This weekend was a big weekend for the Ironteam – Wildflower Practice weekend. We’re all training for an Ironman in the Fall and registered for the Wildflower Half-Ironman in May as a practice race, so this was a practice race for the practice race. I’m a huge Wildflower fan so I was really looking forward to this. I did the half-Ironman course three times 10 year ago and was curious to see how my performance now compares to back then.
I took Friday off from work and headed down at noon. We hit no troubles on the drive and got to camp around 4:00 which gives plenty of time for a leisurely set up. Dinner was a bit scattered and random, and probably not the best it could have been for a pre-race dinner.
I went to bed around 10:00 and for some reason couple not fall asleep no matter what. I was warm and comfortable but just could not drift off. I wasn’t nervous or anxious or cold or hungry or dehydrated or anything else I could think of – The only problem I could think of was that I wasn’t very flat.
The loud wakeup siren came early at 5:00 am and I was more than happy to get up, mostly because I was bored of lying there doing nothing. I got up, had some cereal, got the bike ready and headed down the hill in the dark for a 6:30 setup time and ready to hit the water at 7:00 am. The transition area was laid back and I did my normal routine of laying out my towel and making two piles: one for T1 and one for T2.
I just bought a new wetsuit last week and was excited to try it out. It fits pretty well! It’s definitely the right size, but it’s a little on the thick side which makes it slightly restrictive. Hopefully it’ll loosen a touch over time. The swim went really well, taking 42 minutes. I had some shoulder trouble leftover from skiing but it didn’t affect me at all and the swim went really well.
T1 was pretty laid back. I felt awesome coming out of the water and ran up the dirt road through the parking lot and started changing. Since this was just practice I kept it super laid back and ended up taking 14 minutes which is about 3 times what I normally take. One key to a good T1 is putting on enough sunscreen and I did very well at that, then headed of to my bicycle adventure.
The bike at WiIdflower is something special. The first mile out to Beach City is a series of little whoop-de-dos that never let you get settled. Then you hit the steepest hill of the day getting out of Beach City. Then 10 miles of big rollers. Then somewhat flat, then Nasty Grade and the last 10 miles of hills.
This year I’m training with a power meter on the bike and looking to it to help me with my pacing. My Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is around 186 Watts right now and the book says a half Ironman should be biked at around 80% – 85% of that in order to I aimed for 160 Watts which is just on the high side of that range.
The problem with Wildflower is the hills are so steep that I can’t make it up them in my lowest gear without busting through my power budget, and these hills start right at the beginning with no chance to really warm up at all. I have a power alarm set at about 220 Watts and it goes off quite a bit on the hills. The good news is that I can stay under budget for most of the ride, including most of Nasty Grade and the hills after that.
I was worried about not taking in enough nutrition on the ride and so I over-compensated. I ate about 6 or 7 Gus on the bike – about one every 40 minutes or so – plus a few bottles of Fluid and a couple of Chomps. Probably more than 1,200 calories of sugar which is too much. Around mile 50 I started feeling sore in my back and neck, and I kept eating more Gu in anticipation of the hard run. I was hoping for well under 4 hours but he bike took me 4:06.
I hit T2 not feeling great but not really knowing why. I figured I would start to feel a little better after some coconut water and a slow mile shuffle but things did not get better. I assumed that I was going to need a ton of energy so I kept eating Gu! (bad idea) The last one I ate was a real chore with my body not wanting it but my brain forcing me to finish it. This was just compounding a bad situation.
I’ve become a fan of a 6/1 run/walk strategy but the hills are placed in such a way that you can’t really force that schedule onto the course. Instead I try to walk/jog up the hills and run on the flats and downhills. I got some good distraction from Matt F. from SF Ironteam and kept jog-walking the best I could. By mile 4.5 (on the big hill) I was feeling pretty bad and feeling a little woozy. I hadn’t seen anyone in while and I decided to just sit down before I fell down, and that’s when Cornell and an SF girl passed me.
After a minute I felt a little better and decided to just shuffle on to the aid station at the front gate. That’s where I started to drink some plain water and immediately started to feel better. In hindsight I realize this water was diluting the mass of sugar sitting in my stomach. After a couple minutes I started to feel better and even started to jog a little bit. I started to feel good after turning into the Redondo Vista campground and I actually jogged most of the way to the turnaround in the pit.
I was doing some math and realized that I wasn’t going to hit my goal of 8:00 overall. Even worse, I wasn’t able to keep the minimum Ironman pace of 14:40 per mile, which means I wasn’t on track for making the cutoff in an Ironman.
The swim was great and I think I’ll be able to double my endurance and make my personal goal of 1:45 for an Iron-distance swim. Aside from that it was a bad performance. My main problem was ill effects from the over-nutrition, but even disregarding that my time was slightly below minimum required Iron pace even though I held my power, or even exceeded it. That’s a big red flag for my bike capability.
The run was a disaster, as it always is. I’m not a strong runner and I’m no good at hills, which makes Wildflower a tough course for me every year. Luckily the run course at Tahoe is much flatter and I’m going to rely on that fact in order to finish. My pace when I was able to run was worse than 10:30, and I could only do that less than half the time. Iron pace for the run is 14:45 and I need to be able to hold that for hours.
If there’s a silver lining to this performance it would be my post-race recovery. By the end of the run I was actually feeling pretty good, and after I stood in the lake and got some food in me I felt pretty good. I was in a great mood Saturday evening and woke up feeling great on Sunday and Monday. I had very little post-race soreness or fatigue and I attribute that to the training I’ve been doing with Ironteam.
- used sunscreen well
- wore bike jersey on run (as always) for sun protection
- new jogging belt with two bottles worked well
- should start with one bottle of coconut water and one bottle of fluid
- held to bike power budget as well as possible given the hills
- excellent recovery resilience
- ate way too much and got a bad stomach on the run
- forgot sunscreen chap stick
- could use new tri shorts – mine are worn out
- missed my time goals for bike and run
- need better efficiency on the bike to extend endurance
- best run pace was still slower than 10:30/mile