Back in March 2019, David Moulder completed his first full Ironman race at Ironman New Zealand, finishing in a time of 12 hours and 52 minutes. We have followed David's progress in previous blogs (view here), tracking his journey from Dubai, to Manchester, to New Zealand. This new blog gives an honest account of his experience of this iconic event.
And so the story continues......
This is my story of my first full distance Ironman which I completed in March 2019 in Taupo, New Zealand it was the culmination of around 6 years of training from when I first started a short sprint Triathlon whilst living in Macau China.
There are many lessons that one learns from Triathlon and the longer the race the more you realise you have so much more to learn. So, when you are racing for 12+ hours in an Ironman there are so many things you can improve on or learn from compared to a short sprint distance race. This blog is about the training preparation, the taper leading in to the race, and the race itself.
I would like to attribute my training and success to date to all the people who have coached me: Ms Lei, Rory Buck, Kate Offord and Scott Pearson. In addition to my good friend Peter Nel, who is an old age grouper like me. That just happens to have made it to the Age Group IM World Championships in Kona due in no small part to his unwavering commitment. Someone recently attributed my development with my constancy to the sport, well Peter has it in spades. Also to my family who are my biggest supporters and my son William who is a true inspiration as a swimmer and runner who at 9 years old will very soon be faster than me.
I think IM also takes a certain personality trait to endure up to 17 hours a week of solitary training at peak that is largely solitary and sometimes exhausting, imposing massive demands on the age grouper, his family and resources.
Someone recently asked Double Olympic champion Alistair Brownlee why he does Ironman and he replied If he was able to answer that in a straightforward way, he probably wouldn’t be doing it. I think that sums up our sport.
All of that said I would say it has some of the most modest, but deeply interesting elite athletes in sport. To me there is something amazing about an Athlete that can be substantially competitive against other single discipline athletes in 3 disciplines; Swim, bike and run, anyway onto IMNZ 2019….
Before my family and I made the big move to New Zealand in May 2017 I had been contemplating a full distance race with my Coach Kate Offord when we were living in Manchester, UK.
As any serious age grouper knows when you move to a new country and start a new life it is extremely difficult to hold on to your fitness. Hence this pretty much ruled out a full IM in 2017, and so after the completion of my IM New Zealand 70.3 race (which is a half Ironman distance) in March 2018, my coach and I decided to take the plunge.
We had a year to get the training done and so Kate set about writing the programme. Basically, it consists of something called “Periodisation” this is the process of building the body’s strength first through a series of monthly training blocks which increase your strength and lay the foundation to extend your endurance later. Every 4th week a rest week is taken.
We put together a series of small goals and “B” races through the season to back up the full race, these included;
- Increase in power on bike to 265W FTP
- Run Auckland Half Marathon in 1:45 or less
- Taupo Cycle Lake Challenge – 160K and 1600m climb in around 5;40
- K2 Cycle Training Camp
- A series of 1.5, 2, 3 and 4k Ocean Water swims
All of these were completed and achieved and these provide milestones, and interest through the year. We used Garmin Training Peaks for all the plans; the key is working to Heart Rate, Power and getting cadence right on the bike.
Contrary to what people expect Ironman races for a well-trained athlete all things being well are easier mentally than running a marathon. And the reason for this is that we learn to work within specific Heart Rate to ensure we last the day and don’t bonk halfway through the Marathon after 180k bike and 3.8k swim. Whereas runners who truly race a marathon are working to very high heart and lactate thresholds to optimise their time.
One of the biggest successes we had was the use of the MAF method which stands for “Maximum Aerobic Fitness” invented by Phil Maffetone it is very simply the adoption of 180 – Age for Heart rate and the premise that long training bikes (6 hours) and runs (2 hour) are undertaken at these HR levels.
This optimises the aerobic engine, whilst burning fat and priming the body for endurance. I would say this was one of the biggest success factors we had through the training. The other key tools include working to power on the indoor bike and continuously striving to increase this. I was able to raise my 20-minute Functional threshold power test from 185W to 265W during the year. It is now closer to 290W.
After building strength in the bike, run and swim the aim is to sort of stretch this out across longer distances whilst holding target power, speed and heart rate to simulate the kind of race distances.
Some of the hardest training that Ironman age groupers have to do are 6-hour solo bike rides in heat in excess of 25C and 85% RH. These were undertaken starting out at 5am on Sunday mornings to avoid heat and traffic. With the hole in the ozone in New Zealand I have to continuously apply very strong sun cream in the hot summers.
As we got closer to Ironman New Zealand around December 2018, I was undertaking at least 1 or 2 of these long rides per month and we started to dial into the nutrition. Although with hindsight we didn’t pay enough attention to this until the last 6 weeks before the race. Then suddenly I panicked. Did I have my sweat rate right, so I didn’t over or under hydrate for a given power and heart rate. Would I be on solid and liquid nutrition or liquid only so as not to get a dodgy tummy on the run. Did I have the blend of the key electrolytes right so as not to cramp. Kate steadied me with a good judgement call we would revert to solid cliff bars etc on the bike leg as much as possible to avoid stomach issues on the run. It was a great call.
I think it is all these things that make Ironman Triathlon such an appealing sport. It is so strategic that the Elite Athletes can win or lose the race through one mistake or bad judgement call. I don’t know of many other Athletic endeavours that are as complicated or intriguing.
By the time I was a month out my Fitness score on Garmin Training Peaks was 110 this is the average fitness over the last 42 days and to put this into perspective I was only at 55 1 year before for the Half Ironman. Balancing Fitness with Fatigue is key in Ironman, so you don’t get sick. Fortunately I had been well throughout the year with only minor niggles and so problems with toe nails from running.
All of this was about to change as we drew to within 2 weeks before the race. Getting the most out of your body for long races requires a period of tapering before the race. The rule of thumb is the longer the race the longer the taper. The theory is that by reducing intensity and volume before races allows you to maintain most of the fitness but lose the fatigue and so you aim to harvest all your fitness and have your best day on the day of the race.
Hence Ironman taper periods start around 2 weeks before the race. Everything was perfect going into the taper but as I was to learn after around 1 week with reduced training my airways, sinuses etc became slightly constricted and I began to get sinus congestion, also known as “Taper Flu”. I couldn’t believe it one week from the biggest race of my life and I felt sick. And so, I started to self-medicate, everything from saline solution to decongestants, Panadol and Ibuprofen. As the week went on, I felt worse. The race was on Saturday, Athlete check in opens 2 days in advance for Ironman due to logistics.
And so, my wife Yen, son William and I travelled by car from Auckland to Taupo on the Wednesday evening so we could get settled in to our resort about 10km from the race and get checked in to the race and start to relax, two days before the race.
Driving down to the race my sinuses felt completely congested, I was somewhat panicking, I dropped Kate my coach a few texts. She re-assured me that it was perfectly normal and kept telling me I would be fine. I had lucid moments where I felt well and felt good. During these race tapers its normal to going from feelings of euphoric joy of knowing you have loads of fitness stored up to having massive self-doubt about the enormity of the task ahead.
Eventually it becomes the norm around these times to undergo some form of catharsis. I enjoy this time as I self-reflect and become extremely introspective about my emotions, my fitness, and most of all the reason I do this sport. The taper almost becomes the very definition of what we do in Triathlon and a condensed form of what many age groupers go through all year round.
We arrived checked in to our usual resort which is Wairakei Resort on the Wednesday evening having driven around 300km from Auckland in around 4.5 hours, it was around 9.30pm when we arrived, and we were pleased to get a spacious room on ground floor.
The next day was spent checking in at Athletes village and I set up my bike with the new power meter pod and took a 20minute ride on it just to get the legs going slightly. It felt good to be turning the pedals albeit at a lower output.
We pottered around the town for the morning, then we went back to the hotel and I arranged all my kit bags. Laying everything out onto the bed, the enormity of the kit, nutrition just hit me this was now very real, and I was only around 36 hours away from racing.
If you have never been to Taupo you have to go, its an amazing place, Ironman New Zealand is around 35 years old which makes it one of the oldest competitions in the world for long distance Triathlon outside Kona in Hawaii. Taupo perfectly frames the race with its majestic backdrop of a volcanic crater that forms the lake and snow tipped mountains in the background. The town itself is a set up for holiday makers and around the time of Ironman there are sun kissed athletic bodies sporting bulging glutes, hamstrings and quads nearly everywhere.
In between the eating, preparation of kit and still nursing my apparent congestion I grabbed a sports massage to try to settle me down and get rid of some of the nervous energy that had been building.
William also entered the Iron kids’ fun run in Athletes village. Most of the kids are children of Athletes so you can imagine how competitive it gets:
The time passed quickly and very soon it was the night before the race. We went out for a pizza, unfortunately William had got a cold in his tummy and had developed diarrhoea it was not looking good for having Yen and William support me during the race.
I went out to the Pharmacy and try to get some electrolyte for William as well as some tablets to settle his stomach. We had a bit of a tumultuous night between being unable to sleep and William having to go to toilet every couple of hours it was a restless night.
However, that’s often expected before big races you rarely get to sleep, your adrenaline is building up for the following days race.
I woke at 4.30am the morning of the race, getting the carbs in a good 2 hours before hand together with all my supplements, shower, sun cream, coffee, kit check. Then I woke Yen and William, William was feeling a bit better. We loaded the car and drove to the start line around 5.30am, 2 hours before the race.
I have never entered a full Ironman transition area before on a race day, it is overwhelming to see 2000+ bikes racked under floodlight with age group athletes tending to last minute preparation. I was in awe. I checked my tyre pressure and got them slightly inflated;
- Note to self; tubeless tyres always need inflating a little on day of race.
- Reconsider placing more kit into the race day bag by the bike rather than T1 bike bag which can speed up transitions.
Time goes so fast in the 1 – 2 hours before an Ironman race, somehow your brain wants it to go much slower, but it goes so quick. With the bike racked and everything ready to go, Yen, William and I walked slowly to Taupo sail club area for the start of the race.
Just around 100m from the start area, I started to get my wet suit on for the swim, I always put it on early. This is because when I get it on, I need to take it off to have a pee. It’s a psychological thing so I then take it off go to the toilet and then put it back on. William had gone off to the toilet also as his tummy was making some movements again. When they got back it was pretty much time to get to the swim. I sucked down an energy gel with caffeine and we all walked over to the swim start.
I got in amongst the other athletes cracked a joke or two to settle my nerves and positioned my self near the rear of the field to take the pressure off and waited for the cannon. As I have learnt from friends including Peter Nel, you cannot achieve an overall PB via the swim, but you can lose a lot of energy and have an awful race if you get amongst very fast swimmers by being swam over.
The cannon went, I waved to Yen and William and swam off into the unknown….
The Swim, 3.8km (1:25mins)
The NZ Ironman swim is regarded as one of the best IM swims in the World, due to the clear lake water and natural beauty, I had done half of it before in a 70.3 swim so I knew I would be ok. The water was calm, and I had a good swim generally. A few key things I noted for the next IM:
- I couldn’t swim quite to the pace I was aiming (2:00 per 100m) which would have been 1:16 and the reason was I couldn’t quite get into the pack I needed to but didn’t want to burn energy over taking slower people.
- I was never quite able to draft as I had been in 70.3 due to number of people and not getting into the right pack.
- Due to swimming between the Buoy line and the shore to try to find the right swimmers I swam an extra 100 – 200m and used extra energy.
Some refinements for 2020 IMNZ include getting faster and stronger so I can go off a little harder earlier and settle in with right pace swimmers perhaps or perhaps overtake the slower guys.
Overall a good swim and I exited the water feeling ok, its around a 400m run to T1 and in a wet suit surrounded by crowds cheering you on. I spotted Yen and William and was so glad to see them.
Bike 180km (6:30mins)
I spent quite a bit of time replenishing sun cream and getting ready in T1 for the bike, probably at least 5 minutes more then I should have. The morning was due to be cold and coming out the swim you need to ensure your body temperature on the bike stays up otherwise it can ruin your race, so I added extra layers which worked well but would cost me some extra time to stop and remove later.
The bike course out of Taupo is flat for a few km and then goes up the bypass road and has a steep hill. Getting out of the swim a little later put me amongst generally weaker bikers than myself as my bike is amongst my strongest discipline.
Due to the drafting rule of 12m clearance from bikes in front you need to be strategic about where and how you overtake other riders. For the first hour or so of the bike much of the blood is still in upper body and your arms and shoulders feel tired so you must work steady on the bike to avoid blowing the heart rate up. My target on the bike was to hold around 134bpm which is my “Go All Day” heart rate to optimise power and longevity.
I had a few too many toilets stop due to over hydration something I aim to reduce for the next IM by dialling in my sweat rate and nutrition far better. I also stopped to take off extra layers and put on my sun cream after the 1st lap where I picked up special needs.
Note to self I need to come up with a way of reducing the number of stops and making more effective use of my kit on bike, sun cream preparation etc.
After I picked up my special needs bag I seemed to have a fantastic run with wind behind out to Reporoa. I have Zipp 808 carbon wheels on my time trial bike, they are amongst the most expensive wheels in Triathlon due to their performance, when the wind is behind and on a good run, they save masses of time and energy. It can be like having sails added to your bike.
I won't post how much they cost for fear my wife reads this.
As I rode along the 45km leg out to Repora for the 2nd time it felt amazing I could hear the wind whistling over my wheels and my aero tri suit. I know it sounds strange, but I felt I could hear the whispers of my late father on the wind as I travelled almost effortlessly out to Repora. I must have been in some sort of Zone enjoying the moment so much and in the process deeply reflecting on what it felt to feel truly alive without of the mundane worries we frequently thing about, it felt amazing.
I had been taking on cliff bars after energy gels from after about 2 hours the plan being to pretty myself getting stomach issues or leaky gut as it is known on the run.
As I travelled back towards Taupo, I dialled in to a higher cadence uping it from the typical 74rpm I run on stone chip to around 90rpm for the last hour of the bike in order to match run cadence so my legs would not feel so much like jelly. It was to work very well and as I entered Taupo town for the last 5km almost all down hill and I coasted and let me legs recover.
My average power for the bike was around 150W with an average HR around 137bpm. My target this year is to hold around 190 – 200W for the same heart rate through significant increased strength work.
Run 42.2k (4:32)
I entered T2 and prepared myself with all my sun cream and my trainers and run bottles and nutrition. I felt incredibly strong and still energetic at this point. I must have just got the bike right in terms of effort. I went out on the first 5km slightly too fast and noticed a climbing heart rate and so I dialled back to around 10km/hr after the first 5km and my HR dropped to around 140bpm which is a sustainable HR over a marathon especially important during the run leg of an Ironman. Everything felt good, I did however start to get a leaky gut, I think I made the mistake of taking on electrolyte and gels and magnesium tablets. With hindsight I felt that water alone with energy gels would have worked with the magnesium tablets.
I had several toilets stops and had some gastric issues which were only resolved after a toilet stop of around 10 minutes.
Not withstanding all of this I felt good on the run, I had never run a marathon before this and so after 21km it was all new territory for me. The crowd in Taupo is amazing they make it so much fun cheering you on as you go past and there is plenty of humour too. One sign held up towards the far end of the run course read “Smile if your pee’d in your Wet Suit”.
I also had noticed I was being cheered on by an unknown friend from a balcony of the far end of the run course. I later found out it was Donal a fellow Ironman who much faster than I is on his way to Kona this year. Having this support is great. The IMNZ run course is 3 laps of around 14km each and at its far end it has several tough hills you take in. Having support on this end is so helpful.
Meanwhile Yen was making the most of the Ironman iPhone app which allowed her to track me in between these long 14km loops so she could be at the race finish end for the laps and in between take William off for food and some play.
On the last lap I managed to negative split the last 5km testament to how fresh I felt although I suspect adrenaline took over by this time.
Coming down the red carpet was over whelming I couldn’t contain my emotions and jumped for joy across the finish line. Then the words “David Moulder You are an Ironman” my friend Peter had warned me, but it was too much I literally broke down into tears of joy, it was over, and I almost collapsed into the arms of the helper with my finishers medal.