Thursday, April 22, 2010

IM Bike Execution: Using RPE, Power and HR


Racing to the best of your ability in an Ironman is not about being fast. It’s about being smart. It’s about maximizing knowledge and tools at your disposal to turn out your best performance possible. On the bike portion specifically, it boils down to effective planning. With several years of IM races, including Kona, under my belt, as well as prior triathlon coaching experience, I’ve found success with the following approach to developing an effective IM bike plan. The framework is based on a philosophy of racing against yourself rather than others. It’s about focusing on the variables you can control and ignoring the ones you can’t control. Some people have described it as “racing in a box.” Its basis for execution comes from writing a pre-race plan that is primarily strategic (i.e., static) in nature but tactical (i.e., dynamic) enough to adapt to unforeseen circumstances or changing conditions.

The ideal race-execution plan, in my opinion, leverages three major tools – 1) rate of perceived exertion, 2) power and 3) heart rate. Rate of perceived exertion is an internal gauge that racers must analyze on their own, while the bulk of this article will cover more easily measured – and manipulated -- power considerations. I will also touch briefly on heart rate, which is often overlooked in IM when using power.

One important issue that I will not be addressing is nutrition/hydration. This specific area is highly individualized and merits a separate article. The following information presupposes that your nutrition/hydration needs are being adequately addressed leading up to and during race day.

Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)

While power and heart-rate tools provide objective measurements, RPE is harder to quantify. Regardless, it is probably the primary meter for determining proper pacing on the IM bike. RPE is simply that “feeling” of how hard you believe your body is working. There have been several attempts to quantify RPE with the use of scales, but I’m not here to tell you the IM bike should be done at a specific number on Borg’s scale. IM RPE is something that is fine-tuned through hours and hours of long ride training. Leveraging this experience can be the most significant tool in helping you determine what RPE is appropriate for the IM bike. Unfortunately, race-day excitement and ego can have this strange psychological impact on your pace-judgment skills. In addition, even for those who are known to be well-disciplined overall, RPE can still be very deceiving at times. For example, how many of you have felt totally fresh in the first 20 or so miles yet have been guilty of riding well above the effort you could sustain for 112 miles? That type of effort will always come at a cost later in your race.

I believe the most significant lesson to learn regarding RPE is to know when you need to listen to it versus when you need to ignore it. The general rule of thumb is to always ignore your RPE when it’s telling you to go harder and use it as the primary meter when it’s telling you to slow down. In other words, even if your current power is slightly below your target but your RPE is telling you to slow down, you should listen to your RPE in this case.


Four elements define our ability to determine proper pacing using power:

1. Functional Threshold Power (FTP)

The concept of FTP was introduced via the Normalized Power Concept and is the foundation for the framework. If you’re not familiar with the NP Concept, then I highly suggest you take some time now to learn the concept before continuing forward. The best place to start is at the following Web site:

However, in case you want to get through this article first before reading the above, I’ll provide some quick definitions here:

• Normalized Power (NP) – An algorithm that provides a better measure of the true physiological cost or training intensity of a given workout than average power provides.

• Intensity Factor (IF) – A ratio of NP to FTP which allows the differences in fitness between individuals to be taken into consideration.

• Training Stress Score (TSS) – A value that quantifies overall training load or the physiological cost of a ride by taking into consideration the interaction between training intensity and volume/duration.

Establishing your FTP is the pragmatic or functional approach to determining power at lactate threshold (LT). Power at LT is one the most accurate predictors of endurance performance ability. By definition, FTP is the highest power you can maintain in a steady state (or quasi-steady state) for a prolonged period of time (i.e., ~1 hour) without fatiguing. Fatigue is indicative of your inability to sustain target power, which is evident in your power profile. For example, more than a 2-percent drop in power anywhere after the first ~10 minutes is evidence of fatigue.

There are several well-documented ways of establishing your FTP (see: or

You can use any one or multiple ways to determine your FTP for training, but there are additional factors you should consider when fine tuning your FTP for IM execution. Those factors are:

• An emphasis on race specificity (i.e., low-variable power in your race position at race cadence)

• An emphasis on 4 to 6-hour Maximum Power (MP) from training

• An emphasis on 30-minute and 60-minute MP from race data (e.g., Sprints and Olys)

Note: The evaluation of MP should always be based on normalized power, not average power. In addition, by stating MP I’m not suggesting you’re required to do a 4 to 6-hour TT. However, there’s an IM proverb to keep in mind, “The IM bike should be your easiest long ride of the year.” In other words, your long rides should be tough and challenging, e.g., >IF = .77, but not so hard that you can’t run about 30 minutes off the bike.

Being able to sustain high relative power in a reasonably aggressive aero position for 1 hour is one thing. Being able to sustain high relative power in a reasonably aggressive aero position for 5-plus hours is a completely different challenge. So, if you haven’t spent an appropriate amount of time doing race-specific preparation training, then depending solely on short-interval power testing to establish your FTP might lead to some disappointment on race day. Therefore, the evaluation of your long ride data from training can help you determine if the lack of specificity training might be a concern. There’s a concept known as “Raise the left, fill the right,” which is in reference to your power-duration curve. “Raise the left” refers to an emphasis on raising your FTP, and “fill the right” refers to an emphasis on maintaining high relative power for an extended period of time. As stated earlier, that extended period of time is around 4 to 6 hours, and high relative MP would be considered to be an IF of .75 at a minimum – ideally higher. So if your 5-hour MP is less than .75 then a more conservative estimate of your FTP would be recommended, and possibly a greater emphasis on specificity training during your long rides is required.

Note: How you train will certainly have some influence on your typical long-ride power. For example, athletes who train something like ~20hrs/week on the bike might have relatively lower IFs for their long rides. In addition, those who place emphasis on high-intensity interval training during race prep might tend to ride easier during their long rides. However, in either of those situations I think it's important for the athlete to take at least a couple of weeks to see how comfortable they are doing some 4 to 6hr long rides at IFs > .77 and still not be too shelled to run off the bike for ~30 minutes.

When field testing, some people have a tendency to choose the position in which they can produce or sustain the most power for an interval, and that’s not necessarily their race position. That’s probably fine for establishing power training levels, but your goal for racing is to make sure your FTP is truly reflective of power you can sustain in your race position. All FTP testing should be done in your race position.

What I’ve discovered is that the longer you’ve been training and racing with power, the less dependent you need to be on FTP field testing. Race data can often provide you with a more accurate reflection of your FTP than field testing, since a lack of motivation is rarely a factor when racing. I know many people, including myself, who dearly struggle to get properly motivated for an FTP field test.

An appropriate pace for the entire IM bike is based on a percent range of FTP. You can think of this target as your “power reserve.” Please see: for more detail on the concept of power reserve. More importantly, real-time execution based on a pre-race plan is the best approach to achieving this target. Your pre-race plan should include real-time power targets for the flats, short climbs (includes rollers) and long climbs, which are all defined independently of wind conditions.

Before I define these real-time power targets for different course terrain (to be addressed in the “Execution” section below), I need to discuss an appropriate target for the entire IM bike, since it’s the basis for determining your real-time power target on the flats.

Personal experience, extensive research and work done with other coaches have determined an appropriate target for the IM bike to be between an IF of .67 to .78. The reason why the range is so wide is because we need to consider the amount of time you’re on the bike in addition to the three other factors described below (in sections 2, 3 and 4).

Our research also determined that a TSS <290 is the appropriate amount of stress to allow a well-trained athlete to have a good IM run. In other words, we start to see a steady increase in the number of athletes blowing up or slowing down significantly on the run when they have accrued a TSS >300.

Note: I’m defining greater than 75% T pace (Daniels) as a good IM run. However, my personal belief is that 80% of T pace is probably very close to an IM athlete’s true potential.

Using the chart above we can find the appropriate TSS target zones for a range of projected bike splits (between 4:30 and 6:30). We can now see why an athlete can potentially yield IFs as high as .77-.78, in theory, on the IM bike and still be in a good position to run well. If you’re on the bike for <4:45, an IF >.75 is still quite rare and is much more the exception than the rule. In addition, for those who bike >6:30, time is simply working against you. My experience says that you’ll likely execute similar run times for an IM bike leg yielding an IF of .67 versus .70. Unfortunately our research doesn’t have very good data for athletes who ride >6:30 since the athlete is often doing some amount of walking during the run in either case.

Lastly, for a broader perspective on the usefulness of TSS, please see the following link:

Now that I’ve explained how the use of TSS/IF/NP is ideal for establishing the physiological cost of the ride, I need to explain how you can achieve the fastest bike split for a given physiological cost. The amount of variability in your ride is critical to achieving the fastest bike split. Variability is determined by dividing normalized power (NP) by average power (AP). This is known as the Variability Index (VI). Modeling has easily determined that the highest AP for a given NP on a completely flat course will yield the fastest time. However, it’s a bit trickier when we’re dealing with a rolling or hilly course. Some amount of variability is required -- the question is how much. The following graph demonstrates the optimal power for a given gradient for an athlete who is targeting ~205w in the flats:

Note: This graph is the result of extensive analysis performed by several individuals. Everyone who has performed this modeling arrives at the same result. Keep in mind that the model doesn't understand that the athlete is limited in gearing. For example, it's quite typical to run out of gears around 35mph.

If you were to apply power as prescribed in this graph on one of the hillier IM NA Sports course out there (e.g., IM Wisconsin, IM Lake Placid), your VI would be no greater than 1.04-1.05. Remember though, this is what modeling has determined. There are other factors to consider. These factors can include wind conditions and how many bikes are around you on the course. VIs in the area of 1.04 on most any course would be considered a solid steady ride, and assuming these rides yield an IF of less than .75, they almost always have the following characteristics:

• Not riding the hills too hard

• Not coasting too much

• Very few power spikes or quick surges

Note: I will quantify “too hard” and “too much” within the “Execution” section below.

In other words, if you were to analyze the power data of a well-executed IM bike performance in small 30-second chunks over similar course terrain, it would look very consistent. However, do not confuse a low VI with being consistent across the entire ride (i.e., even power splits between first and second half). It’s still possible to have a low VI with a declining power profile. We often see this behavior by professional racers at IMH due to a tactical need to keep the race “in touch” or to catch the draft-legal train toward the front of the pack.

2. External Conditions

As I stated above, a fundamental principle behind the framework is that it’s based on conditions we can control and not ones we can’t control. We can’t control the weather and we can’t control other individuals. I don’t recommend basing a pacing decision on things you can’t control because you’ll be dynamically adjusting your pace throughout the race and find yourself in this constant battle of trying to manage your resources effectively. If this was an open road or a multi-stage race, then we’d be having a different conversation, of course, but an IM is a (non-drafting) time trial with a marathon to follow and has a very unique set of requirements.

The subject of how you should adjust power based on wind conditions is often discussed on Tri forums. We know that increasing your power 2% to 3% in a headwind is slightly faster, but it’s only by a very small amount of time. The problem is that you now have to balance that increase in power with a decrease somewhere else on the course. You can’t simply increase your power by 2% to 3% for an hour when you’re riding into a headwind and not expect to pay the price later on. People often assume that if there’s a headwind on part of the course, then there must be a tailwind somewhere else. Of course, we all know this is not necessarily true. In addition, wind is always unpredictable. How many times have you thought you were riding into a headwind only to make a turn and come to realize you’re now riding into a stronger headwind? Also consider the fact that a windy course is almost never faster than a windless course, which means you’ll be on the bike longer than usual. If that’s the case, then you actually need to consider slowing down since training stress (TSS) is climbing the longer you’re on the bike. So, the recommendation is to just sit on target power for a given type of terrain or possibly consider decreasing power slightly to meet the appropriate TSS target as described above. In my mind, trying to adjust power based on wind conditions is an attempt to be smarter than Mother Nature. I believe you’ll lose that battle more often than not.

3. Fitness Level

Your expectations must be set realistically. This is a tough one because so many people overestimate what they’re capable of achieving in the near term (e.g., at their next race), yet they’re constantly underestimating what they’re capable of achieving in the sport long term. Setting realistic expectations is about having a thorough understanding of what we’ve accomplished in training, race rehearsals and testing. Just because you can hang with a guy on an occasional long ride who typically does a sub-5:15 IM bike doesn’t mean you should set your expectations accordingly. Base your expectations on your own results – nobody else’s. For example, I needed to run in the 3:30s in at least two IMs before I set my expectations as a 3:30 IM runner. Use a self-assessment of your fitness level to help determine whether you should target the upper or lower end of the TSS range.

4. Mental Strength

The most difficult factor to quantify above is mental strength. I’m betting we all like to think we’re mentally strong, but the truth is that many IM runs come down to one’s ability to “hold it together” those last 6-8 miles. In other words, the difference between walking and running beyond mile 18 can be dependent on your ability to simply suck up the pain. There are no exceptions – everyone is in pain. Yes, some are certainly in greater pain than others, but you need to take a hard look at your previous performances to see if mental strength is an issue when determining an appropriate power target. Humility is your friend in this case. Use a self- or coach-assessment of your mental strength to help determine whether you should target the upper or lower end of the TSS range.

Heart Rate (HR)

There’s a common belief that HR is not required when you’re racing with power. I do believe there’s a fair amount of redundancy when using an HRM along with a power meter. However, ignoring HR in a four-plus-hour event can be a potential mistake. HR is an indirect indicator of cardiovascular (CV) stress. Under most conditions, CV stress levels have a high degree of correlation with well-established power levels. These levels vary from individual to individual, but how they correlate is an important process to understand during your training. The argument often made against the use of HR refers to the times when CV stress is not indicative of your typical corresponding power. These cases usually involve loss of fitness, heat, dehydration and fatigue. However, going into your IM, some of these situations aren’t a concern, given that you should be well-rested and at peak fitness. So, if you think about it, the remaining situations are also conditions in a long-endurance event where you would normally slow down or react accordingly (e.g., drink more fluids). Completely ignoring your HR isn’t usually a problem in events lasting less than three to four hours, but I do believe that high (relative) CV stress can be a huge problem in long-endurance events such as IM. High CV stress is indicative of an issue within the human body, which it can probably handle for up to a certain amount of time. So, allowing the body to become dehydrated, for example, for an hour well into a four-hour event is one thing. However, allowing the body to become dehydrated four hours into the IM bike with a marathon to follow is a completely different story. Lastly, high HR levels tend to lead to digestive problems due to blood being shunted away from the intestines. This leads to slow absorption.

Below I will address defining meaningful HR caps and what needs to be done when your HR is high or above a cap, even when your RPE and power are well within your guidelines.


The goal is to write a race plan which addresses all of the components I described above. This detail will be the basis for execution during the race. Since RPE is based on your ability to interpret how your body is feeling, I don’t put specific guidelines or descriptors for RPE into my race plan. I trust my ability to pace by RPE for much of the race, but there are specific sections of the course or times during the day where I watch my power and HR like a hawk (with a stronger emphasis on power). Every athlete will have to assess their confidence in their own RPE, which might lead to a greater emphasis on power and HR. So much depends on our level of experience, but this issue is just one good reason why so many of us hire coaches.

I define my race plan specific to the IM bike as follows (using myself at IMC this year as an example):

FTP = ~270 watts (w); Race weight = ~145 pounds

Overall Goal

Projected bike time: ~5:10; NP = ~205w; AP = ~195w; ~75% of FTP or IF = ~.75; TSS = ~290

Build power slightly throughout the ride. Target first half at slightly lower power and then evaluate conditions and how I’m feeling to see if I can confidently build in the second half

RPE provides primary guidance; power is secondary; HR is tertiary

- If RPE is high, then decrease power even if power and HR are fine

- If RPE is fine but power is high, then decrease power even if your HR is fine

- If RPE and power are fine but HR is high, then assess accordingly (as described below in “HR Guidelines”)

Note: I base projected bike time from past IM bike experience and long ride data. This assumes good bike course conditions. Others will have to leverage experience from race rehearsals in addition to their long ride data if they have no past IM experience. They should also consider using a wider range of projected bike times.

One reason why I like to target slightly lower power in the first half and build in the second half of the ride is because it allows more flexibility when conditions change, which they often do. In addition, in situations where you are unsure of an appropriate TSS/IF target, then this approach allows you the ability to start more conservatively and just maintain power if you feel like you possibly over-estimated your original target during the race. Lastly, I find that your digestion system works more effectively when you start “slow” and build. Some people might consider this approach to be more advanced. An alternative approach for the average age grouper would be to maintain, not build, power throughout the ride.

Power Targets by Terrain

• Flats: Real-time power @ 205w (same as overall NP target); Target 195 – 200w (.73-.74 IF) for the first ~56 miles

• Short Climbs: Real-time power @ 230 – 245w (85% to 90% of FTP)

• Long climbs: Real-time power @ 215 – 230w (80% to 85% of FTP)


• Increase power slightly when cresting the hill; maintain power as speed increases up to ~30 mph, then start decreasing power and move to a soft pedal between 32-37 mph before coasting at greater than ~37 mph (or running out of gears)

Note: Handling the descents on a consecutive set of rollers can be a bit trickier and involves much more “art,” but the general recommendation is to continue to follow the above approach. Often speed will not exceed 35 mph, so you should do the best job at maintaining power between 60% of FTP on the downhill sections and 90% on the uphill sections.
HR Guidelines

• HR caps for long climbs: ~10bpm over your overall average or equivalent to your Half Ironman average HR (whichever is lower)

• HR cap for the flats:

- First 20 minutes – Same as your cap for long climbs. RPE will likely be deceiving so you want to get your HR down to your target as soon as possible. Consider making HR a higher priority than RPE or power during this section

- Remainder of the ride – Between your race rehearsal (RR) average heart rate (AHR) and RR AHR+ 5bpm. This assumes your RR was done at a time when you were well-rested and was preceded by a long open water swim

Note: The assessment of what to do when HR is high can be difficult at times. One of the challenges with HR is that most people tend to have different ratios between training power/HR and racing power/HR. This delta is often referred to as a phenomenon known as “race-day excitement.” Two other things that could impact your HR are:

• Quick transition from the swim

• The effects from tapering – You’ve shed all or most of the fatigue from your previous race-prep training, and changes in blood plasma volume may have taken place

Those who have a couple of IMs under their belt can gain some insight into those differences, but those performing their first IM will have to leverage experience from RRs/training and play it by feel a bit. I prefer an HR cap for the flats as opposed to an HR target since RPE and power should be your primary and secondary drivers.

If it’s very early in the ride and HR is high, it’s most likely due to the swim and swim-bike transition, so I’d give it some time to settle. However, unless your power is on the conservative side, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to back it down a bit either. If heat is not a factor and HR is still high, then the onset of dehydration should be considered. It’s probably best to put some heavy emphasis on getting extra fluids (mostly water) into the body over the next hour. If HR doesn’t come down to a more reasonable level, then consider decreasing power slightly. Only advanced IM athletes should consider ignoring their HR at this point. If heat is a factor and HR is high, then consider the strong possibility you might be out on the course for a longer period of time. Success in the race will be solely based on the ability to run well in adverse conditions. Making a decision to play it conservative on the bike because of the heat so that you can save some (physical or mental) energy for the run is usually the difference between a solid IM run and a very disappointing one.

Mental Strength Reminders

• There’s a solution to every problem or challenge that faces you during the day – never, ever give up on finding a solution

• You need to associate the challenge of finishing a race with pleasure vs. pain. It’s simply a focus on potential pleasure over current pain

• The pain is temporary and the faster you get to the finish line the sooner that pain will go away – so keep moving!!

• Focus on the things in your life that are most important to you. If you think it would help, tape a picture of your loved ones to your aerobars


The following people provided significant data, editing or contributed content to this article: Scott McMillan, Shawn Burke, Rick Ashburn, Mark Van Akkeren, Jason Digman, Kurt Perham, Rich Strauss and Beppo Hilfiker ( Oh, of course, Dr. Andrew Coggan and Alex Simmons too.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Ironman: Training Principles

I always found the best approach to learning something as extensive as training for an Ironman is to first understand the principles behind the sport. There are some basic principles I think every triathlete should understand and they are:

1. Principle of Individual Differences

Each athlete will respond to training stimulus differently. Here are just a few reasons why:

* Genetics -- An athlete's genetics plays one the most important roles in determining their true performance capability. For example, assuming two athletes train equally well, the one with superior genetics will likely improve much faster than one with poor genetics.

* Muscle fiber type -- The types of fibers, ie, slow-twitch vs fast-twitch, that make up individual muscles will greatly influence how an athlete will adapt to their training program. For example, an athlete with a higher relative % of slow-twitch fibers will like respond better to a training protocol that involves more volume at low to moderate intensity than one that involves less volume at higher intensity.

* Age -- An athlete's ability to recover will likely be determined by their age. For example, someone who is 22 years old will recover quicker than someone who is 45 years old.

* Time available to train (schedule) -- Some athletes want or can only train ~12 hrs/week while other athletes want or feel the need to train ~20 hrs/week. These groups of athletes will likely achieve an optimal level of stimulus using relatively different protocols in their training.

The importance of this principle is to remind you why you should not look at another athlete's training to justify your own. One of the most common mistakes I see is to look at what a pro triathlete is doing in their training or racing in order to determine what is best for yourself. You see this type of behavior in all aspects of training or racing too. For example, athletes will often determine what is the best aerodynamics for them based on the observation of pro triathletes. The best aerodynamics must also consider your own individual characteristics like flexibility.

2. Principle of Progressive Overload -- Could be considered two separate principles: 1) Progression 2) Overload

The Principle of Overload says that a greater than normal training stress/load should be placed on the body in order for a physiological adaptation to take place. The body will adapt to this stimulus. Once the body has adapted then a change in stimulus is required to continue the improvement. In order for a muscle, which includes the heart, to increase strength, it must be gradually stressed by working against a load greater than it is used to performing. For example, to increase your endurance, muscles must work for a longer period of time or slightly harder for the same period of time than they are used to performing. If this stress is removed or significantly decreased then there will be a decrease in that particular component of fitness.

The Principle of Progression says that there is an optimal level of overload that should be achieved, and an optimal timeframe for this overload to occur. If no overload occurs at all then improvement is unlikely. Overload that is increased too rapidly will result in burnout, injury or muscle damage so training above the target level can definitely be counterproductive.

The Principle of Progression also makes us realize the need for proper rest and recovery. Continual stress on the body and constant overload with result in exhaustion and injury. Periodic overreaching is fine and actually encouraged, to a limited degree, but you should not train hard all of the time. Doing so will lead to overtraining and a great deal of physical and psychological damage will result.

Finding the optimal level of overload for an optimal timeframe is, by far, the most challenging part of your training. This is what I often refer to as "max training load," "max stimulus," or, as I prefer to call it these days, "optimal stimulus." Achieving optimal stimulus on a continual basis is where the devil is in the details. However, it is my opinion that you have no chance whatsoever of achieving peak fitness unless you first understand all of the principles discussed in this article. Once you do then those details become self evident and there is much less likely to be conflict within your training program. Most importantly, you must learn to find what is an optimal stimulus on a weekly basis (or similar timeline). Here's a somewhat over-simplified example: If your body can handily sustain 3 hrs/week of moderate swimming, 12 hrs/week of moderate biking and 5 hrs/week of easy to moderate running then you should not be consistently training at the same intensity levels using a program that reduces those weekly numbers by 40%. You will not improve.

3. Principle of Adaptation

An adaptation refers to changes within our muscles in response to some form of exercise, activity or skill. Some examples of changes that within our muscles when performing aerobic endurance training are: Increase in lactate threshold, increase in mitochondrial enzymes and increase in glycogen storage. By repeating the activity, the body adapts to the stress and the skill becomes easier to perform. Adaptation explains why a beginning athletes are often sore after starting a new routine, but after doing the same exercise for weeks and months the athlete has little, if any, muscle soreness. This also explains the need to vary the training stimulus and continue to apply the Principle of Progressive Overload if continued improvement is desired.

4. Principle of Specificity

The Principle of Specificity simply states that training must go from highly general training to highly specific training. It also implies that to become better at a particular exercise or skill, you must perform that exercise or skill. To be a good cyclist, you must cycle. The point to take away is that a runner should train by running and a swimmer should train by swimming.

Many of us, including myself, have attempted to apply some additional detail to the Principle of Specificity as it pertains to our particular sport. For example, in order to meet the specific demands of an Ironman event, you must consistently train a component of your fitness that addresses your ability to maintain the following:

- the highest pace you are capable of holding for a ~1-hour period on the swim

- the highest level of power you are capable of holding for a 4 to 6-hour period on the bike

- the highest pace your are capable of holding for a ~2-hour period on the run

The hour numbers I quoted above are certainly not set in stone. They just reflect what I feel is a necessary part of your specificity training. Now, again, the protocol you choose in order to address these specificity requirements is highly dependent on a clear understanding of the principles above.

In my next article I will discuss how you should use these principles to establish the framework for your training schedule.

Thanks, Chris

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Running Economy Myth

I saw this the other day from a post on FB:

This one really caught my attention because it's written by a well-known and well-respected coach, Joe Friel. However, the reason why it caught my attention is because I believe he's making some very inaccurate statements about the Specificity Principle. I bring it up because it happens to be one the most popular myths in the sport of triathlon, imho. He made the following statements:

"So how about this one… If your goal is to run a 7-minute pace you need to do a lot of 7-minute-paced running. Not 8 minutes and not 6 minutes. There is this thing called “economy” which relates to the principle of specificity. If you spend a lot of time running 6- or 8-minute pace you will not be as economical at 7 minutes as you could have otherwise been. Economy has to do with how much energy you use (or waste) at a given pace."

Ok. I'm going to be my typical outspoken self and call bullshit. I've read a ton of studies and talked to a ton of very educated people on this topic and none of them have indicated the above to be a true statement.

First off, the factors that truly influence running economy are still not well understood to this very day. However, we do know certain things. Here's a couple of quotes from some studies:

"Cardiovascular, metabolic and neuromuscular adaptations are the main physiological correlates of improved movement economy."

"A number of physiological and biomechanical factors appear to influence running economy in highly trained or elite runners. These include metabolic adaptations within the muscle such as increased mitochondria and oxidative enzymes, the ability of the muscles to store and release elastic energy by increasing the stiffness of the muscles, and more efficient mechanics leading to less energy wasted on braking forces and excessive vertical oscillation."

The point being: What we do know is that running economy tends to improve when we introduce the Progressive Overload Principle into our training. Why? Because progressive overload is what induces these adaptations.

I don't know why this myth persists in running yet not so much in cycling. My suspicion is that since the impact forces of running are much greater than cycling, the relative intensity when running must be adjusted accordingly. So, people like to create an excuse or myth as to why we need to do a fair amount of running at lower (relative) intensities, as compared to cycling, in order to justify the training purpose.

No matter how you look at it, doing a lot of running at goal race pace, by itself, is not a factor in improving your running economy. It can only become a factor when the stimulus associated with training at goal race pace just so happens to be responsible for creating an overload and therefore eventually inducing an adaptation. In order for an optimal stimulus to occur you have to consider many other factors like time available to train and other athlete characteristics. Let me give you an example:

If I was to run 3.5hrs/week during 12hr training week during a race-specific prep period then training at my IM race pace (E pace) would never achieve optimal stimulus because I could easily double that time to 7hrs (and 20hrs/week overall) before that run training load would begin to create a stress level that was high enough to be considered optimal.

Remember, whether it's E pace, T pace, goal race pace, etc, these are all just paces representing a different level of training stress. Now it's important to note that as pace increases, the true physiological cost associated with that pace increases in a non-linear (exponential) fashion. Add the impact forces of running to that and you should be able to see how easy it can be to achieve an overload in a non-progressive fashion. Meaning, it's quite easy for us to run too hard too often causing muscle damage. But it's important to understand that this damage is not necessarily reflected as an injury in many many cases.

The right combination in our training tends to be a relatively individual thing. I'd say if there's any specific pace that applies to the general triathlon population which is primarily responsible for improving running economy, it will be a faster one more so than a slower one, eg, I or T pace more so than E pace. Running hills and doing strides are probably much better ways of improving your biomechanics and therefore running economy. And note that neither of those two have anything to do with your goal race pace.

One last note:

I just want to make sure that everyone has a clear understanding of what "economy" means. Joe said, "Economy has to do with how much energy you use (or waste) at a given pace."

Energy is defined in terms of oxygen consumption; the farther an athlete can run per unit of oxygen consumed -- or, stated another way, the less oxygen he/she consumes in running a given distance -- the more economical he/she is.

Also read this:

Thanks, Chris

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

IMC '09 Race Report

If I was to script the picture perfect IM training program with impeccable results, it would have looked exactly like what I just executed from April 1 to August 30. Also, in the 14 years I've lived in Seattle, we have never had better spring and summer weather for training.

IMC was my 10th IM. I have qualified for the Ironman World Championship in Kona the last 4 years in a row and in not one of those years did the results of my training compare to what I managed to produce this year. Point being, I couldn't have been more confident in my ability to execute an awesome race with the best results of my (so-called) career. It was truly the perfect training season.

However, this is Ironman and she can be a cruel mistress, indeed. If you allow her cruelty to get the best of you, you will live in regret for a long time.

My #1 rule in Ironman: What you execute or do in an Ironman is a reflection of what you'll do in life. Therefore, never EVER quit! Period.

I chose to fight back and not accept defeat on this day. Here's my story:

(No race is really complete without an understanding of the athlete's race plan. It describes things like morning breakfast, bike & run nutrition and bike & run pacing guidelines. You can read my race plan here:


At IMC I typically place myself somewhere around the middle right on the front row. I find a big guy who looks like a swimmer and ask him what time he expects to do the swim. If he answers sub 1hr then I line up right behind him. :-) That's what I did on Sunday. This guy was at least 6'2" and said he would come out in probably 58 minutes. Perfect!!

Cannon went off and the melee began. Fortunately the amount of contact in those first few minutes was about as good as it gets. I like to swim along or just inside the buoy line so I headed straight for the first one. Things opened up pretty quickly for me and I managed to grab a nice draft between 2 or 3 swimmers all of the way to the first turn boat. I had a little free water to the next buoy but managed to work between two different drafts the remainder of the swim.

This had to be the best swim I have ever had in an IM. I probably drafted 80 - 90% of the entire swim with zero contact after the first 10 minutes. Running out of the water I looked at my watch and it said 59:4x.

Time: 1:00:05 (Not sure why it takes so long to cross the timing mat ;-))


Bike was very uneventful all of the way up until about 2 miles short of Osoyoos when a group of about 10 guys caught me. There was a bit of jostling back and forth until we hit the turn for Richter. This was actually a good sign though since I've never got this far on the bike course before getting hit by some large pack of riders (usually all drafting off of each other). This is also at the point where my friend, Keish Doi, caught me on the bike. He was actually the first person I knew who I saw on the bike up to this point. Again, another first. Usually I'll see guys I know within the first 20 or so minutes.

Richter was a bit more packed than previous years but everything cleared out by the time I hit the descent. Saw teammate, Gerry Marvin, on Richter. We traded spots a few times before I lost him on the rollers. I was mostly alone through this section until I caught female Pro, Sylvie Dansereau, and rode with her until the out-and-back turnaround.

This is right at the point where something just started going wrong as I headed back toward Yellow Lake. My body starting aching all over and I couldn't even hold my position in the aerobars. I started pounding some extra calories but I just wasn't coming around. Actually, things were rapidly declining. I kept telling myself to just get to the top of Yellow Lake and then I can take it easy on the downhill and continue to get more calories down. Mind you, I wasn't behind on calories (in theory) as it was but it was the only solution that made any sense to me at the time. Well, after the climb up YL I was completely toast. I truly felt like I had absolutely nothing left in me so I just got off my bike at the aid station and sat down. I thought my day was done. I saw no realistic way of continuing and then I had that conversation with myself while I drank a bottle of water that an aid station person gave me. There was just no way I was going to quit. At least not yet...

I got back on the bike and the downward spiral continued. I had to get off again about 10 miles later. I could actually see the town of Penticton at this point but just didn't have the energy to move forward. This time it took a little longer but eventually I got back on the bike again. After pushing 190 - 200w all the way to the bottom of YL, I'm now pushing about 120w just trying to get myself back to transition (T2). Those last few miles were spent between wallowing in my own self pity vs trying to think of a way where I could continue and just focus my energy on helping others.

Time: 5:39 (5:32 ride time -- funny how I was only off the bike for about 7 minutes but it felt like 30 minutes)

Power to Richter: 191w/197w
Power to Yellow Lake (where I got off the bike): 189w/198w
Power from that point back to Penticton was a measly 115w/136w. And the worst part was that the last 4 miles, which is flat, I was pushing an impressive 112w!! How sad is that?

I crawled into transition. Ripped my bag open and took 4 Aleve tablets and downed my 20oz bottle of Pepsi immediately. I just sat there trying to figure out what I'm going to do. The people in the tent were asking me all sorts of questions but I just told them I don't think I can go on. That's when this guy who was changing next to me decided to give me a lecture about quitting. I listened because I knew he was right. I got up and just said there's no way I'm going to quit this race.

As I exited the tent I heard my good buddy, Tom Gruver, call my name. He seemed a bit freaked out as to why I wasn't well into the run course so I explained my dilemma. We decided to run together. Transition time ended up being a whopping 10 minutes. Normally it would be about 2 minutes but I felt like I was in there for another 30 minutes.


I saw my Dad about .5 miles into the run and told him what happened and said that it will probably be a long day. I also saw Scott Jones moments later and he ran with me for a moment and gave me some good advice.

Now, strangely enough, somewhere toward the end of mile 1 my body just snapped back. I started feeling great again -- no more body aches. I told Tom that I would help get him through this run. That our goal is to get him a sub-4hr marathon and a PR. He asked me if I felt I could run fast. I told him yes and he responded with, "Well, then you're either an idiot or a REALLY good friend." I responded, "I'd like to think it's the latter." :-)

Either way, I wasn't going to leave him. Honestly, running fast at this point really didn't serve a purpose, imho. I really had no reasonable chance of achieving my goal to qualify for Kona so I just felt like I should focus my attention away from my own race and see what I could do to help others.

Now imagine having to listen to me for 26.2 miles of running because that's what Tom had to put up with. Anyone who knows me also knows how "preachy" I can be at times. I talked and he listened but along the way I met some really great people too. I spent most of my time trying to help others focusing most of my energy on Tom, of course.

About mile 4 of the run a Seattle local, Laura O'meara, caught up with us. I didn't know Laura at the time but we ended running off and on together for most of the next 18 or so miles. Not sure how we got to talking but shortly after Laura caught us she said, "Do you see that lady jumping up and down up there on the side of the road? That's my Mom." Laura's Mom was a total crack up. I've never seen someone so excited to see her daughter race IM. She was like a kid in a candy store and it was the coolest thing to witness. Every time I passed Laura she had to put up with me yelling, "Come on Laura -- let's go!! Pain is temporary! You're a machine!!" At one point late in the race she yelled at me, "You have WAY too much energy!!" and I just laughed.

I must admit that I got the strangest looks from people throughout the run. People thought I was just wacky. For most of the marathon I'd run in front of Tom. Sometimes I was only a couple of feet and other times, when I was really trying to push him, I'd run 20 or yards ahead of him. Occasionally I'd run backwards yelling at him. At other times I would hang out at the aid station and try to flirt with the cute women before sprinting to catch up with Tom again. I tell ya... I had a total blast!!

I met another guy (Dave) from Simi Valley, CA. He ended up cramping later in the run so I tried to motivate him and give him some tips on how to overcome the challenge. He came up to me after the race and threw me some really encouraging words.

Every time I'd see someone I know I'd try to run with them a bit and throw them some encouraging words. Often they were running in the opposite direction but I'd just turn around and run with them for a bit. Not sure how far I ran that day but it was definitely more than 26.2 miles.

I remember that somewhere around mile 17 my right hip flexor started hurting which has been a bit problematic for me the last 3 years. Now I'm pretty good at just shutting out that kind of pain so I did. I just ignored it. Funny enough, by mile 22 or so it was gone.

For the first 20 miles I encouraged Tom and tried to give him some worthy advice about pacing and getting enough calories. However, the last 6 miles I was pretty rough on him. I told him he had to dig deep and take less time at the aid stations. No more Mr Nice Guy. Tom did awesome though. I could tell that he was really suffering those last 6 - 8 miles but the dude ran the entire way. The only time he walked was at the aid stations.

The best part of the entire run came when we started down Main Street which is only about 2 miles to the finish. People were packed along the street so I decided to get them motivated for Tom. I pointed back toward Tom and then raised my arms in the air and the crowd went absolutely crazy. It was so COOL!! And for the first time in the last 8 miles, Tom had the biggest smile on his face. Even I got the chills because the crowd was so freakin' loud!!

Now earlier during the run I agreed to go across the finish line with Tom. It was my original intention to let him go first but he insisted that we go across together. So... just so you know, the whole holding hands across the finish line thing... well, that was Tom's idea, not mine. Ok!!?? Got it? ;-)

Interesting how I could be so toasted and so so close to quitting at one point in the race and then so fresh through most of the run and the end of the race. Honestly, I felt like I could have run another 6 miles easily. Go figure...

Tom ended up getting a 14 minute run PR and a 15 minute overall PR!!

Time: 4:19:57

Overall Time: 11:13:01

Now I won't lie and say that I wasn't beating myself up pretty bad about what happened to me on the bike. If you had told me before the race that I would fall apart on the bike, I would have laughed in your face. I have never even come close to falling apart on the bike. That's a result I would NEVER have thought possible. But it happened and as much as I've tried to figure out what went wrong, I have no good answer.

What I experienced was certainly symptomatic of a bonk but I just don't see how that's possible given the amount of calories I had in my system at the time things went south. I've certainly bonked before and yet I have never had my body ache like that either. I've also done the IM bike on less than 1000 calories in some previous IMs so I'm just not buying the whole bonk thing. Also, my power up to the point where things went bad was about 15 watts below what I typically do on a long ride at the end of a 20hr training week and as much as 25 - 30 watts below what I've done on my best long ride of the year. I even thought maybe I was just too over-confident and cocky but then I've always been well aware that many things can go wrong in an IM and have never taken qualifying for Kona for granted. The only thing I can come up with is that I just put too much pressure on myself (internally).

Now something happened to me in the days after the race. All sorts of people came up to me, wrote comments on my Facebook page and sent e-mails to me. They said what I did on the run course was super cool and inspirational. Honestly, I never thought what I did was really that special. I always figured I'm the type of guy who would jump into a burning building to save my friend. To me, that would be incredible and inspirational. I just tried to help people survive what is likely considered to be one of the most challenging sport events in the world anyway. All sorts of people out there are trying to help each other. Either way, I was totally overwhelmed and it really changed my perspective on the race. So, those of you who said those really really nice things to me... well, it made a HUGE difference to me and I thank you dearly from the bottom of my heart.

I guess the best analogy I can come up with is that I felt like a prize fighter who got nailed by a right cross and I went down for the count. However, it's not important that I allowed myself to get hit. What's most important is that I didn't feel that laying on the canvas floor feeling sorry for myself was going to solve my specific problem. So... I got back up again and finished the damn fight.

Somehow when things just don't go your way you have to dig deep and really figure out how to make the best of your situation. I believe I did that on this day so I'm proud of myself. And even though I had very different ideas on how my day would go before the race, it's still an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Thanks, Chris

IMC '09 Race Plan

Day Before -- Sip on a large bottle of Apple Cider all day.

Race Morning -- Carbo Pro fruit smoothie: 3 scoops of CP, bananas, berries or mangos, orange juice, honey and ice

I sip on a bottle of water with one scoop of CP prior to race.

Positive thoughts the entire time!! Remember how fortunate I am to be able to race at this level or at all. I will overcome any challenges that I might face on race day.

Swim -- I'm looking to swim along the buoy lines and come out in good shape around 1:00. Sub-1:00 would be a nice mental lift but really not that important.

Bike --

From Penticton to Richter Pass: ~AP = 200w; NP = 207w
From Penticton to the top of YL: ~AP = 205w; NP = 215w

Target power by terrain:

Flats: 200 - 210w
Short/steep climbs (McClean Creek) : 250 - 260w
Long climbs (Richter and YL): ~250w

With the exception of coming out of the water and the very early miles on the bike, my HR is as flat as a pancake in every IM. However, just in case:

Make sure HR stays below 155bpm in the flats. Make sure HR gets down to ~150bpm in the first ~20min. I don't need to worry about HR in the hills -- power will dictate.

As always, I will pay top attention to my RPE and won't be afraid to tactically back it down at any time. This should only become an issue if it's super hot (eg >95*).

3 bottles (28oz) filled with 4 scoops of CP, Crystal Light & two electrolyte capsules and one bottle (16oz) of water. 2 bottles of CP and the one bottle of water will go on my bike. 1 bottle of CP will go into Special Needs. I will replace my bottle of water at every aid station or as needed.

Note: I don't mind 3 bottles on my frame. The right osmolality is most important to me. Highly concentrated bottles don't work for me. I know from experience. The extra weight associated with a 16oz bottle is negligible at best.

Thank every cop that assists me through every intersection.

Run -- Start out no faster than 7:40 pace. I will stuff banana slices in my back pocket in T2 along with electrolytes, Gas-ex and Aleve. I will run with a 20oz bottle of cola for the first couple of miles. It slows me down and it makes sure I get in at least 250+ calories in the first 15 min.

My goal is to hit the turnaround by no greater than 1:40 and neg split the run. Goal is also just to make sure I get out of the hills in good shape. If you get out of the hills in good shape then this course is ideal for a neg split. Coke and water at every aid station. Banana slices at every other aid station or as needed.

When I used to have oatmeal for breakfast I used to get bad painful gas on the run so that's why I'm taking the Gas-ex. It appears my switch to a morning smoothie fixed that problem but better safe than sorry. I will take 3 Aleve capsules somewhere during the 2nd half of the run.

Thank the person who gives me cola, water or bananas at EVERY aid station. Say something like, "Thank you so much! You're awesome!!" It's a little thing but often the reaction of their face gives me positive energy.

REMEMBER, I'm a machine with no 'off' switch on the run course. Nothing can and will stop me. Period. End of story.

I will succeed.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

IMC '08 Race Report

Mom, this one's for you.

On March 9th of this year I lost one of my greatest heroes, my Mom, to cancer. She was my inspiration on race day.

If I could erase most of this past year from my memory, I probably would. It was, by far, the most challenging year of my life: 6 weeks of vertigo in Oct and Nov, flying back and forth down to California from Jan to April to see my Mom and help my Dad during her illness and then changing jobs during this whole process. I simply told myself that life is full of challenges. What makes us stronger is our ability to overcome these challenges with dignity. I then end up losing 6 weeks of running due to a severe soleus strain in April-May and finally had to deal with almost zero running between Lake Stevens and IMC due to a dysfunctional right SI joint that was causing some serious pain in my adductors.

I'm not telling you this because I'm interested in seeking pity. You might ask, "So what the hell does this have to do with IMC?" My answer is, “Everything.”

I could have said this is obviously a year where I should drop IM but I wanted to prove to myself that I can overcome any challenge that's thrown my way. You could have put up a fricken' brick wall the size of China in front of me and I was going to find a way over or through it. Period.

IMC ended up being my goal. I wanted to qualify for Kona and take my Dad, who’s 87 years old, with me. Both my Mom and Dad got the chance to see me do my first Kona in ’05 and my Dad was like a kid. After the race he came up to me with this big smile on his face and said, “Can we do this again next year??!!” I just laughed and said, “Well, I’ll see what I can do about that.” As it turned out, I was very fortunate to make it back to Kona but my parents couldn’t attend for various reasons.


I did the typical IM routine in the days prior to the race. Hung out with lots of great friends (Gruver’s, Scott Bonvallet, et al) and got the chance to finally meet some incredibly nice people face to face (eg, Dev Paul).

I have to admit, although I might sound like I came into IMC on a mission, there were days were I thought, “What the hell am I thinking?” Less than 2 weeks prior to the race I couldn’t run one step without experiencing shooting pain down my adductors and this had been going on since mid-July. I had also managed a total of one long run >1.5hrs since IMC last year and that run (2hrs) was done entirely in pain. Normally I would have done at least 8 - 10 long runs of 2hrs in prep for IM. My Sports Med doc (Dr. Ghislaine Robert), my chiro (Dr. Shepard) and my ART therapist (Dr. Chan) did a ton of work on me to get me ready for IMC and I can’t thank them enough. But as much as I kept telling myself I could do it, a dose of reality started to set in too. There was no question in my mind I could run well up to about 20 miles. The question in my mind is what was going to happen once I hit mile 18 or so. I actually spent a ton of time preparing myself mentally for what I knew was probably going to be the most difficult last 6 miles ever.

Race Day

Race morning I got up, showered and made my Carbo Pro fruit smoothie. This was change from past IMs. In my previous 7 IMs I had always had oatmeal with brown sugar and fruit. I made this change because I’ve always had stomach (gas) problems on the run and I believe the oatmeal was contributing to the problem. I then headed on over to get body marked and set up my bike. I was staying at the Slumber Lodge which is right across the street from the swim start so headed back to give my Dad a hug and tell him where and when he can spot me throughout the day. But I warned him that it might be a long day too. It was tough leaving because we both knew what was on our minds at that very moment.


I found my very good friends Tom Gruver, Scott Bonvallet, Tina Hall and Brian Urakawa before the swim and wished them all good luck. This was Tina’s first IM and I know she was nervous. She’s an awesome athlete so I knew she would do well.

I went for a warm-up swim and took my time heading back to the start line. I wanted to find some big fast swimmer that I could get right behind. I saw Joel Glass right about where I wanted to line up. I know Joel’s a fast swimmer so I swam up to him and said, “Hey Joel, when do you expect to come out, 54-55? He responds, “55.” Perfect. I line up right behind Joel.

The cannon went off and I headed out right behind Joel. He lost me pretty quick but that wasn’t important. I just needed someone to open a little gap in front of me. I had little bit of contact in the first 500 yards or so but found clean water pretty quick. I decided I was going to ride just inside the buoy line and look for some nice drafts. If it got too rough then I would just look for clean water to the right. To my surprise, not a single person was swimming inside the buoy line so I ended up actually swimming right along the buoy line. I grabbed some real nice drafts and was amazed at how few swimmers were around me heading out to the first boat. As I looked up to spot I could see a gap starting to form a bit and as I made the last turn back to shore, the strangest thing I have ever encountered in the IM swim occurred. I was alone with one other person to my left. There were no swimmers next to me (except this one guy) and the next group of swimmers I could see were about 100 yards in front. I don’t look back when I swim so I had no idea who or how many were right behind me but I was alone. I had absolutely no draft. I eventually dropped the guy to my left and ended up swimming for at least another 20 minutes alone. Finally a chick catches me and I draft off her for another few minutes until I start to see a few other people catching up right when we started to hit the shore. Everyone was getting up and trying to run because it gets shallow so early but then they would dive back into the water. I already knew that you have to either swim dragging your knuckles on the sand or dolphin’ it until you get about 10 feet to the shore. I did the former.

Time – 1:01:05


Transition was fine (2:55). Beginning of the bike was uneventful but it was clear we were going to have a slight headwind out to Osoyoos (which is a first). I just told myself to take it easy. My goal is to definitely build into this ride. I was shooting to be more conservative going out to Osoyoos than last year and target power less than 190w and not one watt higher. Dev Paul caught me at the top of Osoyoos and asked how I was doing. Brian Urakawa caught me shortly after Okanagan Falls. We ended up passing each other or riding about 30secs apart for the remainder of the ride. Dev was also right there until the latter part of the out-and-back when his tire started a slow leak.

On the way out to Osoyoos all 3 of us were riding within sight of each other in a perfect rhythm when all of sudden we were swallowed by at least 75 bikes. I’m not exaggerating. It was the craziest thing I had ever seen in an IM. When the first set of bikes passed me a marshal came by about 10secs later. I threw up my arms and pointed at them. She nodded her head and sped up. I’m waiting for her to pull a card and all she does is yell at them. And get this… they yell back. This goes on for another 30secs or so and then the marshal takes off. No penalty. What a joke…

At first I just didn’t know how to handle the situation. I’ve been swallowed by this huge pack and I’m caught in the mix. I was visibly frustrated and doing my best to maneuver. My first inclination is to get in front of them which was a very stupid move. As soon as I got in front of them I was clearly unwilling to maintain 220+w in order to drop them so they just swallowed me up again. I yelled at a couple of them and some guy responded, “What do you do? Just go with it.” At one point I even heard some guy say, “Let’s get that pace line going again!!” I even saw one local Seattle guy who clearly had no problem hanging with this pack. Unfortunately he ended up very high in the overall rankings too. The best decision was to just let these guys get ahead of me so eventually I did just that. I'm not sure but is this called "drafting"?? ;-)

A slight headwind out to Osoyoos means great conditions on the back side of the course. The rollers were fast but not quite as fast as they were in ’05. According to my PT data, I was about 1min slower through the rollers this year vs ’05 but about 5min faster than last year (all on very similar power). After the rollers I really started flying and I was passing people like they were standing still. Here were my splits:

FIRST BIKE SEGMENT 42.5 mi. (2:06:20) 20.18 mph

FINAL BIKE SEGMENT 69.5 mi. (3:12:01) 21.72 mph

Even though the back side was relatively fast this year, I had definitely picked it up as compared to others. After riding with one guy (Hamilton) off and on for what seemed like the last 40 or so miles, he passed me shortly after we climbed that hill on the out and back and said, “You are so damned disciplined in the hills.” Now that’s a compliment I love hearing. Shortly after Robbie Ventura (recognize that name?), who rode 4:51, came flying by us like we were standing still.

Yellow Lake was crazy as usual with spectators (love that climb!!) and the descent back into town was uneventful as I headed into transition in good shape.

For nutrition on the bike I did 2 x 28oz bottles with 4 scoops of Carbo Pro and Crystal Light for flavoring. I picked up another 28oz bottle and a Red Bull at Special Needs. I also took a banana slice about every other aid station. I had a small bottle of water with me and picked up water along the way when I needed it. Each bottle of Carbo Pro had 2 Salt Stick caps in them. This was definitely the most calories I had ever taken on the IM bike.

Power broken down by major segments:

From start of bike to bottom of Richter (~42 miles): AP = 181w; NP = 187w

From bottom of Richter to start of YL descent (~55 miles): AP = 190w; NP = 199w

From start of YL descent to finish (~15 miles): AP = 147w; NP = 174w

Entire workout (182 watts):

Duration: 5:17:11

Work: 3465 kJ

TSS: 268.4 (intensity factor 0.713)

Norm Power: 192

VI: 1.06

Pw:HR: 4.52%

Pa:HR: -7.48%

Distance: 111.751 mi

Min Max Avg

Power: 0 405 182 watts

Heart Rate: 135 164 155 bpm

Cadence: 33 141 92 rpm

Speed: 0 46.2 21.1 mph

Power was ~7w lower than last year but 1min faster. I just felt that riding any harder was going to jeopardize a run that was going to need every possible spare resource I had.

Time – 5:18:21


Now came the interesting part… Transition was smooth (2:24). My legs didn’t feel that great coming out of T2 but that wouldn’t be the first time so I wasn’t too concerned. I always need a mile or two to settle in. As I turned the corner on Lakeshore I heard my Dad yell about 10 yards behind me. I stopped, ran back, gave him a hug and said, “This one’s for Mom.” I took off and as I looked back I could see that he got a bit emotional.

Somewhere between mile 1 and 2 it hit me. I managed to lose all of my electrolytes and Aleve (probably in T2). I was bummed but I just told myself that I’m going to have to deal without it. I know that Keish Doi and Fred Haubensak carry Advil with them so I was just hoping I could bum some off of them when I saw them before the turn-around.

Pacing was perfect and my stomach was rock solid for the first time ever. I hit mile 1 in 8:03 and mile 2 in 16:10. I think I caught Brian Urakawa somewhere between mile 2 and 3 and we ran together for a little bit. I also ran with this guy named Luke Astell for a while – nice guy from Leavenworth, WA. I bummed some electrolytes off of him. I ended up running with a woman pro from about mile 4 to at least mile 6 before I dropped her. On the way out at every aid station I’d take water, cola and then I’d take a banana slice about every 3rd or 4th aid station.

I have to admit, the wind was pretty brutal and found myself pretty lonely out on the run course once I hit the flats on Skaha. Oh, except for my friend here:

This dude ran right behind me for what seemed about 4 miles until I finally dropped him somewhere in the hills. All along I just kept telling myself to play it very conservative and just get myself through the hills in good shape. Once I hit mile ~15 then I’d reassess my situation. When I hit mile 11 I started looking for Keish and Fred. My hip was starting to hurt and tighten up a bit so I was getting a bit nervous. I finally see Keish not too far from the turn-around so I was really encouraged because last year I saw him at least a mile farther down the road. I yelled at Keish to see if he had any Advil and he immediately pulled out a little baggy with 8 tablets, handed it to me and took off. I thanked him immensely!! I waited until special needs then I grabbed my can of Red Bull and took 4 Advil.

Somewhere around mile 12/14 there was a group of people with one guy sitting in a beach chair. When they saw me on the way out they cheered and I had a big smile on my face and gave them the thumbs up. I don’t know why but they pysched me up so on the way back I was ready for them and the guy in the beach chair responded with, “Dude, you are by far our favorite athlete today!!” Of course, they probably said that to everyone.

The Advil actually took the edge off and I was feeling reasonably well. I had no problem in the hills. I took them nice and easy and I was really starting to pass people (not that there was a whole lot of people to pass). Once I hit the flats again I had a real nice rhythm and was moving pretty fast. Overall I was pretty excited about things so far but then I could also feel that the lack of running was starting to hit me. It was probably around mile 16 or 17 when my quads started to really hurt and that was the point where I started to get a little more aggressive at the aid stations. Somewhere around this time Cherri Gruver came up to me on the bike and asked how I was doing. I started to tell her that I was hurting but then I thought, no, just lie and tell her you’re doing fine. I knew Tom (her husband) was hurting pretty bad behind me so I told her that Tom probably needs her and she should go find him. I definitely could have used the moral support though. Shortly after a guy rode by me on the bike and said, “Nice pace. You keep that up and you’ll be sub-10.” I knew I was moving well but the problem was that I still had a long way to run and I was feeling like I should feel at mile 24.

When I hit mile 18 the mental game had started. Everything below my waist was hurting so bad my hip was a non-issue. If my hip hurt, it didn’t hurt worse than anything else. I did a quick time check and had enough wits about me to figure out that I was on a ~3:32 marathon pace. I just told myself to focus on getting to mile 20. That was my goal: Mile 20. I hit mile 20 and figured it was only 6 miles of suffering – I could do that. My goal now was mile 22. At mile 21 I remember doing another time check (2:53). I couldn’t figure out what pace that was but I knew I was slowing a bit. I hit mile 22 and this is where things started to get real dicey. My quads and hamstrings were borderline cramping and I started getting dizzy as I climbed up that grade toward Main St. There wasn’t a single person in sight so I was running alone. The crowd could clearly see I was struggling and they tried to throw me some encouraging words. On the way out I would acknowledge every compliment with a “Thank you!!” but at this point the crowd was just a blur. The aid stations now became a scene of desperation. As fast as I could, I’d down water, cola (sometimes 2 cups of colas), chicken soup and 2 banana slices (one in my mouth and one in my rear pocket). I can’t even remember the last time somebody had passed me on the run. It was miles and miles ago but that was about to come to an end. All of sudden I heard the crowd cheering behind me. I looked back and thought I saw Christine Fletcher (totally hot!!), who I had passed a few miles back, coming up behind me. I was wrong. It was a woman AGer. I was in awe as she smoothly passed me. I wanted to throw her some encouraging words but I just didn’t have the energy to say anything at all.

Thanks to the extra fluid and calories I was no longer dizzy as I crested the hill and made the corner to turn down Main St. As soon as I made the turn the crowd grew in size and started to make some noise. I got excited and tried to pick up the pace. Immediately my right hamstring went into a full cramp and I yelled out in pain. I eased up and kept running. I just told myself that the cramping wasn’t happening. Just ignore the pain. The crowd was sympathetic and really tried to encourage me. As I ran down Main St I got passed by someone in my AG. Not too much later Matt Perkins, also in my AG, passed me and I responded with, “Nice job, you got me.” I couldn’t believe that 2 of the 3 people who passed me were in my AG. I was really getting nervous but my quads and hamstrings were quivering (something I’ve never experienced before). I felt like they were going to go into a full cramp at any moment. Here I am crying like a wussy:

I still had this feeling like I might not even make it. I turn the corner for Lakeshore and all of sudden it hit me… I’m going to finish. I came up on a guy in my AG who looked really ragged but I couldn’t tell if he was just starting the run or finishing. I pass him. I’m running as fast as I possibly can. I have this feeling like I’m being pursued. I turn the final corner and see my Ben Bigglestone shortly after the turn. He pats me on the back and tells me I’m close to breaking 10hrs. I say something stupid like, “But I’m hurtin’ real bad…” I keep looking over my shoulder but the next guy is not going to catch me. I don’t know, normally I could give a shit who’s behind me at this point but I just felt like I needed to get across the finish line quickly. I looked for my Dad but faces were just a blur.

The finish line was such a beautiful sight. I couldn’t believe I made it. I was so so happy. I cross the line in disbelief and like a light switch my legs decide they’re done. I start to tumble and the catchers get me before I hit the ground. They make an immediate decision to take me to the med tent so two guys scramble and carry me off. I don’t really remember much at this point other than them asking lots of questions. I remember I could now feel my hip. It was definitely in pain. They stuck an IV in me and I told them I need ice for my hip. Things settled down and I just laid there for a while. I think it was only about 1hr later and I started to perk up. I had some chicken soup and the lights started to come back on. The doc said that much of my color had come back and thought I was doing really well. I told them I wanted to go find my Dad because I was worried about him. They said ok and let me go.

That’s it. This one was just brutally hard. I lost a fair amount of time over those last 4 miles but I dug to depths I possibly never thought I could go. I’m not sure I ever want to dig that deep again but the end result was worth it. It’s 6 days later and my adductors/hip flexors still hurt so Kona will be interesting. Man, I’d love to see my time if I had a healthy hip and had just a reasonable amount of run volume under my belt. My run split was only 6min slower than last year's PR run. I consumed way more calories on this run than any previous IM. I had no stomach issues at all in this race and I think that made a huge difference.

Run Time – 3:39:42

Overall Time – 10:04:27

My AG was crazy around 10hrs. Check this out:

80 10:01:34 STEINER, DAVID 7/291 M40-44
81     10:02:22 BROCKS, STEFFEN        8/291 M40-44   
82     10:02:51 PERKINS, MATTHEW       9/291 M40-44   
83     10:04:16 SMITH, DAN             2/246 M45-49  
84     10:04:27 WHYTE, CHRIS           10/291 M40-44  
85     10:04:41 MIYATA, KAZUAKI        11/291 M40-44  
86     10:04:47 KIERS, RACHEL          8/20  WPRO     
87     10:04:49 WORK, WILLIAM          12/291 M40-44  
88     10:05:12 HIKOI, HIROTAKA        13/291 M40-44  

Less than 4 minutes separated 7 guys between 7th and 13th place. We had 8 slots for Kona. Keish already qualified at IMCDA and everyone else took their slots (which almost never happens at IMC). Fortunately we got one more slot from the 75 – 79 AG so it rolled to 10th place which was me. This was the first year where I had to wait for a roll-down slot so it was really exciting. I have now qualified 4 years in a row and I’m going for 5 next year!! Note that Kazuaki was only 14secs behind me and he ran a 3:14 marathon so he was catching my ass. William was the guy who I passed going down Lakeshore. I was amazingly fortunate and my family was very excited. The weather has been so bad in Seattle this year that when I got home my wife came up to me and said, “You know, I told you before the race that I could care less if you qualify or not but I have to be honest. I would have KICKED YOUR ASS if you didn’t qualify!!!” I think it’s safe to say that my wife, her Dad and my Dad are all happier about going to Kona than I am.

When we arrived home from Penticton my Dad came up to me and said, “You really do have some incredible friends.” I responded with a big smile on my face, “I know, I’m very lucky.”

Thanks to all of my family, my super great friends and my sponsor (Oomph!) for your support and believing in me. It means the world to me.

Mom would have been proud…