November 8th, 2016

South Park Blue Suit

A really long swim, a really long bike ride, then a really long run around Panama City in 10:21

For my first full Ironman race report (Ironman Florida 2016), I'll try interviewing myself in Q&A mode. Good to take additional questions at the end...

Q: How long...
A: (interrupting): 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run

Q: Yes - an ironman is an impressive distance - but I'm into endurance sports (which is why I'm reading your race report) and already knew that. What I was going to ask you was: how long have you been training for this and what sort of training did you do?

A: Apologies for the quick answer - as that seems to be the first question I get from friends and family. About a year ago, after getting a bit more comfortable racing marathons, olympic distance triathlons, and noticing I was already logging about 400 miles/month on my bikes, I figured an ironman was inevitable. With my love of food, I suspected that training for one would be a good way to continue indulging while keeping off the 100lb I've slowly shed over the last 4 years of retirement.

For this race, I upped my monthly riding mileage to about 700 miles/month for the past 4 months and started doing longer 80-120 mile rides every week or two along with some longer distance bike touring. I also became a bit more disciplined about doing more intense training rides each week, including a crazy fast Friday AM group ride. For swimming, although I took some lessons a few years ago when getting into triathlons and swam once/week (or a bit more around races), I started a formal ironman training plan of 3-4 pool sessions/week about 20 weeks back (w. 5000-9000 yards/week). For running, and with 3 marathons earlier this year including the Chicago marathon 4 weeks ago, I just kept up my usual marathon training (of about 45 miles/week - mostly garmin plans) after recovering with a back-to-back marathon bridge plan. I also started running immediately after biking every few rides to get my legs used to it.

For all of you data/trainingpeaks junkies, I picked up a power meter, kept 85% of my training in zone 1/2 (except most swims were intense), and managed to slowly build over the past year to a peak CTL of 155/day (55 run, 75 bike, 25 swim) two weeks or so before the race.

Q: I've seen a bunch of pictures with you at races in gear that says "Kennedy Law Racing/KLR". When did you come out of retirement to become a lawyer, and do you really like your firm that much?

A: After registering last November for Ironman Florida (IMFL), Ironman Florida 70.3 (half-distance) as my first half-iron distance race, and Ironman Augusta 70.3 as a warm up to this race, I realized that I'd need to add a bit more structure to my training. Although the internet and all of the usual triathlon forums/tools (slowtwitch, training peaks, Joe Friel's Blog & Book), along with some sounding board Ironman former colleagues in other cities were valuable resources throughout the process, I knew that having local training partners would keep me motivated and could help me answer my dumb questions about the race & process.

Having seen the local triathlon team Kennedy Law Racing having fun at a bunch of Tampa area races, I chatted with a team member before an Olympic distance triathlon last November, debunked my assumption that they were all just athletically inclined lawyers at a large local firm, and attended a few swim, bike, and run team practices. At those practices, I met some awesome triathletes (of which only one was actually a lawyer at Kennedy Law - a committed triathlete who sponsors the team) then officially drank the kool-aid and joined the team.

Q: Out of all of the Ironman races held around the world, why did you pick Ironman Florida (IMFL) instead of a more exotic spot?

A: When it came to picking my first race, Ironman Florida in Panama City seemed like it would be a good place to get my feet (and other parts) wet. Although the swim (my weakest discipline) is known as one of the most challenging Ironman swims, with a flat bike and run, it is definitely a favorite of first timers. With my parents 2 hours away in Tallahassee, it also seemed like a good spot as well to get them to come out to watch me race. After arriving 2 days before the race for pre-race briefings, packet pickup, bike drop, swim practice, and some hanging out with great teammates, I got to meander a bit around the area and found some neat spots. I'd definitely recommend the race as a first Ironman for decent swimmers who need a good family-friendly vacation spot on the beach.

Q: Never having raced anything this long before, what was your plan for pacing the race to avoid crashing & burning at the end?

A: Going into the race, I had recently completed two half-iron distance races (Augusta 70.3 in 4:43 in September, Florida 70.3 in 5:09 in April) and the Chicago marathon in 3:04 a month ago. Still, although I had data on how they went, how hard they felt, and how hard I could push myself, I really didn't know how those efforts would translate to 10+ hours of racing. Unlike the Chicago marathon, this race was run in the middle of the afternoon in 79 degree heat vs. cool 55 degree weather. Unlike Augusta, instead of swimming down river, I was swimming in choppy ocean water. Also, unlike Augusta, this bike course was 1/4 as hilly but had a 10mph wind blowing from the east.

From having experienced long distance races where I went out too hard, and crashed/burned late, as this was my first full ironman, I decided to try to be conservative with my plan. Although as they say "pain is temporary, internet results are forever", willing myself through a miserable marathon at the end wasn't my idea of a good day of racing.

From what I could dig up online, it looked like for non-pros a good goal for a full ironman was 2x your best half-ironman plus about an hour (i.e. 10:27 if you start with my Augusta time), and for the marathon at the end, running it 30 minutes slower than your best marathon pace was a good goal (i.e. 3:35 run). There was also some good heart rate & bike power guidelines I used for the race based off my Augusta race data (swim at 140bpm vs. 145bpm, bike at 143bpm vs. 152bpm, run at 150bpm vs. 165bpm). Given my fitness, I thought this would translate into about a 1:20 non-wetsuit swim, a 5:15 bike, and a 3:35 run plus about 10 minutes of playing dress up as the area for transitioning between each activity at the Florida race was huge. That would bring me in around the 10:20 mark, which I shared on facebook before the race, publicly committing me into sticking with the plan.

Q: So how was the swim?

A: About 3 hours before the start, they told us that the water had cooled overnight to a temperature where they allowed us to use wetsuits (which improve buoyancy and speed). Although I was optimistic that I could shave a few minutes off my 1:20 goal, after lining up with folks in the 1:10-1:20 group, during my first 1.2 mile lap I was repeatedly kicked, elbowed in the head, and had folks laterally sandwich me. I stopped kicking every minute as I felt stuff at my feet, I drank too much salt water, and the 10mph winds produced nausea inducing 3-4' swells mid-way through the course. All of this was par for the course from my other open water triathlon experiences, although the density of swimmers was really high, increasing the degree of chaos in the water.

Unfortunately, in addition to the usual discomfort, by the end of the first lap, something at the top of my wetsuit (the velcro zipper strap end) chafed my neck so badly that it started to hurt to turn my head to the right side (as I alternate sides breathing every 3 strokes - likely a mistake for a 1:20 swim).

After calming down a bit as I waded through the end of the first lap around the 38 minute mark, I changed plans for my second lap and swapped over to alternating between left breathing or putting more rotation into my front crawl and breast-stroke to avoid chafing and minimize leaving too big of a trail of blood in the water to attract sharks. This slowed me down to a 42 minute second lap, but the breast stroke every so often kept me swimming a straighter line, I could time it with the swells (to pick up speed on the downhill portion), and it made the swim a bit more manageable.

I finished the swim in 1:20:41 (slightly slow, but much more calm & relaxed), peeled down the wetsuit, ran through the showers, entered the transition area, then played a few minutes of uncoordinated dress-up before starting the bike portion of the race.

Swim details:
Course Distance: 2.4 miles (two 1.2 mile boxes)
Garmin Distance (I used my running watch which messes things up but measures heart rate on the wrist): 3.2 miles
Lap 1 - 38 min, Heart Rate 139
Lap 2 - 43 min, Heart Rate 130
Swim time:1:20:40, rank 744/2239 overall, 118/252 for 35-39 year old males.

Q: So, with the winds blowing from 10-15mph on the bike, how did your flat 112 mile ride go?

A: In short, I was pretty happy with my ride. I stuck with my nutrition plan (3000 calories via 90oz of gatorade & 9 clif bars), comfortably stayed on my aero bars, peed twice - a sign you both drank enough and have fully committed to your sport, eased up a bit more than I could have for the last half as my legs were getting mildly sore and I wanted to keep them fresher for the run, saw my parents at mile 55, chatted with 4 teammates, avoided the drafting packs, and managed a good pace despite 10-15mph winds from the northeast. I started the bike in 744th place and finished it in 176th place passing 600 folks on the course (mostly in the first 30 miles).

For the gory details on averages by quarter (ignore speed as wind throws it off):

Speed Heart Rate Avg Power
Miles 1-28    21.6 142   236
Miles 29-56  20.6 141   239
Miles 57-84  23.1 139   208
Miles 85-112 22.3 136   182
Total              21.6 140   217

Bike time: 5:11:23, rank (at end of bike) 176/2239 overall, 50/252 age group

Q: So you wrapped up the bike ok, and started on the run, how did it go?

A: After a full change of clothes into my team tank top & shorts (due to some chafing in a really uncomfortable place in my tri suit - and yes, I peed twice on the bike), I had some mishaps at the start. As my bike time was ahead of the photo location schedule I gave my dad, I had to slow down for a picture as I caught my dad by surprise 5 minutes early. I also had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction with an overloaded fuel belt (similar to Disney). After an unsettling 8:45 first mile, I settled into my target 8:15 marathon pace, and kept my heart rate within 5BPM of 150 for all but the first/last mile.

Q: From your other race reports, it looks like you've been good at gutting it out late in marathons and speeding up in the second half despite the usual pain/effort/walls. Did you do that at the end of this race?

A: In short, no. As it was my first ironman, and I wanted to enjoy the finish line experience, I just stuck with my target effort level and it led to my pace slightly slowing from 8:14/mile for the first 13 miles to an 8:26/mile for the second half as I started walking through each aid station and took a quick bathroom break due to the red bull, gatorade, and coke mixture in my stomach - to quote Egon from Ghostbusters "don't cross the streams". Still, I picked things up to a 7:40 pace for my last mile and a half to finish strong (and far enough ahead of a British guy from Albuquerque I chatted with during the second half and was on pace to finish alongside). On the plus side, I managed to pass about half of the 180 competitors ahead of me by the end of the run (42 first half, 47 second half).

Run Time: 3:38:20, 1:48/1:50 first/second half splits, Avg HR 149 (148/149 splits)

Q: How was the finish chute? Did you get the full "You are an Ironman" experience?

A: The finish line was definitely a special experience. I didn't arrive totally spent, and I enjoyed running through it much more than any other race. You can see the video on my facebook feed/team feed/public profile page, and as I crossed the line solo as things weren't too crowded at that point, I got to hear my name and the traditional "you are an ironman" shout-out from their backup announcer as the race MC was on break. An awesome friend caught a great picture of me at the line and my dad got a good picture as well.

Finish time: 10:21:27, 87/2239 overall (top 4%), 29/252 Males 35-39 (top 12%)

Q: Now that you've done your first ironman, what's next on the horizon?

A: I'm going to take a week or so off before resuming my training and signing up for more races. I have a 10K lined up in Vegas next weekend that I won't full-out race (as it is just a social trip with some friends), but my racing calendar is totally empty otherwise. I plan to sign up for the 2018 Boston Marathon next September though as my 3:04:57 marathon last month in Chicago should be good enough to register (as a 40-44 year old).

With my strong Augusta 70.3 half-ironman distance 4:43 race in September, now that I'm moving up to the mid-life-crisis 40-44 year old age group in January, I'm toying with an early 2017 race to try to qualify for the Ironman 70.3 2017 World Championship in Chattanooga. I think with some good training and the right race, I might be able to snag a slot if I can improve my swim and finish around my Augusta time.

Beyond that, I'd like to do another Ironman so I can squeeze under the 10 hour mark, but I'll likely try a different course that suits my biking/running strengths, and try to shave some body weight (as most other bike courses have more than 1,100 feet of climbing). Although I finished in the top 4% overall and top 12% for my age group (vs. top 2%/4% in Augusta at the half distance), I feel like I left a bit too much time at various points of the course, and now that I have a feel for the distance, I think I can be a bit more aggressive. It'll take another few years of training and some eye-bleeding effort to squeeze out a top 1% finish to get to Kona, but I'll take it one step at a time.

Otherwise, with winter coming up, I'm just planning on hosting lots of winter guests down on the beach, so come on down to join me for a run, bike ride, or just some relaxing!

Q: Thanks for taking the time out of your schedule to answer these questions. Any other thoughts or secret tips/tricks you care to share?

A: Tip #1: Join a triathlon team or community. In addition to awesome organized training opportunities, I was able to get some great insights from my KLR teammates into nutrition, what to wear/bring/put in bags, how to approach the race, and what equipment to use. After our Friday & Wednesday rides, teammates are always able to patiently answer almost any question (no matter how dumb), and being able to spend time in pacelines with 5 folks who've recently competed/are competing at the Ironman World Championship in Kona is always a huge confidence builder.

Moreso, being able to exchange high fives with 20 teammates on the run course, and even share a few words of encouragement with them on the bike was a massive boost in a 10 hour race. Hanging out with them at the race site (especially when you travel solo) is a big plus as well, and our team-affiliated shop (Clearwater Bicycle Company) and shop manager has been a great resource for wheels, equipment, service, and encouragement.

Tip #2: Training with power has been a nice boost to my biking. It gives me some objective feedback and a bit more structure for workouts. Although on flat courses like Florida, heart rate is a pretty good proxy for effort, training with it definitely kept me from working too hard into headwinds, or letting up on downhills/tailwinds, and you'd be surprised how seeing an objective (wind-adjusted) number to shoot for on your bike computer screen makes you work harder.

Tip #3: Plant a photographer! Luckily my dad and mom lived nearby to the course and both were able to see me race for the first time (I think it may have been the first sporting event they attended since my ill fated 2 year stint as a 7-8 year old in little league). As my dad enjoys his photography hobby, he brought along the camera and got some good shots on the run & bike course (along with a few other team photographers).

Tip #4: Make sure you have the time to train. Although one very fit and athletically inclined former colleague/ultramarathoner survived his first Ironman last year in 14.5 hours with about 2-3 hours/week of run/bike/swim training time, for non-athletically inclined folks like myself who were never fast enough to make their school's track/cross country/swim/hand-eye-coordination sportsball team, or even finish their 9th grade 100 yard dash in under 19 seconds (despite looking like an x-country runner), getting to this point took me an average of 18 hours/week of biking, swimming, and running. Definitely curious where I'll top out as I'm still pretty new to this and not athletically gifted or built, but I'm enjoying the journey.

Q: Anyhow, that's all for this race report Q&A session. Thanks for taking the time to both think of and answer these questions.

A: You're welcome! Big thanks to any readers who managed to make it to this point of my race report.