Sunday, 6 November 2011

2010 - The road to Ironman

Although 2009 held some mixed results, I was happy with the way the season went and I was feeling much more confident in my ability after finishing the Kelowna Olympic distance race in 2h 22min. Without race wheels or even a triathlon specific bike, I had managed to finish the race with a pretty respectable time. It wasn't enough though, I wanted to be competitive. My goal for 2010 was to be on the podium in my age category for as many races as possible.

New Bike for the 2010 Race Season

In October, I purchased a Cervelo P2C with Dura-Ace components and three months later I purchased a set of Zipp carbon race wheels. I decided on the 1080/808 combo since it is a pretty good all around wheel set. I also bought an aero helmet and a good pair of triathlon specific bike shoes. No more excuses, I had all the equipment I needed to be fast. It would all come down to how hard I would work.

During the previous off season, I hadn't done any training at all. If I was going to become faster, I needed to work harder. I invested in a bike trainer and did two spin workouts per week at home. It wasn't much, but it made a big difference compared to the year before. When I started riding outdoors again with the tri club, I was much stronger and already had a bit of a base to work with. Although I was hesitant to do so at first, I rode with the fast Ironman group. It was awesome. I signed up for Michelle Martin's spin session on Wednesday nights and did a third bike workout, usually on Sunday. The third workout was usually some kind of speed interval workout that I would make up each week. You can't get faster without doing quality workouts. At the time, I was only training around 7 hours most weeks but I was pushing myself hard and getting results.

I was only swimming two nights a week with the club but it was enough to improve my technique. Running was coming along fairly well but I had a nagging knee injury that was really starting to bug me during rides. It turned out to be a torn meniscus. My only option was to have surgery before it could get any worse. Although I was worried about the affect it would have on my training, I was confident that I could recover in time to have a decent race at Ironman five and half months later. One of my friends, Micheal Benedetto, had had the same surgery the year before, in June, and had completed Ironman Canada in a very respectable time. Leading up to the surgery, I had built my running up to 24km. After the surgery, I had to take 4 weeks completely off from running and one week off of biking. After having surgery, most people would probably take a couple of months off from racing but I had signed up for the Delta Sprint Triathlon and I really didn't want to miss the opportunity to test myself. To help my recovery, I biked on the trainer 3 or 4 times a week and still got out to do the long rides with the club on Saturdays. When I started running again, I had to ease into it with only 15 to 20 mins at a time but my fitness was still really good because of all the biking.

UBC Triathlon 2010

The Delta Triathlon was a breakthrough race for me. I finished in 1:03:35 which was good enough for 10th overall and 2nd in my age category. I had averaged over 39kph on the bike! To put things into perspective, the previous year at the Victoria Sprint Triathlon, I had averaged 31.6kph. My transition speed and sprint finish had also paid off; I beat three people by four seconds or less. I was more confident than ever.

The next race was the UBC Olympic Distance Triathlon in mid May. I finished that one in 2h 18min. I was hoping to get under 2h 15min but, considering that the run was 500m too long and it was a pool swim (which is always slower for me), I was pretty happy with the result. I had also placed 3rd in my age category. It's hard to complain much when the first two races of the season are both new PRs. It would set a trend for the rest of the year...

Going into 2010, my goal for the Half Iron distance was to get under 5 hours. Considering how things were going and the speeds that I was holding during my threshold workouts, I started to revise my goals. Maybe I could get under 4h 50min? I raced at the Shawnigan Lake Half Iron two weeks after the UBC Triathlon. The swim didn't go very well. My goggles filled up with water five or six times but I was able to pass ten people in T1 with a quick and organized transition (from 35th to 25th without any extra effort!). I also passed fifteen people on the bike course and ended up finishing in 8th place with a time of 4h 38min. This was way better than the sub 5 hour goal that I had originally set for myself.

Shawnigan Lake Half Iron 2010

In June, I raced at the Victoria Sprint Triathlon. Although I felt terrible during the swim and I had a really bad run due to an abdominal stitch, I still managed to finish in 1:02:11 which was good enough for 8th. The highlight of this race was that I had the 2nd fastest bike split behind elite athlete, Kelly Guest. I was only around 30 seconds slower than him and on top of that, I had dropped my chain on a hill and had to get off my bike to fix it. Major confidence boost.

Vancouver Half Iron 2010
 The next event was the Vancouver Half Iron. That race was really important to me. It was the BC Long Course Provincial Championship. I was really focused and had been visualizing the win (in my category) for a few weeks. I really wanted to be the provincial champion. In 2009, Paul Harrison had won my age group in 4h 30min so it wasn't going to be easy. I had to go under that time to have a chance which meant pulling all three disciplines together. At the Victoria Sprint two weeks before, I did the 500m swim at an average pace of 1m 38sec per 100m, and it was really hard. I had muscled throught the swim and it felt awful. It made me really angry. I needed to improve my stroke efficiency and be smoother in the water. The very next day after the race, I started working on my stroke and over the next few days I made a big breakthrough. One of my swim coaches, former Canadian Olympic Team swimmer, Mark Johnston, had told me that to swim faster I needed to swim slower. I had to lengthen my stroke. I had been pulling my hand out of the water at my hip so that I could increase my stroke rate, thinking that this would make me faster. During the Vancouver Half Iron, I focused on finishing my stroke all the way down to my thigh and breathing every 3rd stroke. I ended up doing the swim in 30m 32sec which was an average of 1m 37sec per 100m. A faster average pace than at the 500m victoria Sprint and it actually felt easy this time! After that, I rode the 91km bike course in 2h 27min (which included a minor crash due to some misdirection from a volunteer...) and ran the 20km run in 1h 25min, finishing with a time of 4h 26min. I had done it, I was the 2010 provincial champion in my category! I recovered so fast that I decided to race again the next weekend in Squamish.

Squamish Triathlon 2010

The Squamish Olympic distance triathlon was the first triathlon I had ever done, back in 2008. I wanted to test my fitness out compared to then. Ironman was my main focus, so I couldn't afford to taper for the race. The day before the race, I biked up Cypress mountain with the UBC triathlon club (approximately 100km total). I had a good swim, holding the same pace as the week before. The 37km bike leg was awesome, I had the second fasted split of the day, behind Ian Young, and actually broke the previous bike course record. The run was tough, with some rocky trails, but I managed to hold on for 5th place overall with a time of 2h 5min. I was moving up in the rankings and feeling really confident about my biking.

Next up was the Sooke Sprint Triathlon. This was meant to be a speed workout in preparation for Ironman. I wasn't taking it very seriously and in fact, the morning of the race I didn't even fell like racing at all. I hadn't slept very well, and remember being tired and not caring too much. Despite feeling lazy that morning, I had a good swim (exiting the water in 10th place) and quickly moved my way up to 2nd by the end of the 26km bike course. Although my running was getting better, it was still my weakest discipline and I ended up placing 3rd overall and missing the second spot by only five seconds. I wasn't disappointed; it was my first overall podium finish! I even got a bouquet of flowers which I gave to Laura when she crossed the line after finishing the Olympic distance race.

Sooke Triathlon Podium Finish

Only one more triathlon left for the season. The time had finally come, I was going to be an Ironman. Originally, when I signed up for Ironman the previous year, my goal was to finish in under twelve hours. During the season I had to revise my goals. After seeing the progression of my race results during the summer, Laura's dad had made a guess that I would finish in 10h 36min. I was flattered that he believed I had it in me but I still wasn't sure that I could even go under eleven hours. As I got closer to race day though, I realized that I might even be able to go under ten hours if I got everything right. Training and racing was going well but I was still only running once or twice a week due to the nagging after-effects of the surgery earlier in the spring.

Ironman Canada 2010

I was a little worried about the run, but I felt pretty confident that I could have a good race if I paced myself properly and stuck to my nutrition plan.  Although he wasn't coaching me (yet), I had gotten some helpful advice from coach Bjoern Ossenbrink from Lifesport Coaching about nutrition and also a confirmation that my pacing strategy was good. Everyone always seems to talk about how crazy the swim is at Ironman Canada (with 2732 starting the race that year!) so I wasn't too sure what to expect. The thought of starting with so many people around me was a little unnerving so I decided that the best strategy would be to start at the front middle of the pack. The strategy paid off. I had an amazing swim and never had any problems with any other swimmers. I drafted the whole way and actually finished with a higher average pace than both of the half irons that I'd done earlier that summer. My ultimate goal was to go under one hour and I had succeeded, finishing the swim in 59m 16sec. My goal for the bike course was to finish in under 5h 20min. I was almost on track but I struggled towards the end when it started to hail at the top of yellow lake. The crazy gusts of wind coming down the mountain were also a bit of a challenge. I was cold during the descent and I had trouble getting my heart rate back up on the way in to town. I finished the bike leg in 5h 26min. I needed to nail the run if was going to go sub ten hours. My goal for the run was to finish in 3h 30min. To get under ten hours, I needed to run a 3h 29min marathon... I was cutting it pretty close. I completed the first half of the run in 1h 45min which was right on track but I was starting to slow down... I had some trouble with nutrition at the begining of the run and didn't eat as much as I had planned. By the time I started to eat properly again, my body was slowing down. I did the second half of the run in 1h 58min for a total run time of 3h 43min. I finished Ironman in 10h 14min.

Ironman Canada 2010

It felt great to finally finish an Ironman race, but it was bittersweet. I was happy to be an "Ironman" but it wasn't enough for me anymore. I didn't want to be a finisher anymore, I wanted to be competitive. I had come pretty close to getting under 10 hours but I fell short and I wasn't satisfied with my result. I knew that I could do much better. Since I had only averaged under 10 hours of training per week in 2010, I knew that I could do better if I had a proper training program. I decided that I would take the year off from Ironman in 2011 and focus on the Half Iron distance so that I could work on my speed. I had some success coaching myself but I wanted to be competitive, I needed a coach.

Next post: Learning How to Run

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