8 Reasons I Went 9:13 at Ironman Texas
If you want to improve your Ironman performance, this is for you.
I just completed Ironman Texas in a time of 9:13 and it still seems so unreal to me. Never in my life did I think a 9:13 was possible. My first Ironman was just shy of 11 hours. If you would have told me back then that a 9:13 was possible, I would have laughed! The thought of a low 9-hour Ironman seemed so distant…...BUT it finally happened....I’m still smiling.
I did not come into the sport with heaps of natural talent or as a single-sport standout. I’d like to share the 8 reasons I believe I was able to make this jump and hopefully, it will provide some encouragement for your Ironman journey.
1. Consistency - This has been the one variable that I have 100% control over. Back in 2009/2010, I decided I was going to shoot for the stars and try and qualify the Ironman World Championships in Kona. Since then, I have been training non-stop. I have only taken about 2-3 weeks off from training each year and that’s it (prior to this I would take 1.5 - 2 months off each season). While I am not always working on endurance, I am always working on something related to the sport. Each year builds upon the previous year. Think of it as an account earning compound interest. I feel fortunate to have qualified for Kona the last 4 years as the work I have put in really started paying off.
2. Intensely focused off-season work - As mentioned above, I switched to a year-round training cycle back in 2009 but the last 3 years my focus during the “off-season” intensified quite a bit. Not because the workouts were harder but because I was even more purposeful than before.
I had big goals for Texas this year so my preparation began just 10 days after finishing Kona in October of 2016. I ditched my pre-Ironman volume, went back to the shorter stuff and brought back strength training 3 days a week (I eased into this). This is the same structure my year-round athletes follow (3 have qualified for Kona this year). My off-season structure was essential. I NEED structure. Without it, I just do what I feel like and the training becomes more of a “workout” and less of a “training session.” Every two weeks I planned out my training and I stuck to it.
3. I added more big gear work - I train three days a week on the bike - in the form of one long weekend ride and two shorter weekday rides on the trainer. This time around I added more volume to my big gear work during the week. I felt like bike strength was a gap in my racing so I wanted to beef this up a bit more and I knew the heavy resistance was going to bridge the gap. These big gear intervals were a challenge as I continued to strength train 2 to 3 days a week. I kept telling myself that I was building resiliency and durability. I went 3 months with my glutes in a constant state of soreness - no joke.
4. Mia dialed in my nutrition - Mia (my wife) was my nutrition sensei through this process. Beginning last summer, I put my nutrition in Mia’s hands,100%. I gave up control of what I ate and allowed Mia to structure my macronutrient breakdown on a daily basis. She gave me targets (specific grams of carbs, protein, and fat) for my bike strength days and for my weekday aerobic sessions, as well as my longer aerobic sessions on the weekends. She modified this as I progressed through my training. She had me log everything and it was my job to make sure I got in enough of the macronutrients she set up for me. I was rarely ever hungry. If I didn’t hit my targets, she definitely let me hear about it. That accountability was huge!! Initially, it was a lot of work to log everything but I quickly got the hang of it. The cool thing about eating this way is that you can make just about anything you want to eat fit into your daily totals.
The biggest difference in following Mia’s guidelines is that I felt sooooo much stronger throughout all of my training. I was never dragging and I felt recharged after my tough training sessions. I was eating a lot more and also eating so many more carbs and protein than I was accustomed to. In fact, my final 6 weeks going into my Ironman I was consuming 470 carbs per day. I felt amazing, powerful, fast and my weight stayed the same!!! My race at Oceanside three weeks before Texas confirmed that I was getting stronger. I posted a personal best of 4:29.
Mia works with individuals (both athletes and non- athletes ) to help them reach their body composition goals. She’s pretty good at it and asking her to structure my nutrition was a big help. My main goal was to feel strong throughout my training. She definitely accomplished this for me.
5. I changed my race day nutrition - I went back to using a product I used when I first started racing - Carbo Pro. Based on what I was seeing with recovery and workout performance with a higher carb diet, I wanted to try taking in more calories on the bike. The last 3 years I have been maxed out at about 350 calories per hour on the bike (most in the form of Bonk Breakers). If I was going to try and get in more calories, I knew I needed to take in more carbohydrates and less of the stuff that slows down digestion (fat, fiber and protein). Carbo Pro is 100% carbohydrates in the form of maltodextrin and this made up the bulk of my calories. Milky Way candy bars filled in the gaps. I had three on the bike.
I felt great getting off of the bike. I thought, “this is too good to be true”…...but it wasn’t. I felt solid the entire run. More fuel on the bike definitely played a big part. I ran a personal best for the marathon run in a time of 2:57. My best Ironman marathon by 10 minutes.
I managed to get in 610 calories per hour for the first 3 hours and then about 500 for the final 1:49. This took practice and I didn’t just show up on race day and try and slam all these calories. On the run, I just took in Coke and an occasional Red Bull. I have always avoided solids on the run. My caloric intake on the run was much lower. I would estimate close to 200 calories per hour.
6. I changed my running mechanics a bit - I changed my running based on what I learned using the STRYD power meter that I started using in June of 2016. There are a ton of ways you can use the power meter but my main goal in using it was efficiency. After 2 months of simply observing data, I realized a few things about forward lean and efficiency.
A forward lean (more lean the faster you are running) works great for events where your legs are fresh or your run is short. However, in an Ironman it’s essential that you are efficient…...so a more upright body position is best. While running with a forward lean is faster, it’s not always sustainable and in an Ironman you have to go with what’s sustainable.
Over the last 7 months, I really focused on keeping my body position a little more upright and holding run pace without an increase in power. This led to huge savings in my lower legs and the biggest difference is that I can hang onto my pace with much more efficiency (confirmed with the power meter). If I run a 5k or a half marathon I would not use this approach because I am faster with a forward lean (but it’s a much bigger energy cost).
7. I worked on my Cadence - The athletes I work with are probably tired of hearing me saying this but high Cadence is essential for efficiency, and Ironman racing is all about efficiency. For the first two months after Kona, I did about 90% of my weekday running on the treadmill (I know, it was rough.) so I could really focus on Cadence. This continued to be a focus as I took most of my running to the road/trails.
8. I stayed in the game mentally - I had one of my slowest Ironman swims ever. I think I had my head in the clouds and I just swam too comfortably out there. When I looked at my watch as I exited the swim, I panicked and immediately started feeling sorry for myself (that is the kiss of death by the way)!!!
The first 10 miles of the bike I was thinking about the time I had to make up to put myself into a decent position for the run and I ended up pushing way too hard. Fortunately, I caught this potentially stupid mistake and dialed it back, telling myself to “ride your race.” I also let go of the horrible swim and stopped feeling sorry for myself. From mile 10 through the end, I stayed in the moment and made sure I ate, drank and kept surges to a minimum. I moved from 125th out of the swim to 27th off the bike. Work still needed to be done. I needed to run myself into the top 10 if I wanted to make it back to Kona. I got tunnel vision on the run and just clicked off one mile at a time. The run felt like a time warp as I used each person I passed as fuel to keep the fire in my belly burning strong. I ended up finishing in 4th, catching the last 7 guys in the final 10K of the run. I never backed down once during the run - not mentally, not physically...I was in the ZONE.
Races don’t always go as planned. How you react to a tough situation can make all the difference. Don’t make an unfortunate situation worse by feeling sorry for yourself because it will never result in anything positive. Stay in the moment of the race. Ask yourself: “What do I have to do right now to set myself up for the rest of the day?”
If you are training for an Ironman or half Ironman, consistency is your best friend. It's not about smashing two or three session and then barely make it through the week. Training should be a gradual progression of work/load, repeated week after week. There are no secret sessions that will all of a sudden make you better. Work and more work is the recipe. Target all of the systems you'll need to tap into on race day. Ironman is a strength-endurance sport so it's not just about miles. Sure miles have their place, but you have to get strong.
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