Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How to PR at an Olympic Triathlon

Title: How to PR at an Olympic Triathlon

Subtitle: Why cycling fitness is king in triathlon

Subsubtitle: and practicing triathlons makes perfect.

-Sam Nicaise

As an intro, I PRed today at Lake George, an olympic distance triathlon.  I raced this race last year, and so this was my first reasonable race to compare "the old me" vs. the "new me".  I was gunning for to go sub 2:20, and I broke that mark by over a minute!  I was still mid-pack in the Collegiate males, but this is over 2 minutes faster than any other olympic-distance tri I have done, and over 7 minutes faster than last year!  All this, and I have only ran like 40 miles total in the year of 2012!  Here are my take aways:


1) Sleep your excuses away: I was nervous going into the race...I have had a mild cold / allergies (I really don't know which) all week, meaning that I haven't been able to sleep too well.  I thought this might inhibit my performance, but I did my best to recover anyways. I wasn't feeling much better going into Thursday night, so I sucked it up and took some nyquil to knock me out.  I got in a solid 9 hours of sleep on the night-before-the-night-before.  We didn't get much sleep the night-before (Friday night), but this didn't matter.  I woke up this morning ready to rock it, and I think the good sleep on Thursday night was super important.  Not new news, but another great way to prove the validity of what everyone preaches.  The night-before-the-night before...sleep!  Aint no sickness/allergies getting in my way.


2) Find some feet: Today I PRed in my swim!  Have I been swimming much?  Nope.  Should I have been?  Yep.  Am I actually faster?  Nope.  But!  I did something I have never been able to do before.  I found the feet of someone slightly faster than me, and stuck it the whole second half of the swim.  I was able to draft off this awesome BU guy all the way back to the beach today.  Not only was I therefore faster personally, but I also got out of the water with a lot more conserved energy.  As much as fitness matters, being good at triathlon makes perfect. I have been getting better and better at OWS and drafting with each race, and today was a huge improvement.  I learned how to find a good swimmer, how to surge my speed to stay on their feet, and how to sight well enough to not lose them for 0.4 miles.  Win!


3) Do your transitions right: Easier said than done, but today: were some of my speediest transitions.  Practice and repetition makes all the difference.  


4) Get fit on the bike, and then use it wisely: Over the past year, I have put a lot of work into my bike speed.  In April 2011, my olympic bike speed was 3 mph slower than it was today.  I can't say I have made the improvements that I have 100% wanted, but no matter what, it has paid off.  Cycling in triathlon is hugely important, and is possibly the most important sport in collegiate triathlon racing (plug: join the cycling team, and race with them!  It will get you faster at triathlon, hands down.).  That was obvious today.  I not only put up an incredibly fast bike time for myself, but I was able to do at a relatively low effort level (more on that later).  The bike fitness I have gain hasn't only made me faster, but has allowed me to conserve energy for the run instead of killing my legs (see TriNats April 2012).  Prior to today, I wasn't sure that all my work on the bike was worth it, but I can tell you now that it makes all the difference.


5) Non-drafting?  Ha, that's a joke: What we do is non-drafting triathlon, right? Well that is a joke.  The official rules state that you must be 7m behind the front wheel of the person in front of you.  At 7m, you can get a huuuuuuuge draft!  Learn to take advantage of that draft!  I saved a ton of energy today by soaking up the drafter of a handful of generous (and slightly crazy) guys along the bike course.  Find that 6'6" guy who likes to hammer down the hills.  That way, you don't have to do any work!  Did it test my fitness?  No, but sometimes it is more about being good at triathlon, instead of being fit.


6) Be a skinny (but smart) bitch: Like I said, prior to today's race, I had ran likely a total of 40 miles in 2012 due to an injury.  And I still put up a run PR!  How?  Well I am obviously not a better runner than I was before.  I think it had to do with 2 things.  1) being able to conserve so much energy on the swim (because of drafting) and the bike (because of my better bike fitness and drafting).  I went into the first 2 miles of the run rocking it!  The middle two miles were rough, but I was able to knock out a 6:15 minute mile at the very end of the race.  I simply had enough energy in the tank!  and 2) be a skinny bitch and get to race weight.  As much as I had to admit it, over the past 3 months I have dialed in my nutrition and accidentally lost weight.  But I also have to admit, today on the run it really helped!  I felt much lighter on my toes, and feeding myself really well has helped with that.  Once tri season is over, I will do my best to put that weight back on, but there is something to be said for getting to you "race" weight.


Ok, that's all for tonight.  Get pumped for an amazing season.  I am so proud of what everyone has done up to this point during the summer race series, and I have high hopes for the Collegiate Season.  


Ironman Mont-Tremblant

-Antoine Ledoux

PRE-IRONMAN - training for the event:

Training for an ironman is a huge commitment, financially, physically, emotionnally, it is an actual journey. The race is only the harvest of all the hours of training you have put down. Staying motivated for all those months is also quite difficult and you will find yourself in moments where you are wondering "why the hell do I do that?". But it is all for the best :).


Books: I followed a book by Joe Friel "Going Long: Training for Ironman-Distance Triathlons", which is a great source of knowledge and was my best guide from the beginning of my training until now with my recovery. It covers everything, for all levels, and if you want to read it, I will be more than happy to lend you mine (it is already bookmarked and it is highlighted in many places). I also had "Triathlete's Training Bible" by Joe Friel, which I didn't use as much as it covers all distances in triathlons and the part dedicated to ironman-distance is already covered in "Going Long" (same author), but it has the advantage of having a whole section to help build a specific and accurate training plan depending on your strength and weaknesses, and good workout templates that go with it.

Those books are like 14$ each (new), but considering how much you are going to use them, you may as well buy them used and save a few bucks.




Training Plan: I followed the pan I made with "Triathlete's Training Bible" as I said, and wrote down ALL my trainings in my training log (huge excel spreadsheet) in order to keep track of what I was doing. I will be more than happy to give this out to anyone interested. Basically, I swam 160 miles, biked 3200 miles, ran 480 miles and lifted a bit more than 1 million pounds at the gym. Averaging 12 hours a week or so that ranged from 3 hours to 18 hours.


Race location: I chose Ironman Mont-Tremblant under the advice of my cousin (who races ironman-distance triathlons as well back in France), it was an AMAZING location. Great people. Great scenery. Great lake (73 degrees on race day from what i have heard). Great bike course (with brand new road), very challenging, going along a river for part of it and with many hills (Mont-tremblant is a ski resort in winter). Great run course going on “Le P’tit Train du Nord”, a former railway bed that is now the longest linear park in Canada, with a few waterfalls along the way. Most people speak French there (according to a volunteer I talked to, 90% of the athletes spoke at least a few words in French), but everyone is bilingual so they choose what language to speak if you say "Hello" or "Bonjour".


Motto: Swim smart. Ride strong. Run Tough.



IRONMAN - the race:

Details of my results here (bib# 86):


SWIM - 1h04m45s (1:42/100m)

It is probably what I am the most proud about. I started completely on the left side of the beach (outside part of the loop), thinking I am a good enough swimmer to swim maybe 100m more but not having to fight to breathe for 2.4 miles. Well, that was a great idea. I was middle of the pack, left side, and even though I had to fight a bit at the beginning (not more than for a usual triathlon), after only 5-10min, I had clear water for me, nobody in my way, just 4-5 people were on my left. I tried to sight a few times but for the first 15min, you can only see splashes of water, with arms and blue swim caps. So I was just following the crowd, just making sure I was keeping people on my left side to cut the waves for me.

The whole time, I kept telling myself "kick, big stroke, relax, draft, relax, big stroke, relax, draft, kick, again". Only a few people were passing me, and when they were, I was happy to see that they had a cadence of stroke roughly twice as high as mine, thus wasting twice as much energy as me. After twenty minutes, I was barely even fighting anymore, and i was able to see the buoys in front of me. I was happy to see that without even realizing it, just drafting off other people, I had swum towards the right and was now in line with the buoys, thus adopting the perfect curve. From that point on, swimming in a triathlon had never been such an enjoyable experience. I was in clear water, not fighting, drafting off other people with a cadence twice as high as mine, in line with buoys, in a water at >70 degrees, doing an ironman, and clearly already at the front of the pack. It couldn't have been better. The rest of the swim stayed the same: enjoyable, relaxed and drafting everyone passing me.

I started kicking harder 100m before the end, so that I would have blood on my legs when i get up (I had had problems at Mooseman 70.3, trouble finding my balance, blood rush, feeling of passing out). When I got out of the water, I was 1h04 (better than 2 pros :) ) and was like "Oh my god!!", few people were around me, I was 295th / 2300 athletes out of the water and felt like I didn't waste any energy! Plus Mike Reilly was there and he yelled "Antoine Ledoux getting out of the WATERRRRRRRRRR".


T1 - 5m31

There was a 800m run to the tent, I jogged it, enjoying the crowd cheering up everyone, caught a glimpse of my family cheering me up as well. With the crowd and my swim time, I was PUMPED.


BIKE - 6h06m57s (18.3mph avg)

The bike course was two loops of 56 miles, and each loop was divided into 2 smaller loops of 37.5 miles (L1) and 18.5 miles (L2) (see bike course ). When I got on my bike, I had a whole strategy that i had to stick to (that I read in Going Long), do the first 30miles upper zone 1, then zone 2 until mile 90, and finally upper zone 2 til the end. Building up your effort along the way is DEFINITELY the best way to finish your ironman with your best time. The hard part is to stick to this plan, and it is really a mental game, way harder than it seems. In fact, when I got on the bike, I was among the first out of the water, and I knew I was going to get caught by the good cyclists. To put numbers on it I think I got past by like 50 people in the first 20min, and another 375 for the rest of the bike leg. It is hard to see people passing you easily, I know the bike is my weakness, and I worked hard to get better at it, but it gets frustrating and the goal is to stick to your strategy no matter what.

First loop: I felt very good on L1, even on the two big climbs. L2 was much more challenging, rolling hills coupled with one brutal hill (see second part of bike elevation). I was getting passed uphill but was catching up everybody going downhill, I was being agressive on the curves.

Second loop: L1 became a nightmare as the wind decided to play along, we had to face a major wind in our faces. Being weak on the bike, I had to slow down and let go the few people who were going the same pace as me at the time. Again, I stuck to my race strategy, don't go above your zone 2, there is a marathon ahead. I heard two older women saying "that reminds me of the winds in Kona" when they were passing me. That gives you an idea of how brutal that was (at least for me).

To better run the marathon, I wanted to slow down my pace for the last 10-15 miles of the bike. But as it was L2 and only rolling hills, it was impossible to relax and stay in zone 2 at this point in the race. Climbs took some energy from me, so many of those hills, going up, then down,... and had to take on myself not to swear everytime I would see another one. It would never end! I don't think I did well during this part of the race.

I finished the bike leg with a time of 6h06 which is way better than I was expecting as my PR on 70.3 was 3h11, so i was shooting for 6h30. Basically, I PR my bike time on 70.3 on both loops :) (in 2h56 and 3h10, the wind significantly slowing me down for the second loop).

I spoke with Romain Guillaume (prob the best French triathlete on ironman-distance and who won the race) the day after the race and he was telling the bike course was very challenging and this is why he won. In fact he is an amazing cyclist (his bike time is 10min faster than the 2nd!!) so it's on this type of race that he is able to make a difference. So that made me feel even better about my bike time :).


T2 - 3m17

There were volunteers to take your bike and rack it up for you and save you time. Pretty awesome. Made me feel like a pro. I ran to the transition tent, picked up my bag and quickly changed. Many people spend some time in T2, I don't think it is good. You are better off moving to your marathon quickly (and maybe walk at the beginning/ jog easily to get your legs going), rather than thinking "Omg, I have to run a marathon now" and waste some time sitting in the tent.


RUN - 4h18m33 (9min53/mile)

Again, building your effort will get best results. I started with an easy 9min25/mile pace for the whole first half of the marathon, then speeded to a 8min55/mile pace from 13 to 20 mile, and finally pushed the last 6 miles with a 11min40s/mile pace. Which I was surprised to see as I kept running the whole way (except at aid stations), and I NEVER WALKED!! I guess at this point I didn't realize that I was slowing down, i was just pushing it to finish as quickly as possible.

As soon as I started my run, I knew I had taken way too many gels (I hadn't eaten all my gels from the bike and had taken another load from T2), they were bouncing on my butt, so I stopped after 1/2 mile at a temporary bathrooms (there were a few along the way, as well as on the bike course). Once inside, I looked down and faced a huge pile of vomit and I thought "that's right! You are about to do a marathon in an ironman race, so get your stomach ready!!", I peed, threw out a few gels, and left. 

The marathon is really a mental game where you have to adjust your mind and body, keep eating, overcome the pain and keep running. This is really the crazy part of the race, what makes an ironman an IRONMAN. So I started relatively easy and ran the first 10k in 55min and did the first half marathon in 2h03. I walked at every aid stations for 10-15m to hydrate and eat, but never stopped and ran the whole time between the aid stations. A bit before the first half (around mile 12), for the first time I take a gel im my mouth and I just don't want to swallow. I have never had any digestion problem during a triathlon (I'm so lucky with that, my stomach can digest everything you give it) and I don't want to experience it for the first time. It's okay, I don't panick, I tell myself "it's been 9h14 that you eat only gels, give your stomach a break". I decide to switch and eat CLIF BLOKS that I had brought with me instead of taking a gel at the next aid station, and it worked! My stomach was fine, I was feeling better. I repeated the process for the next two aid stations, eating one CLIF BLOK each time, and even though I slowed down a bit compared to my pace I kept running and was back on track.

At this point, I'm at mile 14 and it's exactly 9h30. I think: if I want to do sth big and finish my first ironman in less than 12 hours I need to run 12 miles in 2h30. All of a sudden I get so pumped and I run the next 10k with a pace of 8:50/mile. I'm pumped.

Here we are. Mile 20. I have a thought for Matthieu Talpe who had emailed me the day before the race and told me "don't forget, the race does not start before mile 20". My hips, knees and ankles start hurting really bad but I can overcome the pain. I keep running, and I get motivated when i realise that at this point I'm now art of the minority of people who keep running. I'm passing a lot of people overall, including 3 in my category. I walk a bit longer at each aid station, but I keep running in between. I don't feel like I'm slowing down but as I look at the result it looks like i ran the last 10k with a 11:40/mile, which means the second half in 2h14.

2km before the end, it started to rain like craaaaaaaaazy. I was SOAKED in 10sec and there was literally a small river that I had to jump over on the last hills up to the village. My legs hurt so bad but I push it. Going to that finish line. The last 500m are pure happiness, it is a little path going downhill in the heart of the village of Mont-Tremblant, and even though it is raining like crazy there are SO many people cheering. I open my arms to do high five to as many people as I can. I'm flying. At this point I could probably run another marathon. I see the time 11h39. I did it. I... AM... AN IRONMANNNNN!!!


I finished with a time of 11h39m03s, 13th in my age group M18-24 and 695th overall. Very happy and way above my expectations. Now it is time for recovery, but I'm doing ok so far (I was able to walk "almost" normally and go down the stairs without holding the ramp 3 days after the race).


See you soon for training! I will probably get back to the pool soon for some recovery laps.


Monday, April 23, 2012

Collegiate Nationals 2012

Collegiate Nationals 2012


Tuscaloosa, AL

Shaena Berlin:

Training background: This season, I spent the vast majority of my time training and racing for cycling, generally riding 10-14 hours per week while running and swimming 3 hours combined. This was certainly less than ideal for overall triathlon fitness, but my swim generally doesn’t suffer too much as long as I swim a lot the last few weeks before the race (which I sort of let slip this time...), and I did keep running consistently ~10 miles per week all winter and through the cycling race season. I generally went out for a long (7-10mi) moderately hard run each Monday and added as many short (1-2mi) transition “bricks” after cycling workouts or Sunday criteriums as seemed reasonable. This year I acquired a Garmin 310XT GPS watch and a Powertap, and using these gadgets for training and racing greatly improved my motivation for doing fast runs (I started running >1 min/mile faster once I could see my pace on my wrist!) and also gave me great enjoyment since I’m a numbers geek.
Travel and team: MIT sent 9 athletes, 4 women and 5 men, as well as our friend Leslie from Dartmouth. This year, each team had to qualify to send athletes to Nationals, so the weakest teams no longer could compete, raising the overall standard. We flew to Birmingham on Thursday and drove to Tuscaloosa, where we stayed at a hotel filled with other triathlon teams (several of which looked far more intense and organized than our own, with gorgeous bikes and trainers and coaches). Friday we rode the course and I did some openers, with my legs feeling pretty sluggish after taking a few days off (proper tapering for once!) but power pretty high. We jumped into the river for a quick swim and found the water temperature to be nearly perfect, 69 degrees and much warmer than last year; this served as a relief, since many of us didn’t have a chance to try open-water swimming in the frigid New England waters yet this year.
Race day: We awoke to very nice weather conditions, with temperatures in the 60’s F and mostly overcast. Compared to last year’s extreme heat and humidity, this felt fantastic. Women raced first, with the first wave leaving at 7:30.
Swim: 1500m, 28:19
I was in the second wave and had a really awful time right before the start; a few days before, I had essentially torn off my knuckle with an Allen wrench while removing pedals (note: if you forgetfully take wheels off the bike before pedals, don’t be lazy and decide you can get them off anyway). Anyway, the invisible skin I’d been using completely came off as soon as I jumped in for the warmup, so I had a bleeding, torn-up hand right before the swim start. After running around frantically trying to find a medical tent or something, I found someone with electrical tape and wrapped it a few times around the hand to hold it all together. This worked sufficiently, but the whole experience left me extremely frazzled, and I swam really inefficiently, exhausting myself for a pretty awful swim time.
Bike: 40k (actually measured at 25.5mi)/1:13, 21.0mph
I really looked forward to the bike leg, since I thought I should be faster than last year and it ought to be the leg I exceled at. After a very long and inefficient transition, I took a while to get into the bike, legs feeling quite tired from the swim up until the first turnaround (the course consisted of two out-and-back loops). However, even feeling slow and low-power, I passed a large number of women who looked intense and rode with gear many times more valuable than mine, which felt satisfying. The second lap I sped up a bit, and in the end the bike time was pretty decent, 3 minutes faster than last year and averaging 21.0 mph (according to my power meter – the official time included a 1min run next to the bike to the transition mat, which slowed the average pace down).
Run: 10k/51:01, 8:07/mi
Upon starting the run, I thought some pretty negative thoughts along the lines of “Why am I doing this?” and “I don’t even care about running fast; the bike is already done, so  maybe I should stop while I’m ahead”. These thoughts were not helped by a steep hill right near the beginning combined with shin pains and barely-held-off stomach cramps. Even so, I ran OK, not as fast as during my training runs but faster than last year.
Overall: 2:37: 43, 132/469 women
Overall, I did better than last year, with a similar swim, faster bike, faster run, and much slower transitions. Unfortunately, one of our team members had bike trouble and didn’t finish the race, so the MIT women’s and combined teams were not eligible to place. Even so, some individuals did quite well, and the men placed in the top half against very intense competition!
Collegiate Nationals is always a fantastic event, one of very few gatherings of all the strongest, fiercest young triathletes in the country. Sharing a venue with such amazing athletes is really neat, and it becomes better every year as I get to know more and more people from other teams. After seeing University of Colorado’s complete domination of the team omniums, I look forward even more to living and training in Boulder this summer and coming back for more road races and tris in the future!