Ironman Brasil

Ironman Brasil turned out to be even harder than expected, but it was an awesome race and a phenomenal experience. My preparation was focused and everything clicked, which led to a great result. I finished the 140.6 mile race in 9:58:53, and I earned a coveted Ironman World Championship (Kona, Hawaii) qualifying slot by winning the Ironman XC division. Each of my splits were dramatically quicker than my first Ironman race.

Swim = 2.4 miles = 1:04:08

Transition 1 = 7:50

Bike = 112 miles = 5:14:21

Transition 2 = 3:03

Run = 26.2 miles = 3:29:31

Total = 9:58:53

I’m relatively new to triathlon, having only picked up competitive swimming in early 2009. I’ve done a lot of endurance sports in the past 20 years, particularly the cycling and running, but putting them together with swimming is a relatively new passion. When I started triathlon last year, I knew that I wanted to try the Ironman distance, so I did Ironman 70.3 Rhode Island in July and then Ironman Lake Placid two weeks later. It was a crash course in Ironman racing and I did well for a first timer, yet, I had higher expectations.

This time, my pre-race planning was spot on. My gear worked. My nutrition could have been a little better, but it was still good. Overall, the course was a bit faster than Ironman Lake Placid. Lake Placid is a bit more hilly than Florianopolis, so the bike and run courses were a bit quicker this time, but by no means were the Brasil courses flat.

Like Rhode Island, the Brasil swim was in the ocean and it was choppy. RI was downright rough, with a delayed start and the option to skip it, and not be counted in the results. Brasil was tamer than that, but still a unique challenge compared to the placid Mirror Lake. There was a strong current that worked against you for most of the swim, and considering that I am slow and technically poor, I spent way to much time swimming back and forth rather than straight to the buoys. Another difference between the Brasil and Lake Placid swim’s is that in Lake Placid, you start in the water with 2600 competitors. Brasil had a running start and was more intimate, with 1600 entrants, but that is still a crowd.

The weather conditions couldn’t have been better. The temperature started in the mid-60’s (Fahrenheit) and never got higher than the low 70’s. It was overcast for the swim and bike with strong wind at times. Rain showers started as soon as I went out on to the run course and it eventually turned into downpours, which actually had a cooling effect. My feet were uncomfortably wet during the run, but it turned out OK. The weather at Lake Placid was decent too, with rain at the start and then warm sun later in the day. So, both of my long course experiences have been weather friendly.

Swim

The 7:00 A.M. start was on the beach in the Jurere Internacional section of Florianopolis on the north coast of the island. All of the athletes were packed tightly, vying for the best line to the first buoy. From my perspective, one of the only major race organization glitches was that it was a chaotic scene on the beach. You couldn’t hear instructions over the PA system with the wind blowing, a helicopter hovering overhead, and people packed together like cattle in a feedlot. That is not a good image for a vegan like me. I’m OK in crowds, but this was too close for comfort. When the horn sounded several minutes late, everyone charged into the water like mad fish. I got to the outside hoping to get some open water. I feel that I got stronger as the swim went on. I settled in and only had excessive physical contact in the turns, which there were four. I caught a hard elbow to the nose once and got kicked in the head several times, but I was never forced to adjust my goggles. The course was two different loops with a 70 meter run on the beach in between. The run was intense, with a narrow corridor fenced off. The spectators on both sides went nuts as we ran through the human tunnel.

I came out of the water after the second loop and headed for T1. While on the boardwalk, I bumped into Mark Moses, my friend and fellow Ironman XC competitor. We gleefully passed a bunch of folks who were slow coming out of the water. We muscled our way into the changing tents. That was the last I saw of Mark. Other than Mark, I only saw one other XC athlete, Jack Daly, during the race. I got past a few of the other guys in transition (Justin and Jason Abernathy), and the others (Terry Adams and Jason Reid) were behind me.

T2

Just like Lake Placid, I was terribly slow in transition, but I made sure I had socks, lubricant, and food. I compared my times with some of the pros, and it is embarrassing. I could have picked up several spots with more efficient changeovers. In lean manufacturing speak, we call it “set up time reduction,” and it takes practice.

Bike

I mounted my bike, got my feet in my shoes and began the process of passing 400 people. Being a slow swimmer has its disadvantages. Riding through all of that traffic isn’t fun or safe. I started strong and charged over the cobblestones in the first two kilometers. I was probably one of the only triathletes with Belgium kermesse and New England cyclocross experience. I love riding on stones and am not afraid of them. They actually get me fired up for the spring classics. Add in a little rain, and I get even more excited.

The 180km bike course had two 90km loops, and was a bit complicated. It was really an out and back, though mostly on opposite sides of a divided highway, so you rode the mirror image of the course profile on the return leg. Each feature was ridden four times (two in each direction). Also, it involved several smaller internal loops through a series of large tunnels on the south side of downtown Florianopolis. We went through the tunnels four times on each lap for a total of eight times. There was also an out and back section near the 80km mark. The course had three tough hills on each lap that required the little ring and some standing. Safe descending in traffic was done on the cowhorns, rather than in the aero bars. Overall, the course was pretty technical with a fair amount of cornering.

I made up ground when going both up and down. Other than that, it was hammering in a tuck the rest of the time. The most difficult section of the course for me was the northbound tunnel loops, where there was a strong headwind/sidewind blowing off of the water between mainland Brasil and the island. I’m a small guy and I get blown around in the wind more than others. I had a bad patch around 125km, when I got passed by some folks in the windy section. I lost some ground there, but concentrated on my fueling, in hopes of a recovery. That recovery materialized and I got some strength back. I was strong on the hills and in the last 10km, I really hammered and made up even more ground. Only a handful of people passed me during the bike leg. Thankfully, the course marshals cracked down on drafting. There were many more motorcycles out on course than you see in a typical triathlon, and they gave out a lot of penalties, which I support. Coming into Jurere Internacional on the cobblestones was an awesome way to complete an Ironman bike leg. Stones add an element of romanticism to a race course. The crowds were thick on both sides of the road and I was encouraged by the loud cheers from my family and friends.

T2

I had an OK T2, but was still slow. There was a lot less traffic in the tent compared with T1. It helps to be farther up in the field. I didn’t waste any more time, hit the port-a-let, and then headed out onto the run course.

Run

The run course was composed of a 21km loop and two 10.5km loops. The 21km loop seemed like it would never end. It had three steep hills that many people walked. Having run the 7 Sisters Trail Race earlier in May, I wasn’t intimidated by a couple of short hills.  I chose to charge up them and race down them. I had a great run leg. I never felt like I was going to bonk, but I did know that I was right on that edge. My effort was extremely intense and calculated. I knew exactly what pace I had to run. I had been gauging my chances of meeting my realistic goal, of breaking 10 hours, since the halfway point of the bike leg.

I chose to go without technology (computer or GPS)  on the swim and bike legs. On the bike, I checked my watch and monitored the kilometer markers. On the run, I had my watch and my Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS, which I attached to my water belt. I didn’t check it often, but it was helpful to glance down every once in a while and see what pace I was running. I had jotted down three different pacing scenarios on a slip of paper and tucked them into a pocket. Of course, each scenario assumed that I could hold the desired pace for the entire distance.

I think that pacing is a key to an Ironman marathon. If you can maintain that pace, factoring terrain, then you can nail your goal, which I did. However, the last 10.5km was agony. I finished the 21km loop that “would never end” and then made it through the first 10.5km loop. Each time, you came back to the start/finish. After the first loop, you got an orange scrunchy to wear as an arm band. After the second, you got a black one. That way you could tell where you stood. I didn’t pay much attention to the age group markings (I am in 35-39) on people’s legs, but I was conscious when there was another “D” around me.

Debbie and the kids were cheering for me from a house that was about 1km from the finish. I heard them each time I came through (heading out on the loop and returning from each loop) and was pumped up. I never really saw them and my friends told me after the race that I looked possessed as I sped by. Like I said, it takes focus! For the most part, I passed a lot of folks on the run and got passed by only a few. The net result was that I picked up another 146 spots on the run, with many in my age group. It felt good to gain spots throughout the race. Again, it wouldn’t be such a dramatic improvement if I could only swim faster. I would also minimize the risks of having to work my way through so much traffic.  I was running 7:30’s for a while and then my pace crept above 8:00 min/mile to around 8:15 or so.

The last lap hurt so bad because I was pushing like heck. I gave it everything I had. I was hoping that the course markings were accurate. I knew I had to run
10.5km in less than the 8:00 minutes/mile pace again. When doing the math in my head, I had actually forgotten about the extra .5km, which could have been disastrous, but since I was so worried about the actual distance remaining, including the length of the finishing chute, I decided to increase my pace even more, which was asking a lot of my legs for the final part of an Ironman. I was hurting really badly, but stuck to my pace with a fierce determination. I kept repeating my chosen mantra out loud: “Be tough.”

Incidentally, Ironman Brasil has barged its way into my Toughest Ten races list. I’m not sure what it displaces, so for now, I’m putting it at 2.5 on the list behind Jay Challenge, and Sea to Summit, but ahead of American Zofingen and Ironman Lake Placid.  In the last 5km, I latched on to another athlete who came by me and looked determined to break 10. He became my rabbit and I sped up slightly to make sure that I was on track. When I saw the 1km banner, heard the raucous crowd at the finish line, and then saw the big Asics balloon, I was exhilarated. A couple of athletes caught me in the finishing chute, which was longer than expected, but it didn’t matter. I saw the big clock and was very pleased with my time.

I ended up running a 7:59.4 pace for the marathon, which was a huge key to my overall result. The official results show a little more than 1400 finishers out of 1626 registrants. I was 129th overall and 32nd out of 365 in my age group, which is the 91st percentile, a good place to be. The age group slots went to guys who did under 9:30, which given the time I have to train, is out of my league. If I had met my stretch goal, I would have been in the top 20 in my age group, which was the most competitive. A faster swim and faster transitions could yield that result, but I’m not disappointed. Breaking 10 hours was a serious accomplishment and earning the slot through the Ironman XC division is a great achievement.

Post Race

After the race, I was exhausted. I sat down just past the finish line in a photographer’s chair. Fortunately, no one asked me to get up. I stayed put for a few minutes trying to compose myself. I was smoked. I finally got up and made my way to the barriers where my family and friends were cheering wildly and taking photos. I was so shot, and the images show the “face of pain.” I whimpered a bit before getting some Gatorade. I couldn’t find any water and couldn’t communicate with anyone in the finishers tent.

It took a while to exit the finishing area. I couldn’t find an opening the fencing, and none of the security guards spoke English. It was frustrating, but I finally figured it out. I now know that it is “saida.” I got my finisher’s medal and a t-shirt on the way out. Finally, I met up with my family, which was emotional. I sat down on a pillar for a while. Christian Haep and Troy Brown from Ironman XC, tended to me. Christian and I went to the transition area and got my bags. The area was secured so it took a high level negotiation between him and one of the race directors to liberate my stuff. The sun was setting and it was cooling off. I was cold, so I put on knee warmers, a long sleeve jersey, and a vest. I sat in the bike area for while he sorted out the logistics of getting all my stuff. The security was tight, as it should be. We pulled some more strings and I walked out of transition 30 minutes after finishing. I had my bike, my gear, and a huge smile.

I returned via shuttle bus to the hotel with Debbie and the kids, and took a hot shower. Then I soaked my legs in a cold bath. I couldn’t eat much, but forced down recovery drink and some food. My stomach was really bad, but improved dramatically after I emptied its contents. I actually felt like a million bucks after that episode. I didn’t have the nausea like after Lake Placid, but it was certainly an uncomfortable feeling, and likely brought on by the huge amount of energy food (bars, gels, and drinks) that I took in during the race. It felt like total depletion, which is what it should feel like after an extraordinary physical effort. It wasn’t the length of the effort, but the intensity of it. Watching Debbie run 100 rugged trail miles in 20 hours convinced me that an ultra might be harder than an Ironman, but I’ll still give myself some credit.

Pre-Race & Goals

Originally, this race wasn’t even on my radar, but last Halloween, Mark Moses sent me a fateful e-mail. He knew that after Ironman Lake Placid, I was trolling for another Ironman event that might give me a shot at qualifying for Kona. I had introduced Mark to Troy Ford from the Ironman XC program, which premiered in 2009. Mark had competed with XC at the Ironman European Championship in Germany last July. XC appealed to me because an age group slot would require a serious result, some luck, and more training and rest time than I had. XC was open for qualifying CEO’s and executives who have major work responsibilities. I juggle competitive athletics with family, a huge workload, and many volunteer commitments. I don’t begrudge my position. I am happy with a more balanced life. Any extra training would likely yield diminishing returns for my athletic performance, but it would seriously impact all of the other things in life. I’m very fortunate to have the variety of interests, and I choose to squeeze it all in. Still, I clearly don’t train or rest as much as many of my age group peers.

Mark gave me 24 hours to decide if I was in for Brazil. Ironman Couer d’Alene was on my short list, mainly because an age group qualification seemed possible based on my analysis of previous year’s results. I wasn’t considering Lake Placid again because I wanted to try a different course, plus my family wanted to experience something new. Idaho would have been cool, but once I mentioned South America to Debbie, it was quickly decided. Neither of us had ever been there, so we figured it would be a great trip. Ironman logistics are challenging when you drive to a race, but going to another continent with your two young children would be difficult, but we are always up for a challenge. Leaving Horst Engineering for a week wasn’t a major issue. We have a talented group of people and being away from the family business is healthy. However, juggling my normal work schedule and other commitments, which didn’t change, along with all of the training, was hard. 10 hours a week is low by Ironman standards, but it was an increase for me.

That is what makes the Ironman XC program unique. It pits a group of CEO’s against each other. I just can’t get the amount of preparation required to battle with guys in the 35-39 age group. Of course, there is a step up in talent too. I might have had an outside shot with Coeur d’ Alene, or with a return trip to Lake Placid, but Brazil is known as super-competitive since it is the only qualifier in South America. It attracts the top age groupers from Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America.

So, after committing to the race on November 1st, I set four goals:

1) Get in the best shape of my life.

 

2) Break 9:45.

3) Break 10 hours.

4) Earn an Ironman XC Kona slot.

In 2009, I took on the Ironman challenge for the first time, and crafted my first training program in years. I had been winging it since the late-1990’s when I shifted my athletics from a train to race strategy to a race to train strategy. That strategy didn’t change in 2009, but I didn’t kill myself in events like I had in the past. I was also recovering from a sub-par 2008, when I suffered serious burn out mid-year. During my recovery, the two things that made the biggest difference were my diet (I went from vegetarian to vegan and also minimized my gluten intake), and I started swimming.

To achieve my four goals, I needed a plan. It didn’t need to be extensive, but it had to have elements of periodization, rest, and peak periods. I revisited some books and articles and talked with my old teammate and friend, Will Kirousis, who is a coach at Tri-Hard Endurance Coaching. I bounced some ideas off of him and then kicked it off on Christmas Day with a 5K road race pushing the kids in our Chariot CX-2. My training program wasn’t as scientific as it could have been and is non-traditional. Between New Year’s and Brasil, I raced an additional 11 times in various road running, trail running, mountain biking, road cycling, and triathlon events. The variety keeps me sane, but I still struggled to get in my goal of 600 minutes of activity per week. My biggest volume week was 12 hours, and that is less than half of what many other athletes do!

As for the four goals. I figured that if I achieved the first, the others would just happen. The second goal was the stretch goal. I analyzed past results and depending on the race, I thought that might be the time needed to qualify outright in my age group. Going into Ironman Brasil, I knew the XC competition and based on their past results, I would have a good chance of winning my division. However, I wanted a legitimately fast time to justify it and figured that breaking 10 hours would be that number.

Debbie and I met some great people on this trip. The Ironman XC program got a lot of support from Ken Glah’s Endurance Sports Travel organization. The help that we got from both XC and EST were critical for us to execute the logistics of this trip. Minimizing stress is a huge part of achieving a big athletic result, and I had a fair amount of it during the build up.

So, overall, Ironman Brasil was a sweet experience. Meeting some of the professional athletes was a treat. Australia’s Luke Mckenzie won the race in a stellar 8:07:39. Ezequiel Morales was second and Santiago Ascenso was third. The top female was Canada’s Tereza Macel who finished in 9:19:13. Dede Griesbauer was second and Maria Omar was third. Equally as inspiring as the pros are the challenged athletes, of which there were many. There were so many folks out on the course, vying for the recognition of being an Ironman. Like my family, many of them were there to support them. Once you do one of these races and feel the vibe, you understand why all of Ironman is one big family.

16 Responses to “Ironman Brasil”


  1. 1 summitpc 21 June 2010 at 10:29 am

    Good report Scott!
    Nice to meet you at the race and kudos on your Kona qualification. We’ve cancelled most of our race plans going into Kona for the summer to focus a bit on the race and hope to see you there.

    -Dave


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