When I was a junior in high school, my last chance to letter for the season came at the conference meet. I had to do the 5k course in 18:30 or better. A week previously, I had done an easier course in 18:45. During the intervening week I spent the time psyching myself up and freaking out. When I stood at the line to begin this last race, I was so nervous I nearly threw up.
At 17 I was already a bundle of nerves, hormones and god-only-knows what else and the added adrenaline of performing in this race pretty much overwhelmed me. The short version of what happened is that I went out to hard and crashed in the last half of the race. I didn’t earn a letter until the following spring in track.
With what might be the biggest race since that day back in 1986, I’m trying not to repeat my mistake. I’m nervous and anxious alright, but not overwhelmed.
In what I’m sure they believe to be a bit of marketing cleverness, Ironman requires packet pick-up two days before the event so Friday for the Sunday race. Bike check-in is Saturday but what it all means is two trips to Boulder. This might not be a big deal if you were travelling from out of state to the race and had a hotel booked for the weekend, but for a local like me, it’s a pain in the ass. Nevertheless, Friday I shall be picking up the material and then heading up to my parents’ home in northern Colorado (this saves me a night in the hotel). It’s also the last night to get a really good night’s sleep. I’m off from work for the next five weeks so I’m hoping it will be the culmination of a week’s worth of good sleep.
Saturday is when things really start happening. I’m getting my hair cut short (like really short) to stay cool and I have an easy 30 minute run that is standard fare from my coach on the day before a race. Then it’s off to Boulder to check in the bike, drive the bike course, and then check into the hotel and take it easy. Some of this time will obviously be spent packing the various bags for T1, T2 and special needs. I’ll be in bed as early as possible but I doubt it will be a full night’s sleep.
On race morning, wake-up time is between 2:30 and 3:00 when I’ll start by eating my pre-race meal of a bagel and cream cheese, an Odwalla super foods drink and probably a cup of coffee.
The swim start is accessible only via shuttles so I hope to be on one of the first around 4:30. Once at the reservoir, I’ll be inflating my tires to full pressure, making sure the Garmin is dialed in and all of my things are appropriately placed for T1. Around 6:00 I’ll eat a gel to top off my energy levels.
I’m hoping I’ll be able to get a few minutes of practice swimming in. It’s not an especially big deal to do so, but getting the heart rate up prior to the start would be helpful.
The swim start is a rolling one where athletes “Self-seed” into a pace group. While my training and open water experience suggests I can finish the distance in about 1:15, I’ll follow my coach’s advice and aim for 1:10. Like any start, it’s going to be a washing machine with muddy water and lots of group-grope. I’ve dealt with this on multiple occasions and I trust my experience to keep me calm and focused.
The key to a good swim is to find a rhythm and hold it. I’ve had success doing that in the open water and that’s the plan here. No worry about how far I’ve gone or how much left, just how long until the next buoy. This idea of breaking things down into bite-sized chunks is a theme that will run through the whole strategy.
Other than getting a rhythm and swimming as I have throughout my training, there really is no other strategy. If I feel my arms getting a little tired or my lungs a little winded, I’ll ease back. But this is the easiest part of the race for me.
Goal Time: 1:15:00
Being the longest portion of the day affords the opportunity for more things to go wrong. Key among these is nutrition which has certainly had a negative impact on past performances. However, I’ve also had some successes here so I’m going to be focused on that.
Dave Scott recently tweeted out a recommendation to stand for the first short bit of the bike and that makes some sense to me; get things loosened out and build some brief momentum right off the line. My coach also recommends taking the first loop of the course easier and getting my legs established. That will be especially important as the first five miles out of the reservoir are a climb. No doubt I’ll see several people roaring past me but they are either truly faster or foolish. There ought to be lots of free speed heading down the hill after mile five until the first really big hill at mile 15. My approach to this hill (both times I face it) will be to gear down and spin as much as possible. A lot of talk out there suggests that 70% of FTP is a good target for this distance so I’ll look to keep my 10 second average power around 150 watts. No doubt that will spike up and down some but it gives me a reliable guidepost. If I drop below, I can always shift up.
Miles 20 to 40 are a net drop though not 100% free speed. There are sections (such as along the Diagonal Highway) where you are climbing. Of course, you’re right back to climbing again as you start loop two and climb out of the reservoir area again.
After completing the two loops, things are going to get, uh, interesting.
Shutting down Diagonal Highway is not really a viable option for the race directors. It’s just too busy and is a major access point into Boulder from most of northern Colorado. What they do have is a bike path that is accessible from the highway and allows us to ride under it so that we can head back northbound. This is all along the highway which is no stranger to bikers of all calibers (including many professionals). After heading back out, there’s the turn east onto Highway 52.
As a more or less native son of northern Colorado and an alumnus of the University of Colorado, this was often my route between home and college. I’ve driven it more times than I can count. I’m not sure I’ve ever driven it. For the motorist headed west into town, you’re greeted with a spectacular vista of the Boulder Valley that’s rivaled only by a similar view from Highway 36 which is the route to Denver. As a cyclist, it means you’ve got a pretty tough hill to climb and this is some 90 miles into the ride.
What it is not, however, is Olde Stage Road west of town. It’s also not any of the Three Sisters outside of Steamboat Springs. It is a hill that Map My Ride rates as a Class 5 hill which is the easiest of their rated hills. According to their software, this is 1.68 miles at an average grade of 2.5%. The steepest part is more like 4% and it’s near the top.
One of the things we practiced on the Three Sisters ride at triathlon camp was “pushing over the top” which is to day keeping the effort going fully until gravity starts to pull you forward rather than backward. That will be the strategy here because after cresting it, there’s a long sustained drop until turning around to head back west at which point you climb back up that same hill, just on a different rode. In both cases, I’m going to avoid burning too many matches and push over. The balance of the ride will be easy spinning and some out of the saddle to stretch the legs as much as possible.
I’m planning on stuffing my bento box with gels and carry one (possibly two) bottles of concentrated Gatorade Endurance Formula (the same stuff I’ve been training with and what’s offered on the course) and taking in around 200 calories an hour. There are probably those who would recommend more, but I don’t think my gut will take more than that.
Goal Time: 6:30:00 – 6:45:00
If I had to guess, I would say that most folks will say I’m going off any script of accepted practices for the run but let’s be honest: if things are going to go to shit, they will on the run. This is my plan but I’ll be more than happy to trash it depending on circumstances.
Since even with some on-the-bike stretching, I’ll likely be a bit stiff in the hip flexors, it makes sense to jog easy. I’m going to do that for five minutes and if I feel tired, hot or otherwise struggling, I’m going to give myself a five minute walk off the bat.
The next phase may be the most challenging. I’ve had some luck with run/walk strategies in training so I’m going to try to do four intervals of 10 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking. That covers 44 minutes and depending on pacing around four miles. If you add in the first ten minutes it’s closer to five miles.
This first set will be followed by another five minute walk break. I’m happy to cut those short if I feel great, but the realistic view is that I’ll want the rest.
Overall, this running plan recognizes that things are going to get harder and harder as the distance progresses. I’ve had optimistic plans that figured I could power through and they have not come to fruition. I’ve been running a ton lately (nearly 40 miles last week) and I think I have a lot of endurance, but this is going to be several hours in on what could very easily be a hot day.
With all of that in mind, the next four intervals will be 9 minutes of running and 2 minutes of walking followed by—you guessed it—a five minute walk break. You may see where this is going. By the end, I expect to be walking about as much as I’m running which is at five minutes of either.
Now if I feel better, especially after ten miles or so, I can always take shorter breaks or run for longer periods of time. In truth, I’ve been on some long training runs and felt okay near the end. I may find I can zone out and just keep moving. That would be nice. In fact, that would be ideal. Planning for the ideal is folly, however, so I’m going to plan based on past experiences. More than anything, I’m just going to keep moving forward. In addition to whatever scheduled walks I have, if they don’t coincide with aid stations, I’ll still walk through those to make sure I get the water and nutrition I need. But I won’t stop moving forward, period.
Goal Time: 5:25:00 – 5:45:00
Last year it was a point of pride to get through transition with speed. I’m less concerned about that for this race but there are a couple of time savers. I’ll be swimming with my kit under my wetsuit. I initially thought about wearing trunks and then putting on the kit in the change tent, but this will be faster. I’ll pull a pair of bike shorts on overthe kit. I did a couple of test rides this way and it works well. Probably the only change tent thing will be applying some Chamois butter which will not take long. When I get to T2, I’ll just have to slide the bike shorts off, put on the shoes (which have lock-laces) and be on my way. I’m giving myself about 10 minutes per transition but as far as actual idle time, I should need much less.
Overall Race Goal: 13:30:00 – 14:00:00
In truth, just finishing this is going to be fine by me. I’ve trained long and hard so obviously doing well matters, but if I have a lousy race but still cross the finish line before midnight then I define that as a success.
It’s unlikely I’ll post again before the race. It’s time to go see what happens. Writing this has been somewhat cathartic for me so if you’ve read it all, thanks!