Road to Challenge Aarhus: Can You Do It?

In this post I’ll cover learning and observations from a self-supported half ironman. I’ll relate it to the time I train and share what I plan to improve at the Challenge Aarhus half ironman triathlon in July 2011.

I think one of the most intimidating aspects of endurance sports on longer courses is the question that pops up every now and again with most people: Can I Do It?
That goes for any run distance beyond 10km all the way up to marathon and, even more so, ironman distance triathlons and ultraruns.

While I like a good challenge, I just don’t want to be toeing the line on raceday not knowing if I can do the distance. Therefore, if I have the chance, I put in a race distance training of my own to confirm to myself that I can in fact do the distance. In addition that’s an excellent way of checking your weak spots or things that don’t work, like nutrition, pacing, etc.

On 16/4 I pulled myself through a half ironman triathlon (70.3 to some) on my own – with a bit of help on the run. It was a great experience and important for me to highlight what will and what will not work at the Challenge Aarhus half ironman in July this year. This is the full race report including things I learned.

Got the day started at about 6:00 a.m. with a huge bowl of oat meal. Wanted to make sure to get enough carbs in long before the start. This worked well for me!

The swim got started at about 09:30 and was fairly uneventful as it should be. I did a pool swim, so that will be different in Aarhus. I think the waves will be limited there, though, and it’s a wetsuit swim too, so if anything it should be easier. I just very much dislike swimming far in salt water. The salty taste just gets in everywhere. Here’s my time for the swim.

Having finished the swim, I did a brief shower and changed into my trisuit, went to “T1” (aka my car), got the bike out, put on some cycling specific clothes to keep warm, and then left. That transition took about 23 minutes.

For the bike I had myself a plan of staying calm, keeping the heart rate below 140. That worked well – I managed to resist the urge to start hunting down other cyclists. In addition the nutrition plan was to take in 500ml drink every hour and an energy bar every 35-40 minutes. That worked well too, and I had no energy dips while on the bike. Interesting, as always, to see the heart rate increase temporarily around meals. Did start to feel a bit tired when I got within 20km of T2, so I had an extra energy bar and reduced speed to give the body a break before the run. Here’s the time for the bike.

Back at T2 I took the front wheel off the bike, put it in the car, changed from cycling top to running top, running shoes on and grabbed the drinks, gels, and some salt tablets for anti-cramp purposes. It wasn’t a hot day, but I wasn’t sure if I’d cramp up, so before the run I had a single salt tablet just in case.

Now info tue run. Immediately felt a bit of pain in my left leg which quickly subsided. The pace was relatively high for being about 4 hours of activity into the event, and things were looking pretty bright. Had a gel around the 5km mark and continued to follow my nutrition plan and drink energy drink from the fuel belt bottles. Shortly before the half way mark I noticed that I had started to look more frequently at my Garmin 310xt – I took that as a sign of getting more tired. At this point I should have probably gobbled up another gel, but I didn’t.
The next 8-9 kilometers I kept pushing out sub-5:30 kilometers, but with energy stores being depleted it was only a matter of time before I would crack. On kilometer 20 I couldn’t keep it up any more and dropped the pace by 30 seconds per kilometer, while watching my Garmin all the time. Needless to say these 2.1 final kilometers were the toughest of the entire day. Here’s the time for the run.

I made it!! All sorts of triathletes had told me I should NOT do a half ironman as part of my training due to risk of injuries and too long recovery. But all that is important experiences for me to have, so I needed this training. Now that I have it, I know a few pitfalls and how to avoid them. I know the distance and that I will make it. I know the energy food and how I react to it.

In so many words, I know how to be better on raceday than I would have been if I hadn’t tested myself.

If you’re wondering how I train to get the result above and to put things in perspective relative to training volume: I train just about 5 hours per week. Right now I have a swim session, two run sessions and maybe a bike session per week, but that could change. The reason I mention this is that most triathletes will tell you that 5 hours per week is not enough to do a half ironman.

Well, I say it is – if you train smart and injury free. We’ll see how things go in Aarhus.

Road to Challenge Aarhus: Nailing 70.3 Nutrition?

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Yesterday evening I spent some time trying to get my nutrition for the upcoming self-supported 70.3 half ironman triathlon on 16/4 right. It’s a pretty tricky calculation when you’ve never done it before. As ever so often with these kinds of things, I set up a Google Doc spreadsheet to help out with the numbers.

As previously explained I’ve never really had a go at this distance, so making a nutrition plan that works is unlikely. Another good reason to try things out beforehand. I’ve now settled with about 560 grams carbs for an estimated 7 hours of activity. We’ll see if that does it. Either way I should bring some extra energy onto the bike.

In order to have everything nailed there’s one thing that I haven’t calculated: my hourly sweat rate. Without that, I really do not know how much I need to drink or how much salt I need to take in. I’m just going to have to wing that one, but I’ll bring 3 tablets for the run to avoid cramping as I had some cramping issues last year going from bike to run in the Aalsmeer Sprint Triathlon.

For final prep I need to pack the whole thing, check the bike, pack the clothes and God knows what else to finally be ready for the start on Saturday morning.

Road to Challenge Aarhus: Self-supported Half Ironman

The Start Location at the Pool
Where the Madness Begins

This week is going to be mostly about getting ready for the self-supported half ironman distance triathlon I’ll be doing on Saturday 16/4 as prep to do Challenge Aarhus. You can join the event on Endomondo. Yes, it really is a triathlon even if Endomondo lists it as “other”.
Also join the event on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=124035681003753.

If you’re in Amsterdam, Netherlands on Saturday 16/4 you’re free to participate in any part of the total distance and any amount of disciplines. If you join the swim you should expect to cover the (tiny) expense on your own.

Here are a couple of probable start times:
Swimmers: total distance is 1,9km.
Start time is around 09.00 at Sportfondsenbad Oost:

Bikers: total distance is 90km.
Start time is around 10.00 at Sportfondsenbad Oost: same as above.

Runners: total distance is 21,1km.
Start time is around 13:30-14:00 at Sportfondsenbad Oost: same as above.

So, the things that need to be prepped are:

  • Pack my swim-gear
  • Check the bike to be race-ready and pack all that is required for a 90km ride;
  • Pack my running stuff (Thursday or Friday)
  • Go through the checklist at http://triathlon.racechecklist.com to make sure I have it all.

 

Road to Challenge Aarhus: March Training in Review

Beautiful Views on March Morning Runs

What a month. After February I had a few things to get working on and in March I have definitely moved closer to half ironman fitness. One of the things that all endurance athletes struggle with is time. After February I figured that adding 10 minutes per training would take the training volume up by about an hour on a weekly basis. By and large that has worked out pretty well. Where February ended up being a 14 hours 24 minutes training month, March had another 12 hours in it. It was especially the two first weeks that were really good. The two next weeks were pretty OK, but with other commitments the bike had to suffer and that took total training time down.

I learned a few things too that I’d like to share. Maybe they’ll prove useful to you:

  • Forefoot running training from zero to long distance takes long! I’ve had to set my sights on 5km forefoot running this year. Maybe next year I’ll be able to do 10km.
  • Nearly doubling training volume from month to month is a bit of a stretch. Be cautious and make sure to be listening to your body to avoid over-training. This goes for all sports, but especially for running!

Also, March seems to have been a bit of a strong month for social training platform Endomondo. I at least started getting invitations from people I connect to on Facebook, LinkedIn and from people I just haven’t heard from for years. That way I get to know another side of these people, which has been very interesting so far.
The weather has been very mild too so more and more people start training outside – also very encouraging!

Finally here’s a run-down of how I think March was per sport and what needs to happen over the next 3 months prior to Challenge Aarhus:

Swim: No real change since February. Still have to watch my left shoulder, so my number of swim sessions will stay flat until Challenge Aarhus. The required 1,9km is not a problem at all, so the swim is still on track! Learned in a podcast from TriSwimCoach that it could well be very smart to do a very relaxed swim in order avoid getting out of the water with a too high heart rate.

Bike: Weather was mild in March, so I’ve been outside a few times. Right now it’s a bit dark in the morning, but soon I should be able to do a morning session on the bike. This is probably where I need the most improvement, but we’ll see about that in April. For sure I will have to add kilometers to the cycling.

Run: March was an excellent month for running. Did my first half marathon in training in a time I believe is a personal best (note to self: check that on Athlinks). That said I probably can’t recommend doing three times the training volume month over month.
Now that the half marathon distance is in place I have started working on speed. For April that will mean shorter runs with 1km intervals at race speed or faster. Race speed is the pace I need to maintain to run “Broløbet” on the 28th of May in less than 1 hour and 45 minutes.

As a final challenge for April, I’ll be doing a self-paced and self-supported half ironman on the 16th of April. Standing at the starting line of a race without knowing that you can make it, doesn’t seem like a good idea…
Experienced triathletes have advised against doing half ironman as part of my training, but it just feels like the right thing to do. Therefore the week from 9th to 16th will be extremely relaxed with just a few relaxed and relatively short runs. After the half ironman the interesting part will be: how long does recovery take.

In other words: An interesting month lies ahead! 🙂