You may or may not know that all official WTC-branded Ironman events start at 7:00 am and have a cut-off time of midnight. That gives you 17 hours to complete the event. If you don't finish by midnight, they cut you off and don't let you continue at all. There are also some intermediate cut-off points along the way, like you have to be out of the water by a certain time, finish the bike by a certain time, etc. I've combined these cut-off times with my performance data from my recent training to create best-case and worst-case schedules of how the day might go. This is where spreadsheets meet sports performance!
The Swim (4,400 yards, 9:20 am cut-off)
I'm an OK swimmer, as age-group triathletes go. Luckily the swim is first, and it is proportionally the shortest event. I've had great luck with my swim training this year and my endurance has really increased. I haven't gotten much faster but I can go an awful long way now. I'm not expecting the swim to be a huge problem for me so my main goal will be to finish without using any more energy than needed.
My pace runs between 1:55 and 2:15 per hundred yards, which puts me finishing between 8:24 and 8:39, which is fine by me. That means I'm getting at least 40 extra minutes to spend on the bike.
I plan to take about 10 minutes in T1. It sounds like a long time but I'm going to take my time, catch my breath, and put on real cycling clothes. Comfort is more important in a long event like this, so taking an extra couple minutes is probably a good investment.
The Bike (112 miles, 5:30 pm cut-off)
This is proportionally the biggest part of the event, consuming more than half the time and more than half the energy. The Ironman Tahoe course is going to be harder than most Ironman courses, with at least 6,000 feet of climbing. If I add the 40 minute savings from the swim and subtract the 10 minutes from T1, that means starting the bike between 8:30 and 9:00, which gives me between 8 and 8.5 hours.
When we went up to Tahoe and rode the course last month, it took me 6.5 hours to ride 91 miles of the course. I'm pretty sure I can do the last 21 miles in less than 1.5 hours which means I'm good to go, although with not a lot of buffer. I expect to finish around 4:45, although the spreadsheet ranges all the way from 4:10 to 5:20.
I don't expect much excitement in T2, and there's a lot less to do than in T1. I heard that in the old days they used to offer short massages in transition! A 5 minute massage would probably be a good investment but I don't think they do that anymore. :-) I expect to spend less than 10 minutes in T2.
The Run (26.2 miles, midnight cutoff)
And then we get to my old nemesis, the run. Actually, I've gotten much better at running than I have ever been before. I've gained both speed and endurance, and I can run 10 miles without stopping pretty easily. Running has always been my weak point, and running after biking is especially hard for me.
I really have no idea what to expect on this run. I've never tried to run after biking for so long and I can only imagine that my legs will feel pretty bad. Actually, the legs aren't the biggest problem - the energy level is the biggest problem. I tend to under-eat on the bike which means I'll be starting a marathon around 5:00 pm, dehydrated, and hungry.
This is not a recipe for success. The keys to improving the outcome are having a good (smart) bike ride, eating more, drinking more, then relying on muscle memory to make my legs do what they know how to do. I have no illusions of greatness - I know there's no way I'm going to run the whole thing.
My goal is simply to finish before the cutoff, which means plodding along at better than a 14:30 pace, seemingly forever. The spreadsheet says there's no way I'll finish before 10:00 pm, which means a lot of this is going to be in the dark. I think my legs will be able to hold out as long as the rest of me can give them what they need. I'll be drinking the hot broth and trying to get as many calories and liquids in me as possible.
I think I'm in good shape. I've spent a ton of time thinking about this and I'm very sure that I'll make it on to the run in decent shape. Then it just comes down to pressing on, and I have to believe that I can finish a marathon in 6 hours. As long as I do that, I'm golden.
Nothing is guaranteed though, and anything can happen. My performance could be seriously affected by weather. Lake Tahoe in September could do anything. It could be 100 degrees during the day, or it could rain and hail. Or I could have a mechanical problem. In a race of 2,500 athletes there are always going to be people that have every right to finish but don't, for some reason. I just hope that everything comes together for me on this one special day, and that for 17 hours, nothing bad happens.