Post-Race Analysis: Next Time I’ll Be Bulletproof

Ironman Lake Placid
Distorted view of the ski jumps heading back into town.

The final 10k of Ironman Lake Placid 2013 haunts me.

After almost a year, I finally did the type of post-race analysis that I recommend for my athletes. Sadly, I confirmed what I had guessed to be true for the past year: if I had I stayed on the pace I ran for the first 18 miles of the marathon, I would have run from 11th place off the bike into 4th place in the final mile or two, and the Kona slot would have been mine. Instead, I finished in 6th place, and a little under 5 minutes from the glory spot.

So. Close.

But, as my father always used to say: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Over the past year, I’ve known in my gut what I’ve only recently allowed the numbers to confirm: I just missed nabbing the final Kona slot in the final hour of an 11 hour day during what is supposed to be my strength. But, until today, I had been unwilling to allow the numbers to confirm that gut feeling. Those numbers tell a hard truth. (If you want to read the race report from that day, you can find it by clicking here.)

But, it was time for me to face those numbers. A thorough post-race analysis is a key tool to continued progress.

Ironman Coeur d’Alene is a little over 6 weeks away, and playing Ostrich with my head in the sand isn’t going to help me turn around the result I’m looking for this year. I need to accept the hard truth, and run a different race this year.

But the race splits are only one part of the race analysis. And, I’ve already recognized several important lessons from IMLP 2013 that have guided my training and approach for IMCDA 2014.

First, I was underfueled for IMLP, especially given the intensity I put out during the race. I dug too deep a hole, and I couldn’t get out of it. My heart rate dropped in those final miles of the run, and I couldn’t get any power to my legs. This is a simple enough fix: I increased my calorie expenditures for the bike portion, and this worked out at both Ironman Louisville 2013 and the Intimidator half iron in Clermont, Florida in March.

But, it’s more than just the calories. I also need to strengthen my durability so I can hold a fast pace in the final miles of the Ironman marathon. My coach Vince and I have already talked the numbers for IMCDA. If I expect to qualify, I’m going to have to run a PR marathon – during an Ironman.

Gulp.

So, the training has reflected this analysis. While the primary focus is still the bike (it will always the bike, given that it is my main limiter), we’ve tweaked the run training to ensure that the final miles of the run are when I come into my own – not when I lose the slot.

The first move in this regard was the Rosaryville 50k race I did during the off-season. The goal here was to increase my durability, and give me a base of volume upon which we have been building during the push into IMCDA.

There’s also been hill work, which increases strength and operates like speedwork in disguise.

Most recently, I’ve been doing progressive pace long runs, where the pace moves from easy to below-target race pace in the final miles. These runs range anywhere from 11 to 21 miles, depending upon the training cycle.

This past weekend, the schedule called for a 21 mile progressive pace run, with the final four miles at below race-pace. It came the day after a 5 hour hard bike ride.

I woke up tired and sore. I said to John, “This should be interesting.”

“Yup,” he replied. He had a similar-style workout.

The first few miles were sluggish, slow and torturous. But, I refused to let the negative voices introduce doubt.

I just need to find my rhythm, I told myself.

As I loosened up, the target paces became more realistic and I hit them, mile after mile. Then, it was time for the final 4-mile segment: miles 18, 19, 20 and 21 at below goal race pace.

Here we go.

As I settled in to this final challenging segment, the song “Bulletproof,” by La Roux came on to my Pandora station. Now, as I’ve written before (in this post “Running Music: The Beat of My Own Lyrics“), I tend to adjust the lyrics or the context of a song in order to get inspiration for different race-based scenarios. In this case, the hook of the song and at least one of the verses don’t require much adjustment:

Tick-Tick-Tick-Tick on the watch and
Life’s too short for me to stop
Oh Baby, your time is running out.

This time, baby, I’ll be bulletproof.

This time, baby, oh this time baby, yeah, I’ll be bulletproof.

success_cornerI repeated to myself over and over and over: Bul.Let.Proof.Bul.Let.Proof.

I timed the syllables with my footfalls. It became a marching metronome as I pushed onward.

My legs fired their punches, and the Garmin tick-tick-tick-ticked off the target paces.

Mile 18. Check.

Mile 19. Done.

Mile 20. Boom.

Mile 21. Bul.Let.Proof.

I don’t want to give the impression that it was easy to hit my paces in these final four miles. It definitely wasn’t. There was a fair amount of suffering thanks to the first bout of hot and humid weather this season. My quads screamed for mercy thanks to the challenge of the previous day’s bike ride. My lungs burned thanks to the generous portions of spring pollen flittering in the air. I had to call on the deep reserves of mental strength thanks to the negative voices that tried to get me to stop.

Despite the struggle, I had no mercy for my battered limbs. I felt the burn and took it as a sign that it’s good feel this alive. I told the negative voices to go scratch because I will not cave. I will not falter in the final miles.

This time, baby, oh yes, this time, baby, I will be BUL.LET.PROOF.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

What important lessons have you learned from post-race analysis? How do you pick yourself up after a hard race and find the will to keep pushing – even if you miss your goal? 

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