One of my “A” races I targeted this year was Ironman 70.3 New Orleans. I had participated in my first long course race in October and was pleased with a 5h16m finish even if the course was a little short at 67.6 miles. I hoped to at least match that on a true 70.3 mile course and targeted an off season program that would hopefully allow me to do so.I had started CrossFit in October and was enjoying the competitive nature of the program as well as the strength gains I was seeing. I must admit, I drank the Kool-Aid! When I learned about the CrossFit Endurance programming and began to investigate the philosophy and sport science behind the idea further (including an article in January’s Outside magazine), I decided to give it a try. I began dabbling in the programming in December. I formulated a training plan incorporating three CrossFit and CrossFit Endurance work-outs during the week on the same day along with three days of more typical training with one of those days including a 2-3 hour ride and a brick run. I also began power testing monthly. The training began earnestly in January.
One of the things that appealed to me about this style is the maniacal logging, unpredictable variation, and repeat testing of performance to track gains. Over the training period I increased my FTP by 20% while only riding 6-8 hours a week. My mile run time improved by 15 seconds. My 100 yard swim time improved by 4 seconds and my Fran (one of the benchmark work-outs in CrossFit) by 2.5 minutes. Mixing that in with the occasional long run, ride, and swim, on what would be a flat New Orleans course and I thought I was good to go. At 40, I was the fittest and fastest I had ever been in my life.
I rode down with a friend to New Orleans who would also do the race. We enjoyed some good cajun cooking while we were there and a light run in the French Quarter to loosen the legs after the time in the car. At the expo, we met some folks who had done the race before. We figured it would be a good idea to try to extract some bets from them. Unfortunately, we learned that even though the course is flat, the bayou is unforgiving, and that this venue had been ranked as the fifth most difficult out of thirty-five 70.3 venues by RunTri. We were warned that the swim and the bike might be more interesting than for what we had planned. After checking the bikes in we drove most of the bike course. Pancake flat on the bayou, but absolutely nothing to stop the wind blowing off Lake Ponchartrain and the Gulf. This was nothing like Jackson, TN!
Race day came and we were on location by 0530. Due to the Boston bombing, bikes were locked in transition till the race started. No warm up! The wind had already started whipping up and was steady at 15-20mph. Even though the swim was in a slightly sheltered area it was getting choppy. With only one entry point, no opportunity for a warm-up. I had to settle for some active stretching and standing in line with the 1500 people waiting to get in the water as it was a time trial start. The guy next to me also commented that the lack of a warm-up and the 64 degree water was a perfect set-up for a heart attack. That was right before two guys were pulled out of the chop by the safety team. That was an encouraging start to my swim.
Shortly after that I was given the tap on the back and hit the cold, choppy water. I had done one open water swim session, but neither that nor the hours of cruising the lanes of the LIFT had prepared me for Lake Ponchartrain. I kept telling myself to just keep calm and carry on as the water kept a churning. Overall, I thought I had a decent swim with good sighting. I had to stop briefly once to defog the goggles, but other than that the swim went without a hitch. Upon exiting and getting the wetsuit stripped, I glanced at my watch. Ugh! 5 minutes slower than I had wanted to be. 43:37 on the swim (745/1194). I am not a strong swimmer to begin with, but this was my slowest swim time ever in a race and was 8 minutes lower than my last HIM. I think I took the mantra that the swim is just a warm-up for the race a little too seriously. To hit my goal, I was going to have to try to reel in some time on the bike which is my strongest of the three. Obviously, my swim sucked.
I had a great T1 at 2:43, sped down the road, made short work of an on-ramp onto the highway and turned directly into a 15-20mph headwind that would be with me for the next 35 miles. Occasionally, it would let up and turn into a crosswind that would catch my 90mm racing wheels and almost push me over. It just kept blowing and I kept on watching my goal time disappear as I kept on pedaling hard hoping to stay near my goal time for the bike. Once I hit the turnaround which put that bad boy on my tail, I hit it and pedaled lights out. I had fed myself every 10 miles on the bike and finished off 44 ounces so felt like nutrition was spot on, but as I made the turn for the last 7 mile stretch on the bike, I was wondering if I was going to pay for that effort on the run. I guess I would see. I finished the bike split in 2:45 (20.3mph/216w) and 320/1194.
T2 was solid at 1:47. I started out at around my targeted pace for the run 8:15/mile. It had started to heat up a little even though it was a perfect day. I maintained that pace for the first five miles and then the wall came and the voices began to creep inside my head. The pace began to slow. Even though I told my legs to go faster, they wouldn’t listen. The pace slowed to the mid 9’s for the next several miles as I took the time to speed walk the aid stations and push the fluids. I honestly don’t even remember miles 6-11. Shortly after turning into downtown New Orleans, I willed my legs to move a little faster and crossed the finish line in 1:58 (9:05/mile) and 492/1194. Total time was 5:32 for 61st in age group and 365 overall.
It was a fun race. I learned. I even wound up with a similar finish time as my first long distance race on a much more difficult course. While unorthodox, I think the training plan worked, but needs to be tweaked a little more for 70.3 racing. It will be interesting to test the approach at Memphis in May this year as I will have last year’s time for comparison. While I didn’t meet my lofty goals, New Orleans was still a great start to the triathlon season! I have several others scheduled for the season and am targeting Ironman Augusta 70.3 in September for a follow-up.