Saturday, May 30, 2015

One year to go

As I write this a bunch of friends are out riding the road to Hawi, doing the Ironman 70.3 I plan to do next year. In Honolulu dawn came clear and hot. I did my morning run at the track and finished drenched in sweat. Assuming the same conditions on Hawaii the good news is no winds to worry about on the bike. The bad news, the heat. Not only does it dry you out, it sucks the energy out of you no matter how much you drink. They say that on the run, where the course goes out into a lava field, the soles of the running shoes start to melt.

The first thought that pops into my mind when I consider all this is that I will never be ready by next year. The bike, fine. The run, sort of. The swim at Hapuna Beach is beautiful, but getting it done under race conditions seems impossible. I have never been that far from shore, and my pace is so slow I will barely make the cutoff time.

Then I think about my friends who have done this event, including the folks still out on the course today. I am quite sure every one of them has had the same feelings, if not about the swim then one of the other legs. It is natural, an instinctive survival response.

Again, the two big stoppers for me, today, are swimming so far from shore and my swim pace. The solution to the first one is easy. Find a friend willing to take me out into the ocean, say along the Waikiki Rough Water Swim course. Get one of these cool floatation things to assuage the fear of something going wrong. The point is, this obstacle can be overcome, and rather easily. As for pace, all I have to do is look back at last year and see how much better I am at swimming now, and expect improvement in the coming year. Maybe the rate of improvement will decline, but there is much that could be done to smooth me out and make me more streamlined and efficient.

More than anything I need to remind myself of the courage and determination demonstrated by the women of Try Fitness, as well as all my triathlon friends. If they can take on the challenge, so can I.

It sounds crazy, but I know it is true.

I can't wait to hear all the race stories.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Honolulu Triathlon Race Report

I want to take a moment this morning to reflect on yesterday's race. I plan on adding to this as time permits. The Honolulu Triathlon includes many event opportunities. This year I did the Olympic Triathlon.

The most significant thing about this race was the weather. It was a picture postcard perfect day. The bay was at mid-tide, flat as a lake, the water warm. So warm I was surprised it was ITU wetsuit legal, and that anyone would bother to wear one. Many did, mostly out of towners. There was some wind, but nothing like what Honolulu had been hit with all week. Air temp finally warmed up for the run, but then we were mostly in the shade so it hardly mattered.

My goal was to have a good time, and I did. To be more specific, I wanted to feel a sense of accomplishment after working so hard for so long. For me, that means getting close to my estimated times and not having to be carried off in a stretcher. Yes, there were swimmers in my heat who did not even make it to the turn around buoy and were hauled out on a jet ski, and Pattie saw a runner collapse at the finish line. I don't call that having a good time. Flatting on a bike segment is no fun either, but not so much a personal failure. I passed several folks with mechanicals, fortunately I was not one of them.

One thing that makes a race enjoyable is having friends there. Really great to hear people calling my name, and while running I could see faces well enough to recognize them. The only thing to top that is great sherpa service from your spouse, and my wife Pattie went above and beyond in that role. I can't imagine doing an event like this without her, but then I also want to do it together next year.

Now for the numbers. My estimates, as reported in my previous blog, were

Swim:  0:50
Bike:  1:45
Run:   1:30
Total: 4:05
(not including transitions)

My results:

Swim:  0:54
Bike:  1:12
Run:   1:36
Total: 3:52 (including transitions)

So, yeah, I am pleased.

I finished in 780th place. 820 started, 802 finished so I assume that is 780/820. The slowest finisher did 4:16. How did I do in my age group (65-69)? 10th place out of 12. About what I expected and better than I feared.

Yes, I had those thoughts we all have before the race. I did not want to be the last one out of the water, or the last one to finish, or the slowest in my AG. I forgive myself for worrying about such stupid, trivial things. It's normal. Thankfully I managed to avoid all of those, although I was one of the last out of the water -- I did not turn around to see how many were left.

Best time in my AG: 2:46
Worst time in my AG: 3:57

The swim was my most worrisome segment. Last year I did the sprint distance, 750M, and finished in 46min for a pace of 5:30/100yds. This year I did 1,500M in 54min for a pace of 3:36/100yds. Obviously I have improved. My sense is that much of that improvement has come in the last couple of months. In fact it was only two weeks ago that I found my two beat kick. Until then my right leg was doing all the work and my left just twitched to no effect. Until recently I had trouble swimming continuously at the start, running out of air and having to roll onto my back to recover. It was so common that on Thursday's pre-race swim I was surprised I did not need to resort to this tactic. Yesterday I took off fine and swam continuously for several hundred yards. Breathing not a problem. The only reason I stopped a few times later on was to get my head up to check my sight lines and see where other swimmers were. For the first 500 yards there was a guy beside me, where I could see him while I turned to breath, who swam all out like a sprinter then rolled onto his back, over and over. He looked genuinely unhappy. I felt fabulous.

I have reason to be concerned about my swim time. I was slowest in my AG. (My wave was the last Olympic distance group, so whoever finished the swim after me must have been struggling.) The next best swim time in my AG was 0:48. The result data does not sort by segment, but I did poke around the elderly age groups and spotted swim times longer than mine, so I was not dead last in the swim. But almost.

The reason this matters is that my goal is to do the Honu Ironman 70.3 next year, and Ironman events have cutoff times. I do not want to be greeted at the shoreline by the grim reaper (IM jargon for the official who informs participants their day is done).

At the 2014 Honu the cutoff time for the swim was 1:15 after the last wave. At that time there was much grumbling about the "last wave" part. Ironman events originally started all together, but recent changes to the rules were implemented to improve safety. A wave start such as is common in ITU events reduces the frenzy in the swim and spreads out the bikes, important because riding in a peloton and drafting are not allowed. Setting the cutoff time relative to the first wave seems unfair because 1) older agegroupers start later and are slower, and 2) women start after men, so they get less time than their male counterparts. The way Honu was run last year it would be possible for someone in an early wave with a swim time of 1:20 to be allowed to continue while someone in a later wave with the same time would be eliminated.

For now I will go with 1:15. Yesterday I did 1500M in 0:54. (Actually I went more than 1500 but they do not give credit for zig-zagging!) According to this on-line calculator that gives a pace of 3:36/100yds. That agrees with my recent swim test data which at my best puts me at or just under 3:00/100yds. The Ironman 70.3 swim is 1.2 miles (2112yds). To make the cutoff time my pace would have to be better than 3:53/100yds. Coming at it another way, if I did Honu today like I swam on Sunday, my time would be 1:16; too slow. Not sure why the two calculations don't reconcile, but the point is that I am too close to the cutoff time.

I have a year to get faster. It is hard to express numerically how much I have improved this year. I could argue that from last year I have improved my swim speed by 60% and if I do the same this year my pace should be around 2:06/100yds. That feels crazy fast to me, but I know that is a reasonable, achievable number for triathlon swimming.

For me the swim is the most critical segment, but I need to work hard on the run, too. Yesterday my run off the bike went exactly as expected and I was hitting and exceeding my plan. I really had to force myself to slow down. As it turned out, the last 3K were really hard. I had to slow down, and as much as I wanted to pick up the pace along the last half click my legs refused to go faster. I see lots more fast, short intervals in my future. On the positive side I had the endurance to finish. At no point did I feel cooked, no thought of quitting or walking it in. The endurance is there. All I need is speed.

I cannot finish without expressing my gratitude to all the coaches and trainers and friends who helped me achieve this.  At the risk of singling anyone out, I will mention Sonya, Dorian, and Suzanne, three wonderful people without whom I know I would not have made it to the starting line.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Honolulu Triathlon Race Plan

Chapter 10 of Joe Friel's "The Triathlete's Training Bible" describes how to create a race day plan. With nine days until the Honolulu Triathlon, my first A race -- my first race of the season, in fact -- I think the time has come for me to make one. Bottom line up front: Don't worry about time, focus on finishing and having a good day. It would be nice to be close to Honu 70.3 times, but not a high priority at this point. Stay focused on form, speed will follow.


The first order of business is pacing, and already I find it hard going. Of all the data I have collected since the start of the year, very little represents race effort. I will just have to make the best of what I have.

Months ago I was curios how I might compare with last year's Olympic distance age group. This year I will be in the 65-69 group, so I used that group from last year's Olympic race. It was a small group with a bit of spread in the data, so I used median rather than average times.

2014 Olympic men 65-69 median times
Swim:  0:33
Bike:  1:20
Run:   1:00
Total: 3:00(including transitions)

Next, I took my last year's sprint distance times, doubled them, then subtracted a goal performance improvement.

My early season estimates for 2015
Swim:  1:15 (20%)
Bike:  1:20 (5%)
Run:   1:15 (5%)
Total: 3:55

This showed me that my bike and run times were competitive, and my swim time was not. No surprise there.


My recent swim data shows a much bigger performance increase. I routinely swim at a 3:00/100 yd pace. Slow by any standard, but much improved over last year. If I can maintain that pace over 1,500M my swim leg will take about 50 min. A lot better than my estimate! Yes, that is a lot slower than the median time but about the same as last year's slowest in my age group. Overall there were over twenty swimmers with times slower than that; three took more than an hour.


I used April's metric century ride as a test time trial. I used the start to Sunset Beach as a warm-up and to get past the only hill on the course, then non-stop to Swanzy Beach Park, a distance of 20 miles. My goal was not to go all out, for two reasons. In the race I still have to run after the bike. As for that day, it came during the build period when a hard effort would leave me sidelined for several days. I knew I had to accept some of that, and as it turned out I came down with a cold that evening that curtailed most of my training during the following week anyway. But, my plan was to have two recovery days and be back in full swing by Wednesday. So much for planning.

My average speed over that 20 miles was 14 m.p.h. with my heart rate at zone 2.7. At that pace my 40K bike leg will take about 2 hours. That seems slow. To do it in 1:20 I will need to average 22 m.p.h. I am quite certain I cannot do that. Last year my average speed at this event was 17 m.p.h. and I think I can match that. This puts the estimated time for the bike at around 1:45 and heart rate in low zone 4.

I did a bunch of bricks around Diamond Head earlier in the season, and that should help smooth out the run off the bike. The best place to go fast will be on the first half, where I might catch a little tailwind, and of course the first half of the Lagoon Drive piece. I need to be aware of those tricky headwinds and get down and aero as much as possible without fighting too hard to maintain speed.

Some of the Training Peaks geeks have come up with a new service called Best Bike Split. A couple months ago I fiddled around with it to see what it predicted for this race. (The public view does now show the map I see logged in. I can move my mouse over the graph and the corresponding point is shown on the map.) As it stands the results are inconclusive for two reasons. First, the site works best with power data and I still have not shelled out for power meters -- #1 on my wish list. Second, the output requires wind speed and direction as input. I used a best guess estimate for Functional Threshold Power (252) and trade winds averaging 10 m.p.h. from the northeast (45 deg.).  The site uses elevation and direction relative to the wind to estimate speed and power levels throughout the race. It tells me I should average 20 m.p.h. and complete the course in 1:12. It uses a map someone else uploaded and it gives the distance as 23.93 miles. I have been using 28.85 for my estimates. You know what they say about a man who wears two watches. Last but not least, the model assumes you will leave it all out on the road, when in fact for a triathlon this would result in disaster. That may explain why a bike-only time trial could average 20 m.p.h. while my triathlon bike leg on the same course needs to be 17.


The run presents another set of mysteries. Every time I run off the bike my heart rate pegs even though I am not going fast and my breathing is more like zone 2. It takes my body at least five minutes to settle down. My plan is to hold back, but go by feel and pace more than heart rate. As with the bike, none of my recent workouts have been at race pace. If I am not doing all out intervals I am running way below race pace. The best estimate I can come up with is an average pace of 14 min/mi, for a run leg time of 1:30.

So, as best as I can tell, my times should be

Swim:  0:50
Bike:  1:45
Run:   1:30
Total: 4:05

This time is about the slowest time of anybody in last year's race, so if you plan on meeting me at the finish line, be patient.


I will carry two bottles of Cytomax on the bike along with some shot blocks in my bento box. I will start eating by downtown and stop around Lagoon Drive to give my stomach time to empty. I will taper drinking around downtown for the same reason.

On my century ride time trial I carried Cytomax and some Bonk Breaker bars. As much as I like Bonk Breakers, I find anything as dry as that too hard to swallow. They did not upset my stomach. I may just stash one in my bento box, but I will have to be careful about when I eat it, if at all.

For the run will do something like last year's Tinman (same distance run). For that race I carried two flasks in my jersey pocket. GU gels diluted 50/50, three per flask. That must have been too much because that is the same amount I carried for the Honolulu Marathon. One should be plenty.

Race Day Prep

After setting up transition I will do a warm-up swim. At this time I will prepare my goggles with anti-fog. Pattie will carry my jacket and spare glasses. My regular glasses will stay at transition; I might choose to wear them for the run. After the warm-up swim I will jog enough to keep my heart rate up, in order to minimize the CO2 shock at the start of the swim. When my wave is called I will leave my glasses and jacket with Pattie.


Like last year, my primary goal for this race is to finish and have fun. I do hope that my swim improves enough over the next year so that I can feel confident about doing a Half Ironman in 2016. If that does not happen, well, I will have had fun trying, and that is all that really matters.