Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Ironman 70.3 Kansas Bike Course Preview

Spring is springing, in a slow lame sort of way in Kansas City and with that, thoughts of Ironman 70.3 Kansas is on the minds of several local triathletes.

This race takes place in the beautiful city of Lawrence, Kansas.  It's around 40ish miles west of downtown Kansas City and home to the University of Kansas.  I'm an alumni, so I'm in no way unbiased or impartial. I'm always looking for excuses to head back and experience the hippies of downtown, and this race is as good of a reason as any.

I thought I'd share the rekindling of IM 70.3 KS memories when I pedaling around the course a few weeks ago when we had a nice day break out of the snow and cold.  I've raced it 4 times (4 finishes and 1 DNF due to mechanical issues) and it's always a blur, but this lap around the course stuck with me.

By no means is it a cupcake ride or a killer.  Depending on how you attack it, it can be the sling-shot into a great run or the bane of your existence while shuffling to the finish line.  I've been on the end of the stick in both cases managing my energy in different ways (or in no way at all when I started the Half Ironman distance).

It's got hills.  Kansas isn't as flat as most people want to label it as.  Sure, go west and it's pretty flat, but when you get to Manhattan and Topeka along I-70, you'll find some good elevation changes.  The course is no different.  There are some nice even stretches and some nice rollers and a few intimidating hills, but nothing that cannot be overcome with proper planning and energy conservation.

IM 70.3 Kansas has around 1500 feet of elevation gain over 56 miles.  It's not huge, but those gains come in short bursts.  That 1500 is from my Garmin GPS data over the previous races, so take it with a grain of salt on how much you trust GPS units and elevation.

 I figure I'd break this up into sections that I naturally think about when I'm on the course.  There's some sections I consider a respite from the torture, some sections I flat out hate and the sections where it's time to put the hammer down.  Below is an overall view of the course from my Garmin files and a shot of the elevation chart broken down into the sections.  Beware it's not down to the quarter mile... maybe the nearest 5 miles?  It's close enough that hopefully you get the drift.

SECTION 1 - Get some separation from T1.
Coming out of T1, if you're like me, you're so happy to be on dry land and hitting the bike.  I always urge caution at the onset of the bike leg.  The natural tendency is to charge out and hammer it.  Crush the hills, pas the other riders and lay everything to waste!  Good theory if you want to limp your way back to T2 and shuffle the run.

Coming out of T2 through Clinton Lake park, you will hit a few rollers that will test your commitment to a steady pace.  I choose to spin out the hills keeping the RPM's around 95 and keeping the heart rate below high zone 2.  You'll need all the energy you can muster for section 4 and 6.

When you hit the park exit, you'll have a nice downhill that you can blow out the cobwebs and get some momentum going to cross the dam road.  Usually there is a minor head to side-wind on this section.  It won't take everything you have, but you will again need to be smart to not try and blow your energy working too hard to maintain a 20 mph pace.  90 to 95 rpms at zone 2.  Play it smart because as you cross the dam, you encounter the first major hill.  You don't want to be that rider walking their bike up the first hill.  Head down, spin it out and reap the rewards on the downhill backside.  Make up time lost on the uphill by hammering the downhill with little to no headwind.

SECTION 2 - Set your pace.
Pay attention, set YOUR pace, not THE pace.  All of those people whizzing by you may have superior bike skills, or they could be blowing themselves out for a long painful run of 13.1 miles after killing the bike.

This sections has a few rolling hills and a few major to medium hills built in.  They are nothing to write home about, but if you take a hard charge and blow up your heart rate to zone 3 or 4 on the hills, you're setting fire so your energy reserves.  There are times to haul ass, but this section is not one of them even though it might be temping.  Keep an eye on heart rate and rpm's.  Don't forget your hydration and nutrition.  This section is ideal as it may seem like a never ending road, it will break up the monotony if you focus on hydration and taking in calories while your system is not taxed.  The taxing part comes later.

SECTION 3 - It starts to get hard.
If there is ANY wind on race day, and odds are that there will be (it is Kansas, after all), then you will get your first taste at a diagonal cross wind with no protection from geography and vegetation.

The rolling hills and medium grade climbs will start to take a bigger toll as now you are battling a breeze or all out wind assault, depending on the year.  In my four years, wind has ALWAYS been a factor.

Stay in aero as much as possible.  Train on hills to spin at high rpm's and stay in the saddle.  If you're popping up to stand on the pedals, what speed you may gain going uphill may be squashed by the wind catching more of your profile.  Don't burn your energy going too hard and fighting the wind.  Give what nature takes you with zone 2 and 90+ rpm's.

SECTION 4 - This sucks.
Headwind city.  You'll hit some rollers and you will hit some mean headwind to cross wind as you turn west.  I ran 808 front and 1080 rear in 2012, and I wish I would have stayed with 404 front.  I was spending too much energy and anxiety fighting the cross wind and some poor riders actually went off-road.

Be ready for a fight.  Again, take what nature gives you and stay safe.  No one wants to DNF from going too fast and losing control in s stiff wind.  Also, up until now, the pavement has been a dream.  But, unless they pave before the race, this section is old chip seal and there are 2 single-track paths that are smooth.  Everyone wants one of the lanes in each direction.  It's one bike wide and if you are passing people, it becomes an issue as slower riders are suppose to stay right, but they won't.  It's a safety issue with the wind and on the high speed downhills.  I recommend being out of aero on the downhills to be ready with the breaks if the section is congested when you're riding through.  It always is for my age group wave.

It seems like forever, but that's yet to come.  Heading south on section 6 will make you wish for west on section 4.

Ride the smooth like on the road when you can, pass with caution, descend with caution and stay aero.  It's a grinder, but it will also prep you for section 6.

SECTION 5 - So this is why I like riding a bike.
Tailwind.  You get it when you head east on section 4, but it's a major player coming back on section 5.  Here's where you can expend some of that energy you have been conserving all that time.  Use the wind to your advantage and hammer the course.

You will have to work to keep your heart rate in zone 2 with the assistance of the tailwind.  This grinding hills coming in are your best friends coming out.  Keep the cadence at 95+ and ride baby, ride.  Keep the momentum going, attack the hills and do not let the wind pass you by.

SECTION 6 - Oh shit.
Immediately upon turning south you are hit with wind and the steepest climb of the race.

It looks straight up.

The wind seemingly is forcing you backwards.

People will be walking.

This section heading south is retched.  Headwinds will make you wish you had not signed up for this race.  You have to pedal, hard, to maintain speed going downhill.  Honestly, who has to pedal to stay moving going downhill?  You will.

The rollers suck, the steep climbs suck, the wind... sucks.  But, there's a reward.  You head out, but you get to turn around and head north.  Keep that thought in your mind as you keep your head down, spin the hills and conserve energy for the final stretches.  Coming back north on section 6 will make you glad you kept something in the tank.

As soon as you make the turn-around, it dawns upon you, "I can be fast again!".  Ride like the wind.  You will have speed like never before as you speed downhill and attack the uphills.  Use momentum and tailwind to your advantage and burn some matches.  Section 6 is the worst and best time you will have on the bike.

SECTION 7 - Coming home.
Section 7 provides more utilization of the tailwind mixed with shielding from vegetation.  This has been my make-up section of the course.  All that energy you conserved was for this section.

There are some tight turns at speed and you will need to watch the temptation to go anaerobic, but don't.  You still need something for the run.  If you haven't caught on yet, rpm's at 95+ and heart rate at zone 2.  I cheat to low zone 3 in this section if I'm feeling good.

SECTION 8 - You're not done.
You still have to double back on that nasty dam road you came out on.  It's the last true climb until you get back to T2 through the park and the rollers.

The dam road should be a slight tailwind to allow some speed to get up the last hill into the park.  From there, don't get caught up in trying to pass people.  Start coming down in heart rate by spinning hills and start thinking about transition and the run.  You don't want dead legs to start the run.

BUT, also pay attention to the task at hand.  You're not done until you dismount.  Always be on the lookout for the idiot runner that crosses the bike-in to high five his kid.  Had I not one year, he would have been a bike ornament on the trusty steed.  It takes all kinds. See my weebles demo HERE.

Now, some of this blows up if nature goes wonky and the winds reverse or better yet, no wind at all!  In that case, hammer to it!

That's the basics I can recall from my time on the mean streets of rural Lawrence, Kansas.  If you have any other questions, let me know with a comment or drop me a question on the Facebook page -
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