Since Anne and I did both Florida and Miami this year, this is a two-parter. We knew it would be challenging, and then the change in venue threw another set of challenges at us, but it was one of the more rewarding experiences in racing on Team Z. Here’s part one!
Venue: Switch from Panama City (wetsuit-legal open ocean swim, pancake-flat bike, flat run, weather 50s to low 70s) to Haines City (borderline wetsuit-legal congested lake swim, rolling bike, rolling run, weather 70s-80s). Fantastic work by the race crew to make the Ironman happen using mostly the Ironman Haines City 70.3 course, with challenges of adjusting course for 140.6. Lake Eva Community Park consolidated the village, beach front, and transitions but of a necessity made circuitous routes through the park between swim, changing rooms, bike racks, and courses. Same with loops through surrounding neighborhoods. The bike course goes through rural Polk county roads, most of which have a pretty good surface and rough parts are well-marked. It does have a lot of turns, some of which are tight. The run course is a long out-and-back and 3 loops through the residential neighborhood around the lake. It is deceptively hilly and largely exposed to the elements.
Training: This was the A-race for the second half of the season. Leveraged SwimBox lessons this year to improve swim performance, with good improvements in placement for St. Mary’s and Nationals Olys, and the Watermans Half. Started using aero helmet on flat rides for a little extra boost. Training and racing mostly in heat this tri season.
Goal: Finish between 10:30 and 11, which would be a massive PR relative to Lake Placid’s 11:24. To do it, finish swim in 1:15-1:20, the bike in 5:30-40, the run in 3:30-40, and transitions in 0:15. All were aggressive but within Z2 efforts this year.
Race Week: We made a big trip of it to Central Florida. Anne and I flew down to Orlando Wednesday/Halloween. Her sister’s house in Celebration (the Disney planned community) gets lots of trick-or-treaters. This year was a new high of 400 trick-or-treaters visiting our pirate-themed house! We came down to Haines City Thursday to pick up our packets and check into our house with the Sullivans. Then we got to visit Disney World in the evening!
A couple tune-up workouts between Thursday and Saturday, and we were ready for the big day. We didn’t sleep well at all on Friday evening, unfortunately. We slept OK on Saturday night, but had relatively poor sleep overall leading into race day.
Swim: With the rolling start, Anne and I entered the water together, though only Anne positioned herself to get a nice high-five from Mike Reilly! There was plenty of contact with other swimmers from the get-go, as expected. I made sure to keep one arm out ahead of me to help protect my head from kicks, but otherwise tried to draft wherever I could. To avoid running tickling a swimmer’s feet while drafting, I stayed behind and slightly to one side, which gets most of the drafting advantage anyway. I couldn’t keep my momentum at turns and there was quite a scrum around each one, but I just took the contact and kept swimming. Side note: On the swim, I only display total time and pace, since it’s tough enough to read anything on my watch while swimming. The pants-shaped course had a timing chute at the crotch that was extra congested but was a good chance to check progress. 21:00 at the chute? That was a pace for ~1:24:00, or about the same as IM Lake Placid and a few minutes behind my goal. I didn’t try to push the pace to catch up to my time goal and stayed as steady as I could. The second lap had much less contact, but I slowed down a bit. From the second timing chute to swim finish I reset my goal to beat 1:24:00, and while I didn’t beat it I basically matched it without pushing too hard at the end.
1:24:01, 77/125 AG, 876/1665 OA. Improved placement relative to the field by 15% OA and 20% AG compared to Lake Placid. Heart rate a little high at 140 avg, drift a little high at Pa:HR of 6%. By Garmin, swim almost 300 extra yards. I didn’t hit my goal time but clearly this was a slower swim course than either Cozumel or Lake Placid. Takeaway is that the SwimBox drill work this year really paid off, and so did the strategy of tactically drafting.
Bike: The bike started out making great progress over the gentle rollers. I kept in HZ2 by power, with short bursts to pass. When passing, I spun up to make the move as quickly as possible and then back to Z2. Pre-driving the northern part of the course on Friday made it much easier to anticipate turns and execute them both efficiently and safely. There were a couple times I caught myself drifting into Z3 by heart rate, at which point I pulled back a bit to get back into Z2. Overall, I was making excellent progress and keeping my effort under control. The Z cheer station at about mile 40 was a welcome sight as were Z-mates Brian and Jay who I saw at various points on the first lap. I stopped to get my bottles refilled at mile 54 and with the extra water I couldn’t get into my bottles, included a splash over myself for some cooling since it was already getting into the high 70s.
The second half I kept much the same strategy and kept up the good pace. I was aware of the weather forecast calling for winds and some rain later in the day, so I was motivated to keep up the pace. With luck, I could finish the bike ahead of the wind and then take advantage of wind and cloud cover on the run. The rolling hills helped keep mentally engaged. I would switch up gears and spin up each hill in a lower gear cadence, shift up to a higher gear to regain momentum over the crest (even accepting my power coming out of Z2 as long as it was less than 20 seconds and wasn’t too extreme) and even gave my butt a break by standing in aero for the downslope.
Somewhere after mile 90 I finally saw Scott McLallen, who I was benchmarking for progress through the ride. Both of us were in pretty good shape and making good progress. Between catching Scott, the Z cheer station (yay Marcia and Tracy!), and seeing Anne’s sister Christina and parents Gerry and Irene at mile 106-ish (her mom in T-Rex!), I had some awesome encouragement for the later bike miles. I did make a foolish mistake, though: I knew that I was running low on water and eating through the last of my nutrition, but instead of stopping at the aid station to resupply, I decided to push through to finish and resupply at T2. That didn’t cost me time on the bike, and didn’t even show up as high heart rate, but likely affected my run later.
But that was later. The bike progress was excellent and in Z2 as planned. Hat tip to Patti Jackson for photography near the bike finish! I pulled in with an excellent bike split, handed off the bike to a volunteer, and ran in my bike shoes to the changing tent for T2.
5:33:00, 19/125 AG, 198/1665 OA. Improved placement relative to field by 6% OA and 15% AG. Knocked almost half an hour off the time I had at Lake Placid. Variability index (a measure of how even power output was) =1.06 not bad for rolling hills, heart rate drift still manifested at Pw:HR (power-to-heart rate ratio drift over the ride) of 6 %. Pretty even power delivery at 50.2/49.8, kept a 203 W normalized power and a 192 W average power.
-Pedaling-wise, I wasn’t as smooth as I could be: I had a torque effectiveness of 72% and a pedal smoothness of 19%. That’s a little surprising given that I had pretty high cadence, with an average of 92. This winter, this suggests I need some renewed focus on single-leg drills.
Run: I ran into trouble with the heat very early on, possibly as a result of not hydrating enough in the late miles of the bike. I also might have run low on energy as a result of not eating the last 15 miles of the bike. Either way, I started out at a long run pace consistent with training (high 7s-low 8s), but my heart rate shot into Z5 early. Even with heart rate drift, I recognized that heart rate was too high and I needed to keep my effort under control. I started by walking the middle third of each uphill, then took longer walking breaks, then took an outhouse break. I never felt sick, but I was getting hot, tired, and sluggish. After lots of walking breaks early and two rest stops with plenty of hydration and nutrition, my heart rate finally got under control and I kept a steady pace after mile 13. I had to throw out my ambitious time goal early, and even the sub-11-hour goal which would have been realized had I made a 3:45 marathon as in Lake Placid. I got to a mental place where I wondered if I would have to walk in the rest of the marathon. And yet clearly the rest of the field also suffered because there were a ton of walkers.
The 3-lap run course made for lots of chances to see teammates, Z cheer squads, and Anne’s family. All helped me keep going even when I was low on energy and struggling in the middle miles. Christina cheered in her Tinkerbell outfit when I came by for my first lap, and she and Irene caught me several times in the neighborhood out-and-backs northwest of Lake Eva. The neighbors were pretty incredible race hosts, by the way. Several came out to cheer, a couple had hoses and sprinklers to help cool us off in the hot afternoon, and a couple even had the Latin party music going!
Mile after mile, I slowly caught up with hydration, nutrition, and water/ice to keep the heat at bay. Calf cramps plagued the middle miles, but I walking-stretched them and they didn’t stop me. Once I knew that I could keep going at a run, I took shorter and shorter walking breaks on uphills. More Zers were out on the course, with good encouragement from Scott Leary, Scott McLallen, Mark, Brian, and Kristen. Starting my second lap I caught sight of Anne running and looking happy! It was a huge relief since I hadn’t seen her since the swim start.
At mile 20 I did some math and found I could still achieve an Ironman PR if I could keep my pace under 10:00/mi, so that’s just what I did. Shortly after mile 20 I caught up to Anne in the neighborhood out-and-back near our rental house. She had had a couple flats on the bike, but she had recovered to finish it and was now making steady progress on the run. With the sunset and twilight, I stayed on pace and the miles ticked down. I ran by the Z cheer tent one last time and finished!
4:09:11, 11/125 AG, 113/1165 OA. Worsened placement by 2% OA, but improved 1% AG relative to IM Lake Placid. Dramatic slowdown in first half of marathon (2:07 first 12.7 mi) but recovery the second half (2:02 remaining 13.5 mi).
-My heart rate stayed Z2-LZ3 the second half of the marathon after being Z4-Z5 early. Takeaway is that I made my effort sustainable and held heart rate drift to a minimum by slowing down (there’s no beating the heat), dousing with water and ice, and hydrating through the hot hours.
-For run dynamics and efficiency, my vertical ratio averaged 8% (OK), my cadence when running averaged about 182 (good), but my L/R ground contact time balance was skewed 47.6/52.4. That’s very imbalanced and indicated something wrong with my form, and it was probably made worse by the cramps. Takeaway is that for really long courses, I ought to check in on my L/R GCT balance as a leading indicator of my running form coming apart.
Overall Result: 11:21:05, 15/125 AG, 152/1665 OA. Improved placement by 2% OA and 6% AG. PR for IRONMAN by about 3 minutes relative to Lake Placid. The Coach Cox website has all the data crunching a nerd could want for Ironman Florida, as well as past Ironmans Lake Placid 2016 and Cozumel 2014. Comparing them, Ironman Florida looks like it was a slower course than either Lake Placid or Cozumel. That surprised me a bit since the course didn’t have the bike climbs that Lake Placid did or the high winds that Cozumel had, but the afternoon was very hot.
After finishing, I recovered a bit with the post-race massage, then cheered on our racers. When I hobbled back over to the Z tent, I saw the lightning flashes across Lake Eva. A thunderstorm was coming for our racers. I reconnected with teammates and family and didn’t mind the rain so much since (1) I had a space blanket, (2) it was pretty warm rain, and (3) I was sweaty and disgusting anyway. What was another drenching?
In the late evening, Anne’s family and I drove back and forth between spots on the run course to catch her and a few other Zers wherever we could. Having a nearby house practically on the course helped since I got to shower and change (after ensuring rain was practically done). At the south end of the course, there were so many out-and-backs that we caught her several times by her shoe lights, making sure to pump out her jam song “Work From Home”. At the last, I caught Anne finishing!
Congrats to all the Z Florida and huge thanks to Coach Ed, our fantastic cheer and sherpa squads, and family that came to cheer and support us! Family Irene, Gerry, Christina, and Patrick, you were incredible that weekend and I’m so thankful you got to be a part of our big race. Team Z is the Best Group Triathlon Training Program in Virginia!