Friday, July 24, 2015

Ironman Boulder Race Plan


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

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

The Bike

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 ridden 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

The Run

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!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Getting Real

About three years ago I posted about the anxiety I was feeling as I headed into my first-ever 70.3 race. Probably based on the name “Anxiety”, it’s become one of my most popular posts on the site. I expect the things that I talked about then ring true for a lot of athletes.

Years have passed and I’ve had some great successes and some borderline failures. Fortunately, none of those have included a DNF (voluntary or otherwise) but I did come away from a race or two feeling like I did a pretty lousy job of preparation. That lead me to hire a coach and things have been going very well ever since, but there is, of course the lingering question about how I will perform less than 19 days from today.

To a great extent, this is a leap of faith. Granted, I trained last year on his philosophy of intensity over volume and that lead to a significant PR in at the 70.3 distance. Coming off a fairly lackluster 2013 there was a lot of room to improve, but I think finishing the distance in less than 6 hours is a pretty respectable performance—more so for someone in his mid to late forties.

A benefit I had last year that I have not had in 2015 was doing other races leading up to my “A” race. In hindsight, it might have been wise to do a race or two, but I really wanted to focus all of my energy on not only completing an Ironman, but doing so at or faster than my goal time of 14 hours. As a result, my only gauge on performance has come from workouts that are not exactly what I’ll be doing on race day.

That said  it’s time for me to take stock. With less than three weeks to go, there are not a lot of improvements to be made. Rather, I’m now focused on maintaining whatever readiness I’ve achieved to date.


Never say never goes the old saw so let’s say that I am more than 95% confident that the swim is going to go just fine. Yesterday I swam 5800 yards over a two hour period. I got pretty sick of being in the pool but my energy level never dropped to the point of wanting to stop. I was focused on getting that big swim workout done and out of the way. I’ve only been in the open water twice this year (though there are two more to come) but both times I was swimming at a pace of 1:30/100 yards. Slow that down all the way to 1:45 and I’m still exiting the water in an hour and fifteen minutes. Even an hour and twenty would be fine with me. More importantly, I think I’ll exit with lots of my energy still intact.


This one is still a bit of a mystery. I did a long ride over the July 4 holiday of 80 miles over four hours though the first 25 miles of that one involved a lot of downhill. The mostly flat remainder went pretty well but I also got off the bike pretty tired. 

As I’ve done long rides around my neighborhood, climbing hills has been easier and easier and I do feel like I’ve got both good strength and good cardio endurance. What is still unclear is just how much endurance I have. It would be less than ideal to go for 80 miles and then have my energy levels drop out for the remaining 30. And lost energy would be a very bad omen for the upcoming run.

My main strategy will be to gauge how I feel during the ride. In other words, if I’m pacing for around a six hour ride and I feel good, fine, but if I start to sense much fatigue after a few miles of this, that’s a clear sign to back off and keep things steady. The Boulder course rolls a lot, especially on the first two laps where you climb a decent hill between miles 15 and 21 (first lap) and 56 and 62 (second lap). Both of those efforts are rewarded with sustained descents so I’m hoping that will equate to recovery. Two shorter but steeper hills await starting at miles 90 and 95.

As I’ve said, I’m a decent climber and I do a lot of it during training, but whether I’m truly ready or not won’t really be known until the last miles of the bike.


That fist 70.3 taught me a thing or two about running and the lesson has been repeated every time at that distance since: no matter how optimistic I am about the run, things tend to go worse than planned. A classic example of that was last year’s Harvest Moon race. I had never been more prepared to go run 13.1 miles off the bike. My legs were a little spent from all the hard work during the ride, but I kept a respectable pace going for 8 miles but then my legs and lungs started to give me trouble. By the time I had reached 11 miles, walking was happening as frequently as running. I was fortunate to have banked enough time during the first half that I only missed by goal time by 8 minutes, but even today, I’m dissatisfied with how much it hurt. But it really hurt.

I’ve done a lot of running at both long distance and high intensity and I do feel like I’ve got a big base of endurance, but then again, we’re talking about hours out on the course and some of it will very likely be in high heat.  I think I can establish a rhythm at a slow pace and hold that for a while. I’ve got a fairly detailed plan of attack, but history has taught me not to rely on that too much.

A more detailed race plan will be posted closer to the big date.

For now, thanks for reading!

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tri Camp Continued

Part 2: Three Sisters


In 1985 INXS released their album Listen Like Thieves to mixed reviews. I was 16 at the time and it quickly became my favorite. I pretty much wore out the cassette tape in the deck of my ’74 Corolla. While hits like the What You Need, Kiss the Dirt, and title track are best remembered, I recall a mellow but very cool instrumental track called Three Sisters.


On the second day of triathlon camp I had another encounter with three sisters. Unlike the Tim Farriss guitar licks, this was not a mellow experience.


We met a member of the local tri club at a KenTaconear our condo and were on our way after a few obligatory start-of-ride pictures.

Our initial ride took us along part of the Steamboat Olympic Triathlon until we took a couple more turns that put us on Routt County Road 33 headed westerly and upward. The initial foray was not too bad with a few short hills and then some down or flat stretches. Per my coach’s instructions, I tried to keep my power in Zone 3 and save the hard work for later. 

Roughly half an hour later we hit our first big hill and I mashed for roughly ten minutes on a grade that averaged 3.8%. I was feeling the pain a little bit at this point, but overall, my legs were still feeling fresh. My coach was riding just ahead of me and I saw him go over the crest and he soon disappeared down the hill. I decided to follow suit.


Over the last few weeks, I’ve been dealing with multiple flat tires. On a couple of occasions, that problem was solved simply by using my CO2 cartridge. On a couple of other occasions, I had to call my wife for a rescue. I started riding down the hill and picking up speed. Soon after the tell-tale sign of shaky handle bars and lateral drift told me that I had flatted. Worse, I had actually flatted both tires.

We were fortunate to have SAG support on the ride—the other coach was driving the course—and a text to him had him at my side in just a few minutes. I had one spare tube, and fortunately, my brother had stashed another in the vehicle.

We managed to get both tires fixed and then we added considerably more pressure than I had been using recently. For some reason, I got it in my head that higher pressure and warmer temperatures would increase the likelihood of flatting. Turns out, the opposite was probably true. In any case, the delay took 32 minutes off my ride.


Fortunately, I got going again and had no more issues. The remainder of the time down Road 33 consisted of a few rollers and a few descents before I caught up again with my coach at the turn-off onto Road 27.


A series of three climbs with only short descents between have been dubbed the Three Sisters and it’s one of the more famous rides in the area. We settled into a slow, low-gear pace and I began my ascent. I’m not especially fast going up hills, but I generally can just put my head down (figuratively) and push through them without too much pain. It’s a skill that helped me survive last year’s Mountain Top Experience Ride

The First Sister is only about a mile long but sports a 6% grade. It’s over fast and you could be lulled into a false sense of your own ability except that as you start the first descent, you can see the Second Sister in up ahead.


For me, that second one was the hardest. It’s only slight steeper and longer (about 6.2% and about 1.4 miles) but coming so soon after the first one, you really start to feel it in your legs and your lungs. Upon reaching the crest of this one, you’re just under 7500 feet.

The Third Sister is the longest but it’s not quite as steep. Nevertheless, the extra length starts to ware on you and you can’t see the end since the road curves a bit. I was feeling pretty gassed and my legs were complaining quite a bit by now. Fortunately, it’s followed by a very long descent into the small town of Oakville.


From there it’s mostly downhill with a few rollers until you reach what locals call Kill Hill. Honestly, I didn’t think it was that bad, but then I was not going at it particularly aggressively. Shortly after cresting it, we made a left turn back onto the triathlon course and a short while later, I was arriving in the parking lot where our SAG car was ready to take our bikes.


My brother and I headed out on a killer run that involves attempting to hit heart rate zone 5 in the first five minutes. That’s followed by a recovery and then some shorter intervals of the same. It was really grueling after the ride. Fortunately, the Yampa River was flowing gently near our finish point so we stood in the cold water for a few which no-doubt helped with the recovery.


After some lunch, a visit to Butcherknife Brewery and a nap, we had dinner and then proceeded with a very thorough race briefing from both coaches. We had a lot of questions about this race and doing an Ironman in general and the information they conveyed was invaluable.


Of course I would still have been ready for the big event had I not attended this camp, but doing so has done to boost not only my fitness, but also my confidence. The coming weeks will see the remainder of my hard workouts and then my taper. More posts are sure to come. 

Thanks for reading

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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

“This one time, at Tri Camp….”

Part 1: Arrival and Day 1


I’ve made one or two reference to attending a camp organized by my coach and a friend of his. After weeks of anticipation, the event finally happened this past weekend. There’s much to convey so I am breaking the experiences into to two posts.

My brother and I left my home in Parker a little after 1:00 on Thursday afternoon. Our destination was the ski town of Steamboat Springs which is three hours away in the best of conditions but can easily be four hours when factor in traffic, road construction and weather. Suffice it to say it took us a while to make the trek.

After an obligatory stop at a local bike shop we found our way to the condo that my coach and his counterpart had rented for the weekend. It was located near the base of the mountain near an area called Ski Time Square. From our fifth story balcony we could see various chairlifts and the gondola running up the hill. Like much of the state, the Yampa Valley has been subject to a very wet spring and the entire area was as green as I’ve ever seen it.

After dinner and lots of discussion about the race and the upcoming weekend, it was time to hit the sack and rest up for a full day.

Day 1

Early Friday morning, we made our way to the Old Town Hot Springs which is a hot springs, but is also an outdoor pool with 25 yard lanes. The local triathlon club was having their masters practice and we were invited to join them. Unlike a traditional practice, however, this one was changed up a bit. The lane markers were hauled out and in their place were three red buoys like you would see on an open water swim course. We used these for a variety of drills and a relay race. We also practiced throwing our goggles out into the water and then attempting to find them and put them back on without touching the bottom of the pool. 

It was not the most physically demanding swim workout I’ve ever encountered but I did pick up some good techniques for sighting and making turns around buoys.

 Considering what was coming up, it was probably a good thing not to have expended too much energy.

After a hearty breakfast, we took a little time to let it digest and rest before starting out on the second half of the day. Around 11:00 the two coaches, my brother and I were in our running gear ready to start what I can only describe as an epic ascent. As someone who grew up in Colorado, I’ve hiked countless mountains in my life, but I’m not sure I’ve ever run up one. That was about to change.

My coach walked us through a series of dynamic stretches and neuromuscular activation drills and then we were off. After a short run up a single track trail, we opened onto a wider stretch that I would guess is a “green” run used by skiers to access the base of the mountain. In the summer time, it just looks like a steep dirt road. This initial mile or so was done without any pace or heart rate targets. Primarily, it was just a warm-up for what was ahead. We spent a few minutes after the first mile recovering our heart rates before it was time for a series of three intervals each consisting of a two minute run at around the Z4 heart rate and then a walking recovery. The first of these continued on that same ski trail. About halfway into the second one, however, the trail ended and it was time to start very steep climb on a single track section.  The third was entirely on this section and in addition to the added steepness I also found I had to focus on tripping over rocks, stumps and roots. My heart rate spiked up to about 160 bpm by the end of the sets. 

We took a few minutes to pause in a clearing around the halfway point of the gondola run. It was getting warm but not scorching. After plenty of time to catch our collective breath and let our hearts slow down a bit, we started out next round of sets. These essentially doubled everything we had done previously. In other words, four minutes of running followed by a two minute walking recovery. There were just two of these, but I was really gassed by the time I reached the end of the second. We took an even longer break now and just admired the view of the valley below us. On the far side was the mountain that would form the eastern side of our bike ride the next day.

For the time, being, our next task was to reach the summit—or at least the end of the gondola run. It was only about 1.2 miles away, but it was also 521 feet higher! The route was not a straight one and we wound through thick forest until eventually reaching the clear area around the mountain house that was the top of gondola station. We got some water, stretched and recovered before the coaches told us they were taking the gondola back down but we were to run back to the condo.

Heading down was not demanding from a cardio standpoint, but it did require a lot of attention be paid to the trail. We saw a hiker who was being taken down in ATV after falling and apparently spraining something. Despite the technical challenges, the descent went quickly and in short order we were back at the same spot where we had been doing our dynamic stretches a couple of hours earlier.

Trail running is not a clean sport. That’s dirt on my leg, not a tan!

We were done for the day. A hearty lunch and a nap were about all that I had remaining in me before we headed downtown to have some dinner.

More on the second day in my next post.