Category Archives: Racing and pacing

A Tale of Pacing and Results from LA Marathon, San Juan 70.3, D.C. Half Marathon, Cincinnati Half Marathon, Mountain to Fountain 15K

Our athletes competed in Puerto Rico, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, and Fountain Hills over the last couple of weekends. We’d like to give a big shout out to Caroline Sekaquaptewa who set a PR at the LA Marathon with a time of 3:33. You’ve heard us say it a million times–start “slow,” finish fast. Here are Caroline’s comments from the race:

This race was funny. I started slow…And at the half I was way behind my time I wanted to be at. I almost was thinking ok, I can’t make the time I want so ill just finish it as a training run. I picked up the pace, then kept going because I wasn’t feeling tired. The last 4 miles were hard, but only because I was running fast to make sure I was under 3:40. I didn’t realize I was going to make the time until around mile 18. It was so exciting. I was smiling the last 4 miles, even though I was hurting. A very cool run. 

Also, congratulations for Mark Williams and G Parekh who raced the San Juan 70.3. This was Mark’s first ever triathlon and G’s first 70.3!

On the East Coast, Lindsey Buckman and Kyrsten Sinema finished the DC ½ marathon and Frank Smith ran the Cincinnati ½ marathon.

More results . . . Congratulations to all of you!

San Juan 70.3

Mark Williams             8:00 – first triathlon!

G Parekh                     5:50 – first 70.3!

LA Marathon

Sam Unzek                              3:57

Caroline Sekaquaptewa          3:33 – PR!

D.C. Half Marathon

Lindsey Buckman       2:40

Kyrsten Sinema           2:40

Mercy Heart Half Marathon, Cincinnati

Frank Smith    1:58

Mountain to Fountain 15K

Jamie Cook     1:10 – Jamie is racing Ironman Lake Tahoe this summer.

4-Miler

Tyler Webb     25:43   7th overall!

Basic pacing guidelines and thoughts for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon and Marathon

With so many people racing the PF Chang’s Half Marathon and Marathon this weekend, here are some pacing guidelines for both distances as well as some other thoughts.

Let’s start with nutrition. Eat as you normally would this week (the week of the race). In the 72 hours prior to the race, you can increase your carbohydrate intake slightly with some more pastas and breads and avoid fiber or high fat desserts. The morning of the race, your meal should consist of a 400-600 cal breakfast about 2-3 hours before the start. Nibble on an energy bar in the hours before the race and suck down one gel about 20-30 minutes before the start. Do some static stretching and jump in place as a simple warm-up. No need for a twenty-minute warm up run. Just limber up and get the heart rate raised a bit.

Pacing for the Half

Run the first two miles at lev 2 (on a scale from 1 to 5—lev 1 being a slow, warm-up pace, and lev5 being an all-out anaerobic effort). The death of any race can be traced back to the initial miles. Starting too fast in the first few miles will lead to a big fade in the last 3 miles. Keeping yourself at lev 2 will help avoid the two-mile sprint at the beginning. Run at lev 3 between miles 2 and 3 and time that split. The time it takes to cover that mile is your pace for the rest of the day. Expect HR to slowly drift upwards, as well as perceived exertion, but hold on to that same pace. At mile 10, decide if you can hold the same pace or go faster. If you feel good, try to lift the effort to lev 4-5a for the last 5K. Cross the line with nothing left.

Nutrition for the Half

Eat one gel every hour and drink water as desired.

Pacing for the marathon

Run at lev 2 for the first 13.1 miles and lev 2-3 after that. At mile 20, hold what you have or try to lift the pace to lev 3-4 for the last 10K. If you are aiming for a specific time, then try and complete the first 13.1 miles in 51% of your goal time and the second 13.1 miles in 49% of your goal time. A slight negative split is desired.

Nutrition for the marathon

Eat 100 cal per hour and drink as desired. If you have a heavy sweat rate, then ingest at least 400mg per hour of sodium.

Good luck everyone!!!

So, it’s two weeks until Ironman . . .

Congratulations on making it through your Ironman training! Now that it’s taper time, we want to remind you of a few things. Over the past several months, you have accumulated quite a bit of fatigue with your training. The stress of this training has caused your body to adapt and become stronger. You are currently fit to race an Ironman. Now that we are getting closer to the race, the priority is not on improving fitness, but rather, reducing fatigue so that you can arrive on race day feeling fresh and motivated to put your best foot forward. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. It is normal to feel nervous as though you have not done enough training during this period. You have become so accustomed to long Ironman training that anything less than a 6-hour ride seems like a waste of time. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Research shows that you can reduce training volumes by 50% for an entire month and see no decrease in VO2 Max or Lactate Threshold test results. Do not be tempted to squeeze in one last long ride or long run. You will only accrue more fatigue and delay your return to full freshness. Stick to your plan!
  2. Research shows that it takes 11 days for any workout to cause an adaptation or change in your body. So, when you are within 11 days of a race, there is nothing you can do to improve your fitness. The aim of the workouts during this period is to keep your muscles firing, but not so much that you accumulate unwanted fatigue. Remember, when you are in this window, there isn’t anything you can do to improve your fitness, but there’s a lot you can do to increase your fatigue levels. So err on the side of too little as opposed to too much.
  3. Lastly, during this taper period when we are reducing volume in order to decrease fatigue and increase freshness, the overall goal during this time is to feel rested. If, on a given day, you feel tired, sluggish, or had a stressful day at work, the smartest thing you may do is take the day off and get some extra sleep. Remind yourself you have done the work, the hay is in the barn, and now your only goal is to get to the start line, healthy, happy, and ready to go. 

Five common Ironman racing mistakes

Five Common Ironman Racing Mistakes

  1. Arriving to race day overtrained or with an inadequate taper
  2. Inflexible nutrition plan
  3. Not anticipating the bad patches and/or not having a way to deal with them
  4. Over-biking
  5. Overhydrating on the run

We’ve seen them all, so here’s some advice to avoid these common race day pitfalls:

1)  Arriving to race day overtrained or with an inadequate taper. Remember this: Better to be 10% undertrained than 1% over trained. You don’t want to leave your best race in training. The goal is to arrive fresh and ready to go (mentally and physically) on race day. If you’re within 7 days of your race, you will not gain any more fitness that will benefit you on the day.  Give your body the time it needs to recover/rest prior to race day.

2)  Inflexible Nutrition Plan.  It’s no fun getting sick during an Ironman, but if you get the nutrition wrong, this is often the result. And this is a tough one. You’ve trained with a specific nutrition plan (so many calories per hour, so many milligrams of electrolytes per hour, so many fluid ounces per hour) and you’ve got it dialed in. It has worked during training. Surely, it will work on race day.

Well, many times it doesn’t. For lots of reasons. Absorption rates for the stomach and small intestine can be affected by a number of things: temperature, intensity level, anxiety, even swallowing too much water on the swim.

Rule number one with regard to nutrition: Do not be a slave to your nutrition plan. You have to be able to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances. If you feel full, don’t force something down—your body doesn’t want it or won’t be able to absorb it. If you feel thirsty, drink. If those salty pretzels at the aid station look fantastic, eat them. Your body is telling you what it needs. Those gels that worked so well in training, might not work at all on race day for one reason or another. Don’t be afraid to try something else. Flexibility with nutrition has saved many of our athletes’ race days.

3)  Not anticipating the bad patches and/or not having a way to deal with them. This is mental preparedness and mental toughness all rolled into one. We all dream of the perfect race day experience, but sometimes—many times, in fact—this is not the case.  We all hit bad patches. It’s part of long distance racing. But you have to be ready for it.

Do your contingency planning ahead of time. What if your goggles get knocked off? What if you have a flat? What if you feel bloated and sick? What if you get a blister? What if you experience chaffing? Go through these possibilities ahead of time and then make a plan for how to deal with them.

If you’re worried about getting your goggles knocked off, practice treading water or rolling on your back to readjust them if they get skewed. Or hold onto a kayak for a moment to get everything organized again. What if you lose your goggles altogether? Do you call it a day? No, of course not. You can swim without goggles. It doesn’t have to be a showstopper on race day.

If you’re worried about getting a flat, practice changing a tire. Or if you’d rather not learn how to change a tire and prefer to wait for neutral support, be prepared that you might have to wait 30 minutes or more to get help.

The point is, don’t pretend like the bad things will never happen to you. Think them through. Have a plan. And regardless of what happens, whether it’s something you anticipated or not, remember the old British saying, “Keep calm and carry on.” Deal with it and get on with it.

4)  Over-biking. It’s far too easy to begin the bike too fast. You feel fresh. You’ve been training for months. You’re tapered. You’re excited. You’re ready to kick this course and take names! And darn it, you’re going to go for it! This is race day! You’re not going to hold back a thing!

Don’t do it. If you want to run well, you’ve got to pace yourself—especially the first 30 to 50 miles. These first important miles should feel like you’re cruising easily on one of your long training rides. It takes discipline to pace the bike this way—serious discipline. But you’ll run far better as a result.

5)  Overhydrating on the run. You hear this all the time: Never pass up an aid station. Well, that’s not necessarily the best approach to hydration on the run. Think about the long runs you do in training. Are you drinking a full cup of water every mile? Doubtful. You’re probably sipping from the hydration bottles you carry on your waist belt or maybe from a Camelback.  So be careful here. Hyponatremia is a serious health risk. If you drink too much, sodium levels in the blood can become too low (the blood gets diluted, basically). Try a small drink every 2 or 3 miles on the run—something more natural—instead.

Racing at Altitude

Lake Mary, Flagstaff, AZ

After the Ironman Lake Tahoe announcement, we have received many questions about how to race at altitude and what effects it can have on performance. The general consensus among the sports science community is that the effects from altitude are seen at altitudes above 3,500 feet. IM Lake Tahoe will be raced above 6,200 feet and definitely fits the definition of a race at altitude. Here locally, we have events in Flagstaff and Show Low that are raced at altitudes of 7,000 feet and 6,200 feet respectively.

Due to a decrease in atmospheric pressure at altitude, we take in less O2 per breath than we do at sea level. The body tries to make up for this O2 deficit by increasing the respiratory rate and the heart rate. This is an attempt by the body to increase the amount of O2 that is delivered to the muscles. The end result is that during exercise, we can expect to hit lactate threshold at slower paces and typically see higher HRs than we would at sea level.

So keep the following things in mind when racing at altitude. These are written with Olympic-distance racing in mind, but the principles can be applied across all distances. The intensities are obviously lower the longer the race distance.

Swim – Start very, very slow. Your breathing rate is fixed while swimming but there is less O2 available per breath than what you are used to. By fixed, this refers to the fact that you can only breathe every so many strokes because your head is otherwise underwater. If you are two-count breathing, you are only able to breathe once every two strokes. You cannot increase respiratory rate without increasing stroke rate. If you start too fast you will go into O2 debt (exceed LT) in about 2-4 min. We see this every year where people who start in a sprint end up breast stroking at the first buoy as they try and increase their respiratory rate (get the head out of the water) to get some more O2 into their system. Start slowly and build into the swim – stay in control. Do not sprint the first 200 meters! This applies to all racers – fast or not so fast. Be smart. Swimming at altitude is the biggest challenge you face on race day. Start slow and you will give yourself a chance.

Bike/Run – Trust your perceived exertion when racing at altitude. While HR is usually high when resting at altitude due to the body trying to get more oxygen where it needs to go, the HR is usually suppressed during exercise because we hit threshold at much lower outputs than we do at sea level. Expect to hurt the same as you would at threshold at sea level but you will be moving at a somewhat slower pace due to the decreased O2. The same goes for the run. You will hurt the same but will be moving slower than at sea level. Don’t get discouraged if you see slower mph or pace/mile than what you are used to. Just push yourself at what feels like a threshold effort and you will be right on course.  Realistically, racing a 7,000-foot course is probably not the likeliest place to set a PR J. You can expect a decrease in performance by about 7% at 7,000 feet. This means a 45-min 10K runner will be doing well to run under 49 min at 7,000 feet. Adjust your time goals accordingly. Try and ride at what feels like threshold to just below threshold on the bike and threshold to just above threshold on the run.

Be sure to drink plenty of fluids when at altitude as the increased respiratory rates can cause you to get dehydrated faster even when just walking around.

Have fun, race hard and enjoy the mountains!

Racing in the Heat – Sprint and Olympic Distance Triathlons

It looks like the summer is going to be here soon, so it’s time to talk about racing in the heat! Heat is the number one inhibitor of athletic performance in endurance sports. In other words, no one races their fastest when it is hot!

ice vestPhysiologists define extreme heat as any race taking place in 80 degrees or more. Runners have long known that best performances occur in temperatures near 55 degrees. For every 10 degrees above that, race pace slows by a few percent.

There is only so much blood in the body and when some of that blood is being diverted away from working muscles for cooling purposes, then we can’t do as much work. Also, an exercising body creates a tremendous amount of heat. Once core temperature exceeds 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 degrees Fahrenheit), the brain forces the body to slow down so that core temperature does not become lethal.

Managing core temperature is the name of the game when racing in the heat. If you overheat the engine, then you fall apart and slow way down. In order to avoid overheating, you have to slow down (i.e. generate less heat)!

Respect the heat! The most recent Boston Marathon was run in 90-degree heat. The winner’s time was the slowest time posted since 1985. A conservative pace was the fastest way to get to the finish. If the lead runners had run their PR goal times in terms of pacing, they would have blown up around mile 20.cooling with water bottle

Bigger people do worse in the heat than smaller people—the more mass you have, the more heat you generate when exercising. At the 1996 Olympic marathon, scientists calculated the mass of the winner based on the air temp being 80 degrees with 60% humidity. In order to produce a time near 2:08, they predicted the winner would need to weight 45 kilos. They were off by one kilo. The winner weighed 44 kilos! So, if you are bigger, then you need to be even more conservative with the heat.

Here are some tips for racing the Sprint and Olympic distance races in the heat:

Start the race normally hydrated. Do not over hydrate or you will dilute your electrolytes. Sip on a sports drink that contains plenty of sodium in the morning of the race. Stay cool as long as possible. Do not get into your wetsuit too early!

Consider wearing a sleeveless wetsuit or no wetsuit if the water is in the 70s and the air temp is going to be above 80. If you start to overheat in the water, then the day is doomed. It is almost impossible to cool your core temperature down during the race unless you almost come to a halt.

Once you are out of the water, do not let your skin dry off. Splash cold water on your head, arms, legs and core. Pay attention to splash water especially on the legs as those are the muscles doing the most work. Splashing water on your head and neck can cool the blood in the brain and can trick the brain into thinking it is cooler than it really is. Remember how much water Floyd Landis splashed on himself on Stager 16 of the Tour in 2006!

cooling with water bottle on runSlow down! Do not hammer at or above lactate threshold if you plan on running well. Your core temperature will elevate. It is easy do this since the evaporative cooling effect of the air on the bike makes it feel cooler than it is. If you start to feel hot on the bike then you have already accumulated too much heat – slow down. Aim at a conservative level 3-4 pace (sub threshold). The hotter it is, the slower you should go. Be sure to trust your perceived effort and speed. The heart rate will likely start climbing and be elevated all day on hot conditions.

Get off of the bike and settle into a reasonable tempo pace (level 3) for the first mile. At the mile point, you will be able to assess if this pace is sustainable. If you are already suffering, then slow down a bit. If it feels sustainable, then it will likely be hard by the second mile. Focus on quick feet and maintaining a steady rhythm. Your focus is to not slow down the rest of the run. Your heart rate, perceived effort, and core temperature will inch upwards as the run goes on. What seemed like a reasonable tempo pace at mile one may feel like an all-out level 5b effort by mile 5! Start your kick with about 800m to the finish. If you start a mile out, you will likely burn up about 600yds later. Again, splash as much water on you as you can during the race!!

Your nutrition can remain the same as any Sprint or Olympic race. You might consider some salt tablets on the bike if you are a bigger athlete prone to muscle cramps in the heat.

Olympic distance race strategy and pacing

The Olympic distance season is upon us, this is a great opportunity to discuss what the perfectly paced Olympic distance race should look and feel like. Olympic distance racing is the heart and soul of triathlon and learning how to race one well can improve your ability to race over all distances.

ITU bike packThe International or Olympic distance was created in the early days of the sport (80’s) by combining the most commonly raced distances in the three individual sports – one-mile swim, 40K time trial, and the 10K run. Each of these events were also already on the Olympic program in their individual disciplines.

Olympic distance racing hit its U.S. peak in the 80’s with the USTS Bud Light series that had a race in most major cities and a National Championship in Hilton Head, N.C. Believe it or not, these races were much more popular than IM racing. In fact, there were only seven IM races in the world at that time. The name of the game in the 80’s was, “How fast can you go?”

When the International Triathlon Union (ITU) was formed and the focus was to bring triathlon into the Olympics, they decided that this format would be best and the distance became known as the Olympic distance. The first Olympic Distance World Championships were held in 1989 in Avignon, France. Interestingly enough, two long course stars won the event – Mark Allen and Erin Baker. Their ability to race fast over the Olympic Distance was one factor that helped them race so quickly in their long course races.

So, what exactly does a well raced Olympic Distance race look like? I’ll summarize below:

Warm up:
Complete a 15-20 min run at lev 1. Include 3-4 x 30 sec efforts at lev 4-5a. This will ensure that all of your energy systems are “turned on” prior to the race. Try and complete the warm up with about 30 min until the race start. This should leave enough time to get into your wetsuit and make it down to the water. While waiting for the start you can do arm circles to get blood moving into your arms and ready for the swim. If it is very cold water and you have to get out and wait for the start, then it is usually best not to do a swim warm up as you may freeze while waiting for your wave. If the water is reasonable, then getting in and swimming 100-400yds with some accelerations mixed in is not bad. Stronger swimmers usually like to get a swim warm up in.

Swim:

ITU Swim start

Try and start smoothly so that you avoid going anaerobic early and blowing up 400yds later. Build your effort over the first 5-10 min of the swim. Expect contact and do not fight it. Simply go with the flow if you experience contact. After about 200-400yds things will spread out a bit and you should be able to find your own space and establish a lev 3-4 effort. You should feel in control and on top of your stroke. Flailing your arms wildly at his point is not recommended. Think smooth, long stokes. Your effort should feel sub-threshold, meaning that you should feel like you are working but still in control and not on the verge of blowing up. If racing at altitude, you need to reduce the effort even further due to the lack of O2.

T1

In the last several minutes of the swim try and kick a little bit more in order to get some blood to the legs in preparation for the transition. Your mind should be thinking of your transition process flow during the last couple of minutes of the swim. Once your hand hits terra firma, stand up and start running – hard. Your transitions are one place where you can go anaerobic and sprint. Most people will jog into transition but this is a great place to make up some time. Strip the wetsuit down to your waist and run quickly to your bike. Remove the wetsuit and execute your transition process flow. Your heart rate may be lev 4-5a+ at this point due to the hard running and the blood shunting as you move from a horizontal position to a vertical position.

Bike:

Bejing Triathlon Bike

Once on the bike, establish a tempo effort for the first couple of miles and let your heart rate calm down a bit. Once you start to feel that you are getting your legs back steadily increase the effort until you are working at lev 3-4. You want to race the bike at just below your LT. Too much time spent at LT or above on the bike will hurt your run. When climbing, try and maintain a high rpm in an easier gear. This is much more efficient than using too big of a gear at lower rpms. If you do that, you end up using more fast twitch muscle fibers which consume glycogen at a large rate and also cause you to accumulate more lactate. These things make running off of the bike very difficult. So, focus on maintaining an rpm above 90 when racing. When climbing, the rpms may decrease but do not allow them to drop below 90 until you are out of gear options. Once you are in your granny gear, remain seated unless rpm drops below 60. Getting out of the saddle at this point is a good way to keep making it up the hill and allows you to use your body weight to keep pushing the pedals over. On the flats and down hills, stay aero and smooth.

During the last couple of minutes of the bike, reduce your effort to lev 3 and shift into a slightly easier gear. Your mind should be fully concentrating on that run. Tell yourself that everything to this point has been about getting to the run where the real race begins.

T2

Once dismounting (preferably with a flying dismount if you are comfortable with it), run quickly to your transition spot and execute your transition. T2 should be the fastest transition of the day. Be as quick as you can, but be deliberate. Head out to the run and immediately start thinking about running with good leg turnover (90 strides/min).

Run:

Bejing Triathlon Run

Since you have been maintaining a cadence of 90 rpms on the bike, the stride rate of 90/min should feel rather rhythmic. Establish this rhythm in your head right out of transition. You want to maintain this tempo for the rest of the run. Your effort should be lev 3 for the first 800m or so. Your heart rate may reflect this or it may be a bit elevated. Trust your perceived exertion and establish that tempo pace early. Usually this tempo pace is actually lev 4-5a, but due to the excitement of the race we usually find that lev 4-5a feels like lev 3 in that first mile. By about the mile point, everything starts to even out and your perceived effort, heart rate and pace start to look more like lev 4-5a.

If you ran that first mile well you will see the first mile marker at a lev 4-5a pace/mile with your heart rate drifting upwards and your perceived effort increasing. Now it is time to get to work. You want to hold this threshold effort for the remainder of the run. Each mile will get a bit harder with perceived effort drifting upwards with HR. However, if you are pacing yourself well the mile splits will be the same.

At mile 4, there’s a good chance you’ll run into a bit of a black hole. At this point in the race, the excitement is gone and the finish feels far away. Focus on good leg turnover. Try and complete 9 right foot strikes every 6 sec to maintain your form. If your form collapses now you will lose a lot of time over the next 2 miles. Stay on top of that tempo and listen to your internal rhythm. Soon enough you will see mile 5. Now you can get excited as you only have a little over a mile to go. Tell yourself that you have one cruise interval left. Increase your effort just a tad and ensure that you are working at lev 4-5a or a bit higher. Tell yourself that you only have “x” amount of minutes to go.

With 800m to go—do your own math—probably 3-5 min into that last mile, start increasing the effort to what feels like maximum (lev 5b-5c). Drive the arms, focus on leg turnover, and embrace the discomfort. Your final sprint should be spread out over that last mile not in the last 50yds J. If you do it right, you will cross the line at near maximal speed with nothing left in the tank. This takes a tremendous amount of concentration and mental toughness. Sometimes you get it right and the deferred pleasure can be quite nice. Other times, you might cave into to the desire to hold back a little. Not every race is perfect, but that is what we strive for.

Sometimes you eat the bear and sometimes the bear eats you. When you get it right, though it can really be satisfying knowing that you got the most out of yourself on the day.

Nutrition:

Nutrition is relatively simple in Olympic distance racing. This is one of its appeals. Simply stay hydrated before the race with a sports drink. Consider eating a gel about 20-30 min before the start. Drink 1-2 bottles of sports drink on the bike and consider eating one gel in the last 10 min of the bike. On the run, nothing – maybe a gulp of water at an aid station or two. If you are running well the race will be over before you know it. After the race enjoy the cookies, bagels, etc. After all that is why we race J. If it is particularly hot, consider some salt tablets before the race as well as a few on the bike.

The picture below is of Jarrod Shoemaker completing a “perfect race”. He is at the end of the 2007Beijing World Cup (last 10m). The first American across the line earned the first spot on the US Olympic team. He had one of the races of his life with a great swim, steady bike and blistering run. He is finishing next to Jan Frodeno the 2008 Olympic champion – not bad company. Now that is selling out!

Jarrod Shoemaker Bejing World Cup 2007

 

 

Good luck to everyone in their upcoming races!