Friday, June 16, 2017

Ultraman Australia Part 2: Filling in the Gaps

These are a few of the questions people have asked about my Ultraman (UM) experience.  They are in no particular order.  And if you missed the Smashfest Diaries Q/A you can catch up HERE.

How much open water swim training did you do?

Does Ironman California 70.3 in April count as training?  I don't do open water swim training.  I am a confident swimmer and generally don't have problems being in open water.  I race well in open water because I am competitive.  But if I swim in open water outside of competition I'm rather lazy.  So I feel that putting in serious work in the pool prepares me better for race conditions.

Do you wish you had done a 10k swim in the ocean prior to UM?

Sure, having some ocean swimming under my belt would probably have made me faster in those conditions.  But I live in the desert.  The nearest ocean is 6 hours away and it's not feasible for me to make that drive frequently for training purposes.  And in reality, by the time we hit the point in training where it would have been beneficial (ie: the final 8 weeks) I was too exhausted for it to have been considered safe for me to drive 6 hours in a car by myself.

Swimming in the ocean doesn't bother me.  Yes, it's much different than a lake/ river, but I've swum ocean races before and felt confident, strong, safe, etc.  I wasn't overly worried about the swim.

How did pool training prepare you to swim that distance?

Well, we did a lot of long hard interval workouts.  And just like for IM distance, my 10k swim sets were basically swum right on the time that I wanted to hold for UM.  I was getting out of the pool after 10k in 2:38-2:42 so I felt that was going to be my ballpark.  I was hoping for anything under 2:45.

I had plenty of 4-5k swims, but my weekly long swims were what really got me ready.  I remember my first 7k interval swim and I got out of the pool and my arms were shaking it was that difficult.  I thought, if I feel like this after 7k, how the heck am I going to feel after 10k?  But Hillary knows what she's doing and we built up to hard 10k swims every other week.  I definitely felt prepared and ready for the swim.

Here's the deal... In running, everyone's familiar with intervals, and tempo runs, and long runs, and race pace runs.  It's no different swimming-- you have sprint swims, tempo swims, long strength building swims, and race pace swims.  When I train for IM, I have 4k race pace swims that are something like 30 x 100 yards on 1:25.  These swims give me so much anxiety because on a good day I'm getting 2-3 seconds rest.  On a bad day I'm touching the wall and pushing off.  But you do this over and over and over and you make all the intervals and you realize, ok, I really CAN hold this pace for 2.4 miles.  Ultraman swim training was very similar only a lot more band only and longer sets on short rest... like 15 x 300 meters on 4:40 as the mainset in a 7500 meter swim.

** And just to clear up any confusion, I have access to both yard and meter pools and depending on the time of day and how long the swim will take determines which pool I use.  :)

What was your key prep for the swim?

I was averaging 20-23k per week in the pool, with a hard 10k swim every other week.  I think the combination of volume and the long, hard swims prepared me perfectly for the swim.  The only thing I will do differently is eat more during the swim next time around.  I was fine during the swim leg, but when I got on the bike I was hungry for the first 2 hours and felt like I was playing catch up.

What did your training look like?

I was averaging 20-24 hours per week training.  Each week was different as far as the type of workouts but there were a lot of IM to Half IM power intervals on the bike.  Hard trainer rides with short intervals.  Group rides each week with a couple of sustained uphill chases.  3 hours became the new 90 min easy recovery ride.  And then there were some back to back long rides and long rides followed by long progression runs.  There were a couple of 50k runs- one on trails, and one on road.  There were some trail runs and interval runs and treadmill runs-- both long and faster than race pace.  Swimming consisted of both hard interval swims and long, strength building sets.

What was key prep for the run?

Well, I think the most important run training I did were the 50k runs and the long progression runs at the end of a hard block of training.  I got to a point in training where I felt so tired all the time, but I could go out and run and hold my pace forever.  I felt so strong.  I really think the years of endurance training and then the specific work we were doing allowed me to feel so good throughout.  I have never worked so hard in training, and loved training so much as I did in the last 12 weeks before the race.  Seeing what my body was capable of was amazing and felt so rewarding.  I kept thinking, if I come off of this, absorb, and gain fitness from the race, Ironman is going to feel so easy.

How did you prepare for big training days?

Just like any big Ironman training day.  I tried to have my bottles filled the night before, nutrition packed.  Gear laid out.  Make sure everything on my bike was ready to go- no unexpected flat tires, all my tools where they needed to be.  Follow my nutrition plan so that I was properly fueled, hydrated.  And then make sure I get a good night's rest.  I had a couple of big workouts that I had SAG support for, so I made sure we had all the food and drinks prepped and ready to go into the cooler.  Made sure there was gas in the car, and a detailed map for my support person.

What was your nutrition like in training?

I have been working with Katie of OWN Nutrition for about 18 months now.  So daily nutrition is pretty dialed in.  She writes my plan every week and I follow it.  Lots of big salads.  That's what I craved.  Near the end I did get a little tired of eating all the time-- chewing just became so exhausting so we added some more smoothies into the mix.  Lots of greens and fruit, nut butter, chia seeds, etc packed into the NutriBullet.

During training the only thing I did different from IM training was take in solids on the bike.  In UM having solid foods on day 1 and 2 goes a long way toward helping the body sustain and last through the stress of all 3 days.  So in training I switched to things I would use on course-- Clif bars, etc.  For the swim and run I stuck with gels since that was what I'd use on race day.

Did you change your shoes during the run?

No.  I wore shoes that fit my feet well, are the right size, and are comfortable.  So I never felt the need to change shoes.

What did you do for sun protection?

I use Coppertone Sport spf 50.  I know there are a lot of "better" sunscreens that probably have less chemicals or whatever.  But I've tried others, and this one lasts all day with one application.  I live in the desert and wear sunscreen all year round, all day long.  This works for me.   My crew did surprise me with lime green zinc oxide lip balm.  #limegreenismysignaturecolor  And I wore the RFA aero suit on day 1, and my Lemmon Lime Aero top on day 2 which provide excellent sun coverage.

What was your nutrition like during the race?

I took in gels on the swim-- 400 cal total with 2 bottles of water (in 2 hours 42 minutes).  Next time I'll double that.  I took in about 300 calories per hour on the bike on day 1, and pretty close to that on day 2.  Mostly solid foods- Clif bars, PB&J, Pringles, Girl Scout cookies (not joking), and chicken noodle soup.  And then I had Coke, Red Bull and espresso poured over ice **angels singing from above**

On the run I had Honey Stinger gels every 20 minutes.  I also had a bottle with my BASE salt concoction every half marathon.  And I drank some Coke and chicken broth along with lots of water.

What goes on in your head?

Mostly I'm thinking about the race.  What do I need now?  How am I feeling?  Sometimes I sang songs in my head.  There's really so much going on all the time that you're not just lost in thought.

What did you do to prepare mentally?

I can't say I did anything specific in this area.  My training is such that just the act of surviving it builds a certain degree of mental toughness.  That's how it should be.  Your training is what should give you confidence for race day.  There were definitely workouts that gave me anxiety when I saw them on my schedule.  And when you complete them and it's not a big deal, you put that in the bank.

How did you house your crew?

As soon as I received my invitation to Ultraman Australia I was on their website checking everything out.  One of their sponsors is the Macquarie Lodge Apartments so I hopped on their website.  I got a 3 bedroom apartment at a really great rate and it was absolutely perfect.  Our entire crew was able to stay together-- we could cook and eat together and when I was relaxing at night I could be on the couch while they were eating at the dinner table and we could go over the plan for the next day.  We had access to a pool, a balcony, laundry facilities, and 2 full bathrooms.  The living quarters were very spacious.  I highly recommend the Macquarie Lodge Apartments for anyone considering Ultraman or just a holiday in Noosa!

How did you set up for each day?

My crew captain, Chris, was responsible for making sure the van was packed and organized each day.  So prior to day 1 we removed some of the seats in the van to make space, got Dan's bike (which was my spare for the race) situated in the back, and then loaded the cooler and all the bags.  Heidi was in charge of my nutrition/ hydration so she had everything organized and knew where everything was at.  We had a separate bag for tools/ gear, a bag with sunscreen/ medical supplies, and bags with food/ drinks, etc.  They were very organized.

At the end of each stage, one of them would take the van to fill up with gas, stock up on anything we might be running low on (water/ ice/ etc) and then clean out all the garbage.  Then they'd make sure everything was organized and ready to go into the van for the next day.  Heidi made all the PBJs.  She divided the Pringles into 100 calorie ziplock bags.  Same with the Girl Scout cookies.  She had everything organized so that she would know exactly how many calories she handed to me, and when I handed back any wrappers/ etc, she knew where I was at intake-wise.  She kept detailed notes which I'm so thankful for because I will use those to help me train and plan for the next time around.

What was the hardest part?

That's tough to say.  I definitely think physically the run was the hardest, but I also was pretty content running with my crew all day long.... and I've already blocked out a majority of the pain from my mind.  Mentally the bike on day 1 was hard because I felt so terrible and it was still so early in the race.  I had to not think about how far I had left to go because I might not have made it off the bike on day 1.

What was your favorite part?

Day 2!!!  Hands down the 170 mile bike ride was my favorite.  I've never been more proud of race execution (outside of IMAZ 2015) as I was on that day.  I worked so hard on day 2.  The course was beautiful and hilly and completely amazing.  To stay focused on ONE thing, literally biking as hard as I could, for 9 hours-- it was a thing of beauty.  And to be surrounded and cheered for by my crew for the entire time... it's really difficult to describe how special this race is...

Was it harder than you expected?

Actually, it was easier.  I think after having crewed at Ultraman Canada I had an up close and personal glimpse of what it takes to survive this type of race.  My teammate went to depths on the run that I never came close to in the 3 days.  In my head, I was fully prepared to do what he did on day 3 to make it in under the cutoff time and in reality, my race went very smoothly.  I was never tested the way that he was.  It gave me a new appreciation for what he was able to do that day, and that week.  I am proud of my race.  I know I can do better, but I think for a first experience it was everything I wanted and more.

Did you get to do any sight-seeing?

Well, in my opinion the best way to see a place is on foot.  So I felt like I really did get to experience the areas we were in (Port Macquarie and Noosa/ Sunshine Coast).  But no, we didn't do touristy things.  My step-daughter graduated from high school a week after my race finished so we didn't have extra time to stay and travel around.  I've been to Australia before and traveled quite a bit so I was ok with just focusing on what we came to do.

Did you lose speed training for such a long distance?

No, not that I have seen.  Hillary warned me that I might not feel as sharp on some of my bike interval workouts (half IM and IM watts), and there was definitely a couple of weeks in April where I struggled to hit the numbers.  But I wasn't off by much and within 2 weeks my body adapted and I had my power back.  And since coming back and recovering from the race I feel stronger than ever.

How was recovery?

Recovery was awesome.  I basically swam every day while we were still in Australia.  Once we got back home I started biking and running a little bit-- like 20 minutes running and an hour biking, along with swimming.  I had about 3 weeks of active recovery, 1-2 days off per week with very easy training on the other days.  My body came around very nicely and by the time we started to do a bit of work I was ready for it.  Mentally and physically I felt recovered and ready to start training again.

Do you want to do another one?

100% yes.  I really believe I was made for this race.  My body handles the training well.  I LOVE the training.  I felt like I thrived during the race and remained strong throughout.  And I know I can do better the next time around.  My plan is to apply for the Ultraman World Championship in 2018.  As much as I'd love to go this year, I think I'd like the time to save up some money and do it right (spend a few days on the island!) and also just allow myself the time to prepare a little better.  Now that we know where my weaknesses are we can work on them in training.

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