After Action Report AlmiraMan 07.05.2023

Half-distance triathlon AlmiraMan 2023

Just last Sunday (7.05), the 9th edition of AlmiraMan happened in the charming town of Olympiaki Akti. Let me tell you, my experience with this race was absolutely fantastic! It was a great day for me, as almost everything went smoothly. I ended up finishing 3rd in my age group and 7th overall out of 216 participants, with a total time of 04:15:47. Here are my split times:

  • swim 30:15.397 (01:35min/100m)
  • T1 02:41.876
  • bike 02:17:30.930 (39.27km/h)
  • T2 01:01.264
  • run 01:24:17.320 (04:00min/km)

Inspired by the book “Can’t hurt me” by David Goggins I am going to have an honest sit down with myself and dissect the race and write down all the ups and downs.

7:00AM Start of Almiraman Triathlon

Preparation

First things first. This race was not only my first of the season but also a top priority for me. My last 70.3 distance was my very first Ironman back in 2016 in Wiesbaden, and I finished it in 5:49 hours. So, I was pretty confident that I could set a new personal best (PB) this time around. The course was flat, and the weather conditions were nearly perfect.

Now, here’s the thing. Just 7 days before the race, I had been on a 2-week training camp in Mallorca. Oh, the temptation to go all out on those beautiful island streets was strong! But I knew I had to exercise some restraint during the second week to save up my leg power for race day. It was a tough decision at that moment.

When the camp started, my Fitness score was at 72 (Form 6), but on race day, it soared to 87 (Form 15). Take a look at the graph! The pink line shows how my Fatigue level dropped significantly (which is great), while the yellow line representing my Form rose (also fantastic). This happened because, during the second week, I deliberately didn’t push myself as hard as I could have. I knew it was crucial to give my body enough time to recover. It was tough to hold back at the time, but it turned out to be the right decision.

Organizational

This is my first time in a really long while participating in a race with less than 2000 participants, and I have to say, I’m loving it… a lot! The vibe of such a race is so different compared to the larger ones. The registration took only 3 minutes in total. On race morning, I could easily check in my bike without any waiting in line. The hotel we stayed at was just 300m away from the transition area, and it was only half full.

When I arrived on Friday evening, I had plenty of time on Saturday to check out the swim course, bike transition, and even do a 7km loop for the run. Everything was incredibly organized and conveniently close by. It took me less than 5 minutes to walk from the hotel to the registration or run course.

I also had the chance to meet the main organizer of the event, who turned out to be a super friendly guy, and over the weekend, we ended up chatting multiple times. That’s something that would be impossible in a much larger race setting.

Nutrition

Now let’s talk about my race day breakfast. I wanted something reliable and easy on the stomach, but also something I enjoy. I’ve never had any issues with plain white bread, a little butter, and honey, so that’s what I went for on race morning. In my room, I prepared two slices of bread with butter and honey, along with some croissants topped with a little extra honey. Since the start was scheduled for 7 AM, I woke up at 5 AM to give myself plenty of time to enjoy my breakfast in peace and mentally prepare. I’m not a coffee person in the morning, so I skipped that today as well. And guess what? There were no surprises—I felt exactly as I wanted to feel—not too full, just satisfied without any hunger pangs.

Preparing the carb bottle for the bike

Now, let’s rewind to the day before the race. I focused on loading up on carbs. For lunch, I had a delicious plate of mussels risotto, which served as my last big meal. As for dinner, the organizers had a pasta spread ready for us—I enjoyed half a portion around 8 PM, and that was it. Ideally, dinner could have been a bit earlier, but the race briefing took a bit longer than expected. All in all, it was a good pre-race meal plan.

After crossing the finish line, I knew I was a bit dehydrated because I felt thirsty, so I made sure to drink 1000 ml of water and grabbed two bananas to replenish my energy. About an hour later, when I was back in my hotel room, I took a full scoop of protein whey powder (30g) mixed with water before hopping into the shower. And just like that, I was feeling good again!

Swim

Great swim at sunrise

The water was a bit chilly at 17C, so everyone was wearing wetsuits. I put sunscreen on my arms, head, and neck and applied a lot of Vaseline on the sensitive areas like my neck, armpits, and crotch to prevent chafing. 

I’ll use coconut oil instead of Vaseline next time because Vaseline isn’t great for the skin or wetsuit.

I decided to only wear my tri suit on my lower half and put my wetsuit on top. I didn’t want any extra fabric pulling on my shoulders during the swim. The swim started with everyone diving in at once, which is always a bit chaotic, but I found someone swimming at the same pace as me and stuck close to them. I sighted less often than usual and just followed the swimmer to stay on course.

After half an hour, I got out of the water and ran to the transition area to get on my bike. I struggled to get out of my wetsuit and put on my tri suit while still feeling dizzy from the swim. It didn’t help that my tri suit was wet and difficult to put on, so I ended up having to sit on the ground to change properly. Next time, I’ll try to be more efficient and be ready to go from the start.

Struggling to put my wet tri suit on while running in transition

From a nutritional standpoint, I couldn’t do much in the water and also opted out of having a gel right before going in. I was feeling great (not too full, not hungry either), so I was just using the time to warm up properly.

Bike

I had calculated that with my current fitness level, I should be able to maintain an average of 240-260 watts on the bike. However, in the first 5-7 minutes, I wasn’t paying much attention to my wattage because I was still trying to adjust my suit and feeling a bit dizzy.

In the back Mount Olympus still in snow

The bike course consisted of a 7km stretch out, followed by two loops of 38km each, and then 7km back to the transition zone. Once I had my suit sorted out, I immediately started drinking my carbohydrate and water mixture.

For my bike nutrition, I had prepared a 750ml bottle behind the saddle containing 300g of carbs (a 1:1 ratio of glucose to fructose), 5g of electrolytes, and 400mg of caffeine. 

Looking back, I realized that I only managed to drink around 60% of that bottle, which means I consumed approximately 180g of carbs, 3g of electrolytes, and 240mg of caffeine. I did not take any water from the stations because I was having 1x 500ml(on the frame) and 1x 750ml water bottle (in the cockpit between my arms) which was enough. The reason I stopped drinking was that I started feeling bloated after around 65-70km. Usually, I have anti-bloating pills with me (I use Degasin), but unfortunately, I didn’t have any on the bike this time, and it ended up affecting my performance. Lesson learned…

Now let’s talk about drafting. Initially, I was doing well in the race, but then I got overtaken by a group of 3-4 guys riding together. Since it was a non-drafting race, I dropped back to maintain a 10m distance behind the rider in front of me but decided to stick with this group for pacing. As the race progressed, more and more riders overtook me, and a small group formed. I can confidently say that the 10m distance rule was not followed by anyone in this group. I tried to stay outside the drafting zone, all the while trying to keep up with the group and not let them create too much of a gap. I knew I could outrun at least a couple of them in the run, but if they got too far ahead, I would never catch up. After going back and forth in my mind for a few more kilometers, I made an attempt to surge and take the lead of the group. I succeeded… but only for 2-3 minutes before being overtaken again. This pattern continued for far too long, and I eventually gave up and got drafted by the group for the remainder of the ride.

I’m sharing this not as an excuse, and even though I wasn’t penalized, I acknowledge that I could have done a better job of dropping back and racing fair. That’s why I don’t consider my bike split to be a completely accurate representation of my athletic abilities.

Run

Once I finished the bike leg, I wasted no time and immediately took an anti-bloating pill from my transition bag. Just five minutes later, I was feeling much better and was back to pushing the pace. As I began the 21km run, I decided to be a bit more conservative since the threshold I had based my calculations on was a bit outdated. I planned to start with a pace of 4:15 min/km and adjust accordingly.

The running course was absolutely beautiful, consisting of three 7km loops along the sea. Initially, I felt great and stuck to my predicted pace without going overboard. However, at the first turning point, I was overtaken by someone running at around a 4min/km pace. I took it as a challenge and decided to see how long I could keep up. I found my rhythm, and my heart rate remained steady at around 160 bpm with each passing kilometer. I made good progress and started closing the gap with the runners ahead of me.

I was smiling (almost) for the whole time

Things were going well, and I managed to maintain that pace for the remainder of the run. The last 4-5km were tough, as the temperature rose, and I wasn’t consuming many carbs—just occasional sips of water.

For my run nutrition, I had prepared a 500ml bottle containing a 1:1 mixture of glucose and fructose. Unfortunately, even though I felt better and the bloating had subsided, I was hesitant to consume too many carbs too quickly since I didn’t have another pill with me. This strategy worked for the distance I was covering, but had I been faced with an additional 21km, I would have hit a significant energy wall. In fact, during the last 15 minutes, I was already feeling depleted.

Looking back, I realized that I only consumed around 20% of the contents in my 500ml bottle, which translates to approximately 30g of carbs, 0.6g of electrolytes, and 40mg of caffeine. It was much lower than I had estimated.

Lessons learned

Here are the lessons that I learned from this race summarized:

  • put the tri suit completely on before going in the water. The minimal time saved in the water is not worth the struggle to put a wet tri suit on while running
  • have anti-bloating pills on the bike, together with some magnesium and aminos
  • bloating is caused mainly by fructose. Experiment in training with a 1:0,5 to 1:0,7 ratio of glucose to fructose
  • pay more attention to following the drafting rules…
  • base the pacing strategy on more recent tests
  • build more speed on the run after the bike
  • use coconut oil instead of vaseline

Results

Let’s take a look at my results compared to the Top 10 in my category. As the third-place finisher in my category, my run split seems decent. However, when I compare it to the two guys ahead of me, this is where I lose the most time – an average of 9 minutes (compared to 7 minutes and 50 seconds on the bike and 5 minutes and 40 seconds in the swim, respectively). This is the area I want to focus my main training moving forward – becoming a stronger runner.

In my experience, the run is the most crucial of the three disciplines and where significant time can be gained or lost. For middle-distance and especially longer races, I’d prefer to have a great run performance even if my swim and bike are just average, rather than an average run after a great bike and swim.

After the race, I like to take a week off from structured training to give my mind a well-deserved break. It’s a time for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Looking ahead, I have an exciting plan for the rest of the year. On July 2nd, I’ve set my sights on a 100km trail race, one of the most iconic ones in Bulgaria called Vitosha 100. It’s my B priority race, and I’m eager to challenge myself on those rugged trails.

But that’s not all! Towards the end of October, I have an ambitious goal in mind. I want to push myself and see what I’m capable of by attempting a full-distance triathlon in under 9 hours. It’s going to be a tough challenge, but I’m up for it!

I’m also planning to document my journey and the process of preparing for this big feat, so make sure to stay tuned for updates. It’s going to be an exciting and inspiring adventure!