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.

2 thoughts on “Road to Challenge Aarhus: Can You Do It?”

  1. Very nice and inspiring story! Feel supported by your experience that with limited training hours finishing an ironman 70.3 should be possible. Just started training for 1/4 Tri´s this year and planning for a first 70.3 distance in 2012. Will follow your future experience. Please keep us posted.

    1. Thanks Rooch. Will keep the updates coming. Now off to training camp for a week. Good luck with your own training this year. Do you have a blog of your own, Twitter account or somewhere else I can follow?

      Otherwise you’re always welcome here!

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