2016 Ironman Texas Race Report: Mark Cardinale, Kona Bound!

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Don’t be afraid to work hard enough to find out how good you can really be!

I first noticed this quote from a Facebook post by Siri Lindley.   The quote stuck with me and I used it as one of my main mantras throughout the outseason.  I also resonated with a podcast from coach P. where he talked about the power positive affirmations and shared a story about a person who changed their life by starting with changing the passcode on their iphone. The idea being unlocking your phone is something all of us do many times throughout the day and rather than treat it as a mindless exercise, use it as an opportunity to positively reinforce what you are working to achieve.  I made the decision right there to use my password as reminder of what I wanted to accomplish in 2016.

To say I ended 2015 disappointed is an understatement.  Coming into IM Boulder 2015 I was at peak fitness, but my execution mistakes cost me a trip back to Kona and as a result I decided to go back to the drawing board.  I changed everything starting with my bike.  I sold my speed concept which was the source of much of my frustration and pre-ordered a new Felt IA10 with new TriRig AlphaX aerobars.  I also switched to shorter cranks and oval chainrings.  Prior to the November outseason I did about 8 weeks of the 2015 outseason plan on my own with some additional run volume on the weekend.  This threshold work allowed me to enter the November outseason at my 2015 FTP.  However, I was never able to breakthrough my 2015 FTP of 265.  I knew I was close to a plateau because despite some very hard work I just could not hold higher power long enough to drive up that FTP number.  My run training was coming along well with no major injuries.  I followed a modified version of the run durability plan with the modification of dialing down much of the intensity in favor of volume & frequency.  For my swim I focused more on swim endurance and holding form when fatigued vs. pure speed.  I was averaging about 4 sessions per week with 1 session of 2500yds focused on technique or recovery, 2 sessions 3500-4000, and 1 session between 4000-5000.

Training went well during the outseason and I was able to come to IMTX camp in March in pretty good shape with a couple long rides already under my belt.   Training camp went well despite a technical issue with my di2 battery on day 2.  The main thing I learned was that the course suited me well and I was capable of riding it well enough to put me in Kona contention. 

I’m going to skip over all the course change drama leading up to the race.  Suffice it to say I received some very great advice from the team in terms of how to approach the new course.  The other predominate message coming from Coach P. was to stay focused on training and don’t spend excess mental energy worrying about something you can’t control.  

PRERACE:

I arrived on the Tuesday before the race.  Brian Hagan and I drove the bike course on Thursday and rode a 13 mile section.  My impression was there was speed to be had but it was hard to tell for sure given all the turns and the fact the course was not being marshaled at the time.    Team dinner Thursday night then Friday was bike and bag drop.  Worked off checklists.  No drama.

RACE DAY:

I was up at 3:15AM worked off my morning checklist.  Ate 3 cups applesauce, whey protein, stinger waffle and a banana.  Left hotel at 4:20, found parking space on street near T2.  Walked to swim start.  I followed my transition checklist.  The only problem I noticed was my garmin 510 was not picking up my HR monitor.  My 920 was reading it but not my 510 for some reason.  I tried restarting, but no luck.  I did my normal thing of hitting the porta potty’s a couple times then headed to the swim start and  found a roughly 1:10 group.  I’d say I was in the water within 3-4 minutes of the gun going off.

SWIM: (1:17:49)

Based on team advice I swam wide of the dock before making the right hand turn to actually start the swim.  The first couple minutes were calm, but when the contact started it continued pretty regularly for the first 10 minutes or so before things started to thin out.  I remember the day prior we talked about sighting off the radio towers in the distance.  I laughed to myself during the swim, because the only thing I could focus on was sighting from one buoy to the next.  I don’t think I was ever able to catch a glimpse of the radio tower.   The 2 left hand turns came and then I started heading back to the finish.  There were periods of more or less contact.  On the way back I was in a group that wanted to hug the shoreline which was fine with me because that appeared to be the most direct path.  Visibility wasn’t great but I could see maybe a couple feet underwater.  I have swam in worse.  For brief periods I would be able to catch a draft but it was hard to hold on to feet.  As a left side breather it was much easier for me to find someone swimming on my left and then attach myself to their hip.  I ended up finishing in 1:17, but all the while I felt like I was having a really good swim.  I only really started feeling fatigued the last 10 minutes or so.  Despite my time I feel like this was my best IM swim and I do feel all the swim volume had a positive impact.  As a point of comparison, in my swim at IM Boulder 2015 I was 107th in mg AG.  In IMTX 2016 is was 71st out of the water.  Again, not fishlike by any stretch, but an improvement. 

T1: (2:49)

I quite simply smoked my transitions.  Out of water, swim skin down to waist.  I grabbed my bag and had my helmet on before I even hit the changing tent.  I stepped inside the tent, found space and took off my swim skin, put it in the bag with goggles and cap and threw it to a volunteer as I ran out of the tent.  Shoes were already on the bike.  I carefully mounted bike and started the ride.

BIKE: (3:58:33)

 

As I started I noticed my garmin wasn’t picking up my power meter.  I knew this was a possibility since I turned my garmin off and then on again in attempt to find my HR monitor.  I again turned off my garmin and then turned it back on and luckily it found my power meter, but still no HR.  Once I got my power situation sorted out, my first priority was to begin drinking.  I think I emptied half my x-labs torpedo within the first 10 minutes.   I didn’t feel like the course was overly crowded.  Yes, there were people, but it wasn’t any better or worse than a typical IM bike course when you are a 1:15 swimmer.  About 30 minutes in I remember glancing at my average speed and it was over 24mph and I was surprised at the time, but in retrospect on this course, if you’re not turning then you’re flying.  Speaking of turns, one thing I noticed early on was that coming out of every turn I would spike watts, in many times above 300 watts.  It was only for maybe 5 or 10 seconds and it certainly didn’t feel like it, but the power meter does not lie and I was concerned about the cumulative impact of those higher watts.   Glancing at my power numbers I saw my normalized power creep up throughout the day from 194 to 200.  I originally was targeting 210, but given the spikiness of my power coming out of the turns I decided to be happy with sitting around 200 especially considering I was still hovering around the 24mph mark.  Looking at my numbers post-race I ended up riding with a VI of 1.02 despite all the turns and my IF finished at .755 with a TSS of 225.  I ended up with the 5th fastest bike split in my AG.

T2: (3:06)

Rolling in to T2, I already had my feet out of the shoes.  I dismounted and quickly handed my bike to a volunteer and then ran to my run bag.  Helmet was already off and I made the smart decision to run on the little strip of grass to the right side of the sidewalk.  It was softer and I was able to run much faster than on the concrete.  I grabbed my bag and put on my visor before hitting the tent.  Once in the tent I grabbed a seat near the exit, put on socks and shoes grabbed my go-bag and was off.  A volunteer had already put my helmet in my transition bag.

Run: (3:26:25)

I ate my banana coming out of T2 on the run.  I kinda liked the casualness of eating a banana while running.  I seemed to get some looks from spectators and it for sure keeps you from running too fast.  I filled up my go-bag with ice and water at the first aid station.  This was the first time I have run with the ice bag approach and it worked better than expected.  The only change I would make is to use a zip lock bag vs. a press and seal as the zip lock would have been easier to open and close.  Regardless I liked being able to position the bag on either hand, or in my jersey, or in my armpit, or on my head.

 

Starting the run people were flying.  At this point in my running career it’s pretty easy for me to let them go.  I know that if they can hold a 7 min/miles pace for 26 miles then I have no business hanging with them and if they can’t then I will see them at some point in the next 3 and half hours.  So I let a ton of people pass me in the first 3 miles.  Out on the run was the first time I was able to see my heart rate and I was hoping for mid 120’s  and was a little surprised when I saw mid 130’s.  I pee’d 3 times on the bike so I knew I was well hydrated and I felt strong so I made the decision to keep HR steady and evaluate but not attempt to adjust pace to drive it down.  This resulted in a pace between 7:35 and 7:50.   During the first loop I took occasional nips at my gel flask and stopped at every aid station for a drink of Gatorade and to refill my ice bag.  

Starting the 2nd loop I was still feeling pretty good and was able to engage with some of the spectators along the canal.  The temps were warm but I didn’t feel like it was as hot as it could have been.  My HR remained roughly in the mid 130’s sometimes creeping into the 140’s on some of the hotter uphill sections.  By the end of the 2nd lap I could tell my pace was starting to degrade.  Miles were now coming in from 7:45-8:05.  My feet were soaked by this time and I knew I was going to finish this race with major blisters.  At the end of the 2nd lap on one of the out and backs I ran into another racer on my Colorado Triathlon Company Team.  He is strong across all 3 disciplines and 2 years ago won his AG at IM Boulder.  This year he was racing n my AG so I knew he was also going to be in the hunt for one of the AG Kona spots.  I had not seen him all day until this out and back at mile 16 and it was exactly the mental lift I needed at that time.  I knew if I was close to him I was in the hunt. 

I estimate on that out and back he was probably 2-3 minutes ahead of me.  He seemed to be running fine and I made the decision to not try to make anything happen, just try to run 7:45-8:00 minute miles and see what happens.  I kept looking for him up ahead as we left the canal and hit the bike path, but still nothing.  Finally, just before the mansions I saw him and followed behind by about 20 meters.  I watched him go through an aid station and I did the same but closed that gap to 5 or so meters just after we started running again.  I decided here is where I’m going to make my move and summoned all the energy I had to put some bounce in my step.  I came up on him and he asked me how I was feeling.  I said pretty good, but I’ll be better in about 45 minutes, then we congratulated each other on having a great race to this point and I took off again, trying to run with as much ease as I could summon at the time.  At the next aid station I decided not to stop to put some distance between me and him and I hoped he was able to see that I just kept going and did not stop.  That was the one and only aid station I did not stop at all day. At the following aid station I wasn’t sure how far or how close he was to me so I went all the way to the end and by this time I had switched to coke and took what I needed and walked a couple extra steps to regroup.  By this time we were out on the canal and on one of the out and backs I could see I had put 2-3 minutes into him with about 2 miles to go.  I felt a little light headed and my hands were tingling a bit so I just focused on holding a do no harm pace of just over 8 minutes per mile and I knew that would be enough for me to hold my lead.  Looking back with some perspective, on one hand I feel a little guilty about how I gamed my teammate but on the other hand it is a race and the stakes were high.  As it turned out, he turned down his Kona slot so it wouldn’t have mattered which one of us came out on top.

Probably my favorite thing during the course of an IM day is that point on the run where you get to take the turn for the finish line vs. going on to do another lap and this day was no exception.  I looked behind after making the turn and there was nobody in front or behind.  I made my way through the crowds and crossed the finish line.   I had no idea where I had finished, but the finish area seemed very empty and I took that as a good sign.  A volunteer pointed me to the food area where I grabbed a burrito and a beer took cover just as it started to rain.  I borrowed a phone from a girl in one of the expo tents to check my placement and saw that I was in 4th.  To say I was excited would have been an understatement.  I will skip the drama of the weather and subsequent fallout the next day and week as Ironman worked to get the times updated correctly for all the athletes.  I was just very fortunate not to have been impacted.

OVERALL: (8:48:43, 85th overall, 4th in M45-49)

FINAL THOUGHTS

I am unbelievably grateful to have achieved what I was able to achieve at IM TX.  I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect and to come out with a 4th place finish and the KQ exceeded any expectations I had for myself on the day.   I’m now recovering before jumping back into training starting in June.  I’m going to race IM Boulder but not exactly sure how I will approach that race in the context of newly elongated 2016 season.  Regardless, I am excited to go back to Kona and once again experience and take part in what is the pinnacle of our sport. 

A few final observations or comments:

  • I really liked the split long run and dialing back some of the run intensity in favor of volume and frequency.
  • I experienced no adverse impacts of not eliminating caffeine on the week leading up to race days as I have done in the past.  It was very nice to enjoy my normal 2-3 cups of coffee per day on the days leading up to the race.
  • Tim Cronk’s powerbar in the rice paper trick is pure money.  This was the first time I tried it and it was very easy to pull pieces out of my bento without the pieces sticking together.
  • Starting run with banana and focus on eating during early miles of run worked well.  HR stayed consistent throughout race.
  • Focused work and planning on transitions is easy speed.  Invest the time, know what you are going to do and it’s the easiest 2-3 minutes you’ll recoup all day long.
  • Pee-wise I have now officially achieved Zen Master status.  For some reason I ended up peeing 7-8 times on the run and did so each time without stopping.  By the end I was even able to pee while running!  Go figure!

 

2 comments
  • Dana Sutter
    REPLY

    Mark, I just read this, thanks for sharing. You are a rock star. Congratulations on your finish and Kona spot. Reading your race review had me reflecting on my day. My first thought is how impressed I am with your overall race, truly well done. Second is I have decided I hate swimming in Lake Woodlands and never is to soon to do it again. So, will I see you next year? Last, thought is, it feels good to hang with athletes such as yourself and be treated as an equal. You and Jen made me feel like anything is possible. Thanks!

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