11 October 2007

Kona Blue

Kevin first sent this piece to me a couple of years ago. It's a great story that gives an insight into what motivates people to compete here in Hawaii.

I hope you enjoy it.

Dr. Kevin Purcell, D.C.

There is no place I would rather be than on the big island of Hawaii in October. My love affair with this place started suddenly in 1992; a mix of (1) a very old dream to do the Hawaii Ironman and (2) a chance 1992 meeting with the race while on vacation in Kona. The old dream began in 1980. I had a buddy in professional school (Chiropractic) who was training for Ironman and I’d tag along with him on his easy runs through Griffith Park in Los Angeles. I remember he had a shoe sponsor and his shoes had some whacky waffle patterns on the sole. I had never seen running shoes before. I was running in Converse basketball shoes. With his influence, I wanted to go over to Hawaii and give the IM a go. I think there was 6-8 months left to prepare before the late season event. I was a lifeguard during summers in Santa Barbara County, so when school let out I started to ride my bike 20-25 miles each day over the summer before taking my spot in the tower. We were allowed to swim and run along the beach during work so I logged about 5 miles a day running barefoot in the sand. No qualification was necessary to race in the early days, meaning I could have showed up and taken part; but as the summer ended I found I couldn’t finance the trip. It just wasn’t possible; so I put any idea of IM aside. However, my buddy, Bill McKean, was a 12 year navy SEAL team member and some of his SEAL pals did very well over there in the first couple races. Bill was (and is) one tough dude. He went that year and finished 9th OA on his first attempt at IM. Months later, he was 2nd OA in the Western States 100 in 18:52. Bill is now an excellent chiropractor up near Auburn above Sacramento.

The Hawaii IM dream was on hold. I graduated, was licensed, opened a chiropractic practice in 1982 in San Diego and am still there. I continued to watch IM from afar. I saw Moss crawl, bought Scott Tinley clothing and recall Scott Molina laying down what, at the time, was the 3rd fastest Kona finish on record (8:31) and first place. I gained lots of weight and did zero aerobic training over the next decade.

In October 1992 a friend offered me a promotional package trip to Kona for vacation. I didn’t know the IM was being held there in October. All that and a lot more was about to change. During my vacation we stayed in some blue roofed condos down by the old bike to run transition, The Kona Surf. On the trip, I didn't do much walking. I got around in a golf cart. I drove the little car everywhere, even over short distances. Always one handed as I had a mai tai or beer in the other. One day, cruising through the blue roofed properties while in route to get a newspaper in the hotel next door, I came to a roadside crossing where I had to stop for a long line of runners. I watched them go by. As an ex athlete who competed at a high level in basketball, I had respect for anyone who was able to do what it takes. But in '92, at 230lbs, running wasn't for me! I had no aerobic fitness and was lacking the motivation to run.

That is the place my head was at this day as I watched the runners file by. They all appeared focused and in some degree of discomfort. I asked an elderly lady what the hell they were doing. As she moved past me, she let me know that she had just gotten off her bike (silly man!). Then she growled back over her shoulder in a voice that sounded to me like something off a Black Sabbath album, “IRONMAN”. I was excited. I had stumbled upon the event and the drama I had admired since 1980. I got a vicarious rush that ran throughout my body. I immediately attempted to follow what was left of the 'race'.

It was the back of the pack that found me that afternoon. These athletes are tough and often deal with levels of pain that go with less than perfectly working bodies. I related to their struggle. Had I seen race leaders and eventual winners (Mark Allen and PNF) glide past me I may never had ‘seen’ that this race was possible for me. I parked the cart and I made my way by foot, back toward the finish line as the sun was setting. I saw all shapes, sizes and ages of athletes keep moving forward as the back half of the field made their way to the finish anyway they could. They limped, hobbled grunted and groaned. By the time I reached earshot of the finish area I was totally ROCKED by what I was watching. It was all glow sticks and guts. My adrenaline started to flow as I hurried on to the finish line. I was drawn like Richard Dreyfuss to the Devil’s Peak in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of The Third Kind”.

When I arrived it got even better. Each athlete that finished was physically wasted – but ecstatic. The announcer called them out by name. He gave their ages and hometowns. The crowd was loud and my eyes misted. My throat ached. I was so happy for the finishers. I can’t explain how moving this was for me. I stood there watching for hours. That night, I vowed to do the race.

It took me six more years to begin _any_ training in 1998. I was unable to muster the strength to make lifestyle changes that would support getting fit. Finally, I realized that I had to give up a part of myself to be whole. I was 230lbs, but it never entered my mind that I had an unusual body for an endurance athlete. In university, as a basketball player, I was used to being one of the smallest people on the court and I guess I still saw myself as unfit but capable. I never considered that I might not be able to finish IM Hawaii – and I thought (wrongly) soon. I borrowed my brother’s bike and started riding and running in an old pair of Asics shoes. I swam in a 20 yard indoor pool – all beginning at 3:00am before work.

The chance meeting at the blue roofed condos and the Ironman was a catalyst for change in my life -- and my families. I dropped fifty pounds, down to 180 and once again became fascinated by health. I studied our sport, listened to and sought mentors. It wasn’t until 2003, eleven years after my vacation encounter and 22 years after Bill McKean’s example that I qualified and raced IM Hawaii for the first time.

I have now done 19 Ironman races all over the world and guide others to their IM goals. I still get a special feeling in and around this sport, specifically the Hawaii IM, Kona and the big island. I don’t think my feelings are unique. My gut tells me that there are hundreds, if not thousands of changed lives as a result of our sport. Here’s to change.


Coach KP specializes in guiding long course triathletes to their goals, both elite and first time Ironman athletes. In the last five years, he has coached over 15 athletes to qualifying spots in Kona (including FPRO 2x). That list includes five international Ironman Age Group wins and an AG podium at IM Hawaii.

04 October 2007

Running (Very) Fast in Ironman

How to run a 2.42 marathon in an Ironman.

Or maybe the subject should be more “What did I do/how did I train to be able to run a 2.42 marathon in Ironman New Zealand 2004”.

When I finished 2: nd in IM NZ -04, I set a new run course record and ran my fastest IM marathon by over 10 min. And when I crossed the line it wasn’t like I had been suffering and pushing my body over the limits more than in the previous races for 42 K, it was more the other way around. For the first time I came of the bike and from the first step to the last step on that marathon I felt like I was just “cruising”.
And for all of you that have seen the run course at IM NZ know that it’s not a flat course where you have the wind in your back all the time, okay, it’s not a hilly course but it’s pretty much rolling all the time.

I will by this article try to look back and see what I did different in my training from previous years building up to that race. Even if I have tried hard I haven’t been able to repeat that IM run split since either. I did run a 2.44 marathon in IM Brazil 2.5 month after my fast run in IM NZ after Gordo and I had been riding cross the States, but I believe that run split was also based on the training I did building up to IM NZ that year.
I have also been able to pull off a few good run splits at the Ironman distance race Quelle Challenge in Roth, Germany, but compare to IM NZ Roth has an “easy” run course.

Mmmm, where should I start??
I have always been a pretty good runner, and also when I started to race shorter triathlons (up to ½ IM) almost 10 years ago I was able to run well of the bike and have one of the fastest run splits, but then when I started to race Ironman 2001 I went from being the fastest runner to be a average good runner, and for the first few years I got pretty upset that I wasn’t able really run the marathon, it felt more like a painful jog where my legs felt like 2 heavy pieces of wood. With a personal best of 1.07 half marathon and sub 15 min on the track I know how it should feel when you run, and that was not how my first IM runs felt.

So what did I do different leading up to IM NZ 2004 and what can you do overall in your training and racing strategy to run faster of the bike??

First of all I believe that if you are riding over you ability on the bike leg you can not aspect that you will run well of the bike, with this I don’t mean that you must cruise the bike to be able to run well, but most of the time if you give away 5-10 min from your bike split you will run 15-20 min quicker. And that is not only because your legs will be fresher, it also has to do with that if you have been riding with a lower heart rate which probably means that you have been able to fuel your self better and your stomach have been able to absorb the energy so you can start the run full of energy, we all know that its much easier to eat and drink on the bike than during the run, if you can pace yourself a little on the bike at least.

Then I know from my own experience that most of us should have major benefits from more stretching, take away a few hours a week from your swim, bike and run training and stretch more, if you want to have a smooth, energy saving running step you can not have hamstring, gluts or hip muscles that are tight like a rocks. This will not only make you to a faster runner, you are also making your back a favour so you will be able to enjoy triathlon racing without back pain for a few more years.

So that was 2 major things that has to do with the run split as well other then the run training itself. But let’s go back to what I did leading up to IM NZ -04.

The first time I was training in NZ was Jan-March 2002 and I got introduced to long distance training for the first time, before that I didn’t train that much but when I did train I went pretty hard, and I saw that I got pretty good results from very little training, but of course you need to do some long distance training if you want to race at longer distances. So after been adding some more volume to my training for a year I decided to study one semester at the “local” university in the fall 2003, and because if this I didn’t have as much time to train so I ended up to go back to my old way of training for 4 month. I did a few quality sessions each week in each sport and some strength training but that was pretty much it, so about 12-14 hours a week of training, but as I said, good quality. For run training I did 2 sessions on an indoor 200 m track and 2-2.5 hour long run each week. The indoor sessions were 8*1 K with 1 min recovery and the 2: nd indoor session was 3*3 K repeat with 2 min recovery. It wasn’t all out session so I always made sure that I was able to run the last interval a little bit faster than the first but they were all at good pace, almost like I was training for a 10-15 K running race.

For bike training I mostly did 2 sessions each week on my indoor bike or trainer, the sessions was 6*8 min with 2 min recovery at a good pace. The same was for swimming, just a few sessions but good quality. For strength training I focused on the core but also did some lower and upper body stuff.

Then I finished my semester just before Christmas 2003 and flew to Gordo in NZ to train. And all of you that knew Gordo back then know that he liked to train a lot, (as he still does) so I joined in on his training schedule and my training hours got 2 and sometimes 3 times as many compare to when I was studying, but the intensity wasn’t as high so I was able to tolerate the training pretty good.

In the middle of January we did an Epic Camp on the north Island of NZ which went well overall for me, and I think it was day 6 or 7 of the camp where we raced the Auckland ½ IM. I was able to race strong and finish of with a 1.13 run split on a fair course.

Then finally it was the beginning of March and IM NZ was about to come around the corner. I had raced there the 2 previous years and finished 12: Th and 4: Th overall with a run split of 3.05 and 2.57 if I don’t remember wrong, and I didn’t think that I had done anything different this year so I didn’t aspect anything special out there.

But during the race I could feel that I was much better prepared then before, and it wasn’t all the distance training the last 2 month leading up to the race that had been the difference, it was what I had done the 4 month before that. During race I was able to hold a better pace on the bike for longer periods of time and when I caught up to some group on the bike I was able to hold my 10 meters and recover for a few minutes and then take of again.

And when I finally started the run it was like I had been on a little warm up ride, of course I was a little bit stiff in my lower back but after a few kilometres I was running without any stiffness. I was very surprised how easy it felt even if I ran at 3.45-3.50 min/K pace which was much faster then what I had been able to hold in an IM before, and that wasn’t a pace that I had planned to be able to hold, I just ran based on how it felt and I was very comfortable at that pace. Even the last 10 K I didn’t slow down that much, but of course at that point I had to push a little bit to be able to hold the pace up but I ended up to run the 2:nd ½ marathon pretty much at the same speed as the first one.

So, my summary of this is that if you want improve your IM finishing time and marathon split it’s not all about endurance, you also need to improve your “top” running speed/ strenght, lets say your 5 and 10 K speed, and you also need to work on your bike fitness/pacing so you can come through the 180 K ride without being to fatigued.

And the 2:nd part of this summary is that as you can see it worked great for me to first work on my strength/ speed for 3-4 month, then build my endurance for a few month on top of that. And by doing it that way and not the other way around which I believe is the most common way to do it, work on your endurance then add speed, I was able to get much more “quality” out of my endurance training.

I don’t know if this above made sense at all to you, but I think we start to see it more now when the Olympic guys start to move up and race at IM distance, even if they haven’t been training “long” for more then a few month they are able to race very well at Ironman distance races., of course they might at first have some trouble with pacing but as soon as they figure that out then they can go very fast at Ironman races.

So why not try something different for next season, when the winter arrives do sessions to work on your VO2 max, lactate threshold and overall strength and flexibility, then when the sun start to come out in end of February add some longer sessions and who knows, you might be very fast next year.

Take care