Friday, September 25, 2015

Race report - Challenge Cedar Point 140.6 triathlon

I have long dreamed to do the Full Ironman and now this dream has come true. On September 13, 2015 I raced Challenge Cedar Point 140.6 triathlon. For those who are not familiar with Ironman - here is an excellent wikipedia article. I started my triathlon training in 2011 and at first did not even think of doing full distance race. Originally I just wanted to try Sprint distance. After I have done my first Sprint I thought it may be fun to do Olympic distance. After that wanted to try Half Ironman, you get the idea...

To see all photos in one album - go here.
Warning - some pictures in this post are not mine and used without permission, which I hope is ok by whoever posted these on flickr (I am using it for non-commercial purpose anyway).

I finished this race 4th in my age group out of 26 age groupers and 25th overall out of total 169 Full Distance athletes with the time 11h 52m 07s. Here is the official results site (my bib # is 670). I was hoping to go under 12 hours and the result made me very happy :-).
Due to some minor injuries and travel this was the only race I was able to do in 2015. I had few other things planned, but unfortunately it did not work out. In any case, this was my A race for the year and has been the focus of the past 11 months.

The race was very well organized and was pretty small in size and easily accessible. Cedar Point is an amusement park in Sandusky Ohio and is only 3 hours drive from Pittsburgh. On the same day with the Full Distance there is also a Half Ironman race with about 600+ people, making for a total of about 800 folks. This means the area is not crowded, toilets are freely available, getting in and out is easy, check in for the race is fast and simple. The goody bag and medal were lovely and overall race support was solid. Volunteers on about every 15 miles of the bike (officials claimed every 10 miles, but I did not feel like that) and every 2 miles on the run - they provided Gatorade Endurance, gels, bars, bananas and other stuff. Again, I think the race was organized very well, except for two things: (1) Very poor food for finishers - I did not even touch that food and (2) Not enough toilets on the bike - they only had them about every 20 miles or so, which I feel they need to have a lot more than that. Overall, kudos to the organizers for a race well run!

One minor issue for some people could be that the finish line was not exciting enough - only about 50 people there and some folks feel this is underwhelming. I did not care, but some people prefer huge Ironman brand races because of the gigantic crowd on the finish and crazy festivities going on. Whatever... At the same time there was some crowd support on the bike and run course - some folks were motivating athletes, dressed in costumes, etc.


Here is the training plan I used to prepare for this race. You can download Google Sheets XLS file from here.

What you see above is based on Hal Higdon Novice 2 marathon training plan for running with added swim, bike and cross training sessions. This was the plan. Here is what it turned out to be in reality (from

Overall what happened was pretty consistent with the plan and here is the summary of the training as shown on charts above (average 12h 13min of training per week across all disciplines):
  • Swimming 
    • average of 2 times a week in  25 yard YMCA pool (some weeks once, other weeks 3 times)
    • average of 4,128 yards per week (I never swam more than 3,000 yards at a time)
    • average of 1h 32min of swimming per week
    • handful of open water swims this year, none in wet suite
    • 30% of the swim distance was drills, 50% swim with the IM race pace (1m50s/100 yards), 20% tempo and intervals
  • Biking 
    • started with low volume and increased it up until 3 weeks before the race taper started, so the average numbers below are average over 9 months of training
    • between 4 to 5 times a week
    • 95% of the biking was done on the indoor recumbent trainer (see picture below) with only a dozen of bike rides on open road on real bike in entire year (same as past year)
    • average of 5h 44 min of biking per week
    • average 111 miles per week
    • 95% of biking was done at steady pace - warm up for 20 minutes and then maintain stable power up to 200 watts for the rest of the bike with 90 rpm cadence
    • since biking was done indoors, the hours and distance can be multiplied by 25%
    • static stretch after each bike
  • Running
    • started with low volume and increased it up until 3 weeks before the race taper started, so the average numbers below are average over 9 months of training
    • 4 times per week (one of these is a long run on very hilly trails, three other times usually steady pace at about half open marathon intensity on hilly asphalt roads, about a dozen of interval sessions in a year and a dozen tempo runs on flat road or treadmill)
    • average of 22.1 miles per week
    • average 3h 30 min of running per week
    • running drills for a few minutes twice a week before the run
    • static stretch for a few minutes after each run
    • in April I had an IT Band issue and had to drop volume and intensity for some time, went to ART specialist, did extensive foam rolling, stretching, etc. and it seems to have been completely gone by July
  • Cross training
    • between 3 to 4 sessions per week up until 2 weeks before the race
    • average 1h 25 min per week
    • push ups, pull ups, light dumbbells, planks, abdominal crunches on the floor and stability ball, bridges, few yoga sessions, etc.
Here is a picture of my bike with the "desk" for laptop - this is where I spent majority of my training while working on a computer (the laptop is not shown in the picture) - I bought this device over 10 years ago on eBay and had no idea how much I will end up using it :-) :

Pre-race and logistics

My taper started 3 weeks before the race. You can see weekly time in the charts above. Last two days before the race I did not do any sports activity.

I kept eating as usual in the last week before the race, just added little extra carbs than normal. 24 hours before the race I took a double dose of my usual calcium and magnesium (two tables of each, instead of one), but consumed my usual two fish oil pills, one multi-vitamin and one glucosamine-chondroitin pill.

I left Pittsburgh at noon on Saturday and arrived in Sandusky at 3pm. Picked up my bag in 10 minutes, then waited until 4pm mandatory athlete meeting, which lasted about half an hour. On Saturday there was a lot of wind and Sprint distance athletes had their swim and bike (!) canceled. Bike check in for half and full distance was cancelled and we checked in our bikes on Sunday morning. The Lake Erie was more like Pacific Ocean on the day before the race:

On Saturday at 5pm I had Seafood Alfredo Pasta and fresh salad at Olive Garden. Finished my dinner at 6pm and went to hotel for the night. I stayed at Holiday Inn Express & Suites Port Clinton-Catawba Island. This is about 30 minutes away from the race start, which seems like a lot, but it was not too bad. Worked out ok for me. I stayed there two nights, including the night after the race.

On the morning of the race I got up at 4:30 am, ate a banana, two tbsp of peanut butter, good slice of whole wheat bread, about 10 oz of apple cider without sugar, drank about 10 oz of water. Left hotel at 5am and got to the transition area at 5:30am. At 6am ate one PowerGel with 6 oz of water. Setup my bike and all special needs bags, got into a wet suite and was all ready to go by 6:30am by which time they closed the transition area. Race start for full distance was at 7am. The air temperature was about 52 F (about 11C) - pretty darn cold being naked, but in a wet suite it was perfect. Could not have asked for better temperature!

Swim the organizers moved the swim about 600 yards away from the transition area because of waves in the main lake. I did not do any warm up or pre-swim. Swim start was time trial - meaning you line up in a queue and they let 2 people at a time into the water with few seconds apart. The timing mat is right on the edge of the water, so your timer starts when you cross it. This makes it for a very calm start and I loved that. Once I entered the water, I washed my face and googles, put them on, did about a dozen of breast strokes and then started easy freestyle swim. After the first 5 minutes I warmed up and slightly increased my pace, but all the way I kept it comfortable in HR zone 2. I was hoping to average 1m50s per 100 yards pace, but because of zigzagging it was a bit slower, so the speed gain of wet suite was not enough to compensate for the imperfections in the swim path. Here is my Garmin track of the swim:

The water temperature was perfect for wet suite and the water inside of the bay was very calm, however outside of the protective wall it was wavy - sometimes I felt like on a little roller coaster going up and down. But overall it was not bad at all and added to the fun. I had no nutrition on the swim and do not feel like it is needed. At the exit from the swim there were wet suite peelers and they helped me to get it off quickly, so I picked it up and ran to the T1.
My swim split was 14th out of 26 in my age group and 78 out of 169 overall. Pretty darn slow, but I was not tired one bit. Like I have not done any swim at all.

Bike T1 they made you go into a T1 covered tent, so people can hide from outside view and change. I had my PTC kit under my wet suite and simply took my eye glasses out of the swim-bike transition bag with my race number on it and pushed my wet suite into the bag, then left the tent, took my bike, put on the helmet and ran to the exit. My pedals were already clipped, so it made it easy to run fast in T1 with the bike.
My plan for the bike was to maintain steady 90 rpm all the way and most important keep heart rate in zone 2 at 130 bpm (turned out to be 129 avg). It felt like a very easy pace for the bike and I thought of it as a warm up for the run. Even with that easy pace I passed a lot of people and few people passed me. The wind was sometimes strong (they said it was up to 30 mph at times), but it was all over the place - from sides, front, rear, etc. I would prefer it without the wind, but it was not too bad. My Garmin recorded 2616 ft of elevation gain/loss.

For nutrition on the bike I was taking PowerGel every 30 minutes with 4 to 6 oz of water right after the gel and drank Gatorade Endurance provided at aid stations. During my sweat test I would have needed 24 oz of water per hour at 73F going 180 watts, but here it was only 56F and I was wearing long sleeve warm bike jacket and did not sweat one bit, until second half of the bike. In the second half of the bike the temperature rised to about 62F and I took off long sleeve jacket and stuffed it under my PTC kit on the back for the last two hours of the bike (see photo below). At the end of the bike I took one salt stick just in case. I averaged about 20 oz of water and 6 oz of Gatorade on the bike per hour. With lack of sweat this made me use restroom 4 times and I estimate I spent about 8 minutes total on those stops to restrooms. If I went for the podium, I would have to learn to pee on the bike, which is not something I am looking forward to :-). I carried two bottles on the bike - one with water and one with Gatorade. The gels were stuffed into the pouch on the top tube and another pouch under it (see photos). I kept my cell phone in that big pouch for emergency purposes. No solid food on the bike was taken and I did not feel the need. Gels worked perfect.

My bike split was 10th out of 26 in my age group and 48th out of 169 total. After the bike finish I did not feel tired at all, except for the neck - since I do all of my training in the recumbent bike indoors, the neck is totally unprepared to be in the aero position for over 6 hours. I could hardly move my head, but legs felt fantastic - almost like I have not even biked. It was really like a warm up for the run - exactly the way I wanted it. And I did enjoy the bike as it was quite scenic half the time.

In bike-run transition I just put on my socks, hat, race bib and my lovely Saucony Kinvaras 5 and left the station.


On the run I decided to keep the same 130 bpm heart rate (zone 2) for the first 20 miles and then make a decision on how to change it. Out of transition area I started out too fast. When I looked at my Garmin, I had 144 bpm and was going 7:25 min/mile pace. I tried to slow down, but it was not working. So I started walking while watching my HR. As soon as it went down to 130 bpm, I resumed the run and kept looking at it. At that point I switched the screen to time of day and HR so I wont see the pace. 130 bpm felt very easy and up until mile 20 I felt extremely relaxed and enjoyed the scenery. It felt like a walk in the park and indeed it was. When I looked at the pace at mile 20 - turned out I was doing 8:55 min / mile. This was slower than any of my training runs, except for long runs on the crazy hills on the trail in North Park. According to my Garmin, the elevation gain in the run was 315 ft - pretty much perfectly flat run along the lake shore.

So it went similar to the bike - PowerGel every 30 minutes + 4 to 6 oz of water with it. Salt stick once per hour (just in case), few sips of Gatorade every couple of miles. I walked for up to a minute every second aid station (every two miles), except for the last 5 miles. I used toilet once to pee in the middle of the run.

At first some runners were passing me on the run, but I kept to my 130 bpm rule. However in the second half I started to pass lots and lots of other runners who were very slow or even walking, including half distance athletes. I felt like I can run with this slow pace forever, however once I reached mile 20 decided to raise my HR to 140 bpm. At mile 23 still felt great and easy, so I decided not to hold it anymore and let it all unwind. The HR went up to about 155 and I was having great time. Like I was not even racing. There is something about keeping a heart rate vs. pace. With heart rate I KNOW I keep keep certain HR for certain time. Like 130 bpm I can keep "forever". 140 bpm can keep for a very long time. And not knowing the pace makes me not feel tired. So in the last 3 miles I just started accelerating and feeling great. Once I saw a finish line about 500 yards away I went into a full all out sprint and last few dozen yards went with 5 min / mile pace :-).

My run split was 3rd out of 26 in my age group (one person did not finish) and 24 out of 169 overall. Exactly the same as the overall race. Interesting, isn't it? It is very cool to look at the relative place as time goes by:

At the finish I was only slightly tired. Nothing at all comparing to previous races - marathons or Half Ironman distances where I felt half dead after the finish. This felt like I could do the whole thing again and I actually enjoyed the 100% of the race. I guess this is because I was extremely conservative and careful and did not push it at all. Before the race I was not even sure if I could finish the thing - considering my odd bike training and lack of real long distance brick workouts. This made me turn this race into a training exercise, but I learned a lot and most important loved it. I know next time it will be harder since I will push the pace some more - perhaps 135 bpm instead of 130? And it may not feel as good. Or do I even need to push it? Not sure yet.

What's next?

Now that this is behind, what do I do next? The hardest part of this was to stay away from injuries (I felt several times on the brink of overuse injuries and once had IT Band problem in spring time. The second hardest part was to find the time for training. Since I have three boys I really wanted them to see their dad accomplish this, but now I decided to switch into light fitness mode and become training partner for my youngest son, who seems to really like it so far :-). On the last few weeks after the race Edward and I went mountain biking on real trails and started to spend more quality time together. Now my plan is to get my middle son Sasha involved into this. Misha is training every day in the Crossfit studio and is in great physical shape and his first Crossfit Competition is tomorrow in Cleveland. I will be cheering there for him.
When is the next Ironman for me? Do not know. Perhaps when kids go to university and leave home?