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Caplan's IMFL race report

Posted By: KP
Date: Monday, 10 November 2008, at 3:54 p.m.

With Jeff's permission I'd like to share his IMFL summary. What I find most valuable was Jeff's willingness to alter strategy entering this race. In my own past experience, bitter disappointment finally led me to change early race efforts. Instead of swinging for a home run on the bike I put absolute focus on hitting a line drive and sliding into 2nd or 3rd base. The result was an enormous run improvement and a PR. Nice job Mr Caplan!

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Ironman Florida Race Report
November 1st, 2008
Jeff Caplan

This was my 9th Ironman, and was my total focal point for the season. I broke 13 hours for the first time in 2006 and had spent the last 2 years trying to go under 12 hours. While I had days where I had decent swim/bike or bike/run combos, I hadn’t hit on the right level of effort and nutrition management to get there. I was truly determined to have a different result on the day and spent quite a bit of training time focusing on performance management. Rather than blowing up after the bike, my swim and bike efforts would be aimed at ensuring a decent run and a solid overall result.

Going into the race, I was feeling the full effects of the taper – kind of sluggish when not working out, but pretty much on during the workout. The only exception was on what was supposed to be a 2 hour ride on the last Saturday during the race. Due to some logistics issues, I had to do it on my trainer. I just wasn’t into riding indoors, and pulled the plug after 70 minutes or so. I knew I had what I needed training-wise and decided to simply enjoy the day and relax.

With the race on Saturday, I arrived in Panama City on Wednesday. The days leading up to the race offered unusually good weather. While the temps were seasonable to slightly cool, the big news is that the winds were calm. Practice swims in the Gulf were more like lake swims rather than the usual ‘Gulf Chop.’ While there is always a strong breeze, there were no signs of the gusty winds that could turn the bike ride into a slog.

I woke up at 3:00 am on race morning and ate 4 scrambled eggs along with 3 servings of oatmeal sprinkled with dried berries and honey. From then until the bike, I only took in water with a few sips of Gatorade. Getting into transition when it opened at 5:00 gave me ample time to check my bike, organize my bags, and find a nice corner in which to doze for a bit. As we walked down to the swim it was clear that the calm waters from the preceding days were present again on race morning. One of the things I do for this race is to wear a pair of old socks onto the beach. The sands can be pretty chilly, and the longer you stay warm the better. Seeing friends at the start also helped take the edge off things.

When the cannon went off and we hit the water, the temps were pretty cool for the first 50 meters or so. Because the sand is so cold on the beach, the water that washes over the sand tends to be very cool. Once we got out, however, the water temp was perfect. I use a Blue Seventy Helix full suit, and it felt great. The contact wasn’t too bad during the swim, and I got out of the water in 1:14 and change. This was around 2 minutes faster than last year, and a good start to the day.

T1 was very crowded, and I went with my plan to get my bike gear on outside of the tent. I swim in a tri suit under my wetsuit, so I just put on my shoes, socks, Giro aero helmet, Giro shades, and a pair of cotton gloves. From previous experience, I knew that although the first hour or so on the bike would be a bit cool that the sun in Florida is still pretty strong this time of year.

I got out on the bike and carefully monitored my Powertap. I was moving at a decent pace, and decided that even though I was showing lower watts than what I would have forecast going into the race that there was no reason to push it. Again, the focus was on having a solid run. One thing I did want to do on the bike was to lift my efforts in the second half. Doing so not only allows you to better manage your efforts, but also take in plenty of nutrition – when your HR is lower, you are better able to absorb nutrients. I took in about 3 ˝ bottles of Infinit during the bike for around 350 calories an hour. This was washed down with lots of water and some Gatorade. I really drank a ton of fluids out there.

The weather was continuing to cooperate and there was nothing more than a strong breeze in spots. While there were some large groups of riders out there, I’d just take it easy and let them go by while I drifted back and kept out of the bunch. In the past, my bike efforts have really fallen off in the last hour in part because I would have tried to have jumped to the front of the group. Coming into this race, I benefited from a lot of long rides where I would increase my watts every two hours. The numbers for the bike wound up as follows:

* 1st Half: 163 AP, 169 NP, 115 HR, 1.03 VI, ~2:46
* 2nd Half: 165 AP, 171 NP, 124 HR, 1.03 VI, 2:36

. . . For a net bike time of 5:23 – nearly a 15 minute PR!

Despite losing a minute or so due to a misplaced bag in transition, I got on the run pretty quickly. I really felt super as I started. I was on the run course in less than 6:50 into the race and was feeling strong. The All3Sports cheering tent (led by Marc Thompson and Sarah Hackler) was just rocking each time I went by, and helped to keep the pace. I also saw Nicki Canavan and Paul Bennett quite a bit on the looped run course, and seeing the team was definitely motivating. To make sure I didn’t over do it, I took about a minute or so of time to walk through the aid stations to help keep my heart rate low. My efforts stayed in my ‘steady’ range (an HR of 130-140), and I felt good for the first half. The only real issue I ran into was around mile 16 where I got a pretty bad stitch. I did a walk-jog for a couple of miles and suddenly realized that if I didn’t get on my horse that I might wind up over 12 hours. At that last turnaround at St. Andrews Park I found that the combination of cola and warm chicken broth seemed to help a great deal and that I was able to keep a forward pace. The last 10K went by very quickly, and before I knew it I was crossing the line in 11:40:38 – a 62 minute PR! There were over 800 people who had faster races than me in Florida, and my time was light years away from any sort of award or recognition. However I can tell you that with this result as my focus for the last 24 months, there are not a lot of things in my life for which I’ve ever worked harder – it really feels good to hit a goal like that!

I had a bit more overall fitness for this race than I had been for others, but I think a change in strategy made the biggest difference. When I have been fit in the past, I tried to use that fitness up to the max on each leg. When I would guess wrong (which was often), I would wind up with nothing left at the end. The approach this time was to truly see how much energy I could carry over into the next leg of the race. The investment in fitness paid off by allowing me to get through with less energy rather than absolute increases in speed. Rather than viewing things like power or HR levels as absolute targets, I did a better job of combining them with my perceived effort to ensure that I could maintain pace for the long haul. I used the targets as “not to exceed” numbers as opposed to “must sustain for every second” numbers. I was also much more patient than in previous races. I kept in mind the lessons from training, that radically amping up efforts early on typically had an exponential impact on performance later in the day. Collectively, it gave me a great way to end the season and a solid platform to build from in 2009.

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