Vox Performance Project: Amy Cuthbertson at Ironman Vouliagmeni

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Never one to be satisfied with that post-race glow for very long, after completing Ironman 70.3 Luxembourg, and signing up for Ironman Hamburg, I was keen to have an intermediate goal.  The unexpected heat of the Luxembourg race meant having to put any hopes of a good time aside and just focus on always moving forward.  When you’re stopping mid-race to put on extra sunscreen you know it’s not going to be a day for a fast time.  But at least, given it was my first 70.3, it was always going to be a day for a PB!  6:56 was my finish time that day, sub-7 really was my goal for the race so I was ecstatic to still manage to achieve that in the conditions.  And then my attention immediate turned to how much faster I could have gone in kinder conditions.  So Ironman 70.3 Vouliagmeni was lined up.

I always knew that training for it was going to prove difficult in the summer heat of the south of France.  In peak summer overnight temperates are still mid to late 20s, and your early morning run is still likely to be in 27 degree heat.  And my training window between Luxembourg and Vouliagmeni was June-October.  So the focus had to be on shorter quality sessions for a while.  Hydration has been absolutely critical in getting me through training in the heat.  Every evening I would make myself a bidon with a 500mg Precision Fuel & Hydration tab and put it in the fridge, so that I was constantly topping up salts.  Because when it’s that hot, even if you’re just sitting down at the computer, you’re still sweating.  It became about day to day hydration as much as session-specific hydration.    I noticed I was getting much less desperately thirsty out on my run sessions.  Before I was stopping at every water fountain (every 500m or so), which definitely slows you down.   Using the hydration tabs on a day to day basis had a big impact on my ability to keep training through the summer.



The other issue with the heat is you are much less hungry.  While in winter I seem to just eat and eat, in summer a salad is often all I feel like having, too hot to stand in the kitchen, or to want to eat hot food.  Tracking my fuelling through the Supersapiens app meant being able to make sure I really was eating enough for the volume of training I was doing.  As with my hydration, it became more about fuelling the day to day, rather than fuelling each individual session.  Finding meals I could eat cold, snacks I could keep in the fridge, topping up the glucose stores any way possible to make sure all the effort I was putting into training wasn’t being wasted.

Being a goal driven person, going into Vouliagmeni was tough.  Did I train enough over the summer?  Did I have enough running in my legs?  What if I did all this work and I wouldn’t even be as fast as Luxembourg?  I had steered away from doing any threshold testing between Luxembourg and Vouliagmeni, because I didn’t think I would get accurate results trying to go full gas in the summer heat, and if I couldn’t push those tests as hard as I wanted to I know I would have felt disheartened.  So I went into Vouliagmeni a little blind, secretly wanting to go sub 6:20, only admitting out loud to wanting to be faster than Luxembourg.  The courses were reasonably comparable.  I had an ocean swim to contend with, not my favourite knowing conditions can be variable but at least this time they wouldn’t take my wetsuit away an hour before the race because of the water temperature!  The bike was a rolling 2 lap out and back, and the run course did have an unpleasant climb to contend with.  4 times.  But still, the weather gods were kind, and the temperature on the day peaked out at around 25 degrees.



I find it hard racing away from home from a fuelling perspective.  Relying on what you can find in local restaurants the night before means you aren’t able to practice your pre-race day dinner.  I found some pasta, but going to sleep my stomach wasn’t so happy, a likely accumulation of having already been away for 4 days away from being able to cook my own familiar meals.  I had at least managed to take my usual tried and tested pre-race breakfast with me.  I managed to get breakfast in about 3 and half hours before my start time.  I’d have liked it to be have been further out, but I didn’t have the best sleep, so I’ll take the extra little bit of time in bed.  Thanks to the advice from our last Vox Performance Project call, I added in a last minute pre-race Precision Fuel & Hydration gel on the start line to my race nutrition plan.  Standing on the start line, gel in hand, trying to time it perfectly to kick in as I was in the water.  I think it was 10 minutes between eating the gel and getting in the water, keeping well clear of that 30 min+ danger zone for a rebound hypo that the folks at Supersapiens were educating us about on our last group call.  Because that’s definitely something I suffer from when I get the timing wrong.

Swim went amazingly, as a novice swimmer I was stoked to take 5 minutes off my time from Luxembourg, on what I think was a more difficult course (my sighting skills are still a work in progress, following a riverbank is much, much easier!).  Maybe that start line gel made all the difference!  I kept the same bike fuelling strategy, a gel immediately onto the bike and making sure I eat something at least every 30 minutes.  Having the Supersapiens Energy Band on meant I could keep track of my live glucose level out on the course, and I never saw my glucose levels declining.  I did find it trickier to keep eating this time round.  I think being on aerobars this time was something I could have practiced more, because being hunched over I think affected how comfortable my stomach was and how easy it was to eat.  I took 30 minutes off my bike time from Luxembourg, which is huge!  Only 100m difference in elevation between the two courses, so I can’t put all that time down to a flatter course.  Finishing the race was no longer the goal, I knew I could finish it, so now it was about trying to take it to the next level.

I learnt my lesson about combining water and salts out on the bike leg, alternating my bottles between the two this time so that I wasn’t so thirsty.  It turns out with a sea swim you pick up a lot of sand running into transition, something I hadn’t accounted for in my race plan.  I didn’t have time to think it through in T1, but out on the bike I knew I’d have to get rid of the sand before heading out on the run, 21.1km on sandpaper didn’t feel like a good idea.  So I took my bidon of water to wash the sand off my feet and change my socks in T2 before starting the run.  It definitely cost me a lot of time, but I have to think it would have cost me more time trying to run in sandy socks.  The run felt hard. Being a 2 lap out and back run, over a climb, I decided that the easiest time to eat would be on the flat sections around the turnarounds.

All the time I was keeping a check on my Supersapiens Energy Band to make sure I wasn’t seeing my glucose drop off before I made it that far.  The only time I saw them dropping was on the last descent towards the finish line.  I’m not entirely sure the last gel 2km from the finish had time to kick in before I made it, but it gave me a mental boost to pick up the pace a little for the finish.  And my run time was 9 minutes faster than Luxembourg, even on the hilly course.  All of that added up to a 6:15 finish.  Unexpected, and delighted to hit even my secret goal!  And being that goal setter that I am, of course now the attention turns to how much faster I can really go.  On the flattest course, with the kindest weather.  Which is a problem, because now I really do need to turn my attention to doubling the distance for Hamburg!  But maybe there’s still time for another 70.3 in there somewhere.  Sub-6?  We shall see.

Until next time,


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