Making the Game Plan Work!
Written by LifeSport athlete Janos Mako
I had been anticipating Ironman 70.3 Atlantic City for the last four weeks after Tri Nationals! I felt prepared and had visualized how I wanted the race to go. On race morning, we arrived at the venue early after having a pre-race breakfast and a coffee at the hotel. As I was in the next to last wave, I had more than an hour before my swim start and I spend that hour getting ready. I went for a short warm up run and set up transition, watched a few swim waves go off, and then found a quiet area to lay down and visualize how the race would go and get mentally relaxed and prepared.
When my swim wave was called I was not nervous, only anticipating a good experience. As I waited out the few final few moments before my start I did some drills and shoulder swings to loosen up. The water was an ideal temperature, about 73 degrees. I lined up on the far right side and in the 2nd row with about 60 other men in my wave. It was a clean start, and as I started swimming, there wasn’t much body contact and I focused on not breathing too fast and staying streamlined. The yellow buoys were fairly easy to see, and I knew we had to swim between 2 red ones so I would sight on those about every 5-8 strokes.
I felt great in the water and had some stretches where I could draft other swimmers. It felt like we had only been swimming for 15 minutes, and had even passed a few swimmers from the previous wave, when suddenly about 20 swimmers in front of me turned at a red buoy to start heading back. I felt they were turning too soon but saw that the lifeguards were on the other side, and so I followed everyone in front of me. I was thinking we might get a penalty for cutting the course but saw there were about 20 people in my wave with me, so we were all in the same boat. I did not even have much time to pick up the pace to the finish, but did kick my legs more in the last 200 yards as Coach Chris had advised me to do. The transition with the wetsuit strippers went very well, and I saw I was already leaving transition only 30 minutes into the race! I thought I had a really strong swim, but I found out after the race that the swim course had been shortened to 1100 meters. This quick swim gave me a lot of confidence for my performance in the rest of the event and I felt strong.
Heading out on the bike I focused on keeping my heart rate in the target range that Coach Chris had outlined. The course was flat and fast and I saw that even though I was keeping the effort in check, the speed was good and was rising as we had some tailwinds going out. I focused on taking in my fluids and gels as part of my nutrition plan. I was constantly passing people throughout the entire bike ride, a few people passed me but only for a short stretch. Any time I felt like I needed to stretch out of the aero position, a small incline or hill would come up and I could just come out of my saddle for a short effort. I was always conscious of the heart rate and keeping it under control.
The 2nd half of the bike ride was much the same, but the effort was a little harder to keep the heart rate in the range, and there was a little bit of a headwind, but nothing crazy. I ended up drinking about 2.5 bottles of 20oz Gatorade Endurance for the entire bike, and 4 gels. I knew I was having a great bike split, and could have gone faster but stuck with the plan. The ride on the highway back to transition was a lot of fun. The last few miles of the bike I was wary of any potholes or cracks because I really did not want a flat. I had a great dismount out of my shoes and had a fast transition into the run. I saw I was only 3:07 into the race which was very encouraging, I felt a 4:50 final time was doable.
The run started out with a mile or two back and forth parallel to transition, and I was feeling very comfortable with the pace. I hit my target heart rate right away and it stayed there for most of the run. I had forgotten my hat and as it was already very hot out in the sun as the clouds from the bike had disappeared, I was conscious of managing the heat. There were aid stations every 1-2 miles, and I made sure I poured water on my head, put sponges and ice in my shirt, and tried to take in some fluids at each one. I had a gel at about 3 miles and again at about 7 miles. At around 4 miles, I realized it was not going to be fast run for me, but I thought I would pick up the pace at 9 and again at 11 miles, and focused on keeping the heart rate above the target level although the pace was slowing. I felt a little bit of bloating around 7 miles when I took the gel and had half a cup of Gatorade with it.
By about 8 miles I was getting low on energy and was looking forward to every aid station and trying to cool off. I missed a gel at this stop which was not good, but I carried on as I was concerned that I would not have as good of a performance that I was anticipating after the great bike leg. By 10 miles I was basically in "survival" mode and stopped looking at my watch. I never walked but my pace was very slow and I was just trying to get to the finish. It felt like I was running in a full marathon. At 11 miles I grabbed a gel, and at 12 miles there was about a quarter mile of shade as we ran around the pier and I was able to pick it up a bit for the last half mile to the finish.
After the race I was happy to have finished and knew I had a strong overall time, even with a slower than anticipated run. I quickly started cramping if I tried to bend over or flex my feet or calves. Even swimming in the ocean was not doable in the surf because of the cramping. I actually did not need to urinate the entire race. In reflection, I was pretty dehydrated from the entire day, especially the hot run. A couple of hours later after eating some salty food, oranges, and drinking a bunch of water and Gatorade I felt much better. I learned that I had come in 2nd place in my age group, which is the highest place I've ever gotten in any major triathlon! While the day had an unexpected level of toughness on the run, I know that my solid game plan and methodical approach paid off. I very much appreciate the coaching I received from Chris this year: he took me to the next level. I had qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, and it was time to celebrate!
By LifeSport Coaching athlete Janos Mako