Qualifying for Kona – An Ironman comeback story


 Training preparation & race results from 2017 Ironman® Mont Tremblant


 

Endurance Nation’s Coach Patrick McCrann shares a detailed look at workouts, pacing, swim-bike-run training hacks and game-changing tools.

ironman comeback story Patrick McCrann of Endurance Nation qualifies for Kona

 

NOTE: The following was originally posted on the Endurance Nation’s Blog in August 2017.

Quick Summary

For those of you who might want a quick recap or with little time, here are the details. Swam a 1:07, Biked a 4:55 and Ran a 3:27 on my way to a 9:36 finishing time. This was a 1-minute improvement over 2014, confirming that I am indeed “still in the game” and good enough for fourth place in my Age Group and another trip to the World Championships. I am ecstatic!

22 Months of Building Up

The image above really captures it all. After Kona 2015, I got all excited to run more…but my Ego wouldn’t let me drop the pace….so I added tons of volume (red bars) at a high intensity (blue bars) and I got injured.

I spent the first half of 2016 not working out, getting MRIs, doing Physical Therapy and trying to see what was what. When it was all said and done, the best Doc I could find told me that I had tweaked a Fat Pad (I asked “Which one?!” since I was so out of shape) in my left knee. There’s a pad under your patella that acts as a cushion…it’s the most sensitive part of your knee area, mine was jacked. He gave me a cortisone shot and told me to get after it. I tried but it still wasn’t 100%…so I decided on my own to back it down again until I could be smart…which wasn’t until the end of Dec 2016.

I started with a basic week and felt great for about 8 weeks…and with the Blue Ridge Camp coming in May, I got back on the trainer in earnest and started riding with focus while I kept the run low. After Blue Ridge Camp (so fun!) I was fit and not hurt with 3 lighter weeks to absorb it…so I decided to see what I could do if I trained more like a triathlete…and things worked out with a good 13-ish week build up to Tremblant.

 

Weekly Run Volume for 2017

 

How I Hacked The Training Cycle

The Run: I knew right away entering 2017 that I couldn’t train the run like I wanted to train the run. I love running 40-ish miles a week, and as fast as I could. But this had proven to be too much, so I committed myself to starting very gradually.

By the time I got to the final 13 weeks to Mont Tremblant (final bar on the right) I had put in 10 consecutive weeks of 25 miles or more. Not a lot, but for where I was coming from it was enough. I did sneak in two bigger weeks but that was really all I could handle!!

The Bike: I didn’t get my brand new amazingly fast Ventum (more on that later) until July 26th, less than four weeks before my race! So I spent most of this year on my road bike. I usually spend way more time than that riding the aerobars all year, but I made the most of it. I think one of the things that helped me get ready for this race was just how long I was on the bike….a century on a road bike takes me almost an hour longer than it would on a tri bike. Yikes!

The biggest edit was joining Zwift and riding there. I did both Team Tempo rides with my Endurance Nation peeps on Sundays (picture above) as well as some weekly races…which are just incredibly hard. It kept me engaged and really made me very fit in a very short period of time. Nothing like chasing a wheel to get you to work harder and without a doubt, my teammates helped build my bike engine. Thank you!!!

Having real-time power and is an incredible workout in my own basement, was a game changer.

The Swim: Of all the disciplines, this was the one I was most concerned about. I don’t love swimming and getting back to the pool “out of shape” and on their funky schedule wasn’t my idea of a good time. Cue our amazing sponsor Vasa who sent over their SwimErg for me to train on. Having real-time power and is an incredible workout in my own basement, was a game changer.

Vasa SwimErg is a game-changer for Ironman swim training

When I first started, I could only do 10 to 15 minutes at a time. It was THAT HARD to do. It took over a month of doing this a few times a week to get to a point where I could swim for about 30 minutes. This was a great workout and netted me about 1,000 yards with a consistent stroke rate and power.

It was about this time that I started to re-orient towards Mont Tremblant. Rather than get all into the details about improving my power via intervals and stroke rate (I didn’t have the mental bandwidth to do it right!) I decided to use the Vasa to get physically ready for the swim…that meant swimming two miles, approximately an hour, several times a week.

As you can see from the Weekly Swim Volume chart above, I started in the winter of 2016, got a bit more serious in March and April, then in May began building and in June / August was on it. Can my swim be faster? Yes. Would I trade my 1:07 swim in a wetsuit from 2010 for thousands of yards all year in a pool at Oh Dark Thirty? HELL NO.

Sounds crazy, I know, but having my iPad with Netflix and a cup of coffee makes any swim workout completely manageable. Thanks, Vasa!

The Body Composition Difference

The game changer this time that got me to a healthy 178 was my Vasa SwimErg. I put on some great lean muscle in my upper body, and muscle burns calories…this has been missing from my training, and it made a huge difference.

Every race I try to improve the body composition. At 6’ 2” my personal basic training equilibrium seems to be about 190 lbs. But I like to race sub-180 if I can do it…but I’ve only been able to do it once before. This time given my training and overall durability, I figured the nutrition had to be a top priority so I got on it a bit early.

For me this means the following edits to my normal schedule:

  • Post workout / Breakfast recovery shake vs a full meal. My wife is on Isagenix so I used their PRO mix with 32g of protein into Almond Milk with a banana.
  • Fruit and nut choices for snacks throughout the day.
  • Better workout nutrition so I didn’t finish a session hungry…had to go out and buy a lot of PowerBars and Gels as my prior supply had expired!!!
  • Giant salad for dinner with lean meat.
  • Evening 2L of Crystal Light drink mix (I like the Peach Mango Green Tea) to satisfy my sweet tooth.
  • Late night / Bedtime scoop of Protein in 12oz of water so stop me from waking up and eating bad food when the training got serious. I used OptimumNutrition’s Chocolate Peanut Butter flavor as it was delicious and mixes well with water / no blender.

With all of that, the weight started dropping and I was about 185 by early July. The game changer this time that got me to a healthy 178 was my Vasa SwimErg. I put on some great lean muscle in my upper body, and muscle burns calories…this has been missing from my training, and it made a huge difference. Fit enough to show up at the pool now for sure, but who the hell wants to do that when I can swim in my basement!!??

Race Week

My family just loves Tremblant. The town is quaint with lots of stuff for the kids to do and explore. We bought the Activity Pass and did everything from the Luge to the Rock Wall to Bungee Jumping, a Gondola ride up to the top of the mountain and even Mini Golf. There’s more, but I forget!

The highlight of the trip was doing a Birds of Prey private experience. My kids love all animals thanks to their Grandmother, and this was amazing. My wife and two daughters…one trainer, one Hawk and 90 minutes. It was epic…they learned a ton, got to “catch and release” the hawk and so much more.

The Swim: 1:07

The water was a bit choppy out in the middle, but I felt strong and smooth all day given my muscular fitness. Normally I tire at the end of the swim, but not anymore.

I normally swim between 1:03 and 1:07, so this was kind of par for the course. Especially considering that I only swam in actual water five times this year, I was very pleased. With the time-trial start, I got into the sub-1:05 group and waded in with 8 others through the “toll gate” they have set up.

I had a very clean swim…for some reason, everyone else seemed to be swimming much further outside the buoys while I stayed on the line. Every once in awhile I found some feet but it was otherwise uneventful. The water was a bit choppy out in the middle, but I felt strong and smooth all day given my muscular fitness. Normally I tire at the end of the swim, but not anymore. If I want to get a faster swim I’ll either need to join the scrum (ugh) or maybe get some more water time.

The Bike: 4:55

My last bike here in 2014 was a 5:08. I felt fitter (and lighter) but wasn’t sure. I had gone with a 54/42 up front and an 11/28 in the back to take advantage of the downhills and the super aero properties of my new Ventum.

Basic bike details:

  • VentumOne with integrated hydration and DI2
  • Powertap G3 rear hub and disc cover from Wheelbuilder 
  • Zipp NSW 808 front (borrowed)
  • Rotor QXL ovalized rings.
  • Profile design front bottle with room for spare tube + Garmin mount.
  • Speedfil R3 Single Cage + Holder

I had ridden my new VentumOne for a few key sessions. Thanks to Todd at TTBikeFit I was comfortable and dialed into a great race position. My test rides were fast, but the game changer was how stiff the bottom bracket is…I could stand and lose no power and I fully expected to do that a bit on race day.

After talking with some of my super smart teammates, I began to think about the bike and how to ride it. I headed over to Best Bike Split to see what was possible and the dang thing said I could go 4:56. I was shocked. So I ran it a few more times and used the Advanced Weather feature on race morning to review the data. Even with new winds, no real change.

So then I downloaded their Garmin Power Course and put it on my Garmin 810. This would alert me at key intervals to use a certain amount of power…it was more dynamic than I would normally ride (which is usually a very steady power) but I figured as long as I kept my heart rate in check, I would be fine.

Disclosure: My FTP for this race was 340 watts and my race weight was 178 lbs (81 kg) for a W/kg of 4.2. In other words, I have a lot of bandwidth to “push harder” and “experiment” than the average triathlete.

My only piece of feedback to the BBS Team is that the alert font size is a bit hard to read on my Garmin 810…but with the beep and the grade displayed on my Garmin, I knew basically what I was supposed to do.

So How Did It All Play Out? Pretty Damn Well.

I got on the bike and started drinking right away as I knew it would be hot later in the day. Fueling was great as I was able to pee three times on the bike.

The power numbers were good and I just focused on getting my heart rate down in the first seven miles before heading out to the highway section. Once I was there, it was pretty clear my Watts/kg were good enough to keep me moving on the hills and my VentumOne plus my gearing meant no one could hang with me on the flats.

By the time we hit the hills in miles 45 to 51, I was with the “Kona hopefuls” in a group of about 20. I left them behind on a descent and didn’t see them until the run. For the rest of the ride, I tucked in to avoid the wind, rode past the entire Women’s pro field and caught all but seven Age Groupers. I felt great for most of the ride and hit T2 with a great split and feeling strong.

The Run

My run game plan was to run really smart through the hills in the first 2.5 miles, then get my legs moving on the flats. Get through the hills at halfway, stay strong and then finish in full control. It was pretty close.

I started the run in second but was passed by four guys of different ages early on.I was able to pass two of them back for sure, but in the end, those weren’t the ones in my Age Group. Those two passed me around the halfway point in the crowd, and I didn’t have the gas to keep up with them.

Stryd Run Powermeter Data

As the data from my Stryd Powermeter above shows, I was fairly consistent through about the three-hour mark. After that point, in the hills, things started to suffer in a battle of mind vs body vs stomach.

See how I was more efficient (Form Power) running less Watts in training but almost running the same pace…that’s called “my run form is broke” on race day!!!

When I left T2, it was hot. Upper 70s after a week of low to mid-60s made me really cautious. I ran very slowly here and tried to limit the damage. You can see how much my HR wanted to spike right away.

Having power data allows me to do some comparisons to the “work” I did in training. Rather than just compare by pace or distance, I can actually review metrics to ensure that future training will be as race specific as possible!

My general statistics as compared to my last long run show that I worked harder on race day, likely due to an inefficient run form exacerbated by Swim and Bike fatigue!

Mont TremblantLast Long Run
Avg Moving Pace:7:42 / mile7:46 / mile
Avg Moving Power:309.5 Watts297 Watts
Avg Moving Form Power (Efficiency):86.2 Watts90.2 Watts
Avg Cadence:167 SPM166 SMP

Then the next eight miles were a good slow build except for discovering I had no aid station game…I messed up so many! Thankfully I had my RaceSaver™ Bag  all day to carry ice with me between aid stations which was a lifesaver!

And I was smooth until I hit those hills in town…my legs did not want to climb!!!!  As you can see from the chart my Heart Rate was spiking around mile 13 and it wasn’t very happy.

Marathon Heart Rate

Heading out on Lap Two it was gut check time. I was hurting, my stomach wasn’t feeling it and I was feeling sorry for myself. Time to put a package of Gatorlytes into a Coke and crush it. With my stomach settled, I got back to work. I felt smooth outbound and stronger on the way back. Even though I was slowing, you could see how my Heart Rate built through the climb/descent at mile 22. I wasn’t catching anyone but no one passed me in the last 10 miles!

Strava Race Analysis

Got tough at the midpoint in the hills…but I pulled it together!

I was clearly at my limits as I got a cramp at Mile 23.5 of all places (highest heart rate all day), and had to walk a bit to get my breath back…but I kept going. One final push up the hill through Special Needs and then on to the finish!

All in all, I was pretty pleased with the run. Comparing Lap One to Lap Two I only slowed down by 5 minutes!!

  • Lap One: 7:31 / mile pace at 316.8 Watts for a total time of 1:41:00.
  • Lap Two: 7:53 / mile pace at 302.6 Watts for a total time of 1:46:00.

The Finish & Thank You’s

 

I was able to see the family almost right away, and they whisked me to our condo. It was only a two-minute walk from the finish….did I mention how much I love this place? With a pit stop for a shower and some NormaTec Recovery Boot time, I was back to cheer on the other athletes within an hour. Another personal best!

There’s no way I could have done this without my entire Team of supporters:

  • My incredible wife and family who supported me while injured (aka grumpy Patrick) and in my return;
  • My teammates at Endurance Nation who gave me advice, support and the occasional beat down when required…and helped pick up the slack when I was on site for Race Week;
  • My co-workers at Endurance Nation who stepped up to help with so much work when my training picked up;
  • My friends who offered help at every turn such as Jeffrey Capobianco from Breakthrough Performance Coaching  which does great one-on-one coaching if that’s your thing;
  • Industry partners all mentioned above, especially Todd at TTBikeFit who first transformed me into a Human Missile in 2010 and I’ve never looked back, the folks at Ventum and Vasa.
  • And many others I am sure I have forgotten…thank you all!

Next Steps…Seven Weeks to Kona!

As I look at my battered feet and quads, I am not sure how things will move forward…but I am sure I’ll feel differently about it all in another week. Stay tuned for further updates!


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