Florida Race Report: Sukhi Muker, 9:54, 10th M35-39

Before you dive into this I just wanted to let you know that this report more closely resembles a long blog post. Which I believe gives IM the respect it deserves, as it’s so much more than a physical endeavor.

Sukhi Muker, age 39, 3rd IM, FTP 255, Race Weight 142lbs, Vdot 61.

After underperforming and spending 3 hours in the med. tent on IV’s after Canada 2011, I knew I had to take a different approach coming in to Florida 2012. I began trading in volume for intensity over the offseason and was really impressed with my fitness improvements. I also invested in a power meter and eventually came across EN last spring. I decided to join the team (I already began implementing the philosophy before I knew EN existed) so I could take a more direct path to getting to where I’m going.

The year was going great… My FTP improved from 190 to 255 and my Vdot went from 58 to 61. I raced 3 HIM’s over the summer with 2 PR’s, but I got a little obsessed with my speed gains and crossed the line. I ended up with a stress fracture and couldn’t run for 9 weeks… : (

Instead I doubled up on my weekly FTP workouts and maintained my weekly swims. In early October I began running again, but couldn’t do any speed work as I wasn’t fully healed yet.

2 Week Goals leading up to race.

Eating lean and mean, tons of greens and staying well hydrated with alkaline water. Eating 1800 calories/day + replacing calories lost during training. No meals after 7pm, largest meal breakfast, smallest is dinner (pyramid consumption). Prepare all meals for travel and in PCB. (No alcohol for past several months)

Meditation and visualization everyday for at least 60 minutes rehearsing every situation that could arise race day and seeing/feeling my perfect race. Stretching/body rolling 40-60 minutes daily, full body. Staying off feet as much as possible. Quality time with Kate (my wife). Constantly asking myself, “Is this thought/activity/behavior fueling me or depleting me”, and making the appropriate changes. Staying positive, focused and confident.

PCB

I arrived in PCB on Tuesday night with Kate, mother in law, good friend and training partner Lanny Taschuk (also with EN and raced too) and his fiancé. I laid out all my nutrition, gear and got my bike together. Monday and Tuesday were complete rest days for me. Wednesday morning Lanny and I hit the ocean at the race start and attempted to get a 30-minute swim in.  It wasn’t happening, the waves and chop was far too much for us to handle, we were laughing hysterically at how ridiculous it was. We stayed in for 30 and did our best. I also went for an easy 60 minute ride staying below race pace watts on the course.

Thursday I decided to stay out of the water cause I felt there would be no ROI and instead opted for an easy 30 minute run and ride.

Day Before Race

Packed all my bags, last check of bike and head into Transition. IN & OUT! No messing around there and getting caught up in the nervous energy of it all. Carb loading began the day before with simple carbs and Vitargo sports drink (no more water). Friday ate 3 breakfasts, 2 lunch’s, snacking throughout the day and a small dinner at 5pm (all simple carbs, 20% protein from nonmeat sources, very little fat, no fiber). 6pm to my bedroom and visualizing my entire race execution several times. 8pm lights out and bed time.

Race day

Up at 3:30am. 3 cups unsweetened Applesauce with Vegan Protein powder, banana, and 24 oz Vitargo. Continue to sip Vitargo throughout the entire morning.

Swim

I could feel the nervous energy in the air. The waves had settled slightly since Wednesday, but it wasn’t a sheet of glass either. I managed to get in a short warm up and lined myself up 2nd row from the front in the middle of the pack (waves were moving right to left). My last RR I swam 2.4 miles in 1:00:53. I knew the chop would be tougher for me and I was set on not fighting the waves to save energy for the later stages of the race. The gun went off and it was a full on assault. I’ve been in over a dozen open water swim starts and this was by far the roughest. I think the waves crashing on us and moving us was what made it so bad. I got beat up pretty good. Elbows and fists to the head and kicks to the ribs and chest. The wonderful thing about all the mental preparation was that I remained calm the entire time and never lost myself. I focused on counting my strokes, “1, 2, stretch…1, 2, stretch…” This is my 3 stroke breathing rhythm and I made sure I had a steady exhalation to remain calm.

I kept turning my arms over focused on my form and began to settle in after 1300 meters, yes it took a while. During the second lap I was with a group of people and was not doing much sighting, until I had a gut feeling we were way off course. I looked up and we were, swimming 90 degrees from the direction we should have been. I grabbed the leg of one swimmer close to me, he looked at me as if he was going to punch me out and then I pointed to the TYR exit chute and he realized my intention and gave me the thumbs up and we swam in together. The rest of that group continued to swim off course. My guess is that I lost a few minutes over this, but truly it’s difficult to know. This was my worst swim in an IM, but it didn’t phase me at all. I didn’t burn much energy and was ready to hit the bike.

Swim Time: 1:10            Overall Rank: 579             Div. Rank: 86

T1

Goal: IN & OUT… ASAP!

My wetsuit got stuck on my wrist and I needed a stripper to help with that and the place was a total zoo, bodies were everywhere in T1 scrambling as I was doing my best to navigate through them.  All else was a typical T1. As I was running into the tent I knew I wouldn’t need my gloves and arm warmers as temperatures were warm. I threw on shades and helmet and ran with shoes in hand (race belt was under my wetsuit). Transitions are free time so I try to keep it simple and clean. The run through T1 is fairly long and I decided that I could run faster and safer bare foot. I got to my bike, which was close to T1 exit and put on my shoes there and then made my way to the mount line.

T1 Time: 4:59

BIKE

I was very vigilant as the mount line and first few miles of the ride are danger zones. I Velcro my shoes, set my 910xt and settled in to my nutrition plan within the first 10 minutes. 325-350 calories/hour from Perform, Bonk Breakers, Cliff Blocks and Honey Stingers and an additional 700mg of Na/hour from Salt tabs, NO water. My bike had a very clean set up with a speed fill for perform and solid nutrition/salt tabs in my aero bento and drop bag.

Goal on the bike was patience, persistence and steady power! I took it easy during the first 20 miles, but something appeared to be wrong with my power reading. It was way too low. When we had a slight incline on the road I tested this to spike my watts and something was definitely wrong. Yikes! Yes, for the first time my power meter decided to play games with me race day.

I was focused on the process of the ride, not the outcome. My goal was IF of .73 and TSS 270. (At the end of my ride my IF was .51 and TSS 166, not correct). With no power meter I delved into my data bank of spreadsheets in my head. In life we never plan to fail, but we may fail to plan. Power meter or not, I was still going to race my race. I train with HR occasionally, I will write another post about HR training and the pros and cons, but for now I’ll say it’s an indirect measure of work that may or may not be reliable (please don’t throw stones at me… : ). The only objective info I had now was speed and cadence. Yet I know that the most precise metric for racing is perceived exertion (RPE). Yet the challenge with it is that it’s a very delicate and subtle measure that must be developed with experience by each athlete and their body. Knowing this I still wanted to ride at my goal watts so I went back to Race Rehearsal 2, which I did 3 weeks before race day on similar terrain. I rode IF-.72, CD-82 and approximately 21.7-21.8 MPH. I found that for the first 40 miles I was doing great and staying right around 22MPH and was getting in lots of calories. When I feel good I don’t push the pace, I simply eat/drink more. By mile 43 I began to hit a low point. Not sure why, but holding this effort became increasingly difficult. I went through my systems review, nutrition and hydration plan and it all seemed great. So I just kept on working.

I thought I was going to see large draft packs and penalty tents full of people, but I didn’t see any. From my lens it was a very clean race (although I heard otherwise after the race).  As a result, I never had a chance to get any “free” speed or legal draft. It was a full on Time Trial, the way I like it. I continued to work and kept reminding myself “this will pass…. This will pass… just stick to the plan”. I remember reading somewhere on the Florida EN page that one athlete said he was going to wear a race kit that said “patriot”. It was mile 90ish and an athlete rode up to me and I saw “patriot” on the back of his jersey. I hadn’t spoke to anyone in hours, so I rode up and asked, “Hey, are you an EN athlete?” Sure enough he was… : ) It was John Withrow and he looked strong. We introduced ourselves and I told him I’d been in a low spot for the past 50 miles… He lifted me up by saying, “Well, the runs just around the corner and that’s your thing…!” We never know how far reaching something we may say will affect the life of another. John was right, I was doing my best to hold RPE at 70-75%, I’d stuck to my nutrition plan perfectly and I was less than 20 miles to running a marathon, and that’s “my thing”. John lifted me right up, A big Thank-you to you John! I stopped thinking about how I was feeling and switched gears to how I was going to execute the run.

Ironically by the time I hit mile 105 I was feeling fantastic and ready to hit T2. I stepped out of my pedals at mile 110 and stood up on the bike opening up my torso, hips and stretching my calves, hamstrings and glutes. Amazing how reliable RPE can be… my time for RR2, 3 weeks ago was 5:09, my bike split at Florida was exactly 5:09. So I knew without the power metrics that my IF was .72/.73’ish and TSS 270ish. I rode my perfect “should” ride even though my sub 5 hour “could” ride was possible (with a crappy run). I was set up for the perfect run.

Bike Time: 5:09            Race Time: 6:24            Overall Rank: 245            Div Rank: 38

T2

I rode up to the dismount line and stepped off my bike barefoot. The first few steps into T2 will tell a thousand tales for me. My legs felt light and strong. I was smiling ear-to-ear and ready to rock this marathon with perfect execution. I got my bag, dumped it, ripped off my helmet and put socks and shoes on and ran out with my visor and salt tabs in hand.

T2 Time: 2:28

RUN

Although I’m a former hockey player I love to run. Marathons and Ultra-marathons got me into triathlon and it’s my strongest discipline. Over the past year I’d been working hard to better execute during the marathon of IM. I’d PR’d a HIM this summer with a 1:26 run split, but my speed gains got to my head and I stopped listening to my body. A classic example of letting my ego get to me. In July I tested a Vdot of 61 but after my last race I could barely walk 10 ten steps without having lighting bolt pain shoot up my left shin/calf. I’d crossed the training line and had a stress fracture. I was sidelined for 9 weeks with absolutely no running during the last 14 weeks leading up to IMFL. When I began running again I couldn’t do any speed work as it still created discomfort and healing wasn’t complete. So I ran easy paces in the 8:00min/mile range. But as the weeks progressed I was able to begin doing some sub 7min/mile runs. I knew I’d be able to run IMFL, I just had no idea what my legs could handle because I hadn’t put in the proper run training. My leg was 85% come race day.

I’d worked with a friend who’s a Master NLP practitioner to help me mentally through the run because I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. I had mental words flashing through my mind and my main mantra was “the closer I am the stronger I feel, stronger and stronger, stronger and stronger, find that edge and ride it, Let’s do this… “

When I race it’s never a question of “if” it’s a question of “when”. “When” will I have to go to that dark place within myself to find that special something to keep me driving forward in the face of adversity? Perhaps it’s because I have a dark past, perhaps it’s because I was raised on the other side of the tracks??? yet I welcome this place of discomfort and it’s truly the “why” of my racing. Every time I go to that place I come out a different human being on the other side.

Run Goals: Focus on process not results, ignore what everyone else is doing, run the entire marathon, but walk the aid stations to get in optimal nutrition (Perform) and stay cool (ice water/ice), run the tangents, sling shot around corners, high cadence (92), light on feet driving forward at the hips, staying tall, shoulders down and relaxed and being in control, pain and pace management.

Mile 1-6

I felt great. The pace was easy. While running my own race I take inventory of those around me. I rarely get passed during the run and in the first 6 miles 2 men passed me. I took note of their race kits and would use this as fuel for the later stages of the race. First 6 miles I averaged 7:40min/mile. Again, because I felt so great I took in lots of perform (1.5-2 cups at every mile) and maintained 600mg/sodium/hr.

Miles 7-13

Making my way back to the start line to finish the first loop I noticed there was a slight head wind and I had to dial up my effort to hold pace. By mile 9 I knew I was in the middle of a race and I was going to have to call upon my mental reserves soon. My body was getting tight especially in my oblique’s and calves. When my calves get tight during a race I know I’m riding the edge of a pace that may be too fast given the training I’ve put in. It was a lot worse in my left injured leg. Sticking to my fuel and race plan I didn’t feel I should adjust anything yet. Again I held pace and hit the half way point of the run at 1:4x’ish.

Mile 14-18

At half way I grabbed my special needs bag and had some cliff blocks (200 calories) and added more salt tabs to my container in my pocket. It was getting tough to hold pace once I left the high energy area of the start line and was making my way back out for the last loop. Again I held pace through mile 15, 16, 17 and 18. But the pain in my calves was becoming extreme, I was entering my dark zone. It literally felt like someone was taking an icepic and stabbing me in my calf. So I took an extra 10 seconds at each of these aid stations doubling up on my nutrition (2 performs, 1 coke, 2 salt tabs every mile).

Mile 19-24

Most of us have experienced that sensation when the bottom of our feet spasm and we’re literally laying on the floor in a fetal position waiting for the cramp to subside. It was clear to me that I hadn’t put in the mileage and that 9-week hiatus from running had caught up to me. Mentally I was strong and focused, but my calf was a short step from cramping up the way I explained above. Every cell in my calf was screaming at me to walk so I knew I couldn’t because if I did I may never start running again. Instead of walking through aid stations I shuffled now. I was focused on perfect running form and exaggerating the swing in my arms to drive forward through the hips. This helped until mile 24. My pace had slowed slightly but I was still working my way through the field and getting more energy as I passed people. There was only 1 man early in the day that passed me that I hadn’t caught yet. I was looking for him, he had to be somewhere close. That motivation and connecting to that place inside myself kept me running hard.

Mile 24-Finish

Just after mile 24 it happened. Lightning bolt pain shooting up from my left lower leg and calf, my nightmare came true. That debilitating spasm that lasts for a few seconds under our feet crept into my calf and I had to stop. I collapsed to my knees and lay on all fours on the ground and took 2 trigger point contacts to release the spasm. After a few seconds, Nothing! The pain deepened. I pulled out my salt tabs and took in 5 tabs (over 1500mg/Na) and began punching my left calf with my right fist. I yelled at it, “You give me 2 more F**kin miles”. After laying on the ground there for 40’ish seconds the spasm backed off slightly, the only way to know what’s possible is to step into the impossible. I started running again but changing my running gait so I was only running on my heels because that calf was done (I had to stay off the balls of my feet otherwise it would spasm again). All I kept thinking was that I was not going to walk the last 2 miles. I was conjuring up every last bit of inspiration from within to keep driving forward. One step at a time the pain became slightly more intense. That lasted several minutes and I was able to pass the one gentleman that overtook me early during the race. With 1 mile left to go the intensity of the cramp heightened again, but I didn’t stop. I dug deep, took every salt tab I had left (8’ish thanks to my special needs) and I took them all… : ) Over 2400mg/Na.

By the time I was less than half a mile from the finish I was on pure adrenalin. I decided to finally look at where I was in the race. Up until this point I had no idea because I was just focused on the process not the outcome, because you can’t control outcome. My watch said 9:50’ish and I was so excited. Having stopped with the cramp and changing my running gait over the last 2 miles I ended up slowing down and lost a couple minutes compared to my pace over the first 24 miles. My overall run pace was 7:2xmin/miles, with walking the aid stations and stopping my overall run race pace for the marathon was 7:54min/miles.

Run Time: 3:27            Race Time: 9:54            Overall Rank: 109            Div Rank: 10

A funny side note was that a friend read an Florida RR on slowtwitch that included me in it. Apparently I passed 2 people in my age group running into 10th place in the late miles. You never know what’s going on in the race ahead of you, never give up… This’s what he said on slowtwitch…

“The guy that finished in front of me for 10th was only 19 seconds ahead, I beat him everywhere until the run and he scorched the first 24 miles to get a good bit out in front of me, but had a melt down at the end and almost came back to me. I did catch/pass the guy that finished 12th at about mile 25 and held him off by 10 seconds.”

You can read his full post here: http://forum.slowtwitch.com/cgi-bin/gforum.cgi?post=4265846;search_string=bufit323;#4265846

I was so excited to have had this breakthrough race and shave 35 minutes off my IM PR. It was a tough day and it always will be. Today my racing self honored my training self but doing my absolute best and never giving up in the face of adversity. It’s what we do in those moments that define who are and what we’re capable of. Throughout the entire day I never looked at a single calf or even thought about what place I was in. When I focus on the process and pace, the place takes care of itself. 2 hours after my finish R&P were at the finish line and it was Patrick who told me that I had a top 10 finish in M35-39

(recorded on video by Coach Patrick here)

I was speechless.

I really want to thank EN and this amazing community for helping me put my best foot forward and become a sub 10 hour IM finisher. 3 years ago I’d never swam a day in my life and I hadn’t ridden a bike in 17 years. My dream of one day getting to the big island is a few steps closer.

I want to send a special shout out to Al Truscott. Al you have no idea how much your insights helped me throughout the season and in creating a custom plan to still execute the perfect race. Thank you so much. You are full of so much experience and wisdom. EN is lucky to have you.

Every new beginning starts from some other beginnings end (Green Day)… Next stop for me is IM Canada 2013 on the inaugural Whistler Course!

Thanks for reading…Life just keeps getting better my friends!

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