Below are my take aways from my first half iron distance (70.3) race at The Marshman in Kent, UK.
Top of the list was having sought out great coaches. Those who have been checking out my YouTube videos will have heard me mention Helen Hall who has helped me all the way from posture correction to pedal coaching and sprint training. I have also had 5 swimming lessons with Mike Weedon, a certified Total Immersion Swimming coach.
The theme of the coaching I have been given is efficiency. I have a background in explosive sports and my nature is typically 100 miles an hour at all times, so longer distance triathlons don’t exactly fit with my natural pacing of life, but life is about challenges and at times becoming comfortable in the uncomfortable.
Helen wears many hats for human performance, being a triathlon coach is one and I’ve been lucky to have enlisted her help for some injury correction, run coaching and pedal coaching. In short, she helped me unravel some biomechanical issues to reduce joint pain in my knees, back and neck and once that was done (via a combination of ‘geezer walking’ and other reprogramming techniques) I moved onto run coaching (https://youtu.be/pUsvnwXgsBU). The most significant aspects have been moving to minimalist/ barefoot running, nose breathing and amplifying the rotation in, well everything during a run. My times have been coming down, my VO2 max has increased and I spend less time in heart rate zone 4 and 5. Essentially I have become more efficient and that is so important when aiming for half and full distance triathlons.
The pedal coaching also made a massive difference. Not only was I taught good posture in tri position (not banana man!), I was introduced to Speedplay pedals which have been kinder to my knees and I now use gravity to my advantage which has seen me go from struggling at the back of the pack to charging past others particularly on hills.
I have really enjoyed my development in swimming. Last year when I was a triathlon newbie and having a crack at sprint distances, I would get out of the pool or lake looking like I’d just had a full body free-weights workout and sounding like I had performed all of that on a treadmill at 10 mph!
These days I am fascinated by Terry Laughlin’s Total Immersion Swimming technique. It looks so graceful and effortless. Although a relative novice I have already reduced my stroke count in a 25m pool from 25 to 19 and my general feeling after a swim is that I’m ready for the bike and run. I employ a 2 beat kick, using my core as my swim engine and only a small whip of the legs from the hip. I hold the water with an outstretched arm at about 30 degrees, until I spear with my next stroke with a relaxed forearm and kick/ rotate past my holding arm which cycles past my pocket and then the stroke continues.
The above has made my journey much more enjoyable. We all love to learn and having this technical focus has kept me interested when crashing out +100 laps of the local, dirty council swimming pool or pounding the pavements avoiding aggressive dogs and giving me something more than the rain to occupy my mind.
It is of course training that helps you reach your goals, but the correct guidance and focus has allowed me to achieve my goals more efficiently and confidently.
2. DILIGENT PREPARATION
Last year’s foray into triathlon was akin to sniffing a new food to discover whether it was even worth tasting. With the longer distances planned over a summer of activity, I had to take my first race seriously. You read all about being prepared and it really is an essential. There is so much kit to remember, pack, fit, clean, charge and arrange that it needs careful attention. I made an extensive list in my Evernote app and ticked everything off before I left for the race. I laid everything out (similar to transition) and mentally walked through the race making sure I had everything from goggle anti-fog spray to electrolyte tablets.
Before you even get to this stage though, it’s worth researching your nutrition plan and perhaps even bike set up for the distance. I had a GURU bike fit in February and have made some changes along the way due to pedals and saddle changes. Some people might have a new bike set up for longer/ shorter distances, so something to consider. A bike service is also a good shout. I changed my tyres and tubes for more durable items. I also tightened everything up (or so I thought…more about that later). Oh, and look at weather reports. We were forecast rain for the bike and run, but we were lucky. However, I had a waterproof jacket in case.
In terms of nutrition, I was staying overnight close to the event so I pre-prepared my dinner, breakfast and also some food for re-fuelling. I worked out that I would need to fill my torpedo bottle and take a spare standard bottle for half iron. I like the High 5 tablets so I’d need 2 of those. I also took a combination of 4 torq gels and 2 torq bars and also 1 packet of clif blocks (basically a solid gel and really easy to consume) and clif bars for after the race. I decided on 3 medjool dates for the run. Some people tape the gels to their frame, but I bought an x-lab frame mounted pouch to safely store all the necessary gels, oh and a couple of 200mg ibuprofen. I actually took 1 when the pain in the ass got too much at about the 30 mile mark!
Lastly, I drove the route in my car. I actually got lost twice, but thankfully didn’t repeat this despite largely riding alone for large parts of the race. The course was well marshalled and wasn’t confusing. Maybe because I checked it out first!?
With no stone unturned I was far more relaxed heading down to the race.
This is very important. I am a super competitive person and even though I was supposed to be using this race as a training session my resting heart rate certainly was not at 50.
One of the main reasons I wasn’t completely at ease stems from last year’s experiences in the water. My first ever sprint tri was in a pool with competitors starting every 10 seconds. In my first lap I got punched in the face, dragging my goggles down and cutting my nose. Someone was trying to overtake in my lane and we collided. However, coming from a combat sports background it hit an internal switch that changed me from ‘friendly bloke looking forward to a bike ride’, to ‘oh, its like THAT!’ For my next race at Hever Castle I was way more focussed and had a good warm up. My mate and I entered the lake and the next thing I remember was being dunked, elbowed, pulled and bumped. I very nearly quit. I got myself into a bit of a negative state and the memory has stayed with me for this year’s season.
The thing with the swim, is that there will be contact. You can find a shallow part of the lake and wrestle with the reeds or you can swim among other neoprene clad humans. For this race I accepted my fate and just relaxed into it. I went back to the training mentality and even found myself trying to swim off the hips of other racers and battling for position at the buoys.
Anxiety causes physical tension and clouds your mind and judgement. I was able to happily go about my ride and run with a relaxed mind which made it much easier to relax my body in tri position on the bike and then throughout the run. I can remember hearing some water sloshing around in my stomach on the run, which was good in that I was clearly relaxed, but I probably water loaded a little bit too much.
We must accept our present state and environment at every turn of a race. We must trust in our training and then execute. Tensing up will only burn useful energy and increase the likelihood of injury, not to mention affect good form and performance.
I feel like I paced the race well. Although you are among a field of other triathletes for a great many competitors you are focussing on your own race, your own goals. Sure, use others as targets but only if you feel its not outside of your strategy. And just an aside, don’t look back. It’s negative. Of course check your shoulder on the bike to avoid dangers, but don’t lookback on the run. You should be aiming forward at all times, with maybe a small exception at the final sprint to the finish line.
I watched a good YouTube video from an experienced Iron Man that suggested holding back a little bit on the bike. He literally meant riding at 18mph if you wanted to average 20 mph. Pulling slightly on the reigns will pay dividends and for me, it certainly did. I was passed by about half a dozen bikes during the first 15-20 miles, but then as the course became a little more challenging I increased the intensity and earned back all of those spots. I was doing so well until my chain came off and jammed just before the only significant climb on the course. Dammit!
I also paced the run pretty well too. I noticed that a lot of us were coming out of transition running 7:30 min miles, which I thought would be too quick for me. I don’t have much experience of running half marathons. I ran a 45 minute 10k at a Windsor duathlon and that has been my closest race pace to gauge against. So, I slowed up. I wanted to run around 8 minute miles and I definitely wanted to run inside 2 hours. However, around mile 8 I could feel some of my injuries tormenting me a bit; first my knee, then my ankle and then my hamstring. The last thing I wanted (or needed for my confidence) was a DNF (did not finish), so I slowed up to about 9 minute miles and came home inside the 2 hours. Without pacing I might not have finished and I might have closed out my season with a serious ligament injury.
1. POOR TRANSITIONS
I think this would appear on a lot of novice triathlete’s lists. The upshot is that I reckon I have an easy couple of minutes to save which would have elevated my final race position. It’s easiest to illustrate in a mini list. OK, so T1:
· I could have swum closer to the exit point of the lake
· For some reason I ran out of transition with one cleat cover over my Speedplay cleats. I have no idea how this happened, but I guess I was in 2 minds when I was setting my kit out as to whether it would be too slippery etc through transition. I only discovered this whilst trying to clip in. Obviously a challenging task when you have a solid plastic barrier!
· Came to dismount the bike as I did last year when I was racing sprints. For this I would unclip the right shoe, swing it over to the left side as the bike was still moving and then eventually dismount on the left. I was a little more fatigued this time though so realised that wouldn’t happen without embarrassing incident, so I came to a halt (after unclipping) and tried to swing my leg over the rear of the bike. However, I had a newly-mounted X Lab wing on the back which meant a little more effort needed to clear with the leg. A clash with wing ensued but no harm done. More work needed to decide the correct dismount!
· For the bike I had worn an extra cycling jersey and an extra pair of shorts. I have been suffering terrible chafing after the duathlon, so I thought I’d wear an extra pair of shorts which I could remove if in fact it created too much padding and a counter productive effect. In short, they worked. But I was half way out of transition before I realised I hadn’t removed them! So, I went back to my spot, took them off and left transition. What about your cycling jersey, you ask. Yeah, I forgot to take it off! Not too much of a problem, but I did have all my empty gels, my cleat cover and a small bag of 3 dates in the pockets, most of which I didn’t need to carry. Plus it was warming up and I had double layers on.
2. MECHANICAL ISSUES
It wasn’t long during the ride that I saw a poor fellow tending to a puncture. Shitty luck when that happens, but it most certainly does happen. My mechanical issues were a little different to this.
Now I class myself as fairly handy. I’m an experienced tradesman and I like to try my hand at practical stuff. Bicycles are largely simple devices with only a few moving parts, so how hard can it be!?! Well in the week leading to the race I manage to get hold of some necessary accessories like the front mounted hydration system, a frame mounted bag and a bike post wing which you fix a variety of useful kit to, in my case a bottle holder, a medium sized bag for maintenance tools/ equipment and a nut for speed fill air canisters and adapter. I largely followed the instructions and thought I was good to go, proud of my new attractive set up.
About 5 miles into the ride I heard a metallic tinging noise…you know, the noise that a CO2 canister makes as it falls from a bike moving at 20 mph on to the unforgiving black tarmac road! This wasn’t a deal breaker and I still had one canister should I realise the same fate as the poor fellow I had not long passed who was frantically removing a damaged tube from his wheel.
Fast forward another 10/15 miles and I heard another noise close behind my bike. This time it was more of a thud followed by a skid…you know, the noise a bottle full of water and electrolytes makes as it magically climbs out of its cage and escapes to freedom! Not so good for thirsty me. And also not so good for anyone riding behind- apologies to anyone that recalls this incident, it wasn’t a devious attempt at some kind of Whacky Races advantage! Fortunately, the aid station at the half-way point allowed me to refill and I was good for the rest of the ride.
What wasn’t good however was the position of my chain as I began the only significant climb of the bike section. I have no idea why it happened, but as it shifted to the small ring that harrowing noise of metal and carbon filled my ears and my crank locked. A peek down between my feet revealed it was time to get oily. I was able to free the (luckily undamaged) chain and start my ascent. I was frustrated though as I had worked really hard to claw back a number of positions and was in a really good rhythm. I wanted to test my ability climbing the hill against others, but sadly I did it alone. I might have also meant that I didn’t get caught in the queue at the rail crossing in the final quarter!
Maybe I should have had my bike serviced after all. It wasn’t perfect after the duathlon in April and I tried to make some small adjustments myself. It will however be checked into the professional workshop shortly.
3.OVERUSE OF WATER AND AID STATIONS
I’m a little bit obsessed with hydration. I drink a lot and I pee a lot. Staying well hydrated has served me well, but in a competitive environment it seems to be costing me time. Sure I ran through the water and aid stations but I could have saved a couple of detours which would have reduced the negative effects on my breathing and heart rate, not to mention running form as a result of being loaded on one side which upsets the biomechanics.
Next time I will find out about how many aid/ water stations there are and maybe even their locations and plan this.
Lastly, and it was a rookie error- laces. So I never got round to weaving speed laces into this season’s running shoes. In fact the laces in my Merrells had never undone either, so with this not being a sprint, I was quite happy to stick with tying them in transition. 100 metres out of transition and the bloody things came undone! I hadn’t factored in the numb fingers effect from the bike. I will buy a new set of speed laces shortly.
That’s my 4 good and 4 bad from my very first half iron distance race. Please don’t make the same mistakes as me and also reach out with any thoughts or tips. You can find me the followng ways:
twitter @johngoodenuk or @thebloodyvegan
YouTube The Bloody Vegan
Train hard. Train safe. Have fun.