Oh my gosh, is it really ten days since I posted race report number two? Forgive me, dear reader—the final eight days of our travels have included the highs and lows that the closing moments of long trips usually feature: great fun, high exhaustion, deep travail. Those abstractions, however, will have to wait for a later post—I will make good on my pledge to deliver a third race report about Challenge Roth, which, at present, I’m describing to everyone I know as the most enjoyable and exciting race day I’ve ever experienced.
As I covered earlier, I came off the bike in 9th place, about 30 minutes down on the race leaders, but having ridden up to many of the other top-ten challengers. The final 45k on the bike wasn’t my best—I had averaged in the 270s for wattage over the first three-quarters of the ride, but then only held 245 for the final quarter; dropping power is not a great sign for your run. No matter, I kept telling myself. Just get out of transition, start running, and see how you feel.
After a hilarious, Chaplin-esque T2 that involved an overzealous volunteer and an overripe banana, I was out of the changing tent and running. My game plan on the run is always the same: hold the average heart rate from the bike for the first two miles, and then see if I can lift my effort as I go. I get a lot of pushback from my athletes on this scheme, especially in training. They usually report that average heart rate from the bike is “just too slow” for them to run. I’ve never experienced this during an actual race, and here’s my guess why: by the time you’ve completed an actual race-intensity bike leg (110-117 miles at your target wattage, something you should never do in training), you will have amassed some significant fatigue. If you’ve paced correctly, you’re still going to be able to run effectively, but it’s fatigued running, not fresh running. When fatigued, your heart rate is going to be depressed from normal, so you’ll be seeing numbers that are lower than “normal” at a given pace. This is why doing short bricks after LONG training rides is important; you’ll get a sense of what that “depressed” heart rate is where you can still run your goal pace/effort. So, I popped off the bike and ran the first two miles of the run at 139 bpm (I’d averaged 141 bpm on the bike) and 6:41/minute miles. Perfect. Exactly where I wanted to be. Exactly. There’s a sense you get, pretty early on the run, if you’re going to have a good day on the most important leg, or a struggle of a day, and running along the canal at Roth for the first 13-14 miles I thought I was going to have a really good day. The kilometers ticked by easily, about once ever four minutes, and I felt relaxed and smooth. I was nine minutes down on 9th place, but I figured that, if I just kept running steadily, some of those guys up front would explode and I would run through, perhaps even into the top five. At the Iron-distance, being positive and staying steady is your best bet. My friend Brian Andrews was out there spectating, and he let me know that one or two of the front-runners were already walking—Just stay in it, I told myself. That’s one spot you’ll get, for sure.
About eight to nine miles in, you make your first turnaround, and I could see that I was running at the front of a big group of athletes. There were probably seven or eight men within five minutes, behind me. Again, staying steady is your best bet—if you start trying to race or change your speed when you’re running this far, you’re only going to hurt yourself, later. Heading back south along the canal I felt the early signs of fatigue, but that’s always something that’s going to happen, so welcoming it and staying strong is important. I redoubled my commitment to my fueling plan, and kept telling myself that it was going to be painful at some point, so I might as well just embrace the difficulty. Gerritt Schellens passed me around here, en route to a super-strong 2:53 marathon, and I used his rhythm for a few miles to stay strong. Still, I was beginning to waver. My exuberance on the bike, and some stomach issues (again, probably mis-pacing on the bike coupled with not nailing the change in drink mix) were conspiring to slow me down. From 16.2 miles to around 24.1, I went through a rough patch where my heart rate dipped into the mid 130s and my pace slowed to 7:30/mile. Not good enough if I was going to run that 2:55-2:57 my coach and I had planned on! This is where I faded from 10th to 13th, as the racing was exceptionally tight in those places: only 5:32 separated Schellens, in 9th overall, from Sebastian Bleisteiner, in 14th, who was only 18 seconds behind me! So that five-and-a-half minutes (pretty much the difference from what I planned to run, in the 2:55-2:57 range, and the 3:03:25 I actually ran) was an exceptionally valuable five-and-a-half minutes. As the tri gods always say, swim and bike for show, run for dough.
I’m going to leave my overall feelings about the race for a final, fourth post, but I’m generally happy with my run. Before Roth, I had never had an effective run leg outside of the race in Penticton, so running at least fairly well was a success. If you’re interested in having a look at the run file, you can do so here.
Big thanks to Herbert Krabel, of Slowtwitch, who snapped the incredibly flattering picture of me, above. I think he used his skinny lens.