What I Learned in Louisville

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Here’s what I learned in my first Ironman since 2011…

  • Ironman is HARD – Not to state the obvious, but wow it’s a long day. I pooped out about 8.5 hours into my 10.5ish hour race.  Those last 2 hours were not so much fun.  The corollary to this one is that 112 miles is a LONG way to bike “in race mode.”  I knew my day wasn’t going to unfold the way I had hoped when my power fell off a cliff in the last third of my ride. At that stage, I resorted to just 2 things – try to stay down out of the wind, and just keep pedaling.  It’s amazing how many people you see on fancy tri bikes sitting up on their bull-horns in a 10 mph headwind.
  • You don’t need to do long straight sets to improve your swimming – I am not a stellar swimmer and my previous best wetsuit swim in an Ironman was 1:14, which was 5 years ago. I was still not swimming very well up through the 2013 and 2014 seasons with half-IM swims in the 35-38 minute range.  I swam 1:02 in Louisville, which far exceeded what I had hoped for.  This improvement all has come within the last 10 months while working with Coach David.  It is ALL about short, hard sets – 25s, 50s, 100s – with ~20-30 seconds rest depending on what we were doing.  As a triathlete training the swim, there just isn’t enough time to get in the kind of volume that would significantly influence the cardiovascular system, so the focus is always on consistency, frequency, and “perfect” strokes at race pace to train the neuromuscular system.  In other words, what you want is “technique under load.” I swam between 8K and 11-12K yards per week and never swam more than 3000 yards in any session.  My longest set of intervals was about 4×500 with some pace changes. Bottom line is that it’s about consistency (I spent the winter and early spring doing 5 swims/week) and working to be mindful of every single stroke and making your stroke more efficient.  This swim was by far the most pleasant IM swim, and while my bike/run combo (which is normally my strength) wasn’t great, the swim set me up for what could have been a great day.
  • Small changes on your bike setup do help – Last time I did Louisville in 2009, I rode a 5:45 with an average power of 175 watts. This year, I rode 5:22 with an average power of 190 watts.  While this was lower than my target power for the ride (that’s another topic), I gained 23 minutes with only 15 watts more and that included dropping my chain and getting stuck behind a few groups of slower athletes with cars trying to get around.  I only made 3 changes to my bike setup:
    1. Torhans AeroZ up front
    2. Torhans VR frame bottle
    3. Catalyst wheel cover in back

The total investment was around $350.  I had trained well to ride at 200-210 watts and with those 3 simple changes, I believe 200 watts would have set me up nicely, giving me a chance to hit my goals.

  • Process over outcome – After not having done an Ironman in 4 years, I actually didn’t have a lot of expectations in terms of times. I just wanted to get as fit as possible and try to be pleasantly surprised.  That all changed when I did a Half IM 4 weeks out.  It was a small race and I finished 2nd overall with 1st less than 2 minutes ahead of me.  The guy who finished 1st ahead of me had won the M40-44 AG by 20 minutes at Ironman Fortaleza last November and was getting ready to race in Kona.  I out biked him and out ran him, which got my mind racing in terms of expectations and times.  It made me believe I belong near the top of the AG, which is important.  However, I worked to keep these expectations under control.  I harp at my athletes all the time about process over outcome and needed to own up to this myself more leading into this race.  My goals of ~200-210 watts and 7:40-7:50 pace would have resulted in a breakthrough race and I should have just focused more on those keeping my attention inwards and on my own execution rather than how I compared to other guys.  Easier said than done.
  • Success in IM is mental – When you’ve been racing for most of the day, eventually the “Central Governor” in your mind takes over and begins trying to slow you down dramatically. Turning your brain off or finding a way to manage the mind is absolutely essential.  Emotions are amplified – the highs are high, but the lows are VERY low.  I walked 2+ miles during the run and in that time was having my own little pity party.  I was having thoughts like “I am never doing this again” and “well, there goes that race.”  Had I just done a better job managing the low point, I might have come around.  I did eventually do some more running, but I had already given up on the race.
  • Never take a finish for granted – In spite of my disappointment in what I perceived to be another failed run, I just kept moving. Nothing was preventing me from at least finishing.  I didn’t have flats on the bike.  I didn’t have (many) nutritional issues. I learned a lot from the process and just needed to keep moving toward the finish. Just getting through the day is an accomplishment and it’s important to not take that for granted.
  • I gain a lot of enjoyment and satisfaction from coaching – Even after I felt like my race was not going to live up to my high hopes, I still got a lot of joy from seeing the athletes I coach have success. A Kona Qualification, 9th AG, and a couple of solid finishes after prior DNFs certainly made for a great day!

Now it’s time for a little rest and relaxation before training again for the 2016 season… onward and upward!

JonLouisvilleBike_2015 JonLouisvilleFinish_2015

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