Beats per minute. Carbs per hour. Pace per mile.
Time trials, weigh-ins, sweat tests, fueling windows.
In October, I started working with QT2 Systems — the BEST of triathlon’s data dudes — with the purpose of learning how to use data to up my training and racing game.
Here is an example of the type of data analysis that Coach performs for each leg of a race:
Before working with QT2, I trained mainly by feel. In my first Ironman, during which I ran a 3:21 marathon and qualified for Kona, the only data I had were mile splits. No heart rate monitor. No power meter.
Under QT2, every swim, bike, run is driven by data. Every gel, bar, bottle consumed by fueling plan. And then carefully recorded. And then commented on by Coach.
By the time April rolled around, I had been staring so long and so intently at the numbers on my watch, that I had forgotten how pools and roads and trails looked. Even worse, I had forgotten how they feel.
I was drowning in my own data.
I’ve noticed that most triathletes love numbers. Love what numbers tell them. Normalized power, power-to-weight ratio, average heart rate, yards per week, race weight.
But I love how those things feel.
And I can’t feel them when the metrics are monopolizing my other senses.
And without that feeling, I had forgotten why I love triathlon.
Luckily, as a former teacher, Coach respects that each of his students learn differently.
So we ditched the data in the final month of preparation for Ironman Texas and instead of sending in my weigh-ins, or beats per minutes, or mile splits, I only told Coach how it felt. And it started to feel good again.
IRONMAN TEXAS Race Report
SWIM – 1:04
Credit: Nick Morales
I heard a lot of complaints about dirty water, but at 71 degrees, Lake Woodlands felt so good. The water and air temp combo meant that I could get in early for a good warm-up swim without any Raynaud’s concerns.
The officials allowed us to line up across the entire lake and to swim the first leg inside the sighting buoys. This wide start (unlike, for example, Lake Placid’s start) and my position to the far left minimized kicks and punches to the face and panic to the heart. (Those don’t feel good.)
Cred: Nick Morales
After the cannon, I eased into a strong pace with Caroline and some burly men. I jumped on a few pairs of feet here and there during the 2.4 mile swim, but still find it a great challenge to stay in someone’s draft.
I was surprised by how much chop I encountered in the lake, and even more in the canal. Still, my favorite part of the swim was through that narrow waterway. Because it is so narrow, and with so many spectators standing above, cruising through the canal creates the illusion of swimming very fast. That’s a new feeling for me. And I liked it.
Aerial View of the Canal
Despite a winter of never reaching time trial goals in the pool, I emerged from the canal with a new Ironman swim PR of 1:04:30. Of course, I didn’t know that until nine hours later because I wasn’t wearing a watch.
BIKE – 5:18
That’s me grabbing my bike. I usually don’t see this many other bikes still racked. Good sign!
Like the swim, the bike plan was to ease into a pace. I opted to wear a heart rate monitor for the bike leg as a data point to complement, but not override, how I felt. I knew the heart rate indicators could be particularly helpful in stabilizing effort through high winds.
Ironman Texas is a single loop course, which is my least favorite kind because I only see my parents at the start and finish, and no where in between. Luckily, the course was carved through the front yards of some fantastic Texans, many of whom made a day of cheering for us. Awesome.
Thanks to easing into it, I biked pretty even on the front half and back half, averaging 21.1 MPH over the 112 miles. Of course, I didn’t know that at the time because I had stopped monitoring the data. My beats per minute were uncharacteristically low for how hard my legs were pushing, so I switched back over to feel. And focused instead on throwing sports drink down the hatch and water on my head. It was starting to feel warm.
The last 15 miles were lonely, but the loneliness allowed me to feel the breath in my lungs and the muscles in my legs. And to be grateful that I know how biking 112 miles feels.
RUN – 3:26
Though this was my seventh Ironman, I still can’t believe that I — that anyone — can run a full marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and biking 112, but in that moment, when the b/f yelled that I was in 3rd place and 5 minutes out of first place, I was thankful I had all those miles left. I knew I would need all of them to crawl out of that deficit and claim the top spot.
Ironman Texas offers a three-loop run course, so I saw my parents, my coach, Aimee, and the b/f tons of lovely times. Though the out-and-backs were too short to get a quality reading on the rate at which I was closing the gap (compared to Ironman Lake Placid, for example) the b/f updated me as he ran from point to point along the loop.
The course was flat, but not as fast as it could have been. So many turns and paths and roads and curves to navigate. After the first loop, I had moved into 2nd, but only gained about 30 seconds on #1.
Kgo and Brian
Thankfully, and for the first time in my Ironman history, I found a running mate going the exact same speed. We became fast friends, stride for stride, and stuck together for over half (!!!) of the run. It felt amazing to work together.
My running buddy, Brian McKinney
I pulled into the age group lead with just three miles to go, marking a 3:26 marathon.
And a 9:56 total time for the day.
First place age group.
But I didn’t need a watch or a place to tell me what I already knew: When the pain is as deep as the joy is pure, then it’s been a good day on the Ironman course.
And like every other battle I’ve faced in my life, I felt my parents’ presence every step of the way.
Congratulations to Meredith, Helle, Christy, and the boyz!
Team Poppy Tony gives HUGE thanks to:
- All of you in your corners of the world, for tracking us, supporting us, and sending us love! Together, we are 140.6 miles closer to a cure.
- The Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (the MMRF), for giving me the ultimate reason to race.
- ZootSports, for a wetsuit, kit, and shoes that feel as good as they look.
- SmartWool, for socks that feel good in 26.2 miles of water-logged shoes.
- Nalgene, for keeping me hydrated enough to feel my best on a warm day.
- Coach Tim of QT2 Systems, for his patience in letting me feel my way back.
- My fantastic support crew of Aimee, Lonnie, my parents, and my most handsome sherpa.
And just for fun: