I want to open this race race report in the theme that IMRoycer_81 from the Slowtwitch Forum did in his recent race report on IM TX. Thanks first and foremost. I have learned over the past 3 plus years that you cannot now and will never achieve any of your goals without the full support of the people closest to you. For me this means my lovely wife Barbara and my beautiful three daughters Amelia aged seven, Liliana aged five and Olivia, aged three. My wife doesn’t just accept my training, she encourages me, works with me, and takes time out of her life to support me and she embraces my goals and dreams. She and my daughters have given far more than they have received and for this I will forever be indebted. I have been blessed to be married to my wife and I will leave it at that. I can only say “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart for your support this past season
I want to send a second thank you to Tony Hchaimé who has taken time out of his busy schedule to always answer my questions and give me feedback on anything I have ever thrown his way. I have only met Tony personally on one or two occasions but I know he is a gentleman and is passionate about making people better (and faster).
Lastly I want to thank TriDubai. I am at so few group sessions these days simply because my life is very busy, just like everyone else’s. I know there is a time in my life when I will become more involved, but that time is in the future. That much being said there are some “superhuman” athletes here who take the time to share their insight and experiences. There are also “everyman” athletes who do the same and I thank you both equally. The “everyman” lets me know I am not alone and the “superhuman” keeps me shooting for the starts. Thank you!
The longer, more technical, and more full of nerd data in a race report, the more I enjoy it. I hope others will enjoy this report as much as I have enjoyed reading yours. I am not a high performer and no qualifications are even twinkling near the edge of my universe, but I hope to entertain nonetheless. After a 30 week buildup and good race result at Dubai 70.3, my wife encouraged me to continue my season with a second build up to St. Pölten 70.3 on May 22nd. This would stretch my season to 45 weeks, which would be a new record. The plan of attack going forward after Dubai was to be very straightforward. Return back to Base 3 HR based training to reestablish my aerobic endurance capabilities and then embark on another Build 1 and Build 2 with race simulation workouts. Then peak and race per usual.
Having done St. Pölten last year I knew my biggest challenge would be dealing with the 2 main climbs on the bike course. I didn’t own or have access to a bike trainer so I was going to have to come up with an outdoor option, and driving to the mountains an hour plus away was out of the question due to time constraints. My standard key build ride was 5X20 min efforts at race power with 4 minute recoveries in between. This was then followed by another 60 to 90 minutes at aerobic endurance power. I modified this to change the second effort from 20 minutes @ 205 watts to 10 minutes at 210 watts and 10 minutes at 230 watts. The fourth effort was 5 minutes @ 210 watts and 15 minutes @ 260 watts. I felt that this would best simulate the two climbs which last year took me 10 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Not perfect but it would have to do.
On the run side of things my target had been to run 4:45 per km off of the bike which I was able to do successfully for half the run in Dubai but during the second half I faded back to 5:00 per km. My standard key build run workout was 8X9 min efforts at race pace with 1 minute walk recoveries in between. This was then followed by another 45 minutes or so at aerobic endurance pace. I decided that I would try to bump the pace up to 4:30 per km even if this meant reducing the number of repeats from 8 back to 5. 5 was the minimum number recommended by my coaching plan. I hoped this would enable me to run 4:45 per km off the bike and hang on to the end of the race.
Lastly to the swim approach. Not much to say here as I had been following a training plan from Swim Smooth which was 3 sessions per week around 2.7km each, with each session biased towards technique, endurance or threshold. My swimming had been coming along nicely and was the least area of concern for me. I knew there was no way I was ever going to make any big gains on the swim without getting in the water at least 5 days a week which was also not an option given my life outside of triathlon.
The execution of the workouts on the bike went really well. The key 4th repeat was a serious ball buster to maintain but somehow I was always able to do it. It was good that it coincidentally almost always occurred on the little rise below the power lines on the back side of Al Qudra cycling track here in Dubai. It is laughable to call that a climb but at least I could gear up a bit and get the rpm’s down for a few seconds. (insert sarcasm) After the interval I was able to recover nicely and execute a solid 5th interval and then the aerobic endurance set. I felt like I was on course to have a good strong ride. The run was a more mixed bag. I was only successful in about 70% of the workouts. 4:30 per km is right at the top of my tempo zone and I found that any little thing that was off would tip me into the redline. So I bonked a few times on the 4th repeat and couldn’t do a 5th when it was a bit too warm or when I had a crap night of rest. But most of the results were good, especially when it came to the numbers generated on TrainingPeaks. My efficiency was continuously creeping upwards and decoupling was always solid at less than 5% even with the climbing temperatures as winter faded to spring. Everything seemed right on target and by the end of my build period 4:45 per km felt like a lallygag. Exactly what I wanted it to be.
There was no denying the fact that I was feeling a bit cooked during the Build 2. I had been at it since August and I was losing the mental game when it came to looking forward to workouts. It was getting hotter outside and my workout window was closing up quickly in regards to the heat so this was also another thing that was giving me mental grief. I knew I would hang in there but generally training for me is very easy and I had clearly reached a point where I was tired of it. Enough said. We all get tired sometimes, so I just needed to HTFU.
Going into this race by the numbers I looked like I should be good to go. My CTL had peaked about 81 for Dubai and I was in the same spot for this race at about 84. My coaching approach targets less than 10% CTL drop during the peak and a target of 15 to 25 TSB on race day. I was right in this window. This was to be my 7th triathlon and I really felt like the experience from past races was finally paying dividends in regards to preparation routine. I had my race plan down pat and committed to memory as I knew I would have to be accountable to it afterwards. Although I use HR as a training metric during certain periods, I had decided to completely abandon it for the race which was the correct call but something new. Races are about delivering results. Results are delivered by power and pace. I was ready to deliver what I planned or come unglued trying. So screw HR. I traveled to St. Pölten by myself so this was to be an all business affair with absolutely every minute centered around the race and not having any outside pressures of others on the trip with me. Race night found me in bed at 6pm feeling quite tired and watching a movie on iTunes, something which I never do. Eyelids got heavy and that was it.
Before I start with the actual race day report, let’s get my 2 main stuff-ups out and on the table. I said I would be accountable to my race plan so here is where I went astray. 3 minutes before entering the water I realized I had left my wedding ring on. Swimming is the one thing I don’t do with my wedding ring as it feels like it could slip off (it couldn’t) so it is a distraction. Nothing I could do at this point except block it out so that is what I did. It held on through the swim and wasn’t too much of a distraction after a few hundred meters. The takeaway is to make sure my final checklist is on paper. I had done this in the past but as I said I felt I was getting things dialed in, and thought I don’t need it. Well I do. The second one was more serious and more intentional. I had planned to ride the bike with just my helmet and visor. No sunglasses underneath as I had done in the past. In the past my visor had fogged up in the climbs when there was no airflow so I bought some anti-fog spray and tested and retested my helmet and visor in a steamed up bathroom. It worked flawlessly. The day before the race it was very sunny and I knew it would be the same on race day and the tint on my visor is not very dark so for some reason I elected to wear my sunglasses under my visor AGAINST MY RACE PLAN. Long story long on the first climb I am getting some light fog. Is it the visor or the glasses? It is the glasses I determine shortly so glasses off and into the back pocket of my top. Visor back on and it is staying fog free perfectly. At about 75km in the bike ride i feel something pop out of my pocket and here a clink on the road and sure enough there go my 100 dollar plus Oakley’s that served me so well for almost 3 years. For a split second I think about turning back but then I regain my senses and motor on without them. An expensive mistake straying from the race plan. Those would be my only 2 mistakes throughout the day that I could have prevented. Now back to the race report….
Alarm goes off bright and early and I am up and going through my morning routine Uneventful breakfast and trip to race site. I put the nutrition on my bike, calibrate my power meter and head over to get into my wetsuit. After I get the wetsuit up to my waist I start the 1 km walk to the swim start. Everything is going smoothly and I am not too nervous at any point. It only took about 10 different endurance type races but I finally have a bluebird sky day with not a cloud and sight and perfect temperatures. It is going to be a rolling start this year so I put myself near the front of the 35-40 minute corral.
Across the mat, hack the watch, a few cautious steps into the murky goo and we are off and racing. The contact is minimal and I feel like I am on a good line to the first buoy.
The rest of the first 1km is really uneventful, I settled into a good rhythm and although I had planned on drafting as much as possible I felt like I was on a better line and was a few meters away from the most everyone else. The swim in St. Pölten is in 2 lakes with a couple hundred meter run between them. Up and out of the water and onto the short run. Last year this run really scuffed the heck out of the bottom of my feet and I had made it a priority to make my way cautiously and carefully to the second lake. As much as I did so, after being in 15C water your feet don’t quite feel like they normally do and as I started out in the second lake swimming the bottom of my feet felt like they had been roughed up again despite my best efforts. Time to put it out of my mind and move on. One my core racing strategies is to as much as possible only focus on the immediate moment and what needs to be done, not worrying about the miles that have passed behind, nor the miles up ahead. Stay focused on the moment you are in right now and make it count. As we reached the turnaround buoy I encountered a lot of contact and as I was underwater I saw a quick flash of what I thought to be someone drowning. Now this was not the case in reality but it unsettled me and as we pulled away from the turnaround buoy I felt like I wasn’t getting as much air as I wanted while breathing and I could feel for the first time ever a panic attack setting in. I focused on blowing bubbles and trying to get control but I couldn’t and I finally had to put the brakes on and stop swimming and get a grip on myself for 5 seconds or so. It was so bad the thought of quitting the race popped into my head. I couldn’t believe I was experiencing this after so many open water training swims, after being stung head to toe by a jelly fish and getting myself back to shore in Dubai. So after a few seconds I put my head back in the water and started swimming again but I was very unsettled and it took another 200 meters at embarrassingly slow pace until I was finally able to recover fully and get back to my race pace. By that point it was only 150 meters or so to shore and the swim was more or less done and dusted at that point so I tried to finish strong and carry on.
18:16 / 1081 meters
1:57 intermediate run 280 meters
17:00 / 957 meters
After last years brutal foot scuffing on the run between the swims I had made protecting my feet a priority throughout the race. I mean if your feet are hurting you how can you run, right? To this end I decided to put a healthy dose of body glide on my feet and then put my bike shoes on in T1. I was in and out as fast as was possible with no wasted time and onto the bike. I settled into my target wattage pretty quickly and easily and felt good. Despite the rolling start I felt there was more bike traffic on the course than last year and there certainly were more officials out as well. I wanted to ride a legal race as I know drafting has become such a hot topic. What I found in the first part of the race was that I was encountering large groups of cyclists who although were not intentionally drafting, were not keeping the 12 meter gap as required. So the only legal way to get around these groups was to put down 300 watts or so and pass them all at once. I did this 4 or 5 times but was watching my NP climb much higher than I had planned on and we hadn’t even hit the climbs yet. I was worried these surges were causing me to be riding too hard. So I made an intentional decision to lay off the power if I approached a large group and just slowly work my way past it as the slower ones in the bunch were overtaken. With my speed hovering around 37 km/hr or so with a bit of tailwind this seemed like a good plan. The net result of this was that my VI ended up at 1.12 up from 1.07 last year. There wasn’t much I could do short of sucking a lot of wheel at 8 meters. We hit the first climb and I completely nailed it at 266 watts and took 3+ minutes off of my time last year. Back into the flats along the Danube river and my NP off of the climb was right on target. This 30km section or so would prove to be were I started to fall off of my power plan. I kept encountering a lot of groups were I was forced to back off of the power a bit. And separately from that I started to feel that I was chasing the watts a fair amount when I could ride according to my plan. I took a quick peak at my virtual racer from Best Bike Split and saw I was 3 minutes behind. I just stayed in the moment and carried on and for the first time during the race started to feel a bit tired. I was looking forward to getting onto the big climb the “Gansbach” and being able to just lay down some power where I knew it would be a struggle and where I knew that struggling would be acceptable. Soon enough we were onto the big climb and I was doing my best to peg 260 watts. I felt good and in control and unlike last year there were not people blowing by me. A few passed me in the beginning but I held my own and overtook a few as well. Towards the last few minutes as I sensed the top was near I could see my power was fading back to 230 watts despite my best efforts. Up and over the top and again I knocked several minutes off of my time from last year in the climb. On the descent I took in a bunch of nutrition and tried to refocus for the last 15km which always seems to drag on. This was the point where I lost my sunglasses but carried on without them. Again FOLLOW YOUR RACE PLAN. As we reached town I spun up the legs bit and let off the gas in preparation for the run. I knew it was going to be tough and I knew I was behind schedule by about 6 minutes or so by this point but a good result was still out there just waiting for me to go and get it. I felt I was in reasonable condition given the past 3 and a half hours of racing.
Target 214 watts NP 2:43 bike Actual 204 watts NP 2:48 bike
Into T2 and again a very methodical and efficient transition. I coated my feet again with body glide and I had already coated the inside of my race socks the day before so I was ready for 21km of running on pure silk. Shoes and visor on and I was out on my way. I was able to hit 4:45 per km immediately but I knew it was going to be too hot to sustain it. Air temperature was about 32C and most of my run training had been at 20C so I decided to target 5 minutes per km and see how it goes. Plan was to hold that on the first lap and then see what extra I have on the second lap. By 3 to 4 km into the run I knew I just didn’t have it. My pace was already slipping from 5 minutes per km and my legs just felt like every step was pulling them out of quicksand. I know my body pretty well these days and I could tell that any pushing of the pace was going to be incredibly painful for about 4 minutes and then result in a blowout with me walking. So I was just managing what I could focusing on each kilometer passing and trying to concentrate on my form and turnover. It is funny how my mind was constantly trying to redirect my focus from the task at hand which was managing the discomfort to thoughts of walking / quitting / why do I do this / etc etc. Each time I immediately reigned it back in and continued to carry on, albeit at a much slower pace than I had wanted to. I knew it was what I needed to do though to get around the course. I am proud of how I was able to stay focused in the moment giving it everything I had. Passing the 5km to the finish I let out a string of curse words at myself exhorting me to push and race and not manage things. I did for a few minutes but sure enough I immediately picked up a side stitch that I knew would reduce me to walking if I carried on in the same manner. I knew I was giving it my all in that moment if I was ever doubting it. Approaching the last km I allowed myself one quick peek at my total time on my watch and saw I only had a few minutes left to try to finish quicker than last year. The thought of actually having a slower race, despite the warm conditions, spurred me to push myself to either blacking out or vomiting or maybe both in that last surge to the finish. I somehow found an extra gear and sprinted home letting out a subhuman growl as I crossed the finish line in my best Craig Alexander bicep flex. I was so proud of myself for not walking on that Half-Marathon course. And it was my biggest accomplishment in that moment. 5 hours, 27 minutes, 58 seconds
Actual Run 1:52:11
And now for a bit of reflection. I get too caught up in times and this race is of course no exception. The fact of the matter is although I only went 4 minutes or so faster I improved significantly. St. Pölten is a highly competitive race with the best age group uber bikers out there. For example, last year in my 35-39 AG of 300, 100 guys went sub 5 hours. Really? Yes. This year only 50 guys went sub 5 hours again out of around 300. So the conditions were clearly much tougher especially on the run this year. Last year I finished in the 67th percentile of my age group and this year I was able to bump that up to 49th percentile and that doesn’t include the number of people who were pulled out of the water from this years race which I don’t have the data for just yet. So yes, I improved significantly despite the race time. When I reflect on the amount of hours I have available to put into training I feel that I am ahead of the curve. The fact of the matter is I have learned that my job as an airline pilot is really not suited to triathlon. The travel, the sleep depravation, the odd hours all add up to inconsistency in training. The reality is although I would like to think I train on average 12 or 13 hours a week the numbers do not lie. TrainingPeaks has me averaging 8 hours 48 minutes per week this season. That is less than 500 hours per year and that just isn’t going to cut the mustard for me. I don’t know where this competitive streak that resides inside me came from because it certainly wasn’t there as a child, an adolescent or even into my early adulthood. But it is there and it needs to be fed.
So what is next. First off a serious transition period of about 8 weeks maybe even a touch more where I will be exercising and even flogging myself a bit for fun but absolutely no goal orientated training. Next up is to explore a bit more into the world of high intensity training. My focus since I started triathlon has been injury prevention and I have been 100% successful up to this point and somehow my old body has delivered. After 3 plus years it is stronger now and more suited to handling more intensity safely than in the past. I bought an indoor trainer and now have a very good setup which I think will be a small piece of the puzzle into getting faster. Surprisingly enough I enjoy indoor training much more than I expected and I see a recurring theme; many people with high ranking race results spend a fair amount of time on the trainer. Lastly I need to reevaluate what I am doing at work. There are options at my job to reduce the amount of traveling and another recurring theme I see from high performers is that their job is predictable and manageable, unlike mine.
I will wrap up in saying I am a family man first and foremost and triathlon is my hobby. So I need to remember that much any time I get a bit too caught up. But then again, we are triathletes right. Remember folks EVERYTHING IN MODERATION, INCLUDING MODERATION!