Tuesday, September 11, 2012

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...

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