Monday, September 20, 2010

Ironman Muskoka 70.3

As I packed my transition bag as well as some other overnight items before leaving Chicago for northern Ontario, a few thoughts and emotions stirred in my mind. The first one was a feeling of trepidation as I knew this race was one of the more difficult on the 70.3 circuit and that one thing was certain…I was going to suffer regardless of how well I raced. The second was a bittersweet feeling that I often get towards the end of the season as I approach my last few races wondering, how did the last 8 months go so quickly and how would I really feel about my season as a whole if it were to end after this weekend’s race. The last thing I thought about was my race at the Chicago Triathlon two weeks prior and how if nothing else, I needed to personally avenge that performance in order to feel at ease about possibly hanging things up until next year. Oh and I also was dreading the 10 plus hours I was going to spend in the car to get the race.

Fast forward to Sunday morning at 4:40 a.m.. The weather called for a 60% chance of showers until around 9 and then partly cloudy skies for the remainder of the day. When I opened the door from the motel I realized that it had lightly rained late last night but there was little precipitation on the radar which was encouraging. The bike course for this race has several technical descents that would become that much more technical should the road be wet. I just hoped the rain would hold off until I was through the first 25K or so of the bike.

Had a very relaxed time setting up transition as I avoided having to take the shuttle from the airstrip by being dropped off right in from of transition…nothing like saving nearly half an hour of waiting and riding on a school bus to kick off the day. As the darkness began to fade to light, it became apparent that the radar I had checked before leaving for the race was incorrect as there was a very light misty drizzle for the hour or so leading up to the race start. Regardless, it was time to race.

Swim – The best part about the swim start at this race is that no matter how many people are in your wave, the start line is almost 50 meters wide so you avoid the traffic that most wave starts have. Right off the bat I got into a good rhythm and felt comfortable. I knew that if I just focused on my stroke and actually paid attention to things, I could have a good swim. At about the halfway point I realized that I had been swimming parallel to a guy for almost 5 minutes or so and decided that if I wasn’t going to pass him, I may as well get on his feet and let him pull me through the rest of the swim. This tactic worked pretty well and I stayed on him the rest of the way. When I finally made it up the long and hilly run to transition, I was at just over 32 minutes which was a pleasant sight to see. Threw on my arm warmers and headed out for the 95K course.

Bike – Having done this race last year, I was familiar with the course and knew that the first 10K of the bike really hits you hard from the get go. What I didn’t want to do was have to recover from it over the following 5K so I stayed efficient up the hills and really used the descents to build speed going into some of the shorter hills as the roads were relatively dry at this point. I quickly got into a groove and passed 2 people in my age group that were in their own right strong cyclists so I knew that my swim had put me in a good position. After about 45K or so I was essentially alone for the next 15K until I came upon the leader of my age group and 3rd place amateur overall at the time. I was significantly better on the hills than him and we traded passes on the uphills and downhills for almost the next 20K. Right after going through a small town at the 80K mark, there was a stretch of road that contained several hills, some of them short and very steep (10%+) and others long but gradual. I decided I really didn’t want to be in a pissing match with this guy for another 15K so I really hit these hills hard. After 10 minutes or so went by and he didn’t pass me, I figured there was a good chance I had lost him but I didn’t mind looking over my shoulder to make sure. I decided to ride hard for the next 5K and then I’d check to see who was behind me. When I came upon the 90K mark, there was no one for at least a mile which was very encouraging. My legs felt sharp and I had managed to force myself to drink enough despite the rain and low 60 degree temps and knew that if I put together a strong run, I’d be more than happy with the outcome. When I entered transition, there was only 1 bike besides the pros….a very welcoming sight! I averaged right at 23.3 mph over the 58 mile course that included almost 4,000 feet of climbing.

Run – As I headed out on the run I overheard the announcer say that I was 2:30 behind the first amateur out of transition. I knew that if I could put together a solid run, I’d at least give myself a fighting chance to catch him. I knew that I needed to maintain right around 3:53 for each kilometer to be at 6:19 pace which would put me at just over 1:22 for the run which given the topography of this course, is a solid time. I went through the first 2K in just a hair under 8:00 which was a good sign as this part of the run includes a hill that is probably a kilometer long by itselft. At the 4K mark I settled into a good pace as I could now finally feel all 10 of my toes and my pace began to increase ever so slightly but steadily. I passed several female pros and 2 male pros through the first 9K of the run. At this point I also passed Mirinda Carfrae, only she was at 12K having gone through the turnaround already and she was really moving! As I approached the turnaround I saw the leading amateur and I was really motivated by the fact that I had made up almost 2 minutes of the 2:30 deficit I had coming out of transition. He noticed that I was coming and it took me the next 5K to make up any time on him at all. Finally when the course moved off the roads onto a trail that included several short steep inclines I caught him right at about 17K. We took turns leading for the next 3K until we hit a decline with 1K to go where I swear the guy had nearly a dozen fans scattered throughout the crowed cheering him to lose me for good. He built up a lead of over 10 feet or so as we headed into transition with about 250 meters to go and I knew that it was now or never to close the gap. The way the finishing chute has you finish is by making what is essentially a semi-circle around transition before it makes a bending left hand turn before probably 50 meters of straightaway to the finish line. As we approached the left hand bend I decided to go as hard as I possibly could, using every bit of fast twitch muscle that was left after years of playing football and with my arm outstretched, I broke the tape a fraction of a second before him to take the overall amateur win! Shortly after while talking to him, I found out he started in the wave in front of me so I really had a 6 minute lead on him the entire time… gotta be kidding me!!! Oh well, I had a great run and furthermore a great race. I also decided that 2 more months of training was doable as I accepted my spot to Clearwater in November. A special thanks to Jake and everyone at Zoot as well as the myriad of other sponsors helping the team and all its members achieve their personal goals this season!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ironman Louisville Report - Evan Macfarlane

[I must have made a mistaken copying links for some of the photos. Click on the photos to see the whole images.]

(Louisville pre-race)

Training Summary
Training went great leading up to the race. I saw some fantastic power numbers, numbers like holding 245-250 W at sub-150 bpm during longer intervals on the trainer. Being at altitude, I was encouraged that perhaps those numbers would be even better where there's more oxygen in the air. I also completed some tough track workouts on brutally hot days. One day in particular comes to mind: my wife Stacey and I went to Harvard Gulch here in Denver for a run on a dirt track. We started our run at 1:00pm in 95 degree heat, and then I cranked out 18 miles in just over 2 hours even as the temp increased and the sun shone brightly. Stacey, having to slow dramatically to keep in HR in check due to the heat, was impressed. I even got in a few huge weeks of training volume, with a peak week of around 30 hours. In summary, a few weeks out from the race I was very, very confident in my fitness.


(Stacey applying sunscreen where the sun surprisingly does shine when riding a tri-bike, and my brother Conor proving that he is NOT applying sun screen to my backside.)

While my training went great, I became very busy with work two weeks out from the race. This is fine, since triathlon is a hobby and secondary in importance to work. The timing also wasn't too bad, either, since I was starting to taper. Still, my stress level increased to less than ideal levels. Also because of work, my trip out to Louisville was very brief -- fly out Friday, fly home Monday.

Despite the stress, once I got to the airport the Friday before the race I felt relieved. I had just started reading Born to Run, and while reading I began to remember how much fun I have racing Ironmans. The book put me in the perfect mental state to race. I've got some similar books that I'll put off reading until before my next big race.

Once in Louisville, everything went smoothly (well, other than getting pulled over Friday evening while driving a rental car for forgetting to turn on the lights...but in my defense my car's lights automatically turn on so I'm not in the habit of turning the switch myself). I met up with Jake from Zoot at the expo and he hooked me up with a SpeetZoot swim skin. Jake and Zoot have been great to me all year. After a year trying lots of their products, my favorites are their TT shoes and CompressRx gear. The shoes have lots of features that make them ideal for triathlon -- they features are not just marketing! -- and I think next year I may even try to run my IM marathon without socks.

Stacey and I stayed with my parents and my brother Conor and his wife Teresa at my cousin's husband's parents' house just outside of Louisville. Conor was racing his first IM, and Conor and Teresa did an awesome job of stocking the house with good food and getting all the stuff for my pre-race meals. Thanks guys! After dinner we settled in to watch Hot Tub Time Machine and then got to bed really early.

Like all of Saturday, Sunday morning was without any issues. Conor and I were in transition right at 5:00 am and headed off to the swim start just 15 minutes or so later. Still, by the time we got to the swim start we were well back from the front of the line. (Please WTC, stop permitting people to save spots in line!) We had an hour to kill waiting in line, but the time to relax was nice. I wasn't the least bit nervous, just like last year at the same time.


(Running down the ramp with Conor and doing my best dork pose before heading into the water.)

Once the race started, the line moved quickly and soon Conor and I were jumping into the disgusting Ohio river. I focused on a high turnover and was constantly passing people, unlike where the swim is of the more typical mass-start variety.

The swim went by very fast. I wondered if I'd swam sub-1:00 because the swim went by so quickly -- perhaps there had been a current, I thought. My breathing was also very controlled, and I think being at a lower elevation had a lot to do with it. I occasionally did four-stroke breathing, and even then I wasn't out of breath.

I exited the water in 1:06. Not bad, but not as fast as the swim felt. Still, 6 minutes ahead of last year's pace.

After an uneventful T1, I was off on my Orbea Ordu. The start of the ride was very comfortable, as should be the case for an Ironman. Despite the comfortable effort, my HR was a bit high, right in the 150-152 bpm range. As soon as the crowd of riders thinned out a bit, I rode really easy to let my HR fall to 145 bpm. Once my HR dropped I resumed riding at my IM perceived exertion. Now, my HR stayed under 150 bpm and sometimes dropped to the low 140s despite pushing 220-230 W. For the first 40 miles I didn't compulsively check my HR or power, but when I did they were both inline with my expectations.

(I get my head a bit lower on the fast sections, but otherwise not looking too bad. My hands are a tad higher than normal, but I like this position.)

There's an out-and-back section starting about 45 minutes into the ride with some of the largest hills on the course. This section was extremely crowded and made for some dangerous riding. At one point, frustrated by the riding style of the guys around me, I eased off to 200 W on an uphill so the guys I was around would ride away from me. I was confident that I'd catch and pass them later, but for now I just wanted to avoid getting caught up in their sprinting-slowing-sprinting-slowing style of riding.

As the bike progressed, the temperature and humidity rose. After 2.5 hours my power began to drop off. Check out this comparison of my bike splits from this year and last year at Louisville:

FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 23 mi (57:47) 23.88 mph
SECOND BIKE SEGMENT 40 mi (44:45) 22.79 mph
THIRD BIKE SEGMENT 70.5 mi (1:25:00) 21.53 mph
FINAL BIKE SEGMENT 112 mi (1:59:10) 20.90 mph
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi. (5:06:42) 21.91 mph

FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 22 mi (1:01:47) 21.36 mph
SECOND BIKE SEGMENT 37 mi (43:32) 20.67 mph
THIRD BIKE SEGMENT 67 mi (1:25:43) 21.00 mph
FINAL BIKE SEGMENT 112 mi (1:56:16) 23.22 mph
TOTAL BIKE 112 mi. (5:07:18) 21.87 mph

I could analyze this in greater detail (Did I overcook the start of the bike? Did the heat just kill me? The course was slightly different -- was that the reason for the speed difference during the first segment?), but I'll save that for another post.

By the end of this year's bike I was suffering. Others were, too, as there were a lot of competitors at the side of the road -- several of them vomiting or seeking shade. At mile 100 or so I passed a guy that had gone down in a ditch. He appeared to be severely cramped, but I couldn't tell for sure. There was a fire station ahead, and I tried to tell the fire fighters that when I passed by on the way out to help the guy. This time, however, no one was outside the station, so I circled back and rode into the station's bay to get some help for the guy down the road. (As an aside, I think it's fine if competitors do not stop to help one another. After all, it's a race -- don't sign up if you expect all the other competitors to stop for you.)

I suffered through the last 10 miles of the bike, most of it without water because I had already drank the two bottles I picked up at the prior aid station, knowing that the run was going to be very difficult. My suffering is a bit confounding. I had peed once on the bike and had to go again at the start of the run, so dehydration didn't seem to be a cause. Perhaps my body needs a lot of blood circulation near my skin for cooling and that's why my performance suffers. I don't know enough about physiology to really make all that educated of a guess.

My nutrition on the bike consisted solely of liquid calories and Gu. I was hydrating so much that I had no problem drinking enough sports drink to take in 350 calories an hour. I only needed a small sip from my flask full of Vanilla Bean Gu every 10 or 20 miles. I was even drinking water on top of the 48 oz. of sports drink/hr that I consumed. Around the 3.5 and 4.5 hour marks of the bike I popped a Salt Stick salt tablet in hopes of keeping my water to sodium ratio in balance. I was sweating so much that my face was crusted over with salt. Even my eye lashes were full of salt. It was like waking up in the morning with those weird crystals in the corners of one's eyes, except mine were crystals of salt.

Data: 199 W average (4 W less than last year but a slightly faster overall time); 147 bpm average.

(I can't get the file to open with PowerAgent so my analysis is pretty limited.)


(Not looking fresh starting the run. What's up with the horrific heal strike that appears to be imminent?)

I am always happy to get off the bike at the end of a 112 mile ride, usually because I'm excited for the run to start. I was especially looking forward to entering T2 on this day, although this time it was because I was totally exhausted. Dropping out went through my head. I told myself that last year I didn't feel spectacular off the bike and amazed myself with a sub-3:00 run. Maybe I'd still reel off a great run and finish in the top 10.

Those thoughts vanished after a few strides. My legs had no spring. My stride felt short and choppy. Last year I blazed through the first 3 miles at 5:42/mile. This year, barely under 7:00/mile. My HR was right where I expected -- 160 bpm or a few bpm lower -- but my pace was sssslllloooowwww.

Four miles into the run and I began feeling better. I became optimistic. Some brief cloud cover blocked the sun, and my pace quicken to 6:30/mile for a half mile or so. Once the cloud cover passed, I heated back up and slowed back down.

I took a salt pill (Endurolyte brand? something with about 1/10 the salt of the Salt Stick tablets) right before every aid station and then grabbed a Coke and then a water. Fueling went well and I peed three times during the run! Some of that was probably fluid I'd taken in on the bike. Still, even with a high level of fluid intake there was no pooling in my stomach and I craved more water. I think the salt + coke + water is the perfect fuel strategy for me on an IM run.

Around mile 12 I passed Conor going the other way and he appeared to be suffering. It was a tough day for a first IM and knowing how much I was struggling even with my level of fitness and experience I figured he was likely having a tough day. He ultimately dropped out after puking in a porta-john and then cramping badly shortly after I saw him. There's always next year...

At this point I still had run every step and talked myself into running every step until at least mile 16. I made it to mile 16 still feeling alright and didn't walk that aid station. At mile 19 my pace plummeted to 9:00/mile on a slight uphill and my HR surged to well over 160 bpm. I decided to walk every other aid station. At mile 21 I changed to talking every aid station because I didn't think I could make it two miles without walking. The aid station walks allowed me to rest enough that my pace between aid stations increased enough to offset the pace lost from walking. I even walked the mile 25 aid station even though the finish was just over 1 mile away.

As I approached the finished I once again felt a surge of achievement for having made it through the day. It was a very hard run for me and took all my determination to complete it. I thought my time was going to be horrible, but ended up with a not-too-shabby-on-any-day (and great for a 95 degree/90% humidity day) 3:20 run split. I even ran the last 1/4 mile at sub-6:00 pace due to the adrenaline rush that comes when one approaches the finish line.

(Five miles are missing about midway through the race. I must have accidentally stopped my watch and didn't notice for a while.)

Still, it's hard to be satisfied with a 3:20 run when (1) that's more than 25 minutes off my time from last year and (2) I lost my AG because I was out-run. Of the top three guys in my AG, I had the fastest swim by more than five minutes. Since when do I out swim someone by 5 minutes and not beat that person? All I can say is great race to the gentleman that won my age-group -- he put up a spectacular bike and run to win by 6 minutes.

Total: 9:38, my second fastest IM and the toughest conditions of any IM by far.

Anyhow, I crossed the finish line feeling good physically, meaning I didn't need to go to the med-tent and felt like I could actually eat something. I had myself weighed at the med-tent just to be safe, and I was only 5 pounds lighter than normal. If I can hydrate myself to the extent that I only lose 5 pounds on a day as hot as this one, I think that means my nutrition is dialed in pretty well.

15th overall, just like last year. 2nd in my AG, just like last year.

I felt great just a few days after the race. I ran three days afterward and didn't feel fatigued. My rapid recovery suggests I wasn't able to empty the tank and really fatigue my muscles. It's tough to do one IM a year, and then have it not go perfect. Could I have gone sub-9:00 on an ideal day? Did I have the fitness for a 4:50 or 4:55 bike? How much do I need to improve to finish top 10 overall? I can't answer these questions, but the race allowed me to test my will-power and I am happy with how I responded. Testing myself is the appeal of doing Ironman regardless of the outcome, and that's not limited to race day. I'm happy with my race performance in the harsh conditions and I enjoy training more than ever. Another year passes and the allure of Ironman hasn't diminished.

Thanks to Stacey for her endless support of my pursuit of my perfect race, thanks to Chuckie for the coaching and training support, thanks to Zoot Sports and Jake at Zoot in particular for providing me with awesome training and racing gear, thanks to Orbea and Zipp for also providing top-notch gear, and thanks to my family for cheering for me and for having everything organized when I arrived in Kentucky.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Skinnyman Triathlon

Skinnyman Triathlon is absolutely my favorite race ever and this year did not disappoint. Combined with visiting my parents and the long holiday weekend it makes for a great few days. My husband, who was also racing, and I headed up to my parents house Friday after work. Thanks to a late work day and all the holiday traffic we got in super late. Race morning came a lot quicker than I would have like. I ate breakfast half asleep and headed up to the race. I couldn’t believe how dark and cold it was on our drive up, a sure sign summer is coming to an end. I put on as many layers as possible and headed over to transition to pick up my packet and get my area set up. This is a small local race so the transition area is first come first serve and luckily I managed to get a decent spot close to bike out. My husband and I did a quick warm-up together, got our wetsuits on and we were off. The water actually felt good since the air was still pretty chilly. The swim was 800m, a longer swim for a sprint, but the lake is gorgeous and clear and always makes for a nice swim. Other than swimming into a boat about 200m into the race the swim went well.I’m not really sure what was going on with the boat but at the time I thought I had been swimming off course a little and that the boat was a little too close to the buoy line. I found out after the race that the boat actually ended up crossing right through all the swimmers. I’m glad I had gotten out in front because many of the swimmers were stuck and had to wait for the boat to go through to continue swimming. Anyway, I came out of the water in 3rd place and headed off onto the bike. This bike course is really challenging with lots of short steep climbs. The long distance athlete in me decided to kick in and it took me until mile 10 to actually start feeling good on the bike. It was also a really windy day so climbing all the hills into a headwind made for a tough ride. Still, I was able to catch the 2 women in front of me by mile 8 and since you never know what is going on behind you I continued to push hard. I entered T2 in first place and headed off on the run. I wasn't sure what to expect with the run course this year since it was new because of construction on the old one. This race always draws great crowds and it was great to have so many people out on the course the cheering, especially since the first part of the run was all uphill. My legs felt really good though and I was really having fun. I hit the turnaround and was finally able to see what was going on behind me. My lead turned out to be about 45sec on the 2nd place woman. With 2 miles to go a figured I’d be safe but you never know. After a few more hills I finally saw the finish line. I pushed hard right to the end and with last 1/2 mile of the run being downhill it was great to come flying through the finish. My 4th year at Skinnyman and my 4th win!