Yesterday, in talking through the race with my friend, advisor, supporter and sponsor, Paul Harrell (of Harrell’s Bicycle World), he encouraged me to write an honest assessment of the race including my race-day nutrition so that we can analyze the experience and make necessary changes moving forward. So here goes …
If I had to describe the experience of racing Ironman St. George is in 3 words, I would say, “epic learning adventure”. I did not achieve the outcome I’d hoped for, but also wasn’t surprised with the way things turned out. I knew it was a hard race and I went into it with a specific goal, both from a time and placing perspective, and I raced toward that goal as wisely as I knew how, until I could not physically continue. The result was my first ever DNF (Did Not Finish). The goal was to qualify for the Ironman World Championships racing in the M35-39 division. Last year’s division winner’s time was 10:04:12 and so my goal was 10 hours +- a few minutes (preferably minus!). Here’s how I planned to achieve the 10 hour time goal:
- Swim between 55min and 1hour at a steady effort level
- Ride 5 hours 30 minutes holding a heart rate around 140 BPM, which is a “steady” aerobic zone, about 75% of my max HR.
- Run 3 hours 30 minutes maintaining a heart rate between 140 bmp and 150 BPM
Here’s are some of the attributes of the race, climate, and conditions
- Considered the most difficult Ironman branded ironman, primarily due to the difficulty of the bike and marathon courses.
- I recorded nearly 7000 ft of elevation gain on the bike using my Garmin with Elevation Corrections enabled (for those familiar with the Garmin). Here’s the data: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/84350103
- I recorded nearly 2400 ft of climbing on the run before my collapse at mile 22.5 of the marathon: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/84350131
- The climate is extremely dry with no shade on the entire course. None!
- It was hot with the temperature reaching 94 degrees at the time of my collapse around 4:30 PM in the afternoon
- This area of southwestern Utah is fantastically beautiful
- The residents of St. George are some of the nicest people we’ve ever encountered across the board. They make our supposed “southern hospitality” seem like utter rudeness.
- The city is very clean, well manicured, and very easily navigated.
Pre-Race: Jennifer and I arrived in St. George Utah on Wednesday afternoon. With the race taking place on Saturday, this gave us plenty of time to get settled, perform all mandatory the check-in procedures, and preview / train on the course.
Pre-race training (Thursday)
- AM: Run 2 x 5k (1st with Jennifer at her pace, 2nd by myself at steady pace)
- PM: Swim +- 1300 meters / 18 min followed by
- Bike: 27 min / 10.5 miles on race course
Pre-race training (Friday)
Swim 10 min / 700 meters. Did not feel comfortable in the water, very anxious, short of breath. I swam with friend and fellow M35-39 competitor Chris Olson.
Bike: 29 min / 10.4 miles with Chris
- Run: 15 minute trail run, again with Chris, easy pace / talking the whole way.
Following the workout Chris and I drove the bike course. Jennifer and I relaxed the rest of the afternoon / evening and then went out to dinner. I had soup, salad and 2 slices of chicken alfredo pizza from Olive Garden. Before bed I had an electrolyte/sports drink and decaf hot tea. We got to bed around 10:00 PM and I fell asleep around midnight and awoke at 4:00 AM race morning.
Race morning nutrition
- Nutrigrain bar
- Kashi mini-wheat type cereal w/ Almond Milk
- ½ Bagel w/ cream cheese
- 1 bananna
- Another Nutrigrain bar
- Electrolyte / sports drink (Powerbar lemonaide)
- Water (24 oz)
- 3 cups of coffee
Swim: The course is rectangular in shape with all turns being to the left. This suits me perfectly as I breathe to my left side. I entered the water as soon as we were allowed, which was about 10 minutes before the start. I don’t know why but I didn’t do any warm up swimming. I just floated there, putting my head under the water occasionally to acclimate to the 62 degree water temperature. I lined up on the right side of the start line with the intention of spotting and merging left into a fast group and drafting on that group for the rest of the swim. I believe I was too far right as it left me an addition 100 or so meters to merge left before the first turn buoy. That alone cost me up to 90 seconds. The biggest problem that I encountered in the swim was a panic attack at about 250 meters into the swim. I found myself unable to get a deep breath and having very negative thoughts. I stopped and pulled the neck of my wetsuit to let a little cool water inside and calmed myself. I’m not sure how long I was stopped … maybe 30 seconds. Once I continued the swim I was able to find a decent rhythm and began steadily passing other swimmers. Eventually things got sorted out and I found myself swimming with 1 or 2 other guys and a girl. We stayed with each other for the rest of the swim.
Swim Time: 1hour 38 seconds. Not too far off my goal, but in an ideal world, with better start line placing and no panic attack I believe I had the potential to swim 58 minutes at my steady pace.
There is no doubt that my swim times are a bit off this year. Time to get to work in the pool and open water!
T1: Nothing notable here. Time: 2min 56sec
Bike: I was surprised at the pace and the way some of the guys were riding on the bike. Many guys would regularly power up climbs, standing, etc and then coast / recover down the other side where I would catch a pass them again. So there was a lot of yo-yo-ing going on. I use Perceived Exertion and HR to pace myself on the bike with the goal of not going over an HR cap of 160 while climbing and maintaining my effort on descents … almost exactly as others use power meters, just a lot cheaper! I was surprised at the number of guys who passed me on the bike, but I stuck to my pacing and nutrition plan nonetheless.
Bike Ride data: http://connect.garmin.com/splits/84350103
- Average HR 140 (exactly on target)
- Max HR 155 (@ mile 90 at the top of “the wall” climb)
- Avg Cadence: 85
Bike Nutrition / Hydration:
- Approx 300 calories per hour of EFS liquid shot. Taken as squirt from bike bottle every 20 minutes. Approx 1600 calories total
- 4 x Honey Stinger waffles (120 cals each) taken at min 30, hr 1.5, hr 3, and hr 4.5. 480 calories total.
- Occasional GU Chomp (4 pieces total). 90 calories total
- Total Calories: 2170. Too much??
- 4 Allieve + 2 ibuprofin to address low back pain from swim and to prepare for punishing terrain on run. Don’t think I’ll ever take NSAIDs during a race again … wondering if this caused the bloody diarrhea later that night.
- Fresh water at every aid station (every .5 hr / 10 miles). Whatever was left from the old bottle was poured on
my head, neck, chest, back, shorts
- Peed at mile 30, 40, 70 and in T2. Felt well hydrated.
Coming in on the bike
Bike Time: 5:29:13. Right on target. I’m wondering if I can run well off a 112 mile bike ride paced at 145 or 150 BPM?? I’ll need to experiment with this in training as that could potentially allow me to ride a good bit faster.
T2: Nothing notable here except 1 mistake which was not getting out of my shoes on the bike and therefore having to run to the change tent in bike shoes. T2 was a little slow b/c of the pee break also. Time: 1min 55 sec
Run: Getting to the run I believe I had set myself up really well to achieve my 10hr goal. Now I just need to run my planned 3:30 marathon to make it happen. Starting out the run my legs felt surprisingly well. My main concern was a lot of belching in the first mile along with some side stitches. You start running uphill so there’s really not a chance to just cruise for awhile. Soon those were gone and I was ticking along passing quite a few guys in my division …
First lap of run
- 2 endurolyte capsules every few miles
- A shot of gel from a hand held flask every few miles
- Water at every aid station
- Coke and Perform every once in awhile.
- Mile 1: 7:22/mile @ 147 BPM
- Mile 2: 7:48/mile @ 149 BPM
- Mile 3: 8:39/mile @ 152 BPM (has a long steep climb to the Redhills Parkway)
- Mile 4: 8:00/mile @ 148 BPM
- Mile 5: 6:46/mile @ 150 BPM
- Mile 6: 7:16/mile @ 152 BPM (HR is rising a bit now)
- … more here: http://connect.garmin.com/splits/84350131
When I crossed the timing mat the ½ marathon turn around my Garmin read 1 hr 40 minutes leaving me 1 hr 50 minutes to do it again to reach the 3:30 goal. It was getting REALLY hot and I was starting to get tired. I knew the final ½ marathon was going to come down to a physical and mental battle so I was prepared for it and ready to take it on. With a 10 minutes buffer for this 1/2 of the marathon, I began slowing the pace a little and taking more time in the aid stations to get cool with ice and sponges and drink as much as possible. Soon though, I couldn’t stand the thought of anymore gel, water, coke, sports drink or anything going into my stomach and I started walking up the steeper hills. By mile 20 I things began to really come unraveled. Math was hard to do in my head and I was having a hard time walking straight. By mile 21 I was having a hard time walking. I could only go a few steps and then I would stop and hunch over with my hands on my knees. I finally neared the end of the Red Hills Parkway and staggered to the aid station at mile 22.5. I stood beside the Porto John contemplating stepping inside to purge myself. I had the thought that it was hot inside and I might pass out and I didn’t want to be found passed out in a toilet. So as I stood there with my hands on my knees hunched over a volunteer came over and led me to a pop-up camper and laid me down on a bed. The brought me some oranges and asked if I wanted to go to medical. I told them I thought I needed to and went sort of in and out of consciousness lying in the camper with a slice of orange in my hand. When they go me up to drive me to medical there were a few more athletes crammed in the camper. I borrowed a phone from one of the volunteers and called my wife and told her that I was being brought down to the medical tent. Race over.
After a few IV bags in the medical tent I was able to walk around by myself and we went back to the hotel. My stomach started moving again and that when I had the first bloody diarrhea. It happened again through the night. The next day I drank a good bit of Smart Water and regular water and was able to eat and wasn’t having anymore issues. By Monday I was totally back to normal.
My opinion is that I got severely dehydrated because I was taking too much gel on the run and not getting enough water. The gel wasn’t getting diluted to the 7% ratio and therefore wasn’t being digested and blocked water from reaching my large intestine where it could be absorbed. I’m not a doctor so this is all laymen’s speculation. I think the blood came from irritated stomach lining from the NSAIDs.
Obviously I was very disappointed to be less than 4 miles from the finish and unable to even walk it in, but I take some solace in the fact that I didn’t really have a choice to make.
Lying in that pop-up camper feeling like I might die I swore off triathlon all together. By later that night I’d decided I would keep racing but no more ironman distance until our 3 kids are grown (ages 9,6,5 now). By Sunday I would give it at least 3 years until I raced an ironman again (that’s how long it had been since my only other ironman). On the plane ride back home on Monday we tentatively decided on IM Cozumel for 2012. Tuesday at work I made the executive decision that I’m not traveling to another ironman and going for a Kona spot without a proven approach and therefore I need to race a late season regional non-branded (cheaper) ironman to test the changes I’ll make as a result of what happened at IMSG. So now I just need to figure out what those changes will be.
So far I’m thinking:
- I’ll go to an all liquid nutrition strategy on the run
- Cut back on the solids on the bike, especially if I train to ride at an additional 5-10 BPM.
- Do more specific swim sessions so I’m not stuck with low back pain from swimming with a wetsuit for an hour (never do this in training as I train almost exclusively in a pool)
- Never take another Advil or Aleve unless I have an acute injury and need to reduce inflammation.