Saturday, April 30, 2011

IMSG Course Recce

Today I did a loop of the bike course, plus a little of the section approaching the start of the 2 loops. Earlier in the week on Thu, I did a half marathon loop of the run course to cement it in my mind and see if there was anything I'd forgotten. More on those later.

I flew into Vegas on Tue on a flight full of Brits, stags and hens going to spend their hard earned cash on living the dream. I'm sure the casinos welcomed them with open arms. Once landed I got my hire car and got the hell out of Dodge. I don't like Vegas, but I know there's plenty of people who disagree.

By the time I got into St George I was pretty beat - it's a heck of a long journey door to door, plus once getting in I decided to shop for basics for dinner and breakfast. Virgin did not do a good job of feeding the beast that is a man coming off volume training. On the return leg I will take a LOT more food with me.

By the way, if you're traveling to a race this year, it is now officially not permitted to take your aero helmet on board. This is because you might put it on mid flight and the pilot would have a coronary laughing at you so hard and crash the plane. Either that or you'll head butt your way to control of the aircraft and then do all kinds of BAD things. Be warned. I had to put mine in my canvas travel bag - amazingly it did not break in transit.

It feels good to be back here - not because I love SG - the place is actually pretty sleepy, but I think mainly because it's familiar and I've been thinking about it for ages. I was truly excited about getting out on the run course which beat me up so bad last year.

Run Course
When I analyzed a Garmin capture of the course, it struck me that my memory of the course didn't seem to tally with what the profile was showing. Probably not surprising as at that stage of the race I was just hurting and wanted it to be over - I wasn't taking course notes.

The start of the run is a gradual uphill for a couple miles - it's nothing to be scared of, a gentle gradient which ends in a short off course loop with a couple of short sharp kickers. These can be vicious on shattered legs, but today seemed pretty innocuous. Then the gradient ramps up a bit until you get to Red Hills Parkway, an 8% climb for maybe 500m.

I made a lot of this climb last year and I thought this was the hardest section of the course. Actually it's not at all - the real beast is the climb after the turnaround. Going steadily up RHP I was pleasantly surprised that it was nothing harder than what I had practiced on in Cape Town (Camps Bay Drive to Signal Hill) - in fact my runs in CT were all harder in profile than the run here and there is nothing like the ramps up to Lion's Head car park or the Cable Car if you're familiar with those routes.

Coming off RHP there's a plateau and then a further gradual climb up to the high point of the course. From there you come down sharp and then there's the loop round Pioneer Park with a number of testing little rollers - again trouble for tired legs but seemingly simple when you're running from fresh. A further descent to the turnaround, then back up to Pioneer Park for a second look.

Coming out of Pioneer Park you have what I will now call The Beast. This is a pretty serious climb up to the high point of the course. The Beast demands respect. This will be hard come race day, and my strategy is just to go steady and not stress about pace or HR too much. The HR will go up, the pace will go down, just stick with it and it'll be over soon enough. I know what the right effort level feels like - just dial into that and that's the best I can do.

The bonus is that now you are at the high point, you are pretty much downhill most of the way to the end of the loop. There is a slight gradual to get you over RHP, but it's not much, and of course there's the 2 kickers I mentioned earlier. I will need to take care not to push the pace too much here - it's damn tempting, but it's too early with what you have to come (another loop that is). These downhills should be relaxed efforts, resting a little for the hard work ahead.

My marathon strategy is take the first loop at a relaxed pace, and continue like this until I'm over RHP for the second time. At this point there are 10 miles to go. If I feel good open it up, if not just keep it going. Simple. Well we'll see how that works out for me.

Bike Course
I just got back from doing the loop today. There's a section from the swim to the start of the loop, then 2 loops before T2. When I got back off this ride it was with a deep sense of relief. Relief because the course is easy? No, relief because I am still alive. More about that later.

The early sections have plenty of small and moderate climbs - with all the adrenaline and energy pent up it's tempting to smash these. My strategy is to take it easy - there's plenty to get your teeth stuck into later. I've found on a number of my rides that I can hit it for about 4 hours and then I start to drop off quite a bit. I certainly do not want that happening on Saturday - I want to be able to finish the second loop strong, which will mean easy efforts early on - efforts that will make me worried I'm going way too slow.

The sections in town are all pretty good - relatively smooth roads, low wind, nice and fast. Then you get out on to Highway 91 and the wind picks up. Today I cycled in wind conditions much harder than last year - I'm glad I got this now so I know what race day can be like. Essentially what you have now is ascent, from gradual to moderate, to short and sharp and for a long long way. And head wind - from harsh to brutal at times. This was the Cape Town wind I've been training in, so I'm used to it, but that doesn't mean I want it on race day. It was pumping and if it blows like this on race day, it's going to be carnage.

Actually a big problem I had was that often I didn't want to take one hand off the bars to get my water bottle or to take nutrition - seriously the wind and side gusts were that strong. I'll have to make more of an effort to force myself to take nutrition, not only when I feel good, but also on the sections where the wind drops off a bit (rare). One of the towns just down the road is called Hurricane. Go figure. The image is not SG by the way!

Finally after what seems an age I got to The Wall, the climb that is billed as the tough section of the course. Actually it's not too bad - it was the first time when I had the wind at my back for a long time. Getting to the top of the climb is far from the end of the challenge though - cresting the climb you swing round into a brutal headwind and gradual incline - I actually had to gear down here - this bit was harder than The Wall.

Soon enough I got into Veyo and now you come round and the wind is behind you pretty much all the way back into town. But there's more - a pretty decent climb out of Veyo which is work even with the wind helping. In fact the whole section back to town takes some care, because the winds are often side on or gusting. Much of the time I felt nervous in aero and came up on the drops. Which brings us to the point where I got a very real scare.

There's this one bit which is a sharp descent but I think the canyon funnels the tailwind down it, because it sends you flying through there. And there are side gusts too. It didn't help that the traffic was quite close, but even without them I could feel my bike going into a speed wobble. There are only 2 things to do in this situation and neither of them seems the rational choice. One is come off the brakes - trying to brake even lightly is more likely to increase the wobble to a point where you're out of control. And the second is to relax. If you tense up, then the tension in your arms will increase that wobble, and it's only going to get worse. So there I am kicking along at 70kph, a cyclist who wishes he had better handling skills, on a twitchy TT bike with deep section wheels and gusting winds, traffic overtaking about 1 metre away from me, holding off the brakes and shouting to myself "It's OK, it's OK". It was very goddamn un-OK is what it was, but what can you do?

To cut to the chase, I didn't fall off and die, but I was seriously rattled and still am (can you tell?). If the wind blows like it did today, I can't see how there won't be some accidents on that section of course - I'm just praying it isn't me because any accidents there will not be pretty.

Oh one other thing I didn't really mention, is it's cold here first thing. I'm going to be cold coming out of the water, and I'm going to be cold for probably the first couple of hours of the bike. Thankfully I handle it quite well, but I'm thinking I could do with some additional clothing in T1. I didn't have any last year. Food for thought.

In summary, it's going to be tough - well I knew that already. If the wind blows then it'll be exceptionally tough. At least it's the same for everyone.