(Warning: Long. And high Geek quotient.)
The purpose of Race Rehearsals are, well, to rehearse races. Glad we could clear that up. I scheduled them to coincide with my longest run of 20 miles, about 6 weeks out from Ironman, with a second bike race rehearsal scheduled for the weekend of August 23rd, that being my last long ride before taper. Everything is, as close to possible, emulating race day. What I'm wearing, full aero rig (complete with space-hat on the bike - yeah, I'm that guy training in an aero helmet), what and when I'm eating/drinking, the works. It's a chance to rehearse logistics, but it's also the first true test of just what all the training this far can deliver - practicing race pace and execution means finding out what you've really got in there.
The weekend started with an uneventful 1 hour open water swim, about 1.5 miles or so, on Thursday. Not much to report. It was wet. It went fine.
Bike Rehearsal: Take One
Friday was the first true test - 100 miles on the bike, with a planned 6 miles runoff. Remember - because this will be important - that the purpose is race emulation. So with that in mind, I promptly went out on Thursday evening and went grocery shopping for my Special Needs bag. What might sound good at the halfway point of a 100 mile ride? Hmm. Salted Nut Roll might be nice. Ooh, one of those little 8oz Pepsi's would be perfect. Pizza flavored Combos? Don't mind if I do! Fig Newton's? Sure, why not. Hell, let's throw a Pop-Tart in there, you never know.
So Friday morning, my "Special Needs" bag hidden under the front wheel of my car (I really mean it when I say "race emulation", which includes the general temperature of the food/drink I toss into my Special Needs bag, thus the sitting outside for several hours while I'm riding), I was off.
Remember that little map of the course I provided when I did my "Keys of the Bike" post? It's useful to reference here, because it's how I break up the course when I ride. I ride each section with a slightly different strategy, and mentally break up the course in this way. So here it is again:
You can click on it to blow it up, but in general...
Section 1 is from Madison to Verona
Section 2 is from Verona to Mt. Horeb
Section 3 is from Mt. Horeb to the top of the last hill, turning onto Shady Oak
Section 4 is from Shady Oak back to the turn onto Whalen, in Verona
Section 5 is from Verona back to Madison
How I constructed my 100 mile ride was to start in Verona (so, starting with Section 2), and Section 5 is about a 4 mile out and back on Whalen (turning around at the stop sign just after Tina's Hill). I do that twice.
So, I begin my day, a 3 hour concentrated bottle of Infinit onboard as my only nutrition - a magical elixir that I've customized to ridiculously exact specifications for the amount of calories, carbs, and sodium I require each hour, and which has been a huge benefit to my season, ridding me of the need to carry an assortment of Gatorade, Clif bars, and gels - a 24 oz water bottle, and another 20 oz water bottle stashed in my jersey (on race day, I'll just retrieve water from the aid stations). I set off
from Verona to Mt. Horeb with my usual plan of pedaling stupid easy. I ask myself "Is there any way I can go easier right now?" instead of "is there any way I can go faster?" I coast on even the smallest descents. I sit up in the saddle whenever it's convenient. Total joyride. Zero pressure. I took 2 big gulps of Infinit every 20 minutes, chased with water. All was well.
13.85 miles in to Mt. Horeb, and I finished Section 2 with a 16.0mph avg speed, Heart Rate a nice and low 117bpm, and cadence a relaxed 92rpm. So far so good!
For me, that section is the toughest section of the whole course, and Section 3, despite it having the 3 Bitch Hills in it, is generally faster. Same plan as before, especially on the first loop - nice and easy. No pushing, comfortable 90rpm cadence, easy like Sunday morning. Especially when climbing hills, I'm careful to back off, let it go nice and slow so I'm not pushing huge watts under me. Just let the miles and speed, whatever it is, come. My whole goal is to save legs. Drinking my Infinit on schedule, chasing with water, life is good. Temps are in the low 70's, there's a slight breeze, and things are going great.
19.85 miles to Shady Oak, and I averaged 17.3mph, 112bpm heart rate, and 89rpm cadence. Everything is going exactly to plan!
Section 3, from Shady Oak to the turn-off at Whalen, is the shortest leg, just 6.75 miles. It's mostly downhill except for climbing easily while in Verona, and there are lots of fast stretches of road. 19.2mph, 110bpm, 87rpm.
Now turning onto Whalen for that 10 mile (5 out, 5 in...and it's actually about 10.15 miles) stretch. A bit hillier, and a touch of headwind, but no big deal. 17.1mph, 110bpm, 88rpm.
And we're back to Fireman's Park, halfway mark! Everything has so far gone amazingly well. I'm riding easy breezy, I'm comfortable, heart rate is low, and I'm averaging something around 17mph for the first loop. Time for Special Needs!
Wherein I completely screw everything up, derail the rest of my ride, and suck at everything.
I ate about half of a Salted Nut Roll bar and drank about 4-6 oz of Pepsi, and swigged some Gatorade. I tossed back a couple Vivarin (which I have never in my life taken...well, except that night before Winter Finals 1992, but that's a whole other story entirely, and was equally as successful an endeavor). Swapped out my now empty Infinit bottle with a fresh 3 hour bottle, and I'm ready to roll.
Here's what happened behind the scenes: First, I just ingested about 200 calories of stuff, mostly high-sugar, low nutritional value. Stuff I hardly ever eat, nevermind while training/racing. And stuff I've never ever tried in a training/racing environment. It's stunning, the stupidity, when I think of it after the fact. Totally defenseless decision. Also, I introduced solid foods for the first time all day into an otherwise liquid diet. I'm not sure what effect Vivarin had on anything, but I'm pretty sure it sucked too. I also drank Gatorade, which I'll spare you the science lesson but it's a fructose, and not a dextrose like Infinit, and so how it is absorbed and used by the body are totally different. Most critically - I did all of this in a "race emulation" environment. Now, I think it's good to experiment - in friggin' June. You don't toss in a mixed bag of new stuff when you're trying to nail down race-day execution. What the hell is wrong with me.
So the second loop is when I "ride", as opposed to "joy-ride". I'm still easy breezy, but I just pedal a bit more. On descents, on flats. I don't push, necessarily, but I'm more intentional about getting from here to there, instead of just letting there show up sometime along the way. Still saving my legs, still thinking of the marathon, but pedaling with some purpose. At least, that's how it's supposed to go.
From Verona to Mt. Horeb, where I averaged 16.0mph on my first loop, now averaged 15.4mph. My comfortable 92rpm's for the first loop turned into 88rpm. This might seem small, and it is subtle, but it's huge. It's not because I was pedaling slower, or a larger gear - the difference is accounted for in the times I stopped pedaling altogether. My stomach was at work trying to digest my banquet of craptastic food stuff. I started to feel crappy, and like not eating. So, I started forgoing my usual 20 minute intervals of Infinit.
From Mt. Horeb to Shady Oak - usually a bit faster, and with lots of opportunities to be intentional about building speed - and where I averaged 17.3mph the first time around, now averaged 16.4mph. Almost a full mph slower. And cadence fell to 86bpm - remember that I always try to hover around 90rpm. Watching the numbers like this, you can actually see me getting slower.
The short stretch from Shady Oak to the turn at Whalen - where I comfortably cruised at 19.2mph the first loop, was now 17.8mph...and a cadence of 83rpm. I'm stopping pedaling often, now - and not as a matter of strategy on flats or descents. Because I'm feeling shredded. Good Lord this is excruciating.
So now I'm back on Whalen for the 10 mile out and back, and I am utterly miserable. Instead of my Infinit bottle being almost empty - which at this point is should be - it's 3/4 full. I've had maybe 4 sips the entire second lap, and all of those forced. I'm deeply calorie deficient, dehydrated, and uninterested in eating anything. I have bonked in spectacular fashion, with all my might. My liver has no more sugar to give me. I'm a mess. My mind is blurry. I'm trying to sing song lyrics, to refocus, and I can't remember basics. I pull over under a shady tree and just stand there in a stupid daze. Cyclists pass by me and ask if I'm okay - I toss back a cheerful "doing good!", like I'm just stopped to enjoy the scenery or something. I say aloud, "You're wasted. You should turn back now." I answer myself. "You're right. I should." I do not. I push myself to the top of Tina's Hill before finally turning around. I'm pedaling as infrequently as I can. I limp back into Verona, that last stretch of 8 miles averaging 15.3mph. There's no way I can do my "easy run-off". If this were Ironman, I'd be screwed.
"Bonk" sounds kind of cute. Like, if you haven't experienced it, or maybe aren't an athlete, it sounds kind of silly. Like you did something whimsical and humorous in "bonking". It's not any of those things. It means you've deprived your body of fuel. You're toast. And it's almost out-of-body. Lacking such essential nutrients for basic fuel, you get weird. Hazy in the brain. Drunk feeling, almost. I can't remember every bonking this bad before.
I sit in my car and slowly try to choke down the first food I find - those damned Combos. I wince at Gatorade going down. My system's in revolt. I want to puke everything up. I sit there, with the air conditioning on, and try to come back to earth. I can't get my cycling shoes off. I consider, in my stupor, that maybe I should take from now until Ironman off. Certainly my 20 mile run scheduled for 2 days from now can go to hell. I managed to get my bike into the back of my car, and now I keep thinking I hear air hissing in escape from the front tire. I turn around to check it 3 times. This is crazy.
Much later, at home and after some calories and sustenance and settling down, I'm able to be clear headed about things - but a sure sign of a ride or run go awry for me, even a long one, is if still hours later I'm shot. I might feel some natural fatigue after a healthy ride, but not totally useless and lacking of any energy at all. It's obvious, of course, what went wrong - but I'm really, really disappointed with myself for it. I can't believe I sabotaged my ride like that. I can't believe I made such stupid, rookie mistakes. You'd think I'd never done Ironman before. I was frustrated that all this training, all this good work, all this time spent all winter and spring and summer, all these countless lonely hours to get better, faster, stronger, more efficient, were tossed away haphazardly because - what? - Salted Nut Rolls might taste good. I don't even know where I got the idea. More than anything else, I feel a sense of shame for having the audacity to take something - anything - for granted with Ironman. I must have thought, after these years in the game, the bazillion times I've ridden the course, all the study I've done of the course and how I want to manage it, that I was entitled to improvise a bit. See how things go with some new stuff. It was a hard lesson, a valuable one. Ironman will put you down. It's easy to say that, it's obvious to know that, but for all its challenges this was my first truly awful experience with it.
Once clear-headed, I decided, both for the sake of fitness but mostly confidence, I'd give it another go early the following week. I assessed my failure and how to remedy it, developed a plan, and got on with life. I decided it was a tough, but ultimately good experience to have, and that's why they call it training. 2 days later was a 20 mile run rehearsal to prepare for.
After the complete debacle of a ride race rehearsal, I was committed to not shooting myself in the foot for my 20 mile run. I'd get started in the morning, but temps were forecast to climb to around 80 - and heat is just a killer for me. I had my run scheduled for Sunday morning, so Saturday night I brought a cooler full of water and Gatorade over to my Grandparents' house, about 2.5 miles away. I had some gels stashed there as well, and some Fig Newton's. Sunday morning before I went out, I put another cooler of the same, with sponges, in my front yard. The plan would be to just make 4 5-mile loops, running between my house and my Grandparents' and back. I'd have an aid station every 2.5-3 miles, with stuff similar to what'll be on-course at Ironman.
My race execution plan for the run is this:
Miles 1-3: 10 min/mile pace, with main objective a low heart rate and low perceived effort. Stupid easy. Get my legs under me from the bike and get comfortable with the run.
Miles 3-6: 9:30 min/mile. Increasing pace just a bit, but it should still feel easy. I should have to hold back for that 9:30 pace.
A main objective of miles 1-6 is to eat and drink, front load calories just a bit. This means about 4 Fig Newtons between the 6 miles, and about 6 swigs of Gatorade, and another 6 of water, at each aid station.
Miles 6-16 settle in to a 9:00/mile pace. Better to err on the side of caution, so I'd rather find myself around 9:15 than 8:45. Gel at the top of each hour, and Gatorade and water, about 12 ounces/hour. Walking through every other aid station or so. If it's hot, then sponges, and I bought these Arm Coolers, made from Craft, that look like thin white arm warmers, but they're supposed to, as the name suggests, keep you cooler - something about sweat or something. By appearances this smacks in the face of basic science - the body naturally cools via perspiration, and covering up part of the body would seem to hinder that - so it seems a big gimmicky, but, if you keep them wet, they're pretty awesome. Not heavy or water-logged, and they do emulate sweat when they're wet so that a nice breeze is chilling.
The whole goal is to reach mile 16 and feel good. Ideally, I'll have been holding back all day, and at 16 I hope to kick into an 8:30/mile pace. The plan now is just to sustain that pace to mile 20. I'll walk through aid stations only if it feels like I should.
At mile 20, it's improvisation for the last 10k. If I feel good, I'll maybe ratchet up a bit more, or stay where I am in hopes to kick down the last 5k. At that point in the Ironman, who knows what'll happen.
That was the plan anyway. Now it was time to see if it was a good plan, a realistic plan.
Miles 1-3: I averaged 9:48/mi, holding back the whole time. My Grandparents passed me on their way home from church and my Grandma hung her arms out the window and waved, which was awesome. I walked about 20-30 seconds into my Grandparent's driveway, to emulate walking through an aid station, before stopping my watch at my first "aid station" to eat 2 Fig Newtons and chase it with Gatorade and water. It wasn't too hot yet. So far so good. Heart rate was a silly low 119bpm.
Miles 3-6: Average 9:29/mi, still holding back and so far everything is perfectly according to plan. I stopped at my second aid station, back at my house, at around mile 5 and repeated the Fig Newtons, Gatorade, and water. Nothing extraordinary to report. Heart rate still crazy low, 117bpm.
Miles 6-16: Settled in, and averaged around I think a 9:10/mile or so. I say I think because I confused the Start and Stop on my watch at one aid station, so I while I was "paused" getting water/Gatorade, soaking sponges, etc., my clock was actually running. Then when I was finished I hit "Start", but really I was hitting Stop. So for 2 miles of running, I wasn't keeping time. Anyway, I had to figure out the math all in my head, and it came out to almost exactly 2 miles of unrecorded time, but my pace was still indicated on the watch and I know I wasn't doing anything too crazy away from 9:00-9:10/mile. Officially, including that "pause", my clock paced this stretch at 9:18/mi, which is fine, heart rate still just 117bpm. The bottom line is that it went easily and smoothly, I was comfortable, and was hydrating and soaking up Gatorade just how I should. No GI issues, nothing too interesting to report at all. By this point it was getting hot outside, but I was managing things great with wetting down the arm coolers, carrying soaked sponges, and - most importantly - knowing, mentally, that I only had 2.5-3 miles to go before I could do it all again. It made a huge difference knowing I had those two aid stations waiting for me. I was never stuck with counting miles - I just made a bunch of short trips between houses. I'll try and view race day this way - just short trips between aid stations. Unlike other long runs, where I'm budgeting my carry-along hydration or nutrition, or am increasingly baking in the heat with no real options, I set things up for this run so I had all the support I needed. It was awesome.
I hit mile 16 feeling unbelievable. My legs felt fresh, my mind was sharp, I wasn't tired or bored or hungry or looking for the end already or anything. Spirits were up, morale was high, and especially coming back from the terrible ride just 2 days previous, I was feeling confident. I'd done the math from my botched 2 miles lost in the space-time continuum, and figured that finishing my 3 miles as usual from my Grandparents' to my house would give me 21 miles on the day. I shifted easily into an 8:30/mile pace (avg pace for these 5 miles was actually 8:28/mi), and had no problems comfortably reaching the end of my long run. I could've gone another 10 miles. I had energy and legs to, I think, go sub 4:00 marathon with ease. It was crazy. I've never felt anything like it running.
Obviously, making a good plan and sticking to it, and creating a situation where I had the right hydration/nutrition available to me, made all the difference. It was a true race-day emulation, and I was really encouraged. The trick, obviously, is to get all of that done after being on the bike for 112 miles, but I'm encouraged by how easy it felt on my legs; making me feel like I have some margin for fatigue to still have a good run. Most importantly, I need to come off the bike with ready, strong legs, and having accomplished healthy nutrition/hydration for 112 miles so I'm ready for the run. Having finished my longest run before Ironman, and feeling like my race plan was a proven quantity now, I rested on Monday and set up a rematch for the 100 mile bike rehearsal on Tuesday.
Bike Rehearsal: Take Two
The weather forecast was almost identical to the Friday before, though perhaps a bit warmer. No fooling around this time - I came loaded up only with the right stuff; gels (1 at the top of each hour) and my extra bottle of Infinit at Special Needs. I had a water bottle on my bike, and another in my jersey. That was it, time to ride.
Verona to Mt. Horeb 1: This time I rode it a slow 15.4mph average. My cadence was 85 - indicating I was doing a good job of not pedaling whenever I could. Heart Rate was just 113bpm. One reason I had Vivarin with me on the last ride was because I'd been experiencing mental fatigue at around miles 50-60. After analyzing my bonk, I decided this mental fatigue wasn't because of mental weakness, requiring a stimulant to overcome, but just poor nutrition. So even things out a bit better I shifted to 1 big gulp of Infinit every 15 minutes, chased with 3 big gulps of water. Staying more regularly fed and hydrated (as opposed to 20 minutes as I'd been training) should be helpful.
Mt. Horeb to Shady Oak 1: My average speed came up to 16.8mph, cadence 87bpm, HR 114bpm. It's important to remember that my main objective for the bike is managing my effort. I'm not thinking about speed, or wondering about it, or worrying about. I've done a pretty good job this year of ridding myself of ego on the bike. I just don't care how long it will take me, or how many people go flying by - I want legs for those last 10 miles of marathon. That's the thing I continue looking out on whenever I'm on my bike. So if I feel any tension, andy pressure or exertion in my quads, calves, or hamstrings - and at this point I'm pretty well tuned in so I rarely, if ever, have those accidental bursts - I back off.
Shady Oak to Whalen turn 1
Whalen out-and-back to Verona 1: I forgot to hit my "lap" button on my watch when I hit the Whalen turn-off, as usually these are two different "sections" of about 6.85 mile and 10.15. In any case, I averaged 17.8mph for this section, 86rpm, just 111bpm.
I headed back into Verona, my first 50 mile loop done. I came in just under 3 hours, so my average speed would have been 16.7mph or so for the loop. I was feeling great - hydration was clockwork on point. Infinit was doing its job. 1 Gel every hour.
Taking stock, to this point I'd ridden just about flawlessly - much as I had the Friday before. Easy pedaling, lots of coasting, a real joy-ride perspective. That's my plan for race day as well - the first 50, and last 12, are super easy. It's the middle 50 - which I was about to begin - where I'm more diligent about pedaling.
I quickly got my replacement bottle, refilled my water bottles, and was back out on the road.
Verona to Mt. Horeb 2: 16.5mph, 89rpm cadence, and Heart Rate, a reflection now of some actual work going on, at 122bpm (though still quite low - awesome). About a 3.5 minute advantage over the same stretch ridden the first time.
Mt. Horeb to Shady Oak 2: 17.7mph, 87rpm, 119bpm. See how consistent everything is? Cadence is suddenly going south. Heart Rate isn't suddenly pushing 130 or some madness. I'm still taking it easy, but just taking advantage of opportunities when it's smart to pedal. Almost 6 minutes gained from the same section the first time around, and I'm feeling fantastic. It's in this section when, if I'm going to derail, it'll start to really show itself. Knowing I was feeling strong - consistent, in control - was huge at this point in the ride. I felt mentally sharp, in the moment. Best of all, I was having fun.
Shady Oak to Whalen
Whalen back to Verona 2: Combining these sections so my numbers can compare with the first time around, speed was 18.6mph, HR 122bpm, cadence 87rpm. This last section was getting warm, but I was doing fine. I eased back on the Infinit, and stuck more to water, for the last 10 miles - just like I plan at Ironman - to prepare for the run.
I came back into Verona after 101.5 miles, an average speed of 17.1mph, HR of just 116mph. I'd made up around 8-9 minutes on the second loop, an easy negative split. Best of all, I could have easily kept going and was feeling strong. I finished the rehearsal with a quick transition to a 2 mile run-off, complete with Fig Newtons and Gatorade like I'll have at the first aid station, and had to hold back a 10:00/mile pace, just like I'd practiced 2 days previously. It all came together - I know I have a nutrition/hydration strategy for the bike that will work. I know I have an effort strategy that leaves my heart rate low, my legs feeling fresh. Huge for this point in the game. I can, at this point, start to visualize Ironman. I can train these last few weeks to squeeze the lemon, trying to eek a bit more strength and stamina out of these legs, rather than worry about "if".
Of course, race day will present it's own reality. Maybe it'll be hot as hell, maybe it'll be crazy windy, maybe it'll be 52 degrees and raining. How long it takes me on the bike might change, but that's not the point. I feel like, finally, at last, I have a strategy dialed in on the bike that combines fitness, effort, and fuel. And that's pretty much what it's about. I'm very encouraged.
Next up: I won't hit 100 miles again until the 3rd week in August - my last long ride before taper, and another opportunity for a race rehearsal to work out any lingering kinks. My run has, unbelievably, already begun a slow taper. I have a long 2.4 mile swim planned for the week of August 23rd that will mark the end of all build training, and begin taper. Until then, more intervals everywhere, staying healthy, and not doing anything stupid is the order of the day.
Train smart everybody -
Saturday, August 01, 2009
(Warning: Long. And high Geek quotient.)