Clash of the titans — 2015 Ironman Maryland race report

Prologue (1)

Greek mythology is awesome. It is the ultimate action-adventure which endured for 3,000 years. Super-heroes fighting super-villains using super-powers — you can’t go wrong with that.
What is also awesome is that it is not copyrighted. Anyone can mention it, steal from it, copy it or even totally distort it (e.g. Percy Jackson).
One of my favorite heroes is Perseus. Like all Greek mythological heroes he is a total badass, but beyond his badassness I love how he always has his shit together.

Prologue (2)

25 years ago, at the beginning of my military service, I had the less than pleasurable experience of winter infantry basic training. I vividly remember how the hardest part was not the lack of sleep, miles we walked, pounds we carried or even the mental abuse by the drill sergeant. The hardest thing was each and every freezing night getting off the warm bus that took us from the training camp out to the field.
Last Saturday at 5 am, I found myself again in a warm bus trying to convince myself it was a good idea to get out into the 50 degrees morning so I can start a totally different grueling experience.


When going on his epic quest, Perseus knew he needed some serious preparation. Even the son of Zeus needs some heavy artillery to beat a snake-haired, turn-you-to-stone-with-a-gaze gorgon.
Modern super-heroes have laser sight, super-speed, jet packs and body armors. Perseus got the super-weapons of the time from the gods: shiny shield and big-ass sword (so far pretty lame), flying sandals and invisibility cloak (not bad even in today’s standards).
But he had a problem; the gorgon’s whereabouts were only known to three old women that shared one eye (a mother-in-law joke would fit perfectly here, but the consequences would be too harsh). Perseus did not lose his shit, grabbed the eye and only returned it when they gave him Medusa’s location.

Ironman Maryland was scheduled for Oct 3rd. I focused on high intensity workouts early in the season and longer duration simulating race effort as the race was getting close.
I averaged 8 hours/week this year peaking at 15 hours 4 weeks before the race (including 3.5 hour ride and 2 hour run on a weekend). In the last 3 weeks I reduced the volume to taper for the race.
The plan was to drive to Maryland on Oct 1st but as I was leaving work the day before, I got a text from my friend Will “very sorry to hear”. I sent my standard reply to him (amazing how it is always relevant with him) “are you on drugs again? what are you talking about?”. The race was postponed and possibly cancelled due to weather.
I kept my shit together and stayed positive, refusing to believe it will be cancelled; I trained hard and long for this. But as Matt Bach (last year’s winner of IMMD) told me, this would make for an interesting taper.

Original taper plan

Here’s the original taper plan based on TrainingPeaks’ Performance Management Chart (these are just simulated numbers in spreadsheet, i’m too lazy to go back to TP and change it). The taper optimizes minimal loss of fitness while dropping fatigue for the race (since fatigue drops faster than fitness).

With the race delayed to 10/17, if I just continued the taper (as outlined on the left) my fatigue and fitness would continue to drop beyond what I needed. This was clearly not a good option.

So I kicked it back into gear and did 5 days of heavy training, leaving me with 1.5 weeks for taper #2. This was the middle ground to keep my fitness from falling too much, but also giving my body enough time to rest.

Overall, this plan worked well and I got to the race feeling ready and fresh.
However, as the race approached it became obvious the weather will not play nice — forecast was in the fifties with wind in the teens. I tried to stay calm and did not give it too much though. But turns out that ignoring the problem did not make it go away and two days before the race I realized I had no plan to deal with the cold weather. I totally lost my shit (and a lot of sleep) and on the last day decided to just do the best with what I have. Not great.

Part I

Beating Medusa was a stroke of genius. Looking right at her and you risk spending the rest of eternity as a prime location for pigeon perching (fact: small birds have bowel movements every few minutes). Perseus stayed calm and used Athena’s polished shield as a mirror to find Medusa (no one said that is against the rules) then chopped off her head with Zeus’s sword. Various creatures (e.g. Pegasus) sprung to life and the head was safely stowed in his backpack. How cool is that?

It was ridiculously cold before the swim start. I cowered in the back of an empty truck to stay away from the wind until the last moment. The swim was shortened to about 3,200 yards due to the heavy chop. I took my place in the 1 to 1:10 group, music was loudly pumping through speakers and I was ready.
The cannon blasted and the line moved forward. The rolling start is infinitely better than mass start and I was in the water in no time. For the first time in all my racing I did not have the “what the fuck am I doing here, I hate swimming, I want to quite right now” thought in my head.
Although there was some arm wrestling, it all felt in good nature. I was mostly swimming with people a bit slower than me so could not really find legs to follow. However, there was enough space for me to move forward.
At some point I passed a guy wearing a black AWA swim cap. Really? you have to tell everyone you are an AWA? Seriously? Any mediocre athlete that does two or more IM events a year can be a AWA. Hell, just look at me. What a douche. Anyway, consistent with the doucheness assessment, he grabbed my ankle as I was passing him. I gave a few hard kicks and he let go, never to be seen again. And I though the cold water would shrink all the assholes.
My swim last year in Arizona was a horrible 1:25, including treading water for minutes to clear calf cramps. I spent a lot of time in the pool since and it really showed. I felt my calves spasm, but kept it in check by not over-kicking. My pace was good and I did not push too hard. I tried to not worry about other people and focused on long, full strokes.
I came out of the water at 51 minutes. This would be about 1:05 full swim. Massive improvement from last year, especially considering the choppy conditions. Next time I’ll be more aggressive in the line position so I swim with faster people than me.

Part II

Slaying Medusa is one thing, getting away with it is quite another. Typical to middle-aged single woman at the time, she lived with her two sisters. While this would make the basis for a sitcom, her gorgon sisters shared her hairstyle and also were immortal. Needless to say, they were not happy.
Perseus just calmly followed his plan — he put on the invisibility cloak and tip-toed out of there unscathed.

I had no cloak to shield me coming out of the water. It was cold and windy and as soon as the wetsuit was off my muscles protested with violent cramping. I had cramps in muscles I didn’t even know I had. My cramps had cramps. It was a total cramp-fest (or cramp-a-pallooza, your choice).
I tried to dry up quickly and put on arm-warmers, gloves and a long sleeve T. I also pulled on running tights to keep my legs warm. It wasn’t really planned, it was just the extra stuff I had. As one might expect (if one was actually planning) putting layers on wet body parts takes a long and frustrating time. My T1 was an agonizing 16 minutes! I was expecting 5. But on the bright side, the extra layers helped on the bike. I was cold, but it was tolerable.
Wife-and-kids waited at transition exit. Hugs and kisses followed. Sweet.
I started spinning and very quickly my neck started hurting and my nuts went numb. Normally it takes 1–2 hours for that to happen, this time it was almost instant due to the cold airflow on my body. I ignored it and focused on steady 180–190 watts; 40 miles NP was 185 and from there slowly drifting down.
My power meter is very finicky; Its like a teenager — you never know when it will blow up. Right from the start it was turning itself off and on randomly (just to show me who’s boss) and then about a third of the way it threw in 3 crazy jumps to about 3,000 watts. This does not matter much for the ride as I look at the 10 sec avg power, but it totally blew up the NP (since it gives a lot more weight to high numbers). I ended the ride with 177 watts avg and I am guessing 180 NP, my average HR for the ride was 129.
The ride is totally flat but was challenging due to the wind which came, naturally, from the worst direction. The course is roughly a triangle and the wind was never in my back. I tucked into my overly-aero position on my overly-aero bike but the wind kept picking up. On the second loop I legally drafted (5 bike lengths) behind some dude for about 20 minutes. The wind was so strong that even at that distance it made a big difference. It wasn’t fast, but as soon as I put my nose in the wind my watts jumped, so probably was the right thing to do.
I decided to stop at port-a-potty rather than pee on the bike as I was concerned about my legs getting wet in the cold and cramping. That cost me about 6 more minutes (3 stops), but probably better safe than sorry.
Coming out of the last aid-station, 10 miles before T2, I got a totally bullshit drafting violation. A very slow guy was ahead of me, maybe 2 bike lengths ahead and I let him pull away. The moto was right next to me, but I didn’t even try to take the guy, I figured I’m OK coming out of the aid-station. They waited 20 seconds and gave me the violation. I considered taking them down and hiding the bodies in the swampy water, but figured that would take more than 5 minutes (it was a big motorcycle), so just went on.
Wife-and-kids waited at transition, so although totally pissed about it, the penalty was actually put to good use (hugs and kisses and such).
The best part of the day was riding into town. Cambridge is a small town and this race is a big deal. Everyone was in their front yard watching the athletes coming through. Riding into town I was all alone — I was flying through the empty streets of town (going well over 25 mph at that point) with the crowd cheering loudly. I felt like a two-testicled (albeit still numb), dope-free Lance Armstrong winning the tour.
I finished the bike at 5:31 — massive improvement over Arizona 6:15 (which included 20 minutes of flat repairing), and according to BestBikeSplit about 20 minutes of this time is due to the heavy wind. Very good result.

Part III

As he was flying back home with his winged sandals, Perseus met Andromeda, and no, it was not in a singles bar. Andromeda had little time for Perseus, she was very busy tied naked to a cliff being sacrificed to a sea-monster to appease Poseidon for her Mon’s vanity (and you think your mom talks too much). Perseus did not even break a sweat — out came the head and the serpent turned to stone.
From this point on, anyone that pissed off Perseus got the same treatment — Andromeda’s old boyfriend showed up drunk trying to blow up the wedding, Perseus gave him the gift of eternal immobility. Evil king trying to get rid of Perseus and bang his mother — all that was left was a statue.
And so on and so forth.

For nutrition in this race I planned to use Generation UCAN. It is a super-starch which gives you energy without elevating blood sugar (gels and sports drinks spike it right up). The body is lazy and if you give it sugar it will immediately stop burning fat and happily use the sugar. UCAN is a way to keep fat-burning while supplementing the body with enough energy to keep it going. The benefit is steady energy while consuming a lot less volume and you are not dumping all that sugar into your system.
I started the day at 3:30 with 4 Ensures (1,400 cals). It is Maltodextrin based, but there was plenty of time for my blood sugar to go down and I know it works. At 6 I drank a bottle with 2 UCAN scoops (160 cals) and had a 3-scoop bottle on the bike and 3-scoop bottle in special needs bag. I mixed in some electrolytes and salt so I don’t have to deal with any pills. For the run I had more of the cocktail in Fulebelt flasks.
I was doing well on the ride, but about 80 miles in I started freaking out — unlike Perseus, I lost my shit. I was afraid I am not getting enough energy and was afraid I would bonk. I decided to switch to sugar based nutrition and on the next aid-station popped 2 gels and started pumping in Gatorade. I got a crazy surge of energy and powered through the last section of the ride. I felt just like my kids when they get candy and go on a sugar-rash (only I was not running in circles, waving my hands in the air and screaming unintelligibly).
However, similar to Arizona my belly was not happy with all the sugar and liquids and I suffered badly through the run.

My T2 was quick and my legs felt great. My run in Arizona was very steady 9 minute/mile pace and as running is my best sport I was expecting a better run this time. I was pacing myself to not go faster than 8:30 pace, although I felt I could easily do it. The wind was still blowing hard, making some sections slow, but overall the run was not as cold as the ride.
For the past few months I worked on increasing my run cadence. I got it up from 164 to about 175, but as I was running the race it fell back to about 160. Whenever I tried to pick up the cadence my hamstrings would start cramping. Not sure if it was the cold or the sustained effort. I didn’t worry about it too much and kept going. I was expecting a 3:40 run, which would make it an awesome sub 10:30 race.
But at about 10 miles I started slowing down. It did not feel like I was working hard (my HR was below 140), but my legs were getting tired, heavy and painful. My belly joined the party and it turned from pace management to pain management.
Miles 10–20 went by with a 9 pace and a lot of pain.
Miles 20–26 I had to do some walking every few minutes and my pace dropped to 10.
I finished the run at 3:53, similar time to Arizona, but totally inconsistent. Very disappointed with the run.
My avg HR for the run was 134, so it wasn’t a huge strain. I am still not sure why I faded so badly. Did my training focus on swimming and biking screwed up my running? should I have paced slower at the beginning of the run? did I go too hard on the bike? (and if so, how much time would I need to give on the bike to still gain time overall) or was it the disastrous nutrition?


So here’s how this race went compared to Arizona last year:
Swim: expected 1:10 actual :51 (extrapolated 1:05), :20 improvement
T1: expected 5 actual 16
Bike: expected 5:30 actual 5:31, 45 minutes improvement
T2: expected 5 actual 10 (including draft penalty)
Run: expected 3:45 actual 3:53, no improvement
Total: expected sub 11 actual 10:38, 1:07 improvement

In the areas where I did not properly plan (dealing with the cold) or lost my shit and not follow the plan (nutrition), I failed miserably and lost valuable time. It came down to a very painful and disappointing run.
I still have a lot to learn from the 3,000 years old super-geezer Perseus.

Now, you might ask why am I so obsessed with 5 minutes penalty, 6 minutes pee break, 10 minutes transition and so forth; after all, I did shave an hour from last year’s race.
I will close with a great little story about Julius Caesar:

It is told that when Julius Caesar came back to Rome from his conquests in Europe, he saw a statue of Alexander the Great and started weeping. Why are you crying? you are the conqueror of Gaul, asked his servant. Yes, answered Caesar, but at the age of 30 Alexander has already ruled the world.