Ironman WA training and race report, Alex Williams

Ironman WA training and race report, Alex Williams


I would like to give a few special thanks to those that have helped me along these last 6-months. My partner, Emma, has supported me 100% in all my triathlon endeavours. She particularly has been a huge support through this training cycle with taking care of many of the responsibilities at home and suffered through many of my hangry tantrums. Tony was a great riding partner for getting base kms on the bike done during the winter. Nathaniel, Alex, and Daniel were also good company on several long freeway rides. Thanks to Gaby for her help with my fuelling issues. Thanks to all those that joined me for an OWS at various times since September. Lastly, a big thanks to those from UWATC that came down to show support on the day, especially those that shared photos.


I trained through the winter without having an off season and had a reasonably high-volume program even from the start. I responded better to a polarised training program and will continue to use this approach for the foreseeable future, adopting the 80/20 approach to plan future training. Practice makes perfect. Unfortunately, the problems I had on race day were things I hadnt properly practiced. The swim and bike were well executed but things fell apart in the heat on the run. Overall, I had a great time both training and racing and look forward to the next one. Times were:

  • Swim: 1h05m19s
  • Bike: 5h33m18s
  • Run: 4h09m07s
  • Overall: 10h57m24s.


To get to the start line this time around I swam 230.6km in 65h03m25s, biked 4104km in 173h14m55s, ran 1059km in 90h43m58s, and spent 36h30m in the gym. I started my training 2 weeks after Busso 70.3 in May after not taking any serious time for an off-season. Being a largely self-coached athlete, I have continued to try different approaches in search of what will work best and am still trying to find the magic formula for what will provide the best results. Previously, Ive been a fair-weather athlete and not started training consistently again till late spring and spent the whole season chasing my fitness back to where it was at the end of the last season. I have also felt that I previously lacked the long-term accumulated volume required to do well in these longer events. Coupled with high levels of motivation on the back of poor racing conditions in May, I felt this was a reasonable approach for this time around.

Looking at the PMC for this training cycle, there was an obvious hiccup in July with a minor injury which meant a few days off followed immediately by a viral respiratory infection. Otherwise, I stayed injury and illness free. My basic weekly structure for the base phase from late-May till mid-September was:

Weekly volume ranged from 15-19hrs and workouts were, in hindsight, better balanced regarding time spent at high and low intensity. I had 4-week training blocks with the 4th week designated a rest and test week with volume dropped to ~5hrs. This worked well, and I probably saw my best fitness gains during this period. The 4th week allowed me to both mentally and physically recover. Also, measuring my response to the training was something previously lacking. The fitness tests I used were a 1km and 100m swim TT, a CSS test (400m and 200m test to approximate threshold), a 20min FTP test, and either a 5km or 10km run TT (5km early and 10km later in the cycle).

My structure for the build phase changed slightly:

In addition to obvious changes in the weekly structure, my easy swim got longer, occasionally the weather was nice enough to commute to the hospital by bike, my ROTB got longer, and my long runs moved off the trails. This was also when I started my O&G rotation and having a 7-day roster caused a bit of chaos with scheduling in some weeks. Overall, I tried to keep the volume around the 17-19hr mark with one week approaching 22hrs.

During the build phase the balance of time spent at low and high intensity deteriorated a bit and the 4th week of rest and test was swapped in favour of a race rehearsal to test pacing and nutrition. Im looking at all this in retrospect and when I was planning everything, I didnt give it much thought beyond trying to punish myself. I recently read 80/20 triathlon hence why Im paying more attention to this. In the base phase with a perfect week, I roughly had 45% of swim volume, 12% of bike volume, and 28% of run at high intensity. In contrast, a perfect week during the build phase had 32% of swim volume at high intensity (with an increase of ~4000m of total swim volume), at least 20% of bike volume at high intensity (may have approached as much as 50% but hard to tell due to inconsistent power recording), and 28.5% of run volume at high intensity. Plus, my gym work was probably often too hard. Subjectively, the high intensity training in the build phase was also of less quality than the base phase. Training Peaks also has more missed workouts and some spontaneous rest days during this phase, either due to fatigue or study commitments.

I opted for a 3-week taper that kept a somewhat high volume until the last week. I was coming off a heavy training block and had done 21h, 18h, 17h, 19h over the previous training block. At this stage I was possibly in a state of non-functional over-reaching. I question whether I had been in this state for most of my build phase since mid-September as I was struggling to hit my zones during planned high-intensity training. However, with my last few long training days I could feel the accumulated volume taking effect because I was tolerating them much better, feeling fresh during my ROTB, and feeling good on the Monday. To cap it off, I was also finishing my final assessment for the year and starting to prepare for exams which was predictably quite stressful.

Race morning

The day before I had a dreadful pre-race workout with my bike and run feeling completely flat. I was also bloated from the carb-loading. I had my gear laid out the night before and after a few hours of anxiously tossing and turning in bed before my alarm told me to finally turn on the light and get ready. I had a light breakfast and some gastro-stop plus, just as I had practiced in training. I got to transition early and then made my way to the club tent to see if anyone else was there. I watched the 70.3 athletes start and slowly munched an energy bar. I took a decent 15mins of easy swimming to warm-up, stopping with just enough time to scoff a gel and make it to the start with a few minutes to spare. This was my first time doing a proper warm-up. After practicing it in training and noticing the benefit it made to my swim performance, I cant emphasise the importance of it enough.


With what seemed like a lofty goal to go 1h05m I positioned myself right in the middle of zone 2. The rolling start was fantastic. It was nice to not be fighting for a position with everyone else. I overtook many dishonest athletes in the first lap. It seemed many had failed to accurately estimate their swim split despite the ideal conditions Busselton had offered for the swim Ive had worse conditions in a pool. I set out with an even and sustainable pace and kept it throughout. I sighted every 3rd stroke and the GPS data seems to show this worked well. For the first time during a triathlon I felt comfortable and confident about the swim. I finished the swim feeling fresh and ready to tackle the bike. All that time in the pool had paid off. In the end I hit my goal with a 1h05m19s.



I probably was a little slower through T1 than I would have liked but I wanted to spend the extra time to dry myself off a little and get a good dose of sunscreen. I struggled with getting my wetsuit off. The left arm snagged on my watch and the left leg snagged on the timing chip. A volunteer was offering to help with it, but I had seen people waste more time than save with this. Instead, they emptied my T1 bag out for me then stashed all my swim gear a big help!


My plan was to go easy for the first 45km and then get to work and hold consistent power from then on. From training, I had expected to hold 140-150W for the first 45km and then 170-180W for the rest. This was a conservative plan because I knew there was no escaping the run. My goal split was 5h30m.

The conditions at the start meant I could keep my power even lower than 140W for the most part while still holding a pace that would enable me to reach my goal. My legs also werent feeling good enough yet to push it, so I decided to let them warm up. At 40km I took my first caffeine tablet so at 45km it was time to get to work. The caffeine provided a noticeable boost and I started to make up some ground on a few athletes than had overtaken me in the first 45km.

Conditions on the bike course deteriorated on the 2nd lap with heat and wind increasing. I continued to hold a conservative power (~150-160W) and continued overtaking athletes that seemed like they were starting to fade. At 130km I decided to take my 2nd caffeine tablet which I managed to choke on. I need to remember to not try swallowing with my neck in full extension while on the aerobars.

By the 150km mark I was starting to feel quite dizzy and was looking forward to getting off my bike and just being vertical again. I started to struggle to maintain power and pace in the last 20km of the bike. I new that I could have dug deep but decided to hold off and save it for the run. A few athletes, not from my category, passed me in this final 20kms but I would then see them again halfway through the run.

My nutrition strategy was 1 gel and ½ an energy bar every hour for ~50-60g of carb per hour with as much sports drink as I wanted. In the end I had an extra ½ an energy bar and an extra gel above my plan. I had a bottle of Gatorade on the bike from T1 and then a fresh bottle of IsoWhey at each aid station, about 6 or 7 bottles of sports drink total. I also had a salt tablet every hour. This worked well, and I felt like I was set for a good run.

I also stopped for 3 toilet breaks, 2 on the first lap and 1 on the second. My philosophy has always been to make myself as comfortable as possible which isnt easy when riding a tri bike for 180km. After each hairpin I would see Daniel not far behind and Alex only a little further behind him. I thought for sure they would catch me with all my pee stops but it wasnt until T2 that Daniel finally caught me. I hit my goal with 5h33m18s. Discounting the toilet breaks, my Garmin clocked 5h29m20s.


Again, I was probably a bit slower than I would have liked but it was a good chance to gather my thoughts and mentally prep for the run. I also got another good dose of sunscreen which a volunteer was nice enough to help with. I didnt envy them though as triathletes can be gross after than much swimming and biking. I exited T2 just ahead of Daniel, who stopped for the toilet, and was greeted by cheers from Phil a very welcome and encouraging surprise.


The run started out great. I was hitting a good but conservative pace, the legs felt good, and I was happy to be upright. My goal was the run a 3h45m and had everything gone well I was holding the right pace to hit this target.

Daniel caught up to me in the first 1-2km and we ran together for the first 2 laps. At the 18km mark I was starting to feel the heat and my stomach was turning itself inside out. At each aid station I was taking on as much ice as possible which helped a lot but was too little, too late. I let Daniel run ahead at the 20km mark and I started to walk aid stations. I also became sick of sugar and was taking on water at aid stations. After 2 aid stations my stomach settled, and I was able to take on sugar again but couldnt hit the same pace again without my stomach complaining. Unfortunately, my legs felt good and were keen to push the pace a bit more.

I crossed the line with a run time of 4h09m07s for a total race time of 10h57m24s. I had improved on my previous Ironman time on the same course by 1h04m. I achieved both my swim and bike goal times and achieved my goal of setting a sub-11hr time. I loved every minute of the day and cant wait to do it all again.

The following day, my legs felt reasonably good, a bit sore, but not destroyed like they were the first time I did an Ironman. The biggest problem I had was a blister on my left foot that I picked up on the run and managed to burst at the end of the 2nd lap. It bled for two days after; easily the worst blister Ive had. The next biggest problem was the oedema. I had failed to take enough electrolytes and probably finished the race being more than slightly hyponatraemic. I had pitting oedema to just below my knees till the Wednesday. When it resolved, I had dropped ~2kg in water weight. Will I be back to race again next year? Im holding this decision until I have passed my exams in September, but I sure hope so.

Lessons learnt

  1. Volume: I felt this had been a limiter in preparation for previous races, not so this time around. I believe this helped me when I was deep in the run and my legs still felt like they could take more. However, Im not convinced this was good value for time investment and I will be interested to see if I can leave the big volume to 12 weeks out from the race rather than 24 weeks out.
  2. Consistency: as above, training through the winter without much of a break meant I kept the fitness from last season and was able to build on it. I wont have the same volume during the off season again next year but I will make sure I keep training year-round.
  3. Intensity: this seems to be a delicate balancing act, one that I havent given too much thought to before and always thought more is better. Im keen to keep a more polarised approach as this seemed to provide good results during the base phase for me.
  4. Week 4 rest: I need the 4th week off, mentally more than physically, especially having a sleep-in at the weekend once every training block. It was also good to do my fitness tests and reset my training zones. Likewise, any race rehearsal training needs to be included in the regular part of the training block and not shunted to the end of rest week this sabotaged me mentally and meant I started my next training block fatigued.
  5. Practice: doing those OWS workouts, practicing my race day warm-up, practicing my nutrition, and practicing pacing all helped a lot on race day. What really derailed things was the stuff that I hadnt practiced, i.e. long days in the heat and sodium intake. While I couldnt have done much to practice this in training, had I known what to expect I could have planned better.
  6. Pacing: as above, practice makes perfect. It also helped to set realistic expectations on the day. Previously, I had fallen victim to setting expectations way too high and blowing up spectacularly.
  7. Sodium: need to take on more sodium during the bike and run. Buy a saltstick dispenser to carry salt tablets on the run, it will be money well spent.
  8. Injury and illness: although this didnt significantly feature in this training cycle, its still good to reflect on. At the first sign of trouble stop, rest, and wait until Im 100% better and return to training slowly. Its worked in the past and the below the neck rule has only prolonged or worsened illness. Early mobilisation guided by pain seems to work best for injuries.
  9. Strength training: this was the first time I had seriously incorporated strength training into my program. During the early base phase, its good to push this but should be reduced to a maintenance focus the rest of the time. Treat it the same as high-intensity swim/bike/run training. If I would push too hard in the gym, my following workouts would suffer.
  10. Swimming: I started listening to the Tower26 podcast this year and incorporated a lot of advice from that into my swim training. What I believe helped me the most was increasing the volume and consistency, swimming with a snorkel and pull buoy to fix some of the flaws in my stroke, and using the Finis tempo trainer to work on my pacing.
  11. Biking: I didnt seem to improve my FTP so I dont think my training was particularly effective. My old bike computer was also a piece of garbage that would regularly drop the signal so maybe that was the issue. Hopefully using the 80/20 approach will help or maybe I need to learn how to truly suffer on the bike again.
  12. Run: trail running is tremendous fun and I will be doing this again next winter. I need to remember that the body needs 15-20mins warm up as a minimum for each high-intensity run. Likewise, I can do my longer runs easier than I have in the past while still getting the endurance benefit but recovering better afterwards.