The Best Laid Plans
To start this properly, there’s a little backstory that needs to be set first. For many lottery winners their road towards becoming Ironmen begins the day they win the lottery. This, however, was not going to be my first attempt at Ironman. In fact, I had already completed two Ironman races: Wisconsin in 2003 and Florida in 2004. Turns out this was just enough experience to get me into trouble, just enough experience to get me thinking, planning, and hoping. After all, who dreams of making to the Superbowl and sitting the bench? Or the World Series and going 1 and 4 with an infield blooper to lead off the fourth? No, you dream of game seven, bottom of the ninth, two strike, three ball, bases loaded, walk off grand-slam homeruns to win it all. Of 99-yard, two minute drives. Of last second buzzer beaters. You dream of winning and heroic performances. At least I do. So when I found out I got into the Ironman World Championships, I was not going to be one of those lottery winners who, sliding in through the backdoor, was just happy to be going. No sir. Talent and physical gifts be damned, I was going to shoot for a grand-slam performance! Well, maybe a base clearing triple…
So what did this translate into in triathlon terms? Needless to say, two IMs were not enough to make me delusional, and my plans did not actually involve winning the race, or even my age-group, but I would set some relatively high expectations for myself. Considering my previous finish times and weighing in on my projected abilities and training history I felt my personal equivalent of a grand-slam, dream performance would be a sub-10 hour finishâ€”typically three to four hundred athletes turn in sub-10s in Hawaii each year so certainly nothing earth-shattering, but still a respectable benchmark for the IM athlete.
Why sub-10? The first reason is, well I felt a little guilty about getting into a race I had dreamed of qualifying for through the lottery system. I figured that most of the athletes in my age-group, if not all, had turned in a sub-10 performance to get into the race and if I could do the same in Hawaii, I would sort of “earn” my spot retroactively. The second reason is that, as mentioned above, coupled with a solid competitive swimming and cycling background (albeit many years removed), my two previous IM races had given me not only some understanding of what the race was about, of what challenges went into training for and competing in the distance, but also what some reasonable expectations of my capabilities were.
My first IM, Wisconsin, I’d finished in just under 12 hours. The next year I knocked almost an hour and a half off that time, coming across the finish line in just under 10:40. In each of these races though, I had run times nearly matching my bike times and my transitions had totaled a sluggish 15-20 minutes. IM Wisconsin had been the first triathlon I’d ever signed up for and at that time I’d also only been running for a year or so, but in the 4 years since that first season of tri I’d worked diligently on my running and continued to gain experience and fitness in the sport of triathlon. I could regularly cover the IM swim distance with minimal training in close to an hour. I already owned a 5 hour even bike split. And had I not done everything short of napping in transition, and had I not walked miles 18-20 of the marathon, I was almost there in the last IM I’d raced. This time around I was already more fit. More experienced. Had a better understanding of the training necessary and enough of a carrot to do it. All I needed to add was a solid 3:40ish marathon and some cleaner transitions. True the course was an unknown, had a reputation for chewing up and spitting out the best athletes in the world, but that’s what would make the sub-10 finish a “grand-slam” performance for me and a dream race.
Hind sight and common logic will tell you performance based goals are much better choices than times based ones for Ironman, but never the less this is how I projected a sub-10 performance to play out for me on race day and this was the focus of my training for the next 6 months:
Swim: 1 hour
Transitions: 5-6 minutes
The bulk of my training is publicly available on motiobased.com so I won’t bother to go into depth here on what I did, but I did train diligently to meet my goals. I consistently pushed the envelope of what I had previously thought was hard training and realized I was capable of much more. By mid-season a good week of training involved three swim workouts and several medium distance bike-run bricks with the key workouts being a long run on Wednesday, a long bike-run brick (3-4 hrs bike/1-2 hr run) on Saturday followed up with 100+ mile rides on Sunday. Hawaii was the sole focus of my training and I’d only race one 70.3 triathlon in August (Steelhead) to gauge whether my goals would be realistic or not. Even untapered my performance was strong enough to earn a slot at the 70.3 championship race in Clearwater. Everything appeared on track, my training speeds were up across the board and I was steadily dropping weight and body fat (147 lbs at 7.5% BF). Tanned, toned, and ready to race I entered my taper at the end of September.