IM Arizona 2017

How ‘bout that swim though!!? By far and away the highlight of Ironman Arizona this year was the swim. When I got home from Kona I was both happy and upset about how the swim went. I was happy because I had achieved my goal of swimming in the second pack. I was upset though because the second pack swam too slow! For over half of the swim I was leading the pack, and this is certainly not where I wanted or expected to be. I thought to myself: “the only way to remedy this situation, is to get to the next group of guys!” The next group in Kona appeared to be a small group that got popped off the front pack somewhere along the way. This group swam right around 51 minutes.

Since getting my Endless Pool (with mirrors on the bottom) back in August, I have had to really control how much of my stroke I tore apart, knowing that I still had big races on the calendar, and knowing that often times with these things you have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. Very quickly I realized there are still some very large and fundamental errors in my stroke. I had to be very conservative in my approach and only tried to improve a couple of very small aspects e.g. better width of entry. Upon returning home from Kona I had had enough with the conservative approach. It was time to attack some of the fundamental errors.

I will go into those errors in their own separate post, as well as how I am going about improving upon them. For now, I will say, in order to execute the changes I wanted to make, I had to slow the pool down to 1:45/100m. In other words, I was swimming the paces I swam nearly 7 years ago. But, once the proper neural pathways started to light up, the changes came quite rapidly. Within two weeks I was grooving the changes, and by race week they were beginning to ingrain in the muscle memory and significantly less mental energy was required to hold the changes. Still, I hadn’t tested the changes in a race setting, so this was the big question mark in my mind for Ironman Arizona. I should also note, as I do believe it is important, I swam over 21km from Monday to Saturday leading into IMAZ. If you add the race and warmup, in total during race week I swam over 25km. In other words, zero reduction in swim volume leading into the race.

Usually I look for a target set of feet to draft, but in all honesty, there is only one set of feet I am interested in now, and that is those of the front pack. I decided to just have faith in the take-out speed I had, and was going to try and get out well on my own. The gun went and very quickly I was in clean water. I knew I was swimming well because about 200m in the lead stand up paddle board was still very close (maybe 15m ahead), and a front pack had not yet formed (at least not one separate from me). Not too long after, I sighted and noticed a gap had opened up two guys in front of me. I knew this was the front pack beginning to break away. I went around the two swimmers and tried to bridge the gap. I held the front steady for another couple hundred meters but just didn’t have the speed to bridge the approximately 8-10m gap.

From there onwards I was in no-man’s land. I was having a great time though because I was sighting the lead stand up paddle board!! Up until this race, I didn’t even know it existed!! When I got to the far turn buoy I was able to count how far ahead the lead SUP was: 80 strokes. I figured I was swimming about 1:20/100m, so I knew I was around a minute down to the front of the race at the halfway point.  For the rest of the swim I just focused on holding good form and giving up as little time to the front as possible. I was able to see the lead SUP for about 2500m. When I emerged from the water the clock read 51:30. I knew then that I had swam about 2:15 faster than last year. Not long after I got a split to the front of the race: 2:30! In the past, I was happy hearing this number in a 70.3!

Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from here. The moment my feet touched the pedals I knew the Kona race was still alive and well in my legs. I tried to muster up good power, but there was nothing I could do to call up any energy, and things just got worse as time progressed. I remember last year thinking my power meter was broken because 320w felt so easy! This year I couldn’t even hold that for an hour! The final third of the bike was quite excruciating. The wind was strong, it was starting to heat up, and I had nothing left in my legs. For the final hour I averaged 254w, and in the end I averaged 292w for the entire bike ride. Last year I averaged 315w for the entire ride. Here is the file (note: this is a good example of how a bike file should NOT look!):

I knew the run was likely going to be very similar: a half decent first half, and then a terrible second half. I was actually quite surprised at how long I was able to run decently well for. Initially I had a goal of running 2:40 for the marathon. I was able to stay on this pace for 19 miles. I ended up running 2:47, so that’s about all I need to say about how the final 7 miles went! The only positive take home about those final miles was that my range of motion was significantly better than it was in Kona. It didn’t feel like my muscles were no longer functioning, it just felt like they were massively fatigued, and I lacked the mental strength to keep the pace up. It was the complete opposite in Kona where I had the mental strength to run faster, but physically my legs were no longer functioning. Here is the run file (and once again, a good example of how NOT to run an Ironman Marathon):

How ’bout that first 19 miles though (note: never brag about your opening 19 miles of a marathon, but rather your closing 7 miles):

Crossing the finish line was a massive relief. It has been a great season, but a very long season. The one big thing I learned in this race is that I think you have one massive effort per year. I went deep in Kona. So deep I have very little recollection of the second half of the marathon. It will take months to shed that fatigue. I felt good in practice, over shorter durations, with lots of time in between sessions, but the moment I tried to execute race pace continuously, I could tell the Kona race was still there. If there is anywhere in the world I want to have that one effort, it is in Kona Hawaii in October.

Executing a good swim is a great way to end the season. Had I been approximately 5 meters further ahead in the opening 200m, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have made the front pack. Yeah yeah yeah, I can hear all the haters: “but it was a flat wetsuit swim!” First you make the front pack in a flat wetsuit swim, then you make it in a choppy wetsuit swim, then you make it in a flat non-wetsuit swim, then you make it in a choppy non-wetsuit swim. It is with that thought that I enter the “off-season,” henceforth known as the “swim season”.

Kona 2017

First off, I must give a huge thanks to everyone for all the love before, during and after the race. I suffered hardcore out there on the Queen K, and it was your energy that got me through it. Secondly, I need to give a big congratulations to Patrick Lange. He executed a textbook race from start to finish: Swam front pack. Rode within himself on the bike. Then used that to unleash a massive run. When he pulled up next to me, I felt like a prisoner of my own body. My mind screamed “Go!!” but my legs had nothing left.

Every year I do a bit of an analysis after Kona. Sebastien Kienle said to me in a car ride during the Island House race last year, “Read your blog posts after Kona 2015, then read your blog posts after Kona 2016. Find the middle of the two, and that is how you properly prepare for an Ironman.” For the most part, that is exactly what I did differently this year, at least for the bike and run training.

The biggest advice I can offer anyone training for Ironman is this: I see athletes spending too much time at and around race pace. I think your time is better spent significantly above and below race pace. I averaged 305w AP / 313w NP for the ride in Kona. That was the only time the entire year that I spent time at that wattage. Secondly, as hard as you train, you must recover equally as hard. I see too many athletes over training. They are not giving themselves enough recovery, making training dreadful, and not training as hard as they could if they were better rested. Third, you must cultivate a true love of training and racing. I see too many athletes look at training as if it is a chore, or the whole triathlon lifestyle as if it is some sort of sacrifice. I started my “Kona block” on July 1st. I started my taper on October 8th. I had no desire to taper, it was just a necessary evil of racing. I loved every minute of every one of those blocks, and would have been content with just continuing training. But, I was preparing for a test, and at some point you have to take the test.

If you didn’t catch the race, I hope you will go back and watch it, because it was a great battle. There is no need for me to write a blog post about my experience during the race, because the entire thing was caught on camera. I think the pain and suffering that went into that race is pretty clear. This year I thought I would take a slightly different approach and present the raw numbers behind my Kona performance. As for the future, I see lots of room for improvement in all three disciplines. I’m not sure if there is anything more motivating than being passed at mile 23 of the run at the Ironman World Championship. I am more motivated than ever to get back to work. If you need me, I will be down stairs in the training room.

I started preparing for this season, with the end goal being Kona, on December 6th 2016. That is 312 days in total. Here are the numbers starting from that date and ending the day before the race:

Total swim distance: 862244m

Total swim time: 261 hours and 5 minutes

Average daily swim distance: 2764m

Highest daily swim mileage: 5700m

Total run distance: 2960km

Total run time: 190 hours and 7 minutes

Average weekly run distance: 65.8km

Highest weekly run mileage: 118km

Highest daily run mileage: 41km

Total bike time: 285 hours and 25 minutes

Average weekly bike time: 6 hours and 26 minutes

Average daily bike time: 54 minutes

Longest daily bike duration: 5 hours and 2 minutes

Average weekly training duration: 16 hours and 27 minutes

Highest weekly training duration: 25 hours and 58 minutes

Total number of complete off days: 37

And then my favourite graph of all. Daily CTL score (the blue line), starting from July 1st (the official beginning of the “Kona Block”) and going to the beginning of my taper right before Kona (note: highest daily CTL average was 182, achieved the last day of training before the taper i.e. October 7) :

ITU Worlds

Prior to ITU Long Course World Championships in Penticton, I had only raced one ITU event before: Duathlon World Championships 2011. To this day, that is still one of the best experiences of my career. I remember looking at previous years results and seeing that the opening 10k was usually run right around 30 minutes flat. I thought to myself, “there’s no way they could be running that fast. The course must be short.” Well, I went to the race that year and witnessed first hand that indeed they do run the opening 10k in 30 minutes flat. I ran 32 minutes, and was nearly 2 minutes off the pace. To add insult to injury, I then crashed on the bike. But, that race changed me. It was the first time I saw in real life what world class athletes look like. I knew I needed to get smarter with my training. 8 months later, I ran 30:32 for 10k. Long story short, I went to Penticton with unfinished business.

But I am getting ahead of myself. You might be wondering how ITU Long Course Worlds got on the schedule in the first place. After Ironman Arizona, I vowed that I would not do any long distance races in 2017. Well, that’s not entirely true. I vowed to improve my swimming, and that I would not do another long distance race until I proved I could come out in the second pack, with guys like Sebastien Kienle. I worked really hard over the winter, and then in Oceanside 70.3 I came out in the second pack, 2.5 minutes behind swim leader Jan Frodeno, and only about 1.5 minutes behind the first pack. Two months later at Challenge Samorin, I came out 2:30 down to Alistair Brownlee, and only about 1.5 minutes down to the first pack. What sealed the deal though for me, was that in that race I swam side by side with Sebastien Kienle. That was the goal I had set for myself for the year, and I had achieved it.

One thing I am becoming aware of as I age, is how little we know about the future. You never have any idea when your last race will be. You could get in a freak accident during a race on the bike, and never compete again. It is with this thought, as well as the fact that I had achieved my swim improvement goal for the year, that I decided to do Kona 2017. The proximity of 70.3 Worlds to Kona is very close this year. You would basically taper the first week of September, do the race on September 10th, and then need a solid five days to a week to recover after that race. You wouldn’t start quality training again until maybe September 16th or 17th, at which point you might be able to get in two weeks of quality training before having to taper for Kona. To me, that just didn’t seem like the best way to prepare for Kona, so I decided to pull 70.3 Worlds off of my schedule.

As well, I have been very vocal over the last year about my experience at 70.3 Worlds 2016, and the fact that the current rules on the bike do not accomplish a “non-drafting” bike ride. In reality, as the rules currently stand i.e. 10m spacing between bikes, we are really participating in a semi-draft legal bike ride. If you don’t believe me, here is some CFD data to support my claims:

https://www.swissside.com/blogs/news/the-deal-with-drafting

For the rest of my career I will be vocal that things do not have to be this way. It’s very easy to make the bike ride ACTUALLY a non-drafting bike ride, and that is through an increase in the draft zone, implementation of a stagger rule, or some combination of both. Until then, the language when speaking of long distance racing should be changed to accurately reflect what is happening i.e. semi-draft legal bike racing. That way, someone like myself does not go into a race thinking it is a non-drafting bike race, only to be dismayed at what I saw at 70.3 Worlds 2016. Long story short, if I am going to devote my heart and soul to something, and participate in a semi-draft legal bike race, I would pick Kona over 70.3 Worlds any day of the week.

So, since 70.3 Worlds was off the table, I needed something to work towards in its place. I thought about Ironman Mont Tremblant, but I thought its proximity to Kona might be a little close as well. Then I remembered an email I had got back in February from Triathlon Canada about participating at ITU Long Course Worlds in Penticton. I did some research and realized the race was a 3k swim to a 120k bike to a 30k run. It was to take place on August 27th in Penticton Canada. It was perfect. Most of the damage of an Ironman is done between 120k and 180k on the bike, and between 30k and 42k on the run. Just as the damage was about to begin, it would be time to switch disciplines. As well, the travel was super easy, as there were direct flights to Kelowna (only an hours drive to Penticton) multiples times per day out of Toronto. It is with this thought process that I signed up for ITU Long Course World Championship.

I started focused training for this race a few days after Mont Tremblant 70.3. I was able to put together five quality blocks. In case you are wondering, the focus in my blocks look something like this:

Day 1: Quality Swim and High End Bike.

Day 2: High End Run.

Day 3: Long Day consisting of Quality swim, Long Bike, Moderate Length Run.

Day 4: Long Run.

Day 5: Active Recovery.

Day 6: Quality Swim and Threshold Run.

Day 7: Threshold Bike.

Day 8: OFF.

Day 9: Active Recovery.

Day 10: Active Recovery.

I strung five of those blocks together, and built progress into each. It was probably the best fifty days of training I have ever done in my life. I felt very confident going into ITU Long Course Worlds. I was pretty certain, that if you plopped me back on the Ironman Arizona course, I could better the 7:44 I had set last year.

There were quite a few good guys on the start list: Andy Potts, Joe Gambles, Cyril Viennot, Sylvain Sudrie, Josh Amberger, just to name a few. Who I was most worried about was Josh Amberger. He is one of the best swimmer-bikers in the sport, and his running is improving quickly. He lead out of the water at 70.3 Worlds 2016 by nearly a minute, only to be swallowed up by the semi-draft legal bike pack I mentioned above. He was just as pissed off as I was about it. I knew he would be racing with anger, and I knew he had something to prove. I also knew he had the guts to ride solo, and with a smaller start list, solo efforts would be rewarded. I had a strong suspicion that him and I were going to have a good battle. Listening to him in the pre-race press conference, I could tell he was confident and came to fight, so I knew for certain he would be the one to beat.

I was actually a little bit disappointed the morning of the race. All of the races leading up to the Long Course Triathlon had been non-wetsuit. I don’t have a ton of non-wetsuit experience, so was looking forward to testing my swim gains out in this setting. Unfortunately, the water temperature had dropped about a degree and the race was deemed wetsuit legal. It was bittersweet, as I knew this would work to my advantage, but it came at the expense of much needed experience. It only took me three milliseconds to stop crying.

I had analysed everyone on the start list and their swim ability. I marked Paul Ambrose and Jeff Symmonds as the closest to my ability level, who would likely swim in the pack directly in front of me. They called us out by start number and I was closest to Jeff Symmonds, so I lined up right next to him on the start line. It was a beach start, and the water was shallow for quite a bit. The gun went and I quickly realized my dolphin dives need some improving. I was quickly gapped by Jeff. Once the water got deep, I went to work on bridging the gap. By 200m I was on his feet, by 400m I was beside him, by 600m I was beside the leader of my pack, and before the first turn buoy, around 1000m in, I was leading the pack.

As a developing swimmer, this is not where you want to be. I wanted to be on the feet of the guys in the pack in front of me. I swam the next 2km solo. The entire time I could see the pack in front of me, so I knew I was likely having a good swim. I am very confident that with better positioning on the start line, I could have made that pack. I emerged from the water with just over a 4 minute deficit to Josh Amberger, 2:30 deficit to Andy Potts, and about a 40 second deficit to Joe Gambles. These are who I thought would be the major players on the day. This deficit was pretty good for me, as I often have equal or larger deficits, with 1100m less of swimming. I also was certain I had truly improved as I swam nearly 70% of the swim solo.

Out onto the bike it was clear as day that Amberger had come to play. I figured 330w would be a good conservative pace, that I was pretty certain I could run well off of. To put that into perspective for you, I pushed 315w at Ironman Arizona last year, and rode 4:04 for 180k. At about 25k I got a time update and had only pulled back about 20s on Amberger. This did not surprise me though as I knew he was an excellent biker. I didn’t give any thought to his ride at 70.3 Worlds 2016, as one man cannot out-bike 20 men working together. I stayed focused and kept faith that he would eventually start to fatigue.

I got another time update at around 75km. The deficit was down to 2:30. I was still holding 330w, dead steady. My legs were really starting to come alive and I was certain I would be able to hold that for the entire bike, if not more. I got another update at 90km and the deficit was down to 1:45. This is just as we were about to head down one of the more steep and technical descents on the course. As I was heading down the hill, at 70.2kph, my back tire blew out. I was a little bit scared as we were on a curve, and passing age-groupers on their first lap. Eventually I came to a stop and hopped off the bike. I stayed eerily calm.

I should mention at this point, that I am an idiot. The day before I was going through my flat kit and realized I had stolen the tube to replace a flat on my training bike, and replaced it with a very short valve tube. I said to Erin that we need to stop at the expo after the pro-briefing so I can get a longer valved tube. Later that day, we were walking by the expo and Erin reminded me about the tube. I said, “don’t worry about it, the odds that I am going to need it are close to zero.”. I am an idiot.

So, now was the time to find out if the valve on the tube was long enough. I got the tire off, pulled the tube out, inserted the new tube, centred the tire in the channel, and then got the tire back on the rim. I cracked the Co2 and tried carefully to centre it on the valve that was sticking out a few millimeters inside the disc. Unfortunately, the valve was so short, I emptied most of the Co2 into the air, getting maybe 20PSI into the tube. This would not be enough to ride. Fortunately, I had two Co2s in my spare kit. I cracked the second one, and tried to push the valve out as far as possible. This time I got the Co2 into the tube and aired it up to what felt like 80-100PSI. I put the rim back on, grabbed all the garbage and shoved it down my shirt, then carefully got back onto the road, trying not to get hit by the hundreds of age-groupers flying by me. In the end, I was able to change the flat in just under 4 minutes. The total time lost due to the ordeal was just under 6 minutes i.e. the time I started to decelerate due to getting the flat, to the time I started to get back up to speed after fixing it.

Back onto the road, I knew my bike split was going to be poor. I knew that if I had any shot at winning this thing it was going to be on the back of an excellent run. For the final 28km I pushed only 297w. I came out of T2 with just over a 6 minute deficit to Amberger. It was a three loop course, so I immediately broke that down into 2 minutes per 10k. I went off in a pace that I was semi-confident I could sustain without blowing up hardcore. I have done a ton of running at 3:15-3:20/km leading into this race, so I figured 3:25/km would be manageable.

I went through the first 10k in 34:19, and had pulled back right around 2 minutes. I knew that whatever I pulled back in the first 10k, I would pull back even more in the final 10k, so I started to believe it would be possible to catch him. I ran the next 10k in 35:36, and went through the half-marathon in 1:13:31. Through 20k I was down by only a minute, and I knew then that I would catch him. Around 23km I pulled up beside him. Nothing was exchanged as I believe we both race off of similar energies, and a congratulations for a solid effort is the last thing you want to express in that moment.

I kept the pace honest until the finish. Approaching the finish line I grabbed a Canadian flag and flew it proudly. I took the finishing banner, gritted the teeth and flexed the muscles. This was a showing of both my revenge and gratitude for the race back in 2011. I must say, I am very impressed with how Josh Amberger raced. He laid it all on the line; swam off the front, biked off the front, and fought to the bitter end. I am excited to battle with him again soon.

All and all, I am happy with the performance and the choice to do this race. I am certain my swimming is improving, and my bike and run training are moving in the right direction for Kona. I was able to get back into quality training only a few days after the race, and I will be able to put in four solid training blocks before Kona.

Now that I have written this chapter book, perhaps I will maintain this blog a little better moving forward. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Thoughts on The Championship

I fully intended to get a blog up right after Samorin, but unfortunately came down with a bad cold on the travel home, and it persisted for almost three weeks. To add insult to injury, I must have picked up a bug from somewhere a little over a week before Mont Tremblant, as I had fever, aches, chills, etc. for a good 48 hours. A week before Tremblant I was unsure if I would even be able to start the race, but then things started to turnaround on the Monday so I decided to give it a go. But back to Samorin first.

Samorin was Challenge’s version of the 70.3 World Championship. The major difference was that they were going to implement a 20 meter draft zone, which is something that has become both my life and career mission to see happen in all championship races. I had never done a Challenge race before, but there was absolutely no way I would be missing this one. I must say, I was very impressed with Challenge. Everything was top notch; they treated us very well, and it truly felt like we were part of a family. Multiple times Erin and I would be eating dinner and the CEO of Challenge would come over and chat with us and make sure we were doing alright and had everything we needed. Moving forward, I will be incorporating a lot more Challenge races into my schedule.

The race took place at a facility called X-Bionic Sphere. It was probably the most amazing place I have ever been to. 50m outdoor pool, 25m indoor pool with water slides, outdoor track, massive gym, multiple restaurants, hundreds of miles of bike paths right next door, beautiful rooms- it had everything. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to enjoy it much, as none of our bags showed up until about 24 hours before the race, so I basically just sat around in my XXL white t-shirt, combing my hair. In the end, this probably worked to my advantage though, as it forced me to rest.

The swim took place in the Danube. I lined up right next to Sebastien Kienle. The gun went and a gap opened up on Sebastien almost immediately. I worked very hard for the next 200m chanting “bridge the gap, bridge the gap” in my head. Then, I looked over to my right and noticed a cap that had the number 2 on it. I knew Kienle wore number 2, so then I realized that I hadn’t been dropped at all, I was actually swimming right next to him. I knew then that I had made the second pack. The rest of the swim was very easy. In fact, I would say it was probably one of the easiest swims I have ever done in a 70.3. I felt like I could have done back stroke and still kept up. But this is the beauty of making the pack. When I emerged form the water, Erin yelled at me that I was 3:15 down to Richard Varga, and 2:30 down to Alistair Brownlee. Most would say Richard is the best swimmer in triathlon, so I was happy to hear this number. Brownlee was 3:15 ahead of me just one month prior in St. George, so I was happy to hear this as well.

Out onto the bike, I figured I could ride fairly steady because with a 20 meter draft zone, I wouldn’t be disadvantaged by the “legal drafting” that occurs in other competitive races with a 10m draft zone. I rode quite poorly in St. George, so my only real goal was to improve upon that performance. I pushed 380w for the first 30 minutes, and averaged 370w for the first 80 minutes. At that point, I believe predominantly due to the course being dead flat with very few corners, my glutes decided to shut off. I had done some preparation for this style of riding, but obviously not enough. For the final 36 minutes I averaged 310w i.e. lower than my Ironman race pace.

Sebastien and I both swam together and rode the entire bike together. We came off the bike with about a 45 second deficit to Alistair Brownlee. I could tell that he was just as motivated as I was to avenge the performance in St. George, so I knew I was going to be in for a very painful next 21 kilometers. In all honesty, I would say my run legs felt some of the worst they have ever felt coming off the bike. I think most would say a bike course like Samorin is quite easy, but I would say it is actually harder than most bike courses because there is absolutely no change in muscle recruitment patterns, and thus it fries your legs a lot more than usual. We took the time back from Brownlee very quickly. Around 2km we entered the lead.

Kienle sounded fantastic. He showed no sign of pain or weakness whatsoever. I was absolutely dying. The negative thoughts started to come around 5km. Things like “second is good, this is a really good field.” Multiple gaps opened up and I had conceded the victory in my head. But, once there was significant space between us, I would focus more on myself and my own internal sensations, and would find another gear to bridge back up. As we went through an aid station around 10km Kienle let out some weakness. He started panting and even let out a few moans. The tables turned right then and there. I knew then that he was suffering just as much as I was, but was just hiding it well. I also realized at that point that he was throwing surges out, and that was why the gaps were opening. I then knew that if I just weathered the surge, he would slow down and I would get a break from the perceived exertion.

At around 15km I started to feel a gap opening. I knew it was now or never. We went through an aid station and I didn’t slow down. I felt the elastic starting to snap. I vowed to not look back and kept chanting “keep the pace rich, keep the pace rich.” When I got to the turnaround at about 17km I saw that I had opened a gap of about 200m. I knew this was not enough though, and kept the pace hot. There was another turnaround at around 20km. I saw at this point that I was about 400m ahead, but I still felt like Kienle could somehow close the gap, so I needed to keep pressing. As we were going by each other, Kienle reached over the fence to give me a high five. He didn’t need to say anything, I knew exactly what this gesture meant: “You got me. Great battle. I am not pressing. Enjoy that finish line.”

What a great gesture this was, as I would have blown through that finish line with fear driving my every movement. Sebastien is a great champion, and I have learned so much from him over the years. This was another great lesson on humility and the spirit of competition, that I will add to my arsenal. The finish line was amazing. The grand stands were packed with people and the announcer was hyping everyone up. I got a good tear in my eye and a shiver down my spine. I still stand 100% by what I said after finishing. It wouldn’t have mattered if I won or if Kienle had won, I still would have had the same positive feeling at the finish line. There is nothing better than a good battle right to the last minute, where you have no idea who is going to win. It was an honour to experience this alongside Sebastien. If you didn’t have the opportunity to watch the race, I encourage you to set some time aside and watch the replay. Challenge did an excellent job with the live coverage and you can find the video here:

I have to say, I am very impressed with Challenge. They offer an amazing product, that from what I can tell, was equally as good for the pros as it was for the AG field. I also commend them for their effort to make their World Championship fair. This race proved to me that there is absolutely no reason why we can’t and shouldn’t have a 20 meter draft zone for all championship races. Our careers, reputations, hearts and souls are on the line here, and it takes absolutely nothing extra to implement this rule. This was a very deep field, with some of the best short course and long course talent in the world, and it was implemented smoothly and efficiently. I am honoured to have taken part in this first World Championship for Challenge, and I am excited for next year.

In the interest of reading time, I will do a separate post on Mont Tremblant 70.3, and then go into the details of the rest of my season, and the rationale behind this.

 

St. George 2017

St. George has provided many great experiences over the years. Back in 2014, it is where I saw for the first time what world class 70.3 racing looked like. In that race, I finished 18th, nearly 10 minutes behind Jan Frodeno, losing time in all three disciplines. Immediately after the race I was very discouraged and contemplated giving up triathlon. A few days went by and I realized I had made many mistakes with regards to equipment, training, pacing, nutrition, etc. I also realized that my attitude and orientation to triathlon had taken a wrong turn, and vowed from that race onwards that I would do triathlon solely to find out what is possible. I also vowed to always give my absolute best on race day, regardless of the cards I am dealt.

This year was sure to provide equally as valuable experience. St. George always has a stacked field. It usually is the prelude to the 70.3 World Championship. There was one unique thing about this year that was sure to make it a race for the ages: Alistair Brownlee. Alistair is arguably the greatest one day racer of all time. He has won every single race he has wanted to win, including the last two Olympic Gold medals. He is largely responsible for pushing short course racing to a point where if you can’t swim sub 17 minutes for 1500m AND run sub 30 minutes for 10km after riding a hard 40km bike, you will have no chance at winning a major race. Along with being massively talented at swimming, biking and running, he also possesses that quality that you cannot teach; he has pushed himself on multiple occasions to the point where he could no longer function at the finish line, and had to be wheeled away for medical attention. St. George was going to be Alistair’s first 70.3 against a quality field. The whole world would be watching and waiting for him to usher in the new era.

Before the race even started Alistair already was positively impacting my training. In the weeks between Oceanside and St. George I was doing the best swimming of my life. I also posted a lifetime best 1 hour power on the bike of over 410w. What benefitted most was my running. I knew to have any shot at winning I was going to have to take my running up a notch. In the three weeks after Oceanside I did multiple run workouts that were approaching the workouts I was doing back in 2013, when I was doing a lot more pure running races, and posted all of my best times. In my run workout six days prior to St. George I was able to do multiple 2km repeats on 3 minutes recovery, and average 2:57-2:58/km.

With hindsight, Alistair actually may have entered my mind a little too much. Admittedly, this race is the first time in years where I actually had a little bit of fear of a competitor. I knew that if given the opportunity, Alistair would rip your legs clean off your body, with no remorse shown whatsoever. I think fear is good, and can be very motivating, but looking back at my training, I probably trained a little too hard in the weeks leading into the race, and definitely pushed the race-week training too hard, particularly on the swim and bike.

St. George is always a tough swim for me. There are usually many great swimmers in the race, so the take-out speed is very fast. Fast take-out speed is still something I am relatively poor at. The spread between my all-out 100m speed and threshold 100m speed is not very large. This is something that unfortunately I do not think can be rushed, and predominantly comes with time and experience. This year’s race played out very similar to last year. The gun went, I got dropped immediately, and swam most of the race with just one or two other guys. The sad part for me is that in Oceanside I came out with or ahead of multiple guys who were all considerably further ahead of me in St. George. I swam very hard in the two days leading into this race, so I think there are some good lessons here with regards to tapering into the swim. I can’t get down on the swim though as this year I was 3:13 down to the front of the race, whereas last year I was 4:30 down to the front. This year was arguably a better group of swimmers than last year, with multiple individuals who are fresh off the ITU circuit, or still racing ITU.

The bike was the most discouraging part for me though. I have heard many stories of Alistair being a monster on the bike, both in racing and in practice. I knew to have any chance at competing for the overall victory I was going to have to post the best bike ride of my life. I figured I was physically and mentally prepared to do this because just one month prior in Oceanside I pushed 360w for 1 hour 50 minutes, with ease. At that point, I made a conscious decision to lap the computer and ride a little easier to the finish, yet still went through 2 hours averaging 357w. Sadly, the moment my feet touched the pedals in St. George, I knew it was going to be a rough day.

For the first 20 minutes I averaged 360w, and it was a massive struggle. I tried everything to muster up some power, but nothing worked and the average just kept dropping. I knew not long after that the race was going to be with Kienle for second. In a race that I needed to post the best power of my career, I actually posted the second worst average power of my professional career: 333w. My prior second worst being my professional debut at Muskoka 70.3 in 2013 where I averaged 335w.

Towards the end of the bike I was really starting to worry about how I would perform on the run. Last year Kienle and I ran pretty much dead even through 10 miles, and I felt a heck of a lot better for the first 2.5 hours of the race that year. Once onto the run course, I was quite surprised to find that my legs felt good. I knew there was no chance to catch Brownlee, but I did want to show that I am in good run form, so I set a good tempo from start to finish. The time was slowly coming down to Alistair, but to be honest, I never really believed I could catch him. You just don’t run down a 3 minute deficit on a guy who has run 28:3x for 10km!

All in all I am happy with the performance on the day. The only thing I am a little disappointed with is that I pride myself on being someone who rises to the occasion, and on this day I was unable to do that. Oh well, more fuel for the fire. I will say, as we look back in the future at the history books of triathlon, this race will be recognized as a monumental day. Alistair is a great all around triathlete who has no weakness whatsoever. His performance on the day was good, but there is not a doubt in my mind that he is capable of much more. He took ITU to a new level and will do the same in long distance triathlon. This race will mark the beginning of the New Era. I am excited for the challenge, and to continue to find out what is possible.

 

BA and Oceanside ’17

It was a tight turnaround between Buenos Aires and Oceanside. One of the reasons I signed up for Buenos Aires was because I felt 2.5 months in between Pucon 70.3 and Oceanside 70.3 was too long between races. I got into a really good training groove after Pucon 70.3 and realized the day before leaving for Buenos Aires that I probably didn’t need the race in between. On the way to the airport for Buenos Areas I was actually looking at how much money I would lose if I cancelled my flight. As you already know, I ended up going and I am glad I did.

The major reason I signed up for Buenos Aires was that it is usually a non-wetsuit freshwater swim. This is the worst case scenario for a weak swimmer due to no buoyancy from a wetsuit and no buoyancy from the saltwater. They announced the water temperature at the pro meeting as being around 73 degrees Fahrenheit, and recommended we bring both our wetsuit and speedsuit in the morning. The wetsuit cutoff for pros is 71.9 degrees Fahrenheit. You may not believe me, but I was praying the water warmed up! Fortunately, they announced in the morning that it would be a non-wetsuit swim.

The other reason I signed up for Buenos Aires is that it is a three loop bike course with multiple roundabouts and corners on every lap. Doing all my biking on a stationary trainer has not made me a great technical rider, so in the past I have avoided courses like this. Now, I am trying to improve upon all my weaknesses and am seeking out these kinds of courses to gain experience.

The race was non-wetsuit but very close to the cutoff, and the air temperature was around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I was cold when entering the water, and right before the gun I was actually starting to shake. When the gun went I began executing my plan: 8 out of 10. In a race setting, swimming 8 out of 10 is probably closer to 9.5 out of 10 in reality, and that is about the most effort I can put forth and still hold good form. I got out well and was on some feet. My “swim IQ” was at an all-time high and I was monitoring what was happening further up the pack I was in. About 400m in I realized a gap was opening up. I increased the effort and turnover and worked really hard to bridge the gap. I closed the gap at the turn and then stayed comfortably in the pack for the rest of the swim.

Out onto the bike, Erin informed me that I was 3 minutes down to the front of the race. This ties my best deficit ever, which I achieved at Oceanside 70.3 in 2016 (which is a wetsuit legal, saltwater swim; the most ideal conditions for a weak swimmer). This being a non-wetsuit freshwater swim, I knew that I must have made significant improvements in the water. Next, I executed my “Championship Race Strategy” and rode as hard as I could until I bridged the gap to the front of the race. I caught the main pack at about 20km and then I entered the lead of the race by about 35km. I then rode steady the rest of the ride and did my best to take the corners and roundabouts a little more aggressively than I normally would. I kept the pace honest on the run while soaking in my surroundings the best I could. I found out a few days prior to the race that Jan Frodeno would be making an appearance in Oceanside, so I made sure not to drill myself too hard on the second half of the run, as I figured I would be “going to the well” in under three weeks time.

Unfortunately, due to a combination of the stress of the race and travel, as well as carelessness with regards to washing my hands on the flight home, I came down with a cold the day after returning. As well, we took possession of our new house the day after returning, so the move added even more stress. I did my best to manage training and recovery despite the illness and ended up putting in a decent quality 11 day training block in between the races.

At Oceanside 2015 I bridged the gap to the front of the race on the bike and then Jan Frodeno and I ran side by side for the first 5 kilometers. He dropped me hardcore and then went on to win 70.3 Worlds and Kona a few months later. To this day, that is the most powerful experience of my entire career. I literally had a poster of Jan up on my wall just a year prior. I don’t think a day has gone by since then that I have not reflected on that race and experience. Hearing that Jan would make an appearance in Oceanside was exciting news. I would finally get my rematch. Perfect timing too because I was confident from Buenos Aires that I had improved my swim significantly since then.

Jan doesn’t show up at races to finish second so I knew if I was going to give him a run for his money it was going to require a flawless race, and probably the deepest effort I have ever given. I mentally prepared myself for this effort in all of the training sessions leading into the race. I was confident that I was mentally prepared to either win, or be taken away in a stretcher at the finish line.

I actually surprised myself with the swim. Jan is the gold standard of triathlon swimming; he takes it out hard and is very consistent. When I reached Erin- who was about 1km into the bike course- she informed me that I was 2:16 down to Jan, and under a minute down to Andreas Drietz. I know Drietz is someone to be very afraid of in 2017 because I am sure he is just as pissed off as I am about how 70.3 Worlds 2016 went down. Two years ago in Oceanside I was nearly 4:30 down to the front, so this put me in a significantly different situation than I was used to.

Originally I was going to employ my “Championship Race Strategy” and bridge the gap as hard as I could, but instead I decided to employ a more controlled effort. My feet, hands and legs were numb. It was actually quite difficult to produce power. In a post race interview I commented that I pushed 390w to bridge the gap. That’s about what it felt like. In reality, I only pushed 368w to bridge the gap. This is by far the most speed I have ever got off of that power, so it is a testament to both the improvements I am making on the rollers, as well as my improved position.

I caught a glimpse of Jan at about 12 miles. I was about 30 seconds down. The excitement was building. This was going to be one for the ages. I told Erin at dinner the night before that it is exciting that we are living in a time and place where we get the opportunity to race someone who is a likely candidate for the Greatest Of All Time. I told her that whatever happens, this will likely be one we reflect back on fondly several decades from now with our children and grandchildren. The race was about to start. It was about mile 15 and I was about 10 seconds down on Jan. To my disbelief, he pulled off to the side of the road and raised his hand. I slowed down and asked what is going on. He said “I’ve got a puncture.” I reached back to my flat kit and asked if he had the stuff to change it. He said, “Yeah mate, have a good race.”

Honest to god I almost cried. I had accounted for every possible scenario…surges on the hills, a long slog with 1km to go, an all out sprint with 200m to go…I had not mentally prepared myself for this. I yelled at the top of my lungs several times “f**cking bull sh**t!” It took me several minutes to gain composure over myself. At the end of the day, I am a professional athlete, and I am at work, so I had to carry on. I refocused and let out a 6-700w surge as I went by Igor Amorelli and re-entered the lead.

For the rest of the bike I kept my power steady. I made a deal with myself that if I held 360w AP until 90 minutes, I could relax a bit until the end of the ride. The sun started to come up and I started to feel better, so I ended up pushing 360w until 110 minutes. My average power for the entire ride was 354w, with a normalized power of 366w (less power than I pushed at 70.3 Worlds 2016). On the run course, I kept the pace honest from start to finish. I took in the amazing crowd support and beautiful backdrop to the best of my ability.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very appreciative for having the privilege of winning this race, but that is not how I wanted it to go down. Oh well, the rematch will have to wait. On a more positive note, that was by far and away the best swim of my life. I am certain that what I am doing in training is leading to meaningful improvements in the open water, so I am excited to get back home and continue to put my nose to the grind stone.

Thanks to everyone for reading and following along. The blog has been a bit quite lately, but this is because I was devoting all my energy to training and then trying to get over the cold in time for Oceanside. I will post more regularly moving forward and will have a training day video up very soon.