Wednesday, May 12, 2010

IMSG: Lessons Learned

I had some time in the States and since I've been back to mull over the race and crystallize my thoughts on what I can take from it. I trained hard and ultimately didn't have the race I was hoping for, especially not on the run, so what did I do right and what can be improved?

These were fast and efficient, much better than what I have done in the past. I thought these through carefully and that helped. The organisation in IMSG is very good - the helpers certainly sped up matters, and I know that I cannot expect this high level of assistance in other races.

2 major benefits are (i) wetsuit strippers - definitely take advantage of these if they are there and (ii) guys taking your bike in T2. In T1 the helper actually put my cycle shoes on for me (we weren't allowed to leave them on the bike).

One lesson is check your bags on the morning of the race. I thought everything was fine after check in the day before, but I discovered after coming out the swim that someone had tied up the strings of my T1 bag. With cold hands this lost me seconds as I tried to undo the knots.

I wanted to wear my race number in the swim, but the organisers asked us not to do this in case it damaged the number. The number seemed waterproof to me, but I did follow their advice.

I also thought of no socks on the run. Test runs without socks gave me chafing and Jack advised against it, so I took this hit in T2 and wore socks. Bunching the socks up before hand so that your toes go straight in and then you pull the rest of the sock on is still pretty quick and much quicker than trying to put on a sock normally.

Used Xtenex Laces - much better than normal elastic laces, as you can customize the fit better.

No socks on the bike - that's just personal preference.

1. Swim time was slower than expected and probably due to swimming longer than necessary (poor sighting) and in too much traffic. Being in too much traffic for a large portion of the early stages of the swim also meant that I couldn't get a smooth rhythm going and that I couldn't find a decent draft until the final K.

There are 2 easy fixes here:
  • seed myself away from the racing line in order to get clear water quickly. I may need to swim further but I think the advantages in being able to swim smoothly, unimpaired will outweigh that. Also more likely to find a good early draft of someone swimming at about 2-3 min faster than I can on my own.
  • tinted goggles if there is the likelihood of swimming into the rising sun
2. Loads of neck chafing. My neck was pretty torn up after the swim. I got someone to do up the suit for me and on reflection they must have been a bit over enthusiastic and left the velcro tab exposed against my neck. Lesson is to check this before getting in the water. Didn't effect my race but was pretty sore afterwards!

My cycling has improved a lot - I have never thought of myself as a cyclist in triathlon terms, I always think damn those cyclists flying past me in races - I'll catch the buggers on the run. This is the first time that my bike was better than both swim and run in terms of AG position (24-13-59). After T2 I was 31st amateur and 10th in AG, so I guess that makes me one of the 'cyclists' now.

There is still a lot to gain though, I need to be able to perform at this level and higher, but still be able to execute a strong run. My average power was 198 and normalized 210. My race weight is 68kg so that's 2.9 W/kg. I think to be truly competitive, power needs to increase to an average of 220 but also giving me plenty of energy left for the marathon. Of course this wouldn't be competitive in the big european races, but I'm unlikely to go to them to try and qualify.

Pacing strategy - I think this is where it went wrong. I averaged 220W for the first 40K before the first loop, which is slightly higher than planned. First loop averaged 203W and second loop 185W which were fine within my strategy - need to dig a little deeper here and look at time spent in power zones:

Zone Power Time Time (%)
Zero Watts 0 00:14:01 4.10%
Recovery 0 - 150 00:29:19 8.57%
Endurance 151 - 170 00:33:55 9.92%
Threshold 171 - 190 00:55:36 16.26%
Race Pace 191 - 210 01:02:38 18.32%
Max 211 - 260 01:47:29 31.44%
Supra Max 261+ 00:38:54 11.38%

OK well that seems to paint a picture. I spent too much time in the max zone above target race pace - that was actually my biggest zone by a margin. Also 39 mins over 260W sounds high - there's a lot of climbing on this course so that might not actually be too bad. Not sure will need to check with coach.

What else? Well I did feel some discomfort on the bike especially on the second loop, and power dropped a noticeable amount. I noticed it was hard for me to keep my head up wearing the aero helmet, my neck just got tired and it was often easier to look down (see picture). The lesson here is I don't think I trained enough in aero for the long rides - I did a lot of training on the road bike. I think getting very comfortable on 5 hour solo TT rides will make a marked difference. Solo because then the effort is honest and also because that is better training for the mind - I always find the long rides harder alone and that's where you're gonna be on race day (unless of course you're in a 30 strong drafting pack and if you're doing that then you've totally missed the point my friend).

On the bike I took:
  • 7 x TORQ gels (2 with caffeine - guarana)
  • a half TORQ bar
  • 2 x 500ml Infinit Ride
  • 2 x 500ml water
  • about 200ml Gatorade (tasted real strong to me)
On the run:
  • 3 x HI5 Isogel
  • Coke every aid station (each 1 mile)
  • about 3 x 200ml water (hand held water bottle)
  • a half banana
In special needs I had 3 more isogels which I ignored, mentally I couldn't face them when I got to the 13m point.

QUESTION: was the meltdown due to insufficient nutrition? I don't think so. As soon as I got out on the run I was not performing - my half split was 1:57, way below what I had hoped for on this course. I would conservatively estimate my standalone marathon ability coming into this race at 2:55 and I should have been capable of 3:30 on race day - I was a long way off potential.

Also if it was nutrition, then being able to load up and recover would have been possible, however I never really recovered from the bonk. I did finish strong but that was prob more the downhill, the proximity to the finish and the fact that I had had excessive rest over the preceding 8 miles or so!

My big disappointment of the day was not producing a solid marathon performance.

I underestimated the true impact of the hills. In most of my bricks I am running on flat roads and I found it easy to get into a rhythm and basically recover on the run before putting the work in. The problem here is that the hills didn't allow me to do that - I was simply not prepared for hill running.

I trained a fair amount with hills in Cape Town and did improve, however if I look back to that time I have to admit I didn't actually run the hills themselves that well, I always recovered quickly on the flat and got into a good pace. But there isn't any flat in St George. If I do this race again I think I would need to turn myself into a hill runner and do my bricks on similar climbs to the first 3 miles on the IMSG course. Box Hill comes to mind as perfect for this, also Camps Bay Drive in Cape Town.

The other issue was mental approach. I caved on the day, had a fair amount of negative noise going on in my head and was too quick to let go of a strong race. There are dark periods in everybody's race, even the pros, the top guys, there will be times when your goals look completely unachievable - it is important to forget this and focus on the here and now and being the best you can be. I knew all this, but I hadn't trained myself to actually do it. I don't want to labour this point, but I think this is a key area I can address over the next 12 months.

It's easy for me to tear apart this race, but it's worthwhile looking at what went right too. First and foremost one of the key results I wanted from this race was to be 'in the mix'. I wanted to prove that I was not unrealistic in my hopes for Kona qualification. I had told plenty of people about my plans, and I guess a fear for me coming into this race was if I was basically nowhere. Talking about Kona is one thing, doing what it takes to get there is something else entirely.

I was certainly in the mix and a top 20 in AG is not bad at all, considering I did that with a poor marathon. I do concede that this race did not have the exceptional depth of the european races and that I need to take it to the next level to get my slot.

What I can take away is that I am close and another year's careful preparation will give me excellent qualification potential.


  1. Houston - looks to me like you are closing in. Me likes. My 2 cents worth:-

    Swim - stay out of the crowds for 200 metres and then re-enter the mix when the adrenaline has normalised for all. You'll be amazed how easy it feels when you join the draft. The pace always settles after the first buoy (wherever that may be).

    Bike - beware Shermans neck on the bike. Practise makes perfect. Neck tension means a non-relaxed state so you cannnot unleash on the run.

    Run - you are a good runner. Your time will come.

    Summary - I am amazed you took such little nutrition on the bike. Add up the calories and see if you bonked cos of zero fuel. I take about the same food on the bike PLUS: 1 x half banana, 2 x energy bars, 1 x bottle cytomax (special needs), 1 x bottle powerade (from aid station), 1 x Mars Bar, 1 x Smarties, 1 x winegums. Either you are not taking enough, or (quite possibly), I'm taking too much!

    In my view, which means a lot in my family :o), not enough fuel is the primary cause to bonking and not being able to run.

    Loving the race info. Thanks compadre.

  2. Thanks Robby I'll take those points on board. Need to review the nutrition and practise taking more food on my long rides.

    I've entered IMUK (1 August) to gain a bit more experience this year and hopefully put together a race with a decent run.

  3. There is not enough glory in IMUK. It's a hard man's race. The pasta is lousy and the weather too temperamental. Beware the hills!!


    Read this and thought of Houston's next attempt on Kona :o)