Ironman Wales Race Analysis 2013

Race Report here.

I’m disappointed with my race. Despite that I am incredibly satisfied with it. I’d prefer to never have a race like it but battling through adversity in an Ironman provides some of the most amazing experiences, however, it’s happened rather too often over the past few years. Having reflected for a day there are a few things it’s demonstrated / confirmed to me:

  1. The race isn’t over due to a bad start
  2. Pacing the bike so you’re strong in the final third puts you in a great frame of mind for the run
  3. Your perception of how you’re doing during the race does not always match how you’re actually doing.
  4. There’s no hiding from lack of run training
  5. A big part of my poor run performances is due to my head.
  6. It’s all about the run

I was pretty happy with my preparations for this race. I should caveat that – happy given what has happened. It was far from what I’d hoped and planned at the start of the year. I correctly scheduled my racing having realised I benefit from routine and early summer Ironman racing just throws that routine off. For a few reason’s I didn’t maintain that routine, the first was really out of my control the other two I could and should deal with

  1. Spraining my ankle at the end of April stopped me running (more or less) for two months. To that point my running was on a roll. It was bad luck. I’ve sprained ankles loads of times when I was racing mountain marathons and on one occasion sprained both but never one as bad as this.
  2. Rather than an Ironman I went and attempted the Welsh 3000s and spent 15 hours moving through mountains and pretty much went for two days without sleep. This left me physically in a bit of a state but more importantly it removed my enthusiasm for training for several weeks.
  3. In the middle of my build I had a rest week which coincided with the start of the swimming club break. I thought this was a good bit of scheduling but in hindsight given the need for routine it was a bad choice. In future I should schedule it so that the first week after it has squad swim as that provides the structure to get me back in to routine.

SWIM

A very disappointing swim.  Outside of Kona, this is my slowest swim in over six years. This year my swimming has been improving. I did a 400 PB early in the year. The key to my swimming is consistency. This works well when I’m in Taunton but on camps when open water is the only choice it gets knocked back. I’m not sure how I can avoid this. Certainly our camps in the Pyrenees are of huge benefit to my biking but leave my swimming well off and then the timing for this race is almost perfectly bad in terms of the swim squad summer break. This was exacerbated by there being no Level 2 coaching course run. Last year during the break a coaching course was run and they needed swimmers in for  2hours each afternoon so I ended up with a big volume swim week.

This only partially explains my swim split. My first lap was at 1:25 pace and the second at 1:31. That second lap is woefully slow, even if it was non wetsuit swim it would be slow. Clearly the swim route didn’t have the advantages of last year (either short or strong currents). My feeling is that the final turn buoy had been pushed out a bit. This still doesn’t explain it. Looking at people I know and the top pros I do seem relatively slow. I’m not normally 9 minutes behind the leaders.

A big factor was how cold I got. Now, I’m not sure of causality here. It could well be I got cold because I didn’t go hard (fast) enough or vice versa. I’m been trying to figure out why I got so cold. I’ve not come up with a reason that seems to make total sense. The water was clearly warmer than in other years though I reckon the air temperature was lower. Some contributing factors:

  1. I got to the swim quite early to ensure a good starting spot
  2. I warmed up. This probably, in hindsight, was a bad decision. I was warm enough in the water but then had 20 minutes or so stood getting cold. It meant I started the swim cold
  3. My wetsuit is a bit worse for wear. It’s served me well over the years and is comfy but it now has several small holes in it and the legs are cut just below the knee. I do wonder whether this meant that cold water was seeping in throughout cooling me down.
  4. I do wonder whether I was slightly ill but didn’t realise it. Not really convinced by this as I feel ok now, two days after the race so it’s not like it was I was starting to come down with something.

None of these really seem to be able to explain it. Whats most strange is that the water was a lot warmer than previous years. Perhaps the third reason is biggest contributor, I certainly won’t race in that wetsuit again, but it’s probably a combination of all the first three.. Two years service is enough. As has been pointed out to me I’m in a lucky position in that despite having a very poor swim I still was sub 56 minutes and came out 2nd in my age group.

T1

Notes for next year – stick just some slip on shoes to put on. My hands and feet were so numb and I was shivering that getting my toes in vibrams was a nightmare. For that 1k run just something easy to get on that protects your feet from the ground is enough. I am very pleased I had the presence of mind to leave my wetsuit fully on and swim cap on for the run in. I hoped it would warm me up. Given how cold I was as soon as I pulled my wetsuit down in the final 100m it was clearly the right decision.

Ahead of time I’d considered wearing my arm warmers under my wetsuit. I decided against it as I felt they may prove cold if I started the bike with them wet. Since the race someone tweeted me that thats what they did at UK. I wish I had as I had a nightmare getting them on. Apparently Jo was shouting at me in transition not to bother with them as she could see what a mess I was making of getting them on. The other thing I should have done was wear by Gore Next To Skin vest on under my Tri suit. I did this at Wimbleball and would have this time but stupidly didn’t even think to pack it.

BIKE

This was a mental battle for the first hour. I was so cold, I couldn’t think of anything other than getting warm but there was no power to work with to create heat. When the sun came out and I was in it I slowed to try and warm up. I was so close to calling it a day as people were just streaming by. To give an idea Pembroke is about 18km in and it took me 40 mins to get there compared to 30 minutes in 2012 and even in 2011 when then was a massive head wind it only too 33 minutes. Still, it’s only 10 minutes. Similar to a puncture. At the time though it feels like you’re going backwards. It also felt I was suffering right through to Angle but looking at it in hindsight from Pembroke on I was holding similar pace to previous years. I passed a friend, Paul, who had punctured and at the time I thought that he’s losing as much time as I did from being cold. I think this probably helped me re focus.

_powerwales2013

This graph is my normalised power for each 5km together with the 20km moving average. Looking in hindsight is very interesting as there are a couple of things that I thought had happened post race but before looking at the data which weren’t correct:

  • The length of time I was miles below my power. I felt it was most of the way to Angle ( until the drop down to the beach before Angle). In fact looking at the data I was pretty much ok (power wise) from Pembroke. This is verified by checking by pace against previous races
  • I felt that I was ok through the rest of that third (but I was actually going well. At the top end of my IM power range), I was at IM power in the middle (I pretty much was) and I really cranked it in the final third. I did but it wasn’t as dramatic a shift as I thought.

This shows that in the final third of an Ironman bike the effort level will feel a lot more to merely maintain pace. I felt there was a step change in my performance (following peeing on the bike) but it wasn’t actually quite as dramatic. This perception of increasing pace is skewed due to those around fading. In that final third I was flying by people on the bike.

It shows as well that though I have a power meter I still tend to ride on feel. I don’t find it easy to look at my power constantly but instead try and keep each 5k average within my Ironman power. Overall I’ve got to be happy with that bike ride. I was much better at keeping my efforts in check on the climbs. I’d noted, during practise on the course, that even in my lowest gear I was getting close to 300w on the climb. This meant no matter how strong I felt I made myself drop right down the gears and spin as much as I could. It’s shown that my bike form is where i thought it was. I’m quite pleased with the consistency of my riding once I warmed up and having the strength to crank it at the end, though it might not have been the wisest thing to do, it confirmed that my bike preparations haven’t been miles off the mark.

My normalised power for the ride was 257 watts which is the highest I’ve recorded. One caveat is that I think the quarq reads high compared to my Powertap. To give you an idea of this bike course – in 2010 my NP was 240w at Busselton for a 4:50 bike split, on Sunday 257w gave me 5:56!

T2

Pleased to say nothing to report. Fast enough. Felt positive because of strong finish to the bike

RUN

The run went close to expected. The great thing about Ironman is there’s no real faking it. If you’ve not done the work you’ll find out. I knew I’d not done the run work and it eventually hit me. It also showed yet again that it’s the run that really matters. Despite me being perhaps 20 – 30 minutes behind where I’d thought I would be it was still all to play for. A guy I finished the bike within a minute of went on to run in to fifth in my age group with a 3:21 marathon. There are massive gains for me to make by improving my running. It’s not like breaking new ground and PBs. I just need to get back even close to how I used to run and it would be ok.

_runwales2013

The graph is my KM splits together with net height change. First note that the course was the correct length. In fact I reckon it was now at least 500m long !! I felt pretty bad running to start but got in to my running after a few KM. My goal now had changed to run the whole thing and keep it as comfortably as possible. The intermediate goal was to run the third lap well as thats where I’ve always fallen apart. Coming on to the third lap I focussed on this but towards the top of the main drag it fell apart and I was walking. The next 10k were torture. A big positive were the shoes I wore: Vibram FiveFinger Seeya – I’d cut off the strap so they were just slip ons. Not a single blister or rub. Perfectly comfortable with the added bonus that though they’re great for running not the best for walking so it helped keep a cap on my walking breaks.

As I approached the far turnaround on the final lap I decided to try and get something really positive out of this. I think it was prompted by two things – first seeing Tim Bishop cranking it for the age group win and second having a club mate behind who would catch me at my current pace. I decided I should test whether, if I was in a race for the win, I could really push the final 6km. What a great decision that was. I flew down the hill at one point seeing 4 min /km. I was passing everyone so quickly it was a thrill. It confirmed what I remember reading years ago – the discomfort is more or less the same whether you’re running fast or slow. I managed the final 6km in 28 minutes. It felt good to be running really hard for no other reason than because I could. I crossed the line absolutely over-joyed and really quite wasted. Not sure any one in the crowd would have any idea why I was running so hard. There was no one else in sight and there was no benchmark time as I came in in 11:07.

This has been a great boost to my confidence. Firstly it shows that a certain amount of my slow running and falling apart is in my head. It’s never nice to admit it because it’s nice to think of yourself as tough BUT when it comes to running I’ve just lost that mental toughness I used to have. I need to regain it.  Secondly, I’m going to note here for reference next year (yes I’m racing next year, even if I get to Kona. I’ve even booked my accommodation!)… next year I need to remember how it felt to just let the legs go and use gravity on those downhills. I think focussing on letting rip down those hills each lap will help an awful lot.

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