Oliver Half Iron+++*
Raceday arrived at 4:25 which harkens back to Ironman, the only other race I’ve done that started at 7:00am. We weren’t the first to transition by any means but we did get there early enough to pump tyres and get in the line for toilets before the bulk of the other athletes. Travis and I suited up and made the 800m or so walk down to the beach from the transition area. It’s definitely a longer transition than I’ve had to do before but figured it could be used to my advantage if I was smart about it… but that would be getting ahead of myself.
All of the men below age 44 went off at 7 sharp and I lined up slightly to the inside of the bulk of the pack on the first row. I’m not really a first row swimmer in terms of speed but I felt like I was a first row swimmer in terms of confidence if there was some argy-bargy going on and wanted to try it out. The people who were going to swim really fast were all jockeying for a position in the mosh-pit right in the middle of the group. I think it was about 400m to the first buoy and I set out hard, two stroke breathing full tilt to the first buoy and while I watched a lead pack form off on my left I was right near the beginning of the second group. Our group squeezed a bit near the first buoy as the people out on the edges are inevitably drawn in and I caught a few good drafts. From here on around the rest of the 2km loop I really drifted backwards through the pack. Partly due to the hard start meaning I was almost guaranteed to fade but also because of some missing swim fitness as I’ve not sonsistently been in the pool for the past 3 weeks. I couldn’t find great drafts behind people swimming in straight lines but kept swimming. Almost all of it I kept to two stroke breathing as the sunrise was really blinding if I looked to the east, and I was going too hard to restrict myself to four-stroke breathing.
I exited the water in 36:51 for 2kms which amounts to 1:51 per 100m if the course was accurate. Travis was right behind me and he basically swam the same pace as me at the Spring Thaw last month (1:36/100m) and so I’ve got a bit of evidence that the swim may have been a bit long. We could have also just been slow.
Transition was an 800m run with a wetsuit and I adopted a strategy I’d seen on the WTC broadcast from IMNZ where you put the legs of your suit up over your shoulders and run with it on like a backpack. It worked good. The switch from swim to bike is pretty difficult on your body as the blood needs to be redistributed to your legs. A slow jog early meant I let a few spots go by but I got myself under control before picking up my jogging pace and when I got off the painful barefoot pavement run I was able to open it up and run harder across the grass. Taking it easy at the beginning of the long transition meant that I got my HR down a long ways before I was even aboard the bike which meant I was ready to go with some real power once I got aboard. Not having a bib number to wear on the bike meant I just had to grab my helmet and go. I nailed the flying mount and was en-route. All told I passed 35 of the 112 people who swam faster than me in transition. I also passed 5 on the start line who had come to a stop there to clip in and get going. Fast transition skills were worth passing 40 people, and I half jog-walked the first 100m to let my HR settle. I’m going to keep exploiting this advantage of mine with fast transitions until people start practicing this stuff.
The bike in Oliver is two and a “half” laps of a 40km loop and amounts to 93 kms (the half isn’t really 50% but geographically this is a sensible way to describe it). My estimates for race wattage was that I could do between 290 and 300 at a HR of between 150 and 155 bpm. My hopes in the previous weeks was that I might get a chance to try to totally drill the bike and go for broke and then see how the run went. I decided in the days before the race when the forecast was for heat that that wasn’t a good strategy to employ in adverse conditions, if I want to do that experiment I should do it under appropriate circumstances and this was no-such circumstances. I could learn a lot more by successfully deciding to manage a race in the heat than I could by going nuts on the bike and then melting on the run. The plan should be to try for optimal execution (meaning run my best) in tough conditions rather than to try and do a bit of an experiment by riding really hard. The plan was to try and average about 290 for the first lap and to try and pick it up by 10 watts or so, on average, for the second lap. I’ll post more statistics and analysis of the pacing strategy employed once I download and process the recorded file but for now I’ll say that for the first half lap I did 298 Watts, the second I did 299 Watts, the third I did 302 Watts and then I did 318 for the fourth and fifth “half” laps, I forgot to split them apart with the button.
I guess it goes without saying when you swim 36+ minutes on the swim and are a good cyclist that you spend most of the first half of the course passing people. I definitely did that. I caught another cyclist around 15kms into the race who had been just up the road from me for a while and we traded positions a few times. I’d go faster up the hills and he would really push on the descents, I could see that he was running a powertap and could tell he was rather blindly trying to do even watts across the full duration of the course. I felt like it was silly on a rolling course like this to try and maintain watts once I was over 50kph and so he’d go by me on the downhills pedalling hard while I soft pedaled (soft pedalling for me is still 200+ watts when I’m in race-mode but it was a big drop from the 330-340 I did most of the rest of the time) and then I’d pass him on the ascents. The trades went back and forth for about 30kms and he always rode legally behind me when he was back there, a great competitor and he came and found me after the race as well to have a brief chat. When I would get passed I’d drop back and typically took in some food or drink while I waited for the gap to stretch out to 12+ meters to ride legally myself. It worked well enough, I got in a fair amount of nutrition in this section as a result of him coming past on probably half a dozen occasions – bonus. After we rode through town again I had noticed my HR was only high 140’s and that I could really pick it up and be stronger in the second half of the ride. I put in a few solid sections here and the average watts started to rise. I often found myself doing high 300s on the uphills but my HR was never drifting above 155 so I kept pushing. It was a good feeling as I was now in sparse territory, starting to lap the very back of the pack athletes and not always able to see the next person up the road who was on the lead lap. I kept the gas on though and really felt rewarded when I could spot another fast athlete up the road and then slowly reel them in. I maintained solid efforts on the uphills and pedalled easy when above 50kph.
My nutrition strategy was to eat 800 calories of shot-bloks on the bike and drink Gatorade for 400 calories minimum, switching to water if I felt like my stomach was running on the edge of success with that amount of sugar. The stomach felt fine which indicated my pace on the bike wasn’t an overestimate and that was confirmed by my HR being at the low end of my goal spectrum. In the end I got in about 600 calories of Gatorade and didn’t need to drink much water, it meant I was going to go into the run well fuelled and could focus on drinking for thirst and hydration rather than having to try and slam gels down my throat which in 29 degree heat wouldn’t be terribly palatable.
I hopped off the bike in 7th position overall, having passed 66 people on the bike course. The bike course is 93kms long and I averaged 39.8kph over it. I had hoped for 40 or a bit more, but after riding it I realized that the course was tougher than I had imagined and with a few spots on each lap where you needed to scrub speed for navigation it’s not really fair to compare it to GWN where I didn’t touch the brakes for the entire 90kms with the exception of the U-turn turnaround. There is hardly a flat section, some really fast areas and also lots of gentle climbing at 1% or 2% grade. The kind of stuff that’ll waste lots of time or cause a lot of stress if you’re not paying very good attention. Travis watched a combination of speed and grade on his EDGE500 to stay alert which was pretty intelligent, I wish I’d thought about that strategy last year before the powermeter, I just tried to check in on my watts on occasion.
T2 was OK, but I had forgotten to turn on my garmin during the final portion of the bike ride so I didn’t have satellite reception from the beginning of the run. I started out with a little internal debate with myself about how I was going to run as fast as I could over the full course in the heat. I decided that monitoring heart-rate was probably the most appropriate feedback combined of course with how I was feeling. Using feedback from pace was going to be misleading because it was hot and it was going to take more bloodflow than normal to the skin to keep me cool. I also hadn’t done any realistic testing of what sort of run pace I could expect in the previous few weeks to base those estimates from. By the time I was a mile into the run I had dialled in my HR to a goal of 160 bpm and was maintaining it with controlled breathing. I anticipated that as the temperature kept rising and I accumulated fatigue that this would result in a fade in pace but still figured that would be the fastest way to the finish under these conditions. If you’re suffering heat stress and that’s the cause of your slowing I don’t think you can really escape that by going easier at the beginning. Anticipating a bit of pace-fade would also help me stay focussed and strong when the time came and I needed to deal with the mental consequences of seeing that you’re slowing down and can’t do much about it.
There were quite a few aid stations on the run and I did my best to get in a cup of calorie containing beverage (Coke when I could get it, or Gatorade) and then put a cup of water down my shirt and a sponge of water onto the top of my head. I was passed by a few people but when they came past me they were really really flying and I didn’t even consider latching on. Two of them went on to run 1:23:XX in hot conditions which is really fast considering the course was around 22.05kms long (by my calculations from the GPS). I kept up the running and tried not to think too much about anything other than keeping track of the kilometres and monitoring my heart rate and temperature regulation. At around 160bpm I did the first 5kms in 20:20 for about a 4:04 pace. I came through 10kms in 41:46, for an average pace of 4:17 for the second quarter. Onto the second lap of the run course I was going pretty good, I was focussed and was still running in a top 10 position. I started feeding myself some positive vibes at this point which is a bit early in the race, still at least 40 minutes to go. Normally I don’t need to start thinking positive halfway through the run, I don’t know why, perhaps I don’t normally think I have 40 minutes of pep-talk to give to myself.
I rolled through 15 kms in 63:22 for a 4:19 average pace for the split. Fading but still going, still ahead of the arbitrary 4:20 pace I figured was probably realistic based on my condition. I was happy and at the far turnaround on the second lap I realized I was gaining on someone ahead of me. He was a younger guy, and pretty skinny. I knew that if it came down to a footrace with a mile left I didn’t really have a chance purely due to turnover. If I wanted to reel back that slot I had to do it now, and put in a gap and then try and hold it to the finish. I was pretty hurting, my pace was fading due to the heat, and my right foot had gone a bit numb for a while. I was now running in water logged shoes because of how much water I had been pouring on myself. If I had instinctively decided that I had no chance to catch him I would have finished and been satisfied but somehow I had the desire to go for it, to roll the dice and risk a total detonation with the hope of trying to earn another place on that ladder. I went hard, the 160 bpm guideline was now thrown out the window and I was going between 166 and 170 bpm. I hit 20 kms at 84:36 for a 5 km split pace of 4:15/km. Things were going in a different direction, and it wasn’t because the clouds had come out or the temperature had started to drop, I was digging a big hole and climbing right in. I had made the pass with about 3.5 kms to go and immediately gone hard to create a gap, my fastest 500m split in there was a 2:02/500m done at a blazing 4:04 pace while I was opening the gap! I kept myself focussed on the task at hand which was to run as fast as I could to the finish line and not play any more games.
The final 2.05km (these splits were all according to my measurement, not the course indicators) I wrapped up going totally crazy and speeding up on each 500m portion bringing me to a 1:32:53, and a final pace the last section averaging 4:03/km and doing the final 500 under 4 minute pace. I was breathing as hard as I could breathe which is an interesting thing to be doing after 4.5 hours of exercise, I’ve never done that in a HIM before, it feels a lot different than breathing as hard as you can in a 15-20 minute XC run race. It’s really satisfying to be pushing yourself that hard late in the race but along with that comes a huge amount of pain. My HR peaked at 187bpm. Crossing the finish line was fantastic and I had totally raced as hard as I could. I had a bit of a stumble and loss of balance when one of the volunteers threw a towel on me so they took me to medical to keep an eye on me. It took about 5 minutes for my HR to come down to 100 after the finish, normally something that happens in between 40 and 80 seconds in normal conditions. My blood pressure was 138/53 for those of you who are interested. After recovering in medical for a while they let me go just in time to grab a couple bottles of Gatorade before getting to cheer Travis across the finish line. Travis was frustrated by his race coming in slower than last year, but the heat definitely was a factor and his decision to try and run according to pace early on the run made for a hard fade later in the race and a situation that felt rather out of his control. Hopefully there are tidbits of information to glean from this day to make Ironman at the end of the summer a more successful experience than it otherwise would have been. Lesley was the next of our contingent to cross the line, having also had a tough run in the heat. Describing the experience as “using my legs to prevent me from falling through the pavement rather than running”, shows the kind of grit it took to get through “the hardest race of [her] life”. Claire finished her first half iron distance triathlon and was able to run the whole run course after a tendon problem in her foot for the past number of weeks that has prevented any run training. There’s been discussion of the acquisition of a wetsuit instead of future rentals, so perhaps she’ll be on the start line a few more times in the next number of years, we’ll certainly be interested in having her there!
Other things worth mentioning: The race was announced by Steve King (pictured). He announces at Great White North and also at Ironman Canada and I think he really makes a special day out of it for a lot of people. As I was running out onto the course he had a whole list of information about me, most of which I didn’t provide and he listed off most of my recent palmares. Also, I won a slot for Ironman Canada based on this performance. I was 2nd amongst under 29 men and the winner disappeared before awards and thus wasn’t there to claim the slot for Ironman either.
this was a Half Iron+++ because according to my estimates and measurements, the swim, the bike, and the run were all longer than the standard distance. This is not a complaint, this is an observation. I don’t think anyone was trying to mislead anyone about it, the course is well documented and I don’t think anyone cares to do the little bit extra or not, but it highlights the importance of making adjustments when comparing courses. The long T1, the long bike and the long run account for relatively sizeable amounts of time. If I make the adjustments for the run distance, this amounts to a 1:28:53 half marathon. I’ve already discussed the speed on the bike so there’s no reason to pro-rate it.