Saturday, September 18, 2010

2010: Post Ironman - Into the Woods

After Ironman, Adrienne and I headed North to relax on the lake. I found a beautiful vintage bike manufactured by Columbia at a rustic bike shop in Minocoqua. The trip was wonderful and it gave me some time to reflect on my Ironman race. At a recent Gear-Grinder gathering, the team manager thought I'd be happier now that the Kona monkey is off my back. When I said "kinda of" he didn't seem to get why. Personally, Ironman has been about reaching potential. A 9:50, although fast, is far off my ability.

I've been reflecting on my mindset as the race unfolded. Why did I find myself cruising the marathon? Why did I decide to ease off on the bike, I mean really ease off?

Matt Fitzgerald wrote a very interesting article in early 2010 for Triathlete magazine. One part is particularly relevant:

This explanation seems much more plausible than the first, but there is actually no good evidence that those athletes who produce the fastest run times in Ironman races hold back more on the bike than their fellow competitors. In fact, contrary to popular belief, elite Ironman triathletes really don’t hold back at all on the bike. If riding at 80 or 90 percent of capacity (relative to the distance of 112 miles) were normal and necessary at the elite level of Ironman racing, then you would see at least one clown fly off the front and complete the bike leg 10 or 20 percent faster than the real contenders (which would translate to 30 to 60 minutes). Even if it were suicidal, people would still do it for a moment of glory. It’s human nature. But this never happens. Why? Because elite triathletes actually ride the Ironman bike leg at something closer to 98 percent of their maximum capacity (meaning they would ride only five to 10 minutes faster in a pure 112-mile time trial). sentiments exactly. At Ironman this year, I did exactly this. I rode too easy. By riding 10-25 minutes slower, I was hoping to run even faster to recoup ground lost. And if you read my race report, you'd see I did just that, kinda of. The hiccup started with the penalty, but it was more. The penalty shifted me into ultra-conservative mode. It transformed me from the racing mode to the "come on Matt, let's play it safe. You got one penalty, you can't afford to have any one." The result was I never dug deep, smiled a little more to the fans (I have to work on that some more according my family), and crossed the finish line as if I did something challenging but hardly hard.

When I was cruising into T2, I thought about shooting for a 3:00 run split, but found myself saying to myself why? It wasn't needed, I wasn't fighting for first amateur at that point. I wasn't even in contention for top three amateur. The penalty plus the lackluster bike performance just put me too far behind.

So what can I learn from this. When the bike fitness is verifiable, use it for goodness sake. But at IMWI, I had reservations about pushing the bike even with Brunold and Kurian dragging my arse around for five weeks. When thinking back, Door County HIM certainly put into perspective holding back on the bike, but when looking at the overall results, I did not PR the distance. "If" Pigman was a decent day, I could of sorted out mentally just how good my bike fitness was in relation to having a good run. The other demon haunting me going into IM and during the race, was that I just put too much time in the off season working on my run fitness just to burn all the matches by a blazing bike split leading to another 3:30 run. How slow of a bike split was I willing to have inorder to run what I considered a good time? My basic absolute bottom (BAB) expectation was a 5:30 bike split. Any slower, I would be disappointed. And for the run, I wanted 3:15 or faster. At the day's end, I hit my BAB benchmarks.

If I was a coach, coaching Matt A, I would say to him, "You did a great job. You displayed patience, the ability to handle the challenges of IM racing, and follow through with execution. You proved to yourself that the benchmark of sub-10 is easily within yourself. For the next 8 months, focus on consistent training and letting yourself get sharp for the short course racing that you want to do. Then, in 2012, lets attack another Ironman with the goal of having a wicked bike and run split." I better listen to that coach.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

2010: Ironman Wisconsin

Sensible. After taking a few steps back after last year's Ironman Louisville experience, I took some extraordinary measures to change my life. First, I got a new job. For that, I couldn't be happier. It changed my head space to contentment and fulfilment. A number of fellow triathletes were instrumental in making that happen and for that, I am grateful. The next big change was finding my own groove when it came to training and racing. When starting out as a novice, the books, the interviews, the Q&A with others attempted to supplement my inexperience. However, as the game goes on, nothing beats experience. This time around, I felt confident.

. Training this year focused solely around Ironman Wisconsin. I dabbled with equipment, raced with and without aero-equipment early in the season, played around with nutrition, tweaked my bike fit a lot, switched from a compact crank to standard, went for some soul-crushing bike rides with those that are clearly better than me, and attempted some PR splits. The highlights of those adventures would be:

1. American TTT - I went into the event with minimal bike training, and raced with bad tires and no aero equipment. Wow, I was working harder than most people around me.

2. Door County HIM - How fast can I run? I ran a 1:21 half-marathon split. Applicable lesson was by biking "very" under controlled, I can run with the very best of them.

3. Pigman HIM - How fast can I bike? I biked a 2:19, while making a few pacing errors in the process. Biking too hard, especially in the heat, leads to a tough run. So tough that it's really not fun.

These three things shaped the way for Ironman Wisconsin. A pacing mistake, from my perspective, is the worst type of mistake a racer can make. My overall "A" goal range was 9:15-9:45. On the one end was a time that would risk an atomic bomb type of explosion, and on the other hand, a sensible outlook. The day proved, by a matter of circumstances, a sensible one.

Sensible. Adrienne and I started the swim together on the left side right near the turn buoy. When the cannon went off, we had clean water with a great group of swimmers around us. Everybody was courteous. The pace was strong for less than 50 yards before we all settled into a 54-56 minute IM pace. It was my easiest IM swim yet.

I exited at 56 low without breaking a sweat. (Two years prior, I exited the water in 53 low and was hurting. It made for a really long day despite the good overall time.) Transition went smoothly and before long, I was out biking.

Biking the stick, as we affectionately refer to the segment between the Monona Terrace and Verona before starting two loops, was easy. So easy, that I knew I was tapered right and that I swam well within my means. I was biking with two other guys who seem interested in having a good bike split. I was happy to join them.

Interject: The day before the race. I had breakfast with a fellow friend doing the race who was also the host for Pro Eric Bean. He and I had a good discussion about powermeters and heart rate monitors. His argument was for using them in training, but not for racing. It convinced me, so I raced without any technology. It was a good move.

Myself and two others cruised the stick managing to catch a number of riders. It wasn't long before I caught my training partner Scott Bowe. At that particular moment, I wasn't sure if he was holding back or off to a rough start (At the end of the day, he killed all us by biking with uncanny even power, and backing it up with a 3:09 run). Then came the hiccup.

Sensible. Penalties are bad. I got one. The details are unimportant. I served my four minute time penalty in Cross Plains. Shortly after receiving my penalty, the strongest age-group racers caught me (Joe Kurian, Mike Lavery) on the way to Mount Horeb. Thomas Brunold did not catch me until after Cross Plains, by then I did my time. Going into the race, I knew that if I wanted to mix it up with the fastest guys, I would need to ride near them on the bike. Given that I swim 4-8 minutes faster than them, I could afford to hold even on the bike, and by biking a 5:15'ish, be only a few minutes down when starting the run. Given I had a penalty, that plan was down the tubes. From there on, I simply dialled down my effort to the point where I was saying to myself "this is easy and I don't mind it being easy." My Door County HIM experience was still fresh in my mind.

Sensible. I came into transition 2, well behind the leaders, and surprisingly, behind a number of local guys that put out some really incredible bike splits. By the time I got my CEP compression socks on, I was a ways back.

Sensible. When a pro tells you that he runs the first three miles really easy. He means it. I took Bean's pre-race advice to heart and ran the first three miles easy. Actually the first 13 miles weren't much trouble. I held 7:15-7:20s without any grimacing. When I came up on a spector who was spotting for me, he said I wasn't gaining any time on Scott Bowe, I replied "Well, I'm running 7:20s!" and thinking that either Scott is going to Rock star the race or blowup soon. For the second loop, I started having more coke, than water or Powerbar drink. The stomach felt fine the entire time, I had a salt tablet nearly every mile. No hints of side-stitches. I did feel some sloshing coming on, but took a gel and that prevented it.

Eventually, I caught and passed everybody I thought I would minus Scott. I put together a 3:15 marathon and finished with my wits. This was the most fun I had while "doing" an Ironman. The other two times were filled with some really low points mentally and physically.

Last year, I wrote:

"My future in Ironman racing is uncertain. I feel that there is much work to be done both physically and mentally to hit the ceiling. But like most hobbies, it's just for fun and if something else comes along that fosters the same feelings as racing I might just hang up the swim cap and goggles, sell the bikes, and use the running shoes to mow the lawn."

I took some flak for that statement. This time around, I'll say I thoroughly enjoyed the training and the race. The people surrounding the event make the journey worth while, especially my wife Adrienne. That darn girl is nearly as fast as me and she also got a Kona slot. So, next year we'll both be at Kona, Hawaii. My training partner Scott nearly won my age group as well. He'll be there as well.

Swim - 56
Bike - 5:29 (including 4 minute penalty)
Run - 3:15
Total 9:50
36th Overall
6th Age Group 30-34
Awarded Kona Slot

Things to Remember:
- 2 Cliff Bars, 1 Powerbar Harvest for breakfast, then bottle of EFS Pre-Race
- Bilaterally breathe when swimming. If I can't, it means I'm pushing too hard.
- In bike special needs bag, think about having a Red Bull in a water bottle and drinking it a mile 80.
- No caffeine for two weeks prior to an IM to increase sensitivity.
- First Endurance Liquid shot (15 of them) in water bottle topped off with water was fine. I had 19 in there but could only mustered down approx 15 of them.
- First Endurance EFS was fine for the first bottle on the bike frame, but after that grab water at the aid stations to wash down the Liquid shot.
- Mixing it up between water, Powerbar drink, coke at all the run aid stations was effective.
- Pee'd once on the bike, once on the run.
- Salt Stick tablets (26) in the MM's container tucked into jersey worked fine for the run.
- Konawi Tri-suit, CEP compression socks, Visor, no heart rate monitor, Nike Lunar Glide shoes (best shoes ever for me), LG aero helmet, Planet X Stealth Size Medium, Planet X Tubular 82-101 combo, rear cassette 11-27.

Special Thanks to:
- Gear Grinder
- Planet X Bikes USA
- Emery's Bike Shops
- Scott Bowe, Joe Kurian, Jeff May, Mike Pierson
- Lane Brostrom, Eric Bean
- Travis Evenson and Paula Skoy-Evenson
- TriWisconsin

1-7:24 2-7:01 3-7:22 4-7:21
5-7:11 6-7:18 7-7:16 8-7:18
9-7:21 10-7:23 11-7:36 12-7:35
13-7:35 14-7:35 15-7:35 16-7:43
17-7:42 18-7:42 19-7:36 20-7:39
21-7:47 22-7:52 23-7:53 24-7:54
25-7:40 26-7:23