Sunday, May 10, 2009

Only Half a Disaster

Yesterday, I raced in the Kinetic Half - a half iron distance triathlon at Lake Anna State Park in Spotsylvania, Virginia. Before I go into a race analysis, I just want to mention that the setting for this race is beautiful and the company that handles the admin duties, Set Up Events, is excellent. There were markers every 5 miles on the bike, and mile markers for every mile of the run, lots of water, Heed, and other food/drink available during the race with great volunteers who made sure all the racers got whatever they needed.

So, on to the race report. My goal was to have a positive experience, work out the transitions and any other race kinks for the upcoming Ironman, have a good swim (for me, that means under 30 minutes for 1.2 miles), a decent bike (under 2:50 for 56 miles), and a great run (under 1:30 for 13.1 miles). My training has been going so well on the bike that I was willing to push it a little knowing that in my previous half-IM (Greater Cleveland in August 2008), I was able to evenly split a 1:27 in the run after a hard bike and felt great most of the final miles.

But, you can't discuss what
happened in a triathlon without talking about the course and the weather conditions and how they affected the race. The swim was everything I wanted it to be - the water was about 68 degrees so most of us wore wetsuits. The course was 2 loops with a run between them. My swim felt great, I was able to relax and stretch out, race smart, and clocked in at 28:59. One goal down. The transition was a disaster. I got stuck getting my wetsuit bottom off and lost at least a minute. I will need to practice this and get the technique down. On the bike exit, we had to run on gravel, so most triathletes ran in their bike shoes (which was another thing to put on in transition).

The bike course was rolling hills, not huge hills (which was great because I was expecting much worse in Virginia), and it was also 2 loops. There was an uphill right after the bike mount, then a short mile out and back with a turnaround which slowed everyone down. But the thing that had the biggest effect on everyone's race was the wind. The wind was probably around 15-20 mph from the west, and the first part of the loop was directly into it. Judging by the bike times from years past, I would say everyone lost 5-10 minutes for the 56 miles. I struggled with not knowing how "hard" to ride in the wind, and my first loop put more stress on my legs than expected, but by the second loop I was feeling very little pain and was able to hold close to the same speeds along the course as the first loop. There were great downhills, allowing speeds over 30 mph (for me) for long stretches, and I always had momentum going into the uphills. I fueled every 15 minutes - Heed and Perpetuem - the same regimen I've been training with for Ironman. I wasn't thirsty and everything was great until about 2:15 when I starting to have a little digestive problem, feeling like I had too much in my stomach. There was no nausea, so I decided to skip a feed and just drink water/Heed if I could. I finished the bike well off my goal, in 2:53.

My bike-run transition went a little smoother, not as fast as it should have been, mainly because I almost forgot to take an Endurolyte and grab my Roctane gels (2). Jim told me at the run start that I was about 6-7 minutes behind the leader, so I knew I had to have a great run if I wanted to catch her. Unfortunately, the first mile was uphill and gave me no gauge of how I was going to be feeling for the run. My first two miles were 7:00 (uphill) and 6:10 (downhill). Then the whole run started to fall apart. I felt very fatigued, like my body had no energy. The temperature had gone over 80 degrees and it was very humid (the heat index was 89 degrees by the time I finished). I had not run in this type of heat since last summer and I was not sure if I needed more water or a feed. I consumed one of the Roctane gel packs and shortly after I felt like my energy increased a bit, but by that point I was starting to walk the water stops and I was having to stop regularly to catch a breather. It was very very strange. My legs felt really strong but I had no energy. When I would run, I would blow by a bunch of people and then I had to stop and walk. It was just like the Chicago Marathon in 1998 when I ran with serious intestinal distress and had to keep stopping. So, it became a death march for me, and I no longer had winning in mind, but avoiding dropping out. The run was three loops and each time I passed by the start, all I wanted to do was walk off. Jim told me to hang tough and get through it, which then became my goal. And that's what I did. My time was 1:36, not even close to what I have been able to do in the past, but in retrospect, I'll take it. I was expecting more like a 1:45 the way I was feeling.

My finish time was 2nd woman overall. The awesome thing was that the top three finishers got bottles of wine and a "Newton's Cradle" (strangely enough, something I've always wanted, I kid you not). So, another thumbs up to the race organizers for the coolest prize ever.

Looking at the results, my transitions were very slow, but, among the women, I had the 5th fastest swim, the 6th fastest bike leg (the fastest was only 5 minutes faster, and only one woman was under 2:50, so that tells me everyone suffered in the wind and my bike leg was not so bad in comparison to the other women, which is good because last year I regularly got blown away on the bike and had to make up huge deficits on the run). My run was a different story, and, even though it was the 2nd fastest run of the women, it was not even close to what I think I'm capable of (based on the 2008 season and my current training). So now comes the process of determining what went wrong and how to fix it.

There are three possibilities to consider when analyzing what went wrong:
  1. Race strategy
  2. Lifestyle (what Jim calls "systemic"), including current training load
  3. Fueling
I think my race strategy was good. I didn't go all out on the bike, but I rode hard, knowing I had good hard training to back it up. My fueling also seemed to go well, but in retrospect, I probably would have done better with more water on the bike. That seems to be the bane of my racing - not enough water or too much water and not enough electrolytes. Since I made sure I had the electrolytes yesterday and I felt no nausea, I could probably have drank more water. On the bike, I drank one whole polar bottle (22 oz) and about 1/3 of a 24 oz bottle of water + perpetuem. But it was HOT. I was doing things the way I do them in 60 degrees, not 80 degrees.

The other thing - the whole system - is probably also to blame. I've been training for Ironman, about 15-18 hours of training per week, with a slight cutback this week for the race. I've not been getting 8 hours of sleep per night, especially the two nights before the race, and I think my diet is lacking in protein. Jim says I need to eat more and better overall. He's probably right - after looking at the photos from yesterday, I'm looking thinner than I remember from last year (not that thin is bad, but dropping weight could indicate I'm not eating well). One more thing to note, Jim brought to my attention that I needed to relax more on the run, and looking at the photos, I now "get" what he meant. My upper body looks very tight and not relaxed at all. One more thing to work on.

So, I have 6 weeks to put it all together for IM Coeur d'Alene.


  1. Great Race report and post-race self-analysis.
    Since I'm first to comment, great job on a tough course, in trying conditions and tuff winds to boot!

    IMHO, #1 you need to check a few things out to help with the analysis. Bloodwork to include B12 level, Vit D 25 hydroxy, CBC and Serum Ferritin. You may have to alter your diet and supplements. #2 Drink alot of Water, Water, Water on the bike, this will help keep your hydration and temp under better control. You can't wait to be "thirsty" before you drink. Dogs can, Homo's can't!!!! On the clock! 1 water bottle every 15-30 mins depending on heat and humidity. #3 Visualization techniques to run more relaxed and efficient. FWIW's.
    Your "Big Fan" Sam

  2. Wow! You are FAST! Nice job! I enjoyed reading your post. We're headed out to C'dA too, my husband is racing. Really excited to see that area of the country.