Pacing the IronmanMarch 27, 2010
Pacing an Ironman can be very tricky, especially to the first timer, who spends a year in wonder+fear+excitement. Each year as I watch and coach Ironman Lake Placid I see the same thing. The fastest cyclists (and I am talking age groupers here) tend to be most of the marathon walkers. Let’s take a look at a sample athlete. Sally.
Sally’s a great athlete. She is a 1:20 T Time swimmer, a good cyclist and she runs a 5K in about 18 minutes to make it even. She’s put in the training. The most important part of her training… because she had good guidance….. was developing her aerobic base. We all know that is the number one component of the Ironman because last I checked it was over 60 minutes long.
Sally however is determined to have a great bike. She knows she’s a strong runner but she wants to really make up some ground on the bike, as she feels a 1:05 swim might place her too far back.
Race day comes and her splits are as follows:
5 min T1
5 min T2
What the heck happened? At first it looks like she must need more run training! More 20 milers at tempo! No no no, upon further analysis you may determine that Sally incorrectly paced that bike. Common mistake.
An easy calculation is as follows, the V Dot system by Jack Daniels is perhaps one of the easiest ways to determine pace. based on her 5K time Sally has a V dot of 56. This targets her flat our marathon pace to be 6:37 which translates into a 2:54 marathon.
However in an Ironman we go by her easy pace for the simple fact that there i a 2.4 mile swim and 112 mile bike plus a boatload of nutrition she hopefully didn’t screw up. In an Ironman we aim for her E pace of 7:48 which translates into an Ironman marathon time of 3:25.
Now let’s look at her bike ride. She doesn’t have a powermeter and truthfully does not need one. On a course like IMLP pacing by speed is not effective because of the undulation of the course. Heart rate monitoring may or more often than not doesn’t work because of the variation in HR. Just being at the event raises HR by 10 beats, so what are you going to do…. slow down? Sally does have a bike computer which shoes us she grinded up every single hill with a cadence of 50. She was standing. Her cadence through the last 11 miles dropped as she rode. Just looking at her speed pattern, her first loop was 10 minutes faster than her second loop.
Does she need more tempo running? No she needs to learn how to pace her bike ride. Providing that her nutrition was spot on, and in most cases it is not…… here are a few tips we can give Sally:
1. Build your bike base through your season. Your ability to run must come from your ability to pop off 5-6 hour rides with ease. Your ability to run off the bike comes from that bike base. We need you to be durable. To quote our friends at Endurance nation…… every time you feel like you should go faster….. think about mile 18 of the marathon because that is where that race begins. Get to know your body. Stay out of your head.
2. To quote our Endurance Nation friends: “Ride the pace you should ride, not the pace you could ride”. It will seem slow. It might be an absolute struggle for your ego, but you have to slow down.
3. I like to pace IMLP by cadence in many cases. If you can ride this course with an average cadence around 88 you are setting up for a good run. Why? Because to hold a cadence of 88 on this course you can’t go balls out. There are too many hills. Secondly riding with a cadence of 50 through hills like Sally did is trashing her legs further than they already are. This is a hilly course. The actual key to keeping the cadence up is shifting. Good cyclists on this course….. well let’s say smart cyclists on this course will be shifting every 10-15 seconds throughout this course. This must be practiced in training. You spend 6 X 6 hour rides riding like this, you will know what this needs to feel like on race day.
4. Nail nutrition. Riding this course on fig newtons is not going to be good. That will show up as stomach horror in the marathon, but we will discuss nutrition in a later post. for now……. if you don’t use what is on the course be comfortable enough with it to use it for back up. Practice nutrition a minimum of 5 times on long workouts. All of my athletes have been practicing it since January.
5. Pace that marathon wisely. Let’s pretend that Sally paced the bike correctly, she nailed her nutrition correctly. Now she gets off that bike and knows she is a sub three hour marathoner, and takes the first mile in 6:40. Whoa Nelly! Slow down! Again to quote the EN guys…… give us three minutes in the beginning and we will give you 10 min at the end. Meaning….. Sally’s first miles off the bike should be 7:45-7:40, not 6:40. It’s tough, she’s excited, she’s doing well, the run begins on a downhill. Save it Sally. Hold back. we tell our athletes that at mile 18, 19, 20 if you feel like you have spent this entire day holding back, going to slow….. then prove it by throwing down the fastest 10K you can. Someone recently asked me “How much time can I make up in 10K” and I responded “If you have really gone too slow the whole day, you will be able to make up a lot”. No one by the way has ever actually done this
I have spent many years studying pacing of this race. I have worked with amazing coaches who have taught me. I have mentors in this field who prove to me the pacing process works. We have over 100 Ironman finishes under our belts. I know this course. I know Ironman Lake Placid in my sleep. I know where the hard parts are, I know where the ego parts are. I have done this race on the most perfect day, and I have done this race in hail and wind. I have vomited this course and I have qualified for the Hawaii Ironman on this course. I have even been pulled off this course with no memory of what my name was. I have ridden this course in training and in racing over 80 times.
When it comes to Lake Placid…. I know my stuff.
Trust me, the key to this race is patience. Patience on this bike will be rewarded on the run. Stay out of your head and learn to feel your body. It will never steer you wrong.
coming back to Sally. she spends another year preparing. She learns her body. She let’s go of her “I am a rock star runner” ego mentality. The following year she does this:
5 min t1
5:45 bike……… same split…… paced correctly…….
5 min T2