Wednesday, August 4, 2010

IMUK: Post Race Analysis

If you're not into stats, skip this post - it's boring as hell! This is one for me and my coach.

On balance I am really happy with this race and I think it was my best executed race since my first, IMWA back in 2007. It's interesting to look at why that might be and the correlations between these 2 races, and the differences with the races in between when I didn't get my race strategy right. But first I'm going to break down the elements of the race and see if there is anything I can learn about what went right and what I can improve.

With this being UK based and not an A race, I decided to go to Bolton on the Friday with the plan of registering then and racking Saturday. Due to some poor planning I ended up leaving London later than I would have liked - about 11AM. The journey was miserable - I hit traffic on the M25, many parts of the M1 and most of the M6. The last 50 miles of the trip took me 2 hours and the total time was 8 hours!

This meant I missed registration and arrived in Bolton tired and frustrated. Thankfully I did take plenty of food with me and so grazed most of the way up, although this was prob a little more fruit heavy than I would have liked. A winning move was hooking up with friends Anton & Christian and their families, who kindly cooked Fri & Sat evenings and so I had a chance to relax when I actually got into Bolton.

Saturday the plan was practice swim, registration, racking, lunch and then race briefing 5PM. The Bolton course is very spread out - registration (and T1 of course) is down by the swim, T2 is 15 miles away at Rivington, briefings are at the Reebok stadium, which is somewhere between the 2 transitions and the finish is in Bolton town centre. I was staying quite close to the Reebok, as that was where we would catch coaches in the morning to take us to the start. So executing my seemingly simple Saturday plan actually resulted in probably another 4-5 hours in the car and by the time I got to the race briefing at 5PM I felt like I hadn't really had much rest all day.

Leaving early doors on Fri and getting registration out of the way would have helped. The other option is going up Thu - prob not a bad idea if you're planning to hit this race hard.

Sleep: no problems here - out like a light Fri & Sat.
Food: good pasta meals Fri & Sat, and a decent lunch Sat
Race day breakfast: porridge + honey, bagel + honey, banana, 400ml Torq Recovery

Made it to the start line: M3539 207 competitors out of a total 1,115

Section Split M3539 Overall
Swim 58:12 21 93
T1 5:57 61 278
Bike 6:11:44 36 129
T2 2:21 6 32
Run 3:28:41 18 72
Total 10:46:57 20 79

Relative Position:
Section M3539 Overall
Exit Swim 21 93
Exit T1 24 104
Exit Bike 27 103
Exit T2 25 99
Exit Run 20 79

I had a great swim - I scoped out the course on Sat AM and made intelligent decisions on where to start to avoid the initial mayhem. It makes a big difference to swim in clear water - you go faster, you're relaxed and don't expend unnecessary energy early in the race. I went out strong for about 150m and then settled into a rhythm. Didn't bother with drafts unless they happened to be there, focused more on swimming easy and with good technique.

The deep water start here was a 5 min swim from shore and the entry point to the water is quite narrow. People didn't want to get in the water too early - add all this together and what you get is a lot of people not on the start line when the horn sounds. I knew this would happen and ensured I was where I needed to be. I had about 8 mins treading water but that was fine - water temp was 18C+.

Out of the water, I immediately found a clear spot and took off my wetsuit - this is because the water in the suit makes it easier to get the arms and legs out. My balance was not great - I should have held on to something to help me. No wetsuit strippers, just a volunteer who kindly told me I should keep running - er, thanks, perhaps rather than just standing there you could help me? I ignored them and kept my thoughts to myself.

I didn't really have a sense of urgency in T1 and also due to the weather there were decisions to be made on extra clothing. I chose correctly with just arm warmers. Shoes in my bag, not on the bike (haven't practised that), and race belt in the bag too. Maybe a few seconds there, although IMSG won't let you have the shoes on the bike. Pee break - LONG pee break! Not sure if there's anything I can do about that - maybe try harder to pee before the race? I don't think I'm going to be exploring on-bike evac anytime soon, and besides in some races that can be a time penalty offense.

Equipment: P3, aero helmet, Powertap, training wheels with Ultra Gatorskin tyres
Saddle bag: 2x tubes, 3x gas canister, 1 gas inflator, 2x tyre levers, mini puncture repair kit, mini bike tool (total weight 615g)

Hmm - the saddle bag is nearly as heavy as a high end front race wheel! Next IM I am on tubbies, so maybe there are some weight savings there. Canisters are 60g ea, tubes about 100g, bike tool 100g.

Wheels: Front 1290g, Back 1830g - that powertap is heavy! Next year I plan to get race wheels with tubbies and sell the PT to replace with Metrigear which I think could save me as much as 1kg here, and that's not even thinking about the aerodynamic advantages. Metrigear measure power from the pedals - an awesome idea, only problem is they haven't released their product yet!

When I got home I saw that a spoke had broken on my front wheel - I told you the course surface was rough! Although when I tested this AM this was totally throwing off the tracking causing the rim to rub the brakes, I didn't notice any issues during the race, and certainly no rubbing - a bit lucky there..

Clothing: 2 piece (important for toilet breaks), arm warmers. The tri top was chafing underarm on the run so that needs to get swapped out. No socks on the bike, socks on the run (works for me..). Opted for bulkier training shoes rather than racing flats - I'm just not ready for them yet.

2183m climbing, 184K, temp mild, wind moderate.
I found the bike quite hard and got uncomfortable early on - I haven't really had enough training post Utah and only did a couple of 5 hour aero rides in the lead up. Just 5 weeks pre race I was cycling like a school girl. As I have said my recovery from Utah was taking much longer than expected and I opted for downtime rather than trying to push through - I think this was ultimately a pretty good decision. In the 3 weeks pre race I started to feel OK, not peaking by any stretch, but thinking that I might not actually die a death out there.

Stats: I don't have HR as my PT heart rate strap only works with the PT bike computer, so to get HR for the whole race I would need to wear 2 straps. I'm not doing that. The other option is to buy Garmin watch/strap/bike computer which would be compatible with whatever power system I have. I'll think about whether spending all that cash is worth it. I guess then I would have elevation too..

My weight on race day was around 66kg - this is definitely on the light side and partially due to my diet change (more on that later) - optimally I think 70kg with the extra 4kg lean muscle sounds about right. 6 weeks before race day I tested my body fat and that came out as just over 5% - again low! Not sure how accurate the reading was but hey, there you go. My race average power was 187W and normalized 203W with 80 cadence and a total expenditure of 4183Kj. In Utah my average was 198W and normalized 210W.  Normalized is a better indicator of effort as it smooths out some of the variability caused by terrain and weather.  Surprisingly this shows a pretty similar output between Utah and Bolton - I thought my bike pacing strategy killed me in Utah, maybe that wasn't so much the case..

Section Distance Time Power Normalized Cadence
T1 to Adlington 25k 00:48:30 208 213 88
Loop 1 52k 01:44:00 195 209 81
Loop 2 52k 01:48:00 175 192 78
Loop 3 52k 01:44:30 182 201 78

You may note the distances don't add to 184k (what my clock registered) - that's because there's an extra few K after you've completed loop 3 through to the finish. Now what is interesting and doesn't come out above is the last 20K. There my power was 213W, normalised 228W with cadence 85 - I was very happy with that!

So what's the picture here? Well there's a definite drop off mid race on lap 2 which corresponds with my dark patch. It would have been around then when I covered up my power indicator with tape, because I didn't like what it was telling me. I picked it up on the final lap and finished well. I think I did a good job of containing myself early on - OK the numbers are higher then, but if I didn't try to dial it back they probably would have said 240 or something crazy. Perhaps I could have made more of an effort to stay below 200.

Power zones: the ones below correspond closer to what my coach actually gives me - in my Utah write up the ranges were a bit off:

Zone Power Time Time (%)
Zero Watts 0 00:19:05 5.32%
Recovery 0 - 160 01:24:25 22.66%
Functional Endurance 161 - 180 00:52:16 14.03%
Intense Endurance 181 - 205 01:09:14 18.58%
Race Pace 206 - 225 00:47:04 12.63%
Tempo 226 - 255 00:48:04 12.90%
Steady State+ 256+ 00:51:39 13.86%

Bike Summary: given my fitness in the build up, I think this went really well. After the race I was thinking I had had a soft bike - it certainly felt that way with what seemed like loads of athletes gunning past me. In actuality if you look at the relative positions above, my actual position in the race did not change much - we always notice the guys coming past but rarely register those we pass ourselves.

On the bike I took:
  • 10 x TORQ gels (2 with caffeine - 89mg ea) 114 kcal ea
  • a TORQ bar 232 kcal ea
  • 2 x 500ml Torq Energy 175 kcal ea
  • 1 x 400ml Gatorade (~130 kcal)
  • 1 x 500ml water
  • TOTAL =  1852 kcal
On the run:
  • 3 x HI5 Isogel (88 kcal ea)
  • 3 x 200ml Pepsi (84 kcal ea - about 21mg caffeine ea)
  • 2 x 200ml water
  • TOTAL = 516 kcal
I estimate I took over 500 kcal more on the bike than in Utah - on the run I took about the same as Utah.  Prob slightly less fluid but it was much cooler in Bolton.  Looking at the figures above it strikes me how much caffeine there is in those gels.  Even though they taste gross, I'm thinking I might want to make more use of them and also try them late in the run.  A massive 89mg - you would need to consume almost a litre of Pepsi to replicate that.  If I can stomach them at that stage, caffeine gels and water is a better strategy than coke, which comes as news to me.

The effect of the caffeine on the last 20K of the bike was very surprising.  Maybe I should take them earlier in the bike say at about 4 hours, and then also have a couple for the second half of the run.

The other consideration was day to day nutrition.  As I mentioned in a previous post I changed my diet for health and performance reasons 2 months ago.  I was concerned about my initial weight loss on that reduced carb diet and also whether it would adversely impact my athletic ability.  I'm not worried about that anymore - in fact I'm pretty certain it contributed to a faster result on the day.  I do need to get back some lean muscle mass, but recommencing weight training will no doubt sort that out (I basically haven't done any post Utah).

459m ascent during the final leg

Because of the lack of mile markers it's very difficult to assess the fluctuations in my pace (another reason for getting Garmin?).  After last year there were plenty of comments about lack of markers (which apparently had been stolen!).  This year we were told they had heard the athlete's feedback and got mile markers and plans for how to ensure they stayed where they were meant to be.  I think 'could do better' is on their report card for this year - there were markers at 3, 7, 10, 15 and 23.  I didn't see 7 until the second loop so it wasn't a lot of use to me.

For me, the only irritation with this is not getting regular mile splits for post race analysis.  I don't look at my watch during the marathon - I just don't want to know.  I know how I feel and can pretty accurately estimate my required effort level.  I'm not going to look at my watch and think, oh I should run 30 seconds a mile faster now - yeah good luck with that.  And if I'm slowing down, well then guess what, I know already and I don't need my watch to tell me by how much.  I looked at my watch once - at 23 miles to see if I had a chance of breaking 11.  Thankfully the news I got was good.

MileSplit Pace
30:18:00 6:00
100:48:26 6:55
150:41:55 8:23
231:14:37 9:20
26.2 25:358:00

Now the big problem here is I have zero confidence that the mile markers were accurately placed, which pretty much makes the stats above close to meaningless.  For example I was not running 6 minute miles coming out of T2.  Sure I felt great and I was running well, but was I running 2:37 marathon pace?  All I can say is the man who measured that part of the course probably gave his wife some pretty inaccurate information before he managed to get her in bed for the first time.

7 min miling to mile 10 is actually more like it - this was predominantly on a down gradient and I was running well at this stage.  Miles 11 to 18.5 are going back up this climb, so mid to high 8s would also seem about right.  8 for the final section is possible too as the course goes quite sharply down (despite one nasty uphill) and I could smell home.

I have heard murmurings that maybe the marathon was short.  Personally I just don't want to to think about that - as far as I'm concerned I ran sub 3:30.  I can live with a short swim and long bike, but a short run cuts to the quick of what I am most proud of on the day.

Is there anything I can learn here?  Did I go out too hard?  You know, I don't think so - I felt good and I kept myself in check, I could have run a fair bit harder in the first half, but then I would have blown in the second.  I slowed because I was fatigued, not because I paced poorly, and you have to remember the mid section of the run is uphill so I would naturally slow.  Accurate mile splits would tell the true story, but I don't have those.

I was losing ground in the last 8 miles, but that was maybe 6 places overall at best.  In the ideal world I would close the marathon strong and take down a bunch of people - maybe at peak fitness I will be able to do just that.

In the weeks running up to this event my mental outlook on the race was none too positive and I didn't work on some of the mental techniques I had resolved to after Utah. I was experiencing some mild burnout and made a conscious decision to back right off. I missed workouts and just did enough to keep ticking over. In training my buddies were peaking for their races and killing me, so I did some rides by myself so as not to get too badly beasted.

This rest helped and with about 3 weeks to go, I felt OK. Not peaking by a long way, but basically not feeling bad either. I began to look forward to the race. A massive plus was there was zero pressure on me. I couldn't care about position or time, I just wanted to have a solid second half to the marathon. This zero pressure mirrors my other strong race, my first one IMWA in 2007.

Probably where this counts is easy pacing early in the day - a relaxed swim, and an even paced bike - any guys that passed me I just ignored and focused on my effort level. Just let them go. Today I'm not racing, I'm on a long training day. That doesn't mean slacking, just being solid.

There were 2 main techniques I wanted to try out on race day:
  1. Quiet the Mind
  2. Own the Mat
The second of those sounds a bit funky - that's gonna be my next blog post, so stay tuned if you want to find out what that's all about. Quiet the mind is pretty simple - just quiet down all the chatter in your head, especially the negative stuff. Stay in the now and forget about what's happened in the race, what you've got ahead of you, how bad you feel. This takes practice - I find it helps to focus on your breathing, just observe your breath in and out, maybe count breathes. Just that. Feel the wind, listen to the bike, zone out a bit. The single best thing I did all day was cover up my power indicator and stop the negative feedback I was getting from it. That freed me up to just relax and do my job.

I'm no expert, I have to practice this technique a lot more, but I'm happy with how I did it on the day. I resisted the negative thoughts and didn't fall apart. On the marathon you can bet I was hurting out there late in the day, but I just thought all I need to do is keep going. The pace is OK just stay with it and before you know it you'll be close to home and then it's just a case of a final push.

The great thing about this technique is you can practice it anywhere - not just your swim, bike and runs but also whenever you feel stressed, at work or at home. Even if you feel fine, just practice emptying your mind of all the chatter. I got this from Mark Allen - listen to his interviews on Competitor Radio, to find out how The Grip used this to pull off his most famous victories.

  • scope the swim carefully beforehand and swim off the racing line
  • don't expect help during transitions - if you get some great, otherwise get on with it
  • power is good info for the first 1-2 hrs of the bike, after that cover it up and go on feel
  • more nutrition on the bike works!
  • caffeine gels are rocket fuel - try using them earlier on the bike and in the second half of the run
  • get a new tri top - the current one chafes when running
  • look at weight saving tactics on the bike (saddle bag / wheels / power meter)
  • need to do much more work on the mental game
  • sometimes making a dumbass move like entering IMUK because you were disappointed with your race earlier in the season can actually be a really good decision after all!


  1. For what it's worth I recently got a Garmin 305 and it's a fantastic bit of kit. 310 would be the tri version.

  2. Mate I think you may have hit the nail on the head there - the price is none too crazy and basically looks like it does everything I want it to. Will also be great when I'm away from home to know how far I've run and what the splits were. Think I'll start writing Santa my letter..

  3. A friend has the 310, which he has used for swimmimg. His perspective is that the proper water resistance is nice, but the measurements in the water are extremely inaccurate (likely because your arm is moving so much). The 310 also has a couple of other snazzier features like calorie calculation that's linked to heart rate, rather than only distance & elevation. However, the 305 is cheap enough that it's not a major investment, and you won't cry too hard if you break or lose it. Whatever you do, don't get the 405 though, they have major problems.

  4. Solid race report. Thanks for sharing the info - very helpful.That's a great time and looks like a well paced race. Sometimes you have to try different things and this experiment worked out well.

    Here's my strategy to avoid having to pee in T1:-stop drinking an hour before the race, little sips are ok. Have a pee in the wetsuit during warm up. Have a pee during the swim - usually lap 2. And voila - you avoid the T1 pee. IMtalk reckon Molina can pee while running?! There is still much to learn!