Monday, March 5, 2012

Prepare to be surprised - Half Ironman Valencia

So, finally time for the first real race in 2012. After good quality trainings the last few months I felt well prepared and potentially better & stronger than ever, which now had to stand the test. We were around 20 known friends and foes from Barcelona, so jolly times on the trip 400km south of Barcelona. The course would be flat and the water cold. Coach Aleksandar sent me the plan for the days before the race for race prep and strategy laid out for swim, bike & run. I must say, it felt great to have this one-pager with advice on how to act on race day, the hard part of course, was to execute it right!

I guess we were around 200 AGs in my wave in an ice-cold water start. I made a slight mistake of starting a bit close the the ropes and got squeezed in between the (usual) frantic swimmers. Got off well, but quickly realized that the neoprene cap (meant to keep my head warm) strap around my chin, was strangulating me and in the water I could hear and feel that it kept me from breathing unconstrained. So spent maybe some 60 seconds fixing it and eventually gave up and was a bit out of breath, but bearable. I never really found a good pair of legs to draft on and found good rhythm after only 700-800m. Exit in 32:48, which is OK, as I learned that the swim was actually 2200m, so absolutely my best 70.3 swim split ever. Would compare to 28m30s on a 1900m course. I never felt tired, kept a good high and easy cadence and believe I could have pushed a bit more or kept this pace  even longer.

Coming out of the water my hands and face was so cold I could hardly get my wetsuit off and had to ask my neighbor for help.The bike plan was to stick to the 242 Watts as a goal pace. The circuit was flat but extremely windy. Further we passed what felt as at least 50+ roundabouts and the asphalt in most places was extremely bad. But hey, who cares when you are shooting after watts, right?
I quickly shot up to an average on 240w, but honestly had a hard time maintaining it due to many breaks in roundabouts and other riders going left and right in the now even tougher wind. At times I was going completely sideways to keep balance with the disc wheel. Eventually, I was hitting around 50 km/h and rode into a small chicane with dirt ditches on each side, lost the grip in some sand on the road and hurled into the road side, only to see a dried-out river coming up 10-15m below. I literally jumped or tried to and in the air I recall thinking "man, I hope I land before that riera (river bed)", which I did. Bruises on shoulders, legs and cut on left knee. Some 5-6 contestants stopped and looked horrified as I picked my self up, dusted of blood and dirt and got back in the saddle to check that the bike could at least still run. Not a tea party, right? Scratches on the helmet proves that I got away from the crash with some luck. From here it was just hard headwind, shitty asphalt and quite some pains, but made it home in 2 hours 32 minutes, which was the 4th best bike split among almost 1000 age groupers on the day. Not bad, after the crash and coming wrong out of at least 2 roundabouts. Normalized power for the best part of the ride was 239w, but I have to learn to push harder in headwind, since the opposite tailwind makes in hard to keep the effort. Further the many unnatural breaks meant that it was a somewhat interval effort, stopping and starting a lot. Very happy with the overall bike result (thanks Aleksandar), my position on the bike (thanks Guillermo & Pedro) and that I kept it going with cuts and bruises everywhere (thanks 30 years of skateboarding). Guillermo did the 2nd best bike split of the day only 52 seconds in front of me, and eventually went on to win his age group. Good start on his road back to Kona this year! 

The plan here was to stick to a 4:25 min/km pace, which I initially (pre-race) felt was to slow, an opinion I was fast to change. Biking at 242w is right at the limit of my current physical abilities and has been established as a 85% of my FTP tests (285w), and leaves only right enough juice to make it through 21 km run with some grinding and deep digging. Hitting the run course I spent the first km "finding my legs", which worked OK and I quickly hit 4:25 with no big effort. Left knee hurt a lot, but it definitely felt as if I could keep this pace home. I had a difficult time bending the knee, which meant I have to stray away from a good (new pose-based) running technique, around km10 the pain was almost unbearable but kept the pace almost until km15 (2 laps) where I was somewhat forced to stop. Considering that this was after all only a "training", I did not really feel like pushing it much harder. A bit bummed out walking until Alfonsina picked me up and I ran with her home in 1h53m.

All in all many new things learned. Nutrition plan worked as planned I felt fairly good throughout the best part of the race, except for the pain. Thanks to all for cheering and congrats to all finishers and again to Guillermo for his amazing win and to Alex for 2nd in his age group and a powerful run!

“Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised.”
Hugs - Thomas