Spring in Ljubuški

After coming back from South Africa I had some free time, so I filmed a short video of my hometown 🙂

Ironman South Africa

Probably my worst race day experience happened in South Africa last year. I never felt as bad during a race as on that day. Lead up to it was far from perfect. There were many set backs and, by chance, in my biggest training block I had many obligations outside of the sport. It all led up to me being over-trained and quitting the race after the bike. Memories of that day were still fresh and the thing I wanted to do the most was to replace them with more pleasant ones.

I had a good swim for my standard, exiting the water in the second group. On the other hand, we lost quite a lot of time to the front group and that group was huge. Last year it was often the case that the second group overpowers the first group on the bike and they merge. It was obvious that won’t be the case in this race.

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Few kilometers after transition Boris Stein passed me. The pace was hot, but I waited to see if he will settle into a more sustainable one. After 5-10 minutes it became obvious that settling in was not his plan and I had to back off. Part of my swim group caught up with me shortly after and we formed a group of 4. The pace was still quite high and unsustainable for this distance. However, if you want to stay in the race you have to follow the group. Once you’re left on your own it’s all over.

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Not much happened for the remainder of the ride. We passed some guys that fell of the front group and Joe Skipper managed to break away, however he didn’t gain much time on us. As predicted the pace was constantly going down because of the fast start. The least ideal way to race such a long event, but the only possible way if you want to be competitive.

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There was not much wind on the bike course and the course itself is not very selective. That allowed the front group to remain quite compact until the end of the bike ride. Even though the drafting is not allowed it can still be felt at 10m distance when the group is big enough. Especially if it is followed by media vehicles. I was in a group as well but it was much smaller and with far less “horsepower” so I was at the front for long periods of time.

Things didn’t look promising at the start of the run. I was in 18th position with the big group more than 10 minutes in front of me. When I started the run, most of them were close to 3k mark. I didn’t came there to give up so I started my chase hoping that some of them expanded too much energy trying to stay with the group on the bike. Wind was still absent and it was quite hot. Whoever was suffering would suffer even more because of the conditions.

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I felt very good and the gap to most of the guys in front of me was coming down. It took a while to start improving my position. When I finally started passing others the course got crowded with people just starting the run what made me lose count. Entering the last lap I knew I was not far away of top10 so I tried to keep the pace high. In the last stages of such a long race it’s hard to motivate yourself. The legs are screaming and only thing you think about is the finish line. In order to keep the pace strong I set myself a goal of passing Wurf and Cunnama who were not too far ahead. As I was unsure of my position, I wanted to push till the end so I don’t have any regrets if I finish outside of top10. I managed to pass them both and as I entered the finish area announcer said I was in 9th spot, so the pre-race goal of top10 placing was accomplished.

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I’m quite happy with the outcome of this race. However, I’m aware I still need to improve in all disciplines if I want to be competitive for a top10 place in Hawaii. Since I earned only 855 points with this race, I’d have to do 2 more full Ironman races to qualify for Hawaii this year. Looking long term I think it would be better if I work on speed for the first half of this season and then do an Ironman in fall that would give me good starting position for qualification in 2018. If I do too many races I will end up too tired to do well in Hawaii, just like last year. So, I decided to quit the points chase this year and do things that would help me in the long term.

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gps file from the race

Bird’s eye view of Dubrovnik

Changes

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After my disappointing performance at Ironman Hawaii I felt like it was time for a change, so I stopped working with my old coach and decided to coach myself. The whole last season was not as good as previous one and I felt like I was stagnating. On the other hand, I had my own ideas that I wanted to try out.

During the past couple of seasons I improved quite a bit over ironman distance, but that improvement didn’t transfer to half-ironman. For example, last year I run 1:18h during Ironman 70.3 Barcelona. Only 2 weeks later I went through the half way point of the run course at Ironman Nice in 1:21h and the pace felt comfortable. The pace in Barcelona wasn’t uncomfortable as well, but the legs wouldn’t move any faster. I think part of the reason for that lies in the way I trained.

I used to have a lot of sessions at medium intensity. Somewhere between ironman and half-ironman pace. Since I rarely went above half-ironman pace, it’s no wonder that my body was not used to those speeds. For ironman distance that type of training worked well, for anything shorter not so much. Main change I made since I started coaching myself is that I polarized training intensities. Easy sessions are now easier, there’s fewer hard sessions but they are at much higher intensity.

I made the most changes in my swim training. When I met Sutton in the year 2010, he changed my swim stroke and told me to swim with straight arm in recovery phase (above the water). At that time I started to stagnate on the swim. Initially I even got slower and it took me a couple of years to get to the level I was at before. For that I blamed the increase in bike mileage which would often hinder my swim. Now, I think that was probably not the only reason for the setback. It’s much more important what the arm does below the water then above. However, I noticed I can’t control my arm below the water as good if the other one is swinging. First change I made is that I returned to more relaxed, bent arm recovery.

Run and bike training affect the swim. For that reason I swam almost every session with a large pull buoy. That would allow me to have a good swim sessions even when my legs were sinking because of the work I’ve done in other two sports. In time I improved a lot when swimming with pull buoy. The problem was that I would sink as soon as I left the buoy on the deck. So, the second change was that I swim far less with pull buoy. I only use it in combination with paddles when doing strength set. I didn’t plan to do a drastic change, but I soon realized I feel much better in water the more I swim without tools.

Third change is about training structure. I used to have hard swim sessions almost every day. Sometimes even twice per day. That made me quite tired, so at the end, none of those sessions was really hard. It was all at medium intensity as I was not fresh enough to push harder. Like in other two sports I polarized the intensity. Now I have more easy sessions so that I can go HARD on hard ones.

In the other two disciplines I didn’t make so many changes. I polarized the intensity, but on the run I’m just starting with harder sessions. The reason for that is that I first wanted to increase the run mileage. I noticed I used to run well in races when I did high volume in training. On the other hand high volume would often result in an injury. After short analysis I noticed the injuries occurred mostly when I had high jump in training volume. This time I slowly increased the volume by less then 10% from week to week. Currently I got to a level where I run 100-110 kilometers per week and so far I’ve had no issues with injuries.

All in all, I feel like the changes I made so far work. For more noticeable results I’ll need time and since the speed is genetically limited I’m not sure if I’ll ever get much better over shorter distances. My focus still lies on ironman distance. I’m not expecting I’ll get much faster over night, but I think I need to raise the speed ceiling so I can pull my ironman intensity on a higher level. Time will tell if I was right.