Thursday, May 12, 2016

Honolulu Triathlon race plan

Right off the bat I want to make one thing perfectly clear. This Sunday's Honolulu Triathlon is not my "A" race. It is a practice race on the build to Ironman 70.3 Hawaii, affectionately known as "Honu."

I say that as much for my sake as yours. When my mind gets to wandering I often end up thinking about pacing in terms of having my best race yet. (Insert needle scrape sound here.) It is only natural, especially when you consider how often we are bombarded by media headlines about winning your age group and setting a new PR. Sure I want to do well, but the definition of "well" in this case means having a swim without drama and bike and run segments done at Honu pace, along with a few more things I'll go into later.

One of the key points Joe Friel makes in his book, "Fast After 50," is that the older we get the smaller the margin of error. Going too easy in a workout will not produce the desired increase in fitness. Going too hard will demand an extended recovery time and significantly increase the risk of injury. For young athletes the gap between too little and too much is wide. The older we get, the narrower the gap. Fortunately this physical decline is offset by an increase in experience and good judgment. Us old guys know better than to go out and party before a race.

One more thing to remember about aging athletes. We need more recovery time. This is true at the micro and macro ends of the scale. Where a young athlete can do intervals like 3x5 min with one minute recoveries, us old guys need five minute recoveries. Moving toward the macro end, a whippersnapper can do three hard workouts a week, whereas us old folks can only manage one. This is a basic fact of aging, right in there with gray hair and wrinkled skin.

How does this affect my race plan? If I go all out this Sunday I will be forced to severely curtail my training over the following week, which comes at a critical time in the build to Honu. Additionally, an all out 10K run increases the risk of injury. A hamstring pull comes to mind, but I struggled with calf cramps at my last race, the Hapalua Half Marathon, where I tried to push myself hard. That sore right calf bothered me for several weeks. Arriving at the starting line at Honu in that condition is not on the path to success.

My biggest challenge will be the swim. I still tend to struggle in the first five minutes with breathing and finding my rhythm. On recent long swims with Pattie I have done very well by following her. She is very good at starting at a sane, manageable pace. I am pretty sure that going slow is much better than stopping to tread water. Somehow I will have to keep this feeling foremost in my mind when the horn goes off and my wave charges down to the water. If I do get hit with the panicky, "can't breath" feeling I will try my best to lengthen my stroke, remind myself that I really am not running out of air, and wait it out. The feeling passes, rather quickly.

Right up there with getting my breathing on track are the issues of swimming in a pack and getting around the buoy at the far end. I am not going to go wide to the outside like I did last year. I will be looking for someone to follow, but drafting is a skill I have yet to learn, and trying it in a race is not a good idea. I breath to my right, so going wide leaves me with nobody to follow. Hopefully there will be one or two folks as slow as me.

The bike is a no brainer. I am totally comfortable on my Cervelo P3.  The basic plan is simple. Hold 85% 80% FTP (130 watts) as much as possible, lower if my legs are not good. This course is pretty much flat, but where there is a need I will allow my power to go up to 103% FTP (170 watts) for a minute or two. On the return, ease up along the park, spin faster, stop pedaling and stand to stretch hamstrings, get legs ready for a balanced dismount and a quick transition into the run. DO NOT go hard all the way to the dismount line.  I do plan to go in and out of aero position, but that is really practice for Honu, where the longer ride will demand it. I will not blithely follow the riders ahead as we approach Lagoon Drive, as some might be doing the sprint and will be off to the left whereas the longer distance requires I be off to the right. Good thing I have been practicing my U-turns! I will carry one bottle Perpetuem on the down tube and two water, one on the aero bars and one behind the saddle. I plan to eat a Bonk Breaker as soon as I am out on Ala Moana and settled in. I could do the race without it, but at Honu getting in some solid food calories after the swim can be critical to a decent run. I need to see how my body reacts.

Which brings us to the run. I would like to do something better than a 15:00 pace. 14:00 would be really nice. But recall where this rant began. I will not go as fast as my feet will let me, even if they sprout wings. Save it for Honu. At the risk of aiming too low, my goal is to run the entire course and not feel any desire to stop at the finish. I will carry my Fuelbelt and partake of my favorite concentrated Perpetuem. Again, practice for Honu, where I will need the extra calories.

After hours of rigorous calculations I have come up with the following plan:

Swim - 0:35
T1 - 0:05
Bike - 1:30
T2 - 0:05
Run - 1:30

Overall - 3:45

Again, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that the race goes smoothly, without drama. No equipment failures, no wardrobe failures, no puking. That is all I really care about. No puking.

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