Listen to Coach Rich’s chat with Al about his performance at Arizona2013 on the Endurance Nation Podcast, available in the player at the end of this post!
“Was that you handing me my bag in T2?” Bruce Thompson had just rolled into Rula Bula. Our after party was in full swing, the EN team humming from string of stellar race results. ” Sorry if I didn’t say anything to you; I was on a mission to get in and out in under 3 minutes – including a porta potti stop. But which aid station were you at?
“Oh, yeah, that’s OK, I didn’t expect anything, I was just waiting around to make sure I got your bag to you.” My T2 time was actually 2:59. But it was delayed by about 15 seconds – just after seeing Bruce waving my bag up ahead, I heard my wife, Cheryl, hollering, “Al!”. She gets mad if I don’t acknowledge her – it’s hard work following an athlete all day at an IM! – so I turned around, saw her at the fence, camera phone in hand, and went back to give her a sweaty hug and kiss. Then turned back to Bruce, smiling, swinging my bag like they used to toss mail into a moving rail car.
“Which aid station were you at?” Bruce was doing double volunteer shifts, to secure a sign up spot for next year’s race.
“I think it was around mile 3 or so. You know, the one with the …”
“Don’t bother. I didn’t realise the aid stations were all themed until I got to the last one, and saw the Christmas decorations, heard the music. To me, they were all the same; I’d come barreling in, try to avoid the folks slowing down or stopping, and start shouting/pointing ‘Coke!Coke!Coke!’ (or whatever I wanted that time) until someone responded. Grab it, walk and drink, start counting each foot as it hit the pavement, 1, 2, …20, then run again.”
The whole race was a blur like that, trying to stay on nutrition and pace all day, think of nothing else, and fight off the need to call on One Things A, B, C, and D as late as possible.
If you’re familiar with my back story, you can skip the next two paragraphs. This was Ironman® start # 23 for me, with another three DNS. Before IM #7, CDA ’05, I read an article online about IM race execution by some guy named Rich Strauss. I realised that what he was saying was what I had done in IM #2, the only one where I ran the whole way. I was just too stoopid to realise that was the right way to race, and kept butting my head against the wall. I applied his lessons, and in my next 8 races, I went 4th, 4th, 8th, 3rd, 2nd, 1st, 1st, 1st, plus two trips to Kona. Along the way, I joined EN, figuring if RIch knew how to race, he might be worth listening to about other things as well. Turns out he had a buddy, Patrick McCrann, who was also pretty smart.
Then, Sept ’10, I played crash test dummy with a pick up truck, landing in the ICU for 10 days, multiple trauma including a spinal cord injury, crushed larynx, smashed mandible (9 teeth lost, six oral surgeries to repair). I missed Kona, and IM AZ that year, came back and hobbled thru CDA, then knuckled down to race again in Arizona. The spinal cord injury had permanently weakened my arms and shoulders, and the throat injuries diminished my swallowing ability, but somehow I came back to win in AZ again at age 62. Then, last year, I had many of those oral surgeries, which kept interrupting my training. My races at Canada and Kona were … unsatisfactory. Walking interspersed with running after 13-15 miles, poor nutrition with dehydration. This year, I tried IM Lake Tahoe, and managed to bugger up my bike pacing and nutrition, and stopped running after 8 miles, pulling the plug at mile 13.
So I had some “issues” coming into this race. I am 64 7/12, my goals were not about what place I might get, or whether I’d qualify for Kona. I’m saving that stuff for when I age up next year. Instead, I wanted to prove to myself I still wanted to be a racer, not just a participant, at Ironman. It’s too long a day to just get through it. Going as fast as possible is the only reasonable goal for me.
Target/Goal Times: My history was 10:55 five years ago, 10:56 (including a 4 minute penalty) 4 years ago and 11:25 two years ago. I’m using a 0.5% discount rate for aging – meaning each year, I should expect to go 3.3 minutes slower on this course. So, 11:12.xx based on my time from five years earlier. Taking that as a starting point, I factored in my loss of swim strength from the accident (my yard times since then have been what my meter times used to be), and the fact that I felt very confident about my swimming and running. I was less sure about my bike training. So my goal times for S/both Ts/B/R were: 1:15/10/5:45/4:10. And 11:18.xx +/- 12 minutes as my target range
Actual Race Times: It’s important to note that I did not wear a watch during the swim, and did not look at my speed, total time, or time of day during the bike. My Joule showed me avg power, 3s power, IF, cadence, HR, interval time. On the run, all that I saw was the current lap pace, cadence, and HR (plus each mile split as it came up). So it’s kinda eerie that my final result was: 1:14.xx/9.xx/5:43.xx/4:11.xx. I was pretty shocked when I saw the clock at the end, and a little pissed that I didn’t hit my goal time exactly.
Nutrition plan for the bike was, every 15 minutes, take 4-5 ounces of either Infinit or Perpetuem, and every 30 minutes, some EFS gel (for a total of 7 ounces of gel), and a sleeve of 4-6 Clif Shot bloks (30 cal each). I carried the Perpetuem (520 calories), two bottles of Infinit (260 cal each), and a gel flask (40 oz/360 cal) and had another gel flask and Infinit in Special needs.
Actual Nutrition on bike: I dropped my first gel flask within 200 meters of the start (don’t ask). I stopped to retrieve it (almost doing an endo), but it had cracked, so I downed the remaining 2 ounces right at the start. I lost 1 minute 10 seconds as a result.In addition to my onboard nutrition/fluids, I took 16-20 ounces of water during the second half of the bike. My total intake amounted to 270 cal/hour and 20 ounces of fluid per hour. I know, that sounds like a ridiculously low fluid intake, but when I train, that’s about what I need on long rides/race rehearsals for temps 60-70, which is what it was on race day. I pee’d once in T1, twice on the bike, and once again in T2. Then I nailed the run, so I’m pretty sure I was neither under-hydrated nor under fed.
I did my usual IM AZ plan for the swim… leave the T zone at the very front, and be one of the first “in the water”. Except, don’t go in the water. There’s a small ledge about six inches below the water along the wall the the “lake”. I drop onto that, and walk until I get about 15 meters from the start line kayaks. After the anthem, I look over the crowd, see where the fewest people are about 10 meters back of the start line, hop in and aim for that spot. It’s a deep water mass start, and I have no troubles with crowding for the first 5 minutes or so.
The swim course is curved and only one loop, so one can “cut the tangent” over the out bound leg. On the way back, trying the same thing results in a lonely, non draft swim, so I stayed with the buoy line and followed feet whenever I could. The water is very silty, so it’s hard to see feet, mostly it’s feeling for bubbles. The temp was 63F, which for me is “perfect”. I beat my time from two years ago by 2 minutes, only 4 minutes slower than 4 years ago, so a small victory. (But I didn’t know that until after the race.)
Even getting out was smooth. AZ has this wide ladder slung over the concrete wall of the lake – impossible to actually climb out. But I grabbed a railing, swung my butt onto the bottom step, and got hauled out by a couple of hard working volunteers.
I ran by about 50 people from the wet suit strippers to the gear bags, then found a clear spot on the grass. Helmet on, socks on, suit in bag, grab shoes, run thru tent. My bike was in the very first row, to the right. Snagged the bike (saw my friend Even Evensen, age 65 at his bike), run TO THE RIGHT where the porta johns were, went in/out, sat down on a concrete ledge (no one within 100 yards of me at this point) to put on my shoes, then ran along the OUTSIDE of the bike racks to the shortest row, thru that row, and out onto the bike course. past all the folks struggling to mount/clip in, did the same myself, and eased up the hill.
This course is all about staying aero and steady. My VI for the entire ride was 1.02, and it never varied from 1.01 to 1.03 no matter which intervals I looked at ( I have about 24 of them in my file). The only feature of this 3 loop course is 6 mile “hill” of 350 vertical feet at the turn around. Otherwise, it’s FLAT, with a few wide turns. Nothing technical. I did a deep dive into my power file this morning, looking at all sorts of comparisons over each of the three loops, and discovered that my feelings on race day were confirmed. I paced the first half almost perfectly, but coming down the hill on the second loop, I started to lose focus and intensity. I picked it up again on the final loop, but not enough.
My mistake was to use too low of an HR as a rein. I was trying to keep my HR in the high 110’s. Looking back at race files from 08 and ’09, I see that I was able to have excellent runs with HR up to 124/6 during the latter two loops. I should have let myself go up that high, but I was being careful, worried about my most recent 3 races where I didn’t have good runs. I think I over-shot that caution.
So, nutrition: spot on. Stay aero: check. Pace: check for the first 50 miles, after that, I let myself down. My overall IF of 0.624 and TSS of 219 reflect that. Compared to 4 years ago, my avg. HR was 116 vs 124, and my riding time was 12 minutes slower. I can do better and still run well.
Again, I didn’t change in the tent. Run to tent entrance, drop to put on shoes, grab “go bag”, helmet into bag, stand up, into porta potti, out RUNNING thru the tent (what are all these people DOING in here????). After I get on the course, I open my go bag. Visor, wrist band (to wipe nose), sleeve of Shot Bloks into shorts, small tube of sunscreen for shoulders and neck, gel flask, and sunglasses (sun sensitive, for after dark clear vision). Also, I remove the shoulder straps of my racing bib, and un zip my EN singlet.
The course changed slightly, from a 3 loop, flat course to a 2 loop, even flatter course. One 4% grade of less than 1/2mile each loop, otherwise, just meandering back and forth around the lake. Temps were about 75 at the start, and fell down to about 68 by my 6:20 finish time (it gets dark about 5:40.)
My LRP is 9:07. Accounting for aid station walking and the warmth, my initial six miles in 60:05 was just about perfect, in terms of doing “LRP + 30 seconds”. After that, I just keep picking up the effort level. This run was a new experience for me.
In the past, I have tried to run at an even pace the whole way, with my HR basically being around 120-125. This time, I noticed that my HR kept creeping up. I tried to tell myself to back off a bit, that I should hold things @ 123, but my inner navigator (an evil twin who crops up 2 or 3 times a year and makes me race to my potential – I HATE him) was having none of it. He kept pushing the pace, and I was unable to convince him to back off. By the end, I was hitting close to 136/7.
Again, I made a mistake on the run, this time a nutrition mistake. My plan was to take whatever I felt I needed each aid station, 4-6 ounces of Perform (diluted in ice or water) or Coke, and about an ounce of EFS (which I carried in a flask) at miles 6/12/18/24. I was going along just fine, working harder and harder, and actually thinking to myself in a positive way, “This is how I have fun!” For some reason, I decided to take the last swig of gel at the aid station between 21 & 22. Water first, then gel, then, within 20 seconds, both came back up. 30 seconds or so while I stopped with heaves, then a longer walk then I had been doing (maybe 60 seconds instead of 20-30) for a total loss of a minute. This had happened to me last year at both Canada and Kona, and I’d used it as an excuse to kinda shut down my racing. But those were at mile 15 or so – mile 22, I could finish strong, and, besides, Slowing Down Is Not An Option.
But within a mile, I finally had to start calling on my gang of One Things. I simply repeated each one over and over in my head, like counting strokes or steps, or a mantra, to the point of crowding out any other thoughts. It went like this, in time to my left/right cadence or 90 rpm:
Miles 23-24, Thing and Thing 2: “This is who I am, this is what I do.” (This is how I have fun.)
Mile 25, Thing 3: “No more half-assed races.” (Because the Ironman® is too long to simply suffer through)
Miles 26, Thing 4: “The whole world is watching.” (I do this stuff partly to demonstrate what’s possible as we get older, how to rage against the dying of the light.)
My 13.1 mile splits were 2:07.xx and 2:03.xx. This is not the first time I have negative split an IM marathon. It’s what I usually do when I race well. But other times, it’s been more like a minute or less. The four minute drop, coupled with the low HR on the last half of the bike, tells me I left some time on the table, both in the second half of the bike and the first half of the run.
I didn’t learn anything new, really, but I did confirm a few things which EN has been emphasizing:
HR can be used to help guide both the bike and the run. Last year, Coach P started a thread about this, and suggested that ending the bike in high Zone 1/low Zone 2, then following with a low to mid zone 2 run, might be a good strategy for someone looking to produce an elite result. I pooh-poohed those zones, noting that I had won a few races with lower numbers. I doubted I could race at his suggested levels. Well, my evil twin decided to try, and showed me I could.
A TSS of 260-280 and an IF of 0.7 +/- is a perfectly safe place to be when doing a bike split of 5:30-40, no matter how hard it might seem at the time.
Success at IM is all about minimizing pacing and nutrition mistakes. While the IM AZ course seems simple enough, if you make a pacing mistake, say up and down the hill, you’re spending 25-30 minutes doing the wrong thing. I looked specifically at that section, including both the up and down, to factor out the effects of wind, and working less hard than I should (much less what I could) cost me 5-10 minutes.
Downhill on the bike can be just as important as going up, when trying to ride steady. My first time down the hill, which is about 6 miles long, I made a concerted effort to work hard. My IF/speed/time were 0.68/28.3 mph/13:11. 2nd loop, I simply cruised, having lost focus. Result: 0.57/22.66/16:21. Third time (admittedly into an increasing wind): 0.57/20.91/17:51. Total time lost might have been 8 minutes. My second two loops, in aggregate were nine minutes slower than my first loop (2:40 and 6:40). Most of that time was lost on the downhills, where I made one mistake, but magnified it over 12 miles.
I’m looking forward to next year on this course; I can go faster.