The 2011 season has been a different one for me in that I had one triathlon race in Sea Isle over Memorial Day and then no other triathlons or major races until close to the fall. I often compared it to having one of those classes in college where you basically studied all semester and then had one big test at the end that was pass or fail. There was a lot of pressure to be self-disciplined enough to make sure you were ready. Much like college, I really had to focus on getting the work in with balancing numerous social activities. Training through the summer has never been ideal as all vacations/events are always planned around quality workouts and making sure they happen. This summer would especially be hard with a couple of weddings (including mine) and associated commitments (bachelor parties).
The Nation’s Tri would be a good indicator of my fitness level and whether or not I’ve been training properly through the summer in preparation of the races I had lined up for the Fall:
- September 11 – Nation’s Tri (1500m swim/40k bike/10k run)
- Oct 2 – Poconos Half Ironman (1.2 mile swim/56 mile bike/13.1 mile run)
- Oct 15 – Baltimore Marathon
- Nov 20 – Philadelphia Marathon
One of the takeaways from my Ironman experience last November was to develop a plan and stick to it, both in training and during races. The Nation’s Tri started out as a warm-up for the Poconos Half Ironman. There wasn’t supposed to be much of a plan to the race other than seeing where my training was at and making the right adaptations before the Half Ironman. Everything changed when one of my triathlon buddies told me that Nation’s Tri was a regional qualifier for the age group National Championships in Burlington, VT. Basically, everyone who finished in the top third of their age group got a slot for the big show. I looked at the times that qualified the prior year and saw I was pretty close to being in the top third. I then made it my goal to tweak my training a bit to make Nation’s Tri an “A” race and make a run at qualifying.
Going into the race, I felt like I was in pretty good shape overall. In contrast to Ironman training, I have really balanced out the training between swim/bike/run. I think my run made the biggest gains basically because I ignored it the most last year which resulted in a pretty crappy marathon time at the Ironman. A good indicator of run fitness was doing the Livestrong 10K toward the end of August where I did a 44:43 (7:13 pace). Although I was feeling race ready, I did run into an obstacle with nagging feet/arch issues, specifically plantar fasciitis. Plantar Fasciitis is not something that goes away quickly and you basically have to manage the pain the best you can.
I’m not going to sugar coat it but the rainy weather in the DC area and subsequent cancellation of the swim and not replacing it with a 5K was definitely a swing in my favor since the swim is my weakest leg among the three. Having just a bike and run to plan for was a lot more predictable. The game plan going in was pretty simple. On the bike, the goal was to average between 200 to 220 watts for the first 20 miles and then take it up to 240 watts max up until the close. On the run, the goal was to stick around 7:20 min/mile pace for the first 4 miles then go as hard as I could to finish. Ideally, the splits would be:
T1 – 1:30
Bike – 1:05
40K T2 – 1:30
10K Run – 45:00
Total Time – 1:53
With the Olympic distance, I did have to put some sort of nutrition plan in place, although it didn’t have to be as intense as the Ironman nutrition plan. I basically made sure to drink 20oz of water with one Nuun Tablet during the bike in addition to consuming one flask of EFS Liquid Shot to fuel the run. On the run itself, depending on how how it was, I had the option to take a cup of gatorade at Mile 1 depending on how I felt.
Bike – Actual
The bike course wasn’t very difficult with a few rolling hills and some short, steep climbs. The majority of it was an out and back on a long parkway.Due to the time trial start, there was a ton of drafting occurring among the riders but I didn’t fall into any of the chase packs because I was too paranoid about picking up a penalty. The guy with the fastest overall race time was docked a 6:00 penalty and fell all the way outside of the Top 20. I ended up averaging about 208 watts which was in range of what I wanted to do but I felt I could’ve pushed harder to be closer to 220 watts and get closer to averaging 24mph. The good news was that I kept my heart rate relatively low, averaging around 152 bpm (low Z2) and went into the run feeling pretty fresh.
Total Time: 1:03:50
Avg Speed: 23.3 mph
Avg Watts: 208
Avg HR: 152 bpm
Bike Rank: 394/3879
Run – Actual
I started out the run “pacing by feel” to see what my speed was at a steady, comfortably hard pace. To my surprise, it was sub 7:00. As you can see from the photo above, everything felt pretty good at this point. I was able to hold to a good tempo pace up until around 26:00 in which was close to the 4-mile point.
The run itself was a single loop on a fairly flat, fast course. The race organizers did a great job putting aid stations at every mile. At mile one, I ended up taking a gel packet and two gatorades due to an unexpected mishap on the bike (more on that later). As the run leg progressed, I caught a bunch of racers in my age group which helped my cause to finish in the top third. Toward the end, with about 300 meters or so, I made one last surge to sprint down as many people as I could. You can see that on the graph where my heart rate jumped toward the end from 186bpm to 199bpm within 90 seconds.
Total Time: 41:51
Avg Pace: 6:45min/mile
Avg HR: 178 bpm
Bike Rank: 246/3879
Looking back, there were a few mis-haps/things I should improve on for the future:
- Heading out on the bike, I lost my entire flask of LiquidShot EFS so I wasn’t able to fuel for the run via the bike as I wanted. Instead, I just took a gel packet and a couple of gatorades at the first aid station and was fine. I’ll have to re-think securing the flask on my bike and just putting it into my back pocket/bento box.
- I didn’t put speed laces on the new running shoes. I easily lost 30-45 seconds in T2 because of this
- Under pacing. I the target on the bike was to be around 220 watts and actual was 208. I played it rather conservative and probably lost some time. The surge on the run was also a bit too quick which makes me think I could’ve hammered the last 2 miles a little harder.
- The plantar fasciitis really started to flare the last 2 miles of the race. I really need to get this under control or I’m going to be toast at the Half Ironman.
When I finished and received my unofficial results receipt, I had placed 48 which didn’t mean much unless I knew how many guys were in my age group. That number didn’t come until later in the afternoon, 407, which meant I made it into the top 12% and punched a ticket to Age Group Nationals! I really have to attribute the success of this race to simulating race conditions in the few weeks leading up to the race and putting together a realistic plan to stick to during the race. I can’t say enough how beneficial it was to know the different data points and formulating race targets around it. Post-race, the body felt fine except for the plantar fasciitis issues in BOTH feet. The right one is a lot worse than the left one. The trick now is managing the pain and getting enough quality runs in before the month ends when the Half Ironman hits on Oct 2 and a marathon hits two weeks later.