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Race Observations: California 70.3

Rather than bore you all with the usual race report, I thought I would add some insight on what my prep has been for the 2011 campaign so far, and what I observed from the race on Saturday, the Rohto Ironman 70.3 California. These observations are not only from my own race perspective, but as a coach in conjunction to what I observed my athletes doing on race day.

My goals this season are simple: IM Hawaii and to give the AG Champ a run for his money. Not sure who this might be, as the big Texan remains stealth on his plans, but there are plenty of others in the 40-44 AG that are faster than me, so the work and focus remains to improve a great deal. This past Saturday was the first step: a check that all systems are go, that the training is coming along and getting a Kona slot. That said, I am prepping for IM St. George. Ever since coaching there last year, I am fired up to race there. The difficulty of the course combined with the beautiful surroundings and the ease of my family to travel there for race day, made this Ironman the ideal choice to return to IM racing for 2011.

This past Saturdays 70.3 I came in fresh, but not tapered. The goal was to race and recover quickly to hit some big training again for IM St. G in 4 weeks. Being fresh was mainly to recover quicker, not to be crazy fast on Saturday. I have found that when we race too tired, we also recover slower.

Swim: I was in the 2nd AG40-44 wave, which meant I was 3 minutes down to some competitors in my AG. My goal was to close that gap and race like swimmers in triathlon usually do: control the front of the race. I was able to catch the wave and was surprised how good I felt in the water. I typically swim 2-3x a week, 3-3.5k, and while that lets me feel the water, often that does not give me the threshold speed I need for a Half IM. But, after breaking my collarbone last September, I returned to doing StretchCordz or the VasaTrainer weekly PRIOR to swim practice, and this really helped my swimming. Most swimmers hit the open water and are surprised how their fitness doesn’t translate as well as in the pool. A common trend on Saturday was slowing down in the latter half of all three disciplines. In swim practice I address this by ensuring I always swim something faster – committing to a certain pace – late in the practice: swimming fast on tired arms but keeping to stroke efficient and clean.

Lastly – sighting: I give many of my athletes the head up drill in swim practices. This is so important for sighting and front quadrant strength. I noticed some very bad swim lines on Saturday and your ability to swim with your head up for a few strokes, not just one, is key for choosing your line.

Bike: Having worked my way to the front of the field with a good swim, I knew only a few riders were ahead and one of them was my athlete Brian. This is important to me since he is a strong swimmer and can tell me who remains ahead. Once again, control the field if you can as a swimmer. I start the ride, as usual the legs feel a bit awkward, but the watts come easy. Cycling has always been my biggest limiter in triathlon, and my confidence grows only from plenty of cycling miles. Being in my 40s, I don’t quite have the time for the 1000 miles a month goal I set for myself to be in good cycling shape, but I knew I should have decent legs for 56 miles. I push 290-310 watts on the inclines & false flats, roll 270-280 the remainder of the time. This is Ironman effort for me, so I knew I was going to have some strong cyclist roll up on me in the first 20 miles. I also know that this course requires a strong back half, so the plan was to tighten that effort to 290-300 watts late. At approx. mile 12 Gordo Byrn passes me, says good morning, and rolls on. Well, there goes my race plan… I know that he is the class of the field and riding with him will set up the proper position for the run. And, contrary to what any Pro tells you, riding with a group that is about your strength is always easier than the solo AG ride. It might not be faster, but it sure is more fun. And that is surely what last Saturday was: FUN! Sure, Gordo put the hurt on me a few times during that bike ride. Twice I had to pee while riding and he pulled away, so the ride to get back to him was not easy! You might wonder if I am talking about drafting: no way! Pacing is staying legal, but having someone else dictate the effort. We were both riding on power, both have similar riding ability, and although G is way smoother than me, we both rode the course and its rollers similarly. Luckily I was able to hang on and at times even pace him a bit, to keep things fair. In case you care, avg watts: 290, normalized: 302. I weigh 171. FTP: 350. G and I rolled into T2 and he once again showed his ability by coming in 10 sec. behind me, yet rolling out 5 sec. ahead of me! I will tell anyone that I do not focus on fast transitions: I have rushed through too many and forgotten critical things, so these days I work my way through them with a sense of urgency, but not rushed. I always hope to make up those extra 10 sec. on the course vs. turning around!

Run: This is where the race got interesting. Oceanside breaks up nicely as a run course. I tell my athletes to find ‘em, hold ‘em, push ‘em, and survive ‘em. First leg: find the legs – let them carry you. It’s what I call free speed. Often we are surprised by that fast pace with little effort. 2nd leg: hold that pace/effort/leg speed. 3rd leg: push that pace, give it
another go – see what’s left, with the goal to leave nothing on the course. 4th & final leg: survive the effort and pace to bring it home! I find ‘em running alongside Gordo, once we get passed by Miranda I get unsettled though. Too many years of being passed by pro women leaves me wanting to push the pace, but G is right – not my race. We hold ‘em on the way back, but the tailwind makes it seem faster. Once we hit the turnaround, after someone just yelled at us to “break it up you two”, I decided to push ‘em: while the effort was pushing, the splits stayed the same. I’ll take it, as the goal for me when racing is to ‘not slow down’…But on the final leg, it really turned into survive ‘em as the concrete of Oceanside started to burn the legs. Decent run splits but know that I have some work to do for St. G in 4 weeks.

Observations:
1. I did very little speedwork for this race: I am not good about forcing myself into a pace – I’d rather dial it up: that’s also how I train. Something I learned as a swimmer: if you can hold a faster and faster effort for a long period, you’ll be ok when fresh.

2. Don’t dial up a bike effort you can’t hold on the run. I was REALLY stoked all my AIMP athletes held their placing off the bike into the finish. That shows me all were good about their bike effort. Sure, some of them got passed on the run, but nothing out of proportion to their cycling place & effort. “The race starts out of T2”, just ask Miranda!\

3. You gotta eat: while the industry might want you eating a lot more, you still need to fuel for your run. Which means eating the right amount on the bike. Can you feel hungry? Yes, but have immediate calories available to address that. And, fluids all the time….

4. Carry momentum on the bike: While focusing on your wattage/HR is good, and keeping tight ranges will save you those candles for the run, don’t give up on momentum at the base of climbs! Especially in Oceanside, with all those little biters and some bigger ones: carry the speed and some extra watts up the hill, but then settle into a rhythm
once climbing or over the rollers. A few seconds or even 2-3 minutes above your zones is what we train threshold for, you know you can handle it!

Overall, California 70.3 was a great day. I had a blast racing with Gordo, I had a good systems check that the training is on point, I secured a vacation in Hawaii in October, and my athletes all had a good days. However they want to qualify their ‘good days’, to me they were ALL successful.

Food:
Breakfast: 2x Poptarts, no icing (210cals) – 1x Instant Oatmeal with milk (160cals) – 1x cup of coffee – 1x Banana (75cals)
Pre – Water & 1x GURoctane (100cals)
Bike – 1x Pro Bar (360cals) – 1x GU Chomps (180cals) – 1x GUBrew (150cals) – 1x GUTabs (10cals) – 3x GURoctane Gels (300cals) – 2x 16oz water
Run – 2x GURoctane (200 cals) – 1x GUBrew (150cals) broken up into 2x FuelBelt 8oz bottles – 5x cups water