3 and a bit years ago I decided that if I was going to disrupt my family, personal and professional life every year with Ironman training I may as well do it properly and actually train more or at least the same amount I talked about it by email or social media. I’d already chosen the Team TBB Coaching having been a follower (if not practitioner) of the Sutton Sports Science (SSS) way and knew his methods and thinking rang true with my beliefs. Next step was signing up and picking a coach, instantly I saw huge similarities with Scott DeFilippis, a guy from a run background who was working on his swim and bike strength. Whilst I’m not of the same standard by any means and was a million miles away when I signed up, I knew that it would be easy for Scott to transfer the same blend of training given to him from the doc directly to myself, or at least that was my thinking. Also I wanted to work with someone who was a grafter, not some freak with a God given talent that may have trouble relating to mere mortals like myself.
A lot of hours and a few races have passed between that day and toeing the line for Lake Tahoe but I’ve never questioned the decision to go with Scott, whilst it would be great to have a coach that lived down the street and could stand on deck at the pool I wouldn’t be able to hand over the full responsibility for my schedule in the way I can with Scott as I’d be continually questioning their methods. With Team TBB Coaching, I know that I’m getting world championship making training tailored around my needs, ability, goals and circumstances and when I needed it, daily if not more frequent contact, when I don’t I just do what’s written in Training Peaks and get the work done.
Ironman Lake Tahoe Preamble
As soon as this race was announced I was hooked, stunning scenery, tough bike and a great location for a family holiday. In the weeks leading up to the race there was the fear of the effects of altitude especially as I live 100m from the coast, then there was the threat of cancellation due to the Rim Fire and lastly the night before the race there were high winds and snow on the summits and talk of the swim being shortened or even the race becoming a duathlon! This was after what seemed like 6 months of catastrophe after catastrophe, from falling down stairs and bruising my ribs to a case of arterial fibrillation, which caused a minor panic in the Fegan household. Despite the set-backs I’ve managed to string together 6 months of solid and consistent training and was feeling that I was coming into great shape just before the event itself.
Everything about this race was falling into place – the temperature for California was artic, this translates into spring-like in Scotland and the course with the effect of altitude was going to mean that doing well wasn’t going to be just a case of who is the fittest but also who can suffer the most. Followers of SSS will know, there’s no gadget or lab test that can give you a value on your ability to suffer – I think the Sutto test involves a trip to Embrun, a test I’d passed a couple of years back with Adam.
The swim involved the new self-seeding rolling start (yes the same as they’ve been doing in IM Lanzarote for years) but unlike Lanzarote, this worked a treat. After speaking to Scott the night before I placed myself at the back on the sub 1 hour and start of the 1:01 to 1:10 group to avoid any altitude induced panic and to get sucked along by the few hundred in front. With the air temperature being so cold I skipped the warm-up and stayed out of the main pack of swimmers until I felt everything was under control. Despite the easy start, I did feel the altitude effects for the first time since getting to Tahoe in the swim but once warmed-up breathing became easy again and it was time to find some toes. I switched draft 4 times throughout the swim and with about 200m to go to the beach I upped the pace for the first time passing loads of swimmers but still reaching T1, like Roth, feeling I’d expended zero effort in the swim and jogged into T1 knowing I’d set myself up perfectly for the tough bike ahead.
Despite the mediocre (1:01) swim time the transition tent was relatively empty and I had a helper to myself. For the bike I decided to put on a fleece top over my trisuit after a brief towel dry then I was off, I managed to forget to pack gloves in my bike bag which I only remembered when seeing frozen rain on the top tube of the bike…Nothing I could do but get on with it…
The bike course is basically a fast part and a slow part with a mile long 7% grade stuck in near the star of the fast bit, this is dollar hill that you complete 3 times, each time slightly more noticeable than the last. On race day the wind direction meant there was a headwind along the fastest section but it was still possible to ride along this at a solid pace but recover at the same time, as discussed with Scott. The two main hill sections could have been designed with me in mind. These were long drags that got progressively steeper towards the top where the power climbers would have popped well before half way. You just had to get in the right gear, stay seated and keep going until you reached the top – brain off, legs on and don’t go into the red! On lap 2 I was passing people walking up these on their first lap – hadn’t they read the race location, this wasn’t Florida? The first lap was pretty solitary and the second a procession of passing first lap athletes dotted with a couple of pros. The only annoying thing on the bike course was the stupid Perform sports drink bottles; having to twist the top to open wasn’t the easiest trick to “perform” on the go.
T2 and I was feeling pretty good, I’d had no bad patches on the bike at all and the hills whilst draining were only so because I was doing them at pace an empty T2 meant more 1 on 1 attention and off on the run I recognised the feeling instantly, this was the usual “someone else’s legs” where normal service is resumed after 10 minutes, no this was more akin to the feeling of Embrunman. This gave me the sudden realisation that this entire marathon was going to hurt and no records would be set today. The first 5 miles were uneventful then a bit of stomach pain set in, a quick pee stop seemed to relieve this but this returned and forced a port-a-potty stop just after the longer lap one. My wife Ella informed me I was in 4th place in my age group; with 6 slots for Kona I was told “don’t do anything stupid” I could only nod and hope not to soil myself – where the hell is that toilet???
Out of the toilet and back onto the sufferfest of a run (which is far from flat) and calf cramps start kicking in, also the uphill’s become a march rather than a jog as my heart rate and perceived effort were skyrocketing. I didn’t know if or how many people had passed me when I was in the toilet and now I had to stop and stretch every 200m or so. I found a cadence, stride length and foot fall that seemed to minimise the cramping and just got on with finishing the run. With the gastro issues resolved I was able to get back on the coke / gels and sports drinks and the cramps disappeared and a better patch of running followed all through the fog of the brain trying to shut everything down and screaming at you to stop – just focus on the next mile and the finish will come. With 3 miles to go it was time to shut down on nutrition and finally I get to the finishing chute – a quick glance behind shows there’s no one in sight and realisation I can actually start walking, a quick kiss with the wife and across the line to second in my age group and a little lie down in the medical tent to get my body temperature back to normal and my heart rate back under 120.
An epic race, a brilliant course and a stunning setting, this should go on your Ironman bucket list and if you can’t get yourself to Embrun, Ironman Lake Tahoe will make a suitable substitute to answer the question – How much can you suffer?