Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tauranga Half Ironman 2011 – mission accomplished

Yep, I did it. I went sub-5 hours. 4:47:33, in fact, so fairly comfortably under. I'm really happy with the result, but have already started working out where I could (or should) have gained a bit more time...

I won't go into the pre-race at all – Kate has summed it up very well here.

Race morning

I woke up just prior to the alarm, at 3:30 am, and notwithstanding the sweaty night's sleep (thanks to a very hot cabin), I felt pretty good. I had oats, blueberries and yoghurt for breakfast (which is, give or take, what I have almost every day), and I think that worked better for me than porridge. I had pretty much packed the car the night before, and we headed off just after 4:30.

We arrived at transition just on five (when it opened), and it was nice to have a bit of time up my sleeves. I had an issue pumping my rear tyre – my new floor pump head doesn't fit in the gap in the disc covers, so I had to borrow someone else's pump.

Unlike Kate, I wasn't stressed at all. In fact, I was perhaps a little too relaxed. I think that was partly because I had time up my sleeve, and I knew I'd worked hard over the last few months.

I did muck around a bit, and had to wait in line for a while at the bathroom, but eventually got wetsuited up, and headed to the water. There were people everywhere, but I managed to get a bit of warmup, somehow managed to find Kate for a pre-race kiss, then I found my position, just to the left of the wide buoy.

The swim

I have been happy with my swim recently. I had a couple of lessons with Jeremy Cronin at the endless pool at the Waikato Uni rec centre in December, and they've made a massive difference. I had always thought I swam well, that I had good body position, a good stroke, etc, and couldn't understand why people with much worse looking strokes swam much faster than me. Turns out I wasn't wrong – just that my swim timing was terrible – I was swimming catch up, and has massive dead spots in my stroke. So the last few weeks have been dedicated to stopping that, and making sure I'm always propelling myself forward. It was tiring – because I wasn't having rests – but it made an immediate impact on my swim speed. So I was interested to know how that would translate into the race.

I went hard to the first buoy, and basically got sucked along. I couldn't actually go around the buoy, because there were too many people cutting across in front of me, and I wasn't going to wait for them to go around properly. I kept working hard, and finished the first (700m) lap in what seemed like no time at all. At that stage, there were masses of people up and walking, all the way to the shore. I tried to swim, but there were too many people in my way, and, frankly, walking was quicker. Once around the buoy, I was able to swim clearly back to shore, then start the second lap.

That was when it started unraveling, somewhat. I was feeling comfortable, but I kept on losing people. When I swam next to people, I was keeping up with them or even going faster. When I decided to try and draft, I all of a sudden lost them, and couldn't keep up. I often found myself with clear water in front, and no feet to get onto. Also, I nearly had my timing chip pulled off, so had to stop and adjust that, and twice had my goggles punched (not hit, but punched; seriously, who even swims like that??) off my face – so had to stop and fix that – again slowing me down. But I kept working, and once at the final buoy (and the walkers) I dolphin dived my way back to shore (quicker than either swimming or walking), and came out in 37:00 exactly. A swim PB, so something to be happy about, but I actually think I should have gone faster, and I will keep chipping away at it.

The bike

I had a reasonably quick T1, and I was off. I hadn't practiced getting onto the bike with the shoes already attached, which was silly, as I had a couple of problems, but once on, I was away. Except I wasn't. I had (for the umpteenth time, I might add) forgotten to zero the torque on my Powertap, which is important, because otherwise the power data (which I use to pace myself in races) is meaningless. So I stopped pedaling, took all my weight off the pedals, zeroed the torque (which didn't need it) and then I was off.

The plan was to ride at between 200 and 210 watts. This is a flat course, and my normalized power for last year's Rotorua and this year's Karapiro Half's was about that, so it seemed about right. I was holding that, feeling comfortable, and passing a lot of people. Then a few people passed me, and I noticed that I could (legally) follow them, and it saved me about 15 watts. And that is how I rode for the rest of the ride. If I felt someone (or a pace line) was going too slow, I went to pass, holding about 210 watts. If that meant I passed them, I did. If I couldn't, then there was no point, and might as well save my legs for the run. It worked well, I had some regular company (off and on – most people really can't hold a consistent output, and were usually going faster or slower than me). There was one guy who was going well, and I tried to keep up with him, but when we got onto Parton Road, he ended up between two cars, and I lost him, which is unfortunate, because when pacing off him I was holding about 200, which meant I was going fairly quickly.

A bit before half way, I was passed by a fellow called Chad, who (for the most part) seemed to be going well, and I managed to pace off him for almost the rest of the ride. I had some regular off and on company, but eventually lost all those people.

We had a tailwind heading out, a headwind coming back, then, oddly, a headwind heading out, and a tailwind back – almost perfect really. It was never that strong – I held about 33-34km/hr into a headwind, and 39/40km/hr with a tailwind. Also, I was using Vittoria Open Evo Corsa CX's and latex tubes for the first time in a race – and they were noticeably faster and smoother.

I knew I was on target for sub-2:30, so pushed towards the end to make sure that happened – which it did, 2:29:23. I was happy, and knew that I was going to have to run pretty poorly to take longer than 5hrs.

My average watts were 178, normalized power of 184, which is much lower than any other race – but that was mostly due to legal pacing (I wasn't drafting), which, frankly, is just smart racing (and shows what a useful tool a power meter can be for racing). It's this that makes me keen to get out of the water faster. I could have gone harder without hurting myself too much. In the circumstances, it wouldn't have led to a faster race, but if I were out of the water quicker, and riding with faster people, then pacing off them, and holding a higher power, would have resulted in a faster time. Something to work on.

AHR was 161, with a max of 179, so I certainly held something back for the run.

The Run:

I had a quick T2 (which wasn't aided by my neighbour deciding to place his bike in my spot, not his), and I was off. I was keeping a high turnover, and had to slow myself down (I was going at 4:05 mins/km, give or take, and the plan was to head out at 4:15 mins/km).

There were people everywhere, and plenty of people cheering for me(some who knew me, some who simply read my name on the race number, and plenty who just liked my orange shoes), which was pretty rad (and quite different from either Rotorua or Karapiro. I was going well, but Marine Parade was already very, very hot, and I knew I had to take in a lot of fluids/keep myself cool. I was averaging about 4:15 mins/km at the turnaround at Tay Street, and tried to hold that until the mount, but my legs were getting quite sore, and I slowed down to about 4:22 mins/km at the base track. I didn't kill myself on the base track, and once off, was averaging about 4:30 mins/km, which is slower than I'd have liked, but not too bad.

After the track, I tried to pick up the pace, and I just couldn't go as quickly as I wanted. I had to focus on keeping my cadence up, as this is how I run best, and it naturally keeps my pace high, but I was getting very hot (even though I was tipping water on myself all race), and while still running sub 5 mins/km, just couldn't get it closer to 4 mins/km. I was still passing a lot of people (in fact, only one non-team runner passed me all race), and near the Tay Street turnaround, I saw Gene, my old coach (who not so long ago would have handed my ass to me on a plate, but isn't quite in top shape), and tried to catch him. I was nearly at him at the base track, but he pulled away, and I just pushed myself to get around in a good time.

Once off the track, I tried to push to the finish, which was only moderately successful. When I saw the race clock, it was at 4:48 something, so I kicked on to try and get under 4:50, which I did, getting home with the clock at 4:49:33 (it turns out I was a couple of mins quicker, because that was the pro time), a pretty good effort.

I finished the run in 1:38:09, AHR 166, max 173. Average pace was 4:43, norm pace 4:41 (so a pretty even effort). Again, not as quick as I would have liked, particularly given I was able to save some energy on the bike. My hip is still not 100%, but it never really hurt too badly.


I finished 18th out of 52 people in my age group. Interestingly, none of the 17 people ahead of me swam slower than 32 minutes, and you have to go to 40th to find anyone who swam slower than me. I had the 313th fastest swim time, 110th equal T1, 177th fastest bike, 62nd equal T2 (actually annoying, as I would have been a lot quicker but for my friend and his bike getting in my way) and the 107th fastest run.

I enjoyed the race, and I'm really happy with the time, and my approach to the race. I enjoyed the on course support, and it was choice to see my sister and brother-in-law out there, and Mike, who took a lot of rad photos (which are here).

Things to work on:

As usual, the swim – here it made the most noticeable difference, because being with stronger cyclists would, almost certainly, have resulted in a faster time;
I think I had my nutrition dialed in pretty well on the bike, but again probably didn't drink quite enough; and
Just need to keep running. It should be my strongest leg, so I just need to keep working on it, and getting back in the groove.

Next up in the New Plymouth Half Ironman. The course looks great – tougher than Tauranga, but not as hard as either Rotorua or Karapiro. I have an easy week this week, then a month until NP. It's not an A-race – my major races are Nationals, a month after that, and Xterra, a month after that. Hopefully I'll go well at NP, then be flying come Nats and Xterra.


  1. Congrats on achieving your goal Phillip...I often check in here and watch your progress (and 'cos your blog-roll is the single most convenient way to keep up-to-date with other interesting folk!). I might copy/paste your first few sentences re the 2nd lap of the swim as that's exactly how it played out for me too (and others I've spoken to). Good luck in NP.

  2. Congratulations on a good race that, hopefully, you'll be able to improve on as the season progresses.

    I'm still planning to come up and ride the REV on the weekend of Feb 19/20 if you're keen, too.

  3. Great Race Phil
    Glad to see you got it tactically correct on the bike... triathlon racing these days really have to be treated as (legally) drafting races these days.
    Glad to see the swim improvement, again a classic mistake for agegroup swimmers who have been taught it's all about DPS / gliding etc.
    a minute or 2 faster in the swim next time will mean you're cycling with faster riders
    Doesn't that position qualify you for the agegroup Worlds???