After about 3 weeks to reflect on the race in Kona, some main points and thoughts have come into focus.
I started the swim in a pretty aggressive position, but if I am going to start there, I need to be more aggressive with my preparation as well and start the race more like its an olympic or sprint. I started 10-20 yards left of the pier and while I think I belong in that general spot, starting 2 or 3 rows deep as I did will not cut it. Immediately I was hemmed in and getting the crap beat out of me, and I didn't have anywhere to go. In the future, I need to be in the front row, being reigned in by the paddleboard volunteers, and start HARD and use some of my old swimming sprint speed to get out in front. I can stay out there with my improved open water navigating abilities and by focusing on an ever improving, rapid and powerful armstroke. More pullups, paddle work, and back to my sprinting roots. Short of graduating into the pro ranks and having that luxurious 6:30am start with only 80 athletes, I need to attack the swim more than I have if I am to use my swim as a weapon and swim a split that I am more than capable of.
My bike was much improved over the last two years, but this is the area where I still need the most improvement. Obviously this will require more miles and more focused strength and threshold work, but also I need to be better strategically as well, as I also mentioned for the swim. To the former point, I need to bring my FTP numbers up and corresponding muscular endurance to really advance my strength to weight ratio and to be able to apply this over the course of 112 miles. This year, I rode at about 3.2-3.4 watts per kilo (AP vs NP) output for the IMWC bike leg; I read somewhere that Michael Weiss rode at about a 317 watt average (4 watts per kilo) in Kona this year, so while this is almost the pinnacle of biking ability in IM, this is a target to continue working towards. For a more intermediate target, I heard on a podcast that Justin Daerr did about 4500 kilojoules of work on the IM Louisville bike course (at about my size) compared to my 3900 kj in Kona (and 5029 kj for Weiss), so there is definitely some additional power and intensity on the bike that I will continue building.
To the latter point, from my race report I referenced letting some competitors ride by in the early stages of the bike and sitting up to avoid getting mixed up in sticky (potential drafting) situations. In the future, I need to be willing to burn a couple extra matches to stay near the front of these "packs", keying off of other strong riders, and still getting a legal "draft" at 10 meters back that I know some of my other competitors were capitalizing on much more. Towards the end of the bike, it became clear that I was not necessarily in the relative position that I should have been based off of how many guys I was catching and passing. This also could only be helped by coming out of the water a good 5 minutes earlier based on my swim goals. Finally, I need to do a better job of optimizing my bike position and improvements in gear selection and placement to take advantage of free speed that is available for gain.
For my run, I think I could probably be helped most just in terms of better training and increased run mileage to build efficiency and durability. Strategically speaking, I don't think there is too much room for improvement for me at this time because basically by the time you are on the run, the chips have fallen after 5-6 hours of racing the swim & bike, and the run is all about running to your potential with the position you have put yourself in. Obviously, the faster you get and the higher your relative position coming off the bike, the more important strategy becomes. We're talking top-5-10 AG here, or if you're Crowie, Andi, Macca, etc. I feel like I could train my stomach a little better on race-simulation bricks throughout the year to better handle the nutrition required to fuel a whole day in the heat, and absorb all of this without intestinal dispute for the latter stages of the marathon. Also, I think continued improvements in running economy and durability through increased overall mileage and longer/tougher brick sessions will allow me to keep the average pace high and steady throughout the whole IM marathon. "They" say that a good decouple between open running races and triathlon run legs is about 8% - based on my runs from shorter distances and standalone running races, I have the current potential to run the IM marathon leg about 12-15 minutes faster. Of course there are many factors that can contribute to the ability to realize this appropriate decouple, but pure running toughness can't hurt. Obviously, the stronger and more efficient I become on the bike, the easier it will be to realize this potential on the run. In Ironman (and life, and triathlon, etc, etc), everything is interconnected and improvements in one discipline can and should certainly lead to improvements in the others. My run has been my strength in the last couple years, but it can and must become stronger.
Overall, I was very pleased with my race this year and while it was a tough start to the season, I felt like I redeemed myself from some bad races and finished on a strong note with IM Lake Placid and Kona. As satisfying as my race in Hawaii was, I have some areas that I can definitely improve on and some aspects that I am not happy about and that I will rectify for 2012. The brutal Pittsburgh winter is about to begin, but I am more motivated than ever and am ready for some hard work to build into a successful 2012 season. I hope that everyone else has had a successful year in 2011, and that either way, whether you did or you didn't, that you have evaluated your year and are motivated to improve and work hard toward your goals in the new year. Cheers.