So, I crossed the line successfully in Tenby last weekend to finish my first Ironman for 4 years and my 4th overall, but how did the race performance measure up against my expectations, and how did my race plan work out?
In all 3 of my previous Ironman races I have gone progressively quicker on the bike and remained remarkably consistent in terms of time on the run. This, at first sight, would seem like a good thing, but when you actually look at my runs, they have become an ever more desperate struggle to cross the finish line. In fact, they could hardly be called “runs”. So, despite having 3 Ironman finishes to my name I don’t feel that I have succeeded in “hooking up” a decent overall race performance from start to finish.
The key to future success, therefore, was clearly to pace the bike in such a way to give myself energy enough for the run. The problem with this particular Ironman was that both bike and run would be extremely hilly so even if I paced the race correctly I expected to be quite a bit slower than my personal best (13:36:28 at Regensburg in 20 11). In fact, I would be pleased if I went under 15 hours.
The plan was to survive the swim, ride as steadily as possible on the bike and see what that left me for the run. The key element would be the bike and I decided on 2 things: keep my heart rate to 130 or below, especially on the hills; and make a promise to myself to not get into racing anyone.
After pacing, the second crucial element of any Ironman race plan is nutrition. In my first Ironman I got this badly wrong and the mix of fruity cereal bars, gels and savoury pretzel bars left me with significant gastric distress on the run. I sorted the impromptu toilet visits out by switching to 100% gels on the bike in my next 2 races, and this was successful but still left me with a lot of nausea and an unwillingness to take yet more gels at the end of the bike.
At Tenby, I went back to plan A, but with some significant differences. Firstly, I decided to switch to SIS gels instead of relying on the on course Powerbar gels. Having tried practically every gel on the market I have found that the formulation of the SIS gels is easier on my stomach. This is because they are more dilute than other gels and don’t require you to wash them down with water. The slight downside was that I’d have to carry them with me, but I felt that this was a price worth paying. Secondly, I switched from a fruit based cereal bar to 9Bar pumpkin bars with no fruit in. I was hoping that the lack of fructose would help. Finally I threw in a couple of packets of dried apple just for a change of texture and taste.?My planned consumption rate was 1 item every 25 with a ratio of 2 gels to every cereal bar or pack of dried fruit.
I tested this regime on a couple of really long training rides and encouragingly, my stomach felt sound throughout.
In the first part of the bike ride, sticking to 13o bpm felt criminally slow and quite a few folk burned past me, however as I went deeper and deeper into the ride I started passing more and more riders. In fact, I made up 18 places in my age group alone on the bike. The trouble was that by the last third of the bike the course was so hilly that maintaining even 130 bpm was proving difficult and I was averaging more like 125. What was worse, I was knackered to the point that I felt really disheartened and felt like giving up. However, soon after starting on the run I realised that I felt ok and could actually run. I had a really sticky patch after half distance but finished strongly. In fact, I felt I could have picked up the pace sooner were it not for the fact that I was walking with another competitor. I’m sure I could have set a personal best on the marathon course had I pushed it, quite remarkable considering the toughness of the bike course and the hilly nature of the run.
As for my nutrition plan, that too worked. The combination of gels, cereal bar and dried fruit worked well at the lower intensity, and although the last couple of hours of the bike leg were really tiring I kept eating throughout. By the time I set off on the run I had had enough of gels and electrolyte drink and switched to banana, flat coke and water. At no point did I feel nauseous or feel close to running out of energy. Result!
What have I learned?
Pacing the bike properly pays huge dividends down the line. This was my slowest and toughest Ironman to date, yet I crossed the line without having to go to the dark places I visited in previous races. The easier pace on the bike also helped with my nutrition as I could eat a more varied diet that helped prevent gastric distress further down the line. In all 3 of my previous Ironman races I have gone faster and faster on the bike and have fallen apart on the run. This time I didn’t.