Creating an aerobic platform
Race Report IM Texas – May 17, 2014

Its interesting – I get more texts and emails when I DNF (IM Tahoe) vs. when I race an IM that met my expectations (IM Texas)….maybe your expectations are higher than mine?? This one went well. I know I don’t have many more sub 9 IMs in me – so I’ll take it.

I share my race report with you since I do get feedback that you learn from my actions and mistakes (plenty!) – its also what I like about coaching: being out there applying what I want you all – at any level – to train and execute.

I know some of you will shake your head and roll your eyes – but this race was completely aerobic for 95% of the 140.6 – and it is exactly what I try to coach in all of you, my athletes: That there is an aerobic, Zone 2, low HR pace that can get you to the finish line of an Ironman or Half Ironman – having gone plenty fast.

Sure, in every race there are a few sections where you go harder (swim start, bike sections to avoid draft packs catching you, acceleration on the run to get around folks) – but overall the HR line, wattage line and RPE line of this day was completely flat.

One of my key takeaways from my DNF in Tahoe last September was that I jumped ahead of my Zone 2 aerobic training. Injuries, confusion, expectations all got in the way of a successful race. Even more interesting is that because of this, I was wound way too tight the final weeks into Tahoe; why? Because not having trained my way left me wondering what the day might bring vs. knowing what is surely will bring.

This past winter I was not about to let that happen. I ran the 100-miler in February with specific goals:

  • Improve my aerobic platform running
  • Improve my mental game when it comes to running the marathon at IM
  • Improve my running economy (oxygen uptake ability while running efficiently)

Jumping ahead of aerobic fitness has not only left me injured in the past, it also has left me flat in training, with little confidence in racing. I see it daily in my coaching: athletes want to jump ahead in their fitness, want to find their old numbers, want to return to running their pace they think they can hold. They apply old training mantras (gotta train fast to race fast) or even ignore the training altogether. And while they can execute a fast workout here and there, it still leaves you wondering if you have that gear, that ability, that pace on race day. In contrast, there is no guessing if you know your aerobic platform – you have seen it weekly, if not daily in training. No big variances, no big fluctuations in performance.

I know I preach this stuff plenty (the base of the pyramid, the rebuilding of your engine to perform better etc.) – but I also got to apply it to myself again for IM Texas.

Training and racing for Ironman keeps me connected – not only on how it feels – but to the mistakes we can easily make on a daily basis. 2014 so far has been a great reminder for me of my coaching philosophy and why it has such staying power: it helps us prevent injury, remain motivated, and most importantly, allows us to repeat our training effectively, day in and day out – for weeks and months. THEN fitness can take over.

There were numerous days these last 2-3 months in training where I wanted to push harder cycling – or find a pace running – “how am I going race an IM on this pace/wattage??” or “if this feels like work, how will IM feel racing at a higher number/pace?”… but… I slowed, I focused on cleaner, better form. I always deferred to easier and cleaner/more efficient than numbers or paces.

Here some more context:

Running the 100-mile race in February kept me well aligned for my 2014 objectives. I also came out of that race healthy and hungry to train for IM Texas, triathlon in general. I got everything out of ultra running this winter mentally and physically I wanted. But it also left me running 8-9 min/miles at Zone 2: a long ways from the 6:55s-7:10s I like to run at IM…At no point did I push myself into those numbers – I used every run I had, to gradually increase turnover, remain focused on form, pavement techniques and ensuring I am not pressing since otherwise I would not recover into the next workout. Pace came down just nicely in time for IM.

Looking back, bike training for IM Texas had gone well too. I had very few data points coming into this training phase, nor had I ever started training for an IM 14 weeks out like this. But, I also knew I had a LOT of aerobic run training. I tested on the bike in early March and my numbers clearly showed I spent a winter with limited cycling miles. Ugly numbers I had not seen in years. But, I also knew the engine was there as I just ran for 18 hrs straight, so aerobically something was working… I also knew that this was setting up perfect for my ideal 2014. I did not want to be too fit in May, it burnt me out in 2011 as I came into Kona flat, tired, mentally exhausted.

Instead this year the plan is different – build up a huge aerobic platform (Z2 training) – and sprinkle in frequent race simulations (90/9 being my staple) – and go into Texas fit, not fast and ready to execute a real steady day. Lastly – I was not looking to do anything special: just qualify and race a real steady, confident, familiar race.

In the 9 weeks between tests (March 9 to May 9) I rode 2100 miles, of which 90% much have been in Zone 2. Even classes had a cap. Testing the Monday prior to IM, sure enough, the numbers looked way better – back to my old self. But – I also knew I have not trained with these numbers – so they were only a validation of the training so far, as well as a good idea of the watts I knew I could hold in Texas.

The Race Details:

Race day approached with bland foods and plenty of hydration. Dinner prior to the race was nice and boring: pasta, no sauce, just some chicken, and broccoli – boring & bland. As was lunch earlier in the day with salad, rice, sweet potatoes and chicken.

I had slept well the nights before – 9-10 hrs per night – so going into race night, getting 6ish would be plenty. Wake up 4:15am, some wheat bread with almond butter, banana, yoghurt and granila as well as PreLoad (Osmo) and plenty of water. Thought I would want some coffee – but half cup was it.

Went to square away my bike and special needs, back in room for some relax time – sunscreen! And down to swim start. Easy. Gun goes off at 7am

Swim was decent – but as many of you know – I never like to swim that hard. There is so much ‘day’ ahead; that extra effort and focus is not something I care about. For me it is all about getting to T1, solid swim, but little energy used/wasted/applied. The swim actually gets boring after a while!

Through T1 – off to bike: what a course this was. I would describe it as a mix of Kentucky with horse farms and little towns and Florida with it being quite flat and steady. A few turns here and there, some changes in scenery, but otherwise this bike course only changed with wind: headwind, tailwind or side wind. The power came nice and easily, smack dab in the middle of my zone 2 watts. Got a little annoyed with a group of drafters (cheaters) coming up so I spent some time riding a bit above my planned zone, but nothing dramatic and nothing to interrupt my day too much. Actually felt better and more settled the second half of the bike. Once back towards the Woodlands, things were looking like a decent bike split, but again – today was about being steady, remaining controlled and comfortable. After 100 miles the body always becomes uncomfortable on the bike, especially in the aero position, so what you think might be fatigue is actually just inefficient riding, too much shifting around and becoming impatient for the ride to end!

  • 3x Cliff Bar (750)
  • 2x GU Chomps (360)
  • 2x GU Roctane (200)
  • 2x 28oz Osmo (100)
  • 3x water (48oz)

=1410 cals

Rolling into T2 I could see the race time was just about 6 hrs, but that was the pro start time – but I never paid attention to when they left: 15 minutes before us? 10? 20? No idea – too early to consider this anyways.

Out to the run. The Texas run is three loops. First loop to settle in and see what your legs are giving you, 2nd loop to maintain feel, effort, pace, as well as not letting your day slip away. 3rd loop is key – push, hold on – see how the run time lines up and get after whatever you need to get after.

Although the first loop felt great – aerobic – relaxed – I was starving. I ate about 300 calories too little on the bike. So now I need to manage calories for energy, while balancing fear of stomach issues…I get in a gel at T2, as well as at mile 3, but I can tell I am on the hunger edge. I try to manage a few more gels, but now they taste awful. Mile 14 I start coca cola…but that too is just maintaining the slightly dizzy and nauseous feeling. Darn, I know better. 2nd loop is now complete and the traffic begins to add up on the 3rd loop. I was perfectly content with staying at pace/steady/survival mode until I realize that there is a chance to break 9 hrs at mile 20ish. At that point it was time to get uncomfortable.
Luckily I was able to find an extra gear home and finish just under 9 hrs. But I remain annoyed with the lack of calories I set myself up with. One of my goals this season was to get a better handle on my nutrition late in the marathon: now I go into Kona not knowing if it would have worked or I was just so empty that I didn’t have stomach issues!

  • 5 gels
  • Coke as of Mile 14
  • Osmo Flask with 100 cals.
  • Water at every aid station (20×2-3oz = 50oz)

So what is it with Z2 aerobic racing? As many of you have heard me say before, our goal with this fitness is to get to a point where we KNOW what time we will race. Because of our aerobic fitness – holding wattages, running pace, cycling speeds on typical routes, swim intervals, there are soo many ways to measure where we are currently at with our fitness – there is no reason to go into a race not knowing quite well what we can execute. But the training needs to be based on this – on the CURRENT you – and the investment YOU want to make into your season, your training and your results.

There are so many different training approaches out there, but I always wonder why athletes pass up on a sure thing? For example, if you see plenty of 8’s in your marathon run training, week after week, in simulations, when tired, on the back end of a track workout running home, don’t you know that you can run 8s for a marathon? It might not be what your goal time is, but would you not rather just work on the gap between those two numbers (goal and training pace), vs. the occasional 7s run that you can maybe hold for the rested ‘feel good’ workout – but not consistently? Do the 7s and how or when you can hold them become a sure thing or more of a question? Do those 7s leave you sore; leave you too tired to follow up with a great next session? Are you staying injury free? Would you not prefer to run 8s easy…and then 7.45s easy…and then eventually 7.30s etc…all at the same low HR cost to your body? While maintaining good efficient form and cadence?

In my IM Texas lead in, I knew a pace I could swim, I knew a wattage I could hold, I knew a pace I could run. I had done plenty of 90/9 simulations, plenty of long days that I felt quite good after or the next day. I finished a 32 hour training week feeling good, healthy, absorbing and ready to do the next week. There were no blind spots, no concerns, no injuries! You might not do these hours, but you can achieve all the same outcomes in your training. You need an aerobic platform. And then keep building on it…and building…

All I had to do was put it all together well enough on race day. And so can ANY of you. Create the floor, create the confidence in a certain time that you know you can achieve – even in training (I will gladly add more simulations for any of you) – and then build on that, piece by fitness piece. And what we begin to realize is that even our tired, ‘straight outta training’ practice sessions are getting faster. Even the ones that don’t feel great, they are faster than weeks’ prior. THAT is building from the ground up.

Whether running, swimming, biking, ultra running or triathlon – the concepts are all the same. Create a fitness floor and keep raising it. As we keep raising it, we remain focused on efficiency, technique and economy. You keep getting faster, just watch.

You can’t pull up a floor you are standing on. Get under it and push up…

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