2016 Ironman Hawaii Race Report: Coach Rich Strauss

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The 2016 Ironman World Championships was my 2nd Kona, with my first time in 2003. But before I begin, I need to share with you my thoughts about and goals for the race:

From my race plan posted internally to our Team:

I’m fully at peace with the fitness and body composition that I have vs what I would like to have. It’s been a crazy year and the result is that I have easily the least fitness I’ve ever had for an Ironman. But…I’m crafty, cagey, wily, and most importantly have had a full summer of helping you guys tweak your race plans, reading and learning from your race reports, and witnessing 3 x Ironmans in person this summer. In the process I’ve learned a lot and have been reminded of a lot more.

Goal #1: View the Race as a Celebration of My Career

I’ve been a full time Ironman triathlon coach for 15 years. I’ve learned, done, seen a LOT in my time as a coach. And while I’ve raced Kona once before in ’03, and turned down the slot a few additional times, I haven’t been on the island as either an athlete or coach since about 2005 I believe. And so my relative lack of fitness creates the opportunity to let the racing go and be more present to the experience of the super bowl of our sport. I’m going to do my best to remind myself when I’m out there that when it sucks, I’m very lucky to have created a life and career for myself that let’s me experience The Suck in such a cool venue and with such cool people. After all, no matter how bad it sucks, it could always suck worse in much worse locations!

Goal #2: Delay the Suck, by Any Means Necessary

In short, I simply don’t have the fitness to thrive in The Suck like I have in the past. As a result, I need to avoid The Suck for as long as possible via a complete disregard for all time-based outcomes. Basically, I need to be all Frozen, Elsa, “Let it Go!” all day long.

++++++++++++++

And now, my 2016 Ironman World Championships race report!

Pre-Race:

Seemed pretty busy for me, with priorities being to swim often, acclimate on the bike and run, and enjoy my time in Kona. My big preview day was Wednesday, with the 9am Ventum ride, 10:30a TeamEN ride and 30’ brick in the Energy Lab…where I saw pace and heart rate numbers I knew I had no business seeing on race day!

But by Thursday afternoon I had everything packed, organized, check, in bags, and ready to go…and get out of my sight because I couldn’t stop myself from futzing with everything!

Friday bike check in was late, but fun and a bit of a red carpet experience with photogs taking picks, industry reps cataloging equipment choices, etc. Pretty cool.

RACE DAY!!

Goals:
Aware of my over all lack of IM fitness, and especially running durability, avoid at all cost a catastrophic meltdown on the run.
Be present to the uniqueness of this special opportunity to race Kona, and “enjoy” it as much as possible, whenever/if possible.

Breakfast: up at 2:30a to shotgun ~800cals of Naked Juice Protein Smoothies. Then 2-3x gels and 1 bottle Gatorade Endurance up until swim start.

Swim — 1:02:18
Got in 20’ early and cruised to the front, then slid around to the left side trying to find an open-ish patch to start from…with not much luck. When the gun went off it was sorta full gas for about 200m then I settled in. While this swim was easily my most crowded, I had surprisingly little contact the entire swim. I made myself relax by basically freewheeling my arms (didn’t want to feel like I was pulling with much force), breathing every 4th vs every 2nd now and then, as a check of my effort, and making myself relax enough to pee. The net was a very, very comfortable, warmup effort swim.

T1: 4:38
Walked every step, but kept moving, and kept my HR down.

Bike: 5:36, 187w Pnorm, 138 average heart rate. Compare to 211w and 142bpm at IMWI’15

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Goals:

  • Hydrate
  • Eat
  • Hydrate
  • Relax
  • Hydrate

Admin through town and to the Queen K:
Gave myself a wattage cap of 230w on the climbs, coasted on the downhills, and made sure to keep my HR down. Ate 2x gels and started drinking water nearly right away. Went backwards to lots and lots of people, per the plan.

Queen K to Hawi, stuff in my head:

  • Elsa, from Frozen, singing “Let it Go!” I made a concerted effort to take a lot of positives from many people passing me, that I was doing the right thing for me, my fitness, and my goals.
  • “Today is a good day for a no-chain-day,” I wanted to feel like I was softpedaling all day, with very little pedal pressure, ever.
  • “How low can you go?” Found and took opportunities to get my HR down and keep it down for as long as I could.
  • “Drinking and peeing is constant and continuous” I basically rode with the Ventum straw in my mouth a LOT, always sipping, then peeing while standing on climbs.

Hawi to Finish:
I got to Hawi at 193w PNorm, or about .71-72 IF, I think. I decided I’d done enough work and now it was about driving that number, and my HR, as low as I could get it. So I rode easier but stayed very, very small, hiding from the wind.

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Nutritional Friction:
Plan was to do 1x GE + 1x gel +1x sleeve of shot blocks per hour for the first 2hrs, then switch to water, gels, and shots. I had Base salt on hand for if I felt I needed to up the sodium. Note that, for whatever reason, it’s easy for me to reach an over-salted state, especially if I rely too much on Gatorade Endurance…which is exactly what happened. At each aid station there where was only 1-2 people, maybe, handing out gels and I didn’t see any shot blocks after the first couple stations. So that gel handup became VERY important…and I often missed it. The net was that I found myself relying on more Gatorade Endurance than I would have liked for calories, but got in the calories I needed from the Coke they had out there…a nice treat.

So I got off the bike with great watts, great average heart rate, very well hydrated and fueled but a bit over-salted, with some puffiness in my hands and arms developing…ugg…

T2: 4:48. Slow is smooth, smooth is fast…but it’s not really about going fast it’s about just chillin’ and maintaining my perspective on the goals of the day.

Run: 4:58

Goals:

  • Do everything and anything, NOW, to avoid a meltdown late in the run.
  • Do my best to remain present to my objectives for the race and the uniqueness of the experience.

Alii to the Queen K:
I saw Mariah, Patrick, and Kandi near Lava Java, which was great. Fookin’ hot and, in retrospect, I should have slowed down a bit more, done more to get my heart rate down at the aid stations, etc. Not sure it would have made a tremendous difference, given how my head evolved across the day but maybe a few minutes?

When I saw the Kona Cheer Squad again I stopped briefly to say high, to tell them I was going to have the run I trained for…

After walking up Palani to the Queen K, the run became an evolution of “Let’s Make a Deal,” and the adjustment of my Commitment to Suffer(tm) as time goals slipped away, became new ones, which changed again, but never at the expense of my larger goals for the race: to remain present and thankful to the uniqueness of this opportunity to race in the Super Bowl of our sport.

“Let’s Make a Deal:” I played lots of games, like run 400 steps, walk 50. Walk this aid station, get what you need, run 4’, walk 1’, run 3’, walk 1’, etc. In short, I was aware that the key, for me, was to maintain myself by not running so I could keep running 9:45-10:15 pace when I was running, vs pushing too hard and being left with no choice but to walk a very, very long way.

As a result I was very much aware of where I was in relation to the Suck, and all of the other things we talk about, with regards to ~miles 15-24 in our Four Keys Talk. I was aware of how I was feeling at mile 16, for example, vs how we tell our athletes how they should be feeling at mile 16 and what they should do going forward. Basically, I felt I had a very good race execution-ey coach inside my head who was assessing how I was feeling, what my mental state was, was very aware of were I was on the course relative the finishline, knowing what to expect at 20, 21, 22, etc, from having been through ^this^ progression so many times with our athletes: reading race reports, helping them with race plans, observing races, interviewing so many of them about your races, etc.

As I result I was able to be step it back, freeing up my head to be more present to the race and to “enjoy” it more than I usually do…which was one of primary goals. I was able to really soak in my run down Alii, and a corner of my brain was able to appreciate what it meant in the scope of my coaching career, my history with this distance, with all of the athletes I’ve coached over the years, etc.

It was pretty special. Painful…but special

Run Nutrition Summary
Like I said, I started the run very well hydrated and fueled, but moving towards an over-salted state. I started the run with a empty water bottle on a waist belt and 4x gels in my race belt. I wore arm coolers and had a RaceSaver bag. I filled the bottle with ice water at the first aid, drinking as much as I could between aid stations, refill it, drink, repeat. I took all 4 of the gels in about the first 45-60′. From there I felt I was in a good place, calorie and hydration-wise, but I needed to avoid salt and GE, for a while anyway. Across the rest of the run I’d say I drank mostly water, a little Gatorade Endurance, some Coke, and about 3-4 gels. I didn’t feel I was running hard enough to need to take in more calories, given how well I had fueled myself on the bike, and my larger concern being managing my high sodium state. Finally, I should mention that I took Hot Shots before the start of the swim, about halfway on the bike, at the start of the run, and at their aid station that I believe was at about mile 12. I can’t say it really helped me, but I didn’t cramp. However, I can say you want to be walking, not running, when you do it, as you do not want to get that stuff up your nose. Yuck

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What Now?

2015 was a banner for year for me, as I was 110% all-in for my comeback at Ironman Wisconsin, racing to a 10:07, 5th in M45-49, 35th overall, and coming with 2 minutes of my 2002 time. So 47 year old Rich got within 2 minutes of 34 year old Rich. But with a significant injury and many personal changes, I just couldn’t get back to that place for 2016.

In 2018 I turn 50 and will be at the bottom of a new age group, so 2018 will be my next Ironman, all-in year. Of course, I want to try to qualify for Kona but I’ll pick a race that will have me racing Kona the same year vs the next year. The timing of Ironman Boulder is looking pretty good right now.

In the mean time, my plan is to:

  • Pick up mountain biking: I have a love of exploring the world on two wheels. I want to use my cycling fitness to take myself to new and different places. My goal is to qualify for Leadville 2017.
  • Become a better runner: I clearly have a good swim in the closet and I continue to put up top splits in my age group and overall race on the bike. But 5th place in my AG won’t cut it in 50-54. I need to be higher up on the podium, no worse than 3rd, or even 2nd as Kona slots continue to be spread more thinly between races. So I need to get my Ironman run from a 3:47 at IMWI to 3:35-40. Ian Kurth’s experiment with a 42 week streak of running every day has me scheming my own Forest Gump Project: just run, every day, for many, many days in a row.
  • Do epic stuff: finally, I’m very good and finding and scheduling epic stuff, usually on the bike, that keeps me motivated. But I want to add backpacking, hiking, bikepacking, and more to that list of cool stuff.

Oh, and not drop motorcycles on my leg 6 days after Ironman like I did last year after Wisconsin. I should probably start there.

A little post Kona exploring in Utah

A little post Kona exploring in Utah

Thanks for reading!

And if you’d like to listen to my race report podcast, please use the links below.
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1 comment
  • Kevin Coyle
    REPLY

    Great job out there mate! I like the idea of running everyday, sort of. I had an injury after an IM before too. In August 2012 2 days after IMMT rolled an ATV and broke my clavicle. Best of luck and happy training!

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