Ironman Arizona Racing Plan

I haven’t written at all about my injuries and rehab during my build-up to Arizona, nor have I finished my Ironman Maryland race report from last year. My plan for Arizona hinges hugely on both of those. My goal is (and always has been) to beat Maryland but my limiting factors are my injuries.

Ironman is always about execution, even under the best circumstances and for the most fit athlete. Getting to the finish line for this race is going to be tough and is going to require me to stick to a very conservative plan of attack.

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The Swim

I wasn’t worried about the swim at all until about a week ago. It was the only discipline that wasn’t giving me problems.  During one of my training swims, it occurred to me one day that I never swam 2.4 miles. Maryland was cut short last year to just under two miles. And because the race was delayed by two weeks, there was a ton of no-show athletes, so the swim wasn’t as crowded as this one is likely to be. It was a great swim for me despite the choppy waters, I felt strong and like I could have kept swimming, so I’m trying to hold onto that going into this race.

I haven’t been feeling great in the pool over the last few weeks, so I don’t have the confidence in my swim I did a month or two ago.

I don’t really have a time to beat since Maryland was shortened. I just want to get out of the water strong and feel like I did my best.

Target: 1:20

The plan: I’m considering starting in to 1:10-1:20 group rather than the 1:20-1:30 group. If I can catch some feet and get in the water a little earlier, maybe I can t take a few minutes off the swim.

This is the only leg of this race that my injuries haven’t affected, this would be my target swim time even if I was at full-strength.  Anything slower than 1:30, I will be hugely disappointed in.

The Bike

This is where execution becomes critical. In July, I started having IT band on the bike.  By august, it was so bad I couldn’t ride 5 miles.  I’ve been in therapy for three months now with this issue and another I talk about later.

While rehabbing, I spun on the trainer for a few weeks and slowly started adding outdoor time little by little, week by week.  Eventually, I managed one 5 1/2-hour ride and one 6-hour ride outdoors. Unfortunately, wet weather forced me indoors for my final two long rides. I’m not a believer in trainer rides, they just don’t do for me what outdoor riding does.

I actually had this knee issue last year as well, but it wasn’t as severe, so I never sought treatment. At Maryland, it started in maybe around mile 80. Because pushing too hard (uphill, headwinds, just going hard) triggers the pain, I’m going to have to be super careful on the this course – I have both false flats and headwinds to contend with.

The plan: Simply to go easy. The bike is three out & back loops. The way out is a false flat with elevation gain, the way back will be more downhill and flat. I will need to find the right cadence and gear – not too hard, not too easy. Push hard enough to keep moving but not too hard to cause knee issues. So on the way out of town, I’ll try to take it easy and mostly spin into the headwinds and the false flats, on the way back to town I’ll push a little harder with a tailwind and more downhill.

This is not much different than for most people’s race plan – the biggest error we make is going to hard on the bike. For me, its not about burning out my legs, its about keeping knee pain at bay and not aggravating my hamstring attachment.

The other challenge is that its chilly in New Hampshire, much colder than Arizona. Staying on top of my hydration is critical.  I typically take in 1 bottle of Infinit per hour, more during the summer months. But since its not hot at home, I’m not heat trained and my stomach likely can’t handle that amount of nutrition. I plan on tossing my first empty bottle and grabbing a bottles of water to have on hand for extra fluid. That way I have extra water without adding additional carbs. I’ll have some powergels on hand if I do need a boost.  Plus I’ll have my usual Base Salts every 5 miles, granola bars every two hours and some bonus candy corn.

My Maryland bike took 7 hours which included a really stupid 10 minute stop at the aid bag station. That is about a 16.6 mph average. I’m not even sure I can maintain that this time with my terrible trainer training.

Target:  Not longer than 7 Hours

Original Target:  6 – 6 1/2 hours

Anything shorter than 7 hours would be icing.  A 6 1/2 hour bike would be a huge celebration. But I can’t sacrifice my body for speed. If I want to finish, I need to manage these injuries and do what I can to keep them at bay. A faster bike might mean an extremely painful marathon.

The Run

The other injury I’ve been rehabing is high hamstring tendon. I spent months on the elliptical because I couldn’t run at all. Even walking a few miles was a challenge. I didn’t start adding in running until October, and it started out as 10 minutes here and there on the treadmill. Once I did get outside, it became clear that my old and recurring IT band issue on the run was back as well.  The longest run I did outside without stopping to walk was 45 minutes before my knee issues started.

The Plan: Because of my knee pain, I’ve started a 2 minute run / 1 minute strategy. I managed just under three hours of this for my last long run two weeks ago – which puts my longest Ironman training run at 15 miles.  I can manage between 11 & 12 minute miles (sometimes even faster) with this method, which is funny because I’m not so sure I’d be all that much faster with just running. The walk breaks make a huge difference in keeping my TFLs loose.

My hamstring could certainly start feeling tight, but I think will be manageable.  My primary limiting factor will be the IT band pain in my knees. Once that starts, I can’t run at all, which is what happened at Maryland last year.

I ran the first 11 miles feeling awesome until the knees started in.  I walked the rest of the marathon in INTENSE pain. Plus it got dark and cold very quickly, the wind off of the river was frigid.  I was hypothermic.  At one point, I had to stop and sit on the curb where a woman in a hot dog costume consoled me. After a while, the spectators leave and all who’s left on the course are us walkers in the extreme dark, only hearing our own footsteps and seeing what our headlamps illuminate.

This is what’s been in my head for weeks. I really don’t want this again, its not why I signed-up for this race. I wanted this race to make up for Maryland. Running this full marathon was important to me. Walking the last half in the dark & cold would be extremely disappointing.

If I’m lucky enough to maintain this walk/run at the 11:30 – 12:00 pace I’m expecting, that would put me at a 5:00 – 5:15 marathon. Maryland was 7 full hours, so this would be a HUGE improvement.

Target:  5 1/2 hours

Original Target: 5 hours

I feel like anything can happen this Sunday. I could surprise myself and put up a huge improvement over my Maryland time of 15 1/2 hours.  Or I can blow up.

Its been a crazy and emotional few months for me. I’ve worked really hard  to get where I am now, even if its not where I want to be.  In life, you just need to play the hand your dealt. So many times I wondered if I can do this or even wanted to, but when it comes down to it, there’s so way I would give up.

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