Thursday, October 10, 2013

Ironman Lake Tahoe Race Report

Sorry it took so long but here it is:


Ironman Lake Tahoe Race Report
September 22nd, 2013

Background

Location: Lake Tahoe Area, California
Distance: 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike, 26.2-mile run
2013 Triathlon Race Number: 11
Career Triathlon Race Number: 137
Conditions: Very cold—25 degrees at race start rising to mid 50s during the mid day and back into the 40s by race end.  Water temp around 60 degrees.  Partly cloudy and modest wind until the latter portions of the bike—then breezy.  Quite dark and difficult to see over the last 7 miles of the run.

IMLT was my only “A” race for 2013.  It was the race I was hoping to qualify for Kona 2014 in.  During many, many of my long training sessions I had imagined how difficult this race would be and how I would respond to the challenge.  I had slaved all of my other triathlon activities to this primary goal of qualifying for Kona at IMLT.

I had a very slow start to my training in 2013, due in-part to returning late in January from mountain climbing in Argentina, but also due to a “need” to moderate my training intensity/volume due to the heavy workload of 2012 (RAAM/Kona/IMAZ/Aconcagua).  It was also to be my 12th IM race—all since 2004.

In 2013, I significantly cut back on my training volume—especially my swim and run volume.  The latter in part due to increasing difficulties with my cartilage challenged left knee.  Despite this relative lack of training commitment, I had enjoyed a productive, though modestly curtailed racing season in 2013.  In the 10 2013 triathlon races prior to IMLT, I had won my AG 7 times—which is the second most AG group wins in a year that I have achieved in my triathlon career to date (in 2009, I had won 8 of 14 races in my AG).  I had also qualified for the IM70.3 World Championships in a HIM at Mount Tremblant but had elected to pass on that slot.  I was lucky and had achieved a fair amount with relatively inadequate training investment.  I was concerned of-course about IMLT—the Ironman tends not to suffer lack of training investment well!

There were 2,751 triathletes signed-up and issued bibs but by my estimation only 2,279 started—a remarkable 20% DNS rate, which I think was strongly influenced by the adverse weather prior to the race and the surprising difficulty of the course as more was discovered about this inaugural running of the IMLT course—more on that later).  Of these 2,279 starters, just 1,716 would finish—a 24.7% DNF rate—one of the worst in IM history.  Just 62% of the originally entered athletes would finish this race in less than 17 hours.  I will report that I was one of them and this is my story.

I’m in the M55-59 YO age group and in this grouping there were 97 original entrants.  Of these, 84 started (13% DNS rate) and 67 finished (20% DNF rate).  I was also competing in the XC50+ AG, which is where my only real chance of qualifying resided.

I flew out the Monday before the race to familiarize myself with the course and to better accommodate the effects of the 6,000+ foot elevation of the venue.  I stayed right in Squaw Valley village about 100 yards from the race finish and adjacent to T2.  I had a bird’s eye view of the creation and post race removal of the Ironman village—quite a logistical feet that the WTC pulls off.

After unpacking my bike (plus rebuilding it) and all the other stuff that must be lugged around as an Ironman athlete, I went down to King’s Beach and swam in Lake Tahoe and was pleasantly surprised to not feel all that much impact from the altitude.  Pre-race there had a been a lot of hype about how hard it was to swim at altitude but I swam easy and to be honest I thought it wasn’t a very big deal.  I then drove most of the bike course and was very surprised by the climbs and especially the descents—the latter looked looked terrifying.  I chilled Monday night and splurged on a dinner of fish and chips and sparkling water at a nice Irish Pub in the Village.

On Tuesday I rode from King’s up and over Brockway and then all the way up past the Ritz to where the road was closed.  I was very nervous on the descents—especially with strong and gusty winds and lots of road traffic.  I elected not to swim because the waves were chaotic and 3+ feet.  Tuesday was very unsettling for sure.  I had real concerns about the descents.  I’m not a good descender and these seemed very challenging.

I was, after Tuesday’s ride, very pleased to have elected to bring my Cervelo S5—an aero road bike with clip-ons versus bringing my BMC TT bike.  The Slowtwitch crowd had generally voted against it but I had felt like it was the right call for me—it’s a pretty aero set-up and I’m certainly better with a lot of vertical on it than my TT bike.  It’s a decision I would not come to regret.

The last few days before the race on Sunday were pretty normal (with one exception) and I was pleased to have Judy and Anders as well as my mother joining me and providing support.  The one exception was a well-anticipated storm that blew in on Saturday, the day before the race, and deposited a bunch of snow above 8,000 feet and torrential rains down at T1, drove temperatures into the mid 20s, and whipped the lake into a frothy frenzy.  True to forecast, the storm was over and done with by about midnight but in its wake were the coldest conditions I’ve ever faced in a triathlon, let alone an Ironman.

One last surprise was very relevant for my tactical race plan.  As I mentioned, I was racing in the XC50+ group and as it turns out I was facing just three other competitors.  Two of these gentlemen were certainly my equal (or more) and I optimistically put my chances at qualifying for Kona at 1 in 3.  But I seem to be blessed when it comes to Kona qualifying and each of those two strong athletes dropped out in the run-up to the race (in one case a business conflict and the other an injury).  This meant I was head-to-head with Hideki Takayasu.  Not to take anything away from Takayasu-san (he had finished 16 IMs), but I was confident if I raced conservatively and avoided major problems, that I could reach the finish line well before him.  As I went to bed on Saturday night I was confident in my abilities and my plan to race very conservatively.

I was up at 3 am for my customary breakfast of 2 PB&J on white bread—yeah (so Mid-West, but actually, I think it is the best pre-IM fuel)!  I also took a banana down and crawled back into bed with my bride.  We all were up rolling by 4:45, as we needed to catch a 5 am bus down to King’s Beach.  We rolled into the T1 area about 5:40—a little more than hour before the AG start.

When I left our hotel room I checked the weather up in Truckee and saw it was 26 degrees.  The race start is a couple of hundred feet higher but nearer the relatively balmy 60-degree water of Lake Tahoe so I was curious what the temp would be there.  When we exited the bus, I looked at the Bank thermometer across the street from T1 and saw 25 degrees.  My Garmin latter confirmed this.  OK, this is very cold, even colder than that ridiculous race I did back in March of this year but I must say it didn’t really faze me.  I ride in the cold in DE a lot and we knew it was going to be very cold on race day given the consistent weather forecasts over the prior five days.  I had prepared and I was confident in my ability to deal with the cold—frankly, I like it better than the hot.

I went and checked my T1 bag and found it caked in both ice and very cold water.  Fortunately, I had doubled bagged it so all of my bike clothes were still dry.  If I had missed this detail then there was a very good chance that finishing this race would no longer be an option.  Hypothermia was going to be a real outcome for many folks this morning.  After re-bagging my T1 set-up I proceeded to run through my bike checklist.  All was good, although my DarkSpeedWorks fuel bag was frozen and I had to blow on it to make sure the zipper was good to go.  It was still quite dark and I was using my mountaineering headlamp and my reading glasses to see everything I had to do.

Finally, I was ready and I spent a good 30 minutes just relaxing with my family and feeding off the energy of their encouragement and support.  The pros went and then it was time for us AGers to join the new rolling start at the swim start—here we go!

The Swim

I said my goodbyes and joined the throng in the starting corrals.  I was personally very pleased with this “new” rolling start format—it’s the same as what you would see at any major city marathon—your race starts when you hit the starting line.  Seed yourself where it makes sense and when you hit the line you go.

I seeded myself with the 100+ minute swim folks (even though I’m a 75-85 minute swimmer in most IMs.  I did this for a number of reasons.  First, I had read a bunch about the deleterious impacts on swimming that come at a 6200-foot elevation.  I knew if I went anaerobic it would be very difficult to recover.  Second, while the water temp in the main lake was around 62-63 degrees, it was below 60 near shore due to the sub-freezing air-temps and I was concerned about the initial shock of the freezing water.  Lastly, my biggest fear (truth be known) in this race was my concern about the two big descents that would come around 40 miles into the bike race.  I figured that by starting way in the back that all of the bike studs (with their 50-60mph descents) would be well in front of me.

At 6:40am, the AGers went off and we all began to get sucked towards the maul of the Swim Start arch.  I found myself unconsciously getting sucked forward and had to stop several times and slow myself down.  Easy RC—the race starts after the Arch.  My feet were absolutely frozen and I wished I had thought to bring one of the many pairs of worthless flip-flops that I have accumulated through my 56+ years.  My feet were frozen despite wearing my booties.  As an aside, I was also wearing a neoprene hoodie under my official swim cap.

I’d be remiss in not commenting on the absolutely stunning views—hands down this was the most incredible venue for a swim start that I’ve ever been at.  I was a bit teary at the wonder and awesomeness of it all.

Finally, around 6:49:50, almost 10 minutes after the first AGers left, I was started in my 12th IM quest.  Once through the starting arch, I veered to the right, away from the buoy line and walked calmly through the very shallow water.  This shallow water (less than 2 feet deep) persisted for nearly 100 yards and I took over a minute to complete the walk.  I bent over a couple of times and splashed the icy water in my face to trigger my gasp reflex.  I’d say about half of the folks near me were also walking slowly in attempt to keep their HRs down at the outset of the swim.  The other half were charging through the shallow water in what struck me as a very risky tactic.  (BTW, my Garmin recorded the altitude during the swim at 6233 feet vs. a listed 6225 feet).

I finally dove in and felt the bracing slap of the sub-60 degree water.  I was ready for it and it didn’t seem that bad—earlier this year in New Jersey I was routinely swimming in 55-60 degree waters.  My breathing was under control relatively quickly.  I swam VERY, VERY easily for the first five minutes—laughably so--as I wanted to stay firmly aerobic throughout this swim.  Some people were passing me but not many.  I did not care in the least.

I was about 400 yards in and I felt very good and decided to pick my level of effort up—although, I was still swimming very comfortably—it felt like a 60-70% effort.  It was challenging to sight ahead as the fog was thick right on the surface of the water and it was hard to pick a mountain peak to focus on.  However, I kept myself “righter” than everyone else and just tried to parallel the main pack that seemed to be doing their usual IM Kung-Fu swim thing.  I had elected to eschew trying to draft in the interest of the most drama-free swim that I could get—and this plan was working very well.

About 10 minutes into the swim I felt absolutely top-notch.  I was now pretty steadily passing people and was swimming well within myself.  I contemplated going faster but decided to just “hang-out” on the first lap of the two-lap swim and then go from there.  The water was incredibly clear—the clearest I’ve ever seen—the visibility is listed at 75 feet (a 10 inch white Secchi disk is still visible at that depth).  It was amazing and really facilitated conflict free swimming.

Sooner than I expected I had reached the shallow waters near then end of the first lap.  I started walking across the bottom half of the rectangle and gave the thumbs up sign so that my family would know that everything was cool (I didn’t know if they would see this but they did and you can see it in my slideshow from this race).  I looked at my watch and it read 38 something.  Wow!  I expected to see something like 45 minutes given how easy and conservative I had been.  I decided to swim a bit harder the second lap—not a lot more but with a bit more purpose—I thought I should be able to come in around 75 minutes, which would be well below the 90 minutes or so I had been targeting.

The second lap was one of the most enjoyable swimming experiences I’ve ever had.  I was very comfortable, temperature-wise.  I was steadily passing many swimmers while swimming well within myself.  The water was incredibly clear and I had no problem swimming a contact-free lap.  Even over the last 1000 yards, I felt strong.  I had none of the late swim split fatigue I normally feel in an IM swim.  I’m never really fatigued in an Ironman swim but always in the past, down the stretch, have been ready for the swim to be over with.  Not today.  I easily could have continued on at my level of effort for another lap.

Soon enough I was able to get upright again in the shallower water and I glanced down again at my watch and saw it click over from 73 to 74.  Sweet!  I decided to calmly walk out of the water and keep my HR down.  This had been a great swim, but I still had a very long day in front of me.  NO sense sprinting out of the water.  At one point, I did that silly Usain Bolt thing I did in Kona last year and slapped five with a bunch of folks around me.  Eventually (and belatedly) I made my way onto the beach.

As I passed under the swim finish arch I saw my family and told them that my personal race clock started at 6:49 so they would have a better sense of where I was in elapsed race time and so that they might be able to give me better info on how I was doing in my Kona race against Hideki.

My official swim split turned out to be 75:04.  Given how easy my swim was I initially thought that the swim course must have been short.  However, all the feedback I’ve had since the race indicates otherwise and in fact my Garmin clocked my swim at 2.75 miles—more than a third of a mile long.  My Garmin recorded 2,477 strokes at an average stroke rate of 33 spm.  I covered 1.96 yards per stroke, which really is very good for me.

I finished 735th OA on the swim (67.8 %-tile) and 16th in my AG 82.1 %-tile).  This was my 3rd fastest IM swim and my second best OA %-tile, and AG %-tile finish:

Ironman Time OA %-tile AG %-tile

IMFL04 77:26 38 56
IMWA05 85:47 29 50
IMWI06 79:50 53 57
IMFL07 66:16 76 83
IMAUS08 73:48 43 63
IMCAN08 76:22 47 60
IMGER10 85:04 42 68
KONA10 80:21 26 36
IMAZ11 78:20 58 68
KONA12 81:20 25 43
IMAZ12 84:13 43 51
IMLT 75:04 68 82

I had unexpectedly good results today.  I was relatively undertrained from both a volume and an intensity perspective.  I swam very, very easily in this swim.  Perhaps, the focus on long, continuous OWS vs. pool intervals helped me today.  Perhaps, starting slowly and building my effort throughout the swim was a contributor.  Or maybe, I did a better job of dealing with altitude than most and when I get back down to sea level, my relatively stronger performance today will revert to my mean.  We’ll have to give this some thought as I contemplate my approach to 2014.

In any event, I put 11:45 on Hedeki, which was in the range of 10-15 minutes that I had been counting on.  I didn’t know this of-course, but with this strong swim, I was certain I had a nice lead as I hit the cool sands of King’s Beach.

Transition One

As I walked up through the crowds on the way to T1 I was elated and decided I would expend some (what turned out to be serious) energy trying to whip the crowd up.  I screamed and yelled and raised my arms up and down and generated quite a response.  It was very exciting but I soon found my HR spiking—easy there RC, you’re an old fart and you have much more to do.

I grabbed my blue bike gear bag and jogged over to the transition tent and the first sign of trouble was the long line of guys waiting to just enter the tent.  I instinctively looked at the women’s entrance and after a second of contemplation rejected that as an alternative (there must be some WTC rule against this).  My mind was racing and my engineering background flashed the answer as I was running—people must be taking a really long time to do T1 given how cold it was and the RD didn’t plan for that.  Hmmm…. nowhere to change…what to do?

Normally in an IM if the T1 tent is full I just plop down and change outside.  However, my plan was to strip completely out of my wet things and put on all new, dry clothes.  This implies getting naked.  People surrounded the T1 area and I did know that the WTC frowns on nudity so I rejected that option.  I decided to run around to the exit of the tent.  As I did, I noticed a bunch of guys standing outside, buck-naked!  Still, I went for the back of the tent.

I entered the tent and had my senses assaulted by body heat and hundreds of naked or near naked men.  It was affectionately described as a sausage-fest.  I stopped in the alcove just outside the main tent, as it looked hopeless trying to find a place in the tent itself.  I leaned up against a tent-pole and grabbed myself about a square foot to drop my stuff.  I had several other guys close around and there was a constant stream of people click-clacking in their bike shoes passing nearby on their way to their bike rides.  Oh-boy.  I took a deep breath and told myself to focus.

I had kept my wetsuit on after exiting the swim to try to stay warm—I still viewed the cold as my primary enemy in the early goings of the bike (it was now 36 degrees).  Now in the tent I needed to get bike-ready!  Off came the wetsuit—which I never do vertically but I did today—it wasn’t pretty.  Next--off came the swimsuit and I was buck-naked.  At just this moment I looked up and saw a woman volunteer.  I looked at her and told her not to peak and she laughed and said she had seen it all before (I wondered where we had met previously).  As an aside, if women can volunteer in the men’s changing tent then it might be worthwhile to look into volunteering in T1 at the women’s tent in future races!

OK, enough on that topic.  I used my hotel towel to dry off and I then put on: tri-bottom, tri-top, LS cycling jersey, cycling wind jacket (very bright green), knee warmers, socks, bike shoes (with toe warmers), and my hat and winter cycling gloves.  At one point prior to this, someone lost a glove and several of us looked for it and I found it for him—good karma!  Despite the crowding, people were pretty upbeat and positive—I actually rather enjoyed T1, strangely enough.

I put a couple of extra gels and e-lytes in my pockets and gathered up all of my stuff and jammed it all back into the blue bag, which I gave to a volunteer, and then I grabbed my glasses and helmet and got the heck out of there.

Next up was a LONG run all the way around transition to the far south side of T1 and then all the way through the transition area—hurdling a couple of bushes and dividers on the way.  Really?  I started to laugh at the absurdity of it all, but finally I reached my bike.  I gave her a quick looksee and she seemed ready to rock and so I headed out (after first noticing that Hideki’s bike was still there) and reached the mount line and hopped on for the next part of the adventure.

My elapsed time for T1 was 13:44, by a long shot, the longest transition I’ve ever had.  I shook my head (I was roughly aware of how long it was) but I also thought that I went just about as fast as I could go.  The numbers in fact said I did a very good job in T1.  I was 6th fastest in my AG (94.0%-tile) and while I don’t have the OA breakout as of yet, I’m sure I was in the top 15% OA and perhaps the top 10%.  I moved up 8 places in my AG and was now in 7th in my AG and more importantly, I also put almost TEN MINUTES on Hideki in transition and I left T1 with a 21:02 lead.

The Bike

I jumped on the bike and heard my family shouting to me.  I didn’t see them as I was focused on wending my way through the chaos that is IM bike mount.  Having successfully navigated that challenge, I tried to mentally run through all of the things that I had prepared myself to be aware of.  The first 5 or so miles were towards Tahoe City and by this course’s standards, pretty flat and I spent my time spinning easily and thinking through my plan.

I averaged a very conservative 19.0 mph during this first section with a HR of 146 bpm and an average power of 166 watts.  I was shooting to average just 170 watts—which is pretty low given my cycling ability but made perfect tactical sense given the difficulties of the course and my principal focus on securing a Kona slot.  Despite this very easy pace, I put another 1:23 on Hideki at the 4.2-mile bike split.  Miles 5-10 took us up and over Dollar Hill for the first of three times—Dollar Hill is a 7-9% climb that lasts around a mile or so.  I upped my power during this segment to 171 watts and this translated into 16.9mph.

We then began the 15-mile false-flat type descent to Truckee.  In practice during the time I rode here pre-race, I had no problem easy pedaling and averaging 25-26 mph hour.  However, today, I just wanted to ride very, very easy.  We were also facing a headwind and it was very cold.  I was colder than I wanted to be but I knew that if I just made it to the climbs that began after Truckee I’d be OK.

I was also very focused on drinking and eating—despite my body not seeming to need or want this.  At about 15 miles I opened my DarkSpeedWorks and pulled out a 6-pack of Cliff-shots.  They were frozen and barely chewable.  On about the 5th chomp I felt a hard and painful crunch and stopped chewing.  I reached into my mouth and pulled out a slimy-purple mass in which I saw the shiny gold form of my now separated crown—getting old is awesome!

I knew gold is valuable, but it didn’t seem that big and more importantly, I was doing about 32-mph at the time on a descent with lots of other folks around and so I said—“chuck it”—or something to that effect.  In any event, I did chuck it and cautiously ate the rest of the package on my front right side.  You can’t make this up!

As I was coming up a smallish climb at the entrance to the old part of Truckee I saw my fam again and Anders told me that I had a 21-minute lead at T1 and that it was climbing rapidly.  The latter was an assumption on his part but it subsequently proved to be true.  Over this 15-mile segment, I averaged barely 160 watts and still was up over 22-mph.  At the 25.5-mile checkpoint, my lead over Hideki was extended to 29:19.

Now I found myself at the real crux of the race.  I needed to navigate the climbs and descents of the next 25 miles or so in a solid, but very conservative fashion.  I was surprised by the difficulty of the climbs leading out of Old Truckee—they were on a bike path in part so I had not seen them before.  After a quick descent across the river we were into the climbs that are in the private resort of Martis.  I didn’t know what these would be like (much of the course is off-limits until race day) but I knew they would be difficult.  During this stretch I averaged 189 watts but managed only 13 mph.  Still, at the 41.1-mile checkpoint my lead had exploded to 45:54.  Over 15.6-miles, I had put 16:35 on Hideki, over a minute per mile.

The later part of this segment included the nerve-wracking descent from the Ritz, where I routinely climbed up above 40-mph and I found myself actually out-descending most around me (as an aside, I was pretty MOP here but given those around me I was holding my own).  I found myself to be unexpectedly relaxed.  I wasn’t taking chances and my S5 was rock-solid.  I began to feel a surge in confidence.

Next up came the Brockway climb.  Just 2.2 miles.  And, I averaged 4.6mph for this climb.  Really?  Still, I put another 6 minutes into Hideki.  I was sweating a storm at the top and decided to pull over and take a pee (I peed three times on this bike ride—which I consider just about perfect.  Normally I’d just pee while riding but given how cold it was, I pulled over and ensured a more orderly release each time).

Now was my central moment of terror.  Three plus miles down a newly paved highway with an average grade of 7-9%.  I was flying.  When I hit 40 or so, I’d feather in my brakes.  Some folks would blow past me but I was passing more than I was being passed.  It was very intense but I was extremely focused.  Soon enough I was down on the more modest 4-5% part of the descent.  I was pretty violently shaking as the wind of the descent and the sweat of my prior climb combined to chill me to the core.  But I was down—one of the 2 and a third laps in the book.  I knew at this point that I could deal with this bike course.

After a few miles I stopped shaking (although for a while I was so cold it was hard to control the bike) and I reviewed where I was.  And btw—it did take me several miles to stop shaking—it was still really cold.  I decided to just keep riding conservatively.  I was certain that I could outride Hideki and as I looked at my average power (now up to 170 watts) I saw no reason to change anything.  Although I didn’t know it, I went through the 50.8-mile checkpoint with a 54:43 lead.

When we rolled past Squaw, I stopped at the Special Needs Station and picked up my Snickers bar, which I ate greedily.  (In retrospect, I wished I had stashed a couple of Osmos bottles as I was now drinking IM Perform, which in my view sucks).  At this point in the race I was on autopilot.  I just wanted to stay conservative.  I was looking forward to hearing from Anders and team in Truckee where I was after the latest checkpoint to confirm my tactical approach, but I was very confident I was executing the right race plan.

I rolled back into Truckee at 72 miles and my lead had grown to 64:51.  I saw Anders and slowed and he told me that I was 46 minutes ahead at 41 miles and that it was rapidly expanding.  He told me to just keep doing what I was doing.  I ran the math in my head for the next couple of miles and concluded that I was going to exit the bike (if I didn’t mess up) with a 90-minute lead.  Sweet.

The next part of the ride up through Tahoe City was very similar to the first lap.  I was even more conservative but continued to extend my lead:

-87.6 miles: 72:06
-89.8 miles: 73:24
-97.2 miles: 77:57

I took it a bit more conservatively on the second lap.  I knew Kona was mine for the taking and I saw no reason to push anything.  I could have been, say 20 minutes faster on the bike, but it made no sense to do so.  On the run-in back to Squaw the winds really picked up—I’m talking 15-20mph and it was cloudy and still cold.  It was not that pleasant to ride, but I was focused on what needed to be done.

Finally, I made the right turn onto the Squaw access road off of HWY 89 and went around transition and up towards the bike dismount area.  I heard my family call out—I’m sure they were as glad to see me as I them.  I dismounted with a 7:23:12 bike split, which was more than an hour slower than any previous IM bike (next slowest was Kona 2012 where I did a 6:22:56).  I’m not sure where this stacks up competitively OA but I had 23rd fastest time in my AG (73.8 %-tile).  This is obviously considerably worse that my typical bike in a triathlon and part of that was by design, as I rode very conservatively.  I averaged just 169 watts—almost spot on to my target.  My cadence was just 71 rpm (climbing and descending caused the near 15 rpm reduction).  I averaged 132bpm heart rate so this was clearly a zone 1/recovery type effort.  MY TSS was just 278.

Despite this apparently lower level of effort, I was very fatigued from this ride.  Part of this is of course a function of the course profile.  My Garmin reported 7,726 feet of climbing with the elevation correction disabled and 9,914 feet with it enabled (the elevation corrections are essentially the MotionBased Gravity service where GPS coordinates are correlated with professional survey data).  I’m not sure how much climbing was actually involved but rest assured there was a lot of it.  I think that my Jersey Shore flatland training did not adequately prepare me for the challenges of the terrain on this course.  I think also, I probably could have benefited from a 32-tooth cassette as the grinding up the climbs undoubtedly took its toll on my legs.

Still—I rode the ride in a very solid tactical way.  I was glad it was over and I was quite happy to dismount.  I didn’t know it but I hopped off the bike 86:09 in front of Hideki.

Transition Two

T2 was in a tent that was at least 10 times bigger than T1 and of course, there were many fewer people.  I took my time in transition making sure to liberally apply Vaseline (to the covered stuff) and sunscreen (to the uncovered stuff).  I decided to bring my gloves and my light cycling hat, as I knew I would be running well after sunset and it was still only about 53 degrees as I was transitioning.  It took me 6:45 to complete T2, which was 12th in my AG (86.9 %-tile).  I was now at just under 9 hours of elapsed race time.  I continued to move faster than Hideki as I left T2 with a lead of 89:53.

The Run

I jogged across the parking lot and as I saw my family alongside the chute, I walked over to chat with them.  Anders told me my delta to Hideki at the last split point we had both passed and he told me that I would most likely have a 90-minute lead (pretty good estimate!) after T2.  He also made sure that I understood that Kona was mine as long as I finished and that I should be conservative.  I told them my legs were fried, that the bike course had really hammered me.  Anders suggested that I just walk the first mile.  I started jogging again and said I would see if I could run a bit and take it from there.

So off I went.  The first part of the run is through Squaw Valley Village and out into and around the parking lot and then down towards HWY 89 where the bike course was.  Before we got there we ran up the access road and around the Resort at Squaw Creek.  This gave me a lot of opportunities to observe the other triathletes and it seemed that everyone was pretty shelled at this point—most people were already walking.  I hit the 2.8-mile checkpoint averaging 11:21/mile and did the next 2.9 miles at a pace of 10:11/mile.  My HR was right around 140bpm but I was breathing heavier than normal (altitude) and I felt a little light-headed.

At this point, I was almost 6 miles into the run and I had enough time to reflect on where I was in the run and what my tactical approach should be going forward.  I figured that I was 90 minutes up at T2 so I knew I just needed to average within 3:30/mile or so of Hideki to finish ahead of him.  I was running at about 11 min/mile at that point and feeling it.  I also knew I had to go 5 hours just to break 14 hours (even with that effort this would have been my slowest IM ever), which is just under 11:30/mile.  I made the following decisions:

1. Finishing and getting my Kona slot were what mattered most and I sensed I might began to put that at risk at some point if I continued at even the modest pace I was running during the first 6 miles.
2. I knew I was a better runner than Hideki under normal circumstances and I thought if I was to average around 13:30/mile or so that he would be very unlikely to average 10:00/mile.
3. I decided the heck with breaking 14 hours.  I needed to be very conservative.  I did promise myself that I would go hard enough to break 15 hours and salvage that small part of my pride.

I proceeded to back off and I mixed walking and running.  I would run the downhills, walk the uphills and do a little of both on the flats.  I also made sure to slowly go through each aid station and eat and drink as much as I could.  I was a heavy user of the chicken broth. There was a turnaround around at 9 or 10 miles and I figured I could see where Hideki was at that point and decide if I needed to go harder (as it turned out my lead had grown to 94:12 at 2.8-miles and 101:10 at 5.7-miles—I was going about 2 min/mile faster in the early part of the run).

I stopped at run special needs area around 6 miles or so and grabbed my Snickers Bar and put on my jacket and another hat.  We were running along the Truckee River, and the sun was now mostly blocked by the mountains, and it was starting to get pretty cold.  I hit the timing matt at 9.4 miles having averaged just 14:54/mile for the 3rd run segment.  My HR was down to around 130bpm and I felt pretty good all things considered.  I knew I could go a long ways at this level of effort.

I kept track of my time since I made the turnaround and kept looking up the path for Hideki.  During this time I really took in the beauty of the course.  Shaded by pines we were walking/running nearby the beautiful Truckee River.  I noticed after generally nine-miles of uphill that course was now pervasively, although gently downhill—which was nice.

Near the half-marathon mark I saw Hideki and estimated that I was now around 2 hours in front of him.  I was now more concerned that he wouldn’t make it by the cut-off and so I urged him on.  (I’m not sure how much he understood due to the language barrier).  I also knew that I could go almost 9 min/mile slower than him and still finish before him.  I saw no reason to change my ultra-conservative approach and just tried to make sure that I was under 15 min/mile.

Around 17 miles or so we returned to the Village and as I walked pass the finishing area I stopped and looked around for my family but they were nowhere to be seen.  This was disappointing but I was more concerned about them than myself as I had forgotten to tell them I would most likely have my red jacket on and I thought that they just didn’t know what to look for and that’s why they had missed me.  In fact, they were told that the end of the first lap was at 19 miles or so and they were inside keeping warm and didn’t come out to see me until about 20 minutes after I had passed (they were tracking my progress on their iPads).

Between 13.1 and 19.6 miles I had averaged about 14:10/mile and my HR was sitting around 118bpm.  I ran the math and figured that I needed to average 14:18/mile to break 15 hours.  Hmmm.  I decided I was cutting it too close and I decided to “push it” for as long as I could to build up a cushion.  Over the next 3 miles I averaged 11:52/mile and built up about a six minute cushion.  It was now very dark out and we were all running with headlamps.  It was surreal watching the lights snake through the woods up in front of you.  A heavy fog had rolled off the golf course to add to the ambiance.   There was this one house where a DT-quality sound system was blasting EDM and people were raving on a roof deck.  Very cool scene!  With about 4 miles to go I knew I could take it easy and comfortably sneak under 15 hours—so take it easy I did.

With about 3/4th of a mile to go I reentered the parking lot and as I went past the Hawaiian Island themed aid station I saw a lei on the ground and I bent over to pick it up.  However, I couldn’t reach it—man I was stiff!  A nice volunteer helped me and I put it on as I told her I would be going to Hawaii soon.  Ashe did a little Hawaiian dance for me and I focused on getting around the parking lot and to the finish line.

I wound my way through the parking lot and jogged slowly through the village—I gave my headlamp to one of the spectators and then rounded the corner by the Tram and cruised across the finish line with the usual Mike Reilly salutation.  I crossed the line with a total time of 14:53:50 and a marathon time of 5:55:05.  Surprisingly, this run was good enough to be 33rd in my AG (61.9 %-tile) and I ended up 29th in my AG (66.7 %-tile) for the overall race.  I was 1074th OA or about 52.9 %-tile.  Hideki did make the cut-off about two hours behind me.

My HR averaged just 124bpm for the marathon—certainly I am not cardiovascular limited on these things.  My Garmin recorded 2,595 feet of climbing on the run but when I corrected it that measure was 2,350 feet—probably the better number.  However you look at it this was a tough run at altitude after a very tough bike.

Post-race Observations

1. Any IM you finish is a successful day in my book.  It’s great to have been able to finish 12 of these things now.
2. My principle focus for 2013 was to qualify for Kona at this race and I did that—2013 certainly has turned out to be a successful season for me.  That I was lucky to face very limited competition does not lessen the satisfaction I take from hitting my main goal for the 2013-racing season.
3. I’m really proud to have finished this race.  It is by far the hardest endurance event I’ve participated in.  If I knew then what I now know about the course, I probably would not have signed-up for the race.  But I’m glad I did it.
4. The altitude did not seem to significantly affect me—at least in ways that I aware of.  The more difficult part of the race was the sheer difficulty of the bike—especially the 7 bigger climbs.  I had not trained for this and the toll that these climbs took on my body was significant.
5. I thought I managed my tactical effort well and while I might have gone 30 minutes or so faster I pretty much got about as much as I could out of my fitness today.
6. Time to kick back a bit and then get ready for my upcoming climb of Aconcagua in January.
7. We’ve already booked our house for Kona—sweet!



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