Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Saltless Troika Triathlon Race Report

Funny story about this Troika Triathlon picture of me: it was taken by the lead cyclist during the run, who was then told by officials that I would receive a time penalty if he took another picture because this was considered "outside aid". :)

So I lied.

I know I said I wasn't going to race until Vegas World Championships, but I needed some motivation this August to get out and work hard, and I had an "racing without electrolytes" experiment that I wanted to try based on this podcast, so I went ahead and signed up for the Troika Half-Ironman Triathlon a couple days before the race, and found myself standing on Medical Lake beach this morning.


The swim started with a completely unexpected airhorn, but my plan was to hop on the feet of a "team" competitor who was a really fast swimmer. Trouble was, the swim began so unexpectedly, I didn't have time to find him or his feet. So after about 800 meters of fighting off other competitors, I pulled ahead into first place behind the lead kayak, hoping I wouldn't swim too hard. I prefer to draft and save energy.

About 400 meters from the finish, a big guy took me by surprise, cruised by me, and I knew it was the dude I had planned on drafting. I tried to hop on his feet, but I saw him coming too late and he gapped me, so I couldn't get his draft.

Last year I swam 26 minutes in this race, so was surprised to look down at my watch and see over 32 minutes as I came out of the swim in first place (the one competitor ahead of me was a "team"). Later, I learned that everyone's swim was long by 4-6 minutes, so it was just a long course. Oh well...I need the practice for Kona!

Coming out of the water...


I knew that a couple local fast guys, namely Sam and Troy, were hot on my heels, so I transitioned onto the bike as fast as I could (16 seconds) and took off. My strategy was to ride the first 4-5 miles too fast and too hard so that nobody could "get on my wheel" or use me as motivation. After suffering for those first 15 minutes, I settled into my Half-Ironman pace and got comfortable, resisting the urge to grab 2 electrolytes every 30 minutes as is my normal race routine (I had electrolytes with me just in case my experiment went awry and resulted in cramping).

In addition to trying to race without electrolytes, I had also adjusted my aerobars for this race to ride in a bit more of a "praying mantis" position, with the aerobars angled up at about 30 degrees relative to the top tube of my bike, and my seat moved significantly forward. This was definitely more aerodynamic, but my shoulders felt a bit scrunched from the combination of the aerobars being closer to my upper body and my torso being shoved forward, so I'll be making a bit of an adjustment there, probably by angling the aerobars down about 10 degrees.

I'm also fighting a bit of a lateral knee/hamstring issue related to the cleat position on my shoe, and had made adjustments for this race to account for that - namely some varus wedging on the right side. Unfortunately, the wedges didn't make much of a difference and my knee was inflammed post-race, so the next modification I'll make is to try increasing the distance of the foot from the crank by adding additional spacers, and hopefully allowing me to externally rotate more without my heel hitting my crank.

The basic issue is that I naturally carry my right foot in external rotation, and my current bike setup isn't allowing me to rotate my heel in as far as it needs to go. I'm hoping to get this issue sorted before I have to start longer training rides for Kona, because it threatens to become a more serious issue. This week, I'll be adding additional spacers to my right pedal to move my foot out.

Here's my current fit:


Back to the race for those of you not interested in bike fit and biomechanics! Last year, I rode the 56 mile bike course in about 2:13, so I expected to be getting close to T2 sometime around the 2:45 mark, but it never came! At 3 hours, I was still riding, but still in first place. The transition just never came, and I began to wonder if I was off-course. Eventually, I made it into the bike-run switch-up, and later found out the bike course was about 4 miles long. Oh well: between that and the long swim it is good training for the Ironman in Kona.


A mile into the run, I got a split from a spectator that I had a 1:40 lead on my nearest competitor, and they "weren't running well". I settled into a pace that was as aerobic as I could maintain, with my usual plan to save as much as possible for the final 10K, so I didn't blow up in the first half of the run. I continued to carry electrolytes, but resisted the urge to take them.

At the 10K turnaround, I glanced at my watch and it was 45 minutes. As I made the turnaround and started back, I split 2nd place (Troy Nelson) at 2:50. He looked like he was running strong, but I've raced against him before, did a quick mental calculation, and didn't think he'd be able to run 25 seconds per mile faster than me unless I completely blew up.

So I tried to pick up my pace as I normally do for the last 10K, but my legs just didn't want to cooperate. I really think this was more due to me not tapering for this race than it was due to me not taking electrolytes. With Vegas and Kona quickly approaching, I couldn't afford to take this week off training, so I trained through Friday, and then took Saturday off for a "1 day taper" (and threw in a massage from the local magic hands, Tim Gilreath from Therapproach).

Since I ended up running 3-4 minutes slower than I've been doing in my Half-Ironman events, I know this non-taper might hurt me. But still, at this point I figured I was safe if I stayed on pace, and I continued to keep the lead motorcycle as close as possible, attempting to use it as motivation to stay ahead.


With 6K left, I was told Troy was 1:40 back and coming up fast. Over 2 miles, he made up 70 seconds! If this kept up, I was screwed.

I tried to dig deeper, but the extra oomph just wasn't there.

With 2 miles left, my body started to really hurt, my form began to suffer, and I knew that unless Troy "blew up", he would catch me.

Keeping my fingers crossed that he would blow before I did, I continued to run without looking back. At 12 miles, I was still ahead, heard no footsteps, but I was severely slowing. Grasping at every straw possible, I swallowed two electrolytes, wondering if they might give my legs some kind of magical pick-up, though I know that physiologically my muscles were just exhausted, and salt really wasn't going to do the trick. But I was willing to try anything at that point.

The win could be within my grasp.


And then, at 12.5 miles, I heard footsteps. They stayed behind me for 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, then 20 seconds, and I knew what was going to happen. Whenever somebody catches you as fast as Troy caught me, and then takes that long to pass you, that means they're gathering up the energy to pass you FAST, and hopefully demoralize you to the point where you don't have the drive to try and stay on their heels as they pass for a sprint to to the finish line.

Sure enough, after about 30 seconds of breathing down my neck, Troy flew by me like a jackrabbit, and I knew I was toast. I took about 10 steps to try and stay with him, and nearly blacked out.

After quickly glancing behind me to make sure he was the only guy running me down, I struggled through the final few hundred yards and nearly collapsed at the finish line, having been beaten by a little over 60 seconds by a smart racer who ran an extremely solid half-marathon.

Overall results: 1st place age group, 2nd place overall.

Electrolyte experiment results: No cramping. Granted, I snuck 2 pills in towards the end, but that really didn't affect results of my experiment.


Will I try "no salts" for Vegas or Kona? Jury's out. I need to do some more testing. But the most interesting thing was that my sweat wasn't "grainy" like it usually is after the race (suggesting increased salt excretion in sweat), but was instead smooth, which agrees with Dr. Timothy Noakes research that says "the more salt you eat, the more you lose"

Thanks for reading!

P.S. In addition to the gear and nutrition below, this was my first chance to race after using my "Elliptigo" elliptical trainer for cross-training. This thing rocks!

Troika Triathlon Gear:
Race Kit: Champ-Sys One Piece Custom Triathlon Suit
Wetsuit: Synergy Sports Hybrid
Bike: Gray Storm TT
Helmet: Gray Aero Helmet
Wheels: Gray 9.5 Carbon Clinchers with Latex Tubes
Components: SRAM Red, SRAM return to position levers, SRAM Quarq crank
Seat: Adamo ISM Road Saddle
Cleats: Look KEO Blade
Bike Shoes: Specialized Trivent
Running Shoes: K-Swiss K-Ruuz
Sunglasses: Zeal Slingshots
Fuel Belt: Spibelt

Troika Triathlon Nutrition:
night before race: Millennium Sports Somnidren GH (helps you sleep before a race)

2 hours before race: 2 salted sweet potatoes, 2 capsules CapraColostrum 30 minutes before race: 1 Energy28 and 1 delta-E, 10 Master Amino Pattern capsules, 5 Extreme Endurance
5 minutes before race: 1 caffeinated GU Roctane
Every 20 minutes on bike: 1 GU Roctane
End of each hour on bike: 4 GU Chomps
Every 3 miles on run: 1 Hammer Gel (from aid stations on course)
Post-Race: 8 Recoverease


Chuck said...

Nice race Ben! I was curious to see you results with this experiment. Brutal on a 1 day taper though bro.

When is Vegas?

Michael W. Bergquist said...

Sorry I missed the race. I enjoyed the sport of competitive watching and cheering during Troika last year. Sounds like a tough loss to be so close. The swim was certainly long. Troika is notorious for a long swim, but when I woke this morning and could see the buoy out my window without trying to peer down the lake, I knew it was going to be a monster swim.

Michael B.

Ben Greenfield said...

Vegas is 9/11

Unknown said...

Great Job Ben, I saw you at mile 2 on the run and was wondering if you were going to hold on. This was my first Half Iron and I went Saltless too not because I of an experiment but because I am stupid. My run severly suffered because of it, I cant wait to get back out their and improve and your an inspiration.

Cort the Sport said...

Exciting race report and appreciate the nutrition details you provide at the bottom. Impressive...dang.

Troy Nelson said...

Great race Ben. I have a lot of respect for your athletic abilities. Good luck training for Vegas and Kona. Hope to see you at the Vegas race.

Michelle Simmons said...

I read that stuff about not needing electrolytes (unless you're drinking too much) so I tried it too... I did Kona in 2009 with no salt tabs at all. I was fine. I live in Hawaii so I train in heat all the time but that year I didn't take a single salt tab in training or racing. That said, I do take an all natural electrolyte product now called Recovery e21- there's actually not much sodium in it but it's just a dried form of microalgae (duniella salina) so there's some naturally occurring sodium... but I think the magnesium (or maybe a combination of 21 different trace minerals?) that has helped me this year. It does seem to ward off muscular fatigue when I take it vs when I don't take it during long training/racing efforts. Across the board I'm stronger at the end when I take it. :)

Bucer's Coffeehouse Pub said...

Amazing race, Ben! Love reading this. You are racing strong! Proud, proud of you.