Ironman NZ – Taking it to the next level?

It’s time to pass a critical eye over my race. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about where I could make up time. Don’t get me wrong – I’m stoked with my result – but it’s only natural to wonder what if…? What could I improve on? What’s required to take my race to the next level?

How much did I train?

Firstly some background, how much did I train? I averaged 12 hours of training per week over a 20 week period: 2 hours swimming, 6:40 biking and 3:20 running. My biggest week was 18 hours.

But don’t forget the time taken to prepare for and get home from each session. Add an hour for each swim (30 mins each way to pool), add 30 mins for each ride, and 20 mins for each run. The average time consumed by training per week was about 17 hours.

The Swim – 1:14

I exceeded my expectations in the swim. Yet I didn’t have the best preparation: an ankle injury mid-training plan meant no kicking for a month, and the bike crash meant no swimming for the last three weeks. If I did the same training again, and didn’t encounter these issues, on my best day I might have squeezed another 3-4 mins off the swim time. Same training, best result: 1:10

To really improve my swim times and take it to the next level I think I’d need to join a swim squad. I’m a self-taught swimmer and probably have glaring technique flaws (as well as seriously underdeveloped swim muscles!). Getting out there regularly, twice a week, swimming hard under a critical eye is the only way I could get my time down towards the hour mark. I reckon it would take a couple of years to see some decent improvements. The next level: 1:00

The Bike – 6:31

Clearly this is where I can make my biggest gains. Most athletes around my time went at least 30 mins quicker on the bike. My bike was sloooooow. I averaged 153W. My target was 160W. The tight hamstring in the last month hampered my training and hampered my ability to push harder during the race. I don’t think I could have gone any harder in the race than I did, without doing some damage.

BUT, if I had managed the injury as soon as it appeared (ie. recognised it and treated it), I think 160-165W was achievable with the training I did. That might be worth perhaps 20-30mins? And not having the hammie pain would have allowed more time in the aerobars – so a few more minutes could be made up there. Perhaps I could have approached 6 hours? Same training, best result: 6:00

I could always buy myself some time – perhaps an aero helmet and some disc wheels? There might be 10 mins there.

But the real gains would come by more commitment to bike training. I don’t have a strong bike background and 7 hours of bike training per week is just not enough. I was hoping to race at 180W when I first started training. I could get there on my own but I’d be feeling my way and it would take some time. I need to actually read “Training and Racing with a Power Meter” and structure a good 18-24 months of solid biking guided by that book.

The quickest way to take my biking to the next level would be to enrol a coach – one who uses power so I can take advantage of my power meter. I’ll never be a strong biker but I feel that 5h30mins should be within my grasp with solid, focused, and consistent training over time. The next level: 5:30

The Run – 3:47

The run went pretty well. Gains will be harder to find here. In fact, I’d have to be very careful that pushing harder in the swim and bike wouldn’t actually damage my run.

Potentially I could review the run/walk strategy. I walked 15 aid stations = 15 mins walking. I walk at about half the speed I run at, so about 8 mins were lost. Do I actually need to walk? Could I perhaps walk every second aid station instead? Certainly I could try something here and perhaps squeeze a minute or two. Same training, best result: 3:45

The two ways I’d try to take my run to the next level would be: (a) having an off-season run focus and work on improving my run speed with some 10km races and perhaps a half marathon, and (b) running my long training runs at a slightly quicker pace – say targeting 4:50-5:10min/km rather than the 5:15-5:50min/km I actually trained at. Over time, this might see me getting closer to 3h30mins. The next level: 3:30

Transition

20 minutes in transition, under the Taupo conditions, for a relaxed first-timer, is understandable. There is an easy 10-15 minutes that I could make up here, depending on the race. A bit of transition practise probably wouldn’t hurt! Same training, best result: 0:10

In Summary

Swim Bike Run T1 & T2 Total Time
On the day 1:14 6:31 3:47 0:20 11:53
Same training, best result 1:10 6:00 3:45 0:10 11:05
The next level 1:00 5:30 3:30 0:10 10:10

If I stick to the same training (but with a more proactive approach to injuries via regular massages/physio) I should be able to get close to sub 11 hours. If I take it to the next level and spend 2-3 years with swim squads, a bike coach and an off-season run focus, I might be able to get close to sub 10 hours.

But the key is, to get faster times, I need consistency and I need more training. Which means: I need to invest more time.

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