Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ironman USA, a closer look

While EK Endurance Coaching will have many IM bound athletes this year. I feel this is a great example of training and racing execution for everyone to learn from.

Here is a look at what it tock one of our clients, Elisabeth Ryland, to complete her first Ironman.

Some background:
Lynn, as I call her, is an avid recreational athlete. Enjoying the out doors for many years in Boulder, CO. she has done several triathlons including a few ½ ironman’s.
A year or so ago her and her husband moved to the Philly area for a new job. After getting settled she decided to take on IM lake placid. After getting an entry we got to work on her training. During this time she had several weekend vacations and short work trips. She is a busy engineer working 50+ hours a week for GSK. Her and her husband are slowly making improvements to there new house. The pair had a week long CO ski vacation in Feb, a wedding in Bloomington, IN in May along with some other spur of the moment activities. Sound familiar…

Training and the race:
Lynn started her structured training on Jan 2nd. With winter being full on in the north east, daylight being short and jobs being demanding outside training is difficult at best for many. Lynn’s biggest weak area at this point was her swim with the bike being here strong point.
We set out with a swim focus for the winter months. This “focus” was more on consistency rather than huge volume or intensity. While there were specific workouts that were done most of her swimming was in a master class format. This format works very well as she was able to constantly get feedback and coaching on her tech. At winters end we decided on some one on one sessions with a coach as apposed to a very pricey weekend seminar. It turned out to be money well spent. She did a 1000 yard test early in the winter. Her pace (T-pace) was just shy of 2 minutes/ 100yards.
She improved to 1:50. by the end of the winter and swam (as she put it) a “very controlled” 1:19 at IM USA.
Lynn’s running was again based on consistency. Slowly building up her durability. She came into this raining with some good “base” fitness, as many call it.
This combined with limited time put us in position to develop Lynn’s upper aerobic engine and pacing ability. While she is strong on the bike she had the habit of pushing too hard when the conditions are slow/ tough and going to easy when there not. While this is what we lean towards while racing dynamically on the bike, years of this has lead to Lynn not being in control of her intensity. The road was in control. Not a good way to go into an IM. The winter was full of threshold intervals and occasional group rides with her team when the weather allowed. This combination of different length thresholds intervals, over under intervals and variable paced group rides gave her a much deeper sense of herself, the bike and how to ride “in control”. This was very important for Lynn as she did not train with or race with a power meter.
While only training a max of 10 hours per week she was more than ready when it came time for a big volume block in early march. She did just shy of 20 hr’s this week with class and control. This week was bike focused and included lots of time in Zones 2 and 3.

As spring came we focused on threshold intervals running. Lynn’s 10k pace improved about 15 sec. per mile. Less than I though but she commented on “feeling” better and better, like she had more control. This became apparent when ran at a crushing 9:10/mile pace in a very hilly ½ IM course in NY state. And later when she ran at a pace only 10sec./mile slower that here threshold pace at an Oly. distance a month out from IM USA. Her “long” runs consisted of many 1.5 hour runs. Our thinking here was that: 90’ is very doable and repeatable. 90’ is also past the critical 70’ mark for endurance adaptation. By doing 90’ runs we could do more running in total rather than suffering through 2+ hour runs and loosing out on training time while recovering. As it was Lynn did not get to complete as many of these 90’ runs as we would have liked. She did do one run of 2:08 three weeks out. she ran just under 10’ miles and felt great.
Lynn ran 9:39 miles in the race. we were aiming/ hoping for 10’ miles.

Over coming adversity:
As with all big goals and great journeys one can expect and must persevere tough times.
6 or 7 weeks out from IM USA Lynn was set to go to lake placid for a 3 day training camp. This training camp would give her irreplaceable knowledge of the bike course, venue, race simulation training and was the front end of another high volume block. The week of this training weekend she became ill. Very ill. Getting out of bed was tough let alone training. She did what most would do. Justified that while she would not be at her best and might have to not do as much training, “it would all be ok.” I let her tell me what she was thinking and then made the hard, brutal call.
“Lynn, your not going anywhere this weekend. I’m sorry but you’re staying home end of story”
This was a huge blow not only to her training but to her mental state. Knowing your course and venue can be the key to not making mistakes. It is huge for confidence and poise on race day. She would miss this opportunity.
We decided that she was fit, ready, being healthy and having a bit more “fire” in the belly would be better than one or two more long rides. She had many 3-4:30 hour rides in her legs. After some rest and being sure she didn’t over do it the next week she went to a planned Oly distance tri. It went very well running exceptionally quick after a steady and controlled bike leg. Her confidence was back.

Race execution:

Racing an IM is not about being a tough guy, it doesn’t matter how many crazy rides you did, how many people you dropped on the B2B ride or how you did at XYZ race 2 weeks ago. Racing an IM is about using the tools you have (your strengths) to over come the absence of tools you may be missing (your weaknesses) to get to the finish line as quickly as possible.
Lynn and I decided that she had 2 weak areas. The nice part about these 2 issues was that if she tock care of number 1 the 2nd weakness would already be halfway over come.
Weakness 1: While she made great progress in learning to pace her self and ride steady on the bike I was still worried she may go to hard to early and pay later. Keeping her first hour easy and her whole ride steady was very key. Lynn rode well. I checked about 20-25 other female riders on the race day tracking site and she was the only one who went faster on the second loop.
Weakness 2: The run: while great gains were made running many of Lynn’s long runs were missed or cut short because of life commitments. Sound familiar? I felt if she paced her bike well she would be half way home. Also, as with the bike, starting out easy and keeping pace would be key. She did this well and ran 9:39 miles

Lynn’s race execution was almost flawless,
Swim: 1:19 and 67th in her AG
Bike: 6:38 and moved up to 37th in AG
Run: 4:13 25th/AG at half way and 16th at the finish.

After the race Lynn said what almost every successful IM racer says. “I passed so any people in the last 15 miles of the bike. I couldn’t believe it.”