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Ironman Western Australia – 9:20 Race Theory

The past few weeks this race has been like an obsession. I’ve been right here in Busselton training every day on one bit of the course or another. Most days at least some conversation about the race has come up. I’ve talked about my race goals, debated how achievable they are and tested my ability to meet them out on the road. I’ve plotted charts of the speeds and times needed to make that goal of 9:20. I’m at the point where I feel my theory is complete, it now just needs testing. Honestly, right now I am nervous, but believe my objectives are realistic. Conditions allowing this is the place to make a bit of a breakthrough and get in around 9:20.

The plan starts in the water. Actually it starts just before I get in, because if I’ve learnt one thing from the increase in open water swimming I’ve done this year it’s wetsuit fit makes a massive difference. Poorly fitted and I’ll load my shoulders more and find the swim a much tougher slog. I’ve swum round the Jetty here 3 or 4 times and been out there in conditions ranging from calm to choppy. I know what to expect and that if the wetsuit is on right I needn’t worry about fatigue too much.

In terms of the swim the key for me is to place myself trying to avoid getting blocked in by lots of swimmers, ideally pick up a draft most of the way and work from there. I know that whilst a draft can be a real benefit if it’s too crowded I suffer over swimming alone. The other important thing to avoid is sprinting at the start of the swim and building up some oxygen debt. I’m swimming the full Jetty and back in an hour without going too hard and I need to work off that basis. Keep the focus on good quality strokes and even breathing. The swim goal is to come in at around an hour which should be perfectly achievable for me.

Onto the bike and the aim this year is to go under 5 hours. That equates to holding an average speed over 36kph. On such a flat course with good roads this isn’t too hard, unless the winds work against you. One or two sections of the course are particularly exposed and wind can become a serious issue here. My bike is in full race set-up which has the downside of no Powertap to work with. Much as I have a goal to average over 36kph more significantly I’ll be working based on keeping my heart rate in a comfortable aerobic range. The aim is to ride as efficiently as possible reserving energy for the run. Coming back to the potential headwinds, if I encounter them I accept my speed will drop and continue to work based on heart rate.

The Half-Ironman in Port Macquarie showed me how well this worked, though there the focus was power. Far too many people really attacked into the wind, but then when it was behind them, they eased. A tailwind is deceptive, you’re moving fast and it doesn’t feel that hard. Whilst there can be benefits to cruising a little, perhaps allowing a bit of recovery, a constant effort will produce the better result. So Busselton is very much about managing the effort at the top of my Ironman range and letting the results come from that. I must remember the occasional stretching break on the bike or 5 hours in the aero position is likely to leave me seized up!

At 3 laps my plan is to keep the first feeling pretty easy. Get comfortable and find my grove. Wash out the salt water from my mouth and start getting in some calories. I’m opting for the gel only approach again with one bottle packed with about 18-20 High Five gels this time. I know it’s not that appetising, but it’s simple. I’ll start to build a little in the second lap and try to lift the effort. Fatigue will be more of an issue by the third lap so the aim will be to maintain the performance from the second. Chances are that will feel harder than it did the previous lap.

I’m going with the compression socks for the run no matter what people say about the look! So T2 will be slightly slower, but with proper seats in the tent it’ll be easier to pull them on. I’m actually hoping to record a sub-5 hour for the bike including both transitions so I’m a little more ambitious there than I was letting on. Back out on the run, it’s 3 flat laps again, possibly windy and possibly very sunny. I’m good with either and prefer it to be hot to cold.

Having recorded two Ironman marathons in the 3:25 to 3:30 region and getting that down to 3:17ish in Switzerland this year the aim is 3:10. It’s a step up and will require focus to achieve, but I’m more confident in my run training this time. The pace is far from fast by running standards and not much more than I routinely knock out for my long runs during a big training week. I’m looking to be running 4:30 per kilometre by my calculations, perhaps a little under. Generally that’s a pretty comfortable pace for me and should enable me to put more effort into getting some calories onboard.

I believe one significant issue in my previous Ironman marathons is not getting enough calories in during the early stage of the run. The result is a dip in energy sometime from halfway to somewhere around the last 6 or 7 kilometers. I usually stick to what’s on offer at aid stations and whilst I’ll be taking this, I am planning to use a gel every 20-30 minutes in the first half. It’ll be a case of trial and error, I do know I find the gels hard to stomach after so many on the bike, but they are an efficient way to top up energy reserves. Getting the balance right and keeping the stomach settled is the tricky part.

Over the 3 laps the aim is to work off a pace and stick to it. If I’m going faster than my 3:10 goal I’ll slow, if I’m going slower I will try to lift the pace. The only exception is in the last lap, as I close in on the finish and enter the final 10km if I feel good I go harder! I say this knowing in my last 2 Ironman events following the lull for the last few kilometres I’ve picked up the pace to something that’d be respectable in a 10K road race. With the motivation of completing it’s certainly possible to get moving. Next step is neutralising the lull and still getting that boost at the end. Considering the laps you could regard it as keeping the first 2 easy to steady and building on the last.

Add up my times and you may notice they come in under 9:20. The goal allows for a spare 10 minutes or so just to put some room in for mishaps. If my theory works in practice, if my fitness is where I think it is, if my taper has freshened me up then I really do believe I can hit that target. There’s just the little matter of doing the race in the way and hopefully then a blog post reporting on a successful practice of the theory.

P.S. I was saving this to post Saturday, but then Tri247 linked here and much as Jaggad does well from my last post I wanted something more serious!

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