After gaining the knowledge within a masters program on proper training, I was anxious to start this new Ironman journey in November of 2014. The journey would take me through May 16th 2015 (race day) and I was going to see just how balanced I could keep my life while still being productive as an athlete. My goal for this year wasn’t to focus on distance or time, but rather on a new training metric that I have been using for the past 2 years (actually not new in the fitness world). This metric is called Training Stress Score which can be read in its entirety if you check out Coggan and Allen’s book “training and racing with a power meter”. Essentially what it does is takes the intensity that you are working at (in relation to your max 1 hour output) and gives you a certain training stress for that day’s activities. By monitoring fitness through specific training zones that are customized to me, I knew that I could become extremely efficient in my training but also my usage of time to keep my life balanced. So in order to get this blog post moving, I’ll just say that instead of having a time goal for Ironman, my only goal was to go into the race with an average TSS for the past 3 months of 110 (also known as CTL). In my mind this made things extremely specific, but very attainable. I was in control of how much and how intense I wanted to train.
As my training progressed from November to May, my CTL started at 40 tss/day and ended at its highest peak right at 104.1. I came up a couple tss/day short of my goal, but I was extremely proud in my build as it had included many good days but also many bad days. However, by staying focused on those numbers that were entirely within my control, it allowed me to really schedule my weeks out in advance and make things extremely easy from a logistical planning viewpoint. While my time wasn’t a concern to me in terms of training, I did end up averaging right around 12 hours/week the last 4.5 months of training. This was nearly 4-6 hours under where I was at for Louisville, but all of my performance indicators were much higher. I had gone from a 1:38 half marathon down to a 1:26 half as well as having pushed my cycling functional threshold power upwards of 310. In terms of the pool, I viewed my time in the water as the least significant due to its short nature during a race. So, while Louisville had me in the pool 3-5 days a week and doing very specific and hard efforts, this ironman only saw me in the pool 1-2 times a week with the majority of my focus being on the bike and run.
As far as big distance for training, I honestly never hit super big numbers because of the consistency of my training. Looking back on it now, maybe I should have added in a couple century rides, but at the end of the day, my longest bike ride in the 6 months leading up to race day was 65 miles. While this is shocking for some, I justified it by the intensity at which it was done. I looked at what a 100 mile ride at Ironman pace would net me for TSS (200 roughly) and I made up a workout that would net me 200 TSS for 65 miles. At the end of all my training, while the distance wasn’t there, the efficiency was and I ended up cycling a fast bike split on race day that was very controlled.
On actual race day my biggest fear was not having put in the long distance miles. I knew from a physiological standpoint that I would be fine, but the mental uncertainty of not having done big miles is a scary thing. So, I jumped in the water with my longest swim being 3500 yards (IM is 4400 yards roughly) and started on the journey. I knew the swim was going to be my weakest point and I had the goal of getting out between 1:10 and 1:15. Upon exiting the swim, I actually didn’t even look at the clock because I didn’t want it to play mind games with me. I thought it was a slow swim as I couldn’t find a groove, but it actually ended up being 1:14:xx which was spot on for me. I headed into transition and got all my cycling gear on before heading out onto the course!
On the bike my only goal was to ride at 70-74% of my FTP to ensure that I could run off the bike. I had done a ton of calculations prior to the race to know how hard I could push the bike and still feel somewhat fine coming off the bike. So, now instead of worrying about wind, speed, flats, etc… the only thought on my mind was holding my power at 205-215 watts. The first 50 miles of the bike were smoking fast and I was averaging roughly 195-205 watts which was a bit below where I wanted to be. While it was below what I wanted and could have biked, I knew it was going to be hot so I just stayed in my aero position and kept racking up the miles while conserving precious energy. By mile 60 I had caught up with a group of 2-3 guys that were performing a legal draft pack. The last 50 miles also happened to be in the wind so it was very tempting to latch on the back even though I had caught them and was cycling a bit faster. However, after passing them I looked down at my power meter and realized in order to pass them I had been putting out 250 watts. At this point I decided I would be conservative again and sit in with this group and keep my legal spacing with them. In triathlon it is required that you ride 5-7 bike lengths apart as to not get a drafting penalty. The group was pretty good about this and we had a course marshall/referee with us for many of the miles making sure we were riding in the correct manner. From mile 65-95 I was lucky enough to sit towards the back of this 3 man group and saw my watts sink all the way down to 180 while still maintaining my pace. In my mind I thought this was the perfect situation for me and I just focused on getting my nutrition down. The final 20 miles saw me take the lead as the pace fell off a bit. By the end of my 112 mile ride, I had worked my way all the way to 114th position overall (including pro’s) which felt good. My power goal was 205-215, but I ended up averaging 204 watts while riding a 4:51:xx.
Onto the run which I knew was going to be the make or break point of the race. I came off the bike and was running a sub 7 min pace for the first mile and knew that was going to be too fast as my goal target was 7:45-8:15/mile pace. By mile 5 I had slipped down to 8:30/mile and knew that it was going to be a tough day to run as the temperature was really heating up. I shifted my goal away from the 7:45-8:15/mile pace and instead focused on staying calm and controlling as much as I possibly could (getting in water and fluids at aid stations, trying to keep my run effort at a 6/10 level). By mile 13 I had crossed the half marathon point at a solid 1:50 (solid for the heat) and I was fairly pleased with that. However, I soon turned onto the roads of the 2nd loop of the run which were relentless with heat and sun. I really struggled those last 10-12 miles to just run as I was taking unexpected walk breaks to try and bring my effort levels back down. I ended up running a 4:21:xx which is just shy of 10:00/mile pace. Overall I knew that the run had cost me but I also knew that I wasn’t prepared for the heat and that I had no control over the weather.
At the end of the day I was overwhelmed with emotions and extremely proud of what I had accomplished. No I didn’t break 10 hours which was a silent goal of mine, but I did prepare in a manner that allowed me to keep a balanced life, maintain my grades in grad school, build my coaching business, and most importantly keep all my friends, family, and fiancé close to me through this journey. There are some things that I will tweak for my next big Ironman Journey, but I am extremely pleased with the end result and know that I had controlled everything that I could in preparations for the race. I feel like with the recipe I found for success at IMTX and the passion I have to keep on learning for both my athletes and myself, it is only going to be a matter of time before everything comes together in many aspects of life. I know that the key to success is keeping things in balance and never letting yourself wonder based on uncontrollable goals. I’m extremely thankful for all the support I received and I’m anxious to see what the future has in store.