Rob Gray’s 9:40 at Kona Race Report

TriForcer Rob Gray is probably the most disciplined, hard man on the team.  Despite a busy job at Google and  a growing family (an energetic 2 year old plus a new baby), Rob managed to train 20-28 hours per week most week (with high quality workouts!).  Here’s Rob’s description of his race and his preparation.

overall time: 09:40 (swim 1:07, bike 4:55, run 3:29)

The Lava Fields

The Lava Fields

Bike numbers:
1st half: 236 watts (NP) | 24.07 mph | 126 TSS
2nd half: 239 watts (NP) | 21.65 mph | 150 TSS
Total: 236 watts (NP), VI 1.06, IF 0.75, 275 TSS
TP file

Equipment:
Bike: Specialized Shiv with Shimano Di2
Wheels: Zipp 808/404
Power meter: Quarq
Saddle: ISM Adamo TT
Helmet: Giro Selector
Storage: Specialized Fuel Cell (flat kit and food), Fuelselage (bladder with 1300 calories), 1 x bottle between bars, dark speed works bento (800 calories of food)
Computer: Garmin Edge 510
Clothing: TYR Pro (swim skin), Pearl Izumi Octane (bike suit), speedo (run outfit)
Shoes: Specialized Tri-Vent

Nutrition:
Morning: 2am Oatmeal, whey, raisins, water
4:30 coffee, sushi rice cake approx 300 cal, 2 x envirokids rice bars
6:30 rice cake 250 cal

Bike:

  • 140 cal (btb bottle with gu brew)
  • 800 cal 4 x “sushi” rice cakes in fuel cell
  • 1200 cal in Fuelselage (maltodextrin + fructose + IM perform)
  • 600 cal in bento (3 bags powerbar cola chews)
  • 500 cal 3 x IM perform from aid stations (3 x 175 cal less some “spillage”)

Total on bike: 3240 calories (avg 650 per hour)

Run: 2 x bike bottles coke in hour 1 (600 calories), then random refills (at least one bottle per hour)

 

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The “short version”

Swim: felt great, very relaxed, thought I was fast! I wasn’t. Clearly too relaxed…

Bike: Glute seized in the first minute of bike. Couldn’t even pedal properly with that leg. “limped” for 25 mins before I could ride well. Then I was onto the queen k and up to *almost” race pace for the remainder. Tailwind!… went through 56 miles in 2:18 despite the “limping”. Headwind on the way back! Felt great at the end of the bike.

Run: couldn’t get anywhere near race pace. Probably residual effect of the glute cramp? Cruised 8 min miles to come in 3:29… much slower than the 3:05 I had planned despite running in a speedo. Some chick did “ass slap” me as I ran by with a mile to go, which is a result in itself!

Overall: amazing to be part of this event! wow – superb organization, amazing atmosphere! LOVED every minute of it (except the glute seizing). I even loved the energy lab. Finish on Alii drive was amazing!

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The “Long version”

I’m somewhat conflicted with my post-race feelings about my first time in Kona. On the one hand I’m really happy to have completed it in an “acceptable” time, to have been a part of this amazing event, and all-round having an incredible experience. On the other hand, I put everything on the line in my prep, I planned and executed my training to the tee, but massively under-performed on the day (at least in relation to the amount of work I put in to the preparation). I’ll cover my prep as well as race week in this report, with a high emphasis on the prep.

This is my 4th year of triathlon, 3rd year of IM racing. Kona was my 7th Iron distance race (one of which, Cozumel, was a DNF). I’ve learned a lot with each race, but there is something special (and intangible) about Kona that no other race can really prepare you for. My qualifying race was IM Los Cabos, which in 2013 was definitely a more difficult course than Kona (except for the run which was flatter but hotter). Los Cabos was in March, so I had over 6 months to dedicate purely to Kona prep. I left no stone unturned in my prep for Kona. There were 3 main areas I focused on: fitness & training, aerodynamics and nutrition.

Fitness & training

I did not compromise my training at all, which was quite difficult given that I have 2 young kids (a 2 year old and a 3 month old). My goal was not to just take part in Kona, but to do well. “Doing well” meaning a podium finish in my age group or better. Looking at previous results this would mean that I needed to come in faster than around 09:10 (it turns out that in 2013 I would have had to go sub 9 – wow!). I broke this up into the individual disciplines to figure out what I could realistically do:

  • swim in 60-63 minutes
  • bike around 4:50 (for me this would mean riding around 240 watts)
  • run around 3:00 – 3:10 (my “race pace” training would need to be between 06:30 and 06:50 / mile)

Breaking it up like that enabled me to focus on specific areas that needed improvement, and then work with my coach on nailing each one and then putting it all together.

Swim: I’ve got a history of underperforming in my Ironman swims. Things started to improve after June, when my pool times were good enough (1:17-1:20 / 100y) and I had a few good sub-30 half ironman swims. So I was pretty confident that just maintaining my current form would be good enough to get me to 60 mins in Kona. Kevin Coady (both my coach and age group adversary!) was in about the same shape, so we were swimming a lot together in training and planned on swimming together at Kona.

Bike: Kevin put me on a few high intensity training blocks that really boosted my power numbers in the months after Ironman Los Cabos. The idea was to boost my power and then dial in the longer race pace efforts as we got closer to Kona. I was in really good shape coming into Kona, actually in better shape than I needed to be in order to achieve my 04:50 goal. This was a good thing because it meant I could ease off on the bike a little, to set myself up for a great run.

Run: I really upped my game in terms of running consistency. I was regularly at 40-50 miles per week, a few approaching 60, and a big focus on race pace runs (6:45-6:55 min/mile) come august/september.

The chart below shows my weekly run volume. As you can see, it increases until September then I dropped the volume down again leading up to Kona.

Run volume

Putting it all together:

I had several key “milestone workouts” along the way… these are workouts that indicated I was on the right track with key measurements like bike power and run pace after a hard bike effort.

So going into Kona, I was very confident in being able swim “steady” for an hour, ride 250w+ followed by a 6:50 pace run. All the things I would need to do in order to come in around 9 hours. In the final weeks before Kona I also did many hours of heat prep (riding in hot garage with no fan, running at midday in ski gear, extended sessions in the sauna and steam room).

For the number geeks out there, here is my training peaks performance manager chart (PMC). If you train with power, I highly recommend using the premium version of training peaks, because you get tools like this. It’s probably the #1 thing that I use to track my training load and recovery. Combined with common sense, you can really optimize your training and recovery, avoiding burnout/over training as well as under training. For those not familiar with the PMC, here is a very quick summary of how it works: each swim, bike, run workout is assigned a training stress score (TSS). Your 7 day average (the pink line) is your Active Training Load (ATL). Your 42 day average (the blue line) is your Chronic Training Load (CTL) and represents your “fitness”. Training Stress Balance (yellow line) measures “freshness” or how recovered you are. So the idea is to gradually increase the blue line over time, through blocks of increased ATL, with recovery in between them. And then as race day approaches, your taper should increase your “freshness” while maintaining as much “fitness” as possible. CTL is actually a pretty good predictor of race performance. For example I know that to go sub 10 in an Ironman race, my peak CTL before tapering should be at around 130-140 TSS/day. Everyone is different, but there are some good benchmark ranges on the endurance corner site that will give you a good starting point. Once you’ve done a few races, I recommend benchmarking off yourself rather than using something generic. I also analyze swim, bike and run CTL individually to make sure that one sport is not dominating (for example a high swim CTL is not going to have as much impact as a high bike or run CTL)

TP PMC

As you can see from the chart, my CTL peaked at 163 TSS/day, an all time high for me. This was exactly where I felt I needed to be in order to come in around 9 hours. For comparison, my CTL before Ironman Los Cabos was around 140. I went 09:42 in Los Cabos which is a tough course.

Aerodynamics

But it’s not just about the fitness… I also spent some time down at the ERO facility in LA, fine tuning my bike setup, position and clothing choices. Jim got me lower than I’d been before, and we validated that the sleeved octane suit I wore in Los Cabos would save me more time than the “cool” sleeveless suit I was originally planning on wearing in Kona. I also validated that *for me* my Giro Selector helmet was by far the best choice. Jim@ERO has found the Rudy Project Wingspan helmet to test very well on most people. But on me, the Selector was much faster. My dark speed works bento, bta bottle, and my profile design aero bottle on the seat tube (for flat kit) all tested faster with them on than without (good news that fuel and flat kit didn’t come at a penalty!). I also tested arm coolers, 2 piece suit and a 1 piece suit, all of which had an aero penalty. I didn’t test wheels because I was going to ride zipp 808/404 combo. All in all I spent 3+ hours with Jim which was a very worthwhile investment. I would have liked to spend another 3 hours with him dialling in my fit on the retul bike, but we didn’t have time. The results would also have been difficult to implement since I’d need to replace the stem and bar on my shiv with something that allows me to get into a lower position… I’ll be doing that over the winter so that I have time for testing, tweaking and getting used to a new position.

Nutrition

Through metabolic testing I knew that @ 250w I would need to consume over 650 calories of carbohydrate per hour to avoid depleting my glycogen stores too much. Through practice, I fine tuned this so that I would front load my nutrition with over 750 calories per hour and then drop it to around 500 per hour as the race went on. For the run, I would drink coke (A LOT!). I also ditched gels and bars in favor of “real food” after reading the Feed Zone Portables book. I experimented in training with making my own “sushi style” rice cakes, adapting the ingredients to suit my needs (rice, honey, sugar, cinnamon).

Equipment failure!

2 weeks before the race, things started going wrong with my bike! First of all, I was fine-tuning my seat height when my fitter noticed that the carbon on my shiv was cracked near the seat clamp. She sent it off to Specialized to be fixed, which they did in record time. However, when the bike arrived back, the Di2 wire connection to the internal battery had snapped off during transit. Since this seatpost battery was a custom installation by Calfee design, nobody local had the expertise or spare parts to fix it. I called Calfee up and they were kind enough to clear their schedule to help me. I drove down to Watsonville and waited while they rewired my bike. I then tested it (all good!) packed it up and took it to fedex for shipping. PS The great thing about riding a Shiv is that Specialized FedEx’d our bikes to Kona for us (for free). With all that bike stuff now taken care of, I could get myself ready to fly 2 days later.

Kona!

We arrived a week before the race. I needed a week to unwind from the stress of traveling with 2 young kids! I would honestly rather do another Ironman than do a 5 hour flight with kids… seriously.

traveling with kids: only one of these bags is mine!

traveling with kids: only one of these bags is mine!

Anyway, the atmosphere in Kona was incredible! This is the first time I’ve actually purchased much stuff at an Ironman expo – of course everything “Ironman World Championship” branded – coffee mugs, beer glasses, bags, shirts, cycling kit, jackets. I’m guessing I spent close to a HIM entry fee on stuff there! I also got some cool limited “kona edition” Saucony Kinvara 4 shoes.

saucony

Check-in was super fast and efficient. Kevin and I went to check in together, and we were done in about 10 minutes. There must have been over 50 volunteers just helping with registration. It felt like the ratio was around 10:1 volunteers to athletes. They had a huge banner outside with all the athletes names printed on it – pretty cool!

 

We got a cool goodie bag including some TYR googles and other cool stuff. The one difference to other races is that all the race numbers etc. are just super high quality – you can see that they did not skimp at all, really aiming to deliver a top notch experience for us.

the goodie bag

the goodie bag

I did a few rides out on the queen k on Monday and Tuesday (about an hour each) just to test my bike out and feel the winds. Tuesday was windy – gusting up to 30 mph. I rode in a long sleeve Castelli Body Paint skin suit just to see how hot it felt, and it was actually quite cool in the wind. However you’d need to be houdini to get into that thing in T1, so I was sticking with my plan of racing in the Pearl Izumi Octane. I planned to run in a speedo, so I tested that out in the Kona heat and it felt great. I was already well acclimated to the heat, and I continued the heat prep during the week by wearing warm clothes during the day.

Here is a pic of Tyler leading Kevin and me in some version of the “Haka” after our speedo prep…

tyler haka

 

Race day

I had left the family in Waikaloa, and I was sleeping at the Royal Kona resort Thursday and Friday night. I went to sleep at about 8pm, and slept well until about 1am when I woke up for no real reason. I tried to sleep again, but was not successful. At 2am I decided to eat breakfast (oatmeal, whey, raisins) and then went back to sleep again. I got up for real at 4:15, ate a big rice cake with honey, drank a big cup of coffee (thanks Caroline for getting up at 3:45 to go and buy coffee for me and Kevin!). At 5am we went for a quick jog “to get the system going” – I did my run in only a speedo and running shoes. The funny thing is nobody batted an eyelid at my attire. We started walking over to the pier at around 5:50. We got there just after 6am, and we were probably the last people through body marking and went to set up our bike nutrition, pump tires etc. They weighed us after body marking, and I was a bit shocked to see the scale tip out at 170lbs (I arrived in Kona at 159). Luckily Kevin was also heavier than expected so we decided that the scale must be wrong.

I somehow managed to lose Kevin in T1, but fortunately we had decided to meet in the water on the far right, so I found him pretty quickly once I swam to the front. We had practiced swimming together – it’s really useful to have “feet you can trust” instead of random people that can’t navigate. We settled in about 5 rows back and waited for the canon.

Swim (1:07)

People started swimming about 5 seconds before the canon went off. This created a bit of confusion, and when it did really go off, some slow swimmers who had seeded themselves right at the front, got swum over by me and others (sorry about that, but next time only go to the front if you are FAST!). I lost Kevin within the first 10 seconds in all the white water, and it must have been 5 minutes before I could see any blue at all. All through that crazy washing machine, I did feel surprisingly relaxed. The pace was a little slow, but you can only swim as fast as those around you if you get stuck in that situation. I felt really good on the swim – nice and relaxed – and I thought I was doing ok because everyone around me looked like they were swimming well, and they were swimming with good form. I wasn’t wearing a watch so I didn’t know that I’d had a bad swim when I exited the water. That’s probably a good thing because I could just relax and get ready for the bike without stressing about making up time. I pulled the top of my TYR swimskin off as I exited the water, and started pulling the octane on (it was rolled down to my waist). I managed to get it on, and then as I got into the tent, a kind volunteer “helped” me to take it off! I explained that I actually wanted it on, and he helped me to get it back on in no time at all. I jogged to my bike picked it up and ran to the T1 exit. The clock read 1:10 as I exited, so I knew that I need to ride around 04:50 to still be on track. I did a semi flying mount and started riding easy. At this point, Kevin was only 37 seconds in front of me, but that was about to change fast!

 

Bike:

I knew immediately that all was not well. It felt like every muscle in my body was over-contracting, on the verge of seizing. I settled down and tried to take it easy. I felt my glute tightening up, so I pressed my fingers into the tight spot to relieve it. As I pressed in, the muscle “balled up” completely and I could hardly move. I knew from a past “episode” in 2012 that it may eventually come right, so I just soft pedalled for 25 minutes (average 145 watts) until I started feeling better. I saw Kevin coming down the little hill towards Palani, about 5 minutes ahead of me already! By the time I hit the Queen K highway, I was pretty much up to race power and settled in at 240-250w. Now that I was up to speed, I started passing a lot of people. All the way up to Hawi, not a minute went by when I didn’t have to pass someone (or was being passed). There were so many people out here! I’m used to getting clear of the masses pretty quickly, but I was surrounded by people the entire time. There are aid stations every 7 miles, and I took 2 bottles of water at most of them. One went into the bottle cage (fitting badly) and the other I emptied over my body as a proactive cooling method. This worked quite well. I usually start off drinking 2 bottles of water in the first hour and then just drink to thirst. It must have been quite hot because I was drinking a lot more than usual. I didn’t count, but I would guess that I went through at least 12 bottles of water. I only peed twice during the 112 miles which is probably a good amount (not too little, not too much).

the pic below was taken about 2 miles into the bike… you can see how congested it was

around mile 2

around mile 2

I went through 56 miles in 2:18, testament to the good tailwind we had going out. I saw Kevin coming down from Hawi as I was going up, and made a mental note of the time. A few minutes later I reached the turnaround, and started pushing harder to try and make up some time. I was sitting at my goal watts now (around 250w), passing a lot of people going down Hawi. I went passed the “kevin check point” 5 minutes after him. So at least I was not losing more time to him; we were riding about the same speed which was reassuring. There were a few small peletons that kept on passing me and then slowing down, which was a bit annoying. I’d literally have to sit up, at about 120 watts, just to stay legal distance behind them. I’d then wait a minute or so before overtaking the whole group (7-10 riders) in one go and then settling back in. A few minutes later they would surge and pass me again. This went on for about 15 miles. Eventually I got tired of them so I put in a few minutes at around 270 watts to get clear of them, and then settled down again. That was the last I saw of them. Hopefully they ended up in a penalty tent somewhere. As I went past Waikaloa, the headwind got a bit worse, so it was just head down, stay in aero for the last 25 miles or so. I had finished all my nutrition at this stage, so I took IM Perform at the final 3 aid stations. Before long we were back in town and headed towards T2. I was happy to at least have gone sub 5, and I was super happy that the muscle spasms had not ruined my day entirely. I unclipped from the pedals, coasted towards the Banyan tree (dismount line landmark) and gave my bike to the volunteers. These guys did a great job, there were so many people coming in at this time, and they managed to juggle all these bikes and get them safely racked again.

I heard Mike Reilly announcing Kevin’s name as I entered T2, which meant he was exiting. I changed out of the octane suit, into my speedo, run singlet, socks and shoes, grabbed my frozen coke bottle and some spray on sunscreen, and headed out over the timing mat. I saw the race time of 06:10 as I ran out, and made a quick mental recalculation of my goal. I was no longer interested in a top 10 finish – I knew that was off the table already – but I thought I’d still be able to finish between 09:10 and 09:20. My plan was to hold back for the first 13 miles and not run faster than 06:55/mile, then a little faster up till mile 18, then give it everything I have to the finish.

Run:

I started off slower than intended since we ran up a hill out of T2, but over the course of the first mile there is some downhill too, and I went through mile 1 in 06:58, pretty much on plan. However it felt like I was running a lot faster than that, so I knew it would not be sustainable. I settled down into what felt comfortable, which ended up being 07:30 – 07:45 for the first 9 miles. I just couldn’t run any faster than that. I’m not sure what was causing my run issue, I just assumed that my range of motion was being limited somewhat by the earlier glute cramping.

After Palani, I slowed to around 08:20 for pretty much the rest of the race. Miles 11-16 are on the Queen K highway, which seems to go on forever. 16-20 is an out-and-back into the energy lab. I really liked this section because you can see the ocean for most of it, and the aid stations really did a good job of keeping the energy high and upbeat. As I ran into the energy lab – I saw Kevin running out. I checked my watch to get a time split, which later I would find out was over 20 minutes. The energy lab was uneventful. I remember there was one aid station serving Campbell’s soup – and I was wondering who would want hot soup in the Kona heat!?? Once out of the energy lab, I did a quick mental calculation that if I stuck to 8:15 or faster per mile, I would make 09:40. This helped to focus me on hitting the 8 minute miles, but I couldn’t help thinking how ridiculous it was that I needed to “dig deep” to hit 8:00/mile. It was great to eventually see Palani road, and I knew that it was only a mile left from the bottom of Palani to the end. The last mile was great! As we turned onto Alii drive, the crowd was loud, enthusiastic and just amazing. I ran down the chute high fiving as many people as possible. Apparently I even high fived my wife Michelle without realizing it! I was glad to be done but just enjoyed soaking up the incredible atmosphere. I didn’t achieve my initial goal, but I was just so grateful that I even made it to the start line, that I overcame the bad cramps and made it to the finish line too. This was my first kona, and at least now I have a goal to beat next time!

kona finish

About Coady

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