Thursday, September 3, 2009

Post-mortem: a basic mistake in Penticton

When Alberto Contador cracked on the Mont Ventoux and lost Paris-Nice, he said he forgot to eat enough during the race. The papers had a field day. An experienced racer like Contador falling for a beginner's mistake. But it is more common than you think. Johan Bruyneel describes one instance where Lance almost lost the Tour because he ran out of energy-- I am sure there were more-. The reason: Lance had forgotten to eat while chasing Ullrich.

Granted I am not Armstrong or Contador, but I do have a lot of experience with endurance racing. Running out of energy for lack of food is a beginner's mistake. Not one you should make after 10 ironman races. Furthermore, eating during Ironman is easier than during the Tour, where an attack at the feed zone may distract riders. In Ironman, all you have to do is to make a plan and stick to it.

Unfortunately, I did not make plan for either race in 2009 and the results were catastrophic.

First, I have to admit that my 2009 Ironman season was plagued with motivational issues. You could say my heart wasn't in it. There are various reasons but I really did not want to go to Placid, and after returning and realizing how much money I spent there, I did not want to go to Canada either. I ended up going to both.

Placid I did because I felt compelled to help the BAF; Canada for old time's sake. Neither was good motivation. I sabotaged my chances at success, maybe not consciously, but sabotaging I did.

If you read this blog you know about Placid. I did not train enough and I paid for it. I had cramps on the bike and I was exhausted riding into transition. Then I had more cramps on the run and I ended up finishing in 12:16, my time worst ever. It is obvious training and lack of motivation was to blame. I did only a few long rides before the race and I trained 87 hours in the 8 weeks prior to it, compared to 111 for a "normal" race. It wasn't enough. But what about Canada?

First, I thought I did not have enough time to recover from Placid. That seemed to make sense except for a few bothersome observations. It all came to a head last night when someone remarked that they could not understand how I could ride hard three days later and feel fine. I had to admit, it bothered me too. And so did these:

One, I felt good prior to the race and my swim was better. Swimming normally takes it out of me but here I felt fine.

Two, I rode well on the bike and although I experienced periods of no power, these were followed by strong sections where the power magically returned. When I look back, the "strong sections" happened shortly after I ate something. The best example was Special Needs at KM 120. I was depleted going in but shortly afterwards I was riding 20+ mph uphill to Yellow Lake. Shortly after hitting the top, I was once again depleted. Since there was no more chance to eat, I suffered all the way home.

Three, no cramps. Unlike what most people think, cramps have little to do with dehydration (I and many others were severely dehydrated in Penticton), but cramps are the sure indicator of inadequate training. I had leg cramps in Placid and it started on the bike. Whenever I have cramps on the bike at around mile 85, it is because I rode hard but did not train enough. Here, no cramps, just empty.

Four, the Pepsi on the run tasted fabulous. I normally only drink cola in the last third of the marathon, but now it looked so good at mile 3. And the taste !! Better than a vintage Mouton Rothschild. I could not stay away from it. Taste, like all senses is very context dependent and when something ordinary tastes better than a three star Michelin restaurant, it is a sure indication that your body is in desperate need of it.

Four, I was able to ride yesterday with Alistair and I rode well and felt strong. Clearly I was fully recovered and such a speedy recovery is the hallmark of good training. Today I ran and to prove my point, I ran 10.5 in the hills, in the heat, and at a good clip. All without problems, clearly I am recovered. Every time you recover quickly it means you were well trained. Placid was good training.

This morning, I finally sat down and wrote out a detailed race report. I thought about every section and what happened. And then it occurred to me that I was "missing" 700-800 calories. Try as I may I could not find them. Let me explain.

I normally fill 2 gel flasks with gels and consume those on the bike. One flask is 450-500 calories.

This time, I left my flasks at home. I did not want to buy new ones, as I felt I already overspent by a large margin. So I took a few gels in a ziploc bag. I actually took 3 and a Clif bar. That is 500 calories versus 900-1,000.

Then I dropped my bag on McClean and had to go back for it. Not only did I lose time this way, I also got a yellow card for crossing the midline. It put me on edge.

As a result I did not want to go fishing for the baggie again for fear I would lose it or break another rule. I ended up eating 2 gels plus whatever gels I could pick up. That is about 7-8 short. The one's I pick up don't really count as I usually pick up gels in addition to my flasks anyways.

There is my 20 minutes on the bike. And another 5 in transition where I sat depleted and dazed wondering what was wrong with me.

I am not sure how much I lost on the run because of no food. Normally running is a free-fatty-acid affair and sugar does not matter much. Then there is also the heat. However, I have run when I was tired in the heat before and I always get the marathon done in 4:30-4:35 (even with cramps and what have you). When I feel fine, I run a 4:00 to 4:10.

Five is a bit excessive. I also noticed that there were a few sections, and one near the end, where I was able to run well. Once again these were closely associated with calorie intake (in this case, plenty of Pepsi).

My diagnosis: IM Canada was a failure because I "forgot" to eat.

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