It’s time for a deeper review and analysis of Coast to Coast 2013. For those of you who are multisport nerds, you may find this interesting (or you may not). Everybody else may just want to check out the new pictures and film at the end and skip the details 🙂
Now that the euphoria of crossing the finish line has subsided (and the logistics plan went smoothly), I’m left to wonder what really happened? Why didn’t I reach my goal of the top 10? I had the fitness to do it and I spent a lot of time on the course training, but I didn’t get there. So it’s time for some self-critique — not explanation or excuses — in the hopes of uncovering a little room for improvement.
As you probably read on www.multisport.se I was 1 hr 45 min behind the winner Braden Currie. Shit, am I that bad ? Numbers don’t lie. But they don’t really tell the whole story either. I had no business racing alongside the top 5 guys — they’re essentially professionals. But even the next 5 guys who were amateurs have done this race several times (most at least 5 times). I knew I didn’t have that experience but I still thought I could squeeze into the top 10 if I played my cards right (Note: the 10th place guy was 1 hour and 23 min behind Braden Currie, i.e., only 22 minutes ahead of me).
More statistics here for you multisport nerds … http://www.sportsplits.com/LiveLB.aspx?CId=34&RId=287&EId=1
Here I am at the start of the paddle
So why didn’t I perform as well as I could?
I was perhaps too conservative. I paced myself too much. It seems I should have been closer to that razor edge that separates “blowing up” from “just hanging on.” Pushing harder at critical times may risk cramps, but sometimes it also pays off. I think I missed some payoff opportunities.
I’m pretty fast in the transitions, but perhaps I could have been even faster (Judge for yourself in the film below, although I cut some of it to make it more “watch-able”).
The truth is I’m inexperienced with 12 hour races. I know I can go 90% of my max for the Åre Extreme and make it to the finish line, but I didn’t know what speed I could hold for 12 hours. In 2010 when I did the “asphalt duathlon” version of the Coast to Coast I went way too hard at the start and blew up (I finished 39th on that rain-shortened course). This time I may have done the opposite — paced myself too much. Maybe next time “lagom” ?
Anyway, here comes a little play by play, but first a map of the course to remind you.
3 KM RUN (My time: 11 min and 20 seconds, 37th fastest run time, 37th overall placing at end)
I had a good breakfast at 4 am, 2 hours before race start. I took a gel and salt 10 min before and felt good. I ran steady and hard (heart rate in the low 170s), but not too hard. I was in the second group alongside Elina Ussher and Sophie Hart — the two leading women. They were suffering more than I was. I purposefully let the front pack go — I wasn’t going to burn up with them.
55 KM RUN (My time: 1 hr 45 min, 19th fastest bike time, 17th overall placing at end)
I changed to bike shoes quickly (many ride the bike with running shoes and straps) and quickly caught a chasing group. But it was slow so I raced up and caught the group ahead of me after a hard 2 minute effort. But it was pointless: my original group caught up 10 minutes later. Wasted effort or good aggressive riding?
Here I am during a later bike stage in the afternoon
As an economist I see this part of the race as a classic “free rider” problem. Everybody wants to go fast, but nobody wants to be first and incur the cost of fighting the wind. Doing so gives everybody behind you a “free ride” out of the wind. The same thing happens with National Parks — nobody wants to pay for them, but everybody wants to have them, i.e., free ride. The solution is to force everybody to pay through taxes and create the National Park.
But forcing somebody to “pay” (work hard) is a failed strategy in a cycling bunch at the start of a 12 hour endurance race. I had two options: (1) be a free rider and hope that somebody else was worried enough (or stupid enough) to push hard against the wind or (2) try a cooperation strategy where I encourage everybody to pull their weight — diplomatically of course 🙂
I choose option (2), which means I had to lead by example: short pulls into the wind for 20 to 30 seconds followed by my encouragment: “Come on guys — everybody pulls for 20 seconds, that’s all it takes. 20 seconds, then pull off to the side. We can work together — come on now!” The strategy worked fairly well — some of the big testosterone-filled guns got the hang of it 🙂 But there were a lot of free riders. For example Sophie and Elina were in this group and didn’t spend 1 second in the front (On a side note: Sophie’s chain fell off at one point and she had to stop and fix it. Some super nice guy waited and helped her fight the wind to catch back up to the group again).
My buddy Tim Pearson was in the media van taking pictures and he told me afterwards that he saw me in front a lot. Wasted effort or an effective cooperation strategy? I don’t know, but my HR was quite low for much of this, which shows that I was not spending too much time in the front (you can see it drops considerably after the first 11 min run and then yo-yos up and down for the next hour and 45 min as I switched from being in front to cruising in the back. The watch was accidently turned off about 3/4 of the way through the race).
In the end, it didn’t matter what we did in our second group because the first group of riders absolutely crushed this ride. They set a record pace to the first transition (and there was no tailwind!) and started their run 15 minutes before we even arrived ! Not the kind of handicap I like to give Richard Ussher 🙂
33 KM MOUNTAIN RUN (My time: 3 hr 33 min, 14th fastest run time, 14th overall placing at end)
I had a decent transition to running shoes and held a steady pace throughout. I started in 19th place, but reached the highest point of the run/race (after about 2 hrs of running) in 13th place. Things were going according to plan.
Here I am crossing the stream at the start of the run
I passed several runners on the way up because I knew short-cuts that they didn’t know about. I’m not a good navigator but I have a good visual memory. This gave me a mental boost as I earned time.
Here I am at the top of Goat Pass in 13th place (Yes I got some comments about my left knee — yeah it just looks that way. I don’t know why …)
It was really hot coming down the back side and I was careful to stop and drink at nearly every stream, where I also downed several salt tablets (probably 12 over the whole run).
15 KM BIKE and 1 KM RUN TO KAYAK (My time: 36 min 20 seconds, 16th fastest bike/run time, 16th overall placing at end)
A good transition to my bike for the short downwind cycle to the kayak. Here I am changing my shoes, as Greg peels my banana.
The plan was to take it easy and eat well after the hard run. I was about to spend 4.5 hrs in a kayak and needed to rehydrate and re-fuel.
This might be where my strategy showed itself to be too conservative. I was passed by a biker who flew by me (Nathan Jones, who ended up finishing 13th) and then by another guy on the jog to the kayak (JJ Wilson who ended up finishing 11th). Should I have pushed harder here, ate a little less and risked cramps to keep my pace up?
This section took me 36 minutes, but I lost 8 minutes to the fastest guy — that’s 22% faster, which is a lot. There seems to have been low-hanging fruit here that I let go …
Here I am running down to my kayak
67 KM PADDLE (My time: 4 hr 47 min, 20th fastest kayak time, 19th overall placing at end)
Starting off on the long paddle
This is where my race fell apart. I flipped over twice in the boat, wasting valuable time. I had to stop a 3rd time when I realized my skirt handle was caught under the skirt and I didn’t want to enter the next big rapid in that situation.
If I would have had a flaw-less paddle — which is not easy after 6 hard hours of running and biking — I guess I could have shaved 15-20 minutes off my paddle time. Without wasting energy flipping over (and losing my drink system), I probably could have had a better bike section to the finish (as I may have been less dehydrated). Since I missed the top 10 by 22 minutes, this paddle is what ruined my chances for reaching my goal. Top 10 Coast-to-Coasters don’t make these mistakes. Simple as that.
I’m a decent paddler and pretty comfortable in rapids so what happened? I think the reason is this: 14 days before the race I paddled the 67 km kayak section in about 4 hrs and 45 minutes. I felt great and never flipped.
3 days later I did it again. But this time I flipped 3 times (losing my GoPro camera !) and came out of it feeling shaky. I think I subconsciously carried that memory with me into the race and it didn’t help me.
When getting back into my boat after my first swim, Sophie Hart caught up to me. I paddled behind her for a while (an hour?), but then I couldn’t keep her pace. She literally paddled away from me (she didn’t work on that first bike remember…). She was known as a mediocre paddler several years ago, but has worked hard at it. Now she has a real efficient stroke and the lines she picked through the rapids were perfect. There is no accident she is on the World Champion Team Seagate. Pic of Sophie below.
My second involuntary swim came 5 minutes before the end of the paddle and it was a real game-changer. Over the last 30 minutes of the paddle I had gained on two paddlers ahead of me, despite a nasty headwind. I could see they were dying and it gave me a mental boost to catch up to them. I was about to pass these two guys and I knew I would be strong on the bike !
But I took an unnecessary risk.
I tried to pass the guy in front of me by cutting a corner across a nasty re-circulation hole — I approached this hole at top speed and the water pushed hard into the right side of the boat and I couldn’t counter it with my body weight. I flipped over. Had I waited patiently for the next calm water section I probably would have passed them both easily.
To make matters worse I let go of my paddle when I flipped, which caused a panic. I was forced to let my boat go — swim over to get the paddle — then swim back to the boat and find a safe eddy to dump the water out. I worked efficiently but the time — and more importantly, the momentum — was lost.
But my support crew got me up the hill and on my bike in a hurry …
70 KM BIKE (My time: 2 hr 8 min, 20th fastest bike time, 20th overall placing at end)
I drank a lot of Coke, two “Jonas Colting” chocolate balls and a double caffeine gel as I started the bike. I was feeling good and caught the guy in front of me — Bernard Robinson — and we chatted about how sore our asses were on the bike seat (I was careful not to pedal in his slip stream as it’s illegal to draft on this last section).
But as we neared the city the headwind got nasty and my legs were fading. My private parts were feeling a burning pain. I never really became friends with my time trial bike seat 🙁
As I rode through town I still held over 32 kph or so and at every red light — there must have been 15 of them? — there was a policeman stopping traffic so I never lost my momentum (what little I had …).
On the last stretch to Sumner Beach, the asfalt was terrible. The earthquake had caused it to buckel and the “patch jobs” didn’t exactly smooth it out. My ass was killin’ me …
I could barely stand up straight when I jumped off the bike for the 100 meter sprint across the beach to the finish. I was like an 80 year old man with a crooked back. But I straightened out just in time for this picture 🙂
I thought I went hard on the last bike, but Sophie Hart — the winning female — beat me by almost 7 minutes. Shit, she’s a great athlete, but I should be able to hold her speed. It just shows you how a smart and experienced racer on this course can pace efficiently.
That’s my story. I didn’t reach my goal, which makes me really keen to try again. I’m already planning where to save my minutes, where to improve my skill set, and how to improve my mental game. I’m only 35 — I got a few years left 🙂
Thanks once again to my support crew members Greg Scott, Tim Farrant, Tane Campbell and Stephanie. I would never have made it without you guys — as the film clearly shows !
Here is a film of the transitions during the race thanks to Tane, who had a GoPro on his head while helping me in the TA. I also included a few GoPro clips of my own that I captured while training on the course the week before – enjoy !
In my next blog I’ll tell you what I’ll be doing in NZ for the next 7 weeks before I come back to Sweden … (hint: it involves NZ multisport races …)
PS richard ussher’s story if you wanna read it..