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IRONMAN World Championships Race Report
THE ONE THAT MATTERS
Obviously, the Ironman World Championships is the one event each year where I want to be at my best. To me, this continues to remain the most important day of the year, and the entire season is geared around trying to set up the best performance possible on this day.
The course itself makes preparation and approach tricky, because the conditions of the Ironman World Championships are almost always going to be brutal. You have to be prepped for heat, humidity, high winds, and choppy water.
Fortunately, this year was probably the best conditions that we have had on the Big Island in recent history. The downside to that is it means that the people who go in with a more aggressive approach are less likely to implode on the back half of the race, so the start is more critical.
PLANNING FOR THE WORST
I’ve spent a lot of time working on managing the heat. I’ve always incorporated sauna work and overdressing to an extent as part of my training. This year specifically, I shortened my taper significantly leading into Kona. I had noticed that my HR would sky rocket 2-3 days before the race, when the fatigue was starting to wash out of the body. So this year, I kept a fair amount of fatigue in the system.
This definitely worked in keeping my HR in line with where it should be for the pace/power throughout the day. However, it meant that I needed to do a much bigger warm up on race day. While I believe this change was the right change and helped me in general, I also think it played a role in my poor start of the race.
In the pro ranks, you have to thread the needle on the first 500-1,000m. You have to go out hard – but not so hard that you go completely lactic and can’t hold pace. Looking back at my race, I just simply didn’t go out hard enough, because the more moderate conditions meant a high-intensity start wouldn’t charge such a large toll later on.
Immediately from the start, I was out of the group that I needed to be in. By 1,000m, when everything settled in, I felt like I was swimming at a warm-up pace. I worked my way to the front of the group and was actually closing the gap on the group in front for the rest of the race.
But the damage was done.
I came out of the water 40 seconds behind the group I needed to be in, and the guys who came out on my feet were all very strong riders.
At this point I had a choice to make: I could either ride well above my plan for the first 30-45 minutes and try to use them to catch the group, or I could stick to my plan – albeit at its upper limits. I went with the more conservative approach and stuck to my plan. That meant I didn’t initially have the draft benefits of the group or the media motos, so I was moving backwards early on.
By the time we started the climb up to Hawi at mile 40, I was in 50th place, but I was beginning to make gains. It definitely wasn’t easy, but I was able to stick with it mentally and keep the pressure on the pedals.
By the end of the ride, I had worked myself up into the top 30, with the main group about eight minutes in front of me. At the end of the day, I averaged my second best power ever for an IRONMAN bike leg, and I kept the VI very low. I was set up for a strong run.
After the terrible start of the day, winning the race (or really having a chance at the top 5) was completely off the table. So I set out on the run at a pace I felt would earn a top-10 finish. This was an aggressive pace for sure, but my training numbers told me it was possible on a great day, and the conditions were certainly collaborating.
By the turn-around in the energy lab, I had picked up 13 spots and was sitting in 15th. This is where so many people start to fall apart in years where the conditions are normal (i.e. brutal!); however, everyone was looking pretty strong as we crossed paths on the out/back section, confirming that a fast start was the best tactic on the day.
I increased the pace out of the lab, moving into 14th as we got to the final 10k. I could see 12th place about 45 seconds up the road and tried to pick up the pace again to close that gap… and that’s where things went wrong.
As soon as I turned the dial, both hamstrings immediately cramped and wouldn’t let go. I was able to finally get them to settle down, but they would cramp up if I went back to full stride, so I ended up having to shorten my stride, forfeiting a fair amount of speed as result. This cost me one spot as we went into the finish, but I was still able to claim the final paycheck on the day by finishing 15th.
RUNNING ON VS. HANGING ON
I’ve struggled in Kona every year as a pro due to my high sweat rate, typically losing 8lbs of sweat per hour in those conditions! This makes nailing my nutrition plan quite difficult – and this year, that plan suffered an unforeseeable setback. I unknowingly launched my rear bottle on the first out/back stretch of the race. This bottle had 1,000 calories of EFS-PRO (and a whole lot of electrolytes) in it.
Obviously, I never want to finish a race where I feel like I am “hanging on” for the last 10km, this should be my time to shine! I Should be “running on”!
I went into triage mode after realizing I’d lost the bottle. I tried to do the best I could with the on-course nutrition, but it definitely wasn’t the plan and it definitely wasn’t ideal. I was able to get the right amount of calories (I had a few extra Liquid Shots on the bike), but I wasn’t able to get my planned electrolytes, despite having a few emergency salt tabs on the bike as well. I really think this is what eventually led to the cramping issues I had at the end of the day.
A RESULT I CAN BUILD ON
Overall, I’m not 100% happy with the result. I wanted so much more than that out of the day. However, there are a lot of great things I’m taking away from it. Despite moving backwards for the first three hours of the day, I was able to stay mentally engaged and stick to my plan, gradually reeling back time to move from 50th up into 15th.
Ultimately – and despite the setbacks – the day ended with my best performance on the big island, and that is a result I can build on in the future.