Matt Hanson | Professional Triathlete
5x Ironman Champion/ 4x 70.3 Champion

Ironman Panama 70.3 Race Report

I have a lot of goals for 2016. Two that rank at the top in terms of importance are:
1) gain more race experience
2) execute my game plan more consistently

2015 had 1 real high, winning IMTX, but a number of poorly executed races. The build into Kona was very long and both physically and mentally taxing…as it should have been. The crash in Kona definitely took both a physical and mental toll as well. I wanted to get back and use the fitness that I had as soon as possible, so I went to Cozumel. While I learned a lot during that race, I didn’t come away with the race I wanted either. So after back-to-back races with a less than ideal result, I wanted to go into Panama with two expectations: race hard and have fun. While coming away with 8th is not a perfect result, I really felt that this was the best 70.3 that I’ve ever raced. I swam with a very talented first pack for a good portion of the race and last year at this time I was struggling to swim with the second pack at this point in the season. I had the highest power output that I’ve had for a 70.3 and I was able to handle the heat/humidity well and still have a decent run.  

startAs most people know, I spent all of January at a swim camp down in The Woodlands with coach Tim and Magnolia Masters. As result, my bike/run volume was pretty low in January. I was happy with where my bike/run fitness was at being it is January, but in no way did I feel like I was firing at 1000% (nor did I want to be this early in the season!!!). Obviously, with a swim focused build, I was happy with where I was at leading in to the race. So my approach coming into Panama was very different than the way I approached most of the races in 2014/2015. For this race, I didn’t really scout the competition and I didn’t write out a specific race plan. I went to Panama to test my early season fitness in all three disciplines and to get more race experience, simple. Obviously like every athlete, I wanted to perform well but for the first time in 2 years, we came into a race with few process expectations. This is not an approach that I will often take leading into races in the future, but I felt this was the best way to approach Panama being as I was coming directly out of a swim emphasis build with low bike/run volume.

 So the race…..

Race Morning:

I woke up at 3:30 and drank 2 servings of First Endurance Ultragen, my typical race morning breakfast. Went back to bed for an hour and work up at 4:30, got dressed and was out the door by 4:45. I rode my bike to the the transition area and quickly got everything set up and ready to go. I went for a run around 5:15 and did a dry land swim warm up since we weren’t going to be allowed to get in the water to warm up. I was warned that there had been a delay in the start the last few times, so wasn’t phased when they announced that there would be a delay. We ended up standing on the dock for about 30-40 minutes waiting to start, finally we were given the green light to get in the water.

Huub MorningSwim: 23:57

Given I was coming out of the Magnolia Camp with Coach Tim, I did have high expectations for the swim. At the start of the swim, I found myself behind the first pack pretty quickly. I lined up on the opposite side of where the pack formed. However, I was able to put in a pretty hard effort for about 100 yards and bridge up to the first pack by the first buoy. I was the last guy in the first pack for over ½ of the swim, but fell off shortly after the 5th buoy during a surge. Progress…but definitely have more to go. I swam the rest of the time solo and really struggled sighting into the sun. I ended up adding a good chunk to the swim by not turning sharp enough at the last buoy since I couldn’t find the buoy and ended up swimming into the finish with a small group of guys in the chase pack.

T1: 2:20

The first transition of the season went pretty flawlessly. Threw on my Kask Bambino, my race helmet for this year, grabbed my bike, and was off to the mount line.

–Note: I nearly chose to ride in the Kask Infinity, the most aero road helmet on the market, for this race to help keep cool due to forecasted high temps/humidity. I elected to go with the Bambino and in hindsight was happy I made the smart choice.

Bike: 2:02:57

Most of the bike was done alone. Tactically, I made a few errors during the ride as I caught a few people and was caught by a few as well. These are the decisions that I’ll store in the ‘experience’ bank and learn from them moving forward. I was happy with my average/normalized power output for the day and my power/speed ratio was pretty good given the number of out & back turns. Overall, I thought the course was flat and pretty good road surfaces. The race directors had to work hard with last minute changes, but I felt they came up with a great course.

I felt like I had a good nutrition plan for the race conditions. I had 1000 calories of EFS pro on my bike for the race. I mixed a normal strength bottle to start with in the AeroZ, then made sludge bottles for my behind the saddle and the VR aero bottle that I had on the frame.

I’ve been asked a few times to talk about my wheel selection for races. For this flat of a course, I would choose the Zipp Super 9 disc rear and the 808 NSW front about 99% of the time. The only way I would have considered a different combo for this race would be if the forecast was for very high crosswinds. 

T2: 1:48

Again, a pretty solid transition. I wasn’t quite ready for the dismount line, so had to stop to get 1 foot out of my bike shoe which probably cost me 3 seconds, otherwise everything went flawlessly.

Run: 1:16:39

The run started off just fine. I was sitting well back place wise, but everyone was really bunched up so I thought with a great run, I could run my way up quite a bit. I ended up running fairly average. The first 3 miles were right on pace, but I started getting some calf cramps any time I’d push the pace a bit from there on. I don’t think this was a nutrition issue, Coach David and I decided it would be best to move my cleat position on the bike a few weeks ago to help alleviate a nagging issue I’ve had for a few months. This did help quite a bit, but in hindsight we simply didn’t have enough time to put in enough time with the change before pushing that hard on the bike. As long as I ran right around 6:00 pace, they stayed away so that is where I stayed for most of the run. Every out and back I’d check the gaps and I was slowly catching a few guys but was also running pretty even with the top guys. With about 2 miles to go, I saw that I was about a minute out of 8th so I dug deep to close the gap and moved into 8th with about 400 yds to go.

Panama PodiumOverall: 3:47:41

As I said in the beginning, I didn’t really set specific expectations for this race outside of the swim. Obviously, I can’t be completely satisfied with 8th. I made a few mistakes and in a Championship 70.3 with a very talented field, you have to have a pretty flawless day to have a great result. However, this was definitely the best 70.3 that I have put together so I am leaving Panama felling encouraged with my current fitness and gains, but definitely not satisfied. 

More “school” planned and looking forward to building throughout the winter and coming into the next race stronger, smarter, and faster.

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