Posts Tagged ‘ironman’

The Iron Stomach

Friday, March 19th, 2021 | Sport

James Lawrence, better known as The Iron Cowboy, is the triathlete that completed 50 Ironmans in 50 days (the 50-50-50) and is now on a new challenge: #Conquer100. Which, as you might guess, is an attempt to do 100 Ironmans in 100 days. All of this is amazing and in this post, I want to focus on just one area of that amazing which is how much he needs to eat.

I don’t actually know what he is eating other than a few social media pictures but just calculating the numbers makes suggests that his is truly a test of GI tract endurance. Here is why.

Calories burnt

Lawrence is posting his Garmin workouts as he goes and he is burning around 5,900 to 6,800 kcals per triathlon, which is taking him somewhere between 16-18 hours. Then there is the 6-8 hours he is not racing, most of which is sleep, so we can assume another 600 kcals of basal metabolic activity on top of that. Therefore, he is probably burning through around 7,000 kcals per day.

Which means he needs to eat 7,000 kcals a day. And because he is mostly racing when he is not sleeping, most of that needs to be done while he is doing the triathlon.

Could he run a calorie deficit?

One option would be to eat less than he is burning. Except this is not an option in Lawrence’s case. Because he is doing it for 100 days.

Even a modest deficit of 500 kcals per day (modest when you are burning 7,000) would cause him to lose 0.5 kg per week. But he is doing it for 14 weeks, so that is 7kg he would lose. He probably only has around 7kg of body fat on him at most and we need some body fat to live. Men can get down to around 2-5% and still be okay, but when you only have 10% body fat, you cannot lose 10% body fat and except to survive. Of course, he could also lose muscle but that is a pretty bad idea when you are trying to do an Ironman every day.

In any case, he isn’t going for this strategy as he has been posting his weight in his daily updates and gained a little bit of weight over the last week.

Okay, so gels then?

One of the big challenges is that he needs to eat a lot of this while doing the triathlon.

Typically, we would minimise eating while exercising because the body needs to shift blood flow and energy to the muscles and so if we try and force it to digest food at the same time we end up with stomach cramps. To offset this risk we would typically use gels: they are made up of glucose and fructose that the body does not need to break down because it is usable energy.

In comparison, we would avoid eating protein because proteins are long chains of amino acids and so the digestive systems need to break these down into individual amino acids before it can use them.

But in Lawrence’s case, gels are not an option. First, his body physically could not process them fast enough. The perfect ratio is a 2:1 mix of glucose to fructose that allows us to take up 90 grams per hour (360 kcals). To get through 7,000 kcals per day, he would need to take a gel every 20 minutes for 20 hours per day. He is not awake that long.

Also, who could stomach 60 gels per day? And no, he can’t mix it up with anything else because nothing else has the magic 2:1 ratio of glucose and fructose. Start eating sugar out of a bag, for example, and it is not as effective because its a 1:1 ratio and the body needs to cleve the table sugar in two to get each part.

The only way to get the energy content in then is to rely on protein and fat to avoid the 90 grams per hour barrier.

Second, a pure sugar diet would not work because he needs to rebuild the damage in his muscles constantly. Typically, we would go out and do a hard race and worry about eating protein after as our muscles recovered. If this process took a few days, it no big deal because our races are widely spaced. But if you are doing nothing but sleeping and racing for 100 days, you don’t have this luxury. The body can only handle 20 grams of protein at a time and functions best when it gets these protein shots 5-6 times per day.

The iron stomach

In summary, he needs to eat around 400 kcals per hour, every hour, from a mixture of protein, fat and carbohydrates, and leave himself enough energy to digest all of this while swimming, cycling and running.

While 400 kcals is not a heavy meal, it is clearly a meal, compared to an energy gel (typically around 100 kcals) or energy bar (maybe as high as 200 kcals if you get a big one) and then he has to race on that basically all of the time.

IRONMAN Certified Coach

Tuesday, January 26th, 2021 | Sport

I’m now an IRONMAN Certified Coach. I am already a certified coach with British Triathlon, but it is reassuring to know that my coaching skills also extend to looking after long format athletes and that I am not just winging it based on my personal experience completing full distance and 70.3 races.

I might write up a proper review of the IRONMAN U programme later but in the final assessment, your skills get put to the test when you have to design a detailed training plan for a fictional athlete looking to complete their first full distance event. It was tougher than expected but the work apparently paid off as I achieved 98%.

Can you train for an Ironman in 6 weeks?

Thursday, September 3rd, 2020 | Sport, Video

Many athletes spend years preparing for a full distance (Ironman) triathlon. But what if you only have 6 weeks? In this video, I’ll give it a go. To be fair, I wasn’t going from a standing start. I spent the first three months of 2020 on my training plan. Then COVID-19 happened, all the races got cancelled, and I spent the next few months running the Great Virtual Race Across Tennessee.

Then, six weeks before the race, Dalesman announced they were going ahead with their full distance race. So, I thought I would give it a go. Is it enough time to get ready? Let’s find out!

Skip to 8:15 for the sexy training montage and 15:57 for some race day footage.

Woolenman Triathlon

Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 | Sport

Back in March, when all the races started getting cancelled, I decided that if all else failed, I would do a self-supported race which eventually became known as Woolenman. Last weekend, I

The plan

With Outlaw and Ironman Copenhagen cancelled, I wanted to go full distance. But with some changes.

Several races, including Dalesman, changed their swim course to a 1,000-metre loop and allowing athletes to choose how many loops they did before getting on the bike. I adopted a similar plan. My swimming pool is still closed so it had to be open water, and the lake I use is only open for an hour so my swim would be capped at that.

Next problem: the lake does not open until 9 am and that is way too late to start a full distance triathlon so I would have to start the bike before that: making it bike-swim-bike-run.

The start

I got up at 4:15 am to have breakfast. The choice of champions, of course: toast, an apple, juice and plenty of Imodium. I set off just before 5:15 am. This meant I was setting off in the dark and was able to watch the sunrise as I headed towards Methley.

I completed the first 75 km without too many problems. There was some headwind coming back towards Ledsham but it certainly did not feel like the 60 kmph gusts that were promised.

The swim

After racking my bike, I headed down to the lake and set off on the swim. I decided to do 3 big loops and 1 little loop, which should have been 1,750 metres, plus getting to and from shore, should have been just under 1,900 metres (half distance). My watch only registered 1,690 metres but it’s often not accurate when swimming.

I did think about getting out early, especially as I typically have stomach issues after swimming in open water, but I decided it might feel like cheating if I only did 1,000 metres and still called it a full-distance race.

The bike

After the swim, I headed home. I was cold by this point, probably because I went home in my wet tri shorts, so I tried to warm up and eat something before jumping on the bike.

The second half of the bike was a longer segment. The weather was mixed: the rain started and stopped and sometimes it was light enough to stay in my jersey and other times it was heavy. I stopped to put on and take off my rain cape multiple times.

My lower back tends to suffer on the bike but I held up reasonably well until towards the end, maybe Otley, when it really started aching. I was pushing to make sure I was well within the cut-off and hoping to start the round by around 4 pm and caught between wanting to keep up the pace and mounting fatigue.

Gels were not sitting well with me so I hate a lot of Haribo, flapjack and jellies. Once I reached Bramhope I knew I was on the home stretch and headed down the hill, via Burley Road and Kirkstall Road back into T2.

The run

Only a marathon to go. I laced up my shoes and put crates of nutrition in my car that I was using as an aid station. The run course was a 5km loop that I used for Endure24. On the second loop, I encountered some stomach issues and had to return home for a break.

Things didn’t get much better after that. I walked most of the third loop and felt exhausted, so I decided to break out the Red Bull a loop early than planned. The fourth loop was tough, too, but after this, the caffeine and extra food I was eating kicked in and I picked up the pace. The next 15 km went well, and I put in some 5:30-6:00 kilometres.

As I reached the last 7 km, the sun had gone down and the rain started. I put on my rain jacket and switched to my B loop: around Leeds Dock and back through town where there is street lighting. Even the food and caffeine could not save me by this point and I walked the first 6 km with a bottle of coke in my hand.

Eventually, the coke drunk and realising I was a final kilometre from home, I managed a gentle run for the final 6-7 minutes to arrive back at home.

The finish

You might think it feels amazing to finish a full-distance race. But honestly, it usually doesn’t. Anything long-distance: marathon, ultra, middle distance, full distance: you’ve just given everything and are totally drained. This one was a weird one. I think if the run had been 32-37 km, I would have felt great as I rode my caffeine high. But, by the end, I was back to feeling like death.

Still, it felt good to cross the makeshift finish line and put on my medal.

I managed to each some sausage butties after the race and in what turned out to be an excellent move, I used this special triathlete muscle recovery gel that you mix with hot water in a large tub.

The timings

Working out timing is difficult. My bike computer says I started at 05:11. My watch says I stopped running at 21:29, so the total elapsed time was 16:18, a good 42 minutes ahead of the traditional 17-hour cut-off for a full-distance race.

My swim was 52:15, which is pretty slow although a good 4-5 minutes of that was getting in and out of the lake. And marginally faster than the 3:08 I swam at Yorkshireman last year.

My bike time is anyone’s guess. My computer said it was 7:39:64 but that was with auto-pause on. So, we could look at the elapsed time, but that was 10:24:39 because it had a swim in the middle. Also, Garmin added over 45 minutes and a phantom 6 km while I was swimming, so my moving time was sub-7 hours. Average moving speed was 25.9 kph. This is slightly better than the 25.3 kph average moving speed I did at Yorkshireman over the same elevation (roughly 1,200 metres).

My best guess for actual time on the bike was 2:51:46 in bike 1, and then roughly 11:15 to 15:35 in bike 2. That makes a total elapsed time of roughly 7:12:00, which is exactly 25 kph. Who knows if that is accurate, though, because I have no real way of telling if 11:15 was an accurate time for when I got back on the bike. My average speed over elapsed time at Yorkshireman was 23.6 kph accounting for stops to stretch my back and trying to help another athlete unjam their chain.

My run time was 4:56:30, but that is with some pauses to account for getting to the aid stations that would usually be on-course. Elapsed time was 5:14:04. Either of these values is notably slowe than the 4:40:35 I ran at Yorkshireman.

So, what do those numbers mean?

Well, if we move this data to Outlaw, I would have hit the cut-offs. I was on for a sub-two-hour swim, 7:12:00 bike split and 5:14:00 marathon. At Copenhagen, it would have been close: the cut-off to start the run is 9:30:00, so I would have had to go through transition in under 20 minutes. That sounds stupidly easy, but I was 15 minutes each at Yorkshireman! I could easily reduce that by moving my bathroom breaks onto the bike and run course, and by just getting a move on.

Areas for improvement

My swim was no faster than last year, but it was front crawl rather than breaststroke, so I feel like that is a much better base for getting faster moving forward. Assuming I don’t get ill with the amount of water I swallow, which has been a real problem with open water swimming for me.

I didn’t use the aero bars at all on the bike. I tried using them at the Evolve triathlon last week and I almost immediately started to get a lot of lower back pain. I got plenty of this last year too, but not this bad, so I decided to play it safe and not use them.

I have been stretching for 20 minutes every day since lockdown in an attempt to free up my hamstrings in the hope that would solve it. No luck so far (my hamstrings have relaxed a little but no change in pain), but if I can crack that, I can get far more aero and take a lot more time off the bike. Maybe I just need to buy a tri bike and get the better geometry, you say?

Conclusion

I’m now a two-time full distance finisher. I’ve officially proved it was no a fluke. Now I can chill out for the rest of the year and hopefully get some more races in now the season is starting to open up.

Ironman VR17 and Leeds virtual media

Thursday, August 6th, 2020 | Sport

Ironman VR17 was another race that I did finish but I was technically a DNF due to Garmin’s incompetence. I couldn’t access the .fit files to upload to Ironman Virtual Club so despite riding 160 km that weekend, I didn’t manage to get it into Virtual Club to record my result. Thanks, Garmin.

But on the plus side, my World Triathlon Leeds virtual challenge medal has turned up.

Garmin outage, Ironman VR16 and Leeds virtual

Tuesday, July 28th, 2020 | Sport, Tech

As you may know, Garmin have had a massive outage. It went down Wednesday night/Thursday morning and started coming back online on Monday, so 4-5 days. It took out their website, call centres, Garmin Connection, production line in Taiwan and even services like flyGarmin and Garmin Pilot.

Garmin’s software is awful at the best of times. Syncs constantly fail with the Garmin Connect mobile app, there are a bunch of bugs in their website that have lastest years (I still can’t see my swim from Wetherby Triathlon) and a lot of stuff crashes and does not work as it should. Hopefully, this will be a kick up their ass to make things better.

As a result, this has put a lot of strain on the things that rely on Garmin.

I managed to record my World Triathlon Leeds virtual event and earn my certificate. I was less lucky with Ironman VR16. Unusually, Ironman was on the ball and extended the deadline but technical problems at Garmin’s end with synced rides going missing and activities not reporting correctly meant I gave up after an hour of messing around. Thanks for that, Garmin. Still, even if I do not have the badge, I know I was a VR16 finisher in my heart.

The cycle was particularly challenging. I did 120 km, but a third of the way through a bolt fell out of my cleat (see above) and I had to do the last 3.5 hours with one foot clipped in and the other riding the flat side of the pedal. Thankfully, there were no major climbs or descents.

Ironman VR15

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2020 | Sport

I hsven’t been doing any fast running recently. The endless base miles for GVRAT have been slow plods and Ironman VR14 was an easy run, too.

However, I decided to do VR15 as a brick. Not the full 40 km bike and 13 km run, as I had already done 100 km on the bike the day before. But, as a warm-up, I did a 20 km blast up to Horsforth and back on the bike before setting off on the run.

The first two kilometres were a little sluggish but the rest were down around 4:40 per kilometre, finishing on a 4:05. Total time for the 10km was 47:12, which is one of the fastest 10ks I have ever run. So, pretty pleased with that. Although, there is an important caveat that I took a break at the turnaround point, so it’s technically a Ross Barkley time.

I was originally planning to do the 13 km as one fast block, but after stopping my watch and restarting it for the 3km, I realised I burnt my legs trying to get a good 10k time. So, I finished off the final 3km in a still-not-shabby 5:00 per kilometre.

Ironman VR14

Thursday, July 16th, 2020 | Sport

Now that I have my bike back, and have prep for Dalesman to do, I am back on the Ironman VR events. I did not feel much like running after GVRAT but luckily it was only a sprint distance, so a 6.5 km run combined with my existing bike rides did nicely.

Ironman VR13

Tuesday, June 30th, 2020 | Sport

My long-awaited return to Ironman VR racing. I completed all of one to eight (except five, so not all one to eight), but then had my first ever DNF in multisport racing when my rear mech exploded 30 km into the bike route. Since then, my Bianchi has been at Woodrup getting repaired. Thankfully, it is now back in my possession and racing again.

I did the run in a 13 km on Saturday morning and then settled in on Sunday for the 40 km bike ride. Stormy winds eventually convinced me to stay inside on the turbo, but only after I had stopped at 27 km on the Saturday after the Zwift race. I should have thought that one through.

I had a look around the Watopia courses and settled on big loop. At 42 km it was the closest match to the distance and, compared to the others, did not seem that hilly at 650 metres of climbing.

It was very hilly. The first thing it did was take me up Epic KOM, which took 35 minutes. On the flat, I can nail that distance in 1:20:00. I was still peddling at around 1:33:00 after the jungle loop also included a long and sustained climb. And because of GVRAT, I still had to get off the bike and do a 10 km run, even though I had already finished the run for Ironman VR13.

Oh well, lesson learned. Next time I might just grit my teeth and do four boring laps of the 10 km flat route.

93 minutes on the turbo wasn’t too uncomfortable. Having the smart trainer gives a bit more wiggle, but I did have to get out of the saddle a few times to give my ass a break. Less unpleasant than previous training sessions, though. I’m not sure whether it’s the smart trainer, the change in evaluation or the new shorts but it feels a bit less unpleasant than previous 90-minute rides.

Ironman VR9

Saturday, May 30th, 2020 | Sport

Sad times today: I’m registering my first ever DNF in a multisport event. Ironman VR9 was a middle distance duathlon. 33 km into the 90 km bike leg, my rear derailleur snapped and flipped itself upside down. One expensive Uber later and I was home with my bike but it is now in a queue to be fixed at Woodrup and they are snowed under with the sudden increase in cycling that COVID has brought (not to mention being one of the few bike shops still open!).

So, I won’t be finishing Ironman VR9 and won’t be cycling for a while either :(.