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IM Hawaii 2014 – Race Report

2014 marked a return to Kona for me. It’s been since 2011 that I raced, and quite honestly – I missed it. I like racing IM – and I surely liked racing Kona. While I can get my endurance giggles out at IMs around the world, Kona has the appeal of being the World Champs, and I have discovered I like competing – racing. The last few years have been somewhat of a transformative time for me, and without going into too much mushy detail, one of the things I discovered about myself: I like racing – I like competition. I am goal oriented and so having a goal of winning my AG in Kona works for me. Not because of the prize, but because of the sacrifice being worth the result: why do this? To be the best I can be. And to me (that mirror I look at) that means I compete WITH the best in the world in my AG and around that AG. I am not shy to compete – and get beat if it was a fair, honest, clean competition…

My training for 2014 has been great. Running Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in Feb set up a great endurance platform not only for running – but the time out there doing something endurance based for 16-20 hrs. I carried a lot of fitness into IM Texas, which surprised me with an 8:59. It gave me confidence that fitness gains were there – NOW the goal became two-fold: 1) not get injured into Kona – 2) not burn out mentally until Kona.

The summer unfolded well. Training was great – body was holding up – kids were not compromised with this selfish sport. Mind and body were dancing the Kona two-step build well. As many of you can relate – balancing life’s priorities with the training and the sense of urgency in each, becomes quite a challenge. Yet it remained harmonious this summer.

October came and I was healthy, motivated and grateful for all that 2014 had brought so far. I knew Kona was going to go well, since there were no questions. I had mentioned to some folks that there was a sense of calm going to the Big Island knowing I did everything I possibly could for this race. I trained all I needed/wanted/could, I executed, stayed present throughout. I saw the times in training knowing the pace and strength was there.

Race week was incredible. Not because it was race week, but instead I managed to stay as far away from the race as logistically possible. Bringing my daughter Ruby made this great. Snorkeling, surfing, beach days, swimming with turtles, dolphins and whatever else came around on our daily trips around the Big Island. Body still felt great and come race morning all was primed for a memorable Kona.

Swim: I made one strategic mistake in my planning for the race. I got so beat up and annoyed by past Kona starts that this day I committed to starting back a few people and not swimming hard off the start. BIG mistake – I was way too comfortable early on and was able to just roll into my inside the buoy line track with relaxed freestyle. Never settled into a good speed and rhythm – and while inside that buoy line I came across WAY more surfboards and paddlers than past years – and when I say inside buoy line, I mean I am basically swimming ON the line but passing each buoy on the right – besides the turn buoys. BAM – I get smacked hard in the head – an SUP guy was backing up from others swimmers ahead and brought the paddle directly on the top of my head. Dazed and surprised I swam a few breaststrokes and gradually put myself back into race mode. It wasn’t long until I started feeling a bit nauseous – I attribute that to swallowing some seawater when getting bonked or while getting myself going from awkward breaststroke to freestyle again. The swim then just happens – I don’t feel much – remember much – I just swim. I do notice I am swimming somewhat solo – no groups around me, and know that its not because I am that far ahead…. Out of the water in an underwhelming 56 minutes.

Bike: Once out on the bike I settle in ok. The 7.5 miles in town go well, very relaxed with watts dead on where they need to be. But out on the Queen K I quickly notice that things are off: headache and some more nausea. I don’t think it has anything to do with the paddle bonk, more that I might have swallowed too much salt water. I hold off on eating and drinking to allow the nausea pass. I am confident it will. In this window though I notice huge groups of draft packs riding by…like 20-30 guys riding in big groups, sitting up. I pass penalty tents with 25-30 cyclists backed up. Yet only 5 stopwatches to hold, so people are just signing in and off they go – no 4 minutes. Riders ride past me laughing about how ridiculous it is – having conversations! I am disheartened – I am distracted – I lose focus and confidence. Not in my ability but instead where I am in the race (placing) and question my desire to push back to the front. I am feeling better now – have started eating, hydrating but am distracted by the single column of riders up to Hawi – most, practically all – riding too close, constantly looking over their shoulder to see if the motorcycle is coming. It’s a joke.

I get to Hawi and I start snapping out of it. I will make the best of this day. I will make it respectable. I let go of any visions of placing well, but I will enjoy Kona, I will honor all the training I have done leading up to this. I will get back and run a solid marathon – see Ruby – and enjoy having her here in Kona with me on the course.

I ride home with higher watts than the 60 miles prior – rising wattage ride as many of you know from my coaching. I know I can run off that – I have done it plenty in training. The course has emptied out a bit, but still see bigger single file groups riding way too close. But now I don’t care – I have resigned to this being Kona. I actually ride past two guys – big guys – look at them and say “really? – you are just going to keep cheating like this?” – and ride on. Well, Head referee Jimmy Riccitello rolls up and gives them both penalties – good.

5:12 bike – my slowest split in 8 years. Darn. But roll into T2 feeling present – good – relaxed and enjoying the race!

Run: I have one goal – run well. Not hard, instead well. Well means steady – relaxed – present – soaking it all in. Not easy, instead I want to see how it all shakes out. I actually have a tiny voice in my head that thinks I can run a PR in Kona. That would be 3:06 or better. The first few miles feel great and relaxed – as they should, I only really rode 2.5 hrs at race watts of the 5 I was supposed to! Quickly the miles start ticking off and before I know it I have run the out and back on Alii (9miles). At no point do I think of placing. I don’t ask anybody – I am really not concerned as I am committed to running well, and having a respectable finish.

NOTE: we ALWAYS regret missing time on the run. I would be lying to say I did not look at my bike time/race time and shake my head in frustration. Even the 5-7 minutes I could have pushed up to Hawi from Kuahai would have made for a better time (not result since I am not thinking result at this point). In past years I have ridden up to Hawi in 52-57 minutes, this year a solid 1:07…ugh….My thinking here is “if I run 3:06-3:10 my time is XX, but had I gotten my head out of my a$$ earlier, it would now be 9:15-9:19 which sounds nicer than 9:20+”….

I hit 10 miles in 1:09, hit 13 miles in 1:30 something…Of course I know the hard part of the course remains ahead – but I feel good about the pace & effort balance. Queen K on the way to Energy Lab becomes a steady run – with a few other guys we are just in a zombie run: emotionless, in synch, running along this desolate stretch. In the corner of my eye I notice the sign at mile 13 “no bikes, scooters, motor vehicles or spectators past this point” – they shut down the road at this point, as in past years it would become this huge entourage next to the race leaders. I think to myself: well, this is it – from here on out it is whatever result you are in – nobody is out there to tell you, help you know any different…and I am, again, fine with that. I have no idea anyways who is where or what that means anyways!

I hit energy lab, and sure enough – there is my first difficult stretch – hit a bit of a side stitch – which seems to be something common at mile 16-18. I stop and stretch it –to no avail – I get to the RedBull tent and stop to exhale a bit, grab some Red Bull and give myself 60 sec to get it sorted. Well, Caitlin Snow comes by, I grab Red Bull and a big bottle of water and off we go to run. I know the water is too much for me – so I pour half the bottle on her – get my act together again and carefully run again. As you all know with sidestitch, if you carefully, gradually allow yourself to exhale, run, relax, and shorten your stride, it slowly works itself out. By mile 19 I am back in stride. The stop and RedBull tent cost me about 2 min.

Now, usually, this is where in past Konas I have been able to push another gear. Not because of fitness, or smelling the barn. No, its usually because I am chasing someone – I have seen them on the turn and know what I am trying to catch. This year I try to push a bit, but soon I run out of ‘push’. Not desire because I keep running solid, but just not the pushing, snot blowing, grunting, driving hard effort running. I just stay steady. I even get to the top of Palani, with the last 1.2 miles downhill and flat, yet don’t crush myself on the down. I say “don’t ruin your legs, you wanna have fun tomorrow with Ruby”. I roll onto Alii Drive, Nick with Ruby are there – we take pictures, even a selfie – and I run in it into finish. I feel fine – I walk through finish area – grab my water, Tshirt, medal and head out to see Ruby…

SO – what did I learn? Where does this leave me 2 weeks out of Kona? As many of you always hear from me, I like to wait 2 weeks after IM to allow emotions to settle down, in order to take a more pragmatic approach to this all-consuming sport. I have concluded I had a variety of issues on race day:

Positioning – I usually do not see the race from this perspective. I swim off the front and can count the people in my age group (or all age groups for that matter) that pass me. I see if there is anybody out of the swim ahead of me. This was not possible in Kona this year. I lost touch with the groups ahead of me on the swim, and then the draft packs did not allow me to count the race number range of my age group. I was racing blind. Or, for that matter, I was reliant on outside information in order to know where I stand in the AG race.

Distraction – I let the race distract me. With the draft packs rolling up, and their nonchalant attitude towards cheating I was annoyed, disgusted, demoralized by the sport. I allowed my emotions of the moment to dictate my racing. Because of this I paced my day instead of raced my day.

Strategy – While drafters are always in the race, usually I am ahead of them and although they approach, catch up, even pass me – their back half is usually slower (which it was here in Kona too as I rode the fastest back half in the AG) and it puts me right back to, or at least close to, where I need to be for the run. Can you say to always just race hard? Yes, but Kona is a different animal and the depth of the field usually does not allow blind racing in order to have a top result. This applies to the pro field too – those that race hard and blind get strategically outmaneuvered by the strong runners either way.

Poor planning – while this is not something I beat myself up for, I should have had the conversation on an update with Nick, or Jordan, or Dougy T – or even Ruby. Or Taylor, Ryanne or or or. Plenty of people I knew on the course, I just never – in all my 32 IMs – have ever not known my general place and where I need to be/get to in order to have my result. And although Ironmanlive was down for a bit, and even though there are stretches where the updates are not allowed, HAD I known at mile 9, 10, 11 or 12 where I stand, the 3-4-5 minutes could have easily been found. The argument here is why not just run your hardest/best? Because there is always another gear for me when ‘racing’ vs. in your own world, head, place…

Trust – I did not trust in my strength, fitness, knowledge, and experience. I was going to Kona with the goal of winning my AG. If that is the case, I should have believed that despite things going wrong, despite falling back and the day unwinding differently, that I would not be THAT far off. I swam comfortably; I rode Z2 HR/watts the first 3 hrs. I should have trusted that despite those bike numbers and swim time I would still be near the top of the AG. I did not think with logic – I thought with emotion.

Do I regret my day in Kona? No way. I got 3rd on a comfortable day, I know that HAD I lined up against the top 2 in my AG that day – head to head or the top 10, I would have beaten them in an open competition without drafting. I had a wonderful week with Ruby, I had friends there that reinforced our friendship. I was healthy, I enjoyed the race, I smiled, I helped others, I was relaxed and did not take myself too seriously (which has happened in the past). I actually enjoyed a race day in Kona, soaking in the people and the environment. The only thing I look back upon and wonder is HAD I had the opportunity to race, to dig deep, to really push, to chase or even run scared (if I were up front) – what would that day have felt like?

In training I go through a lot of visualization, I save parts of my mind for race day in order to envision where I will be and how to be in the moment. I like to run that course in Kona with stretches of allowing my mind to go to other places (home, long training day, places I have had hard yet effective training days, etc.) in order to really push. I enjoy that process: to close my eyes in Kona and go to the Silverado trail, to go to the Pacific Crest in Tahoe, to go to my 100 miler in February. Because of my issues mentioned above – I never got into the moment of that fun process. That is part of racing. Competition. I regret not having the opportunity to dig in, to go ‘there’, to go to that dark place where you can only get to when r-a-c-i-n-g… In the moment of that day 2 weeks ago, I was ok with not being there because I was certain my placing was not significant, and therefore I should only focus on the opportunity of the day, the privilege and the fun of Kona – a perspective and view I rarely get to take in when racing the day hard instead…Don’t worry; there is a big enough voice in my head saying “excuses, excuses dude…”

With the paddle incident, and my first 2 hours recovering, it would be easy to look for the 144 seconds to 1st place there. But, there were plenty of minutes on the bike and run to have been found with the issues listed above. No excuses. 2 weeks after the race, I actually look at the paddle incident as something that could have worked to my advantage, as a blessing in disguise. Yet I did not take advantage of my day, the real estate remaining. Its hard to recognize this in the moment, but it was there – the opportunity was presented to run myself to the front, a storybook ending to win an AG. This will remain with me – that rare chance to do something special like that. If ever again, I will script it differently.

As this email went out last year after Tahoe and what I need to focus on, here too, I see the lessons learned from this day. I know what needs to be done, where the blind spots are (as always – we never stop learning). But now I need to decide whether I go back or accept that Ironman is in the business of selling emotions, not really about racing world championships like other true sporting events. This might read that I am bitter, but I am actually relieved to have gained this perspective on our sport: that it is fiction, an event created as a challenge/dare, that now has moved on to being a business. While some may argue the Olympics are a business too, the underlying sports are structured differently. You have federations, validated distances, officials that are professionals in monitoring the performances of the sport. They have been officials at national and international competitions for years, and then a rare few are chosen to be at the World Champs or Olympics. You don’t have volunteers and part time racers deciding the outcome of the world championships on the back of a motorcycle. You have an opportunity to race in your sport – to compete – not just see how the day ‘shakes out’.

Understanding all this, and having this years’ perspective, I know how to approach the race next year. Or not. But as a close friend told me the other day: “maybe Ironman isn’t done with you yet. Maybe it wants you to come back – to continue to be a part of it as a racer vs. just a coach”.

2011 IM Kona Race Report

Kona 2011

It is a different feeling knowing that even a perfect race would not have been a winning time for me. Sure, I can start adding minutes to subtract from my day, but going by a 10 year moving average in Kona results, I think I can accurately place my run time had I not been so restricted due to my intensely painful intercostal muscles. Having that knowledge of realizing a podium (!) finish was not really within reach even on a great day, helps me accept the day, but not the performance.

I was ready. Really felt fit, probably could have rested a bit more as I felt some residual fatigue in my massages leading up to the race. I had done plenty of miles, had plenty of racing in me, felt good about all three disciplines coming into Saturday. We all ‘wonder’ how race day will feel, and once it feels ok, we build confidence throughout raceday. I know it will be a hard day, but nothing the previous 11x in Kona didn’t prepare me for. And for me it is somewhat of a calming feeling that I do not need to go faster than ever before, I just need to go as fast as I used to in order to be contending for the AG win. Little did I know that this would be a record breaking bike year and that the top 5 in the AG will this year go faster than the winning time from last year!! As I have always know about my racing – whether swimming or triathlon – I am never going to win on a fast day, only on a hard day. Saturday was not a hard day, it was one of the fastest Kona races on record: overall record times and numerous AG record times. So, even my goal time around 9:05 would have sent me home ‘off’ the podium…!

I learned a lot from Kona 2011, best of all was that my nutrition and hydration felt a lot more ‘in control’ than ever before. No bloating, no burping, no upset stomach, not even after the race! No lulls, no hunger, no thirst. A lighter breakfast, a lighter plan on race day, a better hydration strategy – and although my run was a disappointment, the energy levels and hydration was just right. I also know that my heat adaptation worked well, I never felt hot or out of my core temperature on race day. Sure, it was not a hard bike, but due to winds, not temperature. I was surely not hot on the run, and while the ice of course felt good, it was not a dire need as in some past Kona years.

My swim was subpar. In all my years in Kona I have never swum slower than a 54. No, I am not getting older that quickly. I swam slow. I was plenty fast off the start but never felt comfortable swimming that fast, questioning my effort level intensity. Sure, I had to stop twice to fix the zipper that had slid open on my suit, but I still know what I felt and that was still not fast enough. The zipper issue still had me catching the same swimmers I was with prior, and so it cost me little time…55 for an IM swim is a disappointment – and hence a disappointing potential/performance/execution on race day. I had the potential for a 53, but did not execute on it.

The bike was good. If you would have told me 6 weeks ago I would ride a 4:52 in Kona, I would have been stoked. Sure, I went through the usual difficulties, the dead legs, the lack of maintaining the easier spin, the feeling of ‘what is going on?’, but I hit all my time checks dead on, and although I knew something was wrong in that we returned back from Hawi in record setting pace, I was still pleased with the effort. My wattage never fell off, – but I did notice I could never get it to go high enough either. Many of you that I coach know we set floors and ceilings for race day. The ceiling was never in reach! But I was pleased that the floor was maintained. The usual troublesome sections felt fine, brain was well engaged and although it was an easier year – it was still within me to go longer & maintain steady work.

Run was where the day unfolded. I was out of T2 in race time 5:54. Once again – you tell me 6 weeks ago I would be out on the run course in 5:54, I would have laughed: a great day. I would not have liked the caveat that 5 others in the AG were out on the run before me.

I’ve had this run issue before, but have never been able to pinpoint what it was. Great legs – easy – springy, good turnover, but from the upper stomach to the throat I was locked up. Like someone had taken a baseball bat and hit me on both sides under my arms. No deep breaths, no being able to open up a run stride. No relaxing the shoulders, no disconnecting the upper body (relaxed, focused breathing) with the lower body (good turnover, power & driving with knees and proper foot placement). I decide to stop, stretch…while doing this – take a moment to cool, hydrate and feel the issue that might be causing this tightness. No pinpointed sharp pain, just entire ribcage is locked.

It never unlocked. It never allowed me to open up my stride. Every aid station became a stop, stretch – move around to loosen area – on to the next one. Occasionally I skipped one, to make it two miles. But overall 18+ aid stations of stopping, ice sponges, little water, cola (which helped somewhat to push for a bit).

I would be lying if as of 10 miles into the race I didn’t start resigning to not having ‘the’ day and accepting the slower finish time. I knew I would finish and I knew my cushion to a decent time was set, but trying to fight for something not there was a battle I was not going to win. So, I kept moving, and accepted my day.

Of course we all look back and want more. Whether it is the result we worked hard for, or the time to validate the training & sacrifice. But ultra-endurance events like Kona don’t line up like that: the work you put in does not always equal the goal. There are so many factors that go into a successful IM day, that for all the pieces to fall into place, it has to be a near perfect day. And yet I also try to be careful to not accept my results too easily. My swimming years taught me this: accept mediocre results and quickly your success in athletics becomes a boring string of average results. Many have heard me say that I do not have many IM’s left in me, let alone fast ones. And while this Kona was surely not a fast one, it still counted against the final tally of only a few remain left in me. But I know I gave it a solid attempt many times out there on Saturday, I can accept that it was not the day I wanted. Kona again has become an unsolved mystery, but I am a step closer. I say ‘again’ because I have solved it before, an 8:56 on that course in 2006 will be as close to solving as ever, but 5 years ago is a long time in racing years.

A step closer is understanding the intercostals, the causes and the prevention. The step closer is feeling good about the heat and prep, but knowing what to tweak and armed with fresh race data. A step closer is understanding the nutrition & hydration better and applying constantly until the next Kona. A step closer is knowing that Kona is the object of focus and a target that demands respect, understanding and patience.

As they say: failure is only postponed success.

AIMP’s Steve Fried- from midpack to Kona!

 

Chris,
Dude!  I still can’t believe it, from midpack to Kona.  THANKS!
When I signed up with AIMP in August 2008, I knew that you could help me get faster.  As a 12:30 IM and 5:20 1/2  IM guy, there was certainly plenty of room for improvement!  After the 2009 season, we had already made huge progress with 10:52 at IM Switzerland and 10:46 at IMAZ, and I was thrilled.  I never thought I could get that fast.  Even still, if you recall, those times missed KQ by more than an hour!  Even when I started winning hardware (my first ever!) in 2010, I never considered myself one of “those guys” (i.e., the fast people).  I was getting faster, qualified for and had a great race at Clearwater, but there was still a LOOOONG way to go.  As an added bonus, one of my favorite aspects of 2010 was starting to consistently beat my friends at local races, where they had previously crushed me for years.  Of course, some of them have now signed up with AIMP, so I guess I’ve lost my secret advantage…
This year, the run up to Texas has been just about perfect (other than 2 flats at Galveston).  I really enjoyed the Coast Ride, and the training load, while significant, was never unmanageable.  Given my hectic work, life, kids schedule, I appreciate your ability to modify my schedule as often as you did.  Going into IMTX, I felt fit, sharp and focused.  The race plan was great, I followed it to a T, and the result was beyond my wildest expectations.  Mission Accomplished!
So, here’s my lessons learned (so far):
1.       TPFW.  The Plan Works.  The closer I followed the plan, the better I got.  Imagine that!  Making progress helped keep me on track, and having so many other AIMPers qualify for Kona certainly validated (in my mind) the long term payoff.  Again, my early and continuous improvements helped me buy in to the Plan 100%, but it takes some time to get mentally comfortable with such a different training method.  My T1 is how low (150 the first time I tested…)?  You want me to go how easy?  You want me to train how many hours this week?  I don’t get a rest day until when?!?  Looking back, I can see how the training plan builds and how it fits together with the racing plan, but it can certainly be counterintuitive at first.
2.       Patience Pays.  Early on, we talked about a 3 year plan, and guess what, it’s only been 2 years and 9 months!  Over time, you have definitely gotten to know the best way to coach me, and I think I also learned how to get the most out of you as a coach.  I’ve seen how you adjusted my training as I got fitter and as you learned what worked best for me.  At the same time, I learned that you are paying attention, that even if you go radio silent for 5 days, you will chime in when it’s important and that you do care deeply about my success.  That said, I’d still encourage you to think about ways to improve your communication, particularly for athletes away from California, who you don’t see that often.
3.       Planning.  Never tell your wife that you will take the summer off from training if you are on the AIMP plan.  I guess it would have been nice to chill, but Kona prep is WAY BETTER!
Thanks again.  AIMP rocks, the AIMPsters rock and this whole sport rocks.
Finally, my training log is empty….let’s get back on it!  Get me the ringer, chop, chop!  You’re in my AG at Kona so watch out…
Steve

Only the Lonely

I received some interesting feedback today regarding my coaching approach the last few weeks before the Ironman World Championships in Kona and I thought I would share my response as well as my coaching philosophy for these last big weeks prior to the main event.

We all go into an IM knowing that there will be some very difficult stages – some deep valleys as I call them. Understanding that we will be there alone, lost in our own raw emotions, feelings and resolve is an important crutch to have on race day. These last few weeks of prepping for Kona are the hardest. Our season has been long and the training partners have disappeared. Our body is tired and the days are no longer sunny & eventful. The training is familiar to us and the only remaining piece of this phase in our journey towards Kona is to execute the last big weeks, well.

But they need to be done alone – without much help – without much guidance – without much coddling – without much coaching – without much positive reinforcement from our loved ones etc. These are the weeks and workouts we will fall back upon in those deep valleys on race day. These are the workouts, because they were so hard mentally (not necessarily physically) that will creep into our mind like a slide show on race day. These are the ones that we envision ourselves running or riding while on that lonely strip of black pavement called the Queen K.

It is hard as a coach to let go of your race on race day.  I want to be out there with you – help you execute your plan and achieve your success – but I can’t.  And so these last few weeks are part of that step on sending you all out into that battle with yourself .

Anybody can stay alert, focused, positive and smile when the race is going well, when the body feels strong and the pace is according to plan.  But how have you prepared for those deep valleys?  By having practiced it and felt it in training.  You all know what I talk of – those bad training days where lethargy, self pity, annoyance and short tempers point towards what you might describe as a hard day – a bad day – a depressing result so close to our Big Day…. But most of you  have also heard from me that no all days will feel great, and not all days are designed to be a mental & physical boost.

The ability to execute when its NOT going well is called training.  The ability to get out there – find YOUR place, your rhythm, your unemotional, unattached training day, when it does not feel good – is what will prepare you for the deep valleys on race day…Train your mind and your spirit for those valleys, and may you have that race day that does not ask you to work through too many of them.

Otherwise this would all be called exercise…not training…

There are only the lonely on the Queen K come October 9th.  You might be around 2000 other competitors, but only you can have YOUR day.  Understand that it is coming, and you will already be many steps closer to achieving YOUR result.

Word.