Saturday, 28 June 2008

IMCDA Lessons...

So on Sunday I had the race of my life. Seriously! I have been in a couple of sprint triathlons, over a handful of olympic triathlons, three half Ironmans, and now two Ironmans. Out of all of those races, Sunday's race was the first time I felt really strong throughout, even when I was getting tired!

I might add it was the first time EVER that I got off the bike without feeling like I needed to keel over from GI pain.

Needless to say, the wee gerbil in my head got to spinning on his wheel. How did it come to be that this was my best race yet? What was different? What can I learn from this race? So I let the gerbil spin away and this is what he, and I, came up with...

I need to start more in the middle next time! I was off to the far, far right and that worked at IMC, but this is a two lap course, so it seemed to take me forever to get to the first turn. I had to go on too much of an angle. I promise I have yet to use the Pythagorean Theorem to determine the hypotenuse of the triangle that I swam. I still might though - I'm curious just how much I swam. I'm sure it was about 4 km! So next time it's a straight line about mid pack. I will likely get bumped around a lot more, but I have to learn to take it sometime!

The other thing about the swim is I really need to swim strong and sight regularly right from the get go. No more drunken zig zag swimming for this gal!

There is something to be said for having experienced an Ironman race before. Last year I took in about half the calories required to finish the race...and yet I finished. I felt like crap, was scared, tired, had to walk 95% of the marathon, but yet I finished. I had to go to the med tent after, and it took me months to recover, but still I finished. So I knew that no matter what I was thrown at me on this race day - I was going to finish the race!

Experience alleviates of the fear. I'll give you an example of this. When I was on the run this year I started to slow down. I thought to myself, am I tired, which is to be expected, or is something else going on that I need to know? It took me some time to zone in to what exactly was going on, but while doing that I didn't worry. I knew I'd be ok. So I was relaxed and able to listen to my body. Once I realized I wasn't getting enough nutrition in, I changed my plan and tried something new.

Last year in the marathon I felt like crud. I was too scared to try something new for fear that it would take me right out of the game. Instead I suffered badly for 42.2 kms. I sometimes look back on that and wonder if things would have been different had I tried the cola or a banana or ten.

This year I wasn't afraid and so I was willing to change things up and started devouring the bananas at each aid station. Not to mention I chowed down several of my chocolate covered peanuts. Of course I made sure I chewed them really well so I wouldn't get sick! This meant that even though I may have slowed down for a portion of the run, I was able to get my strength back and run, run, run!

As mentioned above, I didn't get near enough food in me last year. I've struggled with this in all my races and even on training rides! I was relying solely on my Infinit, which I should add is great stuff. I realized this year at the Penticton training camp that Infinit alone wasn't enough for me. I wasn't sure why, but I knew this to be the case. So I thought about what they hand out on the bike course at Ironman and decided to start taking bananas with me on my rides.

On this bike course I did a few things differently in order to get in enough fuel. One, I set my alarm to repeat every 9 minutes rather than every 10 minutes. This was because I realized on some training rides that I didn't take in one profile bottle in an hour, which I needed to do. The 9 minutes seemed to do the trick. The next thing was to take bananas in every aid station. Two if I could grab them in time!

Lastly, I took in food/Infinit no matter what. There were a few times on the bike when my stomach was a bit off. I realized it felt icky after I'd taken in a swig of Infinit or some banana then went back in the aero position. Rather than stop taking anything in, I realized that if I sat up when it got uncomfortable I'd burp and then I could go back into aero! Next thing you know I had a little routine going on - sip/eat, aero, up, burp, aero! Ah, the things we can do to amuse ourselves on an 180 km bike ride!

Even on the run, when I was getting rather tired of bananas, I still made sure I kept getting the nutrition in. The result? A consistent, strong bike and a strong finish!

The Power of Now
This was a huge factor in my race! What is the power of now? The easy answer is that it's staying in the moment. For some, this comes naturally, but for me? Well, I had to work on it. Every single day for the last four months. When I was training, when I was at work, at home, and even on the train I practiced staying in the moment.

Ways that I did that was my focusing on my breathing or focusing on the task at hand. This was the main reason I spent all that time on my trainer with no music, no training partner, and no television. I wanted to learn to stay focused.

It wasn't easy for me at first. I'd either be cranking my head back and mulling over the past. Or I was stretching my neck out to try and look ahead at the future, trying to plan what would happen. In some situations this caused me great anxiety. One of those situations was Ironman Canada last year. Even though I told myself not to think about the next event - I did. When I started to struggle on the bike, I was already worried about how I was going to get through the run.

It takes practice to stay in the present. Sometimes I'd slip up. One of those times was the day before the race when I broke down to Leslie. I'm grateful that Leslie also practices staying in the present and was able to remind me of what I was doing, which was looking ahead to the future.

During IMCDA, there were a couple of times when I tried to take a sneak peek at the future, but I caught myself in time and was better off for it. I believe that the reason I could read what my body needed was because I stayed in the present and really listened to the signals I was getting.

Even when I wasn't sure how to decipher the signals, I didn't leap to the future and worry about how I was feeling at that moment was going to effect the next few kilometers or event. Experience helped with that too, of course. The run portion of my race is a perfect example of this.

Just around the second turnaround I started to slow down a bit. I wasn't sure if it was just normal fatigue from swimming (over) 3.8 km, biking 180 km, and at that point running about 10 miles, or it something else was going on. I didn't let my mind wander on to other things, instead I started to gauge what was going on.

I kept running, smiling, taking in my gel, but all the while listening. After I had run past my parental unit and the rest of the gang my emotions became elevated. Aha! I knew what that meant, it meant that I wasn't getting in enough nutrition! Once I had that figured out, it was just a matter of getting back on track with my fuel.

Had I been focused on the next mile, 10 miles, or even the finish - I wouldn't have been able to figure out what was going on and likely I would have bonked. This would have made it yet another very long, painful race.

Another very big thing that I did to help stay in the present, was to let go of any time goals. For me, having a time goal tempts me to look at the future during a race. This tranlsates into worrying if I'm going to make that goal. I find this rather frustrating, not to mention very distracting from what is going on.

Realistically, I am too new to this sport to have time goals. I'm still trying to get my body used to doing an endurance event for Pete's sake! I'll leave the time goals to the top age groupers, elite athletes and pro's. I have faith that if I continue to train as I have the last six months, take in the nutrition I need when racing and training, and always stay in the present moment, that I will naturally get better, stronger, faster. Just like the six million dollar man!

Phew, my gerbil is exhausted now! However, I'm glad I was able to go over the race and review what made it such a great race. Not to mention what things I'd like to change.

Lucky for me, there really isn't much I would change. Perhaps some things on the swim and maybe my nutrition on the run, but other than that I'm really happy with the entire race! I wanted to enjoy this race, stay in the moment, have sustained power and that's just what I did! Yay!!

Oh, and guess what?! I'm still smiling!!! I think that just proves how excited I am with the results of this race.

Peace out my friends!


  1. I'm just now finishing breakfast and going over my list of things to find for my ride this morning. After reading your gerbil brain dump, I'm going to add bananas to the list.

  2. I love it-the power of now!
    Right there with ya..

  3. Excellent post, Susi! It reminds me of a number of things to keep in mind for my next two races.

    Especially the bits about being fully present in the moment -- you are bang on, my dear!!

  4. thanks for posting this...I learned a ton from reading!!