Ironman Miami 70.3 Recap
This past weekend, I competed in Ironman 70.3 Miami. Most of you probably know the results already, I finished as the 2nd overall Age-grouper (2nd to a guy who is also competing professional next season), and had my best Ironman placing ever as 9th overall including the professional field. There were 50 pros on the start list so I beat approximately 80% of the pro field. If you look only at the performance outcome you may think it was a flawlessly executed race, however I have many mixed feelings about my performance on race day. I'll split this recap into two posts: 1) recap of the day and a little analysis (caused I learned a lot of stuff from this one) 2) my overall analysis of my season and plans going forwards. -- This is a long post so settle in.
If you read my post previewing the course and race setup you'll know this race posed a number of challenges in addition to the over 40 degree heat/humidity. My wave was the second last wave (the 2nd heat in the 25-29 wave) in a race that had the biggest 70.3 field on the Ironman circuit of around 3700 people. This would mean I would need to swim through hoards of people, and then bike through the masses. I thought going into the race, my challenges would stop there, but was extremely disappointed with the overall setup, organization, and route that the organizers selected. I picked Miami for my final race of the 2017 season, because I thought it would be a fast course, and would be fun to race in beautiful Miami - or so I thought. I thought swimming in crystal blue waters, and then biking on roads lined with palm trees would be a great way to end off the year. However, the course they selected was the complete opposite of scenic. First we swam in Biscayne Bay Harbour. A heavily trafficked harbour, with water so dirty you couldn't see your hand a foot away from your face, and so busy that you weren't allowed swimming in the days leading into the race. That would mean 4 days without taking a single stroke leading into race day. For an athlete without a rich swimming background this would pose a challenge (yes others are also in same boat but for some of the pros with long swimming backgrounds this wouldn't be as much an issue). It was also just disappointing to see that the swim location was so dirty, and far from scenic. Then with the bike course, I biked the course on Friday leading into the race (it took a very long time thanks to traffic lights every two feet, and the worst timing system for lights I've ever seen) and one local bike was shocked to here that I managed to bike on those roads for a non-local. The bike course was and out and a little back, then back out and then all the way back along US-27 highway with lots of traffic and with lots of trucks going by at 100km/hr - it was terrifying. Though more so than just being terrifying, there wasn't a single tree along route, just baron empty landscape completely exposed to any elements, and let me tell you Miami should be named the new Windy City (just the speed of the sustained northeasterly winds was unbelievable). The lack of scenery wasn't exactly a challenge, was that because it is such a busy highway they aren't able to close the highway entirely on race day, meaning 3700 competitors had to share 1 single lane. 1 Lane!!!!
Jumping ahead to race morning. The winds were hollowing from the east and it was hot, damn hot, already at 6am. Now after the last paragraph you may have said, "well Frank the reason they do the swim in the bay is because it is sheltered. If you did the swim in the stunningly beautiful waters of South Beach, it would be very choppy because it is out in the open ocean." Well maybe the water out in the ocean would be worse, but the problem with having the swim in the small bay is that now on race morning with the tide rolling into the bay it would mean: A) for almost 2/3 of the swim you would feel like you were "swimming uphill" as the announcer put it, and B) the bay is so small that it essentially became like a washing machine. Because you are never far from the edges of the harbour you would feel the wave first cut across you and then again would feel it rebound back across from the other direction after hitting the harbour walls. At around 7:55 the pros started to emerge from the water, with times in the high 29s, low 30s, some slower, and only a few faster. The overall winner of the race Igor Amorelli swam around 27:10 and I believe that was the second fastest swim on the day (the fastest being 26 mid or so). To put that number into perspective, Igor swam 48 minutes in Kona last weekend (a phenomenal time), and consistently swims 23 minutes for the 70.3 distance. Knowing that most pros were swimming around 30 minutes, I figured my 26 minute swim was out the window.
When it was finally our waves turn to go, I jumped in the water and could not believe how salty it was. It was nuts. Take that temperature up to boiling, clean it to filter out all the oil from the ships, and it would make some great water for some spaghetti. The gun went and we were off. I started on the inside lane of the clockwise course to keep the distance to a minimum and that worked well up until getting to the first turn buoy when it was a congested mess of people doing breaststroke and side stroke around the buoy. I tried swimming with a full straight arm recovery to help get my arms over the super choppy water, but every now and then my brain would revert back to a nice high elbow, and my hand would smack right into the next oncoming wave. I also was taking in quite a bit of sea water which made me a little worried about starting to feel sick or not. Fortunately I didn't encounter any jellyfish or fish at all (probably even they thought the water was too digusting to swim in), but overall was not feeling very comfortable in such rough water. It was also quite difficult to get good sight lines to the next buoys having to try to look over the oncoming swells. So only around 400m into the swim I started just counting ten strokes at a time, and tried just to think about that and nothing else. Kind of a not so great feeling when less than 6 minutes into a 4-hour race your already having to take in just 10 seconds at a time just to get through it. After more chaos at the final turn buoy, I swam as hard as I possibly could for the final 350 meters (on garmin it shows those final 350 were my peak 5 minute cadence for the swim at just under 80 strokes per minute). That helped get my time just under 30 minutes at 29:43 which I was quite happy with considering that put me right there with all the pros, and only 2.5 minutes down to Igor. For both 70.3 and the full ironman, based on that deficit to the lead, it puts me right there in the second pack, which for now is right where I want to be. Also was pretty happy to see that the watch recorded the distance as 1928m (1.2 mile is 1930m) so pleased with the fact that means me sighting was solid and efficient. As odd as it
sounds T1 was probably one of my proudest moments of the race. I absolutely ripped it on the 400m run-up from the water averaging according to the garmin 3:00/km pace!
Getting to the highway was very tricky manoeuvring around the masses, and then some absurd no passing zones were so frustrating. Literally on the first of the two no passing zones, with the race official close behind me, there was a lady riding a cruiser style bike bolt upright not pedalling! Victoria (my bike) is so fast without doing anything, that even when I stopped pedalling completely for the entire section, I had to just keep tapping the brakes on and off or else would've just ripped by this person and I really didn't want to get a penalty. Eventually, made my way
onto the highway and then I let her majesty do her thing. Was just flying on this section. Obliterating the Strava KOM on the out section averaging 50km/hr for an entire 30 minutes, wind assisted, but it was a pretty nice feeling at moments getting up out the saddle to make passes accelerating up to 58-60km/hr on a flat road. I also achieved a new 40km PB of 53 minutes. It quickly became apparent though that going by power was going to be tough. Not only from the perspective that I wouldn't have been able to look down at the computer for any sustained period of time with all the congestion on course, but also just that with how busy it was I essentially able to pedal for only 30 seconds at a time, then freewheel and work my way around people spread across the lane which just killed the average power. Honestly it was a pretty scary bike ride with the tricky passes in the narrow lane. One in particular, I have no idea how I didn't have what would've been a very bad wipeout at 50km/hr. On the shoulder of the road there were the little plastic reflector bumps, and on one pass after yelling at the person to move over and they were not listening and just kept going, I went over into the shoulder my wheel hit the bump hard went air born for a moment and landed on an angle in the sand covered shoulder and slid sideways. At the time I had one hand on the aerobars one on the hoods but my hands were so slippy with sweat that it was difficult to correct the wheel. Somehow it corrected itself and I drifted back onto the road. Something I didn't want to happen, but learned from it. From now on, I'll use the nice padded handlebar tape for training on the indoor trainer, but for racing I'll go to sand paper type wraps (lighter and very grippy). It apparently cuts your hands up pretty good but for the safety of being able to control the bike a little better it will be worth it.
Anyways turned back into the headwind after hammering which brought me back down to earth a little. That was a very slow section, the legs just felt pretty sluggish, but thankfully turned back again with the tailwind and could regroup. Through all of this there was so much congestion on course I was not able to grab a single bottle at aid stations, and as we turned back for now the very long stretch into the wind, plus with just the choppy nature of how the power was being delivered to the pedals, my legs were suffering, and was already starting to feel drained/dehydrated. I past the 90km mark at around 2:13:50 unfortunately the course kept going for another 2km and had a 2:16:40 bike split (with the extra distance comes out to 40km/hr average). Overall about 8 minutes slower than I planned on, but on the day with how the race played out it was the best I could do. If you want some perspective for how much I had to scream on your left for the entire duration of the bike with the congestion, after to the race I had lost my voice for a little.
From the bike, I did learn a number of lessons going into next season. 1) I need to make better more specific power goals for future races. For example in this race I went in and said my goal power was around 275-280W and that was it. What I should've done instead of just setting one number for the entire course, is after recon riding the course said that on the out section my goal is say 240-250 and then into the headwind I'll look to average 300 for some long stretches. It just wasn't going to be realistic biking at almost 5 W/kg with a very strong tailwind. It is similar to trying to hold big watts going down hill, tough to do without too much resistance. Meanwhile going in the headwind 275 is too low and 300 would have been doable with the amount of resistance the wind was adding (like biking uphill where I find it pretty easy to put out some big numbers). 2) I need to come up with a way to incorporate outdoor riding or maybe riding on rollers will help better simulate race day. The fixed indoor trainer is great. I believe you are able to get yourself into incredible shape from the safety of your home, with no lights, no stop signs, no cars to interrupt your workout or make things dangerous. However, I have got so used to the trainer that I did find at times on the course, even into the headwind, it felt hard to put out the watts that I had trained more than enough to be able to push. Going into the race I had done a workout 2 hours straight at 281 watts (about 4.93 W/kg) right after a hard swim. A week before the race I did 3x45 minutes at 280W with only a couple minute recovery between, another of 1 hour and 45 minutes at 285 (5 W/kg) two days before that, and so many more workouts on the trainer in the six weeks leading into the race that make the numbers I put out on race day look pathetic. Even with taking the amount of congestion on course into account, this has been a trend for 4 bike legs in a row, and the problem does seem pretty obvious when you think about it. All these rides are on the trainer, what can be different on race day, pretty obvious: the race occurs out on the open road. The trainer allows you to train very hard, but medals aren't handed out after a great workout on say a Wednesday night. Getting into great shape is needed, but it is equally if not more important to be able to take your new level of fitness onto the race course. Lionel has talked about the same thing that on the trainer you use the movement of your body to generate power, whereas outside or on rollers you use the movement of the bike to help generate the power. Having said all that was the training useless. Of course not. Yes I didn't manage close to the power I aimed for, but the trainer does more than train the body, it also trains the mind to handle the suffering you will inevitably encounter on race day.
Starting out on the run the legs were feeling pretty dead. Not surprising giving the hydration status to begin with. Crunching the numbers it looks like I took in less than 1.5 L of fluid in on the bike (thanks to not being able to grab stuff at the aid stations), and in the weeks leading into Miami my sweat rate was consistently around 2.5-2.7 L/hr depending on the intensity of the workout. So that means I was starting the run around 6-7% dehydrated already. If you look up endurance performance and % dehydration, you will see that is not a great way to start a half-marathon. I got through kilometers 1 and 2 in 3:38 and 3:40.
I was hoping to average around 3:45/km for the run, but already this pace was just not feeling sustainable in the incredible heat and with the absurd setup of the run course. I thought when my feet hit the ground after the bike, I would finally have some space to breathe after the congestion on the bike course. However, the run was a 3 lap out and back on a 8ft wide path with runners going in both directions. At the aid stations it was crazy. The path was so narrow the aid stations became single file, with people walking through them so it was impossible to make your way around people (on a couple occasions I got run right into by competitors coming the other way, one of them the guy ran into to me at full tilt, hurt my shoulder like hell). I somehow managed to make it to 5km in around 19:30, and then 10km in around 39:30. One competitor who was on his last lap ran with me for around 5km from about 6-11km and we alternated back and fourth the lead. He would run in front of me for a little and I would tuck right in behind him (it was still very windy on the run so the drafting helped for sure), and then I'd take over and control things for a bit, and back and fourth we went. He kept pushing the pace, and kept it pretty honest, while I was trying my best to hang in there. Without this competitor being there for that section, I'm not sure I would've finished. Even though I was still huffing and puffing pretty bad, shared pain is half the pain. At about 11km though
things started to look very bleak. My RPE was skyrocketing and I started getting a very strange feeling in my hands and arms. Hard to describe but it felt sort of like they were tingling, pulsating, and going asleep. My energy was just gone, and what I feared would happen happened: my calfs, hamstrings, back all started cramping, and got a very painful side-stitch that was really hampering the pace. I was taking it one step at a time, and just trying my absolute best to keep moving. Once I got to around 18km, I said to myself we've made it this far now it is either the finish line or an ambulance, there is no other way this is ending up. I rounded the corner to the finish, and collapsed in a heap. No clue how with the level of dehydration I finished, and how finished with my best ever Overall placing in an Ironman. To give some perspective on how dehydrated I was I peed around 7am before the race. I didn't go again until little after midnight despite drinking probably in the range of 10-12 L of fluid. Next time I will go for an IV right post race if that ever happens again.
I am very proud of how I battled so hard out there, just like I've done all year. And with this race, that is a wrap on my 2017 season. It has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, but I managed to pull things together when I needed to and accomplished above and beyond what I set out to do. Thanks to all my sponsors, family, and coach Sheryl for all the help and support, nothing would be possible without any of you.