Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Top 10 Reasons I was sub-10 at Ironman Wisconsin Part I

10. Patience: Endurance training and racing is about timing when your hardest effort is going to be - and knowing how long you can sustain that hard effort.  My first lesson about how peak fitness has a shelf life came when I was in college.  In the early spring of my senior year everything finally seemed to come together.  I won both the 3k and 5k at conference for indoors.  About 3 weeks later I ran my PR of 29:59 for 10k at the Alabama Relays.  In that race I actually had a huge negative split - my first 5k was 15:14 and my second was 14:45.  My coach was yelling at me with 600m to go that I had a shot at going under 30 minutes.  I ran a 65 second last quarter to just get under.

Another few weeks later I ran the 5k at the Sea Ray Relays in Tennessee.  I don't remember the time, but I remember being disappointed.  Then came the Penn Relays 10k.  I went out too fast (just over 14:40) and paid dearly for it.  I ran close to 16:00 for my second half.  A few weeks after that was conference.  The same guys who I dominated in February had no probably dispatching me in May.  Nothing had changed in my training - I hadn't gotten injured - I just didn't have anything left after a long year of racing and training.

Since it worked so well for Boston in 2009 (my PR year - 2:32.35), I've tried to stick to around a 22 week training cycle.  I do low volume and low intensity training most of the rest of the year - but nothing too hard.  This year I was still coming off an injury to my hamstring/glute that had given me problems since just before my Chicago marathon in 2010 - so, I gave myself some extra time.  I hardly ran a step in January of this year - of course I was swimming and riding a trainer - but I stayed off my feet.

I also had very few true race efforts over my training cycle.  I only had three triathlons - Kansas 70.3 in June, an Olympic at the Omaha Triathlon at the beginning of August, and Ironman Wisconsin.  I ran a couple of half-marathons and some 10k's, but always as training runs.  I didn't run all out at a road race in all of 2012.  I also very rarely went to the track.  I did 3-4 track workouts all summer.  My reasoning was that track workouts help with V02 max.  You don't need to work on your V02 max for an Ironman.

I also did only three training rides over 4.5 hours.  Most of my rides were in the 3-3.5 hour range with 30-45 minute run off the bike.  However, I was doing these at least 3 times per week.  I didn't have to squeeze a bunch of training in on my weekends.  More on that later.
All of this holding back meant that I peaked exactly when I wanted to peak.  There are advantages to having raced for over 20 years.

9. Nutrition during training and during the race:  When I was an exchange student in Germany I was friends with a Ukranian-Canadian named Orest.  He claimed that "a meal isn't a meal unless there is meat."  At the time I laughed him off - but, I have to say that I have gotten into the habit of making sure that I get protein at every meal.  I started doing this back in Baltimore after meeting with my friend and nutritionist Melissa Majumdar.  Of course - she gave me lots of other great advice as well.  Most important is getting nutrients from a variety of sources - and making sure you are getting enough calories to support your training.

I peaked at 20-22 hours per week of training - usually split into 50% bike, 25% swim, 25% run.  It is a struggle to make sure you are getting enough calories, especially given the hot summer we had.  Anytime I biked more than 2 hours I took in calories on the bike and downed a muscle milk right after I came in the door after my run.  Not only did this help me to not get behind on calories, but it helped my body to learn how to metabolize food while I was exercising.

In terms of nutrition during the race - I learned a lot from running the JFK 50 miler in 2009.  Alyssa Godesky, an accomplished ultra runner and triathlete, helped me to put together a nutrition plan for that race.  She helped me to understand that when it comes to events longer than a marathon "the stomach is more important than the legs."  My nutrition plan for Wisconsin was very similar to what I did for JFK - except that I bumped up my calories.  I learned that smart endurance athletes use their watch to see if it's time to eat or drink - not to check mile splits.

8. 21 years of endurance racing: I'm now 35 - I ran my first half-marathon when I was 14 years old.  I ran 1:28:06 and ended up in the fetal position in the back of my parents' minivan.  I remember watching the adult runners drink beer and dance to a live band afterwards - I thought they were crazy.  But I also fell in love with the long distance race on that day.  The race was from the small town of Dexter, MI along the Huron River to my hometown of Ann Arbor.  Running on foot from one town to another - it was like an adventure from a fairy tale or something.

About three years after graduating from college I ran my first marathon in Los Angeles (I was going to grad school in San Diego at the time).  It was an awful experience.  I didn't do much marathon specific training - I kind of just cobbled together training I had done in college and made sure I ran long runs at least once per week.  It was a warm day and I don't think I took in any calories except for gatorade.  Around mile 17 I had to stop and pour water over my head to cool off.  I heard an ambulance in the distance - I was sure they were coming for me.  My parents had decided to make the trip all the way from Michigan.  I'm glad they did.  There was no way I could have driven myself from LA back to San Diego.  Again I found myself in the fetal position in the back of a car driven by my mom.

I won't go through my entire marathon career (I've run ~9), but suffice to say that I've had my share of "learning experiences."  All that time has also allowed me to put a lot of money in the bank in terms of my fitness.  Many people don't peak in longer events until their mid-thirties.  You simply need that amount of time of constant training for your body to realize its full potential.

7. Swim training/positioning: Before 18 months ago I had never taken a swim lesson that didn't focus mostly on blowing bubbles.  On a cold day in February of 2011 I tried my first swim.  After about 5 minutes in the pool I realized I'd need a lesson just to learn how to breathe correctly (I guess all that bubble blowing hadn't helped).  I eventually could swim pretty comfortably for an hour in the pool, but when the day of my first triathlon came in May of 2011 - it was another disaster.  The guys around me all seemed to know what they were doing.  I felt completely out of my league.  Then the race started - looking back, I'm not sure that I remembered to breathe until about 30 seconds into the race.  The result was that I completely hyperventalated.  I couldn't put my head in the water because it felt like I was getting water boarded.  Eventually I calmed down a little - but the damage was done.  It was a victory for me to get my head together enough to do a decent bike and run.

I swam a lot with my neighbor Gerald since I've moved to Nebraska last November.  I even took another lesson last February, which helped to give me a little power on my stroke.  More importantly, I found a group of folks who swam once a week in open water.  I started this year still not feeling comfortable in the water - and these folks were fast - so, I got left behind a lot.  I can still remember a swim in May when I finally felt comfortable.  It was a huge turning point.

Unfortunately, I couldn't translate all this progress and work into a race.  In June I swam a disappointingly slow 42 minutes at Kansas 70.3.  I thought I had been in shape for a time in the low to mid 30's.  The conditions were pretty bad.  We were 1 degree fereignheit on the wrong side of the temperature cutoff for wetsuits.  There was also a 20 mph crosswind, which led to 2-3 foot waves.  Still, I felt like I should have gone faster.  So, I finally got a coach.  Jim met with me once a week - giving me lots of pointers on my stroke. Here is a list of all the parts of my stroke that needed help -I wasn't sculling at the beginning of the stroke (this led me to bring in my arm close to my body too early), poor arm angle at point of entry into the water, poor arm extension, arm hesitation at the top of my stroke when I was breathing, not kicking from my hips, not pointing my toes, no body rotation, not pushing all the way through on the bottom of my stroke etc.  At first I felt slower, because it was hard to coordinate all this new information.  But, after about 4-5 weeks of working with Jim it started to feel more natural.
Jim also told me I should watch the 1500m freestyle final in the Olympics.  I did - and watching Sun Yang changed the way I thought about swimming.  First of all - he hardly kicks.  All of his power is generated on his stroke and body rotation.  Also - he glides pretty long between each stroke.  It's not like running - where you need to have good turnover to be efficient.  In swimming you actually are more efficient when you take less strokes.  Here is a video of Yang's 1500m world record from the Olympics this year.

Let's get to the actual day of the race.  As I wrote in my race report, I went in the water very early.  I had at least 25 minutes of floating/treading water before the start.  All that time meant that I didn't have to hurry into the water - it also meant that I could scout out the best place to start.  The swim was my biggest worry of the day next to having a mechanical on the bike.  As the cannon boomed I had plenty of space, but I was also in a great position to take advantage of the all the fast swimmers in the few rows in front of me.  Another benifit was that they changed the swim this year to 1 lap from 2 laps.  This meant that there was a long ways for people to spread out before the first left turn.  I did get a kick to the goggles on that turn - but it wasn't anything too bad.  My 1:03 was certainly still surprising to me - I had planned for a 1:15 - even though I thought that I could go around 1:07-1:08.  It was my first successfull swim in an actual race ever.  Pretty good timing.

6. Not having a major mechanical on the bike:  If I could put all these factors into different domains they would be "things I did well that I knew would help me", "risky things I did which could have turned out either well or poorly", "things I should have known, but didn't until it was too late" and finally "just dumb luck."  This one obviously falls into the latter domain.  My garage is littered with old tubes that went flat on rides this spring and summer.  I don't know why I had these problems - but it made me pretty nervous about making it through 112 miles without another issue.

I did have my front derrailuer crack on me - but, in the end I think that helped me to save energy for the run.  There are many things about the triathlon that make it more complicated than just running - but, learning to understand how to care for your bike and keep it running well is probably one of the hardest things to learn.  I'm not a gear head.  I do my best to keep my bike in the best possibe condition - but, it's been a long learning curve for me.  So, I have to be happy in the end that I made it through 112 miles upright and within 8 minutes of my goal time. 

In part II I'll write about how the course preview, weather, moving to Omaha, my lovely wife, and being a "man of leisure" helped me attain my goals.


alyssa said...

You should just stick to one reason:
you ran a 2:52! When you have 7+ hours for the swim and the bike, the sub 10 is way more doable, haha.

Ben said...

True - but if I would have swam my Kansas pace I would have been ~10:05 even with the 2:52. As you know - a lot of things can cause you to lose 12 minutes in an ironman.

Brian Godsey said...

Haha. They should totally have a one-sport triathlon; just the running part! I bet you'd be really good at it!

Ben said...

Great idea Brian!

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