*** many thanks to Finn "Dataman" Zwager for this race report ***

Dataman follows his plan for his second Ironman race, but finds a few kinks on the way.


The Result

3.8 km swim:     1hr3min,     transition 1: 7min,
183 km bike:     5hr29min,     transition 2: 3min,
42 km run:     3hr30min.
TOTAL:         10HRS11MIN    19 out of 242 in age group    213 out 1577 total

The Day

I have to be honest and confess that the race circumstances were really very good. The ocean was dead calm and clear and the sharks had been feeding on an unfortunate surfer a few kilometers down the coast-line two weeks earlier, so satisfied they stayed out of sight. The temperature recorded at the airport was 13 degrees C at race start time climbing to a maximum of 21 only around my race finish time in the afternoon. It was mostly slightly overcast with even a drop of rain. The wind recorded was from the South East building up to 22 km/hr by the time I finished the bike course. As this was off-shore most of the bike course was relatively sheltered from the wind and on the run the wind was just enough to keep the millions (billions?) of flies away.

The race was extremely well organized and the competitors were mostly of a very high caliber, meaning no bad swerves or super slow people on the bike, no lost or thrown bottles or bike bits on the course you can trip on and not too many shufflers on the run.

In short, anybody that didn’t do a PB during this race must either have had a bad day or wasn’t quite ready for the race. The top three in my age group this year were 10 to 15 minutes faster than last year for example. Unlike my IM South Africa 2 years ago which had the highest recorded wind speeds its history at 60 km/hr, I got luck this time.

The Story


There isn’t much to say about the swim other than that it went well. Maybe because I was lucky, maybe because I was a bit nearer to the front of the pack than usual or maybe because with the calm waters everybody was just a bit chilled out; I found the swim including the start, which can be a warzone, very civilized. I was able to find some feet to follow part of the way and I had some clever racer tapping my feet the whole way (as I don’t kick much while swimming I am a very convenient person to draft behind). For two reasons I was planning to attack the swim hard: Firstly, with my poor kicking I mainly use my arms and upper body which I more or less won’t need the rest of the day, so I might as well ‘use them up’. Secondly, the winds were expected to pick up and the harsh Aussie sun would kick in later in the day, so the plan was to go a bit harder the first 1/3 of the race.

The turn-around buoys at the end of the almost 2 km long jetty appeared quickly and quite easily. After that the main ‘battle’ was to stay focused on swimming hard while maintaining good technique. About 10 minutes before the end of the swim I felt a bit of a cramp in my right calf, but a few breast strokes kicks sorted that out, which I repeated just before getting out of the water.


The first dent to the plan, which had called for an under 3 minute transition, occurred here. It was all self-inflicted. I found my transition bag easily enough and a chair to sit on too (why sit down, what a waste of time). Taking my wetsuit off went quite well, partly because I had cut about 10 CM from the legs. Since I had applied plenty of water proof sunblock before the swim, I skipped applying sunblock to my neck and shoulders. My arms were going to be protected by the compression sleeves I had smartly bought at the expo the day before the race….

Rule number 1, never ever experiment on race day. Getting the compression sleeves on turned out to be a real struggle. Once I had spent half a minute or so I knew it was going to cost me too much time, but by that stage I decided to keep going to at least get the benefits (they worked 100% in terms of sun cover and I found the compression really nice during cycling and running). Stuffing my wetsuit back in the bag and putting on my two day old cycling glasses (only 1 day old gear qualifies as experimenting, 2 day old stuff has plenty of experience….) also took too long.

A 7 minute transition is pretty poor result and I didn’t even include a loo stop – a subject we’ll get back to shortly as any true IM race report must include ablutions.

Transition lesson re-learned and plenty of room for improvement.


The bike plan was based on using the power meter output to complete the course at an overall intensity factor (IF) of 0.71 and a training stress score (TSS) of 277 (= 138 for half the bike course), going a bit harder the first part. If you have no idea what I am talking about, refer to The Appendix. But what it means is that my race ‘pace’ was based on power, not on heart rate and certainly not on speed. In fact, I did not even have speed displayed on my watch.

Check power, stay low[1]. And that is exactly how the first half of the bike went. The course was very busy with other cyclists, but extremely easy to navigate, not subject to much wind and flat. This made it easy to stick to the plan as illustrated in the table below.

First half bike data (90KM)
Metric Plan Result
Time - 2:38
IF (intensity factor) 0.72 0.722
TSS (training stress score) 138 137
NP (normalised power) 211 217
VI (variability index) - 1.01


Of particular note is the Variability Index (VI), which is very close to 1.0, meaning my power output was very constant.

The nutrition plan called for 11 scoops (1500 calories) of Hammer perpetuem mixed with water carried in two bottles, and the occasional banana or gel from the aid stations. This worked well with the first bottle down exactly at the half way point. Otherwise I stuck to water only.

Talking about water, what goes in must come out. So here goes the inevitable pee story.
Just let it go! It has taken quite a few longer distance races, but after this race I am a true Ironman: I can pee my pants anywhere at anytime.

It is surprising how much of a psychological barrier it is, perhaps because we spend all our lives not trying to wet ourselves in public. But, once you cross the barrier it is very liberating (Is it enough to write a self-help-book bestseller?). No more worries about where to stop, when to stop and how much time it all takes. Just splash some water on after each deed and ignore the wet socks. If you are properly hydrated to start with then the acidity of the outflows is quite low, keeping the nappy rash on the run in check.

At the bike half way 90 KM sign I sat up to polish off the first Hammer bottle and to press the lap button on my watch, which results in a loud whistle noise. Whistle noise??? WTF !!!

A referee motor bike pulled up beside me and told me I must stop at the next penalty tent for a 4 minute drafting penalty. ‘What, are you serious, I wasn’t drafting?!’ Did he not realize I hardly even noticed all the other bikes around me? I only looked at my power output, not who was in front of me. Bloody Aussie referee. But, there was no point in arguing of course. As the motor bike pulled away a cyclist passed me and said (imagine the accent) ‘Mate, that could have been anyone of us’. Us? Where was the ‘us’? Did the world not realize I operate in a vacuum!?

Thankfully the next penalty tent was close by and I got the penalty out of the way. As I stood next to my bike a thousand Aussie flies descended upon me. I wonder why I was attracting the flies by now…
Refocusing for the second half of the bike was not easy and of course I had now woken up from my all-alone-in-the-world-with-a-plan dream. I was looking very carefully at who was in front of me and annoyingly the others were not following my bike power plan. This meant I had to drop back and stop pedaling at times, or speed up and pedal hard to pass somebody at other times. The result is in the table below:

Second half bike data (90KM)
Metric    Plan    Result
Time    - 2:50
IF (intensity factor) 0.71 0.693
TSS (training stress score) 138 137
NP (normalised power) 211 209
VI (variability index) - 1.04

My power output and as a result my IF dropped a too much below the 0.71 target. I had to vary my power output more to actively avoid drafting, resulting in a higher VI. The time for the second 90 KM was 12 minutes slower, although this included the 4 minute waiting penalty. Because of the starting and stopping, speeding up and slowing down the TSS was still ‘on target’, but not resulting in good bike speed.


3 minutes, so that was more like it. Still could have gained a minute or so.


This marathon plan called for 5 min K’s accelerating towards the end, high cadence and good technique.
As I tend to run with my head thrown back which is not a good idea, I ran with a sun-cap low over my eyes and tried to look down at my feet. This resulted in a very ‘in the zone’ look, as quite a few supporters commented on (‘Crikey, he is in the zone!), while in reality I was trying to concentrate on my running style to prevent me from giving up or slowing down.

Each completed lap was awarded with a different colour wrist band, white, blue and red. Most athletes had their age group letter displayed on their right calve as tattoo stickers with race and age group numbers were part of the race pack. This made it easy to judge your position or speed in the race. As things started to hurt now this was a good way to distract from the pain and to ‘pick off’ other runners as a short term goal.

I managed to wave to Jacqueline from (Tri) Dubai, who had planned to race herself but got struck with the flu. I noticed Jeroen and Pedro from Emirates Triathlon Club (ETC) going the opposite way and then passed Chris from T2A on my last lap. #%$^&! Chris also had the red wrist band on meaning he was also on his last lap too. When did he pass me? How was that possible, he wasn’t going very fast now? What plan was he on? Was my plan all wrong? Doubts I didn’t need on my last lap, also because I knew at that stage that I would definitely miss the sub 10 hour Ironman club. I found out after the race that Chris had been wearing a bunch of wrist bands from other events including a red one. When I passed him he still had a lap and a half to go!

In the end my overall speed held nicely steady at 4:55 min/km, but the acceleration never happened. I walked a few steps at the aid stations towards the end and there was no sprint finish. Perhaps signs of a well-executed plan after all, there wasn’t much left in the tank. Or perhaps a bit of capitulation when I realized that a sub-10 hour finish time was out and the very secret hopes of a Kona slot no longer realistic.

The Prep

2013 had been a year of sports highs and lows and some change. It started well with a very planned and focused sub 3 hour Dubai marathon (better run sub 3 once in my life was the idea and 2:59:59 did it nicely). Then a slightly out of focus Abu Dhabi short tri, followed by Ironman 70.3 Switzerland which was cancelled when a mud slide blocked the course. Then a calf tear forced me onto to biking and swimming only. That would have been a good thing, but the stroke of bad luck continued when I also developed a left inguinal hernia requiring surgery at the end of august. Thanks to laparoscopic surgery used these days I was back on the bike in 6 days, slightly ignoring doctors and surgeons advice, but the calf and the hernia forced me off my feet until more or less November.

The racing-weight plan worked a bit too well. You may recall my ‘data man’ article on weight loss just before the summer. I continued on that path, but went a lot more low-carb, high-fat. My scale told me I went down to 78kg, from a more muscular 87kg at IM South Africa two years prior, and a fat percentage of around 9. Cross checking this with a different scale and body composition analysis it turned out I was close to 76kg with a fat percentage of 5.6%. A bit too low for optimal racing? I notice most professional, long distance fast triathletes are small and skinny, but at 1.94M I am never going to be small and just being skinny isn’t everything. Still, considering my frame size a single digit fat percentage is a must for racing well in heat I believe.

I was a member of T2A for most of the year and really enjoyed being a part of that team. I have since switched to Tribe Racing and I have just been bombarded to President of the ETC. As I join and support the TriDubai / Race-Me events as well, you can see I have some divided loyalties these days. Hence my non-matching lycra, a blue top and green calf socks at this race, and an ETC suit for some local races. All of these clubs and many individuals within them have helped me along the way (JM, RN, JC, NT to name just a few who sometimes rather stay anonymous). I just hope they will keep putting up with me.

The End?

I have signed up for IM Western Australia again. I now know that sub-10 hour is a real possibility, although actual race times will depend a lot on the waves and weather. I also know I can get quite close to a Kona slot. The route there will go via Abu Dhabi short, another half distance race, some local short races and a new approach to training (and a new bike, if I the bank approves the new mortgage).

Does Ironman reflect life? Well, perhaps I didn’t need to do another Ironman to find out that the whole world does not follow my plan and that the best-laid plans of mice and men oft go astray[2]. My wife and my boss both tell me that every day.




[1] Any familiarity with other recent minor race report is coincidental. Even race report writing has become competitive ; )

[2] From Robert Burns' poem To a Mouse, 1786. It tells of how he, while ploughing a field, upturned a mouse's nest. The resulting poem is an apology to the mouse:
But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren't alone]
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promised joy.

The poem is the source for the title of John Steinbeck's 1937 novel - Of Mice and Men, which my daughter is just analysing for her GCEs next year!

The Appendix

Racing weight

Diet: Changing to low carb high fat in my case mainly meant cutting out bread and pasta. I used several recipes from a successful ‘for life’ eating style from Holland/Belgium called Zandloper. It more or less replaces bread with oats, which, while still a carb, somehow are much better for you and have a much different effect than (more processed) bread and pasta.

The main other trick described in my diet article earlier this year which in turn was based on the ‘Racing Weight’ book is food timing:  A lot of breakfast, smaller lunch, not much dinner and eating (protein) around training session.

Why did I lose almost too much fat? Most likely the resting metabolism number I used was way off towards the end. Using standard formula my daily non-exercise calorie burn was around 2000 Kcal. The last aeroscan (www.aerofit.me) just before the race measured a daily resting calorie consumption of 3000 Kcal. While the real figure was likely somewhere in the middle, it showed that I was burning quite a few more calories than I was consuming.

What also worked for me is measuring daily. It was a good self-nag or motivator if you stand on the scale first thing every morning.



To adjust my training plan as I went along I used www.restwise.com. You enter a few basic measurements and honest self-assessment questions to give you a score of how rested or fatigued you are adjust your training plan accordingly. Nothing you couldn’t come up with yourself, but just going through the exercise every day is helpful in preventing you to become a slave to the plan.


IM bike pacing

For the bike I relied mainly on an excellent article by Joe Friel:
‘How to ‘cheat’ by using a power meter in an ironman’: http://preview.tinyurl.com/8o3blaw
“How to Use the Table
Your bike-finish TSS should fall into either the light gray, dark gray, or yellow sections depending on how you categorize yourself (see the color-code legend to find your race category). Then on the left side of the table find your goal bike time. By looking to the right of the goal time and in your color-coded category you’ll see a range of one to four TSS numbers. Then by glancing up to the top row for both ends of this colored range you’ll see what your IF should be throughout the race. Then you simply ride in that IF range on race day and—voila!—you have your optimal bike time and are ready to actually run the marathon.
So let’s look at an example. My goal is to have a six-hour bike split in my next Ironman given my experience, the nature of the course and anticipated race-day weather conditions. I categorize myself as an “age group athlete with good preparation” (dark grey). By looking to the right from 6:00 I can see the anticipated TSS must be in the range of 269 to 286. Then looking up I can see that the IF range must be 67 to 69%. That means I’m going to ride at 67 to 69% of my FTP. So if my FTP on race is expected to be 250 watts (note that FTP rises as your fitness changes so it must be tested every four weeks or so), then my power range on race day must be 168 to 173 watts. I’ll go about 20% higher on the steepest hills (200 watts), and I’ll coast the steepest downhills (0 watts). By setting my head unit to show both instantaneous power and IF I can monitor and gauge my intensity throughout the bike leg of the race. And, of course, I will do workouts in which I practice doing the same, exact numbers. So on race day there will be nothing new. I just do what I’ve rehearsed dozens of times in training. And have a great race!”

IM run pacing

This I based mostly on my last aeroscan result, which showed I should be able to sustain a 5 min k pace for considerable time: