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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.

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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.)!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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Helen Al Uzaizi
November 2017

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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). 

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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. 

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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. 

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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 ((((.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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Lucy Woollacott
September 2017

 

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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.

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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

 

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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

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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.  

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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/

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Challenge Venice - PB, or not PB...

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Challenge Venice - PB, or not PB...

……A not so short story of my journey thus far in long-distance triathlon.

This is not intended to be a race report on Challenge Venice, although there is a fair amount of information on the race included in the text by default. It rather set out to provide some observations and opportunities for my own self-reflection on what has been a long journey from when recovering from a shoulder operation, I vowed to try and do an Ironman “before I got too old”. That was 4 full distance races ago now and injuries permitting, I’ve been happily in-training ever since.

The Ironman myth of “ I couldn’t possibly do one of those….could I?” had been well and truly debunked after my first effort in Sweden, then South Africa and Austria, but it’s not in my nature to enter another race just for the sake of it. Of course I love the training (most of the time), travelling to new places, the excitement and circus of the race itself and of course the satisfaction of finishing. But I don’t need to prove that I can finish any more so my reasons for doing IM have shifted over time. I feel it’s nice to progress and always set personal goals in my own mind, things that are important to me and things that give me the drive and motivation to go out and try and achieve what I’ve set out to. I know I’m never going to break any records, but it’s nice to see quantifiable improvement and with it, a great deal of personal satisfaction and sense of achievement. After all, it seems I do love a challenge!

So, PB, or not PB….. seemed to end up being a shortened account of my journey after my 3rd Ironman race,  Austria last year…..

 

 Life Before Challenge Venice….

 

IM Austria was great! Despite not being on top running form (at all), I managed a pretty good PB and mashed my previous time from South Africa the year before. The swim was steady away, bike good, run was pretty mediocre and combined they gave me a respectable time of 11 hours 34 mins.

I suppose I should have been happy with a PB in the swim and bike, not to mention shaving around 30 minutes off my previous best finishing time and I guess for a while at least, I was. 

What I couldn’t help thinking about though, was what could have been and I started doing my usual what ifs…”what if could knock say 5 minutes off my swim, that’s doable right? say 10 minutes off the bike although I’ll have to push it and let’s say 20 minutes off the run, no problem, I’d be well under 11 hours” and in my mind at least, a time of 10 hours anything, even 10 hours 59m 59s , is better than 11 hours anything, any day of the week.  This, is what I wanted.

I felt it was really possible especially considering Austria was a non-sea swim ( I’m not a good swimmer so favour the more buoyant sea swims), the bike course was fast but hilly and I walked a great deal on the run due to prior injuries stopping me training properly. So, my next step was to find a race to do it in. The usual research took place and I opted for the inaugural Challenge Venice. It was about a year away, which would give me plenty of time to train, the course was flat and being at the beginning of June, the timing was almost perfect for training meaning I didn’t have to sweat buckets right through the heat of the summer here in the UAE. Decision made, I entered and the long journey had well and truly begun.

Sarah incidentally had vowed “never again” after Austria, but caved in after just a few weeks and decided it was a good plan after all, so she entered too!

 

Build-up to Challenge Venice……

 

Post Austria, my Achilles’ (both) continued to play havoc and I wasn’t able to run for 7 long, long months. I was under a daily physio regime of between 40 minutes to 1 hour at home, on top of my training and while this helped my right Achilles tremendously, it didn’t seem to do much for the left. On a more positive note, the strengthening work I’d been doing in my core, glutes, thighs and calf muscles was noticeable. Add to that my new-found love of Pilates (it’s amazing by the way, just try it!) and I definitely felt more stable when I eventually did start running around the end of February.  

In the period I wasn’t able to run, I obviously couldn’t enter any full races but did 70.3 Bahrain where I was supposed to do the swim and bike and Alice taking the proverbial baton over for the run. With the swim being cancelled and not having to save anything for the run, I pushed the bike pretty hard in some windy conditions and managed 2.27 which I was pleased with although I have to say I was really glad when T2 came into view and I could pass the timing chip onto a slightly “surprised to see me so soon” Alice. She did a fab job on the run and we finished in the top ¼ of the strong field.  Long way to go but the training wasn’t going too badly apparently!

My swim training was also going well and although it was down to a lot of hard work, the time invested was definitely paying dividends with my times decreasing and my stamina also improving. I don’t come from a swimming background at all and have never really been any good at it, or even enjoyed it.  But increased proficiency saw me for the first time ever, actually looking forward to going swimming, definitely a totally new and welcome feeling. I was feeling good about it.

I had decided that to try and get some race practice in before Venice (it would be a year without a full race of any description otherwise), I wanted to enter the last 2XU Mamzar Olympic race at the end of March and asked Coach if I could also do 70.3 Vietnam early May as a warm-up to Venice, which he also agreed to.

It was my first ever outing at Mamzar and although the swim and bike were ok, my performance was  nothing spectacular, which was a bit disappointing. I’d had a bike fit (well, a tweak) a few weeks before and it just wasn’t working for me. On race day, I came off the bike with cramps in my calf muscles and very numb feet and subsequently struggled for a fair few Kms on the run.

Considering everything though, I managed a 53 minute 10k run and had to be at least a little bit pleased with that especially given the length of time I’d been off running and racing generally. What was even more pleasing was that the big guns in my age-group had kindly stayed away and I ended up winning the thing, which was as flattering as it was hilarious! I’ll take it though and obviously the training was going OK, but there was still a long way to go.

Another 5 or 6 weeks on with fairly consistent training and Vietnam came around. The training seemed to be going well, I’d had a new bike fit (tweak) and I was now much happier in my position so that was all positive. My running wasn’t amazing but at least I was up to distance now and overall, felt quite confident.

I’m not sure why exactly, even now, but things didn’t go that well on the day.

The swim was a disastrous 38 minutes and I was hoping for, no, expecting 34. I just couldn’t get going somehow and my breathing was all over the place. Although the swim was a “self-seeding” rolling-start, it turned out to be a little farcical with around 36 people being allowed to start at the same time instead of the 6 that was planned. This made it more of a mass-start feel and the poor self-seeding element meant that I had to contend with over ambitious newbies, breastrokers, slow(er) swimmers, thrashers, bumpers and just about everyone else you could think of next to me, in front of me, behind me…. It’s my problem, I realise that.  I just need to try and become comfortable with contact in the water….just something I don’t seem to be able to get used to no matter how much I try. Regardless, I struggled and came out of the water disappointed with the time to say the least.

The bike was really hot and quite windy so relatively pleased with 2h 37m but my gosh, I found the run to be brutally hot and I just struggled, walking a lot and finishing in 2h 10m (officially 2.13 but I had stopped to help Sarah get on her way after the awful crash she had). 

While I had a brilliant, brilliant time in Vietnam, I was a bit deflated if I’m honest and probably left the race wondering what had happened and how on earth I could possibly even just complete double that distance in less than a month’s time, let alone reach the ambitious time goal I had set myself. Still, I had finished without any lasting injuries (unlike Sarah bless her) and plodded home to resume the last few weeks of training before the big day.  

 

In Venice…..

 

The build up to any Ironman race is tense and often stressful. Your body has been training hard and with the tapering, is highly strung, chomping at the bit and just raring to go. There’s so much to think about, your mind is full of umpteen things, slightly cluttered and desperately trying to stay organised so at least nothing major has been forgotten.

Obviously you want to do what you can to minimise any unnecessary stress, but clearly some things are simply out of your control. The whole build-up turned out to be a bit of a comedy of errors and just added to an already tense few days.

I lost my bank card the day before flying, flight delays, flight connections nearly missed, bike not turning up, public holiday on the Thursday, tram breaking down on the way to the race briefing, BTF cards turned up at the last minute (long story). Also, I didn’t like the fact that I couldn’t fly until Thursday as this really only gave me Friday and Saturday to get everything sorted and for me at least, it’s not enough time. When the bike didn’t turn up with me on Thursday, Qatar only have one flight a day leaving Friday as the last chance for it to appear, otherwise I’d miss racking on Saturday. No stress there then!

Registration at the “village” was an easy, relaxed affair and a quick survey of the swim exit and a practice ride (on Sarah’s bike) around some of the run course revealed it wasn’t quite as flat as I was hoping!

By the time Friday had come around, we still hadn’t been onto the island of Venice, just happy to potter around Mestre on the mainland, which was very nice I have to say. Nothing too amazing but a nice European feel to the centre of it and plenty of great pizza and pasta to be had (goes without saying!). We had an apartment no more than 3km from the start line and it was easy enough to get around on the tram once we’d figured out how to go about getting tickets etc.

The bike turned up on Friday late afternoon and I had just enough time to get the thing built and go for a wee test ride. All was good….

 

Challenge Venice….. 

 

So the course had changed a couple of times in the build-up to this inaugural event and the swim was now rather excitingly, starting on the island of Venice and was a straight 3.8km or thereabouts back to the mainland to transition, bike racking and where both the bike and run courses were to start and finish.

As everyone had to be transported across the water in plenty of time for the start, transition opened at 3.45am which meant we got up at 2.45am, which in my book was ridiculously early! Anyway, the plan was to ferry everyone across, but I think the water levels were too low so they had arranged buses to take us across the causeway. This worked perfectly well with no last minute panics or dramas and everyone getting across to the island of Venice in plenty of time.

There was about a 15 minute walk to the start line area, the air temperature was just perfect and the water calm with virtually no wind and it looked like it was going to be an amazing day weather-wise. Considering some of the big thunderstorms that had been around the previous few days, conditions looked favourable at least. Venice was empty of tourists at that time of the morning and looked a real picture in the early morning light. Exciting!

However, by this time things were somewhat tense for me, I was nervous and had possibly put a lot of unnecessary pressure on myself to do well. My wave start was last (bar a few relay teams) and the swim was to be a rolling start.  It’s a little difficult to explain, but we were kept in a courtyard and until your wave was called, you couldn’t actually see the swim start, only hear the commentary over the Tannoy. I had a vague plan in my mind about where to position myself in the water, but once our wave was called up, I caught sight of the actual course and all the swimmers already in the water way ahead of us, I knew I had a definite plan. 

The water was pretty calm and it was literally a straight swim in a “channel” about 20 or 30m wide, lined on the right with large marker poles which a lot of people were swimming close to. I guess for them it was easiest to handrail them, keep them close by and not have to do any sighting at all. Made sense, but I instantly decided to stay as left as I could go to avoid the hoardes and also try and go into the water last, so I wouldn’t have people trying to swim over me or even close to me. This had unsettled everything for me in Vietnam and I was keen to avoid a repeat performance.

Beautiful swim star

As soon as I got in the slightly murky water, I realised the temperature was perfect for swimming and I immediately felt good. My plan seemed to be working too as I found myself in totally clear water and subsequently my breathing was under control. It was brilliant! There was nobody, not one person within metres of me and as the marker poles passed, I remember noticing a number 12 on one of them and 13 on the next. I wondered just how many there were and with nothing better to do, I guessed at 60 so I could try and keep myself amused on the long swim ahead (it turned out to be more than 70 I seem to remember!).

My conscious plan before the race was to concentrate on 3 things in the swim. Keeping my usually slow cadence up, not lifting my head when breathing and ensuring my left hand was below my left wrist and that was below my elbow etc. I just felt good, in control and very relaxed. Things were clicking for me and I started overtaking quite a lot of people which was a novelty and more than a little confidence boosting. As the marker pole numbers got into the high 60s, we made a turn to the right and the final few hundred metres.  I’d had a completely clear, straight and untroubled 3.6km or so and it was just about a dream start to the race for me.

Suddenly, there was no water! I don’t mean I’d hit land but the water was so shallow, maybe 2 feet deep at the most and each stroke meant your hand and halfway up your forearm were deep in sludge! It was difficult to swim and I tried to stand up, but just sunk up to my knees in it and quickly got myself horizontal again. Maybe it would be deeper to the right? I moved over and cut my hands on some sharp rocks so moved back again. Everyone was in the same boat and I have to say I’ve never been happier to be hauled out of the water by the volunteers at the steep platform exit as it had been a desperate, lung-bursting thrash around for the last few hundred metres.

With my previous swim best of 1.16 or thereabouts, my goal was to swim 1.11 or 1.12, figures carefully plucked out of nowhere in particular but I knew I was swimming well so had thought it possible. Well, how about 1.05 then!! Chuffing Norah! I was gobsmacked and ecstatic all at the same time and I nearly cried with happiness as I jogged the 600metres to the transition area. Maybe I was really on for a sub 11 hour time, I was stoked!

Incidentally, I have to say I was slightly suspicious of the time and for a while thought the course must have been short. Garmin said 3780m, so did another competitor’s watch and when I checked,  the top 3 Pro men “only” swam the course in 54 – 57 minutes so I reckon it was probably about right otherwise they would have swum it much more quickly. I worked hard for that and I’m having it regardless!

T1 was a record time for me too and just seemed to go really smoothly so 2 x PBs so far!

Then of course, there was the little matter of a 180km bike ride. Generally, the course was roughly 30km out, 3 loops of 40km and 30km back. For all you guys in the UAE, a little similar to doing the stick, 3 x loops and back down the stick again. It was pretty much totally flat but quite technical in places and was a mix of great tarmac and really bumpy, lumpy, humpy stuff.  

Oh, and the first 4km and the last 4km were through a park, over kerbs, down pavements, up over flyovers across major roads and generally pretty bumpy and slow. So bumpy in fact that my 3 gels I had stuffed into my crap Profile Designs aero bottle cage, were catapulted out at some point without me noticing and I was left short. Not good, definitely, not good.

Bumpety bump over the first and last 4k

Anyway, I have to admit that conditions were nigh-on perfect. There was a good cloud cover to shield us from the potentially hot sun, only a very slight wind and I was feeling on top of things, so pushed on.

A couple of things I’d like to say about the bike course. The main one is that there was a lot of cheating going on, I mean a lot. Very blatant drafting with individuals tucking in behind some faster person in front, groups of 3 working through and off together (even the pro men seemed to be drafting), large pelotons of riders just all benefiting from being in a pack of thirty and then of course there were us guys trying our hardest to stick to the rules. I’m not whiter than white and the lanes were very narrow in places so it was difficult not to bunch up at times, but a lot of what was going on was blatant. I’m not sure why I got so wound-up about it but bloody hell, I found it frustrating. This happens to be a photo of me, seemingly oblivious that there were more than a few limpets behind me!

Secondly on the bike course, they had advertised GU gels as being available at all aid stations which was perfect as we use them all the time here for training. Basically they didn’t have any until the last aid station so I messed up on my nutrition. I ate way too many of the stupid, airy rice crispy “energy bars” they provided, got fed up with bananas and the Mule Bars I was carrying and although I felt fine on the bike, was going to struggle later on. Oh, the prosciutto baguettes they had were amazing by the way but again, I wasn’t really used to eating them or so much solid food, so only managed an enjoyable 2 or 3! I couldn’t stick to my plan of alternating every 30 minutes with gel then solid food which was disappointing.

So, about 90km in, I was doing well. I whooshed into an aid station and the road was quite narrow as it was in a lot of places on the course. I picked up a drink, in the cage. Picked up a banana, in the pocket.  Grabbed a bar and ….the bloke in front of me stopped suddenly, pretty much in the middle of the road….FFS.

Now I know why Brits have the front brake on the right.

I never hit him as I slammed on the left brake, which up until recently was the back brake,  then stupidly decided to return it back to its original state a month or two ago to tidy up the cables…..but I was over the top and on the deck. Bad one I’m afraid. It was a big clunk and the first time in my life I’ve actually seen “stars” like in the Tom and Jerry cartoons.  I was pretty dazed and after what seemed like an age, the stars stopped and it seemed my only concern was getting back on the bike and getting on with it. My stuff was all over the road and with a bit of help from a volunteer,  a great deal of swearing, swaggering about,  a lot more cursing, putting spare tubes, repair kits and the like back on the bike, swearing even more, finally, I did get going, stupid I know, but it was a race after all.

As I got back on track, I realised my knee was bleeding, as were my hands all over my brand new and shiny white bar-tape. My forearm and elbow were too, but it was my left shoulder that was hurting a lot and I’d cracked my head and seemed to have a rather worrying lump on it near my temple. I think I was a bit more broken than I realised at the time.

Stupidly, I didn’t check my bike or anything else before I got on my way again, I was too dazed and confused and just trying to figure out what the heck had happened. But what I did have, was the presence of mind to realise if I started to suffer any loss of mental capacity, blurred vision or anything similar, I would stop at the nearest house and ask for medical help.

For the first few tentative kilometres, I was really quite concerned that perhaps I wasn’t doing the right thing by continuing. So to test how my mental capacity was, I thought of an old Queen album and started singing the songs in my head and trying to add the lyrics on the basis that if I could remember all the words from such a long time ago, there probably wasn’t much wrong with me!  It seemed to work and after a while, I just carried on where I’d left off and was soon whizzing along nicely, so relatively happy. I quite enjoyed reminiscing to the music too and it definitely helped to pass the time!

Whose fault was the crash? I have to accept that it was mine, at least mostly. I mulled this over for a long, long time, a good few weeks actually, but at the end of the day, I should have been able to stop no matter what and I couldn’t….you live and learn as they say and I do hope I’ve learned from that. I don’t ever want to experience that again, either the crash itself or the weeks of discomfort and grinding in my aged body afterwards. Anyway, it can’t have been that bad I suppose as at least I was able to carry on…..

The first 150km or so of the bike course was quite kind weather-wise, but the last 30km or so was directly into the wind and I bent over and gritted my teeth. It seemed that that’s when a lot more of the individual drafters came out of the woodwork. I passed people, only to find they had clung on to my back wheel a km or so later. I started off by asking people politely not to draft when I noticed and generally after I’d asked, they dropped back which was fair play. However, there were a few persistent little limpets who were just intent on clinging half a metre off my back wheel. No matter what I seemed to do, they hung on and there was one guy who was so close he was making me nervous, I had to growl at him to “just f*** off” and I was very happy when he did!  It was somewhat annoying and dangerous too especially, if you don’t know someone’s on your wheel. If you don’t know, you can’t make allowances for it. If I’d stopped or slowed suddenly and without warning, it would put both of us in harm’s way. A quick swerve or lack of concentration here or there, means wheels can touch and I really didn’t need any more incidents.

Anyway, there I was plodding away happily down an empty country lane and just to rub salt into the wound, a wasp or bee or similar flew into my head with quite some force, poor thing. I thought that was the end of it, but it was just the start as somehow it had got wedged in-between my sunglasses rim and my forehead. Jesus!  I swerved a couple of times as I tried to relieve it of its (and my) predicament by brushing it to freedom. It didn’t work though and instead of stinging the sunglass rim, the bloody thing stung me on the eyebrow which apart from nearly making me crash into a dyke, was pretty painful!!  I haven’t had a very good history with bee stings and I briefly wondered if I’d keel over somewhere by the side of the road, convulsing and foaming at the mouth, in a deep anaphylactic shock while all the cheating drafters who I’d previously managed to get rid of, stuck two fingers up at me as they sailed on by!! Happily no permanent damage though and I continued on to the last 4km….

Bumpety bump over the kerbs, pavements, flyovers and the last bit through the park and I was very, very pleased with 5h 16m on the bike. To be fair, I think it was a couple of Kms short but actually not giving too hoots, it was a big PB (previous best was in Austria at 5.34) and I’ll take it any day of the week especially given the flyovers, kerbs, pavements etc. of the first and last 4kms…and of course the fact that I’d crashed….. I know I was smiling when I got off the bike!

Into T2, my thoughts and mental calculations were running at fever-pitch now. I “only” needed to run about a 4.30 marathon to get under 11 hours and I could feel the excitement pushing me along. Again, another PB in T2 and I was on my way. 4 PBs out of 4!!

I felt ok actually and whilst I knew I wasn’t going to break any records on the run due to Achilles’ stuff, 4.30 was still SO doable, it’s just a plod and I was really made-up with a quiet, positive air of confidence, determination and excitement. I could hardly contain myself and was grinning from ear to ear….Game on!!

The run course was 5 (yes five) laps around a mostly flat, quite exposed parkland, on a very convoluted trail (maybe it was supposed to resemble spaghetti?!) with some deceptively hilly bits hidden in there too. Now that was a test of mental endurance if ever there was one!  I guess at least one of the theories behind it from the organiser’s point of view was to make it easy for spectators and maybe it did, regardless I can’t say they were exactly out in droves.

Spaghetti x 5 loop

The sun also decided to come out in force making the conditions a little testing as there was very little shade to be found throughout the park.  As I plodded on, just happily grinding out the kms, the first 10 were done in 1.03 or something unremarkable like that.

I was on target which was brilliant!! But I am a realist and it quickly dawned on me there and then that there was no way I wasn’t going to slow significantly over the next 30km. I felt sad, hollow and a bit helpless and try as I might, I was bonking a bit too. The Gu gels which were supposed to be at the aid stations had somehow been replaced by Powerbar gels, which are really yuk. Bananas weren’t doing it for me as I’d had too many already during the race, the rice energy airy things were next to useless and I was struggling. I got through it and plodded on, you know how it is, but my target time was looking less and less likely. After  dragging myself round 3 loops, it was somewhat soul-destroying to realise I still had 2 loops left, but to further add to the situation, I then hit the wall, big time.

I felt I had tried every permutation of what they had to eat and drink and it just wasn’t happening for me. I walked to the top of the “hill” where there was an aid station and just sat down. At that moment, I wasn’t able to carry on and needed fuel from somewhere, so just I started eating. Anything to hand was stuffed in, I didn’t care what it was or if my stomach was going to feel bloated, I just needed to get going again.  My Garmin (God love it!) tells me I only stopped for around 3 minutes, but it felt like an absolute dog’s-age at the time. Race time was ticking on and time was exactly what I didn’t have any of in reserve.

As I slowly picked myself back up again and plodded on, I felt determined to just tough it out no matter what. Hey, we’ve all done it before and I was all too aware of what was involved, but that’s exactly what IM is about and that’s exactly what I ended up doing. Sheer stubbornness, bloody mindedness, never say die attitude, call it what you will….I just kept going and ended up running/walking in a quite unattractive but effective manner. Each of the numerous turns became a milestone and when I’d finished my fourth lap, suddenly 1 loop didn’t seem so far to complete. Now, with every turn, happily it was the last time that I’d ever had to see that part of the course again and it spurred me on from seemingly the depths of despair!

Even though I’d known deep down for a few hours that I wasn’t going to make it, I was desperately disappointed as the clock ticked on relentlessly past my magic 10.59.59 and I tried to find reason and consolation in my muddled mind. Right now though, I only wanted to finish and be done with it, get it over with, and get over it.

Going down the finish chute was a good feeling, it always is, but 11.21 wasn’t. 

So…PB or not PB……If you count the swim, t1, bike, t2, run and overall time as separate entities (so 6 timings), I achieved 5 x PBs which is fantastic…..I just wish I was happier with the result.

…And it was at that precise moment, I knew I could do a lot better and would do, one day. Dammit!

There are no words I can think of right now to let you know just how I felt at that moment other than sheer deflation, but what I do know even to this day, is that I wasn’t tired. My legs were fine and after I’d had some “proper” food, I felt good to go again. It might sound strange, but I know I hadn’t reached anything like my limits, I had just messed up my nutrition on the day.

The timing format wasn’t the best, but my calculations suggest that in my age-group of 74(ish), I was about 17th on the swim, 10th after the bike and a miserable 22nd after the run.

 

After Challenge Venice…..

 

The current thinking is that it’s time for a break from full distance racing, there’s just too much time commitment, unpredictability with injuries and in comparison, 70.3 is easy peasy and just as much fun with the training, travelling and racing!

Several weeks on from the race, my shoulder is grinding and sore but on the mend and my bike has just come back from an expensive carbon repair to one of the seat stays which was impacted in the crash. I’m already rapidly piling on the kilos and I’m looking forward to getting back to training, but just trying to give my body and mind a decent amount of time to recover before I get back into a routine again.

So, just a couple of observations on the race itself…. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  It was the inaugural Challenge Venice, so there were bound to be some teething problems but surprisingly very few. The setting for the whole race was great, starting from the island of Venice itself was awesome and the course as a whole was/is definitely a fast one.
The volunteers were amazing even though the crowd support was lacking a bit throughout and the feel of the race was a lower-key Challenge Family type event, rather than the hyped-up circus that is Ironman and actually it was a really nice change.

The glass crafted medal was unique and very typically Italian ie stylish, as was the finisher sports t-shirt. The obligatory bag was a genuine TYR bag and a real quality addition to the swelling collection.
Anything else has probably been covered in the body of the text although Challenge have announced that the bike course will only be 2 loops in the future, which is a deliberate and positive move to combat the drafting problems they had this year.

We did get to go to Venice finally the day after the race and do a bit of sightseeing and eat some yummy food and drink wine, a fabulous experience.

Huge thanks go to Sarah for putting up with me on this long journey (and massive congrats to you for qualifying for the Championships!!!), Merle for waving her magic wand and definitely to coach Paul at F4L Coaching for everything he’s done for me over the past 4 years or so, but particularly for always getting me to the starting line in the best shape I could possibly be, given my circumstances at the time.

It was a brilliant experience overall and a thoroughly recommended race, but what did I take away from the journey to Challenge Venice?

1)     You don’t have to run a marathon, or even long distances in practice to do one

2)     You don’t have to do umpteen long bike rides to do well over long distances

3)     Slow down at aid stations!

4)     Stick to the nutrition you know, especially on the bike as you’ll need it for the run (be more self-sufficient?)

5)     I need to do more swimming in a pack to try and become more comfortable with it (lack of race practice?)

6)     Being lean(er) = fast(er). My lowest weight in the past 20 years was building up to IM Austria where I was about 65.5kg and for this race, I was nearly another 3kg lighter.

Proper personalised coaching plans work and I’m more than delighted to have a coach that believes in quality sessions over quantity.  For one, it saves me a massive amount of time for which I’m very grateful and it also reduces the chances of aggravating old injuries and bringing on any new ones, which definitely works for me.

Just for the record, on this occasion my longest training week was just a little over 11 hours. I did one long bike ride of 5 hours and other than that, rides were generally in the region of 3 – 4 hours and I had just 2 x runs of 2 hours (deliberate given my Achilles situation).

PB……

Very, very happy days 😊

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Ironman 70.3 St. Pölten - 22 May 2016

I want to open this race race report in the theme that IMRoycer_81 from the Slowtwitch Forum did in his recent race report on IM TX. Thanks first and foremost. I have learned over the past 3 plus years that you cannot now and will never achieve any of your goals without the full support of the people closest to you. For me this means my lovely wife Barbara and my beautiful three daughters Amelia aged seven, Liliana aged five and Olivia, aged three. My wife doesn’t just accept my training, she encourages me, works with me, and takes time out of her life to support me and she embraces my goals and dreams. She and my daughters have given far more than they have received and for this I will forever be indebted. I have been blessed to be married to my wife and I will leave it at that. I can only say “Thank You” from the bottom of my heart for your support this past season 

I want to send a second thank you to Tony Hchaimé who has taken time out of his busy schedule to always answer my questions and give me feedback on anything I have ever thrown his way. I have only met Tony personally on one or two occasions but I know he is a gentleman and is passionate about making people better (and faster).

Lastly I want to thank TriDubai. I am at so few group sessions these days simply because my life is very busy, just like everyone else’s. I know there is a time in my life when I will become more involved, but that time is in the future. That much being said there are some “superhuman” athletes here who take the time to share their insight and experiences. There are also “everyman” athletes who do the same and I thank you both equally. The “everyman” lets me know I am not alone and the “superhuman” keeps me shooting for the starts. Thank you!

The longer, more technical, and more full of nerd data in a race report, the more I enjoy it. I hope others will enjoy this report as much as I have enjoyed reading yours. I am not a high performer and no qualifications are even twinkling near the edge of my universe, but I hope to entertain nonetheless. After a 30 week buildup and good race result at Dubai 70.3, my wife encouraged me to continue my season with a second build up to St. Pölten 70.3 on May 22nd. This would stretch my season to 45 weeks, which would be a new record. The plan of attack going forward after Dubai was to be very straightforward. Return back to Base 3 HR based training to reestablish my aerobic endurance capabilities and then embark on another Build 1 and Build 2 with race simulation workouts. Then peak and race per usual. 

Having done St. Pölten last year I knew my biggest challenge would be dealing with the 2 main climbs on the bike course. I didn’t own or have access to a bike trainer so I was going to have to come up with an outdoor option, and driving to the mountains an hour plus away was out of the question due to time constraints. My standard key build ride was 5X20 min efforts at race power with 4 minute recoveries in between. This was then followed by another 60 to 90 minutes at aerobic endurance power. I modified this to change the second effort from 20 minutes @ 205 watts to 10 minutes at 210 watts and 10 minutes at 230 watts. The fourth effort was 5 minutes @ 210 watts and 15 minutes @ 260 watts. I felt that this would best simulate the two climbs which last year took me 10 minutes and 15 minutes respectively. Not perfect but it would have to do. 

On the run side of things my target had been to run 4:45 per km off of the bike which I was able to do successfully for half the run in Dubai but during the second half I faded back to 5:00 per km. My standard key build run workout was 8X9 min efforts at race pace with 1 minute walk recoveries in between. This was then followed by another 45 minutes or so at aerobic endurance pace. I decided that I would try to bump the pace up to 4:30 per km even if this meant reducing the number of repeats from 8 back to 5. 5 was the minimum number recommended by my coaching plan. I hoped this would enable me to run 4:45 per km off the bike and hang on to the end of the race. 

Lastly to the swim approach. Not much to say here as I had been following a training plan from Swim Smooth which was 3 sessions per week around 2.7km each, with each session biased towards technique, endurance or threshold. My swimming had been coming along nicely and was the least area of concern for me. I knew there was no way I was ever going to make any big gains on the swim without getting in the water at least 5 days a week which was also not an option given my life outside of triathlon. 

The execution of the workouts on the bike went really well. The key 4th repeat was a serious ball buster to maintain but somehow I was always able to do it. It was good that it coincidentally almost always occurred on the little rise below the power lines on the back side of Al Qudra cycling track here in Dubai. It is laughable to call that a climb but at least I could gear up a bit and get the rpm’s down for a few seconds. (insert sarcasm)  After the interval I was able to recover nicely and execute a solid 5th interval and then the aerobic endurance set. I felt like I was on course to have a good strong ride. The run was a more mixed bag. I was only successful in about 70% of the workouts. 4:30 per km is right at the top of my tempo zone and I found that any little thing that was off would tip me into the redline. So I bonked a few times on the 4th repeat and couldn’t do a 5th when it was a bit too warm or when I had a crap night of rest. But most of the results were good, especially when it came to the numbers generated on TrainingPeaks. My efficiency was continuously creeping upwards and decoupling was always solid at less than 5% even with the climbing temperatures as winter faded to spring.  Everything seemed right on target and by the end of my build period 4:45 per km felt like a lallygag. Exactly what I wanted it to be. 

There was no denying the fact that I was feeling a bit cooked during the Build 2. I had been at it since August and I was losing the mental game when it came to looking forward to workouts. It was getting hotter outside and my workout window was closing up quickly in regards to the heat so this was also another thing that was giving me mental grief. I knew I would hang in there but generally training for me is very easy and I had clearly reached a point where I was tired of it. Enough said. We all get tired sometimes, so I just needed to HTFU.

Going into this race by the numbers I looked like I should be good to go. My CTL had peaked about 81 for Dubai and I was in the same spot for this race at about 84. My coaching approach targets less than 10% CTL drop during the peak and a target of 15 to 25 TSB on race day. I was right in this window.  This was to be my 7th triathlon and I really felt like the experience from past races was finally paying dividends in regards to preparation routine. I had my race plan down pat and committed to memory as I knew I would have to be accountable to it afterwards. Although I use HR as a training metric during certain periods, I had decided to completely abandon it for the race which was the correct call but something new. Races are about delivering results. Results are delivered by power and pace. I was ready to deliver what I planned or come unglued trying. So screw HR. I traveled to St. Pölten by myself so this was to be an all business affair with absolutely every minute centered around the race and not having any outside pressures of others on the trip with me. Race night found me in bed at 6pm feeling quite tired and watching a movie on iTunes, something which I never do.  Eyelids got heavy and that was it. 

Before I start with the actual race day report, let’s get my 2 main stuff-ups out and on the table. I said I would be accountable to my race plan so here is where I went astray. 3 minutes before entering the water I realized I had left my wedding ring on. Swimming is the one thing I don’t do with my wedding ring as it feels like it could slip off (it couldn’t) so it is a distraction. Nothing I could do at this point except block it out so that is what I did. It held on through the swim and wasn’t too much of a distraction after a few hundred meters. The takeaway is to make sure my final checklist is on paper. I had done this in the past but as I said I felt I was getting things dialed in, and thought I don’t need it. Well I do. The second one was more serious and more intentional. I had planned to ride the bike with just my helmet and visor. No sunglasses underneath as I had done in the past. In the past my visor had fogged up in the climbs when there was no airflow so I bought some anti-fog spray and tested and retested my helmet and visor in a steamed up bathroom. It worked flawlessly. The day before the race it was very sunny and I knew it would be the same on race day and the tint on my visor is not very dark so for some reason I elected to wear my sunglasses under my visor AGAINST MY RACE PLAN. Long story long on the first climb I am getting some light fog. Is it the visor or the glasses? It is the glasses I determine shortly so glasses off and into the back pocket of my top. Visor back on and it is staying fog free perfectly. At about 75km in the bike ride i feel something pop out of my pocket and here a clink on the road and sure enough there go my 100 dollar plus Oakley’s that served me so well for almost 3 years. For a split second I think about turning back but then I regain my senses and motor on without them. An expensive mistake straying from the race plan. Those would be my only 2 mistakes throughout the day that I could have prevented. Now back to the race report….

Alarm goes off bright and early and I am up and going through my morning routine Uneventful breakfast and trip to race site. I put the nutrition on my bike, calibrate my power meter and head over to get into my wetsuit. After I get the wetsuit up to my waist I start the 1 km walk to the swim start. Everything is going smoothly and I am not too nervous at any point. It only took about 10 different endurance type races but I finally have a bluebird sky day with not a cloud and sight and perfect temperatures. It is going to be a rolling start this year so I put myself near the front of the 35-40 minute corral. 

Across the mat, hack the watch, a few cautious steps into the murky goo and we are off and racing. The contact is minimal and I feel like I am on a good line to the first buoy.

The rest of the first 1km is really uneventful, I settled into a good rhythm and although I had planned on drafting as much as possible I felt like I was on a better line and was a few meters away from the most everyone else. The swim in St. Pölten is in 2 lakes with a couple hundred meter run between them. Up and out of the water and onto the short run. Last year this run really scuffed the heck out of the bottom of my feet and I had made it a priority to make my way cautiously and carefully to the second lake. As much as I did so, after being in 15C water your feet don’t quite feel like they normally do and as I started out in the second lake swimming the bottom of my feet felt like they had been roughed up again despite my best efforts. Time to put it out of my mind and move on. One my core racing strategies is to as much as possible only focus on the immediate moment and what needs to be done, not worrying about the miles that have passed behind, nor the miles up ahead. Stay focused on the moment you are in right now and make it count. As we reached the turnaround buoy I encountered a lot of contact and as I was underwater I saw a quick flash of what I thought to be someone drowning. Now this was not the case in reality but it unsettled me and as we pulled away from the turnaround buoy I felt like I wasn’t getting as much air as I wanted while breathing and I could feel for the first time ever a panic attack setting in. I focused on blowing bubbles and trying to get control but I couldn’t and I finally had to put the brakes on and stop swimming and get a grip on myself for 5 seconds or so.  It was so bad the thought of quitting the race popped into my head. I couldn’t believe I was experiencing this after so many open water training swims, after being stung head to toe by a jelly fish and getting myself back to shore in Dubai. So after a few seconds I put my head back in the water and started swimming again but I was very unsettled and it took another 200 meters at embarrassingly slow pace until I was finally able to recover fully and get back to my race pace. By that point it was only 150 meters or so to shore and the swim was more or less done and dusted at that point so I tried to finish strong and carry on. 

18:16 / 1081 meters

1:57 intermediate run 280 meters

17:00 / 957 meters

After last years brutal foot scuffing on the run between the swims I had made protecting my feet a priority throughout the race. I mean if your feet are hurting you how can you run, right? To this end I decided to put a healthy dose of body glide on my feet and then put my bike shoes on in T1. I was in and out as fast as was possible with no wasted time and onto the bike. I settled into my target wattage pretty quickly and easily and felt good. Despite the rolling start I felt there was more bike traffic on the course than last year and there certainly were more officials out as well. I wanted to ride a legal race as I know drafting has become such a hot topic. What I found in the first part of the race was that I was encountering large groups of cyclists who although were not intentionally drafting, were not keeping the 12 meter gap as required. So the only legal way to get around these groups was to put down 300 watts or so and pass them all at once. I did this 4 or 5 times but was watching my NP climb much higher than I had planned on and we hadn’t even hit the climbs yet. I was worried these surges were causing me to be riding too hard. So I made an intentional decision to lay off the power if I approached a large group and just slowly work my way past it as the slower ones in the bunch were overtaken. With my speed hovering around 37 km/hr or so with a bit of tailwind this seemed like a good plan. The net result of this was that my VI ended up at 1.12 up from 1.07 last year. There wasn’t much I could do short of sucking a lot of wheel at 8 meters. We hit the first climb and I completely nailed it at 266 watts and took 3+ minutes off of my time last year. Back into the flats along the Danube river and my NP off of the climb was right on target. This 30km section or so would prove to be were I started to fall off of my power plan. I kept encountering a lot of groups were I was forced to back off of the power a bit. And separately from that I started to feel that I was chasing the watts a fair amount when I could ride according to my plan. I took a quick peak at my virtual racer from Best Bike Split and saw I was 3 minutes behind. I just stayed in the moment and carried on and for the first time during the race started to feel a bit tired. I was looking forward to getting onto the big climb the “Gansbach” and being able to just lay down some power where I knew it would be a struggle and where I knew that struggling would be acceptable. Soon enough we were onto the big climb and I was doing my best to peg 260 watts. I felt good and in control and unlike last year there were not people blowing by me. A few passed me in the beginning but I held my own and overtook a few as well. Towards the last few minutes as I sensed the top was near I could see my power was fading back to 230 watts despite my best efforts. Up and over the top and again I knocked several minutes off of my time from last year in the climb. On the descent I took in a bunch of nutrition and tried to refocus for the last 15km which always seems to drag on. This was the point where I lost my sunglasses but carried on without them. Again FOLLOW YOUR RACE PLAN. As we reached town I spun up the legs bit and let off the gas in preparation for the run. I knew it was going to be tough and I knew I was behind schedule by about 6 minutes or so by this point but a good result was still out there just waiting for me to go and get it. I felt I was in reasonable condition given the past 3 and a half hours of racing.  

Target 214 watts NP 2:43 bike Actual 204 watts NP 2:48 bike

Into T2 and again a very methodical and efficient transition. I coated my feet again with body glide and I had already coated the inside of my race socks the day before so I was ready for 21km of running on pure silk. Shoes and visor on and I was out on my way. I was able to hit 4:45 per km immediately but I knew it was going to be too hot to sustain it. Air temperature was about 32C and most of my run training had been at 20C so I decided to target 5 minutes per km and see how it goes. Plan was to hold that on the first lap and then see what extra I have on the second lap. By 3 to 4 km into the run I knew I just didn’t have it. My pace was already slipping from 5 minutes per km and my legs just felt like every step was pulling them out of quicksand. I know my body pretty well these days and I could tell that any pushing of the pace was going to be incredibly painful for about 4 minutes and then result in a blowout with me walking. So I was just managing what I could focusing on each kilometer passing and trying to concentrate on my form and turnover. It is funny how my mind was constantly trying to redirect my focus from the task at hand which was managing the discomfort to thoughts of walking / quitting / why do I do this / etc etc. Each time I immediately reigned it back in and continued to carry on, albeit at a much slower pace than I had wanted to. I knew it was what I needed to do though to get around the course. I am proud of how I was able to stay focused in the moment giving it everything I had. Passing the 5km to the finish I let out a string of curse words at myself exhorting me to push and race and not manage things. I did for a few minutes but sure enough I immediately picked up a side stitch that I knew would reduce me to walking if I carried on in the same manner. I knew I was giving it my all in that moment if I was ever doubting it. Approaching the last km I allowed myself one quick peek at my total time on my watch and saw I only had a few minutes left to try to finish quicker than last year. The thought of actually having a slower race, despite the warm conditions, spurred me to push myself to either blacking out or vomiting or maybe both in that last surge to the finish. I somehow found an extra gear and sprinted home letting out a subhuman growl as I crossed the finish line in my best Craig Alexander bicep flex. I was so proud of myself for not walking on that Half-Marathon course. And it was my biggest accomplishment in that moment. 5 hours, 27 minutes, 58 seconds

Actual Run 1:52:11

And now for a bit of reflection. I get too caught up in times and this race is of course no exception. The fact of the matter is although I only went 4 minutes or so faster I improved significantly. St. Pölten is a highly competitive race with the best age group uber bikers out there. For example, last year in my 35-39 AG of 300, 100 guys went sub 5 hours. Really? Yes. This year only 50 guys went sub 5 hours again out of around 300. So the conditions were clearly much tougher especially on the run this year. Last year I finished in the 67th percentile of my age group and this year I was able to bump that up to 49th percentile and that doesn’t include the number of people who were pulled out of the water from this years race which I don’t have the data for just yet. So yes, I improved significantly despite the race time. When I reflect on the amount of hours I have available to put into training I feel that I am ahead of the curve. The fact of the matter is I have learned that my job as an airline pilot is really not suited to triathlon. The travel, the sleep depravation, the odd hours all add up to inconsistency in training. The reality is although I would like to think I train on average 12 or 13 hours a week the numbers do not lie. TrainingPeaks has me averaging 8 hours 48 minutes per week this season. That is less than 500 hours per year and that just isn’t going to cut the mustard for me. I don’t know where this competitive streak that resides inside me came from because it certainly wasn’t there as a child, an adolescent or even into my early adulthood. But it is there and it needs to be fed. 

So what is next. First off a serious transition period of about 8 weeks maybe even a touch more where I will be exercising and even flogging myself a bit for fun but absolutely no goal orientated training. Next up is to explore a bit more into the world of high intensity training. My focus since I started triathlon has been injury prevention and I have been 100% successful up to this point and somehow my old body has delivered. After 3 plus years it is stronger now and more suited to handling more intensity safely than in the past. I bought an indoor trainer and now have a very good setup which I think will be a small piece of the puzzle into getting faster. Surprisingly enough I enjoy indoor training much more than I expected and I see a recurring theme; many people with high ranking race results spend a fair amount of time on the trainer. Lastly I need to reevaluate what I am doing at work. There are options at my job to reduce the amount of traveling and another recurring theme I see from high performers is that their job is predictable and manageable, unlike mine. 

I will wrap up in saying I am a family man first and foremost and triathlon is my hobby. So I need to remember that much any time I get a bit too caught up. But then again, we are triathletes right. Remember folks EVERYTHING IN MODERATION, INCLUDING MODERATION!

Aaron Torrelio

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Dubai International Triathlon - 14 November 2015

***many thanks to Lynette Warn for this race report ***

After Thursdays storm and a lot of triathletes’ prayers, Fridays weather was great. All hopes were high for a great day of racing for Saturday.

Unfortunately at 4am the curtains were opened and the palm trees revealed that the wind was back.

Oh well it was going to be the same for us all. Hasan and I decided to take a taxi to the start so we wouldn’t have to head back to the congested T1 area after the race. We had already dropped off one of our cars at T2 the night before and had done a little recon of the run course.

The atmosphere as always at a T1, was the usual mix of nervousness and excitement.  There were the usual cues at the porto loos and everyone busy pumping up tires and psyching themselves up for what was to be an epic day. Thanks to Adventure HQ for their assistance with my value and the cable tie for my aero bottle holder as I had taken note of David’s advice at the briefing on losing bottles over the Judder bars, (kiwi for speed bumps) on the bike course. An accurate description of bottles flying off of which I saw within only minutes of the start of the bike course.

Back to the start; A bit of confusion amongst the athletes about the swim course direction, as most had expected the buoys and ropes to have been moved. The RACE ME director briefed the athletes of the slight change in direction just up to the first big white buoy. I wasn’t worried as the change was to only go to the left of the first big white and to the right of the others. As each wave was released we could see the conditions were a wee bit choppy. The females wave was at 6:45 and we were started on time. The water temp was great but the wind had caused a chop in the water. I’m an average swimmer and saw the fast girls disappear pretty quickly. After a short while of swimming trying to site and find feet to draft off I suddenly hit something. Oops I hit a rope. I looked up to see if I was off course but seemed to be ok so continued on. My garmin showed that I was definitely on course when I checked it after the race. I didn’t get any scrapes or scratches from the ropes, but saw the evidence of it on others later on. Oouch!!

It was one of those races when the buoy you are heading for seems to take forever to get to. As I turned at the last buoy facing north and heading to the short leg, boom!!! The waves seemed to have increased. As I tried to site I timed it so wrong and got a massive mouthful of salty water. It was a matter of timing to site the buoy as you had to be on top of the wave to see it. Heading back we were more sheltered with the new Island which was much more pleasant.

As I exited the water I looked up at the timing clock and was so disappointed at the time. Super slow compared to my other halves. Oh well, forget the swim and get on with the transition. I decided to wear a cycle top over my tri suit for sun protection and to hold an extra bottle of my nutrition.  I had kept my shoes on my bike so I can run better with the bike to the bike mount line. As I started out I hadn’t notice there were judder bars even prior to getting onto the road and it was a bit of luck I didn’t crap off with only one foot in the shoe and one on top. The RACE ME organizers had done a great job of traffic control for the most of the race course. I tried to thank as many people as I could along the way.

I along with everyone else was disappointed that we didn’t have a tail wind for the stick but surely we’d get it a bit later on, right? Nah!!! Like Kona it seemed to change and there was a head wind wherever we went. So that’s what I kept in my mind. Just like Kona, so keep your head down and cadence high. At 40km I was in a lot of discomfort and had a numb left foot and my knee was hurting. Again all you can do is adjust and keep going so I took my left foot out of the shoe and rode the rest of the way with only one foot in a shoe. I had noticed my power was down. I just put it down to the wind. You know it’s windy when sand is being blown sideways across the track and stinging the legs.

I like others, saw a few cheats and yelled at them to stop but they did their own thing. I also saw a guy holding his name/number in his hand that was having his own support throughout the bike course. The 4WD just drove beside the course stopping once in awhile to hand him coconut juice and anything else he wanted. Doh!!!Hiding you name didn’t help as you know we can still read your number on your bike number 128. You can only do what is right yourself and not control others, so cheats will always cheat.

The last few kms of the bike was magic as finally we got our tailwind. I actually think I yelled wee with excitment!!!

Into T2 and time for the run. I thought I’d do ok as I had kept my cadence high during the ride to save the legs for the run. I knew a few would be pushing too hard in the strong head winds. The run started out ok, but I was in desperate need of a pit stop in a loo as I had kept well hydrated on the bike. Paulo Costo came by and cheered me on, on his mountain bike (as an official). I asked him where the loos were as no one at the previous aide stations knew. As Paulo had a phone he used it to communicate with the other officials and found out there were currently none on the course as they hadn’t been delivered yet due to issues with the delivery truck. Oh well I was rather desperate so had to dash into a hidden bush. On attempt to zip up my one piece tri suit (with zipper to the front) arrhhh!! it broke. I tried to fix it for so long and was nearly in tears as I hadn’t worn any support underneath as the tri suit was tight enough not to need to. I thought I’d have to just walk back to the start point and my car to change. But once I exited the bush just around the corner was another aide station and there was my angel Caroline Labouchere.  I explained my dilemma to her and asked for her Race Me volunteers top to cover up with.  As I was still holding the front of the tri suit shut, she had to dress me which must have been hilarious to see. I’m amazed she didn’t hesitate one bit to help especially because I was asking her to take her top off in the UAE. There was still about another 3kms to go to the turnaround point. I decided to attempt to continue the run. I had to try to run with my arms high to cover up my unsupported parts which was embarrassing and uncomfortable. At the next aide station I forgot the effects and poured a bit of water over my head to cool me down. Doh!!! It’s a white top you twit. I continued on hoping not to see anyone with a camera. I made it back to the turnaround point and exited the course to get my bra from the car. Once changed, I tucked the rest of the tri suit in and re entered the course.  So the rest of the run was me trying to gain back a bit of time I had lost in all the drama with my wardrobe malfunction.  I crossed the finish line happy to be done. It was a hot run and an honest course.

The volunteers at the aide stations were so good and always had a smile and words of encouragement. Thank you.  

At the end I got to share me silly stories with others at the finish area. I love this part hearing each others experiences. I really didn’t know how I’d done and was surprised to have still won my age group race. 

We had not brought any food with us for afterwards as we had expected finishers food. But there was none. Disappointed we had purchased Pringles and juice at the store as that was all they had left to buy. About 30mins later they got some bananas delivered to the finish line so that was great.

Back to the bike and my unusual issue with my left knee and foot and having to ride 50km with only one foot in the shoe. On arrival home I noticed the seat post had dropped and the mystery was solved. They must have been big judder bars lol. Next race tighten things up.  Thanks RACE ME another successful race accomplished.

 

Challenge Roth – 12 July 2015

*** many thanks to Neil Hayward for this race report ***

Challenge Roth 2015 – The failure of common sense

My first marathon was in New York, 7 November 2004, Sam’s, my soon to be wife’s birthday.  It was awful, I hit the proverbial wall and staggered the last seven or eight miles, swearing I would never do one again.  When people mentioned an Ironman, my constant response was “Do a marathon after swimming and running, never! Once was bad enough”.  And I kept this promise until this year when I entered Challenge Roth.

I say entered, but that isn’t quite true.  I had spent a couple of years doing social sprint triathlons with TriFriDubai in the Arabian Ranches, gradually building up to the Dubai International Triathlon, which I survived rather than raced.  Three children and a busy job meant my training was sporadic, badly planned and normally lacking, hence the survived.  But I enjoyed DIT, signed up for Challenge Dubai, and had probably resigned myself to eventually doing an Ironman distance event at some stage in the next few years.  My brother had just completed Ironman Nice and signed himself up for Challenge Roth in 2015.  When one November day, he called me to say that some more places had been released for Challenge Roth, and he had got me one.

Common sense didn’t prevail and I said yes. 

Sam, sensibly reminded me about my first marathon.  Naively I used the words “it will be different this time”. Even though I had three children now, a wife and a busier job, I would train harder, better, smarter and with much more focus, and therefore it would all work out. 

And it did, mostly…….

12 July 2015 – 6am Swim start

Challenge Roth is one of the longest running, and certainly most famous of the European Iron distance events. The iron distance event started in 1990 and was part of the Ironman brand until the early 2000s when it went its own way.  It is based in the small town of Roth which is about 20 km from Nuremberg. 

The swim is a straight up and down on the Rhine Main Danube canal, starting around 10km outside of Roth. I always feel there is something quite majestic about the swim start of a triathlon. Hundreds if not thousands of competitors standing there with a common goal, to push their bodies and minds further or faster than before.  The sun rising in the background, shining its orange glow on the course and warming all involved.  Roth did this perfectly, a clear blue sky day, the sun rising just before the first wave went and the hubbub of nervous competitors and spectators providing the background chorus.

The swim is a wave start, with twenty or so waves off at five minute intervals. Ian, my brother, and the cause of this, started off at 7.25am with a target of around 10 and a half hours. I was in the 8.05am wave, the last one to go.  Whilst this meant a lot of waiting around, it also meant that I was able to soak in all the atmosphere of the morning.  The crowds filling up the bridge overlooking the start, the deep and loud sound of the race commentator continually filling the air, when it wasn’t filled with the “bang” of the starting cannon (honestly it sounded like a rocket going off each time) or some upbeat music to motivate the crowed and spectators. It also meant I was able to see the pro athletes start and finish the swim, and all before I had put on my wetsuit.

Training for this moment had started in earnest about six months before. I took Eirik Hooper’s advice and invested in “Be Iron Fit” by Don Fink.  This was a really useful introduction to what was needed, but with my promise to trainer better and smarter I needed more.  I had also signed up for the Alpe D’Huez long course triathlon three weeks later, which emphasized the importance of training right, but also recovering properly so that I could do both.

Which is where Neil Flanagan came in. I’d seen his name in Chops Potter’s report on Ironman Barcelona, and others in Dubai had recommended him.  Neil was brilliant, and I would recommend anyone who was training for any triathlon event to work with him.   His plan gave me the confidence I, and my family needed, to get us through the event.  I needed to know that I had done enough of the right training, at the right time and with the right recovery, without spending the time to do it myself. I also needed someone to report to, to remind me to do my sessions, to record them and to do them properly.  Neil did this brilliantly and we met every two weeks or so, with regular email contact to see how things were going and tailor the training as needed. 

I was already training with Dubai Master’s Swimming Club at Kings School in Umm Suqeim. If you haven’t been you should try it.  Seth and the team run tough but fun swim sessions, and I quickly saw improvement, gradually moving up the lanes.  As importantly, a fun and interesting bunch of people train there. They kept me motivated and wanting to do better. So thank you in particular to Seth and those at the 7.30am and 5.45am sessions.  I also took some one on one lessons from Neil Hamp to improve my technique as well as fitness, and again I would thoroughly recommend Neil if you are looking to move up a gear with your swimming.

About five minutes before our wave start time, we were ushered into the water.  The swim at Roth is in a huge canal, you swim about 1.8km up the canal, turn just after a bridge, come back down and past the start, by 100m or so and then turn back to the finish, which is just before the start line.  There are two main benefits of the Roth swim, firstly the waves of 200-250 people mean that you can quickly find your own space, if like me you still aren’t hugely confident on the mass start.  Secondly, crowds are able to walk along the banks, giving you a sense of support throughout the swim.  And it is a beautiful swim.

The starting gun went off, and off we went, paddling furiously towards the top end of the course.  For the first 300m or so everyone fought for position, but soon enough I was able to find a pair of feet to follow and could enjoy the journey.  And I did enjoy it.  The sun was still coming up, I could see, and partly hear the support of the crowd and it felt as though the previous six months of training had come together.

Soon enough I was at the final turn, and after overcoming a bit of cramp, that seemed to be set off by changing direction on the turn, I was being pulled out of the water by one of the many volunteers that manned the course.  Total swim time, one hour 14 minutes, which I was really happy with.

One of the characteristics of Challenge events, and Roth in particular, is the family nature of them. And Roth really shows this, over 8,000 volunteers and apparently up to 260,000 supporters around the course, it really feels as though the local area takes this event to their hearts.

A quick kiss from Sam, who had managed to find a viewing point at the swim exit, and I was off to bike transition.  A smooth process, helped by the volunteers and I was away.  The bike course is two laps and finishes just outside the town of Roth.

I loved the first lap of the bike. The rolling hills, green German forest and countryside, and most of all, the vociferous support from the spectators. Each village had set up tables along the route through the village, where they sat, drank beer and ate sausage, banging the tables in support as we cycled through.  The support on the hills was incredible. Picture the mountains on the Tour de France and the spectators parting just as you are about to hit them, well that is the bike on the main hills in Challenge Roth.  Spectators chanting “allez allez”, banging drums, blowing horns, all the way from bottom to top.  So I got excited, stood up on my pedals and put in that extra effort, to say thank you.  Even more so when I saw Sam and my sister in law cheering from the sidelines.

And then I realized.  I had done everything I hadn’t meant to do. I had read all the previous race reports, most of which contain some element of “I went out too fast, got excited, didn’t eat enough etc etc”. Despite telling myself not to do it, to show some common sense, I was doing the same thing. 

Lap 2 was a chance to recover, I had learned my lesson and was hoping that it wasn’t too late.  The crowds were still there, but I took things a little easier, I eased up on my power output, made sure I was eating properly and tried to save enough for the run.

After six hours 34 minutes I was into transition 2, on the outskirts of Roth. I was just in time to witness Fireman Rob, a US fireman, who was aiming to run the marathon leg in his full firefighter’s kit.  Bear in mind that the weather was exactly what someone who trained in Dubai had wished for. Sunny, temperature in the high 20s early 30s.  Not the temperature for someone wearing the full fireman uniform and oxygen tank. I wished him well and started to run.

The Roth run course is initially flat, then uphill for a kilometer or two, before reaching the canal again. You then run along the canal for 7km, turn at a local village, come back past where you joined the canal for another 8km, another turn in another village, back to where you initially joined the canal, and then back into town.

I had a six minute run, two minute walk strategy for the marathon, which started well. I walked the first uphill, started to run when I hit the canal, said hi to Sam again, and kept going. But the six minute, 2 minute soon turned into 3minute 1 minute, and then 1 minute 3 minute and worse as I felt the effect of the day.  Walking soon became the constant as I struggled to run, and tried to offset the initial symptoms of GI issues.  I wasn’t the only one, not that this helped. On the plus side, aid stations every 2km were well stocked with fluids, food and friendly helpers. And toilets. 

The downside of walking, is that it gives you plenty of time to think. And it is fair to say that my words post New York came back to haunt me for most of it.  Although I was mostly walking, I was in the fortunate position of knowing I would still finish within the 15 hour time limit.  The out and back format, passing people going the opposite way, meant that as I came back, with less than 10km from the finish, I was passing people going in the opposite direction, walking, who had a very small chance of making it.  Yet they continued. The lure of finishing, or not giving up, was greater than the concern of not getting the finishers medal, they could still say they did it.

With about four km to go, I met my brother. He had finished in 10 hours or so and rather than enjoy the moment, had come back to see how I was getting on.  I am not sure I would have done the same.  We walked jogged two km until the course takes you on a loop through the old part of Roth. He left to meet me at the end.  And after 5 hours and 50 minutes of running and 13 hours 32 minutes in total, I was into the stadium for a slow loop, cheered by a lot of people, and finally over the line to receive my finishers medal and t shirt. 

After a quick cup of soup, a pint of Erdinger Alkholfrei beer (delicious by the way, they should bring to Dubai) and a quick catch up with Taka, I went out to meet Sam, Ian and his wife.

That evening I swore I would never do another Ironman distance event. Who in their right mind would do a marathon, let alone at the end of a swim and bike? But common sense doesn’t seem to be prevailing.  A few days later and suddenly the marathon didn’t seem so bad. A few more days later and I was even thinking that it would be a shame to have my last marathon being mainly a walk, and therefore would it be so bad if I did another? 

Thank you

Firstly a huge thank you to my wife Sam and my children who put up with six months or more of my early starts, naïve optimism, weekends planned around training, more trips to the Mercure at Jebel Hafeet than anyone should  have to bear, and occasionally my grumpiness and tiredness. Without their full support and encouragement I couldn’t have done it.  I promise I will not think of doing another one for a long while.

Secondly to DubaiTriFri, the preeminent, social, occasional, and best designed kit triathlon club in Arabian Ranches. These guys (Eirik, Hilts, Grundy, Paddy, Wayne, Rockey, Nick Boyd, Dougy, Graeme and Richard Clarke, Ian, Jeremy, Barton, Paddy Smith and the founder, Mr Colgan) were brilliant, accompanying me on my late night summer training rides, doling out extra shots of Scottish fine drink the night before big training sessions (Dougy) and generally keeping me sane.

Thirdly to my coaches, Neil Flanagan, Neil Hamp, Seth and everyone at Dubai Masters Swim Club.

Some points about the event

Challenge Roth is a point to point event, and this makes it difficult for supporters. Sam and Louise managed to get round to a number of locations by foot to see us, but it wasn’t easy, and involved a lot of walking and asking people for directions.  The information provided by Challenge Roth was mainly geared at those with bikes or cars.  So if you can, get your supporters a car or a bike for the best and easiest viewing opportunities.

The event is really well organized, from pack pick up, to sign posts, to food, drink and the finishing tent, it was all organized superbly well and has a real family feel about it.

Most of the run is next to the canal which is a gravel track and is very different to the nice flat surfaces you find in Dubai. I also found I got big blisters and bruises on my feet from small pebbles getting in my shoes and not being used to that kind of surface. Something to watch out for.

Finally, to anyone thinking of doing Challenge Roth in the future, do it. It is a wonderful event, brilliantly organized, supported and participated in the right way.

Swim 1hr 14min 12 seconds

Transition 1

Bike 6 hours 34 minutes 55 seconds

Transition 2

Run 5 hours 50 minutes 43 seconds

Total 13 hours 52 minutes 32 seconds

Ironman Los Cabos – 25 October 2015

*** many thanks to Liz Verheyden for this race report ***

Our honeymoon race

It all started with our wedding day and the Ironman that followed – Ironman South Africa on March 29, 2015.

My second Ironman and Simon’s 9th! Hawaii as honeymoon destination seemed perfect to me! So I had my fingers crossed for Simon to qualify for Kona so that I could soak up the Kona World Championship atmosphere without the stress of racing.

We raced well, but not good enough and we didn’t qualify. So we decided on plan B, Ironman Los Cabos in Mexico, which also happens during the month of October (our honeymoon leave dates were already fixed)

This time I was going to prepare properly, and Nick Tipper was generous enough to also take me under his wing (Simon was already part of NTC since 2014)

I took 8 weeks off post IMSA to fully recover physically and mentally before starting this new venture.

June-September 2015

Dedicated training started in June, five months pre-race. New levels of dedication were discovered from week to week and life became training, working, sleeping, eating and preparing food and training kit bags. I slowly adjusted from 9-10 hours/week to 15hours of training per week. There weren’t many days off, unless really necessary. But Nick’s training was perfectly balanced and even though I felt continuously challenged, the scales didn’t tip to excessive fatigue or injury.

I made sure to keep track of little niggles by regular physio and chiro visits, and I tried as much as possible to do as I preach and do regular Pilates training and some triathlon specific strength training in the gym for those glutes!!

Simon’s superior skills in the kitchen also meant that our meals were very balanced and healthy. Which is a massive improvement from my cereal and milk twice a day approach that I had before (looking down in shame). Preparing lunch at home to take to work and not buying things on the go also meant that my weight and fat% dropped during these months (without actually eating less!!).

Thanyapura Training Week

After several months of increasing heat training and crazy early mornings, we were happy to have a little getaway to Thanyapura training facility in Phuket, Thailand.  We had a nice 20-hour training week in the Training Peaks schedule to give the body an extra little push. It is amazing how much training one can fit in a week without having to travel to training facilities, doing grocery shopping or spending time preparing food!

The non-chlorine 50m outdoor pool was an absolute pleasure to do 5km swim sets, a nice local group of cyclists to kill the time (and the legs!) on a few 100-170km rides and a 20km+ track session… yes ‘track’ session! Interesting approach of the Thanyapura triathlon head coach Sergio Borges (but he sure was very knowledgeable and interesting!). We went home well trained, satisfied, well fed and surprisingly not dog-tired.

October Race Month

We did a few more big weekends after Thanyapura and I have listened to every possible IMtalk podcast by now, twice. The pleasure of solo triathlon training!

We did not have any races since IMSA so to brush off the cobwebs we signed up for the first triathlon of the season – JLL Sprint Tri. The complete opposite of Ironman!

And the cobwebs were definitely there. I lost my bike in transition and lost my bottle & Garmin on the speed bumps. Oh dear! Lessons learned! But that’s what this practice race was for after all!

Few days pre race

We arrived in Los Cabos on Thursday late afternoon (race on Sunday). We didn’t go to the race area that day and just unpacked and did grocery shopping (spicy Mexican food with lots of beans did not seem like the right thing to eat 2 days pre-race!!).

Friday started with a 1km swim to check the water - warm, salty and some fierce waves at the shore but generally pleasant, and we finished with a short run. Then we picked up our numbers and checked out the one (!) shop at the expo.

Time to build our bikes! Cycling had to be done on the main highway so we avoided that late afternoon with peak traffic. Therefore we only tested our bikes just prior to checking them in Saturday AM – risky but it worked (besides that Simon managed to get his front wheel stuck in a cattle guard and went flying over the top…. I’m sure he will tell you more about that in his race report!)

It was nice to have the full Saturday afternoon to rest, relax and mentally prepare. We had a simple chicken and rice dinner and the alarm set for 3:45AM! (race start was only at 7:30am but with transition closing at 6:30 (due to 70.3 race happening) and no parking at the race start we had to start early)

Finally, Race Day!!

This crazy early start (3.5hrs pre-race start) was actually very nice. I felt much more relaxed and had stacks of time to check my bike, transition, check the sea conditions and go to the loo about 8 times! (and it worked! No loo stops for the whole race!)

The Swim - 58:02

It was a rolling start, which means you run in the water from a fairly narrow tunnel, and your time only starts once you cross the line. It’s meant to spread out the field slightly and have less panic and stress at the start. This was my first time to experience this and I expected it to be better to be fair. It still got rather congested the first 400-500m, no doubt due to athletes not seeding themselves properly. Or maybe I did not seed myself properly as I did not expect a sub 1hr time 

It was a non-wetsuit swim with water at 29C. The water felt a bit choppy but I think that was cause I swam in a perfect flat pool the whole summer! I therefore put in slightly more effort as I thought I was going rather slowly. I noticed that I started to pass the ladies who I spotted at the start line and I was swimming in clear water, and therefor without any feet to draft off, since the turn around point. The final 200-300m were tough – the waves approaching the shore were strong and I felt like I was swimming backwards.

I finally made it out of the swim and entered an empty transition tent (bar one lady who just ran in with me). I tried to get into my new Stealth jacket as smooth as possible – but this tight white jacket on wet skin needs some more practice (which I did do actually – coming out of the shower :P)

Ran the long way to my bike barefoot, only putting on my shoes once I reached my bike. Transition was on the beach and barely covered with a carpet so I ended up with very sandy feet in my bike shoes for the next 180km.

The Bike – 5:59

As I ran out of transition a guy shouted “first lady on the bike” I couldn’t believe it! That must have been a good swim (I didn’t wear a watch). Soon after a motor escort official showed up and left me to follow him in his dirty fumes. This didn’t last long – luckily?  - as the next lady passed me within the first 10km. 

Los Cabos is a hot and rolling course. 60km out and back on a rolling highway, then a 30km up and back stretch towards the airport, with a 5km non-stop climb  between the mountains where the temperature soars big time, followed by more up and down.

I had my power numbers set for the bike and read several race reports on the old bike course from 2013 (which they re-implemented this year) and read over and over again how you can cook yourself on the first lap and lots of athletes fade on lap no 2. So I stuck to my predetermined numbers and didn’t get bothered about the fact that I was now down to position 5 amongst the overall ladies (but no one in my 30-34 age group so that was comforting). I drank lots of water & Gatorade (as offered at the aid stations) but didn’t eat a whole lot (a bar and 3 GU’s). Lots of water got poured over my white top to keep me cool, which worked a treat.

Around 140km it did get a bit harder and I no longer had to hold back to not go over my power numbers. The last climb to the airport was proper Dubai summer temperature!

The time I set for this course was 6:08, which isn’t a fast time, but it sure isn’t a fast course either! My Garmin showed the course was a few km’s short so I think I was spot on pacing-wise. Let’s now see how that run goes…

I jumped off the bike and handed it to a volunteer and quickly got one of the water bottles from my bike – I couldn’t wait to get all that sand off my feet finally! Legs nor body felt too stiff or sore, so that’s good!

I changed into a dry running top – heaven – and put on my (well, Simon’s) Kona peak – hopefully a good luck charm!

The Run – 3:39

I started the run and immediately told myself – “don’t go out too fast!!” I was planning to do a run/walk with an average 5:10-5:15 pace. My first few km’s I was hitting 4:55 so I really had to be careful and hold back. One of the many mistakes I have made in my previous 2 Ironmans! 

But then I got my rhythm and heard from spectators that I was making nice ground on the ladies ahead of me. After the first lap (which passes literally 20-30m from the finish line) the announcer introduced me and said I had made up 7min on the leading lady and was now in 3rd place. Excellent! But don’t get too excited – anyone can run the first 15km well. So I kept taking in nutrition (Gu and bananas) and kept my pace and by the end of the 2nd lap I made it into 1st place – and she wasn’t looking great at that stage so all I had to do was hold my pace. I was passing loads of people now and tried to focus and not stumble on the bumpy Mexican road surface with the setting sun in my eyes.

And yes, I made it to the finish line, feeling great and with a huge smile! They had the banner ready for me when I was running down the finishing chute, but there was a male finisher just ahead of me, maybe 30m, who thought that the banner (which was still on the floor at that stage) was for him and bent to pick it up. By the time he realized it wasn’t for him I was right behind him and now I only have photos with him on the foreground pulling weird faces. 2nd problem was that one of the ladies didn’t let go of the banner so I nearly dislocated my shoulder as I walked with the banner. After this rather awkward finish, I was bombarded with photos, questions and interviews!

I’m glad I was actually feeling ok after finishing, as all this stuff did take quite a while with no chance to sit down or have a drink. But what a truly incredible experience!! All the hard work paid off – way more than I bargained for!

Honeymoon time now and then, KONA BABY!!

And it has to be said – none of this would ever have been possible without my amazingly inspiring & supportive husband!! He inspires me with his Kona stories, introduced me to the life of dedicated training and keeps us healthy with only the best food in our fridge (and lots of Haagen Dazs!!) 

Ironman 70.3 Turkey - 25 October 2015

*** many thanks to Noel Rossouw for this race report ***

The decision to enter the Turkey 70.3 was after being given the race entry deferment, we had originally entered the Zell Am See 70.3 at the beginning of September and having got slots for the IM 70.3 champs they allowed the deferment, however, it had to be for an event within Europe.

Our build up for this race followed on from the race in Austria seven weeks earlier, we took a short easy period and built up. During the build-up we included some swim analysis in the last 3 weeks and started to work on some specifics to improve our technique and overall efficiency in the swim with the help of Kieran Ballard. Our bike work was more or less the same, consisting of 3 rides per week.  The run preparation was still low with no speed work yet, still feeling some issues with the sciatica.

We arrived in Antalya region on Wednesday night, 21 October, the weather was humid and there were storms all around. Arriving in the dark meant we did not see the lay of the land on the way in, maybe it was a good thing.

We had chosen the Gloria Verde resort about half km from the swim start and 5 km from the end point which was in the Gloria Sports Arena. The difficulty with different start and end points is logistics before and after the event, for e.g. T2 was 5 km from T1 and we could not have access to our bags in T2 on the morning of the race. More on that subject later.

Heavy storms lashed the area right up until the night before the race, it was doubtful that we would have a swim on the day of the race, such was the sea conditions. Due to the weather we had been holed up in the hotel almost the entire time since arriving, managing to nip out for a short jog or swim in between storms.  No swim course had been set up due to the rough seas. Nevertheless the race organisers went ahead fully intending a sea swim on race morning.

We arrived in T1 at 6am to pump tyres and place our bottles and nutrition on the bikes.  In the early morning light we could just make out that the sea was settling although the water was chocolate brown from the rivers flooding into the sea. The swim course was still not set-up. The announcement came that boats were about to pull the buoys into position and that it would be a wetsuit legal swim, relief! The weather looked good, clouds still about but no rain and very little wind. Temperature was about 18-20 degrees and forecast to reach 25 degrees C.

The swim started on time at 8am which was quiet honestly remarkable considering that at 7am there was no swim course to be seen. The organisers had decided to employ the rolling start which means allowing the pros into the water first followed by the age groupers in continuous wave (self-ceding), individual finish times are calculated mat to mat.

I decided to get in with the 30-35 min group although once we started swimming it was evident that some people don’t understand the concept or the obvious benefit to starting according to one’s ability. The two loop swim course with an Australian exit keeps competitors closer inshore and along with improved spectator viewing ensures greater safety. The 1st loop of 1200m was 500m out to sea, right turn parallel with the shore for 200m and right turn 500m back to the beach, exit the water run around a point on the beach and back into the sea for 700m shorter loop, (300 out 100m across and 300m back to the beach into T1). After the first loop I glanced at the time it read just over 19min, I got really motivated by this and attacked the second loop with new energy.  Swimming at a good effort out to the first of the buoys in this second loop and then I decided to go all out for the rest of the swim, really started to work on increasing the stroke rate (Kieran drills ringing in my ears).  All the extra swim work was paying off as well as the drills we had started to incorporate into the weekly program.  I excitedly checked the time as I exited the water, it read 29min and some seconds, in my excitement and haste I didn’t press the lap timer correctly, which meant T1 time was added to the swim time, not that this matters in the overall scheme except that the Garmin download afterwards won’t have accurate splits per 100m swim. Now at this point I have to suspect that while my swim time was greatly improved the course I suspect may have been about 150m shorter than planned. The time spent in T1 was 5min, which needs some attention for future events.

Out onto the bike things started well, everything was almost going to easy for the first 8km straight out along the highway parallel to the coast, almost no wind and a good smooth flat surface. One should’ve known that this was the quiet before the storm. Keep in mind we had not been able to see the bike course beforehand (a blessing in disguise). Up until the day before the organisers were frantically trying to repair roads and finalise a route. I’m sure they will learn from this. The calm ended with a sharp left run under the highway and thump the first of thousands of bumps! The route now headed inland (on fully closed) rural roads desperately in need of repairs. Our route was heading directly for the mountains 20 km in the distance. The weather was cool and the roads wet from a rain shower just ahead of our arrival. Spectators line the route as it wound through the villages.

Just over an hour into the bike my first drinks bottle was empty and I reached behind for the second bottle to find an empty cage, my 2nd bottle of nutrition was gone! I heard a voice from behind me say “nothing there mate” , he had seen my hand groping from cage to cage searching for the bottle that was no longer there. I hadn’t even heard it fall. (Had I heard it fall I would’ve stopped to retrieve it as it contained my nutrition consisting of my own cocktail of carbs and electrolytes all vital for the rest of the bike and the run to come). Fortunately we had developed, through past pain, the benefit of a carrying a backup nutrition plan and switched to the spare gels I was carrying in the front pouch, guarding these with great care now. As a last resort the tables along the route were also generously stocked. I did grab a few pieces of banana to help get energy.

The road surface was horrible, bumps, holes, a cobblestone section, loose gravel section; one had to hold on for dear life. The route was now strewn with competitors fixing punctures. The organisers had even warned competitors to carry a spare tyre! Having raced in Asia we had learned to go for extra tough tyres even if these result in a few seconds more time per km. A long slow 5-6km climb up to the turnaround point ate into the time we had gained. A dangerous fast decent took us back down into the valley and then back across the rough roads to the highway and finally that same pleasant smooth surface into T2. The bike split is 3hr 05min, I’m gutted, where did the time disappear? I really had a good start and must have lost a lot of time on the climb and the rough roads. I’m simply going to have to solve this for future races, a good bike is essential to setting up for a good finish. Note to self. I wracked the bike and sped off toward the bag rack.

Now a frantic search for my running bag, not having access to T2 in the morning meant that we had not rehearsed this section or noted the position. The more alarmed I became the less I saw and couldn’t even work out if the numbers were ascending or descending!  It must have been comical to see an idiot scrambling along the line searching with increasing panic! Eventually I retraced my steps took a deep breath and started over this time I found it. A quick change of socks and on with the running shoes, grabbing the last of my nutrition set off to find the pee stop. None available! During the pre-race briefing they had said no urinating in public as this is a DQ offence. I started to run and enquired from the marshal’s officials where the next toilets were, about 2-3 km into the run was the reply! Theoretically that is! By 3 km I was forced into the trees. Later after the event when I complained about this I was told by the announcer and organiser that the porta loos ordered had failed to arrive and thus non on the course as planned (Still in transit from Istanbul). At least I was safe from a DQ!

The run course was an easy mostly flat run of two loops, the turnaround point inside one of the many golf courses. I normally look forward to and enjoy the run and this time was no different. The speed is still not back, but I can feel things getting better and only felt a few slight twinges from the hammy/sciatica. The best part of the run is catching and passing especially the bike speedsters.  I’m almost ready to give the run a full burn.  Having used up the spare gels on the bike I had to ration the 2 gels for the run leg. (I would normally grab the remaining gels from the bike as I dismount to supplement the gels in my T2 bag).  Fortunately the tables were well stocked with water and my old favourite energy drink COKE. The run unfolded without incident and not too much fatigue despite not having enough nutrition as I would normally take. The finish line was great, set up on the athletic track and being greeted in the finish straight by multiple world ironman champion Paula Newby Frazer was really special. (We both hail from Durban in South Africa) Suddenly it was all over. My run time was about as good as I could manage on the day given the level of preparation, 1hr 40min so lots to work on to get back to my target. Seventh position in my age group was not good enough for a slot to next year’s champs.

I feel moved to mention what a great event they put on especially for the first time and considering that triathlon in particular Ironman is a relatively new sport in Turkey. We fully appreciate the effort and the pressure that was going behind the scenes. We are so very fortunate that there are these events and its especially pleasing that IRONMAN is seen taking our sport of swim bike run to new destinations. Well done to all the hundreds of volunteers who worked and cheered all the participants. Races are simply not possible without these people. Thanks to the people of Belek, Antalya including the government authorities to the locals living close to the event who were such wonderful hosts, providing us with closed roads an army of marshals and officers who controlled and saw to it that the roads were safe. I really regret not being able to speak the local language, although I’m sure their English is much better than our efforts to speak Turkish. Congratulations to Ironman Turkey, this was a great race with wonderful and lasting memories. Unfortunately we did not get any slots to next year World Champs in Australia :(

MY RACE SUMMARY

Swim:    29:24

Bike       3:05:20

Run        1:40:56

Overall  5:24:33

If anyone planning of going to Belek next year, I suggest you check out the Gloria Sports Arena – World Class Sporting facility!

Ironman 70.3 Arizona – 18 October 2015

*** many thanks to Andre Abreu for this race report ***

Background check:

For those who don’t know me, my name’s Andre Abreu, I come from Portugal, my dad was a football player, my mom played basketball in high school and they got my sister and I in the pool when we were 3 years old. Swimming has always been a part of my life. My swimming career was pretty common, considering all the kids who’s parents put them in the pool when they were very young; I started swimming competitively since a very young age for a local team back in Evora, Portugal called Aminata. The goal would always be to get faster and faster so that at the end of the season we would have fast enough times to represent our team at the National Swimming Championships. I worked my ass off but was never one of the fastest kids. Yeah I won some local races and have a pretty vast collection of swimming medals, but I was never fast enough for the National Championships’ qualifying times. That was until 2010 when I was 15 years old and had decided to dedicate myself to one single race to make things a little easier, that race was the 100m backstroke. A couple of months before the National Championships I was racing in Spain with the goal of achieving the qualifying time of 1 minute and 5 seconds. I went just under it and once I saw it on the board I started slapping the water with happiness. Time went by and I had a great time at Nationals but afterwards I felt like I had spent way too much time on the pool for such a “small” achievement…

“Tryathlon”:

One of my friends from the swim team, Filipe Azevedo, was doing some triathlons at the time and a local one was coming up. Since he liked it so much I decided to give it a shot. I got out of the water comfortably in first wearing my speedo and while I was putting clothes on in the transition area, everyone else ran by on their tri-suits. I ended up having a very painful and slow race ending up in something like 3rd to last… It really sucked but right away I started looking for more races, I was super excited to start training for something so complex and demanding and completely forgot about swimming. I still did some swimming races here and there but from then on I was completely focused on triathlon.

Ironman:

After racing the Portuguese National Series of triathlon twice for my local team Kainagua, with a best time of 1 hour and 9 minutes (sprint-distance), I moved to Japan by myself as an exchange student and decided to bring my road bike with me. While I was there I raced once and it was awful. The one thing I got from that was something I never again forgot to include in my training: consistency. At that time I was basically training whenever I felt like it–definitely not a good idea if you’re trying to get some results… When that year was over I moved to Dubai where my family had moved to. This was mid-2013 and I joined TriDubai right away. I went to some rides and runs and met some great and inspiring people. I started learning about this mythical Ironman thingie that everyone was doing. Apparently everyone over there loves doing these 8-sprint-triathlons-in-a-row thing. At that time I had just turned 18 and decided to create a bucket-list item: since you have to be 18 years old to do an Ironman I figured it’d a pretty cool achievement if I could do one While I was 18. I started looking for races that would be right before my 19th birthday and decided to go for Ironman Texas in 2014. this was a big decisions and from that moment on I knew what I needed to do: consistent training. I had my friend Filipe help me with the training and bit by bit I was slowly being able to bike and run for longer periods of time. In March 2014 I finally convinced my dad, through my training, to pay for an Ironman registration so I went on Ironman Texas and my heart almost stopped when I read “Sold Out”. My first thought was “please let there be another race before I turn 19…”, and so I searched but the next race available was Ironman Cairns in the beginning of June (my birthday’s May 18th). Since I’m a person who doesn’t like to waste time with bad thoughts I went to the bucket list in my head and crossed “Finish an Ironman while 18 years old”, writing over “Finish an Ironman before 20 years old”. And so it was. I trained, was scared as hell, had found enough sponsors to help pay a new tri-bike and the trips and on my way I was. I get to the airport and there was no flight to Melbourne. I check my ticket. It said (10:30), it was 10:30Pm at the time. I got a new ticket and a few hours later I was on my way. Tip: there’s no AM or PM in flight tickets. A few long hours after I was in the beautiful Cairns, Australia, all by myself with a huge bike case and a t-shirt my dad had made with the race’s name on the front and mine and all the sponsors’ on the back. From here on it was pretty much butterflies and unicorns. I swam quickly in an hour, biked in a constant pace in 6 hours and run/ walked the marathon in just under 5 hours reaching the finish line in 12 hours and 8 minutes. One of the best tips I ever got (from the great Johan Moolman): walk on the aid stations and drink/ eat constantly (which to me meant gummy bears and coke). The day after I woke up and “ran” (on a taxi) to a tattoo parlor and got the “M” we all dream about on the outer side of my left calf.

The U.S.A.:

I went to Dubai to finish high school next to my family. Once that was done I moved to the US for University where I’m attending Arizona State University. I joined the school’s triathlon team right away and started training for the olympic distance which is how long the collegiate races are. I trained and tried improving but never really did throughout that year. I would always swim under my potential, my bike would improve throughout the year and the run would always end earlier due to stomach cramps.

By the end of my first college year I was doing great in school but my triathlon career hadn’t improved and I wasn’t really enjoying that… So, once I got to Dubai in the summer to visit my family, I got a triathlon coach: Tony Hchaime. I told him about my goals and we started training for the next collegiate season. Now I had a training plan, was doing things I didn’t even know had anything to do with triathlon and slowly noticed my bike and run improving significantly.

The 70.3 thing:

At the end of the summer of 2015, Ironman 70.3 Arizona was announced for the first time. Since it is right out of my door I decided to register for it. I registered and in the weeks following I investigated the whole 70.3 thing. With my coach’s help I noticed that I had a real chance in this “new sport” and I told him that I wanted to focus on 70.3 because I really thought I could qualify for the World Championships the following year in Gold Coast, Australia and do well. I think he was a little more happy than me at the time. When I made this decision I decided to grow a mustache until I qualified for Worlds. We had only been training for a few months together and he already knew me well enough to know that that’s what I was meant to focus on. We changed my training right away. He noticed that on my longer runs I was getting GI (gastrointestinal) problems that where significantly slowing me down. Then I told him about all the races that had been ruined for me because of that. Immediately after he made me change my diet and had me seeing a nutritionist. I started cooking all my meals and since although I like cooking, I’m not a huge fan of it, my meals became very identical; In the morning before practice/ school I’ll have an yogurt parfait with granola and fruits or some eggs with sausage and vegetables, always accompanied by home brewed coffee. Then I’ll bring to school a lunch box, half-filled with white rice, half-filled with chicken and salad. After all the training’s done I’ll have some kind of steak with potatoes and salad. Beyond that I heat fruits and cereal bars throughout the day (tons of water too!) and my training/ race nutrition is based on GU’s (preferably the salted-watermelon ones). Thankfully this has almost completely healed my stomach already and shows a very promising future. Around this time I had the pleasure of being one of the first athletes to be a part of the Slash/ BR triathlon team which meant great support and a bit more pressure for better results.

The Race:

All the training was done. I have basically improved as much as I ever could and was as ready as I could be for the race. A week before the race I started having trouble sleeping because of all the nerves… I prayed for help and thankfully by race day I was nervous free and all ready to go. One thing’s for sure, all the training was done and I was completely rested after a week of tampering so it was Go time! The night before the race I got my things ready and slept a solid 7 hours after skipping my coach for some last minute advice. I woke up, went for a 10min run, did some warm up exercises and had my pre-race oatmeal breakfast. The morning of the race all the roads around my house were closed (I live right in front of the course) and so my roommate (who also raced) and I had some trouble getting to the race… We still got there with around 30min to spare so I got my transition ready: bike hanging, shoes open, filled with baby powder hanging from the bike, aero helmet upside down hanging from the tri-bars, 2 water bottles filled and cold on the bike, hat and big number on the floor with running shoes and socks in front. Now thing like you were me staring at the bike… Where the hell are the GU’s?? I thought about it… yap, they were home. So much for a gel every 20-30min, I’m just gonna grab one in each aid station (Tip: instead of freaking out, think of a solution ASAP). This didn’t end up so bad, instead of having 5 gels like I had planned, I had 3 but they were pretty spaced and it still worked.

6:55AM: I had just put my race goggles on, followed by the UAE flagged cap and then the race cap when we heard “Male 18 to 29! Get in the water.”. It’s go time.

The swim:

As some of you might know the World Championship slot is given to the finisher of each age-group and then rolled down in case the winner doesn’t accept it or was already qualified. My plan on the swim, being my strongest suit, was to lead. And so I did. I sprinted to the lead, found what I thought was my plan, and led the first 1800m. After fighting through so many waves who had started before us, followed by two other guys, with 100m to go they both sprint past me and leave me to get out of the water in third. My wave was composed of my age-group and the one after so I figured they were both part of the older age-group, little did I know that they weren’t. In my mind I was in first. 30 minutes marked my watch when I climbed the lake’s stairs “that’s a few minutes over my goal… damn it.” I flew past transition in just over a minute (Tip: practice transitions beforehand, there’s no need wasting time/ energy on basic things like putting your helmet on…).

The bike:

The plan here was to hold a pace as close to 37km/h as possible. This meant mid-Z3, high Z-3 on the hills (never Z-4. Tip: you can only go to Z-4 so many times, don’t waste them). About 15 minutes in my legs were in pace and my heart rate had calmed down from the swim, it was time to start getting some water in the system and go for it. I picked up the pace a little bit, once I got back to mid-Z3 I held it there. The whole way I was looking at people’s calves (which had they’re ages written on) to figure out in what position I was. Remember I thought I was in first place but was actually in third. The bike was composed of three laps and on the first one I was on pace to finish in the lo 2:20s and did not look out for any calves so far because I hadn’t been passed by anyone (I had no idea that at some point I was in first of my age-group). This got me a little too excited so I tried to hold that pace… In the middle of the second lap a guy with a calf saying “24” flew past me, this meant I was in second (in my mind I was in first and had just been passed by the guy in second). He was going way to fast for me to follow him. My thought from then on was “he could still roll down his Worlds’ spot” so I kept grinding. The third lap was extremely painful. My back was hurting from all the time I had spend in aero position and my legs were burning like hell. I did that last lap in low Z-3 but kept grinding finishing the bike in just over 2 hours and 30mins. This meant I had 3 hours on the clock. In my mind I was second and had to run under 1:50min to hold that place, which meant finishing below 4:50h (that was the original goal).

The run:

I flew right out of transitions in a minute and tried to use to watch to find my under-5m/km-pace. I held it. For about 1km… Both my quads started cramping then “yap, definitely went too hard on the bike”. I looked ahead and aimed to walk at the next aid station. The cramps were getting worse which meant that I had to slow down even more, at this point I was running over 6m/km. I got to the aid station, through some water on my self and filled my tri-suit with ice (it was so hot!!). I went back to running and although my quads were a little better, a little stomach cramp came by to say hi, “great”–I thought. Not long after, another aid station showed up, it was time for my first gel (the plan was for a gel every 30min and only water & coke on the second hour). I filled my hat with ice and went on. I slowly picked up the pace close to 5m/km. Just when I was getting to the next aid station, my left calf got a huge cramp, so big that I almost fell. I was getting pretty frustrated because my heart rate was at mid-Z2 and it should’ve been at high Z-3 so I knew I had a lot to give but my legs weren’t allowing me. From then on I ran slowly and walked on the aid stations while I refilled. The run course was composed of two 11km laps (yes, it was 22km). Towards the end of the first lap I see a calf running by with the number 22, I looked up and it was one of my closest friends and training buddy, Daniel Murphy. He was doing great so I gave him a shout-out “you’re in second, go for it!”. At this point 2nd or 3rd were the same for me as long as I was on the podium and has a World Championship slot to fight for so I was legitimately happy that my friend was doing so well. In my mind I was in third (which was actually accurate), so all I wanted now was to hold that place. This meant looking at a lot of calves… About 500m from the finish line, a “24” ran by at a pretty slow pace, my thought at that moment was “I’d rather pass out than lose this podium” and so I started picking it up as fast as I could. I passed him and started running under 5m/km. My legs were burning like hell, several muscles were cramping, I was having trouble breathing and was very dizzy. Although I could see the Ironman village in the horizon it felt like it took me a whole hour to get there. I closed my eyes, put my head down and just ran, as fast as I could, without ever looking back. I was so out of it I didn’t even think of the fact that I was crossing a 70.3 finish line in 3rd place. I played down on the floor for almost 15min without being able to move at all. Later I saw that the guy in fourth finished 2 seconds after me.

Aftermath:

It took a while to be back to earth but after a nice massage, some cooling down and refueling, I was back. I realized I got third because my friend, Bekah, who had been carrying my stuff and tracking me the whole way, had told me. This just confirmed my assumption and gave me great relief. I wanted for my roommate to finish his first half-ironman ever and the three of us (DJ, me and Travis) went for some celebratory ice cream before the awards. Awards went by and the medals ceremony almost went unnoticed for me because all I wanted was to know if I had qualified. After awards, it was time for the World Championship roll-down. The announcer started “Male 18 to 24. One slot available. None taken. In second place: Daniel Murphy.” My friend told me he was going to Medical School and left. Let’s just say I shaved my mustache.

I want to thank all my family, friends and sponsors (Team Slash/ BR, Compressport, Catlike, ON running, Adventure HQ) for their great support. Without them I couldn’t have accomplished this.

Thank you for reading my story and follow me on all social media for close details on my journey to the 2016 Ironman 70.3 World Championships. In three weeks I will be racing Ironman 70.3 Austin which also is the U.S.A. Collegiate Ironman 70.3 National Championships, that outta be another nice read!

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/André-Abreu-251147424958364/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Instagram: @adcawi

Challenge Roth – 12 July 2015

*** many thanks to Annabelle Rust for this race report ***

Someone asked me after the race if I had any real 'dark moments' and to be honest, I didn't really have any hugely horrible ones, I was very lucky. Overall I think that Roth went as well as I could have imagined my first ironman to go. Don’t get me wrong, there were still definitely a scattering of not very bright moments. I have tried in this race report to be descriptive and informative for people who might like to do Roth, but it was my first ironman and I'm not a very technical triathlete so don't expect many stats!  I personally really like to read race reports in general, but in particular before this race they helped me a lot. Each race report is so different and combined they gave me plenty of tips and confidence as I went into my first IM. So hopefully I can add to that combination with my own experience (sorry though, I’m not succinct).

Hearing how many people were unsuccessful in getting a spot in Roth 2016, I was clearly very lucky to get one for this year's race. I only decided around November 2014 that I might be keen to give my first ironman distance race a shot, despite genuinely having had no interest in going for the long distances up until that point. I missed the Niklaus-Aktion ticket sales that Challenge have on the 6th December or thereabouts as I was racing Challenge Bahrain. I then realised that actually I DID really want to race Roth! And somehow, incredibly, they posted on Facebook that they had another 50 slots or so, and I got in! So if you still haven't got an entry slot for 2016, don't despair just yet! Or try the Aussie company Tri Travel who might have some openings.

One thing I will say is that if you sign up to Roth, make sure to go a few days before. The days before the race were so much fun, familiarising ourselves with the course and just soaking up the incredibly welcoming atmosphere of the region. It looked like there are pretty good camping/campervan facilities near T1 which would be a great option I think. One thing I would have been glad to be more in control of was the food I ate in the run up to the race. Many people have said this before and I guess it's never easy when you're travelling, but perhaps staying in such a facility might make that easier, though granted it might be a more likely option if you live in Europe already. Having said all that, my pre-race dinner of Bratwurst & potato salad did no harm in the end! If you're looking for a nice B&B and can't find one closer, I recommend Gasthof Arnold in Gunzenhausen, about a half hour drive from T1, a few of us stayed there and at another hotel in Gunzenhausen.

Training

I used the free ironman distance training plans from Beginnertriathlete.com & TriathlonPlus magazine/triradar.com. I certainly had tons of advice from more experienced triathletes and the great group training for Roth that got together especially for a few Hatta rides and middle of the night AQ sessions, with Tim Hawes in particular acting as unofficial coach & key training buddy who I could bore with a million questions whilst out on our long runs. I also read a lot of articles and blogs online, and I bought Joe Friel's Going Long which was quite useful prior to starting training. I had intended to become more acquainted with HR training, but apart from knowing what my average HR was for what would probably be my race pace, I didn't become more familiar with it. I've said it before but technical stuff really does go over my head, I basically just did the hours/kms it said on the plan and basta! 

The Swim

It's really worth going for the training swim in the canal which opens up on the Friday before the race, if only for a bit of confidence! I have to say that it was a very pleasant swimming experience; the water is hardly clear or blue but seemed clean enough, and I found the proximity of the canal banks, and spectators during the race, comforting. One thing to bear in mind is not to stick too close to the bank as you probably do a bit extra. I found that I was closer to the bank and tried to veer back to the middle after a while. Although there had been threats to make it a non-wetsuit swim a few days prior due to the increased temps, we had some more rain and I found the water, with wetsuit, an ideal temperature. I did flush my wetsuit as I got into the water, which I'm sure annoyed some people around me as I crouched down to fill my wetsuit and then backtracked up the ramp a little to flush it, but I think it was worth it. I didn't worry too much about my position at the start; I just wanted to avoid being at the front, or too far back, to have a gentle start and ease in. This worked out well, and the ladies were quite a kind bunch around me with very little thrashing or beating. It wasn't long before I had my own space and got into my groove. I'm not one for drafting really; I understand its benefits but I find it awkward and just enjoy swimming in my own space far more! And enjoy I did, I really loved the swim. It's the only one of the disciplines where you've trained the full distance and more several times (I had done a good handful of 4km swims in training) so I felt confident, but I also didn't want to push it too much as I had no idea what was in store for me at this point! I was actually a little hungry already on the swim which wasn't ideal; I'd had my usual pre-race brekkie of oats, banana, honey, almond butter & soy milk at about 3.30am with a swim start of 6.45 and had only a couple Pro Bar Bolt chews and some sports drink in between; I should have had a little something more. But not much you can do about that with a face fully immersed in water so I just ignored it. You swim out towards a bridge and then loop back where you pass the swim start on the other side of the canal, and can hear the cheering crowds, announcers & the booming cannon start which gives you a good jump! There you carry on towards another bridge and a bit further and then loop back to the finish. At this point I was still enjoying the swim so much and it seemed to be going really quickly, and I thought I could speed up a little. So I did, and before I knew it I saw the Swim Exit; I was actually genuinely a bit disappointed that it was over & I had to get out if the water! 1h10 minutes, which I was really pleased with and thought, hey I could do better next time surely?!

The Bike

I didn't faff around in transition too long, apart from with my race belt which I seem to always have issues with, it always seems to tangle itself while I'm away! The helpers are really very helpful, and I felt almost as though I had faster transitions than in shorter distance races. Note to self for future long distance races: use some chammy butter. I thought ahh it's a race & when does one put it on anyway (in transition? Awks). If you use it in training, use it in the race. It's a long ride. Enough said on the matter but that’s my thought anyway, not sure if others would agree. The bike is 2 loops and then an extra section to take you to T2, and it is beautiful. Undulating in places, with Kalvarienberg & Solarberg being the biggest inclines. And both are totally manageable. One thing I'll say, if you drive the course before race day, Kalvarienberg, whilst steep, will look far worse than it actually is! In fact, the whole course seemed soooo much longer in the car than on the bike! And Solarberg, well that is just the most unreal experience that you will hardly notice it's a hill, especially as you have hundreds of screaming cheering faces barely an arm's length from your face so you gotta keep face, smile & climb! There is also a stretch with some pretty steep descents and I think 3 turns (hairpin perhaps? I think at least one of them) with hay barrels stacked up so you don't go over the edge should you go out of control (this is a bit after Kberg). It's worth knowing these are coming up actually as I didn't find the warning signage stood out particularly well. Again, I was pretty petrified seeing these from the car as I hate descents as it is, but I just went slowly and they were fine. If you're a scaredy-cat on downhills like me, just watch out for the brave/crazy speedsters making their way down past you (and likewise I should think speedsters should bear in mind there will be slow-pokes even if it does annoy you!).

I didn't wait too long on the bike before starting to eat, just enough to let my stomach settle but I was hungry so wanted to get some energy in, and began my quarter-hourly feeding of either a GU gel, SIS energy drink or water with a ProBar Base bar at about 4 hours and occasional Pro Bar Bolt chews . This sequence does seem to work rather well for me & my stomach, so I'll stick to it! I intended on cycling at a 28-30 km/hr pace, and was nearer the 30km/hr pace starting off. I felt good so I didn't feel that I needed to slow myself down, but I was aware that I needed to keep my eye on it. As they were saying over the loudspeaker that morning 'be patient. It's a long day'. I knew from reading race reports and hearing stories from other athletes that things can change very quickly, so I knew not to get over-excited if I was feeling good so far, there was a long way to go. I really can't remember when it occurred, but in the first half of the first lap, going up a wee hill, I obviously changed my gears badly & heard the horrible sound of something going wrong with my chain. I am quite proud at how quickly I reacted and unclipped to get off my bike (I've been riding clipped in for years now but I still get nervous when I have to clip out, especially at short notice, and I have had a couple recent incidents of falling off my bike for the STUPIDEST unclipping reasons). Technical faults are in general one of my biggest fears in racing, as apart from changing my tires I'm clueless. I had my serviced in Dubai at Adventure HQ before departure, and checked at the bike shop just next to T1 on arrival in Roth. It's worth knowing that they also offer excellent technical support on the race, with 3 motorbikes going around for that purpose, as well as, I think, 5 additional bike tech stops near certain aid stations (prepared even to give you a replacement wheel if necessary!). Obviously you should still be prepared to sort out your own issues, but it is reassuring to know there are people there to help. Anyway, I digress. All that had happened was my chain came off, and I did manage to stay calm & with greasy fingers set off pretty quickly, with a bit more of a thumping heart than before. Fortunately, that was to be my only bike issue.

Shortly after this, and still rather early into the race I really needed to pee. And this is where I am going to embarrass myself, in public, so that others don't make the same mistake. Or maybe none of you would do this anyway & I'm just an idiot. During training, a few people had talked about peeing on their bike during an IM. And no, I didn't misinterpret them & they meant peeing on the 'bike leg', they definitely meant ON the bike. So I assumed that this would have to happen during the race (I read that you should ideally pee twice on an ironman bike leg). I'd even joked about 'practising' it several times during training, but obviously never did. So, I was in my stride on the first loop of the bike, needed to pee, and didn't want to stop. So, I peed on my bike. Yes, I did. A squirt of water after to clean up, and I thought hey I did it! Don't judge me. Now comes the problem with this. I was wearing socks. And, later, on the 2nd loop, I had to go again. And throughout this time, I had seen plenty of people stop on the side of the road to do their business behind a bush. Ahh, so that's what people do (or at least people, like me, who didn't REALLY need to be concerned with a couple extra minutes on the clock). At this point my feet were cold from my pee-socks, and I was not going to repeat the same process. So I stopped by some trees, used nature's toilet facility, took off my socks & shoved them in my pocket to be thrown at the next aid station (sorry people). I am not a litterer. I had fresh socks for the run so all was fine & I felt much better for it after. Anyway, enough with the pee stories, I think I have embarrassed myself enough now. 

I started seeing more 'casualties' shall we say, along the roadside, a guy vomiting, another being attended to by a paramedic, and for me, these were just reminders of how things can go bad so to keep focused and steady. I was having no issues with nutrition so far, but had to replace my water bottle a few times as it was pretty hot. I then had a banging headache, and recalled a quote my sister had mentioned to me the day before, one that I had dismissed as not inspirational enough, "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional". I thought, ok I have this headache, but why? I'm definitely hydrated enough (see above)...ahh, perhaps I'm over-hydrated? The symptoms of both are similar right? So I thought I had better ease off the liquids, or at least the water. And actually, it worked. Whether or not that was the reason who knows, but in this instance thinking like that worked. My second climb up Kberg I still felt good, and spotted my sister-in-law's dad & brother cheering me on at the top (I had an a awesome support crew), but shortly thereafter I started to lose my lustre. I was ok, but getting tired, back hurting etc. My second climb up Solarberg was still pretty cool, but I struggled with my breathing a bit more & was enjoying the remaining supporters cheering in my face a little less (I know, ungrateful, but I needed more air!) and was quite glad to reach the top where the crowd thinned out. From there until the end I just plodded on, I can't really remember much apart from aching a lot more & feeling very ready to get OFF the bike! 6.16 for the bike.

The Run

Very happily I reached T2, and very very happily handed my bike over to one of the helpers and skipped my way through T2 rather swiftly. I was so ready to run (well, as ready as you can be when you're about to start a flipping marathon, which I had really tried not to think about on the bike) & not ride, that I of course started my run faster than I ought to have. I saw my boyfriend and family on the first stretch, which was great, and I was very aware that I was going faster than my race pace of approx 6min/km. I did try to slow myself down a bit, but I also just thought I'd allow my legs to stretch themselves and settle down naturally, until the first aid station at least, then I'd force myself to slow down if I hadn't yet done so naturally. I think by that point anyway I had settled myself into a slower pace, but I felt good. Why is it that after long AQ rides going for a run feels absolutely awful, but on race day somehow the legs feel great? Adrenaline?

I decided following other race reports and chats that I would walk through aid stations (they were pretty short anyway) and I started off by consuming either water or their 32I electrolyte drink, which seemed to do the job and tasted quite nice (I have since tried more of their products and think they’re quite good and relatively natural, they were also being used at IM Frankfurt so must be popular in Germany at least). I also stopped a bit longer at the first aid station to request sun block. I didn't want to burn to a crisp. This was my first ever marathon, and although I had dreams that somehow, possibly, I could try to finish in under or just 4 hours, I also knew that this was probably unrealistic/silly for my first IM, and again I didn't want to push it to try, and then really suffer at the end. So I just went at my pace and carried on. There was one point where I had to walk for a short stretch because I found breathing a bit difficult, as in when I breathed in more deeply it hurt/felt insufficient. It felt like several times after training in the heat and humidity in Dubai, afterwards I would find breathing deeply quite uncomfortable/painful. But this is also something that can make you panic, and so I thought I'd better just walk and see how it went. I then started running again, saw my family where my brother ran with me shortly & commiserated in my breathing issue, and then after that it pretty much disappeared, or at least it did from my mind. And from that point on I ran continuously apart from aid stations without any major issues.

It was great to run and see TriDubai faces on the course, and made for good focus points too if you thought you were due to see someone at a certain point. The run largely takes place on the path running alongside the canal, with a few loops that go into a town, a forest, residential area etc, with tons of supporters. I think I started drinking coke around 30km, which was much needed at that point, not only for the sugar but the bubbles I found quite satisfying at that point. I had a bit of watermelon at one or two aid stations, but I did inspect them a bit as I felt some of the fruit had been standing around a bit too long in the hot weather, so didn't want to risk anything. I spat out a banana when it tasted a bit dodgy. It was probably around 35km where I felt like I just didn't want to run anymore - I was definitely a bit fed up at that point! But luckily, the legs were on autopilot by that point and again, I saw some family on this stretch (they had done quite well to space themselves out & organise view points, it is not an easy race to navigate as a spectator I must say, although the race organisers give plenty of info, planning is required!) and soon enough I was approaching the last few km's. These are mentally hard aren't they? So close, yet so far and each km seems to drag. I saw a guy on the return loop kiss the 41 km sign with a little smile and got excited about my turn. You actually go up a little hill into the town a few km from the finish, which I thought was highly unnecessary at this stage, but at the end of it you run through this square with a semi-circle of tables all set up and spectators cheering you on as the announcer introduces you with the info you gave in sign-up. Such a boost! The spectators were awesome over the whole course it has to be said. With the French flag on my number (feeling a little guilty not to have my other half, USA, on it as well) I got so many 'Allez allez allez's throughout the race, it was awesome...the Frenchies know how to cheer! But also every other nationality on the race & sidelines, they made a real effort cheering everyone on!

Anyway, next thing I know I'm running down the finisher's chute, it was a weird sensation I must say! I didn't actually look around enough to soak it all up, and then there was Stefan & Anja cheering on the side and handing me the TriDubai banner to run to the end with! I didn't know that I deserved it but I felt very proud to run with Roy and the TriDubai logo on my back. And then, you stop running. Receive huge medal. And can call yourself an Ironman. I didn't actually know my time at this point exactly, as I had not swum with my watch on (I've previously had issues with it in races from swim to bike); I had expected to finish in 12+ hours, so when Kenny told me he'd seen my time of 11.52 on the TriDubai Facebook page, I was of course over the moon! Definitely better than I anticipated! And I had completed my first marathon (4.21) as part of it; I was pretty chuffed about that!

What’s next? Well, I think I will do another ironman at some point but I’m not in any rush due to the massive commitment that it is and I’m enjoying finding a bit more balance between training and other things. I’d like to focus on shorter races for now, and I need to get some motivation back again as well. One major piece of advice I would pass on is to really try and fit in all your stretching/sports massages/yoga/strength training/foam rolling; also in the days/weeks after the race! I went on holiday, walked lots and thought hey that’s probably good enough. It’s clearly not. I now have a dodgy hip which crept up at the end of my ironman training and has become worse since the race despite not having any pain during or immediately after, and is now taking time to remedy – I’m seriously missing running! I was so determined to keep up all of that throughout my training, but just didn’t find the time or perhaps make enough time, and this is something I would try to incorporate more strictly into my training if I do an IM again. But, for anyone out there considering it, I say go for it. It’s an amazing experience from the training through to race day, and if you can get a place, go to Roth!

Ironman Maastricht - 28 July 2015

*** many thanks to Chris Thorne for this race report***

Ironman Maastricht!! Even the name sounds painful.

I chose this race for three reasons , it was in Europe so all the family could come and support, it fell in time when the kids were off school  and it was in Holland so it would be a flat bike course ( don’t believe Holland is flat !!)

Fitness Background

I used to be relatively fit in my early years but I fell prey to wine, women, song and smoking!

So I gave up the booze 16 years ago because I was fed up of getting locked up and waking up in strange places. But l but couldn’t give up the fags until 3 years ago when my best friend told me to do the London Marathon with him for charity. Prior to that 3Kms on the treadmill killed me. So I went cold turkey, gave the fags up, started running and managed to haul my sorry arse round the 2012 London Marathon.

I started doing triathlons by helping out with my daughter and the group she was training with called Starfish and Vanda who trains the kids for triathlon. My first race was in Manzar, I hired a road bike off Wolfie’s put on a bright pink swim cap and away to go. After the race my wife said she recognized me on the swim because I was last person doing breaststroke and on the bike I had my helmet on back to front.

Training

I found an online training plan that I managed to adapt to suit my time schedules and I went at it as hard as I could, I pretty much kept up with all the training days. Along with burning the midnight oil on the Al Quadra Track ( I nearly fell asleep on the bike at 3am on the back of the new loop ) I managed to put a few Hatta rides in and my running ended up in the World Trade Centre during the summer. With the swimming I swam up until June off Roy’s Beach then joined the tri squad at Fit Republik which was very good.

Race Prep

Myself and the family flew back to the UK on the Tuesday before the race, we then hired a camper and I drove to Maastricht from Cardiff, with a stopover in Dover we got to Maastricht on the Thursday afternoon. I had forgotten how bad it was to sleep in a camper and felt constantly tired. Due to travelling and the crap weather I only managed two small runs and one bike the week leading up to the race.

I signed in and racked the bike on the Saturday and then went and drove the bike course!!

The bike course went through every Dutchman’s back garden, farm, port, dirt track, cobble stones and there were hills!!! We ended up getting lost half way round and gave up.

I decided to share a room with my mother the night before so that I could get a full night’s sleep. The only problem was that in Europe  it stays light until 10pm, the room was over the bar area and my mother wanted a light left on for when she came in. Also I look at my mother as an angel and wouldn’t think that she snores!! Jesus Christ it was like a fog horn going off.

Race Day

I woke up completely knackered had some breakfast and walked down to the transition/start area. Checked the bike over and got ready for action.

Swim  Time 1:12

The swim was a one loop course in the Mass River with an Australian Exit at the half way mark. They started everyone off in waves which was much more civilized. I chose to go in the 1:30 wave  knowing that I’d be able to do it in 1:15 so then  I wouldn’t have anyone swimming over me. The swim was fine no dramas, I managed to see and hear my support crew as they ran along the river chasing me.

T1 6:26

Transition 1 was fine, off with the wetsuit, on with a dry bike top, sock, shoes, Spectacles Testicles Wallet and Watch and I was off.

Bike 6:21

The bike course was a 2 lap course and I wasn’t looking forward to it after driving it the day before. I made the usual mistake of going out too fast too soon and paying for it on the second half. The last 30kms was hard work because the sun was out at 30 degrees. Whilst grinding my way up one of the last hills I heard someone shouting my name, my support crew had jumped in the car and came out to cheer me on round the bike course. (it always helps and gives you that boost when  you see your support crew )

When I was training I was quite anal with taking on nutrition every half hour and sipping water then electrolytes every 15 minutes. I used Mule bars and Hi Five gels for the nutrition and Hi five for the electrolytes. Come race day I made the cardinal mistake of changing the mule bars for the Hi five energy bars because they tasted better , I still stuck to the half hour routine but on the last 10km on the bike I started feeling light headed , I had stomach cramps and started to get double vision.

T2 5:33

No dramas in T2 just felt like shit.

Run 5:36

This was a 3 loop course through the old town of Maastricht and out into the residential areas. The support from the locals was outstanding they came out of the houses offering water, food and they had hose pipes to cool you down. Every Loop I managed to see my support crew twice which helped immensely.

1km into the run and I had to stop and be sick , my stomach was all over the place , I was light headed and had no energy whatsoever to run. At this stage I just felt like throwing the towel in but all I thought of was my whole family had come to support me, everyone in Tri Dubai would be willing me on so I thought even if I have to walk the whole marathon I was not giving up.

After walking the first 10km and taking on food, water, coke, smoking some weed I felt great!  I then managed to run/jog the next 15 Km and then I started getting cramps in my hamstrings. I stopped and stretched on some elderly Dutch couple’s garden wall where I also took a salt tablet to see if that helped. My body then started going into spasms and the cramping was horrendous, I was writhing around on the floor looking like an 80’s break dancer, dribbling out of my mouth and screaming random obscenities. The last time this happened to me was when I had taken far too much Class A pharmaceuticals in my 20’s.

After a few minutes the cramping eased up and I managed to get up and walk / run. The last 10km seemed bit of a blur and I just managed to run to the finish line.

When I was out training putting in all the long hours I’d ask some of the TriDubai members is it all worth it and they kept telling me wait until you cross that finish line. Well here I was 500 meters to go and I felt like a king, I was fighting back the tears when I heard them shout out Chris Thorne you are an ironman.

Total Time 13:22

Advice

Looking back at the things I’d change when I do my next one (probably challenge Denmark 2016) are:

1)  Book into a hotel room on your own and arrive 4-5 days before the race relax and prepare properly for the big day.

2)  Wear a 2 two piece race suit because it’s easier to stop and take a pee instead of on the bike , where I had to wash my suit and feet off with water , I then had wet socks to run in.

3)  Wear a hat on the run. Over here we tend to train in the early hours before the sun comes up, after the race I had sun stroke.

4)  Try and choose a race that’s before June, July, August.  I found the last month of training soul destroying, especially when you’re doing a 5-6 hour ride and waking up at 1am to start.

5)  Do more long brick sessions; again due to the heat over here I skipped a lot of long brick sessions.

6)  Admit that you’re old get over your midlife crisis and take up snooker as a hobby.

I have to thank my Wife for putting up with me, my nickname is the miserable, unsociable bastard. My two children who think I’ve lost the plot. My mother , brother , ex ex sister in law ( it’s a long story ) and niece for going all the way to Holland to support me and everyone from TriDubai for their words of wisdom and support.

Cheers Chris