ironman

2019 IRONMAN World Championship Race Report

This weekend, I raced at the IRONMAN World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, after winning my age group and qualifying at IRONMAN Lake Placid in July. Initially, I was hesitant about accepting the Kona slot because I was moving across the country at the beginning of September to start a PhD program in California. To add more challenges, a month before the race I developed IT band syndrome that caused significant knee pain any time I ran more than 3 miles. With all of those factors in play, finishing the race was in doubt.

Kona is famous for its extreme heat, humidity, and winds, so even though the bike and run are slightly less hilly than IRONMAN Lake Placid, the conditions make it one of the toughest courses out there. October is Kona’s hottest month, and the swim is marked by big ocean swells, the bike by headwinds, crosswinds, and sizzling pavement, and the run by unforgiving humidity and sunshine. Most professional triathletes come out to Kona weeks in advance of the race to get acclimated to the heat, but I was busy learning about American political institutions and linear regression in dry and temperate California. I flew out to Kona with Connor the Wednesday before the race, and Jim and my dad met us there soon after.

Jim and I put together a race plan that took into account 1) the environment, 2) my semi-functional knee, and 3) the primary goal of the Kona experience, which was to have fun. Unlike at Lake Placid, there was no pressure to “qualify” for anything, and friends who had raced at Kona before reminded me that the race was just the cherry on top of a great season. We made pacing, fueling, hydration, and staying cool the top priorities. Here’s a summary of what that looked like and how it all went down:

The Swim: 1:16:02

The swim is a 2.4-mile single out-and-back in Kailua Bay. You swim about 100 yards out to some buoys that mark an “imaginary start line” in the water, tread water for a couple of minutes with your group, and then start swimming when the gun goes off (which was at 7:15 am for me). The plan was to take the swim pretty easy, sight as best as possible, and get physically and mentally prepared for the bike.

When the gun went off, it was actually pretty enjoyable. I found some people to draft behind at different points and sighted often, enjoying the tropical fish and coral underwater and the added buoyancy of the salt water. The wave start system meant that there were fewer people around me than there would have been with a mass start. Things got a little more hectic when we rounded the corner and caught up with the slower swimmers in the men’s 55+ age group, but I finished strong and felt good coming out of the water in 1:16:02, which was a little faster than what we had predicted based on my Placid swim time.

T1: 5:40

I quickly stopped at the hoses to rinse off the salt water and then headed to the women’s change tent, which was a zoo. I grabbed my bike bag and got my socks, shoes, helmet, and glasses on. A lot of people were running through transition, but I tried to just walk quickly to avoid aggravating my knee any more than it was going to be aggravated with the marathon. I made it out of there in 5:40 and was onto the bike.

The Bike: 6:14:52

The plan for the bike was to observe a *strict* heart rate cap of 150 bpm. In other words, if my heart rate went above 150, I needed to go easier. This was a pretty low cap, especially compared to my Placid effort, but the problem with Kona is that once your heart rate soars from going out too hard, it’s almost impossible to get it back down. I usually train based on power, but Jim actually told me to ignore power and base the entire bike around heart rate.

I stuck with the plan, and it was actually pretty easy to ignore power because my power meter was flickering on and off for the entire ride. My heart rate was mostly in the high 140s, and I fought to get it back down by easing off the gas any time it went above 150. The course takes you through town on a short loop, then up Palani Hill and onto the “Queen K” highway, where you bike out to mile 60 at Hawi and then back to town for a total of 112 miles. There are several sections of the course that each present different challenges: sometimes it’s intense headwinds or crosswinds, sometimes it’s oppressive heat as you bike by the lava fields, and sometimes it’s steady uphills that are usually accompanied by headwinds.

It was already hot by 8:35 am when I got on the bike, and the day just got hotter. Luckily, there were a couple of clouds that offered brief respite from the heat, and I learned early on that the best way to stay cool was to pick up an ice-cold water bottle at every aid station (approximately every 7 miles), dump the entire contents all over my head and neck, and grab a second one to drink and pour on me until I reached the next aid station. I was also trying to take in as many carbs as I could in the form of Infinit sports drink, a couple of bars, and some shot blocks. The headwinds and crosswinds picked up pretty quickly into the bike and it sometimes felt like I was either not moving forward or going to topple over, but I just stuck to my heart rate plan and ultimately made it to Hawi, where I benefited from a short but awesome tailwind on the downhill leaving the town. I battled a really tough headwind for the last 20 miles coming back into Kona, but I was glad that I had stuck to the heart rate plan and wasn’t feeling totally out of energy. Now it was time to get mentally psyched up for the big wild card: the run!

T2: 8:23

I took my time in T2 to make sure I was comfortable, because I knew there was a good chance I would be spending a long time out there for the run — especially if I had to walk. I changed socks, put on shoes, ate a stroopwafel, stopped by the porta potties, and put on my race belt, visor, and knee strap, which allegedly offers some relief from IT band pain. There were actually several women who were having various degrees of emotional breakdowns in the change tent, so I was pretty happy that I was still in good spirits after my controlled bike ride. I headed out of the tent and was off!

The Run: 4:05:03

The plan for the run was to keep my heart rate below 155, and per my doctor’s orders, “run until you can’t run anymore.” My doctor had said that I couldn’t necessarily make the injury worse by running through it in the race, but I was worried that I would be literally unable to get my leg to respond at all if the pain got really bad. I had never been more uncertain going into a run.

When I started, I actually felt pretty good. My IT band was a little stiff but I had no knee pain, and I was so happy about it that I couldn’t wipe a goofy smile off my face. I smiled all the way through the first 7 miles in town (no pain!) and enjoyed sticking ice and cold sponges down my back and dumping water on my head at every aid station. I took in a couple of gels but ultimately switched to Gatorade and flat coke because they were easier to stomach.

At mile 8 there is a big climb up Palani Hill and onto the Queen K (yes, we have to run and bike there), and that’s where it’s a little harder to keep morale up. The 17 miles on the highway and into the Energy Labs section of the run are very desolate and lonely. There are tons of spectators in town, but almost none on the Queen K. The whistling winds are punctuated by heavy breathing and wet feet pounding the pavement with a squelch.

On the bright side, I was able to run up Palani (still no pain) and continued to feel pretty good. I had to slow down my pace a little to stay under my heart rate cap, but I was doing sub-10 minute miles the whole time and I was so happy to be running for this long pain-free that I didn’t really care about the pace. I felt kind of like a ticking time bomb with a knee that could give out at any given moment, but I knew that the more miles I ran, the fewer I would ultimately have to walk.

As I ran through the Energy Labs, the sun started to set and I was getting tired. My knee was still holding up, though, so I told myself that I needed to keep running until 1) it gave out, 2) my heart rate spiked to a point where I couldn’t get it down, or 3) I literally fell over. None of those things had happened, so I pressed on. By mile 20, the sun had set over the Pacific, and the highway was pitch black. I could see the twinkling lights of the town, though, and the thought of the finish propelled me forward.

When I finally came back down Palani at mile 25, I could hear Mike Reilly’s voice and the roar of the crowds, and I started to get excited because I knew that even if my knee gave out now, I would still be able to walk, crawl, or even roll across the finish line. By some miracle, it continued to cooperate, and I picked up the pace for a smiling sprint down the finish chute. The crowd was roaring, the lights were bright, and as I crossed the finish line I heard those magic words: “Katie Clayton, from Stanford, California…Katie, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN!”

Finish: 11:49:57, 14th in AG, 5th American

The 2019 IRONMAN World Championship was not my fastest race, but it represented my best-ever execution of a race plan. I was enjoying myself for almost the entire time, I ran the whole marathon, and I didn’t end up in the med tent. And hey -- if the advice to “have fun” lands me with 14th in the world and 5th American in my age group, I’d like to think that I have a whole lot more untapped potential that’s just waiting to make its debut. - Coach Katie

Katie Clayton 2019 IRONMAN World Championships - Kona, HI

Katie Clayton 2019 IRONMAN World Championships - Kona, HI

2019 IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant - Bib #24

One recent improvement to my pre-race routine includes being able to eat real food and not throw up race morning. As well as only having a slightly more subdued version of pre-race nerves. Still the same every-increasing pressure and expectations from within but no longer am I shaking in my boots for 48 hours prior to each start. This has been an enjoyable development over the last six months, however I was worried I would be right back at square one with my first race in the pro field. I was obviously very excited to finally race at the top level, but was also filled with a lot of uncertainty leading up to the start. How would the race unfold, can I keep up with these people, is anyone going to talk to me, did I prepare enough, is my equipment going to work, what sort of legs will I have on the marathon? Despite these thoughts, I was relatively calm race morning and was able to get a decent night of sleep, woke up without any difficulty and got about 1000 calories down as I warmed up and got ready for the effort. 

Photo: Talbot Cox @talbotcox

Photo: Talbot Cox @talbotcox

With about five minutes until race start the pro wave was called down to the edge of the water. This was already different, gone was the 3000 person self seeded cue and in was an orderly line of 25 athletes. Although brief, I felt good after my swim warm up and was ready for the initial surge of pace. The (very loud) cannon went off and the next 30 seconds were a frantic combination of high knee jumping through the water, hoping I got the timing right on my dive and then a few hard cycles of real swimming before assessing the situation. In hindsight, I guess this should not have surprised me but it was one of the more orderly swim starts I have participated in. As we sorted ourselves out I could see that two or three athletes had swim away very quickly but I was within sight of the front of the main pack. About halfway through the first leg, the group started to thin out and I ended up swimming at the front of it through the halfway point with a decent pack in tow. Through 1.2 miles, I felt controlled effort wise and my breathing was becoming more and more relaxed as we continued to swim. The main issue was my swim cap, around the second turn it started to slip off so I made the decision to stop for a stroke and pull it back down. Still not sure whether I should have just let it go, but I always have littering on my mind and hopefully it was not too disruptive to those following. As we headed back towards shore my coach and fellow racer, Andrew Yoder came by looking like he wanted to push the pace, so I happily found his feet and did my best to get the draft without running into him every stroke. I can only speculate, but I think he would give me a 5/10 for that. Always learning. As we approached the shore I was feeling good but ready to be done swimming. I switched to a six beat kick from the last buoy into shore in the hopes of getting some blood flowing. This proved less than useful and I was definitely hanging on for a moment or two during the run to T1. By the end of the carpeted jog towards the changing tent I had regained my wits and was focused on being efficient and getting everything right through transition. My wetsuit came off easily, socks went on without any creases, gels and salt pills all made it into my pockets and I even remembered to put my helmet on. Progress. I finished the swim in a time of 50:30, which put me 5th in the pro field out of the water and 10th overall. 

Screenshot 2019-08-26 at 12.36.37 PM

I had been looking forward to getting back out on the bike every since I stopped mid race three weeks earlier. I was happy with how my body handled the swing in training load, so the plan was largely the same power and nutrition wise. The only change is that the on course nutrition is BASE instead of Gatorade, which I have not practiced with, so, in an attempt to learn from New Zealand, I was carrying an additional 500 calories on my person. To start the bike spit I had my front water reservoir about 50% full (mainly so it did not spill in the rack), my down tube bottle with 1580 calories (15 scoops carbo pro, 1 scratch), 6 gels and a film canister of salt pills. Right in the 2300 - 2400 calorie range where I have been aiming recently. Early on in the bike split I constantly reminded myself to stick to my own plan. 260 watts did not feel like much for the first hour and it was difficult to watch three athletes come by me. However, it was not difficult to talk myself out of chasing, I knew I wanted to run a successful marathon and nothing changed about my fitness in the past three weeks, so control it was. Other than those who passed me in the first few miles out of town I was largely able to bike my own race. The Mont Tremblant course is essentially two loops of two out and backs, the first one mainly on highway over constantly rolling terrain and the second shorter section made up of repeated short but steep hills. On the highway section I focused on maintaining consistent power and good aerodynamic posture. The aid stations seemed to be spaced perfectly for my needs as I was getting through an entire front reservoir between each station. Throughout the course the volunteers were attentive and engaged, making life easy for us athletes. On the hillier, second section of the loop I knew it was going to be hard to control power so I did my best to at least keep the effort within reason while also using the steeper parts as a good chance to stretch the legs and back. As was my experience three years ago, this hillier section was a great change of pace and I left feeling better than on the way in. The second loop on the bike was very similar to the first, although as everyone's pace settled a bit I passed one fading athlete and was pleasantly surprised with how things were opening up behind me. I worked through a few small waves of feelings from various parts of the body, but in general things felt great on the bike and I really enjoyed the effort. Through half way I was about 263 watts and my goal way 260 watts so I knew it was all about controlling the pressure and getting all of my nutrition down and processed for the rest of my time on the bike. I was very pleased with how my 1500 calorie bottle worked out, I never had any stomach issues and was able to space it evenly over the first 4.5 hours, keeping the concentration correct in my stomach with copious amounts of water. I ate all six gels at about 45 minute intervals and consumed about 10 of my salt pills on the bike split. Recently, I have been trying to consume just water for the last portion of the bike split, my thought is that it will clear things out and avoid the concentrated sugar gut that can often form. I finished the second lap feeling in control and ready to run, things were going well aerobically and I was really enjoying racing. I finished the bike in 4:51:02 which was 8th in the pro field and 9th overall. I normalized 261 watts and consumed all of the 2380 calories I brought with me. Two down, one to go. 

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Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 4:51:02
Mid gel, everyone eats gels.

Mid gel, everyone eats gels.

Legs worked today, and it was about time. Out of the tent I felt really strong, I had to constantly slow myself down. I was seeing paces on my wrist I had no business running and kept controlling whenever possible. Within the first half mile my stomach had decided it was okay with running and from there on out I had zero digestive issues. Which is awesome. Having been passed by one runner about two miles in I spent the majority of the run in 8th place. I was definitely surprised with how the race had shaped up till this point and had not expected to find myself in the money, but I did and there was no time to act surprised, I was in a race. Through the first 7 miles I had kept the pace just under 7:00/mile which was slightly faster than expected but the body was feeling good and I was yet to feel any loss of control or signs of a bonk. The first thoughts of, oh boy you better control this, were at about mile 10. I have found the limit enough times in both training and racing to know some very early signs of when things are going to go off the rails. I was not going to allow that to happen here, so I dialed back the pace to low 7:00’s from mile 10 - 20. I focused on consuming as much as possible at every aid station as well as not taking anything out of my legs on the hills. One of the unique challenges on the Mont Tremblant run course is the drastic change in feel and emotion on various points of the course. As you run through and then leave town, you are surrounded by people on all sides, sitting, biking and even riding the bus. There is energy everywhere, which can make you push too hard or get you out of a rut during a bad moment. The middle portion of the course is on a bike path, which has no people, just lots of athletes trying to race their own Ironman. There is also a change in terrain, out of town the roads are open and rolling, on the path it is flat with full shade but no wind. The first lap reminded me of all these small nuances and I felt like I was able to control my effort at key times much more effectively on the second lap. Nutrition wise, this was by far the most successful I have ever been at eating on an IM run. I never had any issues of feeling full or any other GI distress. I ate 4 of the 6 gels I brought, had at least another 4 salt pills, water at both ends of every aid station and was even able to add in coke or redbull depending on what was handed in my direction. It felt like I was actually racing and making decisions for probably the first time in an IM run. More of that please. The last 8 miles were hard. Legs were screaming big time on every stride by the last 30 minutes. The biggest things missing from my last three attempts at the IM distance was this feeling. It hurt very good. I enjoyed every moment of it, I knew I had gotten the effort right, probably couldn't have really gone any harder and as long as I kept my head down and kept working I would make it to the line. The crowds of the last two miles were a welcomed boost, everything hurt, even muscles that have nothing to do with running, but I had allowed myself to do some math and I knew I was close to an 8 something Ironman. There was nothing left in the tank for the hills so even at the end I controlled up the inclines with the hope of maintaining some semblance of form over the line. I crossed the line with about three seconds to spare to 9 hours and I was done. I enjoyed the whole 8:59:57, but it felt so good to stop. In the end I finished in 7th place in the M Pro field and 10th overall. I had no idea where my fitness and race execution was going to get me at the end of the day so 7th place was a great surprise and a nice bonus to the weekend. What I am most pleased with is how I was able to stick to a plan and have it go almost exactly as intended. I know, more often that not this will not be the case, so I can appreciate the days when it all goes to plan. Days like last Sunday are the reason I do this sport. 

Screenshot 2019-08-18 at 3:11:56

The rest of my year will be IM Chattanooga on September 29th, followed by Indian Wells 70.3 on December 8th. Back to work. 

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Mr Klein's IM Lake Placid Race Report

Expectations and Pre-Race Thoughts

Ironman Lake Placid (IMLP) had the distinction of being both my A-race and my first race of the season. After taking a year off from triathlon, I had been feeling anxious to get back into race mode. I was also excited to see the results of actually training for a triathlon. Coming off a collegiate swimming career, I had previously relied on endurance from distance training and natural fitness to get me through triathlons. This was my first time working with a coach, and I knew that my training over the last seven months was well thought out. I was ready.

The Plan 

  • Swim. Approximately 1:00 – 1:05 on the swim. Be aggressive, but do not expend any energy. If possible, find someone at a similar or slightly faster pace and draft off them to conserve energy. Keep the cable in sight. Use the swim to get the pre-race jitters out of the way.

  • Bike. Maintain a normalized power of 160-170 for the bike. Keep heart rate under 150 bpm, but ideally closer to 140 (or lower). Keep head position steady. Eat every 20 minutes, and drink at least every 10. 

  • Run. Cap HR at 155, but try to stay between 140-150. Do not blow out the energy in the first few miles – it’s a long race. Maintain hydration. Hope that the leg cramps decide not to show up today. 

  • Nutrition. I used Science in Sport (SiS) electrolyte powder, carbohydrate bars, and gels.

Swim

Although my goal swim was in the low 1:00 mark, I placed myself in the sub 1:00 group. IMLP’s swimmers have a reputation of seeding themselves faster than they will actually finish, and so I wanted to get ahead of any athletes who were a bit…overeager. Additionally, I wanted to get ahead of the mass pack which would no doubt involve a fair amount of aggression as swimmers would jockey for a spot on the cable. 

The first 1000 yards went off like any other open water swim. There was a fight for position during the first 500 yards as the lead bunch formed into a pace line. Rounding Turn 2 (~1000 yds), I made my only ‘mistake’ of the swim when I got too comfortable with the reduced need to spot and overshot the turn by about 20 yards. Not a big deal, but it was a fitting mistake considering that a sense of direction was never my strong suit. 

I was able to find a swimmer slightly faster than me to draft behind for the second 1000 yards. This was my strategy going into the swim, and I was able to stay on his feet for most of the straightaway. I was surprised by how many people were swimming off the cable – some by over 25 yards to the left. Yes, this would reduce the traffic they would encounter, but swimming away from the pack seemed unnecessary given that we were still on the first lap and had clear, open water in front of us. 

Lap 1: 29:14

The first half of the second loop went about as well as the second half of the first loop. Although I continued to draft off the guy ahead of me, we were caught by a chase pack which had engulfed the two of us by buoy 5 (~2900 yds). For context, the IMLP swim course is a rectangle with eight yellow buoys on the way away from the start, two red buoys to mark the turns at the other end of Mirror Lake, and eight orange buoys on the way back to shore.

By the time our group rounded Turn 2 and was on the homestretch, I encountered probably the hardest challenge of the swim: the slower age groupers. The open water quickly devolved from an organized pace line to an ‘every-man-for-yourself’ maelstrom. Sighting was required, but mainly to look out for other swimmers rather than check if we were on course. I had to figure out who was ahead of me, if there were gaps to shoot, and if it was easier to swim through or swim around the athletes ahead of me. As rushed as it may seem, that chaos is one of my favorite things about open water swimming – it requires more thinking and aggression than swimming in a pool. 

Before long, I saw an orange buoy with an “8” followed by a red buoy with a T3, meaning I had reached the end of the lap. I was feeling really strong, not out of breath, but strong. The race was on.

Lap 2: 30:14

Total Swim: 59:14. 1:00 goal complete.

Transition #1

The transition involves a long-ish run (at least a quarter mile) from Mirror Lake to transition. This was the first time I had ever used a wetsuit stripper (and the first time I had ever used a wetsuit), and so the process of being told to lie down on the ground as a volunteer yanked my wetsuit off my legs in one smooth motion was interesting, but efficient. I entered transition, grabbed my bike gear bag, and ran into the changing tent.

The volunteers were great, and I was fortunate to be in the changing tent with relatively few athletes (most were still in the water). While I was putting on my socks, shoes, and rubbing some chamois cream on my thighs, the volunteer was getting my glasses, helmet, and gloves ready to go. Transition times were significantly slower than every other triathlon I had previously done. What I thought was a really slow transition was actually 5th in my AG. Taking an extra minute or two in the changing tent doesn’t mean too much in a 10+ hour race.

Transition 1: 6:03

Bike

I read a sentence on a blog post somewhere which stuck with me throughout my longer training rides: “In Ironman, do the bike you should, not the bike you could.” I knew it was important to keep a consistent pedal stroke and monitor my power output, but I also wanted to ride a race I could be proud of. This meant that I would race to my plan: not an easy ride, but not an over-aggressive ride that would destroy my run.

The climbs out of Lake Placid are inconspicuously long, and I’m thankful that I came out in June to practice the course as I knew to take this section slow and smooth. I saw a few cyclists absolutely pounding the opening hills, and I remember thinking that they were insane – we still had 9 more hours of racing left!

The downhill screamer to Keene is one of my favorite parts of the course. I hit a new speed record for the year, and it was nice to have a section where I could bank some free miles. Then came the flats to Wilmington and soon, the severely underrated climb out of Wilmington. Again, some bikers were flying up the hill looking like they were cranking more watts than a professional cyclist on a hors catégorie mountain. Later, I saw several of them walking on the marathon…

Even on the long climb back to Lake Placid, I was feeling good – much better than I was expecting. My power was at my goal watts, my body was feeling fine, and I was hitting my nutrition. When I rode into Lake Placid, I looked down at my computer to mark the lap and saw a 2:54 – more than 20 minutes faster than my anticipated lap split (3:15). Rather than excitement, this actually caused a good deal of anxiety starting the next lap, and I worried I had killed the rest of my race by taking the first lap too aggressively. But I was still feeling strong, I was having fun, and the crowds were cheering me on through town. Riding down Mirror Lake Drive, I pounded my chest and yelled with the crowd, rejuvenated by the energy of the spectators lining the streets. I saw my parents, grandparents, and a friend from college who came up to watch me race, all recognizable by their matching blue shirts with a picture of me printed on the front. The anxiety quickly disappeared. 

Lap 1: 2:54

Chris Klein IRONMAN Lake Placid family t-shirt

Chris Klein IRONMAN Lake Placid family t-shirt

But sure enough, the problems started on the second lap. Earlier than in my training runs, my body started to reject the carbohydrate bars I was eating, and my electrolyte drink seemed less and less appealing with every sip. I started missing scheduled eating and drinking periods. On what began as a cloudy day, the sun started to break through the clouds, and brought with it rising temperatures on the exposed roads. 

Finally, on the climb passed Whiteface, I cracked. My quads cramped up several times, requiring me to pull over to the side of the road and try to massage them out. But worse than the cramps, massive headwinds, absent on the first lap, hampered any forward progress I was making when I would resume my rides. My two training partners, Matt and Katie, both passed me as I was trying to massage out a cramp, and, truth be told, I took relief in seeing familiar faces. Although I appreciated the “are you ok?’s” from concerned cyclists as they rode passed me parked on the side of the road, it was a little demoralizing recognizing that I still had to make it to Lake Placid in order to even start the run. 

After finally getting back on my bike, Mile 100 is where I hit my low point. I was well aware that mental toughness was necessary to finish this race strong, but I was not expecting to have my attitude tested so early in the day. After what seemed like an eternity, I finally got to the top of the Northwood Road climb (the short, sneaky climb after the three bears) and enjoyed the coast to transition. Even with the pain, I still finished the lap ten minutes over my anticipated lap split. 

Despite all of the negative emotions mentioned in the previous three paragraphs, I was still having fun. In a sense, nothing was awry…yet. Ironman is a hard race, plain and simple. I knew I was going to struggle with the bike, and although it wasn’t perfect, I made it. Every problem I encountered, I anticipated and had a plan. Race day preparation is an undervalued benefit of having a coach, and as a result, panic mode never set in. Instead, I was ahead of schedule, I was faster than my training rides, and I was still feeling strong enough to run a marathon. Furthermore, I wasn’t hurting alone. Pictures may speak louder than words, but facial expressions in Ironman are an open book for describing how an athlete is feeling. Based on the emotionless faces and glassy, empty eyes, my pain was in good company.

Lap 2: 3:23

Total bike: 6:17. 6:30 goal complete

Transition #2

After crossing the dismount line and handing my bike off to a volunteer, I decided that the path to the changing tent was more deserving of a walk than a run. My legs were hurting, and all I could think about was getting out of my biking shoes. In the tent, I took off my helmet, swapped my socks and shoes, threw a bag of sodium gels in my pocket, quickly downed some fluids, and headed off on my run. Just like in Transition 1, I thought I was moving slowly in T2, but my time was actually above average for age groupers. 

Transition: 5:43

Run

Despite all of the pain I had felt during the last 20 miles of the bike and heading into transition, I actually felt great for the start of the run. I set my watch to focus solely on my heart rate. I used the opening downhills to lengthen my stride and stretch out my quads and calves. I was moving, and with my speed came energy – I was back to having fun! 

One aspect of the race I haven’t touched on too much yet is the crowds. I’ve never seen more support in a race than from the fans and volunteers in Lake Placid. Coming out of transition, I heard more cheers of “let’s go” and “come on, Chris” than in all of my previous races combined. It felt very personal, like they were cheering for me instead of the usual casual clap as spectators wait for their athlete(s) of focus. There were also the fans who tried to be more…unique. The spectator on the ski jump hill at Mile 2/9/15/22 who high-5’d everyone with Facebook foam fingers. The fraternity squad at Mile 1/10/14/23 who cheered for everyone while parading around in their underwear. The aisle of fans on Mirror Lake Drive who tried to motivate the nutrition-depleted runners as they “death marched” to the completion of their first lap. Their energy was contagious and set a new standard that I fear will never be matched by another race nor another crowd. 

But outside of Lake Placid and down Riverside Drive (Miles 3-9 and 16-22), spectators could not easily watch the race and the non-athletes were limited to the volunteers working at aid stations and the medical tent. The lack of cheering fans shouting encouragement diminished the environment to the sight of expressionless runners trying to get to the next aid station and the sounds of running shoes shuffling down the road. The course, on the other hand, was shaded and pretty with the road running adjacent to a small stream.

Early in the run, I was still feeling strong. I was holding around 8:45’s but my HR was starting to rise, still within the 150 range. Many athletes had started walking (my assumption being those who tried to overdo the bike), and truth be told, the number of runners I passed in those opening miles was encouraging. I linked up with another runner who was holding my pace and we chatted for the next 5 miles until the run turnaround when the exhaustion finally caught up to him and he resorted to the ‘death march.’ 

Chris_Klein_IM_Lake_Placid_Run

For me, the struggle began around Mile 8. My heart rate had started to creep into the 150s and low 160s, and even though I eased my pace to 9:30’s, I had a hard time getting my heart rate to come down. I spent the aid stations trying to get as many calories and fluids as I could into my system – water, Gatorade, bananas, chips and pretzels, more Gatorade, more water, ice to hold in my hands and mouth – but my irregular nutrition patterns on the bike had started to wear me down. Mile 9 was the ski jump hill climb, and after walking up the hill I found I couldn’t engage my feet to run again. I was stuck. Then came the cramps: calves, quads, hamstrings, even my groin. My state could best be described by my stop at special needs (Mile 12) when I had a seven-year old volunteer named Gio and his dad help me change my socks. The cramping in my legs was so bad that I couldn’t move/engage the small tendons and muscles without my body wrenching in agony. One of my favorite pictures taken at Lake Placid was on the run where it looks like I’m laughing and shrugging my shoulders. In reality, my dad had yelled to me, “You’re almost there!”, to which I responded, “Dad, what are you talking about? I’m shuffling like a tap dancer, and I still have a half marathon to go!”

Lap 1: 2:07

The only aspect of the race for which I did not prepare was the amount of GI distress that I would encounter, and I do not think I could have prepared for that type of pain. From the start of the second lap, I felt sick, and I knew that throwing up would only deplete me of the electrolytes my body had yet to process and desperately needed. At Mile 14, I found Coach Jim on the course and even asked him if I should throw up – he advised against it. After 9.5 hours of work, my body was fighting back, and I was about to head back out to the isolation of Riverside Drive. 

As it turns out, a bathroom break was really what I needed at the time, and when I came out of a porta potty at Mile 15, I saw Matt about 50 feet ahead of me looking like he was in a very similar condition as I was. We made a pact to finish the race together, and our pacing switched to three minutes of running/jogging/shuffling followed by one minute of walking. Between the GI distress and the ever-present leg cramps, the hurt was real. We both knew the key to finishing was to keep moving, even if it meant a slow walk. Looking around us, the ‘death march’ present on the first lap had evolved to a ‘death march of zombies,’ but the three minutes of running/consistent movement and the mental relief of running with a training partner gave me the strength to keep going. Around Mile 21, Matt and I were joined by Julie Smith, another Upper Valley triathlete, and the motivation and positive encouragement present in the Upper Valley progressed the time, both physically and mentally.

Chris Klein, Julie Smith & Matthew Goff - IRONMAN Lake Placid run

Chris Klein, Julie Smith & Matthew Goff - IRONMAN Lake Placid run

As we climbed back into Lake Placid, the crowds brought us to the finish line. Spectators lined Main Street and Mirror Lake Drive, and the high-5’s and screaming fans were moving. My legs were starting to give out from the cramping, and Matt waited for me to briefly massage them out while Julie finished her own race. From the final aid station, Matt and I decided to make one final, consistent run to the finish line. 

As we entered the Olympic speed skating oval, my emotions kicked in and I started tearing up. Every step brought back a memory from this year’s training, from my initial struggles with a six-mile treadmill run to my first bike over two hours. Unfortunately, I do not remember Mike Reilly saying my name as I approached the finish line – I was too busy taking in my surroundings. Matt and I put and arm around each other and crossed the line. We gave each other a hug. A volunteer put the medal around my neck. I bent down and allowed some tears to fall. The hardest race I had ever done was over. I found Katie, and she, Matt, and I took a group picture. My friend from college helped me out of the oval and up a hill to where some spectators had camped out, and I promptly fell into Jim’s arms in a half-hug/half-collapse. He kept repeating in my ear, “You are an Ironman, buddy.” After 45 minutes, I hobbled into the medical and massage tents to receive some much-needed care on my legs. 

Lap 2: 2:52

Total Run: 4:59

Final Time: 12:39:44

Closing Thoughts

I allowed myself a week before attempting any sort of workout. After seven months on the grind, my body deserved a break. 

Although I was hurting during the final part of the bike and most of the run, I do not regret many of my in-race decisions. Could I have eased off the power on the flats during lap one of the bike? Maybe. But then maybe I would have been hit with more of the headwinds. Should I have taken the opening miles of the runs easier? Probably. But my heart rate was in my target range. I finished in a competitive time, and I am proud of my accomplishment. I’m also proud to have finished the Lake Placid course for my first Ironman – those hills are no joke! 

Now we know how to adjust the training if I were to race IMLP again. The majority of the training this year was spent building a fitness base. Now, the base is there, and I will improve my stability and power on the bike, and to add in some appropriate IM pace work on the run.

My next race, SwimRun Casco Bay, is soon, only two weeks after Lake Placid. I’m excited to incorporate some speed in place of aerobic work, and race in an event which combines my two stronger legs of a triathlon. Plus, a 13-mile race is much shorter than an Ironman. After that, Lake George Olympic, so the distances only decrease from here!

I couldn’t have finished this race if it wasn’t for the Endurance Drive tribe, and so a massive thank you goes out to Coach Jim & Endurance Drive teammates Matt & Katie. 

Keep on driving  – Chris Klein

Chris finished SwimRun Casco Bay with an overall second place finish in the solo division. Great work, Chris! 

Chris Klein, Katie Clayton & Matthew Goff - post IRONMAN Lake Placid

Chris Klein, Katie Clayton & Matthew Goff - post IRONMAN Lake Placid

2019 IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report

2019 IRONMAN Lake Placid Race Report by Katie Clayton

IRONMAN Lake Placid is done and dusted! After dreaming about crossing the Placid finish line for over a year and a lot of training (in 2019 alone I ran swam 296,222 yards, biked 4397 miles, and ran 932 miles), I’m pleased to report that IRONMAN Lake Placid was a success. I finished with a smile and punched my ticket to the October IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. Here are my thoughts on the course, the experience, and my plans until the next one!

Taper: I have a tendency to go into big training weekends and even some races with some built-up fatigue, but Jim made sure that I was fully rested for Placid. After months of 18+ hour training weeks, it was a huge change to go out for a 45-minute spin and call it a day, but I knew that the rest would pay off. I made it my priority to sleep a ton, eat a ton, and de-stress, and seeing my heart rate nice and low on the workouts confirmed that the taper was working. By the time we left for Placid, I was antsy and ready to channel all of my pent-up energy into the race.

Swim: Fast forward to the line-up for the 2.4 mile swim in Mirror Lake. Matthew, Chris and I got as close as we could to the front of the corral so we could start the swim in one of the earlier waves. Jim told us that most people tend to overestimate their swim time, so it’s best to start out up front. Chris lined up with the swimmers under an hour and Matthew and I were right behind him in the 1:01-1:10 group. The gun went off at 6:40, and we were in the water with the rolling start by 6:41. 

I was immediately struck by how many people were near me, but I tried to stay calm and find the underwater cable as soon as possible. There was lots of splashing and thrashing going on and I was kicked a few times as everyone found their groove. Once I got on the cable, I was surprised to see how many people were swimming to my left (avoiding the cable) -- it seemed just as crowded over there. I kept my eyes down and tried to swim smooth without overdoing it. 

The one disadvantage to swimming on the cable is that if you don’t sight, you won’t know when buoys are approaching, so I was pushed under a few of the big yellow triangles as I tried to swim through them. It was a little jarring at first but I tried to do a better job of picking my head up occasionally and/or not breaking my stroke if I hit a buoy. 

By the time I reached the first right hand corner, my left goggle had filled with water so I quickly picked my head up to fix it. Then as I made the turn I momentarily lost the cable, and it took me a little while to fight my way back onto it. Once I did, I came back around, finished the first loop, tried to fix my goggles again as I exited and then re-entered the water, and started all over. 

The second loop wasn’t as strong as the first; I felt fine, but most of the people around me on the cable seemed to be going much slower than they had on their first loop and I felt like I was at the mercy of the speed of traffic. I tried to fight my way around people who were particularly slow or who were splashing a lot or kicking too hard, but I ultimately decided that the energy it took to do that wasn’t worth the seconds I would save. After getting kicked and tangled in the turn buoys at least three or four more times, I backed off the pace and tried to just cruise in for the bike. Swim time was 1:11:06, and while I would have liked to go under 1:10, I really was at the mercy of traffic and I was just happy to be out of the water. 

T1: Once I got out of the water, some awesome wetsuit strippers helped me get my wetsuit off, and then I jogged down the blue carpet to transition. I passed the entire crew of Dartmouth supporters who were awesome and totally put a smile on my face. I grabbed my bike bag, got some help from some volunteers in the change tent to put on shoes, socks, helmet, and sunglasses, and before I knew it, I was on the bike course.

Bike: My heart rate was high as soon as I started the bike, and unfortunately it never really came down. I’m not sure if it was the swim, the excitement, the caffeine, or some combination of the three, but I kept seeing my HR in the 150s even though my watts weren’t out of control. Usually it stays fairly low in training (at The Endurance Drive Ironman Lake Placid training weekend I averaged 140 on the 112-mile course at race watts), so I was a little concerned about it and unsure whether to trust my HR or watts. I ultimately decided that watts was a more reliable metric so I focused on aiming for a normalized power (NP) of 160-170 watts - our race plan. Those watts came easily in the first hour on the climbs out of Placid. I focused on floating the uphills and crushing the descents (especially the Keene descent) and was happy to see that I was riding alongside some fast-looking people. Overall, the first lap felt good and was largely uneventful, and I came back into town in 2:52 (almost 20 minutes faster than my training weekend) with 164 NP for the lap. 

I stayed on top of nutrition with a bottle of Skratch and a Larabar in the first hour, a bottle of Infinit in the second hour, and a bottle of Skratch and a Clif bar in the third hour. I switched out my bottles at bike special needs for two Infinit and one Skratch after lap 1 and headed out on lap 2, where I was excited to see the entire support squad at Run Aid Station #2 cheering me on and my parents in the car coming into Placid from Sleepy Hollow near River Rd. It was after leaving town again that I started to feel the first loop, though, and I decided to back off the pace and watts so I could try to get my HR down. I was getting increasingly worried about the run because my HR had been in Zone 3 for most of the day, and I didn’t want to end up walking the marathon. I got it down to 150 and below, but my watts were definitely lower by then and I knew my pace wasn’t as strong as the first loop.

Morale had been pretty low from the Haselton Road turnaround to the top of the Papa Bear hill. I kept up with nutrition and hydration (one bottle of Infinit during hours 4 and 6, a Bonk Breaker and a bottle of Skratch during hour 5), but there was a strong headwind from Haselton Road to the end that made me feel like I was riding a trainer. I ended up making friends with a couple of people who were struggling along with me and commiserating over we were all so ready to get off the bike. After my loop 2 from hell, total bike time was 6:01:34, 159 NP. 

T2: Coming back into town at the end of lap 2 was awesome - the spectators were fantastic and I was SO HAPPY to give my bike away to the volunteers in transition and get my run shoes on. I made a quick stop at the port-a-potty, switched shoes, grabbed my gels, race belt, and hat, and I was off.

Run: My legs felt a little bit like jelly as I came down the hill by Lisa G’s, but they weren’t as bad as I thought they would be. I was able to throw down a few 8-minute miles without my heart rate spiking and I got a huge morale boost with all of my friends at the mile 2 run aid station. I saw Jim soon after that and he let me know that there was one girl in my AG who was 27 minutes up the road. That was actually pretty comforting because I didn’t feel like I needed to push it to catch her (the lead seemed way too big for an AG win to be realistic), and I was happy with a second-place AG finish for my first Ironman. I continued on down the hill and turned left onto River Rd., jogging through each aid station to grab hydration and nutrition.

I had a little bit of a side stitch and was feeling nauseous, so I couldn’t easily stomach the gels I had brought with me. I grabbed coke and base salt at the aid stations instead, and those went down easily. Unfortunately, my HR was spiking above 160 and it was getting really hot out, so I decided to tone down the pace to see if I could get my HR below the 155 cap Jim and I had planned. I ran an 8:45, then was above 9:00/mile, and I was feeling pretty bad but determined I could hold a pace in the 9s at a reasonable (155-160) HR. I continued to grab coke and salt and not walk the aid stations because I worried that if I started to walk, I wouldn’t start running again.

After finishing up the River Rd. section, I jogged back up the big hill and ran into Jim at mile 9ish. He informed me that the age grouper ahead of me was running 11s and 12s, and her lead had shrunk to 16 minutes. He told me to just keep doing what I was doing, running 9s without my HR blowing up and taking in whatever I could at the aid stations, so I did. I grabbed ice to throw down my shirt and dumped water on my head whenever I had the chance, and I kept the pace and HR steady. I ran up the Lisa G’s hill (which honestly was not as bad as I thought it would be), did the Mirror Lake Drive portion and saw more friends and family, and then headed out for lap 2.

I realized my shoe was untied at mile 13, so I stopped right before going back down the Lisa G’s hill to tie it and nearly fell over, but I righted myself and kept it up. When I saw Jim next at mile 15, he said I was only 6 minutes behind my competitor. If neither of our paces changed, I would catch her. But I was hurting big time, and walking sounded more and more appealing with every aid station. I also missed the coke at a few aid stations and only took in ice water with poor hand-offs, so I was worried about my nutrition and hydration status. Still, I gritted my teeth and kept running with my eye on the number on everyone’s calves for someone in my age group.

As I came down River Rd., I got a little bit of a second wind and continued to throw down 9s with a little less pain. Finally, just before the turnaround, I saw the girl who I thought was my competitor ahead. She was running, but my shuffle was faster than her shuffle, so I passed by her (we both gave each other some encouragement) and hit the turnaround. I didn’t look back after that, but I picked up the pace by a little bit out of fear that she would chase me down. 

By the time I made it off River Rd., I knew I had built up a bit of a lead, but I was really worried about my hydration and nutrition status. I was starting to feel dizzy and I didn’t want to pass out or DNF with so little to go. For the first time on the run, I walked up half of the hill after River Rd. just to keep my HR in control. I started running again as soon as I reached the top and met Jim and Connor around mile 22. While I couldn’t smile, I was happy that they were blasting my favorite songs on their portable speaker. Jim yelled that I had an 11-minute lead and reminded me to keep fueling, keep hydrating. I was pretty close to my breaking point but I continued on, ready to taste the finish.

By the time I got to the Lisa G’s hill I was pretty much done, so I speed-walked up part of it to avoid passing out and clocked my first 10-minute mile of the day, but I was able to pick it up again after getting to the top. My parents and friends were cheering on Mirror Lake Drive, and as I made it to the out-and-back I knew that all I needed to do was run another mile - just one. I rounded the corner, picked up the pace to sub-9s, and laid down everything I had left. I entered the transition area, rounded the track, and saw all of my friends and family along the finishing chute. I somehow managed to smile, and I crossed the finish line with a run time of 3:59:51. I then promptly semi-collapsed into Matthew’s parents’ arms (they were volunteering at the finish) and was carted into the med tent where I made friends with some amazing volunteers who were the first to hear me say, “I think I just qualified for Kona.” Total finish time: 11:22:19.

After: I was fine after I cooled down and got some fluids in me, and getting to hang out on the grass with my friends and family, watch Matthew, Chris, and Julie finish, and relive the whole experience for days after was arguably even better than the race, which was physically and mentally agonizing. Despite the agony of 140.6 miles, I decided to take the Kona slot, because I think that after a few more days of relaxing and active recovery only, I’ll be ready to get back into training mode. After all, this is the IRONMAN World Championships we’re talking about! It’ll be a little crazy to balance more Ironman training with a move out to California in a month and the start of my PhD program in political science at Stanford, but come on - it’s Kona!!!

Thanks a million to Jim and the tribe for everything they have done to support me on this journey. I’m pumped that it isn’t over yet! - Katie Clayton

Katie_Jim_IMLP_Finish

Tracking & Planning Your Life Stress Score (LSS)

TrainingPeaks allows athletes and coaches to track workouts and performance with a physiological stress metric known as Training Stress Score (TSS; a detailed explanation is here). In brief, TSS is a metric that takes into account the time and intensity of your workout relative to your threshold heart rate, power, or pace. For example, an easy 2K swim might yield 35 TSS. A 40K bike time trial or a 15K run at your race pace equates to about 100 TSS. A 20-mile all day hike with big elevation could be as high as 500 TSS. TSS is a useful data tool for short- and long-term planning, and the patterns it reveals can help both athletes and coaches make training and racing decisions.

But if TSS only cares about the duration of our workout and our threshold performance values, how do we account for the other stress in our lives when making decisions about how we train and race? The psychological strain that comes from a busy job, a hectic household, travel, or demands from school can all have huge impacts on our overall well-being. To account for mental stress in our overall training plans, I employ an original metric: Life Stress Score (LSS). The goal of LSS is to capture and anticipate stress that isn’t always physiological, but has an equally large impact on your physical training and race performance.

How does LSS work in practice? When an athlete is heading into a stressful work period, a major family event, or significant travel, we scale back the time and intensity of their workouts to free up mental and physical resources. For our student athletes preparing for final exams, we plan a recovery week with fewer sessions and less intensity, and delay longer workouts until after the tests are done. We keep physical activity at a maintenance level, or minimum effective dose, during this time, but we communicate with our athletes about which types of workouts will serve as academic performance enhancers (easy run with friends) and which will add to the stress (hill repeats at 6 am). This dialogue provides athletes with the physical and mental space they need to study and ace their engineering final. It’s a key part of our person first, athlete second approach at The Endurance Drive.

If you are training for a major endurance event (IRONMAN, IRONMAN 70.3, ultrarun, SwimRun, bike stage race), travel to the event can be another major LSS factor that drains athletes. Combine packing lists with coordinating time off with unfamiliar environments with inadequate sleep, and you run the risk of feeling much more frantic and stressed than usual. To feel both physically and mentally fresh on race day, you should plug in LSS, along with your TSS, into your race week plan. Scale back your workouts, don’t be overly ambitious about getting sessions in on days when you’re in transit, and do everything you can to stick to your routine. That, in combination with a close look at TrainingPeaks’ Training Score Balance, will help you arrive at the starting line at an appropriate level of mental and physical preparedness.

How much LSS you should assign to travel, work, school, or other stressful life events is more art than science. But by listening to your body during times of stress, you can begin to associate them with equivalent workouts. For example, after overnight air travel, I feel like I just ran a half marathon, which equates to around 150 (L)TSS. Figuring out what to pack and other logistics the day before a race might be 50 (L)TSS. Athletes tend to become attuned to their TSS scores for any given workout. You can use that same sense to think through your upcoming stressful events and input some LSS into your plan.

Stress is stress, whether physical or psychological. It all pulls from the same limited resources your body has. Your body hourglass has finite grains of sand each day, and every stressful event pulls sand at a greater rate through the funnel. When the top of the hourglass is empty, it’s empty. So sprinkle some LSS into your training plan for a 360-degree view of endurance event planning. We hope it helps you arrive at your big training weekends and race day physically and mentally prepared. -Jim

Hawaii_Pool_Life_Stress_Score

IRONMAN Lake Placid Simulation Weekend

The Endurance Drive crew traveled to Lake Placid, NY, in early June for an IRONMAN simulation weekend to prepare for IM Lake Placid in July. The weekend included two loops on the bike course (112 miles) and one loop of the run course (13.1 miles) on Saturday, and the second loop of the run course (13.1 miles) on Sunday. Cool temperatures and thunderstorms in the forecast kept us from swimming in Mirror Lake, but we came out of the weekend with a ton of race knowledge and a fitness bump that will carry us through the next eight weeks of training. Here are some key takeaways from our simulation:

  • Have a plan going into any training weekend or race. This means that you know beforehand what bike watts and/or heart rate you will aim to sustain during your ride, and what pace and HR you know you can hold for 26.2 miles on the run. Don’t experiment with going harder in the first half of either leg -- you’ll certainly pay for it later.

  • Bike pacing is key. It’s important to focus on having a smooth and sustainable bike pace if you want to run strong off the bike. This means that the first 56 miles should feel like a walk (or bike) in the park. The two loop course at IRONMAN Lake Placid is advantageous in this regard; when you come back into town for the first time, you want to feel fresh.

  • Nutrition can derail your race in a matter of minutes. On the bike, you should be drinking a few sips every 10 minutes and eating a few bites every 20 minutes. Fuel early and often on the bike because it’s easier to take in calories and carbs there than on the run. Also: if you don’t want to end up doubled over on the roadside and losing the contents of your stomach, always take gels with water!

  • You can be familiar with a course without being familiar with a distance. If you drive an IRONMAN course or bike or run parts of it, that’s good, but the bike and run are whole different animals on the second loop than on the first.

  • IRONMAN Lake Placid in particular is a challenging course. The bulk of the hills are in the second half of the bike loop. Most people lament the climbs from Wilmington back to Lake Placid -- the climb up Whiteface, and Goldilocks and the Three Bears -- but the truth is that the hills start as soon as you finish the descent into Keene. Be prepared to spend a significant amount of time in and out of aero, fighting your way home.

  • IRONMAN is a mental game. Your mind will go to some dark places, especially during the second half of the bike and run. Develop some strategies on hand that will help you get out of those dark places -- high five someone else on the course, repeat a mantra, think about all of the movies you like, force yourself to smile. Know what will help you boost morale and hit your mental second wind. Force yourself into these dark places by participating going long.

  • IRONMAN is hard! Just because a lot of people sign up for these races doesn’t make them easy. The reality is that most people do not properly train, and end up in survival mode from late in the bike or early in the run to the finish. To truly race an IRONMAN, you must be super fit and super tough -- well beyond what you thought you were capable of and what you thought was necessary.

  • Despite the challenge, IRONMAN is extremely rewarding. There is something very special about sweaty hugs, Strava caption brainstorming sessions, and burgers and ice cream to celebrate shared endurance accomplishments. Just think how great it will feel when you can share this feeling with the thousands of other racers and your entire support network on race day.

After a little bit of much-needed R&R, we’re excited to jump into another eight weeks of training this week. Our simulation weekend taught us that IRONMAN will be a challenge -- but we love challenges, and we’re confident that this is one we want to tackle head-on. Lake Placid, get ready, because the Endurance Drive is coming back to town. -Katie and Jim

Ironman_stop_light_lake_placid