Tuesday, February 07, 2006

A Time to Swim, A Time to Bike, A Time to Run

I'm pretty sure there's a Psalm about triathlon, no? Anyway, some interesting research today:

I have 17 hours to finish Ironman. The race starts promptly at 7:00am, and it ends promptly at 12:00am. If one crosses the finish line at 12:01am, then he has whatever personal satisfaction or reward to enjoy, but he does not hear "YOU are an Ironman!" when he crosses the finishline, and he does not enjoy whatever satisfaction comes from knowing that the race was finished during the actual race. I have a book full of Ironman stories, and there's an entire chapter dedicated to stories of people who missed the cutoff by minutes. I can't and won't spend much time dwelling on this point, as I'm sure the Triathlon gods love nothing more than to amuse themselves with any inkling of potential self-fulfilling prophecy. But it is wise to be informed, and to train with that information in hand.

It's also useful to point out that it's laughably stupid to actually think that whatever one plans for during a race will actually go that way. There are so many infinite variables in triathlon that can affect not just time, but performance: is it windy, is the water deep or shallow, how many participants, hilly or smooth, flat tires or no, broken chains, magnificent blisters on the run, a sudden aversion to Lime Gatorade, is it 90 degrees and sunny or 68 and cool, etc. etc. etc. So in the end I can only do the best I can on that given day. I can't compare any race to another beyond general aspirations or information.

So, with all that said:

The swim begins at 7:00am, and the swim course closes at 9:20am. This gives me 2 hours and 20 minutes to swim 2.4 miles. This means, worst case scenario, I'd need to swim a 3:05 pace (in swimming, your pace is determined from your 100 meter pace, so a 3:05 pace means that you swim 100 meters in 3:05.) That's dysfunction-ally slow, and I can't imagine any scenario where I'd even be capable of going that slow - I think I'd sink first. It's more likely that I'll swim around a 2:00 pace - consider that I did 1.2 miles in last fall's Half Ironman at a 1:47 pace. So I'll say, all things considered, the slowest I'd expect of myself - barring anything unexpected like cramping or jellyfish attacks - is around 2:15. That gets me out of the water in 1:26:54 - essentially putting 53 minutes in the bank.

The bike has to be finished by 5:30pm in the afternoon - by that time, everybody has to be on the marathon. Let's tack on a half hour for transition - I usually do it in less than 2 minutes, but this is a whole different thing, so what do I know? - and say the bike starts at 9:00am - that gives me 8.5 hours on the bike. It's harder to know what to expect from the bike - so many technical variables come into play with the machine underneath you. But, beyond meticulous preparation, there's little you can do about the technical stuff - a flat tire is a flat tire. So removing those variables. The slowest I can bike 112 miles in 8.5 hours is a 13.2 mile pace. That again seems grandmotherly slow, but if there's a gusty wind in my face, who knows? My speed will be, of course, adversely affected the longer I go. While in the totally flat 25 mile Lifetime Triathlon course I can clip happily along at 21mph, on the Half Ironman 56 mile course, with less shelter, more hills and more wind I averaged 18.22 mph. While IM WI isn't mountainous, there are plenty of rolling hills, so I'll calculate a realistic pace of 16mph. With that pace I'd finish in exactly 7 hours, putting an additional 1.5 hours in the bank. Combined with my already swim-banked time (minus my first transition), I now have 2 hours in the bank, which is useful for any repairs or situations I might encounter - the stuff I can't do anything about. Best case scenario is I can leave that in the bank without encountering anything weird, and make deposits from it if I need to while on the run.

The run ends promptly at 12:00am. If my swim and bike have gone as I indicate they could, I'd be ready to leave the bike at 4:00pm, and let's say I'm in transition, and then I'm on the road at 4:30pm - giving me 7.5 hours for the marathon. That seems like a ton of time, but the run is my nemesis, and I'll be coming off 112 miles on the bike. I'd be wise to value every single second I get on the run, particularly if it's a hot day - where I tend to exceptionally suck. So, to finish in 7.5 hours I'd need a pace of just over 17:00/mile. Happily, this is slower than my most meandering stroll, so it's realistic to think that under any circumstances where my feet are still putting on in front of the other (ie, I haven't fainted or been attacked by men in gorilla suits, etc.) that I can make that time. A more likely doomsday scenario has me at about a 15:00/mile - this imagines me in the throes of some nutritional crisis or injury, where I can't effectively run at all and I can only flail about with forward momentum between long segments of walking. Even then, I'd finish the marathon in 6:33:00, giving me basically 15 hours of racing, with 2 hours for transition and miscellaneous drama. Thinking positively, let's consider that I did the Half Ironman - which was the worst running of my entire life under ideally adverse conditions - lots of wind and HOT as hell - at a 13:04 pace. The marathon, I did in 11:38, and that was again a horrible run. So, let's split the difference and say a mediocre run - not horrible, but not great - on the marathon would be somewhere around 12:15. That would bring me home at 5:20:57, giving me time on the course of 13:47:51, so a finish time - with transitions and misc. drama, etc., of somewhere around 15:30 or so. Still a full 1.5 hours ahead of the clock.

So, breakdowns:
I Don't Care How, Just Get Me There In Under 17 Hours:
Swim: 2:15 pace - finish in 1:26:54
Bike: 16mph - finish in 7:00:00
Run: 12:15/mile - finish in 5:20:57
Transitions: 1 hour
Unexpected: 1 hour
Total finishing time: 15:57:51

I'm encouraged by this data.

Again, keeping in mind that, truly, my goal for Ironman is just to finish. It's a grueling, obnoxious race that demands respect, and I just want to get on and ride the wave, getting home in 17 hours. That said - nobody trains to do just good enough. I want to do the best I can. I want to be realistic, but I want to push myself. So that said...

Smarter. Faster. Stronger. We Can Rebuild Him:
Swim: 2:05 pace - 1:20:27
Bike: 17.5mph - 6:24:00
Run: 4:48:12
Transitions: 1 hour
Unexpected: 1 hour
Total finishing time: 14:32:39

That's pretty cool. Those are my goals, then, for Ironman. What I need to do, and also what I want to do.


Michael Anderson said...

How do you do that? How do you wrap your mind around 14 and a half hours of strenuous exertions - of madness? To the uninitiated, to the dude on the sidelines, it's like trying to grasp the height of Everest or the value of the lottery. It's bigger than I am. I am amazed that you put this together. That you become a person who traffics in brutal activities measured in hours. That you make yourself fit to meet something greater than you. That's the stuff of living.

There's a spiritual cast to becoming something more, so that you can reach something you never could conceive before.


Anonymous said...

This is awesome and a good read.. this is what I will be doing in one month, Ironman Arizona, it has been a hard year for training and all I am looking for is making it in the 17 hours. Thanks for the giving me some inspiration from your Becoming Ironman

Kathi aka try2trisbr