Sunday, May 4, 2014

Goodlife 5K 2014 - Race Report

With the race starting at 8, to be safe we left at 6:15 and headed downtown.  Traffic was pretty non-existent at that time on a Sunday morning, so we made great time and were at the start a little before 7.

My sister-in-law was interested in checking out a race as she started running recently, so her and my brother came along.  As we got there a little earlier than planned, we surveyed the finish area and then headed to the start and chatted for a while.  It was a bit on the cool side, but the sun was warm so as long as it was shining it was pretty comfortable.  Fortunately since they were down there, I wore an extra layer on top and could pass that off to them before the race which helped a lot.

At about 7:40 a horde of runners came around the corner, so I handed over my sweatshirt to them and headed out to warm-up.  After a short jog I did a few striders to wake up the legs then got into position.At this point the front of the start coral was already packed, but I pushed my way into a good position.  Given previous years' results, I knew an AG placement may be within reach so I had to be near the front (they are based on gun time) so I was a little more aggressive than normal. There was no seeding at all, so the crowd wasn't well organized and it was obvious the start would be messy.

A few minutes from the start a fellow lined up behind me that looked like he'd be a lot faster.  I asked him what time he was shooting for so I could let him in front if he was as fast as he looked, but he responded with an I don't know so I let it be.  He ended up winning the race, so in retrospect I should have offered anyway.  Not sure if it was a strategy thing (don't show your cards too early), but I can't see someone with an elite runner's build being terribly concerned about a bigger guy like myself.

As we approached the start, the announcer asked the usual string of questions to the crowd including who was running their first race.  Several individuals in the front row excitedly put their hands up, and there was an audible groan from the rest of the pack at the front.  People moved around a bit to get away from those stragglers, and as they shuttled us forward to the timing mats they were enveloped into the crowd.

As predicted, when the gun went off it was pretty much chaos, but about twenty of us launched out of the gate at a 2:30/km pace for the first couple hundred meters.  We managed to quickly shed the traffic, coalesce and slowed down to a 4:00 pace in perfect sync.  After that point we were in a comfortable cruise and just stuck with it.

A few seconds later several dozen over-enthusiastic runners swarmed around us, but we tightened ranks and picked every one of them off within the first kilometer as they burned themselves out.  After that point, we opened up a pretty good gap and no one else passed any of us for the remainder of the race.  It was pretty awesome how organic that little phalanx of runners worked together.  We didn't talk at all (everyone was breathing heavily and I don't think anyone could), but pretty much everyone worked in sync and knew exactly what to do and when.  Starts at 5K's are complicated animals, and it was nice to see how it works on the pointy end of the stick.  I've never been on this end of things so it was certainly a new experience.

There was a bit of an odd segment at about 400m where we were looping around a part of Ontario place.  Rather than following the road, everyone just kind of went through an active parking lot so we were weaving around cars like an obstacle course.  I kind of thought we were cutting a corner or something, but the cyclist that was leading the group (the race leaders were with us) went that way and the Garmin reported exactly 5K so it must have been the right way.  Kind of an odd way to set up a race course, but I guess someone just forgot to close down the parking lot early enough or something?

Over the next kilometer we spit a few more runners out the back and continued pulling hard toward the turnaround.  They were going at about the right pace, but after the 2K mark I was getting a bit tired and questioning whether I was going to be able to sustain this.  My heart rate monitor slipped down earlier in the race as there was a lot more upper-body movement at this speed than normal running, but manually measuring it concurred with the numbers near the start and I was running in the mid-to-high 190s (or about 96%MHR).  That's about right for a 5K, but I don't think I've ever managed to pull that level of output for this length of time so it did leave me a bit worried :(

When we got to the turnaround, the pack accelerated into the high-3:40s and given my feelings above I elected not to follow.  I stuck with the 4:00 even pacing as I didn't want to push past the redline too early.  In retrospect this was a bad decision as the reason that first half was so hard was that we were going into a headwind and that was adding a good deal of extra work.  At normal running speeds that usually wouldn't affect me this much, but going this fast it apparently added up.  I figured that out around the 4K mark, but at that point they had opened up a pretty good gap (~45sec) and I missed the opportunity to use the downhill to my advantage.  I picked it up a little to try and reel them in, but I was naturally tired at this point so there was only so much that I could muster.

As I approached the bridges that I had planned to accelerate at, I was breathing harder than I would have liked so I stuck to my current pace and just pushed through.  I'd managed to pull the gap down to about 15 seconds or so, but that was too far to try and sprint out and overtake so I went back to just focusing on the time goal.  As I saw the lead group of four runners turn the corner into the finishing chute, I picked it up a little and as I was getting really close to the time goal I punched it just after hitting the final bridge.  That last set of lights where the turn was seemed to take forever to come and I was hurting pretty bad at this point, but I was determined to make it.  I had to slow a little when turning the sharp corner, but then accelerated again to a full sprint to finish it off with the clock counting down on me making it in with just three seconds to spare.

When we made the turn into the finishing area, it was kind of a surreal experience.  As it was the same finish for the marathon it was massive, but it was almost completely devoid of people.  I came in 17th place, so there were only a few athletes there and most of the volunteers were still arriving and unpacking things.  The upside to that is that we had quite an awesome buffet of snacks fully at our disposal with no crowds to wade through like normal ;)  The few of us that had made it through chatted a bit now after spending the last twenty minutes with one another and not really being able to say a word.  Was an interesting experience compared to the normal impersonal finishing chute where you're just cattle herded through the stages and out to meet people you already know.

After talking for a little and grabbing some food and water, I headed over to meet the family.  Not sure exactly how the placement went, we walked over to the timing tent to see where they were printing out the results sheets.  Unfortunately, they weren't doing that and the only way to check that was online which seemed a bit silly.  They also had no idea whether there would be an awards ceremony as given the demographics of the individuals I ran with I was pretty sure I was somewhere in the mix.  But without any kind of confirmation it wasn't really worth standing around and waiting, so I stretched and the three of us headed out to go grab some breakfast at the Grille on the Queensway :D  On the drive over there my father called to congratulate me on winning my age group, but at that point it was too late to go back.  Either way, while it would have been kind of nice I wasn't entirely sure that they were going to do anything like that, and if so it may have been bundled in with the marathon stuff which would have required hours of standing around.

Either way, it was a pretty interesting experience overall.  I've never really been anywhere close to the front of the race like this, but it was pretty nice to get a different perspective on things.  Normally I'm used to only worrying about how I'm doing relative to the clock, but there are a lot of moving parts when you need to also concern yourself about what everyone else is doing.  I kind of enjoyed the process of watching the other runners to figure out who was going to drop back and where to position myself, as well as keeping track of passes and estimating time gaps.  The turnaround was especially fun as you can extract a lot of information about where everyone is as you make that turn.  I can also appreciate how much easier all of this would be with the age number written on the back of the calves like they do in Triathlons - it was a bit of a guessing game who in the bunch was in my age group (apparently no one, but didn't know that at the time).

With that said, I don't imagine that I'll be in this boat many more times.  A lot of the reason I placed so well in the race is that the field wasn't particularly strong.  A 20 minute 5K is fast, but in most races there are usually a handful of 15min runners and a bunch in between so it usually will be much further back in the standings.  Either way, it was exciting while it lasted and will be a good excuse to keep trying to get faster so I can replicate it when racing against full strength fields!

As for the race itself, it ended up being pretty well executed.  My only tactical error was not sticking with the group after the turnaround - doing 1K at 4:00 and then the final kilometer much faster took a lot more out of me than doing both at a slightly faster pace like they were doing.  I also had more in reserve at the end than I thought, as when I picked it up the legs felt a lot better than I figured they would.  Had the runners in front of me been a little closer and the prospect of actually overtaking them been feasible I likely would have had more resolve to tap into that and I suspect with the two of those factors combined I probably could have shaved about 20 or 30 seconds off of that time.  Either way, the point of this run was to get better acquainted with my limits and I'm a lot closer to that than I was before.  I feel a lot more confident about opening up the throttle near the end, and while the lungs were screaming at the finish the legs still felt fresh so the strength is there if I need it.

Chip Time: 19:57.3
Gun Time: 19:57.3
Age Group - 1/67
Men - 13/386 (97th percentile)
Overall - 17/991 (98th percentile)
12 seconds behind #16, 18 seconds ahead of #18

Friday, September 14, 2012

Ironman Muskoka 2012 (Part 4) - Thoughts & Analysis

It's been a while since I posted here as I got out of the habit during my injury and didn't really do a good job of working back into things.  As such, I'm going to do this race report in three parts - firstly covering the buildup and training for the race, secondly, the final preparations for the race and, finally, on the race itself.

Going into the race, my main concerns were (a) going too hard too early on the bike course and having trouble with the final hills, (b) how well my legs would take to running after that ride and (c) not being able to get in enough Calories.  Fortunately, I didn't have any problems with those things - partially because I was very cautious about those aspects, but mostly because I vastly overestimated their significance.  As I noted earlier, my training season didn't go as well as I would have liked and that significantly hurt my confidence going into the race.  That, in turn, made me a bit gun-shy on the day of the race and made me overlook other smaller details that I should have paid attention to.

What went Wrong

Either way, in order to move on and aim for better the next time out the main thing to consider is exactly what when wrong and why:


Ultimately the largest problem this time around was dragging my feet on ramping up the mileage during training.  I was overly worried about being careful after coming back from the interruption, and that resulted in me pushing back the mileage climb several times.  While being cautious after an injury is important, pushing it back too many times meant that I left myself with very little time and resulted in a steep climb to where I needed to be before the race.  That meant making compromises on more specialized training (speedwork, hill training, etc.) in order to get the base fitness where I needed just to finish.

Aside from the direct consequences of not having that training in, this also was a strong strike against my confidence going into the race.  When you've done everything possible to train for a race, it's easy to put your trust in that program and go into the race knowing absolutely that you are ready to go.  In scenarios like this, however, I didn't have that to fall back on and I was questioning my readiness across multiple aspects.  The result of all of that is that, during the race, every time a decision came about to either push it harder or fall back, I'd always go toward the latter.

This manifested itself most strongly on the bike course, as the anti-drafting rules tend to not allow riders to just get comfortable and cruise like one can on a run.  When you come up on a slower rider, you either have to accelerate to pass them within the provided 20 seconds or you have to back off.  That's not too bad when it's only one person, but when there is a column of them then going past might require an extended effort at higher power levels.  Fortunately, it's much easier to recover from sprint efforts on a bike than on a run, but when you're trying to budget yourself for a demanding course that is a difficult decision to make.

My lack of confidence meant that on way too many occasions I dropped back when I should have floored it.  This was especially true on many of the climbs, as I found myself shifting way down a lot earlier than I normally would because riders ahead of me slowing down.  In addition to losing time because of the lower speed, it also disrupted my rhythm and made it more difficult to properly carry forward the momentum from the preceding downhills.  Looking over my telemetry after the fact illustrates this, as both my average and maximum heart rates during the race were about 7-10bpm lower than I'd typically see on normal training rides of similar length.

Nutrition Failure

Another side effect of being forced to rush the training up to the necessary levels was that it didn't give me enough time to experiment with different things.  Since the tight scheduling meant that it was critical that I safely nail all of my training sessions, it was too risky to play around with alternate nutrition strategies and products.  As such, when it came time to plan out my strategy for the race I didn't really consider anything other than what I had used in the past.

In previous races I've always just used Gatorade with a few gels on the side to add a bit more Calories into the mix, but for this race the nutritional requirements would be much greater.  When I elected to go with the water and gel plan, I was so concerned about getting in enough Calories that I neglected to give proper weight to the reduced quantity of electrolytes I'd be getting.  I was flirting with the idea of some Nuun tablets in the reservoir or just using salt pills, but I had no experience with those products and didn't really want to experiment with anything new.  The gels did have some electrolytes in them, and the temperatures were forecast to be low, so I mistakenly assumed I'd be okay.

Unfortunately, that gamble didn't pay off and I ended up getting a muscle cramp that cost me a little over a half an hour thanks to walking significant portions of the run.  It was impossible to precisely quantify how much I needed ahead of time, but had I used either of the above products during the ride I likely would have avoided this problem altogether.

Not Knowing the Course

The final major mistake this time out was not going up to Muskoka some time in the late summer to re-familiarize myself with the bike course.  This race was probably the most complicated course that I've ever competed on, and thus requires somewhat sophisticated strategic planning to get the most out of it.  While I had pre-rode the course the previous year, knowing the terrain was only half of the equation - knowing how my body would react to said terrain in its current state of fitness was just as important.

When I headed out on race morning, I had an exaggerated image of what I was up against and that dramatically changed my strategy to how I rode the course.  My knowledge of the route was based on a pair of legs that were just coming off of a six week hiatus, and while my training wasn't as strong as I would have liked, it was significantly better than it was at that juncture.  As such, I blew a lot of time out there saving myself for gigantic hills that would never come.

Slow Transitions

Not on the same scale as the above, but this was a mistake that I made in my previous Triathlon and carried through this time.   While I had planned things out well, I never really got around to actually practicing this procedure and when it came to the race it took my a lot longer than it should have to change back and forth.  This is basically free time, as if you can do it efficiently you can easily shave minutes off of the race which is a lot harder to do out on the course.  I didn't give it much heed this time as the goal was just to finish, so my objective was more on the racing bits of the equation, but if I want to aim for a decent time I'm going to have to work on this.

What went Right

On the other side of the coin, it's also important to recognize what did go well during the race as losing sight of those things makes it easy to screw them up the next time out.  Fixing a problem, but messing something else up in the process just ends up in the same place ;)

Primarily, the swim was the one component of this race that went off largely without any problems.  I managed to draft where the conditions were appropriate, the contact in the swim didn't throw me off at all and things pretty much went precisely according to plan.  My sighting wasn't perfect, and I need to work on improving my pace, but those are aspects that are more related to training than race day execution.  In the end, I didn't experience any degree of fatigue over the course, I managed to hit the exit around my time target and I was in good shape to continue on with the remaining legs - can't do much better than that!

Aside from the electrolyte side of the equation, my caloric intake and hydration strategies worked out relatively well.  While my stomach was a little heavy at the beginning of the run due to the second gel, it never rose to the level of discomfort.  Even after being out for over seven hours, I still had plenty of energy at the end and I wasn't hungry or thirsty at any point in or after the race.  This was a big unknown going into the race, so it's good to know that I managed to nail two of the three nutritional variables the first time around.  This will be a great help for next time, as I'll be able to go into the race knowing (a) how much I need and (b) how much my stomach can take.

While the run ended up going horribly overall, pretty much the entirety of that was because of the muscle cramp.  On the parts of the course where I was able to run, I felt great and had lots of energy.  I managed my heart rate well, and was able to control my pace with little trouble.  Further, when things turned to pot I avoided getting discouraged and just retooled myself to deal with the situation at hand - I kept forward momentum going and pushed my way to that line as best I could.

Lessons for Next Time
  1. Start training sooner - As well noted here, most of the above problems could have easily been resolved by getting proper training started sooner so I could have taken a more measured and controlled approach to getting ready.  This is a long race, and cramming things in the way that I ended up doing this year is never a good approach.  Some of that was out of my control, but when interruptions do happen it's important to get back up and running at a faster pace.
  2. Use a structured plan - The other flaw with my approach this time around was that my training was largely ad-hoc and didn't follow a structured regimen as it has in previous years.  Some people might be able to get away with that, but unfortunately I tend to not do well unless I have a formal plan laid out for me to follow.  Being able to adapt that plan is important, so it can't be too rigid, but too much flexibility opens the doors to excuses!
  3. Don't be so anal about the rules - I took the anti-drafting rules a little too seriously this year around, as very few people were going to the lengths I did to stay within the letter of the law.   As the officials were obviously taking a more liberal approach to things, the important thing is more to avoid actively trying to draft versus worrying about the formal 10m spacing or 20sec passing times.  From a functional point of view, on a course like this it is nearly impossible to stay 100% within the rules so a more nuanced approach appears to be important here.  With that said, if I ever ride on a flatter course things may be significantly different on this front.
  4. Experiment with different approaches - The issues I had with nutrition planning were largely because I had a limited quiver of choices to draw from, and none of them were a good match.  Once I find something that works, I have a tendency to stick with it.  If you keep doing the same thing, that tends to be a good approach, but when you are trying something more complex sometimes you need different tools.  With that said, it's important to do this early in the season - before a bad choice can mess with critical training.
  5. Practice, practice, practice - As noted above, I need to do some more practice with some of the more mechanical parts of the race.  My hideously slow transitions ate up a lot of time, and this is pretty much the definition of low hanging fruit.  As long as I use socks and don't pre-attach my shoes to the bike, I'm never going to get it all the way down there, but there is still a lot that I can do to make it more efficient.

Going Forward

With all of that said, I've now basically got a year to get things in order if I want to take another shot at it in 2013.  The nutritional component is easy enough to fix, so I can easily slice 30 minutes off of my time by not screwing that one up.  The bike will be a little more work, but with better quality training and a more aggressive approach on race day I think shaving 30-40 minutes off should be within reason.  Finally, the run should have a good amount of room for improvement as my training was a shadow of what I've done in previous years.

The first step, however, will be to trim back my weight a bit as I gained a few pounds during the two interruptions in this cycle.  During high mileage race training it is very difficult to shave it off as you don't want to short glycogen stores and run out of fuel during a session.  Now that I've got a few months with no races on the horizon, it's a good time to focus on base training and widdling away at my waistline to get it back to the ~160lbs range.  Having to tow around less mass will make everything easier in and of itself, and will put me in a better position to restart an aggressive training regimen when the time comes around.

I'd also like to take the opportunity to work a bit more on my swimming during the off season, as despite doing well on that leg my ranking was pretty consistent with the slow bike and horrible run times.  I've got a good base of endurance and can pretty much go for as long as I'd like at this point (I've done 6,000m continuous swims without issue), but my speed hasn't improved for years and I need to find a way to deal with that.  I've always gravitated towards the long set approach, as that's worked for the other sports, but the more I read about it the more it seems that shorter high-intensity sets do a lot more good for swimmers.  I'm not a huge fan of that approach, but if it will help me finally break the 2:00/100m barrier than it's worth giving it a shot.

Finally, I have to do some more digging and find myself a proper formal training plan for Triathlons of this length.  The Pfitzinger-Douglas plan did wonders for my running, but I haven't found anything similar on the Tri side of the equation.  As such, I've largely adapted the former to suit my needs and that's worked reasonably well in the past - but having something more structured for the sport in question would be beneficial.

I've got a book from Joe Friel with some stuff that might work, but it's unfortunately structured around time based workouts.  I can always convert those into distance based targets knowing how fast I expect to go, but I'd prefer to find a formal plan explicitly designed around mileage and not time.  Either way, I'll have to do some digging, grab some other books and hopefully find what I'm looking for.

Aside from all of that, I need to ramp my volumes back up to where they were before the broken foot last year and build a base that will allow a more aggressive approach come training season next year.  It'd also be a good idea to find a few early season races to test out my fitness, and hopefully get my running times back to where they were earlier as well (ie training runs below 5:00/km, races in the 4-4:45 range).  Naturally, I also need to get back into the habit of doing two sessions per day as running twice a week is not remotely enough.  Finally, I also need to experiment a bit with different nutrition products and see if I can find a better plan for handling things next time out.

Either way, that about wraps things up for this insanely long race report!  For those that stuck with me all the way through this wall of text, a big thanks for your patience :D

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ironman Muskoka 2012 (Part 3) - Race Report

It's been a while since I posted here as I got out of the habit during my injury and didn't really do a good job of working back into things.  As such, I'm going to do this race report in three parts - firstly covering the buildup and training for the race, secondly, the final preparations for the race and, finally, on the race itself.

Warning: This report ended up being quite long as there was a lot of material to cover.  I figured that it was better to record as much detail as possible for future reference, but keep that in mind before you dig in ;)

When 4:30 rolled around the next morning, the array of alarms we had set up sounded and we dragged ourselves out of bed.  My race clothes were already laid out, and my transition and dry clothes bags were mostly packed and ready (just had to move water & Gatorade bottles from the fridge).  As such, I got washed up, dressed and moved all of the bags back out to the car.  We cleaned up the remaining baggage, checked out of the hotel and drove over to the airfield with a quick stopover in Tim Hortons (I didn't get anything, but my Father needed it).  We ended up getting there a little after 5:30 (still pitch black), and hopped on one of the shuttles with a couple of large race bags in tow.

The rain had stopped early in the night, and the roads had mostly dried off my this point.  Being way out in the country, the air was nice and fresh and the temperatures were comfortably chilly (~6C).  In short, it was pretty much picture perfect conditions for a race.  I was a bit concerned about being cold on the bike as I'd be starting with wet clothes (from the swim), but I tend to fall on the warm-blooded side of the spectrum and I'd much rather be shivering a bit on the bike then boiling out on the run!

Setting Up

Once we got to Deerhurst, I took the bags into transition to get everything set up.  I carefully unwrapped the rain covers off of the bike, then wiped down the wet sections of the frame to dry it off.  Fortunately all of the covers held fast and things were mostly dry.  We were below the dew point, so there was a thin layer of moisture on everything, but once the sun came up that would quickly be burned off.  I quickly did a gear sweep and brake check to make sure the rain hadn't messed with any of the mechanical components, and double checked the tires.

With that done, I unpacked my transition bag and carefully positioned all of my equipment so it was ready.  I had organized everything more or less how I wanted it in the bag, so it was mostly just a matter of pulling out a couple of stacks of gear and plopping it down on a towel.  As they were calling for some wind later in the day, I made sure everything lightweight was weighted down well and snugged everything up.  To finish off, I filled all of my bottles (1.2L of water in the bike's reservoir, 1L of Gatorade in my running belt) and packed my stem bags with the gel packs I'd be using (7xVanilla Bean Gus).

With the transition all set up (and everything quadruple checked), I popped into the resort itself and took a quick bathroom break, then left my bags with my Father and proceeded to scout out the details of the transition area.  I would have preferred to do this the day before, but the sudden downpour put the kibosh on that so unfortunately I ended up with little choice.  All the racks look the same, and the last thing you want is to get lost while the clock is running - so it's critical that one knows exactly how to most efficiently get to where you need to go.

After making sure I knew exactly how to get to and from my bike, I walked down to the swim out to familiarize myself with the run up into T1.  As we would be coming out near the 18th hole of the golf course, there was a 300m uphill run past the resort and into the parking lot where transition was set up.  Walking down and back, it seemed a good deal longer than that so it was going to be a bit of extra work on the day - especially given the walkway was asphalt and we'd be doing it in bare feet (shoes are up in transition).  Either way, it was good to know what was ahead of me so I could plan appropriately.

At this point, the sun was slowly rising and hundreds of nervous Triathletes were walking around in every direction.  It struck me how different the atmosphere was from any other race I'd done before - nearly everyone was the picture of perfect fitness, and there were no hordes of recreational bucket-listers anywhere in sight.  Everyone there that morning was there to compete.  Looking out into transition and seeing literally millions of dollars of equipment ready and waiting for a race is quite a sight!  It was inspirational to be among such a group of athletes, but certainly a little intimidating as well!

Once I finished figuring everything out, I headed back to the resort and hit the washroom again before rejoining my Father.  We relaxed for a few minutes in some nice comfy chairs near the bar (the upside to having the race start at a resort), then got up for the ~10 minute walk down to the swim start.  They had a bag check set up right there, so I put on my wetsuit and swim gear and checked it in containing my dry clothes for after the race.  Once I was suited up, I parted ways with my Father and made my way down to my swim wave just in time to hear the national anthem.

Starting Corals

We were lined up along a walkway heading down to the beach, and seperated into our waves.  I was in the third wave, so we were kept on shore while the first wave lined up and the second had a chance to get some warm-up swimming in.  The view from this point was breathtaking, with the cool air creating a nice coat of steam above the mirror flat water and the gorgeous countryside of Peninsula Lake backlit with the rising sun on the horizon.  The shore was lined with spectators, and a massive column of athletes covered the walkway down to the water.  It was certainly a welcome change from metal rails along a concrete corridor like most races we end up doing ;)

After the horn sounded and the first wave headed out (Professionals and U19 Women), the second wave lined up at the start and we were allowed in behind them to get some warm-up swimming in.  The water was a little on the cool side (~low 60s), but with the fullsuit on it was well within the comfortable range.  I popped in and did a short ~two minute practice swim to warm up and fortunately everything felt good, so I swam back to the start and lined up along the outside back.

As the second wave headed out, we moved forward to the start buoys and got ready to start the long day ahead of us.  We would be swimming right into the sun for the first leg of the swim, so it was hard to see where the buoys were ahead of us and sighting was going to be a bit tricky.  At this point the adrenaline was starting to kick in and the magnitude of what lay ahead of us was setting in.  I chatted with a few of the other athletes to help calm the nerves, but not long after that we got the countdown and finally the horn!

Swim (2000m)

As we dropped down and started off, the traffic was pretty thick but fortunately everyone lined up pretty well and there was little to no contact.  Sighting was difficult thanks to the sun, but fortunately it was easy enough just to stay with the pack to stay on course.  Once the initial chaos settled down a bit, I tried to find a pair of feet to draft behind but paces were too erratic and I ended up just pulling out and doing my own thing.

The open water practice helped a lot, and I was considerably more comfortable swimming in the traffic than I was when I did my sprint a few years back.  I was able to comfortably maintain my rhythm with little trouble, and the periodic contact didn't throw me off much at all.  Navigation wasn't too bad, as it was easy enough to feel the wake from my neighbors to guide me in the right direction.  As such, I stayed within a few meters of the buoys for most of the first stretch and ended up with a pretty decent line.

When I hit the first turn buoy, traffic started to tighten up so I went wide and worked my way around most of it without incident.  At this point the pack started thinning out a bit so there was more room to move but it meant that I largely had to go back to visual sighting.  Thankfully, we had turned away from the sun at this point so that wasn't terribly hard to do.  I was feeling great and pounding out a good rhythm so I was tempted to pick it up a bit, but with the tough bike course ahead I elected to just stick with my planned pace.

I ended drifting a bit off course by the time I hit the second turn buoy and made the corner about ~6m wide, but thankfully it was a short stretch.  At this point the lead swimmers from the next wave started cutting through us so there was a bit more traffic to work with, but thankfully they all cut the corner pretty tightly so I didn't end up getting too much contact.

With that turn, I was into the longest stretch of the swim so just settled into a good cruising speed and hammered away.  Traffic thinned out pretty quickly and I was basically swimming on my own for most of this stretch, with the occasional pass every once and a while (was overtaken more than I overtook).  Unfortunately I got a little complacent on sighting in this segment and did manage to drift a good deal further out.  Not quite to the point where the Kayakers were, but I probably ended up swimming an extra ~50-100m over the course because of it.  Either way, once I realized that I was going off course I turned back and redoubled my sighting efforts with a lot more success.

Before long, I hit the final turn buoy and was making my way towards the shore.  Traffic was starting to build back up at this point, so I took the turn wide but before long I was back into the washing machine as everyone lined up in a column for the final approach.  Sighting here was a little more tricky, as between all of the splashing hands obscuring the horizon the shore was covered in colourful details that made spotting the buoys tricky.  As such, I just aimed for the resort building at the top of the hill and stayed with the crowd.

Approaching the last buoy things were getting a bit chaotic.  I had one swimmer behind me that was hitting my legs pretty much every stroke, so I picked up the pace a little to lose him or her.  I also had a few others swim diagonally into my path so it was getting trickier, but thankfully I was able to just push through and keep going without any issues.  Tonnes of people were going on the wrong side of this buoy, and there were swimmers all over the place at this point.

Either way, I found my way to the staircase and two volunteers grabbed my arms and helped pull me up to the first stair (which was about 2-3ft off of the bottom).  I pulled off my goggles, wiped down my eyes and ran across the timing mat and on towards transition...

Swim: 46:55 (2:20/100m) - 69/81 Division, 667/826 Overall

First Transition

After getting my bearings back on land, I was working on removing my wetsuit and then realized that the strippers were right there so I just ran over and had them undo the top half (they can remove the whole suit if desired, but they I would have had to carry it all the way up to T1).  They were ninjas and got that done in about a quarter of a second, and I was back off and running.

While most T1 runs are just a short jog up the beach, Muskoka's swim exit is on the 18th hole of the golf course so there is a 300m run up a hill and around the resort to get to transition.  Naturally, coming out of the water we are barefoot and running on asphalt is not exactly a pleasant experience but I softened my stride a bit and did what I could.  I slowed down a bit on the steep grade approaching the back of the resort, then picked it up again as we went around the side and into the transition gating.

Once in transition, I beelined it to my rack and quickly pulled my legs out of the wetsuit.  I threw it behind my normal transition stuff, grabbed a towel and sat down to put my socks and shoes on.  As I was doing this some of the adrenaline wore off and I realized that I should have hit the porta-potty before going to my rack, but it was too late for that so I just held it and continued on.  Once I got the footwear on, I stood up and grabbed a quick swig of Gatorade.  With that done, I put on my helmet and sunglasses then grabbed the bike and started running for the exit sucking down a gel as I ran.  As I was heading out I crossed paths with Ueli who was just heading into T1, so we exchanged good lucks as we ran in opposite directions.

I headed out the chute, crossed the mount line and climbed on and we were off...

T1: 8:01 (Includes the 300m run)

Bike (94km)

As I headed away from the resort I switched to a higher gear and pushed away as we climbed a small hill out of the area.  Once we cleared that I grabbed the straw from my Speedfil and wasn't able to get any water, so I fiddled with the valve and still couldn't figure it out.  We were approaching a turn at this point, so I just put it back down and continued on.

Pretty quickly things started getting bunched up, and trying to maintain the required 10m follow distance was extremely difficult.  There was a long column of bikes in every direction, and every time we hit even a small grade everything would bunch up and I'd end up right on the tail of someone else.  I tried backing off, but whenever I did that the person behind me would just pass and fill in the spot.  When I passed, none of the openings were large enough and I'd just end up in the same scenario as when I fell back.  The only way to stay legal here would have been to boot it and just keep passing people, but with no end in sight I was afraid that I'd burn myself out if I tried to do that.

As such, I did a lot of backing off here and lost a good amount of time trying to follow the rules.  I should have picked it up and done a lot more passing, but my memories of those massive hills made me a bit gun shy so I spent a lot of time just coasting.  Fortunately, when we hit the downhill segment along Canal Rd. I was able to get into aero and pass a horde of people before hitting the first turn onto South Portage Road.

Things went pretty well for a short period, but as soon as we hit the uphill segment here (long, but at a minimal grade) I caught up to another group and ended up playing the same game as I did earlier.  Whenever I saw an opening I'd gear up and pass, but inevitably I'd catch up to another group and end up coasting for a while trying to open up enough space to stay legal.  As passes had to be completed in less than 20 seconds, doing so on an uphill grade basically meant going all-out so unless someone was going really slow I typically just backed off.

Things opened up again as we turned onto Dwight Beach Rd, and I was able to get into a good rhythm of passing people once again.  As these grades were pretty tame, I fiddled around with the Speedfil straw and figured out that I hadn't pulled the valve open all the way.  As such, I gave it a good tug and got it open and then started drinking again.  Thankfully it was a pretty cool day, so I wasn't terribly thirsty at this point and I still had to go to the washroom so it may not have been a bad thing ;)

With the water restored I was a little past the 15K point, so I unpacked my first gel and sucked it down.  After squeezing all I could out of it with my left hand, I wrapped it up and stuck it back into my stem bag. While the road was littered with gel packs, the rules only allowed disposal in the designated areas (ie the bottle exchanges) so I elected to stick with that and carry my trash back with me despite some sticky fingers.

As we came out of the woods and into the town of Dwight, we had an awesome view of Lake of Bays including a fire boat creating a fountain for us.  The streets were lined with spectators cheering us on, which was a good boost just before we pulled up and out of town.  Turning onto Highway 35 we had a bit more space and I was able to pick up the pace a little and maintain legal distance without much trouble (hills were still a problem).  From our pre-ride I knew there were a few bigger hills up the road s bit so I didn't go too crazy, but I managed to pass a good number of riders along this section.

Unlike the roads before it, there was a good amount of traffic along this stretch so we had to be a bit more careful.  There aren't a lot of alternate roads up here, so the bike course was just 'semi-closed' (ie Police control all intersections to give us right of way) and we had to share the road with cars going a good deal faster than us.  Fortunately, the drivers gave us plenty of room and slowed down a lot when they came up on packs of us.

Along this stretch I saw a car parked at an angle in our path, with an elderly woman (mid-80s) getting chewed out by a course marshal.  As I slowed down a bit and passed, I saw a cyclist laying on the ground in front of her left front bumper.  The fellow was holding his knee in pain, so it appears that the lady ignored the marshal controlling the intersection and turned into him.  Fortunately, he was conscious and I didn't see any blood so nothing life threatening, but a bit scary to see on a controlled course like that.  At that point I was a bit thankful that I wasn't slightly faster, as it looks like it had just happened!

As we approached Dorset, we got into a few bigger hills and things started bunching up again.  I did what I could, but ended up losing a good degree of speed navigating my way around all of the traffic.  When we hit the matching downhills afterwards, I took the outside lane and worked my way around as many people as I could.  Things bunched up again after a second big climb, but then thinned out on the descent as we headed into town.

Once we turned onto Main St there were tonnes of signs warning us about the bottle exchange ahead, so I slowed it down a bit and got ready.  They had hockey nets ahead of the final turn, so I tossed my gel wrappers away then proceeded to get my right arm ready to grab a bottle.  As we turned the corner, there was a line of volunteers holding out bottles at arms length so I yelled water and pointed at one of the volunteers to signal my intentions.

This was my first attempt at doing a bottle exchange like this, and the idea of grabbing a bottle from a standing volunteer while at speed was a bit terrifying.  Fortunately the volunteers knew what they were doing and it went down without a hitch.  The fellow stepped out and held the bottle by the bottom, and I managed to grab the top and hold on without falling on my arse.  I steadied the bottle on my handlebars until I was clear of the area, then reached around and put it in my rear carrier.

As I approached the end of the zone there were a few porta-potties so I pulled over, put down my bike and ran in to relieve the pressure I'd been carrying since T1.  I got out in less than 30 seconds, then took the time to quickly down a gel and throw it out before hoping back on the bike and continuing on.  Once I got underway I drank a bit more water to chase the gel, then grabbed the bottle from my carrier and poured it into the reservoir.  As I was past the disposal area at this point, I put the empty bottle back in my rear carrier and continued on.

The stretch from Dorset to Baysville (36-62km) is much flatter than the rest of the course, and when we pre-rode the course I booted it along this patch.  The problem, however, is that the final stretch back has some incredibly steep hills that I had a lot of trouble with on the pre-ride because I burned myself out a bit too much in this leg.  As such, this time around I just kept things to a comfortable pace - coasting the downhills, carefully climbing the uphills and just cruising on the flats.  This was complicated a bit by a stiff headwind along this segment, but if I was going to get that at any point this would be the best place for it.

As such, there isn't a whole lot to report in this section.  Keeping legal distance wasn't a big issue here, so I was largely able to control my pace as I liked.  Things did get bogged down a bit on a few of the climbs as some gravel on the edges of the road left little room to pass, but other than that it was nice to be able to ride my own rhythm for a bit.  Everything was feeling great at this juncture, with no signs of fatigue and both my fueling and hydration were going well.  At the 45K mark I downed another gel as planned.

As we approached Baysville (the second bottle exchange), I tossed my empty bottle and gel wrapper into the hockey net before the bridge.  With a lot more confidence than before I grabbed a second bottle and made the turn onto Brunel Road and into the course's bigger hills.  This was the segment that I was worried about for the full ride, and was the main reason that I was holding out.  When we did the pre-ride some of these climbs were merciless and I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the top, and that time around we had stopped a couple of times to rest whereas now I'd be doing it continuously.

After we crested the first moderate hill in this section, things started getting bunched up again and staying legal became a problem.  Fortunately I was able to keep it within the rules pretty well here, as speed differentials were a bit smaller than before so it was easier to open things up when necessary.  Fortunately, I had a lot less trouble with the hills than I remembered so it appeared the strategy was working - although we hadn't gotten into the really big ones on South Portage so I wasn't counting them out just yet.

Along this segment the first draft marshal passed us on his motorbike, and despite tonnes of people being well within the 10m zone he didn't do anything about it.  That's understandable as I didn't really see anyone actively trying to draft, so it was good to see that they were taking a liberal view of things.  The downside was that it made me question whether I was putting too much effort into sticking with the rules, as most other competitors weren't really doing much to avoid it (ie they weren't trying for it, but they weren't backing off either).

Shortly afterwards we made the turn onto South Portage Road, which I'd heard a lot of complaints about from friends that pre-rode this year.  It was pretty dodgy when we did our ride last year, with tonnes of broken pavement and potholes.  In the early summer several riders reported having to walk several stretches as the road had been ground up and replaced by gravel.  More recent reports indicated that they'd basically sprayed the gravel with tar to harden it up, so it was rideable, but still quite dangerous.

Well, it turned out that those reports weren't exaggerated at all.  They had signs up well before the transitions warning us about them, but even though I slowed way down it was still incredibly sketchy and uncomfortable.  Road bike tires don't provide much shock absorption at 100psi, so riding over inappropriate terrain like this is kind of like sitting on top of a jackhammer.  Adding to the complexity, a few of these segments were downhill so I needed to carefully manage the brakes to keep speed under control, but not push too hard as to lock the tires on the loose surface.

There were three segments like this in total, and I slowly gained a bit more confidence as we passed through them.  I had to do standing climbs on several of the hills as they were big, and riding the brakes down the preceding hills meant that I had little to no momentum here.  Fortunately, the legs were holding out well and I was able to keep the cadence at a comfortable frequency so it wasn't a big problem.  By the third segment I was getting a little braver, so I stayed off of the brakes on the bigger descents which made the climbs a whole lot easier.  I unweighted the saddle a bit to prevent discomfort and held onto the drop bars with every ounce of strength my fingers had, but managed to keep things together.

Either way, after I made it through the dodgy sections on South Portage we made the final turn left onto Canal Rd.  There was a moderate hill here, and then a few twists up ahead with some of the largest grades on the course, so this was the segment I was most concerned about.  After cresting the first hill and then stretching out the legs a bit in preparation for the larger climbs I came down on the first twist in the road and got ready for a big climb.  There was a significant hill there, but I didn't have much trouble getting over it so I figured I was just misremembering things and it was further up the road.  After the next 90 degree turn, I figured that was it and climbed that without too much trouble either.

I pulled up the map on my Garmin to realize that was the end of the hills, and at this point I realized that I'd been a good deal too passive about my pacing.  Part of the problem was that I was just coming back from injury last year, so my perception of their magnitude was probably more a function of lost fitness than their actual size.  As such, I kicked myself for not finding a way to head up and pre-ride this year as I had avoided pushing it over the entire course because of that fear and it didn't end up materializing.

Either way, there was little that I could do that that point so I downed a gel (as I missed the 75K one as there was no opportunity to take my hands of the controls) and rode back toward transition.  I was tempted to boot it at this point and sprint it in, but with only a couple of kilometers left that wouldn't buy me much time.  I still had no idea how my legs would feel when I got out on the run, and I figured sticking to the plan would likely be the best approach.  As such, I stretched out the legs as best I could, made sure to finish off as much of my water as possible and brought it home at a comfortable pace.

I rode up to the dismount line, slowed down and dismounted then ran back into transition as quickly as I could...

Bike: 3:40:28 (25.6km/h), 70/81 Division, 661/826 Overall.

Second Transition

When I got back to my rack I found one of my neighbors had put his bike in my spot so I had to improvise a bit and put mine in his place and shift my stuff over so I could work.  I quickly took off my helmet and sunglasses, then sat down to switch over to my running shoes.  I grabbed the Garmin 405 and put it on my wrist, then turned my number belt around and put on my running belt.  I quickly grabbed my Garmin Edge from the bike and threw it in my pocket and headed off.  As I was running out of transition, I quickly ate my last gel and threw it out in a bin just before I headed out on the course.

T2: 6:04

Run (21.1km)

Surprisingly my legs were feeling quite good at this point, and it was a bit of a struggle to keep my pace down as low as I had planned.  Fortunately the borrowed watch made that a lot easier, as I had that feedback that I'd been missing for the last little while.  My stomach was a bit heavy at this point, as I probably shouldn't have had those two gels in such rapid succession, so I skipped the first couple of aide stations and didn't touch my bottles of Gatorade.

I was passing people continuously along this stage which did a lot for my confidence, as running had been my weakest discipline in training and was the stage I was most worried about.  My heart rate was staying in the comfortable territory, and my legs were nice and fresh with no signs of fatigue.  Overall energy level was good, and I wasn't feeling too hungry or thirsty so things were going well.

As I turned onto Highway 60, however, I noticed a bit of a twinge in my right leg just above my knee (lower portion of the Adductor Magnus).  It wasn't painful or anything, just kind of felt a bit of pressure every time I pushed off of the ground.  Given the lower electrolyte content of gels versus sports drinks, I was immediately concerned that it might be a cramp starting so I started drinking my Gatorade as quickly as my stomach could manage.  When I hit the next aide station, I grabbed a few pretzels as well to squeeze in a bit more salt.  Thankfully, it didn't progress much after that point and I was okay.

Shortly after that, we hit the turn onto Fairyview Rd and started to get into the proper hills on the course.  The legs were still feeling pretty good, although that muscle tension wasn't going away and it was significantly more pronounced when climbing hills.  I saw Marlene running the opposite way along this stretch and we exchanged greetings as she headed back toward town, which was a welcome boost.  Things were getting pretty warm by this point, but fortunately most of this stretch had some pretty substantial tree canopies that did a great job of keeping the sun off of us.

At the 7K mark, just before turning onto Muskoka Rd 3 (and the gigantic hill) I ran into Rob and we talked for a short while before breaking off just after the aide station.  As I started going up the big hill the leg started hurting a bit so I elected to bite the bullet and just walk up the hill.  I figured that would give me a chance to let it recover, and hopefully work its way out.  Once I crested the hill I picked back up to a run and it was feeling better for a while, but the discomfort crept back after a while.  At the next aide station, I stopped and stretched it out a bit while munching on pretzels and flat pepsi (had used up my Gatorade by this point).

I picked it back up to running again and was okay for a while, but eventually when we hit some more hills I had to brake back to a walk to let the leg recover.  I was relieved to see the turnaround, and knowing that the rest of the course was a pretty substantial net downhill helped boost my confidence.  On my way back I crossed paths with Ueli going the opposite way, and knowing that a friend was that close to my tail gave me a push to keep on fighting.

As I descended the big hill I crossed paths with Patricia on her way up so we exchanged quips about how tired we were feeling and continued on ;)  When I hit the turn onto Chaffey I stopped at the aide station again and took in a bunch of prezels to try to work out the cramp.  I stretched it a bit more while I was waiting, and Ueli overtook me at that point.  I wished him luck and then picked up behind him a little while afterwards.  At this point I pretty much decided to just walk any uphill segments and try to keep running on the flats and descents.  That worked pretty well for a while, but by the time I hit the turn onto the trail segment the leg was hurting more and I knew it wasn't going to last the remaining distance.

As such, at that point I made the hard call to just switch to a full walk and stick it out that way.  We were only about 6K from the finish at this juncture, and walking that distance wasn't a huge problem.  Fortunately, the muscle in question didn't seem to be used for the walking gait, so I was able to push the walk to a full racewalk and not loose too much.  Unfortunately, it had been a long time since I did much training for high speed walking so an 8:00/km pace was about as much as I could pull without tripping over my legs.

Every once and a while I'd give running a try again, but I'd get a few hundred meters and things would just start hurting again.  So I soldiered on and pushed myself as quickly as I could without running, and managed to make it back to Highway 60.  It was extraordinarily frustrating at this point, as my legs still had plenty of strength in them and when I switched to running I could easily maintain a rapid pace.  Other than that one annoying muscle, everything else was feeling good and I could have easily punched it.  Regardless, with nothing else I could do I kept going with tonnes of encouragement from the volunteers, marshals and police officers.

I eventually made it to the final stretch which was mostly downhill, so I stopped at a guardrail to stretch it out and then attempted running again.  The leg was feeling better, but it wasn't there yet so I walked until I saw the transition zone.  As I wasn't about to walk across the finish line, however, I bit the bullet and decided that I'd just work through the pain and picked it up to a run as I approached.  I'm not sure if it was the adrenaline, or just the salt kicking in, but everything started working at that point so I picked up the pace and pulled into the finish chute at a good hard pace.

The finish chute was the one segment that I didn't really scout out, as it was pretty straightforward and I didn't really need to worry about navigating it.  Unfortunately, however, what I didn't realize was how ridiculously long it was.  Either way, after making the last turn I finally saw the finishing stanchion and picked it up to a full sprint.  I was cheered on by Ueli and Marlene as I came in, and ran through the finishing tape (nice touch!) with a total time of 7:08:16; substantially slower than I had planned, but I had made it to the finish so the primary goal was met ;)

Run: 2:26:48 (6:57/km), 70/81 Division, 680/826 Overall

Chip time: 7:08:16 (official results, full results)
Gun time: 7:20:16
Pace: 2:20/100m, 25.6km/h, 6:57/km)
Place overall: 680/826 (17.6 percentile)
Place in men: 510/588 (13.3 percentile)
Place in age group: 69/81 (14.8 percentile)

Post Race

I do have to give the organizers credit for this race, as everything about it was incredibly well executed.  After crossing the finish line, a volunteer hands you a water bottle and asks you an array of questions to ascertain your condition and figure out if you have to be diverted to medical.  She walked me over to the chip removal, then over to have a picture taken and then finally over to grab my finisher's hat and shirt.  Much nicer than the typical run finish where you're basically on your own, but I guess that's a little easier here as people are coming in at a slower rate.

After heading out of the finishing area, I headed over to my father as well as an aunt and uncle who came out for the day (didn't meet up with them before the race unfortunately).  We walked up a bit more and met up with friends, had a bit of discussion and then I popped over to stretch everything out.  With a long day done, and a victory (regardless of how messy) under my belt it was nice to let it all soak in!  We waited for Patricia and Jayne to come in, and after exchanging congratulations with everyone headed back to get their stuff.

We headed over to the entrance of the resort and took a few quick photos with the race bling, then proceeded over to the bag check to pick up my dry clothes.  With the bags in hand, I headed over to my rack and packed up all of the loose transition equipment leaving the bike there to pick up later.  On the way out, I ran into Marlene and asked if anyone was doing anything but everyone had largely scattered at that point so we continued on alone.

As such, I popped into the resort and found a washroom to change in - peeling off my wet, salt soaked clothing and putting on some fresh street clothes.  From there, we proceeded onto to the banquet to grab a bunch of food and refuel!  Again, I have to give them credit as they had quite the spread - while most races settle for bagels and bananas, they had a full buffet with pasta, salads, bread, cookies and pretty much anything you could think of!

Once finished, we headed back to transition to grab my bike and then walked everything up to the road.  My father hopped on the shuttle to go get the car, and I just found a comfortable rock and sat down to relax a bit.  I drained the remaining water out of the Speedfil (just lowered the straw below the reservoir and used it as a siphon) and sipped on some Gatorade while I waited.  Soon enough he looped around, we packed the bike in the trunk and bags in the back seat and we were off after a long and extremely rewarding day!

Now it's just a matter of sitting back a bit and letting the body recover, before starting all over again for another run at it with the goal of getting that finishing time out of the stratosphere!  The one upside to making a bunch of mistakes at a race is that it makes it easier to blow your time out of the water next time around :D  Either way, I'll save my analysis and summary for another post as the length of this one is already getting pretty ridiculous at this point!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ironman Muskoka 2012 (Part 2) - Final Preparations

It's been a while since I posted here as I got out of the habit during my injury and didn't really do a good job of working back into things.  As such, I'm going to do this race report in three parts - firstly covering the buildup and training for the race, secondly, the final preparations for the race and, finally, on the race itself.

With a sub-optimal training season, naturally my nerves were a little frayed going into the final weeks before the race.  In previous years I had used highly regimented training programs, and regardless of the doubts that I may have had I could always fall back on trusting those programs.  This year, unfortunately, I had succumbed to the temptation of making excuses, and it was harder to have confidence in my preparations especially with a race covering such a large distance on hostile terrain.

The other concern that I had was that I didn't get a chance to head back to Huntsville to do another pre-ride of the course to familiarize myself with it.  We had arranged a group ride in early August, but heavy rain on that day forced us to cancel it.  Unfortunately our schedules didn't mesh for the remaining weeks, so we never got a chance to head back up there.  Fortunately, I had ridden the course the year before so I remembered most of it, but I wasn't sure how my legs would handle it this time around.

On the upside, without an aggressive time goal it did allow me more flexibility to adjust my pace on the fly.  The primary objective of this race was just to get to the finish line, and my limited fitness meant that there would be little temptation to try and push myself too hard.  I was comfortable enough with all of the distances that I wasn't really worried about not being able to make it, so if I had to walk up a few hills it wouldn't really be a huge issue.  The time cutoffs were long enough that I could have easily walked the entirety of the run stage, so there was little risk of missing the target here.

Logistics Planning

Either way, at this stage there was little that I could do on that front so I simply had to focus on planning the race as best I could with the tools available to me.  Unlike running races, there is a lot more moving parts for Triathlons and that's especially true for distances such as this.  The logistics of dragging all of your equipment up to the race, setting it up, handling transitions during the race and then breaking it down at the end are complicated.  Further, nutrition is a lot more complicated as you're burning around twice as many Calories as a marathon and as you can't really take anything in during the swim, you start off at a healthy deficit.

Compounding this was the fact that this particular race used a Powerbar sports drink (Ironman Perform) rather than the standard Gatorade provided at most races.  On the occasions that I've tried it, Perform has not aggreed with my digestive system and I'm not a big fan of the taste either.   My typical strategy in the past has been to stick with Gatorade supplemented with a few gels, as that keeps things simple (ie just drink to thurst and the Calories and electrolytes balance themselves out pretty well).  Unfortunately, their choice of sports drink made that plan untenable so my choice was either to (i) load up the bike with my own Gatorade or (ii) stick with water on the bike and use a heavier dosage of gels.

Option one would be the simplest solution, but with the crazy hills of the Muskoka course the thought of having to drag several pounds of extra weight along wasn't appealing.  Using the bottle exchanges I'd only have to bring about 750mL of drink with me, and I could pick up another 1.5L en route.  Doing the same with Gatorade basically meant bringing more than 2.25L (~5lbs) of the stuff from the start.

Going with option two meant having to fiddle with more variables, however it allowed me to use the two bottle exchanges to refill my water reservoir (I was using a Speedfil).  Using a stem bag I could bring along as many gels as I liked, and as they weigh next to nothing it would be easy enough to handle.  It meant things were more complicated as I had to remember to eat them every 15K, and it slowed things down a bit as trying to open, squeeze out and then put away the wrapper (littering is explicitly against the rules) is something of a juggling act when you can only use one hand.

I flirted with a few other ideas like carrying a 2-4x concentrated bottle of Gatorade on the rear carrier and then pouring it into the Speedfil after the course water, but I didn't have time to work out the details of what concentrations would stay in solution and whether it would mix.  The engineer in me tossed around ideas of rigging a venturi siphon in the Speedfil's straw, but that wasn't exactly something I was equipped to build.  Ultimately, though, I ended up going with the gels and water approach as I figured it would be the simplest to execute.

On the run, I packed my water belt with bottles of Gatorade to make things a bit easier.  That gave me a litre of the stuff to work with, and when that ran out the aide stations had flat coke that could take me the rest of the way in (and the Caffeine would help with energy for the final push).  It's easier to get calories in on the bike (no bouncing, so GI system works better) so while I brought a couple of Gels with me I didn't plan to use them.  I borrowed a Garmin 405 from friends so that I'd have a pace and distance readout while running, but still used my Edge (in a pocket) to actually record the data.

As for the transition, given the distance I figured that I was better off planning to be comfortable than trying to be too aggressive in shaving time there.  As such, I would put (pre-rolled) socks on before getting on the bike and sit down to do that, as I remembered fumbling around with that at my sprint tri (where I tried doing that standing).  I elected to continue putting my shoes on at the rack and run in them to the bike, as I don't really think I'm coordinated enough to do the whole shoes-already-on-bike acrobatics :OP  I also decided to take the time to put on my cycling gloves, as 94K of hilly riding seemed a bit daunting without them.

Pacing & Race Tactics

The Muskoka bike and run courses are both mercilessly hilly, so just going out and doing things blindly is generally not a good approach.  From my pre-ride, I knew that the final stretch has some monster hills and it's easy to go too hard in the middle third of the course (Dorset to Baysville) to put yourself in a bad place.  I was also unsure as to how well my legs would run after that ride, so I didn't want to go too hard on the bike.  I've been fortunate that running off of the bike has never been a problem for me, but the scale of this race is a lot bigger than any brick that I've done so I was concerned it might be enough to tip the scales.

The other tricky part of the equation is that pacing yourself on a course like this is extremely difficult, as there are little to no flat segments on the bike ride.  It's relatively easy to do with a power meter, as you can just set a target and stick to it.  Unfortunately, as I don't have one of those as of yet I'm left with only speed and heart rate.  Both of those are highly dependent on grade and make it hard to use either as a reliable benchmark.  Averaging the data helps with this, but then you're looking at a significant lag in the signal and your response comes too late to be effective.  In the end I chose to just trust my gut and go by feel, airing on the side of caution and keeping an eye on the data that I did have to help calibrate that.

Ironman Muskoka 70.3's 94K bike course (4K longer than standard half Ironman races) and profile charts.  Top plot is elevation and the bottom is % grade (note that both are smoothed a bit to make it easier to read).  Click for more detail.

Either way, the first third of the course has some relatively large hills but fortunately the grades aren't really too crazy in most places.  There are some pretty substantial downhills in this section as well, so the plan was basically to bomb down those descents as quickly as possible and try to use as much momentum as possible to get up the hills.  As I didn't want to tire myself out too early in the game, the plan was to switch to low gears as soon as that momentum ran out and stay down on the saddle.

Once I got to the first bottle exchange in Dorset, things flatten out a bit and it's really tempting to just get down on the aerobars and floor it to make up time.  The problem is that the final third of the race has some monster grades, and burning yourself out on these miles is a good way to make those painful.  As such, I figured that I'd just try and stick to a comfortable ~28-29km/h pace along this stretch and give the legs a chance to recover from the hills in the first third.  While there are a few hills in this segment, they aren't terribly long and you get a good run at them so I'd be a little more aggressive than in the first third but not go as far as standing at any point.

Once we make the turn in Baysville (the second bottle exchange) and head north, the course gets into the really mean hills.  Compounding this is the fact that there are a few stretches of road with horribly bumpy chipseal, which will significantly limit safe speeds and kill a lot of momentum on downhills (meaning otherwise simple rollers get a lot harder).  As such, the climbs here were going to need a lot more power so I would have to focus on selecting optimal gearing and standing up to climb the larger hills.  At the same time, this is a rough section and to survive to the end will require some conservation so the plan was to take every possible opportunity to rest when not actively climbing.

Fortunately, the last couple of kilometers are mostly downhill so the plan was simply to soft pedal down that segment to give any residual lactate a chance to clear.  I'd also take the opportunity to stretch the legs a bit to prepare them for the run as well as eat a gel before getting into transition.  By this point in the race, I would have taken in about 700kcal in total (one before getting on the bike, then one every 15K and final one heading into transition).

Ironman Muskoka 70.3 21.1km run course and profile charts.  Top is the elevation map, centre is an averaged grade plot and bottom is a raw grade plot.  By far the hilliest half marathon course I've ever seen ;)  Click for more detail.

On the run, things were a bit simpler as grade has less of an effect on pace (wider power band, no gears and no coasting).  As such, I elected to start the run off with an easy 6:00/km pace and then make a decision when I hit the half-way point (ie top of the biggest hills) as to whether I could speed that up.  I also left the door open to consider walking on the steeper portions of the hill on Muskoka Rd 3 (ie that giant bulge in the middle).

Fortunately, with the out and back arrangement of the course I'd have a good idea of what to expect in the second half, so making a judgement about how to proceed at the turnaround should work decently.  There were plenty of aide stations planned along the route, so supplies weren't going to be a big worry.  The downhills were a bit of an unknown, as usually they'd be good but depending on the terrain that can be pretty hard on tired quads.  With the return along Highway 60 being done on a trail rather than the road, however, there was the possibility of some dodgy descents.

The other complicated component was that I'd be starting the half marathon after noon, so there was the possibility of it being quite hot for the run.  Fortunately I did take the opportunity to do a lot of my long runs at mid-day so that would help, but after swimming and cycling all morning that heat could easily be a lot more uncomfortable.  Fortunately, the weather reports were calling for a cool day so that was less of an issue but it wasn't a guarantee.

Travel Logistics

As Ironman Muskoka requires all bikes to be checked in the day before the race, there was no choice but to stay in a hotel in Huntsville.  That made things a bit simpler as we could head up at a relaxed pace on Saturday morning, have some time to check out the venue and relax ahead of the race.  As there was a group of us going up, we arranged to meet up for dinner the night before to get our carb fix and get into the right mindset.

I was hoping to get in a short and easy run once we got into town to shake down the legs, but as we got closer to the date the weather descended into rainy territory so I elected to just forget about that and stay dry.  It's always good to stretch out the legs a bit, but it's not really necessary and the risk of catching something in the cold/wet air was not worth it.

My father expressed interest in coming with me, and that made things a lot easier as he could help with shuffling equipment around and simplify the driving part of the equation.  As the Deerhurst parking lot was used for transition, they had parking at a nearby airfield and used shuttle buses.  They wouldn't let you bring bikes on the shuttles, however, so it helped a lot to have someone to drop me off with my gear at the site and not have to mess about with the buses.

Heading Up

We left home around 10am and drove up to Huntsville, ending up getting into town at about noon.  We popped into Harvey's to grab lunch, checked into the hotel and then drove over to Deerhurst to drop of the bike and register.  I got dropped off with my bike and checked it into the temporary storage racks before heading in for registration.  Things were a bit cloudy at the time, but it wasn't raining and temperatures were pretty comfortable.

Once inside I got my race number, filled out the waivers and emergency forms then proceeded to register and pick up my kit.  As I was getting instructions from one of the volunteers, Ueli popped in line behind me and said hello.  We quickly finished registration, and headed over to the Ironman store across the way and looked around.  I was tempted by the jerseys, but decided not to go for it as they were white shirts and I'm not crazy about their tendancy to go transparent when they get wet ;)  They had some decent stuff, but nothing that I really needed so I avoided temptation and headed out when the others were done.

After looking through the rest of the expo and chatting a bit, we headed out to rack our bikes and rig some covers over them to protect them from the rain.  It was drizzling a bit when we went out, but by the time I got to the rack it started coming down in buckets so I had to rush and get it covered.  After a few minutes of fiddling around with bags, elastic bands and zip ties I had the Handlebars, Saddle and Speedfil securely covered.  As I was running over to cover, I realized that I forgot to put the race sticker on the bike, so I had to run back and stick it on the top tube (wasn't about to unwrap the seat post again).

We took the bus back to the car, then drove back to the hotel and relaxed a bit.  We popped over to a local church before heading to East Side Mario's to meet up with the rest of the group and have dinner.  After loading up on carbs, we headed back to the hotel and got everything organized for the morning, sat back and relaxed a bit and then went to bed early for the big day...

Ironman Muskoka 2012 (Part 1) - The Buildup

It's been a while since I posted here as I got out of the habit during my injury and didn't really do a good job of working back into things.  As such, I'm going to do this race report in three parts - firstly covering the buildup and training for the race, secondly, the final preparations for the race and, finally, on the race itself.

The Half-Ironman has been a goal of mine for a few years now, and while I got close to doing it last year the fall that broke my foot killed that plan outright.  As such, once I got back into training I knew that my objective would be to work myself back into race shape and shoot for the same target.  The tricky part, however, was that I had lost much of the fitness that I spent years building up to so doing that was going to be a lot more complicated than before.

Aside from the six or so weeks that I was completely unable to exercise, I was also instructed that it would take a few months for the bone to be back to full strength so I had to take it easy.  I was free to exercise, but I had to stop immediately if anything caused pain in the foot.  As such, while I was able to spin up swimming and cycling shortly after that point (neither bothered the foot at all), it took a lot longer to build up my running.  Adding to the complexity was that I was a bit paranoid about it for a while, so I kept the mileage and intensity buildup at a very conservative pace.  The result of all of that is that by the time everything was back to 100%, I was basically starting from scratch on the running front.

Working my Way Back

In late August, my cycling was starting to get back to decent levels.  While my speed was still substantially lower than before the injury, my stamina was largely still there so I was still able to put in decent mileage.  As such, I joined Ueli, Patricia and their friend Paul and headed up to Huntsville and do a pre-ride of the Ironman Muskoka course.  Paul was doing the race last year, and Patricia was doing the bike stage of the relay so it was a scouting mission for them and just normal training for myself.

The course itself was gorgeous, but pretty much non-stop hills so I was toast by the time we finished up.  I stuck with Paul for most of the ride, and he was a stronger rider than I was so it did a good job of pushing me to do all that I could to keep up.  The final hills coming back into Deerhurst were especially brutal on my tired legs, and there were a few climbs that I wasn't sure I was going to make it to the top on ;)  We had a quick lunch before heading back home, but the thought of having to run a (hilly) half marathon after than was a bit daunting.

When October rolled around, Ironman Muskoka 70.3 was running a promo with a reduced rate ($199 taxes in) and a bunch of friends took the opportunity to sign up.  Given that was my ultimate goal, I bit the bullet and signed up as well thinking that it would be a good motivator to get myself in gear and build up to a hard target.  The pre-ride had convinced me that it was a special course, and with the price in the territory of the non-branded half ironman races I figured that it was a no-brainer.

I later ended up adding the Sporting Life 10K into the equation when a good deal came up for that, as I figured that by that point I'd be in good shape for it and it would be an optimal point to test out how well my running was doing.  As such, I slowly ramped up all three sports again and worked on the mileage and intensity even as the winter rolled in.  In retrospect, I was likely a bit too conservative with the mileage increases, but I figured I had lots of time to work back up and didn't want to re-injure the foot.

When the new year rolled around, things were going well.  I was swimming twice a week, riding two to three times and running around four times.  Distances weren't great, as getting back into the routine just after summer made things more difficult, but speed was coming back and I was slowly working my way back up.  With my brother getting married in late February down in Florida, I was also looking forward to getting some runs in under more favourable southern weather.


Unfortunately, just ahead of that trip down to Florida my knee started acting up a bit.  I took a few days off and it pretty much got better on its own, but that also ended up killing much of my capacity to get in much running while I was down there.  With that said, we were quite busy while down there so it likely would have been difficult to get things in even if everything was going as planned.

On the way back up, however, I managed to catch a nasty throat infection that unfortunately kept me off of my feet for additional time.  It was a stubborn SOB to and took three courses of antibiotics to kill, so I was under Doctor's orders to cease all exercise until it was gone.  When all was said and done, I ended up losing another 5-1/2 weeks of training.  Given that I was starting from a reduced state of fitness before this interruption, this was a significant setback that threw a big wrench in my plans.  I was effectively in a worse situation than when I got back in the summer, and I had a lot less time to spin back up.

As a result, it was no longer realistic to plan to race the Sporting Life 10K so I just refocused on using it as a simple training run and then just aim to do whatever I could to get my fitness back for September.  That was a tall order to start with, and the discouragement of that additional setback took a good chunk out of my confidence as well that just compounded things.

Climbing Back Up

Either way, I soldiered on and starting clawing my way back into the routine as best I could.  It was obvious at this point that I'd have to readjust my expectations for the race, and that my objective would have to switch from a competitive finish to a simple get-it-done target.  That made things a bit more difficult, as I'm naturally a competitive person so I'm used to that driving me to push myself.  With the knowledge that I'd be in the back of the pack at the race, those motivations were now gone and it was harder to push myself to get out there.

When I originally started running, I was coming off of a year of relatively high mileage walking to help lose weight.  As such, I had a significant base of cardio and leg strength so it wasn't terribly hard for me to work my way up to running and was able to go out with a decent pace to start with.  After breaking my foot, a good deal of my endurance was still there, so while it was a struggle to get back up it wasn't terribly hard.  At this point, however, I was starting from a point I had little familiarity with and I had to get used to running at paces lower than I'd ever done before and struggling with distances that were trivial less than a year before.

The end result was that I was way too conservative and I dragged my feet more than I should have when it came to ramping up from base building.  While before the injury I was used to doing two-a-day sessions several times per week, I made excuses and avoided them; ending up only being able to squeeze in a run twice a week or so.  Cycling was a little better, as I'd typically get about three rides in a week, but I held off on doing the longer rides (ie 80+km) for too long and had to ramp up quickly in the last two months.  Swimming was the one thing that I stayed pretty consistent with, doing either two 4K pool swims or a 4K pool swim and two ~2K OWS per week.

As I was reaching the end of the peak phase of training, it also ended up being quite hot, which made it challenging to get those longer runs in.  While they were at a fraction of the pace and much shorter than I'd done in previous years, I didn't have the marathon base in me anymore so even the piddly 13-14 mile distances were a struggle.  Either way, I soldiered through and did what I could in the time remaining.  I was kicking myself for pretty much the duration of August for not ramping up faster so I could have fit in some explicit hill training and speedwork, but there just wasn't enough time and I had to focus on my endurance.

Thankfully, it cooled down a good deal for the last little while and I was feeling stronger about things.  I selected the hilliest routes I could find and pushed my way up them as hard as I could, and that was having marked improvements in my strength.  Paces were picking up a bit and it was getting easier and easier to get up those steep hills.  I knew that I wasn't going to be logging a great time, but my confidence was improving and I figured that I'd be able to pull it off in the 6-6.5 hour range.

With three weeks left until the race, I elected to do a full blown taper and start working my way back down.  I would have liked to keep pushing for another week or so, but given my concerns about readiness I figured that the recovery would probably do more good than one or two more long sessions.  I kept up the intensity to make sure that I was ready for those giant hills, but scaled back the distances.

We were down to the crunch time, and the only thing left to do was trust in the training and figure out the details of how to execute the race...

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Weeks 32 & 33: Review

Weather last week was pretty rainy, so I ended up pushing most of my rides back to the end of the week. For the first half of the week, things were going great - I was picking up speed in the pool and got a good strong 30K speedwork session in on the bike. I also added an easy walk back into the routine to work my way back towards running.

Unfortunately, after my swim on Thursday I went to pick up some bottles for my water cooler and ended up tweaking my lower back. That, in turn took me out of commission for the remainder of the week and took a big chunk out of my mileage. In addition to the weekday rides that I had to miss, it also meant bowing out of the group ride on Saturday. Fortunately, it got better relatively quickly but I played it safe to avoid re-injuring it.

As I've noted here, I have had these sorts of problems on and off for a while now mostly thanks to a lack of strength in that area. Running and Cycling do wonders for the legs, and Swimming helps with the arms and upper back, but none of them do much at all for the muscles in between. Mix in the muscle imbalance in my legs, and starting back into an aggressive program and I'm likely more prone to this than under normal circumstances.

The only real solution is to add some strength training into the mix, but I've never been fond of that sort of workout so it's difficult to stick with it. I really need to find some type of exercise that I actually enjoy that helps with this, but so far I'm at a loss on that front. Aside from a general dislike of indoor exercise, I've always been more inclined to long continuous efforts rather than structured workouts. Unfortunately, strength training combines those two things pretty heavily so it makes things difficult for me :P

Week 32 Totals:
Running: 0.0km 0.0mi)
Walking: 4.1km (2.4mi)
Cycling: 32.7km (20.3mi)
Swimming: 7.3km (4.5mi)
Total: 44.1km (27.4mi)

Either way, this week I've been working my way back into the normal routine as the back is feeling a lot better. I avoided swimming for the week as it uses those muscles the most and didn't want to push my luck. Instead, I just focused on the bike and forced myself into doing a couple of strength training workouts. I also got back into walking by doing a 5K session on Thursday, and will likely continue this in the coming week.

Thankfully, by the end of the week I was feeling about 99% better so I managed to meet up with the group for a 90K ride up to Lake Simcoe and back. We met up early in the morning and headed over to Warden and then north until we hit water. This was a new route, and it turned out to be pretty much perfect - great scenery, very little traffic and the roads were in great condition. It is rides like this that remind me why I love riding so much, and getting back into this sort of trip felt great after missing so much of the summer so far!

Along the way, there were tonnes of other cyclists out including a number of large groups. On the way up to the lake, there was a group of four triathletes that were going about the same speed. We kept leapfrogging each other for a while (they were relatively slow climbers), and talked a few times when we got stopped by traffic lights along the way. As things flattened out a bit, we started riding with them to get a good draft train going. Unfortunately, the slower members of the group got dropped once we started flying so we had to back off and let them catch up.

Eventually, we ran into some more hills and ended up catching back up with them a little further up the road. We again got into a good strong train, but after a while I looked back and realized that I'd lost everyone so I broke off again and pulled over for a few minutes to let them catch up. At this point the remainder of the route was pretty much all downhill, so we took it easy until we got to the lake and took a short break by the waterfront.

The only downside to this route was the fact that there were absolutely no convenience stores along the route. For rides longer than about 80K, I usually stop somewhere near the half way point to grab some food to fuel the ride, so I don't generally bother bringing many calories. Fortunately, there was some sort of a baseball tournament just south of us so I bought a bottle of Gatorade to refuel a bit.

As it was a net downhill to the lake and the wind was coming from the south-west, the return trip was a good deal harder than the way up. About 8K from the lake I was loosing contact with the group again so I started soft-pedaling to let them catch up. One of the stronger riders caught up and noted that the others were going to meet up with us at the end, as they were struggling and we'd just end up pushing them harder than necessary if we held back. As such, we got into aero and went full bore into the wind.

It didn't take too long before I was on my own again, but given that we had agreed to go at our own pace I just stuck with it. A few more kilometers down the road a large peloton came by, so I accelerated and joined up with them. They were going at a pretty good clip and while I had to work harder than before to keep up, it was worth it to cover the ground faster. On the flats and descents it was relatively easy, but every time we hit a significant incline it took everything I had to stick with them. At this point the lack of fuel was starting to hit me as well, but I fought to stick with them until they turned off at Vivian Rd. and I was back on my own.

At this point I was slowing down a bit, as I still had a good amount of climbing to do and my energy levels were pretty drained at this point. I fought on until I got back to the final stretch, then took a short break to switch around my water bottles (at this point it had been about 30K since I put my feet down). As I was getting ready to start up again, the rider that I dropped earlier caught up and we rode the short trip back to the cars.

Either way, it ended up being a great ride all around. Good company for the first half of the ride, and then a good hard fight for the second half to build up strength/stamina. At some point I probably should look into joining a more formal group for some of my rides, as that stretch was probably the best workout I've gotten on a bike in a long time. Either way, aside from the nutrition snafu things went swimmingly so I'm looking forward to some longer/harder rides in the coming weeks!

Week 33 Totals:
Running: 0.0km 0.0mi)
Walking: 5.0km (3.1mi)
Cycling: 233.9km (145.3mi)
Swimming: 0.0km (0.0mi)
Total: 238.9km (148.4mi)

Year to Date:
Running: 758.6km (471.35mi)
Walking: 37.5km (23.3mi)
Cycling: 2744.9km (1705.6mi)
Swimming: 169.1km (105.1mi)
Total: 3710.1km (2305.3mi)