30 April 2015

Ironman Taiwan Race Report, Part Two: T1 and the Bike

Happy to be out of the water and to see my family.

When I was about 400m from the shore during the first lap of my swim, I thought about how good I would feel when I got 400m from the shore during my second lap. And indeed I felt great. I couldn’t believe how close I was to finishing my first Ironman swim. I then stepped on the beach and smiled and started my trek toward T1. I had finished the swim 341st out of the water.

My friend El Doce told me before the race not to hurry through the transitions. He believes it’s worth the time during your first Ironman to make sure you set yourself up well for the bike (or run), even if it may take you an extra minute through the transition. He probably didn’t imply, however, that I should take all day, but I really was in no hurry to get through the transition. The path to T1 involved a beach crossing, a walk/jog through some showers, a climb up one and a half flights of stairs, and then a 100m jog. Even the pros times through T1 were little longer than you usually see, but I spent 11:08 going through T1, which on reflection is absurd.

I walked up the beach to the showers while removing the top half of my wetsuit. I always remove my goggles and swim cap first and keep them in my hand while removing my top. As I take off the top, I have to pull the sleeves inside out. This allows me to leave the goggles and cap in the sleeve of my wetsuit, where they won’t fall out and where I can easily find them after the race. Before getting to the showers, I also lowered my bib john straps and pulled the lower half of my wetsuit down a bit.

The first delay through T1 came at the showers. I didn’t just run through them. I lingered a bit and enjoyed feeling the spray of fresh water cleanse me of the salt water. After the showers, I walked up the stairs. I didn’t think it was necessary to run up stairs and use of some of the power I would need for all the climbing on the bike. After getting up the stairs, however, I started jogging to where we picked up our gear bags and changed our clothes. I didn’t want my family and their cameras to see me loafing about. Good choice, too, as my family was right there with their cameras cheering me on.

I picked up my bag and entered a packed changing tent. Luckily, I would not be indecently exposing myself while preparing for the bike, so I just walked through the tent and did what I needed to do out in the open on the other side. I peeled off the bottom half of my wetsuit, organized my Bonk Breaker bars and gels in my pockets, wiped the sand from my feet, and put on my socks and shoes. I then put my wetsuit in my bag, waited a second in the line to get sunblock applied, got lathered, and walked to my bike while unwrapping a Bonk Breaker bar. When I got to my bike, I drank a large amount of a beet juice-Pocari Sweat mixture, took a big bite of my BB bar and put the rest in my pocket, and put on my helmet and sunglasses. I walked my bike to the mount line and began my ride.

What could I have done to cut time from T1? I could have run through the showers instead of lingering under them. I could have moved a bit quicker overall. I could have skipped the socks. I usually don’t wear them on the bike, but I get hotfoot when riding long distances and/or mashing pedals on climbs. This race had both big climbs and long distances, so I thought a bit of cushion from socks might help. It didn't help, and since I wear Injinji socks with the separate toes, putting my socks on with moist feet took too long. I also didn’t need to worry about beginning my hydration and nutrition in T1. I think I could easily reduce my T1 time by a third.

Speaking of nutrition, in T1 we find me making my first nutritional mistake, and I think this is part of the reason my stomach ended up shutting down during the final half of the bike. I should not have put solid food in my stomach so soon, and I shouldn’t have begun hydrating with the beet juice mixture. From what I’ve read since, it’s best to stick with water only for the first 20 minutes of the bike, which should be pedaled easily. This will allow your stomach to settle down from the stress of the swim and the transition and to get ready to digest solid foods. I remember now that I did read something about this during my training for the race, but I had so much trouble in training taking in enough calories (or at least I thought I was having trouble) that I just focused on taking in as much as I could as early as I could. By 20 minutes into the bike, I had finished my first BB bar and most of my bottle of beet juice. I probably threw too much at my stomach too quickly.

I only wish I had felt this good for the entire bike.

I felt spectacular at the beginning of my ride. I pedaled effortlessly and started what I thought was a sensible nutrition plan. In the first kilometer or two, I passed about ten riders. I kept checking my watch to see if I might be riding too hard, but my pace was right around 31 km/h (about 19.2 mph), which was about the pace I rode in my long brick sessions. And since my effort was minimal and the road was flat, I didn’t worry.

In the first two hours of the bike, I drank one bottle of my beet juice formula, one bottle of sports drink, a half a bottle of water, and I ate two Bonk Breaker bars and a banana. I thought I was on top of my nutrition. And my climbing seemed to show that. While I exited the water in 341st place, I came off the bike in 206th place. Some might blame my nutrition problems on too fast of a bike, but compared to three other people I know who also participated, my bike time was fine. I was 40 and 30 minutes slower than two people who should have been about that much faster than me, and I was 16 minutes faster than someone who should have been about that much slower than me.

So, did my stomach shut down about half way through the bike only because I ate too much too quickly? I did some research about this, and I think Joel Friel helped me best to understand what else might have happened. Alternating higher intensities with lower intensities too early in the bike can also lead to someone’s stomach shutting down. Because the bike course contained three challenging climbs in the first half (about 1200m of climbing total) and because those climbs were steep enough to demand some intensity from your legs and heart (you couldn’t stay in Z2 and expect to make it over the hills, at least I couldn’t), I believe that the interval like nature of the first half of the bike also contributed to my stomach shut down. (I should also mention that I have a long history of not taking in many calories during or my stomach stopping a desire for calories in the middle of marathon length events and longer.)

Nonetheless, by about 90-110km into my ride, I stopped being able to take in calories. My stomach just didn’t want much more than water. And even that was getting more difficult to swallow. The last half of the course had us riding a three-loop circuit, and with each lap I felt more and more like getting off my bike. (One way you know if you need more calories during a race is to pay attention to your mind. If you get negative about your race, take a gel.)

Even without the climbing, the second half of the course was tough. We had to climb a small but challenging hill four times, and part of the loop went uphill and into a slight headwind. While another part may have had a tailwind, it also took us through a couple of small towns and along rough roads. There wasn’t a lot of area along the bike route to make up for time lost while climbing during the first half. Our speed was even limited during the descents on the first half of the course because of the technical nature of the descents and because the roads were not closed, and the locals like to drive in the middle of the road.

The only other trouble I had on the bike I knew I would have. I mentioned above that I get hotfoot during long rides or while mashing the pedals on long climbs. This usually only happens in my right foot, but during this ride, both feet got it, although the pain in my right foot was much more intense. The pain begins in the ball of the foot—I believe the pain is caused by aggravating a nerve in the ball of the foot—and extends through my second and third toes. The irritated nerve causes a stinging and burning sensation. I rode with this problem for about the final 50k (31 miles). It got bad enough in my right foot that I had to unclip it to relieve the pressure and pedal with only my left foot for a few moments. One of the best parts of my day, though, was passing someone on the bike while I was only pedaling with one foot.

All in all, I am happy with my bike. My official time was 6:06.34. I rode at a solid effort, I made up 135 places during the ride, this ride was my longest by six or eight kilometers (4 or 5 miles), and I actually peed twice while on the bike. (I had never tried this in practice, so I didn’t know if it would be possible.) My first pee on the bike happened early, and I only had sports drink on hand to rinse with. The second time I had water. I did feel a great sense of relief upon entering T2, and I thought that merely being upright might help my stomach problems. And I did feel better after dismounting. But that better feeling didn’t last long.

You can see the details of my bike ride, including the elevation profile, by clicking here.

Click here for Joel Friel's article on stomach shutdown.

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