Wet Suit Testing

As I have mentioned in my last couple posts, I’ve spent some time since Ironman Texas pondering the impact of a wetsuit on my swim. I decided that rather than ponder about it and do nothing, I was going to take action and gather some data and based on that data I would be more informed about my options to improve my swim.

I have three wetsuits

  • Profile Design Wahoo, size Medium
  • Xterra Vendetta, size Small Long
  • Xterra Vendetta, size Smal

I reached out to a friend who I knew had a sleeveless ROKA, to see if I could borrow it for some testing.  Lucky enough for me, he not only had a Maverick Pro Sleeveless, but a Maverick Pro Full suit, both size Medium.

Some notes, background and caveats for the interests of disclosure.

I am 5 foot, 10.5 inches, and my weight ranges between 170 and 175 pounds.

For all three companies of wetsuits, I should be a size Medium, which happened to be the size of the Wahoo, and both Maverick’s.

The Small Long, and Small wetsuits are a legacy of me purchasing my first Xterra wetsuit back in late 2008. I was replacing my aging and worn Ironman (now b70) wetsuit, and was conversing back and forth with Xterra on sizing. I was displeased with the amount of water that the Ironman wetsuit let in, so expressed to Xterra, I didn’t want that problem. Based on their recommendation, I sized down, but got a long to give the chest and shoulders more material to work with. This seemed to work OK, but I noticed that there was a fair bit of looseness in the waist and upper legs where water would want to settle.

Later, in 2011, I contacted Xterra to get a support, because just like on my Ironman, the left armpit of the suit was wearing away – almost melted or rubbed apart – which to this day I’m not sure if it’s something I did in caring for the suits, or a product of my swimming style – interestingly my now 3.5 year old Small Vendetta shows no signs of this wear. My suit was out of warranty, but they offered to sell me a new suit at a steep discount.  I bought a small, the thinking being trying to resolve the water around the waist and legs issue for the Small Long.

So that’s the story on why I have a Small Long and Small of the Vendetta.

When I first started in on triathlon, in 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 – I generally had very solid swims. I would swim hard and fast, my fastest IM swim is still my first in 2005.  With only a couple of exceptions go on to have very solid races.

This changed in 2009, where I began to have very inconsistent performances in races, and with a few exceptions generally had to simply loll through the swim in order to have a solid race. I still remember before IMWI in 2010 – that my mantra was – “One of these kids is doing his own thing” – after recalling feeling like my day was over about 800 meters into IMWI 2009.

And now I’ve finally arrived at today, having taken action to close the thought loop that started with the swim at IMTX.

The first thing I did was re-read the blog that Brian Stover posted back in 2009 about the protocol he followed for wetsuit testing. I closely approximated that protocol in my testing, the most notable change was that I was only going to test one wetsuit a day and do a baseline swim each day. I elected to do this on a couple of assumptions. First, my swim fitness isn’t going to change much at this point – it is what it is. Second, I have been known to have some really, really bad days in the pool so I wanted to identify those days, and not test if a day like that turned up.

The test protocol I used consisted of the following:
3×300 Swim/Kick/Swim for a warmup
2×400 @ 6:00 Swim (in speedo)
Put the wetsuit on
Do a 200 Easy to make sure it’s on right and help settle it
2×400 @ 6:00 Swim
Take the wetsuit off and cool down.

I timed all efforts with a wrist watch that I started when I submerged for my push off, and stopped after I touched. I wore the watch on my left wrist, and finished all swims with my right hand. So touch, reach over and stop watch.

I chose 6:00 for the send off because it would give me enough rest that I could swim hard enough that I couldn’t game the tests, but had enough time to get a very full recovery so that I would not have to deal with falling apart on the second swim.

My goal perceived effort was to swim these at around Half Ironman RPE. To help make sure that even if my RPE was off, I took a 10 second count of my heart rate starting 5 seconds after I finished a swim, with a goal of having it be 21 or 22.

Finally, all times are reported in short course meters.

Results
Average of all baseline swims: 5:16
Profile Design Wahoo: 4:57.5
Xterra Vendetta (Small Long): 4:59
Roka Full: 4:50
Roka Sleeveless: 4:52
Xterra Vendetta (Small): 5:07.5

Below are the results of each individual swim, times are in seconds. Because I paced very poorly on Baseline number 3 – I created columns that calculated the difference between all baselines, and adjusted to discard baseline number 3, which felt about right effort wise, but based on HR was a bit harder then the rest of the swims.

Swim One Swim Two Average Difference per 100 from Baseline Adjusted Baseline Difference per 100 Notes
Baseline 1 319 316 317.5 0.4 0.1
Baseline 2 316 315 315.5 -0.1 -0.4
Baseline 3 313 312 312.5 -0.9 Whoops, that was fast, HR 24
Baseline 4 318 319 318.5 0.6 0.3
Average of Baseline 316.5 315.5 316
Wahoo 296 299 297.5 -4.6 -4.9 Lots of water in the chest
Xterra (SLO) 298 300 299 -4.3 -4.5 Water in the hips and legs, not too much shoulder restriction
Roka Full 290 290 290 -6.5 -6.8 This did not feel like a wetsuit
Roka Sleeveless 292 292 292 -6.0 -6.3 Very similar feelign to the full, slightly less restrictive, but a bit more water
Xterra (S) 304 311 307.5 -2.1 -2.4 I just wanted these to be over.

The takeaways I have are is that like on the bike fit is really really important. I have impressions about each of the suits, and I’ll share them, but I think that especially regarding the Xterra suits, my feelings are very dependent upon the fact that I have suits that definitely are the wrong size for me.

Impressions

Wahoo – After swimming in the Wahoo, I knew that my Vendetta was causing me problems. I felt like I could kick, my body position felt good, and my arms didn’t feel like they were going to die. I was really pleased by the experience, and left the pool thinking to myself “It’s one thing to know a wetsuit makes you faster, it’s another to experience it.” I felt like the collar on the Wahoo did not seal well and it filled up with water a fair bit. By the end of the second 400 I could feel a small amount of fatigue in my shoulders, but not bad.

Vendetta (SLO) – I was surprised at how this suit felt compared to the Wahoo, and my recollection of how the Small Vendetta felt at Elkhart Lake. The shoulders felt pretty loose and relaxed, but it felt big around the waist and I felt like water wanted to gather there and in the upper legs. I also felt like my body position was off in this suit, way too much buoyancy in the chest, and not enough in the legs. It really felt like my hips were being driven down into the water, which made it really hard to kick effectively.

ROKA Full – This was simply incredible. When I jumped in for the easy 200 and the first 100 was a 1:15, I said whoa boy. The amount of freedom my shoulders felt was insane. I felt like my body position was really good, and I was able to kick and swim well. This was the first time I’ve swam in a wetsuit where I felt like I was actually able to control my speed, every other time I have always felt like my swim speed was simply determined by what my pull was doing, and I didn’t have a lot of conscious control over it. I could have swam that pace for 400s all day long.

ROKA Sleeveless – This felt very similar to the full, a little more freedom in the arms and shoulders, but it also let in the slightest amount of water compared to the full. Strong kick, good power through the pull. I did feel maybe just slightly overbalanced in my stroke, with just a little too much lift in the hips, but not enough in the arms. I can see a lot of value in the sleeveless for a race like the Triple T PM Olympic, where you want a wetsuit, but you are already hot and sweating. A sleeveless will help get your temperature down, is easier to get on, but still gives your legs the support and warmth to keep from getting shocked as you hit the water.

Vendetta (Small) – When I was a 100 through the easy 200 I seriously debated just stopping the test – as I knew it was going to be bad. As I was suiting up, I had “hope” that it wouldn’t be that bad, as compared to the ROKAs it was actually fairly easy to get on and in position, and a few arm swings and such felt pretty free. Once in the water though it was clear that my shoulders and arms were extremely restricted. Based on how it felt, I was surprised by how fast the first 400 was, and the second 400 was just a matter of me dreading it and feeling super tired and feeble. It felt like my stroke was getting slower and shorter with every few arm cycles. I had always thought that this suit was causing problems by having too much leg flotation, hindering my kick, however now I’m pretty sure that the kick is just a symptom. My kick slows down and gets weak in conjunction with my arms slowing down and getting weaker as I try to keep my stroke timing together.  The first rep was the slowest of any suited swims, and I lost 7 seconds on the second 400 – what does that translate to at 1500 meters, or 3000 meters?

Conclusions

I’m not sure what the next steps are from here. In a perfect world, with unlimited budget I would go buy both a sleeved and sleeveless ROKA, as they are clearly the fastest of the suits tested and I can see the utility of having both, but that’s a lot of money, even $800 for a sleeved ROKA is a tall order. Perhaps I could try a medium Vendetta or Xterra’s new Vengeance using their always circulating discount codes, coupled with their 30 money back guarantee to get a sweet deal, or maybe watch ebay or slowtwitch for a used ROKA. Or maybe I just man up and buy one.I’m not sure, but I do know that I won’t be wearing the small vendetta this weekend at Racine 70.3

Week Ending 2015-07-05

Barely made this update before the end of the week after it’s updating.  It’s been a busy week this week.  Between work and family activities, I haven’t had a lot of free time.  After pondering a lot last week about my swimming and the potential impact of a wetsuit I’ve decided that I’m going to do some testing.  I’m going to do a test protocol similar to what Brian Stover did in 2009.  I’m going to test out a Medium Profile Design Wahoo, my Small Long Xterra Vendetta, my Small Xterra Vendetta, a medium Roka Pro sleeveless, and a medium Roka Pro sleeved.  I may search out a few others if I can get access to them.  The goal of this process is to figure out which wetsuit fits me best, and then decide how much it will cost me to fix the problem, if there is one.

I had intended to do a 20 minute best effort on Sunday, but it was a bit subpar.  I woke up feeling a bit flat and the warmup didn’t make things better.  I think it was just the long holiday weekend.  If this weekend doesn’t prove to be as exhausting I’ll probably give it another shot before Racine.

Monday – A short easy run, and a swim with a main set of 10×200 @ 2:55 Pull.  Most of the 200s were 2:40 or 2:41

Tuesday – an easy ride, and a hard run with a main set of 5×4′ HARD on 3′ rest.

Wednesday – 40x50s @ :55 – other than the first couple I held all of them under 35, and the usual easy run

Thursday – A hard bike with 6×3′ HARD – with the first being best effort.  I averaged 403 watts, which isn’t my best ever, but it’s pretty decent and I did go out really hot.  I took some extra rest after, and then knocked out the other 5 – which went quite well.  Closed the day out with an easy run.

Friday – Got up nice and early and did a 90′ run with 2×10′ @ HIM pace, then a 20′ block at IM Pace.  Did a quick swim with a main set of 5×400 SCY when we went to the outdoor pool with Ethan later in the day.

Saturday – Easy bike early in the morning, and a later afternoon run in the afternoon that I followed up with a beer and sitting in a pool in our back yard.

Sunday – 2 and a hour hour bike with a sub-par 20′ best effort, followed by several 10 to 20 minute blocks at HIM race effort, followed with a short run afterwards.

The main focus of the week was to really slow down on my easy runs, I have a tendency to run too fast on them, so I really focused this week on keeping them easy – which translates into Daniels E-Pace being a speed limit as opposed to a target.

Week Ending 2015-06-28

 

This picture sums up pretty well how I feel right now. Strong and feeling in the chase.  The adjustments I’ve made to my fit appear to keep paying dividends, I’m feeling strong on both the bike and run (and the swim) – and the metrics agree with how I feel.  I’m happy to say that I’ve posted *something* to my blog six weeks in a row!  Hopefully in the near future I’ll have the desire to leverage that into something more interesting than just an update.

One thing I’ve found these last few weeks is that confidence results in good performances in training, which leads to good more confidence, which leads to good racing, which leads to more confidence, which leads to even performances in training.  Over the last few weeks of publicly documenting my training, I have found that I have been more consistent with my quality workouts and doing them well – which subsequently let’s me do things like TT my “favorite” training loop and turn in the best 2 hour mean maximal power I’ve seen in just shy of 3 years.  Small things like that put a smile on your face and make you eager to do the work and not question things.

Beyond that the positive reinforcement makes it easier to pay attention to the small details like diet and sleep – which for me are some of the first things to go to hell when things are struggling.

The real question is – will these trends and performances in training result in comparable performances in races this year?

This week’s training:

Monday – 3000 easy swim – nothing but putting in the meters, with a 30 minute easy run later on

Tuesday – easy bike, plus a hard run – 6×3′ @ Daniel’s I-Pace with 2 minutes easy in between

Wednesday – Lots of 25’s USRPT style at 200 pace and an easy run

Thursday – hard bike – 6×3′ @ ~110% FTP (3′) and the typical run at lunch time

Friday – No swim – I lost my YMCA card, so just a 90 minute run with 3×10′ @ HIM pace

Saturday – an easy bike and easy run

Sunday – Hard bike – 48 mile hilly course TT style, easy run off the bike, and a quick and dirty swim later in the day just to get 3 swim sessions this week.

Week Ending 2015-06-21

Last week was a good for the most part.  On both Tuesday and Thursday my quality workouts did not go as well as they have been for the past few weeks.  I suspect that Elkhart Lake was still holding me back a bit.  Swimming is going quite well, I’ve only been swimming three times a week since Texas to help facilitate recovery, but I’ll add a fourth swim back into the mix probably in August in preparation for IMAZ.

My bike fit continues to feel better and better, I’ve made a few more adjustments to the reach, but also to the pad stack and I like what I’m feeling.  It will be interesting to see how it pans out in terms of watts->speed at Racine.

As I’ve become more happy with my bike fit and my overall positive feelings about training, I’ve been turning my thoughts to the long lingering thought of wondering if I’m under-performing on the swim in races.  If I look back at my overall race performance and compare it to the swim – generally if my swims are close to what my pool times indicate I should be able to do – my overall performance is a bit sub-par – but if I swim and float through it, my performances are good.  I’ve wondered about this and how I can swim an 18:56 1500 on 2 swims per week and a total of about 5000 meters per week over the previous 2 months in December, and could probably swim a fair bit faster than that now – yet I’d bet dollars to donuts that if I had come out of the water with James Burke at Elkhart Lake – my race would have gone in the opposite direction it did.  Some reading recently makes me wonder if I just suck at open water swimming, or if I’m a victim of either a poor fitting wetsuit without enough shoulder flexibility, or possibly too much leg flotation – hindering my kick and messing my stroke up or I don’t take enough time to put it on and work it around my shoulders.    The source of this thinking is looking at my IMTX swim, which was no wetsuit, felt incredibly easy, and was one of my best swims in years, and followed up with a solid race overall.

If wetsuits weren’t so damn expensive, I’d go buy a ROKA or something else that is known for more flexibility and maybe less float then my Vendetta, but 500 to 800 bucks is a lot to spend on an experiment.

Monday: A lame 3000 meter swim and an easy run – which happened to be awesome because it was comfortably warm and drizzling.

Tuesday: Hard bike with 3×8′ @ threshold and the usual easy run

Wednesday: 16 100s @ 1:30, and then 4 on 1:25 – I only mustered 1:17/1:18 for these, then a run.

Thursday: A run planned as 10×2′ HARD with 1′ recovery, but I bailed after 7 it just wasn’t happening plus an easy spin in the morning.

Friday: A swim with some 400s at IM pace, and a run with 2×10′ @ HIM pace

Saturday: An easy ride, and easy run

Sunday: I rode outside and did my old reliable 48 mile loop.  I did it as a spirited ride, and followed it up with an easy run before we went out to brunch.

Week Ending 2015-06-14

This past week was a really solid one.  It ended with a good performance at Elkhart Lake.  I’m really happy about how the race went.  It wasn’t without it’s negatives – I was a bit sad faced about my bike split when I compare it to James/Blake/Andrew, but this was probably my best Olympic distance result in at least 4 years, maybe longer.  I take that as a positive sign!  The weekend was made even better by spending the remainder of the weekend hanging out with the family in Elkhart Lake and at the Osthoff resort.

I cut my aerobars down so that I can ride with the shortened reach without impaling my knees on them.  It felt great during the race, but I found that outdoors, compared to the trainer my body naturally wanted another centimeter or two of room.  Will do some more tweaking and see how it goes.

All in all – things are looking and feeling pretty good, I’m happy with the progression my training is making and the rest I’m getting outside of the training.

Monday – The usual easy run, with the main session being a swim with 20×100 @ 1:30 SCM – holding about 1:15

Tuesday – Just as I was about to get on my bike I got paged for work, so my day consisted of a hard run on the treadmill – 10×2′ HARD, with 1′ easy in between.  I managed to fit in an easy bike ride that evening after work

Wednesday – A swim, that I forgot the most of, but the mainset was 12×50 @ :55 – with a goal time of 35 or faster.  A really short easy run.

Thursday – A hard bike, with 2×8 @ Threshold, and later in the day a short easy run – that felt terrible because I did it to close to eating.

Friday – An easy swim and an easy run.

Saturday – Elkhart Lake Triathlon

Sunday – Zero

Week Ending 2015-06-07

This week was a very solid week.  I successfully pulled my reach in a fair bit, and have been really happy with the results in how I feel on the bike, my power output, and how much my hip flexors have relaxed.  I’m going to make the cut on the bars, which are currently uncut tri-rig extensions, although maybe I could try the old reliable Profile cobras since I shortened the reach so much.  We’ll see.

I did a pretty piss poor job of my sleep habits this week, and my nutrition in terms of volume consumed, not quality.  I tend to do a good job of not eating shit, but I simply eat too much of it.

Monday –

I did 20×100 SCM in the pool – no warm-up just go.  I did them on a 1:30 send off, and after the first couple held them all under 1:20.  I also did the usual easy run.

Tuesday –

I got excited on my “easy” bike and ended up doing a spinervals DVD (16.0) for some reason.  I held about 260 for all of the “on” efforts.  I did my quality run for the week, doing 15×1′ HARD (1′ Jog) on the treadmill.  I was cursing myself for the lack of intensity discipline the entire mainset.

Wednesday:

I did a swim – and pretty much bailed on the planned USRPT set, I felt like garbage. The usual easy run was present.

Thursday –

An easy run, plus a bike ride with a mainset of ????x2′ – bailing when my wattage fell 12% below the target.

Friday –

Felt way better in the pool, doing a mainset of 4x{4×100 @ 1:30 + 2×50 HARD @ 1:00} – I held roughly 1:20 for all of them, and was about 35/36 on the 50s.  I felt like crap on my easy run and cut it short.

Ethan and I did a class at the Zoo, and then went to Mexican for lunch.

Saturday –

A 2 hour easy ride, that was really sucky for the first hour, and got progressively better as the ride progressed.  The usual easy run.

Sunday –

I had planned to do the Bong 30k TT today, however I opted out.  Mary resumed structured workouts again this week, and the logistics of me doing it meant that it would have resulted in a zero for her, or doing her workouts really late in the day.  Instead I did a 2 hour ride, with a 20′ best effort, followed by some steady riding, and a race focus run (30′ alternating 5′ EZ, 5′ Olympic pace).

The 20′ effort went quite well.  It was my highest ever on the trainer by quite a bit, about the same as the one I did ~10 days before Texas (which was outside though), and just shy of matching my best ever (which was also outside).

This week will be a pretty typical week, but lighter on the back half to try and rest a little for Elkhart Lake.  I’ve done Elkhart twice, and performed piss poorly both times.  My goal is to simply have a solid race.  I’m going to try and float the swim, ride well, and follow it up with a good run.

Week Ending 2015-05-31

This week I spent a lot of time focusing on my bike posture – I did some reading/searching about bike position, power loss and power sustainability.  The highlight of what I found is summed up pretty well in an article by Steve Hogg.  The synopsis of it is that our brains can only recruit so much muscle when you are riding.  It prioritizes keeping you upright before locomotion – so if your posture is too taxing – you lose power.  Mumbo jumbo?  I don’t know, but  putzing around with my reach is not hard to do – and something I do anyways.

Additionally – I know that my hip flexors are incredibly tight – so much so that I would self diagnosis myself with Janda’s Lower crossed syndrome – again possibly mumbo jumbo – but my hip flexors are tight.  I’m super serial.  So in addition to putzing with my reach I dug out the stuff from when I visited the PT last year – and got to work.

Actual training wise – it was a pretty low key week – I focused on some really high intensity stuff, and an Aquathon.

Monday –

I did a short swim at Hoyt pool – outdoors YEAH.  Inspired by the Matt Hanson AMA IMTX thread, I did 3×100 @ 1:30 – it’s a SCY pool – to see what I could do – 1:01/1:02/1:03.  If Matt Hanson was able to hold 1:01 for a significant number of 100s on 1:30 – i.e. more than 3 – mad props.  I finished Monday off with a run home from the pool – when we went back later as a family.

Tuesday –

A really short ride as I ate up most of my riding time playing with my reach.  I did 15×30″ (30″) @ 400+ watts – along with an easy run at lunch time.

Wednesday –

I again did some hard 100s in the pool – this time SCM – 5×100 @ 2:00, followed by again another easy run.

Thursday –

I did an easy bike ride in the morning on the trainer – and the Aquathon that night.  I swam 13:20 for a “1000”, and ran 19:18 for the 5k.  No complaints about the swim – I’m actually happy to say that despite having a couple fast people there I didn’t get dropped on the swim, which happened both times last year.  I did get schooled on the run – and had mixed emotions about my run – a full minute slower than I ran it last year.  I was pretty rushed putting my wetsuit on and I felt like it really made my stroke feel a bit off, and unless it was an exceptionally long 1000 – it felt really really hard compared to IMTX.

If I take it in the context of having done an Ironman about 10 days before – it’s probably pretty decent.

I finished third and got schooled by James Burke and Chris Wichert, hopefully they both show up for the next one, when my legs are a bit fresher.

Friday –

A swim with a good deal of IM swimming.  I did a 60′ “long” run that afternoon and felt pretty decent except for about a 5 minute stretch in the middle where I needed a walk break to reset and convince myself I wasn’t going to have to walk home.

Saturday –

Just an easy ride, followed by checking out the open house at one of the local coast guard stations

Sunday –

Two hours on the bike with ?x2′ (2′) – do them until I can’t hold 360, but starting off at 400, followed by a easy jog on the treadmill.

This week I keep the focus on doing some really hard bike efforts, and the Bong 30k time trial on Sunday.  I had planned to go to Madison and ride with Thomas Brunhold on Friday, but I realized I am taking Ethan to a class at the Zoo – so that ride it have to wait for a couple weeks.

 

Week Ending 2015-05-24

In an effort to try and jump start my blog updates, which I find to be very cathartic, I’m going to try and post a weekly summary of my training.  Being the week after an Ironman, this week was primarily focused on sleep and gluttony.

Monday was a zero, which was followed by a slow and easy 20 minute run on the treadmill on Tuesday.

Wednesday I again logged a zero, followed by another slow and easy 20 minute run on Thursday.

Friday I rode my bike to work, and included a 5 minute effort at about 300 watts – just to see how I felt.  Surprisingly it wasn’t too bad – just a little awkward with a backpack and on my ill-fitting road bike, which needs a longer stem.

Saturday was a “5k” running race that was part of the wedding festivities for a friend.  It wasn’t a competitive race, but Ben chose a really hilly route for the event and it made the 7 something pace we ran pretty challenging.

Sunday was also a zero, but you might be able to count it as a swim since Ethan and I hung out in the hotel pool for a good hour.

It was a good week of recovery and I’m looking forward to getting things rolling again.  I’m planning to do a 30k time trial on June 7th and then doing Elkhart Lake on June 13th.

Committing

About 10 years ago, shortly after finishing my first Ironman I wrote down on a sheet of paper that I wanted to finish as the first amateur at an Ironman race.  On  November 20th, 2011 I made good on that goal.  Twelve days after that I sat in my dining room and hammered out the follow-on goal and what I believed it would take for me to accomplish it.

My goal is simply to be the fastest triathlete I can be, given my life constraints.  Beyond that for 2012 my primary target is to be the amateur champion at Kona.  This is a *very* *very* lofty goal, and well exceeds the desire to simply AG podium, that I walked out of the 2011 awards banquet with.  However, given what I saw at IMAZ – I think that it is not an unreachable target, simply a stretch one.  One that I will have to live up to my goal of being a fast triathlete daily.

For some reason, I never felt comfortable putting this goal out there on my blog or in front of many people.  I think that I have stated this goal to only three people.  There was a lot of fear about putting this out there, as I have with other goals – namely finishing as the first amateur.  It’s one thing to advertise that you want to be the first amateur, but an entirely different thing to put it out there that you want to be the first amateur at Kona – which likely means a low 8:4X time, and top 2X placing.  Talk about opening yourself up to the haters.

I made strong progress towards this goal in 2012, and my results in 2013 were promising in their continued progress.  And then as I pointed out the other day, I’ve basically been treading water since then.  I could spend a lot of words trying to analyze what I have or haven’t done and why I have not made progress towards that goal.  I simply haven’t made progress, and have possibly gone backwards.

Jordan Rapp posted a great post today – Crooked Timber – that served as a reminder to me that in addition to answering the questions I posed yesterday I need to focus on recommit on what it takes to move forward on the path.  Self-discipline.  Eating right.  Training right.  Sleeping right.  Walking the path.  Making it happen.

Thank you Jordan for the reminder.

Treading Water in Texas

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I signed up for Ironman Texas last fall, about a month after finding out that we were expecting Evelyn.  I’m not exactly sure what my motivation to do so was.  It didn’t seem likely I would take a Kona spot, given that I was intending to do Ironman Arizona too.  Which meant that if things went according to plan, we would go to Kona again in 2016, keeping to our every other year pattern.

Realistically it probably had a lot to do with feeling like I had put all of the 2014 eggs on Kona (which had still to hatch), and 2011, 2012, and 2013 all went well as a whole with two Ironmans per season – where a subpar race didn’t leave the potential for feeling that the whole year was subpar.  Plus with a new baby, I figured it would be a great challenge, which I always enjoy.  After talking about it with Mary, I pulled the trigger.

A little more on the new kiddo.  Other than the few days surrounding Evelyn’s birth (+-4 weeks prior to race day), training for IM Texas was smooth and was minimally impacted by the new arrival.  It helped that I took nearly 3 weeks off of work, which coupled with a week of working from home – allowed a very easy transition.  I intentionally cut the last few long rides a bit short – 4 instead of 5 hours, with one 3 hour smash fest – but between consistency, experience, and what Best Bike Split was modeling – I felt as prepared, and was quietly confident in what was going to happen at Texas.  I didn’t have to tell myself it was going to be good – I knew it was going to be good.

I started the race in the first row of the rolling start, I had no intention of pushing the swim, though with the day in retrospect – I would go back and spend the effort to gain the 30 seconds or so I needed to get the Roka FOTW award.

After doing my own thing for a little bit, I picked a set of suitable feet and stayed there for the next 50 or so minutes.  Whoever was the owner of those feet had a swim stroke that was perfect for drafting….one of the easiest swims of my life.   I don’t know if that is a sign of my swim fitness being really good or if I just picked the right feet.

I spent most of the swim in 3-5th place, always able to see the top two guys just a little ahead, but with my eye on the bigger picture of the day as a whole and wanting to kick some ass – I was patient and just eyed the distance to make sure my tug boat didn’t falter relative to them.

The portion of the swim through the canal was really neat in that you could hear the spectators yelling at you, but it was also a lot choppier than the portion in the lake – and it felt like there was a current pulling us back out.

I exited the water with the group I spent the whole swim with – and moved with purpose to get my transition bag, and into the tent I went.  Glasses, helmet, flask – GO (my shoes were already clipped into my bike).  I grabbed my bike from my rack and started heading out of transition and was really stoked to hear them announce that I was the first amateur.  Wire-to-wire was the thought that went through my head.

I hopped on the bike and quickly navigated the first couple turns to get out onto the Woodlands Parkway where I settled into my goal watts.  Unlike Kona last year, I was planning to ride conservative and simply repeat past IM bike watts that resulted in no fade and a solid run.  After a couple minutes I noticed that my helmet strap was coming unstrung – so I stopped – fixed it and was back on my way.

The next 2 hours or so continued like that riding tried and true watts – while doing tried and true nutrition – moving very quickly through the course – the tailwind helped a bit.  At some point a guy in a QT2 kit rolled up and passed me – I resisted the urge to say – I’m feeling good – stick with him, and just stuck to my guns.  Probably a half an hour later I passed him back and was moving deep into the women’s pro field.

Around this time we turned into the wind – and suddenly my power was gone.  It felt very similar to what I experienced in Kona last year once the wind kicked up – kind of like I have forgotten how to handle the bike in the wind and keep the watts going.  My last ~50 miles averaged about 10% lower watts than my first ~60 – it wasn’t a continual drop – more like a drop over the course of 30 to 40 minutes and then it flattened out for the rest.

I did feel a little bit of stomach issues coming on during the ride too – I won’t say much more than that my stomach wasn’t acting like a finely tuned machine, but I wasn’t feeling completely out of whack.  I just told myself – stick to the plan – it works in training, it’s worked in the past….

Towards the tail end of the bike I started to catch a few male pros and I was repassed by the QT2 guy and two other AGers – putting my into T2 as the 4th place amateur.  Overall – I was really happy with my bike split, but disappointed in my watts, how my bike went, and how my ass felt on the bike.  I just could not find the comfort on my saddle that I find in training.  I’m not sure if it’s the pad in my Spider, indoors vs. outdoors, or something else – I was just really glad for the bike ride to be done for a multitude of reasons.

But I was extremely happy to roll into T2 and see all of the Agers in front of me – in the tent, or just leaving the tent.  I thought back to my experience at IMCDA in 2012 where I left T2 completely blitzed and barely able to walk – and I ran my second fastest (at the time) IM run.

I had faith that if I stuck to my plan to run very conservatively my fitness would see me through.  Unfortunately, as they say – no plan survives contact with the enemy.  Mile 1 was an extremely relaxed 6:5X mile, followed by a walk in the park of 7:10, and so it went for about 7 miles.  I moved into 3rd AGer around mile 2, and could see both of the guys in front of me depending on the terrain.  They didn’t appear to be slowing down, and the easier I tried to run – the more I kept hovering in that 7:10 to 7:15 range.  The heat and humidity did not seem horrendous – which means maybe the Sauna bathing I did had a benefit – so I simply focused on trying to run really easy and not force it, hoping that as the race ground on I would slow a little, but by being able to counter it with extra effort (“suffering”) – I would never fall off the cliff.

That went well until somewhere between mile 7 and 8 – where about a minute past the Red Bull aid station, after the second out and back – and probably a good mile to mile and a half until the next aid station – I suddenly had to go number 2 urgently.  The urge was so strong that I for a moment I considered turning around to use the porta john I had just left behind.  After a short bit of internal dialogue I decided that I am sufficiently practiced in butt clenching that I would see if I could make it to the next aid station – worst case scenario I would simply go in my tri-kit – which fortunately was black.

Luck was on my side and I managed to make it to the aid station, I hopped in and my butt was like a firehose for a good 15 seconds – I quickly got out and went back about my business, but my legs were really starting to complain and I accepted that my pacing decision had not been the right choice.

I had not yet been passed by anyone, so I focused on getting the job done and moving purposefully – there is no giving up, no feeling sorry – just problem solving and getting to the finish line as fast as you can – given the realities of the situation.

About 9 miles or so after my first porta potty I had to go *again* – that’s a first for me – I have never, ever had to poop twice in a race.

At this point my legs were pretty toast.  In order to keep from giving up, I picked a target – beat your 9:25 from Kona 2012 – if you do that you can at least say that this was your fastest time in hot conditions – so I spent the next six or so miles doing the math on what was required to beat that mark.  Around mile 23 I took a really solid aid station walk break to gather myself for a final push – and during that last push I kept reminding myself that this is only going to be 28 minutes or so – Mary spent all day pushing out Evelyn – you can do this.

I was really glad to see the finish line, and as long as the little victory lap they made us do before we got to cross was – I was really glad to be there and see all the fans and the finishing arch because I knew I had gotten to the finish line, and I had beat that mark I had set as the carrot in the race to keep me moving.

I was happy to find out that I finished fourth in my age group and 30th overall – I think both are a very respectable showing, especially in respect to the field that the race drew both in terms of pros and amateurs.

I am both happy with the race as a whole and feel much better about it than I did about Kona last fall – and I was pretty happy with that race.  I am happy that I finally feel like I turned in a good bike split after some poor performances on the bike in both IM and shorter races – i.e.  I feel like my watts to speed ratio is back in line.  I am happy with my swim – both that I was able to find a very good draft, but that my swim fitness was strong enough to get me through a fresh water – no wetsuit swim that quickly.

I am disappointed in my continued inability bring my run to the table, and to execute as a whole.  I may not be able to run like Johnson, Iott, or Schnur – but I have run 3:1X multiple times, with a few of them being meltdown slugfest runs.  To run 3:39 twice in a row is unacceptable and leaves me with some questions:

Why am I shitting myself, and why am I feeling like my previously proven race day and regularly tested on long training day nutrition is not working as well as it has in the past?

  • Am I overworking myself causing a breakdown in the balance?
  • I believe I have previously read that too much electrolytes can cause GI issues – do I need to include less of them?
  • Are these GI issues contributing to the bike fade/etc?

Why am I experiencing power fade on the bike?

  • Pacing?
  • Fitness?
    • Could my fitness in terms of CP both on the bike and/or run not be what it was in 2011/2012/2013 even though field testing and training says the difference is noise – or that they are “stronger” now?
    • Did I underperform on CP tests back then vs. now?
  • Am I not riding outside enough to “multitask” adequately in wind/rough roads?

Why is my saddle position on race day intolerable compared to training?

  • Pad difference in race day kit?
  • Physical saddle position/tilt?
  • Bike posture between indoors and outdoors on race day?

Was IM Texas none of the above – and simply an example of “This is what happens when you live in Wisconsin and you race in Texas in May”?

I ask these questions not to denigrate my performance, but to create a problem solving framework to enable brainstorming, solicit feedback, and to create a non-panicked approach to the next 6 months to enable me to arrive at IMAZ with the form that I have displayed previously.

Finally – I really enjoyed the race in The Woodlands.  I was a little bummed at the work it took to get in some safe pre-race bike riding, but the atmosphere, course and experience was enjoyable.  I would definitely like to come back and race here again.