ironman Q&A: part I

Ooookay, let's get this party started!
I tried to separate out the questions in a way that sorta made sense, and I got a lot of duplicates, so if you don't see your exactly-worded question, look around before you run screaming to twitter about how much I suck.  

The obligatory disclaimer: I AM NOT FAST.  I DID NOT WIN THE RACE.  If you want tips on how to do those things, you are in the wrong freaking place.  If you've been around for a while, you know my background, but I'm just a runner that kept getting hurt that fell in love with cycling and thought it would be a good idea to go long.  And this was my first attempt at this distance.  I'm going to answer all these questions with my opinion, but that's all it is.  In fact, you might disagree with my answers or my methods and I am okay with that.  I'm not an expert, I'm just a little blogger with a big mouth that made it to the finish line.  
Last disclaimer: I separated this into two posts because it went from kinda long to OMG-am-I-really-supposed-to-read-this-whole-thing long.  My attention span is too short for that, so the first post is swim/bike/run/nutrition and the second post is training/overall race recon/FINALLY final-no-for-real-this-time-final thoughts.  


You've talked before about panicking in open water swims.  How did you get over this?
It sounds simple, but I think the best way to get over it is to just keep doing it.  I freaked hard the first time I swam in open water.  A lot of that was because I couldn't see and was afraid of what was hiding in the dark murkiness.  At Coeur d'Alene, I freaked out during the practice swim because of the shock of cold water to my body.  So I made a plan on race morning to get in and out of the lake a few times before the race started, and then I didn't race into the water and start crushing the swim looking for feet.  Instead, I stroked very easy until I knew I was acclimated.  I think it's important to have a plan; it matters less what the plan is.  

Any tips on drafting and not getting kicked repeatedly?
One of the silly things about drafting is that some water is too dark to see feet, so instead, look for bubbles.  I didn't find anyone to really draft off of at CdA - although I wasn't really looking that hard - but in other swims, if I try and keep feet in my vision and the water is cloudy, I end up too close and will slap those nice feet.  Look for the bubbles!  Also, this will sound incredibly stupid, but sometimes I confuse the bubbles my stroke is making with bubbles from feet, so look up every now and then to make sure it's a person you are following and not your own hands out into the middle of the lake alone.
As far as getting kicked repeatedly, I think the best way to approach it is to presume that no one is doing it on purpose.  Every time I got kicked or whacked or made contact in CdA, I looked up and paused or moved in a different direction to give myself space.  This certainly isn't a recipe for a fast swim, but if contact freaks you out, it might be worth it just to know that you can move away.  There isn't a lot of room in the water, but it's there.

You've said before that you've only been swimming for a year or two.  How did you approach training for the swim?
My coach took a lot of this out of my hands, but I think the thing that worked for me was simply getting in the pool as often as I could.  I completed every swim on my schedule that was planned for me, and early on my coach told me that I was welcome to swim more than what was planned (almost) as much as I wanted, as long as it was easy.  I think her words were, "extra swimming will almost never hurt you."  So I was adding 1-2 swims per week that were easy and only 20-40 minutes long, but I think it made a difference.  It definitely added up over the course of several months.  I read somewhere that you need to swim 2-3 times a week for maintenance, 4 times for progress and 5 times for significant progress.  I'd guess that I swam, on average, at least 5 times per week from December - June.  

What did you wear under your wetsuit?
I wore my SOAS tri kit.  I had talked to my coach about just wearing a bathing suit and then changing so I'd be in dry clothes on the bike, but we decided that was a waste of time because it wasn't THAT cold out.  When I rode through town the first time, the temperature on the bank said 54ยบ.  I added arm warmers in transition but I wished I had worn them under my wetsuit because they were a pain in the ass to get on.  Or I should have rolled them up into little bracelets like I've done before.

Did you wear a neoprene cap or booties?
I bought a neoprene cap last year the day after I signed up for CdA, and I wore it.  I think two swim caps would have been just as effective (the underneath one silicone instead of latex, maybe) as the neoprene cap, but I'm not sure.  No booties for me.  My feet lost feeling in the first lap of the swim and didn't wake up until about two hours into the bike, but it didn't bother me.

Did you get totally naked in transition and let strangers apply ride glide?
In swim-to-bike transition, I let strippers rip off my wetsuit, added socks, shoes, arm warmers, helmet, race belt, and left.  I had pre-ride-glided before the race started but added an extra layer of my own in T1.  I did not need assistance with the ride glide but the volunteers were amazing - I'm sure someone would have lubed up my nethers for me if required.
Any special tips on what to pack in the transition bags?
In both of my bags, I packed a tiny travel-sized container of spray sunscreen.  While I was dealing with my shoes/armwarmers/socks/etc, I asked a volunteer to spray me liberally everywhere she could.  I also packed a tiny bottle of water (4oz) in my run bag so I could have something until the first aid station if I needed it.  I actually drank it coming out of the tent and tossed it to hug the poet.  

I packed a C02 and a spare tube in my bike special needs bag, just in case I went through the two of each I was carrying.  My three bottles of nutrition and my snickers bar were in there as well.  I had no idea what to pack in run special needs, and ended up just putting an EFS liquid shot in there in case everything else I had/on the course sounded awful.  I skipped run special needs.  

How did you approach cycling training?  I haven't been on my bike in YEARS.
Again, most of this was in my coach's hands (and I'll talk more about training tomorrow in detail).  However, when we first started, she had me on the bike more to help building my aerobic endurance - essentially, to peel me away from the frustration of all the walking I was doing on the run due to my entrance to heart rate training.  I've always been able to tolerate fairly high mileage on bike, all things being relative, which I think prepared me well for ironman training.  My training weeks were almost always bike-heavy as far as time is concerned, especially during peak weeks.  

How did you feel about wearing tri shorts, with a thinner chamois for 112 miles?  Would you do bike shorts next time?  How do you like your SOAS kit?  Does it have enough pockets?
So, during training, I almost always wore bike shorts.  I have a Pearl Izumi pair that I wore the shit out of all spring, and a hand-me-down pair of whoever the lobster logo is that I wore on days the PIs were dirty.  As I came out of the winter and got closer to racing, I would wear my tri shorts on some short rides.  On one particularly painful ride the day after a century ride, I rode them for the first two hours and then had to change.  For most of the rest of training, I wore bike shorts to train in.  I used to feel like I had to get adjusted to tri shorts by force, but now I think it's okay to wear bike shorts most of the time and tri shorts on race day.  For peeing purposes, I don't think I would ever want to wear real bike shorts on race day.  I had no problems at Coeur d'Alene in my thin-chamois'd tri shorts and will definitely wear them again.

As for SOAS, I was introduced to this company last year and am in love.  The material is really comfortable - most of the time I don't even notice my race kit, which I think is ideal.  The pockets on the top always seem like they aren't deep enough to me, but I've never had anything fall out.  I've never used the pockets on the shorts for whatever reason, but there are quite a few.  At CdA, I actually didn't use any of the pockets because on the bike I had everything I needed in bottles or my bento box.  I'm not just saying good stuff about them because I'm an ambassador - rather, I'm an ambassador because of how much I love the clothing and the company as a whole.  They are getting ready to release running shorts and I tried to finagle a pair out of Kebby to show off at CdA but they weren't stitched together quite yet.  
What's the minimum ride distance someone would need to begin considering nutrition on?
In training, I'd say that you need nutrition (i.e. calories) on any ride longer than 90 minutes, sooner if it's hot out or very intense or if you have a back-to-back workout.  In a race, I think you need to consider nutrition on the bike no matter what the distance, because you need to run after.  Even in my sprint this spring, I put down about 150 calories on the bike, just to make sure I was topped off.  

Since you had trained with liquid fuel only and then had other fuel on the course do you think you will continue to train with only liquids?
Short answer, yes (on the bike).  I'll talk more about the specifics of my nutrition below, but all the fuel I took in on the course was gel with the exception of maybe 200 calories of gummies (Gu chomps) which are not a liquid but not a solid and my 220 calorie Snickers "treat" which I did not need but wanted.  I am very glad that I trained with all liquids this spring.  The changes I made in the six weeks leading up to CdA seem to have been very positive especially after the shit show that was Knoxville.

Did you eat & drink more, less, or the same as on your training rides?
I was actually surprised to find it right about the same.  I practiced IM nutrition on my last 4-5 really long rides and just replicated it on race day.  That sounds like an obvious thing to do but I think it's surprising how many people have "race day" nutrition that is radically different from training.  I expected to take in slightly less nutrition because I expected to not stop during the race, but we all know how that went.

Are you glad that you bought a triathlon-specific bike?  Do you think it's necessary?  What about an aero helmet and race wheels and a powertap, do I need those things?
Yes, I am so happy that I bought a triathlon-specific bike.  I absolutely love my QR, and it was the right decision for me.  However, I don't at all think it was necessary.  I saw plenty of people on the course with road bikes - some with clip-on aerobars, some without - and plenty of them finished ahead of me.  For me, I was able to find a bike that I loved and a year ago, it fit into my budget and I could afford to do it.  I do think that it's incredibly important to get a proper fit, and I remain thrilled that I flew to Colorado and had Scott Geffre fit me in my April.  In general, it's more important to just be happy with what you've got, and I plan to ride my QR into the ground.
As for the rest of the crap, I don't think you NEED any of it.  I wore an aero helmet that a friend gave me because it didn't fit her (cost outlay: $0).  I swapped my Reynolds wheels with a different friend for slightly deeper wheels because I like to be noisy and make things difficult (cost outlay: $0).  And I trained with heart rate instead of power because I believe that heart rate is sufficient for anyone training for their first.  I also think that you don't need power until you are attempting to be seriously competitive in the field, but that's a soap box I don't need to climb on.  If it's your first and you are trying to do it on a budget, you don't need power.  I spent a little bit more money to get a sexy bike instead of getting a cheap bike with power and I don't regret any of those choices.  Will I train with power in the future?  Probably at some point.  I'm certainly not going to invest the money in power now, so I'll be through my second and possibly third attempt at this distance before I made the switch.  Do I think I will suffer for it?  Not even a little.  

How many water bottles did you carry on your bike?  How did you refill them?
I have three bottle holders on my bike - two on the frame and one on the aerobars.  Each had liquid nutrition inside.  I aimed for one per hour.  When the first three were empty, I tossed them at an aid station.  I had three waiting for me in my special needs bags.  I refilled with water at a couple of my long bathroom stops, but I could have done without.  A few times that I grabbed a gel at an aid station, I would grab a bottle from a volunteer, chase the gel and then toss the bottle right away.
Should I change into running shorts?
So, I decided to change.  I had a couple of long rides this spring where the greatest feeling all day when when I got back to the car and unearthed my sweaty nasty bike shorts from my crack and put on loose breathable shorts, and I wanted to feel that way on race day.  It was a small thing, but letting my sweaty parts air out in my trusty run shorts made me feel a little bit fresh.  I'm not sure that I would do it again, but if you're not out to race the clock, I think it's a good call.  Like so many things of the day, it's a personal choice.

Did you get completely naked in the transition tent?
No, but after the bike, I walked in and stripped off my tri shorts before realizing that I was standing in full view of everyone walking around outside the tents.  I'm pretty sure a nice lady helped me yank my shorts up over my sweaty naked crotch.  Trust me, you don't care, and neither does anyone else.  
Holy shit, I can't believe you ran in the Newtons.  Why?
It was simple, actually.  I've done three half-IMs and several shorter triathlons in either my Asics or my Ravennas.  Each time, my feet have been blistered and swollen and completely destroyed - and on one particularly memorable day, by mile 4 of the run.  I started working the Newtons back into the running rotation about four weeks after returning from my torn calf, and I was much more careful about it the second time around.  By the time race day rolled around, the longest run I had done in them was about 7 miles.  I had a conversation with Sonja the day before about which shoes to wear, and she said to avoid the known entity.  I knew the Ravennas had trashed my feet in the past, and the Newtons never had, so I wore the Newtons.  And finished a very long marathon with not a blister or scrape or swollen foot or rough spot or purple toenail.  My feet looked brand-new.  

The only regret I had about the Newtons was that I didn't do my longest runs in them, and on race day when my feet started to hurt, I blamed the lugs on the shoes.  Looking back now, I'm not sure if that was it after all, but the balls of my feet (along with the rest of my feet) were very sore the next day.  Do I think the Newtons are a magical shoe?  No, but I ran a marathon in them that included walking for about 90 minutes and had no lingering damage.  My only lingering ouch after the normal post-race soreness died down was a tight and over-used hamstring that is reacting to a lazy left glute.  I've been dealing with it since December and still am, but I'm certain it had nothing to do with the shoes.

You write "stuffed my ziploc bag of nutrition into my top" - is that a common way for triathletes to carry nutrition?
I think so - only because it's easier to pack your transition bag that way.  That way it's one grab-and-stuff instead of fishing around inside that bag for individual pieces of nutrition.  I packed several Gus, some Tums, some salt pills, and some chews inside that bag.  I had pre-loaded the zip pocket of my shorts with gels and actually never opened the ziploc bag that I can recall, but I was glad to have it.
Can you run down all the nutrition you ate the day before and the day of the race?
Whew, that's a doozy, but let's try (hopefully I'll cover all the nutrition questions in here, too).  The day before the race I tried to eat normally.  I avoided beans and greens (fiber).  My biggest meal was lunch (48 tiny slices of pizza) and for dinner I had about half of a hoagie (that's a sub sandwich for you non-Philly folks).  I made sure that my belly was full by early afternoon and then snacked and hydrated for the rest of the day.  I'm hooked on Powerade Zero mixed with water (about a 1:6 ratio) and drank that into the night.

When I woke up, I had two english muffins with butter and jam.  I also had two cups of hot tea which I think were part of my massive peeing problem on the bike.  I brought a water bottle mixed with Powerade Zero to the race start, and I sipped on that while I got ready.  I put about 100 calories of EFS liquid shot and half a scoop of PreRace into a water bottle and drank about 1/3 of that 15 minutes before the swim started.  I intended to drink more but felt full, so I tossed it.
I probably drank about six cups of lake water during the swim.

The bike is harder to estimate.  I had three 20oz bottles on my bike (and three identical bottles in special needs).  Each had 1.5 scoops of EFS (144 calories) and I intended to get through one per hour.  There was a Snickers bar in my special needs bag, which I ate (220 calories).  I supplemented my bottles with a small bag of chomps in the first loop, and probably 3-4 gels in the second loop when I was trying to kick myself out of my slump.  My last water bottle had a scoop of PreRace in it, and that seemed to help perk me up a bit, although I didn't finish it before getting off the bike.  So roughly 1500 calories over roughly 7 hours = roughly 215 calories per hour, which is slightly high for me based on what I did in my long rides but not ridiculous.  If I had to guess on hydration, I'd guess 140-150oz of fluid (this includes my EFS mix), but the first four hours of the bike were cloudy and cool, and even when the sun came out, it wasn't hot.  I feel confident that I nailed my bike nutrition, and will continue to follow this plan moving forward because it worked well for me.  

My own personal opinion is that if you do nutrition right on the bike, it's pretty hard to massively fuck it up on the run.  That doesn't mean it can't be done, especially if you luck into a day that is hot.  I just think it's hard to START digging a hole once you are off the bike, especially if you aren't racing your brains out.  When I got off the bike I wasn't even noticing my stomach.  No sloshing, it wasn't full, it wasn't rumbling, it didn't feel tight.  It felt like nothing.  My plan for the run was to take half a gel every 20 minutes, so I decided to hit every other aid station.  One of my biggest mistakes at Knoxville was shoving too much down the hatch, so when I went through the water stop at mile one, I didn't touch a thing.  No water, gels, nothing.  At the second stop I took half my gel with water.  Skipped the third stop, finished the gel at the fourth.  I decided that taking half a gel was really annoying, so at the sixth stop I took a full gel with plenty of water.  I think I grabbed some coke and water at the seventh stop, and then Nicole found me and I skipped a few stops, including the last one before the turn-around in town.  That one was a mistake, because it was almost two miles until I got back to it and I felt starving by then (and had been walking).  That was when I ate the entire tray of potato chips.  From there on out, it's all fuzzy in my head.  I don't think I took any more gels.  I started taking coke pretty soon after that, and I knew that from the coke alone I was getting enough calories to bounce me along to the finish so I wasn't worried about calories.  I got into a routine at each stop - I'd walk and drink water, perform, water, coke, grab a few of the little hard pretzels or chips, then do another round of water, coke, water on my way out the back side.  I ignored the last four miles of aid stations because I didn't want to stop.  And while I did walk for quite a while, it wasn't a bonk.  I believe that a bonk is when you empty your nutrition reserves.  I walked because I was tired and wimpy.  Other than peeing my brains out on the bike, I had zero stomach problems the entire day.  Once I started running and sweating a bit more, my bladder calmed down.  I think I made two peeing pit stops on the run.  If I had to guess - and it would be a blind guess - I would guess that I took down between 500-700 calories on the run.  The only thing that I might change is to switch to a gel flask instead of the individual Gus, and to pump that sucker full of PreRace to try and keep my spirits up.  That's a dangerous path to go down - it's like being addicted to meth - and I didn't want to try it for my first, but I might test it out in training this fall.  

I did not need to take any salt tabs, Tums, advil, or any other supplements during the race (although I carried some of those things with me).  The gorgeous thing about the EFS is it had everything I needed.  On hot days, the EFS is sweet and makes me thirsty for plain water, but it was just right for CdA.  

When the race was over, I ate a banana, a slice of pizza and chocolate milk because those were the first things I stumbled across.  I murdered about half a family-sized bag of doritoes while I took my epsom salt bath because it was one of the few things that sounded appetizing.  I woke up at 2am and ate most of a box of wheat thins.  My appetite was pretty normal the next day.  
I think that's about it for today.  If I missed any specific questions about any of the legs of the race or nutrition, drop me a comment and I'll answer it there.  Coming up next: overall race recon, recovery, and training!  Have a great weekend, everyone!  Wish this guy some luck!