Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Happier endings

This week was much better on the racing front. Three races, three top-3 results, though to be fair all of the races were women-only and two of them had fewer than 10 riders! Such is the state of women's cycle racing, which is a bit sad when you think that I live on the outskirts of the biggest city in the UK. And most of us know lots of women cyclists who ride with our clubs, commute to work, do sportives or triathlons, etc. but for whatever reason can't be talked into giving cycle racing a go. Is it the ugly crashes highlighted on the news in the pro races that scare them away from the sport? Or just the simple competitiveness; the idea that when you race, you are forced by your competitors to push yourself to the limit most times? Not sure, but I do wish more women would get involved in cycle racing. I'd love to do a road race with 50+ women all more or less my ability, the way Jim can do with his fellow cat 3 guys. Instead I do races filled with elites and Olympic hopefuls who trounce me, or races with fewer than a dozen women, only half of which manage to hang on til the end. Anyway, stuff to think about for a later blog post.

Last week we had some really great weather, which always makes me motivated to get outside and be active. Late summer and never knowing if it might be the final spell of sun and warmth until next spring might have something to do with it. In any case, even with Monday as a rest day I managed a 14.5 hour training week, more than 11 of which were spent on my bike either riding to/from races, racing, or riding around watching others race. It was also my last week neglecting my TT bike as I need to get back to it this week and start building up some long rides for Kona. It's been nice for the break, but at the same time I'm looking forward to riding fast into the wind again, ha ha.

Tuesday -- Crystal Palace
Not quite as many as the week before, but still ten of us showed up to race the second-to-last week of the Palace circuits. Series leader Charlie Blackman was there, as was SE Road Race champ Natalie Creswick, so it was looking like a promisingly tough race. I was curious to see if we could catch Charlie once she (inevitably) got away solo, and we managed to do it once -- though by doing so dropped all but four other riders. Or was it more like she sat up to take a rest before riding off again to finish a few hundred metres ahead of us in first place... Still, my bike handling is improving and I worked my butt off both to try and catch Charlie and to hold off Natalie who's been stronger than I have at every race we've ever done. In the end, as I was coming up the hill on the final lap giving it all I had and waiting for the inevitable sprint to come around me which never came, I let up just a moment too soon and was pipped at the line for 2nd by Melanie Sneddon from the Penzance team. Frustrating, but since she had done quite a bit of work to try and get away from us -- and managed to reach and stay with Charlie a short while before being dropped and coming back to us with a couple of laps to go -- I couldn't complain. She definitely deserved to beat me. Leona had another strong ride finishing 5th, and both of us were not surprised to see our power data show a 10-watt jump in effort from the previous week. It was a tough race!

Leona leads early on, with Charlie on her wheel waiting to pounce, photo from London Cycle Sport

Saturday -- Hog Hill
Having run 19km on Thursday evening then ridden 110km on Friday in the alternating sunshine and pouring rain to watch the Surrey League Revolutions 5-day race (with my teammates Steve Saunders and James Beaumont taking part), my legs were feeling a bit heavy. But I'd been meaning to give Hog Hill a try all summer and this was the last chance to do it in a low-key women's race (unlike the rather higher profile London Open Circuit champs in two weeks' time). So Leona and I rode the 20km to London's Liverpool St. station -- a kind of contest all on its own, to keep out from under bus wheels and away from cab doors -- then grabbed a train to Goodmayes, then rode another few km to the circuit. Sure enough, there's a good little hill there, but nothing too crazy. Seven girls were on the start line, two fell off almost immediately, and the other two were dropped with a lap to go when one of the riders thought it was the bell lap and attacked going up the hill. I sat on her wheel easily, thinking "oh, that's smart, attacking before the bell instead of after", only to find out as we crossed the line that she thought it was the finish! Been there, done that... so we took off again for another lap and this time with the help of Leona clearing the right-hand side for me, it was my turn to attack going up the hill. I gunned it pretty hard and knew I was in the lead, but mindful of losing at the line I was afraid to glance around and see who was where behind me. Turned out I needn't have worried! So that was my first victory and felt pretty good to finally get one. Nice to get the £15 too and set a couple of new power records for everything from 10 to 30 seconds.

Yep, pretty sure I have this one sewn up! photo from London Cycle Sport

Sunday -- Goodwood
I only needed 11 points to get my cat 2 license, but none of the British Cycling reps at Hog Hill could tell me what my win got me, so I figured I'd better do the 3/4 women's race at Goodwood anyway, just to be sure. Early morning races are never my thing and this one was no different, though once we arrived at sunny warm Goodwood and had a lap of the course I was feeling a bit more awake. Seventeen riders lined up at the start -- good turnout for a women's race! -- and we set off a minute or so behind the men's cat 4 race at quite a slow pace. No matter, I was happy for the extra warm-up. It was a windy day, and what with the flat gently turning circuit it was going to take legs of steel and courage to match in order to get away from the bunch on this one. I tried a couple of attacks to see what would happen, but only succeeded in tiring out the less experienced riders and thinning out the bunch to nine. A crash in the men's race on the finishing sprint just after they overtook us meant the first part of our last lap was neutralised, but afterwards it was just a waiting game to see who would start to sprint first. I had my eye on who I thought the strongest rider in the race was and stuck to her wheel like glue til the closing few hundred metres when she was led out nicely by some friends in the race. Despite my best plans to wait until the last second (we were sprinting into a headwind) to try and come around her, I just didn't have enough in my legs to do it, not to mention picked a wrong gear and couldn't get on top of it. In the end, she won a good race and I finished over a bike length back. 2nd place at a circuit like that, not bad.

Just couldn't get around her, though it might help if I could sprint better than a Dutch commuter.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Anatomy of a DNF

Sunday was my first (and probably not last, but hopefully not very often) "did not finish" in a cycle race. A day later, I'm still kicking myself over it -- not the actual DNF itself, but the way it came about -- and I guess the best I can come away with is that it's a learning experience if nothing else.

I had done a Surrey League men's cat 3 race on the Dunsfold circuit back in March and done pretty well to stay with the pack, though in retrospect that course with its twisty narrow lanes, short descents and draggy climb is pretty suited to my abilities and weaknesses when racing with guys. The Walliswood course where we raced yesterday... not so much. Leona was right to be a bit worried!

The story:

We did a recce lap of the course about an hour before the race (Jim, Leona, another guy and I) and even at a nice warm-up pace it was over 30km/h. Jim commented on that but it didn't occur to me that this should be a warning. Mistake #1.

The race began and after a near disaster in the neutralised zone due to some poor road surfaces and a pack of 60 riders trying to avoid oncoming cars, the pace sped up. A few attacks went off at the first climb, but nothing too serious. I was trying to stay near the front and having varying success; the roads were really busy with cars coming at us, making riding on the right/outside somewhat stressful. After a while I moved to the left/inside, which was a bit easier though more risky for getting caught out by accelerations in the group. Mistake #2.

The second half of Lap 1 was marked by a sharp turn followed by a twisty rolling bit, a fast steepish descent with a crappy road surface, then onto a busy major road with a slight uphill helped by a tailwind. Starting the descent in the front half of the group, I was near the back by the end, but the bunch slowed considerably on the uphill as things came back together. I figured this would probably happen every lap. Mistake #3.

Lap 2 was more of the same, though instead of getting up to the front, I was caught out on the first climb behind some slower guys. Wary of putting out too much energy too early in the race, I decided not to claw my way back to the front and instead try to sit on for a bit. It's sort of dangerous to be near the back in such a large group as it's hard to gauge whether you're 40th, or 50th or at the very very back (to me, anyway). I didn't want to look around behind me, but if I had I would have seen that I was literally sitting amongst the rear dozen riders, not a good spot to be! Mistake #4.

Then it happened. Sprinting out of the sharp corner cost me some energy, and the twisty rolling bit didn't see me gain any position back. Suddenly the swift downhill appeared, I hesitated over some rough road and everyone who was behind me shot past me, including Leona. "No worries", I thought, gritting my teeth and giving the powertap everything I could muster as we turned onto the main road. "They'll slow down any second now". Except they didn't. Jim's power data later showed that that was the hardest section of the entire race, that five minutes from the A29 up past HQ to the lapboard. Whether it was an attack or just a general sharp increase in pace, I don't know. I could only watch as the group powered away without me in it. A minute or two later I saw Leona coming back to me as the guy in front of her was gapped and she was unable to get around him. We looked at each other and shook our heads, stunned by our combination of bad positioning, bad timing and bad luck at being caught out. 40km/h became 35km/h as the two of us worked together for another lap (passing more than one disheartened guy who'd also been dropped, including Mr. Gapped). But that was the end of our day in the bunch.

Funny enough, my power data shows I averaged the same watts for the lap with Leona as I did for the first two laps with the bunch, but at 5-6km/h slower, our choices were to ride five more laps alone or slow down and be lapped by the main field and try to latch on as they went by. And as it was my third race in eight days and I'd also run over 44km during the week, my brain decided my legs weren't up to either task so I called it a day as I cruised by HQ. Turned in my race number, got some food, and sat to watch the rest of the race unfold while I not-so-silently fumed at myself for being so stupid. Leona joined me shortly afterwards.

The rest of the Wheelers didn't fare so well either. Damien spent a lot time bridging to the break, then cramped with a lap to go and couldn't hang onto them. Jim got near the front on the last lap with a top 10 in mind going up the final 100m climb to the finish line, but cramped and literally had to limp his bike over the line. Andy was nearly taken out by a rider who cut the final corner short and had to settle for a finish in the bunch. Mickael, the ghost Wheeler, sat in the break for some time then disappeared and was not seen again -- not sure if he even finished! At least the afternoon's E/1/2/3 race was a bit more successful, with Steve Saunders taking 2nd place, Luke Wallis 9th and James finishing in the pack.

Damien and Mickael in the break, photo from London Cycle Sport

Lessons learned:

-- always stay near the front! even more important for me in men's races than in women's, and especially important when coming up to a tailwind or downhill section. These guys outweigh me by more than 15kg, so even if I were the world's greatest descender I'd still have to work hard to keep up. To that end, Olympic rowing medallist Elise Laverick was also in the race and did a great job to finish in the bunch. She is quite a bit bigger and stronger than Leona and me though!

-- keeping to the right/outside is nearly always safer from a positioning perspective than the left/inside, particularly on uphills. And since the roadside is often soft and uneven by the edge, it's sometimes better from a safety perspective to be riding the white lane line in the middle, oncoming cars or not.

-- a fast recce lap means an even faster race and even more reason to STAY NEAR THE FRONT!

-- never assume that every lap will be the same, and certainly never count on the bunch slowing down, ever. Luck is something that happens unplanned. Planning for luck to come through is a sure way to fail.

-- sometimes life is just like that. Accept it, learn from it, move on to the next one. At least I didn't crash out.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Crystal Palace

Watch that pedal strike (and the tongue won't help in a crash!)

In my quest to get enough points for cat 2 and to visit all the race circuits around London in the meantime, I headed to Crystal Palace on Tuesday evening for their weekly race. It's by far the best atmosphere I've seen yet for a cycle race: lots of folks on the grass lounging around and chatting, a course that only takes about two minutes to ride per lap, and sunny weather that's the requirement for the race to run (too slippery and dangerous if it's raining). Apparently the women's race tends to attract pretty low numbers, so it was nice to see a dozen of us on such a beautiful late summer evening lining up at the start.

Early on and we're already chasing escapees

The Palace is more crit-like than any other circuit I've raced, save the Nocturne: a 1.3km course consisting of a 50-metre straightaway after the start, then a sharp 180-degree turn, a quick little twisty downhill, a long 180 degree corner, and a draggy uphill before a flat finish. The course is wide enough to allow overtaking, though with three groups racing (women's, men's cat 3/4, and men's cat E/1/2) it can be a little crowded at times -- as evidenced by the guy who swung wide into me on the corner and hit my front wheel, nearly taking me out! But as I proved at the Smithfield Nocturne, my cornering is pretty awful, and my descending and cornering combined is even worse, so even though I'd ridden a few laps in warm-up, I had no doubt that I wouldn't be going off the front anytime soon, if ever. And in 23 laps at Crystal Palace, I swear the lap counter said 14 before I even felt comfortable in the drops, not braking, and managing to lean my bike into the turns! The good news is that by the end, I sort of had it worked out, though I had to keep shouting to myself "lean! lean!" on every lap and focussing on weighting my right leg as much as I could for those left-hand bends. But for my first time at the Palace, I wasn't disappointed with how I rode.

Following Rachel's line, I'm getting better at the lean

I'd read some other reports of how this race usually goes down -- a strong rider goes from the off and manages to stay away the whole race -- but with Charlie Blackman out of town, it was going to fall to someone else this time. I thought, "if only I can keep her in sight, whoever she is, til my legs come around in the second half, then maybe we have a chance to get some ground back." Little did I know the effect the men's race overtaking us every 7-8 laps would have. Basically I learned from the wrong end the prime rule for racing at the Palace if you're in the women's race: get a bit of a gap, hold it as best you can, let the draft from the overtaking men's races give you a little boost to get even further ahead, then repeat seven laps later. Not sitting on wheels, mind you (that's not allowed), but just using that massive pack of guys to disappear from the sight of the women chasing you. I must admit I tried to do that myself when the guys came around -- use them to get a bit more speed and momentum to make catching our ladies' break easier -- but by then it was too late. If someone's away by the time the guys come around the first time, you can pretty much plan to see her at the finish line unless she either punctures or blows up.

Trying not to lose touch on the downhill

The effort is starting to show for all of us

Is that a grimace?

Still, a race at the Palace turned out to be the best 51-minute workout I could have asked for. Once I settled in (took me a good half-hour as usual -- and I'd ridden an hour to the race as warm-up!) I sat a lot on the front and drove the pace up the hill in particular. One of the two girls who went off the front was brought back; the other was too strong. I didn't trust my legs to try to get away myself, so I just worked hard and brought our group of 11 down to six by the finish. My teammate Leona and I -- both of us never having raced there before -- didn't have any kind of plan, so it came down to a bunch sprint. I knew that there'd be at least one person trying to come around and outsprint me at the finish, and given my awful acceleration and sprint power, I knew I had to use my head instead of my legs. Coming up the final hill, I was caning it quite hard but eased off just before the top, thinking I could jump on the inevitable wheel when it came around, but I mistimed it and she was by me before I knew it. A valiant effort to get on her wheel, but I ran out of road and finished a bike length behind, 3rd place overall.

Leona and I both have rental powermeters on our road bikes so we've been comparing power data lately. We're about the same weight, though she's taller and younger and I've been cycling for longer. Still, thanks to Leona's recent push into training and racing hard, we're remarkably close: FTP, top-end watts, even heart rate. It's interesting to break down the differences in our Crystal Palace race.

Entire workout (207 watts):
Duration: 51:29 (51:33)
Work: 640 kJ
TSS: 85 (intensity factor 0.996)
Norm Power: 234
VI: 1.13
Pw:HR: 5.2%
Pa:HR: 3.09%
Distance: 30.413 km
Elevation Gain: 683 m
Elevation Loss: 682 m
Grade: 0.0 % (1 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 678 207 watts
Heart Rate: 123 187 175 bpm
Cadence: 38 170 101 rpm
Speed: 0 60.9 35.4 kph
Pace 0:59 0:00 1:42 min/km
Altitude: 73 99 87 m
Crank Torque: 0 89.7 19.3 N-m

Entire workout (204 watts):
Duration: 51:32 (52:41)
Work: 630 kJ
TSS: 94.9 (intensity factor 1.051)
Norm Power: 231
VI: 1.14
Pw:HR: 5.25%
Pa:HR: 1.58%
Distance: 19.018 mi
Elevation Gain: 1504 ft
Elevation Loss: 1467 ft
Grade: 0.0 % (38 ft)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 624 204 watts
Heart Rate: 117 188 175 bpm
Cadence: 31 182 91 rpm
Speed: 4.6 41.4 22.1 mph
Pace 1:27 13:03 2:43 min/mi
Altitude: 219 303 266 ft
Crank Torque: 0 1303 187 lb-in

-- FTP: judging from this race, I think Leona's FTP is probably higher than the 220 she's got in WKO+. In fact, given that Crystal Palace is the kind of course where you don't get much rest (sprinting out of corners, riding uphill, even blasting downhill to catch up to faster descenders), I'd say that if we'd ridden another 9 minutes to bring the race to one hour, her NP wouldn't have been much lower than 231. My tested FTP on my road bike is 235, and both my perceived exertion in the race and the numbers show that that figure is probably still about right.

-- Work: according to the kJ spent by each of us, I did more "work" per se, even though the overall training stress score (TSS) for me is lower than for Leona. This is because TSS is directly related to FTP -- the higher the FTP, the lower the TSS for the same training session, all other things being equal. The reason I burned more kJ is because I sat on the front of the group more and didn't draft as much behind other riders.

-- zero watts: what you can't see in the data summary above is how much time we both spent freewheeling, or producing fewer than 20 watts. According to Coggan and Allen's book, "most winning road racers do not pedal at least 15 percent of the time". Looking at our cadence distribution charts, I pedalled for 86% of the race at Crystal Palace, but Leona managed to pedal only 80% of the time. Again, this shows how much she was drafting and how much I wasn't -- and in fact, how much smarter she raced because of it! Maybe if I'd pedalled less, drafted and conserved more, especially in the last lap or two, I would have been the one coming around the others to sprint to the win. Or maybe not...

In any case, both Leona and I are signed up for a men's cat 3 race this coming weekend (Jim and a bunch of other Kingston Wheelers will join us), and you can bet that both of us will be doing as little work as possible!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

A return to cycle racing

Week one of shorter, but more frequent posts to my blog. Pics are Jim's, as usual.

Being done with IMLP but with lots of time before IMH, I decided that I should get back into cycle racing again. My last race was over two months ago, and one thing I've noticed is how my 1-minute and 5-minute peak power have dropped, not to mention how rusty my "feel" on the bike has gotten at high speed, in tight corners, and around other bikes in the bunch. As well, my FTP could use some rebuilding after several weeks of Ironman taper and recovery. And cycle racing is just plain fun and a great workout! So with that in mind, I was off to Dunsfold Park this morning for the women's cat 3/4 Surrey League race.

Leona and I warm up in the shadow of a giant 747

Dunsfold Park is also serves as the test track for the TV show Top Gear. In fact, our finish line is the very same as the one for "Star in a Reasonably-Priced Car". Today's course around the airfield was slightly shortened and modified, turning us up the main runway (car tire donuts could be seen everywhere) and back down the outside. I never realised how massively wide an airfield runway is, and how long/large the paint patches have to be to read them from the sky. Of course, the crosswind meant that 60-odd cyclists were strung out in a line along the grassy edge of this 45-metre wide stretch of perfect tarmac, but it wouldn't be bike racing if someone wasn't riding onto the grass in a panic.

Dunsfold 4ths 3-4 W race 09-08-2009
Dunsfold Park Aerodrome

Only five women showed up for the women's race, so we decided to join the men's 4th cat race instead. Probably less of a workout for me, but certainly better for getting the rust off my racing skills. Everything went well, with some attacks getting away but always been dragged back. About 25 minutes into the race, I found myself near the front on the sharpest corner and coming out of it I was in a group of five or six guys pulling pretty hard. I pulled through, a couple of guys sprinted by me and I realised we had a bit of a gap on everyone else. I kept riding hard, and just when I started to flag, someone new would bridge across to me, giving me a wheel to sit on and catch my breath for a few seconds. A hundred metres ahead of us was the strongest break of the day, four guys who were working well together. By now a few guys had managed to bridge over, so I decided to go for it and pedalled my heart out for several minutes trying to reach them. But it was like paddling in a strong upstream current towards a bridge: you can see it there, it's kind of getting closer, yet you seem to be making no quick headway. After a while, I realised the rest of the bunch had caught me and was happily sitting on my wheel as I put out 275 watts... yes, did I mention my race smarts were a bit rusty too?

Should have realised that I was already caught here, but my head's still down!

After that, I mostly hung in the bunch, tried to move up before the corners and accelerate smoothly out of them. A dead-flat course with a 90-degree corner at one end and a 135-degree corner at the other made more interesting by traffic cones narrowing the road and some large potholes; I was not in my element. We had dropped two of the women, leaving three of us in the main group when the last break was reeled in a few laps before the finish. The two ladies had been joined by a couple of guys who'd also been dropped, and they were working together as a tidy foursome. The only problem was, we lapped them just as we crossed the finish line for what I thought would be the bell lap (the lap counter had been displaying '3' two laps previous). And the bell rang, sort of. The lap counter now said 1. A few of us looked at each other and asked "so is this the last lap then?" And suddenly the whole bunch sped up, so we did too. Coming around the final sharp corner, I was on my teammate Leona's wheel but she had picked a bad line on the windward side of the course. Wheels were going by me on the leeward side, so I jumped onto one and started moving up the field. With 100m to go, I noticed the third woman ahead of me but catchable, though that meant giving it full-bore and standing up to sprint past her. Which I did... just in time to hear the bell ringing again, signifying the real last lap.

Ian (far left) sprints for second

Being so out of touch racing-wise, it didn't really occur to me that the bell was ringing until the bunch shot past me and a gap opened up. Leona rode up beside me and we both cursed the air blue over the confusion, and our own idiocy being caught out. Well, nothing to do but try to catch the bunch and latch back on. We both worked pretty hard up the runway straight, but by then my heart wasn't in it. Came around the final corner (again!) and Leona went for the sprint while I sat up and threw my hands in the air. Disappointing 3rd place for me, about 50th overall. Later I learned that the bell and lap counter had been for the group we were lapping (why those four riders should take precedence over the entire bunch is something I didn't get to ask the race organiser). Oh well, that's cycle racing I guess. Next time I'll be more aware of bells and riders.

Not happy at the finish!

The best part of the day, though, was hearing my Kingston Wheelers teammate Ian -- he of the strong steady wheel and awesome slipstream -- came 2nd overall and has now moved up to join Jim in the 3rd cats. Leona got enough points to move into 2nd cat and I'm now only 25 points away from 2nd cat myself. Not sure if it's worth really pursuing that promotion before the end of the season (rankings in regional women's cycle racing up to 1st cat seem somewhat arbitrary anyway, as points are given out for the top ten in every race and there are barely ten women in any given race), but it does give me a reason now to race at some of the other local circuits I haven't made tried yet, just to pick up points! Feels good to be back racing again.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Ironman Lake Placid Race Report or How I won my age group and got a Kona slot

Wow, a whole month since I've posted anything. No real excuse other than that I was tapering for and travelling to Ironman Lake Placid, trying to get my head around the race and just generally taking it easy and getting rested. Note to self to get off my arse and post more often from now on! (and shorter posts too, this one is a whopper!)

The Trophy

Anyway, the race. By now, pretty much everyone knows that I achieved what I set out to do and beyond, not only earning a Kona slot but winning my W35-39 age group. The former was never really at risk, but the latter still amazes me. How often do you really get to win something? I can count the number of races I've won since as an adult -- triathlon, running, swimming, cycling -- on one hand. What a privilege and triumph. But I'm getting ahead of myself here... of course every great race has a story, so here's mine.


We left the UK on July 14, flew to Boston then picked up the rental car (fully loaded with a bike box (mine), bike bag (Jim's), two large backpacks and two small ones. Thank God for American cars, this would not have worked if we'd been flying and renting a car in Europe!) Drove straight to Ottawa that day, arriving after midnight. My brother and sister-in-law were generous enough to put us up for the week, which meant great food, even better company (my parents and sister came up on the weekend to visit) and lots of downtime to ride around Ottawa. In particular the Gatineau Park is a fabulous place to ride, but I'll save that for another post.

A week later we drove to Lake Placid to get settled into our three-bedroom condo just on the north side of town. We'd lucked into a place with some other folks when one of their friends had been unable to do the race, thanks to a nasty car/bike accident. It turned out to be perfect for us, though, as our housemates were fantastic and a great mix of first-time IM competitors, vets, and supporters. We were close enough to walk to town but far enough to be away from the bustle of the Ironman Show, which can really wear you down if you're immersed in it 24/7.

Transition Zone

I had been feeling a bit under the weather most of the week, just generally tired (despite sleeping quite well) and my stomach was a bit off (though I did avoid eating a lot of junk food -- no Taco Bell the whole time I was in North America!) That was a bit worrying, but I knew I'd done the training and I was prepared. We spent the days before the race driving the bike course, riding the sections that I thought might be good to know in advance, namely the descent into Keene and the climb back into Lake Placid. I also ran the big hill on the run course into town so I knew how it would feel on rested legs (on rested legs it was tough, so on the day I knew it would be a heartbreaker!) The night before the race my stomach did not want the usual two bottles of Ensure I force down, so I went with one bottle and a bit of Sustained Energy, then went to bed and tried to get some rest.

Race morning dawned, tummy still not happy but not rebelling either. Dropped bags at Special Needs, then onto the body marking station. It was 5am, still dark but the place was completely alive. Lake Placid certainly gets behind its Ironman! Half the town must have been out there already. The weather was fine so far, muggy and cloudy, but calm and warm with a threat of rain but otherwise predicted to be a good day. Mirror Lake epitomised its name, for a short while anyway til 2250 athletes and thousands more spectators invaded its waters and banks.

Body Marking

Mirror Lake at 5am

The Swim

It had started to rain quite hard just before the swim started, though those of us in wetsuits didn't mind of course. The pros set off at 6:50am and ten minutes later the American anthem had been sung and the gun went for us. I had seeded myself right near the buoy line (at Lake Placid the swim course is marked by permanent buoys connected by a yellow underwater rope, making staying on course pretty easy) and pretty close to the front. One thing I don't mind is the washing machine bump-and-grind that characterises mass swim starts; as an ex-club swimmer and lifeling ice hockey player, I generally feel both comfortable and protected in the water. All those bodies moving in the same direction mean extra free speed for me, so bring it on! As it was, I ended up getting on some good feet just inside the buoy line and only came outside of it to go around the corners.

The Washing Machine

Lap 1 to Lap 2

I had been swimming the course earlier in the week with Jim's Garmin 305 and thought that the course was a bit long: one lap exactly following the underwater cable was 1960m instead of the 1900m it should be for an Ironman. Not that 60m (120m for the whole course) matters to me, but at least I was prepared for when the clock said 29:28 as I came over the mat, ran across the beach and jumped back in for the second lap. The second lap is always slower just by virtue of fewer people moving in the same direction. So I knew my swim was going to be slower than IM Germany and defintely slower than the sub-60 minutes I'd hoped to go. This wasn't helped by my ridiculous re-entry into the water where I followed some guys the long way around the dock. Regardless, it was a nice swim. My only regret was taking off my swim cap as I ran along with my wetsuit under my arm towards T1. The Garmin was under there, and while I managed to juggle it, the cap, my goggles and earplugs all together, at some point I dropped the Garmin and had to double back to look for it (at a few hundred dollars, I didn't want to lose it, not to mention my data on it!) Thankfully a volunteer saw me looking, took my race number and offered to find it for me so I could carry on. I hoped for the best and made my way to T1.

Swim time: 1:01:58 as 29:28 first lap and 32:30 second lap, 6th AG and 239th overall

Ironman Lake Placid swim 26-07-2009
Swim course and speeds

Chute to T1

T1 and The Bike

A long run up to the Olympic Oval where the bikes were racked, made amazing by the throngs of people lining the chute screaming like crazy. Transition was pretty easy, I grabbed my bag and ran into the tent, threw on my helmet, sunglasses, race belt and shoes and handed my wetsuit and gear back to a volunteer. Since I've discovered 2XU Endurance Tri shorts this year, I've been able to swim, bike and run wearing the same clothes throughout, which makes for quick transitions. My number had been called out on the megaphone but by the time I reached my rack, I was greeted by a poor confused volunteer who sort of looked at me helplessly. I was fortunate that my bike was only three spots from the end of the row, so I just waved at her and smiled and grabbed it myself. She looked relieved and I was on my way, running through the grass in my bike shoes.

T1: 5:13, 4th AG and 177th overall

Straight out of T1

The rain had stopped but the roads were still wet, and with a crazy 180-degree turn followed by a steep downhill straight out of transition then another sharp corner and more downhill, I mounted my bike and rode the first few minutes very gingerly. Once out of town, I settled in and assessed myself. Stomach still not happy, though feeling hungry which I took to be a good sign. Legs however were unaccounted for. Still, not time to panic yet, it's only an hour into the race and I've got at least nine and a half to go! I climbed out of Lake Placid in an easy gear, then ate a bit of my Perpetuem mix before tackling the 7.5km descent into Keene (where I managed to average 54km/h on the first loop and 52km/h on the second -- max was over 70km/h which I know is not super fast, but then again I'm a bit of a lightweight!) The roads were closed to cars which made me feel better than on the day I had practised it, though the winds are tricky through there and my 60mm deep front wheel had ideas of its own about where to go. I kept repeating to myself "you are a good bike handler! this descent is easy!" the whole way down, which seemed to work as I didn't crash like a few unfortunate folks I saw along the way.

Ironman Lake Placid bike 26-07-2009
Bike Course and speeds

From Keene to Jay was a massive tailwind and given the number of fast guys on the course by then, I was towed along by the draft it seemed. It actually took some effort not to draft as there were just so many bikes along there. Overtaking one person just to hit another's draft zone was frustrating and meant I either had to continuously overtake at least three people a minute (maximum 20 seconds in each person's zone) or pick and choose who I should pass and who I should let sit legally in front of me. Once we hit the hills between Jay and Wilmington, things broke up a bit more, but even so this was a difficult course to ride 100% within the rules. Thankfully I didn't see any huge draft packs and the smaller ones I saw were breaking up regularly due to the hills and aid stations.

Heading into Wilmington

Jim had left town right after I got through transition, and had ridden the opposite direction on the bike course so he could meet me before the out-and-back section for photos and encouragement. By then -- 45km into the bike leg -- I knew I was going to struggle with my body all day. I felt bloated, blah, head-achy and completely off my game. The average watts I'd planned to push on the bike just didn't happen without an alarming rise in heart rate, so I settled for racing on "feel" while keeping half an eye on heart rate and mostly ignoring the watts on the powertap. In some ways this worked great, as I was able to conserve a lot of energy on the tailwind and downhill sections of the course, yet still climb the hills the way I'm used to -- steady to FTP watts but nowhere near blowing up. In the end my VI was 1.11 for the whole race which I think is quite high. But given my state of disarray on the bike course, going on feel meant surviving on what felt right to me at the time, which meant ups and downs instead of a steady watts ride. I'm still thinking this one over and the truth is that I haven't done enough "bad" long rides and IM races to know whether I did myself a good or bad turn with this strategy. Interestingly enough, my normative watts over the whole course were only about 5-10 watts off from what I'd wanted my average watts to be! All I can say is I hope to ride more steady at Kona.

A happy moment

The wheels are in sync even if I'm not

So, plan B then: after burping up my Perp mix a few times, I decided to back off and go with plain water for a while. I knew I had to keep up with my scheduled Endurolytes and Anti-Fatigue caps, but even those were hard to get down. In retrospect, I think I should have had more water early in the bike leg as I probably took in too many calories without enough water to process them. Given that it wasn't really warm on the bike until nearly an hour into it, and that the swim had been in cool water, I thought I didn't need as much water -- and mindful of the multiple times I had to pee during the Stein race, not to mention that I'd already peed twice during the swim -- didn't want to start drinking too much. As it was, I didn't start to need to pee until the second lap (over 3 hours into the bike leg) and didn't stop til nearly 5 hours had gone by. If that wasn't the biggest clue that I was underhydrating.... hard to believe now that I could have been so dumb! It wasn't for lack of aid stations either, it was just me being a newbie. Speaking of aid stations, at the out-and-back I tried to grab a fresh water bottle, but between the right-hand hand-off (I'm left-handed), the size of the bottle and the fact that it was cold and dripping, I managed to drop it not once but twice! Finally the third hand-off worked, but to all the folks riding anywhere near me at that moment, I sincerely apologise for making your day needlessly stressful by having to steer around my dropped bottles. Mea culpa.

Crowds at the aid station

All along I'd been taking split times on the bike and I knew after the end of the out-and-back that I was in pretty good shape timewise for someone who was riding too easy and not having a great day. When I hit Wilmington just after 2 hours on the bike and started the last ~20km back into town to complete the first lap, I knew I was still in the money. Climbing past Whiteface Mountain my legs finally put in their first appearance of the day and I started to feel better all around. The Papa Bear climb was packed with cheering fans, and I got a real call-out for my in-the-aero-bars climbing technique, especially as I passed a dozen guys out of the saddle and grinding their way up the hill.

Into town and passing the crowds, I blew right by Special Needs (the flat tire monsters had thankfully stayed away this year, so there was nothing I needed anyway) and started the second lap. Pretty much the same as the first, though now the course was quite a bit more deserted, the wind had kicked up, the sun was hotter, and the people I did see were looking considerably rougher around the edges. I continued to feel a bit better, tested the waters with some more Perp, then switched to Hammer Gel instead. I attempted to pee on the bike several times between Keene and Wilmington, but as the day was sunny and bone-dry, I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Frustrated by the lost seconds spent coasting and trying to go, I finally gave up and stopped for a minute at the portapotty on the out-and-back.

Still aero

My stomach and I had seemed to come to a truce: I wouldn't keep trying to overfeed it, and it wouldn't get worse on me (though never truly came around and felt great either). But apparently I'd forgotten to negotiate a deal with my legs because a few kms after leaving Wilmington for the final painful jaunt back into Lake Placid, I got a wicked cramp in my left quad on the inside. Tried to stretch it out and massage it on the bike, but every time I put any power into my pedal stroke it would seize up again, so I finally had to stop by the side of the road and try to fix it. This was particularly frustrating as I had been overtaking lots of people at this point (minus the stops, my split times between first and second lap were pretty good). A guy with a maddeningly squeaky disk wheel and I were trading places on the climbs and descents, and I wanted to cry when I was off my bike stretching and saw -- heard -- him go by.

The muscle cramps got me twice more on the road back to transition, the left leg again and then the right. The final time was just before the last five rollers into town, the Cherries and Bears. I pulled over to the side, right leg unclipped and in agony, thinking "the shoulder's not that wide here, better pull off into the rough so people can get by me" and promptly hit the sand and crashed on my left side, still clipped in, expletives leaving my mouth rather loudly. Some guy rode by and asked if I was all right in that sort of "I'll stop if I have to help you but I really hope you say you're fine" way -- and given the number of ambulances we'd all seen on the course, I can't blame him -- but I waved him on. Took stock of the damage, a scraped knee and big bruise on my thigh where it hit the top tube and felt pretty mad at myself. Which then sort of woke me up and got me going again, I jumped back on my bike and rode the rest of the way into town cramp-free and with fresh resolve to get the suffering over with and start the run. By the time I got through transition, I was in 3rd place in my age group and 263rd overall in the race, 114.4 miles down and only 26.2 more to go.

Bike time: 5:49:49 as 2:50:19 first lap and 2:59:29 second lap, 3rd AG and 333rd overall

Head down to climb the last hill

T2 and The Run

The second transition was quick and painless, with the only interesting moment happening when I dismounted my bike, leaving the shoes on the pedals, and ran -- rather hobbled -- barefoot towards the bag racks wondering how I was going to run a whole marathon when I could barely make it through transition? Socks and shoes on, decided to start with a visor and see how it went (lately I've been finding it cooler to run without any hat), grabbed my packet full of goodies while a volunteer slapped some sunscreen on my shoulders, and then I ran out. The packet contained all the individual Hammer gels I'd prepacked for the run, plus two Hammer coin purse thingies, one for Endurolytes and one for Anti-Fatigue caps, all in a Ziploc bag. I started loading my pockets as I ran out onto the course to save time, then tossed the baggie at the first aid station. Jim had seen me coming in from the bike course and shouted that I was in third place in my age group by only about five minutes or so. Good to know, but at this point I had to focus on running well and pacing carefully or all that holding back on the bike would be for nothing.

T2: 2:22, 2nd AG and 121st overall

Sorting through the packet

My legs loosened up right away, and I ran the first half mile (albeit all downhill) in only four minutes, which was a bit quick for my plan. I figured I might as well take my first bathroom break to help slow me down a bit. My goal was to run about 5:10/km for the first ten kms -- those splits including all walk breaks at the aid stations -- then try to pick it up a bit or hold steady, depending how I was feeling and knowing that the last six or seven kms of the course with their tough uphills would be the hardest and slowest. I had the Garmin 405 on my wrist so I could keep track of how hard I was going, and it proved to be a great time-manager (and later a whip-cracker) for my pace. I was feeling more or less like my old self again, choking back gels as I needed to and getting my aid station ritual down: dump the old sponges at the start, grab two cups of water (one for my mouth, one over my head), a crushed fresh cup of ice to sit in my trishirt behind my neck, then fresh cold sponges across my chest. Walk just enough to make this all happen, then start running again. I was passing tons of people even in the first lap, as predictably many guys had overcooked the bike leg and were looking at a long day's suffering on the run. Just before I reached the turnaround at 9km, I saw the two women ahead of me in my age group running towards me. I estimated that only about half a mile separated us which put an age group win in reach for me, unless one of them turned out to be a great runner. But as I ran back I spotted the fourth place girl about the same distance behind me. Nothing I could do about it, just had to keep going.

Running the tangents

Up the hill to town and man did that hurt. People were already walking. At least I knew how long it was and that it flattened out after the corner, so I dug a little and kept running. Through town and onto Mirror Lake drive to complete that cruel race director's joke called the second out-and-back. On the first lap, at least the Special Needs bags are there providing some distraction from the fact that you need to run nearly a mile past the finish line entry point then back again before you can head out of town for the second loop. At the end of the race it's nearly unbearable to have to run past the finish chute again before you can enter it! Special Needs had only one thing I wanted: a (no longer) frozen bottle of Heed that I'd made up the night before. The sun had come out again and it was getting hot, so I also dumped my visor in the bag. That bottle of Heed tasted like nothing ever has or ever will again -- I grabbed a cup of ice and poured the Heed over top and drank like it was the last drink of my life. Awesome! It lasted until I made the turnaround and ran past the aid station again, where I chucked the empty bottle and ran past the cheering crowds feeling like a million bucks to start the second half of the marathon. Kms 20 and 21, the ones after Special Needs, rang in at 5:00 and 5:05 respectively, keeping my overall pace to that point at 5:15/km. I did feel bad, however, to see the folks still riding in after their second bike lap and who hadn't even started the run!

Fleetfooted after Special Needs

Running downhill out of town again, I finally saw the end of of a long day slowly coming into sight. Just had to keep up the relentless forward movement, counting down the miles -- now fewer to go than I had done -- and I would be done with Ironman Lake Placid. The run course was really crowded now as most people had started the marathon, and it was hard to tell who was on the first lap and who was on the second (note to IMLP organisers: little bracelets to hand off after the first lap would help competitors keep track of each other!) The run out River Road to the turnaround was again pretty quiet, though the cramps that had taken me down on the bike were threatening to return again on the run, this time in my calves. My aid stations walks were becoming longer and I had to stop several times to stretch out my calves. I had been running the tangents, saving myself as much distance as possible, but now I wondered if it was better to run slightly longer but in the shade. Midway to the turnaround I saw two women in my age group coming at me and looking quite strong, and in my mentally exhausted state couldn't remember if they were the same women who had been ahead of me all along. If they were, then they had me beat by a fair bit. If not, then where were the women ahead of me? At that point I realised that it was out of my hands either way. I couldn't run any faster without risk of cramping up, and as long as I didn't slow down, I wouldn't lose any places (the 4th place girl who I did recognise in her Endurance Nation kit was falling behind steadily). So to my great relief, I just gave up caring where anyone else in my age group was and ran on as best I could.

Trying to run, not walk

Ironman Lake Placid run 26-07-2009, Elevation - Time
Run Elevation and Gradient

Turned out that the two women in front of me were fading fast while I was still running 5:17-5:18/km, but I didn't manage to catch them until the final half hour of the race. I barely noticed overtaking them as I was going by tons of people by then, particularly on the hills where many were walking, and the body marking had worn off hours ago. Later, the third place girl would tell me she saw me go by but just couldn't hold my pace. I saw Jim at the top of the hill with less than two miles to go and suddenly had a moment of panic: what if there was some hotshot marathoner who'd been creeping up on me all this time the way I'd crept up on the others? I shouted to Jim "who's behind me?" and he gave me a confused look. "Everyone is! You're in first place!" I shook my head thinking it couldn't be possible, what about those speedy ladies I'd seen before? But no time to argue, I had to keep going but for the first time I allowed myself to think that I might actually win my age group.

Just that awful last out-and-back to do along Mirror Lake, helped immensely by the thronging masses cheering me along for actually still running at a reasonable pace, then I was done. I made sure to toss my sponges and ice at the aid station to make myself presentable for the finisher's photos, and Jim (where did he come from? must have hoofed it up that hill double time!) shouted to smile when I crossed the line. Then into the Olympic Oval and half a lap around before running under that magical Ironman banner. I reminded myself that this could be the last race I ever do -- after all, you never know what could happen in the future -- which did indeed bring a grin to my face, and with a sort of gay fist pump I ran across the line. In the end I ran the fastest marathon in my age group.

Run time: 3:42:31 as 1:49:16 first lap and 1:53:15 second lap, 1st AG and 131st overall

Fist Pump!

Across the finish line

The Aftermath

Despite aching legs, I actually felt pretty good when the race was over. Mike Reilly had called out my name when I finished, but no mention was made of what place I was in my age group so I still wasn't quite sure I had won. I grabbed some food then got my dry clothes bag and took off my wet shoes, socks and calf guards. Found Jim and chatted briefly, then went to get my scraped knee bandaged and a massage before my muscles completely seized up on me. The medical tent was full of rough-looking folks --only 152 people out of 2250 had finished in front of me and half of them were in that tent! But given the number of ambulances carting people from the run course I wasn't really surprised. As much as I wondered how good it would be to get an IV, I knew I didn't need it, so I got changed into my compression tights and went out to take care of some lingering business: checking out the results and tracking down the lost Garmin!

Thankfully I didn't need one of these!

Seeing my name listed as first in my age group, it finally sunk it that I had won! I immediately felt a sense of guilt, as I had had such a bad day that I almost didn't believe I deserved it. Still, upon checking out the bike and run times, I realised it was my months of training and my race execution on the day that got me through it, and not how good or bad I felt during the race. Staying cool-headed and trusting myself rather than panicking or giving up was the key to getting through the tough moments. So in that sense, it was one of the most deserved victories I've ever had. And ultimately, if I had to choose between an awesome day with a lesser result, and a tough day with a great result, I'd pick the latter every time. :)

Total race: 10:41:52 as 1:01:58 swim, 5:49:49 bike and 3:42:31 run, for 1st AG, 16th woman and 153rd overall

Ironman Mom

The Kona rolldown was at 9am sharp the following day (we were nearly first in line) and then it was the awards banquet. Mike Reilly gave an update on the last finishers of the night and played the poignant pros, volunteers and finishers videos. Then we were presented with our trophies (little M-Dot plaques in graduating sizes) and called up by age group to the stage for photos and applause. Though it looks like we were standing in order of height, that's actually the order than we finished!

Male and Female 35-39 Podium

Later that evening my five housemates and I went out for a group celebration dinner, with plenty to celebrate as both Jeremiah and Esther had completed their first Ironmans with excellent results. Bob had enjoyed his time volunteering (and drinking beer for a change while in Lake Placid for race week, as he'd previously done the race several times himself as a competitor). Our loyal supporters Jim and Armando stuck it out the whole day despite the rain, the sun, the crowds and the long hours standing around wondering where we were. So a success all around and a great time had in Lake Placid.

The gang from 4 Cherokee Trail

All pics by Jim except for a few from the official race photo guys which I'm planning to purchase shortly.


Some bike power data for those who like that kind of stuff:

Lap 1:
Duration: 2:50:19 (2:50:21)
Work: 1515 kJ
TSS: 137.5 (intensity factor 0.696)
Norm Power: 164
VI: 1.1
Pw:HR: -11.49%
Pa:HR: 12.33%
Distance: 89.771 km
Elevation Gain: 2598 m
Elevation Loss: 2591 m
Grade: 0.0 % (6 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 344 148 watts
Heart Rate: 102 169 150 bpm
Cadence: 47 166 91 rpm
Speed: 0 75.8 31.6 kph
Pace 0:47 0:00 1:54 min/km
Altitude: 195 672 395 m
Crank Torque: 0 57.6 15.6 N-m

Lap 2:
Duration: 2:59:29 (2:59:30)
Work: 1587 kJ
TSS: 147 (intensity factor 0.701)
Norm Power: 165
VI: 1.12
Pw:HR: -2.99%
Pa:HR: 23.89%
Distance: 90.3 km
Elevation Gain: 2597 m
Elevation Loss: 2606 m
Grade: -0.0 % (-10 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 394 147 watts
Heart Rate: 104 170 154 bpm
Cadence: 30 166 90 rpm
Speed: 0 93.5 30.2 kph
Pace 0:39 0:00 1:59 min/km
Altitude: 195 672 396 m
Crank Torque: 0 66.8 15.8 N-m

Entire workout (30.9 kph):
Duration: 5:49:49 (5:49:52)
Work: 3102 kJ
TSS: 284.4 (intensity factor 0.698)
Norm Power: 164
VI: 1.11
Pw:HR: 2.62%
Pa:HR: 7.25%
Distance: 180.083 km
Elevation Gain: 5194 m
Elevation Loss: 5198 m
Grade: -0.0 % (-4 m)
Min Max Avg
Power: 0 394 148 watts
Heart Rate: 102 170 152 bpm
Cadence: 30 166 91 rpm
Speed: 0 93.5 30.9 kph
Pace 0:39 0:00 1:57 min/km
Altitude: 195 672 396 m
Crank Torque: 0 66.8 15.7 N-m

And run data too:

Lap 1:
Duration: 1:49:15
rTSS: 126.8 (0.788)
NGP: 5:05 (196.8 m/min)
Pa:HR: 7.29%
Distance: 20.719 km
Elevation Gain: 418 m
Elevation Loss: 408 m
Grade: 0.0 % (9 m)
Min Max Avg
Heart Rate: 91 162 145 bpm
Speed: 0 16.7 11.4 kph
Pace 3:36 0:00 5:17 min/km
Altitude: 504 583 530 m

Lap 2:
Duration: 1:53:25
rTSS: 128.1 (0.781)
NGP: 5:09 (194.0 m/min)
Pa:HR: 2.5%
Distance: 21.354 km
Elevation Gain: 442 m
Elevation Loss: 451 m
Grade: -0.0 % (-9 m)
Min Max Avg
Heart Rate: 104 161 151 bpm
Speed: 0 22.5 11.2 kph
Pace 2:40 0:00 5:22 min/km
Altitude: 504 583 531 m

Entire workout (149 bpm):
Duration: 3:42:40
rTSS: 259.5 (0.785)
NGP: 5:07 (195.5 m/min)
Pa:HR: 4.98%
Distance: 42.073 km
Elevation Gain: 860 m
Elevation Loss: 860 m
Grade: 0.0 % (1 m)
Min Max Avg
Heart Rate: 91 162 148 bpm
Speed: 0 22.5 11.3 kph
Pace 2:40 0:00 5:19 min/km
Altitude: 504 583 531 m