Saturday, December 31, 2022

Ironman California - Race report

(Didnt get time to put into coherent sentences)
  • drove to sacramento midst so much drama
  • spent the day checking in, driving the bike course and realizing 20mph on
  • ensured I had everything, made my nutrition, washed my bike and made transition bags
  • race day
    • maneesh pickup to swim
    • bfast regular
    • bike prep, shuttle to swim
    • alone, cold
    • start: had to pause and collect myself: happened second time this season (donner)
    • easy swim after: really shallow at times, current, against at one point etc.
    • t1 really long -- jogged all the way
    • bike
    • first loop: 21-23 super hard, rest very easy -- didnt feel much sidewind or tailwind.
    • way back: 8 miles of misery -- at mile 32 really thinking of dropping out
    • managed and just kept going to loop1 end
    • second loop much higher winds -- mentally the goal was to just get to the run.
    • run
    • started off regular 9-9:30 min/mile with legs feeling tired but manageable.
    • around mile 7-8 felt pain on the outside of the knee on the right and tad bit on the left too.
    • windy and nice weather
    • by mile 11-12 it was significant enough to prevent running -- started walking 
    • peed mile 14 -- dark brown -- scary!
    • continued to drag until mile 18-19 for special needs. wore shirt getting cold and lights.
    • giving other athletes company and chit chatting a bit until 22.
    • two small loops to finish -- felt great instead because hear finish line and mentally I had made it.. it was just a matter of continuing to do what had worked until now.
    • finished two loops and then a volunteer flagged me to the right and I followed .. only to realize that its the same loop and the finish line noise has faded away. asked people around and volunteers but didnt get anything useful. decided to go back (take a risk of coming back!) and finally figured where I got off the course
    • finished really happy
    • saw neha and piku at the finish line :)
Didnt see a single known soul from t0 dropoff to finish. 

Still a blur and from next day going on with regular day to day .. no muscle soreness at all.. just the knee itb pain took a day or two to get better.

One hell of a season and race and did not feel burnt out at all! loved doing it all over again this year with more challenges to face.

The readers can read by season report here which has a lot more masala:

Monday, December 12, 2022

2022 season: The real deal

Having not done any races in the past 2-3 years (see The pandemic seasons (2020-2021 post) had definitely kept me hungry and wanting to do some races in 2022. I had a deferral for IM Hawaii 70.3 (June) and signed up for the usual IM Santa Cruz 70.3 (September). With the potential deferral in mind and possibility of Piku's grandparents' visiting us, I signed up for IM Sacramento (Oct) as well.

One-mile-a-day experiment

In late 2021, I got inspired by one of my coworkers who had done Ironmans back in his days and was a Boston finisher multiple times. He used to run/walk at least a km each day and has been doing that for years! I thought of giving that a shot and had started doing at least 1 mi of run each day. I think I lasted until Mar or so (~4 months or probably missing once or twice) before I gave up. The positive side was that when work got real crazy in Jan, Feb and some of Mar, the one mile runs held me together; there were many instances I ran at 11:5x pm in cold just to get the run in. Having no time to possibly get a workout in, sparing 10 mins to get a run in still turned out to be hard but a feasible way to get the body moving.

My legs felt awesome and I have had my best run feels in those days without the need of any massage or foam rolling (which I am really bad at). I have typically had some pain or the other develop after a few months of hard training and this time around even doing speed workouts, legs felt alright!

Hawaii's calling

Keeping June 70.3 in mind, I focused myself to train seriously starting March. With 2021's one-swim-a-week experiment, I had some confidence that I can pick up swimming late in the game and decided to stay focused on the bike and run. Again a lot of trainer rides and outdoor runs and I felt great during training. Now, the pandemic was not yet over and me (and Neha) being a bit paranoid about it made us wonder if we should travel to Hawaii. One fine day in late Apr or May, Shashi called, who was supposed to give me company in Hawaii, and said that he had decided to pull out. That gave me enough set of reasons to pull out and cancel my Hawaii trip. But I did not have strong reasons to abandon my training, so I continued half heartedly until I decided to do a self-supported one, the same day Hawaii 70.3 was supposed to be.

DBH and Souj were generous enough to help me out plan my race course and support me during the swim at Gull Park. Neha supported me with the baby duty all day. Cool weather helped me finish strong especially when I had a bit of lapse in training and motivating leading up to the race.

COVID finally

Soon after in around mid June, finally saw the double line on the home test. Yes, I tested positive for COVID finally after 2 odd years. This was the night before I was supposed to an Alcatraz crossing with some fellow TA folks (the swim got canceled due to bad weather luckily).
Creating panic at home, I started isolating in a room while my parents and Neha with the kid managed to stay away from me and safe. Suffered for 4ish days and then came out of isolation after 8-9 days and tested negative only to learn that soon after Piku tested positive, perhaps contracting it from her small day care! Now there was no escape for Neha who tested positive too after a couple of days. They both had a rough 6-7 days before feeling close to normal. Luckily my parents kept testing negative all throughout.

All of this wiped out 3-4 weeks from our lives. Finally some sanity prevailed in July. We were lucky to make it to the swim event in Donner Lake and both Neha and I could partake, while my parents took care of the baby while we were swimming. 

IM mindset

With just under 4 months remaining and the prior month diminishing my fitness quite a bit, it was the time to make the call: IM Sacramento or not.

This year was different for many reasons. I did not have the luxury of time to train as I did in 2017. I had a toddler at home to take care of, support Neha with her own fitness goals, and a job in a startup. So I really had to set my expectations and make informed tradeoffs to train realistically. 

With IM Sacramento course advertising a pancake flat bike segment and a downstream river swim. I decided to structure my training by making some informed trade-offs.

Swim 1-2x/week max: Given my 2021 experiment of swimming once a week and doing 2.4 mi distances, I chose to reduce my swim training as much as I could i.e. once a week of long swim and once in the pool.

Bike 1-2x/week max: Given that I had some bit of fitness from 70.3 training and my past experience of ramping up on bike alright with 2 rides or so per week, I decided to structure it by planning mostly trainer rides and maybe a ride outdoors on the weekend when it got longer. I decided to never exceed 6 hrs of riding to not "waste" the entire day riding, and get ready for the baby duty by 3pm ;) I modified the training plan a bit to incorporate some planned weekend days, long rides and IM Santa Cruz 70.3. I converted those distances to time by assuming that riding on flats would be faster and I may not need to exceed 6 hrs for the two longest weekends and that getting some long rides of 4-6 hrs on other weekends would be sufficient.

The idea was to do swim + bike 3x/week total at a min and 4x when I can.

Run 3x/week: This is the usual frequency. I knew I needed to spent the most effort keeping runs healthy and making sure I don't skimp on those. I feel I am a strong runner but only when I train well. Especially with run being the last segment, I had to train well for it. Planned for hitting 30-35 miles/week in the peak weeks.

Execution ... in every sense

The following table for remaining 16 odd weeks and the potential feasibility of it, helped me make the decision to go for it starting July: 

DateBikeRunBike time (hrs)Actual
Sun, Jul 10, 202260113:45
Sun, Jul 17, 20225773:33Brick
Sun, Jul 24, 202262143:52
Sun, Jul 31, 20227084:22Brick
Sun, Aug 7, 202272154:30Run: 13
Sun, Aug 14, 202280165:00
Sun, Aug 21, 202280105:00Brick
Sun, Aug 28, 202290175:37
Sun, Sep 4, 2022100186:15Bike: 56+28 (trainer)
Sun, Sep 11, 202256133:30BrickIMSC
Sun, Sep 18, 2022100196:15
Sun, Sep 25, 202280135:00Bike: 42+28 (trainer)
Sun, Oct 2, 2022Super BrickSuper BrickSuper BrickBrick
Sun, Oct 9, 202260133:45Run: 12
Sun, Oct 16, 202240102:30
Sun, Oct 23, 2022RACERACERACE

The constraints for the long workouts on the weekend were based on the fact that I got Fri and Sun mornings free of baby duty (in exchange for Sun afternoon):
1. Swims on Fri: OWS early mornings or pool in the afternoon or evening.
2. Runs on Sat: Sneak out for 2-3 hours late morning. Couldn't do later, to be able to recover by Sun.
3. Bikes on Sun: Start early and get back by 2pm => a 6 hr ride would have to start latest by 8am, which was doable.

I started executing on my plan and things started to look up. In fact the weekend of July 24 with 14 mile run and 62 mile bike on back to back days was a breakthrough for me: My legs felt just fine on the ride after a long run the previous day and the ride went really well; almost as if I was riding with fresh legs. This gave me the confidence that Sat and Sun plan might just work out (during 2017 IM training, I had to switch to running to Fridays to add a day between run and ride for recovery).

IM Santa Cruz 70.3

Had signed up for this race last year as well. Its always a fun race to do and was so happy to get back to it. It was a bit closer to the Ironman, so I had planned the weekend distances around it and making it a shorter "brick" workout weekend. The previous and the following weekends were both century rides with 18-19 mile runs, so did not plan to taper for this one and instead just treat it as a long workout. Work (see below) forced me to taper in the week of the race anyway.

I had absolute fun in the race, and had never had such a fun race since 2016 (same race incidentally). I was of course better trained than ever because of my IM training and had to really keep myself in check during  the day since I had a 100+19 the following weekend. Had a blast during swim and bike. The best bike time ever: clocked 19.7 mph avg, after making sure I don't push on the bike so hard ;). There were hardly any winds and looked like the roads were resurfaced and the weather was cool. The weather suddenly turned to become super hot at around mile 8 of the run, after which I felt a "bit" of a struggle and kept my pace in check. I easily cruised to the finish line with an overall PR (5:38) by 20 mins for this distance! I am sure if I went in "race mode", I could have squeezed out another 5-7 mins. 

Testing times

Had a pretty bad run on Aug 7 weekend. Was supposed to do 15 miles, but couldn't run well at all due to some badly executed pre-race nutrition and ended up limping to 13 before calling it a day. One of the worst runs but I was confident that it was an outlier. But this was pretty minor compared to what lied ahead.

The months of Aug and Sep were the highest volume months for me, but at the same time they also turned out to be the hardest for multiple reasons:
  1. Neha got her migraine-like headaches (cluster headaches) back with a much higher intensity than usual (probably an after-effect of COVID per the doctor). The doctor prescribed her with strong daily medication which made her drowsy with the feeling of always tired, making her life really miserable. It was only after she got over the medication (~end of Sep) that we both realized that not only her physical health, but her mental health really got affected with all this. She did support me as much as she could, but did take a toll on both of us. I substituted a couple of the longest bike rides with multiple trainer rides over the week.
  2. At work, on Sep 4 (week before IMSC 70.3), I was handed over a team and responsibility of a critical component rewrite with a deadline of Oct 21 (2 days before my IM). This immediately consumed all the time I had and more. I decided to take it one week at a time and trying to keep up with a reduced workout load and desperately trying to keep up with the weekend workouts.
My volume of workouts got really affected and I could barely space 30-60 here and there to go out for a run or a short bike ride etc. Gave up on keeping up with swims and tried to stick with one odd swim a week and that too in the pool, since going for an OWS had too much overhead that I would rather use in biking and/or running. Week over week, I was toying with the possibility of being forced to drop out of the race, but just tried to hold my ground and not destroy my training completely.

The super brick weekend went really well, which gave me some bit of reassurance. My bike and run workouts were as strong as any prior weekend. I was very consistently clocking 17-18mph speed on the rides and 8:45-9:15 pace on the runs for all weekends, brick or not. But the race was still 3 weeks out ...

Taper -> Cliff

What I had not really emphasized until now is that we had support of my visiting parents who greatly helped take care of a lot of household chores like cooking, cleaning etc. They flew back to India the day after Super Brick, when taper started.

My taper was as bad as it could get. I dropped a lot of workouts. I knew that I was really walking on thin ice, but just couldn't do things differently. I hardly did any workouts during the week where I was working 14-15 hour days and slept 6 hrs average. Barely got through my weekend workouts.


Now 10 days before the race, I caught a viral infection with some fever and severe cough. Took a good 5-6 days before I felt a bit more normal. I did not want to stress myself out during this time to maximize the chances recovering in time. However, even after that, I did not get any time whatsoever for my regular workouts. 

Last minute drama

The evening before the mandatory athlete checkin, the work deadline day had arrived and there was some failure in one the components I was working on, making it a fire I had to put off.  At this point, Sacramento felt far. After spending some hours of debugging/tuning at around 10pm, we saw a ray of hope and then I decided to:
1. Go home and dump all my IM stuff in the car (except the bike).
2. Drive to Sacramento alone first thing next morning, check and drive back to work by 1pm.
3. IF all goes well at work, Neha picks me up from work and we all drive to Sacramento the same evening. ELSE spend the weekend fixing things at work.

I dumped all the stuff I could think off in a span on 30 mins and went to bed. Executed the bullet points 1 and 2 above and then the "IF" happened. Yay, I was going to Sacramento after all!


The training season got intense for various reasons and I am just glad I was able to hold myself up. 2017 Ironman season and 2022 had many stark differences. 

2017 was my first Ironman which was hilly and I spent my heart and soul training really well for it. The work was at its calmest, I had all the time during the week and weekends to focus on the race and mentally prepare myself along with obvious physical preparation and go at it during the race!

2022 was a very different season which really made the race so worth it, again! The work couldn't be worse, had a toddler at home which meant a significant cut in overall personal time and sleep and then  various forms of sickness really detailed us as a family. I had no mental space to think about the race at all for all these months. I did less (but focused) workouts, literally taking it one week at a time.

I guess the little-but-not-so-little experience of one Ironman and multiple half Ironman races over the years had kept me calm and hopeful all this while. I almost never panicked but of course did doubt going to the race multiple times. I naturally (had no choice really) ended up treating the race as another long workout day. It did not feel special that way, just a milestone which would ease up the day-to-day life afterwards.

The season ended with a successful Ironman race which I cover in the following post: