The quick summary was a first place in the M45-49 Age Group with a personal best time of 9:19, and another shot at the IM World Championships. Can’t ask for much more than that! 🎉
This race was an interesting exercise in mental focus across the course of the year. It was my third year going from Kona to another race, and while it was my third success qualifying again, it was by far the most challenging. There is a distinct mental and physical cost to racing in back to back events. And worse yet, it’s different every year / harder to anticipate. I was able to make it over this hump with some strategic volume and rest. Bottom line, nothing is easy and there is no mental coasting with Ironman training.
I made several changes across this season which you will find here in my report, and which you will see in our future plans!! Without a doubt, I think the biggest difference in my performance on race day was my mental approach to race execution. The fitness supported my race plan, but the mental element is what created the opportunity to go faster.
A lot of my training plan for this year was built around getting as close to the nine-hour barrier as possible. I saw this is a combination of several different factors.
On a very macro scale I needed to build the swim is up to make up time in the water, reduce fatigue and makIng me as fast as I can go. This meant starting midseason with my Vasa Swim Ergometer and then eventually transitioning into the pool when I was putting in plenty of time. In full disclosure, the last four weeks of my swim build into Arizona were spent primarily in my lava pants (think wetsuit bottoms) to mimic the position of a wetsuit. This definitely made swimming a lot of yards much easier than traditional swimming.
The second component was maintaining the bike fitness that I had built last year. I was fortunate enough to make some significant gains in the 2018 to 2019 season. My goal was to maintain that more and to hopefully do a better job of actually riding the numbers that I knew I could do (at least on paper.)
I followed a similar progression although not as rigidly as I did last season. This involved plenty of time on Zwift, in the winter. Frequent racing as I was able. Plenty of cycling camps – my secret weapon – and adding volume in discrete chunks when possible (like my 200 mile ride this year). Finally a very focused race into Kona and then subsequent time on Zwift into Arizona itself. I will say that my performance on the bike in Kona was disappointing, and part of my motivation to ride well in Arizona was specifically built on the fact that I knew I could do better than what I did on the Big Island. More on that later.
Annual Volume; Love Me Some Zwift!
Peak power on the bike, 2019 season improvements in Grey.
The third element was the run, and this was a big focus for this season. If the bike was strong and solid, than the run was where I needed to grow. I implemented a new approach to intervals across the middle part of my season, using a progression, to make me stronger and faster over time. I was very pleased with this work as it allowed me to continue excelling on the bike while also doing very specific work on the run. What started out as tempo pace that was hard to hit – 6:40 miles – by the end of the season I was doing large chunks of my long runs of that effort without discomfort. Truly a breakthrough season for me here.
Run Volume for the 2019 Season
Grey areas are improvements in speed; improve the high end & endurance!
Not to be ignored, the last discipline of Body Composition wasn’t really a focus for me this year. I made smart food choices but I wasn’t as rigid as I have been in the past. I found that the consistent running and quality off-season block of riding allowed me to stay lean for the longest period of my season as far back as I can remember. I have been race weight for well over three months. To be honest, I’m a little concerned about what is good to look like when I resemble more normal person as it pertains my fragile self-esteem!
Lessons Learned From Kona
One of the upsides of having two races in a season is that I have a chance to put my plan to the test and see what does and doesn’t work. Coming out of my Kona race there were several lessons!
On the positive side I was very pleased with my run performance. This is both in my ability to keep moving on the run to solid time, and running well despite my lackluster bike. This showed me that the foundation of the run was in place, and that a mental change would likely help me make advantage of that moving forward.
On the negative side, I was very disappointed with both my swim and my bike. Particularly on the bike where I felt my bike fit tweaks had made me a bit too aggressive, leading to feeling fatigued halfway through the bike. Changes were required to make the bike a little more comfortable, but I didn’t make any changes to my plans for execution. Start strong, ride a solid middle portion of the bike and ease off for a quality run.
The biggest take away from my performance in Kona was that I messed up my taper there and the desire to heat acclimate. Arriving later than usual put the pressure on me, and my response was to do quite a few workouts to prepare. With a packed schedule, I opted for a daily run vs the headache of driving to swim or bike. I think that was my biggest week of running across the entire year with well over 50 miles… not exactly the way you want to head into your key race!
Transition Workouts To Arizona
The hardest part coming off of the first race into the build for a second is getting back on the bike in less than a week. This is really important to keep your blood volume up to reverse the tide of losing fitness, a natural change as we start the recovery process. I found myself following a similar workout program as I had in the past with a gradual return to running built around a basic bike week and swimming.
The biggest differential from similar parts of my season in the past is that my fatigue was much higher. Several folks in my family were sick and honestly I was concerned about getting sick myself. Motivation was also fairly low, so it just took more to get the work done. I was able to offset this decline with a race camp in The Woodlands two weeks out from race day. If anything, this camp helped to make this performance possible in Arizona. There’s no true substitute for doing the work outside on the bike and the run to make us as race ready as possible.
The Race Plan
For this swim had no plan other than focusing on my technique and continuing to swim as steadily as well as I could.
On the bike I was very specific regarding both the course and the expected conditions. My plan was to ride with significant effort out and then maintain percentage of the effort back to keep my speed up (call it 10% less on the way back). Using Best Bike Split I could see that additional watts above what I had planned would not yield more speed. I was hoping for a time in 4:30 range, but I knew that ideal time would depend on many different factors.
On the run my goal was to be rock solid. I picked a spot on the course where I would pause, but I was resolved not to stop at aid stations except for when I need to add a Gatorlyte to a cup of Coke. I ran without my FuelBelt set up for the first time in many years, again trying to remain light and fast. I figured that I would likely get a good half marathon in before The Suck really hit me. And by then I was counting on the “end of the run” miles to give me a mental boost. You know, that inevitable place where you seem to always have more than you’ve had all day. Risky for sure, but hey this is a race!
Overall things seem to be turning pretty low temperature rising across the course of the week to reverse what looked like is going to be a pretty crummy day for racing.
I spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom – with more than 3500 competitors there simply were not enough Porta-Pottys for us all to get ready for the day. I was late out of Transition, which meant that I was seeded with the 1:10 swim folks. No worries, I just smiled and got myself ready to swim.
The Swim 1:06:xx (29th Place AG)
What I didn’t anticipate was that clouds in the morning would mean no sunlight for the first 15 minutes in the water. This meant we were actually swimming in pitch black, especially with my slightly tinted goggles. There were times when I thought I was swimming perpendicular to the course! After 15 minutes, things begin to brighten up and I got into an overall groove; I felt really good about my some form in my ability to maintain it across the entire 2.4 Miles. I will say that the return trip got a little choppy, especially under the bridges. By design, the return leg was almost 1 1/2 times longer than the outbound leg which meant it was very mentally challenging.
T1 6:xx (21st Place AG)
Quick swim to the water out, and up and then went to the wetsuit strippers and I was off. The transition here was critical in that it was 4/10 of a mile. My strategic plan here was to run through this area as fast as possible to make up places on people who are better swimmers – I passed ⅓ of my Age Group in T1! I was literally running a 5k pace holding my wetsuit flying past people and scaring the spectators who were way too close to the racers. In retrospect given my final performance, it was clear that every second count.
The Bike: 4:44:xx (2nd Place AG)
Heading out on the bike, I was very well-dressed. As you can see from the pictures I not only have bike gloves, but arm warmers and a vest as well. The vest was snug and was open in the back to allow in some air. My plan was to get right to work to catch up to the “Kona Train” that likely had left earlier due to my late-seeded swim time. This meant I did the first 18 miles close to my Half Ironman wattage before settling in.
The wind was blowing, and I could tell it was can be a tougher day than we had anticipated right at the outset. Even returning on the second part of the first loop, I can still see people riding out of transition which meant that the course was soon going to be extremely crowded.
The second lap did not disappoint, chock-full of people on the outbound uphill/had one section. It was very hard to find a clean piece of the road to ride on. Add the constant winds and I was pretty mentally down on my day. It seemed hard to even hold my regular wattage. Fortunately, this time I spotted a few folks who were aggressively drafting which made me really angry and gave me a different focus than my inner misery.
Starting the third lap times did not look good for me overall – I was still stuck with these drafters who had picked up a few more friends. I was sitting off the back and cleanly riding my own race, but it was still frustrating to see. Note, this is not to say the course wasn’t well marshaled. There were plenty of people in the drafting tents all day, I just don’t think it’s possible to catch everyone.
Rather than tow these folks back to transition, I made a strategic move at the top of the turnaround for the final 18 miles. I realized I was right around the four hour mark which meant, with a good return, I could be under 4:45. While others hit the eight station I relied on the hydration I had the integrated hydration system on my Ventum One which gave me the ability to skip the aid station and hammer to create gap.
I was able to ride quite a fast pace without anybody on my wheel for those last 18 miles which forced them to chase. I kept the pressure on all the way in a transition, as you can see from the increase in my heart rate and watts. Not my typical Ironman execution but a clear indicator that I had perhaps got a little too easy in the middle section of the race. I was excited for transition very prompt to see what I can do moving forward.
T2 2:26 (2nd Place AG)
Second transition, very similar to the first. The volunteers were great and had all of the stuff I needed available so I could move quickly. This made life a lot easier in terms of making the changes I needed. I had a quick transition into my running shoes and honestly spent the most time just taking off the gear I had needed for the bike but no longer needed for the run. I headed out the tent door in two minutes and almost forgot to start my watch before hitting the run course.
The Run 3:19:xx (1st Place AG)
The first mile of the run is the most telling. It’s where you see whether or not you have the legs, and you find out whether or not the other runners do as well. Within minutes there were several people I passed walking who clearly had over-biked and simply didn’t have the legs for the run.
I settled into a good routine and did my best to keep going through as many of these folks as possible. The run course had turnarounds at miles 2, 9, 15 and 22. This allowed me to keep track of who was near and who wasn’t.
The fact that I didn’t slow down in in the first 14 to 15 miles was really critical. Yes, my gradual pace slowed, but I ran through almost every aid station during that period of time. This kept the pressure on the competition and gave me room for suffering later. And boy, did I suffer later.
By the time I hit mile 18, Endurance Nation’s “favorite” place on the course, I was already suffering from my quad pain. I felt like the day after the ironman, only I was still competing! Thankfully I had a few solid competitors around me that helped force me to keep the pressure on and not ease off. By the last time I ran down the final descent at mile 23, my legs were on fire and it was all I could do to keep running. I took one last big mouthful of Coke just to make sure I was ready for the 5k into the finish and then got to work. I was gradually building my effort in this section as a reflection of my desire to get the race over with.
I was going to spread it out but I didn’t have a ton of energy left, and I was concerned about my quad and adductors cramping. It was about a mile to go when one of my friends let me know that I had only a few seconds between me in second place. After 139.6 Miles, it was time to actually run hard! Gathering myself, I dug as deep as I could for the finish, resulting in perhaps the worst possible finish picture I have ever taken in my entire life. I nearly blacked out after crossing the line!
Looking back at the run data, you can see that precisely where I started to run into some stomach discomfort which was a problem. I chalk this up to the cooler temps for the bike and my relative inability to Retain fluids on the early part of the bike.
You can also see where I started walking and just how dramatic the effect was on my pace. The longer I keep running, the faster overall I will be. The worse I run, the more likely it is a function of excessive aid station stoppage and not actual poor running performance.
After the race I followed my typical ritual of getting changed and calling the family. I knew something was up when they picked up the phone and all started screaming at me at once. ItT took about two minutes for me to determine exactly what they were saying, which is that I had won my Age Group! Hard to believe more than five years after doing the same thing at IM Texas, I was able to recreate that process here in Arizona. More importantly I was able to go under 3:20 for the run for only the second time in my career and set a new personal best for overall time.
Key Success Factors
My year was filled with hard work and quality training, but there are a couple of key factors that really made this one a success.
First my reassessment of the run in the quality of work I did midyear to build speed rather than just being complacent with the fitness I had. This prepared me to run well based off of my fitness.
Second was the training camp that I held before the race which allow me to regain confidence in my fitness and spend plenty of time making sure my bike there was 100%.
Third was my obsession over details regarding execution on the bike and run pace. That kind of rigid plan creates the conditions for me to be successful as the more specific I can be on paper the more effective I can be on the open road.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention everyone who was a part of the success.
To my family who somehow doesn’t mind me getting up at 4 am to train on my bike, chatting with my computer friends on Zwift. Your patience for my hijinks is a gift for which I can never thank you enough.
To my good friend Rich Stanbaugh who not only challenged me with workouts but also never lost focus on the work I needed to do in order to create the physical fitness I needed to improve.
As always thank you to our sponsors. To our partners at Ventum Racing for giving me access the equipment to put up the fastest split in my age group. To my peeps at Vasa whose swim ergometer allowed me to build critical midseason fitness on a scheduled life for quality swim later in the year. To the geeks at Stryd whose run powermeter Helped me nail my midseason intervals and “fight the fade” on race day. To Castelli, who continues to churn out quality Race Kit that Makes me fast and keeps me comfortable as well.
Finally, shout out to my Endurance Nation teammates. Everyone of you, through your kind words and your own questions, give me an opportunity to become not only a better coach but a better athlete as well. It’s an honor to line up next to your teammates on the course and to be cheered by so many people across the course of the day.
I firmly believe that we are only as fast as we believe we can be; it requires that others believe in your potential in order for to achieve beyond what you think is possible. It’s no surprise then that my potential is practically unlimited with what all of you have given.
Thank you, and here’s to another year of awesome work and even better results!