Even after this race, he gave me some breakfast nutrition tips to hopefully help prevent the port-a-john episode from happening again. I am very happy for him and congratulate him on a very well executed race.

As for me, sometimes losing is worth a lot more than winning. The last time I lost was in Kona, about 8 months ago. I used that experience and the fuel it gave me to win in Arizona, Panama, Oceanside, Texas, St. George and Mont Tremblant. I already feel the anger and frustration growing inside, and I am sure this performance will have a similar effect. Thanks for reading and following along.