It took some distance and time for reflection before being able to put down in writing my feelings from this past weekend at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Chattanooga. I set my sights on this race over a year ago when I missed qualifying at Vineman 70.3 by just 30 seconds, having only 3 slots in my Age Group and coming in 4th.
I tried again at Santa Cruz, not even scratching the surface, and was finally able to grab my coveted spot at Oceanside the following year, with one of my best 70.3 race performance to date.
But it wasn’t enough just to get there, I wanted to take full advantage of this rare home race opportunity to shine among friends and family on the World stage. Unfortunately for me, and some close friends who also competed this past weekend this wasn’t the case.
I wanted to take this race report in two directions, converging at the end. The first is a small critique on where we set the bar for success and how it impacts feelings of self-worth. The second is my learnings on how to have a successful race in terms of variables (inside and outside of one’s control) and the significance of trial and error in the sport of Ironman. If any of this peaks your interest I encourage you to read on..
Setting the Bar
It’s a hazardous game setting the bar for what you deem to be success in racing and trying not to being influenced by how you are perceived in the eyes of others. As an example, I had been feeling pretty good wining my AG twice and runner up once in my last 3 local races. It’s fun to post podium pictures and count the number of likes. However the vast majority don’t understand what’s truly achieved in the scheme of things. This weekend, due to some issues inside and outside of my control, I had my first 5+ hour (5:00:33) 70.3 in many years which landed me 211th in my AG out of 366. However, had everything miraculously come together the way I had wanted it I might have been fortunate to break the top 100 in my Age Group alone, among a powerhouse field. Returning to work this morning I was confronted with “did you win?? Ohh no, well what happened?!?” Even received a note regarding my cancelled flight from Hurricane Irma –
Perhaps I hadn’t prepared myself mentally enough for what I expected out of this experience.
As mentioned above I had a handful of friends miss their mark on race day from under-performing to a few DNF’s. The irony is that when I look at those friends not one ounce of me imposes judgement or blame. I am so amazed and humbled by their ability, drive and perseverance. Yet when it comes to my own judgement I am somewhat incapable of feeling the same. Perhaps that’s just the demons we struggle with as a driven competitor, always hungry, never satisfied.
My downfall in this race was not in its execution. Having the luxury of watching the woman race Saturday I was compelled to adjust my expectations, lowering my targets in preparation for a grueling run after a hard swim and bike. I decided to take the swim comfortable, knowing that the current may slow us down I was prepared to see 35+ minutes on my watch and was very pleasantly surprised to see 32:18 exiting the water.
On the bike I took the first few miles well below my 260 watt target to prepare the legs and take down nutrition and fueling. For the entire 3 mile climb I set a cap of 265 watts (lap average) which left most of my competition screaming by me like I wasn’t even moving. I caught a large portion of them back on the downhill where I maintained 260ish watts until I got out of the saddle around mile 30 and realized my quads were on absolute fire. I backed it down from there a bit, ending with 247 NP and a total time of 2:36:22.
My hope was being conservative would prepare me for at least a sub 1:30 run on a hilly course but the truth is my legs were in such pain getting off the bike I didn’t think I would be able to even finish. It took lots of Coke and Red Bull along with my first Fireball shot (Hot Shot – which almost had me puking) for the quads to calm down before the hamstrings started acting up. I was convinced I’d at least break 5 hours until my left hamstring completely seized with one mile to go, stopping me for the 30 seconds I inevitably missed my mark by. It was very difficult to trod along at a 7:51 pace among so many strong athletes but my attitude was adjusted and I couldn’t help but smile each time I bumped into my family and friends cheering me on.
I am confident after this race I know what the culprit is of my downfall, yet I still don’t know the exact cause. Though my output and effort were in check the whole race my heart rate was way too high (Swim – 168bpm, Bike – 176bpm, Run – 171bpm @ 7:51 pace!!) . There is no way my body can effectively consume the fueling I had provided it at such a high heart rate. If it were an Olympic such as at Chula Vista perhaps I could have survived but in a 5 hour race it is simply unsustainable. Here’s a comparison of where I was at for Oceanside –
I am confident in my fitness and targets but have come to find sometimes my HR lands in check and sometimes it simply stays too high. If I were to lower my effort to the point that it stabilized my race would be blown, leaving the options to either survive a lackluster performance or blow up attempting to execute the plan. What causes my HR to deviate?? I wish I knew that better, there are simply too many variables and I am not qualified to solve this puzzle. All I can do is take note of the elements including training volume/intensity, nutrition and fueling, stress, course conditions (temp, hills, altitude), make minor adjustments where possible while keeping the rest in check, and hoping for the best.
I am a little nervous to have two big races on the calendar but again will be modifying my expectations, setting the bar at enjoying the experience and flying under the raider until finished to avoid any pressure of performance. We’ll see how things play out..
In closing, as my coach Gerry always tells me, it’s always important to remember and appreciate the journey, not the outcome. I am always fortunate to be able to do what I love and share it with those that matter most.