Yarrawonga-Mulwala OD Race Report – Ben Shepherd
I hadn’t had much time to think about the race. Noting that there was no open field, the professional athletes were racing in the age groups. This meant that I was already a little more relaxed going in as I had no aspirations of winning. I simply went in to the race looking to race smart and hard in the conditions.
Unlike every other race, the event started in the afternoon. This gave me a lot of time to think, drink coffee, and think again. Dangerous. I definitely prefer racing in the morning, but all in all a good learning experience.
One of the best things I did was showing up to transition early. I managed to secure an excellent spot right by the entry to T1, allowing me to see my bike right out of the water. Unlike every other race it was not a ‘select your spot’ deal, but rather an alternating, 7-to-a-rack deal where we were ordered where to go. If you were late, you got lost in a rack, making it nigh on impossible to spot your bike. Once I had the bike racked, I went off to find an early lunch and grab a quick nap in the car.
A two lap swim (boo), fresh water (yay), murky as anything (boo). The field appeared super aggressive at the start with a lot of shouldering and nudging even before the buzzer went off. I was pushed out of the way by a dude about three times my size, which was a bit offputting. It did give me a good target to chase though.
When the buzzer went off, I experienced the most brutal swim start I have ever seen. Punching, kicking, pushing, I even saw someone have their head held underwater. It left a really bitter taste in my mouth as to how aggro these competitors were. Still, I focused on keeping good form and trying to find fast feet to hold.
Once the field cleared out a little bit, I started to see some clear water and some fast feet ahead. Keeping a thought on form and technique, I powered on a little bit and managed to grab hold of a trail of bubbles. Turns out that trail was being created by Nathan Shearer, a newly turned pro who won the 25-29AG at Kona last year. Once we entered the relative calm of the lagoon, we bounded up the ramp to T1 and continued with the rest of the race.
All in all, I swam a 22:30 – or spot on 1:30/100m. Not bad considering the start, the visibility and the fact that it was a freshwater swim which is traditionally slower. Even better was the fact that I left the water feeling very fresh and relaxed – I have never done that before, which to me means a whole lotta progress. Positive signs.
Positives: Finding (and holding) feet the whole way. Consistent power, felt like I still had something in the tank when I left the swim. Surged when required.
Negatives: Allowing myself to get beaten up at the start, getting frustrated by the washing machine effect, focusing my anger on the guy who pushed me out of the way before the gun – more control needed here
Not a lot to say here. Bike was nice and easy to spot. Ran to it whilst unzipping the wetsuit. Goggles and cap off, wrenched the wetsuit down the rest of the way. Helmet on, grabbed bike, turned bike computer on while running.
Huge transition layout meant I had to run a long way with the bike. This wasn’t too bad because it gave my HR a chance to settle down as I made my way to the exit. Mounting the bike was a bit poor – right foot went in well, but shoe came unclipped when trying to get the left foot in. A bit more practice needed here but not a whole lot of damage done to the race clock here.
Bottom line: Transition needs work!
Oh boy. This is where it gets fun. Two lap course around the bay. For the first 6km, I had a tailwind or a cross/tailwind. I was holding low 200’s on the power meter, and sailing at 46+ km/h. Happy days. Then as the course went around the corner, it became more of a crosswind, then a cross/headwind. Struggletown! I watched my average speed play jump rope with 40km/h, then watch it dip significantly as I made the turn and powered into the headwind to return. My average speed was about 39.2 by the time I had finished the first lap. I picked up the power for the second lap – as planned – but the wind seemed to have picked up as well. I surged for a bit at 300W to try and make up some time, but then race experience spoke to me and I accepted that my final return leg was going to be a bit slow. I retained a NP of 255W, and an average speed of 38.6km/h, giving me a 1:02:06 bike. There were a few moments during the ride that I was passed by someone punching out significant watts, but for the first time (ever), I accepted it, didn’t go outside the plan, and put faith in my run to catch them. It wasn’t quite the ride I wanted (sub-1 is the goal), but all in all I am happy that I rode intelligently given the conditions.
Positives: Consistency, intelligence, and lack of ego.
Negatives: Rough mount of the bike, went too easy on the way out, could probably have pushed a bit harder on the way back in too. Need to find another 20+ watts in my opinion.
Another long run back in which allowed time to get the head together. When I arrived, I noticed someone had knocked my visor and glasses around, so I scrambled to grab them. Shoes on smoothly, race number on, visor and sunnies on, locked and loaded. Another long run out, but everyone faced that. I left feeling pretty calm, thinking I was in around 10th or so position (but in reality had NFI).
‘Run Smart, run within yourself’ was my mantra as I set out. I didn’t want to burn my matches too early like I had done in Townsville, and I needed to keep the pedal down for the whole 10km. The run was another 2 laps, a small climb up and over a bridge between Vic/NSW, and part gravel/part bitumen surface, which was quite tight in some places. Not my favourite run course, but not the worst by far. I kept an eye on the heart rate, as I didn’t want to blow up on this one like I did at Townsville. Surprisingly, with a comfortable HR of 165, I was able to hold a 3:47 for my first KM. This trend continued, holding around 3:50 or better for the first 5km. Then the wind picked up and I slowed slightly. My last 5km averaged out to be about 3:55, with my slowest going 4:01 – into wind and up the bridge. No negative split, but definitely a solid improvement compared to my last race. My official run time was 37:07, but the course was 300m short – so I’d probably be around the 38 minute mark. Still, a good day out. Good signs included not needing to smash water into myself like I did at TVL, and feeling relatively comfortable apart from a bit of shoulder pain at about the 5km point. Manageable but uncomfortable.
The best part? I passed the guy who shoved me out of the way with about 3km to go. Vindicated. Happy days.
Positives: Consistency, aerobic fitness, and no need for excess hydration.
Negatives: No negative split, noticing the soreness in the shoulders.
Summary: A 2:05:32 isn’t a bad effort. There is plenty of room to grow, but plenty to be happy about. Third in the AG (won by a pro), which from my count puts me at 45 out of a possible 50 points so far. The quest for ITU world champs is alive and well.
Looking forward to Robina in January with a bit of time to grow.
What Message do we Pedal?
I recently wrote about the chain reaction that led to me participating in triathlons, and the opportunity to represent Australia at the Para-triathlon sprint World Championships in Rotterdam on the weekend. I learnt many lessons from the race – one being that it is important to know, “what message we pedal.”
A message that was pedalled to me ten months ago was that it would be “impossible” to be selected to represent Australia at the 2017 Para-Triathlon World Championships. I of course didn’t back-pedal from these comments, but just put the foot down and got on with our goal of qualifying for the 2017 World Championships.
I increased my training cadence across swimming, cycling, and running, creating an internal message of, what if? My teams’ support and commitment to cranking up this output achieved good results in our performances over the next eight months, and selection for the 2017 World Championships. The earlier “impossible” messages which were being pedalled had gone a complete circle, and were derailed.
Our arrival into Rotterdam was met with very cold, wet and windy conditions. The first training session on the bike and run course was a good opportunity to experience the many sections of cobble stones and many corners on the bike course.
Our only opportunity for a swim session was in a 25m open air pool, and with the water temperature at 16 degrees, and air temperature 12 degrees, it was a mental and physical challenge. I reminded myself of the many 5:00am swim sessions I had completed during winter, at my local swimming pool (Yeronga), when the air temperature was six degrees.
The swim and bike course familiarisation was held in horrific weather conditions the day before the race. I had many internal messages being pedalled through my thoughts, as I swam through the angry chop of waves. Our cycle over the bike course in cold drenching rain magnified the many sections of cobblestones, and sharp corners we would have to negotiate throughout the course.
The morning of race day, I was pedalling many thoughts, the unpleasant weather conditions, our race plan and processes, equipment checks and transition set up, race registration, pre-race energy intake, toilet, and race warm up. The very cold and wet conditions delayed the race start by an hour, which increased the speed of the messages that were being pedalled through my thoughts.
The only thought I had while walking to the jetty for the start of the triathlon was how I would feel for the first five seconds of the race. I blocked out any thoughts of the rain, wind, and cold water. Our start of the race was an explosion of energy with the single thought of getting to the front. After the first 5 seconds, I refocused my thoughts onto each swim stroke, my body position in the water, and tension on the swim tether, with my guide, Dmitri. I had no room for any thoughts on how far we had gone, or where my other competitors were in the water, as these would only be distractions.
I contained my thoughts to tiny pieces of the triathlon, going from the swim to the transition area, to the cycle, to the second transition, and then onto the run. Each internal message had to be clear on what I had to focus on, at that moment of the triathlon.
We placed ninth overall, and I was the third totally blind athlete competitor, which was a great result at a World Championships after only 20 months in the sport.
The internal messages in triathlons are very different to my past pursuits as a Paralympic distance runner. While the intensity, energy output and goal of winning are the same, our internal communications are structured and pedalled with a different cadence.
Pre Race Nerves – Dealing with them positively
Leading into any major race I encourage athletes to spend time visualising their race day performance. Not from a time perspective but more on how they want to feel. What do they want to feel like? Feeling strong, being patient, positive and confident in their physical ability. Overcoming the challenges as they arise and being in the present at all time during the race.
Planting the emotional and mental seeds in your body to take your performance to another level. It will be hard, there will be challenges however if you have spent time preparing mentally for those challenges then you will more than likely still achieve the result you were wanting.
Getting in touch with your emotional self is the true art of racing; which in my opinion is beating that evil little voice in your head that will rear its ugly presence either before or during the race.
This exercise is especially effective on race day when it come to dealing with pre-race nerves. That funny feeling you get in your stomach. The adrenaline that you feel running through your body and that nervous excitement that takes over you as you start to prepare for the ultimate battle. Yes it is the ultimate battle against yourself. Not your competitors, not the course, not the distance but you. Only you and that little voice that says you’re not good enough.
Pre race nerves are a good thing. It shows that the race means something to you. So rather than seeing it as a negative turn it into a positive. Accept the feelings and acknowledge they are there.
As an example say this, “I’m nervous, that’s okay that means I am ready to race.” Compared to, I’m so nervous and I don’t know if I can do this.” Embrace the feelings as they hit you and don’t waste precious nervous energy fighting them.
If you start a race in a positive, confident and strong frame of mind then more than likely that is how you will perform during the race. Strong, confident and positive which is what you have visualised leading into the race.
I have previously alluded to vomiting problems experienced during long course racing.
The issue has been detrimental to my last two IM campaigns at Cairns (2015, 2016), as well as a few 70.3 races.
It has twice cost me a Kona slot so I knew I had to be more proactive ahead of this year’s Cairns campaign and try harder to understand the cause.
Supported by Sally Garrard, from Apple to Zucchini nutrition, I have been working with a range of other health experts.
Sally suggested I meet with Rebecca Elkington, from Sprouts Dietetics on the Gold Coast, as Rebecca has worked with Melbourne’s Monash University studying this specific problem.
We also approached Mark Barrett and the team from Physiologic at Robina to undergo detailed testing.
Once we had collected my results from basal metabolic and VO2 max tests, I was required to perform a three-hour treadmill run at 60 per cent of my VO2 max.
I had breath analysis readings recorded, blood glucose levels measured, and ingested a mixture of fluid-based carbs for the first two hours followed by water only for the final 60 minutes.
Heart rate, weight loss and hydration were constantly monitored and the results are very interesting.
- At a heart rate of 140, my stomach shuts down and won’t take in any more calories. This explains the cause of my vomiting towards the end of the bike leg and during the run when my heart rate starts to climb. My maximum heart rate is around 200 and I aim to ride the bike in IM at 135-145hr (I averaged 137hr during Cairns, 2016).
- My sweat loss and dehydration levels are off the charts. In the three-hour treadmill run, my dehydration levels were 3 per cent. “Normal” is considered 1 per cent. Despite drinking a lot during the treadmill test, I still lost almost 3kg.
- When my stomach shuts down, the pressure on my heart is enormous and so all available blood will go to the brain and heart as a protection mechanism. When this happens during an IM, I am risking small intestine failure and subsequent emergency surgery.
- We’re not sure if it is dehydration or intensity causing my stomach to shut down at a 140 heart rate. I suspect and hope it is dehydration as this can be improved through training.
- I need 1.5 litres of fluid per hour during the Ironman bike and run while all calories must be in the form of fluids because of stomach sensitivity and a need to restrict concentration levels.
- My fat oxidization is in the elite range and my Vo2 max is 62 which is reasonable for an age group athlete. So the engine is there and the mind is willing but a seriously high sweat rate and a dodgy stomach may yet determine the outcome no matter how fit or determined I am.
Rebecca told me that to get through Ironman Cairns without vomiting I am going to need to keep my heart rate at 140 or under.
Will this allow me to go fast enough to secure a Kona spot? Within this heart rate limit, I know I can swim between 55-60 minutes depending on conditions while last year I cycled 5.11 with an average heart rate of 137.
So my swim and bike will get me within striking distance but is a 140bpm heart rate going to allow me to push in the marathon?
Ideally, I would like to run at 145-155hr which I would think is normal under the strain of fatigue, heat, sweat loss and other racing stresses.
However, we now know that any higher than 140hr and my stomach won’t accept the calories so the vomiting begins.
In 2016, I vomited my way through 42km of running and recorded a time of 3.57 with a heart rate of around 145-160. In 2015 my marathon was 3.36 but the vomiting was not quite as bad however I rode 5.30 that day at exactly the same average HR of 137.
Both Cairns Ironman campaigns have seen me finish around 10 minutes’ shy of a Kona spot and were it not for the vomiting, I know I would have already reached my goal.
It’s not in my nature to give up or die wondering so my challenge is to see how fast I can be at 140bpm heart rate, on the bike and run especially.
How do I do that?
I need to get lean. In 2015, I raced at 76kg and last year I was 74kg.
This year I need to be under 70kg and be as lean as I was over a decade ago when I was an AFL umpire. I was 76kg this morning.
For the first time, I’ll get a meal plan from Sally to shred the excess body fat and be as lean as possible.
This will also help with sweat rate due to a smaller body mass to cool.
I then need to be as efficient as possible in the swim, bike and run.
Basically, I am going to have to do all the one percenters across the board.
Stretching, trigger point, core, specific zone training, strength work and more importantly regular mindfulness exercises to be ready for race day.
During the event, I’ll use Produrance from Pro4mance sports nutrition to absorb all calories via 1.5 litres of fluid per hour. I’ll use a camel back system while running to ensure I also get the adequate fluids and calories.
I am accepting this as a great challenge. How fast and efficient can I become at the maximum level my body allows me to function?
If it is fast enough to gain a Kona spot then great but if not, the improved knowledge and experience will significantly assist my work as a coach.