Sunday, January 23, 2011

Pseudo Half Ironman

We're about 10 weeks away from Oceanside 70.3, which means time for a Pseudo/Mock Half-Ironman aka a "Big Day" or whatever term floats your boat. Basically it's a run through of swim-bike-run close to or at the actual race distances, mostly geared toward half-Ironman and Ironman in which you don't often do the whole race distance in training like you can with a sprint.

Saturday was my pseudo day. Exciting, as I haven't done anything close to a back-to-back-to-back SBR workout of this magnitude since Oceanside 70.3 last March, almost a year!!! Plus, I never did these in training in the past, particularly I didn't do enough long bikes with loooong t-runs. But after reading how coaches such as Joe Friel suggest Big Days, I figured this would be extra smart for me to do this year--both physically and mentally. (Never underestimate the power of mental training with this long stuff.)

The idea is to gauge current fitness for long duration going close to race pace. Friel suggests going at race pace, but considering I'm still on a comeback and haven't trained thaaaat much yet in the area of long distance @LT/speed endurance, I decided to keep it submax (around Zone 2 to Zone 3 average) with some @race pace effort (Z4+). I will try to fit in another one of these 4 weeks out with more intensity (after more specific training).

Whatever your fitness level, if you do a Pseudo HIM or IM, you can and should push yourself hard, but not quite like an actual race. You don't want to be forced into a long, drawn-out recovery or, worse, not recover adequately and then dabble with overtraining, no bueno! To help with this, you get long transitions. For half-Ironman take 30-60 minutes for each T1 and T2, for Ironman Friel suggests breaks of ~90 minutes.

The good news with the Pseduo Half and the timing from the actual race: You still have 10 weeks to work out any kinks and improve--lots of time! You'll discover physical and/or mental weaknesses and can then focus on improving them; you can hone in on strengths; work out any issues with nutrition and your gear... so on.

The bad news: You DON'T get to do a real taper before this... in my case, the Pseudo Half occurred at the end of Week 2 in the Build Phase (first build since last May), so as you can imagine I'm already a little thrashed having put in 15+ hour weeks.


Recap of the day:

I did everything with my client Marta, who is about the same fitness level as me, lives about a mile away and is doing Oceanside, pretty much a perfect partner. In a nutshell, I think we killed it physically and mentally. I was very pleased with our paces/times given the effort we put out and the HRs I saw. And we still have 10 wks to get better!

I made a rough plan for us that was time-based, guessing that we'd hit or be close to HIM miles.

:30-:40 swim
3:00-3:20 bike
1:30 run
Total time: 5:00-5:30

:38 swim, 1.3 miles (just over 2100 m, we are overachievers, I know)
3:10 bike, 56 miles
1:30 run, 11.25 miles (underachievers, lol)
Total: 5:18 workout time, 68.55 miles

We did an 8 a.m. open-water lake swim; very cold water, just like we wanted. At Lake MV you can only swim in a certain area; it's a 150 meters in length, then you turnaround, repeat and so on--like a long pool with no lane lines, no visible bottom and no walls to push off. Each turnaround sucks because you lose all momentum, but it's still great practice for open-water swimming.

The swim was an eye-opener for me for two reasons. 1) I was pleased with my pace for the effort I was giving and I felt strong. 2) My ugly "issue" popped up: leg cramping. It never fails -- long, continuous swims in cold water = my legs cramp up so badly it's debilitating, especially the calves. The pain is out of this world; if I was alone and without a wetsuit, I swear I might drown, no joke. The cramps of Saturday forced to stop for a bit and Marta was almost ready to rescue me, quite funny looking back. Overall, I swam almost entirely without a kick as to not "set off" the cramping.

I'm not using cramping as an excuse, this is just my sad reality that I'm not happy about and want to fix. I've cramped in every half-Ironman swim I've done except Vineman I think. I've tried a lot of tactics to cure this issue, but no success... wtf? Help! I even get in the cold lake now at least once a week to adapt my body to cold...

Short enough but long enough to: Shower to wash away any chance of getting duck-poop rash (swimmer's itch). Put on bike gear and sunscreen. Make and eat a bowl of oatmeal with scoop of whey protein and banana. Check the vitals--FB, Twitter, email. Get bike and nutrition ready. .....Very race-like indeed lol :)

We did good ol' Santiago Canyon with an extension of more hills that begin at mile 30, very Oceanside-like. It was simply gorgeous out the entire time; mid-70s and ideal conditions! I kept pinching myself thinking, does life get better?!

For the 56 miles, it was just about 4,000 ft of elevation gain. At times we held a conversational pace, at times it was medium (not "EZ" but not wrecking us), at times we went hard. The back-to-back hill climbing burned toward the end especially, but I sort of enjoyed the pain. In fact, the hills I used to dread didn't seem so bad anymore. We're lucky to have good hills in the OC!!

On the other hand, the biggest detriment to doing a long race-like bike in the OC that doesn't involve repeating the same road 3 million times: There's a shitload of stoplights and traffic! We suffered from that intermittently from mile 18 on. The slowdown/stop-and-go BS definitely screws with HR and pace, and it's just plain annoying. But I guess it could be worse -- we could be stuck on trainers with snow and freezing temps outside, no thanks! (Anyone know of the magical long route in OC that doesn't involve repeats on the same stretch of road?)

Again, short but long enough to: Pee. Make/drink coconut water protein shake. Eat granola bar. Quick chat with parents about the day so far. Check computer. Change attire. Oh yes, and pluck eyebrows, re-apply makeup, brush hair.... just kidding, that would never happen lol.

I was feeling really good after the bike, like scary good, and was wondering if that'd last for the next 90 minutes of running. Of course, our speed on the bike was definitely sub-race pace and we got extra breaks with the stoplights, etc, but we also did do a lot of climbing and, again, I hadn't done a t-run like this for a year-ish? The run would be the real test, as it always is!

Wouldn't ya know, the good feeling endured on the run, until about the last 2ish miles. Our route was rolling hills, but nothing too steep. We just kept clicking off the miles but held back from "racing" them (and to prevent skyrocketing HRs). Our pace was everywhere from 7:00 to 8:40; the overall average being just about 8:00 miles; honestly, better than I was expecting. Surprisingly, I was even more chatty than usual (I'm not a big chatter when I run). Having marta by my side no doubt helped push me through that run.

I started feeling crappy the last couple miles and tried to focus on good posture/form. I knew I probably needed a GU, but with only ~15 minutes left, I could suck it up because I was over my liquid/mushy diet since pre-dawn... I wanted real food and could wait it out. Such a prima donna, eh?

We finished with big smiles on our faces. It was a great sense of accomplishment, and a high that's been lacking in my life for ~9 months. Most of all, mentally speaking, it was a big confidence booster for both Marta and I seeing that we could get through the day-long workout so well.

Personally, it was great to see that I'm slowly getting back to my old self after coming off many months of an injury that zapped away all my endurance fitness. As recent as this past Oct/Nov, there's no way in hell would I have been able to pull of a day like this. As for Marta, who's a HIM virgin, she surprised herself at how well she performed (I say it's the coaching, lol).

I'm sure the pros and elite racers do this sort of stuff often. But for most amateurs, a Pseudo Half-IM or IM / Big Day may not happen at all before the actual Big Race. I think it should be on one's schedule, no doubt about it! I only wish I had done these in previous seasons.


  1. Awesome workout! Awesome post! Thanks for sharing. Do you think you'll do another one closer to race day or is one big day enough? I'm trying to figure out how to fit one in to my build for a june 70.3.

    Also, I'm sure you've thought of this but just in case...have you ever tried kicking MORE while swimming to see if the cramping has to do with being cold in the water? When my legs (particularly calves and feet) get cold I am much more cramp prone, but otherwise it never happens. Worth a try?

  2. I came upon your blog a little bit ago. Thanks for posting this -- I'm considering my first HIM distance tri this summer, and reading about your pseudo is so helpful!

  3. love it!!! what a killer workout :) and looove the smoothie recipe even though it's pretty cold here. yum yum

  4. Nice!
    btw- i got that calf cramp in Oceanside last year- same thing as you- cold water.. have never gotten one before. keep me posted if you hear any tips on how to get rid of or avoid them!

    so glad to see you back in action!!

  5. Damn girl nice work! Hey we had a conversation a few months back and I sent you an email, did you get it?

  6. Do you wear your wetsuit a lot, even in not so cold water? It might not be the cold water, but how the wetsuit positions the leg so the muscles are used slightly different. I get cramps in my glute when I get on the bike after a wetsuit swim. Happens almost every time. I've learned to just stop and stretch it. But you can't really do that in the water.

  7. Nice work ... I dig the final/thoughts... gotta love those days (something I've been missing)!

  8. Heading out for my pseudo half this weekend from your inspiration. Just the thing to mix up the training a bit. Thanks!

  9. Rachel,

    Ideally, I'd like to do another one of these one month before the race, but that depends on my race schedule (think I'm doing an International Triathlon and some other stuff that might interfere). But two of these before a race as long as they're spaced out and not too close to race day are OK!

    Also, kicking more doesn't seem to help, just activates the cramping :(

  10. maggs,

    I only wear a wetsuit in the cold water, so these days about 1/3 of my swimming per week. Interesting idea about the wetsuit causing cramps, but it's hard to imagine that's the problem -- I'd think the wetsuit would almost act like "compression" and therefore be good for the muscles. Plus, there's no way I'm going without a wetsuit in water below 60! Lol :)

  11. That's awesome that you're so ready and still have 10 weeks left. Great job!

    Soon after your Ironman GOTRIbal is having a retreat in Florida. 200 women are going to come together to relax and enjoy everything that has to do with endurance sports. I think you'd really enjoy it...check it out: Multisport and Adventure Series at