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2016 Triathlon Season recap & Ironman Vineman Race Analysis – Kristin Lawhorn

At the 2016 Ironman Vineman (triathlon), athlete Kristin Lawhorn placed 3rd place in the 30-34 age group, ( 3rd  fastest run split for all amateur females), with a total time of 10:34:09 hr. This was Kristin’s 3rd Ironman under my guidance; her 1st was Ironman Mont Tremblant back on 2015 when she posted a 35 min personal best from the previous year finishing 2nd in her age group in 10:53hr, 59th female and earning her ticket to the 2015 Ironman World Championship.

This was an amazing accomplishment for her first season under a new program and though I knew she had great potential, her improvements, particularly on the bike was remarkable. Initially I mapped a 2 year program to reach that Kona goal in 2016, however we optimistically expected giving it a try on that 2015 of course.  Hence after earning her Kona spot, with a quick turnover between Tremblant and Hawaii, we didn’t set up specific goals as we weren’t sure how the body would respond racing another Ironman 6 weeks apart.

Still, at Kona had a great day in tough conditions and successfully became an Ironman World Championship finisher. At the end of the season, her remarkable improvements lead us to shoot plan for bigger goals on 2016. This was to help develop her triathlon “game” so to speak to compete for the top of the podium in her age group throughout the season. So we got down to work and we specifically focused on 3 things:

  1. Improve her swim to come towards the front of the pack
  2. Continue to develop her cycling to make it a strength
  3. Get her Ironman run into the 1:35h range for a 70.3 and 3:40h for an Ironman

Her first test came at Raleigh 70.3 in which we had a rough start to the season. The race turned out to be a very hot day and while we worked on preparing for it, it was a bit too early in the season to be fully adapted after training through the New England winter/spring. Still, in spite if not reaching the podium, she earned her spot for the 70.3 World Championship which was the main goal for the race.

Ironman Triathlon
Ironman Raleigh 70.3 Triathlon

After Raleigh, we decided to race the Patriot Half, a very popular race in the local Massachusetts scene 2 weeks later as we knew the heat slowed her performance and by not racing at her potential she would recover faster. Also, we focus on completely dialing in her fueling plan to prevent “melting” in hot weather conditions by doing a sweat electrolyte test. Earlier in the season, we started working with Levelen, a hydration sport science company focused on identify each athlete’s electrolyte & sweat loss to cater a hydration drink.

With the test we identified that while she is not a heavy sweater, she wasn’t consuming enough electrolytes in relationship to the carbs she needed and this among other things was leading for dehydration to settling in sooner, leading to overheating. Also, electrolyte loss increases the rate at which we oxidize carbohydrates therefore it can contribute to further deplete an athlete during competition.

By having the right carbs to electrolyte mix plus the proper hydration quantity, we were able to adjust her fueling plan by having her drink a little less fluids, consume more carbohydrates and consume the proper electrolytes dose for her needs. Fast forward 2 week later, she crushed the Partiot Half by posting an 18 min half ironman personal best, finishing 3rd female overall, 1st age group with her best swim time in 32min, best bike split 2:35h and best run 1:36h. This last was almost the 1:35h we set as a goal months earlier and took place under warm weather conditions so it was a successful all around.

Triathlon - Half Ironman
Patriot Half Ironman – Triathlon
2016 Ironman Vineman

After the Patriot, we continue her training and progression now with our sights 100% on Ironman Vineman which was her big goal for the season. With the confidence of having her best 70.3 result to date and knowing we cracked her fueling plan for warm weather conditions we were confident she was ready for another breakthrough race in July. This is how it played out:

The Swim

After her great swim performance at the Patriot, a race that traditionally has slightly long swim course and with a time trial start, it’s not as suitable to benefit significantly from drafting, we had the confidence we achieved another season goal; to be competitive during the swim! And at Vineman it showed; she posted a 5 min PR swimming in 1:03h and coming out of the water in 6th Age Group (AG) and 31st female. This compared to Ironman Mont Tremblant 2015 where she was 12th AG and 74th female

The Bike

For the bike we planned for her to ride around 3.00 watts per kilogram which is what we have trained her for. Using BestBikeSplit and her previous season results I was able to estimate her drag coefficient (among other variables) to get the best possible time prediction for Vineman. The BestBikeSplit model predicted a 5:35h split riding at 0.70 Intensity Factor (IF), 150w Normalized Power (NP), 146w Average Power (AP) and 270 Training Stress Score (TSS), all on par with what she averaged on various training rides. However, the prediction is always based on the forecasted weather conditions including wind and this can be difficult to predict so the model can be off ~5min which is a good margin in my opinion.

Fast forward, Kristin posted a 5:39h bike split which moved her into 5th place starting the run.

The plan was divided in 5 segments:

  1. First 8.5 miles – ride 5 watts lower than race pace
  2. Miles 8.5 to mile 63 – ride at race pace.
  3. Miles 63 to 100 – ride at or no more than 5 watts above race pace.
  4. Last 12 miles – ride 5-10 watts above race pace.

We couldn’t get number for post race analysis as her power-meter didn’t work during the race. However, this wasn’t a big deal as we also use heart rate and focus in feel during our training. Hence, she knew where to stay in order to have a good run. Looking back based on her feedback, she might have ridden a tad more conservative than if she would have had her power working, but it was the right approach. It’s ALWAYS better to under do it than overdo it during the ironman bike!

The Run

On the run, the plan for her was to focus on heart rate/perceived exertion for 18 miles ignoring pace and then switching to pace/perceived exertion thereafter in order to “race” the last 8.2 miles. The goal was to keep her from starting “too fast” and to fuel to prevent a “meltdown” in hot weather conditions.

The plan was divided in 3 segments:

  1. First 5 miles – run 5 beats per minute (bpm) under race pace
  2. Miles 5 to 18 – run at HR race pace

Kristin followed the plan well although started a tad too fast the first 5 miles keeping her heart rate (HR) at 147bpm (5bpm higher than race pace) which reflected in her pace of 8:20 min/mile (also a bit faster than planned).

The next 5 miles included the highest elevation gain of the course, her HR average was 149 bpm (at race pace) and 8:45 min/mile pace, and though this was slower than her race pace target, it seems for the day conditions it was the right effort considering her normalized graded pace (NGP) was 8:45 min/mile. Still, she began closing the gap to 4th.

The next 8ish miles, she continued stayed on HR target at around 150bpm and was back running at race pace (8:25 min/mile) though her NGP was a bit fast at 8:21 min/mile. Still, she was doing a great job with her fueling (carbs, fluids and electrolytes) as her cardiac drift was increasing much shown on her pace to heart rate ratio which is the increase in heart rate versus pace between the first half and 2nd half of a run as it actually improved from 5.35% to 3.36% Pa:Hr and her efficiency factor (EF) remained constant at 1.38.

This set her very well for the last 8 miles of the run where we wanted the “magic” to take place! Over this last segment, her focus switched to running by feel 100% and ignoring heart rate as the cardiac drift would most likely increase due to depletion/fatigue/dehydration. Her pace for the last 8 miles was 8:21 min/mile and in fact she posted her faster mile splits between mile 22 and 25.

Ironman Vineman Triathlon
Kristin Lawhorn 4th amateur female overall, 8th overall including female pros, 3rd age group – Triathlon

In this last segment is where she moved into 3rd place and finished the run in 3:42:18h just 2 min off our race plan and our early season goal! Better yet, she got on the podium and while it was not the top of it, it was an outstanding performance for her as it meant a yet a new personal record, this time by 20 minutes.

Nevertheless, at ironman, you can only focus on what you can control like your fitness, your plan, your execution and your mental resilience. Kristin took care of all that with hard work, consistency and attention to the racing details resulting in an amazing performance. Yet, while it was “only” good enough for 3rd in her age group, this placed her at 4th amateur female overall and 6th including female pros for her best overall result to date.

Ironman Vineman
Ironman Vineman Triathlon Podium

I am very proud of how far she has come and how much she has improved in 2 seasons working together. There is still a lot more untapped potential to develop and I am very excited to see where this journey takes us in coming years. I am pretty lucky to have the chance to work with such hard working athlete that makes the job easy. Keep up the great work Kristin!

*Kristin also raced the 70.3 World Championship finishing in top 40th in the world!