The other day I had an interesting conversation with an athlete I coach who is training for an Ironman 70.3 event that will take place on the same weekend as the Ironman race I’m training for (specifically the weekend of May 10-11, 2019). In explaining to me why he had done the bare minimum of swimming within a range of options I gave him during a holiday trip, he said that the hassle of doing more didn’t seem worth the extra second or two per 100 meters he might gain thereby.
Although I found no fault with this reasoning as it applied to my client, when I turned it around and applied it to myself, it struck me that my attitude is rather different. Simply put, I am fighting for every possible second in my preparations for Ironman Santa Rosa. Whether it’s through training, nutrition, equipment, psychology, logistics, or you-name-it, if there’s something I can do (safely and legally) to shave even one second off my finish time, I’m doing it.
Why the no-stone-unturned approach? Several reasons. One is that I feel I must take this approach to achieve my goal of earning an Ironman World Championship qualifying slot. I am not talented enough, nor is the competition weak enough, for me to be able to coast to Kona. Indeed, in my first Ironman I missed out on the last qualifying slot in my age group by 23 seconds! Another reason is that I enjoy the challenge of trying to identify and execute all possible means of improving my performance. For me it makes the preparatory process a more stimulating game than it would be if I were to set a lower bar. And, unlike my client, who travels a lot for work and has a new child, I have the time and opportunity to fight for every second. I’m not a parent and I don’t hold a real job, and indeed it’s sort of my job to train and compete, so, why not?
In this post I thought I would share a few examples of what I’m doing in the effort to shave every shavable second off my Ironman Santa Rosa finish time.
Swimming is my weakness as a triathlete. But nor am I a beginner, and the experience I do have gives me advantage of knowing that the most effective way to become a better swimmer is to focus intensively on technique improvement by working one-on-one with a good coach. I’ve been fortunate to find a very good coach in Mandy McDougal of Mind Body and Swim. Her pragmatic methodology suits me well and reminds me a lot of my own coaching style. She’s big on evolving the stroke you have rather than imposing some one-size-fits-all notion of perfect technique, prioritizing the most impactful changes and making them stick through basic drill sequences.
Here are a couple of her videos that concern technique elements I have benefitted from especially:
I make a four-hour round-trip drive every two weeks or so to benefit from Mandy’s instruction. Whatever it takes!
The primary application of my no-stone-unturned approach to cycling has been spending lots of money. My main expenses so far have been a high-end indoor power trainer (Wahoo Kickr Core) and a high-end time-trial bike (Felt IA2). Past experience has taught me that I get a lot more fitness per training hour when I do most of my cycling indoors, where I can perform very precisely controlled workouts. Already I’ve seen benefits from using the Kickr two to three times per week.
As for the time-trial bike, as much as runners like me like to think it’s all about the engine, it’s really not. Outdoors I travel 3-4 mph faster at the same power output on the Felt IA2 than I do on my road bike. I’ll likely gain a few more tenths when I shell out another couple of grand on race wheels. And, to further ensure I get the most out of my new machine, I’ve had not one but two professional fittings done at Revolutions in Fitness in Palo Alto.
Running is supposed to be my strength, but a nagging groin injury has made it anything but that lately. Fortunately, the injury does not stop me from running; it just prevents me from running fast (for now). Fortunately as well, I won’t need to run particularly fast in my race to achieve my goal. If I swim and cycle as I hope to in Santa Rosa, a marathon split of 3:20 should get the job done. That’s 7:37 per mile. In the next-to-worst case scenario (the worst case being that the groin degenrates over the next four months), I will run no faster than this in training and enter the race with one-dimensional running fitness—plenty of endurance but no speed.
I take some comfort from having been in this position before. When I trained for my first 50-miler in 2016, a bothersome Achilles prevented me from doing any faster training until within a few weeks of race day, and I still did okay. In a nutshell, leaving no stone unturned in the running dimension of my preparation for Ironman Santa Rosa will entail doing very large amount of very slow running.
One of my major training goals in general is to make the Ironman distances seem completely unintimidating. In 2017, I ran eight marathons in eight weeks, and by the end of this experience 26.2 miles was ho-hum—a major reason I was able to set a marathon PR later in the year. I’m now attempting to do the same thing with all three triathlon disciplines in my current Ironman preparation, for example by doing 100-mile-plus bike rides two to three times per month.
Obviously, nutrition and weight management are hugely important in Ironman training and racing. But I’m not doing anything extreme in these areas for the purpose of shaving seconds off my finish time at Ironman Santa Rosa. To the contrary, I am studiously avoiding doing anything extreme. In my experience, triathletes who otherthink nutrition, become weight-obsessed, and/or go in for unbalanced diets such as the high-fat low-carb fad more often get slower instead of faster. So, for the most part, my approach to nutrition and weight management will consist in simply continuing to eat like the pros, as described in my book The Endurance Diet.
Course familiarization is another element of my strategy of fighting for every second. I plan to make two trips to Santa Rosa ahead of race weekend to ride and run the course, and I’m even considering renting a small boat and paddling the swim course as soon as the buoys go up a couple of days before the event so I can capture a clear picture of what I will see from the surface during the swim.
From my inspection of the online course maps, it appears there’s a fairly lengthy run—likely on concrete—from the swim exit to the transition area. If I’m able to confirm this, I’m going to practice a little barefoot running on concrete to callous the bottoms of my feet, enabling me to shave a few seconds there. And, of course, I will practice mounting my bike with my shoes already clipped in the pedals and dismounting barefoot, as the pros do.
Not for Everyone
By no means am I recommending my no-stone-unturned approach to Ironman preparation to everyone. But I am having a blast with it and I wouldn’t want to see any other likeminded age-group triathlete shy away from it just because he or she is not paid to race. I mean, so what?