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.

IMAZ ’16 Analysis Part 1

For those reading who I do not have on Facebook, I would first like to repost my initial thoughts from there:

Just wanted to send a big thank you to everyone for their cheers and support. I did Ironman Louisville back in 2010 in 10:14:31. I couldn’t fathom going a second faster. Yesterday I had a lifetime best swim, bike and run, and was able to cross the finish in 7:44:29, a little over 2.5 hours faster than my race six years ago. If there is anything you take away from this performance I hope it is that ANYTHING is possible if you cultivate a love and passion for what you are doing, and you are willing to persevere through the adversity that you are bound to encounter.

I will start off my Ironman Arizona analysis in the same way I did my Kona ‘16 analysis. You can read that first Kona post HERE. Below you will find my updated top 10 run and bike mileage lists. I think it is also important to note that in the 5 weeks after Kona I did three 7 hour training days, which consisted of a 1 hour swim, 5 hour bike ride and 1 hour run off the bike. I also participated in the three day stage race called the Island House Triathlon from October 28-30th.

My 10 longest runs in the last six months:

November 11th: 30.2km at 3:50/km

November 9th: 35.4km at 3:50/km

November 7th: 30.2km at 3:52/km

November 4th: 30.2km at 3:54/km

November 2nd: 40km at 3:57/km

October 23rd: 24.1km at 3:55/km

October 21st: 35km at 4:04/km

October 19th: 26.2km at 3:52/km

October 14th: 30km at 4:18/km

October 8th: 42.2km at 4:44/km

My 10 longest rides in the last six months:

November 12th: 5 hours at 261w

November 10th: 2 hours 45 minutes at 311w

November 8th: 3 hours at 303w

November 5th: 5 hours at 255w

October 24th: 4 hours at 255w

October 17th: 5 hours at 231w

October 8th: 4 hours 25 minutes at 299w

September 25th: 4 hours at 255w

September 14th: 2 hours 35 minutes at 261w

July 27th: 4 hours 2 minutes at 271w

In my next post I will give my thoughts on the race and how it unfolded, and then I will follow that with a post on my conclusions, training recommendations, and plan moving forward.

 

Kona ’16 Analysis Part 2

As was the case last year, Kona has once again been a great learning experience. First, I must say, as someone who views themselves as a strong runner, starting to walk at around 19 kilometers into the marathon is rather embarrassing. I had the fastest run split at 70.3 Worlds, and pretty close to the slowest run split among the pros, one month later at Ironman Worlds. I thought the days of walking in races were over long ago. I think it’s a real testament to how grueling an Ironman triathlon can be. But, it’s not healthy to dwell on the negative for too long; all you can do is try and learn the lessons that need to be learned, then persevere onwards. Originally I thought I would be able to expound the lessons learned this year in a single blog post, but there is just too much to discuss to fit into a single post, so I will have to do several posts on the topic. Here is the first lesson I learned this year in Kona:

 

Respect the distance!

 

The astute observer may recall that in my analysis of Kona last year, I argued that you should not do long sessions at race pace. I think some people perhaps misunderstood what I meant by that, and thought I meant that you should not do long sessions. This is definitely not what I meant to say. What I intended to communicate is that spending a lot of time at race pace does not make race pace easier. I still believe this to be the case. I think you should spend a great deal of time above race pace, and the rest of the time well below race pace, and this is what will make race pace easier.

This past year I did a lot of high end intervals. I was focusing exclusively on the 70.3 distance, so I rarely ran longer than 20 kilometers or biked longer than 2 hours; in other words, I never spent much more time in practice doing any of the disciplines, than I would spend doing the discipline in the race. That’s all fine and dandy if all you are going to do is the 70.3 distance. The problem is that I had an Ironman on the schedule. I thought perhaps I would be able to get away with a lack of mileage because I had pushed my upper limits so high, but then reality hit me. I did not respect the distance.

If all you want to do is FINISH an Ironman, then this is a viable training approach. I was able to FINISH an Ironman in 8 hours and 44 minutes; albeit it was quite painful, and I walked / shuffled for about 23 kilometers. If you want to RACE an Ironman from start to finish, you need to respect the distance and put in the time. The fact of the matter is that if your muscles are not used to firing for 6, 7, 8 or even more hours, then it will become progressively more laborious to make those muscles fire as you go beyond the limits of your endurance. I can’t remember the last time I ran at 5 minutes per kilometer. I do my leisure / active recovery jogging at around 4:30 per kilometer. At these paces my heart rate is under 100BPM. In the race in Kona, by about 19 kilometers, I was running at around 5 minutes per kilometer, and the perceived exertion was through the roof. It just so happens that that was a little over 6 hours into the race.

I have lots of experience exercising for 4 hours. Most of my training days this year were between 3 and 4 hours. I think this is why I was able to execute a decent bike without having put in adequate mileage on the bike (the bike took me 4 hours and 26 minutes). I have only done a handful of training days this year over 5 hours. My body was able to function decently well for about 6 hours. I think this shows that there is some wiggle room. I was able to RACE for about 6 hours off of training intended on getting me in the best shape possible to RACE for 4 hours. If the race had been a 4k swim to a 120k bike to a 30k run, I think I could have done a lot better, as this would have taken a little under 6 hours. Unfortunately, this was not the race distance.

I think this is why you hear of a lot of guys incorporating “over-biking” into their training routine. I think a lot of the “pain” that you experience as you reach the limits of your endurance is a byproduct of the muscles not being used to functioning continuously for that long. I am no scientist, but I would imagine the phenomenon is rooted in the strength of the firing neurons beginning to diminish. It would be very dangerous to try and run for the duration that it takes to race an Ironman. It is significantly less dangerous to ride your bike for the durations it takes to do an Ironman. I have heard of many of the top athletes doing 6 or 7 hour bike rides, where they may cover 200 kilometers or more. Many of them will precede it with a swim, let’s say of about an hour; and a few may even do a short run after, or later in the evening. The total of this type of workout would be around 7 hours on the short end, or over 8 hours on the long end. I think a large part of the motivation to do this type of workout is to give the muscles experience at firing for durations similar to what it takes to RACE an Ironman.

It should be noted, I don’t think it takes many of these workouts, and I don’t think it takes very long for the body to adapt to these workouts because as I said above, I believe the phenomenon is rooted predominantly on the neuronal level. If you have ever lifted weights then you will understand this phenomenon. It is very common for someone to nearly double in strength when they first start doing an exercise (the bench press for instance), in just a few weeks. Close to no muscle mass will have been put on in this time. What happens, is that the neurons begin to fire stronger and more efficiently under the load, allowing the individual to put up more weight quite rapidly. Of course, the gains from this process diminish quite rapidly, and as time progresses, the ability to put up more weight generally comes with an increase in muscle mass. I believe something very similar is what happens in long distance endurance training.

Another element to stress is that the pace or wattage of these sessions isn’t that important. The important thing is that you go beyond durations that you are adapted to exercising for, until you get close to exercising for the duration you plan to RACE for (keeping in mind you do have some wiggle room, as was noted above). Scratch that, the pace and wattage is of massive importance. It is important that you do not do these sessions very hard. If you do these sessions hard, then you will amass a ton of fatigue (and increase your risk of injury). If you are massively fatigued, then you will not be able to push your upper limits very high, and you will “gravitate towards the middle,” as I have discussed in previous posts.

In summary, you need to RESPECT THE DISTANCE if you plan to RACE THE DISTANCE. This does not mean you should spend a ton of time at race pace. You should almost always be either well above or well below race pace. But this does mean you need to put in some big mileage. The safest way to put in this mileage is through a combination of swimming and a lot of biking, with perhaps a little bit of running. This is not to say that you shouldn’t do a long run, as I do believe in order to execute a decent marathon, you need to do a decent length long run, following a similar logic as the weight lifting example above. But you definitely need to put in some long days if you want to reach your full potential in an event that can take 8 or more continuous hours. My logic going into Kona, that I could “wing it” because I had pushed my upper limits very high, was completely disrespectful to the sport. The reality is that I did not put in the time, and I paid the price because of it: a 23 kilometer shuffle of shame.

Kona ’16 Analysis Part 1

After St. George 70.3 I made the decision to do the Ironman 70.3 World Championship in Australia. It was going to be a very long trip, and to do well was going to require me to get in the best shape I have ever been in. For that reason, I decided to focus 100% of my energy on that race. By 100% I mean forget that Kona even exists until after the race. Doing this allowed me to cut out all of the long workouts that might add unnecessary fatigue, and take away from my ability to push the upper limits. Looking back in the training diary over the last 10 months, it appears that I rarely biked longer than 2 hours, or ran further than 20 kilometers. The more I think about it, the more I am amazed I was even able to do what I did this year in Kona.

Here are my 10 longest bike rides in the last 6 months:

September 25th: 4 hours at 255w

September 14th: 2 hours 35 minutes at 261w

July 27th: 4 hours 2 minutes at 274w

July 5th: 3 hours 2 minutes at 286w

June 18th: 2 hours 31 minutes at 265w

June 8th: 3 hours at 263w

May 29th: 3 hours at 256w

April 27th: 2 hours 30 minutes at 246w

April 20th: 2 hours 20 minutes at 238w

March 19th: 3 hours at 244w

In Kona I pushed 299w (306w NP) for 4 hours and 26 minutes. It is actually the longest bike ride I have done since Ironman Arizona in November 2015. The more I think about it, the more I am amazed that I was able to hold that power for that long! I will say to those who might think I over biked this year, and who think that is why I ran so poorly: I didn’t really bike very much harder this year than last year. Last year in Kona I averaged 293w NP, whereas this year I averaged 306w NP. Last year I ran 2:54 on a much tougher day (the fastest run split last year was 2:49, whereas this year it was 2:39) and this year I ran 3:17. In all honesty, I would say even if I pushed 100w for the bike ride, I still would have run very poorly.

Now let’s have a look at the run training. My 10 longest runs in the last six months were:

August 19th: 24km at 3:45/km

August 3rd: 22.5km at 3:45/km

July 24th: 24km at 3:43/km

July 3rd: 24km at 4:00/km

June 15th: 22.1km at 3:46/km

June 6th: 24.1km at 3:57/km

June 5th: 22.1km at 3:50/km

May 27th: 24.1km at 3:58/km

April 24th: 24.1km at 3:43/km

March 17th: 30.2km at 3:57/km

Looking back on this training, I’m not quite sure how I expected to run a flat out marathon with any degree of competence, let alone a marathon after a 180km bike ride! My 3 hour 17 minute marathon makes total sense now: I had asked my legs to do something far greater on the bike than I had done in many months past, which it did…and then I asked it to do the same thing again on the marathon…which it did not. And I don’t blame it!

Following suit from last year, I will do one more post in the coming days with more lessons and my recommendations for future improvement.

Kona 2016

What a humbling day. I knew Kona was going to be a gamble. Admittedly, I put all of my eggs in the 70.3 Worlds basket. In the last three months I have done one 4 hour ride, one 25km run, and one 5 hour training day. All acceptable if training for a 70.3, but a bit short if preparing for the full Ironman distance. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I would be able to gut it out and go the distance. Though I did gut it out, and was able to complete the distance, it wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.

The week leading into the race was a lot of fun. I had quite a few commitments. I tried to embrace the experience and got to meet a lot of cool people along the way. I was definitely in a good head space leading into the race. I truly did not have any expectations for myself. I just wanted to have fun and enjoy the day. If possible, I was hoping to improve upon last year’s performance.

I had a decent swim. I was 8 minutes and 39 seconds down to the leaders out of the water. Last year I was 10 minutes and 20 seconds down out of the water. Not great, but an improvement nonetheless. This time round I was in the second chase pack for about 400 meters, but then got popped out of the back. I will say, it’s nice to have a shot at making the pack, rather than getting dropped immediately and having no shot whatsoever.

Out onto the bike, I knew I needed to be patient. I started off very controlled. It wasn’t until about 40k, when the crosswinds started to pick up, that I really started to push some power. By the turnaround at Hawi I was averaging about 318w. I knew this was ambitious, but I was making up good time on the lead group, so decided to go for it. By the bottom of the decent from Hawi I was starting to reach the ends of my endurance (about 120k in). I had to dig really deep the next 60k to not have a massive blow up. In the end, I averaged 299w (306w NP) for a 4:26 bike. This time round I was a little over 3 minutes off the fastest bike split, whereas last year I was over 10 minutes slower. Another good improvement.

Out onto the run course, I knew immediately it was going to be a long day. I was running just under 4 minutes per kilometer, but it was quite laborious from the beginning. There were a few glimmers of hope early on. I passed a couple guys and got as far as 8th place. But, around 15km the wheels started to fall off. By about 19 kilometers I was already having to walk. My legs were shutting down, and shutting down quite rapidly. It was very difficult to fathom running another 23 kilometers. In all honesty, I was unable to run the remaining 23 kilometers. The best I could do was a combination of walking and shuffling. Every aid station that passed (and there were a lot of them; 15 to be precise), I went through a very long debate with myself about whether or not to drop out. In the end, I decided to finish. I believe you should either come home in the ambulance or you should finish the race. You need to live by your principals.

I will say, my belief has been renewed in the positive spirit of this sport. I got passed by about 21 guys along the way, and many times they slowed down to ask if I was okay and offer a gel or some salt. Sadly, I don’t think the issue was nutritional at all. I was in complete sound mind, and well hydrated. I didn’t even find it very hot. The reality is, I just didn’t have the endurance to go the distance. I thought perhaps I could fake it, but Kona is just far too challenging of a course for that.

This race gives me a better appreciation for just how far an Ironman is. It is absolutely incredible that the human body is able to achieve such a feat. I have massive respect for everyone who was able to finish the race. That is an insane amount of distance to cover, on an insane course, in some insane conditions!

I will do another blog post soon detailing the lessons I have acquired from this race, but I will say, moving forward, I think I will likely put the full Ironman distance on the back burner for a little while. I need to focus on my swim, and get it quite a bit closer to the front. In order to do well in these championship races the swim is a necessity, and mine is just not there yet. I am confident that with a good team, and the use of some good technology, I will be able to get my swim there, but only if I put the majority of my focus on it. So that is what I intend to do.

I greatly appreciate all of the cheers and support leading into this race. I also greatly appreciate all of my sponsors, who without them, I would be unable to pursue this endeavour. Now, as I regain function of my legs, I will enjoy some of the cool things The Big Island has to offer.

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.