After several attempts, Casper goes Sub 5 hr in Shanghai 70.3. This is a story about perseverance; believing in and committing to what you know deep down is possible. Congratulations Cas - a good fight indeed!
1. First up - Tell us a bit about yourself. short background on work/ life/ sport etc etc / how did you come into triathlon.
I have been working in the financial / tech industry in Taiwan and now in Singapore. Growing up I’ve always enjoyed sports and competition; I had experience in badminton, track, kick-boxing before I got into triathlon. Years ago I had a back injury that forced me to swim more (practically none before) as part of rehab, and once I recovered from injury I had the chance to bike 1000 km+ around Taiwan. One day I randomly came across a sprint distance event nearby and I thought “since I used to run, now I also bike and swim a bit, this sports sounds interesting and why don't I give it a try?”. I immediately enjoyed the outdoor atmosphere of the race and how it’s not only a race against others but also against yourself and the nature. I did 2 Olympic distance races since then and work travel took over and I needed to recover from pneumothorax so for the next 3 years I was withdrawn from the sports.
Just end of last year (2018) a friend of mine asked me to join my first half Ironman and I was able to find the time and discipline to pick up triathlon again. I moved to Singapore early this year and have been working with Shem and the squad who really showed me how to train scientifically while being able manage work and other parts of life, and last but not least, have a lot of fun in my training as well.
2 What do you like about triathlon, what keeps bringing you back for more.
I really enjoy being able to interact with the outdoor and nature. I always take a moment to pause (while still moving!) in the race and just appreciate being part of a beautiful planet. Secondly, I like how triathlon is a sports of self challenge with clear return, as long as you put in the time and effort with proper training you are able to reach improvement. You may not always get the race results you want because there are many variables that impact race performance, but I know my body and I know I’ve improved through my training. Now I just want to keep challenging myself for improvement and enjoy my time participating in races in different places.
3. Tell us a bit about the journey - the ups and downs. The move from Taiwan and settling into a training routine, the hiccups in the 1st few 70.3 races etc..
I’ve done 5 half ironman races now in the past one year since my first half Ironman. During the time I moved from Taiwan to Singapore and started working with Shem. Routine-wise I’ve moved from doing random unstructured training on my own to a well managed training plan. I couldn’t wish for an easier way to settle on a routine here and I’ve learned how different training sessions impact the specific components of my performance. I’ve seen clear improvement since I started to follow structured training and my 2nd race was a 5 hour 45 minutes in a hot and humid race course, which is better than the 6 hour 5 minutes in my first race in a more comfortable weather. However since my 2nd race I’ve struggled and have been in “survival” mode, which included overeating on nutrition that led to stomach irritation, to under-eating and feeling exhausted. I also had a small fever the day before my last race, and another race that I spent record breaking 15 mins in total for transitions (don’t do this!). As the result my race performance was stuck at around 5 hour 40 mins. Despite the lack of improved race performance, I knew I was making improvement — I was swimming, biking, and running faster in my training. I knew I just needed to continue to refine my nutrition plan and keep believing in my training. Training with Shem and the squad gave me a lot of confidence despite these hiccups, because they would give very practical feedback on race plan and would be honest about my improvement.
4. How did you feel crossing the line under 5?
It was extremely fulfilling. It was a goal that I set for myself before the race (ok maybe I was greedy and wanted even more). After having paid the tuition fees for the hiccups in the past few races, this race was a testimony of all the hard work. I know I’ve been improving and I just needed the stars to align for a better race results.
5. Briefly talk us through the race. High/ low points during the race. Standout thoughts at certain points in the race.
I felt mentally relaxed before the race start and I got a great 10 hours of sleep the night before. I jumped into the water feeling confident and just started sprinting to get to a pack of swimmers with similar speed. However the water was not clear and swimmers were bumping into one another, about 300m into the race in my goggles were knocked off. I took 5 seconds to adjust and I thought “Why don’t I just get slightly away from the group and swim on my own?” I did just that and I was able to swim calmer and more smoothly. I got out of the water and it was 35 minutes on the watch. “Not bad for me” I thought. I started running to transition one and my legs felt fresh and I knew it was a good sign. Once I got on the bike I was pushing a bit at 38-40km/hour to get to athletes who look like they could bike 37-38km throughout the entire 90km. I managed to bike with 2-3 people at about the same pace legally. I was very focused and was making sure that I eat and drink regularly. Half way through the 90km my legs still felt good but I wasn’t sure if I should be pushing for a 2 hour 25 minutes bike ride or stay comfortably to hit 2 hour 30 minutes. I thought of what Shem said to me “Race smart! it might not be worth it to go off on your own for a faster 5 minutes, remember you still have the run”. I decided to maintain pace because I was not sure how much I have left in the tank for the run. I finished the bike just under 2 hour 30 minutes. At transition 2 I got a small cramp on my lower abdominal muscle but I pressed hard on the cramp and stretched it out. Thankfully it went away and I was ready to go. As soon as I got on the run I felt good and I was going at 4”30-4”40 / km pace. However I thought it would be safer to slow down “ok maybe stay comfortable and if you have the energy start speeding up half way”. At half way mark I started to turn the speed up but the abs cramp came back, I thought “maybe not too soon!” I pressed on it while running and drank energy drink. It didn’t go away but it didn’t get significantly worse. With 5km left I was doing the math and knew that I can still break the 5 hour mark at the maintained 5 mins/km pace but my cramp was telling me to slow down. “It’s all race in the head now. You’ve only 5km left! Endure!”. Towards the end I knew I was close to breaking 5 hours but I wasn’t sure, then I saw a pro athlete from Taiwan who shouted “There’s only 500m left!”. I looked at my watch and I knew I still have a chance, I turned into track session mode and started to sprint for it. Just under 5 hours, a happy man at the finish line!
6. How did your physical training prepare you for the race? You can talk about your typical training week, what happens when you miss a workout?
My training gave me the confidence that I had the speed and endurance to reach my goal. For most weeks I have about 8-10 hours of training hours with a mix of speed and endurance sessions — 2 swims a week, 2 runs a week, and 2 to 3 bike sessions a week. In the last few weeks before the race the volume usually picks up and I train for 10-12 hours. It’s not a super high volume training schedule and quite manageable.
In the first few months of getting into structured training there were moments of doubts on how some of the relatively low volume sessions can prepare me for a 70.3 distance. For example, many of my runs are 1-1.5 hours with a big chunk of fairly easy pace, nothing compare to the actual run on race day. However I started to understand how each session can help me with different components of my race. I have to travel for work and there are some late nights required from work so I do miss sessions from time to time. I followed two rules of thumb - 1) doing something is better than nothing, if I am tired for a bike session I sometimes just get on the bike and see how I feel, if I lack energy I might do 60% of the session for example. If I am REALLY tired then maybe I do a simple stretching session. The point for me is finding something that is still constructive for improvement but yet consumes a ton of energy that I already lack on a tired day. 2) If I do completely miss a session, I try not to “make up the session” on the next day because it can damage the quality of training to follow. I am honest about my training execution so Shem can help to adjust my training.
7. Any mental hurdles that had to be overcome ? OR that were overcome on race day?
The big one is not knowing how well I will adjust to my nutrition plan, my stomach is sensitive and I was never mentally confident going into the run (either I lack energy or feel stomach irritation). After experience from this race I feel more confident and know my body more. This is still something I need to work on. Another hurdle is confidence on the run, I came into the sports with running as a relative strength and I almost always feel good on the run in my training but not so much in the race. Obviously I don’t think I’ve cracked it fully but I have a better model to estimate how much I’ve left in the tank during the race.
8. Please share with us the most important 'take home' messages that you have learnt about endurance running (training and racing) that everyone needs to hear.
Train with clear goals for each session that aggregates to a race plan. Stay patient and disciplined. It’s a sport that requires continuity in training instead of 1-2 big crazy sessions a week.
I found myself over-analyzing each training session or race before. For example, sometimes I feel more tired than usual for one run session, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working for me and that I am not improving. It’s important to have a plan that work on your performance but not lose confidence because of a bad session or even few bad races like I had.
9. I always stress the importance of communication in the coach -athlete relationship. How did this work out for you? It’s crucial for me. It prevents me from going off tangent on my plan and allow me to stay focused. This includes not panicking when I miss few bike sessions or missing out on good quality swims, because I can communicate these so the coach is able to adjust training accordingly. I can also be realistic about my race goal so I don’t formulate a plan that burns me out half way through the race.
10. What are the benefits of having a coach? The difference having a coach has made, compared to if you were to do this alone.. What are the characteristics for a good coach to look out for?
I don’t think I would have been to formulate an effective training plan for myself. A coach has the expertise and knowledge on training that have proven to work. A coach also has the experience and understands the physical and mental challenges that one has to go through in their triathlon journey. It’s also important for me to have someone to discuss plan with as I know my body the best but the coach might have a better idea on how to address my challenges. For example, how do I address my race nutrition issue? how do I evaluate whether I should be pushing hard, maintaining, or ease off at different points of the race? It’s fair to say that I wouldn’t have broken the 5 hour mark on my own in a year. I look for a coach who can discuss with me and provide me with a plan to address my goals (I.e. I struggled with sustaining pace on the run, how do I train for this?). In addition, in the squad sessions it helpful to have a coach that points out to you to execute training well (I.e. adjust technique and ask you to adjust pace if needed)
11. What's next for you?
I will be entering an age group next year with even stiffer competition. I would like to push myself further as I still feel I have a lot of room for improvement. I would also just like to explore new races and have a lot fun as well. Plan for next year would still likely be focused on 70.3 distance.
12. Think you can go quicker... ?
Yes definitely. I know I’m fairly new to the sports and I’ve had relatively shorter experience on my swim and bike, and my previous running experience were in shorter distances. I think there is still a lot to be learned for me. However, as much as I would like to improve my race time every time there are many other variables when it comes to race day. For me it’s more important to know that I’ve improved in swim, bike, run from the training and being able to perform consistently. I think with the right race plan preparation will meet opportunity.