Sunday, September 1, 2013

Ironman Louisville Race Report - Part 3 (The Bike)

So I ended Part 2 with me exiting the water after the 2.4 mile swim. My transition time officially started after I got to the top of the steps coming out of the river. There is then a pretty significant run to get to the changing tent. After exiting the water, you run through a shoot (lined with people on both sides), across a short bridge, down some steps, down a sidewalk, across the Great Lawn to grab your Bike Gear bag, then into the changing tent. From the water exit to the tent is close to a quarter mile.

Path from swim exit to transition tent
So as I mentioned in the swim report, I was happy with my time in the water and was feeling great as I entered the changing tent. I had a pretty good plan as to what I needed to do in the tent, but after changing into my bike shorts, I kind of just started grabbing stuff out of my bag and putting it on as I pulled it out. Socks, bike shoes, heart rate monitor chest stap, tri top, chamois cream, race number belt with GPS tracker, and finally, my helmet.

I ran out of the tent and started checking the numbers on the end of the bike racks to try and find the right one. I was number 1762. I don't remember how the racks were numbered, but I found the right one and started down the isle, looking for Flash. I spotter her, grabbed her off the rack and ran out of transition.

I had a little bit of trouble getting my feet cliped in the pedals, but that was after crossing the timing mat, so those few seconds were counted toward my bike split. Overall, my T1 wasn't the fastest, but I did everything I needed to in the quickest time possible - no complaints.

110th out of 335 in my Age Group
843th out of 2600 Overall

As soon as I got on my bike and made the turn onto River Road, I unclipped my right foot and coasted for a few seconds so that I could calibrate my power meter. I meant to do this when I was in transition before the swim start, but I forgot. But I knew that I had to have an accurate power reading in order to execute my bike, so I didn't mind losing another few seconds.

My plan for the bike was pretty straight-froward. I would ride based strictly on power, not on heart rate, not perceived exertion, not on speed.  I set up my Garmin watch screen to show me three things while I was on the bike. 1) Normalized Power, 2) Current Power (a 3 second average), 3) Total Time Elapsed. I didn't want to see my heart rate or my speed. I had the auto-lap set to every 5 miles, so that was the only gauge I had of how far I'd gone. I also know the course pretty well, so I had an good idea of what my mileage was at any given time.

So once I had my power meter calibrated, I settled in on River Road heading out of town. My nutrition plan was also pretty simple. I would take a drink or two of my custom Infinit mix every 15 minutes (I had 3 hours worth mixed up in the two bottles in my rear cage). At 40 minutes past every hour (i.e, 1:40, 2:40, 3:40, etc.), I would take a GU Roctane gel. I would also drink clear water from the aerobar bottle as I felt necessary - based on thirst. So I was constantly looking down at my watch to check my power level and to make sure I took in my nutrition at the right times. For six straight hours I was looking down at my watch every 15-20 seconds...for SIX hours. This actually kept my mind from wondering and made the time go by pretty fast.

The plan was to keep my Normalized Power (NP) between 65-68% of FTP (which equals 175 to 183 Watts)...regardless of how long it took me to complete the 112 miles, I was not going to let me NP get out of this range.

The first 10 miles are pretty flat, so there's not much gear-changing or technical turns to keep your mind occupied. I basically used this time to settle in and take stock of how I felt. I know that my heart rate is always a little high after transitions and after going from horizontal (swimming) to vertical (biking), it always takes my legs a little bit of time to feel normal. Looking back at my data, my HR was 152 when I started the bike - it would never get that high again, even on the steepest climb.

Once we make the left turn onto US-42, the course becomes more technical. From this point on, watching my power output would be critical. I kept a close eye on my current power number on the climbs, making sure to keep it as low as possible and never letting it get up to my Function Threshold (FTP) of 269. Making this happen requires lots of gear shifting and being able to shift early enough on the climbs to keep from having to stand up or mash the gears. Check out the chart below of my power level for the whole bike split. I only jumped above FTP about 5-6 times and only for a second or two each time.

Going out on 42 is where I started to get passed a lot. Being one of the first swimmers in the water means that faster swimmers and riders are going to be catching up with you all day. I knew this was going to happen and just made sure to drop back out of the passing zone each time someone came up on my left (or squeezed by on my right - which happened more than it should have!).

The out and back is a fun part of the course for me. It contains the longest, steepest climbs of the day, but it also provides the fastest descents - which I love. I'm all about the free speed and I shift to my smallest gear and peddle down the hills until I start free-wheeling, then I get as aerodynamic as possible and fly! These downhills are where I pass all the people back up that push past me going up the inclines. My top speed of the day was 43 mph, which I hit twice on this out and back portion. This speed almost makes up for the uphill portions, where looking back, I was cruising along somewhere between 7 and 9 mph.

As I mentioned earlier, I refused to push it up hills. In fact, I only came out of my seat on a hill twice all day. Both times were on a little hill on Old Sligo Road. Not standing to get up this hill means that you will literally fall over. The rest of the day, I would shift it down into "granny gear" and focus on maintaining a smooth pedal stroke and watch my power levels. I would be passed by several people on literally every hill. Most of the time they were standing up, mashing the pedals in a high gear, trying to get to the top of the hill as fast as possible. This was exactly what I did during this race two years ago. But not this time. I would chuckle to myself sometimes as they hammered past me. Then I'd see them immediately relax at the top of the hill and coast down...while I would quickly downshift and go flying past them. Then we would yo-yo again on the next hill.

The goal for my 112 mile ride was consistency. I wanted to maintain an even power level all day. With all of the hills, it's hard to compare segments of the course to one another. So my 5 mile splits are not much use when trying to see how steady I kept my power. But what I can do is compare my first loop to my second loop. The first loop is basically from mile 30 to mile 60. Then it's repeated from miles 60 to 90. So here's what my two loops looked like:

Loop 1
Loop 2

So if you compare this same stretch of the course the first time I did it and the second time, you can see that I was pretty consistent. My NP dropped slightly on the second loop, but not much. But my Variability Index (VI) was 1.05 for both. This means that I didn't vary much from the NP either loop. If you look at just the time of each loop, it appears that I was 6 minutes slower the second time around - but you have to factor in that the Special Needs stop was part of the second loop. I was at a complete stop for about 2 minutes getting stuff out of my bag and rubbing on some chamois cream (oh yeah!). This stop at Special Needs also explains the slightly lower average HR on the second loop. My HR dropped all the way down to 90 bpm while I was stopped.

Coming off of the second loop - around mile 85 or so, I started to get really uncomfortable. Without getting too graphic, the spot that actually rests on my bike saddle was getting really sore. I tried to reposition myself, but it did no good. I knew that the last 10 miles were flat, and I wanted to make sure that I could stay in aero position during this stretch and keep my power steady in order to get as much speed as possible. As I passed Zorn Ave on River Road (around mile 109), my lower back was getting really tight and I had to stand-up and stretch it for just a few seconds. Of course, as soon as I stand up, I see Jessica and the kids on the side of the road. She's snapping pictures of me riding in the most awkward looking position ever (see picture to the right). It was actually kind of funny. I managed to sit back in my seat and wave to them as I went by.

The last 10 miles of the ride were very productive. I passed lots of people that I could tell were happy the hills were over and were just kind or riding on autopilot back into town. I ended up averaging 21.2 mph during this stretch, with an average power of 169W and an average HR of only 111. Although I didn't know what my HR was at any time during the bike, I could tell by my breathing that I was not exerting much energy. I knew this by the fact that I could easily breath through only my nose. I tested this out several times throughout the day - just a little trick I picked up to make sure I'm not over-exerting myself. If I need to open my mouth to breath during an endurance ride like this, then I'm pushing it too hard.

I rolled back in to transition feeling good. I was even a little surprised at my bike split. I fully expected to be slower than my 6:08 time from two years ago, based on my strategy for this race, but I looked at my watch as I rolled over the timing mat and saw that it was 6:07 and some change.

112 Mile Bike
6:07:29 (18.3 mph avg.)
132nd out of 335 in my Age Group
864th out of 2600 Overall
NP = 178W
VI = 1.05
Avg HR = 116 bpm

I was very pleased with myself for having the mental toughness and focus to keep my NP right where I wanted it to be. I also knew that my hydration was good to go as I peed on the bike 6 or 7 times (I lost count). I knew that I had set myself up for a solid run!

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