Friday, October 18, 2013

Hawaii Ironman World Championships:heat acclimation and the bike

Before I start talking about the bike and run in Hawaii, I should back up about two weeks prior to race day when I started what I will call "the sauna protocol". Living in San Francisco where it's 65f all year long, give or take 5 degrees, is not ideal preparation for a race in temperatures of 85f+ with high humidity. To prepare my body to acclimate to the heat as quickly as possible on arrival in Hawaii, 12 days prior to departure, I spent ~25-30mins in the sauna each day after workouts for an entire week. I found it mentally and physically challenging to sit in the sauna (without hydrating) for that long... the first 15 minutes would be fine, but as soon as I started sweating profusely, and my body was challenged to dissipate heat, it was uncomfortable to the point of unbearable. However, I do think it helped me from both a mental and physical perspective to prepare for the sticky climate of Hawaii. Prior to race day, I felt very comfortable riding and running around. More comfortable than I have ever felt in the past... to the point that I am now a little less fearful of the Hawaiian conditions.

The couple that sweats together...
 Getting out of the swim, my immediate concern in T1 was getting a solid application of sunscreen. Blanco had awful burns after Los Cabos and it pained me to see his skin so raw. For me, no race is worth the price of my health and skin, even if it did mean that T1 was a lazy looking 5 minutes.

Once on the bike, my goal was to ride easy through town and most of the way towards Kawaihae. In contrast to other Ironman races, I did not attack the bike with my usual gusto, maintaining watts on the very conservative side. In hindsight, I wish I had pushed things a little harder since I do have the bike fitness, but at the time, I was concerned mostly with the heat and about having a good overall race. I was hitting time checks that felt familiar to prior races (1:45 out to Kawaihae, several miles into the Hawi climb before I saw the pros descending). I was a little astonished when I hit 56 miles in 2hrs 29mins and I thought to myself that we would be *paying* for that later in the race. We had a tailwind all the way up to Hawi which made for a speedy trip to the turnaround.

Somewhere in the lava fields
As I climbed up, I was able to take note of a few friends in the pro race. Luke McKenzie was right up there in the men's race, as was Meredith Kessler in the women's race. Their green Saucony kits are instantly recognizable. Aside from the pro race, the other thing myself and other athletes commented on was the huge number of amateurs packs making the descent from Hawi. There were many familiar faces in those packs. I could rant about it and call out names but given the tailwind up the Hawi climb, I can see how it was difficult to separate the huge number of high caliber athletes. The race is getting bigger (almost 2100 athletes), amateurs are getting stronger, the competition is intense and no one seems willing to give an inch in this environment.

I struggled with the water bottle and my rear cage!
The descent from Hawi was fun and without any gusting sidewinds, there was zero reason to be out of the aero bars. This was probably my strongest part of the course as I seemed to pass a lot of athletes that descended more tentatively and did not ride the rollers before Kawaihae very well. At this point of the race, my legs felt great although I had switched to drinking Perform and was not enjoying the taste. Given the earlier tailwinds, I was expecting the headwinds to show up around Waikoloa and I was not wrong. The day had also started to heat up quite nicely and at this point my feet had begun to swell and were painful to push down on the pedals. I tried to cool them off with ice cold water at each aid station but if offered only temporary relief. I had faced a similar problem in 2009 and I thought I had solved the problem with different shoes... apparently not. I was frustrated since I had trained to really push the watts in the last 30 miles of the race but the discomfort in the balls of my feet was distracting. I was also a little uncomfortable with my saddle/shorts combo after 90 miles... "feet and butt" are two issues to fix before my next Ironman!

Getting out of my shoes was a relief.
Thankfully, it was a fast day out there, so even with my conservative ride (160w average is low for me), I was back in T2 after 5hrs 28mins... relieved to get out of my bike shoes and excited to finally be on the final leg of the race.

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