Bevan McKinnon - IMNZ 2016 Race Report

Bevan McKinnon, Balance Sponsored Athlete, and now the fastest NZ age group athlete ever at IMNZ, share’s his race report below. If you are anything like us here at Balance, we couldn’t be more inspired.

So if our lives have seasons I should be experiencing an autumn, contemplating midlife and the start of a physical decline. But apparently I’m not…..

A number of years ago after already experiencing some success as a triathlete I started pushing the boundaries and experimenting with training and nutrition. A fellow triathlete friend of mine once congratulated me on the risks I was prepared to take in trialling new ideas and methods. What he was specifically referring to was that I was happy for races to be the ultimate litmus test with some success and some catastrophes. Risking failure in a race, especially one as tough and expensive as Ironman, isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. I suppose deep down I had a desire and belief that I was unwilling to let age be a barrier. This has motivated me to improve both as an athlete and a coach and I think the results from the last few years of experimentation are the reasons for a record setting IMNZ and a very satisfying 2015/2016 race season.

Having already learnt so much to date from my research around metabolic efficiency and flexibility, LCHF, ketosis, heat, cold, supplementation, polarised training, race pacing/execution etc. etc. I settled on this season being the time when I brought all this together. I also decided to employ the services of Dan Plews as my Coach. This was a new move for me as I had been self-coached through my triathlon successes and many outsiders looking in were asking ‘why now?’ The simple reason is that I got to know Dan as both a fantastic athlete but also a like-minded Coach. Both his and my philosophies were extremely well aligned and if you include occasional ideas from Prof Paul Laursen thrown into the mix I felt that I now had world class ‘minds’ watching over me.

Lastly I wanted to become accountable to the program and have someone act as sounding board. I thought I’d become a little comfortable in my own training prescription and wanted to learn and be challenged by another coach’s ideas.

So onto this season… I had been mulling over the idea of going back to Kona. This is never a given for any athlete but I’ve been fortunate enough to qualify as both a Pro and many times as an age grouper. I have however only chosen to race there once and as expected it was very tough and I got quite sick post-race so my desire to return wasn’t high! The renewed motivation however is due to the timing of September 70.3 Worlds in Mooloolaba followed by IM Worlds in Kona a month later plus being a first year 45-49 year old always helps!

So with this in mind, and after a fairly unfocussed winter of training, Dan and I kicked into it early November and all I can say is damn, it’s incredible what you can achieve in a focussed 4 months of training! The first race of the season was Taupo 70.3 for which I would say I was 80% fit. The simple goal was to get round fast enough to get a qualifying spot for 70.3 World Champs. Given that my time at the Taupo 70.3 was almost exactly half the time it took for me to do IMNZ 4 months later is probably a good indication of where my fitness was at, so I was happy to be anywhere near AG winner Sir Craig Kirkwood on that day in finishing 2nd and gaining WC qualification. Goal #1 achieved.

So onto Port of Tauranga Half which was a ‘C’ priority race as it fell in the middle of a 4 week block of training where I was hitting 26-30 hours per week. As is our Network Tri Club tradition we ride Auckland to Mt Manganui each year before the race. Normally only those not racing do this ride, but as I was we decided to ride on the Monday the week leading into the event and took the shortest route of 216km. Tuesday was a 6 hour training day including 60 min swim, 3hr ride and 2 hour run with 6 x 5 min threshold intervals. Wednesday was a 4 hour ride, 90 min swim and 40 min run, Thursday and Friday were recovery days. Not ideal prep for top performance at a half ironman but my eyes were always set on IMNZ. Tough week but great fun.

I love the POT half as it feels ‘local’ and the atmosphere is always great at that time of the year. It’s low key and not as officious as the bigger races which has its plusses and minuses! The minus this year was the swim cap debacle denoting age groups and therefore swim start times. In theory it should have been simple with two distinctly different coloured caps separating the under 45 years and over 45 years. With a two minute start differential between the younger and older age groups this should have been very easy to manage had they not run out of the appropriate under 45 years swim caps. The organisers in their wisdom gave what looked like approx. a third of the under 45 field the older category swim caps instead. So when lining up to start I was at the back of the majority of swimmers only to see what I thought was half my age group mixed in with the under 45’s! When the gun went and both blue and red caps took off I didn’t know what to do and after about 10 seconds I started as well which I’m sure many more in my age group did. Post event I had my time adjusted by 2 mins due to a protest put in against me, but the TRINZ referee admitted it was the organiser’s fault not mine.

Onto the race itself and even with the swim hiccup I actually had a great race despite starting the race with acute fatigue. Out of the swim I quickly got into the lead of the age group race on the bike and rode solo to the fastest age group bike split. This is my first season riding a Pinarello Graal from Kiwivelo and I’ve told anyone who will listen to get a pair of Profile 24 78m clinchers as not only is the bike/wheel combo super-fast but having comfort in the knowledge that changing a puncture becomes easy takes out one of the major worries of the Mount course. I wasn’t expecting to feel that good so still expected everyone to run past but only my own athlete Jason Hall, a fantastic up and coming talent, did so I finished 2nd age grouper overall.

Next up was Challenge Wanaka but post POT Half my training felt a bit flat. It could have been because we were experiencing a really hot summer but my running in particular was a struggle. Any quality sessions were feeling more difficult than they should have been and general energy was a bit low. I also picked up a small glute injury leading into Challenge which affected, but didn’t halt, my running. I’m so lucky to have Shoe Clinic & Rosedale Road Osteopaths sponsor me and I am certain that swapping between Hoka Constants, Asics GT3000, my Asics Noosa race shoes plus Osteopathy treatments is what kept the injury at bay.

I have previously won this race but in hindsight was probably a little complacent leading in. When you coach an athlete like Jason Hall and watch their impressive data mount up in Training Peaks you know the younger guys would be hard to beat so I think I was just looking to podium. Race day conditions were very challenging with the wind and my complacency showed up mostly in the swim which may have been what cost me a higher placed finish. Conceding two minutes out of the water I biked strongly and put together my best half ironman run in a number of years to finish 3rd overall. Again Craig Savage and Jason Hall both had great races to take the 1st and 2nd positions. I was really pleased with how strong I felt and a great omen for IMNZ. The year I won the half distance in Wanaka I went onto a 9hrs and 55 sec IMNZ. This year at Wanaka I went two minutes faster in more difficult conditions so my goal of breaking 9hrs at IMNZ in 2016 was definitely possible.

Over the last few years my experimental racing has probably left people with the impression that I’m inconsistent. I know that not to be the case and my season this year illustrates what I can do once dialled into a proven method. So onto IMNZ and the one variable in the mix was going to be the weather. I wasn’t there to race anyone but the clock. Breaking 9 hours was my goal and when calculating how that could happen across each discipline I knew I had the speed, fitness and fuelling but it didn’t leave me with a lot of time to play with if the weather was against us.

When my supporters asked for my approx. splits (discounting weather) I told ‘Sound Engineer Chris’ I would swim 51 mins, bike 4hrs 50 and run 3hrs 5 mins. Throw in transitions and we’re looking at 8hrs 55mins. A fairly precise call but one I believe that nearly every athlete should be able to make especially given the easy access to applications like Training Peaks, power meters, GPS and HR technologies. A well-structured personalised training program and clear race pacing strategy affords you this kind of accuracy so that by the time you get to race day you know exactly what you’re capable of and exactly how you’re going to execute that result.

It’s quite funny but for me race day at IMNZ this year was an exercise in patience as I watched that 8hrs 55mins script unfold. A confession is that once I got out of the water in 50mins 22secs I had to hold back the excitement (barring puncture or mechanical) and focus on staying present and in the moment, fuelling what I now knew was going to be a sub 9 Ironman at 45 years of age.

The only other variable that positively affected my race was the number of high quality Australian age groupers who’d made the trip across. I went into the overall lead of the race around 10 km in and rode out to the turn at Reparoa at an average speed of 39 km per hr. In previous years this has meant that I’m on my own with a gap back to a handful of other top age groupers. This year however there were 3 or 4 athletes right on my tail and the return leg to town saw me work briefly with two of them. This is the first time in 4 years that I’ve had company on the bike and the benefit even at 20 metres back was welcomed. Going up the hill to the motor racing course one of the athletes dropped off and eventually 3rd overall age grouper Hayden Armstrong blasted away from me as I continued with my pacing strategy. Given that my average speed at this stage of the race was 38.5 km per hr I was pretty comfortable letting him go.

Going through town and back up the Napier/Taupo hill ‘The Flea’ told me I was 35 sec down on Hayden, so not really losing time at all, and going through special needs I went past him. It was at this stage we talked about how we were feeling and committed to work together for the next lap. I was feeling really good and had consumed about half of the 20 Balance Watermelon gels I had in my fuel bottle. The remainder of the Balance gels fuelled me perfectly over the 2nd 90 km and I felt that the turns I took as we lapped it out to the turnaround were just a little stronger than Hayden’s. I was also obsessed with keeping legal distance, if not more, as other than a mechanical a drafting penalty could have derailed everything. I was also prepared to ride solo if need be to achieve my goal.

At the turnaround I rolled past Hayden and again asked how he was feeling. I hadn’t had one single flat patch and could see that if we maintained pace we’d go low 4hrs 40 mins for the bike buying me even more time under 9hrs. I looked around after about 10 mins on the front and Hayden was now 500m behind which surprised me. I still hadn’t deviated from my pacing strategy so was excited to think he was struggling! Easily one of the most well-paced and fuelled IM rides I’ve ever done. The goal was to ride between 265-275 watts, HR between 135-145 and always consider perceived effort.

I finished with normalised power at 273, average power at 263, average HR 140 bpm, perceived effort AWESOME and a 4 hr 43 min bike split. Job done! Thank you Eric my bike mechanic and Kiwivelo!

Back into town and I almost couldn’t wait to hit the run so I could give the ‘thumbs up’ to Sound Engineer Chris. 42km of running, fuelling and drinking and I’d have achieved probably my longest standing triathlon goal. At this point I must mention again the Aussie age groupers and especially Hayden Armstrong. I have never enjoyed an Ironman as much as I did this year and Hayden played a huge part in that. Over the course of 42km we probably traded places by 100m around 6-8 times. Hayden bridged up to me after about 20km and then we preceded to roll over the top of each other at various stages based on who was feeling 1% better at any given time. Nathan Shearer, eventual overall age group winner, joined our party with 8kms to go but didn’t want to play our little game and edged away to the victory. Huge congrats to a great young athlete to smash a 32 year old age group record for the fastest time at IMNZ of 8hrs 55mins in finishing in 8hrs 46 mins! The run hurts in Ironman no matter what and I must thank my supporters for cajoling me to make the last pass on Hayden leading into the main street of Taupo with 700m to hold on to the finish in 8hrs 48 mins.

I’m now the fastest NZ age group athlete ever at IMNZ. I’m 45 years old. When asked after the race ‘How can you still be getting faster?’ I answered ‘Never rest on your laurels, it’s all about experimentation.’

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