Monday, May 30, 2016

Honu 2016 race plan

In less than a week I will do the race that inspired this blog. Ironman Hawaii 70.3, a.k.a Honu. Once it is over, whatever the outcome, the question will arise, at least in my mind, what to do with this blog. Right now I don't feel any desire to stop doing triathlon. A break would be nice. Doing Honu has been my goal for the last two years, and everything else has revolved around that goal. But the fact is my physical fitness is at an all-time high, and I am not struggling with injuries. I hate to throw all that away.

A lot depends on the outcome of this race. For example, one reasonable sounding outcome depends upon a decent result this weekend. In that case, find one or two more Half Ironman events to participate in, and if things continue to improve, go for the whole enchilada. A lot of my friends have done IM Cozumel, so that sounds like a good one to try. If this race does not go so well, I can see myself either trying again next year, or writing off the Ironman style races with their cut-off times and sticking with races that accommodate slower athletes. I am not getting any younger.

Which brings us to the main challenge this race presents to me. I know I have the strength, skills and endurance to go the distance. There is, however, a very real possibility that I will fail to make one of the cutoff times. I will be uncomfortably close to all of them.

For the swim, I should be able to average a little better than 3 min/100 yrs. I would say 2:40 tops. If we use 2,112 yds as the distance that works out to 63 minutes at 3:00, 55 minutes at 2:40. The swim cutoff time is 70 minutes. So, if all goes well and I manage to swim straight, I should make the swim cutoff, but just barely.

The bike is by far my strongest event, but Honu presents some very difficult challenges. Constant elevation changes, then a long, continuous climb to Hawi, all wrapped up in strong crosswinds. The trick to any triathlon bike event is to go fast without building so much fatigue in the legs that running is impossible. A lot of age groupers get this wrong and end up walking most of the run. I guess one strategy is to go all out on the bike and walk the run, by design. I have decided to go the other way, hold back enough on the bike to allow for a reasonable chance I can run the entire half marathon.

My bike plan begins with the decision to ride at an average of 85% FTP. This is a little low for HIM, but since this such a hilly course, and I am so old, I think it is a prudent choice. If the course were flat, like the Honolulu Triathlon, the rest would be easy. Just ride at 85% FTP. My Garmin Edge 800 can display that, no problem. But this is a hilly course, with significant wind, so a lot more needs to be taken into account. To help with that I use Best Bike Split.

After taking into account all the variables -- including elevation and wind angles of the course -- BBS estimates that at my 85% FTP average pace the ride will take 3:55 at an average speed of 14 m.p.h.

As I said, the challenge of this course is the constantly changing elevation, which leads to the question, how much power to hold at each point along the way. I have included the very nice speed and power chart that BBS produces. The blue line is altitude, the brown line is speed, and the shaded part is power. To me it is so convoluted as to be useless during the race. Unless I had a team manager riding in a car behind me calling out power targets. But I will be on my own.

The solution to this dilemma, if you can call it that, is a cheat sheet that shows power to hold for a list of conditions. Just print and stick somewhere where you can see it.

I suspect that much of my time will be alternating between 100 and 155 watts, with the long climb to Hawi at 163. To help with this I have my Edge 800 "race" page configured with grade, so I can do a better job matching my power to the BBS plan.

As a backup to this power plan I located some waypoints and found the times I should arrive. 

JCT. 19-2700:50
Lapakahi Pk1:40
Begin climb1:45
Turn around2:15
Lapakahi Pk2:32
Finish 3:553:55

I should not overreact to being a little late to the first waypoint as this section includes the transition from the swim. The worst thing you can do here is go too fast. But after that I need to be pretty close. No sense arriving at T2 with great legs but past the cutoff time.

Let's sum up so far. 

With a good swim time and hitting my bike plan, and five minutes each in T1 and T2, I begin the run at 0:55 + 0:05 + 3:55 + 0:05 = 5:00. Cutoff time is 5:30 from start of swim, so if I have a perfect day I will make it this far.

The run is a real mystery. Much of it is on grass, which slows things down a bit. At my last half marathon I was averaging only around 15:30 min/mile but feeling pretty good until mile 8, when my right calf started cramping, forcing me to walk most of Diamond Head. I know I have gotten better, but just how much is hard to say. My plan is to take it easy after T2 to let my heart rate and respiration settle, then ease the pace up to high zone 3, what would be a 15:00 pace on a smooth, flat surface. If I can average that pace my run comes in at 3:17. Added to my "perfect" day so far that comes in at 8:17. The cutoff time is 8:30. Very, very close. If I can only manage 15:30 I get 3:23. Coming at it the other way, to cross the finish line right at the cutoff time, after my perfect swim and bike, I need to run at 16:00. I am sure I can do that.

Like I said. I have what I need to get this done, but it will be excruciatingly close the entire way. Talk about exciting!

At the risk of sounding corny, whether or not I make all of the cutoff times is not what this race is about. Three years ago Pattie challenged me to take up the sport of triathlon, seeing as how I was already a cyclist and running marathons. I took up the challenge without realizing how hard it is to swim well. In my first year I struggled through the sprint distance Honolulu Triathlon, then the Tinman, which has the same short swim but with Olympic distance bike and run. It was at that point we went to Honu just to watch and support our Try Fitness friends, especially Sonya Weiser Souza. At some point in the post-race haze the women insisted I should do this race, and for some insane reason -- assisted no doubt by an over consumption of beer -- I agreed, with the condition that I would need another year. Here we are, two years later, and I find myself heading to Kona. 

What really counts here is the journey. I have learned a lot. I have made a lot of friends. I swim much better than I could two years ago. That I am ready to start the race is all that really counts. However it turns out, I have already won.

Did I actually say I am considering doing a full Ironman? Let's take it one step at a time.

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