IM Arizona 2017

How ‘bout that swim though!!? By far and away the highlight of Ironman Arizona this year was the swim. When I got home from Kona I was both happy and upset about how the swim went. I was happy because I had achieved my goal of swimming in the second pack. I was upset though because the second pack swam too slow! For over half of the swim I was leading the pack, and this is certainly not where I wanted or expected to be. I thought to myself: “the only way to remedy this situation, is to get to the next group of guys!” The next group in Kona appeared to be a small group that got popped off the front pack somewhere along the way. This group swam right around 51 minutes. Since getting my Endless Pool (with mirrors on the bottom) back in August, I have had to really control how much of my stroke I tore apart, knowing that I still had big races on the calendar, and knowing that often times with these things you have to take one step back in order to take two steps forward. Very quickly I realized there are still some very large and fundamental errors in my stroke. I had to be very conservative in my approach and only tried to improve a couple of very small aspects e.g. better width of entry. Upon returning home from Kona I had had enough with the conservative approach. It was time to attack some of the fundamental errors.

I will go into those errors in their own separate post, as well as how I am going about improving upon them. For now, I will say, in order to execute the changes I wanted to make, I had to slow the pool down to 1:45/100m. In other words, I was swimming the paces I swam nearly 7 years ago. But, once the proper neural pathways started to light up, the changes came quite rapidly. Within two weeks I was grooving the changes, and by race week they were beginning to ingrain in the muscle memory and significantly less mental energy was required to hold the changes. Still, I hadn’t tested the changes in a race setting, so this was the big question mark in my mind for Ironman Arizona. I should also note, as I do believe it is important, I swam over 21km from Monday to Saturday leading into IMAZ. If you add the race and warmup, in total during race week I swam over 25km. In other words, zero reduction in swim volume leading into the race.

Usually I look for a target set of feet to draft, but in all honesty, there is only one set of feet I am interested in now, and that is those of the front pack. I decided to just have faith in the take-out speed I had, and was going to try and get out well on my own. The gun went and very quickly I was in clean water. I knew I was swimming well because about 200m in the lead stand up paddle board was still very close (maybe 15m ahead), and a front pack had not yet formed (at least not one separate from me). Not too long after, I sighted and noticed a gap had opened up two guys in front of me. I knew this was the front pack beginning to break away. I went around the two swimmers and tried to bridge the gap. I held the front steady for another couple hundred meters but just didn’t have the speed to bridge the approximately 8-10m gap.

From there onwards I was in no-man’s land. I was having a great time though because I was sighting the lead stand up paddle board!! Up until this race, I didn’t even know it existed!! When I got to the far turn buoy I was able to count how far ahead the lead SUP was: 80 strokes. I figured I was swimming about 1:20/100m, so I knew I was around a minute down to the front of the race at the halfway point.  For the rest of the swim I just focused on holding good form and giving up as little time to the front as possible. I was able to see the lead SUP for about 2500m. When I emerged from the water the clock read 51:30. I knew then that I had swam about 2:15 faster than last year. Not long after I got a split to the front of the race: 2:30! In the past, I was happy hearing this number in a 70.3!

Unfortunately, everything goes downhill from here. The moment my feet touched the pedals I knew the Kona race was still alive and well in my legs. I tried to muster up good power, but there was nothing I could do to call up any energy, and things just got worse as time progressed. I remember last year thinking my power meter was broken because 320w felt so easy! This year I couldn’t even hold that for an hour! The final third of the bike was quite excruciating. The wind was strong, it was starting to heat up, and I had nothing left in my legs. For the final hour I averaged 254w, and in the end I averaged 292w for the entire bike ride. Last year I averaged 315w for the entire ride. Here is the file (note: this is a good example of how a bike file should NOT look!):

I knew the run was likely going to be very similar: a half decent first half, and then a terrible second half. I was actually quite surprised at how long I was able to run decently well for. Initially I had a goal of running 2:40 for the marathon. I was able to stay on this pace for 19 miles. I ended up running 2:47, so that’s about all I need to say about how the final 7 miles went! The only positive take home about those final miles was that my range of motion was significantly better than it was in Kona. It didn’t feel like my muscles were no longer functioning, it just felt like they were massively fatigued, and I lacked the mental strength to keep the pace up. It was the complete opposite in Kona where I had the mental strength to run faster, but physically my legs were no longer functioning. Here is the run file (and once again, a good example of how NOT to run an Ironman Marathon):

How 'bout that first 19 miles though (note: never brag about your opening 19 miles of a marathon, but rather your closing 7 miles):

Crossing the finish line was a massive relief. It has been a great season, but a very long season. The one big thing I learned in this race is that I think you have one massive effort per year. I went deep in Kona. So deep I have very little recollection of the second half of the marathon. It will take months to shed that fatigue. I felt good in practice, over shorter durations, with lots of time in between sessions, but the moment I tried to execute race pace continuously, I could tell the Kona race was still there. If there is anywhere in the world I want to have that one effort, it is in Kona Hawaii in October.

Executing a good swim is a great way to end the season. Had I been approximately 5 meters further ahead in the opening 200m, there is no doubt in my mind that I would have made the front pack. Yeah yeah yeah, I can hear all the haters: “but it was a flat wetsuit swim!” First you make the front pack in a flat wetsuit swim, then you make it in a choppy wetsuit swim, then you make it in a flat non-wetsuit swim, then you make it in a choppy non-wetsuit swim. It is with that thought that I enter the “off-season,” henceforth known as the “swim season”.