Comment

Racing the plan to get the ‘double’

Picture1.png

“Parts of the plan at times survive race day.”

 - Experienced Ironman Triathlete

[This report makes most sense after reading David’s report first]

Having taken six years in the sport to finally get my Kona finisher’s T-shirt last year, I initially thought I was done with chasing the ticket to the Big Island. And upon return I gave my finisher’s medal to a friend and colleague who was far more deserving, Rob Brown.
In 2014 Rob had raced over 12 Ironmans and qualified to go to Kona through the Ironman legacy program. He was booked to go when life took a different turn. A few months before the race he was diagnosed with cancer. Rob still went to Kona that year to watch the race, but he was advised against racing himself having just received the first round of treatment. The hope and expectation was that with Rob’s fighting spirit and wicked sense of humour he would beat this thing.

I put my medal in the company mail as an inspiration for Rob to get better and make it to ‘his race’ – the ultimate one in the ‘Ironman Lifestyle’ he and his wife Kerry and led for so many years.

Sadly, only a few weeks after me posting the medal, Rob passed away and he never knew about the medal. While the medal still served a purpose at Rob’s farewell together with all his other Ironman finishers medals, it had all been too little and too late from my side.

Now several reasons came together for me to decide to try and get another Kona slot by going back for a 5th Ironman South Africa (IMSA in Port Elizabeth) race this year.

1. Getting a finishers medal to keep.

2. Racing Kona properly after not being able to push the run there last year due to a soft tissue calf injury I’d picked up a few months prior - the run had been an ‘Ironman shuffle sufferfest’.

3. Really loving the race and the atmosphere on the Big Island. Clearly, I wasn’t ‘cured’ after my first Kona; quite the opposite, I wanted more.

Preparation

As I hadn’t been able to push the run in Kona, suffering and running slowly still has less impact than running fast and, hence, I recovered quite quickly. I kept the Kona fitness going and managed to finish second at the Bahrain 70.3 in December, which was good enough to pick up a slot for the 70.3 Worlds in Port Elizabeth (PE) later this year.

Having not had a break from training for almost 2 years the trick now became to stay inspired and motivated all the way to IMSA. In coordination with my coach John Newsom we achieved that by doing less of the really long stuff and more short high intensity work and racing ‘for fun’ (it’s always fun, right…?).  I competed in several of the Giant Duathlons, some Olympic distances as well as Dubai 70.3.

All went well until I picked up another calf injury 2 weeks before IMSA. I had to cut back the running drastically and I was pretty concerned this would be the end of any Kona slot ambitions, or even just finishing. But, I also knew there was nothing much I could do about it now and you never know what happens on race day. I managed to let go of most of the worry and go with the flow.

Race planning

I won’t bore you with the pages of race plan details,  suffice to say I try to have a plan for every step of the way starting a day before the race to having coping strategies and alternatives for any eventuality. While I know race day reality will always be different, having a detailed written plan creates a lot of mental peace and confidence for me going into a race.

Out of our group sharing accommodation David’s plan was clearly completely out of the window even before the race. He came down with fever two days prior and hardly managed to rack his bike only 12 hours before the race. All of us were pretty concerned for David’s health, let alone him actually racing. And of course we all became paranoid about picking up his bug, so our support was preferably given from at least 5 meters away. Gracefully, he banned himself from the breakfast table as the rest of us frantically popped Vitamin C and any other legal preventative drugs we could think of.

The experience of doing the same race five times really helps to develop knowledge of its quirks, the course, the various weather patterns and the best places to get coffee and food. As such, my race was not exactly an adventure, but more a job to do or a plan to execute. And still execution wasn’t anywhere near perfect. As Stine wrote in her report, one reason the sport is so addictive is that there is always room for improvement.

Swim-Bike-Run

Positioning myself a bit more to the front of the rolling swim start compared to last year I was off to a good start. The swim felt pretty good, dealing quite well with the slightly choppy conditions. I even managed to use my legs a bit by kicking like a real swimmer. Still, I also realized that the swim feeling good was perhaps not such a good sign, as it should probably feel harder. I also noticed I was at times quite far away from the guide buoys marking the straight lines between the turn buoys. Head down and try harder.

My suspicion became reality when I pressed stop on my watch at the swim exit. 1:10 – not according to plan! (I actually swam 4,140 meters instead of around 3,800, so my course sighting had been very poor indeed). But, a far bigger problem occurred when standing up to get through T1. My injured calf was stuffed. While I hadn’t noticed a thing during the swim itself, it was now very painful and totally cramped up. I only managed to limp and hobble my way through T1. How on earth was I even going to finish? Well, as the plan said, nothing you can do about it now, put it out of your mind, get on the bike and think about the run when you are actually running.

I had set up my Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer with a BestBikeSplit (BBS) plan for Westerly wind conditions giving me power targets every step of the way. I find this a great way to race as the power targets vary with every change in course gradient or wind angle providing  me with something to focus on at all times. I don’t use it continuously, as you also have to take into account actual weather conditions and of course other bikers to avoid a drafting penalty, but it is a good way to stay process orientated rather than getting distracted by the pain and suffering. Of course this plan didn’t work to perfection either, when GPS receiving failed on the ELEMNT and I no longer received targets. I reverted back to the backup plan of more generic power and the heart rate targets planned for the race.

Lucky escape

After about 60 kilometers I passed David on the bike and I could see he was suffering badly. Still, beating David on the bike never happens to me even when he is sick as a dog, so I was quite pleased with myself at the same time. The gods almost immediately took revenge for such evil thoughts when a fellow competitor shouted ‘water, water’ and pointed to the back of my bike. I felt behind me and realized my two-bottle cage was about to fall off. As following my nutrition plan is a crucial part of racing successfully, I decided to stop and try and sort it out as there was no way the bottles would stay put for the remainder 120 KM on the famously rough roads of PE.

When I stopped, David passed me a few seconds later and crucially a mechanic motorbike came up in the opposite direction at the same time. I flagged down the mechanic and using their Alan key and the elastic bands I had put around the bottles to prevent them from shaking out of the cage, we fixed the problem in under 2 minutes. How lucky was I that the attentive and considerate competitor pointed out the problem before my bottles were spread all over the road? How lucky was I that the mechanic passed by just as I stopped?

I was now back in my familiar position of chasing David on the bike. It took me 90 kilometers to catch up, with David looking more composed when I passed him the second time. That it took me so long to overtake David the second time illustrates that a large difference in effort on the bike doesn’t always mean a big difference in bike speed. Knowledge that is now well understood by David to his advantage: It can pay big dividends to race over and beyond the edge if you live to tell the tale.

I now also had Stine in my sights – as we both escaped another near disaster.

On the bike I’d spotted two snakes on the side of the road, dead or alive I wasn’t sure but I didn’t stop to find out, and several monkeys. I then noticed that Stine just ahead passed a group of cows that had wandered close to the course. Stine made it through safely, but another competitor behind her crashed into one of the cows while desperately trying to avoid it. Another competitor stopped to help and I was considering doing the same, when I saw one of the bike support motorbikes coming towards us. Again, how lucky was I not to have to deal with the moral dilemma of stopping or not stopping to make sure the competitor was taken care of?

Glad to have survived the bike in 5:22 at 228Watts NP with the race plan still intact it was now on to the run. Magically the calf felt OK in T2. It must have been the cold water and the calf being fixed in one position in the wetsuit that had made it play up so badly in T1. The bike had likely warmed it up and shaken it loose.

The marathon was planned using a 3K-45 seconds run-walk strategy. This worked well enough the first 25K, but then this plan failed partly as well and it became survival and just keep moving forward. I had to pull every mental trick in the plan to achieve that and not end up shuffling or giving up completely. What kept me going was the knowledge that most of the plan had worked and the result should be reasonable accordingly, the expectations that I felt rested on my shoulders from my family, supporters and coach and of course that my suffering was all rather relative compared to Rob’s.

I passed the finishing chute after a 3:28 run with Paul, the ‘Voice of Ironman’, announcer, who is an amateur pilot and aviation fan, making an embarrassingly big public deal of me being ‘an A380 captain’ as usual. I guess it is better to be talked about than not being talked about, as Trump would say. I politely declined the option of massages and the medical tent (‘are you sure you are ok Sir, you don’t look too well?’) and more or less kept walking straight back to our brilliantly located accommodation.

I had a shower first and a cup of tea reflecting on the race to make sure I wouldn’t completely judge it by its result, but rather by its execution. Finally opening the Ironman tracking app I found:

10:10:28, 4th in age-group, safe for a Kona slot. Job done!

Could-have-should-have

Studying the results I figured that I was only 2 minutes from the number 3 spot. If only I had swum straighter, if only I had set-up my bottle cage better, if only I hadn’t had the calf issue, if only, if only… But, that is racing and I was able to put it all into perspective when later that evening I spoke to a competitor in my age group. He had been on course for a 5-hour bike and a 3:14 marathon, when his chain broke on his bike, which cost him 45 minutes. If he hadn’t been so unlucky, his finish time would have knocked me right back into fourth place even if I had executed my plan to perfection.

Doing the Double

Now back to the drawing board to get ready for the 70.3 World Championships early September (in PE again, but on a different bike course, much hillier – not my strength…) followed by Kona full distance World Championships in October. AKA, doing ‘the Double’.

But, perhaps the longer-term plan is an IMSA podium after finishing 4th there twice in a row… As you can see from this report, that will likely involve lots of planning, consistent training, and plenty of good fortune. Not to mention much patience and understanding from all of those sane people close to me that I love who are not afflicted by this sport.

Finn Zwager
April 2018

Comment

Comment

From almost zero to Ironman.. Ironman SA 2018

My race report is slightly different to the ones you may have already read – this was not a plan to get to win my AG or to get to Kona, no, this was simply someone who two years ago set out on a path to complete an Ironman. January 2016, the first Dubai 70.3 – I took part as a relay team, completing the bike leg. The event and atmosphere got me – it all seemed amazing, and I said to myself, I want to get involved in this… a couple of issues immediately presented themselves – I couldn’t swim, and hadn’t run since I was at school over 20 years ago. But I could ride a bike!

So the next year was spent learning to swim, building from 20 metres upwards, and in January 2017 I completed the Dubai 70.3. Well where to we go from here?! I entered IMSA2018 pretty much as soon as it opened.

Time flew by, and suddenly here we are flying DXB to CPT, hired a car and drove the garden route over 2 days to PE – thoroughly recommend it, as the scenery is stunning. Arrived in PE, built up the bike, couple of short rides, a sea swim with David and the guys – water cool, quite lively, but bearable; registration, athletes briefing and then bike racking. All the while trying to stay calm and not let the nerves get the better of me.

Saturday evening, early dinner, and early to bed. Alarm goes off at 4.15. Breakfast of porridge, then it is off to the start. Arrived with plenty of time – probably could have had a bit more sleep, but think it was better to be there and not be rushing.

Wet suit on, watching the sun rise over Hobie Bay – stunning.  6.15, time to get down onto the beach. Sand is wet but quite warm under foot. We are self selected by predicted time, and I put myself right at the back in the 1hr30 plus section. At least there is no pushing and shoving here, like there seems to be in the groups further up. Time for the Nation Anthem and then the pro’s are go. And then so are we – well the fast guys are! We slowly start moving forward and I can feel my heart beating in my chest, but it’s not too fast - yet! Just stay calm, like the sea thankfully is.

Picture1.png

And soon enough, it’s my turn. We are released in groups of 10 every 10 seconds, and I jog down the beach and into the water, not too cold. Sight the first buoy – directly towards the sun, and start swimming. I hear the announcer state that that all the athletes are now in the water shortly after, but I focus on where I am going, and it feels like a reach the first turn in good time. Then the long haul to the next turn, and the half way point. The sea is choppiest along this section, and I kept feeling I was drifting away, but looking at Strava afterwards my course looked straight… looked my watch at the turn, and I had done 1984m @ 42min. This is going ok!

The return was easier, waves seemed easier to read and to sight the buoys. Out of the water, watch said 1hr29min and 3,886m – really pleased with that. U2 beautiful day playing…!!

Into T1 – nice and slow, catch my breath, eat, and walk up to my bike. Mine is the last bike in my row… oh well, let’s go catch some people! Started gently, get comfortable and warm up – I am shivering for the first 10km or so. Road surface is AWFUL, and this is the case for the whole route. The first pro’s head by in the opposite direction! Let’s see how long I stay away (I get to about 50km before being lapped!). What did upset/annoy me was the amount of blatant drafting going on at the front… and then the draft busters seemed to be picking on the guys at the back…

Start to warm up and speed up. I am passing people constantly for most of the first lap. Get to the turn and realise why it’s been so easy – tailwind turns into a headwind – for the next 45km. Oh well better just get on with it, stick to my power number and get on with it. Back to the start, into special needs for some more bars, and back out, enjoying the tailwind. If anything the wind was even stronger on the return.

Picture2.png

And then into T2. What a relief to not be being bounced about anymore! Bike racked, grab run bag and sit down for a couple of minutes and compose myself. Listen to Lucy Charles winning the ladies race. Everything done, double and triple check – ok, here we go, my first marathon.

1st lap, feel good, sun shining, hit the 15k mark, still feeling strong, then slowly but surely legs start to give up! No particular pain, just not able to maintain the previous pace. Ok, we won’t stay at 6min k’s down to 6.30, then 7, but we are still moving forward, and that is the mantra for the rest of the run. I am still passing people, which helps the motivation.  This lasts until kilometre 39… when I just have to walk… too tired to chastise myself! 500m of walking, then we go again.

Picture3.png

And there is the finish line – ‘James Thomas you are an Ironman!’

Picture4.png

I would love to say I felt a huge sense of achievement but that didn’t arrive until a day or two afterwards – I just wanted to stop running! Stairs were hard work for a couple days, but that was about as much pain as I had. I finished with a time of 13hrs 14min & 9 seconds – a good friend asked why I didn’t wait another 6 seconds to finish the sequence! I would love to do another one, although where and when? Suggestions welcomed.

James Thomas
April 2018

Comment

Comment

WHATEVER IT TAKES, Ironman South Africa 2018

So, a bit of related history about myself. During my younger days, I had been a good swimmer and was very involved in swimming races. Thankfully, swimming techniques, like the front crawl, are still inherent. I can swim quite well, and am not afraid of choppy open water high waves, etc. While I was still 12 years old, I’d bought my first racing bicycle (it was a French Peugeot model) which was purchased with my own hard-earned cash, gained from delivering newspapers in Raalte township, Netherlands.

Picture1.png

Nathalie, my wife, became a tri-athlete while she was still a student. She attained a level of National Students Champion and raced in France (including Nathalie taking part in the Paris Triathlon & swim in the Seine river) and also Uk – Spain - Mexico. Nathalie’s athletic ability probably stemmed from her own father participating in many Triathlons during the 1980s, including his racing efforts in one event in Oahu (later changed to Kona – Hawai), in 1982. Nathalie’s Dad (Joop van Zanten) was a founding member and chairman of the Dutch Triathlon Federation while becoming one of the organizers of the Almere Triathlon (Europe’s Oldest Triathlon). He is since 2017 in the Hall of Fame of the ITU.

When I met Nathalie in 1999, my wife-to-be even owned a ‘triathlon car’. ‘What might that be?’ some might ask. Well, it’s a car with a lot of associated junk in it... bottles, used towels, wetsuits, damp socks, running shoes, racing bike, and so on (what some normal people might call ‘junk’.) For me, being classed as a very well organized person... 20 years later, I’m the one driving a triathlon car around Dubai.

As you can understand from the above, swimming, cycling and running are all in my basic “DNA”.

However, one then grows up and other responsibilities take over in one’s adult life, including marriage and the need to earn a living. Kids came along soon after. And when my youngest daughter Isabelle reached 5 years of age, she wanted to become a member of AV Tempo (the Athletics team in Bussum, Netherlands), the same club my wife joined as members at the same age as our daughter Isabelle.

I became a new member of AV Tempo too, I commenced with a ‘start to run’ level, a very easy running program which allowed me to clock-up my athletic miles again. Of course, like many others, very eager to make progress (over speed & distance), I developed some minor associated injuries. During those recovery periods, I started back with cycling and in the process purchased a carbon-fiber race bike, a Bianchi.

When I moved to Dubai (in Summer of 2014, all I took with me was my Bianchi bicycle and joined up with Dubai Roadsters, Al Quadra, Nad Al Sheba, Cycling Clubs. I took part in my first Triathlons; the Roy Nasr in 2016, then ITU Abu Dhabi in 2017, and ½ Ironman Dubai in 2018.

So, I signed up for the Port Elizabeth Triathlon, as a result, as I’d heard that it was an excellent Triathlon in order to be able to prepare for Dubai racing. If I was to partake in a Triathlon in Europe I’d have to train mostly ‘indoors’ (in Dubai, because of the heat). Port Elizabeth’s Triathlon was to be my first such big event. Signing up the previous August offered me the option to withdraw (in the event of an injury).

Train, train, train, became the order for my new physical life. Training for a full Ironman consumes a lot of time for training. Pool swimming for me in the mornings. Then running or cycling in evenings. Such a schedule is a big challenge, particularly for a person with a full-time job and a family to consider.

Then my bike needed maintenance. I feared the worst, an expensive part maybe. Luckily the repair-shop

‘Revolution Cycles’ informed me it only a new bottom bracket bearing, that my bike needed.

I also had new tires fitted. Such tires would reduce the likelihood of getting a puncture during a race.

During preparations, I ordered a Sci Con (transit) bike bag from Wiggle, UK. I went to the Cycle Hub and got some good advice on fitting and removing and then utilizing the bag properly.

Travel to S.A. Day Arrives

The day for travel finally arrived, departing for Port Elizabeth (PE), South Africa. The excitement of what was about to take place was building up within me.

Picture2.png

My flight to South Africa, was to be with Emirates Airlines, on 12 April, to Johannesburg (J’burg). There were no other Tri-Dubai members visible at the airport when I arrived to check-in, which surprised me. Seemingly, most of them had taken earlier flights. However, I met tri-athlete and USA journalist, Jackie Faye, who is based in Kabul, Afghanistan, and we chatted a bit. Jackie has taken part in Six Triathlons on Six Continents, to her credit. There was an item about the lady in one Triathlon newsletter I’d read.

On arrival at J’burg I collected my bike and brought it to an internal check-in point while waiting my connecting flight to PE. I met with fellow Tri Dubai athletes Wisam Al Ouch and Lorenz along the way. I knew Wassim from our last Sea Swim training (3 km distance) the Saturday before we planned to travel.

My training was actually done without any schedules or coaching. I’m a person who likes to do things my own way. Toughen myself up! I trained a lot with Nick Jacobs (my friend and fellow participant in PE’s Ironman).

Nick said to me, one week before race day; ‘You should do Tapering, Jaap.’ ‘What the heck is Tapering?’ I asked Nick. It’s doing no strenuous activity for a whole week before the Triathlon, I was then informed. ‘What was I going to do with all these spare hours during that week, then?’, I wondered.

But Wisam told me one should still should do a small bit of training. So that’s what I did, in final week.

Minor training; winding down; reading a newspaper at a Starbucks before work. I loved that schedule.

We had cycled a lot in Dubai and Hatta but never did more than 150k at a time. Is that enough pre-race distance? My running had been limited to 21 km max…as my knee became stiff and painful at times. I wondered if I had put in enough running distance, but decided two weeks before the PE Triathlon not to do any more. I would confine myself to swimming and cycling (to rest my knee). And tapering, or course

I arrived with bike via J’burg in PE - where Michael Coetzee, a friend of Nick, picked me up on the Thursday afternoon at the airport. I was treated to some wonderful hospitality by Michael and his wife Tanja - and also by their two pretty daughters, Michela and Simone.

Picture3.png

They invited me to stay in their house, but as Nick (and his future wife Pamela and Nick’s parents) were already booked to stay there, I didn’t want to impose. I was happy to sleep in their caravan in the yard.

I slept very well in that caravan that night. The sound of silence. Fresh air. I am quite fond of camping.

Later in the afternoon, we went to the main area to erect our tent with the gazebo tents already there. Many PE citizens were already securing the best locations around the track and marking their private areas.

Picture4.png

I met with some other local tri-athletes, who invited me to join them for a sea swim and some preparatory cycling, the following day (Friday).

So, I spent time that (Thursday) evening checking my bike to be ready for next day’s 7.00 am pick-up. My racing Bike was deemed to be in good condition. Reassembling the bike’s derailleur (gear sprockets) was relatively easy. I was all ready to go.

Pre-Race Preparations

My invitation to swim with Christo, MJ, Shawn and Paul took place in the morning and it was great. After our swim (in the sea) we went back, still in our wetsuits, and all jumped into MJ’s pool - to rinse the seawater from ourselves and our wetsuits. Then some clean dry towels, a nice cappuccino, and we all set out for an introductory bicycle ride.

 Pictured left: Shawn, Richard (?), Jaap, Pam, Nick, MJ (aka Martin), Paul, and Christo

Pictured left: Shawn, Richard (?), Jaap, Pam, Nick, MJ (aka Martin), Paul, and Christo

What a great hospitality I received. It makes me proud to be part of the Triathlon community, who take the likes of me under their wings. One particular note, it amused me that the Afrikaans language has much in common with Dutch and Flemish. In the afternoon, Friday, my friends - Nick and Pam - arrived and together we went for our race registration.

Picture7.png

That same evening, we all attended a pre-race briefing and then had a Pasta Party at the Boardwalk.

On Saturday we went out for another ride and some sightseeing, Nick had forgotten his cycle shoes so we visited a specialist sports shop. While there, I bought myself an Aero Sworks helmet (at a good price).

Then off for a relaxing spin, then had a nice lunch and went back to the bike check area. There were lots of nice racing bikes to be seen there (see picture right, below).

Picture6.png

Sunday, and Triathlon Ironman Race Day Arrives

We had an early wake-up call at 4.15 am (but for those from Dubai, it was still quite late). Dawn had not yet broken. Breakfast was a dilemma for some of us; what, and how much should a race participant eat? Nervousness is starting to take over. However, this is what I have trained for. Today is the BIG day.

I head for the start area to make last minute preparations, to recheck my bike and transition bag. I don my wetsuit for the first event (the swim) and head for the start with the throng of tri-athletes.

Picture8.png

As the South African Sun starts to rise, a canon shot went off and swimmers jump into the sea. Men took to the water before the ladies and we all caused a splash. I seeded myself in 1.0 – 1.5-hour section of the tri-athletes. Batches of seeded athletes were starting in groups, according to their selected time.

Jaap, Pam and Nick at the Ironman Start

Picture9.png

No opportunity for pre-warming up in the water today, as Jaap had to go straight into his swimming stride. The swim went well. The water temp was tolerable. My swimming style is very ‘zig-zaggy’ and I realize this erratic style needs improvement. I swim well to reach the 1.8 km turn-around point. Then back along the 1.6 km section. We were blessed with little wind and no high waves.

I take a shower in Transition T1 zone. Put on my cycling gear and run to the bike, pushing it through the transition area to reach the start. However, my (new Garmin 935) watch information is looking strange as I jump on my bike and start cycling. What is wrong?’ I suddenly realize... I had pressed the incorrect button on the watch, it seems. That’s OK. 600 meters will not be measured on my Garmin 935 but it is still registered on my Garmin 1000 (alternative racing) watch, which is OK.

I quickly get into a cycling rhythm and take some food as I cycle along. One should eat as much as they can during this particular section, because when you feel hungry it’s too late. My meal is of gel food and some nutritious bars. I then drink some water and then get into the Aero position (to reduce wind-drag).

The road is narrow and bumpy, not the best surface for cycling. There are bends, some quite sharp. I then change to the lowest gear for a hill-climb. Finally I meet a wide road with a level, flat surface. I encounter a tail-wind and my speed rises above 50 km/hr.

Suddenly I hear the approaching sound of a BMW GS motorbike (a sound I am familiar with, as I own one). The referee on the motorbike shouts at me; ‘You are drafting!’ Well I guess I might well have been drafting, but at that moment I was finally developing a rhythm and a regular speed (So I was not thinking in terms of drafting/cheating). Anyhow, I was given a ‘blue card’ and the guy ‘penalized me 5 minutes’. I asked him, ‘Where is that penalty-tent I must report to?’ ‘At the turning point.’ he replied. After 45 km

I reach that turning point, I stopped and asked for the tent, and after several confusing detours I finally find the tent. I had to fill in a form with some details and then the guy started the stopwatch. I pleaded with him; ‘I like soft eggs. And having them boiled for 2.5 minutes…not 5 minutes. Please let me go without penalty. The guys were laughing at me, so I had 5 minutes time added to eat and drink.

After my penalizing period (jail time?) I return to the race. Another 45 km of cycling and turn over for the second lap of 90 km. I found the last 45 km cycling coming back was very though due to a strong head-wind. My neck was also feeling painful and I couldn’t take up the recommended Aero position.

At Transition T2 I take some food and drink. If I omit this important duty my Ironman race will be over. However, the sweetness of the fare gets to me. Not so appetizing for me.

On my return to Port Elizabeth (PE) I noticed many race supporters and well-wishers had gathered. Wonderful! Such support is excellent for encouraging us triathlon participants along our way.

At transition I put my bike in a rack, and then I run to my bag, to clothe myself in my running gear. A nice girl gave my exposed skin parts a quick coating with sun cream. I face into the final Triathlon section, the 40 km marathon. It was Four laps of a 10 km route. It’s a relief for me that the end is finally in sight.

The 4 laps are long, it’s an extended circular route through PE City but the support is amazing. The many people standing by the roadside, screaming and shouting out our names, gave many of us runners a really positive vibe. I had had enough to eat but all that terrible sweetness still remained in my mouth.

Lap after lap, I was receiving the colored wristbands at each checkpoint, counting down the kilometers.

As I said, my race-pacing watch was new so the screens were not properly set up. I couldn’t see my total time and I was counting and calculating. It all became somewhat confusing. My ultimate goal was to finish the full Triathlon, but then really doing the math during that final section of the Triathlon, I

thought to myself, ‘Under 14 hours can be do-able for you, Jaap’. So, during the run, I was calculating and believed I would be able to get towards the ‘below13-hour’ target time for the entire Triathlon.

The sun went down and it began to get dark. At around 6.30 pm, it became bit chilly with a breeze. I found the water sachets were very handy, keeping one always in hand during running for support.

And then I was given the last lap’s colored wristband. Only 10 km to go. I passed Hamid (our Algerian friend) along that last lap.

Arriving back to the finish I was overcome with emotion. Such a great feeling came over me in the run- in towards the finish line. I had done it!

I AM AN IRONMAN…I did the “dab” at the finish line. And finished just within the 13-hour mark! (12:58) Wow! What a sense of achievement when I was presented with my Medal and Finishers Tee-shirt.

Later, back at the caravan, I read the congratulatory messages on WhatsApp. There had apparently been an issue with my GPS tracker. At km 34 point it remained unmoving. My family members in Netherlands and Dubai had become worried about what might have happened to me at this particular juncture.

However, there was much relief when they saw the GPS device had started to move again. What is next for me? I am not sure, but I’m open to suggestions

A GREAT DAY & GREAT RACE – I RECOMMEND PUTTING IT ON YOUR BUCKET-LIST.

Thanks for reading my Ironman Triathlon Race Report. I hope you enjoyed it!

Picture10.png

Jaap de Groot,
A Dutchman, aged 51 years. Based in Dubai for the past 4 years, with wife Nathalie and 2 daughters - Isabelle (who is also a fine triathlete) and Annika.
April. 2018

Comment

Comment

Kona, here I come! Rocking Ironman South Africa 2018..

Africa.JPG

When all that I had thought about during these last few months was Ironman South Africa,
it feels like a pretty big triumph to cross that finish line as the first female in my AG.
I have been incredibly focused, dedicated and ambitious about my training for this race, all
the while totally paranoid about potential illness, especially when the children pick up the
inevitable snotty noses. The actual training is the easy part and rather it is a whole circus
making it fit into family life, with three very young kids, so that it won’t be at their expense,
which is hard. It is the planning, the early mornings when I am out training before most
others have even thought about getting up. Then all those evenings, where I have been
ready to go to bed at the same time as the children. I have been tired, I have been happy, I have had a crisis and I have been flying. During the tough moments, I have asked myself “why”.
This “free-time” project that I do for the fun of it, yet take so seriously, something my life
completely revolves around when preparing for this one performance. Why?
I know my “why”, and that is WHY I continue doing this. Because I like to push myself to
the limit and beyond; where some people quit, but I keep going. Where I don't know if I
feel like crying or laughing and where the majority of the work, lies in turning negative
thoughts into positive ones, winning the mind game. This goes for the training as well for
the competition, because often training is a mind game as well. It may sound weird, but I
like to push myself out where I'm peeing down my legs, pants, and shoes to save only
about 30 seconds in a competition that takes around 10 hours. Out where I'm covered in
lubricating gels, snot, and sticky cola, yet worry more about my average speed than about
how I look.
It's a sense of monumental satisfaction when I know I have performed at my very best,
while it´s actually just as addictive when it does not turn out according to plan though,
because then it drives me on to: how do I then prepare for the next race, to perform
better?
And it has been just the same with the preparation for South Africa, as with all the other
Ironman races that I have done – there have been many ups and downs heading for South
Africa Ironman. I must say, however, that all the time I've believed in it! It's easy to say
afterward, but I had absolutely no doubt that if I hit the right day, I could do it. I am not
talking about crossing the finish line. I can do that! I am talking about crossing the finish
line as the AG winner.

I spent a lot of energy during my preparations worrying about the sharks hanging around
Nelson Mandela Bay. A waste of energy maybe, but I was really frightened, and it was
somewhat difficult to put that fear away as there are sharks around. On shark tracker,
which I very sensibly first downloaded after the race, I found that every tenth white shark is
followed; who by the way have been given excessively sweet names considering their
reputation!! Anyway, when the gun went off, I had no time to worry about either Cyndi nor
Sophia. They popped up in my mind at one point, but not enough to distract me, and I

reassured myself that considering there were 2000 triathletes swimming in the water, I
would call it a very bad day if one came by, and it came by for me!

One would think I might have swum a little faster, just to get out of the, in my opinion,
shark-infested waters, but my swimming was actually a little slow. Too slow! I also felt at
the time that I was going too slowly and that I wasn’t pushing it enough, but I continued for
some reason at the same pace. The water was choppy, which is normally to my
advantage, but apparently, it didn´t help me much this time. However, I completed the
swim, without seeing one single shark. Lucky me!
On the bike, I achieved the race plan, but again, I felt I was going a little slowly, and later it
transpired that it was actually a good plan. However, uneven asphalt, wind, hills and a suit
that made me miserable on the saddle, meant the bike was quite an uncomfortable
experience. There were several times during the 180 km where I was planning on selling
my bike once back in transition, and I was sure that this would be my last Ironman for a
long time - as I'm always sure, at some point during an Ironman. I always forget about it
again though...

That said, it's all a mind game, and again, it is all about turning negative thoughts into
positive. I was overtaken by two competitors on the bike 20 km before T2, and all I did was
watch as they rode by. I stuck to my own plan and hoped that they would burn out later,
have also noted that one did not exactly look like they would be a good runner. As such,
one tends to have a very specific build? However, I was right and overtook both of them
within the first 7 km of the race, grateful that I had made the right decision to hold back on
the bike, go a bit slowly, and save some power to push it on the run.
Since I now had a few competitors in front of me, I did not have the time for selling my bike
in transition, and at that moment, I already had the bike ride in mind, as pretty awesome,
with beautiful scenery. Also, I was very confident and positive, looking forward to a nice
little run.
So, therefore, when I arrived in T2, I put my running shoes on and ran. Just ran. As
mentioned, I forgot all the thoughts I’d had when I was sitting on the bike, in the headwind
and on my way up the hill. I had taken the right legs with me for running! Hawaii popped
into my head, and I was sure I could push it to the finish line, which was a little dangerous
to think, considering there was not only a few competitors in front of me, but also still 42
km of racing ahead of me, - in the hot weather, starting to feel fatigue, with a stomach filled
with sugar and where anything can happen from one moment to another. But there were
no problems at all, from either my legs or stomach and especially not my mind.
I was celebrating on that run. Celebrating all the hours of training that I´ve put into this
performance. I just ran! Well, I was a bit tired of course, after a nice little 3.8 km swim and
a 180 km bike ride, but despite it, I was flying. I enjoyed every, single, step. I enjoyed the

race, and I enjoyed the party around me. It turned out to be my absolute best Ironman
marathon so far, a PB by 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Time 3 hrs. 22 min, 57 sec.
When I realized how much the Brazilian age group competitor girl was pushing me from
behind, I was even able to increase the pace a little. It is a super cool feeling to be able to
race at the end of a marathon run, rather than just having to survive. And I had to push it,
because, in fact, the race became a little too exciting at some points, having her only a few
minutes behind me.
Crossing the finish line (10.12.59) was exactly as I wanted it to be! Exactly as I had
dreamed of. All those hours of training, and all that hard work I have put into this project,
was for me, fully repaid on the red carpet. It really was worth all the effort and I was so
relieved and so happy, I didn´t know whether to laugh or cry. So, I obviously chose, to cry
a little.
Huge thanks for an awesome week in Port Elizabeth, to the best OptimalTri and TriDubai
people. I had a blast, spending time with you. All very inspiring people.
However, there is one guy to whom I owe massive thanks. For giving me the opportunity to
do what I like, even though it doesn’t make us a living, – actually the total opposite! The
only thing it for sure does give us, is more laundry. Thanks for, again, dealing with all the
training I must do for an Ironman, over the last couple of months. I have talked a lot about
triathlon, and I have also been a bit tired, and maybe also a bit miserable at some points, I
know. But since I just won the African AG Championship and a Kona slot, I guess it will
continue, and it is much appreciated, that you keep dealing with me, and my passion for
triathlon. Thanks Christian.

triumph.jpg

Stine Mollebro
April 2018

Comment

5 Comments

Ironman South Africa 2018

Rough Racing

"Warning. This report describes irresponsible and reckless behaviours that are could cause lasting damage. I DO NOT recommend that anyone reading this report uses it as a template for success in Ironman Racing"

30724147_10160296763420506_1240865083161051136_n.jpg

Introduction

‘No plan survives first contact with the enemy’ - Army maxim.

I had the emergency escape seat by the wall. No window and face to face with the cabin crew for takeoff and landing. My neighbour was a middle aged woman from Northumbria (for those for whom UK geography is not a strong suite, that’s a place ‘up North’ where the men smell of work). She tried to be polite in response to my introducing myself - yes I do it on ‘planes as well as the AQ - but you could tell that she was struggling. Her son was in the Army Air Corps flying Apache helicopters. And she was quite unwell.
She stifled a cough with her hand and her skin had that nearly dead look. One sensed that she had a burning sensation behind her eyes. Sweat on her upper lip, an elevated temperature and uncommonly bad breath. Each time she coughed I turned away, trying not to seem too churlish.
I was on the Dubai Cape Town leg of my trip to PE and IMSA 2018. One of my key races this year and my ‘qualifier’ for Kona. I was fitter than I had ever been, and at the same time, as fragile as I had ever been. Preparing for IM is demanding and takes long hours and dietary discipline and this time I had delivered on both. I was at an insanely low body fat percentage; deliberately, unsustainably low. I wanted to run quickly and when it comes to the run, lighter is faster. My body was in a delicate state of balance that would carry me to the race finish line and probably no further. Post race week would be about putting weight back on.
I had taken some of my own advice on weight loss and reduced my intake of bread, pasta and rice. I’d done away with puddings and limited the amount of fruit that I ate. I did not snack between meals and welcomed hunger as the sensation one has when ones body is consuming its own fat stores; a mental trick that works well for me. I was not completely HFLC but more Normal Fat LC. I had trained predominantly fasted and long, eating only after exercise. I had an FTP of 340w and resting HR of 30. I weighed 83kgs hydrated.
Race week is a joy. As usual we were billeted at Lyn and Fred’s Hobie Beach Guest House (don’t even try, I have every room booked for the Ironman for the next five years!) and we settled into the routine of race week. Every morning we were up with the dawn and into the Southern Ocean at race time. Then back to a long hot shower and breakfast. We gently teased the phobians about whether Cyndi, Duke or Errol Finn - what an inspired name for a Great White shark! - had pinged in the bay that day. Modern technology is fantastic: you can track the big predators, or at least one in ten of them. It’s
 
a selfish week; no work, no kids, no strict timings, apart from the swim. A week of training but so lightly and specifically that one can feel the freshness building and the energy grow within you as the race approaches. Until, this year, Friday.
On Friday at four in the morning I was in trouble. I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was not right. A tickle in the chest, an ache in my bones, a warmth in my head, a no-reason headache and sweaty.  I decided to blow it out at the swim with a nice salt water gargle. That had worked before. I ached more in the swim. Perhaps pre-race mind games? My body regularly playfully suggests a phantom injury during race week. I ate a good breakfast. It didn’t work. By lunch time I was in bed with a temperature, and I was miserable. I ached all over and I had a nasty burning chesty cough. Breakfast reappeared. I slept. I went to the race briefing, and slept in that too. I ate the pasta.
The weather in PE is fantastic in the Autumn. Coolish nights and warm balmy days.
Only I could not get warm during that day nor cool that night. The pasta gave some substance to my kneeling moments. My core was sorest of all. Vomiting is serious pilates. I got up on the Saturday, briefly, and took a seat at breakfast in the far corner away from my healthy friends. Morten, ueber biker and the senior Dane in Dubai, Stine, top coach and 2014 overall European IM amateur Champion, Finn whose experience of South Africa is second only to mine and whose performance consistently defeats me, Ben, IM virgin who has trained from fat boy to athlete under Chris Knight, Wisam, the living embodiment of why TriDubai is a good thing, Helen from AD, here to qualify having missed out by one place a couple of years ago, and Mark, former French foreign legionnaire whose book would be a best-seller. Morten asked: ‘Have you thought of Plan B?’ Reality struck home. Racing, let alone qualifying was now highly unlikely.
Half a bowl of porridge. Back to bed. Pathetic.
But I wasn’t ready to admit defeat so I racked my bike. I turned down the trip out to the traditional Pizza place for the last meal. The team bought me one home. Now the SA caring, hosting, welcoming gene was triggered and the house staff were plying me with fresh lemon in hot water, toast and marmite, tea, olbas oil, all things natural and a staggering amount of attention. I was avoiding medication because if I won, and somehow I still planned to win, then I would go through doping control. Who was I fooling?
Race night. Not good, the opposite, worse. But I made a race plan. I would get up and play the hand I’d been dealt. Plan B was unpalatable and involved a European race later in the season; Maastricht or Bolton. And I knew that I couldn’t be quite so well prepared for them, and that the European competition is stiffer, and that there wouldn’t be eighty (yes eighty at IMSA!) slots for Kona at those races, so they were far from
 
guaranteed. In quarantine corner with a temperature I forced a bit of porridge and three cups of coffee down a throat that did not want to swallow. I went down to the bike and put my etap batteries back on, calibrated the Power Meter, decided the tyres looked fine and didn’t add air - rough roads, less pressure, less fatigue - put a bottle on the back with 15 gels in it and clipped my shoes in. Everything was slow motion. Autopilot.
Back in my room I took hours putting on my wetsuit. It was heavy and thick. And awkward. Heavier and thicker and more awkward than it should have been. I was now trying desperately not to think about something that I did not want to think about.
Failure. I had told everyone that I would win. You can’t win without starting. So I took my own advice and thought only about the next fifteen minutes. Like the proverbial elephant IM is best ingested in bite sized chunks and for me the next fifteen minutes is a mouthful.
Plan. The plan was simple. Normally one tops up ones muscle glycogen stores in the few days before a race. For two days I had done the opposite with my body under stress fighting a chest infection/bronchitis/tertiary syphilis or something. Lets just call it ManFlu; an affliction that would put any female into ICU, but which we, the stronger sex, stoically deal with without whinging and crying, too much. So I didn’t have the stores that I needed to fuel me for a ten plus hour endurance race. But I did have fat. Even at less than five percent body fat I had stores. I estimated about 4kgs of ultra-high-octane top quality fat fuel in my body. That would have to do it. So now it was about operating in the zone where the fuel of choice is fat vice carbs. If I flicked over to predominantly carb burning I would bonk (run out of carbs/muscle glycogen/energy) and when that happens you stop. There’s one thing worse than a Did Not Start (DNS) and that is a DNF.
Race. I entered the water and swam. Half way down the mile long main straight I
was too cold, fighting the cough reflex constantly. I was looking up to sight the next buoy but hoping for sanctuary on a RIB. I had to constantly pull myself back to the ‘now’ rather than thinking about how this experiment might pan out. I knew that if I coughed I would keep coughing and that my tummy was sore and that coughing meant doubling over and doubling over when swimming in a cold southern ocean might not be a very good idea.
Don’t cough. Would Errol hear my cough?
Half way. Next fifteen minutes, don’t cough. The devil on one shoulder was saying you’ve done enough. Honour is even. Get our of the water. My competitive instinct was saying that it’s all downhill from here, just keep turning those heavy arms over and you will have completed the swim. And so it was. Out of the water and on to the bike.
Warmer now.  HR ceiling set at 125bpm.  HR alert buzzing on my watch.  The wind was
behind and I rode the outleg on autopilot. Harder on the way back against a freshening
 
torrent and into the little ring to keep the HR under control. Then out again, the wind now strong and finally a slog of small gear minuscule progress back to T2 and the run. Less than 200w average. That is PZ1! Still going.  My gel bottle empty and three more gels taken on top. 18 gels inside me. Yum.  I didn’t look at the time at any point.  That was not part of the plan. Just HR.  Just 125bpm.  No more.  Running now.  I felt like giving up, but I reminded myself that I always feel like giving up as I head out onto the run. That is normal. I ran aid station to aid station, using the beep of my watch to keep me at 125. Maximal Aerobic Function for a 55 year old is 125 (Google Dr. Phil Mafetone) so I should be able to hold this all day. And I did. The kms passed slowly, I saw Ben and Helen as they were going my way, but no one else. Stine and Finn must have crossed me four times but I had no capacity for multitasking, waving or even recognition. I was fully occupied by moving forward, staying on HR and getting there. Oh, and I smiled - it always makes me faster.
Self belief is a funny thing. I finished and still thought I might have won. You never know in Ironman. But I hadn’t. I was a country mile off the lead and almost surprised that four other nearly viagrans had somehow come home before me. The first two in my AG set new course records. These old buggers are getting quicker.
Today, post race I have never felt less fatigued in the muscles nor more frail overall. No tightness, no cramp, no pain walking downstairs. After an IM that is unheard of in my experience. But I am weak. And riding at low/no power didn’t make a huge difference to time. Finn, an athlete of similar age, build and type rode about six minutes faster but used 300 plus Training Stress Scores - sorry, technical stuff - to my 200. Wow! Ride easy folks; those very few extra minutes are going to be expensive on the run. My swim time was at most 2mins down on expectation, and the run was 3:50 or about 23 minutes slower than my best. All in all, being unwell cost me about 20-30 mins on this race. So even healthy I might have been in with a shout but there would have been no guarantees. The competition is just too good.
Stine raced to first place AG. Kona. Finn was two minutes off the podium and three minutes in front of Stine. Kona. Ben executed his first IM and logged a benchmark PB well inside 13 hours. Morten slowed up on the run having ridden the fastest bike split of
all of us, and will live to fight another day. Wisam came home happily with his third full finish. Helen struggled on the run and was a little outside the Kona slots but looks fired up to make her assault on a Kona qualification soon. And Mark, struggling from an old calf injury (is that what you call a bullet wound from Sarajevo?) decided that discretion was the better part of valour and retired half-way through the bike.
 
Warning. Racing ill is NOT recommended. Vomiting dehydrates. Endurance racing dehydrates. The first casualty could be kidney function. If you have illness below the neck, do not race.
Would I do it again? It is so hard and takes more courage than I have to go back on a big promise, to let hours, days, weeks and months of training go. I wasn’t up to that.
But with hindsight, and having failed to qualify, I would not do it again. A wise man said that fools learn from their own mistakes, clever people learn from mistakes made by others. I know that most of my readers are clever people.


And next? That’s that unpalatable plan B…

David Labouchere
16 April 2018

5 Comments

3 Comments

Marathon des Sables (“MDS”) April 2018

What a week!

A week that I will remember for a long time, the pain, the jubilation, the agony, the elation. MDS asks for a lot, but gives back more in return, it is a journey of epic proportions and one I would highly recommend for those seeking a challenge. Ok, enough cliches.

Some members of TriDubai, all much faster and better runners than myself, have taken part in the MDS in the past. However, I have not seen a race report for MDS to date, so I thought I would share with anyone who may be interested in my experience. 

IMG_4542-15-04-18-21-10.JPG

I will try to be brief and will write a separate “tips for MDS” if anyone is interested, please let me know.

  • What: A 250km self-sufficient race (except water and tent, which is provided) over 6 days,  in the 40c+ Moroccan Sahara, through dunes, over jebels and known as the “toughest footrace on earth”. (Photos attached). This means around a 10kg backpack which will be mainly food
  • How: Now in its 33rd year, Patrick Bauer started the race after traversing 350km of the Sahara on his own. He is the spirit and soul of this race, directs and starts the race every morning (with the same song!) and is there to greet you at the goal line when you finish with a huge bear hug, kiss optional.
  • When: Normally early April when the temperature starts to rise. Our race dates were from 8th to 14th April 2018.
  • Why: The decision to take part was made last July together with my good friend, Tyrone Sinnamon. We trained together, but unfortunately, he was unable to take part this year. He should be aiming to Race next year so good luck to him. I also asked James Rudolf, a good friend from University and he was able to join, through training in a much colder Wales. We shared a tent together throughout the race period.
  • Who: About 1000 participants from nearly 50 countries. You will share a tent (photo attached) with 7 others. The “Tent” becomes your team and support throughout the race, and beyond. Some decide upon the tent beforehand, some are thrown together. The tent is strictly speaking of the country you reside in, though exceptions are granted :) 

Training for MDS

The distance, logistics and the circumstances of this race make it a huge commitment. I believe my full Ironman training over the last five years have helped, both from the level of fitness and putting together a training plan by myself. I would say it is not a race to be lightly taken on board. This race took several times the focus, commitment and the time of training for a full Ironman, that’s just my personal opinion.

My training method was simple - run, run and run, all of it with weight (8-12kg). If tired, walk, walk and walk some more. If too tired then swim, cycle or hot yoga. The four months leading up to the race was v intense and I lost 18kg of fat and gained 5kg of muscle. Staying injury free, hydrated and healthy are also key aspects of success.

Nutrition and race gear

Since this is a self-sustained race, it is crucial to choose and test all your nutrition (minimum 2000kcal must be carried for each day)and race gear(shoes, socks, gaiters, backpack, sleeping mat and bag, cooking utensils if planning to cook, run wear and downtime wear). I was fortunate to come away without a single blister, but expect multiple blisters and more. I will not post any photos but google “MDS blisters” if you want to see what it the worst may be like (but not before eating!).

Footwear and foot care requires special mention since it is absolutely crucial to get this right. Trial and error, the test fails, repeat until you are comfortable and confident.

The first time I heard about MDS was about 20 years ago, the last few years so many friends from Dubai took part. My mind was ready and decided to do this made up a while ago, but it took me a solid 9 months+ for the physical and mental preparation.

IMG_4512-15-04-18-21-09.JPG

Onwards to Morocco!

I and two other fellow Dubai runners, Mark Buley and Gary Turnbull traveled to Casablanca. From there an internal flight to Ouarzazate, where we are loaded onto buses for a six-hour journey into the Sahara.

We arrive at the first bivouac and are put into our tents. In our tent, we had 3 English (James, Dan, and Kuwait - but living in Wales, Hong Kong and Kuwait), 1 Welsh (Mark),  1 Scot (Gary),  Su the first ever Malaysian female entrant, Denise the only Chinese participant for the year and myself - Japanese based in Dubai :) a mixed crew!

What is unclear from the schedule and I was confused about was that we have two nights at the bivouac before we hand over our non-race excess stuff. So we arrived on Friday and the race itself would start Sunday morning. We took some extra clothes and provisions and savored our last ties to civilization with mobile connection and Facebook. I put my phone in my suitcase to hand in, completely detaching myself from the real/digital world. Quite pleasant I must say. 

Two days of camp life, acclimatizing to the weather and the tent, acquainting yourself with your tent mates who will become your lifelong friends and comrades. Everyone is itching to go. When Sunday comes and Patrick announces the start, it is a relief to stretch the legs whilst trying not to think about the 250km ahead.

The course changes every year, though I understand this year was the same as the last. Day 1, a gentle 30km intro some dunes and fantastic scenery. The cut off is generous for the whole race so some people even walk the whole race.

Day 1: 30km finished without incident, weather hot but bearable. Everyone’s spirits high. The good thing about coming back to your tent is that you exchange experiences, what worked what didn’t and as the week goes on share food, supplies and war stories which make for the whole experience. 7 in the tent chose to cook hot food buying the fuel cells from the organizers, James was on cold food for the week - with a diet of beef jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and granola. This is a personal choice and one you need to think deeply about and trial before the race. I was mainly relying on Expedition foods with a mix of Japanese freeze dried food thrown in. Again, this was all tested during the training period, often dining of Expedition Food spaghetti bolognese before going to bed. 

IMG_4441-15-04-18-21-07.JPG

Day 2: 40km and this was when it really hit us. The excitement of the race start wore off and the course was brutal. The more beautiful the scenery became the harder the terrain was and hurt your body and mind.  After 30km on never-ending plains and dunes under the scorching sun, we turn into the mountain range we had run along next to and climb one of the tallest jebels. Having taken part in the Ultra Urban Hajar 50km, the climb was not as daunting - I would highly recommend the Ultra Urban races as warm up for MDS. From the top of the Jebel the view was stunning and the sharp 20-degree descent over the sand covering the other side of the mountain. So steep you need a rope to guide you down (photo attached). A final stretch of flat saw us back at camp, somewhat tired and frightened about what lay ahead, especially on Day 4.

IMG_4448-15-04-18-21-07.JPG

The evenings had been calm so far, a strong occasional gust at sunset which was usual in the desert. You wore a buff all the time and covered your face every time you saw dust coming your way. The air is extremely dry so don’t forget your lip balm! This evening had been particularly quiet and both in the tiredness from the day and the familiarity now with camp life we went to sleep early, leaving our belongings scattered... 

When the storm hit us at 1130pm,  we were fast asleep, a strong gust of wind knocking down several of the poles and visibility was down to near zero. Those close to the pole held on for dear life and we could hear shouts and screams from the other tents. The wind was too strong and after ten or so minutes we came to the collective decision that we should drop all the wooden poles. Counter-intuitively but due to the design lying under the thick black tent gave us cover from the sandstorm and we all soon fell asleep.

The storm passed in a few hours and we woke up to collect our scattered belongings, our loss not being major. Lesson there, always tie things down. 

Day 3: 30km ... the morning after the storm, tired legs and with the long day on Day4/5 ahead Gary and I decided to hold back and fast walk. In terms of the course, this was my favorite, especially running on top off the ridge on the Jebel. The wind blew nicely and it was hard not to break into a trot, which felt like flying. But hold back, think of Day 4/5, we took some good photos that day (attached)

Day4/5: 86km. Some say this is what MDS is all about. To be fair that is an overstatement, but it is true this is the BIG challenge and extra planning is required for this stage.  The cut off time is a generous 35 hours and this stage itself is worthy of one serious race.  8 am, James and I started slow and as the heat rose our pace didn’t improve. I felt strong so James and I parted before checkpoint 4 and I ran on. 

IMG_4508-15-04-18-21-10.JPG

Sunset just after CP4 as we hit the big dunes, I refueled with some rice I had prepared while running (just stuck it in my water bottle), shoveled it down with a piece of salami and faced the two hard stages over huge dunes. Nightfall brought strong gusts of wind with sand being blasted from all directions and hitting any exposed skin. Ouch. I labored on along with others under the night sky with our torchlight dotting the trail like a line of stars. Sometimes if I found someone with the same pace I would tuck in behind and tag along, partly to take the mind off the monotony and to ease your concentration from spotting the trail which was lined with luminescent markers.

This is surely the hardest part of the race 50km, 60km, 70km... 10 pm, midnight, 2 am... slow and grinding. Some stop, cook or rest at the checkpoints, but I was determined to push on. And when I finally saw the camp light, it was a relief and reminded me of the words of Lindbergh... “legs those are the lights of the end of this stage”. I reached my tent at 4 am, the guys who had arrived earlier were fast asleep. The two remaining members came in with a smile the next morning, the sunrise giving them extra strength to walk in. 

Day 5 is a rest day, we lie in our tent to avoid the heat, chat, cook food to recover and wait for emails from our family and friends, which are received centrally by the organizers via the website, who print out and deliver to our tents. Some of the messages are so touching and the encouragement it gives you during moments of self-doubt are unbelievable. I can’t thank the people who sent messages enough.

Day 6: 42km. The customary words said before this day is “it’s only a marathon”, in reference to the distance we have run so far. Yet it is no easy marathon, with blistering winds against us and some challenging dunes dotted along the way. I had decided to walk the first part with Sue who had major blisters to show she did MDS and to chat to all those I had run and walked with the last five days. Once Sue was warmed up and keeping a good pace, I picked up the pace and ran the rest of the 30km to the final goal.  

The goal appeared after we crossed the final hill and village, picking up speed with legs feeling strong I raced back for the completion of the day. Patrick was waiting with his infectious smile and a big hug, the sunglasses hiding my tears of joy and achievement, and the effort I had put in over the months. This also signified my last race being based in Dubai as I am due to leave at the end of May.

The evening is the awards ceremony as the final day is a charity run/walk which does not count towards the final times. Perversely it was very cold and I must say a little anti-climax due to the cold, but our tiredness brought another early and final night in our tents.

Day 7 and back to civilization. The last day is a 7.7km charity run, most walk with their tent mates before boarding the bus back to Ouarzazate for a shower and soft warm bed.

Final words

MDS is a journey of self-discovery, of support from friends and family, of preparation akin to military operation for those of us who haven’t seen trial and preparation to such extreme. It is also a test of the limits, physical and mental.

IMG_4510-15-04-18-21-10.JPG

For this race, I supported the Maria Christina Foundation and raised funds for the charity. As the founder Maria Conceicao said in her message to me during the race:

“Your mind will keep telling the body to run, while the body will start to give up. They will keep fighting until neither have the energy to fight any longer. This is when your heart must step in and convince both your mind and your body to keep going”.  

Takamasa Makita
16 April 2018

3 Comments

Comment

Biking Man Oman Ultra Cycling Race 2018

What is BikingMan Oman?

Bikingman Oman is self-supported 1,000km cycling challenge around Oman.

Picture1.png
Picture2.png

https://bikingman.com/en/bikingman-oman/

Before the race

Arrived a few days earlier to Oman to go through compulsory equipment check and tried to install the route map. It was difficult to find ways to do it as I have never used any navigation devices or used navigation for my training. After a few panic attacks, BikingMan crew loaded the Middle East map on my Garmin and Jason Black (my hero!) have loaded the route. I wanted to have a back up on my mobile but by that time I was so exhausted from the panic that I skipped it. That was the only stress I had before the event.  At that point, I didn’t realize yet the importance of navigation system in this kind of events. This realization will come much later.

Day 1:

I packed and repacked my bag so many times. Surprisingly, the weather was warm, so all the warm clothes were not required, and they went into the bag for the next days. Wake up call at around 1:30 am to have breakfast and have enough time before the official start at 3 a.m. We started all together and it was flat for the first 60-70km which meant we stayed in small or larger groups for a while. This helped me to get comfortable with Garmin navigation and get into a rhythm. Once the sun was up, the views opened, and they were breathtaking! I stopped few times to take photos. Our path was going through the mountains with rolling hills. We have experienced some strong crosswinds, so strong – I found it difficult to keep the bike stable. But views were making up for all the discomfort! I didn’t realize how long it would take till the first coffee/ tea break. The first opportunity I had was at about 156km.  Typically, by that time I already have 3 stops. Thankfully, I had few bananas and some gels with me to keep me going for this distance. Following that coffee break was a long stretch to Ibri and then towards Jebel Shams for about 150km fighting the headwind. During the training, you have a choice to tailor your route, but here there was no choice – all of us had to go through that headwind.

Jebel Shams: I have been to Jebel Shams before but only hiking. I didn’t really experience the road to the top by car, so I had no idea what to expect. I heard from others it was tough and my plan was to tackle it on the second day after taking enough rest. As I was getting closer to Jebel Shams, I saw our fellow cyclist from Dubai Simon who was descending. I remembered him passing me at some point on the highway not too long ago, and I understood he already climbed Jebel Shams and was coming back. It gave me a lot of hope and encouragement to try to go up. It was about 5-6pm in the evening. Despite having a hotel booking at the bottom of the mountain, I decided to start the climb. On the go, I have also convinced some others, referring to Simon and we all went on concurring the “beast” with a lot of hope. Even thought of coming down on the same day! (ha-ha) From the bottom to the top it is about 50km with first 25km of easy and last 25km of some extreme 18-22 percent climbing roads and gravel section.  By the time first 25km was done, it became totally dark and I couldn’t see anything in front of me. As I entered the first serious climbing stretch, I almost had a heart attack – my heart rate was all over the roof, I struggled to breathe and felt like collapsing at any moment. I had to stop to collect myself and decided that I better of to walk to avoid the medical emergency. From now on, I walked most of the steep climb sections. As I hit the gravel section, I started to be hopeful its going to be over soon. All my Garmin devices and mobile died and I was in total darkness about time or distance left to the top. Gravel felt never ending with up and down segments. I couldn’t see much in front and was hitting rocks and bumpy sections left and right. I had no choice but keep moving. At some point I had a moment of madness as I saw the sign pointing to the right but there was no road on the right. I thought I was going mad at that moment. I must also admit, I have darkness phobia. This was something I suffered from childhood. When I was by myself not knowing how long to go, it was haunting me again. I screamed and freaked out several times seeing some creatures staring at me from the darkness. All fueled me to move forward without stopping. it sounds funny as I imagine myself now: freaking out in the middle of the road out of nothing and trying to run as fast as I can uphill, pushing the bike along.

I was delighted to find some fellow athletes catching up with me at some point. What a relief! Now I wasn’t alone anymore. However, there was almost a breaking point when I saw a sign stating it is 5km to go to Jebel Shams resort which meant another 1 to 1.5 hours or may be more. I had to accept immediately, there wasn’t any chance to stop. By that time adding another 1 or 2 hours didn’t seem a big deal.  A glimpse of hope emerged when I saw Andreas taking video of us. He informed it was only 3 km to go on asphalt before we reach the Jebel Shams Resort – our first checkpoint (CP1).  When I finally saw the lights of the resort, they seemed the most beautiful thing I have ever seen: so bright, so magnificent!

It was almost midnight, 20-21 hours past the start and about 6 hours on Jebel Shams itself. Watch the video I made in the morning: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zab5UV9ADQQ

Day 1 from Biking Man Perspective:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4rbecPnpgt0&t=196s

Day 2:

I slept only 4 hours and surprisingly was fresh and ok in the morning. Unlike the day 1, start of day 2 was lonely. Everyone was going out at their own time. I went off alone at about 6 a.m. – just before a sunrise. Seeing sunrise on Jebel Shams was amazing. Everything was so beautiful: mountains, canyon, trees, perfect weather.

Prank: As I was on Nizwa highway enjoying some straight easy road, I see biking man crew on the side of the road indicating me to make a full stop. I was a bit worried as I didn’t know if I have done something wrong. Axel comes in saying that I am in the wrong direction. What?! Wrong direction?! My heart skipped a beat. Where did I make a wrong exit? Next thing I hear was a “Happy Birthday” song. Aha-a-a!!! Today is my birthday!!! I totally forgot. Jebel Shams climb has knocked out everything. It was a nice surprise! Thank you for making it special! Watch it here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PyIQZIe9Axc

The prank reminded me to keep a close eye on where I am going. From now on I kept close look at my Garmin and route. As the day was progressing, other riders started to catch up with me. I met Omani team and Fabian.

Day 2 from Biking Man Perspective:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGoZvOsAmPk

Check Point 2 and day 3:

Unlike CP1, CP2 was busy with riders. Some arrived earlier, others arrived later. I was there at about 8 to 9pm and close to 10pm I decided that I will start at 12 midnight. What a madness!!! I informed others about my intention and Fabian agrees to leave at the same time. That meant sleeping for 2 hours only. Eventually, the adrenaline level was so high I couldn’t sleep even for one minute. Just laying down for 2 hours praying in my mind to give me some sleep. Cycling at night through small villages was interesting – we were chased by street dogs, harassed by some teenagers on the fast car, followed by someone who claimed they were a police officers, passed several police check points. Finally, we found ourselves on the road with no lights and beautiful endless sky with thousands of starts. It was beautiful! However, it didn’t last long. In few hours, I noticed patches of fog which was getting thicker and thicker and from around 3am till sunrise we hardly saw anything around us.

Sur and sea side: Coming from the mountains, the sound of waves felt surreal. Are we at the sea side already? How tempting it was to go and jump into water! After having breakfast in cafeteria along the way, Fabian gets a puncture, and it was a serious one.  At that point, Fabian tells me to continue my ride and he will try to catch up once puncture is fixed. I left with heavy heart and for a very long time was afraid I will have some mechanical problem as punishment. Hills started to roll as I was getting closer to Sur, but I still had some energy to go through them.

Coastal road: that stretch tested me physically and mentally. Its good 100+ km stretch and when it started I was already 200+km (about 10 hours) on my bike. I’ve been on that road before, and I knew there was one petrol station along the way. I went low on water before I found it, which was very dangerous. The only person I saw after Fabian was Marcus, who caught up with me at that petrol station. It was great to see a fellow participant and reinsure yourself you are on the right way. We exchanged few words and he reminded me there is another big hill coming. By that time, I already did almost 300km. It started to feel uneasy in my knees, wrists have been numb for a long time and I was experimenting with different positions on handlebar to get some stretch. With only 120km or so to go, there was no choice but to continue. Surprisingly, the hill we all were worried about was gentle. Nothing, compared with Jebel Shams. I called it a “baby hill”. As I was coming close to 350km I was finding it more and more difficult to move. With about 70km to go to the finish line, I found another cafeteria and decided to stop to rest and eat. I was a very demanding customer at that cafeteria, so much so, that passing by Omani paid my bill to calm me down. When you cycle 350km in one go with no sleep, your nervous system starts breaking down.  That gesture by the Omani passer by grounded me down. Surprisingly, after that break a new wave of energy hit me. It was mostly downhill from now on, and I started to push as much as I can to get over it fast. Garmin navigation was showing I was on and off route from time to time, so I was following the sign boards towards Muscat. At some point, Garmin alerted me on missing the exit again which I have disregarded and continued straight. Only after some time I realized I was in fact on the wrong route… But it was too late and since I was going towards Muscat any ways, I decided to keep going and find my way through the city. As I was getting closer to Muscat, roads started to get busier and busier. I had about 15-20 km to go to the finish line, so I collected all my courage and attention to keep an eye on the cars and trucks. I think this was the first time I started to feel really scared. I kept thinking of pre-race advises by the Biking Man crew “Don’t die, don’t die, don’t die”. I was thinking about my mother, about my promise to myself to stay safe at any point in time, not taking risks, not to do anything stupid. I was clearly going doing an opposite and heading into some sort of disaster. Since my Garmin GPS navigation wasn’t making any sense to me, I had to use google maps and heading towards “Lighthouse Muscat” (finish location name as per the map). My mobile had about 10% of battery and I was praying to have enough to get to the finish line. When I finally arrived at “Lighthouse Muscat”, I saw a shop in front of me called “Lighthouse Muscat” with no sign of race finish line. Wrong place! I think the entire race went in front of my eyes in one second... To go through those 3 brutal days, no sleep, struggle, pain and arrive at the wrong location….  How stupid! I was heading to a meltdown. At that moment, I see my phone wringing and May from Dubai is calling me. With just 6% battery left, I reply… What I hear next felt like God himself called me. She told me, she knows I am lost and she is tracking me. She gave me directions to the correct finish line. That was such a great gift and gave me the energy to keep going in a hope to finally finish the challenge. Crossing the finish line was an unbelievable moment. Couldn’t believe it was over. With about 21 hours on the bike, 420km in one go, meltdowns, hitting the wall, getting reborn, going down on water, getting lost, losing hope, stress attacks, experiencing miracle - it was finally over.

Picture3.png

Day 3 from Biking Man Perspective:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN5lmTkP5cs

Post-race summaries:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZUSqEEhgeM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znVJHw7uR3g&t=6s

Thank you:

Thank you to everyone who supported me. Thank you, everyone, who believed in me and understood my aspirations to participate in this challenge. There are so many of you!

Thank you very much!

Nora Ismagilova
February 2018

 

Comment

Comment

Thailand Ironman 70.3 Phuket – 26th November 2017

IMG-20171128-WA0052.jpg

It is not often on race day morning that you arrive at the race start on the back of a Honda Scoopy moped!! That’s just one of the many unique experiences of the Foremost Thailand Ironman 70.3 in Phuket. Not to mention having your pre-race training ride interrupted by a heard of water buffalo crossing the road or eating cat fish from a street vendor as part of the post-race relaxation. This was my third visit to this lush tropical island for what is a really great race experience and highlights all the reasons of why we do this sport. It is already in the race calendar for next year. The food is amazing and you can have a Thai massage virtually every day!

IMG-20171128-WA0016.jpg

This race is renowned for its swim and bike courses. Back in the day of 2011/2012, the first part of the swim was in the ocean for about 1300 meters and then you would get out, run across the beach and dive into a freshwater lagoon for the final 600 meters. On the bike course, there was the famous footbridge crossing where you would have to dismount your bike and put it on your shoulder and carry it across the main road. Remount the bike and get back on the course. The well-known Naithon hills were at the end of the course in previous years. The course has now changed but still offers a great racing experience.

This must have been the first Ironman event that I have done where you were able to leave your gear next to your bike. No bag racks or changing tents- it was all very informal and laid back. Race brief was made interesting by the appearance of Ironman legend Belinda Grainger who has raced this event numerous time and Ironman coach Lance Watson. Both gave some excellent tips on race management and the importance of nutrition, especially on the run. Belinda’s big tips were to eat a large breakfast on the day before the race, graze for the rest of the day and have an early dinner to ensure it digests through your system. Make sure you get along and deep sleep on a penultimate night before the race. This was probably also the first race where, on the night before, I had dreamt about being late for the start and falling off the bike during one of the downhills.

IMG-20171128-WA0011.jpg

It is not your typical race. The swim is a non-wet suit and what could be better than a beautifully calm crystal clear sea as the start of a race. So on with the speed suit and no need for the wetsuit. There were a few jellies around but nothing stingy. Had my best swim at this event. The bike course is challenging. At the ten km point, you encounter the Naithon national park with its steep inclines and treacherous descents. Rain the day before and on race morning made for a very wet road surface and there were no overtaking zones on the steepest parts. The marshalls did a great job but there were still a few spills. In places, the inclines reach 20% and there is no shame in walking up or even down some of the steepest sections of the course. Your heart is certainly maxing out at the top of those hills. The climbs go on for about 3-4 km but then flatten out and the rest of the course is gently rolling hills across and around Phuket island. I stuck to my nutrition plan of Stealth gels every 20 minutes and 1.5 liters of 4% hydration mix.

IMG-20171128-WA0014.jpg
IMG-20171128-WA0056.jpg

The most daunting part of this race for me is the run because you generally start around mid-morning just as the humidity is beginning to rise. At the race brief the weather forecast had been for 30 degrees but feels like 34 and rising to 34 feels like 38. Great!! Thankfully the clouds that brought rain during the bike course stayed and this kept the temperature down. I really paid attention to Belinda’s tips for nutrition on the run and my own plan which was to take three Stealth Gels with Caffeine and Betaine over the second half of the run, put ice down my pants at every aid station to keep my body temperature down, drink coke and keep hydrated. The first 10 km of the run was tough but at the halfway point I found my running legs and had a very strong finish to the race.

31_m-100798732-FT-2012_010695-13778660.jpg
IMG-20171128-WA0043.jpg

The post-race party was a legendary event in the past – dress shirts, bow ties and shorts for the guys. However, that tradition has gone by the way-side, and this year there was chocolate milk and Singa beers. Foremost, the event sponsors, manufacture chocolate milk and there were copious amounts at the finish line! Wonderfully welcome ice- baths to ease aching muscles and surprisingly free-flowing supply of super cold beers which didn’t touch the sides on the way down.

There was much excitement at the slot allocations for Kona and Ironman 70.3 worlds. Great news for Lisa Hancox who was second in her AG and got a Kona slot! Well done.

So I will be signing up for next year!

40_m-100798732-FT-2012_028982-13778669.jpg

David Hunt
November 2017

Comment

1 Comment

Kona - Ironman World Championships 2017

October 14th, 2017 – Men’s 40-44 AG

I wish I had the time and skills to put together a written masterpiece.  Sadly, this is not the case so I would recommend that you treat David Labouchere’s 2014 Kona race report, and perhaps also an article written recently by Pedro Gomez titled “dealing with frustration” as supplements to the below.  David, oh so eloquently, describes the build-up, the event and what it means to be there whilst Pedro does a great job of describing the frustration of failing to achieve a target when you have invested so much time and effort.  I will focus more on getting to Kona and my own suffer-fest on race day!

My 2016/17 quest for Kona and the changes that got me there

 I competed in three full-distance Ironman branded races (qualifiers) in the summer of 2016, Texas in May, Bolton (UK) in July and Taiwan in August.  Texas went OK, but 17th AG wasn’t even close to being enough, Bolton went better but 9th AG and 44th overall again wasn’t enough.  The less said about Taiwan the better but let’s just say it was ridiculous to think I could cope with that sort of heat after a summer of indoor training….  I pulled out of that one-half way into the bike when every muscle in my body started cramping...

  In January 2017 I switched coaches.  I’d done great under the first but sometimes you just need a change.  One of my new coach’s first comments after going through my previous buildup training was “you’ve done some great quality training but I do more cycling than you and I don’t race Ironman”.  So, pretty much ever since then I have been cycling….a lot…..   Not to say that I haven’t been doing the other important stuff.  I still do heavy strength work, a fair bit of swimming, and my running volume picks up significantly towards the end of a race preparation block but the bike leg is where races are won and lost over this distance. 

I qualified for Kona on a hot day in Port Elizabeth at Ironman South Africa.  A swim of 54 minutes, a bike of 5 hours 8 minutes, a run of 3 hours 22 minutes and a total race time of 9 hours 31 minutes.  Job was done!

Lessons learned:

1.     There are lots of phenomenal athletes racing full ironman distance racing.  Far more so than any other distance racing in my opinion, and every one of them pushing for a Kona slot……
2.     Unless you are hugely talented, the real challenge is in qualifying and I doubt there is anything more satisfying in triathlon that doing so in a large full distance race.
3.     Training indoors is fine but there is nothing like training outside, especially if you are going to race in the intense heat.  Doing so in the Dubai summer, however, is a challenge!
4.     Volume is key, not just intensity.  Whilst I was doing well up to 70.3 distance (several podiums and a decent performance at the 70.3 World Champs), I wasn’t where I needed to be at the full distance and this had been largely due to the fact I wasn’t putting in enough time.
5.     No need to over-think day-to-day diet but a solid tried and tested race nutrition and hydration plan is essential.  This also needs to take into consideration the conditions on race day.

Kona buildup:

The buildup for the race went really well despite the summer heat.  I did almost all training outside.  Most of my longer bike rides were done in the hills at Hatta (I was there almost every weekend) and I managed to do a great deal my running outside also.  Week-day rides were done on the indoor trainer and all swimming was done at the Hamdan aquatics center. I ran as much as I could outdoors which was hard going and I had to split some of the very long runs into two sessions….

I capped out at around 18 hours of quality training per week, around 10 hours of which was cycling.  Run volume picked up considerably toward the end and swim/strength training was pretty constant throughout.

The Course: 

Swim: A mass start, non-wetsuit, ~4km swim in crystal clear ocean.  Just awesome.

 Bike:   Similar to South Africa.  Around 1650m of ascent, mainly rolling but with one or two short steep climbs.  Windy with hard gusts in the open sections and hot!

Run: Far more undulating than the profile would suggest.  A couple of cheeky climbs in the town.  Hot and humid!

The race plan:

 Swim plan: Go out hard, find some feet and hold sub-1:30 pace for the duration. The target was simply to go sub 1 hour.

Bike plan: ~230 NP, pushing a little harder on the ascents and under AP on the flats and downhill.  Nutrition would be a combo of Hammer Perpetuem and Power Bars (4).  Plenty of water.  Best Bike Split estimated bike time was ~5:20, weather depending.

Run plan:  Start at 5m/km reducing to 4.30-4.40 pace once the legs got into gear.  Walk the aid stations if necessary, keep cool, stay properly hydrated and try to get one gel (SIS) down me every 5-6km.  Energy drinks as required.  Put everything into the last 5km.  Finish under 3h30. 

Swim (Actual time): 57 Minutes 42 Seconds

I started close to the front and as planned, found some feet and a good line quickly.  Feet were lost then found again repeatedly but I managed to hold a good line despite the congestion.  At one point (at the far turn) I had to stop and punch my way out of being used as an anchor for someone to get around the turn. 

After the turn at the half-way mark, things opened up and I found that holding a line and only drafting off the feet/hip of others when they hit that same line worked really well.  I kept checking my average pace on my watch and it was pretty consistent throughout at 1.28/100.

Finishing in under an hour meant I could chill a little in T1, get the HR down a little and make sure I was in good shape for the bike.

Very happy with the swim – so far, so good!

Bike (Actual time): 5 hours 17 minutes

Transition (which took just over 3 minutes) was pretty slick.  I wasn’t in a burning rush to get through as I would normally be.  I just wanted to play it safe and steady. 

It’s hard not to get carried away over the first 10-15km of the bike in any race, let alone Kona.  Aside from the excitement, there are lots of people on tight sections of road, all trying to get further up the field.  I normally find myself on open road after a swim but with so many great athletes, this wasn’t the case.  I would love to say I stuck with the plan but did find myself pushing way too much over the first Kona town stretch.

Picture1.png

Once on the Queen K Highway after around 15km, I found it a little easier to stick with the plan.  The problem, however, was the number of people hitting roughly the same pace.  It is very hard to maintain a consistent power as you are constantly either overtaking or being overtaken.  For the first 75km of the race, I was vying for position whilst trying to stay within the rules.  It was almost impossible to avoid being in a draft zone as if you dropped back, someone just jumped in front, then another, then another….. 

There was a lot of drafting going on and lots of people were penalized.  Working 100% within the rules was impossible at times.  I wasn’t penalized but definitely got a draft advantage from being at the pointy end of the race.  At the 75km point though (pretty much the start of the long climb to Hawi), things started to open up.  There was a steady headwind but nothing too horrendous.  By the time we reached Hawi, it was starting to get pretty hot.

After the turn, there is a fantastic runout back down the hill with a solid back wind and occasional hard cross-win blasts.  This section favors the brave, stupid or heavier athlete.  Me being the latter two, I tucked in and hammered it down there.  It felt great to cover so much ground in such a short period of time.  It was however short lived as soon, the direction of travel and wind would change (as it does every year) and we would have a steady headwind all the way back through the lava-fields to T2.  Oh yeah, and it was HOT HOT HOT out there!

Bike done, slightly under NP target.  Feeling good.

Run (Actual time): 4 Hours 18 Minutes…. 

T2 was pretty slick (just over 3 mins).  Bike gear off, run gear on and off we go.

Out on to the run and I felt great.  There is a small climb out of transition and I felt really light on my feet.  It was really hot and humid though.  It had rained very heavily the night before and the result was clear open skies and intense sun over sodden ground.  Not quite a steam room, but very unpleasant.

I maintained around 5 minute average for the first 10km, high-fiving Jo, Claire (Andy Mac’s fiancée), Rory Buck and other supporters from Dubai on the course.  I was hot but I had been putting ice under my cap and down my top to keep my body temperature down and this seemed to be working fine.  My heart rate was low and everything was on track. 

At 11km, just after the turn at the bottom of Ali’I Drive however, things took a turn for the worse. 

Picture2.png

My body felt fine, legs felt great, but I felt a stitch coming.  First one side, then the other, then the middle.  I’d faced this before in my first Ironman race on a hot, humid day in Texas in 2015 and knew that I was in trouble if it didn’t pass quickly.

I tried everything to shake off the stomach cramps and vomiting over the next 20km.  Water, electrolyte drinks, even that god-awful HotShot shit (which, by the way, should come with a warning label) but nothing worked.  All I could do was focus on running between 3 and 5 traffic cones then walking the pain off.

Coming out of the Energy Lab at around the 30km point I saw Andy Mac coming in the opposite direction.  I thought at the time he was a long way behind me having a hard time but he quickly caught me.  We had a chat and with his raceway off track (he had a bad swim and bike) we (he) agreed to run back in together. 

This was just the kick up the ass I needed.  3-5 cones became 8-10 and we even picked up the pace (and held it) for the last 2-3km through the town to finish on a high.  Andy, thanks again and sorry if I puked on you!

I went into this race hoping (even expecting) to finish well under the 10-hour mark and thought I had played it safe enough on the bike to do so.  An actual time of 10 hours 41 minutes was some way off this, but crossing that line in the sunshine, with all that support (including my wife and friends) felt fantastic anyway!

Picture3.png

Summary:

I think anyone reading this knows what it takes to get to Kona.  Racing it is exactly what you would expect.  The whole experience is just awesome, from arriving to leaving and everything that happens in between.  It is worth the time, effort and persistence to get there. 

Starting out in triathlon a few years back, I had Kona as a target and completely underestimated what it would take for me to get there.  The thing is though, it’s the fact it’s so hard to get there which makes doing the race such an experience, such an achievement.  I loved it, and not getting the time/place I wanted gives me an excuse to go back.  But not for a few years as Jo might divorce me!

Just a quick one on what went right and what went wrong:

I had a solid race plan which was tried and tested; I had prepared for the heat and was in the best shape of my life.  Sometimes, however, your body just doesn’t want to play.  That’s just Ironman racing for you….  I thought I did everything right, but if I had to change one thing it would be my nutrition plan.  I think, as a bigger guy, my body just struggles to cope with digestion whilst also trying to cool itself in the heat.  For hot full-distance races in the future, I will try some different, easier to digest products.  I just started trialing Stealth products so let’s see what happens with that.  

And back to the important stuff:

Jo, thanks for being patient with me.  Nick, Didge, Bondy – I’ve loved training with you this past year and am a better athlete as a result of doing so. Andy Mac, thanks for dragging me the last few km.

Well done to all the others who raced.  Great to see some familiar faces on the course!  Finn, Sam, Nick, it was great having you as house-mates for the week prior to the race although your love of peanut butter is borderline concerning!

To TriDubai and Tribe Racing Team, I would just like to say “thanks” for all the support prior to, during and after the race.  I am a very proud member of quite probably, the best Tri Club in the world.

Andy Edwards
November 2017

1 Comment

Comment

Ironman 70.3 Miami 2017

The experience in a nutshell

I am not sure how it happened, but I ended up signing up for a race all the way in Miami (from Dubai). I hadn’t given it much thought, and the fact that it was hot, humid and flat was attractive because that is exactly how Dubai is… so, made sense.

The flight distance didn’t make as much sense as there are tons of nearby races all around Dubai and I found myself thinking whether it was a smart decision or not.

As we got closer to October 22nd, there was no turning back and I felt like I didn’t want to withdraw from the race. So I did everything I needed to do. I upped my training, got the time in, my coach was "comfortable", I was "comfortable", and it was all coming together quite nicely.

I made sure I didn’t tell anyone I was planning on going other than my coach, a few of my training buddies and immediate family. Why? Because I didn’t want the pressure of having people watching to see whether I made it or not. The race is for me, not for anyone else and I want to do what works for ME and not feel like I need to prove anything.

Although I love tracking my fellow triathletes, I was more comfortable in the knowledge that no one was watching me and my decisions were not skewed.

On October 18th, my bike was packed (thanks to the awesome guys at Wolfi’s bike shop in Dubai and my cycling guru, Monty!), lists were made, and I was ready to board my flight to Miami.

Arriving in Miami, a wheel on the bag was broken, so I was worried something happened to my bike. I had some issues putting it all together when I opened the bike, but luckily it all worked out in the end — I won’t get into that! I managed to go out for a long practice ride and explore Miami but also got the feeling for the course, the weather and that gave me a lot more confidence overall.

IMG_5552.jpg

In true Helen style, I wanted to do everything early and be prepared, so I arrived in Miami, got my bike checked, went and registered, racked my bike, got my nutrition sorted, did everything well ahead of time. That always works best for me. I don’t like leaving things to the last minute and as my fantastic coach, Jan Gremmen, always says, no surprises.

What didn’t work as well was:

  1. It was going to be very windy
  2. The swim was looking extremely choppy
  3. They were talking about jellyfish (I don’t know if I would have finished if I had gotten stung!)

But, in my head, I had come this far, and I was going to make it happen.

The day before, I got a yummy meal in, rested my body, got an early nights sleep and although I was nervous about it, I set my nerves to one side of my brain and just let it go. I was also lucky that a friend got me a jellyfish repellent cream so even if it was just a placebo effect, it helped calm my nerves (thank you Farris B.)!

IMG_5570.jpg

On October 22nd, 4 am, I woke up, put my music on, had my Clif bar for breakfast and started getting ready for race day.

Arriving at the venue

It had rained the night before, so I was grateful that I copied the people around me and covered the main parts of my bike with bags.

I sat, relaxed, organized my transition area and chatted with the people all around me to settle my nerves. Met an amazing Iraqi woman, Mais, who was doing her first 70.3 and was new to triathlon like I was. She and her husband became my family for the day and were amazingly supportive.

IMG_5602.JPG

IronMan70.3 Miami is a little different in that they don’t give transition bags so you set up your transition like you would a smaller local race.

The Swim

It was not a legal "wetsuit swim", that was the first thing to catch me off guard. The swim was in waves, and the whole thing seemed to take forever. The pro’s went into the water at 7:20 am, and my wave was to start at 8:37 am. The good thing about that was it gave me the opportunity to relax and get acquainted with the setup, the negative part was I could see how choppy the water was, and I could see many people jump in, start, only to come out a few minutes later because they were seasick.

IMG_5609.JPG

By the time it was my time to start, I had decided I would sing and dance to the music and forget everything around me. So I did and got a few of the women around me to do the same. We had fun. When we got to the pier, we had to jump in as it was a wet start. The water was very ‘dirty’ since it was a port so you couldn’t see anything — this wasn’t going to help my fear of jellyfish, but it was too late to worry about that now.

The swim is extremely well organized with a lot of markers, so it is difficult to swim off track and lots of guards and guides, which was amazing. The currents, however, were not. For a good 500m, I felt like I wasn’t moving. Every time I would look up it was as though I was back in the same spot. I got seasick and threw up in the water, and at one point I looked at my Garmin, and it said 4000m. Impossible. If I had swum 4000m, I would not have made the cut off time, and I might as well just get in a kayak and go home. So I stopped and checked the time, I was at 41mins. I was later told it is because of how much I was pushed back by the currents as I had swum buoy to buoy. My goal was to be under 45mins for the swim, so I knew I was already not going to make that. But I saw the yacht that signified that the end was near. I pushed through, and towards the last 100m, the currents are great because they push you to the finish line. The volunteers on the swim were amazing, they pulled us up, helped us out — really wonderful. A special thank you to a volunteer, Angel!

T1

The transition area is not too far from the swim and well organized, as long as you had spent time the day before figuring out where you were going! I did, so I had a decent transition.

finisherpix_1962_025591 (1).JPG

The Bike

Oh, the bike!

Riding through the city meant that it was not that straightforward, the first bit was fine although slow because you were twisting and turning a lot. Then you get onto a beautiful high way stretch — visually, it is nothing special, but with a tailwind, it's a great fast ride. But everything that goes one way must go the other.

IMG_5526.JPG

The headwinds were on the way back… not even funny!

They had changed the course this year, so it was out and back with a small loop in the middle. The winds were so rough that people were stopping, people were drafting, people got off their bikes and just stood on the side of the road, and a few people flew off the bike. I had two choices: Push through and burn my legs, or just let my goal time go and save my legs for the run. I decided to push with the tailwinds, relax with the headwinds, and just let it go. I finished the bike slower than my last 70.3 in Dubai, but I was happy just to have been able to finish it in one piece. The last 15km, I just relaxed, took my gloves off and moved my legs.

The bike was messy in general; the volunteers didn’t know what they were dealing with. They were giving out bottles that were sealed, coming out too far into the course, and going in front of the bikes (I had to yell at a few of them to move out of the way!) Volunteers need to be trained better as it can be hazardous. All in all, the bike course is nothing special.

finisherpix_1962_009881.JPG

T2

Fast, smooth, perfect.

The Run

The run was three loops, not very scenic, extremely windy at parts but overall, nothing too terrible. It was extremely unorganized. Volunteers were blocking the paths; aid stations were running out of things as simple as Gatorade, aid stations were an absolute mess. It slowed me down a lot. A volunteer decided it would be a good idea to throw some ice on my back to cool me off. Not sure what she/he was thinking. I appreciate what they do, but again, volunteers need to be trained, especially when bringing in well-intentioned school children who don’t know any better.

finisherpix_1962_039275.JPG

The weather got extremely hot and humid, for us Dubai dwellers that isn’t much of an issue but I can imagine it being a real struggle for anyone not used to the heat. The course is flat and smooth so it would have been perfect if it was not that messy.

IMG_5604.JPG

Overall

It was much tougher than I expected with the swim and the bike. It felt more like a local race than an Ironman race. Although the athletes' village was great, the people were amazing; they didn’t have the SWAG you’d get used to at Ironman races — no big backpack, no finisher T-shirt, no transition bags, no pasta party the night before, etc.

IMG_5680 (1).jpg

The post-race meals were OK but very limited with long lines and unorganized — after having been swimming, biking, running for 6+ hours, you want food, and you don’t want to wait!

IMG_5581.jpg

In the end, I decided I was too tired and hungry to wait, I got the medal, picked up my bag and bike and headed home.

Would I recommend the race? If you’re already in the US, sure, go for it. Would I travel as far as I did it? No way. Not because its a bad race, but because the overall experience did not warrant the distance and expenses to go all the way to the US.

I am glad I did it, and my run was good — my time was 30mins faster than my race in Dubai in January, so I am pleased overall with how it went. I guess one step closer to the full distance Ironman. Let’s see how that goes!

IMG_5596.jpg

Helen Al Uzaizi
November 2017

Comment

1 Comment

Road to Kona 2017 - My first full distance @ Ironman World Championships

Foreword

Summer 2016 I decided to set up new goals. I believe in visualization big time. So I set up a vision board, where I had 70.3 WC slot and picture of Chattanooga city pinned. But one once said that you should “Dream Big”, so I pinned another picture to the board - a picture of a cyclist riding on Queen K highway and it read “Conquering Kona”. Just few months later and 2 Chinese 70.3 races, I had the qualification slots to both Ironman 70.3 & Ironman WC in my pocket. Lucky me :))))

Training for Kona

The training started somewhere in March this year. We decided with the coach that Kona will be my first full distance. I previously registered for a full in Port Elizabeth. It was hard to withdraw from IMSA, but it was better for me.

We started building my endurance. Long rides, long runs - first I enjoyed them and couldn’t wait for the volume to increase until I was having enough - enough of long hours of riding & running at nights. I never had a company and was doing all trainings solo. I had several meltdowns during those months. It was hard but I never quit my sessions – I knew I was gaining mental strength. Hours and hours of cycling, swimming, running, strength training, sports massages, osteopath and physio sessions. I couldn’t wait to get to the Big Island.

Big Island of Hawaii

A magic place, you won’t find another one like this. Sooo unique - black lava fields, tropical fields, volcanos, blue clear ocean, mountains. Absolutely love it.

I arrived in Kona in the evening of 6th October, it “only” took 25 hours to get to the island. Kona met me with a warm tropical rain, completely dark roads and thick air. I couldn’t wait for the next day to see the island and ocean. And it didn’t disappoint – a beautiful sunrise, dramatic skies and dolphins. 

6-5-631x421.jpg

Pre-race days

Two weeks before the race Kona changes from a lazy chilled town into a sports central – athletes swimming, biking, running everywhere at any time of the day. You feel the urge to put some extra sessions in (don’t give in to that urge and stick to your plan).

I was lucky to have my own support team with me. We stayed at a nice condo about 3 kms from the race start. The days leading to the race we swam, biked and ran some parts of the course. On those training sessions I didn’t experience any strong winds, the island was gentle on me on those rides. The training run at the famous Energy Lab road - the first part I didn’t feel bad as we had a nice breeze accompanying us until we turned around to experience what felt like a frying pan with no air circulating the final 3 kms (my HR was skyrocketing). I made a note to myself – I might have to walk these hard 3 kms on the race day as the rest of the run I will have some breeze along the way. Alas, it was a completely different scenario on the race day (((.

Ocean swims - I couldn’t get enough of them. Water so beautiful and clear, you can see everything 20-30 meters down. And, of course, the famous coffee boat - I wish we had one in Dubai for the sea swims. I lost my beloved Roka swim skin a day before the race. I left it by the shower at “Dig Me” beach (((. I bought a new Roka, a model with sleeves that was specially released for Kona. As they say that you should never try anything new on the race day, I took a risk. I love the brand and the previous model fit me like a glove. I wasn’t disappointed with this one and it’s the fastest swim skin I ever tried. However, it did chafe my neck horribly as I made a rookie mistake and forgot to apply Body Glide.

Ocean swims - I couldn’t get enough of them. Water so beautiful and clear, you can see everything 20-30 meters down. And, of course, the famous coffee boat - I wish we had one in Dubai for the sea swims. I lost my beloved Roka swim skin a day before the race. I left it by the shower at Dig Me Beach (((. I bought a new Roka, a model with sleeves that was specially released for Kona. As they say that you should never try anything new on the race day, I took a risk. I love the brand and the previous model fitted me like a glove. I wasn’t disappointed with this one and it’s the fastest swim skin I ever tried.

Three days before the race were spent on briefing, parade of nations, shopping at the expo (another must!) and checking in the bike & gear. I was pleasantly surprised with the volunteers’ work - the best I ever experienced. Each athlete was taken individually through the bike & gear check-in and shown the way around the transition area. 

The nerves - I honestly had quite an emotional roller coaster the days leading to the race. But once I checked in the bike and gear, I became calm. I knew I have done all the work required. I didn’t have a goal time set and probably was one of the few athletes that didn’t pressure themselves with the race time. We agreed with my coach that I should be able to finish sub 12 hours. But finishing the race was my ultimate goal.

Race day

I woke up at 4 am. I woke up from a dream - I finished in 11 hours and 55 minutes because something went wrong on the run. 

Quick breakfast of oats, banana & PB and we set off to the race start. Athletes get their race number tattoos applied on the race morning. You don’t do it yourself, there is a dedicated team of volunteers that do all the work for you. Everyone gets weighted before stepping into the athletes’ pre-race zone.

I felt quiet and surprisingly not nervous at all. Dropped off my morning clothes bag, got sun lotion applied and sat down on the shore waiting for the start. First cannon went off at 6:30 am - the start of pro men, followed by pro women start in 5 minutes.

Kona17-2088-631x421.jpg

It was time for me to start dryland warm up. 7:05 and I made my way to the swim start. Age-group men were just sent off and pink caps started their way to the water. As I walked down the stairs, I suddenly lost my breath and started trembling (oh no the nerves started playing again!). But gladly the moment disappeared briefly. I decided to line up at the front with the strongest girls. I knew I could battle the first 200-300 meters and avoid most of the action in the water getting through other swimmers. Surprisingly, it wasn’t much of a washing machine (at least at the start), until the turn around when we caught most of the slower men. They didn’t want to let us through. I received few punches and elbows as I was making my way back to the pier. On the way out I found myself multiple times off course. The wave was strong enough to move me few meters away from the group I was swimming with. I decided to start sighting every 5th stroke and kept following the bubbles in front of me. My new swim skin started to chafe my neck horribly as I made a rookie mistake and forgot to apply Body Glide.

I was aiming for 1 hour swim time (sub 1 hour would be ideal, but following Rory’s advice “don’t kill yourself on the swim, it’s a long day and few minutes won’t make much difference”, I swam at a comfortable pace). 1 hour 4 minutes - I am happy with my result. As per Garmin I swam extra 500 meters (that’s a lot! We know that Garmin can be inaccurate and I did swim off course few times).

Running through the showers and grabbing my bag, quickly changing and off to my bike. I tried to move as quickly as possible (at least in my mind it was relevantly quick). Mount area and I’m on my bike to quickly realize I forgot to apply sun-screen. Mistake No 2.

First thoughts - how much would I sun burn? 6 hours on the bike will turn me into a tomato (I’m one of those who turns red when sunburnt). I was hoping for clouds to appear but the sky was clear. I shut down all the negative thoughts as I was making the way through the city. The first loop took us through Kona town and then onto the first climb on Palani road. It was my support team first spot - a quick thumb up, I saw the message written on the road for me “Go Olga No 2183”, smiled and turned to Queen K.

Queen K – a long stretch with black lava fields on both sides, I settled into a comfortable gear and started working the targeted power. Everything worked fine and I felt great, praying to the island’s gods to keep the wind this way. The wind was gentle until I reached around 50th kilometer - a massive headwind blew, a wind so strong I’ve never experienced before. I felt at times I was pushed back and was not making any progress. In Dubai winter months we have Shamal wind, I can absolutely state Shamal is a little brother of Kona winds.

22554839_10212970303685902_302850025750247178_n.jpg

I started talking to myself - stay in aero position, head down, this headwind would pass. And it did, once we took a turn towards Hawi, there was a less strong headwind mixed with side winds. I was able to stay in aero position most of the climb towards Hawi town.  

There was a lady in a cowboy hat standing on the side of the road that appeared as if she was standing naked covering her nudity with a banner that read “Ironmen are sexy”. She definitely turned some heads. 

The sun was high and sky was clear, I could see some clouds surrounding Mauna Kea Mountain. Oh, I begged the island to send them to Kona. I felt I was burning, but how badly I couldn’t understand. I felt heated and kept hydrating and taking water& Gatorade at each aid station (each 11 miles). Huge mistake, my mistake No 3.

I finally reached Hawi at km 96 and started riding downhill, expecting a nice tailwind (on the training day that was a fast decent). There was tailwind but together with strong side winds that felt like doubled in force since the climb to Hawi. I couldn’t stay in aero position, scared to be blown away from the course. I would suggest putting a low profile front wheel (mine was 5 and could feel how the winds were moving me sideways). On my way to Hawi I saw a cyclist going down who was blown off with his bike, he crashed at a very high speed. I was really scared. When I’m scared I have a bad habit of pushing breaks but I promised myself not to break (my heart dropped every time the wind blew me sideways). 

2_m-100790443-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1835_009930-12512588.JPG

At one moment I saw a photographer, and said to myself no way I would appear looking scared on the photo - let me smile)))).

On that downhill from Hawi, I was overtaken by so many cyclists. At one moment I was overtaken by an older lady who had a cameraman following her. She almost caused me a crash as she cut me badly. Soon she started to lose speed and I passed her, asking “Are you some kind of celebrity? This cameraman is only following you!”. She smiled and answered “yes”. I tried to remember if I’ve seen her before but couldn’t recognize her face. I noted her race number to find out later she was Julie Moss (the most famous finish line crawl!). How come I didn’t recognize her! I’ve seen so many documentaries and “Tri Movie” with her. Next day I found out she didn’t finish the race and decided to withdraw after the bike leg.

I was counting kilometers to Queen K highway turn and once finally turned, there was another headwind waiting… yuppie )))) just keep positive. At one point I cried to the island - “Come on! Enough headwind and side winds! How about some tailwind for a change????”. I don’t know if any of the fellow cyclist heard that cry. 

4_m-100790443-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1835_017614-12512590.JPG

Onto Queen K, passed the airport and I saw my support crew, they were shouting some encouragement but I couldn’t hear them - I wasn’t enjoying it anymore and counting last 10 kilometers to the T2. Turned to Palani and into T2. I had no power to undo my shoes, passed my bike to a volunteer and started to run or more likely to walk through the transition. Legs were hurt and jelly, I could feel the damage those winds done to them. In the changing tent I had an amazing volunteer assisting me. She put a cold towel on my shoulders, put my running shoes on, brought me water, put my gels into my pockets. I lifted my tri suit to see how badly I burnt (it looked very red), I started to cry but the lovely lady said “you didn’t sun burn, you got the most amazing tan”. She applied sun lotion on my skin and sent me off with positive words. I thanked her greatly.

The run - a loop through the city via Alii Drive, then up back to Queen K to the Energy Lab and back in town. The first few kilometers I felt ok, I passed Katey from Abu Dhabi Tri Belles who gave me some energy and smiles, ran down to Alii drive. The heat from the pavement was really strong, it was very hot like on a typical summer day in Dubai. My first thoughts were “I never do this again”, “Why did I sign up for another full?!”, “I hate running”.

The support of locals and volunteers along Alii drive was amazing. There were few spots with locals standing with the water hoses, giving cold showers to the runners. The turnaround came sooner than I expected. I bumped into Rory on the way back to the city, I didn’t recognize him as my mind was already cloudy.

Soon I started having tummy cramps. Oh no, it was hellish enough already to add tummy problems to this. I walked when the cramps were unbearable. I had few toilet stops and I felt better until I reached Palani’s climb. I walked it up and turned into the long stretch towards Energy Lab. I thought I could keep my strategy- running from one aid station to another, walking each station but had to adapt to my tummy. I was combining walk & run - running as much as I can until I couldn’t bear the pain in my tummy and had to walk. I kept taking water and Gatorade at each aid station. The heat and humidity were strong, the road was reflecting the heat and it felt like a frying pan. I was surprised to see how many men were walking. I saw 2 Andies on their way back to town - and judging by Andy E face expression he wasn’t having any good time. At one point I started talking to fellow competitors: “Hey, isn’t it a nice day today? Hot and humid - lovely! Blah blah blah.” Some were positive, some were not so much. I thought this way I could take my mind off the pain, it worked! I couldn’t wait to reach the turn to Energy Lab (somehow I felt it wouldn’t suck my energy but would give it back to me instead). And I was right - I ran most of it. I was expecting the Energy Lab road to be empty but it had one of the most amazing support and multiple aid stations. Energy lab road was the second best part of the run course. The sun was setting down and I could feel the temperature cooling. I was begging for my cramps to stop so I could carry on with the run. I was upset as the sun almost set down as I was exiting the Energy Lab road cause that meant I would be coming back into town in complete darkness.

My friend joked a few days earlier that I would be having a disco party on the run. Gosh, he was right – I was given glow sticks on my way back to town. The roads in Kona are not lit, there are no street lights on Queen K highway and only aid stations had some lights. I was waiting for my eyes to adjust to the complete darkness so I could see the road. I continued with my walk/run strategy from one loo to another ((((((. Something I hoped would never happen to me in a race, happened to me in Kona. I was hoping not to start throwing up as that would be a complete disaster. 

76_m-100790443-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1835_151863-12512662.JPG

In the darkness my friend found me. He knew I wasn’t having any good time. He kept riding next to me and talking to me. He carried me through those last dark kilometers. As I almost bumped into a road cone, he switched on a flashlight on his phone. I know that personal support is not allowed at the race but I didn’t think about it at the time.

My head was completely empty, I had no positive thoughts left. But it never struck me that I would not finish, if required I would crawl to that finish line no matter what else might have happened to me on that run. 

My GPS was showing that I was very close to town and finishing the run, but the official marks were showing different numbers. After the race I realized that I ran an extra kilometer going from one toilet to another as they located a bit off course.

And finally there it was - the turn to Palani and last 2 kilometers through the city. Euphoria - I have completed one of the hardest races, I have “conquered” Kona and I could finally call myself an Ironman. As I stepped onto the red carpet I couldn’t hold my emotions any longer and tears started running down. Most of you have seen the finish line video, a gift from my coach who recorded the final seconds of my race (I still cry when I watch the video).

Two volunteers helped me to the medical tent, where I was weighted again. I gained 5 pounds. I had about 10 toilet stops. The nurse asked me how much did I drink? I did drink a lot. They laid me down waiting for the doctor to check on me. Turned out my upset tummy and cramps were caused by over-hydration - I drank too much and my liver couldn’t handle all the liquids causing the pain, bloating and cramps. Lesson learnt the hard way ((((.

72_m-100790443-DIGITAL_HIGHRES-1835_147761-12512658.JPG

Post race

I spent some time in athletes’ post-race area, I tried to get some food but couldn’t stand the taste and smell (I can never eat after a race). Massage was out of question as my skin badly hurt. All I wanted is a shower. My friend got his way through security and took me home. I was dreading of the shower, dreading my burns will hurt once I put shampoo on. I was applied an  aftersun treatment on the burnt areas, my neck was affected the worst, it hurt so bad I saw stars in my eyes, I thought I would faint as the pain was unbearable. I cried badly.  Neither could I sleep that night being high on GU and sugar.

Surprisingly, next day I felt ok, I could walk normally and stairs were not an issue. I was emotionally drained for the next 2 days. But on the third day it was “cry me a river”. It all the sudden came to me what happened and I couldn’t hold the tears.

Conclusion

The race was brutal - physically and mentally. It was the hardest day of my life but the experience was truly rewarding. The finish line and Mike Reilly’s words “Olga - young lady, you are an Ironman!” - worth it, worth all the training hours, all the struggles and battles, worth each penny and fil spent, worth all the sweat, tears and blood.

When I did the run and after finishing the race I said to myself “Never again”. But never say never. This race was an eye-opening experience. Racing against the world’s best athletes makes you realize how much work needs to be done to be close to their level (#rookieagainsttheworldsbest).

The mistakes were made and lessons learnt. As much as you prepare for the race you never know what battles you will be going through in Kona.

I consider myself very lucky to race Kona and have my first full ironman done in such an amazing place. I definitely want to come back to the magic island - maybe not as a competitor but as a spectator. The race week atmosphere is so unique and thrilling, I wish every athlete dreaming about Kona to experience it.

It is now time to set new goals and targets. I have decided not to race a full distance next year and transferred my entry from Ironman Frankfurt to Dubai 70.3. There will be a time when I will attempt another full Ironman. Now it’s time to work on my weaknesses.

P.S. A post of gratitude

I would like to thank everyone who was part of my “Road to Kona” – my coach Neil Flanagan and my InnerFight family (without your guidance, knowledge and support I wouldn’t have made it to Kona). My company The First Group, my boss and colleagues that helped my dream to become reality. My friend Volker who was with me in Kona, my girls (you finally have me back in the social scene), my personal trainer Steven Erwee (thank you for all the strength trainings that made me a better cyclist and runner).Thank you to Dubai Masters and Brett Hallam for the swimming sessions, Reiss Adams for the sports massages that helped me to stay injury-free. To all my friends triathletes – for endless support, encouragement and motivation. Mahalo xxx

Olga Matyushina
November 2017

1 Comment

Comment

IRONMAN Italy Emilia-Romagna 2017

The Build Up

After Dubai 70.3 in January this year I was looking for another challenge. I had done one Ironman (UK) in 2015 and had sworn after that I would never do another. But I just couldn’t get excited about another 70.3 and realized I wanted to see what I could achieve over the full distance. I had qualified for Kona in Ironman UK but didn’t take the slot so that itch was there and I wanted to see if I could get there again.

I chose Italy for a number of reasons as well as the pre-race food and post-race wine.

It was at a time of year when the kids are in school so my absence is least disruptive. I am working full time now so arranged for the kids to go to the UK for 5 weeks in the summer and stay with my parents. I figured this would leave me plenty of time to commit to training with all the early mornings and exhaustion this would entail. My parents could also join me at the event which was great – my Dad is both the bike mechanic and chauffeur as well as good company.

I also purposely chose a flat bike course. Living and training in Dubai I just think it is very difficult to be competitive on a hilly course without going to Hatta every weekend and even then I think we are disadvantaged compared to the Europeans with hills on their doorstep.

I did realize it would be very tough to qualify for Kona in Italy as there would likely only be 1 slot for and I am also 39 this year so at the very top of my age category. However, if I did manage to sneek it I would be 40 for Kona the following year and this was appealing.

I really committed to training. I started using Luke Mathews as a coach back in September 2016 and for me having an excellent coach has made a huge difference. I don’t like to miss a session and see Training Peaks turn red and apart from in the swim (I only do Masters swim sessions) I generally do as I am told and try my best in every session. I trained hard and there were a number of 2am starts for 5 hour bike rides at Al Qudra. I only maxed at about 16 hours a week though – I often wondered if I was putting in enough volume but trusted in Coach.

I also took up pilates once a week to strengthen my core and engage my glutes. I believe this made a difference. I became a lot stronger on the bike – my zone 2 pace seemed to move from around 31 kph to 34 kph for long rides at some point and I knew I had managed to turn my cycling into more of a weapon. My running pace increased as the weight dropped off a bit (I didn’t really try to lose weight – it just came off in the process) and as the race got closer I was feeling excited to see what I could do.

Sadly Coach was taken sick in Africa about 3 weeks before the race. This was obviously very concerning and left me without my usual feedback for this period. I suspect I am quite demanding as an athlete as I do like feedback after the key sessions and I began to second guess myself a little without Coach there to help.

Then there was a small disaster when I woke on the Sunday before the race feeling terrible – very dizzy and sick. I called in sick and hoped it would pass. It didn’t and by Tuesday I was forced to go to the doctor and also to accept that there was a possibility I couldn’t race. The doctor diagnosed an inner ear problem and gave me drugs which could help with the symptoms but said it could be weeks until the vertigo passed. I took the drugs, crossed my fingers and set off to Italy feeling somewhat concerned and unable to walk in a straight line let alone complete an Ironman.

The Event

The event itself was brilliant. Cervia is a great little seaside town only an hour from Bologna airport (Emirates fly direct). It has loads of hotels and restaurants and without paying too much money we stayed in a hotel from which we could see the swim start from the balcony. Italy is a fantastic place for pre-race carb loading and the logistics were all so easy with the 1 (very long) transition. Highly recommended to everyone – particularly suiting us in Dubai with the flat and non technical bike course.

I arrived on Thursday with the race on Saturday so didn’t have too much time to spare but the time difference worked to my advantage and I didn’t feel rushed. My Dad put the bike together and I registered on Thursday.

On Friday I went for my pre-race training of very short ‘swim-bike-run’. All was good – the sea was calm, the weather was lovely and I was feeling ok. The drugs seemed to be working and while I wasn’t 100% I felt a lot better and was getting more confident I would be able to race.

The next problem was that my power meter wasn’t working. I thought the batteries just needed changing and set off to get new ones but after a lot of fiddling and wasting of energy we had to conclude we couldn’t get it to work. So I was to race without power. After training all summer to know exactly how many watts I could push on race day I felt a little alarmed at this but tried to relax and remind myself it was just riding a bike – I would be fine. Just don’t push it too hard on the first loop were everyone’s words.

So race day dawned and I woke up feeling excited, nervous and happily not dizzy any more.  I ate 3 wheatabix, a muesli bar and a banana and drunk some Italian coffee. Stomach wasn’t quite right and I vomited a bit back up but I put this down to nerves and hoped it would settle.

Swim (53 mins)

We gathered at the swim start and I ambitiously lined up in the sub 1 hour swim section. I am a strong swimmer and knew I wouldn’t be far off this and I also knew most people overestimate their ability so decided to get near the front. Rhonda managed to spot me and we caught up for a hug and good luck messages before we went off – it was great to be there with a friend.

Off we went and I quickly felt dreadful! I don’t often enjoy the swim (I mainly train in the pool) and within about 500m I had convinced myself my legs ache already and it wasn’t going to be my day. But obviously there wasn’t much choice but to carry on and I did manage to settle into a rhythm and relax. I overtook a lot of people even though I thought I had started near the front.

It was a 2 loop swim with an Australian exit. The sea in Cervia was so shallow that coming into shore and out again was exhausting and disrupted my rhythm. I settled back down and soon enough I was back in and running for transition. I didn’t wear my watch so had no idea of time.

Transition 1 (7 mins)

The transition zone was literally a mile long so we knew transitions would not be quick. Maybe because I knew this I didn’t hurry very much because looking at the results I did lose some time there.

I put on my Castelli stealth top to make me extra aero and protect me from the sun and off I went.

I have never managed (or really tried) to clip my shoes onto my bike and do them up as I go along so I had to run the whole transition zone in my cycling shoes. We were specifically told in the briefing that we were not allowed to carry the shoes down and put them on at our bikes and with the transition being so long this did cost me time.

Bike (5 hours 28 mins)

We had also been told in the briefing that the bike course was 185km – 5km extra for good measure! The course was 2 loops with 1 short (ish) but steep hill around half way of each loop. Otherwise it was flat.

I got going and felt ok. I let myself settle down and just drunk water to start with before having a mars bar after an hour. I enjoyed the mars bar and it seemed to go down smoothly.

On the first loop I was being overtaken by hundreds of extremely fast European men in packs. I know there were some drafting police out there as I saw plenty of people in the penalty tents but clearly there were not enough. I consider myself to be a strong cyclist these days – I can certainly get round Al Qudra pretty quickly but on the roads of Italy this seemed to have disappeared.

IMG_2424.JPG

With no power meter to gauge how much effort I should be putting in it was rather demoralizing but I did know my speed was ok – I was still averaging around 34kph, the fast men must have been going about 40kph.

The hill passed on the first loop without too much trouble. It was steep but it didn’t go on too long so it was manageable. I began to feel very average towards the end of the first loop. I was tired, my back and neck were really hurting and my tummy wasn’t happy and I wasn’t even at 90km yet! I took a gel and vomited it back up – things were not looking good. I told myself ‘this is just a phase’ – just keep peddling. I was soon back in town where I knew I would see my parents and this gave me a boost. I smiled and waved and headed out for the second loop.

IMG_2420.JPG

A strange thing happened on the start of the second loop and I began to find my cycling legs a bit. The fast men had stopped coming past me quite so much and I found myself with more similar level cyclists and then I even started catching some people.  My stomach settled, I kept fueling and I began to feel good again. The hill seemed to have become a mountain but after that it was back into town and I began to feel very happy and excited that I would soon be off the bike.  

Only a marathon left to go! 183km per my watch.

IMG_2421.JPG

Transition 2 (6 mins)

I had an enormous smile on my face coming into T2. It is always a relief to get off the bike without any mechanicals. I didn’t rush too much through T2 and stopped to go to the loo. I changed my top and put my running hydration backpack on. This was something I had decided to do on advice from Brett Sutton at his training camp. It meant I knew I had everything I could possibly need with me on the run and all my own nutrition with me.

It did also mean I was carrying an extra 2kg – I am not sure I would do it again!

Run (3 hours 39 mins)

I set off on the run and realized there was to be no light and bouncy feeling in my legs. (Not sure there ever is in a full Ironman?) They felt heavy and I felt tired from the start. But I was running at a decent pace. I knew I should not go faster than 5 min kms – any faster than that is not sustainable for me. The first couple of km’s were 4.55 ish and then I slowed to around 5’s and just tried to keep going around that for as long as I possibly could.

I am not the world’s best runner but I do have a very efficient running style (more of a shuffle!) and it tends to be better suited to the long distance. I just kept shuffling along feeling very average but telling myself just to keep going. It was a lovely 4 loop course with a section off road in the park. There was great support out there and at times I almost enjoyed it.

By 15km my calves had started cramping. I was very concerned this was happening already. I do tend to have cramping problems with my calves and fortunately in my magic backpack I had lots of salt tabs (as well as everything else imaginable!) so I started taking them religiously. (I was thirsty for days afterwards!) First one calf would go and then the other and then both of them together. I had to stop and stretch them off a lot for the remainder of the marathon but somehow then managed to return to running at the same pace. I was terrified they would go completely and I would end up crawling to the finish but miraculously they just about held up.

By 20km I was feeling very low on energy and turned to the coke and redbull earlier than planned. The stuff is amazing! I really do feel the effect so quickly from the caffeine and the sugar. I then had it at every single aid station after that and I am sure that’s how I got through it. I should have got rid of my backpack to my parents but I wasn’t thinking straight and my salt tabs were in the bag so I decided to keep it on - they were my lifeline. I ran the whole marathon with it on and when I got to the end I realized it was still over half full.

IMG_2422.JPG

As I got towards the end I began to feel very happy and emotional. I realized I was going to achieve a time I hadn’t thought was possible. My Dad had told me I was in 2nd at some point early on the run and then I was overtaken by another girl in my age group so I presumed I was 3rd but that didn’t make any difference to me. I had put in a performance I was so proud of and really dug so deep I knew I couldn’t have done any more.  Total time was 10 hours 14 mins and 44 seconds.

IMG_2419.JPG

Kona

It turned out I was second in age group. Due to the rolling start the girl who overtook me was already in front of me – she had started the swim 8 minutes later than me. I was the 5th Age grouper home and also beat 4 of the professional women. But there was no automatic Kona slot as the female field was a small percentage of the total field and all female categories only got 1 slot.

IMG_2408.JPG

This does seem a bit unfair but I know all the arguments and the mens fields are so much deeper. I also knew the score in advance so can’t complain. I went to the awards ceremony the next day to pick up my 2nd place trophy and for the Kona roll down but didn’t have high hopes.

I got very lucky and the winner didn’t take the slot. As Paul Kaye said her name 3 times I began to get excited and then I jumped out of my seat so quickly on the first mention of my name and paid the USD 1000(!!) to secure my Kona slot. This was the icing on the cake.

The Lessons

There were so many times I felt terrible and wanted to quit during this race.

You could look at the race result and conclude I had a great race and it must have all gone to plan. The truth is I am not sure it ever goes exactly to plan but I just kept believing and kept going.

I must have told myself 100 times ‘this is just a phase – it will pass’ and most of the time it did eventually pass and I felt vaguely ok again. It is a long day out and I reminded myself of all the training I had done, all those early mornings and sacrifices I had made. I thought of all the people tracking me and how much I didn’t want to let everyone down. I also thought of Coach and how much he would have loved to be racing – it will be a while until he is back on the start line (but he will be back!).

I must thank Luke and the other guys at Optimal Tri – you are clearly doing a great job. I must also thank my husband who is not remotely interested in Triathlon -  he thinks I am mad but supports me nonetheless.

The inaugural Ironman Italy was an amazing experience and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to everyone – sign up now!

IMG_2407.JPG

Lucy Woollacott
September 2017

 

Comment

Comment

Ironman Maastricht 2017

Ironman Maastricht was my second attempt over the full IM distance. I took part in Challenge Roth last year and came in at 12:43. The primary focus of my training this year was to try and get close to or, ideally, break the 12hour milestone over the distance. My training had gone well and i had some good results over shorter distances and i felt ready.  A nervous couple of days with bad weather preceded the event but woke up on the Sunday to clear blue skies and very little wind. I was ready.

The atmosphere in transition was buzzing as you would expect. I only have Roth as a reference point and thats a tough act to follow, but it was brilliant. We lined up by the river Maas, waiting for the cannon sending the pros on their way. All around us the crowd was amazing. Unlike Roth, when i was a bag of nerves, I found myself really enjoying this moment and singing along to any song that came on that i liked and chatting with other competitors. A few of the locals thought it was extremely funny that i was freezing on what was effectively a glorious summers day. Before I knew it, the second cannon went off and the age groupers were under way too.

I lined up with the 1hour group and within a few minutes i was in the water. The temperature was great, i was warmer in the water than out. Stroke for stroke i quickly settled into my swim. All the while you could hear the crowd, especially every time we approached a bridge. Three bridges to swim under before we got to the little island where the turnaround happened.

image4.JPG

Bridge 1: done...bridge 2: done...bridge 3: done... Next up the turnaround. The current was strong, but i felt ok. I remember the temperature of the water feeling much colder as we approached the island. I had settled into a rhythm and was trying to establish a clear line to the exit point. I was still overtaking people so i got out of the water feeling good. I've never done a triathlon that included an aussie exit before so other than the dizzy feeling when you stand up i really didn't know what to expect. My plan was to get out, run and check my watch see how i was doing and jump back in. I got out and the atmosphere on that tiny little island was amazing. I found myself totally sucked in by it. I ran across, and jumped back in, totally forgetting about my watch.

By now the sun was fully up and shining, we could actually see straight down to the swim exit. And more importantly, we were now swimming with the current and not against it. Yay . Stroke for stroke i was getting closer to completing the first leg. I sighted every 7 strokes or so and tried to keep as direct a line to the exit as i could. Swim done: 1:02! Not the hour i was chasing, but it was still over a minute faster than my previous time over the distance and this included an aussie exit too. Happy with that, i ran to T1. The run seemed longer all of a sudden, but it was good to warm up the legs and get them going. Grant's words all the while echoing in my head: "don't waste time in there, make sure you're ready for the bike, but no need to stop for a hot chocolate!" 6minutes since exiting the swim, i was on the bike.

Legs felt good. The temperature had warmed up too. Thank goodness! First hill was up pretty early on. 9% incline and right after a tight right hand bend, so couldn't carry any speed going into it but i was going ok. I even caught up a couple of other riders.

Though with the swim being my strongest, it did mean that strong cyclists were also now catching up with me and overtaking me too, which in the past has been quite demoralising, but i kept my focus on my own race. Hill 1 done and just a few kms later it was the Bemelerberg. 11%, long and windy. At the top of the hill was a restaurant, and despite how early in the day it was, it was already a hype of activity which was a welcome boost. Hill 2 done and i knew the next one wasn't until we hit Belgium.

I tried to build some speed and bank some time but what followed was long windy roads, false flats and the wind gradually picking up. Off the main road and on to a cycle track. The view was beautiful, but the roads were narrow, at points narrower than AQ, and the surface rough. I wasn't holding the pace i wanted but i wasn't far off either and i knew once the next hill was done there was a chance to pick up speed and make up some ground. I kept my focus. The crossing into Belgium was totally unremarkable when we had driven it in the car a few days before. But on race day it was a different matter. The border crossing was marked with two huge inflatables bearing the symbol of the region and two huge torches on either side of the road let out a burst of fire every time an athlete made the crossing. I smiled thinking that was a pretty impressive detail on behalf of the organisers and it was just for us. The next hill Hallembaye Bassange took my breath away when it came into view, and not in a good way. All i could see was cyclist after cyclist grinding up the 13% hill, some even zig zagging their way up. Plenty of support out on course at that point too which was extremely welcome.

The second timing mat was at the top of the hill, the first had also been at the top of a hill and i smiled at the thought of everyone tracking back home that would no doubt be thinking: "Uh oh she's slow!" But i knew what followed would hopefully let me pick up speed so i didn't worry. I had to climb without destroying my legs, it was only 45k into a 180k ride. A bit of downhill relief and on to yet another cycle track. One 90 degree left hand turn and 100m or so later another 90 degree right hand blind turn. I knew another athlete was behind me and i figured he would pass me on the next available straight. Sadly not! I know i'm not the fastest at cornering, i like to play it safe so maybe he was a bit frustrated at the pace and lack of space. He undertook me on the right but misjudged his line, ran out of road and was headed for the bushes on the side. He was too close however and his back wheel swiped my front. Before i knew it, or had any chance to react i found myself on my back on the side of the road in the field. Took me a few seconds to process what had happened before i stood up. I checked the bike and it seemed ok. I checked myself and i was ok. I gathered the waterbottles that had flown off the bike and a few choice greek words later i hopped back on to my bike and carried on, still processing what had happened and trying to get my focus back. In all honesty, I have no idea whether the other guy carried on or not. I remember him standing up and sorting his bike but i was off again before he was. In hindsight i should have checked if he was ok, it was an accident, but in my head it was an avoidable accident, ride right, pass LEFT! So i was in no mood to be helpful. I was back on the road, and felt ok, the bike seemed ok. Relief! But something didn't feel quite right. My back felt tight, particularly if i stood on the pedals or pushed up an incline. 'Uh oh! this is not good!'

The belgian section of the bike course was in theory faster and to an extent it was, but the road surface was notably worse. Lots of bumps, and concrete cycle tracks and two interesting road crossings. Instead of having us simply use the roads as they were,  on two particular junctions, the organisers constructed temporary bridges/ramps about a storey high, so we would effectively ride over the road, while traffic would continue as normal below us. It certainly added to the event but getting on and off them involved a little lip/step so even more impact and jarring. Soon we were on another cycle track that led us to the river bank. This was just stunning. And the road was flat. Proper flat, and relatively wide..."Finally! some speed! About time!" Down on the aeros, head down and i pushed hard. But i couldn't hold the aero position for long. My back was really hurting so i stayed on the hoods. I tried to put it out of my mind and kept pushing. I noticed other cyclists on the other side of the river so i figured there was a crossing soon but i couldn't see one ahead. All i could see was bridges way up high above us at road level but none at river level.  "Where on earth was this crossing?" A u-turn sign was displayed, and we were directed on a very steep hill to bring us up to road level! I took the u-turn wide, and thankfully managed to drop down my gears for the climb up, but others who had taken it tight and were taken by surprise with this 'little' hill, hidden by trees, ended up dropping their chain or running out of gears.

To give you an idea of how steep it was, my garmin kept pausing and restarting! yes i was that slow, but i was still overtaking a couple of people too. We were rewarded with a totally breathtaking view when we got to the top and the bridge that would bring us back into Holland. Finally, on the home straight into Maastricht and lap one was almost done. Still had the cobbles to deal with in the city though. I had ridden the cobbles a couple of days before and i was ok with it. Sadly cant say the same about my garmin! All the impact and constant jarring and the garmin flew off my bike. Unfortunately i didn't actually notice it happen so as far as i was concerned garmin was lost. "Bugger! Jeff's gonna kill me! Looks like lap 2 is on feel! Argh!" Lost garmin aside, lap 2 of the bike didn't start too bad. Just like Roth i felt more comfortable on the course and was taking the corners faster and riding better. At least thats how it felt. Hit the first hill, and my back was screaming. In the saddle or out of the saddle, it didn't matter, both were just as bad. knowing i still had 3 hills to deal with and lots of false flats ahead, i was worried. "I still have about 80k to go, how am i gonna get through it like this?" Kept riding and pushing through. Cycle track, cattle grids, and yet again something seemed amiss! Front tyre was flat! More greek mumbling as i started to change the tyre. Within 8minutes i was back on the bike and soon enough on Bemelerberg again. Mentally i was seriously struggling.

My focus was gone, and i recognised that it was gone but i couldn't seem to get my head back in it.  "No one will judge me if i stop now..." But the thought of everyone who was tracking me suddenly seeing DNF next to my name and no doubt the worry that would bring, kept me going. As long as i stayed on the hoods my back was ok. Another incline and as i tried to change gears the aerobar practically came off in my hand. More greek mumbling and yet another stop to screw it in. Thankfully i hadnt lost the screw, otherwise i would have been totally screwed. I had another 45k to go but i felt totally defeated. I had no feedback other than the time on my wrist watch and it was easy to work out that the 6hr bike split i was chasing was unattainable and i wasn't even on track to improve my Roth bike split of 6:21. Simon, (one of my coaches) had told me to just focus on my effort.

As long as i was giving it my best, it didn't matter if it was the perfect race or not. Lesley (my other coach) has time and again spoken to me of gratitude: "Look where you are and what you're able to do...." But i was struggling to feel it at that point. I pedalled on knowing i had a pretty awesome group of friends and family following the tracker urging me on. Transition was there! The relief at finally finishing the bike felt great, but the final bike split also felt like a punch in the gut. To break 12hours i needed a 4 hour marathon. "No **** chance! But maybe, just maybe, if i can run the run I trained for, i can still beat my Roth time"

The run started well. I checked my watch: 5:55 pace. For me, after that ride, that pace was brilliant. "Ok not bad, i can do this". The run was 4 laps around the city, with one hill at the 2.5k mark. I have never been happier to have had so many hill rep sessions in my training. I took the hill in my stride. I was actually overtaking people. Me?? On the run?! Imagine that?! The run lap was relatively compact for a 10K which made it amazing. The entire city was out in full force to support every single one of us. 

The energy was unbelievable. So many people sat outside their houses, with make shift aid stations, cheering us on, as well as the expected loud hotspots near restaurants, bars and parks and official aid stations. Hard not to get sucked into it all and it was just what i needed. I kept the pace and headed towards the finish area for the first lap turnaround. We cruelly had to run right next to the finishing chute 3 times before we could go in. But that first run through brought a very welcome and unexpected boost in the form of a shout out from Paul Kaye, the main MC for the event: "Here comes Melina, from Cyprus, she's our Women for Tri ambassador in Dubai representing TriDubai, here she comes with the bright red hair, give her a special cheer" That was a highlight, and it made me smile and picked my spirits up (and for that, huge thanks to Andy Fordham for setting it up, it was a welcome surprise and a moment that will stay with me).

I was now on lap two but things soon started to change. The legs felt good but the back was getting worse. Every step just brought more sharp shooting pains. I started to walk the aid stations. The walks just got longer. "I cant do this" I remembered Grant telling me about his NZ race earlier this year. He'd raced it under the worst ever weather conditions for that event, also with a back injury, he had a bad day but he pushed through to finish. "With each step comes the decision to take another..." I drew strength from that and pushed on. I saw my Roth time go by on my wrist watch and i couldn't hold back the tears. "Can I at least break 13 hours? Try running, just one step at a time.." but pretty soon i was back to walking. I felt totally crushed. "Just go out and enjoy the race, and the atmosphere of the event, the performance will take care of itself" So i focused on the support. So many kids with their hands stretched out for high fives and I made a point of high fiving every single one; a little girl in a bright pink tutu held up a sign saying: tap here for power and i did, every single time i passed her and her smile when I did was priceless. It reminded me of my girls at home, probably still up waiting for me to finish before they could go to bed.

By this point there were many struggling athletes out on course and i tried to offer some encouragement to those i passed... if anything it distracted me from my own struggle. 13hrs passed and i still had a bit of way to go. I approached the last checkpoint and lined up to receive my last wristband, i had done 4 laps, i could run into the finishing chute now. The atmosphere at that point was just as electric as the finish itself. Anyone getting that 4th wristband received a massive cheer from all the volunteers and everyone at the cafes and restaurants around. "500m Mel, thats all that left" I picked up the pace. I was gonna run through this last bit, i wasn't gonna cross the line walking. I heard a few shout outs: "Number 4, Bragging rights are waiting", "4 bands go get your medal"...I was smiling. I saw Yvonne on the last turn, my fantastic friend who was quite simply an outstanding support crew and point of contact with Jeff and others back in Dubai and Cyprus. I ran to the finish. I had finished. I did it. The relief was immense. Got the medal round my neck and that was it.

Within seconds of crossing that finish line and the relief that came with it, the disappointment of the day just enveloped me and it was tears from then on. It wasn't the race i wanted and it certainly wasn't the race i trained for. I called Jeff who after 13 and a bit hours of tracking his wife while looking after the kids, no doubt expected (and deserved) a happy cheery phone call. Unfortunately he got nothing but tears at the other end of the phone. I knew i did well to finish and given how the day evolved my best that day was just that: to finish. But at that time it didn't feel good enough, I didn't feel good enough.
A few days later and an overwhelming amount of support messages from friends and family and i can now see (ok so maybe I'm not there fully yet, but Im working on it) that the day wasn't quite as bad as it felt. I did an Ironman, my second one and I finished. Despite what the day threw at me i finished and well within cut off times. Im not the fastest out there, Im just an average middle of the pack age grouper chasing the elusive 12hr mark, just a mum of three gorgeous girls (who drive me absolutely bonkers at times) and I am in a position, physically, socially, and financially to be able to do this. Mainly thanks to my amazing husband and a pretty awesome group of friends and family. And for that I am truly grateful. I can do it when others cant.  So focus is back on and eyes turn to Roth again next year.

I would totally recommend Ironman Maastricht. It is an amazing event. The bike though tough and definitely not a PB setting type of course is beautiful and the run quite simply buzzing with energy. The whole event was brilliantly managed and the volunteers excellent. So much so, that my Garmin didn't stay lost for long. A volunteer saw it bounce off my bike and collected it, and it was soon returned to me after the race. Not before they first rang Jeff in Dubai (while i was still out on the course) and nearly gave him a heart attack when they said: Im calling from Ironman Maastricht about Melina... (he can just about laugh about that now). 

Thanks to Hasan and the entire TriDubai community for the messages and support. It really is a privilege to be part of this group and to Tri for TriDubai. 

Melina Timson-Katchis
Ironman Maastricht

 

Comment

Comment

Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon

It has been 26 years since I last visited Alaska.  In 1991, I climbed Mount Denali, formerly known as Mount McKinley, which at an elevation of 20,310' or 6,190m, is the highest peak in North America and the third most isolated mountain on earth.

Now, older and supposedly wiser, I was here to take on the inaugural Alaskaman Extreme Triathlon. The start point was located in Seward and comprised a 4.2km swim in the cold glacial waters of Resurrection Bay, then an 180km bike leg with an elevation of 1200m finishing in Girdwood, followed by a 43km run leg with an elevation of 1800m whilst ascending Mount Alyeska twice.

Arriving in Seward reminded me of arriving in Eidfjord or Shieldaig, it was the end of the road, remote, different and isolated. I love this sort of environment, I thrive in it, it makes you feel alive, humble. Everything here challenges you.  Our accommodation was rural, basic, but appropriate.

   Our Cabin in the woods                                                                                

Our Cabin in the woods                                                                                

During race week, humour is a hugely important commodity and we certainly had that in spades; Big Brother could not have put together a better crowd. Chris Scott (CS) is one of those good guys, and I mean one of those really good guys, he made the week for me.

Trust me, life is just better knocking around with him.

   A rare serious moment for Chris Scott

A rare serious moment for Chris Scott

In a concerted effort to bully our bodies into acclimatising to the painfully cold water, we swam every morning. 

The only relief for CS and myself, was witnessing Luke Mathews overly animated and hilarious reaction to the icy water as he tentatively entered it, emitting a high pitched, chilling squeal whilst grimacing and cursing every tortured step into the murky depths of Resurrection Bay.

  Feeling small

Feeling small

One of the strongest open water swimmers I know, Luke was first out of the water every time, heading up the beach for a hot coffee and targeting some unsuspecting victims to regale his heroic Kona stories to.

   There was this one time in Kona.....................

There was this one time in Kona.....................

Race week went well for me. I felt good, confident and had trained hard for this one.  This would be my first self-coached race, and allowed me to experiment, push harder, go beyond what I thought I could do and what I thought would be required. But, the swim was bothering me, I couldn't put my finger on it, somehow it was intimidating me almost scaring me. I needed a strategy, I wrestled with it for a few days, and then it hit me. I was really looking forward to the bike leg, even more so to the run, so this whole race now becomes a 4.2km swim. I'm going to swim as hard as I can for 4.2km; the rest is just going to be fun!                                      

Head sorted.

   Brave faces before our ritual morning dip at the swim start

Brave faces before our ritual morning dip at the swim start

We assembled at Miller's Landing, the location for the start of the swim, at around 0400. It was bleak with a cold drizzling rain and an eerie mist rolling across the chilly 12 degrees C water.  We could just pick out the lights of Seward in the distance. Aaron Palaian, the race director (RD) gave his final brief, and the proud Americans stood upright as their National Anthem was sung; I'm not normally one for flag waving, but this seemed right, fitting.

   The amazing but daunting view before the start

The amazing but daunting view before the start

I set off hard, sighting was easy with a big white light 4.2km away in Seward to navigate towards.  Slowly, the wetsuit started to kick in, I didn't get warm by any means, but my body started to tolerate it. I got on some feet for a while, but felt I could go past them so kicked and went on, slowly creeping towards the light that didn’t seem to be getting any closer to me.

There's a point on this swim where a glacial run-out pours into the bay and the water temperature significantly drops. We'd been warned about it, but I still wasn't prepared for the shock of hitting sub 8 degrees C water.

The tide was also due to turn 1 hour 11 minutes after the start, a significant event for us weaker swimmers; I was fatigued now, getting increasingly colder and battling through the last few hundred meters of this choppy defiant water. Finally, I turned left around the one and only buoy on the course and onto the old boat ramp. I tried to stand, wobbled and dropped to my knees again. My second attempt was more successful, a quick glimpse of my watch, 1:33, I'll take that; game on!

   A most welcome sight, the one and only buoy on the swim course

A most welcome sight, the one and only buoy on the swim course

Luke grabbed me and said, "Let's go!" Perfect, no niceties, just how I'd asked him to be. This is where support is invaluable; I was cold, unsteady on my feet and struggling to function properly.  Luke was straight into the routine that we had planned the day before. An attempt to generate warmth by sprinting into T1, then wetsuit off, towel me dry and warm kit on.  Colleen offered me coffee, she knows me too well, the best hot coffee I've ever tasted.

This pair got me sorted and eventually I set off on my bike, still shivering but thinking I have made the best critical decision of this race, my support crew, Luke and Colleen.                                        

I haven't known Luke Mathews all that long, and he only became a closer acquaintance of mine fairly recently.  He is a civilian, who has been thrown in with a group of sharp-tongued, no-nonsense, unforgiving squaddies, but has quickly adapted, and now gives as good as he gets, in his own polite and boyishly charming manner.  Luke can turn his hand to anything, could have chosen any career path I'm sure; he would have certainly been welcomed into the ranks back in my day. The coaching world is definitely a richer environment with him around and it's good to have someone you respect so much on your team.

Your support team cannot give you any assistance for the first 46km; I liked this, just you and the bike and time to get your head in the game.  Still very cold, I peddled hard, but something didn't feel right, the front of my bike felt strange.  Is my front wheel loose?  Or was it the stem?  I almost stopped to check it out before realising what the issue was - I was incredibly cold and shivering so violently that I was making the bike wobble!

As I approached the 46km point it felt good to see Luke and Colleen, along with Andy and Jo Edwards (CS's support).

Support is good during any race, but when they are physically supporting you with nutrition, clothing or mechanical issues, they really become an integral part of the race; invested in the whole experience. The stops were like clockwork, slick and efficient; empty bottles out, fresh bottles in, bananas, gels, energy bars and whatever else I needed.

Just as I was about to set off, I glimpsed CS pulling up behind me.  I didn’t acknowledge him, but two thoughts went through my head; firstly, fantastic he'd conquered his swim demons and secondly shit, the next few hours are going to be tough... that boy can ride! I pushed hard on the bike making the early decision to go above my planned watts, it was a gamble, but I’d put in some big training runs and hoped that my legs would carry me well off the bike.  Plus there was an annoying devil on my shoulder telling me, "Don't let CS pass you!"

I entered T2 with a sub 5:30 bike split and was taken aback slightly as I could only see, at the most, a dozen racked bikes!  I dismissed it quickly, telling myself that Cycle Chauffeur must have already put some of the bikes in their trucks, in order to transport them away.

I quickly went through my bike to run transition routine, I had barely got my trainers on when CS appeared, racked his bike and took a seat next to me. We exchanged a few textbook triathlon one liners,                       

"Looking good mate."

"You've smashed the bike mate."

"Think I might have gone too hard mate."

Psychological warfare over, I needed to get moving!

   Just needed to keep moving

Just needed to keep moving

The first 23km of the run was also self-supported and again I liked this, just you and your mind games.  I was wearing my Salomon running vest, carrying water, coke, gels, bars and Skittles.  I was good to go, 23km to Luke and I had set myself the goal of not stopping until I see him.

I overtook a guy within 50m of leaving T2, a good sign; I gave him a couple of words of encouragement and didn't look back.

After a couple of hundred meters, the track loops under the road and doubles back on itself; I looked across the road and could see CS just leaving T2, my coaching side subconsciously analysed his posture and gait; upright, leaning slightly forward, looking strong CS, nice!

I picked off another couple of runners; I wasn't looking at my watch and wasn't worried about the pace.  I just needed to keep moving, 20km to Luke.

At around 6km, a guy passed me moving really well. " Great running mate, looking strong." A short time after this, another guy passed me.  Am I slowing or are they just really strong?  Just keep moving Chris, 17km to Luke.

The two guys had made around 600m on me, but now I seemed to be holding them at that, maybe even reeling them in?  10km to Luke.

Slowly but surely I closed them both down and eventually passed them as I turned left into Girdwood; a long straight 3km climb up to where I would meet Luke.

The promise of a reprieve once I got there was short lived. I received two simple words from him, the same two words I had heard from him over 7 hours ago.

 "Let's go!"

                            Let's go!

                         Let's go!

The next 9km of the run was an out and back loop around a Nordic ski track.  As we headed off, Luke said:

"That guy in front is in 8th, you're in 9th."

"Seriously?" Was all I could mutter, but now with a new spring in my step.

The Nordic loop wound its undulating way through a wooded area, I took the guy in 8th, saw 7th, he was in a real bad way, holding his support's hand and staggering badly. As I passed him Luke said:

"No matter how bad it gets mate, I'm not holding your hand!"

Still running well, I took the guy in 6th, and as we approached the turn-around we saw the guy in 5th coming in the other direction, Leonardo Mello from Sao Paulo, Brazil. He became a special target; as his support guy was Craig Alexander (Crowie).

   Amazing support from this guy, driving me on when it was starting to bite.

Amazing support from this guy, driving me on when it was starting to bite.

With 5th position firmly in my sights, we made the turn and started to close the gap. A surreal moment and one, I am sure, I will never repeat; I'm in a triathlon and about to move into 5th place overall, overtake Crowie (3x Ironman World Champion & 2x 70.3 World Champion) and there are park rangers keeping an eye on a bear just off the track!

As we headed back into Girdwood, we had arranged to do a mini transition before heading up the mountain.  Once again, Colleen and Luke were amazing, everything I required was laid out like a buffet and I even had a comfortable towel to sit on:

Trainers and socks off, fresh socks and trail running shoes on; coke, Red Bull, my vest was resupplied and I ate a banana.  Time to go!

Luke and Andy Edwards had checked out the mountain stage a few days before, telling me that nobody can run that; it's just too steep. Every time they told me this I arrogantly said to myself, "I'm running it."

Reality hit home as I moved onto the 25% slope, it felt like running into a brick wall!

The mountain stage only accounts for about 5% of the total distance of the race, but I had probably focused 90% of my training towards it. This is where I hoped it would count.

   The mountain stage with two ascents of Mt. Alyeska

The mountain stage with two ascents of Mt. Alyeska

I picked up a tip from Luke during Ironman South Africa.  When he goes to sleep on the eve of the race, he has no further phone or social media interaction until post race.  I liked that and thought that I’d try it.  But, as I turned off my alarm at 0130 that morning, I accidentally glimpsed a message on the screen:

One word,

'Execute!'

To a military man this simple word is definitive and unambiguous. This message was from a person that, like numerous other people around the world, I admire and look up to greatly, David Labouchere.  David was a senior officer in the British Army, and this was no throwaway word of encouragement, this was an executive order.                                                  

“Roger that Zero Alpha.”

As I looked up, I could see a number of ski lifts and buildings scattered across the mountain and I asked Luke a rhetorical question:                  

"Which one are we going to?"                          

"The highest one, target acquired" he replied.          

I smiled to myself, we had taught the civilian well.

This was going to be a tough couple of hours, with grades of 25-28% and very tired legs, I pushed on.                                                           

I was drawing on as much inspiration as I could now; only a few weeks ago I'd watched Hasan Itani refuse to quit on the Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon and achieve his goal.  Jimmy Tracy had just gone to his limits to produce a 1hr 20min PB at Roth. Colleen, my ultimate supporter, was now waiting for me at the top of this mountain and Luke was continually harassing me, driving me on with no sympathy.                                                           

I didn't want to let these guys down.

   Time to dig deep

Time to dig deep

Having completed the first ascent and climbed to the highest point we were now descending; passing within touching distance of the finishing arch to our right.

As we descended Luke told me. "You know you're being 'chicked' don't you?"                                                    

"Yep" I replied.  I had seen Morgan Chaffin, the leading and eventual winning female earlier in the race looking super strong and I hadn’t expected to catch her.  But, as we rounded a bend she was there, moving quite slowly down the mountain, sadly she was struggling with the descent.  It's easy to underestimate the difficulty of running downhill, most naturally concentrate on the uphill, but there is a skill and technique to descending efficiently.  A skill I had worked on whilst running in the Hatta Mountains with the Dubai Desert Trail Runners.              

I'm in 4th now, way beyond my wildest dreams!                                                         

The descent completed, we made good ground along a short, relatively flat section before turning back into the mountain for the final assault of the north face.

The final push was up a very steep slope of seemingly endless switchbacks; slowly the noise of the finishing line came into range. I didn't know it at the time, but Daniel Folmar, who finished 3rd overall was only just ahead of me. I subsequently found out that I had made over 23 minutes on him in the last 11km, but it wasn't enough to catch him as he had thrown down a seriously impressive bike split, allowing him the luxury of a 4 minute wait at the finish line for me.

   The sign said 12 switchbacks, it lied!

The sign said 12 switchbacks, it lied!

Getting to that final switchback was such a fantastic feeling, the greatest moment I've ever had in any race. I zipped up my trisuit, climbed the final rise and crossed the line literally on top of the world.

   A good day's work

A good day's work

The atmosphere at the finish line was amazing; I hugged Luke, hugged Colleen and then found a spot to collapse.  Daniel came over and we shook hands, congratulated each other and chatted about our races; he is such a nice guy.

A good day's work, 4th overall, 1st masters in a time of 12:28:38 with a 5:11:48 run split, the 3rd fastest of the day.

Just when I thought that the day couldn't get any better, Jo Edwards told me that CS was close to finishing and he was in the top ten!  A short while later, I had the absolute pleasure of watching him run up that last ramp and cross the finish line, 9th overall.  True to his word, he didn’t let me out of his sights and had the race of his life.  I know how hard he had worked for that, the day is now complete.

   The Wingman

The Wingman

   The Crew

The Crew

   1st Masters

1st Masters

   No words!

No words!

   Do the work; don't hit the snooze button and squat!

Do the work; don't hit the snooze button and squat!

Chris knight
Alaskaman, July 15th, 2017

Comment

Comment

Ironman 70.3 Muskoka

So Ironman 70.3 Muskoka… they say all good things come in pairs so if you want to do the most beautiful yet difficult race this one’s for you.  

Why Muskoka?  Well the main reason for the trip was to actually go fulfill a promise to pester a friend of mine for a few weeks while seeing Canada for the first time. Luckily it just so happened that there was a 70.3 only hour and a half drive away from where she lived and what better way to way to see the country than in lycra and pain. My research into the race showed that it was not a big/high profile race by any means with 700 athletes last year but it was a race nonethe less and was a great opportunity to see one of the most beautiful places in Canada.

As always I arrived a few days before the race to get settled in, jet lag wasn’t an issue for me as the last few days in Dubai was spent getting myself on their time. This was a huge advantage and I really recommend it for big time zone changes. After a 13 hour flight I landed at Pearson Itl in Torronto with the race venue being a 3 hour drive inland to a small town called Huntsville in Muskoka. Thankfully we stayed at my friends trailer most the trip which was halfway between the two and deep in the country.  It was the perfect location, step out the door and youre on a fresh water lake with plenty of forest trails to run,  she warned me that I just needed to keep an eye out for bears when I did... nice!

My only worry leading upto the race was that it was at +400m and having only trained at sea level the higher altitude might prove difficult.  My first run backed this fear up as I felt short of breath, light headed and struggled to hold a decent pace. This faded over a few days as my body became acustomed to the lesser oxygen. If you are planning to do this race id say you need minimum four days to be completely aclimatised and race ready.

The day before the race we did the remaining 1.5 hour drive up to Huntsville for registration and check in before enjoying the arvo on the lake.  The event was really well organised well laid out,  final bike checks done with a free once over by a bike mechanic. Id say this was mandatory as there was acouple of hairy decents! Entering transition I could see there were a few more than the 700 athletes last year… in fact there were 1500 this time around and some strong looking people. I just went about my usual, found my spot and racked before quietly sneaking out.  

Picture4.png

Accomidation wise there was 4/5 places a short ride from transition with some great deals if your staying for longer.  As a thankyou for putting up with me I splurged and booked a room at the Deerhurst resort for the weekend, it’s a bit taxing $$$ wise but is definatly worth it!

Once we got to the room I laid all the gear out and got everything ready. My plan was simple: go hard on the swim, go hard on the bike, and put everything else into the run.  Easy plan and simple to remember but only 1 way to find if it was a half good plan!

My nutrition was the same as always:

  • 1 gel before the swim
  • On the bike I had 2 bottles of water, 1 bottle just plain and 1 with electrolytes mixed with 2 hi5 gels and topped with water and finally 2 GU gels in storage. The gels were reserved for the 35km & 65km mark while the “energy” bottle was to be sipped at throughout the 94km.
  • The run was 2 GU gels and salt tablets

That night we went to one of the many restraunts at the resort and carb-loaded with a few other athletes, thankfully it was a buffet which meant limitless pasta!  Once I felt sufficiently bloated we headed off to bed and it wasn’t until my alarm went off at 4:30 that I woke up.  I felt well rested and started to get ready while munching on some porridge and dancing to the music like an idiot. 

We did the short drive to transition and parked in one of the many designated parking areas, it was only a short walk to transition from where we parked which was great.  There was a dark atmosphere around everyone; there had been a little rain the night before so everything was a bit cold and damp.  I went about preparing my gear: getting the bottles in place, gels in storage with CO2 and tire leavers, shoes clipped in with the elastic holding them up, and my spare hidden under the seat.  Finally I made sure I was in the right gear ratio, the mount line was at the base of a small hill.  I did a few practice mounts the day before to find the right gear to get up easily and after that I was set! 

Once the wetsuit was on we did the 500m walk up the canal/creek to the start.  As always it was a very tense atmosphere, we were set off in waves of 2 age groups with 5 minutes between waves and I was in the second wave with the 30-35 AG. It was now that the nerves hit and they hit hard. I backed off into the corner of my mind and zoned out until our wave was called.  I said my goodbyes and headed off to the water.

SWIM

The swim was a simple course and really well marked out with massive orange buoys every 100m to sight off. It was a deep water start and the water was beautiful. I positioned myself on the front row of swimmers expecting to have a strong swim and be in the front pack.

The gun went and it was eyes to the back of my head for the first 300m to break away. I paired up with one other guy and we swam shoulder to shoulder, it didn’t take long before we were passing the slower swimmers from the wave ahead.  Come the first turn marker I’d made a small gap and was well into the wave ahead and feeling good. Kept a strong pace for the rest of the swim until I was amongst the top 10 swimmers from the first wave in the closing meters of the swim.  Then it was straight out of the water and into the wetsuit strippers which had me out of my wetsuit and on my way before I even said hi.  After a 400m run to transition and a quick change I was ready for the bike.

Ended up finishing the swim in 1st AG and with the 4th fastest time.  Much of the credit goes to swim buddy Michael who knows not of the word “Steady!”

BIKE

Words can’t describe how incredible this course is, so I’m not going to try. What I can say is it was a single 94km loop around one of the big lakes, the first half of the course was spent going through winding country roads surrounded by wilderness with a lot of sharp climbs and descent’s. Whilst the second half of the ride was on open “highways” in the sunshine.  Mostly overlooking the lake while passing through small towns and by some waterfalls. One of which I voluntarily came out of the bars just to take it in for a minute!

This by no means made it an easy course though, with 1250m of recorded climbing I was glad I spent so much time riding the hills and getting comfortable with how the bike and wheels handled which is a MUST DO if you plan to do this race!

I had a great start to the ride and really enjoyed the feeling of a fast pace through the small roads. Ever so slowly I began reel the front guys in, until about 40km where I’d worked up to 2nd place from our 4 waves. A quick stat check at 47km and my power was right on the money.  It wasn’t long after that where I was passed by 4 uber bikers who just flew past!  But from then on it was quiet with no one to be seen.  

Coming into transition I got my feet out of the shoes early and coasted the last 200m downhill to the dismount line, I jumped off the bike and hit the lap button on the garmin, 268W average and a split of 2:41… I was exactly where I wanted to be!  As I ran into transition the PA went off announcing that I was currently in 1st for my AG and 6th back to transition.  A great way to start the run.

RUN

Last but not least the run, similar to the bike there was almost no flat spots.  300m of ascent over 21km it should have been called a climb more than a run.   As soon as I got to the hills I threw all hopes of 4:10/km out the window and it just became a don’t stop kind of run.  My legs felt fine and I felt composed the entire time but it was either straight up or straight down.  I kept to my plan and took 1 salt tablet every 20mins or so which kept the cramps away and a gel at 10km.  Unfortunately while admiring the view my competitor snuck up on me and sped past at the start of the second loop, I gave a big push and we ran together for all of 3km before I was spent.  This 19 year old kid from high school was just on another level! 

It was nice however to run up to a lady on my second lap waring the TriDubai kit! Sorry I didn’t get your name but If your reading this, however brief the chat was it was nice to know I wasn’t alone there and it gave me a little more energy to keep going!

Slowly ticking the Km’s off and downing as much coke as possible in the last 7km I was approaching the end.  I took the turn away for the town with the big finish sign on it, with a huge cheer from the crowd and 1km to go I was headed for the finish.  It was an awesome feeling running down the finish chute having had an amazing race and giving it everything you had and knowing that all the hard work paid off!

I saw the finish tape pulled across the line as the commentator called out 2nd place for 24 & Under and the 14th person over the line before being taken to the medical tent.  That feeling of breaking the tape was something else and I was ecstatic with my performance. On the day the kid that beat me had a better race and I just have to go train harder for next time.

Mitch Kennedy
July 27th, 2017

Comment

Comment

The battle within Challenge Roth - 2017

Oh here we go...down the rabbit hole. 

We arrived in Roth a few days early to settle in to the environment and do a rekkie...I was surprised that there were very few people about, like ghost town quiet.

After setting into the hotel, we visited the swim start, the canal was cold and dead smooth --- quite a beautiful site. I did a couple of sessions in the canal. The visibility was worse than in Dubai on a bad day (I could hardly see my own hand) and the taste of salt was replaced by that of dirt, but nonetheless all seemed ok. I am by no means a good swimmer, however I was happy with my times @ 2min 5 sec 100’s. I figured on the day adrenalin would see me at about 2min per km for the duration; surely my time wouldn't be any slower than in IMSA, that was seriously choppy and hard to quite hard to sight.
A few short bike rides (one into Roth and the other to the swim start) and a quick run and I felt good to go. On the casual run I glanced at the watch, bloody hell I was running at 4:40’s (this is a huge improvement for me) - I had a little chuckle to myself as I thought, “what have you done to me Watson".

Over the course of the day after waking up the 2 flights of stairs at our hotel I was slightly out of breath, just figured it was fatigue and didn't think much of it.

On Friday we went to Roth to register and look at the expo; this was huge, bigger than anything I have seen to date, it made IMSA look small by comparison. I spent some time looking around, found something to eat, bought a bottle toolkit to hold the bits and pieces (rather than shoving them into a normal bottle). Next time I'll buy a strap to keep the bloody thing on as it fell out over a bump on the bike course; luckily a friendly spectator picked it up for me and saved me some time picking it up.

On Saturday morning, it was time to check the bike in, to say there was a few people would be an understatement, the place was jamming, bikes, athletes, music, food, and people bloody everywhere. I racked the bike in the wooden crate (love this). Let the tyres down, put the helmet on (they were giving these the serious once over on entry). We grabbed some food and sat back to soak in some atmosphere for the next 20min. Nice bikes, lots of people, good fun to be had.

At this time the nerves were starting, with some seriously good times from my fellow #TAW mates a week before at IM Austria I was feeling the pressure to get my shit together and give it a fair crack on race day. Then it was off to the race briefing in the afternoon, this was extremely hot, and the presentation being delivered in German followed by English didn't make it any shorter, but good information and a good vibe none the less.

At the hotel met a number of fellow “Rothers”. A couple of young lads who were aiming at 930-10 and some first timers, a good bunch of people with some good stories to tell. This is where I met Rory Bass, who told me about Ultraman Canada, and we all know how that has ended up - Canada here we come Aug 2018.


Back to the room, bags packed, checked and rechecked, I was ready for sleep by about 10, 6hrs and it was time to get up. Can't say I slept much! Next time check to see that the hotel has AC. A quick breakfast, eggs, bread, and some other stuff. This is not what I normally eat but it's what they had at the hotel, next time I'll pack the weetbix (stay with what you know). Jodi and I bundled into the car, with Rory and the two boys and off we went. We got about 3km into the 8km trip and the traffic slowed to a standstill, a bit of a sigh of relief that we had left early and that this would not affect us. The boys start time was 7am, mine 730am and Rory 8am.
I thought there were a lot of people at the bike checkin- wrong! Now there were people everywhere, to the point t it was hard to navigate the crowd to get into transition. Quick bike check, pump the tyres, check the helmet, oh shit, the bike computer; then I remembered Jodi had it in the swim bag, off I trot to get it. 
Bike ready, I'm ready.


I say goodbye to Jodi, last hug and off I go. There was still a while to go for me but the pros had just started with a canon shot that shook the ground. From this point on, every 5 min another canon shot fired and 200 more athletes started. I laid down on the grass to collect my thoughts, 1:20-1:30 I am thinking, that will be fine,that will put me on target for a good day.

My start time came around quick enough, a drink of water, a couple of gels, cap and goggles and it's into the water I go. Swimming to the start line everything felt ok. The cannon explodes ….BOOM! We are off. Now this is where is all goes to the shit. Honestly, I don't know what happened. All of a sudden, I find I have stopped mid swim; I am coughing, dry reaching and vomiting….wtf!


I try to settle myself and get into a rhythm; I tell myself it's just nerves ...”get your shit together”. I do okay for another couple of hundred meters and the same again, this is not good! I find myself being passed by the next wave of swimmers, then another, then another….at this point I am over thinking - these people started 20 min behind me and have just passed me...wft!! This along with a massive headache, I thought this is due to the cold water (relative to Dubai).
I keep slogging away at the swim, but it's not getting better, any chance of sub 12 is disappearing fast! As I exit the swim I think “ok, I can come back from 1:30”…..I see Jodi on the fence line and mumble “I can't even tell you how bad that was” (she had thought for sure she had missed me). I move into transition, where have all the bags gone? I normally exit the water somewhere in the middle of the field, but this time my bag is one of very few left, then I look my watch, 1hr 54min holy shit!! What has just happened? How did I swim that slow?


Just before I enter the T1 tent, another coughing fit and sick again. The challenge volunteers are there and were a great help, a quick change and on the bike I go. Still thinking it's just nerves, I was sure the bike would be ok. Soon enough I realised that this was going to be a long day, struggling to push 180W (this is not normal) and with high winds (no wind they said - wrong). At about 30km in the same again, coughing, dry reaching and vomiting. This really wasn't helping! Maybe it was what I ate for breakfast? Maybe the gels…….just shut up and get on with it I say!


The atmosphere on the bike course was great, the support was amazing, small towns with music and beer, people in the middle of nowhere who have pulled up in their car and set up a table and cheering all with their clackers and horns. At one stage a bloke held up a beer, teasing one of the riders, to his surprise the bloke grabbed the beer and started drinking it as he rode, until he was chased down to get it back.


The bike course has a couple of decent climbs at 10-12%, solar hill and two others. These quickly zap the legs. The first one is the worst, a good crowd lines the street cheering us on, and it's needed as it's nasty, steep and long (prob not Austria steep) but tough none the less. A couple more climbs and then it's on to solar hill, this is amazing, albeit I wasn't in a good place to enjoy it. Thousands of people line the sides of the hill; riders in single file work their way up through the crowd and over the hill, this is very reminiscent of the TDF climbs.


The rest of the bike consisted of the much the same in terms of health, at some point down the road I realise that my pulse and breathing are not matching, this was a little weird to say the least. A few km down the road I thought my power meter was wrong as I couldnt get the watts I was used to, so I stop and reset it - hmm no change, weird. I find myself not making up as much ground on the bike as I normally do, I am not passing people but find myself being passed by the relay team riders. As you do on the bike, I just keep going, thoughts of my #TAW team kept me going, no wolf left behind. Another lap and at last I came to the finish stretch, turn right and 10 more km until Roth, coughing spluttering along.

I had actually thought I may have not made the cut off, but all was good. Off the bike, hand it over at the mount line, a helper grabs my run bag and into the T2 tent we go. “Is everything alright?” She asks ...I wonder does she ask everyone that or just me. Maybe it's the stumble as I enter the tent, maybe it's how I look. Shoes on, hat on, compression socks on, off we go. I find Jodi a hundred meters down the road, I tell her my woes, “you don't have to continue" she says - like hell I don't, I didn't come this far to quit now.


Off on the run, it's not flat, the new course is quite nasty. The course has been changed from flat along the river to a quite hilly 20km loop to make it more spectator friendly. Things don't get any better, I have no, and I mean NO energy, I want to go, my mind does, my legs do, but my lungs wont’ come to the party! Heart rate is 92, but breathing like a wild banshee who's just done the bridge interval session with Nick!

From this point onward it's a case of just get this done, any thoughts of a sub 12 time have long passed, now I'm thinking will I finish? Can I make the cut off? I start following people, finding people that I can try and stay connected with; I walk the hills, run the downs and flats, walk the aid stations, run two posts and walk one, anything to keep moving. I then set myself a new goal - sub14 -.some poor excuse for redemption.

The crowds keep me moving, the support is great, the last turn, now it's on the way home, but still nothing in the tank. As I make the last turn into the finish circle, it hits you, the last 400m is a blur, the music, the crowd, I wish I could have lived that for a lot longer. I can see the finish line and I'm done, literally! I cross the line just short of 14 hours and summon the energy for a smile with the finishers medal.


I find Jodi right in front of the finish line, I mumble a few words and then just lean on the fence trying to breathe and recover. Jodi jumps the fence to help me through to the athlete area, just around the corner we meet the medic team, jodi insists I lay on the bed… from there it's off to the medic tent (full of athletes who have pushed to their limit). 2 doctors, an ultrasound, a drip, then its off to hospital. In hospital more tests, bloods, an ecg, an xray and the diagnosis is acute pneumonia! Well that explains a lot. A huge thanks to the Challenge medical team at Roth, they did a great job.

I can hear the fireworks in the background, I've missed the party at the finish line and the final athletes. Not happy as I was really looking forward to being part of that, that’s part of what makes Roth special, but what to do. At 1am Jodi arrives at the hospital having got the bike and bags (this was a bit if a nightmare as they were in diff places across the town). The Doc suggests a few nights in hospital, however given that I seem in good spirits with antibiotics in hand, off we go. So that's my Roth experience, bastard nearly killed me but it's done! Thanks from Jodi and I for the amazing support from #TAW (wolf pack) and TriDubai. 

Craig Lamshed
July 20th, 2017

Comment

Comment

Ironman Austria Kârnten 2017

Race Week:

Arriving in Klagenfurt 4 days before race-day provided ample time to stock up on as much merchandise as possible; I mean everybody needs an Ironman doormat right? It also provided the perfect opportunity to swim in the salubrious looking Lake Wörthesee, explore part of the mountainous cycle course on the bike and sections of the run course with light running sessions along with Barry Woods, Mark Heald, Chris Cullen, Aynsley Guerin and Scott Ramsay - all fellow Dubai based triathletes. I was fortunate enough to secure a room at the official race hotel and whilst this provided fantastic convenience, it also made me feel slightly overwhelmed at times given that the majority of professional athletes and top age group athletes were also staying at the hotel and I felt a little out of place at breakfast watching on as athletes drank more coffee than I thought was humanely possible whilst walking around the town in compression socks each day. I soon settled in to the routines and felt a lot more comfortable as race-day approached.

Raceday: 

Up long before the sun, I headed for a 4am breakfast and watched what the top chaps were fueling up on and intended to follow their lead. Plan B was soon required when the lady sat at the same table as me cracked open a jar of baby food for her pre-race feast - she finished top of her age group so maybe I’ll try this next time. Baby food wasn't on the menu so I opted for a few pastries and energy bars and headed across to transition to check the tires, load the bottles and make sure the bags were good to go. A quick walk down to the water via a stream of athletes nervously urinating all over the street before the wetsuit was donned and to the start line we headed. A final good luck message to my fellow Dubai-based friends and down to the starting point feeling a lot less nervous than I’d expected.

Swim: 

Several weeks before the race it was evident that despite my best efforts, I was nowhere near where I wanted to be at swimming and my times were showing very little signs of improvement and the decision was made that I would opt for the ‘complete and not compete’ mantra during the swim segment on race-day. I self-seeded in the 1:20-1:25 pen, although this was more due to not wanting to be stuck right at the back of the pack as opposed to expecting to finish within these times. A quick hug with my brother, Barry, and we were off in the rolling swim start.

I anticipated completing the swim in around 1:35-1:40 and set off feeling very relaxed and happy to have finally started this incredible course. The first 1.25 km took us out in a westerly direction into the crystal clear waters of Lake Wörthesee before a left turn heading across the lake for a further 500 m. A final left turn took us back towards the start-point and I was feeling a lot more comfortable than I thought I would at the halfway mark with a low heart rate and no signs of fatigue. Sighting became a little more difficult as we approached the starting beach due to the rising sun but the large and frequent buoys made it all relatively easy to follow. The final 1 km of the swim played a big factor in the decision to race IM Austria due to it being situated in a narrow canal with an abundance of support lining the banks on either side.

As I entered the mouth of the canal I saw my wife, Laura, with a huge smile on her face and cheering me along. I made sure she was aware that I’d seen her with a quick wave and swam the last 1 km, with Laura walking alongside, a lot faster than I thought was possible due to the natural flow of the canal mixed with a good dose of adrenaline. I exited the water and glanced at my watch, the time was slow when compared to where I aim to be in the future, but to say I was happy would be an understatement. I was 10-15 minutes quicker than expected and celebrated this with a roaring cheer and a quick heel-flick, much to the delight of the enthusiastic crowds that were gathered by the swim exit.

Final swim time:                                1:25:53
Position:                                             1841/2871     
Official distance:                               3,900 m         
Garmin Distance:                               3,964 m

Bike:

 Out of the swim and into transition, I grabbed my bag, stuck an additional pair of padded shorts over the top of the TriDubai suit and headed to the bike. I have absolutely no idea how and why I did this but I mounted the bike in transition and was about to pedal, wondering why nobody else had followed my lead. The mistake was realised and I quickly hopped off again before running to the mount line. My plan was to always give it a lot on the bike whilst staying predominantly in an aerobic heart-rate zone, to make up the ground which I had lost on the swim.

The bike course was 2 loops of 90 km per loop with a total ascent of just under 1,800 m and I felt fantastic heading off into the mountains, I was fist-pumping and smiling to the crowds that lined the streets and the cheers I received in return gave me extra adrenaline to keep pushing. Heading in to each climb, I kept focused and watched my heart rate closely whilst also ensuring that I followed my nutrition plan of 500 calories per hour as much as I could through the use of energy gels, bars and iso fluids. I was aware that I was passing so many more athletes than I’d envisaged on both the climbs and the incredibly fast descents. We drove the course in the days leading up to the race and this gave me confidence when heading into the fast, sharp corners and I was able to push the downhills to the limit, reaching 78.8 kph as we descended down through Velden.

Back into town for the first U-turn and I saw Laura holding up a sign that my daughters had made for me displaying a ‘go daddy go’ slogan which gave me a further boost as I headed off into the 2nd loop. Again I was passing cyclists regularly and counted just 4 that passed me, 2 of which I took again on the climbs. The wind had picked up slightly for the 2nd loop and when the rain started to drizzle at the 150 km mark I feared the worst. Fortunately the rain held off and the final 30 km provided ample time to run through the transition from bike-run in my head and start to focus on my strategy for the run.

In all of the months that I had trained for this event it was the run that I was looking forward to the most as it was just my body that could stop me from completing now but as I approached Klagenfurt the thing I wanted more than ever was to do a further U-turn and head out again for a 3rd loop. The course was beyond beautiful and the bike had gone fantastically well; asides from several punctures, a couple of crashes and a broken chain which were all in my head. I was enjoying this moment and didn't want it to end. I was also a little concerned as to how my legs would feel after pushing them hard for 180 km. Careful not to screw the transition up again, I hopped off the bike around 50 m from the dismount line, stood on one pedal with my feet removed from the shoes and rolled to the line with a smile on my face and a big piece of gratitude for my bike that it got me around such astunning and often challenging course in a great time and without any mechanical issues to hamper my efforts.

Final bike time:                       5:29:02
Position:                                   709/2871
Official distance:                     180.2km        
Garmin Distance:                   178.7km
Ascent:                                     1,758m
Average power:                     209w
Average heart rate:               133 bpm
Max heart rate:                       152 bpm
Calories:                                  4,598

Run:

With the bike on the rack I headed into the changing tent, put the trainers, glasses and hat on, took a couple of painkillers to help ease the headache that was starting to cause me mild issues towards the end of the bike and headed off into the run, passing the rallying and mildly inebriated crowds and down towards the park. The only discomfort I felt was a slight pain in my left calf but certainly nothing to cause any real concern at this stage. After a few hundred meters I realised that my cycle shorts were still on and whilst they wouldn't really cause me too much physical discomfort I knew that 42 km was a long way to run whilst feeling frustrated that I’d completely forgotten to take them off. Fortunately I saw Laura after 1 km or so and quickly stripped the shorts off and continued on, feeling very relaxed. I tried not to focus too much attention on my timing splits in those early kilometers as I knew how important it was to maintain a good aerobic heart rate.

I broke the run down into 7 different km segments of 5/10/17/22/27/32/42 and focused on ticking each one off. A quick glance at the watch at the 10 km mark showed a little over 50 minutes which surprised me given how comfortable and relaxed I was feeling. Do I now push on, increase the heart rate, increase the speed and increase the risk of hitting that wall, or do I continue on in the same manner as the first 10 km? It was the first real question I’d asked myself since the starting gun went for the swim and whilst I’m a natural risk taker in life, I decided today was not the day to take risks and continued towards the 17 km mark.

My splits were steady at 5:06 per km and my heart rate was similarly steady throughout each km passed. I maintained the 500 calorie per hour strategy that had pushed me through the bike and took on fluids at each aid station without stopping. Each mental marker was passed and my splits continued to remain steady at 5:06. With 10.2 km to go I had a little glance at my watch and realised that a sub 11 hour Ironman was now within reach, a sub 11 hour Ironman was more than within reach, it was there, 10.2 km to go, everything I put into this journey was now within what I classed as a small training run. I saw Laura, gave her a kiss and told her I would see her at the finish line in 52 minutes.

All that was standing between myself and the title of Ironman was a 52 minute trip into town and back, the crowds by this point were well into the spirit, my name was shouted out by nearly every spectator that I passed, the aid station staff maintained the incredible enthusiasm that they had shown all day and I made sure I thanked each and every person I took drinks and nutrition from. The U-turn in the centre of town was at 37 km and I now had just 5 km to go. The crowds continued to cheer and high-5 me and I continued to pass many runners with relative ease. A final look at the watch and my heart rate was still low and all that stood between me and that finish line was 2 km, it was there, I could hear the crowds at the finish line, I could hear the announcer, I could taste the atmosphere, I was getting closer, this was the moment I had waited a long time for and now was the time to enjoy this moment. I felt cramp in my right hamstring but it didn't matter, nothing mattered, I was there. I turned onto the famous red M-dot carpet exactly 52 minutes after I told Laura that I would and the first thing I see is the greatest of smiles from the announcer, Paul Kaye, he looked at me, he could sense the pride that I was feeling and then said the words that I once thought would only ever be a dream… ‘Matthew, you are an IRONMAN’, the crowd were well in the spirit, I gave one final heel-flick which was followed by a great roar in return and took one last look back to see smiles all around before taking the final few steps to the line.

I had looked forward to crossing that line for so long and there it was, just feet away from me and yet a big part of me didn't want to cross as that signified the end of this journey, this experience, this feeling, this moment I was in right now, this incredible day. It wasn’t just about race-day for me, it was about the journey, the training, the early mornings, the late nights, the involuntary sacrifices that my beautiful family had made, the people I had met, the weight I had lost, the fitness I had gained and the overall experience of training for an Ironman event.  All of these things meant much more to me than race-day did, but all of these things prepared me for this day better than I thought was possible.

I crossed the line, smiled, fist-pumped, looked right and saw Laura with the biggest look of pride on her face, she was cheering, wildly. I still had no idea if I had broken the 11 hour mark, I was aiming for 12 hours on the day and here I am, ready to take a look down at my watch and see if I had made an hour less than that. I looked down, it was there, it was confirmed and it was half of the reason why Laura had that incredible look of pride on her face, 10:41:15.

I had eclipsed any of my dream times and in my first ever Ironman. My brain was in no fit state to tell me how each of my run splits had worked out and a further surprise hit me when I realised my marathon time was 3:37.

Naturally, whilst I should have been elated, my thoughts start to drift to ‘what if I pushed harder, that run felt far too comfortable’. Yet deep down I knew that I had more than exceeded my own targets and expectations and I will take these experiences on to the next Ironman. If that Ironman offers half of the event experiences that IM Austria did then I am in for one hell of a memorable day

Final run time:                        3:37:07
Position:                                   313/2871
Official distance:                     42.2km          
Garmin Distance:                   42.4km
Average heart rate:               135 bpm
Max heart rate:                       148 bpm
Calories:                                  4,607

I followed Don Fink’s ‘Be Iron Fit’ 30-week training guide for IM Austria and it certainly put me in a very strong position to race well on the day and helped me to drop 23 kg along the way. I would highly recommend both Be Iron Fit and IM Austria for anybody looking to race well in an incredible setting, just make sure you give as much back to the course and the people on that course as you take from it, I certainly did.

Matthew Woods
Klagenfurt am Wörthesee, Austria
02 July 2017

Comment

Comment

Ironman Texas 2017

Where to start? Ironman Texas would be my 9th triathlon and first full distance race. Past reports have detailed my buildup as well as the actual race. For this one I am just going to focus on the race. My buildup had nothing more in it than logging the miles. Get myself to a point where swimming 80 minutes left me with zero fatigue. Bike for 6 hours and feel nothing but boredom near the end. Run 2.5 hours and maybe feel tired in the last 30 minutes. So that was the goal and what I built towards.

The check-in day I received a video from my family and friends encouraging me and letting me know that although no-one would be on the course supporting me, that I was in all of their thoughts. The video was a pleasure and flattering to receive but there was an unintended consequence from my side. I was now aware of how many people were watching me from afar and I became VERY concerned about a DNF. This may have been the most pressure I have ever felt prior to a race. Because of this I made one last minute change to my plan of attack on race day regarding the swim. I would be as careful as possible to protect my race during the swim by avoiding the tightest course lines. I knew this would cost me a couple of minutes but I didn’t care. I didn’t want my day ending before it even got started.

Everything up to hacking the watch and going into the water was completely uneventful. I put myself just behind the 70 minute starters and found that this put me near the very front of the swim start. I believe I was in the water within 4 minutes of the first AG’er. This was nice because I knew that later in the day if I saw anyone on the course making a pass would more than likely result in gaining a place in the standings. It was non-wetsuit and I had a PZ4 on for the race.

This bit of kit when purchased a year or so back felt like the most unnecessary and decadent waste of money but having it on race day really added a lot to my positive vibes. In the end well worth it. I am a firm believer that the mind as much as the body determines race day outcomes. A few cautious steps in to the murky goo and I was off and swimming. Here we go folks! Despite holding back as much as I thought possible about 15 minutes into the swim I realized that I was still going too hard as evidenced by my breathing. I made a decision to really throttle back as much as possible and after a few more minutes settled to into what would be my pace for the rest of the swim. As for a rhythm to the swim, I am not certain if I ever found. Swimming in these muddy lakes quite simply isn’t very enjoyable. You couldn’t even see your hand extended in front of you during your catch if you did look up, the visibility was that bad. The course was 3 parts, with a down, back, and over section. The over section took you down the Woodlands Canal and this section seemed to drag on for me as well as everyone else whose reports I have read so far. I was only clubbed a few times and I probably clubbed a few as well, but the canal was fine considering how packed in I expected us to be. Finally hit the finish and lapped the watch standing up. 1:16 / 4038m / 78TSS

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 21.54.41.png

Transition was smooth but not speedy. My approach was to get everything right. I chose to wear socks for the bike in an attempt to protect the bottom of my feet from hotspots which have been a recurring theme for me in races over the past 2 years. 3 Bonk Breaker bars into my jersey pockets and contact lens eyedrops as well. I have had a couple of rides over the past year where my eyes have dried out so much that my lenses actually popped off my eyes! Wasn’t going to let that happen today, so if I felt them drying out I would pull over and take the 30 seconds lost to make sure I was comfortable. Out the door and over to my bike. Transition was still packed with bikes, I figure I was at the front 10% of the race, more positive vibes. Onto the bike and immediately couldn’t get clipped in due to the mud on the bottom of my cleats that had accumulated while running through T1. Rode on top of the pedals for a few minutes trying to sort it out. Finally got the left one in but the right refused. After 15 minutes on the bike I decided to stop and sort this cleat issue out. Completely got off of the bike and scraped and scratched at it and seemed like I was good to go. Jumped back on and pedaled away and the bloody thing still wouldn’t clip in. I figured at this point I had a broken cleat and started mentally preparing myself to ride 180km with one foot not locked down. I knew that this was going to be the proverbial “long day” and that there would be issues so I wasn’t going crazy in my mind at this point. And then all of sudden I felt a very tiny clink on the back of my shoe and I was clipped in!

Perfect! Settled in with a big smile on my face and started my breakfast of one Bonk Breaker bar. My nutrition plan for this race had been tested extensively and I was very confident in it, especially given the embarrassingly low intensity I had planned for this bike. 270 calories per hour of Hammer Perpetuem in a concentrated form consumed every 30 minutes. I would top this off with a BonkBreaker Bar at hour zero, 2, and 4 during the ride. Hydration would be water from the course. I had done my long rides at about .60 IF and this was simply going to be a cap for the ride. I would go by how I felt and if it was less that would be fine. If I felt strong I wouldn’t go over that wattage. The plan would bring me in under 6 hrs no matter what I knew. I just settled into the bike and it was very uneventful. I felt like a million bucks the entire time even when fighting a stiff headwind on the last 50km or so. This is where riding with power really paid off. People around me were surging like bulls each time a gust would hit. I just kept my head down and nailed 165 watts or so. I ended up dropping the 4 or 5 guys I was yo-yoing a bit with for a good portion of the ride. Earlier in the ride I believed I would come into T2 with them and start running together.

This was not to be the case and I saw I had put a solid 5 minutes into them on a turnaround near the end of the bike course. More positive mental vibes! In the final 15 minutes of the ride I started to get a huge smile on my face realizing that I would have about 10 hours to walk a marathon if necessary to avoid a DNF. The pressure of knowing my family was watching this was lifted and I was in an incredibly strong mental place. 

5:46 / 176km / 182 TSS / .56 IF

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 21.54.29.png

Into T2 and my race up to this point had been completely flawless and going exactly according to my race plan that I had committed to memory. I had a plan for this run and was prepared to execute it with my mind like no other run I had ever approached before. My plan and focusing strategy was from Gordon Byrn in his book “Going Long”. His tips and strategy would be my mantra for the next 42km. Into the change tent and again smooth but very slow and deliberate.

The main priority was protecting my feet from hotspots, so I meticulously cleaned the bottom of my feet of any grub and once they were spotless applied a healthy dose of body glide all over them. Then I put my Drymax socks on. This paid off as I never thought once about my feet the entire run. Finally a solution to the burning feet I have experienced in other races. Put in some eyedrops, hat and shades on, and a flask of 5 hammer gels in my hand and I was on my way. And now, a marathon! I was so happy to be finally taking part in a full distance race I was all smiles. I couldn’t believe how far I had come and how strong I felt. My plan was based totally on effort with a hard cap on pace of 5:40 per km for the first 21km. I would “run with a little in reserve until at least 25km”. The pace would be whatever I felt was with a reserve. If that was 6:00 per km so be it. Time meant nothing, placing in my AG was everything. I was determined to focus on the process only. Nutrition would be a gel every 30 minutes and alternating water and gatorade from the aid stations. In the final 14km I would switch to coke and red bull only. As I started the run I was immediately under the impression that there were not a lot of people on the course at this point. I also knew that in this first lap I would be passed by a bunch of studs, so I was mentally prepared for that. The support on the course was top notch and I can’t imagine having it being much better. Even in the sections that were advised as being lonely there were a lot of people out. I settled into my self selected pace by effort and really enjoyed the first lap. A lot of high fives, smiles and cheers to the crowd by me were given right back I felt my mental strength building. “run in reserve” I had identified a few guys in my AG that I was running in close proximity with over the first 14 km. I wasn’t afraid to ask what lap anyone was on who I identified as possible competition. It seemed like all my competitors were walking the aid stations so we would yo-yo a bit back and forth as I ran through the stations. I have finally learned how to drink from a cup getting all the nutrition down the hatch without any extra air.

This proved to be a huge benefit in this race. It only took 4 years to get it figured out though! I
believe this saved me about 4 or 5 minutes over the marathon which would prove critical at the
end. “this race begins at 28km” “run in reserve” My mantras kept playing through my head
continuously as I neared the end of the first lap. As I started the 2nd lap I changed my focus a
bit to enjoying every sight and bit of support on the run. I knew that on the 3rd lap there would
not a ounce of energy wasted on anything but running, so I made this my last fun part of the
day. Thing started to get more serious for me mentally as I approached the 21km mark.

“everyone is feeling tired, the race is grinding down people’s resolve” I began to really
start focusing as I knew this second half of the marathon is where I would find the results of my
training, pacing, nutrition and hydration. I turned into the waterway system at about 25km
steeling myself for what lie ahead. “athletes who are looking to achieve their very best
should bring all of their mental strength to bear on the final half of the marathon” I was
starting to become aware that my calf muscles were there and I would be running this last lap
having some sensations never experienced in the past. “run in reserve” “this race begins at
28km” I knew I had an extra gear, I knew I had executed up to this point. The question would
be, how long can it last. Is there 14km of pushing left in these legs, in this mind. I was about to
find out. As I passed the split for the finish and the last lap I let out a whoop of excitement,
pushed the throttle up and yelled out “now we are racing”! I easily hit 5:20 per km and felt in
control. At this point in the race there were a lot of slower people now on the course and the aid
stations had become a bit of a buffet line. I didn’t want to be “that guy” but I had a mission and I
was not going to let anything get in the way. I hit the first aid station barking out “coke, red bull”
and the volunteers were super helpful in getting me what needed. At about 30km I would make
my first of about 4 passes in my AG that I didn’t think would be possible earlier. I found myself
running behind a guy at a 5:15 clip who I had been back and forth with the entire race. Could I
pass him? This is fast… I don’t know. “athletes who are looking to achieve their very best
should bring all of their mental strength to bear on the final half of the marathon” I made
the decision in a split second. Pass him, bury him, twist the knife. Let him know he has no
chance. I throttled up to 4:45 per km and blew by him and held it for a solid minute or so. He
was gone, never to be seen again. 32km in and I was now feeling it. Focus in on each step,
ignore the watch, stay in the moment. Another aid station, another barking for red bull and coke.

I grabbed a cup of ice and dumped it down the front of my shorts. I must have looked like a
maniac as I would say 70% of people were walking at this point. Although almost all these
people were on earlier laps, I was passing people every 15-20 seconds it seemed. The mental
boost from this was immeasurable. “everyone is feeling tired, the race is grinding down
people’s resolve” Not mine I said to myself. I was moving from strength to strength. I found
myself behind another guy in my AG, can I pass? Yes! Throttle it and make sure he knows there
is no hope. Drive the knife! At the 34km point I was in a residential area that I knew would be the
biggest challenge to maintaining my push. I stayed focused just willing myself to get back to the
waterway where I knew the crowd would reenergize me. At this point I could recognize I was in
a world of hurt, realizing my calfs felt like they could lock up at any moment. “athletes who are
looking to achieve their very best should bring all of their mental strength to bear on the
final half of the marathon” I pulled onto the waterway and the finish line became very real all
of a sudden. The energy of the crowd helped to will me forward. I was very clearly moving faster
than most everyone they had seen for a while and received so many encouraging words. I
wanted to respond but I was at critical mass which would become apparent very quickly. As I
passed through Hippie Hollow a competitor in front of me stopped to high five and I barreled into
him and his supporter, momentarily losing my balance. Immediately my hamstring locked up
and I yelped and hopped up in the air. A few limps and somehow it released and I kept moving
forward. My final pass was made at 39km when I came up on a guy I hadn’t seen all race. He
looked really fast but somehow I was right behind him trying to figure if I can do this. Somehow,
someway, I barely accelerated and passed him and held if for maybe 30 seconds. He was gone.
With 2km to go I had finally reached my breaking point. I lost focus for just a few seconds and
made the mistake of looking at my watch. Run time was 3:5X and by quick mental math in a
delirious state, I saw a sub 4hr marathon was not going to happen. I also saw a race time of
11:0X. In a moments decision I just wanted to end the pain and I let off the gas. Slowing to
maybe 6:00 per km, I had done it, I had cracked, I had given it my all and started to become
emotional, thinking I had started running fast too early. I approached the last aid station and saw
a guy in my AG stopped and drinking. “Drinking!… drinking?” I thought in my delirious state.

“Why is he drinking? It doesn’t matter he will never get the calories to his muscles.” “What lap
are you on” I mumbled to him as I went by. “Last lap” he said…Me too! Right away he ran by me
and I subconsciously start going faster again. I see him ahead 30 meters at the Red Bull station,
he stops again… “Why is he stopping?” I think, and I catch up to him again. Right as I pass him
he starts running again and bolts ahead. I can see the split to the finish ahead and as I take the
right turn to leave the course and go to the line a flood of emotions hit. My wife and daughters
supporting me in this incredible time-suck. My family with the video and the pressure I put on
myself, digging deeper than I ever have for longer than ever in the past 14km. The journey over
the past 4 years to finally “become one” after starting from zero. The weight loss. The
confidence gained. I was running and crying, an emotional train wreck in a barely conscious
state. The finish line is the final little trick in the day as you approach it thinking you are there but
are then forced to do just one more 100 meter out and back to get onto the red carpet. I must
have been sprinting as I am able to see the guy in my AG ahead of me throttle back to cross on
his own and I do the same, to have my 3 seconds of glory. I am finally an ironman.

3:59:50 / 41.5km / 238 TSS
11:15:03 69th of 354 men in 40-44 AG

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 22.01.39.png

A lot of the bold points in this report as well as other little bits are not my own words or thoughts.
They are direct quotes from the book “Going Long” by Joe Friel and Gordon Byrn. I just want
that out there so that no one thinks I came up with any of that stuff. The book is an incredible
resource. I highly recommend it to anyone who is self coaching the full distance. Read it. Reread
it. Read it again in another year. Commit it to memory. It was the biggest single thing that
enabled me to have a good race outside of my own efforts.

This was the perfect race for me on the day. I had a very conservative plan that I executed
perfectly. I knew that even with my embarrassingly low effort on the bike, it would pay dividends
on the run. I wasn’t prepared to take any risks at all in my first full distance race. I have seen this
distance break people 10 times stronger than me. I also knew that my low gear was still enough
to be better than most. It gave me a result that was much better than expected finishing just
inside the 20th percentile of the AG finishers. Progress this year for me has seemed nonexistent
at times. That is the nature of progression in endurance sport. This result has reinforced
to me that I am on a slow and steady path upwards. The off-season for me is now here and I will
spend the next 8-12 weeks just exercising with no focused training. Thanks goes out to TriDubai
and all the members that continue to inspire me onwards and upwards. Hope you enjoyed this
glimpse into my race.

Aaron.

Comment

Comment

IM Florida

I signed up for IM Florida on December 5, 2015, exactly 11 months before race day. It was a month after Rocketman, my first half-Iron distance race. I always swore I'd never a) do an Ironman, and b) do an Ironman while living in Iraq and having to train primarily indoors, yet there I was clicking on the blue Confirm Registration button on active.com, watching $650 fly out the window. My prior protestations aside, after discussion with Heather, Holly, and Mary, we all agreed Erbil provided a fairly ideal training environment. Sure, having to bike in my living room and run on a treadmill or around a parking lot would be taxing, but I had no outside distractions to get in the way of my training. When you're not living with your wife and aren't allowed outside of the hotel grounds, there's not much to do other than work and workout. I missed less than five workouts while in Kurdistan in 11 months, whereas I probably missed that many during my first business trip of the year to Houston in February alone. Like I said, tough training conditions but a lifestyle well suited to getting the training accomplished.

With the exception of the last two weeks of workouts in mid-October (we got evacuated to Dubai in advance of the Mosul offensive), I did all of my swimming in the Divan's 20m pool. It's designed for fat Kurdish men to bob around in but works well for lap swimming anytime before noon. After lunch, all bets are off as you spend more time dodging the hairy guys using the orange life guard rings as floaties than working on your stroke.

My key to surviving the cycling on the trainer for so many hours on end came in late December when someone on the Ironman Florida Facebook group mentioned trying Zwift, a new online bike training software environment. Zwift is basically a multiplayer game like World of Warcraft, only for cycling. The designers have created virtual roads and routes to ride, and your little avatar is one of dozens or hundreds on the course at any given time, giving you other people to ride with and talk to while you're on your trainer. Like any game, there are increasing levels to attain, different kits to unlock, and achievements to conquer. I did all of my long rides on Friday mornings and got to know the other regulars on course at the same time pretty well.

My running was like choosing whom to vote for in the election - two really bad options (Gary Johnson not withstanding). I could watch movies and TV shows on my iPad in the gym, but treadmill. I could run outside and enjoy some sunshine and fresh air, but parking lot. I ended up outside as often as possible when the weather and traffic in the lot cooperated. I'll take making a turn every 20-30 feet over feeling like a hamster any day. Plus, the Kurdish security guards patrolling the hotel grounds were pretty entertaining. I've never seen so many men trying to project an air of machismo while lying in the grass posing for selfies or smoking cigarettes twice as slim as Virginia Slims. They are decent guys, though, who would move their vehicles to give me more room to run a straight line before having to make a turn.

I left Dubai for Orlando on October 23rd to head home for the race. I was exhausted from the last few weeks of training and the stress of having to evacuate out of Erbil at the last minute. Let's hear it for tapering! While I didn't feel like I was tapering for another five days, it was nice to have less taxing workouts to get through. Even nicer was being with Heather again. The presence of your spouse is always calming, at least until you drive her nuts with race talk. I spent the week relaxing as much as possible, getting my bike tuned up and my new race wheels installed, and also managed to fit in a great dinner with Heather at Victoria & Albert's too. Finally, November came and it was time to go. I did my last real workout and made the long drive to Panama City Beach.

Wednesday was my race registration day. 

I opted to go early to avoid the lines and crowds said to arrive later that afternoon. This turned out to be a wise choice. When I arrived at 930, there was no line. I filled out all the paperwork, thanked all the volunteers, and tried not to freak out. I was fairly successful at this until I reached the last step and was assigned my timing chip. Seeing my name and number on the screen was a huge "holy shit, I'm racing an Ironman" moment, a moment which quickly passed because the next step in the process was the merchandise tent. I don't care who you are, you can't stress over a race while shopping for goodies. I bought the two things I knew I wanted - the shirt with all the names of the competitors on the back and the event backpack - and skipped the IM-branded pot holders and a zillion other tchotchkes. I wonder who feels their race experience is not complete without an oven mitt covered with the M-dot logo.

Holly flew in late on Wednesday afternoon and promptly helped me deal with the first pre-race crisis. Heather sent me a text saying she was having problems checking into her Thursday morning flight, and things escalated quickly from there. Silver Airways had cancelled her flight back in July but Priceline, through whom she purchased her ticket, never bothered to notify her. The three of us spent close to 2 hours on Facetime together researching flights, schedules, and options to get Heather to the race. We finally found a workable option to get her in on Friday morning and out on Sunday morning. Not ideal, but as Holly told me, you will regret not having her here if she doesn't come. Holly was right. Seeing Heather around the course on race day was a much needed boost of the spirit.

 

Thursday morning I drove over to the race beach to get in a practice swim. I planned on meeting up with a bunch of people from the Facebook group, but as I was walking over from my car, I struck up a conversation with a guy heading that way too. His name was Mike and he invited me to join his group instead. There were ten or so of them, mostly from North Carolina, and hanging out with them was a blast. Lots of joking, laughing, and words of encouragement from the veterans to the two of us rookies. A few of them practiced both with and without a wet suit in case the swim wasn't wet suit legal, but I kept mine on the whole time. With no chance of apodium placement, there was no point in me not wearing it. The water during our swim was perfect - flat, calm, and clear - and allowed me to thoroughly test my suit for chafing, swim with both pairs of goggles, and practice sighting the finish line. A great morning of confidence building two days before the race.

Following a short ride and run, and a trip to the grocery store for supplies, the time had arrived to begin packing my race bags. Good thing Holly was there. She helped checked things off my list as the piles in each bag kept growing, made sure I mentally walked through the race and didn't overlook anything, and provided a calm voice of experience to lower my stress level. We agreed it ended up for the best Heather wasn't there. She's not a fan of race talk in general, and would not have enjoyed the hour or more of watching us discuss the merits of each and every item as I moved it from one bag to another.The final bags were loaded like this:

Swim: wet suit, cap, goggles (2), Body Glide, Tri Slide, Clif gel.Bike: chamois towel, bib shorts, bike jersey, chamois cream, sunglasses, 1/2 Clif bar, Tailwind packets (3), bike shoes, bike socks.Run: Body Glide, compression shorts, run shirt, shoes, socks, race belt & number, SPI belt loaded with Sport Beans and Base salt, hat, sparkle skirt.

Bike Special Needs: Coke Zero, gum, spare CO2 cartridges, spare tube, single-use chamois cream packages (3), Sport Beans, Tums.

Run Special Needs: Coke Zero, gum, Tums, spare socks.

Holly cooked a tasty pasta dinner on Thursday night, after which we hung out watching the World Series and relaxing. I knew this was my most important night of sleep before the race so I turned in early and missed the end of the game. I also didn't set an alarm and hoped I'd be able to sleep in a little the next morning.

The agenda for Friday was pretty simple: easy ride for 10 minutes to confirm the bike is working perfectly, big pancake breakfast, drop bike and bags off at transition, pick up Heather from the airport, sit on butt until bedtime. I was not the only athlete out riding, but I sure seemed to be the only one taking it easy. Most of the other riders were flying up and down the beach road, though given my cycling ability relative to most people, they might really have been taking it easy.

For breakfast, Holly and I made our second visit to Another Broken Egg cafe. Lots of neon green Ironman wristbands visible on the other diners and plenty of bikes on cars in the parking lot.

I ordered the three pancake breakfast with a side of eggs & bacon. Half an hour later, I felt like I was in an episode of Man vs. Food as I struggled to consume the last of the pancakes. During a break to snack on the bacon and gather myself for the last third of the last one, I sent a text to Mary asking for help. She had no mercy or pity.

With a stomach beyond full, we made our way over to transition to drop off my bike and transition bags. As suggested by both Mary and Holly, I walked around many times and spoke with many volunteers to learn the flow we'd be following the next day.

I felt like I was in the middle of an agility course walk-through - swim exit, turn left, grab bag, into changing room, exit, turn right, etc. - as I paced out exactly where I needed to be. Having the layout and movements implanted in my brain on Friday would help overcome the adrenaline-induced brain fog on Saturday. Holly and I also scoped out a good place to meet on Saturday morning after she dropped me off before the swim.

Racked and ready to go

Lunch on Friday after getting Heather from the airport was at Red Robin. I know, not exactly what most people would choose, but their bottomless potato wedges provide an excellent source of carbs and salt. I ate at least a full basket, along with some mac and cheese too, surprising considering how huge my breakfast had been only a few hours earlier. Can't go wrong with more carbs before race day, right? 

My parents arrived late afternoon and came over to join us for dinner after stopping by the race village to learn more details about their volunteer jobs on Saturday. They signed up to slather sunscreen on people from 1030-230, giving them something to do while I was out on the bike course. We ordered pizza from Papa John's for dinner. It's something I frequently have the night before a long run, and I know it will not cause me any stomach issues the following morning. I often had Indian before my long rides while in Erbil during our customary Curry & Darts nights on Thursdays, but that's a lot easier to deal with when the bathroom is a few steps away from your living room. And when you're not going to be out on a race course for 140.6 miles.

I was in bed by 830 and fell asleep around 9. Melatonin and 1/2 of an Ambien for the win!

Pre-start:

My alarm went off at 430am, but I was already awake. Mary gave me these instructions in my pre-race brief: 'You won't want to eat. Tough. Eat anyway." She knows me too well. I reluctantly ate half a Clif bar and opened a bottle of Powerade. The next 50 minutes were spent sitting on the couch trying to wrap my mind around what I was about to do, sipping on my drink, and running to the bathroom. Holly and I left the condo at 525 to drive to the race. She dropped me off at the run turnaround point where they were collecting the special needs bags for the bike and the run. I handed mine over and walked over to transition. I pumped up my tires, filled my aero bottle with water and put my Tailwind bottle and extra water bottle into their cages, hit the porta-potty (surprisingly short line), and went to find Holly. Our meeting point was at the first trash can to the right of the walkway exit onto the beach, and she was there waiting for me.

Rather than try to get into my wet suit on the beach and end up covering myself in sand, we squeezed our way through the crowd on the walkway and found a convenient corner to stand in. I covered my neck, arms, and shoulders with Body Glide and Tri Slide, and put my wet suit on about 15 minutes before the start. There was a slight moment of panic when I got the sleeves on and realized I hadn't started the zipper first. My Huub suit has a two-piece zipper like on a jacket which needs to be fed into itself before it gets zipped up from the lower back, and it's very tough to do get it started while wearing the suit. Thankfully, Holly got it zipped after a few minutes of struggling, and my heart rate returned to normal. 

Stuffed in and zipped up

Keels had found us by this time, and after my pre-race gel, the three of us walked down to the beach. Holly helped get my cap situated over my goggles (I know, nothing new on race day, but it was a better option than being kicked in the face and losing them) and gave me a big hug. I shed a few tears, upon which Keels said there's no crying today, and then I knew I was ready.

Swim:

I lined up in the 1:31-1:45 area for the start. Based on my swim times at Abu Dhabi and Galveston, I thought this was a good place to be. I chatted with the people around me, borrowed a splash of water to rinse the anti-fog drops out of my goggles, and waited for the cannon to fire for our start. The wind was whipping (turns out there was a small craft advisory in effect until 7am), and I could see the swells, the chop, and the whitecaps waiting for me as I walked into the water. 

Lots of nervous energy

My plan was to relax and swim with smooth and easy strokes, just like Charlotte and Paul advised when I met them on Cape Cod this summer. I wanted to avoid as many people as I could in order to keep a straight line and focus on swimming, not battling for space. I saw a pair of goggles float by underneath me about halfway out to the first turn, making me even more determined to find my own water. The swells and chop got larger and worse the father out we went. To keep me focused and breath under control, I told myself "catch, pull, breathe" over and over again with each stroke.

Off we go!

After what seemed like forever but was really only 800 meters or so, I made it to the first turn, went left, and was swimming right into the wind and waves. This made it very hard to sight the next turn buoy. Finding a rhythm was tough with all the large swell and wind-blown chop on top, but I did. Growing up on the water taught me to feel the timing of waves, and I would take two strokes, glide through the wave, and repeat. Sure wasn't easy, but better than fighting back. Once I made the turn, I switched to breathing on my left to keep the sun out of my eyes and waves out of my face. If you could only breathe off one side, you had a really tough swim.

I drafted off a few people heading back to the beach to save some energy and relax a little bit. I knew from the practice swim on Thursday which building marked the exit, and although I kept a good eye on it, I still had to correct a little for the wind, waves, and current. Pretty soon, I was close enough to shore to be able to body surf in to the beach, riding the waves like when I was a kid at Jordan's Beach. With a few steps in the surf and up onto the sand, I reached the fence to make the turn back to the start of the second loop. I glanced at my watch and 35:xx was staring back at me. I was elated and worried at the same time. This was faster than I swam at Galveston back in April, and I still had to do it all over again. I vowed to walk to the start of the second loop and try to be even more relaxed than I was the first time around. I didn't want to ruin the rest of the day by blowing myself up on the swim. A volunteer gave me a small cup of water as I passed the aid station on the beach. I drank a few sips and back into the water I went.

Conditions were much harder for the second lap. The wind was building, the waves were now at 4-5', and the chop was steep and nasty. Heading out was okay. I swam inside the buoys and let the wind push me to the right to the turning mark. Much less effort and a whole lot less people around me. I could see a long line of caps and arms to my right who were in for a tough push back to the left to get around the buoy. The short leg across to the final turn back to the beach was awful, directly into the wind, waves, chop and sun, which had risen above the horizon and was exactly in line with the buoy. Made it fairly easy to stay on course, though, since if you weren't swimming right into it, you were off to one side or the other. Again I used my feel for the water to swim down the back of a wave, breathe, stroke into the face of the next one, glide over the top, and repeat for 200 meters. Very very tough. There were lots of people around me on their backs, breaststroking, and/or panicking. "Pull, glide, pull, glide, don't fight, pull, glide," I kept telling myself over and over.

Finally I made the turn and was on my way home. I tried to resist the temptation to pick up the pace and focused on staying relaxed and drafting off anyone I could. I got blown off the side once or twice but otherwise stayed right along the buoys. A few minutes of body surfing later, I was done. I glanced down at my watch as I made my way up the beach to the arch and was shocked to see 1:15 staring back at me. Here I was, barely into my first IM, and I just knew I had blown my race with a time like that, much faster than I thought possible. But wait, I said to myself, you're not out of breath and your heart isn't racing. I couldn't get my head around how I felt (great) vs. how I thought I should feel (less than great), so I decided to walk briskly to the changing tent just to be safe.

T1:

Cap off, goggles off, and go find the wet suit strippers. I lay down on the sand and two very enthusiastic volunteers whipped my suit right off. I took it back from them, made my way to the PVC showers, and took time at each shower head to get as much sand off as possible. The last thing I wanted was to have sand chafing me during 112 miles of cycling. I heard Holly and Keels cheering for me and waved at them as I rounded the corner into transition where my bike gear bag would be waiting for me.

Heading into T1

"I'm number 2540! Where's my bag?" I shouted to the volunteers, who seemed to be confused and not sure of what to do. Having to track my bag down myself wasn't fun. Easy enough, but mentally distracting given everything else I had to think about.

Once in the changing tent (a conference room in the hotel), I found a chair, sat down, and pulled my gear out very carefully and slowly. Using Holly's chamois towel (definitely on my list of gear to get for next time), I wiped off all the sand I could before lubing up with Betwixt and putting on my bike bibs. My Allagash bike jersey went on, and off, and back on again due to a twist in the sleeve. I dried and brushed off my feet, put my socks and bike shoes on, and stuffed a piece of Clif bar into my mouth. There were no volunteers around to help, so I crammed my swim gear back into the bag, picked up the Tailwind packet which had fallen out of my pocket during the jersey donning debacle, put on my helmet and sunglasses, washed down the Clif bar with some water, and was on my way to my bike. A volunteer asked for my number, and by the time the ladies slathered sunscreen all over my arms and neck, he had it off my rack and out in the main aisle ready and waiting for me. A nice touch which made me feel important and put a smile on my face as I went out under the arch to the mount line. I got to see and wave to my parents, Holly, and Keels heading out on the bike too.

Bike:

Mary's plan called for me to wait until my heart rate settled into zone 2 before ramping up to my IM power (135 watts). Looking down at my computer as I left transition, I was already in the middle of Z2. That's good, I thought, now I can pedal easy for the first five miles to get my legs going and pick it up after that. Conveniently, the five mile mark came when I got to see Heather outside the Starbucks across from our condo. Then it was time to get to work. I slowly began to focus on my power output and my nutrition, taking my first sips of Tailwind 20 minutes into the leg. My Tailwind bottle held 600-700 calories, enough for me to take two good sips every 5 miles until special needs, where a frozen bottle of 800 calories would be waiting for me. My aero bottle had only water and I refilled it at every aid station (~11 miles apart) to keep fully hydrated.

I intentionally kept my power in the 120-125 range for the first 20 miles. I wanted to be careful and easy until I felt I was settled into a groove and could ride at my IM power. That plan fell apart a mile later when the course turned east and hit the wind. It blew from the east/northeast all day long and was a headwind most of the time. I switched to a strategy of keeping my heart rate in zone 2 instead of my power at 135 and fell into a nice routine. Refill water at every aid station, sips of Tailwind when the computer beeped at me, cadence in the 85-95 range, smooth and steady. I would power up until my HR went to 2.9, then ease up until it went back to 2.6 or 2.7, then start over again. Battling the wind really pissed me off so I focused on small goals like seeing Heather, Holly, and Keels at mile 40. They were right at the turn as promised, screaming and yelling and cheering. Having Heather run alongside and tell me how good I looked me gave me a huge mental boost and took my mind of the wind for a little while.

Passing the crew at mile 40

Sticking with the focus on short goals, my next one was the special needs bag area at mile 53. As you might expect of me, I fell over while stopped with my bag. The very helpful volunteer was polite enough not to laugh. I took time to put my cold-but-not-frozen 800 calorie bottle into its cage, mix a Tailwind packet into my spare third bottle, had a few sips of Coke Zero, popped in some gum, and was on my way. OMG, gum! The best idea ever, thanks to Holly. Getting the sticky feeling out of my mouth felt so refreshing and picked me right up.

The rest of the bike leg was about the same as the first part. I stared at my computer, drank water, sipped my Tailwind on schedule, and cursed at the wind. It never appeared to be anything but a headwind. I know there were portions where it was behind us, but they seemed to be few and far between. The running joke between all of us as we were riding was "do you think this next turn will be a tailwind?" as we grimaced and shook our heads. I also stopped at every other aid station to pee. Okay, maybe I didn't have to stop as often as I did, but it gave me comfort to ride empty rather than full. Tailwind is great stuff, but it sure makes you have to go.

The worst part of the bike course came around mile 74 when we turned right for an out-and-back section which began into the wind, again, with some long uphill stretches. Nothing too steep (it is Florida after all), but fairly soul-crushing anyway. I'm not a strong cyclist, so I dropped into a very low gear, tried to keep my cadence up, and waited and waited for the turn-around to come. Finally, it did, and I was able to relax for a few miles. From there, I had two simple goals left: 20 miles to the bridge and then 12 miles home. The closer I got to the end, the more people I saw on the side of the road with flat or other mechanical issues. I heard there was some broken glass shortly after coming down off the bridge, but I never saw it. Good thing too, or else I would've totally freaked out because ability to change a flat is limited in a race environment.

I made the last turn back onto the beach road with six miles left, and found myself once more pedaling right into a 15-20 mph wind. I dialed back my effort to bring my HR down even more, chatted with some folks around me, and began to plan for T2. I kept telling myself not to think about the run while out on the bike, but I was close enough now to know I'd finish the longest ride I'd ever done.

To my surprise, I felt great the entire bike leg. I was never depressed, tired, or sad. I never felt like I wanted to quit. I focused hard on my heart rate and cadence numbers and on not looking ahead to the run. It was really really tough because of the wind, but my fueling (yay Tailwind!) kept me from getting down and losing focus. Watching people in front of me get blown off the road and crash was extremely disconcerting, especially given my bike handling skills, and there were a few 30 mph gusts that blew me around too. Thankfully I was smart enough to sit up to get through them. I didn't ride the way Mary and I had planned, and I'm fine with that. I did what I knew I had to do in order to get to the run.

T2:

I got to see and wave at everyone heading into transition, which is always a good thing. I hopped off my bike (no falling this time), gave it to a volunteer, and had my bag handed to me without having to go search for it. My legs felt strangely un-wobbly as I walked to the changing room. I used my bib shorts and my jersey to wipe off the sand which I hadn't gotten entirely off in T1 and could feel chafing during the last 30-40 miles on the bike. I layered on lots and lots of Body Glide, and then put on some more. I had no intention of stopping during the run to reapply. Compression shorts on. Race top on. I noticed one of my Band-Aids had fallen off and tried not to think about how uncomfortable the run could turn out to be if I needed Vaseline two hours from now and couldn’t find any. Socks and shoes on. Breathe. Stuff bike gear into bag. SPI belt on. Number belt on. Sparkle skirt on. Breathe. Sunglasses on. Sunscreen on. Across the parking lot, under the arch, and 26.2 to go. Everyone was waiting for me right out of transition. I gave some quick high fives, a kiss to Heather, and told them I'd be back in a few hours.

Run:

Heading out on the first loop of the run, I couldn't believe how awful a lot of the people around me looked. Many of them were already shuffling or walking, setting them up for a very long afternoon and evening. I, on the other hand, felt great. I was finally back in my element and ready to chase down all the people who passed me on the bike. The first mile or so of the run was populated by tri club tents and lots of local residents out partying. They loved my red sparkle skirt, hooting and hollering and naming me Skirt Guy as I ran past. I was having a great time already, and I hadn't even really gotten started yet.

Rather than try to hit a certain pace, mainly because I had no idea what my pace should be, I ran by feel and by heart rate. I quickly found that a 9:45-10:00 pace kept my HR around 1.6 or 1.7 and felt good. Curiously, 9:15 felt really good too, but I was pretty sure that was not sustainable. I took in my first water and Gatorade at the mile 2 aid station. Gatorade was a mistake as I felt my stomach get nauseous less than five minutes later. I opted to use coke, potato chips, and water instead after that. Without much else to do, I tried chatting with my fellow runners but most of them weren't interested. Too lost in their suffering, I guess, though I think talking helps take your mind off how you feel. On the plus side, the spectators in the neighborhood were more than happy to chat and engage with people. One group had a huge white board listing all of the college football games being played that afternoon and a sign about 40-50' up the road reading "college scores ahead." If you yelled out a game as you passed the sign, they'd shout the score back to you as you reached the board. They told me Michigan was up 21-0. A few miles later, it was time to eat. I took only two Clif bloks because I didn't think my stomach could handle three thanks to the Gatorade, and then two more every 45 minutes until the sleeve of six was gone.

Around mile five, the course runs through the parking lot of a bar. The bar places a flier in the race packets playing up their location on the course (come see your runner four times!) and offering a free beer to the competitors if they show up with a race bib or wristband. The advertising certainly works because the place was packed, porch and patio filled with people cheering, ringing cowbells, and giving us lots of encouragement. Definitely one of the more fun sections of a run course I've been on. Good thing too, because the next three miles were nearly devoid of people as we finished the out portion of the loop in a state park. Beautiful park with great scenery, but not much in the way of action except the party station being manned by BASE salt and their crew. I didn't mind this stretch as much as some of the people around me who grumbled about how boring it was. I like having a quiet part of a race during which I can focus inward instead of outward and enjoy the serenity for a little while.

With 6.5 miles down, I made the u-turn still feeling great and keeping a smooth and steady pace. I waved at the crowd in the bar, drank my coke and water at the aid stations, munched on potato chips every so often, passed lots of people, and before I knew it, lap one was coming to an end. I heard and saw Keels yelling for me on the corner before the special needs area/turn-around point. Since I didn't see anyone else, I figured she was the advance party, and sure enough, thanks to the wonders of text messaging, Holly and Heather popped out of the crowd to run me into and out of special needs a few hundred meters later. I chewed some more gum (glorious!), left everything else in the bag, and set off on lap number two.

Heather and Holly running me out to loop 2

The second loop was pretty much the same as the first. I ran the whole way except at the aid stations. I took on chicken broth when they began offering it to get a break from the coke and potato chips. I was sad to see the people partying under the LSU pop-up tent had disappeared indoors to watch by the time I went by on my way out to the turn-around. I had hoped to get some Mardi Gras beads as a souvenir.

The second trip into the state park was a little scary. There were no lights once past the BASE salt crew, making it very hard to see people around me. I ran in the middle of the road to avoid the camber on the side which bothered my knee and was extremely cautious to avoid colliding with someone coming back at me in the other direction. My pace dropped in this section by about a minute per mile, which was fine with me. I didn't really pay much attention to my time until I made the last turn around and began my way back. Even then, I told myself that six miles is a long way and anything can happen. I found a few people to talk to, one of whom was on her first lap, which explains the awkwardness when I told her "we're doing great. We've got this!" as we ran along. The perils of a two-lap course, I suppose.

I kept powering along and hitting the aid stations until I had two miles left. At that point, I knew I would be okay if I stopped stopping for water and broth and picked up the pace. From there, it was simply a matter of running and chatting with the guy next to me, building speed, and thanking all the people in the club tents lining the course who had been cheering for Skirt Guy all day. One last left turn to the finish chute, and it was time to start celebrating. I implored the crowd to make some noise, slapped every hand being stretched out over the barriers, including Heather's who I saw but didn’t remember seeing at the time, and powered my way to the line. No tears across the line, but as you can see in the video, I was pretty damn excited. :)

I was surprised at how well I did on the run. I had no cramping, no exhaustion, no issues at all really. I just ran. If there's one thing I know I can do, it's run and pace a strong marathon. Being able to do so while everyone around me was walking and shuffling helped keep me mentally focused and happy. Nothing like running down people lots who flew by me on the bike.

Swim - 1:15
T1 - 13:21
Bike - 6:57
T2 - 12:20
Run - 4:35

Total - 13:14

Overall, I felt GREAT the entire day. I never had a single moment of doubt. From the time I entered the swim chute to when I crossed the line 13 hours later, I felt strong and knew I'd be able to finish. I was shocked at my time, though. Much much faster than I thought I would do. Had I know I was as good at this as I proved to be, I would've spent less time in transition and at aid stations and come in under 13. Then again, maybe being calm and relaxed and not even thinking about the clock is what made me go as fast as I did. I wasn't even aware of my time until Heather and Holly told me after the finish.

I have to thank Mary for being my friend and my coach and for getting me so well prepared for this race. She deserves a lot of credit for giving me a training plan tough enough to push my limits but not impossible to complete. I had an absolute blast on race day, loved every minute of it, and felt fantastic all day long. Being physically ready had a lot to do with that. I also need to thank Holly for being my super Sherpa and keeping me sane and calm-ish in the days leading up to the race, and Keels for driving over to support me and cheer me on. Finally, thanks to my wonderful wife Heather who puts up with me doing all these crazy endurance events. I'm glad we were able to find a way for her to be there because hearing from her after the finish how proud she was of me really meant a lot.

Here are some fun and maybe interesting stats, pictures, videos, and random thoughts about the race looking back on it four weeks later. Some are information people have asked to see, others are answers to questions I've been asked, and some are here simply because I want them to be. :)

Training Stats

Meters in the pool – 219,329
Longest swim – 5000 meters
Miles ridden on the trainer with Zwift – 2524
Longest Zwift ride – 6.5 hours
Miles on the treadmill – 239
Longest run in the parking lot – 18 miles
Pairs of Asics Kayanos – 3
Toenails lost – 0
Pounds lost – 12

Race Fueling

1 Clif bar after waking up
1 Clif gel 10 minutes pre-race
¼ Clif bar in T1
2 700-800 calorie bottles of Tailwind on the bike
1 200 calorie bottle of Tailwind on the bike
1 sleeve Clif bloks on the run
Potato chips, chicken broth, and coke on the run
Water as needed on the bike and run

Garmin data

Swim
Bike
Run

Google Earth view of the bike leg

My video highlights

Answers to Common Questions

Q1: Did you have fun?

A1: I had a blast! My race day went better than I imagined it would, and my execution during the day was just about perfect. I felt great the entire day and never once wanted to quit.

Q2: How was the recovery?

A2: I recovered from this much faster than from Comrades. I was exhausted for several days after the race, but I didn't feel as physically beat up as I did in South Africa. I was able to walk the next day, which wasn't really possible following Comrades.

Q3: When are you getting your M-dot tattoo?

A3: I'm not. If Gabe can work up a swim/bike/run design which fits in with the others on my arms, I might do that, but an M-dot itself is not for me.

Q3: Will you do another one?

A3: Definitely. I've got unfinished business, which I know sounds weird considering I just said my race day execution was nearly perfect. In hindsight, I see places where I can save time (no more 25 minutes in transition, and fewer stops on the bike and run legs) and go faster. Mary said I didn't trust my fitness enough, and she's right. I could have pushed higher power on the bike and brought my time down by 45-50 minutes, and I probably could have done the same thing on the run. Keeping my heart rate in low Z2 instead of high Z1 would have gained me another 5-10 minutes. Add all those bits and pieces up and a 12-hour finish looks possible. Not a given, but definitely possible.

John

Comment

1 Comment

Dataman goes overload

Stumbling out of bed Dataman’s heart rate jumps anxiously in anticipation of swimming through the first few drops in an ocean to of data cross. It’s a bad start already. Yesterday’s heart rate variability was in the dumps and he still woke up at 4:45, far too early according to the LVL band tracker. What disasters will the rest of the day bring?

The wifi body scale lights up and settles at 82.3KG. That’s like 200 grams more than yesterday and the trend line is going up! The lean body mass is down so the increase must all be fat. ‘That low carb thing is clearly not working for me and now the scale says my hydration level is not great either. Amazing really how I even survived the night’, Dataman mumbles to himself.

Downstairs the dog barely lifts its head as he considers it too early for a greeting. Any excitement is out of the question anyway for Dataman as he must first measure his heart rate variability.  After two years of measuring it lying down he learned that, due to his low resting heart rate, measuring it standing up was more accurate preventing too much vagal tone interference. ‘Two years of invalid data, that is just such a waste’, Dataman worries.

‘Maybe there is still hope for the rest of the day’, Dataman tells the dog as after a minute connected to his iPhone when the measurement reveals that heart rate variability is up. It must have been the 4 hours and 34 minute of deep sleep the Fenix watch measured.

Dataman straps on his heart rate monitor and goes out for a run. A slow GPS measured pace will do for now as cadence is more of a priority.  After a few hundred meters Dataman notices that the footpod cadence sensor has not woken up. ‘Perhaps it shares a brain with the dog or the battery is flat. There is no point in going for a run without cadence data’, Dataman ponders. But then he realizes that the heart rate monitor has a built in motion sensor and also senses cadence and running smoothness. It is safe to continue the run for now.

Back from the run the dog finally manages a greeting while the run data uploads to Trainingpeaks, Strava, Wahoo Fitness, MyHealth app, Facebook, GarminConnect, Dropbox, Wikileaks, the KGB and CIA. ‘You can never have too many backups’ is Dataman’s firm motto. Imagine if a hacker would cause a melt down in one of those data centers.

After a breakfast of 1,246 calories, or 205 grams of carbs, 18 grams of fat and 13 supplements later Dataman is ready to face the rest of the day.

Arriving at the cycle track he turns the bike pedals a few times to ensure the powermeter is willing too and the reassuring red light comes on. 

The green light on the oxygen saturation monitor is next, but it refuses all cooperation. Tapping the monitor furiously as the manual suggest doesn’t seem to help. Time to go home? Dataman is saved again when he recognizes that a firmware update does the trick and this only takes half an hour.

While the firmware is installing he grabs his Reconjet heads-up display sunglasses.  Never mind it is a foggy morning with the glasses steaming over instantly. Who could afford to have their eyes of the power meter data for a second? Besides, Dataman marvels, the startup and calibration procedure only takes 15 minutes while the glasses record the entire process straight to Snapchat , where his 4 friends can view it instantly. ‘

With all devices ready to go Dataman presses start on his watch, Iphone and bike computer, praying there is no GPS jamming event today, which has occurred in the past and took days to sort out.

Maintaining 180.4 Watts for 34.5 minutes during the warm-up is not too taxing and Dataman is just starting to relax when disaster strikes once more. Oxygen saturation is up to 90…‘# &%!% that cannot be right’ Dataman shouts at the random roady passing by. No doubt it is that Bluetooth and ANT+ protocol interference issue that has been written about so much.

A 10-minute reset of all devices is required while many people cycle by just chatting to each other. ‘How can they chat and bike at the same time’, Dataman wonders, ‘imagine all the data you would miss out on’

After pressing start 3 times within 0.5 seconds, Dataman nearly crashes into yet another group of social riders when he notices that oxygen saturation is still up at 90. Swearing, swerving, and furiously pedaling to stay upright he sees the value going up even more. ‘Wait a minute, that’s not my oxygen saturation level but my bike pedal cadence I am looking at’ he exclaims to the last of the cyclist going by. Much relieved Dataman pedals on ensuring not to exceed 80.  ‘Eightly what?’ he giggles to no one in particular, ‘NP, HR, oxy, RPM, e-tap ratio, %FTP, IF’

After 6 hours on the road and 3.12 hours of actual cycling Dataman makes it home.

The dog, poor thing just living the now, has gone back to sleep, perhaps dreaming about his next walk, meal or drink. As if on cue Dataman’s red light technology wrist hydration monitor pings and tells him to drink 1.79 liters of water with 0.0018mg of salt and electrolytes. That’s easily combined with analyzing the rides 3 different data files in Trainingpeaks, WKO4 and Golden Cheetah.

Later that evening while converting Tuesday’s incorrectly recorded swim data from a 25- to a 50-meter pool, Dataman slowly drowns in his ocean of data. The last thought on his mind is on how to improve his battery changing skills to cut-down on race transition time.

Postscript - seriously:
While I actually bought and use quite a few of the gadgets described and the data they produce, a recent win in a prize draw organized by LVL band during their Kickstarter campaign gave me the more outrageous ones for free.

Besides the essential heart rate monitor and bike power meter, all a serious triathlete needs is a good sports watch (and if you find that too small to read then perhaps add a bike computer).

None of these will make you go faster – the essence remains consistent and, at times very hard, training.  And all the data in the world is no good without use and interpretation. If you find that too much work, still record the data, but let a knowledgeable coach do the interpretation for you.

Scale: http://www.withings.com/uk/en/products/new-scales
Heart rate variability: http://pro.myithlete.com/
Sports watch (includes fitness/sleep tracking): Fenix3 https://explore.garmin.com/en-US/fenix/#product-fenix3-base
Heart rate monitor, running cadence and bike computer: http://www.wahoofitness.com/
Bike power meter: www.quarq.com/
Blood oxygen measurement: https://app.bsxinsight.com/
Hydration measurement: http://www.onelvl.com/
Head-up-display glasses: www.reconinstruments.com/
Data analysis: http://www.trainingpeaks.com/
https://www.trainingpeaks.com/wko4.html
www.goldencheetah.org/

1 Comment