Tagged Ironman Triathlon

Portland Marathon 2011 Race Report

My face says it all....

For almost every race I have ever done, I had a good time during the race even if my time totally stunk. I can’t say that about the Portland Marathon yesterday. I finished it, but it was very painful and just not fun at all.

The one redeeming quality was that I saw how much work I need to do to get my lower legs healthy, as I am suffering from a bad case of Plantar Fasciiitis that hasn’t gone away since April. It has been bearable through my entire summer of racing Ironman, another 50 miler and a few other tris….and even seemed to be getting better of late – but it is far from gone. During this race my feet ended up hurting so bad that one point I thought I wouldn’t finish. Eventually I did but it was a miserable experience.

Here is the play-by-play:

Goal: I planned to treat this as a training run. Last year I ran 3:54 with little training after just getting back into running after many years away. This year I wanted to run 3:30, holding a steady 8 min/mile pace. It seemed totally doable based on my training runs and past races.

  • Mile 0:  I started in the first “wave”. They had something like 6 waves, with the first being the fastest. I looked around and saw about 1500 people in my wave (there were 12,000 in the marathon and 3,000 in the half marathon that started in the same time). Looking around I saw a 3:10 pace sign and then a 3:15 pace sign….I realized quickly that the people around me would going far faster than me! I made a conscious effort to not get caught up in the hysteria of the race start and stick to a conservative pace.
  • Miles 1-6.2 (10K): 49 minutes…right on pace. Felt a little flat, but my feet didn’t hurt and was enjoying the run. The weather was cool (50 degrees) and it was threatening to rain.
  • Miles 6.2-10: Light rain started. Glad I wore my rain jacket. Taking splits I saw I was running a few 7:40 miles…slowed down a little to stick to 8min pace.My feet were still hurting a bit. I was waiting for this pain to go away, as normally it does on my longer runs.
Coming through 10K, feeling pretty good and practicing my finish line pose!
  • Miles 10-13.1 (half-marathon) : Came through the half-marathon 13.1 miles…with a time of 1:44 flat. Perfect pacing. However, my feet were not getting better….instead they were getting worse. I started to think this run would be more challenging than I thought.
  • Miles 13.1 – 17: My feet got progressively worse….and at mile 16 hit the toughest part of the course…a 3/4 mile hill. My feet started to hurt so bad I thought they were going to explode. I stopped cold and stretched a little….which helped. The rain picked up and it got cold. Not having fun!
  • Miles 17-20: I walked 30 seconds and ran 4 minutes….and repeated that routine. My pace slowed to 9:30 miles. My feet were going numb and were very painful. My ankles started to hurt. I thought I might be doing real damage to my feet at this point (Note: I didn’t do any permanent damage after all)
  • Miles 20-25: I slowed even more…walking more and running less. Often I would just stop and not move at all…bending over and stretching my hamstrings and calves…hoping to take some pressure off my feet. I walked a bunch on the downhills and that hurts my feet more than flat running. My hamstrings were constantly threatening to cramp…something that never happens to me. My stride was totally messed up…as I was trying to land in different parts of my feet to take pressure off them. This was probably the cause for the cramping trouble.
  • The Finish: Looking at my watch I realized that I needed to run a sub 10 minute mile to break four hours….it took everything I had to run that sub 10 minute mile….my hamstrings were cramping like crazy….I finished in 3:59:something. Once finished I could barely walk for about 20 minutes. My feet hurt so bad, like they were broken (they weren’t). I couldn’t believe that running this marathon could feel so much worse than running 50 miles in July (at White River).
Post race....trying to get some feeling back into my feet.

There you have it. Some races go well. Others don’t but are still fun. Some – like this one – just stink but I’m sure at some point I’ll appreciate having run it. Being cold and raining the entire time didn’t help. Now my goal is to figure out how to get my feet healthy. At the finish I wasn’t super thirsty or hungry…or even tired aside from my lower legs hurting so badly. I know that my fitness is great and my nutrition/hydration strategy was right on, once my injury is healed I think I’ll be ready to run a fast race.

Lake Stevens 70.3 Triathlon Race Report 2011

Nice hardware!

Headed to Lake Stevens last Sunday for a half-ironman triathlon. The half-ironman distance is now being referred to as ‘70.3’ as this is the combined distance in miles of the swim/bike/run legs combined. I still like calling them half-ironman races since the term 70.3 doesn’t really mean much in my mind.

With just a couple of weeks of recovery from the White River 50, my legs were not sore but definitely were feeling tired in the lead-up to the race. My primary motivation for racing were to join a bunch of other athletes from my team, VO2 Multisport, and also to race what was sure to be a very scenic bike course (and one I rode in training a few weeks ago). The weather was also promising to be awesome, with temperatures in the 70’s with some cloud cover in the morning.

Pre-Race

I like races where you can just roll up a few minutes – maybe an hour – before the start, register and go. This was NOT one of those races! By chance I was talking with a friend who was racing as well on Friday night (the race was on Sunday) and she mentioned that we needed to check in on Saturday. I had no clue since I hadn’t read any of the pre-race instructions yet, saving that task for the night before the race. Indeed, all athletes needed to make the drive up to Lake Stevens, check-in and drop off their bikes, then drive back up on race day! I drove up, took care of things and then returned back home for an early dinner, a short run and some stretching.

The swim course.

My race gear:

  • Swim: TYR Hurricane 5 wetsuit, Blue Seventy mirrored goggles, DeSoto 1-piece triathlon racing suit
  • Bike: Cervelo P3 w/ Williams Carbon Wheels (80mm deep), sunglasses (I didn’t end up using), race belt, Shimano shoes
  • Run: Brooks GTS Racer shoes, visor

My nutrition plan was:

  • Swim: nothing :)
  • Bike: 250 calories/hr (2 packs chomps and hammer gel flask with 5 gels), 2 endurolytes per hour; one bottle water per hour (it wasn’t very hot)
  • Run: 8 ounces of coke per hour; 8 ounces water per hour (at most….adjust depending on temperature)

My goal pacing was:

  • Swim: take it easy, 35 minutes.
  • Bike: stick to 140 watts on the first lap and 150 watts on the second (my FTP is 175 if you know what that means). this was a conservative plan, but again I wanted to be able to run strong. Shooting for 3 hours but the goal was to stick to the wattage plan and whatever time that resulted in would be fine. Hoped for a 3 hour or faster bike time.
  • Run: first 5K 8 min/miles; next 10K 7:45 min/miles; last 5K 7:30 min/miles or faster. Time of ~1:40 or so.
  • Total time: 5hrs 20mins (assume 2:30 transitions)
The rocketship (1103). Due to my late signup (I registered 5 days before the race), I had the world's worst transition spot. I had to run all the way through the transition zone to enter/leave.

Swim

The swim went in waves – each with ~100 people. As such, the start was relatively calm. The course was simple, a long rectangle. There was also a wire running under the water (the buoys were tied to it) that you could follow to make sighting a non-issue. I never ended up seeing the wire once, since there were so many folks crowded around it. I just swam a little off to the side, and out of the crowds.

Each wave jumped off the dock in the distance and tread water between the yellow buoys for a few minutes before a horn was blown to signal the start.

Sighting went well, floated in and out of drafts. At one point was kicked in the head pretty hard but shook that off and it didn’t slow me down much.With the wave start – was reeling in swimmers from previous waves. Came out of the water feeling good and had a feeling my time was decent (wasn’t sure of that, didn’t see a clock).

Bike

Started off the bike conservatively, letting my legs warm up and as usual a boatload of people past me. The course was a hilly 25 mile loop done twice (plus an out and back portion back to the transition area to make it a full 56 miles). I slowly built up to a steady pace, and closing out on my first loop, my power numbers were a little high (averaged 150 watts for the first lap). I wasn’t so worried about it since I felt very fresh and didn’t feel like I was pushing.

Throughout the bike I saw a bunch of friends who were also racing. Focused on nailing my nutrition and hydration and came off the bike with a time that was slower than expected, but my average watts were what I planned and my legs felt pretty fresh.

Came off the bike with 148 average watts (or so), averaged a little over 18mph with over 3 hours on the clock. Wasn’t so happy with the total time but other than that felt good.

Run

Run out? Sure! But first...to the porta potty!

Hit the porta potty and then started the run. Off the bike my feet (I’ve been battling plantar fascia issues for the past 5 months) hurt pretty bad. That was normal and I just took it easy for a couple of miles for my feet to loosen up. At one point, I stopped and took off my left shoe, convinced there was a rock in it…there was no rock…it was just the muscles in my feet all bound up! That stop cost me about 45 seconds.

After 20 minutes my feet relaxed and I was able to pick up the pace. My strategy of taking in 2-4 ounces of coke and then alternating with water at each aid station worked wonderfully well. I skipped a few aid stations since I felt well hydrated and didn’t want to overdo it. I am a huge fan of racing on Coke….the stuff is incredible and I’ve had no stomach issues using it for IMCDA, White River 50 or in this race.

The sun started to come out and I was dumping water on my head and staying cool, but felt good overall and after the first lap, picked up the pace a little. I also had to make a porta potty stop that cost me just over a minute of time. Next time I need to be sure about eating dinner earlier the night before and sticking to a liquid breakfast!

VO2 Inspiration Station! Photo by Cindy Bigglestone (I think).

With about 5K to go, I picked up the pace again, running as hard as I could. With a mile to go I was really was going all out. I couldn’t have gone faster if a tiger was chasing me. I looked at my watch and realized that a sub 1:40 run split was possible if I really pushed. During the last few miles it became obvious to me that I should have pushed harder on the first lap. I left too much on the table again.

I cross the line totally exhausted but relieved to be done.

While I didn’t beat my time goal I was very close, and my splits were almost dead-on to what I wanted. Without my porta-potty stops (two of them) and my little shoe incident I would have been very close to my time goal.

The final score:

The final score!

Lessons

I learned a bunch of things in this race.

  1. Pay attention to your meals the day before and morning of a race. I was very relaxed going into this race. Since my previous few races were longer (IMCDA and White River), I really was totally relaxed and not one bit nervous for this one. As a result, I didn’t pay as much attention to my pre-race nutrition plan. The porta potty stops were totally preventable by eating a lighter dinner earlier the day before and having a liquid breakfast.
  2. At Ironman races they pass out skinny water bottles on the bike course, and these bottles slip right out of the bottle cage on my bike when I stand out of the saddle to climb! I never noticed this before, but lost two bottles due to this. I need to replace that downtube bottle holder with a Gorilla Cage.
  3. I stuck to my wattage plan on the bike, but probably left 10 minutes (at least) on the table. I should have pushed harder on the bike. I don’t think that would have affected my run.
  4. My first 10K on the run was too slow. I was being cautious, but I should have pushed the pace a little harder. I left a few minutes on the table there.
VO2 crew post race (I'm on the left).

White River 50 Mile Ultramarathon 2011 Race Report

The White River 50 Miler was totally awesome. I signed up for the race many months ago, but the week prior if you asked me if I was going to run it, I would have laughed at you. I was dealing with a few injuries and still not recovered from Ironman CDA. However, a subtle but important mental shift made all the difference.

Instead of thinking about this as a race or some kind of extreme endurance event. I simply though about it as “just a fun day in the mountains.” I literally told myself this out loud. Good thing I live alone or my roommate would have thought I was psycho! Eventually, I came to truly believe what I was saying and I totally realized that doing the event was not only possible, but it could actually be sorta fun.

Our playground for the White River 50! Yes - that is Mt. Rainier.

I also managed to give my friend Sean a little prodding…and he decided to run it as well (on practically no training!). It also helped that two good friends Charles and Jenny were also signed up to run. My game plan was to just go as far as I can without risking any major damage to my body. I was fully prepared to drop out if I thought I would injure myself.

The course was 44 miles of single-track trail (the other 6 miles are on a dirt fire road) in the pristine White River wilderness near Mount Rainier (in the hills surrounding Crystal Mountain Ski Resort). The views from the course are mind-boggling good. Many times I caught myself just staring off to the right or left – with epic views of Mt. Rainer and the Cascades.

Besides being gorgeous, the course is gnarly. In terms of sheer elevation gain and general course difficulty, it rivals the Copper Canyon Ultramarathon in my opinion. What makes CCUM a little tougher is not so much the course, but the weather (it was over 100 degrees in some parts of CCUM) and the general remoteness of the race and travel involved in getting there.

White River has ~10,000 feet of climbing split into two MASSIVE CLIMBS followed by crazy long descents.

I can’t overestimate these climbs. It felt like running up Mt Si (for those of you in Seattle you will know what I mean) and then some….and then running down about the same distance…then repeating that effort! For veteran ultra trail runners this might not seem like a ton, but for me it was.

Sean’s blog has a great image comparing the White River course to the Boston Marathon with its infamous “Heartbreak Hill” that is worth checking out.

I’ll break down the race into Pre-Race, Race, Post Race and Lessons Learned.

Pre Race

  • Found a last minute room for the race at the Crystal Mountain resort. It was a few miles from the start line, and right where race registration and other pre-race stuff was happening. Very convenient!
  • My gear (pictured below) was pretty basic. With weather predicted in the mid-70’s to low-80’s and sunny, I was planning to wear a t-shirt (North Face Flight Series) and shorts (Nike running shorts) along with a visor and sunglasses (they sat on top of my head most of the day since the course was mostly shaded).  I wore my Inov-8 Roclite 295’s for the first 37 miles (hilly and gnarly trail) and Brooks GTS Racers for the final 13 miles (downhill and flat/smooth trail).
Gear
  • Fueling Strategy (250 calories per hour). I wanted to stick to simple food and get most of my calories in via gel to prevent any stomach issues and maximize absorption. Some people want sandwiches and real food (cookies, chips, etc) during these race (and the aid stations are stocked with this stuff!) but I try to stick to simple sugars. I fueled on:
  1. Hammer Gel (in flasks, run with 1 flask and the rest in drop bags). I went through 15 servings of Hammer Gel along with 3 GU packs from aid stations.
  2. GU Chomps (in drop bags). I went through 6 bags of chomps.
  3. Hammer Endurolytes (2 per hour – more if sunny/hot)
  4. Cola (after 37 miles – provided on course). I consumed about 32 oz of cola in the last 2 hours.
  5. Coconut water (in drop bag at 32 mile point). I consumed an entire 32 oz Zico container.
  6. Banana pieces (at aid stations). I consumed 4-5 pieces.
  • The course has a ton of aid stations, with the options for dropbags at a bunch (like 6-8 places) along the course. Still, it was recommend that runners use two handheld bottles (or the equivalent) to get them through longer stretched. I wore an Amphipod 22oz handheld and a waist-belt with two 10oz Amphipod bottles and a pouch to carry GU Chomps and Endurolyte tablets. I was very happy with this approach.
Sean made this handy cheat sheet that we each carried. I circled the aid stations where I placed drop bags. Took this photo post-race, it is soaked with sweat, coke and god knows what else.
  • I used three drop bags. In each I placed 2 packs of GU Chomps, in 2 of them I had spare socks (only ended up changing socks once),  and in the last drop bag I had a different pair of shoes (a pair with more cushion for the long 6 mile descent after the second climb – around 37 miles in). I also had a liter of coconut water in a drop bag…that I snagged at around 32 miles in (halfway up the second climb).
  • The race featured all kinds of cool (and random) swag….in addition to a t-shirt and socks, we got a drink “cozie,” a pen, an umbrella and a trucker hat (at the finish)! Much of the swag was provided by SCOTT sports, who sponsored the event.
  • The pre-race meeting was held in a small bar right in the little lodge/hotel we were staying at. Pretty cool vibe. A lot of people seemed to have already run the course at least a few times. With around 300 entrants (240-something actually ran), this was the biggest field yet.
  • Ate a massive pasta dinner at the pre-race carbo load and hit the sack early to prepare for the 6:30am start. Both Sean and I decided to forgo the “early start”..convinced that we wouldn’t need to worry about hitting the time cut-offs…we had 13 hours to finish the course officially (14 hours with an early start). I ended up regretting this decision later on during the day. More on this later!
  • After hitting the porta potty and getting drop bags in their appropriate spots, I headed to the race start – a dirt road along a flat mid-forest airstrip for small aircraft (a giant grass field). I positioned myself towards the middle of the pack, along with my friends.

The Race

Somewhere on the course. Looks pretty...I don't remember it at all..must have been zone out! Photo by http://www.nwtrailruns.com/
  • Miles 1-4 to Aid Station #1 @ Camp Sheppard: I trotted along with my friends, and the whole field was just running in a giant pace-line it seemed. I kept my eyes on the trail and the shoes in front of my as we meandered along pretty flat and winding trail. The pace was totally slow and comfortable – on purpose! In one spot there was a downed tree to climb up and over, but overall this trail was pretty straightforward. I almost tripped about a dozen times….and realized I needed to really pay attention to the trail and not zone out. We rolled through the first aid station around 4 miles in – I topped off a water bottle and carried on. The whole time I focused on taking in Hammer Gel and staying relaxed.
  • Miles 4-12 to Aid Station #2 @ Ranger Creek: This stretch of trail begins flatish…then the first mountain climb of the course begins! Over a six-mile stretch we climb almost 3000 feet! If you aren’t sure if that is a lot or not…let me just say that it is. It’s like climbing more than the height of Mt. Si (Seattle-ites will know what I mean). I focused on nutrition and hydration, power hiking any of the uphill portions and running short stretches of flatish trail throughout the climb. I was right next to Sean for most of this portion of the run and he kept me entertained (as well as another runner) a very long joke that took like an hour to tell :) .
That mountain in the distance is the first climb...we started at the base at the left hand side, and run up to the top and then along the ridgeline to the right hand side of the picture.
  • Miles 12-17 to Aid Station #3 @ Corral Pass: Think the first climb was done? No way! The first couple miles of this stretch continue climbing for another 400 feet, then it flattens out to a rolling section along Corral Pass. Epic views of Mt Rainier and lush valleys almost make the pain go away. There is an out and back section here where you get to see where the competition is. During this stretch I felt quite good, running most of it. I saw some more friends, including Barefoot Ted during the out-and-back portion. There was some snow on the course, but they did such a great job building snow steps and putting in some fixed lines that it wasn’t much of an issue. My Inov-8 Roclite 295’s did an amazing job keeping me firmly grounded.
  • Miles 17-22 Aid Station #4 @ Ranger Creek: We continue the out-and-back portion of the trail, and then begin a long descent…6.8 miles on a single track trail! At first it was a relief to be running downhill. After a mile this thought changed as my legs were starting to totally fry. I took a few short walk breaks on the downhill to let my feet/quads recover.
Sean looking strong. He trained all of 4 days to prep for this race (no joke) and finished in under 12 hours.
  • Miles 22-27 Aid Station #5 @ Buck Creek: The downhill continues and at times Sean and I wonder if we are off trail or something. There aren’t many other runners around and it seemed crazy to run downhill this long. Well, it is crazy to run downhill this long, but we were not off trail! Eventually…..we hit flat ground, thank goodness, and emerged near the race start area to take on more aid. I felt better after a few miles of flat ground, and Sean pulled ahead of me a bit so I was pretty much on my own here. Felt fine overall and started to mentally prepare for the second mountain climb to come – which is over 8 miles long!
  • Miles 27-32: Aid Station #6 @ Fawn Ridge: After a few miles of flat terrain, we began to climb. I caught up with Sean and my friends Charles and Jenny also caught us. We power hiked together up the mountain. This mountain was a little shorter than the last one, but steeper! After taking aid – and refilling my water bottles with coconut water from my drop bag (it’s amazing stuff…need to do this again next time, and at my next Ironman race) I powered through and kept climbing. I felt good and decided to push a little harder, breaking away from my friends and pushing up the climb. At this point time-wise I was a little nervous of the aid station cut-offs. We were about 1 hour ahead of the aid station cutoff time at this point….this race really had a pretty aggressive required pace to avoid being pulled from the course. Maybe I should have taking the early start after all? This would have given an extra hour of cushion to finish. Oh well…nothing I can do about that right now.
  • Miles 32-37 Aid Station #7 @ SunTop: Does this climb ever end? It went on and on and on and on. At one point some mountain bikers passed me and I asked how much further and they said “you’re almost there…maybe a mile at most.” Total Liars!!!! :)  That climb kept going for eons. I powered through, eventually emerging on Sun Top, enjoying the epic views of the mountains and downing some watermelon, filling my shirt and hat with ice and changing my shoes into a more cushioned road shoe (Brooks GT Racers). I was still over an hour ahead of the aid station cut-off. The next 6 miles would feature a long downhill on a dirt road. At this point, I really did feel relieved since I knew that I would finish the race no matter what.
  • Miles 37-43 Aid Station #8 @ Skookum Flats: I knew this part of the course would be challenging for me. I’ve been battling Plantar Fasciitis since CCUM and while it wasn’t affecting me so far, this long downhill on a dirt road was scary. I started running down the hill, and after half a mile had to stop. My feet felt like they were going to explode. Over the course of the next few miles I did more walking than running, and tons of people passed me. Fitness really didn’t mean anything at this point….my feet just couldn’t handle the pounding. At points I was walking backwards to take the pressure off my feet. Sean caught up with me and we made it down to the end of this segment together, as he was also battling some IT band issues.I again started to worry about missing the cut-off time for the next aid station.
  • Miles 43-50 TO THE FINISH! Once we hit the aid station at Skookum flat, Sean waved goodbye and hammered the final stretch in a successful attempt to break 12 hours. I loaded up my water bottles with Coke, and walked the first 1/2 mile along the flat and well cushioned trail. By this time my feet had recovered and stopped throbbing, so I started running. I felt better and better every mile so I picked up the pace, reeling in many runners that passed me during the long downhill. After a seemingly endless 7 miles, I emerged onto a road and gave it everything I had for the last quarter-mile into the finish.
  • Final Time =12hrs 13mins 54secs (201/244 runners).
Me = DONE!

Post Race

What I love about ultras is the everyone just seems to hang around for a long time at the finish. Even with my late finish, all the athletes were still there, including the top finishers (many of whom congratulated me and the other finishers!). This kind vibe is unique to the sport. There was a great potato bar with tons of toppings and other food for refueling.

The first thing I did upon finishing was take off my shoes and sit down. My feet were so sore I could hardly walk, but the rest of me (my legs in general) felt surprisingly good! I’m looking forward to getting this plantar fascia problem solved. Even the next day, my feet were the most sore part of my body. My legs recovered surprisingly quickly – though I still feel like am a little more tired than normal during hard training sessions – and it has been a couple of weeks since the race. It will probably take a full month to feel 100% normal.

Back at the hotel, in a post race coma.

Lessons Learned

Barefoot Ted once told me that running 100 mile is like living a lifetime in a single day – with all of its ups and downs. I’ve never done a 100 miler, but I can say 50 miles of running/power hiking has that kind of feeling and definitely takes you to places you don’t go in typical daily life. All kind of emotions come up unexpectedly. I went from feeling pretty darn depressed at mile 38 to feeling re-energized and ready to rock and roll by mile 45. Things go from bad to good to worse to amazing – sometimes in the course of 10 miles! Knowing that things will get better when you feel like crap is powerful knowledge and can power you through some really tough times. This great quote I blogged a few weeks ago came to mind several times during the run:

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn -Harriet Beecher Stowe

I witnessed the power of staying present to what was around me, and not getting caught in any kind of negative self-talk. Staying positive is absolutely critical. At one point in the race (around mile 32), I was hiking with a man who had done the race several times and was a veteran ultra-runner. He was talking constantly, and often just complaining about stuff and generally not being positive. After 10 minutes I had enough, and pushed ahead fast to get away from him and his negativity! Staying upbeat when positive is that important when you are pushing that hard.

In terms of nutrition and fueling, when all else fails – really nailing nutrition is so important and can help you finish a race that you have no business finishing :) . I made a nutrition plan, stuck to it – and had no issues with digestion or hydration. I also learned that coconut water is like liquid gold during a hot race and coke is jet fuel and worth drinking plentifully during the final couple hours of a long event.

My last lesson is that conventional wisdom – the kind that says you need to run a lot and be super healthy to run an ultra – is totally wrong. I came into the race with a bum knee and feet, but did what I could to get healthy before the race and approached it with the attitude of just enjoying the day in the mountains and seeing what would happen. Things ended up working out for the best – but I was fully prepared to drop out if my health was at risk.

I think a lot of people can complete these kind of events – and they should not let someone else tell them they haven’t trained enough or aren’t ready for it. If you really want it bad enough you can do it. I am totally convinced that any reasonably fit human being can complete a 50 miler with a marginal amount of training. Just go into the challenge with a positive mindset.

Breakfast stop at "Waipiti Woolies" coffee shop and store on the way back from White River the day after the race..

Ironman CDA 2011 Race Report

I’m very thankful to have finished and the experience was incredible. I learned far more from this race than I have in other races that I was actually able to “race.” I learned that we are really able to accomplish more than we think we can. I also learned that we are capable of going from feelings of total despair to optimism in a matter of minutes…if you are just willing to endure a little.

This is my third Ironman finish, and not my fastest time but I am actually most of proud of this result. A few weeks ago I didn’t even think I’d be able to race. I was just planning on doing the swim. However, a couple of weeks ago I decided to give it a shot after my doctor told me that my knee wouldn’t have any permanent damage to it if I decided to race.

The inflammation in my knee might “hurt like hell” but it wouldn’t cause any tears or breaks….so I got the green light. Mentally, this made all the difference as it just became a game of pacing and seeing how I could manage my energy during the day and keep the pressure off my left knee.

It was also great to have over a dozen people from my team, VO2 Multisport, racing and spectating. It makes all the difference to know people who will be out on the course. It can provide motivation that keeps you going for miles and miles, just knowing someone will be there expecting to see you.

Here’s how it all went down:

Pre-Race: Thursday

I arrived at in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on Thursday around 5pm. My accommodations were SUPER DELUXE. I mean that. They were THE BEST ACCOMMODATIONS EVERY. You see, I am a Product Planning Lead at Microsoft by day, but by night in my personal life I do practically no planning WHATSOEVER. The week before the race I still hadn’t sorted out where I would stay. Browsing the interwebs I came across a nondescript ad with no photo mentioning an “RV” trailer available. I gave the guy a call and he seemed super nice and sent me some photos. SCORE! The place was awesome, cheap and located on an acre of lawn less than 1/2 mile from the race start! The perfect spot. The owner also had this super cool golden lab that I got to play around with.

My home for the race weekend! A great RV trailer 1/2 mile from the race start.

I dropped my bike and gear off in the RV and went down to the race start area, which is a beach right in downtown. Immediately I saw at least 30-40 triathletes swimming or hanging around the beach or lawn. Many had just gotten done swimming and everyone was talking about how cold and choppy the water was.

I threw on my wetsuit and dropped in for a 20 minute swim. It was frigid! Even coming from swimming Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish it was cold. The chop was also very bad. I got out of the water and definitely feeling like the swim would NOT be the cake-walk I was expecting.

My original race plan called for an hour-long bike ride, but given that it was getting late, I went to get some dinner and hit the sack early for the night after sorting out my gear.

Pre-Race: Friday

I did a short 30 minute bike ride along and out and back section to Higgins Point along the edge of Lake Coeur d’Alene. I was very cold at 8am, and I was biking in toe-covers, a warm jacket and leg warmers. I was thinking that I should re-assess my race uniform and wear a long sleeve shirt on the bike. I went out and bought a cheap one at a local sporting goods store for $15.  I planned on wearing it for 20-30 miles on race day until it warmed up and them taking it off.

The rest of the day entailed registering for the race and walking around the Race Expo. The were all kinds of interesting bikes on display and other gadgetry.

Felt bike with Shimano DI2 electonic shifters. This bike costs about $10K as shown!

In the evening I headed out to a VO2 Multisport member’s home for a dinner with a bunch of people. It was nice to catch up with people and gorge on pasta, salad and cookies! For those of you thinking of racing a marathon or triathlon, remember that the key carbo-load dinner is NOT the night before the race…it is two nights before! This given the food time to digest and get into your muscles.

The view from dinner!
Team VO2 Multisport. I think 16 of us raced IMCDA, everyone finished and 6 qualified for Kona!

Pre-Race: Saturday

Saturday morning starting with a mini race-rehearsal with the VO2 Team. We all met at 9am and did (more or less) a 10-20 minute swim, 30-45 min ride and 10-20 minute run. My workout was on the low-end of the scale. The water was feeling a little warmer and it wasn’t very choppy.

Sunshine over the beach. This is where will start the race...imagine 2500 athletes starting at once. It will be NUTS!

After the rehearsal I ate some lunch and gathered my gear bags to check-in. At an Ironman race, you check in your Bike and Swim-Bike and Bike-Run bags the day before the race. You can put other things in them on race morning but this ensures that there are no lines/bottlenecks on race-day.

The Gear:

  • Swim: Tyr Hurricane Wetsuit, Aquasphere goggles and two swim caps. I wore two caps for extra warmth. I wore a Timex Ironman Watch during the entire race as well.
  • Swim/Bike Bag: Bike shoes with toe covers (I kept these on the whole ride), helmet, sunglasses, 2 packs of GU Chomps, 1 gel flask with 500 calories of gel, 1 tube of endurolytes tablets for electrolytes.
  • Bike: 2010 Cervelo P3 w/ Williams Aero Wheels (80 MM deep wheels) + PowerTap. I used an XLAB bottle cage off the pack and XLAB food pouch near the head tube to store my endurolytes and GU Chomps.
  • Bike special needs bag: 2 packs of GU Chomps, 1 gel flask, 1 GU packet
  • Bike/Run Bag: Brooks Racer shoes, gel flask with 500 calories (I didn’t use it), visor
  • Run special needs bag: 2 GU Chomps, 2 GU gel packets (I didn’t use any of this stuff)
  • Other Run Gear: I used my watch to take splits for the first half-marathon at every mile. After that, I stopped caring about time and just focused on finishing :) .
The ROCKETSHIP!

Fueling Strategy:

As per my race plan, my fueling strategy was simple and focused on pure sugar (no protein consumption) and plenty of water:

  • Consume 300 calories per hour on the bike. Use a mix of Hammer Gel and GU Chomps.
  • Consume 2 Hammer Endurolytes per hour on the bike (more if it was getting hot).
  • Consume 1-2 bottles per hour on bike (1 if cool, 2 if hot – I ended up consuming 1 bottle/hr).
  • Consume 2-4oz of Coke and  few sips of water/ice at every aid station on the run.

Sunday: Race Day!

I slept surprisingly well in the RV, and the three alarms I had set assured a swift 4am wake-up. I ate a cliff bar and drank a bottle of water (with Nuun) and laid around until 5am. I gathered my things and walked the 1/2 mile to a coffeshop for a small Americano, and was at the transition area by 6am.

I went to my transition bags and put some more stuff in them, then found a spot on the grass and did some light stretching. It was funny to see people already wearing their wetsuits at 6:15am! 45 minutes is a long time to be sitting around in neoprene.

I did some push-ups and yoga to warm up, and donned my wetsuit by 6:40am and joined the masses on the beach. It was a HUGE swim start. 2500 people is a lot of people! My last ironman had 1600 people and this felt far bigger I decided to position myself towards the front and in the middle of the crowd. The last thing I wanted was to get stuck behind a bunch of slower swimmers.

The Swim: …a Combat Sport

The huddled masses. I was positined towards the middle, about 3 rows back from the water.

Promptly at 7am the gun went off and all hell broke loose. People were incredibly aggressive in the swim, which amazed me given how long a day it would be. I was punched by a half-dozen different people, grabbed by several and dunked by one – all in the first 500 yards. I swam fairly conservative and at one point actually swam to the outer edge of the pack to find some calmer water.

In retrospect I should have placed myself more towards the far side of the beach, and stood a few rows further back.

The swim course was two loops around a big rectangle, making all left turns. The first left turn was nuts since you had a very wide pack of swimmers all attempting to converge and make a tight corner.

I kept my pace controlled, and aside from worrying about getting kicked or pulled, stayed calm and my breathing was controlled the entire time.

I emerged from the first lap in 35 minutes, did a short run on the beach and jumped back in for my second lap.

The second lap was far calmer, and I focused on drafting and staying relaxed. Coming out of the water, there was a short run along the beach into the transition area.

Time = 1:16:35. I expected my swim to be 1:05-10 and my last swim at IMCDA in 2003 was 1:01. 1:16 was surprisingly slow but the day was long and I wasn’t worried too much about it.

I ran into transition and had my wetsuit stripped (yes, they have wetsuit strippers at these races! You sit on the ground and they yank it off), grabbed my transition bag and headed into the changing tent. One mistake I made was to not wear my racing uniform (a 1 piece DeSoto triathlon uniform) under my wetsuit. Putting this on took FOREVER and it kept getting stuck on my arms and legs. At least 5 minutes were lost here. Amazing how slow you move when your body is freezing. My total T1 time was 8 minutes or so….which is a LOT of time.

The Bike: Staying Relaxed

Mile 60-something of the 112 mile bike course.

The bike was the biggest wildcard of this entire race. I knew deep down that if I could make if through the bike I would finish the race. I know how to gut out a marathon even if it means power walking it. My knee was the biggest factor. I hadn’t tested it with a ride over a few hours in several months, and really didn’t know what would happen.I had an amazing knee tape job (with kineseo-tape) by a PT before the race. This ended up being a huge help.

My strategy was to race with my powermeter as a guide. This device basically measure wattage produced and with appropriate testing during training, can give an indication of how hard or easy you should it. During an Ironman race, the goal for me is to ride steadily at 70-75% of the watts that I could hold for 1 hour during a time trial (this is 175 watts). Based on previous testing I had done, this meant I needed to keep my power between 122-132 watts for the entire race. On uphills this means I need to spin in an easy gear and take it easy, and push hard on the downhills and flats instead of coasting. Given the issues with my knee, I decided to go even easier, and stay between 118-125 watts. If I felt good, I would pick it up for the second loop of the 2 loop bike course. WISHFUL THINKING as this didn’t end up happening.

Starting the ride I felt quite good. A little cold, but it warmed up quickly and I didn’t need to wear arm-warmers or a long sleeve shirt, but was glad I had my toe-covers on. There were so many athletes on the course that everyone was pretty much riding in a single ginormous pack for the first 30 miles or so! Since my bike ride is comparatively slower than my swim, people were passing me almost the entire time on the bike course.

After about 90 minutes of riding, my fueling strategy was working well. Gel and chomps with water. I took 2 endurolytes  per hour. It wasn’t very hot but since Hammer Gel doesn’t have sodium, I took the endurolytes anyway.

Mile 25 on the course, with epic views of Hayden Lake.

After about two hours I started feeling my knee. It was a dull ache and I intentionally slowed to keep it from flaring up. After three hours, the pain got worse, almost like a stabbing pain on the medial side of my knee. It was really worried at this point. I tried adjusting my bike position and stretching while riding by it wouldn’t go away.

After 50 miles of riding, on my way back into town to start the second loop of the race, I was certain that I would need to drop out. I couldn’t fathom riding another 56 miles with this kind of pain.

Riding by the transition area, for some reason I don’t really know….I decided to just keep pedaling for another 10 miles to see what happened.

One think I have learned from racing a few ultra-marathons over the past year, is just when you think things cannot possibly get any worse….they don’t….and they actually start getting better!

Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn -Harriet Beecher Stowe

The road was pretty flat and I focused on pedaling more with my right leg (which felt fine) instead of my left. I kept riding in this way and eventually (after 70 miles) the pain subsided almost completely!

I really cannot explain why this happened, but my knee basically felt numb (like I had iced it) and the pain was gone. I continued to ride and aside from some stiffness in my lower back and neck, felt OK through the remainder of the 112 mile course. Every 20 minutes I would stand and do some “cat and cow” yoga poses while riding to loosen up my back.

My second lap was much slower, not much I could do about that. On the plus-side my nutrition was spot-on and I came off the bike feeling totally fine. Measurements from my power meter:

  • My first lap took 3:12 @ 120 average watts (140 normalized)
  • My second lap took 3:32 @ 108 average watts (126 normalized)
  • Total bike time was ~6:45 @ 114 average watts (133 normalized)
Power meter race file. Tan line = power, Brown line = elevation, White line = temp. Notice the steady drop in power through the race (ideally, the opposite would happen!). The temperature rose into the low 80's and was perfect with low humidity. Also notice the elevation change, this course was very hilly - mostly shorter hills/rollers with several steep ones.
Mile 65 of the bike, hoping my knee would hold up! ....and it did.

The Run: more like a “shuffle”

My transition was pretty quick, and I walked out of transition (intentionally) for about 200 yards and then started a slow jog. I felt very good and came through the first mile in 8:50 – which was far too fast. I was planning to hit 10 minutes miles for the first half of the run (including walking every aid station) and then run 9 min/miles for the second half.

The next few miles also came through around 9 min/mile pace and I forced myself to slow down to around 9:30-10min/mile pace with brief walk breaks at each aid station.

Mile 3 of the run. My coach Ben Bigglestone (VO2 Multisport) giving me a few words of encouragement.

Here’s how the run went down (2 loops of a 13.1 mile course):

  • Miles 1-3: Felt really great and ended up going out a little too fast.
  • Miles 3-10: Felt good still, fueled completely on Coke (at each aid station) with a little water. Pace slowed a little to 10 min miles. Coke is amazing and I’m glad I started drinking it right away on the run.
  • Miles 10-13.1: Starting to feel more tired, but still able to jog and took short walk-breaks between aid stations.By the time I hit the half-way point I knew I would finish the race no matter what which was a huge relief.
  • Miles 13.1-20: Painful! I ended up walking 2/3’s of this section. It was really tough. My knee didn’t bother me at all really, my legs were just totally dead and the bottoms of my feet were super sore from all the pounding. I never knew it was possible to run so slow…it’s called the “Ironman Shuffle”…I was barely picking my feet of the ground…but still moving faster than a walk – so it counts as running! The pic below is photographic evidence of what a “shuffle” looks like.
  • Miles 20-26.2: I ended up seeing some team-mates, and also a friend that was competing. This gave me a big boost and I ran about half of this stretch. It was slow but at least I ran!
Mile 16 of the run - demonstrating the "Ironman Shuffle". Look at how little I am able to lift my foot!

The last few miles of the run were impossibly hard. You’d think having run 50 miles just a few months ago I could at least jog the last 5K in, but it was impossible. I jogged about 400 yards and walked for 30 seconds….repeat, repeat, repeat. I ran the last half-mile, and took the time to make sure noone was around me so I could get a good finish picture :)

The marathon ended up being an over 5 hour affair, not the 4 hours I planned. Whatever, I finished and am happy with that!

Yes, that is salt coating my arms and shorts!

Final stats:

BIB AGE STATE/COUNTRY PROFESSION
1259 32 Bellevue WA USA Management
 

 

SWIM BIKE RUN OVERALL RANK DIV.POS.
1:16:35 6:44:05 5:12:40 13:24:42 1268  

166

 

LEG DISTANCE PACE RANK DIV.POS.
TOTAL SWIM 2.4 mi. (1:16:35) 2:00/100m 825 112
 

 

BIKE SPLIT 1: 34.2 mi 34.2 mi (1:56:07) 17.67 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 2: 90.2 mi 56 mi (3:27:22) 16.20 mi/h
BIKE SPLIT 3: 112 mi 21.8 mi (1:20:36) 16.23 mi/h
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi (6:44:05) 16.63 mi/h 1272 157
 

 

RUN SPLIT 1: 6.6 mi 6.6 mi (1:02:51) 9:31/mi
RUN SPLIT 2: 13.4 mi 6.8 mi (1:14:25) 10:56/mi
RUN SPLIT 3: 19.5 mi 6.1 mi (1:29:43) 14:42/mi
RUN SPLIT 4: 26.2 mi 6.7 mi (1:25:41) 12:47/mi
TOTAL RUN 26.2 mi (5:12:40) 11:56/mi 1268 166
 

 

TRANSITION TIME
T1: SWIM-TO-BIKE 8:11
T2: BIKE-TO-RUN 3:11
 

 

Post-Race:

After finishing, I spent some time talking with a friend who also just finished, got a post-race massage,  grabbed pizza and found grass to lay in. I stayed in that spot for a good 30 minutes – totally catatonic! I felt surprisingly good but didn’t want to move. Eventually I got up, got my bags and bike, and headed back to my RV where I showered, took a short nap and then headed back to the race finish to cheer on the final athletes who finished between 11pm and midnight. The energy during the last hour of an Ironman is ABSOLUTELY INSANE! It is inspiring to see what people are able to do and all walks of life crossed that line…old, young and all shapes and sizes.

Lessons Learned:

I am convinced that the key to racing Ironman (or any endurance race) is STAYING HEALTHY!

All the fancy gear and training is worthless unless you are healthy enough to race comfortably. Nutrition and pacing strategies also matter but I’m really coming away from this race experience with a new appreciation for how important it is to be healthy come race day. In the future if I have to decide between training more and doing some PT/therapy/yoga or self-care to heal my body…I know what I am going to choose. There is also a whole bunch of exercises I’ll be doing to strengthen my joints/soft tissue to prevent future injury.

What’s Next?

First priority is to get my knee 100% healthy and also remedy the plantar fascia issues that I’ve had since the Copper Canyon race in March. I want to do another Iron-distance race this year to take advantage of the fitness I’ve built up and there are a few events I have my eye on, more to come on that.

Ironman CDA: Done!

It’s done!

I really had to dig deep this time. The swim went well and I didn’t push too hard given the length of the day ahead. With almost 2,500 athletes in the water it was VERY aggressive and I was getting punched, kicked and dunked every few minutes. I came out of the water 5-10 minutes slower than expected.

The bike ride was OK, and again had to keep the pace slow to keep my knee from flaring up. I was really concerned about even being able to finish the race. After 50 miles on the bike I really didn’t think I would finish, as my knee was really hurting and I just focused on pedaling with my right (pain-free) leg.

Since there was nothing I could do about in the moment, I just stopped thinking about it and after another 20 miles it sorta became numb and the pain was just a dull ache instead of a short-stabbing pain that usually happens, totally bearable.

The run was humbling. Normally my strong suit, after having not put in many miles running or biking in the past 10 weeks on account of injury, I was only able to slowly jog the first 13 miles (around 9:30 min/mile pace) before walking/shuffling the last 13 miles. My knee didn’t cause me too much trouble during the run, my legs were just totally dead overall.

Finishing, however, made me happy and accomplished my goal!

I can’t believe that not even 6 weeks ago I wrote this, essentially giving up all hope of being able to race. At the time it was painful to walk and the thought of doing an Ironman was laughable. My lesson in all this is that sometimes listening to your body’s aches and pains and giving yourself a total rest is the right thing, and other times it’s about getting the FULL STORY on what is actually going on.

In my case, some amazing doctors, a great coach and knowledgeable friends helped me pin-point the issue, treat it and come up with a plan that had a good chance of working…and it did work!

More detailed race report to come later.

Ironman CDA: One Day to Go!

Today featured a morning “race rehearsal” swim (10mins) / bike (15 mins) / run (10 mins) followed by copious amounts of sitting around and not doing much. At an Ironman race, you also drop off all your gear the day before the race, including your bike and both transition bags with bike/run gear. I did that between naps.

For fun, I also drove the “Hayden Loop” of the bike course. This route is fairly technical with plenty of short climbs, sharp turns and some curved roads that you can cruise through with plenty of speed  if you are aware of how the road carries through the corners.

As per my race plan I had a pasta dinner (at 6pm) and will be up at 4:30 for breakfast and down at the race site before 6am. We enter the beach at 6:30am and the cannon (or gun or horn or whatever they use) goes off at 7am. Over 2,500 athletes are here. The swim start will be EPIC!

My spot in T1
Bike to run gear bags for T2
Some new device they are marketing to speed recovery. It is a set of pressurized leg covers that expand and contract to help move fluid through the legs. It feels AWESOME. The contraption costs $1,200.

Ironman Coeur d’Alene Race Plan

If you are not a tri-geek like me…you might not want to bother reading any more of this post :)

Here is my detailed race plan for Ironman CDA. It helps to write things down, even if in these types of races NOTHING seems to go as planned! The act of writing at least gives the illusion of control and some peace of mind. It also gives me a chance to make sure my fueling and pacing strategies are right.

Leaving tomorrow for Idaho.

*****

IMCDA Race Plan. Ravi Raman. 6/26/2011

Overall goal  = FINISH! Anticipated pacing as follows:

·       Swim: 1:10 relaxed and easy, focus on drafting and conserving energy

·       T1: 4 mins

·       Bike: 7hrs with focus on nutrition and keeping knee under control

·       T2: 4 mins

·       Run: 4:30 with focus on a stronger second half of the marathon

·       Estimate time: 12:50

·       The time goals provided are simply for pacing purposes. Until I hit half-way in the marathon I will not be pushing even if I feel great. My singular goal is to finish this race and enjoy the experience.

Friday:

·       5am: Wake up, Yoga in my trailer (yes, I’m staying in a trailer down by the lake!).

·       9am: PT and foam roller, stretching

·       Before Noon: Treatment at ART booth

·       Noon: Lunch – sandwich and fruit

·       Afternoon: Athlete Check-in

·       7pm: Dinner at Macaroni grill (pasta and plain salad)

·       10pm: Bed

Saturday

·       5am: Cliff bar

·       7am: Mini race rehearsal of swim 15min followed by 20min bike and 15min run. A accelerations during each.

·       Recovery drink

·       9am: PT and foam roller, stretching

·       Before Noon: Treatment at ART booth, KT Tape application

·       Noon: Lunch – sandwich and fruit

·       Afternoon: Bike and gear check-in

·       6pm: Dinner at Macaroni grill (pasta – low fiber)

·       9pm: Bed

Sunday: RACE DAY!

·       4am: 1 Cliff Bar + 1 Banana + Coffee (350 cal)  + 24 oz water w/ Nuun

·       7am: Race!

·       Before Midnight: Finish!

Gear T1 Bag (Transition Area)

·       KT Tape

·       2 GU

·       GU Flask

·       Water bottle

Gear T2 Bag (Transition Area)

·       KT Tape

·       2 GU  w/ Caffeine

·       Water bottle

Gear Bike Special Needs

·       Hammer Gel Flask

·       10 Endurolytes

Gear Run Special needs

·       Hammer Gel Flask

·       10 Endurolytes

Morning Nutrition Before the Race

·       Early Pre-Race: 1 Cliff Bar + 1 Banana + Coffee (350 cal)  + 24 oz water w/ Nuun

·       Just Before Swim: 1 GU + Bottle Nuun  (100 cal)

Pre-Race Warm Up and Swim

·       Light yoga/stretching

·       200 yards easy warm up

·       Swim goal is to finish in 1:10 and feel well rested for the bike/run

T1 approach

·       Grab T bag

·       Put on socks, shoes, glasses, helmet

·       Put gel flask in pocket (only drink and eat after 15 minutes of riding)

·       T1 time <4 minutes

Bike strategy

·       Goal is to finish :) in 7 hours and keep under control

·       Watts Avg 122-30 (FTP 175 @70-5%)

·       Nutrition of 300 cal/hr (Hammer Gel + Gu Chomps) + Nuun

·       2 gel + 1/2 chomps pack per hour + 2 endurolytes tab

T2 approach

·       Grab T bag

·       Rack bike and take off helmet

·       Put on visor and shoes  and bodyglide

·       Grab Hammer Gel flask + water bottle

·       T2 time <4 minutes

Run strategy

·       Goal is to finish :) in under 4.5 hours and have an awesome time

·       Strategy to walk every aid station no matter what (until halfway point)

·       Run at 10 min/miles through halfway including walking aid stations (~ 30 seconds/mile)

·       Run at 9 min/miles for last half if feeling great

·       Run: 250 cal/hr (Hammer Gel, cola  & sports drink)

·       First 5 miles: 2 gel + 1 cola/sports drink per hour

·       After 5 miles: switch to all cola + sports drink

Setting Good Goals

Goals. Setting them too high just leads to let-down. Setting them too low leads to no motivation.

The art of setting good goals is to find that happy medium where the thing you are after is big enough to drive you forward but also achievable enough to be within reach. For me, I tend to skew a little towards the “too big” end of the spectrum on purpose. I am more driven to reach for something just out of reach!

Also goals often end up getting clouded by expectations of others or some form of competition. That’s another trap. If you want to run a 5K in under 22 minutes, but are running it with a friend who wants to go under 20 minutes, you might be tempted to make their goal your own. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Equally worse are goals predicated on the performance of others (e.g. the goal being to beat your friend in the 5K). That outcome is impossible to control and can lead to wacky approaches to race preparation. You might even be selling yourself short (maybe you are capable of an 18 minute 5k?)

I always make sure my goals are defined in my own terms, and wholly within my power (barring some big external factor like weather or equipment in the case of a race).

For Ironman CDA this Sunday. My goal is simple = to finish and enjoy the process.

I have zero care about time and am willing to be out there as long as it takes. I know that it will be painful (very painful at times) and know from experience that whenever things get really bad they usually become good (or at least bearable) shortly thereafter. The trick is not giving up when things get bad.

Lake Meridan 2.4 Mile Swim Race 2011

Post race at Lake Meridian.

Last night I hit up the Friday Night Swim Race at Lake Meridian. It was a great event. Pretty low-key with a nice BBQ after (just like Hagg Lake, swimmers know how to do it right).

This event was fun since about a dozen VO2 Multisport athletes (my team) also raced, with many of doing Ironman CDA next week. This was a great race prep session.

My goal was to finish in 1:05. Logic being I did a 1:09 at Hagg Lake and during that race:

  • I sighted very poorly
  • I wore an older wetsuit (that is slower and leaks water)
  • I have had a few extra weeks of training, with lots of open water sessions
  • Know it’s possible for me to swim faster (my last Ironman swim was 1:01)

Well, that didn’t happen, I finished in 1:10.

I’m still happy with the time as the true goal is to make it out of the swim at CDA in around 70 minutes without being super tired. I am confident I can achieve that goal (especially with the massive drafting that happens with 2000 swimmers in an Ironman). However I was really expecting to swim faster so I’ll need to reflect on what I can improve.

Here’s how it all went down:

  • Pre-race: I ended up getting to the race site early. Good idea as there was epic traffic for folks getting there from Seattle (Kent, WA is about 25 miles south of the city). Several athletes got there just minutes before the start.
  • Warm-up: Swam about 5 minutes. The water was not too cold (probably mid 60’s).
  • Course: Two clockwise loops of a large rectangular route. They had multicolored buoy’s (orange, yellow and green). The yellow buoys were furthest away and also the toughest to see. If it wasn’t for the setting sun, signting wouldn’t have been an issue. Definitely a good race for mirrorized goggles to eliminate glare.
  • Start: The field wasn’t that big, I guesstimate 80 people in a deep water start.
  • 1/4 mile: I start at the front and cruise to the first buoy, with some jostling around with others. Nothing violent like an Ironman start, folks were pretty civil.
  • 1/2 mile: Doing a good job drafting. it’s tough to see the buoy’s with the sun directly in line with them. I just follow the feet in front of me and stay relaxed.
  • 1 .2 mile: Rounding a few more buoy’s and complete the first lap, I lose the draft and from here on out pretty must swim alone, with the occasional pass-by that I draft from. Sighting is going pretty well. Feeling good.
  • 1.5 mile: I notice someone drafting behind me for a few hundred yards, I round a buoy and get really disoriented and end up pointing in the wrong direction towards the wrong buoy. Before I go far the person behind me point me in the right direction (thanks David!) and I continue on my way.
  • 1.6 mile: I start feeling cramps in my right calf and also in my right ribs and back! This rarely happens for me. I end up swimming with my right foot flexed from here on out to keep the cramps from coming on full strength.
  • 2.4 mile: I come onto shore and run across the timing mat. Seeing the time, 1:10 I almost don’t believe it. Seems way too slow given my past times and I didn’t feel like I was swimming slow compared to Hagg Lake.

Full results posted here.

Pre-Rae Glamour Shot

Lessons learned:

  • Hydrate well during the day for a night race. I have no doubt this was the cause for my cramps.
  • Fight to stay in the draft, it’s worth a little extra energy early to save a lot later.
  • Swim more. I’ve been swimming for less than 3 months after a 7 year hiatus. I can’t expect to return to my old form without putting in some time.
  • Strength work. After IMCDA I definitely need to put in some more swim-strength specific work with paddles, stretch cords and pull ups along with core work. My aerobic fitness felt fine during the race but arms sure were tired.

One week to Ironman!

Hagg Lake Open Water Swim 2011 Race Report

Swimmers 'warming up' at Hagg Lake.

Yesterday, I played hooky from the World Domination Summit to visit Hagg Lake for an open water swim race. The place was awesome. It’s a big lake in the middle of pretty epic farm country and rolling hills less than 1 hour west of Portland. The roads near the lake are smooth, with big shoulders and not a lot of traffic. I saw a TON of triathletes with fancy bikes and wheels using the parking lots around the lake as staging areas for a long day of training.

The swim featured a few events. 1/2 mile, 1.2 mile (2000 meters) and 2.4 mile (4000 meters and Ironman swim distance). A lot of people did both the 1/2 and the 1.2 mile races. A few did all three. I was contemplating it but in the end just did the 2.4 miler as a test run leading up to Ironman CDA. Even though my knee is still not totally healed, I am going to toe the line at CDA and at least do the swim portion. Maybe more if it heals fast enough.

The 2.4 mile race was the last to go. We started at 10:30am, which was nice not to be half-asleep when the race started. My goal for the swim was to have a solid day of training at hit expected IM pace or faster. I thought a sub 65 minute time would be nice (my last two Ironman swims were right around 60 minutes, but I’m not in that kind of shape yet). My new super hero outfit didn’t arrive in time so I used an old costume (from Quintana Roo).

Waiting to get in the water for the start. There was no beach so we all started from the water.

The course was two ginormous loops (1.2 miles each) around a rhomboidal course (really…it definitely wasn’t a rectangle, don’t know why they didn’t make it a rectangle). It was all left turns and counter-clockwise in direction which suits me fine as I breath on my left so navigating would be easier.

Here’s how it went down

  • 1 hour before swim start: a large number of people are milling about while wearing their wetsuits. I assume they are racing the 1.2 mile event and think nothing of it. I don’t know how big the field is…maybe a 150 or so in the 2.4 mile race? I’m guessing.
  • 50 minutes before swim start: there are still quite a few people wearing wetsuits, but the 1.2 mile event already started and we have a crazy long time before the 2.4 mile start! I guess they just like the way they look in neoprene. I’m half-asleep in the grass listening to my iPod.
  • 30 minutes before swim start: contemplate putting on my wetsuit, as most of the other racers are doing warm ups. I quickly squash the idea and go back to napping.
  • 20 minutes before start: boy, people really take their warm up seriously! Some people are swimming like a mile before the race even starts! I find swimming in cold water as a means of warming a complete oxymoron. The first 500 meters of the race will be my warm up. I go back to napping.
  • 15 minutes before start: I put on my wetsuit.
  • 5 minutes before start: I get in the water. It’s brown near the shore and dark emerald-green elsewhere. Not clear at all, but super clean otherwise. There are almost no waves and temps are not bad at all. It felt like 62 degrees. The sun starts shining!
  • Start: I pretty much start in the front, and 100 people pass me in the first 100 meters. People are sprinting like they are going for an Olympic 100 meter gold medal. Typical.
  • 200 meters: a girl motors by me WITHOUT A WETSUIT! I can’t believe it. She’s the only person I saw without a wetsuit out there. There was a non-wetsuit division for awards but most folks were sane and wore some neoprene.
  • 500 meters: We pass the second buoy and turn hard left. I start passing a crap-load of people who went out way too hard.
  • 800 meters: By this time there are only a couple of people near me and drafting is really tough. The water is so dark and can’t really see their feet to stay close and we keep drifting apart.
  • 1000 meters: By now we are on the far side of the course and the waves are kicking it. Gentle rollers really. Nothing too bad but definitely need to kick harder and work at it to get a clear breath in. Notice I tend to swimming slightly askew. In fact, for the whole race I tended to veer to the right a little between buoys instead of swimming a straight line.
  • 1200 meters: Hit some random piece of wood floating in the water. A branch or something. No big deal.
  • 1400 meters: Realize I’m swimming at a complete tangent from where I should be swimming to. Damn, this is gonna be a long swim.
  • 2000 meters (first loop done): Settle into a rhythm.
  • 2500 meters: my goggle fills up a tiny bit each time I pick my head up to sight. That sucks.
  • 3000 meters: Feel like my wetsuit is waterlogged and bogging me down a little. Arms feel fine. A bit tired but not too bad. Not cold at all.
  • 3500 meters: Clearly see the finish line and attempt to push hard the last 500 meters, but my arms really only have 1 gear at this point, so I stick with it. I’m pretty much swimming alone. In fact, for the entire race I only drafted about 10% of the time (most of it in the first 500 meters).
  • 4000 meters & FINISH:  Get out of the water and run across the little finish line. Felt pretty good. A little whoosy as is normal after swimming hard. Didn’t feel totally dead though. Within a few minutes I felt totally fine.
  • MY TIME = 69 minutes (I don’t know how many seconds, the results aren’t posted online yet). I think I was like 12/25 in my 30-39 age group. Scanning the results that were posted after the race, a sub-hour finish time in the 4000 meter race would be a very respectable time, and would place you well in most age groups.

For reference, the overall men’s winner was a teenager who swam 50 minutes flat (fast!) and the women’s winner did something like 56-57 minutes.

A couple of things that I learned for my next swim race (I’m doing another 2.4 mile race in a couple of weeks).

  1. Make sure goggles have good suction. Mine were too lose to start and filled up a little.
  2. Get a better fitting wetsuit. Done! My TYR Hurricane C5 suite arrived today!
  3. Work on sighting. This includes practicing not sighting too often. I sight every 12 strokes or so. Each time I look up it slows me down, so I need to train to sight less, but more accurately. I also veer slightly to the right as I swim over long distances, not sure why but need to fix it.
  4. Work on drafting. You save a ton of energy drafting. With a small field, it’s tough to hang on a set of legs (unlike Ironman where there are a couple thousand feet to draft from!). However, there is probably some better strategy for drafting in small races that I can employ.

Post race, they had an awesome BBQ, with all swimmers getting free burgers (and veggie burgers) and other food items to go long with the post-race awards ceremony.The sun was shining and everyone was happy.

I highly recommend this race. There were a ton of people there who seemed to be doing their first open water race, and a lot of triathletes prepping for summer race season. The scenery is amazing too. Next year, I’m going to take my bike and follow-up the swim with some riding in the country roads and hills.