It's been a while since I've written an Iron distance race report. It's also been some time since I had a successful race of this length. Throughout the successes and failures, I've learned a few things about having your head in the right place so that you enjoy the event. I write this race report not only to share an experience but also to help you consider several mental preparation activities for your next event.
Each time you do an Iron distance event, you leave a portion of yourself on the course. You don't notice it as much during the first 10 or so. Thereafter, it begins to wear on you. Self expectations get higher, recovery takes longer as you get older, while your competition gets smaller in numbers they get faster, you get better at understanding the pain that awaits you on the course, and you learn those things that work well for one race don't necessarily work for the next.
Helpful Hint #1 – have a reason to be on the course.
Once you finish an Ironman, there's a feeing nothing is impossible. You've slain the dragon. Sometimes races go off without a hitch. Other times, not so much. When things go south, continuing is easier when you have a reason. If I was going to do IM KY again, my preparation had to change. It stared with a reason. I blame and thank Nic for my reason; redemption. As most of you know I can drink most anyone under the table (not), so I promised Nic when we finished, we would have a shot of Bourbon together.
Helpful Hint #2 – Have a Course Strategy.
Decision made, I needed a strategy to address my previous failures. A strategy is as much for your head as it is influence for your physical preparation. I began by studying the swim course. PC athletes begin first on a rolling start; that's the advantage. The disadvantage, they get swam over by the remaining 2700+ athletes. This happened largely because we try to swim the shortest route around the swim course. This time I planned to swim outside the buoy line by 20 - 200 feet or more (depending on the spot in the course) and hope to make up the time by leveraging the Ohio River’s current. I teach athletes to swim buoy to buoy and worry about one buoy at a time. That wasn't an option for me because I left too much room between myself and the buoy line.
Helpful Hint #3 – Know your swim time before race day.
I studied the bridge locations and realized once we rounded the island, 1/3 of the distance was done. What remained was the returning route on the other side of the island (the 2nd 1/3) followed by the final stretch under 3 bridges. The risk I took by swimming wide was I might end up downstream on some fishing boat. I never worried about the distance or the time because I knew what my per 100 split pace was during training for this distance and studied my previous times. Knowing your swim time is the easiest of the three disciplines to predict. It’s the first event, you’re fresh at the start. Compared to cycling and running, it doesn’t take as much time or effort to complete the race distance for time and should be done as part of your weekly training plan leading up to the race. While I didn't feel much current, I did shave more than 10 minutes off my average swim time.
I would be remiss if I didn't credit a friend here. While I love to learn, study, and teach, new swim techniques, I'm terrible about getting in the pool and doing workouts. The one arm drill just gets so old. Greg Pitman sent me a no bullshit message through Sinta one day. He said, "tell Tony to quit F*ing around..." He was right. For Louisville, if I didn't get out of bed in time to do my swim training before work, I did it at lunch or after work. I followed my own training plan; the same stuff I prescribe to my athletes (Monday recovery and form, Wednesday speed, Friday endurance). Thanks Greg.
I also took a different approach with the bike as both of my previous attempts completely destroyed my ability to run. I laid out the course at home and broke up the route into 15 individual bike segments so that I wasn't eating the entire elephant at once. For each segment, I logged the distance, elevation changes, estimated number of hills, expected wind and direction, temperature forecast, and relation to aid station locations. I calculated a time for each section given estimated speed, level of effort, difficulty, and desired heart rate. This is where I could have used the power tap I had preciously sold. I also picked specific aid stations to use and the ones I planned to skip. I know what you’re thinking…a little on the anal side. Yeah, but I wasn’t coming home without a medal. The bike went off like a hitch. The only thing I could have done better was more long miles but that was short lived due to an injury.
I knew the run course was mostly flat; a gradual uphill to mile 7, return and repeat. I remember running well here until Montezuma’s Revenge; an ugly dirty story for another time. This year, I took a football game approach to the run course; 4 quarters each represented by 1/2 of the out and back. My thought was to run the outs conservatively and the returns a bit more aggressive. 4 weeks before IM KY, my first problem presented itself; and the race hadn't even started.
Helpful Hint #4 & 5 – Recovery is the fastest path back and have realistic expectations.
Five weeks before the race, Sinta, Jamie Kirk, and I did the Ventura century followed by the Ventura half marathon the next day. The century was difficult. Due to the amount of climbing, it took us 4 hours to do the first 50 miles but I felt great the entire day. The 2nd day, I ran well but got greedy and blew up at mile 12. It didn't matter; it was planned IM preparation and served its purpose. The following week was work heavy (my real job). I didn't stretch much, and didn't do active recovery workouts as scheduled to stay loose. The following weekend went out for an easy jog on cold muscles and injured my calf. I couldn’t run.
I committed myself to recovering and for the remaining 4 weeks spent more time on Kelli Robbins’s massage table than in my running shoes. My total run mileage for the last month of training was less than 5 miles. My plans for a 4 hour marathon became a 26 mile walk.
Helpful Hint #6 – Be willing to adapt. Race day - Every step of the first 10 miles was a curse word. It was painful to run but I was going to run as far as I could tolerate the pain. Surprisingly, the pain stopped after 10 miles. The next 8 miles were fun; not fast but fun and thought I could salvage a 13 hour finish. And then, the dragon appeared. My quads seized up. Running was no longer tolerable. While disappointed, only an 8 mile walk stood between me and my medal.
Before you put your money down for an Ironman, ask yourself if you're willing to do whatever is necessary (within your control) to finish. The night before Louisville, Nic Marie, and I were watching TV, trying to keep our minds off the race. Flipping through the channels, we caught the tail end of The Martian. In the last seen, Matt Damon answers a student's question about how he survived. His response was simple. You have to be willing to solve the first problem, and then the one after that, and then the next one after that, and so on and eventually get to go home. It resonated with me because 6 months prior, when thinking about Louisville I had had a similar thought but hadn't related it to the movie.
I had decided I wasn't coming home without a medal. My head was in the right place to do this. Once you’re hooked on this God forsaken, crack like, evil, expensive, contraband of a sport, there's a novelty about it. Have a plan, execute the plan, but if the plan goes south, as most plans do, be willing adapt, solve that first problem, and be ready for the next, and the next one after that. And before you know it, you’re home.
I feel compelled to call out a few services and product I think very much helped. Arctic-Ease is a wrap Sinta put me on. When I wrapped my calf in this and took a nap, my calf felt much better. I did this repeatedly and thought it accelerated the recovery. I’ve also been taking Plexus Slim regularly and feel it, along with a healthy diet, helped my preparation. Trigger-Point – I used the roller ball to stretch the bottom of my foot and looses the tension on my Achilles heel. And Kelli Robbins, she worked my legs once per week for four weeks and is probably the main reason I was able to run al large part of the course.
Thanks for reading.