Targeting Kona 2017

In 2015 I was lucky enough to race in Kona for the first time. It was a dream come true and in many ways the culmination of the past 7 years of work. While the experience (including the race experience) was beyond anything I could have hoped for the race itself left a lot of unfinished business, so many “what-if’s” that I feel a deep down urge to return to the big Island and see how fast I can go. This is not a normal hunger. This is primal.

So, how do I get back? Being the naturally logical person that I am I have deconstructed my race and my current abilities to identify what I need to improve, and I am now in the process of implementing a plan to get faster. This blog and subsequent entries will be going into some details about how I am approaching this journey, but I’ll give you a teaser now:

 

  1. Pick races well
    For most of us, qualifying for Kona is no walk in the park and it is only getting more difficult. Races which in 2015 had 50 slots now have 40 making it that much more difficult. I am still in the biggest and one of the fastest age groups so will need to be quick and pick races which suit my relative strengths. For example, flat windy courses would suit me more than hot hilly courses (because of my relative size and absolute power versus power to weight ratio). I am also not putting all my eggs in one basket. If I miss qualification at my first try, I would like to have a plan B and a plan C in place. Not because I plan to fail, but because I would like to avoid failing to plan. More on this in a coming blog entry.
  2. Train well
    This is obvious: I need to put in the work. But I also want to make sure that the work that I put in is the right work. I want to make the most of every training session and every drop of sweat. I know my weaknesses and I will be working on them until they are no longer weaknesses, then I will repeat. I will not miss out on qualifying because I did not train hard or intelligently enough.
  3. Maximize the return on my training investment
    Everyone aiming to qualify will be determined and training hard. But will they all be doing the little things outside of training that give them the extra few (legal) percent? I will be using my soon to be released platform (http://fitenso.com) to track my health, training / life load and habits. I will be using this platform to make sure that I am dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” – leaving no stone unturned etc. Here’s a sneak peak of my secret weapon:

sneakpeak

Today I just wanted to get started on documenting my journey towards my 2017 goal. I hope you check back every so often to see how I am doing. I promise to try be as open, honest and candid as possible which should make for some good drama, so grab some popcorn, it’s going to be an awesome ride!

 

Durban 70.3 Race Report – Being Perfect

“Being perfect is not about that scoreboard out there. It’s not about winning. It’s about you, and your relationship to yourself and your family and your friends. Being perfect, is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn’t let them down, because you told them the truth. And that truth is that you did everything that you could – there wasn’t one more thing that you could’ve done. Can you live in that moment? As best you can with clear eyes and love in your heart. With joy in your heart. If you can do that – you’re perfect!”

– Coach Gary Gaines (Friday Night Lights, 2004)

Brief Race Report
My goal for this race was to try to be perfect as explained in the quote above. I knew that the competition would be tough and I would have loved to be on the age group podium but given the number of my competitors who run a half marathon in under 1hr30 I knew that would be a stretch. In the end the stretch was too far and I was 7 minutes off the podium, but what I can say is that I did everything I could. I pushed on the swim, I hammered hard on the bike and I held on for the run. I was particularly proud of how I managed to run the second lap of the run as I held a consistent pace from the beginning of the run to the end and ended up setting a PB for a half marathon, either as part of a triathlon or standalone (1hr38). I also set a new PB for a 70.3 completing the 1.9km swim, 90km bike and 21.1km run in 4h38.
Long Race Report
Start
This was the first race I have done where there was a wave start in which competitors are sent into the water 10 at a time. I found it to to quite effective and it definitely reduced the stress of a mass start so I think I am a fan of the approach going forward. The one draw back is that you don’t know where you are relative to your competition as you cannot tell who started when and therefore what anyone’s elapsed time is. Wave starts turn the race into more of a time trial.
Swim 
The conditions were pretty tough with big waves and a strong back / side wash. I have the greatest respect for anyone who completed this triathlon as those conditions were pretty brutal. I felt like I was pushing pretty hard but my pace was for some reason well below what I can normally swim in a pool (and when not in a wetsuit). I was 14th in my age group after the swim.
T1
This was pretty uneventful except for the fact that I couldn’t find my bike. It was exactly where I had left it but for some reason I ran straight past it. After wasting a bit of time I was relieved to eventually find it and be on my way.
Bike
Because of my slow swim (and the wave start) there were a lot of people ahead of me on the road. This made it quite fun to ride up behind each person then slingshot my way around them. I pushed pretty hard from the start – occasionally checking my (normalized) power to ensure that it was in about the right zone. I had checked before the race what I power I had pushed in Mont Tremblant last year (both normalized and average) and given my FTP test results before Mont Tremblant and before this race I knew I was in about the same bike shape, if not a little better so I was pretty comfortable pushing on. It felt like a long way to the turnaround point (35k) and I wondered if I would be able to hold my power but soon after the turnaround the same power just felt easier so I just kept pushing. I had no idea what speed I was doing and my heart rate monitor was reading incorrectly so I just kept going on feel and occasionally the motivation of chasing down people / groups ahead of me. In the end my bike power was spot on based on my testing and I completed the 90k on 2hr20 at an average speed of 38.5kph. I finished the bike in position 3 in my age group.
T2
This was less dramatic than T1 as there was less for me to lose. I changed shoes, popped into the loo and was on my way.
Run
The first part of a triathlon run is always the same for me. I run way faster than I should as I am used to the speed off the bike and then I wonder why running is such hard work. Once I realised that 4:15/km pace was unsustainable for me (after about 2km) I settled into a more comfortable pace (I ran the remainder of the run on feel as I didn’t want to limit what I could do by knowing my pace). My legs felt fine but my back and arms hurt quite a lot (I’ve had lots of back pain recently). I didn’t know anything about the run course before the race so for the first lap everything was a discovery. I loved the public interaction and managed to avoid the kids on scooters while drawing energy from the crowd and other participants. It had a good time chatting to people and high-5-ing random strangers while running past. I kept thinking through the first lap about how the race was about to begin – my challenge, my goal of being perfect was about to begin and I loved it.
I am eternally grateful to be able to push my limits, to be able to swim, bike and run and to be in a position where even though my body is screaming for me to stop my mind allows me to continue.
The second lap was tough. It was hard. It hurt. A lot. And I loved it! I managed to hold my pace to complete the half marathon in a PB time of 1hr38 at an average pace of 4:40. This was well faster than my wildest dreams! I don’t think I would have got close to that time had I known what pace I was running as it was so much better than any previous race I have done. If you had asked me on Saturday what pace I could hold for a 21k I would have said 4:50, at best. Another thing to note is that I made sure to slow down (and sometimes walk) at aid stations to take on cooling sponges, water, coke and anything else I felt like. I know this lost me some time at each aid station but the fact that I could get things under control and take on nutrition and cooling properly means I could run faster between the aid stations.
Summary
Congratulations for making it this far 🙂 While I didn’t make the podium (an outcome goal) I gave it my all (an input goal) and therefore I am very happy with the race. As I get older I’m getting faster so what else could I ask for?

Kona Prep – The long road continues

It’s been quite a while since my last past but to be honest, not much has been happening. I’ve been training pretty consistently save for the odd cold when I push too hard or, it seems to be, when I get too cold!

I have been doing some heat acclimation by putting a tumble dryer and heater in a small room and doing some of my easier bike sessions there. What seems strange is that my legs seem to work way better in this heat than they do in the cold outside. I take this as a good sign for Hawaii.

I have made good progress over the past couple of months: my bike power is almost back to it’s peak from January this year and I think my run and swim may be faster than ever. I have a real test in two weeks at Durban 70.3 where all the SA guys who beat me at either East London 70.3 or Ironman SA earlier this year will be racing (I’ve stalked them already :-)). I am really looking forward to the race as the course should suit me – it’s warm, fast and flat – and I have a specific goal in mind to surprise some of those guys.

My focus over this last period of training has been on the following:

  1. Train consistently
  2. Recover well
  3. Do test sets to measure performance

With this in mind that I have been working on an website to track my recovery and performance (Training Peaks tracks my training so nothing else is needed there). In due course I would like to release this website to the public but first I want to make it as effective as possible in order to maximise my performance in my race in Hawaii.

I have found that working on this website brings a balance to my life too – I need this balance as without it I would probably be impossible to live with. Having this physical / mental balance means my typical week day looks as follows:

7:00am Get out of bed
7:10am Eat breakfast while checking e-mails / social media / the internet
7:30am Begin to work on my website. I generally work until a) it gets warm enough outside to train or b) I get mentally tired (coding can be very mentally taxing)
10:30am  Begin first training session
12:30pm Recovery shake and lunch
1:30pm Continue to work on my app
4:00pm Snack then begin second training session
7:00pm Training done so it’s time for dinner and spend some time with Cindy

Each day is pretty repetitive but in my view quite balanced. I am finding this routine works really well for me as by the time I have had enough mentally I begin training the time I have had enough training I return to thinking.

Aloha 🙂

Kona Prep – Week 3

Last week I completed 20:36 out of a scheduled 21:30 hours of training. The difference came from riding faster than scheduled on my long ride and swim sessions where my Garmin only counted moving time not time in the water. It was a tough week.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how to maximize my performance. Certain things are given like train properly, recover properly, eat properly and sleep properly – but what happens if I am leaving time on the course through things which are easy to correct? For example could my swim stroke be improved so that I can go faster without extra effort? Is my bike position optimized? What really got me thinking about this is a photo from 0995_019953IMSA 2015 (earlier this year) in which I look very aero and efficient – to most people – however each time I look at the photo all I see are the creases on my sleeves. I’m wearing an aero top to minimize drag but not making sure the top is smooth negates many of the benefits of this top. It’s all these little details which add up to make a difference on race day. It may only make a difference of seconds but those seconds can be the difference between reaching my goals and missing them. I have decided to go on a quest to get hold of whatever “free speed” I can get my hands on. This includes making sure my bike top sleeves are smooth among other things. Over the next little while I want to focus on the following:

  1. Make sure my bike position is optimized
  2. Tweak my swim stroke to get faster / more efficient
  3. Increase my running cadence to reduce the forces through my body on each stride

One final note which I will probably touch on again in future: whoever thought being a full time athlete was an easy life wasn’t referring to being a full time triathlete! It’s exhausting!

Kona Prep: Week 2

It’s not the individual sessions that make you tired but the consistency of load, session after session, week after week. My training is divided into blocks of 4 weeks, 3 of which get progressively more difficult and then there is a recovery week which is slightly easier (but not easy by any stretch of the imagination). I am in the middle of a build block at the moment having completed 18h34 training last week which I think was about an hour or so more that the previous week. This week I am scheduled to do around 22hrs training so you can see how things get serious, fast.

I think for many people on the outside looking in it is difficult to comprehend this level of training as they inevitably ask how many hours you spend training but what they don’t know to ask is how do you recover. And that is the key – you cannot train like this unless you take recovery as seriously as training. And eating, which I suppose for me is part of recovery. Recovery is at least as important as the load you put on your body as training breaks your body down but it is during recovery that you get fitter (the process is something called super compensation). The problem is that while training takes a few hours a day, recovery takes the balance of the day and is affected by everything else you do in life. Want to go out late? Sorry, I can’t as I need my sleep. Want to have a drink? Sorry I can’t as I won’t be able to train effectively in the morning.

I guess what I am saying is that when you are training at this level you are always training in one way or another – there is no off time, no off days. Yes I am the first to admit that I lapse often and frequently but every time I do there are consequences so to be the best I can be I have to minimise these lapses. And take sleep seriously.

Kona Prep: Week 1

Last week I moved from unstructured training (training without a set program) to structured training (with a set program). When doing unstructured training I was doing what I wanted, when I wanted, but now I am doing what my program says. This means that I have changed from probably one session per day to up to three sessions per day and from 7h37 training two weeks ago to 16h52 last week. It also means I am tired and sore.

I am still in a base building phase which means most of my sessions are designed to help me cover the distance efficiently not race faster. As I move closer to my first race of the new season (Durban 70.3) I will add in more strength / power sessions to make me faster but for the next while my focus is on low intensity efficiency.

The exceptions to this base building have been the test sessions which I have done. First was a swim test which involves a 400m then a 200m both done flat out. My times from both are then taken and loaded into a formula to arrive at a figure which is my CSS or critical swim threshold. This figure (1min19sec in my case) is then used as the basis for most of my swim sessions, so for example last night I did 8x150m at CSS for my main set in the session (after doing 20×25 butterfly so it was not easy!). Today there will be more CSS work and so on.

The other test that I did was a bike FTP (Funtional Threshold Power) test. This basically is a way of estimating the most amount of power you can put into the bike for a 1 hour effort. When I was in shape earlier this year this figure sat at around 335w whereas now it is more like 280w. I have a long way to go on bike strength but it will come.

The other thing that happened last week is I finally had a scan done on my hamstring which showed that I have a chronic hamstring tear. This is the root cause of the pain I have in my left leg every time I run more than about 9km and was a severe restrictor at Ironman SA earlier this year. The good thing is I finally have a diagnosis and the better thing is that I don’t have to stop training, instead I have been given a program of hamstring strengthening exercises to work through to try improve things. I then need to report back to the doctor in about 6 weeks to see how things are progressing.

As many people know I am no longer working. This is good for training in many ways but also requires extreme discipline to now just sit around all day and do nothing. The balance I am striving for is 4 hours study / work on my own project per day and then do whatever training I need to do around this. A lot of people think that if you have more time you can fit in more training but the reality is that if you have more time you can fit in more recovery – especially sleep. The major difference between many top age groupers and professionals is that the pro’s have more time to recover between sessions as they don’t have to run off to a job every day.

For me this means that I have to be very disciplined in getting enough sleep as well as putting the computer down and taking care of myself generally. Joe Friel just published a blog article on this which can be found here. One of the challenges I have put to myself during this time is to do everything I can to optimise performance which is more than training, it’s living a life of balance and aiming at holistic performance. More on that to come.

Re-inventing Myself

I have been working in IT all my career (about 20 years). Over this time I have held the following roles:

  • Support desk analyst
  • Consultant
  • Developer
  • Consultant Developer
  • DBA
  • Supervisor Systems Development
  • Technical Account Manager
  • Development Manager
  • Solutions Development Manager
  • Project Manager
  • Head of Product

I initially started working in Johannesburg, South Africa then moved to London, UK then to Vancouver, Canada then back to London then to Cape Town, South Africa.

I didn’t study IT or anything related, having completed a BCom at Wits University in South Africa in 1994. But I did write my first program while I was pretty young. I remember it to this day: it was a piano program on a ZX Spectrum 48k. It would make various sounds depending on what key you pressed on the keyboard. The program was written in BASIC and had a lot of “if INKEY$ then beep” involved.
What I have done over the years is combine this natural curiosity / ability to work with computers together with what I learned in University to build and work on various financial systems. I’m not a game developer as I’ve never been interested in that. I’m instead fascinated by the logic and structure of financial systems.

IT is a changing industry. There are probably industries in which you can get started then do the same thing throughout your career but IT is not one of them. The pace of change, and revolutionary change, is fast. Every year there is massive upheaval which means every year your knowledge of what’s new becomes obsolete.

I have always worked on Microsoft technologies as Microsoft has been the big gorilla in the enterprise / desktop technology space but over the past few years, at an increasing pace, Microsoft has become less relevant. This means that the basis of my technical understanding has become less relevant.

I think there has also been a shift in the development market away from developers who build stuff towards developers who understand platforms and know how to tie those platforms together to build stuff.

Furthermore, it has become painfully relevant over my most recent project that I cannot rely fully on others to deliver key parts of my vision. I need to have a full width of knowledge in order to be successful. This doesn’t mean I need to do everything myself, quite the opposite, but I do need to know how to do everything myself. This major gap in my knowledge exists in 2 areas:

  1. Marketing
  2. UX and Design

I am very fortunate to be able to do something about this gap in my understanding so over the next 5 months I will be undertaking a self study program with the following 4 goals in mind:

  1. Get a better understanding of new technologies and technologies of the future
  2. Learn about the most powerful platforms available today
  3. Get a beginners knowledge of marketing / SEO
  4. Get a beginners knowledge and UX and design

In order to do this I have broken the work down into the following modules. Each module will be two weeks and many are designed to build on the knowledge gained in a previous module:

When What
Module 1 Online marketing / SEO
Module 2 UX & Design
Module 3 Javascript
Module 4 Node.js
Module 5 React.js
Module 6 Angular
Module 7 Facebook Open Graph
Module 8 Google API
Module 9 GIMP
Module 10 CSS

I understand that at the end of this period I will not be a React.js guru or a Facebook Open Graph guru but that is not the intention.

My goal is to improve my product management skills. I have been working as a product manager for the past couple of years and really enjoy the work, but I think I can become so much more effective by switching the focus of my technical skills towards forward looking open source technologies.

At the end of this period of self-study I intend to be the best product manager I can be!

Dreams do come true

I remember as a kid hearing about this strange race, which happened in a far away place. The strange people in this race combined a swim, a bike and a run into one event! Like many kids in South Africa at the time I used to swim a lot and when I was not in the pool I was on my bike, but running too? Those people were strange. I remember soon after hearing about this race trying out the swim-to-bike thing around our house in Morehill, Benoni. I started with a swim in our pool then road around the neighbourhood. It is one of my earliest memories – I must have been 8 or younger at the time.

These memories are from around 1982 – well before the internet, when information was hard to come by. The only information I had was hearsay from friends and family, however, even with this lack of information this race held a strange fascination for me, it felt like something mythical, as if it only existed in a story book or another world.

Through my teenage years I swam competitively and rode my bike more and more but I never ran. After school I carried on going to gym but mostly to do weights – I didn’t believe in cardio. I still held a fascination for swimming, biking and running but didn’t actively do them myself.

This all changed one day in 2008 while sitting on an incline bench in a gym in London. I had just completed another set of incline flyes when I realized that I was bored. Spending hours in a gym every day had completely lost its charm and although I was strong, that strength felt like it had no purpose. I decided then and there to stop doing weights and enter the London triathlon. At this stage I had never run more than about 1km at a time in my life (when people asked: do you run? My standard answer was: only when chased ). The buzz / fear / doubt on entering that first race was amazing, but first I had to ease myself into running: beginning on the elliptical trainer, then the treadmill before venturing outside. I also bought my first road bike in years and began to brave the London traffic. Fortunately swimming came back to me pretty quickly. By the time that race came around I was well and truly hooked.

Commuting in London means you spend a lot of time listening to music or podcasts, and in my case with my new love of triathlon I listened to mostly triathlon related podcasts. Most of them were great and very approachable but there was one podcast where the audience was a bunch of crazy people who did something I could never hope to do: Ironman. I listened to it and heard about this crazy race in Hawaii that sounded strangely familiar and heard about “the big 4” and the “Iron-war” and “Mark & Dave” hill (where the Iron-war was decided in 1989). It dawned on me that crazy race was the same race I had heard about as a kid but now I had access to the internet so I could read a ton of information about it. The more I read, the more it seemed impossible, like something only other people could do.

I continued to train and made a deal with myself: if I was still injury free by the time we moved back to South Africa in early 2010 I would enter Ironman South Africa. January 2010 came around, the move went smoothly and now I had no excuse – I had to enter the race. I think my heart rate was in about zone 6 when I clicked the enter button– I was terrified!!

I trained for that race without really knowing what I was doing and without knowing if I could complete the race at all. In fact the day before the race I was a complete wreck. I had no idea what was going to happen the next day – could I even complete the distance? The night before the race I had a moment of clarity: in an instant I knew, that whatever happened the next day, NOTHING was going to stop me.

Each milestone on the next day felt like the finish line – the first turn buoy, the first bike lap, completing the bike then eventually knowing that I was on the run and all I had to do was keep going and it would happen – I would be an Ironman.

I eventually crossed the line in 12:37 (probably the equivalent of about 13:07 on the new course) but I had done it, I had done my impossible. After that race I needed a new goal and I immediately knew what it needed to be: that crazy race in Hawaii! There was only one problem: I was nowhere near fast enough. For the next 2 years I continued to chase this goal and made improvements but I was still over 1.5 hours from where I needed to be so I decided to get a coach. Around this time Cindy (my wife) decided she wanted to buy some muffins from the Woolworths factory shop, so I said sure, as long as we can stop at CycleLab on the way. Those were the most expensive muffins we ever bought as during that trip I met Kent, heard about MTD, bought a new mountain bike and tri bike, and also bought some muffins.

When I first met Claire my goals were clear: I wanted to go to Kona. Whether I got there by getting fast enough or through the legacy program (by completing 12 Ironmans) I was going to get there. Nothing was going to stop me. I set a new PB in my next Ironman, dropping under 11 hours for the first time (on the old, faster course) but was still well down the field.

I set my goal on qualifying for Kona in 2014. I trained hard and was in the shape of my life targeting a 10h30 race (first year on the new course) however things went horribly wrong the night before the race when I had a back spasm that meant I couldn’t walk on the morning of the race. I put in a panicked call to (physio) Jayne who met me on the grass before the swim and helped get me into some form of shape to start the swim. I decided to start the race and see how far I could go, knowing that any chance of qualifying was out the window. That was a tough day, but a thoroughly enjoyable one too as all the pressure was off.

For 2015 I decided to take the gloves off – I would do any/ everything (legal) to qualify: I would work half time for the months leading up to the race and focus on training to ensure that I would be in Hawaii in October. I had an awesome training block leading up into the race but knew it would still be tough. The field in the 2015 race was fast: 30% of the entrants were international, and I knew in my age group 20 people had PB’s of under 10 hours (at faster courses). So I knew it was going to be a tough day.

The swim went OK – I was out the water in 6th in my age group and the bike went ok too – I reached T2 in 7th but the run was another story. I did a PB for the marathon at Ironman but still got passed by 10 people – which meant I ended in 17th in my age group.

It took a lot of convincing from Cindy and Claire to get me to go to slot allocation on Monday – when I got there I was convinced that there was no chance so I was pretty relaxed. The first guy in my age group (Sam Gyde) took his slot but the second on third guy didn’t (they had already qualified at other races). Given that there were 12 slots in my age group that meant that 14th position would now be offered a slot – there was a glimmer of hope (it was around this time that Claire almost went into labour, but I’ll let her tell you that story).

They kept calling out names and the stress level around the table increased until pretty soon it was clear: 3 more people had turned down their slots and I was going to Kona!!!! When I heard Paul Kaye call my name I couldn’t believe it, all that work, all those years working towards this one moment – my name called at an Ironman World Championship slot allocation. I jumped up, hugged Cins then Claire and went off to have a lei put around my neck by Paula Newby-Fraser (8x Ironman World Champion) and accept my slot.

On 10 October 2015 I will be racing the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I will line up with the world’s best triathletes to swim with turtles, cycle through lava fields and run down Ali’i drive. And I will have a new goal – sub 10 anyone?

I’m honoured and blessed and truly privileged to be living a dream.

Thanks to my beautiful wife / top supporter and lead sponsor Cindy Toms.

Thanks also to my coaches Claire Horner and Kent Horner and to all my fellow

My Training Day athletes. It’s been epic!

0995_058606

Ironman 70.3 Buffalo City 2014 Race Report

I went into this race having some of the most consistent training I have ever had behind me. For the first time in a long time I had been able to train without injury so I was able to complete what was necessary.

My goal for this race was simple: podium in my age group. The intention was to actually race this race to get in the mindset of racing others not just participating. This was a big mental step up from where I had previously been but I knew I had to do this if I was to achieve my goal of qualifying for Kona at Ironman SA.

The swim was pretty non-eventful except I probably could have gone faster. I was out of the water in second position in my wave although I had held quite a bit back. I did at one stage make a break but swam off course so I returned to join the person who was leading my age group (Sascha Braendle).

The bike was a bike of two halves. Uphill into the wind on the way out and downhill with a tailwind on the way back. My power meter had decided to die so I was riding without power, just going on feel. I cycled what I thought was a sensible leg which actually turned out to be pretty fast! I was in fourth position after the bike so I had slipped off the podium.

The run was hot as usual so I had to keep squeezing sponges over my head. I walked the aid stations to ensure I got nutrition and cooling an a little bit of Bunkers hill on the second lap but otherwise I felt reasonably in control. The wind had picked up by this stage so running back to the finishers area was pretty tough – I really felt for those (including Cindy) who were still on the bike by this time.

Overall I dropped a further 2 place on the run to finish in 6th position but did a PB for the course on what was a slow day (most people were slower than previous years). While I was not over the moon with finishing 6th I was happy with my time but it did expose my glaring weakness of running, yet again.

Race Summary

Swim: 00:28:20

Bike: 02:39:26

Run: 01:46:22

Overall05:03:10

Ranking – Details

Overall Rank: 45/2243

Category Rank: 6/301

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