Friday, October 20, 2017

Definition of insanity: IRONMAN Hawaii 2017

A couple of days after competing at IRONMAN Hawaii for the 6th time, I was watching one of the Real Housewives shows on Bravo and one of the women quoted the old adage: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results..."

Having just had yet another "ugly run" at IRONMAN Hawaii when I was hoping for a four hour marathon, I started to question my sanity! Of course, when I review my training, my preparation and my process for the World Championship race in 2017, I have done quite a few things differently this time, so I'll give myself some credit that I'm not entirely insane to have believed that I would run faster. However, I did just sign up for another IRONMAN race to give myself a shot at qualifying for 2018, so perhaps you can be the judge of my mental state...

But before I start dissecting the run and analyzing my race, I should go back to the beginning of the race. One week out from the IRONMAN, I competed once again in the Hoala training swim. It is a perfect way to physically rehearse the swim start and swim course as well as mentally wrap your mind around swimming 2.4 miles in Kailua Bay. In this year's Hoala swim, I did a 1:07:50, a PR by almost 3 minutes on my swim time in the 2016 IRONMAN race. It was a huge confidence boost that my swim form has continued to improve this year and I was hopeful that I might finally break through the 1:10 barrier.

Practice swim on one of the choppy days in the week prior
There had been a few rough days in the water in the week prior to the race with large swells and chop but race day looked to be relatively calm. I lined up far left and opted to target the third buoy to start the race and hopefully avoid the melée of the pier and buoy line. It was a relatively clean start and the swim conditions felt smooth and fast to the Royal Kona Hotel. As we neared the turnaround boat at 1.2 miles, the waves picked up and it seemed as if we were battling the current a little bit. I rounded the far turnaround in 33:XX minutes (compared to 30:XX the week prior) so I was a little concerned it might be a slow swim since the return trip to the pier is usually into a current and quite a few minutes slower. At this point the swim had also started to get messy as the AG women caught up with AG men from the wave that started 15 minutes prior. I had gone from following feet to now needing to check the color of the cap and then swim around a ton of men wearing blue caps. I was convinced my swim time was going to be long so when I got to the pier and saw 1:08:XX, I did a little internal fist bump!
New swim PR!
2005 --> 1:24:23
2009 --> 1:20:17
2010 --> 1:18:21
2013 --> 1:11:12
2016 --> 1:10:30
2017 --> 1:08:33

There's no fluke about  my swim time improvement over the years. It comes from swimming a lot  more, swimming a lot harder and finally finding enjoyment from swimming.
  • I swim 4-5x per week, including 2 swims with my coach Matt Dixon of Purple Patch, 1 swim with Team EveryMan Jack (3 tough swim sessions of 4k+) and 1-2 swims on my own which are often just easy 2k swims
  • So far this year, I've swum 570,000 yards so that puts me at about 14k yards/week
  • I make the most of swim toys using a buoy a lot of the time, a swim snorkel in almost every session for part of the workout, as well as fins from time to time. 
  • Paddles have been a big addition in 2017 with much more swimming with paddles in most workouts to build strength
Snorkel swimming
It's no surprise to anyone that the bike is my strongest and favorite discipline in triathlon and my bike training had been going incredibly well in the lead up to the race. I raced IRONMAN 70.3 Santa Cruz 5 weeks prior and recorded my best watts of the entire season (~190w) at the end of a big training week and felt great running off the bike. I also had some strong training rides that indicated I was perfectly primed for a strong ride again in Kona. In 2016 I recorded the second fastest bike split in my AG, a feat I put down to the separate female wave start in Kona. In the years 2005 to 2013, the men and women started together and I knew (witnessed) that the faster female AG swimmers benefited greatly from the male draft packs, and my strong cycling ability was effectively neutralized. With our own wave start, it means that it's mostly fellow women and older male athletes on the race course with me. A much cleaner race for the AG women! Having swam a couple of minutes faster this year, the course felt much more crowded from the start from even a year ago and it was a constant stream of passing fellow athletes for the entire Queen K section to Kawaihae. 
Climbing Palani
The winds were light for most of the way but we did get treated to a decent headwind between the Mauna Lani and the Kawaihae turn. This section was also super crowded on the bike with lots of passing and repassing by athletes. Makes me wonder if many of my fellow athletes don't understand the "drop back rule" as I passed a few women that would then immediately repass me rather than drop back during the headwind section.

The road to Hawi was fairly mellow as the crowds thinned out as the road turned uphill. The winds were relatively light on the way up, though we did have a bit of a headwind in the final 5 miles before the turnaround. I was feeling good and believed I was probably riding my way up through the AG as I passed a couple of women that I knew to be strong swimmers in my AG (Becky and Susanne) and I had also been passed by super-biker Jana, but much later in the race compared to last year. 

Feeling hot on the Queen K
I always look forward to the descent from Hawi to get the legs spinning and to feel the breeze as you crank the bike up to speeds 40mph+. There were some solid crosswinds to ensure I remained focused but nothing so crazy that I needed to get out of the aerobars. I was quickly back on the Queen K and wondering what Madame Pele had in store for the return trip. With clear blue skies and not a cloud in sight, it was starting to feel very hot. As I approached Waikoloa, I noticed the flags were almost still and knew that we would likely be very lucky with minimal headwinds on the way back to Kailua.

In the final 20km, the heat of the day started to get to me and I went from feeling great to feeling very hot. I even started to throw up anything I put into my body. I dialed back the effort level to see if that helped but I knew I was overheating, in spite of pouring cold water over my neck and head at every aid station. Thankfully I was almost back to the pier but I was very worried about the run. My bike time was just over 5:30 and my watts were in the low 160s, in line with past races, but lower than the ~170w I felt I was trained for. 

2005 --> 5:30:37
2009 --> 6:11:27
2010 --> 5:35:21
2013 --> 5:28:19
2016 --> 5:39:56
2017 --> 5:30:50

My transition was slowed by a quick outfit change, exchanging the Betty Designs aero jersey for a matching tank top, and adding more sunscreen. I was also still feeling pretty nauseous so that contributed to taking my time in T2. I started the run feeling pretty negative given the overheating and in hindsight, I counted myself out of the run before I even left T2. I'm not proud of my negative attitude for the first 10 miles of the run. Even when Rich told me I was in third place off the bike, all I could think was "well that's not going to last" rather than focusing on keeping myself cool and moving forward. There was no cloud cover on Ali'i and I just felt like it was getting hotter and hotter... and my mood was turning more sour.
Failing to #RunHappy
IRONMAN shuffle
I survived the out and back along Ali'i and saw Rich again when I returned to town, telling him that I was pulling out. Of course, credit to him for telling me that he wasn't going to let me. I walked up Hualalai to cheers from Beth and Luke McKenzie and Erin Klegstad, and was embarrassed that I was walking. As I turned the corner to head towards Palani, I was still contemplating jogging back to transition and turning in my chip. It was at that point that I saw Jan Frodeno, two-time defending champion, jogging the last mile of the race, getting it done in spite of having a bad day at the office. It was the first time during the run that I erased all thoughts of quitting the race and knew that I had to finish. I walked up Palani then pulled myself together for the last 16 miles of the race, running aid station to aid station and taking my time to cool down as much as possible while still moving forward.

Having run so slowly for the first 10 miles of the race, the legs were feeling okay in the energy lab section but as I exited, I suddenly had the most awful stitch in my right side that would persist almost all the way back to Palani. I desperately wanted to walk until the stitch went away but also needed to get to the finish as fast as possible so it was more of a limping run to minimize the pain. I crossed the line with a 4:27 marathon, a time split which leaves me embarrassed and not proud of my performance. I had trained for better but I mentally quit early in the marathon. I truly believe that I have a sub-4 hour marathon in me at this race, even though 6x Hawaii race experiences would appear to suggest otherwise. What is the definition of insanity?

2005 --> 4:06:35
2009 --> 4:46:17
2010 --> 4:15:51
2013 --> 4:07:24
2016 --> 4:15:47
2017 --> 4:27:10
Not smiling in the finish chute
Overall time:
Having exited the swim in 22nd place, I rode up to 3rd place and then moved backwards through the field to land in 24th place in my AG. If I had run closer to my goal time of 4 hours, I would have achieved my goal of a top ten placing. It's the first time I've ever had a better AG placing after the swim than at the end of the race. As disappointed as I am with the result, I am grateful that I am lucky enough to race in Hawaii, among a group of amazing athletes and with such a fantastic support crew. I really appreciated the cheers on race day and feel bad that I did not offer many smiles in return for your support. Mahalo.

2005 --> 11:11:10
2009 --> 12:55:28
2010 --> 11:19:39
2013 --> 10:58:19
2016 --> 11:15:52
2017 --> 11:16:43

What's next?
Even though I was hating myself and life during the first 10 miles of the run, cursing that I would never return to this race, it took me less than 48 hours to decide that I want to give it another go and prove that I can figure out racing in the heat. In early December, I'm heading to Mar del Plata in Argentina to test racing again in the heat and humidity. With Kona-like conditions, it will be a great opportunity to test my mental and physical fitness and see if I can improve on this year's Hawaii marathon. 

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