By the Numbers – an inside look at what it takes to go 4th Overall on your Ironman Debut – Phil Murphy interviews Total Tri’s own Rookie Pro Henry Irvine
PM – Hi Henry, Congratulations for the your result last weekend at Ironman UK. Being there to watch it was a pleasure, seeing someone willing to push the limits like that in unknown territory was amazing. Before we delve in to your race day performance and how you managed to come 4th place overall can you give us some background on how you got in to Triathlon?
Henry Irvine (HI): Having a sporty older brother I’d often copy things he was in to. When he completed Ironman Nice 10 years ago I knew I’d one day do one myself but I never expected it to become more than that! As a teenager I got in to road cycling thanks to my friend Nick and we both raced for Mid Devon Cycling Club, which has produced some of the UK’s top cyclists over the years and so I learned a great deal about how to approach training and racing.
Finally, after years of swimming, cycling and running for fun I finally completed my first two triathlons in 2016 and realised I was quite good at it. In 2017 I raced as an age-grouper and managed to gain strong enough results to earn an Ironman Pro Licence.PM – and what does a typical week look like for you. I am sure it is not all training, sleeping and eating?
HI – I currently work 32-40 hours a week on top of training, as racing professionally simply does not (yet!) pay the bills. I work for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution as well as coaching for Total Tri Training and a local swimming club. I enjoy the variety and generally train twice a day, before and after work. My days off nearly always include a long ride and I’m fortunate to have strong local age-group athletes such as Donald Brooks to train with.
PM – we first came across you last year at Edinbrugh 70.3 as you came past me and then our head coach Chris Standidge on the bike on your way to the overall age group win. What else have you raced since last year?
HI – Yes, Edinbrugh enabled me to turn pro after coming 8th overall and winning the age group race and since then I have won the English National Duathlon Champs, been 2nd at Hever Castle, 4th in my AG at the Olympic distance Worlds before racing pro at Challenge Riccione this year and being 9th Pro. Ironman UK was another big step in the right direction.
I’ve had some bad mechanical and illness luck in races such as Challenge Roma and Ironman 70.3 Edinburgh along with stubbing my toe before Staffs 70.3 and having to withdraw…. Things can only get better!
PM – So let’s get in to Sunday’s race. How did the day play out for you overall? Tactically how was it with some very fast swimmers and then Uber bikers like Joe Skipper and Marc Duelsen in the race, not that you are too shabby on two wheels yourself?
HI – I knew that the non-wetsuit decision for professionals would suit me as I don’t swim much faster in a wetsuit and I knew that it would significantly disadvantage some other athletes. After about 500m I found myself swimming on my own and just got in to a steady rhythm, trying to limit my losses to the leaders. Out on to the bike and in 7th position I attacked the race hard with nothing to lose and began to pass people. By 100km I had caught Fraser Cartmell to move in to 3rd place, with the gap to the lead steady at 5 minutes. Stepping off the bike with only 2 minutes separating the bike splits of myself, Joe Skipper and Marc Duelsen I knew I’d ridden well and had a buffer of 7 minutes over 4th place. From there the marathon was a total unknown as I’d never run one before, so I just tried to settle in to a steady pace and keep going. As you’ll read below I made a few critical mistakes!
PM – So you swam 58 mins non wetsuit on what appeared to be a slowish swim which put you in a strong place. On to the bike what kind of numbers did it take to be in the top 3 off the bike?
HI – I’m not an astonishingly powerful rider but I do have good power to weight (I weigh 68-69kg), can make myself pretty aerodynamic and suffer on the bike in a way I simply can’t seem to swimming! As you see I averaged 254w, an NP of 294w and a total of 1 hour 4 minutes above threshold. I was quite surprised by this but it’s perhaps testament to the hilly and technical course, as reflected in my Variability Index.
You can see from the above charts that Henry did not ride like an age group racer may do, he spent over an hour above his FTP (threshold power) which caused a very high Variability Index (VI) for an Ironman race. The course will have played a part but most athletes will have been between 1.05 and 1.09 VI
You can see here that Henry spent 10 minutes at 377W (np) at the top of the first Climb on loop one. 5.56w/kg for 10 minutes in an Ironman is very high
PM – Some amazing numbers for a 68kg rider! You were obviously riding in a way most age groupers wouldn’t and shouldn’t! 1.16 VI is very high even given the nature of the course but I guess living in Devon you are more than used to riding like this every day with all the short sharp climbs you have down there. The coaching team at Total Tri were all on the run course and it looked like you were suffering on the run from half way. Did it feel as bad as it looked?!?
HI – Ha ha, That run really exposed me as the rookie I was! Going in to the race I had no clear nutrition plan other than to try and take on as much fuel on the bike as I could and hope that it would carry me through the run. The first (of the four) run laps was fine, after that I tried to take a gel and got a stitch so I decided to just drink water and grind it out to the finish. This completely failed and I started to get cramp in my hamstrings, hobbling to the finish and losing 3rd place with only 3.5 miles to go. In hindsight I’d have a clear plan to stick to, utilise the special needs bag and carry salt tablets.
It wasn’t all plain sailing, Henry had his nutrition wobble at around half way. He had been running 6.42 per mile for the first hour but during a half hour section around 13 miles he was only managing 8.01 per mile. His lack of experience over this distance meant he probably went out a little too fast, maybe adding to his nutrition issues.
PM – You still ran a 3.08 marathon so it looks like there is potential to run very fast even off what appears to be a bike leg right on your limits. I am sure the nutrition will come together for the next race. Speaking of which, what have you got lined up for the rest of the year?
HI – I’m currently planning to get some rest and then launch in to a big block of training before Ironman Wales in September. After that I’m not yet sure, possibly Ironman 70.3 Weymouth or Challenge Madrid.
PM – I have to ask….. Is Kona on your agenda?
HI – To be honest Kona really isn’t on my agenda at the moment. Right now I’m focussed on developing as a professional athlete, learning to race Ironman and hopefully stepping on to the podium in the future. I’d love to one-day race on the Big Island but I’d want to go there with genuine top 10/20 ambitions and I’m not at that stage yet. Also my bank balance isn’t ready either!
PM – Well if the rate of improvement continues this could be within the next few years I am sure. Congratulations again Henry, and look forward to seeing how you go around Wales in a couple of months.
Henry Irvine is a first year Pro Triathlete and a coach with Total Tri Training based in the south of the UK. To Contact Henry about coaching opportunities use our contact page here – Contact us