When we pull the trigger and sign up for an Ironman race, we know planning and dedication will be crucial in the preparation for this lengthy race distance of an 3.8km swim, 180km bike and 42km run. Having a background across various types of sports such as mountain biking, adventure racing, boxing and rowing is a great start: not only because that means discipline has been part of your life, but also because your aerobic system is developed to a decent level.
This was the scenario of Bruno Simao, who registered for Ironman Brazil in May 2012 in the M25-29 age group. Once we started working together and I got some training splits, I realized he had good potential for a first-time ironman performance.
While planning his long term strategy, I made sure he would spend a lot of time training next to other, more experienced ironguides athletes in his home town of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, as Bruno—being a young, fast and inexperienced triathlete—had his issues with pacing. I knew the veteran ironguides athletes could teach him a few lessons during the training sessions as these guys collected several Ironman titles and Kona qualifying slots.
Things were going well a few months into the training program and he was achieving his training goals and improving his pacing strategy. Then, I got a very emotional email from Bruno as per below:
“It was my last hard session one week out before the Caioba Half Ironman, which is 8 weeks from Ironman Brazil. I had 10 laps of 14km to do that day and when I was closing the 9th lap, a car made a sudden left turn into a smaller road without seeing me, as I was riding fast and on the aerobars. There was nothing I could do, all I remember was flying over my bike and the car, and hearing all sort of noises from breaking glass to loud snapping, and I almost could hear something breaking inside my knee as I hit it very hard against the car.
“The MRI results came back: I had a cracked kneecap. The initial diagnosis was 10 weeks with no cycling or running, and my Ironman Brazil dream was over. It was depressing and hard to accept, I wanted to quit triathlon. However I got so much support from my friends and family that something strange happened: I grew a lot stronger and I was able to learn several different lessons with that accident.”
Since finishing Ironman Brazil was out of the question, we decided to start the race and do a Swim+Bike brick, doing only the first 90km loop of the bike course. With that in mind and considering the no-run and no-bike training for a while, it was a good opportunity to work on his weakness: the swim. I got him on a swim plan, sessions every day of the week with a lot of pull work (using the pull-buoy to avoid kicking). That was how we maintained his aerobic fitness while letting the kneecap heal.
Two weeks from Ironman Brazil we shifted the focus to the bike, and his plan had several double-bike days. Since his legs were not fit enough to push hard for too long, the double bikes were a great way to build bike fitness without stressing the kneecap, and it would be just enough to provide him the endurance needed to last the 90km of the bike course.
Race day came and along with it a lot question marks in Bruno’s mind. We weren’t sure if his knee could handle the swim and the first half of the bike without pain. Our idea with this race was to provide him the experience of being a first-timer in an Ironman event, but without pressure to finish the race or achieve a good result. Before the crash, we had a goal of swimming around one hour, to ride the 180km in about five hours, which makes it 2-1/2 hours per lap.
We were happy that on race day he managed not only to finish the swim+bike combo, but also within all the target splits.
During this Ironman trial, he could also learn a few race-day strategy tricks: we aimed for a fast swim start to get away from the crowd, and he would benefit from fewer people on the bike course, while those that were around him were experienced and fit athletes.
But the key learning experience was being able to watch the rest of the race. Some of his friends or training partners went out a bit too fast on the bike and ended up paying the price during the last half of the marathon. Bruno has always been an over-confident person and that lesson was crucial for his success in his first proper Ironman race.
The day after the race, our excitement about the success of Bruno’s trial Ironman was huge. We agreed we would find another Ironman in the 2012 season so he could finish the whole event and achieve his dream of being an Ironman finisher. Ironman Florida was a good opportunity for him, as it has a similar course profile as Florianopolis and, held late in the year, it would also provide us time to get him fit enough after a full healing process.
From that day we had 22 weeks of planning, I aimed to boost his confidence by setting him up on a bike-oriented training plan while doing some solid maintenance work in the swim and slowly building the run training to the point where he was back on target for our original goals.
The hardest part was that he spent the whole year, instead of the usual half year, in Ironman training mode. That can be difficult for a young professional like him but making a successful debut was a top priority for Bruno, who to break 10 hours, so there wasn’t an easy option.
The big day arrived and he mentioned being surprised about how relaxed he felt, smiling during the event and high-fiving the spectators on the course. Bruno said he felt he was “floating” during the whole race, and that it was one of his happiest moments of his life.
We had built a race-day strategy in which he would swim as fast as possible, considering we massive work in the pool for a year, and that would set him up among the top competitors on the bike. It worked well and he finished the swim in 61 minutes and top 20 in his age group.
On the bike our goal was a moderate approach as we wanted to make sure he would have something left in the tank for the run. Even then he rode 4h59, moving up seven places in his age group. Out on the run we planned for a conservative strategy, in normal conditions we aimed to hold about 3h30 marathon pace, which would get him to the finish line within the 10-hour mark.
Nine hours and 42 minutes after the start, he heard, “Bruno, you are an Ironman!” It was a very well executed race and that got him 6th place in his age group.
With the race done and dusted, the question now is “What’s next?” He understands what it takes to perform at a very high level in ironman and we agreed we would get on a two-year maintenance plan so he could focus on his newly-launched construction business. We will schedule short-course races to keep him honest and focused, and that will also build towards his next ironman race. When the right time comes, he will be a much faster and strong athlete. Once we add some volume on that newly gained speed, he will be on fire!
Congratulations Bruno on your dedication and setting an example to all of us. You can be sure many other achievements are on the way.