Wednesday, May 11, 2011

IMSG 2011 Race Report

I got to the swim start well rested, uninjured and up for a good day's racing - you can't say fairer than that. Weather conditions were thankfully mild at this stage with about 18C water temp and little wind. On a few days leading up to the race, the temp was 12C with pumping winds and white capped waves on the reservoir so the conditions were on my side at this stage.

My goals this year were very different from last year. In 2010 I was only really concerned with qualification and, when I felt that my race was going south, my mind started to give up on me which meant for a very long and painful marathon. This year I just removed that stress - my main goals for the day were to race strong throughout and have a solid marathon at the end. By solid I meant my best effort with staying mentally strong, nothing to do with position, pace or time. If qualification happened, that would be a bonus.

My key lessons from last year were to improve mental form and nutrition (both day to day and race day specific). Without going into too much detail on the nutrition aspect, I can say I'm happy that my diet is now much healthier and supportive of physical fitness.

The Swim
Last year I made the mistake of placing myself centrally to the front, and so spent the first 1k of the swim battling the washing machine of other athletes. This year I seeded myself to the right of the starting line - in fact I had zero contact on the whole course. The water was calm and I had a very smooth and easy swim. For the most part I swam by myself, but caught a draft for the last 800m or so.

I had done a lot of swimming and my times had come down a good deal in the pool after a couple months of master's sessions in Jan & Feb. As such I was a little disappointed to come out of the water in 62:45, a full minute slower than last year and one of my slowest IM swim splits. 4 years of focused swim training and my swim times haven't budged an inch. Awesome.

Well I reckon part of it is I just took it too easy. It did feel like a low effort - perhaps a lack of recent race experience has made me lazy in the water. On the plus side, conserving energy early on with this course is a very strong strategy, because the real work comes much later in the day.

Transition was quick, almost exactly the same as 2010. The wetsuit strippers really help!

The Bike
I was mentally prepared for a brutal day on the bike, with pumping winds and cold conditions early on. As it happened, it was very mild to start with and in fact the wind was in the opposite direction to last year. This meant there was no headwind on the long ascent to Veyo, but a headwind on the downhill sections back to town. As such you are working for the whole day, but I'll take that wind direction any day. The bike times were about 10-15 mins faster than last year, and what can be a really tough course didn't feel too bad. One day the winds will be blowing at IMSG and I'm happy I won't be there to experience it.

My race strategy was to keep everything in check til the end of the first loop, and then if I was feeling good, pick it up. Also I planned to alternate PVM bars and gels every 30 mins. That worked OK for the first couple of hours, but then I couldn't eat the bars any more and so stuck with gels and water. I drank a fair amount of water as the temperatures gradually escalated through the day. I did start with energy drink, but like the bars, I couldn't stomach it after the half way point of the ride. Total food was 3 bars, 8 gels, 1 bottle energy drink and about 2.5 bottles water.

Around 40 miles in, a M45-49 AGer took me, and we swapped over a couple of times when he said "Looks like we're gonna be doing this most of the day". He wasn't wrong - we stayed pretty close and certainly it helped to pace off him, and when he slowed, go ahead and swap roles. No drafting mind! In fact that's one of the great things about a tough bike course - I didn't see any drafting out there.

I did the opening section to the first loop in about 1:05 and then the loop in about 2:05, I was on for a much quicker time than last year. One thing I didn't have though was power data. Last year I rented Zipps with Powertap, this year I had my own pair of Fast Forwards but no power meter. That's fine for me during the race, but it's a shame not to have it for post race analysis.

As I got on to the second loop, I felt OK, but not so good that I could open it up further, so I just decided to hold it together and save myself for the run. My second loop was about 2:10 with an additional few minutes down to T2 - excellent even pacing. In the final hour I did feel a little uncomfortable with some lower back pain and tiredness, but nothing like 2010. Last year I did 5:39, this year 5:25 - that's probably an equivalent performance given the easier cycle conditions this year. Average HR was 151 - that surprised me, obviously I was putting in the work out there.

T2 was pretty quick, but I needed to pee, so the time stretched out to 4 mins. That pee felt like it lasted forever, probably not surprising as that was actually my only loo break all race. People will probably say that means I was dehydrated, but my bladder just seems to shut down during a race - actually it's a pretty good time saver.

The Run
In T2 I handed my bike to a catcher and about 20s later I realised I left my Garmin on the bike. I thought for a split second about going back to get it and then thought forget it. I knew I didn't want any feedback in the race, but it would have been great for post race data. Oh well.

Coming out onto the course I started the gradual ascent to the first real climb. A M40-45 AGer asked if he could run with me on this section and I said sure. He started chatting away very hospitably and I chatted back, but all the time thinking, you know I really don't want to talk right now. I was feeling uncomfortable more or less right from the start of the run and I realised pretty quickly that actually what I needed to do was just slow down and collect myself. The AGer soon moved away - I hope he finished as strong as he started that run. At the new pace I started to feel better.

In training in SA with heat and wind and hills I practised what I call 'appropriate pace'. This is simple - it's just the pace that feels right and comfortable. It's not the pace you WANT to go, it's the pace you CAN go. The other key element is to be happy with that pace and not beat yourself up about it. BTW this doesn't work for shorter races - in those circumstances it's supposed to hurt!

Those first few miles felt slow and I thought to myself, damn this is not going to be easy, this is going to be a long ugly slog. The temperature had risen to 33C+ and out on the road with zero shade and the red rock reflecting the sun, I reckon the temps escalated higher than that. These are pretty much my nightmare conditions - at 35C my body starts to shut down and my pace falls off dramatically. Give me a cold drizzly day in the UK and I'm firing on all cylinders, but out in the desert it's a different story.

The godsend were the aid stations - they're every mile, very well manned and have all the key options: sponges, water, ice, coke, energy drink, gels and more besides. I played every trick in the book to keep cool. At every aid station I drank water, I took sponges and doused myself, I threw water on my head and body, I drank coke and then I took ice and put it either in my run cap, down my tri top or even on a couple occasions down my tri shorts. I did all this without needing to walk. I would try to have some ice to hold in my hand when leaving the aid station and would run with that, every so often taking a bit of ice and eating it, crunching down on the cooling refreshing goodness. I also ran with a small water bottle in my other hand, which I topped up every so often. Even with stations just 1 mile apart I really needed to sip water in between to keep me going. I know if those aid stations had been further apart or less well stocked, I would have been in real trouble.

I only managed 3 gels on the whole run. I planned to eat more but I had to make a big mental effort to take even them - I had zero appetite for them. I think it was enough - I did not feel light headed at any time, a clear indicator of depleted energy.

After the first hard climb up Red Hills Parkway, the course leveled off and I found I could pick up my pace to something that felt much more normal. I started to catch people and get into a rhythm. I realised that it's so important to just keep going, no matter how slow it seems, because sometimes it comes round and you do start to feel better. I found this was consistent in the race - on the flat and downhill I started to catch people, and then on the uphills my pace went way down and people started to come past me. There wasn't anything I could do about it, it wasn't a mental issue, it was physical. The only thing I can conclude is that I'm not a hill runner, especially not in an IM marathon. My strength as a runner seems to be nullified by the hills, even with all the hill training I did in Jan/Feb/Mar (I did a lot!).

I came through the half in 1:46, although I had no idea about that, having left my Garmin in T2. That's pretty respectable even if it did feel real slow. Unfortunately I couldn't maintain the pace and I slowed on the second lap. I don't think I messed up my pacing, I didn't go too hard on the bike, or the first lap of the run. My dad asked me afterward why I slowed on the second lap and the answer I gave then seems about right: "Dad, you know what? I was just plain tired". The attrition of the heat and hills just wore me down.

What I am most proud of is that I kept going, I never gave up and I was determined to give my best effort. On that second loop I did catch guys, and yes guys passed me too. Running down the final big climb before the turn around I looked over and saw Meredith Kessler, at that point the second placed female and with almost 40 IMs under her belt, walking up the hill. Wow, so it's not just me then I thought. I found out later that when she got to the top of that climb, 22 miles into the run and downhill all the way home, she collapsed and when she woke up she was in the med tent.

When I got to that climb, my pace was so pitiful I tried 'power walking' but I had to concede that was even slower and so got back into my marginally faster than walking run. Getting to the top of that climb, I knew my legs would come back and my goal was just to give it everything for the 4 miles downhill to the finish. Everything hurt, my legs, my head, my core especially but I picked it up and started to catch people ahead of me. Way back at the beginning of the run, one guy in my AG came past and on his trisuit it said 'Powered by Christ'. Now I remember at the time thinking that was a bit unfair - surely that's some kind of doping, having the Son of God giving you a performance enhancer? Anyhow I ran past him walking, so maybe he hadn't been saying his prayers often enough.

I was so happy to come into the finish chute and I made sure to savour the experience too. I had no idea of my time and was frankly delighted to see 10:26 up on the timer. 34 minutes faster than last year. My second half had been 2:05 for a marathon time of 3:51. Not too great, but I knew I gave it everything and I couldn't have gone faster on the day. I also knew I hadn't qualified but this year I really didn't mind - I gave it my best race and on the day that fell short. Maybe that story's not over yet, time will tell.

Round Up
I achieved all my key goals out here on a tough day. I raced intelligently and I raced with a strong positive attitude. I think a very strong field turned up here which made my time look slow. I was 34 mins quicker and 5 places lower down M35-39 (from 17th in 2010 to 22nd this year). I actually came 81st overall, whereas last year I was 101st. I count this as my best ironman performance, even if I've gone faster or placed higher in others.

As an indicator check out these details: The M35-39 winner Fabrice Houzelle finished in 9:26. He came 2nd in AG in Kona with 9:05 last year. 4th place, Declan Doyle finished in 9:41 - he was 16th in AG in Kona with 9:21. The guy who came 21st in front of me, John Marinovich, who qualified at this race last year in 7th, did 9:48 at Kona. About 1 of every 5 who started this race did not finish (18% DNF).

10th place, who I think took the final slot, did 10:06, so I was 20 mins out. Last year 10:36 was good enough for a slot and 10:04 won M35-39.

If you want to test yourself and you didn't get a place at the last Lanza IM this year (and you're not crazy enough to take on Norseman), then consider a trip to St George. One thing though - don't ask me to join you!

Section Split AG Overall
Swim 1:02:45 26 148
T1 0:02:43 9 59
After T1 1:05:29 21 115
Bike 5:25:32 20 81
After Bike 6:31:01 19 66
T2 0:03:56 64 341
After T2 6:34:57 18 68
Run 3:51:25 32 136
Total 10:26:22 22 81

224 athletes in AG finished from 321 signed up
1310 athletes overall finished from 1926 signed up (around 1600 started)

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations Howard... I think a great journey of discovery and def a few lessons for me to learn from this approach!