Winning an Age Group National Title in the small chainring

One of the things I try to in still in my athletes is the importance of dealing with an adverse situation by keeping calm and not panicking.  When things happen it’s important to do a quick systems check, figure out what is going on, and what the options are for dealing with it.  My experience in the Challenge Wanaka Half (TriNZ Mid Distance Champs) was completely my fault, something that could have been simply avoided, but I am proud of how I accepted it, and coped through the day….younger Rob may have done something different.  For something that could have impacted the performance significantly, I don’t think I was at much of a disadvantage.

If you take one thing away from this blog let it be this….MAKE SURE YOUR Di2 BATTERY IS FULLY CHARGED, something my mother will now remind me of before every race.

Watch this video

Challenge Wanaka (Full) in 2016 was one of those races that nearly finished me.  I wasn’t super motivated to return, despite it being set in one of the most scenic locations you could put a Triathlon.  For some reason the conditions on the day and the brutality of the course was such that I wasn’t really motivated to come back to race here again.  I had gone through a scary panic attack in the swim that morning and I never really got back to my happy place through the whole day.  Step forward 2 years and I seemed to have forgotten that feeling.  Sure, this time I wasn’t here to race the full, but instead the half.  But after this weekend’s racing I’m pretty sure I will be back to have another crack for many more years to come.

As soon as Triathlon NZ announced this was to be the National Mid-Distance Championships I was already looking forward to returning.  I had won the title for my Age Group in 2017 at the Port of Tauranga Half Ironman, and I liked the idea of defending it…that was the motivation I wanted to be able to finish my 2017/2018 season satisfied.  I knew this wasn’t going to be an easy task as uber-biker Shane Vincent had signed up, and he had won my Age Group at the Sprint Champs 1 week prior in Kinloch, where I finished 3rd a couple of minutes behind.  I knew I would beat him out of the water, and I expected him to gap me by a decent margin on the bike, but I had backed myself for a strong run, and had visualised running him down in the final few KM’s.

How did the day pan out??  Let’s just say, some Rookie errors by both Shane and Myself influenced the day significantly.

I had made a tactical, quite risky, and possibly foolish decision to only come down with a Disc rear wheel and a Trispoke for the front.  Race predictions with the www.bestbikesplit.com website suggested that this was the best wheel option for the forecasted weather, however the nature of sub-alpine climates such as in Wanaka is you just don’t know what you might get.  The race officials were talking about possibly banning disc wheels if the wind conditions were severe enough….that would have stuffed me right up. PI2L9QsgSmGo58hHMHqMPg

A morning swim the day before the race with Foot Traffic Pro Athlete Rebecca Clarke suggested it was going to be quite a difficult day.  I did a short ride on the course later that morning, to check the bike was working fine, and the disc wheel wasn’t behaving too bad so I was a bit less anxious.  My anxiety came back at me later that day when I had my bike checked and one of the officials remarked “You’re not using that wheel are you?”  I confidently bit back with “I’ve ridden it in much worse conditions before, besides its the front wheel depth people should be more concerned about and my trispoke is so narrow and has a very small profile that it will be sweet.”  Of course I knew I’d be fine, I just didn’t want to be questioned of my decision.  A quick phone call to my good mate and training partner Brodie Madgwick put my mind at ease when he said “Just set the spinnaker and hold on”.  That was perfect really, as it meant I had to be confident and aggressive all day, just how I wanted to race.

Funny how conditions can change though, the morning dawned fine and with a very light breeze across the lake, pretty much flattening it out and making it completely different to the day before.  My wheel decision was vindicated and I knew that this was going to be a great day.

I was determined not to have a repeat of my panic attack in 2016 (which I think was partly caused by an inadequate warm-up), so about 20 minutes before the start I dived into the cool lake and had a decent splash around.  Body felt good, nerves were low and I was ready.  As soon as the pro women took off I swam out to the start buoys as I wanted to be on the front left of the line, and didn’t want to be late to the party and have to work through the crowd.  I was surprised how casual everyone was getting out there, nothing like the high octane energy races I’d had early in the year, in particular Kona and Tauranga Half which are always quite crowded and aggressive.

Count down….BANG!

We were off.  Straight away a couple of fast swimmers took it out hard and I carried their wake for a bit until they pulled ahead, then I watched the right side of the course moving ahead of me.  I was still happy where I was as I knew I had the straightest line, and eventually I would meet them at the turn buoy.  A small group formed and I was with them for a bit, until the slowly pulled away, I recognised a few of the guys in that group and was a bit disappointed I couldn’t hold them.  Once I was about 2/3 of the way through I found I was at the front of a large group, and there was another good sized one about 50m ahead of me, so I decided to have a dig and swim across to them.  I managed to catch them about 200m from the finish and I was surprised to recognise the same guys from the group that had dropped me earlier…it seemed I just hadn’t warmed up quite enough.

I came out of the water in a sharp 29mins, which I was very happy wiht.  Thanks to my 2018 Blue Seventy Helix for some extra swim speed there.

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I was quick through transition as I wanted to gap the group I exited the water with, and was on the bike solo.  The rain had started falling but I didn’t really notice it.  Feet in shoes, Power Meter on and straight into my work.  As I hit a small climb out of town I dropped to my small chainring, crested it and then went to change back up again, only to be greeted with…..NOTHING!  No way, I knew exactly what had happened here, my Di2 battery was nearly empty.  How could this be, I had checked the battery light before I left home and had removed the battery for the flight so it didn’t drain, but clearly there wasn’t enough power in it.  Fortunately with Shimano Di2 it will stop the front derailleur  from changing, but still allows use of the rear gears, but I didn’t know how long that would last.  Could I get 90km out of it?  I will just have to find out.  I even stopped to ask a roadside mechanic if he had a spare battery with him, which he didn’t….carry on as I was.

There was no need to panic here, I played it cool, figured out a plan and stuck with it.  A quick check behind me revealed I had pulled away from a few guys I left transition with, and was catching some ahead, so I was still in good gears to ride the power I wanted.  The frustrating thing was that it meant I would spend a lot of the time in my 36×12 or 11, which puts the chain on an angle and rubs the cage of the front derailleur. Whilst I was pedalling at about 120RPM down a hill Shane Vincent came flying past me and gapped me within seconds, I couldn’t even react, I had no more gears and just watched him go off in the distance.  He must have thought I was such an idiot being in my small chainring down a hill.

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My biggest concern was that I had to ration my gear changes out as I didn’t know when the battery was really going to die on me.  I didn’t want to be left in too low a gear, so I spent most of the ride in my 3 smallest cogs on the back, being very conservative on gear changes, which meant I ended up riding the hills out of the saddle at a high power to get up them, I could really feel my quads loading up here and was a bit worried as to the consequences of this.  I knew this was going to use a lot more energy, so I increased my carb intake significantly, getting ready for the eventual explosion/hitting of wall.  I had a few guys around me but I would pull away up the climbs as I was in a stupid big gear, and they would fly by me on the descents as I was in a stupid low (but the same) gear!

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Once we hit the Hawea flats there was a slight cross tail wind, and I think this is where the disc wheel/trispoke combination really benefitted me, as I rode away from the guys I had been riding with!  I was pedalling well over 100RPM, and I feel great doing it, just being reminded of my stupidity by the terrible sound of my chain scraping on the derrailier.  I was now beginning to think that this super low gear situation may actually be not as bad for me as I expected it to be.  Could this be a blessing in disguise, sure I was missing out on extra speed not having access to a big chainring, but was I saving my legs by not over-gearing myself?

At about the 70km mark I decided to start using lower gears on the climb as I knew I was close enough to home that if the battery went dead I could still ride it out, and I wanted to save my legs a bit more as cramps in my quads were beginning to haunt me.  A quick check of my TSS showed I was already at 220 (about 30 points more than I had planned to be), so this was becoming an energy sapping ride – lucky I had decided to increase my carbs earlier in the race.  The last section through town went pretty quickly, and I was relieved to finally get off the bike without any further mechanical drama’s.  One thing I wasn’t aware of was by this time Shane Vincent had punctured, and didn’t have a spare tubular, so I was now in the lead of my Age Group, despite thinking I was still second.

I rode 2:33 and had a normalised power of 288, and average cadence of 88rpm.

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Starting the run my legs felt great and I was moving smoothly.  I started getting some very slight cramps in my quads, but a few Margarita Clif Bloks (extra sodium) soon dealt to the cramps and I was into my work.  I was following my run power closely, and wanted to hold 280-285w.  I don’t have pace visible on my watch, just power and time, although I have each KM split come up, so I have a fairly good idea of my run pace.  I was surprised to be ticking over quite comfortably between 4:00-4:10/km for the first few kms.  Following power output is a lot more reliable and useful than looking at pace, especially on a technical course such as along the Outlet Track as it has such varied terrain.  Power is an absolute measure of effort, where as pace is determined by many different factors that can’t be influenced by the runner.

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As I hit Gun Road Kellee was sideline telling me I was leading my AG, and that Shane didn’t finish the bike.  She told me I had a 6 minute lead, and just to keep running strong.  At this point I was beginning to feel a bit tired and noticing the effects of the hard ride.  My power was now dropping, and despite how hard I was trying I couldn’t get the target up to where I wanted it to be.  But that didn’t matter, I knew I wasn’t going to get caught from behind, so I just focused on my form and tried to catch my athlete Rebecca Clarke in front of me, who was currently 7th in the Elite Womens race….as it turned out, she was running well and I couldn’t catch her.  I managed to keep moving ahead of 2nd in my Age Group and finished with a 9 minute margin.

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The run took me 1:32, and ironically was the same average power as the bike, 278w.

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My overall time of 4:41 shows it isn’t a fast course, especially when Javier Gomez ‘only’ goes 3:57 to win it.  This is a tough honest race with amazing scenery and some testing wind conditions, the sort of course I love, and perfect for the NZ Championships.  I’d love to come back here next year to race again, and I can highly recommend it to anyone wanting to combine a race and a holiday at the same time, as there are so many things to do in the Wanaka region.

In terms of lessons learned, clearly charging my Di2 battery is a fairly important one, but equally so is knowing that just because something isn’t going as planned it isn’t the end of the race.  Problems can be dealt with quickly and easily, and don’t always end in a negative outcome.

I’m looking forward to watching Ironman New Zealand next weekend.  I’m sure some people will have things not quite go to plan, so I’m hopeful that my experience helps that person cope with it on race day.

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Ironman Cairns….Bring on Kona

Earlier this year I hadn’t really put much thought into going back to Ironman Kona, I’ve been there twice so I was happy.  However after my disappointing DNF at Ironman NZ in March we decided that we would just go over to watch as I had a few athletes I coach and mates who had qualified for 2017, and then suddenly the threat of FOMO kicked in.  I decided I wanted to join in the fun and race there too.  The best (and cheapest) option for me to qualify was at Ironman Cairns as it was the Asia-Pacific Champs, and had a massive 75 spots on offer.  Last year my AG (40-44) had 9 spots, and the final spot was just shy of 9:50.  I was still dealing with a 4 month Achilles tendon injury, but I thought if I could get 2 months of running in then I should be able to get safely under 9:50.

So Kellee and I were off to Cairns, with one goal in mind…..KONA QUALIFICATION.  I wasn’t focusing on anything else, whatever came with it was going to be a bonus.  As it happened I got the spot, but not without a few points where I had to make a few race defining decisions.  Ironman is not a walk in the park and there are always a few things that happen to test us.  I constantly tell my athletes not to panic on race day when things don’t go to plan, it was good to see if I would heed my own advice.

I was fortunate that Foot Traffic Coach and Professional Ironman Mark Bowstead had some space at his accomodation.  It was actually great to see how the Pro’s deal with race week, I reckon I was more relaxed and rested for this race than I’ve ever been…Mark seems an expert at race week prep and resting, and I benefited from being around him (he finished 8th in 8:16).

I’d had a good chat to my mate and training partner Brodie Madgwick, the day before the race, who had cleared my head about a few things.  I was worried that I hadn’t done enough training, but his advice was to not focus on that, instead to stay in control all day and focus on being inside the top 9, and then with 10km to go in the run let it go and get stuck into racing.  I really liked the idea of this, basically spend about 9 hours enjoying it, and then the rest of it hating myself….I could do that.

 

Race morning was dawning and before we knew it we were in Kellee’s Dad’s car boosting it to Palm Beach where the swim and T1 is located.  T2 and the finish is in Cairns, so there was a bit of traveling to work around the split race venue.  It’s a nice leisurely start, with the Pro’s starting at 7:35 and the rest of the field from 7:45.

The weather in the days prior had been pretty mild, but quite windy.  Race day was still meant to be a bit blustery but with some cloud cover.  I wasn’t too worried about this as the wind makes the tougher, and with my cycle training having gone well in the build up I wanted to have an advantage here.  Because of my Achilles injury I wasn’t able to run as much as I’d like, but my biking had ramped up quite a bit.

The race had a rolling start which is a new trend for most Ironman races around the world now.  It’s intended to spread the start out so it’s not as crowded early on.  I’m not really a fan of this method as straight away you don’t know where you are placed in the field.  I was about 30seconds behind the first athletes going in, so I knew I’d be near the front.  In the end it wasn’t too bad racing in this format, but I still prefer a single start wave.

Watching the Pro men and women swimming out I could see they were getting drifted a fair bit to the left, so with this in mind I adjusted my line to the first turn buoy.  Having not swum in the sea for a month or so, and being in a brand new Blue Seventy Helix I was a bit apprehensive about going out too hard.  After the first 100m or so I was feeling good so settled into my rhythm and quickly found some feet to swim on.  It was fairly choppy (not Kohi swim choppy but still a decent roll).  The swim felt like it took forever, and I think the chop took more time than I expected, and it seemed many of the AGers were slower than expected.

Running out of the water I saw the time on my watch was 1:02, arggh, that’s about 5 mins slower than I was expecting.  But I reminded myself that today was all about qualifying, and not going for time, this was going to be an enjoyable day out.  Running out of transition I wasn’t in a rush, just being smooth and efficient.

Once on the bike I quickly settled into my target of 225w (75% of FTP).  This was going to be the power I’d need to hold to deliver myself to the start of the run in the best possible shape without giving up too much time.  One of the good things about the rolling start is the fact it wasn’t crowded getting on the bike.  I was quickly into my rhythm and had some clear space on the road.  After about 15km a few similar guys had come together and I had a nice line to follow, always keeping my power in check, and not being too worried if it dropped down.  I wasn’t going to get trapped into a bike race today as I had done in previous Ironman races.  I was super paranoid of getting a drafting penalty so sat well back, which incidentally meant I was getting pushed further back as people would pass me and drop into the gapping space between me and the bike in front, but I was cool with this, I was still riding at 36kph.  I wanted to maintain 16:00-16:30 per 10km to be hitting around 5 hours for the bike time, and this was happening so I wasn’t stressed.  I noted there were about 4 or 5 guys with the ‘K’ on their leg which meant they were in the same Age Group as me, so i made sure I knew where they were the whole time.  I sat back and watched what was going on up front.

The bike course is a little bit lumpy in the middle so I tested the legs on a few of the climbs and found many of the guys were good on the flat, but not really on the hills, so I stored this fact in the back of my mind knowing it might come in handy later in the ride.

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At the 80km mark we reached Special Needs and I had a drink bottle with Ketone’s and MCT powder in it to pick up.  This drink was a key strategy for me, and I had finished my first bottle, so I was looking forward to picking it up.  Slowing down and calling my number out no one stuck their hand out to give me the bag.  Suddenly I had gone past!  So I had to stop, turn around and ride back to the bags, a lady found it and started WALKING towards me.  I didn’t get annoyed, these people are volunteers, and do it to help us out, so I took my bottle, thanked her and took off knowing I had to get a wriggle on.  Suddenly the security of my nice pace line had gone and I was on my own, with a few dribs and drabs around me, but no one I wanted to ride with.

The Special Needs is at the bottom of the Rex’s Lookout Climb, which is about 2mins long.  I knew I was climbing well, so I decided I’d have to burn a match here to get back to the guys I was with.  For the climb I averaged 370w, peaking at 798w, which was well over my acceptable maximum of 280w on the climbs.  I bolted past a few guys, but as I crested the hill I noticed I still hadn’t been able to bridge across completely with, the guys I had around me were the ones getting dropped.  Down the other side I pushed hard and decided that I could give myself 10mins at 295w before having to resign myself to the fact I won’t get back those the guys in my AG.  Fortunately I got myself back to the group and quickly downed a gel to replenish what I had spent in burning that match.  They were still riding at 36-37kph, so it was a welcome respite to the 40+kph I had been turning myself inside out for.  I wasn’t too worried about that effort, it was similar to the work I had been doing during my intervals in training, but I knew I had to be respectful of it for later in the day.  This was about 3 hours into the ride, and a bit sooner than I’d hoped to have to dig deep.  I went to have a swig of my newly replaced Ketone mix and the bloody bottle was gone!  Somewhere in my haste to chase back I had lost my all important bottle, and the reason I had lost the group in the first place!  Ironman was testing me again, and how I dealt with this was going to determine the success of my day.  So I switched to pulling fuel off the race course.  I have a strong gut so it was no problem to start drinking and eating something else.

Nothing much else happened for the rest of the ride, there were only about 4 or 5 of us remaining.  I pushed a few of the hills a bit harder and managed to shake some guys who were sitting on a bit, so it was just me and another guy in my Age Group taking even turns to keep the pace where it needed to be.  As we reached the 150km mark we rode up on a few people who were in a pace line, but because the lane was narrowed due to being part of the main highway I moved to the front to stay away from a drafting situation.  I knew that the 10km splits had consistently been around 16 minute so it was going to be well inside 5 hours, which would be the first time I had gone under that mark.  There was no way I was going to roll in a few seconds slower than that, so I decided to keep the squeeze on coming into the town section.

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Entering into T2 I stopped my computer at 4:56, which was about 7 minutes faster than I had gone in an Ironman before.  Ironman Cairns isn’t a particularly fast course, there are a few hills, and some twists and turns, but there are also plenty of flat fast sections.  The wind was blowing a bit in some exposed places, but it wasn’t crazy, nothing like Ironman NZ this year.  This was the first time I had really raced my Specialized S-Works Shiv with a Hed Stinger Disc wheel on the back and a Nimble Trispoke on the front.  I think it was the perfect setup for that course, and there were some points where I really felt a positive lift from the wheel on the back, it almost felt like someone was pushing me from my saddle.

In the end my Average Power was 225, and Normalized Power was 240w.  This was a bit higher than I had planned, but the 10mins near threshold, would have driven it up a fair bit.  Intensity Factor was 0.80, which is on the high side for an Age Grouper.  My Variable Intensity was 1.06 which was also a bit higher than planned, but due to the surges I’m not surprised.  My TSS was 315, about 35 higher than ideal, so I knew I was going to have to be a bit careful on the run.

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Starting the run I was very cautious, but the old adrenaline got the better of me, and for a few KM was was running under 4:40/km.  I had a plan to stick to 5:00/km for the first 30km.  In training I hadn’t run over 2 hours, and I had only been over 1:45 once as I didn’t want to risk pushing the run mileage due to only having 8 weeks to run.  I quickly put the brakes on my pace and settled back to what felt like a more manageable pace, and I felt comfortable.  As I left T2 Kellee told me I was 10th in my AG!  I was quite surprised, I was certain that a ride under 5:00 would have me closer to the front of the Age Group, so I was in stress mode for the whole run.  Pretty soon in I had been passed by 2 guys, and resisted going with them, which was good as I passed them back again about 20km later.

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I really enjoyed the run, Andy Smith took the above pic at a time I was running well.  I had been going well, and had moved up to 6th in my Age Group so felt I was safe.  Good, as I was beginning to run out of runningness, and needed this race to be over.  I was desperate to go for a pee, normally I can go happily while running, but for some reason this wasn’t happening today.  I was getting pretty bad stomach cramps, so made the difficult decision to stop at the port-a-loo.  It felt like I was there for about 10 minutes while my bladder emptied.  Once I was out and back running I felt a lot better, so I think this was a very good decision to make.

I had one of my athletes (Malcolm Cleland) just behind me all day, and he was steaming along.  I had noticed at the turn arounds he had pulled back some time on me, and I knew the catch was inevitable.  I came sooner than I had hoped, around the 30km mark.  Not much I could do about it, I was waiting until the 32km mark before going at it, and frankly my legs weren’t letting me go any faster.  I let Malcolm go, and hoped I would catch him back before the finish.  Knowing it takes about 20 mins to feel the effect of caffeine I necked a Clif Espresso Double Caffeine gel at 32km and started to go deep.

The final 10km actually went quite well.  Kellee told me I was in 6th still but I couldn’t let anyone else past.  All of a sudden 2 guys with K on their legs slipped by and they were running a lot faster than me, after 40km of running I had nothing else I could throw at it.  I knew I was still pretty safe for a spot, so I focused on catching my man Malcs.  I could see I was slowly pulling him back, but as i entered the finish chute I was about 10 seconds short.  I was stoked for Malcolm as he had a frustrating day a few weeks earlier at Ironman Port MacQuarie and he took 43 minutes off his previous best time.

Check the finish line vid:

(https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B34dQP6x6mXXMTE3c25iVFVTYU0)

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I crossed in 9:34:14 with a run of 3:28.  I went into the racing thinking I was good for something under 3:30, so I was right on target for that.  I was 8th in my Age Group which was enough for a Kona spot.  The time was less than a minute off my best, so on a short run build I was really happy to hit it.

So here I am looking at the season ahead.  I am racing the Long Course Worlds in Canada in August, and then 6 weeks later I’ll race Ironman Kona, so there is heaps to look forward to.  There’s a great group of athletes around me racing Kona too this year, so there’s going to be some awesome training in the winter ahead.

Catch you later,

The First Timer’s Ironman Run

It was a privilege for me to talk at the First Timers Seminar hosted by the Ironman New Zealand management team.  We had a decent number of people attending, but also had a large number watching through Facebook Live.  Here’s a link to the ‘Ironman in New Zealand’ Facebook page where you can watch the video.

I was there to talk specifically about the run leg.  I was joined on the panel by fellow Triathlon Coach Andrew Mackay from Boost Coaching, who was talking about the swim leg, and Ben Marshall from Performance Bicycle Tuning , who was talking about the bike leg.

I have summarized my talk below.  These points are the ‘golden rules’, they are just things I feel are useful to keep in mind.  Please feel free to ask questions, comment or add any tips you may have.  They are in no particular order, just the order I spoke about on the night.

  • Have fun! – Don’t take things too seriously.  The day will be so much more enjoyable for you if you allow yourself to smile and laugh with other competitors or spectators.
  • Don’t focus too much on the distance – A marathon is a long way, but on race day if you shut the distance out of your mind and just think of it as a run off the bike, which finishes when you cross the line, then it doesn’t seem as daunting.
  • Break the run into achievable segments – As you pass through each segment you can focus on the next one, you will be surprised how quickly the run goes when you tackle it in little chunks.
  • Your fueling is vitally important – Just because you are on the run and you have fueled well on the bike it doesn’t mean you can let things slide.  You are still going to be running for somewhere between 50% to 100% of the duration of the bike (even more for some), so you still need to keep the tank topped up.  By now you will be taking on different things to your bike fuel, so make sure you have tried various things in training.  Even a few km’s from the finish you don’t want to neglect your fuel, I have seen many people struggle badly in the closing stages of the race.
  • You won’t know how you are going to feel so have a plan for various scenarios – It is very difficult to prepare for the way you are likely to feel in an Ironman run.  Not many of us have the time or energy to train for up to 8 hours before starting a training run.  You will find ways to simulate this through accumulating fatigue over a number of days.  Have a plan for various scenarios and learn what works for you and what doesn’t
  • Your mind is what will get to you to the finish – Your body may have had enough a few hours ago, but you know how much you have invested in this Ironman project, and what it means to you.  That should be motivation enough to just keep pushing.  You can build mental toughness by performing difficult and challenging sessions in training.
  • Don’t try to run the full distance in training – Trust me, if you have been able to run a couple of hours in training your body isn’t going to stop at that point on race day.  Don’t stress yourself about pushing over 2:30 in training.  Some might be able to do this, but they aren’t really benefiting themselves much more, in fact they may even be doing more damage.  If you are nervous about running for a long period of time then try Split Run Day’s, this is where you run in the morning and then run the same distance or duration in the evening.  It’s a great way to get your volume up without putting too much acute stress on your body.
  • Running a marathon before an Ironman isn’t a necessity – This seems to concern people a lot.  The training and recovery for a marathon is too great for you to be able to back up with a successful Triathlon season following.  Most marathons fall at a time when you really need to be focusing on increasing your cycling volume.  Leave the marathon goal for a year you aren’t doing an Ironman.
  • Avoid running on hard surfaces as much as possible – This is really important.  Don’t assume that because the Ironman is all on road that you must do all your training on that surface.  A lot of the top Ironman athletes around the world will do up to 80% of their weekly volume on soft surfaces, and only leaving tarmac runs for very special occasions (tempo sessions, race simulations etc).  Hard surfaces are a sure way to get an overuse injury, and an injury is a sure way to not achieve your race day goals.
  • Be realistic with what you are able to achieve in training – Just because your mates Coach has them doing 5 runs a week totaling 90km doesn’t mean you should be.  You have to stick what your body is capable of doing and learning how to get the most from these sessions.
  • Don’t be too ambitious when you start the run – I have never seen people run out of T2 at a rate of knots and hold it.  Even Cam Brown builds into the run, often people will try and run away from him but he has proven time after time that a slower start and a fast finish wins the race.  Treat the first 4km of the run as your slowest, and build into a manageable pace from there.

If you are planning for an Ironman this season and you are interested in our Coaching services visit the Foot Traffic Coaching website

The 7 stages of data loss. How does one deal with it?

Picture this…..I’m rolling into my driveway after 218km on the bike, nearly a full day of work for a normal person.  This has been one of my longest rides, which was on epic course with a massive amount of climbing, and a really cool crew.  I was looking forward to checking out the Power and Heart Rate data produced throughout the day as sessions like this hardly come by, but lets face it, more importantly I was wanting to upload it to Strava and gain some serious bragging rights (admit it, I’m not the only one who thinks this way).

Before I had even taken my cycle shoes off I was busily syncing my bike computer to my laptop through the usual process.  But for some reason during my caffeine fueled, slightly hypoglycaemic and slightly woozy stooper I noticed my cycle computer had shifted to reset mode (I don’t really know what happened, so let’s assume User Error).  I had that sinking feeling that I imagine someone mistakenly transferring millions of dollars to the wrong bank account would have.  Oh yes, this had just happened.  All data was deleted from my device, including the ‘Grand Tour stage’ I had just ridden.

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How did I deal with it?  Firstly I told Social Media, searching for sympathy, then I thought about it a bit and wrote this blog.  The common theme from the online community….”If it’s not on Strava the session didn’t exist.”  And to be honest, I have said this plenty of times before, never expecting that one day it would be me pleading for sympathy and some miraculous solution.  So perhaps next time I won’t be so hasty with my taunts of others who suffer this same fate.

There are some distinct stages that one passes through when this sort of thing happens, so I thought I would highlight them, and give a few of tips on how to deal with it.  Actually it’s worth reading on as there is quite useful stuff you can take away from this.

Stage 1:  Shock & Denial

You will most likely react to loss of your data with numbed disbelief. You are likely to firstly deny the reality of the loss in order to avoid the pain. This may last for a few hours, and for some of you maybe days.  But seriously, you have to move through this stage rapidly to ease the trauma to your family members and training partners.  It’s highly likely that they won’t really care about it, and most certainly are going to make fun of you for it, so ready yourself for the reality of this.

Stage 2: Pain & Guilt

As the shock wears off, it is replaced with the suffering of unbelievable pain.  This is a deep visceral pain, it is a culmination of the stress and strain from the previous hours and hours of exercise concentrated into a very small nugget which passes through every aching, fatigued muscle fibre.  Although excruciating and almost unbearable, it is important that you experience the pain fully, and not hide it, avoid it or escape from it with coffee, pies and Cronuts.  Just hope this pain passes quickly.  You will have guilty feelings or remorse over Strava segments you would have knocked off, Peak Power Top 10’s you would have reached and average speeds you would have maintained.  There is no way of proving this, it’s just your word, and how convincing you can be of it to those who care enough to listen.  This is a chaotic and scary phase.

Stage 3: Anger & Bargaining

Frustration gives way to anger, and you may lash out and lay unwarranted blame for the loss on someone else.  Perhaps you feel a loved one or training partner played an evil trick on you and tampered with your device, deleting the file on purpose. Please try to control this, as permanent damage to your relationships may result. Don’t throw things at a wall or tap erratically at your cycle computer’s buttons.  This is a time for the release of bottled up emotion, but keep it to a level where you know that damaging expensive cycle componentry or equipment isn’t going to occur.

You may rail against fate, questioning “Why me?” You may also try to bargain in vain with Online Support Forums, Help Desks and Facebook groups but you are highly likely to come across the dreaded words “Sorry, User Error, your data is gone.”

 

Stage 4: Depression, Reflection and Loneliness

A long period of sad reflection will likely overtake you as you enter this stage. No doubt you will think you are the only person having gone through a traumatic incident such as this.  During this time, you finally realize the true magnitude of your loss, and it depresses you. You may resort to telling Social Media about your issues (I did), looking for support from your online friends.  You may start reflecting on things you experienced during the session such as quad destroying climbs and vicious cross-winds.  You will probably call some of the crew you were training with in that session, seeking support and affirmation of your great achievement.  You may sense feelings of emptiness or despair, and may start embellishing a bit on what you did through your session, add a few more km to the distance you think you rode, a few more hundred meters of elevation gained, the Strava segments you were certain you would have crowned, and the fact that you didn’t even need a can of Coca-Cola to get you home.

Stage 5: The Upward Turn

As you start to adjust to life without your data, your life becomes a little calmer and more organized. Your physical symptoms lessen, and your “depression” begins to lift slightly.  This is the stage you ring your Coach and come clean with what has just happened.

Stage 6: Reconstruction & Working Through

As you become more functional, your mind starts working again, and you will find yourself seeking realistic solutions to the problem. You will figure out ways to avoid this happening again, maybe even consider buying a second device for future sessions, and have it running simultaneously to avoid a similar incident occurring…drastic, but I know people who do it

The most important thing is to work with your Coach here.  Just because your data is lost you still have to update your training log to keep an accurate track of your acute and chronic training load.  For those of you using training software such as Training Peaks you can perform a manual entry, by which you need to estimate the stress the session inflicted.  Software like Training Peaks uses a Training Stress Score value, so calculate what you think the workout did to you.

Hopefully you were aware of the approximate distance, duration, average Heart Rate and average power.  From here you can get a fairly accurate assessment of the session TSS.

Have a look at this graph I have taken from Joe Friel’s blog to estimate the TSS score for the session from which you lost the data.

TSS calculator

I will use the ride I did as an example.  I remember briefly seeing the average speed and average power for the ride just as I rolled down my driveway, and I estimated it to be mid Zone2, which according to the table above is 4/10 effort, which seemed about right.  TSS for this would be 50-60/hour, so over nearly 8 hours it would be 480TSS.  There were a few steep climbs in this ride, so I added a few more points for good measure, and I didn’t want to underestimate the score and risk over-training in the subsequent sessions, so I called it 500TSS.  I entered this value into my Training Peaks Calendar to keep my weekly totals accurate.

Trust me, from a Coaches perspective, this is a really really important thing to do.  Missing out on a significant amount of TSS in a well maintained Performance Management Chart will have implications for the reliability of that graph in the near future.

Stage 7: Acceptance & Hope

During this, the last of the seven stages, you learn to accept and deal with the reality of your situation.  You will always have that knowledge in your mind that you lost that data, but the wrenching pain will be gone.  For the Stravaphiles in the community, you will start to look forward and actually plan to avoid these things in the future.  You will always be double checking you have sufficient battery, your devices are calibrated, and auto-pause is enabled.

You may recall that a few years ago you wouldn’t have cared less if you didn’t get any data from that session.  In fact it has only been the last 15 years that I have really taken notice of things like Heart Rate and distance.  Until then it was all about the perceived effort and duration.  But time has changed, and with the availability of sports technology which is more powerful than the technology used to fly aircraft a generation ago, we tend to take it for granted.  In fact it isn’t a bad thing to just go for a swim, bike or run without any device, just your head, your heart and your lungs…..try it once or twice, you will enjoy it, just remember to manually enter the TSS for that session, that info is still important.

You will realise that in the end the ultimate way to deal with this loss is to just go out and do that session again, and that wrenching pain of the 200km you rode will soon come right back.  Go on, grab some mates and show them how you nailed those segments, drilled the headwinds and railed the descents…..it’s just training after all.

At Foot Traffic Coaching we are self-confessed Data Junkies and Stravaphiles.  We love helping athletes who are all about the numbers and want to get the most of their time training to achieve those dream goals.  Pay us a visit to see how we can help you.

 

 

 

The Failed FTP test….or is it really a fail?

I’m a competitive person, and as competitive with myself as I am with anyone.  This means that come test time I am totally focused on going further, faster and stronger than my previous attempts.  Now this isn’t necessarily a good thing, not every result needs to be a PB, and there is no such thing as a failed test session.  Sometimes you just have to step back and say “It is what it is”.

I had a perfect example of this yesterday when I performed an FTP test, 7 weeks after my previous one…..which I might add I wasn’t that happy with anyway.  My previous test gave me an FTP value of 271 watts at 72KG, based on the results of yesterday’s test I only achieved 267 watts at 71KG.  Now I know there is a glaringly obvious fact staring us in the face….I’m 1KG lighter, but I will come to that in a bit.  The thing that jumped out at me is I’m 4 watts less than 7 weeks ago.

One major caveat here, I only started using a Power Meter on 1 April 2016, so there is a very small sample to work with when looking at historical data.  And this probably has some significant implications for the reliability of the Performance Management Chart which I will discuss in a later post.  I’m using the Polar Keo Power Pedals (left & right power) and transmitting to a Polar v650 head-unit.

Just so you know, I am training for the Zofingen Duathlon (ITU World Long Distance Duathlon Champs), the distances being 10km run + 150km bike + 30km run.  People have told me to expect it to feel like an Ironman.  The cycle course in particular is a brute, with 3 significant climbs on each of the 3 laps, totaling 1800m of elevation gain.  From what I understand there are a few short sharp pinches and plenty of long gradual climbing.

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Analysing the power file from the first test on 28/4/16 shows a nicely paced effort.  VI was 1.0 so there was next to no peaks and troughs in the power output (this is far easier to achieve on a trainer than on the road).  There was no decoupling, in fact I probably didn’t push hard enough as the value was -1.07%, and there was an increase in output over the final 2 minutes (this is why I thought I would knock the next one out of the park, by going a bit harder from the start and really emptying the tank).  Average Cadence was 89rpm and Average HR was 164bpm, with 342Kj burnt.

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Quadrant Analysis of that effort showed 55% in Q2, which denotes High Force but Low Velocity.  Much of the distribution in this quadrant was higher up the scale, and this was a bit of a concern to me.  This is largely a Fast-Twitch fibre recruiting zone, and living here for long periods isn’t really that easy.  So I was keen to improve on this, as I still need to have some legs to run off the bike well.

QA1

A week after the FTP test I performed a Fatigue Profile to pinpoint where my weaknesses lie, and what I need to focus on to build my FTP value while trying to achieve a higher cadence in all zones.  Using Peaks Coaching’s Fatigue Profile calculator  , which is an excellent tool BTW, I could see that I really had to work on my peak power in all the short duration bins, however my endurance through these was pretty good.  I hadn’t done a lot of Zofingen Duathlon race specific training in the long duration bins hence they are all Below Average.  So I did a bunch of sessions that were targeted on increasing force to the pedal, as well as bringing my cadence up a bit….there was a good amount of suffering going on.

Fatigue profile1.png

So how did it all go?  As you know, not quite what I was hoping for, but test results can’t be taken just on the number that is generated.  It isn’t until you delve deeper into data and understand how the result came about that you start to see that things aren’t all doom and gloom.

Analysis of the second FTP test shows some interesting things.  I cut it 1 second short!! Wow, I was clearly ready to end it there.  I’m as disappointed in that fact as any.  VI was 1.0 again, all good.  I had a wee HR fart where it shot up to 210 for 7 minutes of the test, this is just something that it does occasionally, but it’s not a huge concern for me, or the Cardiologist I saw a few years ago about it.  This did skew the HR graph though, so decoupling can’t be assessed accuratley, however the average HR for when it was behaving was 168bpm, so a bit higher than the previous one.  I was able to lift my watts for the final minute this time, so that’s still happening, again something to work on.  Average Cadence was 92rpm.  339Kj burnt through the effort, 3 less than the previous one so maybe there’s the difference with the 1 second I cut short.

FTP2

Quadrant Analysis of the second FTP test showed a shift of 7.4% more in Q1, and 5.2% less in Q4, so there was a large shift to a higher cadence and higher force, but this time it’s distributed a lot lower on the scale, and scattered in a much more concentrated area.  To me this suggests that cadence has improved and power distribution is more even, which has a positive impact on overall efficiency.

QA2

This table below should help to visualise those differences

Quad graph.png

So it was pleasing for me to see that there had been some positive changes from this 6 week period, albeit not exactly what I was hoping for.  I have always known cadence to be a bit of a limiter for me (as well as force), but being able to turn a gear at a high cadence must be mastered before increasing the force that is applied to the pedal.  So this progression is still in line.

My Fatigue Profile has started moving in the right direction, with higher Peak Powers for many of the bins, and I’m starting to move away from that High Endurance bias, and more to one that suits a course with plenty of short sharp climbs such as the ones I will encounter in Zofingen.  I am about to shift to a race specific Build Phase so the 90 and 240min power will improve too.

Fatigue profile2.png

I came across a really good post in the Trainer Road Blog discussing how FTP changes with cadence, and it is well worth a read.  It helped me to understand some of the physiological changes that are taking place.  There are a couple of good points to identify in it…

“As riders become more aerobically fit, i.e. develop a more sufficient oxygen-reliant endurance base, spinning quickly (e.g. 95rpm) keeps the force output low thereby keeping the muscle stress and fuel consumption low as well since these endurance fibers are fully up to the task of repeating their oxygen-reliant contractions almost indefinitely…….Riders lacking this aerobic fitness, and more importantly (at least at the outset) lacking efficiency, misguidedly and probably unintentionally shift their riding stress onto the anaerobic system, the power fibers, by turning a bigger gear slowly. This leads to a shift in fuel preference, a shift toward sugar, because these power fiberscan’t use oxygen, they can only use sugar. Add to this fuel shift the stress & actual damage brought on by these slower, more forceful, more taxing pedal revolutions and you have a recipe for fatigue”

So it suggests that sure it’s probably easier initially to sit and grind away at a big gear, and in the early stages you will go pretty fast.  But eventually your fuel sources (sugar) are going to run dry and you will be left struggling.  Developing a lighter, more efficient spin will prolong your endurance and make your riding more enjoyable.  Learning how to spin a gear in all zones is probably a good speed skill to develop.

The trade off for increasing your cadence is that the force generated and applied to the pedal is less because the workload has been taken away from your powerful muscles and is now being driven by your cardiovascular system, hence the slight increase in average Heart Rate you saw in my results.

The issue of power:weight ratio needs to be discussed too, as this is where a lot of people come unstuck.  I will leave you with one thing to consider…..body weight on 28/4/16 was 72kg, FTP was calculated as 271w, therefore power:weight ratio was 3.76w/kg.  Bodyweight on 16/6/16 was 71kg, FTP was calculated as 267w, therefore power:weight ratio is 3.76w/kg.

So was it really a fail?  Let’s recap…

Yes, my FTP is less.  But average cadence has increased, Quadrant Analysis is more suited to the event I’m training for, power:weight ratio hasn’t changed.  I’ll call it a relative success for now, but I am determined to make that next FTP value to be higher than what it currently is.

You may have noticed there are a couple of things I have omitted from the discussion, and those are the timing of the test and the state of fatigue going into it.  I will discuss these in the next post as I have some interesting thoughts around those.

If you are interested in employing a Triathlon Coach for your next key event feel free to get in touch with Foot Traffic Coaching.  We have various levels of Training Plans and have the experience to help guide you to your goals.  We also have a free public Facebook Group (Traffic Jam) where we discuss all things endurance sports.  Don’t forget to like our Foot Traffic Endurance Sport Coaching Facebook page so you can keep up to date with what’s happening with our athletes around the world.

 

A-Race Recovery

I was going to title this ‘Ironman Race Recovery’, but as I was writing the notes for it I realized that the advice here is just as relevant for any end of season or A-Race.

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Recovery is so important to give yourself a physical, mental and emotional rest.  It is also a great time to pay some attention to those around you rather than yourself and/or your training partners.

I have been coaching for many years now, and prior that I was either coached or writing my own programme, so I have seen all sorts of different race recovery methods, and tried most of them myself.  Some have worked, some haven’t.  The way your recovery pans out depends on a number of factors, but certainly experience in the sport, how much damage the race did, how long your build up has been going.  Here are some of my experiences, and what I have I seen with some of my athletes.

Let’s refer to Ironman here, as Ironman New Zealand has recently passed and a lot of the Foot Traffic Coaching athletes have found themselves with buckets of time on their hands and just wanting to fill that gap with a training session…..but mean old Coach isn’t letting them do that, and no one wins an argument with me around this topic.  If you could see some of the posts on our private members Facebook group as I was arguing with some of my athletes about sneaking a run in you would be in stitches – Funny but also serious.

“Time heals all”

You have just finished an Ironman.  Your body is likely to be deficient in sleep from months of early mornings and probably late nights.  Your muscles ache and body parts are probably chafed.  Your Cortisol levels are through the roof and you are depleted in important micro-nutrients.  Your significant others don’t know you, however your dog probably still does as that’s your favoured jogging partner.  Why would you want to go out and increase these negative factors?

One thing I find happens is I like to sleep, not necessarily during the day, which is a good thing as I have work to do, but I sleep heavy at night, and really struggle to get up in the morning.  While this is happening I respect the fact that my body is screaming out for some ‘me’ time.  If you neglect these signs you’ll be on a slippery slope to Adrenal Fatigue and other serious ailments.  Do yourself and your partner a favour, don’t set the alarm for 5:00am, infact don’t set it at all, have a sleep in and enjoy it.  If you are having trouble sleeping and are waking often through the night then that is also a sure sign that you are far from fully recovered.  When I find myself waking up naturally and closer to the usual time I would awaken for training then I know I am ready to start introducing some training again.

I also find that often I come down with a sore throat, a sniffly nose and maybe a cold sore, another sign that training has placed me on the edge and my immune system has been struggling for a long time.  If you find this too rather than training eat a good piece of steak and a pile of salad, you’ll be better for it.

Another thing I recommend is not to plan any training session or event in the weeks after a key race.  You want to know that there is nothing nagging at you to get up and get IM recovery.pngtraining.  I recently completed two Irondistance races in two weeks (Challenge Wanaka and Ironman New Zealand).  Whilst I wouldn’t recommend this for an Age Group athlete, and I certainly won’t do the double again, I found the time between the two races wasn’t too stressful as I knew there was another event to get up for in two weeks time, so I never actually stopped moving.  If I didn’t have Ironman still to go I would have been straight into full recovery mode.  Instead the day after Challenge Wanaka I went for a short spin, the day after that a 90 minute walk and continued this for the rest of the week.  I was still motivated to keep going through to Ironman NZ.  However as soon as I finished the second race I knew there was no other race in the immediate future for me, so I rewarded myself with a full 10 days away from exercise.  Now I am in the second week after Ironman and I have only gone for a very easy one hour spin, a swim and a short jog.  I am ready to look at reintroducing some regular light aerobic training again, but certainly nothing over Aerobic Threshold for at least a further two weeks.

Keep in mind that Ironman NZ 2016 was my 16th Irondistance race, so I have had a fair bit of experience in the sport.  For someone having just completed their first one I would recommend keeping things unstructured and VERY VERY light for a further 2-3 weeks, and only looking at consistent training when all factors have been addressed – sleep patterns, body weight normalized, even have some blood tests to see if you remain depleted in any areas.  If you carry any muscle damage or inflammation through to your next training cycle you are likely to be more susceptible to injury.

Your next peak races are still a long way off and don’t forget this.  The temptation to get stuck into training too soon, whether it’s because you are buzzing about the next season, or are scared of losing your fitness, can feel quite overcoming.  But please, give yourself that initial full rest to give you body the recovery that it needs and take the stress off your coach (trust me, your coach knows if you have been lying about your lack of exercise).  You need patience and trust in your body’s ability to heal itself given the time to do it right.

Foot Traffic Training Lab Subscription members have access to all our database training plans.  We have a number of different Post Race Recovery Plans which you can easily slot into your training calendar to help guide you through this difficult phase.  To sign up click here.

 

Panic Attack!

In 25 years of participating in Triathlon I don’t think I have ever experienced a Panic Attack.  I always thought I was one of the lucky ones.  Well in Challenge Wanaka last month that changed for me.  Challenge Wanaka is a great, friendly little race in a spectacular location, but boy it tested me physically and mentally.

Since the race I have had a chance to go over a few things surrounding the attack, and what I think led to it.  I have also thought of a few ways I can prevent them from happening again in the future, so hopefully sharing will give others some ideas on how to combat it.

The morning of Challenge Wanaka was a pretty relaxed affair (Problem #1) and for some reason I had a fairly light breakfast compared to what I would normally have before an Irondistance event (Problem #2).  Due to the strong winds across the lake that morning the swim turn buoys had been blown off course so they were forced to delay the start by 15 minutes, however I think it was actually longer than that by the time we got going (Problem #3).  I had a few puffs of my Ventolin inhaler as I have found in cooler temps that I can get a bit wheezy and restricted in my breathing (Problem #4).  Due to the cooler air temperature and strong wind potentially making me even cooler, despite being in a wetsuit, I opted not to go for a swim warmup, but instead to do a dry-land warm, which I something I have done plenty of times before (Problem #5).  I lined myself up in a good spot on the startline and was planning to swim the first 600m to the turn can a bit easier to effectively finish my warmup (Not really a problem, I still think this was a good idea). As soon as the gun went I was straight into it, dove into the first wave and got swimming. Some stage soon after the start I took on a massive mouthful of cold water, most of which it felt went straight down my windpipe (Problem #6).  I started panicking and soon after my heart rate hit the roof, I lost all feeling in my arms and legs and I couldn’t lift my head to breath without taking on more water or getting whacked on the head by a swimmer behind me (Problem #7).  I was moving forward, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t find myself and I seriously thought my race was over.

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Cold, windy and choppy.  Nothing I haven’t dealt with before.

I hadn’t even made it to the first intermediate marker buoy which was set only about 100m off the beach.  I was certain people would be watching this seemingly unprepared athlete flailing around like he had entered a race far out of his depth.  I rolled onto my back and I the beach was right there, beckoning me to swim back and pull out, but I was determined to not do that.  I rolled back over and tried again, which resulted in the same outcome.  This second time I snuck a quick look at my Polar watch and my Heart Rate was sitting at 170something, which is very high for swimming.  I started to swim again, but still couldn’t settle down.  This time the rescue kayak started moving towards me and I was happy about that as they were going to get me out of the water and take me safely to the beach.  I checked my watch again and could see I had been going for 3mins!  What the hell, how could this still be happening, I was the last swimmer now.

swim panic
I have highlighted the first part of the swim where things weren’t going too well.  Check the max HR and my average pace!  It took me just over 8mins to swim 400m – that’s personal worst

I started to compose myself a bit more and decided I would wave away the rescue kayak and try doing a mix of side stroke and breast stroke so I could avoid putting my head in the water.  I was finally moving forward, so I decided to just try and make it to the first turning buoy as I knew once around there the wind would be behind me and it would be a lot more controllable.  I started passing a few people so I made sure I was in my own water as I didn’t want to swim into anyone.  I finally got around the buoy and everything settled down – it was like nothing had even gone wrong.  I swam past one of my athletes (Anna Lorimer) about 3/4 of the way through the lap and I knew she was swimming well so I figured I wasn’t going too badly.  The second lap was business as usual.  When I got out of the water I had swum 59:49, which really surprised me.  If I didn’t have this issue it would have been a great swim.

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(ME) “You’ll never guess what the hell happened there”….. (Kellee) “Move your arse, no time to stop and talk”

So why did the problems I identified earlier happen at all?  There was nothing about this swim that I wouldn’t normally happily get through.  This is what I have figured out….

  1. I was probably too relaxed.  I hadn’t raced an Irondistance event for a couple years and I didn’t put enough emphasis on the mental preparation.  This would have affected a lot of the things that occurred.
  2. Yeah, just a Bagel with Nutella and a coffee is not a good breakfast before an Irondistance race.  Especially when the race start is over 3 hours away.  I would normally have a Bagel, 3 eggs, a bit of bacon and a coffee.
  3. The delay meant it was even longer without food, and trying to stay warm probably burnt a bit of energy
  4. One of the less common side-effects of Ventolin is an increased Heart Rate.  I haven’t had symptoms of Asthma for some time now, but for some reason I thought it wise to take it as a precaution.  This wasn’t necessary at all.
  5. Not having a good warm up meant my engine wasn’t running hot and my heart rate hadn’t really been elevated at all, apart from a short jog earlier in the morning.  I’m a slow starter at best, and it takes me a good KM to get into my rhythm, so I should have gone for a short swim just prior to the start.
  6. My throat and lungs wouldn’t have been used to the cold water and therefore constricted as a reaction, limiting the breathing.  In future I would have a cold drink shortly prior to the start to simulate the temperature of the water I will probably be drinking a few minutes later.
  7. I often get a rapid increase in Heart Rate in times of extreme stress, and this leaves my arms and legs feeling dead.  The only way I have been able to settle it in the past has been to stop moving, relax for a few minutes and get moving again.  This is what I was trying to do, but it was getting a bit difficult to manage.

So I learnt a really good lesson, and I was keen to not let this happen again, especially at Ironman New Zealand which was coming up 2 weeks after this race.  And seeing as I am writing this a few days after IMNZ I am happy to report that I addressed all the issues above prior to the race, did not have a repeat of the panic attack.  So I hope this isn’t something I will encounter again.

If you have been reading this and do suffer from panic attacks then work through some of the processors that have lead to them in the past and see if you can find a way around them.  The thing is when you are panicking all rational thought leaves the room and it becomes very hard to deal with it.  So if you are able to work on these skills in training or smaller races then you will find come the big ones that you are better armed to cope, and won’t go straight to the pull out option.

I’m happy to say I finished Challenge Wanaka in 10:43, a long way off what I was hoping to do, however as you would expect with a name like that there were a few other challenges along the way, which I will no doubt write about another time, so you can look forward to that.

If you are interested in employing a Triathlon Coach for your next key event feel free to get in touch with me.  At Foot Traffic Coaching we have various levels of Training Plans and have the experience to help guide you to your goals.

http://foottrafficcoaching.com/contact

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What a prick of a day.  Relieved to be in sight of the finish line

The Mount Festival – Port of Tauranga Half

 

Here we are a handful of days from the Port Of Tauranga Half Ironman.  A long standing race steeped in history which has seen some great champions take it on over the years.  There are some really unique features to this course and the climate which make this seemingly flat & fast race a very very tough event, and quite a tricky one for the uninitiated.

Over the past couple of weeks as I have been making the final touches to my athletes programmes, prepping them for this event.  For some it is their ‘A’ race so we really want to minimise the mistakes that can be made, and really focus on controlling the controllable’s, to get them to the finish line within their goals.  We have been talking at length on how to approach certain sections of the course and how to deal with various scenarios which may play out.

I thought I would let you in on a few tips on how to tackle this iconic and fascinating race.  This is just a collection of my thoughts, and not an all encompassing list, so if you have more please add them to the comments section below.

Also if you aren’t racing the Half this year, but this blog gives your that bit of inspiration to do it (or a different one) in the future then here is a link to a free 4 month Beginners Half Iron-distance training plan for you to follow.  The free offer will expire in 1 week, but you will still be able to purchase the plan after this time.

  • Get to town early – This is a holiday destination, get here with enough time to settle down, sit on the beach, hang out with the family, enjoy this awesome place.  Yesterday I even went to watch a 1-Day Cricket match (International readers may want to google Cricket).  If you have done the training right you can afford to, and should take a few days off training before the race.
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Black Caps vs Sri Lanka….we won
  • Sort your race kit with plenty of time – Don’t be that athlete running around the day before the race looking for a race number belt, gels, spare tubular and elastic laces.  Clean and check your gear a few days before the race so you know you have everything you need.
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Check your gear, make sure it is in good order and you have tried it prior to race day.
  • Parking is a premium in Mount Maunganui – If you are coming to the race venue allow a little bit more time to walk from where you park your car.  This is the case for anything in the lead up to event such as registration, briefing, race morning, prize-giving.
  • Swim on the course at a similar tide to the race – The proximity of the swim course to the harbour mouth and the natural curved shape of Pilot Bay means that there is a significant eddy current right where we are swimming, and this creates some unusual water behaviour at certain points and height of the tide.  This is so important for people new to the race to understand, in fact even as an experienced athlete I can still get it wrong on race day.  I could write a whole blog on features of the Pilot Bay swim course, but the important thing to know is the water can move very quickly in strange directions.  Use the moored boats in the bay as a reference to the direction the water is flowing and make wise decisions if you have to go one side or the other of a boat.  The other thing to be careful of is when you swim across the current a weaker swimmer can very easily be taken off course, and possibly add 100m to their swim leg.  So keep sighting the next buoy and be prepared to make adjustments to the direction you are swimming in.  Keep an eye on swimmers around you, but don’t necessarily follow their lead, the whole group might be taken off course, and you may be going with them.  Often the final leg towards the finish of the swim is straight into the sun, so sighting the buoy can be very difficult, but keep using those around you as a reference to make sure you are still on track.  Remember Pilot Bay is shaped in a curve, so if you keep to the line of the beach you will be swimming in an arc, which also adds distance to your swim, so swim straight to the final buoy, which means you may be heading a bit deeper in the process.
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If you look closely you can see the distinct direction the boats are pointing….needless to say, there was a fast current down towards the Mount, where the turn buoy will be located
  • Transition area is very tight – The location of the Transition area is such that it is very tightly packed, and there is not much room to move.  The organisers do their best to give as much room as they can, but the layout of the available space and the large participant numbers mean it gets very busy.  For this reason I suggest you try to minimise how much gear you have in transition, and only have the essentials for the day.  You won’t be allowed boxes or bags in transition either.  Make sure you are familiar with the exact location of your spot so when you are rushing in after the swim or the bike you don’t get lost.  The racking is in number order so you should have a fairly good idea of where you are when running in if you look the numbers around you.
  • The bike is deceptively tough – Yes it’s flat and the road surface is pretty good, but it’s also quite exposed in parts and the wind can whip up unimpeded before reaching the location of the bike course, so prepare for wind.  Even if it is calm in Pilot Bay you can bet that 20km down the road in Papamoa it will be blowing.  So make sure you know the direction of the prevailing wind for race day and plan your strategy for the bike leg around that.  The portions you have a tailwind you may be flying along, but coming back you may be creeping, so just accept this is what it is, and keep your intensity at a level which you know you can sustain for the whole 90km, and still leave enough for the run.  Stay aero and stay smooth.  Because it is so flat you spend long periods in the same position, so you may want to get off your aerobars and out of your saddle every 10km or so to have a stretch and take the pressure off your back and neck.
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Stay low and aero along these long, flat, straight roads
  • Don’t get caught drafting – This is a tightly packed bike course, so there’s a good chance you will find yourself in a drafting position inadvertently at some stage.  Just remember the rules of the race, and give the rider in front of you enough space that you aren’t inside the draft zone.  Don’t ride to the right of the lane as you will be called for blocking.  If you pass someone then don’t immediately slow up when you realise it’s quite tough to maintain that effort as this will cause a concertina effect behind you and that may result in others being called for drafting.  Only pass someone if it is to actually move on ahead, or you can maintain the same intensity that you pass them with.

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  • Them damned speed bumps – Yes there are speed bumps on this course, and they are quite abrupt.  They aren’t short sharp ones, but a bit more of a roll over.  However some of them have a lip at the leading and trailing edge and hitting them at speed isn’t pleasant, or good for your bike.  As you approach them come off your aerobars and just lift your front wheel ever so slightly to pop up on to the bump to make for a smoother ride.  Keep an eye out for ejected bottles along this part too.
  • Pilot Bay crowds – Running out of Transition you will go through throngs of cheering supporters.  This is awesome, but don’t think it means you should drop a 3:30 minute first kilometer.  Pretty soon the crowds peter out to a steady few, and the realization of the half marathon ahead sets in.  I suggest consciously ‘holding back’ at least until the first Tay Street turn before thinking about settling into your pace.  You still have about 16km ahead of you at that point, and 6 of those will be around the tough Mount Track .  Keep in mind though, you will be wanting that Pilot Bay crowd when you are running the final stretch to the finish as that is going to give you the extra lift you need to find the finishline, so make sure you save a smile and a wave for that part.
  • The Mount Track – This is an infamous part of the course, and you get to do it twice.  This is a tough section, comprising of a few short ups and a few short downs.  But it’s the surface you run on, the heat, the seemingly never ending path and the loneliness that really gets you.  First time round be very patient and keep something in reserve because you will need it later.  When you go round here on the second lap you will be wanting it all to be over, but the only way to do this is to finish the Mount Track, so dig it in and get yourself home.  Many a race has been won and lost around this part of the course.
  • The final stretch – When you drop back into Pilot Bay after the Mount Track on the second lap you have about 800m left to run.  This is dead flat, but oh so long.  I have had many all out battles with my competitors over the last 800m here, but it’s a great way to finish a race.  Cheering crowds, awesome view, and the promise of the finishline and a soak in the sea after.

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  • Thank a volunteer – They are your biggest fan, and without them it’s really just a training session.  They are a vital part of maintaining an event such as this.  If we all thank at least one volunteer during the day then hopefully each person will have an athlete say thanks to them.
  • Thank a local – They have given up their neighbourhood on a saturday morning to enable us to run around doing this crazy sport.  We are very lucky to be able to race in a location like this so be grateful.  Also don’t drop any rubbish, apart from the fact its filthy, you will actually get disqualified, so it’s best to put it back in your pocket.
  • The prizegiving – Always a great part of the day.  This is where you get to share war stories, celebrate the successes of your fellow athletes, have a cold beer and a steak sandwich and watch and listen to day’s champions as they recount their performance on the stage.  The end of a great day.

If you are interested in how Foot Traffic Coaching can get you to the finishline of this race next year, and many others of course, have a look HERE.  We have a 14 day free trial for subscription members so you can sign up risk free, have a look to see if you like what we offer, before pulling the trigger.  At $9.95US/month it’s a real bargain.  Sign up HERE.  For more information on our Subscription and Custom Coached Memberships have a look HERE.

If you are racing on the weekend have a great day out there, enjoy the experience and the privilege of being able to take part in a very unique event.

I’ll see you out there.

Ironman Certified Coach

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Last week I gained my IRONMAN Coach Certification.  I think it is important to constantly further my own knowledge and skill set so I can be of more benefit to my current athletes and future ones.  I’ve been coaching athletes to Ironman finishes all over the world, so it doesn’t really change much in that regard, but there were certainly some new things I picked up, and will implement these in training plans in future.  I get a real kick out of coaching people to long distance events such as the Ironman and Ironman 70.3 distance.  Seeing their faces and hearing their joy having knocked over their event goals gives me a real thrill.

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The coursework and assessment process was a pretty slick operation and I was impressed with the way it was delivered.  Obviously there was a price tag to this, and it was reasonably hefty, but so are many online courses.  It’s just one of those expenses to be incurred in business.  There are some ongoing fees if I want to be part of the IRONMAN Coach Match system, but I will do some evaluation first to see if it is feasible for me to do this.  I intend to leverage this as much as I can through our other marketing channels as well.

The knowledge I’ve gained from the recent certification courses will help a lot, not only for our Custom Coached athletes, but also for the plans we prepare for our Subscription members.

My aim has always been to make Foot Traffic Coaching one of the first choices for people to come to when making a decision on employing a Triathlon Coach.  Obviously whether they decide to go with us or not is the athlete’s own choice, but if people are at least inquiring further about our services then I know we are doing things right with getting the message out there.  Having Triathlon New Zealand and IRONMAN Coach Certifications strengthens our message even more.

Check out our website if you are interested in learning more about the services we provide.  Please feel free to contact us if you require more information.  You can become a Foot Traffic Coached athlete from as little as $US9.95/month and we even have a risk free 14 day trial period so you can check it out before committing.

How to nail an Ironman run…don’t nail the Ironman bike.

Edited 16/12/2015 – The athlete this article refers to was awarded ‘Athlete of the Week’ on the IM Talk Podcast this week.  How cool!  Here’s the link to their podcast. http://www.imtalk.me/home/2015/12/14/imtalk-episode-494-karlyn-pipes.html

We all know how important the Ironman run is. It is here that the race is defined. It the part of the day that hopes and dreams can be solidified or lost for good. Of course you are going to make the finish, but will you do it in the time you hope, with all your marbles intact and ready to come back fired up to strike in the next race. For so many, infact probably the majority, the run leg of an Ironman becomes a point in the race where you are just hanging on for survival. Very few athletes are able to press on and build their effort through the run leg, and the reality is that even the fastest runners on the day are slowing down as each KM goes by. The athlete who slows down the least is the one who runs the best, and this may also be the person who runs the best when they are feeling the worst.

But the success of your Ironman run leg is determined by what you were doing to yourself many hours earlier, when you were on the bike leg. And the first few KM’s are as important as the closing part of the bike leg. Making a conscious effort to stick to a predetermined intensity, and being disciplined enough to do just this is the recipe to Ironman run success. A power meter makes this job so much easier.  It can be done with an understanding of your perceived effort and Heart Rate, and a bit of practice in the lead up to an event, but the power meter makes it easier to manage and the post-race analysis of the bike leg a lot more interesting and fun.

It is a well known assumption that a TSS score of 280 points is the recipe to Ironman success. Exceed this and you run the risk that you pushed too hard, go under it too much and you are probably not pushing hard enough and will take too long than you need to on the bike. Taking this knowledge forward you can very easily prepare a power plan for an Ironman bike leg. But your method of getting to this 280 point value is as important as simply achieving it. You don’t want to get there having surged over and under your target watts value over the course of the ride, so a power variability of 3-5% (1.03-1.05) is about the target to hit, and less variability is better again. A greater variable effort is more fatiguing than an even steady output. The athlete who can keep variability low is more focused on the process of racing rather than external factors such as course, conditions, other athletes. This is where the benefits will be found later in the run.

We also know that coming off an Ironman bike leg at about 71-73% of FTP range is ideal for most well trained age group athletes. This is assuming their FTP has been accurately calculated, and they have trained at such intensities.

The other thing is to make sure fueling is consistent and the athlete has the right amount going in for the work they are doing. This helps to deliver the athlete to the start of the run with the least amount of physiological fatigue. The success of this can be determined by viewing the decoupling measure (pw:hr) over the course of the ride. Any thing under 5% can be considered a successful delivery of effort and a very efficient athlete. The amount of decoupling is also dependant on power variability, so it is important to get that mix right.

I recently had an athlete achieve their IM run goal of going under 4hrs. They went 3:58, so that box was ticked. There was a bit of a wobble during the mid-portion of the race (who doesn’t have that happen, but they pulled it back together and finished strong) owing to their fantastic aerobic capacity and strong-mindedness. During the process of getting this run time they took 40mins off their best IM bike split, and took nearly 60mins off their previous best IM time….so it was a very successful day. For me the greatest success came in the way the bike leg was managed.

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Have a look at this pic of their bike leg summary. You will see all the key milestones were reached – 285TSS, 2.38% decoupling, only 1% variability (can’t get much better than that over 180km), 72% of FTP. I can tell you that this athlete is one of the most meticulous I have worked with, and this is reflected in the way the bike plan was adhered to, especially on a day the conditions played a major role, and a lot of people blew their races with poorly managed performances on the bike.

This didn’t come by mistake. We had discussed at length as to what would be the optimal power plan for the race, and even had a few scenarios incase things out of our control caused a sudden change in plans. With this athlete being on our Custom Coaching Data+ plan we utilised some online power prediction software, and changed the plan as the weather forecast changed in the days leading up to the race. A bike vs car crash 2 weeks prior didn’t even have any significant negative effect, in fact it probably even helped the taper as there was no training for a few days post accident.  We even fine tuned the training sessions in the few days before the event to make sure race-day was hit with the optimal balance of fitness, freshness and mental readiness.

It was awesome for me to see these goals get achieved, and I’m looking forward for what might come next….after a well deserved break from training for starters as this has been a long focused campaign.

For more information on our Custom Coaching and Custom Coaching Data+ services please email rob@foottraffic.co.nz or check our website www.foottrafficcoaching.com you can also find out some information on our subscription coaching memberships, and the training plans you will gain access to here. We have a free 14 day trial membership for you to take some time to check it out.