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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 

Ironman 70.3 World Championships - 30 August 2015

*** many thanks to Ben Corby for this race report ***

It all began back in August 2014 on a hot day in the Philippines. I was there for the second time and just wanted to improve my time from 2013, my 1st half distance. The race went well for me, swim 38mins (standard non wetsuit time) bike 2.53 (not lightning) and run 1.41 (ended up being very fast in the heat). It was the run that shot me from 36th to 13th but I didn’t have a clue where I had finished, I was just happy to come in with a 5.25 on a tough day. I was there with Julie and Noel from TriDubai and ended up watching the presentation as they had both done well in their age group, no surprise there! Then there was the roll down announcement, so I went across with those guys and there were a handful of different people from different age groups. Noel said you should hang around, so I did. Well to cut a long story short, I ended up with the last spot in my age on roll down. I qualified for a world championship that was being held in Europe 13 months later, shock and excitement was an understatement!

I raced the whole of the UAE season, including DIT and Challenge but never really thought about this competition till May. My wife gave me some swim classes at Fit Republik for my birthday with the tri squad, I bought a new bike and Puma is helped me out with my run gear. I was religious at Fit Republik for 3 months with Brett and Troy 5.30am 3 times a week.  I’ve never really swam in a proper pool before, all my swims had been in the sea and very occasionally in an apartment pool with no drills/tools . These sessions were a proper killer!!! I often went in tired but came out feeling like a champion. I would highly recommend these sessions as it really takes you out your comfort zone and you see your swim times come down through performing the drills and you end up feeling a real sense of achievement. The bike was built and set up by the cycle house, after some customisation ;-). I was out riding Al Qudra but also trying to do as many hatta/kalba sets as possible. I do secretly love these sessions as it really pushes you to the limit and we get a lot of crazy awesome people joining the 4am rides. I also went for a power meter so this was all new to me and am still learning as I go. I am not fully dependent on it but it’s a great tool when you feel start to feel the strain. Running has always been my strongest discipline and when Puma approached me to try their range I didn’t hesitate, as they must be doing something right having the fastest man on earth in their shoes. It was a decision I didn’t regret and I am now a proud ambassador for Puma. I have ran in them since December for all of my events. I started with the Faas 300 and 500 and ended up in the Ignites for all of my runs long and short, they are so comfortable and the rebound you get feels like your cheating.. I hate treadmills, so completed bricks of the bike when I could even if it was just 1/2k but most of my run training was in Dubai Sports World, an a/c indoor hall where you can run 700m, yes you do get dizzy but so lucky to have this place to complete longer runs at a good speed and work on sprints without dying in the Dubai summer heat. I was suffering with some nerves/anxiety so my neighbour Aden who is passionate and experienced about mind coaching to use his skills on me, it was my first time and I was open to anything. We worked on some drills that I would use when I felt I needed to refocus. Even though we only had one session I really felt it helped me relax when I needed to.

I am familiar with bike disassembly but with this being a new bike the P5 with a completely integrated head unit it wasn't an easy task. I got all the stuff off but for love nor money I couldn't get the head unit off!! It was the night before the flight, so back to cycle house I went where they had to take off the entire front brake due to the hydraulic pipes etc and then I was good to go!

All of a sudden I’m on a plane to Europe to take part in the 70.3 World Championships, eeeeeek!

I had prepared as much as I could with the UAE summer heat and humidity, but to compete against the best athletes in my age??? (ok some might have got in the back door like me ) but I was still worried about embarrassing myself at this level. I’m not kidding anyone, I’m ok at triathlon but not a super being like others I know in Tri Dubai! I just love being out there competing and having heaps of fun. I don’t have a coach so most of my sessions are done socially and I will just join whatever anyone else is doing and I don’t mind it this way, no pressure and no guilt for missing sets or not doing enough. Don’t get me wrong to take myself to another level I admit I would need some guidance - but hey I’m having fun!

With this competition being so big and with the knowledge that I wasn’t tying it in with a holiday afterward (as we usually have done), I wanted to soak up the full atmosphere of the event. With the two races on the same weekend I knew that the whole place would be buzzing, so I decided to go on the Tuesday before the events. Luckily there were a few others with the same plan, which made the travel go faster and had some eventful funny moments along the way (one was where Brett was climbing in the back as the sliding door of the car opened on the motorway, another Henry and Lisa basically getting a Yaris to fit 2 bike boxes and luggage in ha ha).

This was my first time in Europe during the summer and I was just in awe of the landscape, green and blue as far as the eye could see, then the mountains which were just stunning. We arrived in Zell Am See and found the B&B, which was in an amazing location for the lake and swim start. On Wednesday we jumped in the lake for our first swim, water temp was warmer than outside so pure steam, it was cold when you were out but ok in the lake. We went on to build the bikes with a final check off by chief engineer ‘our Henerey’. We all then headed to the climb section of the bike course which consisted of 15km of climbing, 13k around 6/7%, then 2km at 14% ouch. I found this not to be too bad, anyone who has done Jebal Jais could relate it to that constant grind, but the last 2km was the steepest gradient I have ever ridden, with at least two points where you had to stand. It could have been to do with my gearing, which I was running a 53:39 front and 11/25 rear.

On Thursday we completed another swim and registered, then a run around the beautiful lake. It was noticeably hot even by Dubai standards but it wasn't fazing me as ‘hotter the better’ was my attitude. On Friday we did a swim and then went to try the decent. I love down hills whenever I go Hatta/Jebal Jais and usually go balls out but this 3km section was something else! So I took it real steady and didn't touch the pedals once as full switchbacks and as I passed Brett and Henry could smell the burning rubber of brake pads. It was this evening that my support crew arrived my wife and parents. I was very happy to have them there and am so lucky my wife was given time off work as she just had 8 weeks off and school had started again.

Saturday was the 70.3, which a lot of the guys I travelled with were competing in. It was exactly the same course as the championship race with the only difference being that it started at 6.30am. We cheered on till the very last one of our mates crossed the line. Then it was time to rack my bike and kit bags, there were 3,000 hooks so I took my time to map out where my kit was, bike not an issue ;-).

It wasn't until I got back to the room and sat on the bed that I realised how tired my legs were and how tiring it is to watch Tri let alone do it, so I have a new found respect for all those people standing and walking all day to support!

Race day was an unusual leisurely start of 11.04am for my wave, with pros at 10.45am. So I woke up as normal and had brekkie, also Javier Gomez was staying the same place as us so I observed his breakfast habits and had some of the marble cake he was smashing. We wished each other luck, he is a genuinely nice dude!

I went down to transition said goodbye to the wife and parents, checked the bags and bike over again, loaded nutrition and hydration and set off for the swim warm up area. I will just mention the toilets in transition basically - it was just one big hole in the porta loo, and was just a big pile of everything and guessing well used from yesterday's race too and in the heat well you can imagine, I just had to look up and hold my nose! I got kitted up and had a banana and a snicker, starting at this time was funny and I am not used to as it! It was almost lunch in my eyes. It was really hot, even at this time my head was sweating especially with the wetsuit on and putting on the swim cap, so was a great relief to jump into the cold lake, I did a few strokes to get the heart going. I then found this wooden post to hang off to watch the pro men and women start. Then it was my turn to go to the holding pen and looking around you could tell there were some serious athletes just by the look of them. At this point I just smiled and it was if the whole pressure/anxiety had just lifted I don't know why or what? I just know I felt proud to be there with these guys on the start line for a world championship, its still not sunk in yet!

There was a cannon setting each wave off and this thing was loud, I'm not going to lie each time it went off it shocked me. Countdown was on 2min then 1min, so set the garmin rolling 30 secs or so early and folded it under my wetsuit as to get an easier transition out of the suit without having to mess with the watch too. BOOM! Even though I knew it was coming I still actually swallowed water when the cannon went off. It then went from clear water to white water with the usual wrestling/tussling, even if you've done many before it's still a bit daunting not wanting to take a hand on your head or foot in your mouth. Buoys were spaced at 50m intervals with different markers along the way; it was a straight out swim 925m with 30m turn and same back. It wasn't until the 150m I felt free water and noticed as I sighted the majority were in a pack in front of me but I did have some company to my side so tried to stick with them, I felt pretty comfortable on the way out especially after all the swim work I had done coming into it, I was just focused on my stroke and sighting slightly. The first turn buoy came and I was expecting some contact but nothing. I then tried to get my sighting line which I could see the finish arch and put my head down again, my goggles had filled up with a bit of water on one side but as much as it was uncomfortable as I breathe both sides I didn't want to stop and it was fresh water. It was probably about half way back down this stretch when the super fast guys of the 25-29 wave behind me came flying past and mentally made me felt like I was going backwards. My arms were starting to get heavy and its funny as you never know what speed your currently maintaining or what you've done but I did manage to find a pair of feet to draft and I tried extra hard to keep with him which I managed but those last 150m never seemed to end. As soon as I touched down with my feet I pushed the transition button and saw 32minutes something, I immediately smiled, as this was a PB by a mile! Official time 32.20.

Then for the transition, which was longer than I would have liked I got my hat and goggles off, and got my wetsuit to my waist, picked up my bag which I easily found as super swimmers were gone. It was then to the tent to empty bike bits, and return the swim stuff. I had a little issue here as my visor had popped out my helmet. As I ran to my bike I could feel my pecs had a good work out in the swim, I collected my bike and then started the long run out of transition. All this time I had a smile on my face again just from being a part of it and hearing the crowd cheering. I spotted Brett and as soon as I jumped on the bike I saw my wife, parents and friends so gave them as a good as they were giving me!

I flicked on the bike computer, changed watch mode and we were off. The start of the course I hadn't ridden before but it was through some windy roads and towns before getting onto the highway, it was here you could hear the cow bells going and chants of “zuper zuper”. At this point I just wasn't feeling right my stomach was turning. I was drinking aqualite for electrolytes and force feeding myself some of my bars to try and settle my stomach. I knew even though it was the last thing I wanted now, I knew I'd need the energy for the rest of the 90km ride and 21km run. I knew the first 20km was pretty easy on the highway before we got the hills, so I tried to keep an eye on the power meter and keep up what I had planned. This is where I believe the power tool comes into its own for when your not feeling great or when you hit the hills to see where your at. I was trying to maintain around 180watts when I could but I was still focused on my stomach. I wasn't sure what it was and was certainly new to me but it could have been from going hard on the swim and swallowing the water which didn't agree with me or I think it was the nerves/anxiousness that I didn't want to fail with my wife, parents and friends here to watch. I so wanted to make it back round to them without crashing or having mechanical issues. I'm not lying when I say I got passed by everyone, a constant stream of cyclists all from my wave and waves behind, mentally again was difficult but kept an eye on power. It was then time to enter the hills, there were some serious technical downhill sections with a lot of red crash matts at certain areas, which was a first for me to witness. I started the climb which as I said before is around 13km of 6/7% with a couple of flatter spots, I was grinding it out mostly in my bottom gear with no control on power at this stage. I'm usually strong in the hills but could still feel my stomach so was being cautious in safety mode. I also noticed the heat as it was now around midday or after, and at 30+ degrees with no breeze to cool you on the climb. I used this time to get in more hydration/nutrition, it was that hot even my snickers had turned into a GU. Bikes were still continually coming past me but at last I started to pass some of the larger guys, only a handful but still made me smile. I got to the next aid station before the big climb and fully stocked up on water, I didn't care about the weight/aerodynamic factor, one bottle went straight in my helmet and all over my body to try and cool down. The main climb was 2km at 14% and to me it felt even steeper than when we had ridden it on the training ride! There was plenty of support though with the usual cow bells clanging! I reached the top and knew most of the hard work was done even though I was only 35km in. On the decent I was hesitant when we tried it out before, but today I just went for it, 3kms of switchbacks and it was the most people I'd overtaken all day but It was short lived as they soon came back past me. This section of the ride was predominantly downhill and through some lovely countryside with great views back at the mountain.

It was at this point I witnessed 3 full pelotons come past me blatantly drafting but what to do I was still trying to focus on my power and still slightly worried about my stomach. I was still getting down my nutrition but it was properly forced with big gulps of water and electrolytes. I then saw Stefan the flying German come past me doing TriDubai proud. Eventually I made it back into the town where I knew the guys would be waiting for me and they gave us a huge shout out again which was a boost.

After this again it was like the anxiety had past and my stomach seemed to be back to normal. I Still had 20km or so to go so pushed on but this route had a lot of sneaky inclines and turns and it was hard to get going, it was here I had my first pee on the bike so knew it was hot as I'd had probably around 4/5 litres of liquids already and normally I'd have gone at least 2 times by then. On the last 5km we went over some rickety bridges where you just hold on and hope for the best, on the last bridge I felt something hit my shoulder, it wasn't until I got off the bridge I saw the stinger from a bee still in there, eventually managing to get it out. One more pee and we were home, I remember looking at my time on the bike and I knew the guys were 10mins slower than normal the day before and that was in cooler weather at that time. I could have gone slightly harder but in all honesty I was just happy for my stomach to be feeling normal again. Official bike time 3.02

Back into transition I racked the bike and collected the run kit, this is the most simple bit runners on, sunnys on and visor on, dump the bike gear and go!

The run took us from the swim start to the town of Zell where we went into town to do a loop and then head back out to the lake on a two loop course, so good for spectators.

It was really hot at this stage even by Dubai standards but I decided to go out at a 4.30km/min pace and immediately started to overtake people, it was on a surface of compacted gravel which I wasn't used to running on and wasn't the fastest running surface. I soon reached the town feeling comfortable and maintaining a good pace. I knew there were a few small but evil hills in town that I didn't think it would bother me and the first loop was fine and I found the support crew again screaming their hearts out :-) It was then back onto the lake where the rest of the TriDubai clan were for another buzz and free boost of speed.

I was just loving running, even though my pace had dropped of to 4.45s I was still feeling good. Every aid station I did almost the same, stopped walked collected two waters, first one over my head and drank the second followed by isotonic. Lastly I collected the ice cold sponges which I dowsed myself with and shoved down my top. Some of the run was in the shade and some was in the full sun but there wasn't much of a breeze and it surprised me how many people were walking considering this was world champs? A bit of my smile contained payback for all those that smoked me on the bike ;-) I collected my first band and headed to the other side of the lake I hadn't been here before and I was surprised when I noticed it getting tougher and tougher, it ended up being a slight gradient up hill for around 700m-1km and it really slowed my pace to around 5.30s and felt it in my legs and lungs. This was the turnaround with another aid station so the same ritual but this time I tried some coke, but it didn't agree with me and I ended up with a bit of a stitch so I didn't have anymore and went for a banana instead for energy. Along the run course it was packed with people sunbathing, swimming in the lake and out the back of their gardens with much needed hoses to spray and cool people down and even though I was soaked through and squelching a bit, my feet in the trainers stayed perfect with no slipping or blisters insight. I was back into the town to collect my second and last band. Those little nasty hills really take it out of you but I still managed to keep a good pace especially getting egged on by the support crew cheering away- you find a little more to give. With little to no people passing me, I knew I was going ok. Then back to the far end of the lake for the second time, up what felt like a mountain which really set me back to around 5.45 pace. It never mentioned anything about run course elevation in the race info, it was all about the bike! With only training on the flat I really felt the strain on my legs and I actually stopped a few seconds longer at that aid station to catch my breathe and rest my legs. That left only 5/6km to do, so I was just visualising all those hot slogs around the Dubai Autodrome, saying its only 3 loops, it's only 2 loops, I finally hit the town and those nasty little hills for the last time and took the left turn for the finish shoot. Running down the red carpet giving out high 5s is the ultimate adrenalin high of any race for me, looked over my shoulder I gave it the signature cartwheel and was so buzzing decided on another on the finish ramp  I will agree with my supporters the second cartwheel was around a 3 out of 10. You try doing a second cartwheel up a ramp after a little swim bike and run ;-) I was really happy with my run, especially I those conditions. Official run time 1.44.

Once I'd crossed the line and received the huge piece of silverware, I knew no one could take this away from me and just a massive sense of achievement came over me and I couldn't help but get emotional on what I had just completed. I grabbed a well-earned beer and went to meet my wife, parents and friends. It was great to share the moment with the people who mean the most to me in my life! I had my medal engraved and then went to watch the others come in. One thing I was dreaming of all day was jumping in that lake again, SPLASH…. job done!

Thanks again to my wife for all of her continued support, coming all the way just for the weekend and putting up with some very early starts for training. My parents who drove thousands of miles to see us compete and my fellow Friends of TriDubai who were there racing/supporting and who helped make the week what it was! Not forgetting all those people who spent their day tracking my progress online. Cheers to the guys at PUMA ME who support me with their training/racing/leisure gear.  Not forgetting the swim coaches at Fit Republik who really improved my swimming time.

A big shout out to the guys at the Cycle House for sorting out my bike and Aden at www.peakperformanceuae.com for helping with the mental coaching. Also all those that have trained with me over the summer period. Finally I’d like to say thanks to TriDubai, without this club I wouldn’t be where I am now loving what I’m doing!

Ironman Wales – 13 September 2015

*** many thanks to Nic “Chops” Potter for this race report ***

‘Pain is temporary, race results stay on the internet forever’

My favourite sign from the race and now the fitting title of my report.

Hi/Bye

Bye – I have left the sunny climes of Dubai so this will be my last race report for Tri Dubai

Hi – I’ve relocated back to the inclement climate of leafy Surrey and joined a new club TriSurrey, where I hope to start a similar tradition of sharing the wealth of knowledge that exists within our communities.

With TriDubai being such an awesome family during my entry into all things Tri, I wanted to ‘give back’ one last time and throw in my two pennies worth and report on my experience of Ironman Wales.

First port of call – the ‘why’.

Firstly at a 4 hour drive, Wales is closer (for me) than half of the beautiful destinations the TD crowd frequent, and there for easy logistically, which leads it to working out very well financially. I booked this whilst unemployed, so associated cost was a major issue. She who controls the purse strings would not be happy about me squandering our hard earned tax avoidance on triathlon (again, he says, riding a new bike).

Secondly two good friends had signed up also, so it was a great chance to compete with mates.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, it’s a tough course. After crossing the finish line in Barcelona last year with a faster than expected time, I took some stick for picking an "easy" course (is there such a thing) and it was suggested that the challenge wasn’t on par with other courses that said friends had completed themselves, and I therefore hadn’t ‘manned up’ enough. More manning up was needed. I am not one to back down from a challenge, I threw my hat in the ring.

The two I had signed up with were vets of IM Nice and Zurich and were out to prove some seniority over the new (to the sport) boy.

So fast forward to last week.

I was lucky to even get to Wales, as we speak Mrs P is 40 weeks pregnant, and ready to drop any day, this being the reason we departed the desert. Many a budding ironman wouldn’t have even seen the start line. But I was focused on the goal, so I had plans and contingencies.

I recruited a reliable mate with a heavy driving foot to come with me to Tenby and be prepared to speed me home at a moment’s notice. A "Code red" meant dropping everything and getting in the car immediately, with or without the bike.

We drove down at the very last minute, and I was literally the very last person to rack, maybe a minute before transition closed. Just in case you wonder, this is bloody stressful, I would really advise against it.

The ‘where’. Wales IM is in the town of Tenby, now for its 5th year. It’s now a stronghold of welsh triathlon as it’s also home to the infamous Tenby long weekend, where the same course I divided into its three parts, and one is tackled per day. You can join in just one discipline, or do all three to achieve three interlinking medals. Tenby is a lovely town, quaint cobbled streets, fresh sea air and a close community full of colourful locals that create a friendly yet energetic vibe,– all heighted tenfold by the fever of IM coming to town. In my opinion the locals really make the race, the atmosphere on race day is electric, even the noise created for the ‘Ironkids race’ the day before was amazing. Crowds litter every available spot in the town, pavements were 4 deep with supporters and as the day goes on and more beer is consumed they only get louder and louder. Quality restaurants aren’t their strong suit, and should you be so inclined you’d be very hard pushed to find an organic smoothie, or any widely accepted super food - but if your thing is fish & chips and pint, Tenby is the place to go.

My hotel was excellently placed, about 20m from the finish line and about 750m from the swim start, so a little luxury time was afforded on race morning. At 6.30 I joined 500 or 600 other penguins shuffling down the seafront, wrapped in neoprene, heading towards the growing black mass on North Beach.  No nerves at all this time round, all the time pre swim was spent bantering with my ex-rugby team mates turned triathletes. Ideas were thrown around regarding running immediately to a pub post swim, still soaking wet and top to toe in neoprene, and then delivering a dead pan demand for beer. This idea evolved into sacking off the race altogether and just getting drunk. Even at 6.45am this didn't actually sound like a terrible or even unlikely plan.

As the start time grew closer the commentator organised the singing of the welsh national anthem from the overwhelming majority of local athletes and supporters alike. It was hair up on the back of your neck stuff. Google it, it's well worth a watch.

Thanks to the preoccupation of nonsense joking the start gun took us a bit by surprise, just like that, bang, we are off.

It's a bit of an odd rolling start, everyone was organised (sort of but not really) into a fastest at the front queue that went along the beach, up three flights of stairs/slopes and up to the street. A huge queue of obedient but twitchy penguins as far as you can see. It’s your turn to start when you get to the sea type affair, one wave really.

I let the keeno’s disappear into the salt and went in after a couple of hundred has passed (disobedient penguins don’t queue, they just stand on the beach and joke around) First feeling was delight, it wasn't nearly as cold as I’d imagined. Win!

The next thoughts were predictable:

"I don’t like swimming. I should have swum more, perhaps swimming in the sea might have been good prep"

With all that being mulled, a major positive notion occurred - at least I don’t HATE it anymore, I've put enough wet miles in this year for it to be something I am now comfortable and relaxed about.

I hit the water with little more regard than just getting the job done.

First lap was ok, not massively turbulent, turning buoys were a real scrap but then they always are, one of fellow racers helpfully kicked me in the head causing my hat (this includes goggle straps obviously) to ride up until nearing the point of falling off, but hey ho – not the end of the world, or so I thought. 

Out of the water for an Australian exit and onto Lap 2, now the fun starts. Lap 1 had been moderately choppy, but nothing terrible. On the second half of the swim the chop had doubled/tripled, to the point that once Id made the right hook onto the back straight, every stroke was either climbing or falling against oncoming waves,  and they were increasing in size. It was actually amusing, every right hand stroke I fell a 1 to 1 ½ foot and slapped hard into the water, the sound of the impact tickled me for some unknown reason. Simple minds. I was now watching people drift and the ‘pack’ was now spread out to the full width of the marked channel, with the current washing quite a few of the unaware past the few channel marking lifeguard/surfer types and directly into the oncoming stream of swimmers to our far right.

Once Id finished that night I learned that both of my friends had vomited during the swim with a mixture of ‘sea sickness’ and swallowing salt water from the unpredictable waves.

300m into lap 2 someone though I was obviously doing far too well, decided he couldn’t possibly have that, and instantly changed from front crawl to breaststroke and kicked my square in the face with his heel. Very very luckily and completely instinctively I caught my airborne goggle/hat combo and managed to get them back on whilst treading water (and passing on my sincere thanks to the gent in question with some suggestions about what he could do with himself later on)

Swim done in 1.25

My ‘usual’ time is about 1.15 on a flat lake, so I was happy with that. Id planned for 1.30

Famously for this course T1 consists of a 1k run to transition, for this you get an extra bag for a second pair of trainers for the extra jog. So off I popped in search of my support crew come driver, he was as planned 750m along the run ready to swap my wetsuit for a phone, which then stayed on me and loud ready for a "code red" phone call and my early departure.

Into transition where I did something stupid. I broke a cardinal rule, I deviated from plan.

When I wrote my first race report I wrote it from the perspective that I’d want to read it, as a beginner that wanted to know the pitfalls and considerations of racing long distance. So, I’ll continue in the same vein. So here is my advice, the same advice I think you’ll find in most reports. Plan well. Don’t deviate from the plan. Don’t change things on race day.

I had worn a tri suit under my wetsuit purely for the run to transition and had planned to change it to some bibs for a comfy ride. Having planned this I opted for a tri suit that I didn't like too much, the logic being it didn't matter! Well it did. As decided in the heat of the moment that I couldn't be arsed to change and kept the tri suit on. Error. It chewed at me for the next seven hours, and cut my arm pits up during the swim, as I had never swum long distance in it before. I am old enough and have now raced enough to know better. Silly mistake.

Onto the bike. The course is divided into one bigger flatter loop out to the west, then two smaller far hillier loops from Tenby and out east.

For the first 70-90k all was very well in the Potter camp. Legs were ticking over nicely, kept to my planned speed/heart rate. I even quickly found one of my friends who was 9mins quicker out of the water than me, and given the course was poorly marshalled, we had an hour long chat whilst cycling side to side. The ride was lovely, the roads were well maintained, tight and winding in places but constantly picturesque.

At about 100k I had noticed the hills had arrived, and things were getting more laboured. My average speed was really taking a hit.

There were many things to be happy about: the scenery is stunning, it wasn't raining (as forecast), the support was literally amazing, every house had a sofa out front with cheering locals and encouraging signs, the aid stations very well manned, even the racers were friendly. All this said I was becoming distinctly aware that I was not happy.

I had a feeling this may happen. I hadn't been sleeping well in the week leading up to the race through a mixture of illness and breaking a rib from crashing my bike during my last and VERY wet training ride. I felt really run down in the days leading up to the race, and the stress of worrying about my heavily pregnant wife wasn’t helping. As is pretty standard I adopted the ‘it’ll be fine attitude’ pre fine and I hoped it wouldn't affect me too greatly. Annoyingly the cracks were starting to show. By 130k I had a complete sense of humour failure. Nothing was being enjoyed, and the effort being put into the now perpetual hills was only getting worse.

The crowd came into their own here and really helped me keep some pep. Dylan, Ceb and mark whoever they are had amazing support and banners bearing their names coated an entire town. Everywhere I looked were flags, banners, words of encouragement and kids looking for drive by high fives.

Soon the k's started to tick off, and then end was near. I concentrated on enjoying the carnival like atmosphere, and enjoying the fact that I was part of it.

'Heartbreak hill" marks the end of the second and third loops, it sounds awful, but in reality is actually a highlight.

Half the town litter the streets leading up a climb in town, probably only a 10% climb and about 60 secs long, but the crowds are akin to the Tour de France. The local tri club "cr@p tri" were out in force screaming support at every visiting cyclist, and going truly mental if it's one of their own. Drummers, men in skin tight onesies, kids, whistlers and highly intoxicated pub goers giving all the support they can, for what must have been hours - as the support hadn't waned by my second visit.

My second climb was great, to see the crowd again and to know the bike was done, now just to descend into town where I passed the 'fast ones', those fit enough to have eaten well into the run course already. In my joy I failed to make a connection. I was going fast, very fast, downhill. They were running very slowly in the opposite direction……..uphill.

6h56m. 90 mins slower than my IM leg last year, and with considerably more energy spent.

In transition again, through the mobbed streets, and the ever increasing noise.

I'm sure I practically threw my bike into racking, by this point we were not friends.

Full change! Clean socks, compression shorts and calf sleeves and back out.

I stopped briefly to check in with my mate, he was staying in Comms with the soon to be mother of my mini triathlete and reassure her that I was ok (she worries) and encouraging her not to have a stress induced labour whilst I laboured round the streets of Tenby.

A relief to hear she was fine.

I set off for part three whilst keeping a very keen eye out for Jon, my IM compadre, whom I hadn't seen since lost (left) him at a feed station hours earlier.

Up the high street I plod, along the huge stone wall that encapsulates the town and up toward the course. This is where it shortly dawns on me. I've been running uphill for about 2k now, properly uphill, everyone is walking, this uphill uphill!! As I turn a corner I can only see further uphill, no one’s turning, it's just more uphill. Whoever designed this course is sick.

The Inner monologue went like this:

This is not motivating. Why? Why would someone put this in a bloody ironman, after a bloody bike ride, after a bloody hilly bloody long bike ride? Why?

Inner response shouts - Shut up whining you little girl. Harden the f up and get on with it. It's not going anywhere

Those two argued for another couple of hours.

The course it seems it a 1k straight out of town to the laps, 4 laps and 1k back to the finish. 1 lap is 5k straight up, then 5k down including a lap of the town.

The 5k up is awful, walkers mostly make up the course. Pain is painted across their faces. Cramped competitors litter the streets. Exhausted bodies are sat, lying and motionless on grass verges and hillside mounds. There are a lot of people digging very deep but not getting very far. This really spurs me on. The inner monologue has now changed, repeat after me: I will not be one of them, I will keep running, I am a good runner, I am not tired. Repeat.

I carried my own gels as I can't stand the power bar ones they provide. Plan is one an hour, two Halves of banana per lap and as much energy drink/water as feels comfortable. I stick rigidly to plan, I was thinking clearly enough to know that I didn't need to add "feeling sick" to the list of complaints.

Soon enough I found a rhythm, a waaaay slower than normal rhythm, very nearly a minute slower per K than my average jogging pace, but the hills were seriously sapping my legs on the way up and then they felt as heavy as hell on the way down.

Before I found out what the run was like id planned for a 4 hour marathon. I soon knew that reality would disappear quicker than free pint in one of the local pubs, but I was adamant that I wanted to stay as close to that as I could and pressed on, fought of the depression of seeing the "finish left, laps right" sign, and then having to turn right for the third time and magically found some spare gas on the fourth lap, I gave it everything. Went up a lot quicker and came down quicker than that. Too quick, I thought I'd go for a showy finish, and nail the last 2k. That idea came back to bite me pretty quickly, it nearly came out over the cobbles too.

By this point there was no more inner monologue, the batteries had run out. There is no gas left. The lights are off, no one is home, and they took all vital functions with them.

4 hours 25mins

Rather than a smiley, all teeth, winners’ photo with arms aloft - a mute zombie with the brain power of an amoeba shuffled over the line, gob wide open, ignored the awaiting mayor and proceeded to stare into space whilst my waiting friend said words I didn't hear.

Absolutely pickled.

I wandered in the direction of the recovery tent. They had pizza!! Two slices of that put a smile back on my ugly mug pretty quickly.

All in. 13 hours 14 mins

An hour longer than planned. And considerably deeper depths dug into than expected.

Friend one was sick on the swim and gave up on the bike

Friend two was disqualified on the bike for accepting "outside help" after breaking his wheel and accepting the very kind offer of a passer-by who leant a wheel for him to finish the race. Which was then seen by a passing official. How on earth that is justified is beyond me. The guy isn’t a pro, and hours off the pace for being top age grouper. How does it matter?

But, said friend then used that excuse to say he wouldn't be allowed out of transition to do the run and promptly gave up.

I of course, like any good friend, will hold this over him for the rest of my years.

And thus the prophecy of the sign is true!:

‘Pain is temporary, race results stay on the internet forever’

In summary, a great location, family friendly, a scenic location, epic support and a bloody challenging course.

Alpe D’Huez Long Course Triathlon - 31 July 2015

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

The Alpe D'Huez Long Course Triathlon is a point to point triathlon starting at Lac du Vernay and ending at the top of the Alpe D'Huez. Slightly longer than your typical Half ironman distance event with a 2.2km swim, 115km bike and a 21km run. All relatively straightforward, except that the lake is fed from glacial waters and has a normal summer temperature of between 13 to 15 degrees Celsius. The cycle covers three mountains (Alpe du Grande Serre (elevation 1,375m ) Col d'Ornon (elevation 1,371m) and Alpe D'Huez (1,850m)) with total climbing of 42.6km distance and 2,644m ascent and a net elevation gain of 1,100m.

I was doing it with Douglas Pickles, and both of us were doing it to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society. We based ourselves in Vaujany, a small town just above the start at Lac du Vernay and a perfect place to be located for the event. We could cycle down from our chalet on the morning of the event and be at the start at 8.30am with more than enough time to rack the bike, hand in our bike transition bags, put on the wetsuit, enjoy a few moments of sun whilst the commentator ran through the race instructions (in French, English and Dutch, something for everyone). All ready for a relatively relaxing and late 9.30am start.

Then on with the neoprene cap and standard issue race cap and off to enter the water. Along with 1,000 plus others. The combination of over 1,000 entrants, a narrow entrance to the water and everyone adjusting to the 15.5 degrees of the water meant that when the gun went, quite a few were left on the bank to hurriedly dive in and swim the 150m to the start line. Just before that you had the amusing sight of the organisers trying to push back the competitors in the water, as those competitors kept inching forward to try to get a quick start. Finally the organisers realised the athletes were winning and set off the gun.

The combination of the mass start and getting used to the cold water meant I was happy to wait at the back for the melee to disperse before heading off. It still took over half a lap before the swim became comfortable, but when it did, it became a beautiful swim. Clear, cloudy turquoise blue water, mountains all around and the sun just rising above the top of the mountains made it one of the more scenic swims I have done. The three turns of the triangle were pretty rough but after two laps of a 1.1km loop almost too soon and I was being hauled out of the water by volunteers who must have been even colder than I was. Douglas was shortly behind and we stayed within a few minutes of each other throughout the race.

A quick and fumbling change into my Alzheimer's Society cycling gear and I was off up the steep exit ramp (remember to put your bike in its lowest gear) and it was off on around 25km of downhill to the bottom of Alpe du Grande Serre for a pretty tough and steep introduction to the mountains. With the number of competitors, it was hard not to draft on this first section and the race referees were pretty sensible as there wasn't too much to be gained in any case. Alpe du Grande Serre is a steep, tough start to the uphill element of the ride. Pretty much straight into the lowest gear and that was where it stayed for the next hour and a half to the top. I was consistently passed all the way, including by Douglas, and kept holding onto the thought that they would blow up eventually. I'm not sure they did but it kept me sane.

Another nice descent through the stunning mountains to an easier, if longer ascent up Col d'Ornon, where with 2km to go to the top, my spoke broke with a big clang and brought me to an almost immediate stop. Douglas stopped to help me review the situation and come to the only solution possible. To loosen the brakes to stop the bendy wheel rubbing and hope for help at the rest station at the top.

But no help was to be found. And this was one of the good and bad things about the Alpe D'Huez Tri. It isn't one of the big Ironman or Challenge races, it is locally organised, slightly disorganised but makes it to the end with good humour and uniqueness. But is also means that there isn't a mechanic at each stop, nor motorbikes going round with spare wheels. Just a Gallic shrug, a "non peutetre a la prochain" and off to serve someone else their banana and water.

So after tightening the brakes and a very slow and careful ascent down a narrow but probably very enjoyable descent if doing it properly, I arrived in Bourg D'Oisans for the start of Alpe D'Huez. And of course, no mechanic. Surprisingly, I met Douglas who had been enjoying the scenery a little too much and took a small wrong turn before Bourg D'Oisans and allowed us to start the climb together. The triathlon gets its name from this famously brutal climb which has featured in the Tour de France 27 times, most recently only 6 days before when Chris Froome held off all challengers to retain the yellow jersey and win for a second time. It’s such a notorious climb that bends are named after stage winners and supporters crowd the road leaving only a small gap for the cyclists. My own approach was to keep it slow but steady through the 21 turns, listening to the support of the remaining spectators and just as I reached turn 17 the shouting of the Pickles and Hayward families as they shouted their lungs off supporting Douglas at turn 19.

I was lucky enough to receive the same reception, and after making time for a few high fives with the kids and the obligatory smile and "I'm feeling great thanks" I completed the last couple of turns and it was into transition. Where a lot of bikes were waiting.

A slow and stiff transition followed. Fortunately a lot of spectators shouting forced everyone into a run and I was off. The first 3.5km of the run felt all uphill. It was on a mixture of gravel roads and off road which was different and very scenic. As it was at the top of Alpe D'Huez there were superb views to the valleys below and surrounding mountains withe the setting sun (I hadn't been quick). There was a bit of running a fair bit of walking and then the turnaround and the second half of the lap was mainly downhill where I actually overtook people as 95kgs can get a good momentum if you let it. More high fives (and a rugby tackle) to the families at the end of lap 1 and beginning of lap two and I wasn't feeling too bad.

Somewhere along lap 2 Douglas and I met again and continued closely for the next lap or so as we collected coloured hair bands and mixed our walking and running.

After 10 hours and 19 minutes I finally crossed the finish line just as the prizes were being given to Emma Pooley, the winner of the womens event, which at least meant there were plenty of people to cheer me over the line (on top of my fantastic team of family supporters). Most of the finishers refreshments and food had already gone which wasn't ideal but I didn't feel like much anyway. Douglas finished shortly after for an Alzheimer’s Society team reunion at the finish. Job done.

Overall it was a great event. Good, no thrills organisation that did a friendly and very satisfactory job in organising an excellent event with the most stunning event scenery I have participated in. To cope with the bike leg, you almost need to train as though it is an ironman distance event. As it is point to point, the logistics are a bit painful. We had to register at Alpe D'Huez but start at Lac Du Verney and then finish at the top of Alpe D'Huez which meant leaving a car the night before. You can deposit a car in the morning and then cycle a back way to the start but that seemed like a lot of effort with what we had to do later. It isn't that easy for spectators to follow as there wasn't a huge amount of parking at Lac Du Verney and then you need a car to get round and see a few different places. Having said that, three laps for the run, and a number of cross over points meant our families saw us six times on the run which was hugely helpful for morale. I would definitely do it again and would recommend anyone else to do so too.

A very special thank you must go to our families.  From my side, a big thank you to Sam who has been a wonderful support throughout the six plus months as I trained for this event plus another similar event the week before.  Sam picked up the pieces when I was training, put up with my constant "I just need to go for a 2 hour run" etc, supporting me when I needed a bit of encouragement and generally holding the family together.  And thank you to both the Pickles and Hayward families (Amy, Cecily, Roddy, Sam, Eliza, Rosa, Thea, Tim and Sally) for all the support in the week leading up to the event and the tremendously loud support on the day itself.

Also a huge shout out to Neil Flanagan who got be ready superbly for the event, with a great training plan into Challenge Roth three weeks earlier, and then a recovery plan to allow me to start, and finish this one as well. That race report will be with your shortly. Also to Seth and Neil at DMSC who turned my swim from slow and rubbish, to good enough to get round comfortably and love the occasion. Thank you.

So final stats for me:

Total time 10 hours 19 minutes 49 seconds

Swim: 49 minutes 15 seconds

Transition 1: 3 minutes 42 seconds

Bike: 6 hours 48 minutes 5 seconds

Transition 2: 3 minutes 36 seconds

Run: 2 hours 35 minutes and 9 seconds

 

Ironman UK - 19 July 2015

*** many thanks to Lucy Woollacott for this race report ***

Sorry this report is too long, I got a bit carried away. Ironman is a very long journey!

I signed up for Ironman UK in July 2014 the day after I completed my first ever triathlon. I guess I got a bit carried away as at that stage I had very little idea of the commitment involved. I just knew I wanted to say I was an 'Ironman'! The marketing clearly worked on me. I picked the UK because I am always in the UK in July so it worked logistically. I knew nothing about the course (if I had I surely wouldn't have chosen it!)

The build up

I left Dubai at the end of June as soon as the schools finished and took the kids back to my parents place in the UK. I was desperate to escape the heat and couldn't wait to stop getting up at 3am to train. I was over it. I felt I had trained hard but knew I hadn't really done enough long bike rides - I maxed at 120k a few times but did get to spend a week training in the Alps which definitely helped. I was extremely worried about the hilly bike course which apparently is 'a complete test for the technical cyclist'. Given I only bought a bike a last year and have cycled almost exclusively on the Dubai bike tracks to say I am lacking in bike skills is a serious understatement.

I had visions of spending the almost 3 weeks before the Ironman doing some great last minute training and then enjoying a good taper. In reality I seemed to spend an awful lot of time catching up with friends for dinners and drinks! I had left Dubai feeling in the best shape ever and as the race got closer and closer I felt like I was less and less fit and getting fatter and fatter! (I was well tapered!) I was also terrified of cycling on the roads so ended up doing about 3 short rides in the last 3 weeks.

I did go up to Bolton 2 weeks before the race to cycle a loop of the course. Whilst this was very valuable it didn't help my mental state at all. The course is very tough with a couple of nasty hills, poor road surfaces, and so many twists and turns that it was impossible to get into a rhythm. I realised that this was not a course suited to me at all and decided the race was all about completion. I just prayed it wasn't going to rain as I had never cycled in the rain at all and was sure I would crash at the first corner if the roads were slippy.

So all in all I have never felt as apprehensive as I did about this race. I was obsessed with the Bolton weather forecast and when on the Friday it said heavy rain all day on the Sunday I began to feel genuinely alarmed and near to tears!

Race day

I woke at 3am on race day and looked out the window. No rain - excellent maybe the weather forecast was wrong. I went to breakfast and ate 3 wheatabix, a banana and a muesli bar. Returned to my room and looked out the window - the rain had arrived.

We headed to Pennington Flash and I prepared the bike in the pouring rain. Everything was soaked, muddy and slippy. Typical English summer weather so I can't really complain - what had I expected?!

The swim - 59 mins 19 seconds

It was the first year they introduced a rolling swim start which I liked the sound of. As a strong swimmer I tried to get up near the front at the start. I started a little after the sub one hour group. In hindsight I should have got further forward as everyone clearly exaggerated their swimming prowess!

As the National anthem was played and the Pro's went off I began to feel excited and determined to do my absolute best and try and enjoy the day.

The swim went well. I can't say the water was terribly clear but it wasn't cold and it was fairly uneventful. I ended up overtaking a lot of people on the first loop and managed to get on some toes. On the second loop I initially found myself on my own which wasn't ideal but then I started lapping an awful lot of people so this made it pass quickly.

Towards the end of the swim I noticed the rain had started pouring down and was battering my head! I couldn't wait for the bike.

T1 - 6 mins something

The support in T1 was awesome, coming out near the front and ahead of some pro's everyone seemed to think I must be a great athlete which was a nice feeling if somewhat brief!

I had decided to do a partial change in T1 in these conditions. It was cold as well as wet so I put on a cycling top, wind gilet and arm warmers. I also put an extra pair of cycling shorts on for comfort over 180k. As I left T1 the rain was coming down so hard I briefly contemplated staying there for a few minutes - it was so unappealing to get out on the bike.

The bike - 6 hours 41 mins

The problem I have as a strong swimmer and a weaker cyclist is that I spend nearly all the bike course being overtaken by everyone imaginable! This really was a bit depressing in this race. I do remember thinking that only about 5 of these were women but I must have been overtaken by hundreds of very fast men!

For the first hour the rain was torrential and it was like cycling in a river in places. I was very cautious. I saw someone crash after leaving T1 and I lost both my drink bottles with electrolytes in going over a speed bump so I tried to concentrate on just staying on the bike rather than speed.

The rain then stopped and it didn't come back again all day which was a relief. However, then the wind picked up and this also made it very tough.

I didn't seem to have the right gears on my bike for the hills as I was clearly grinding up the hills far too much as everyone else spun past me. I don't have a power meter and my heart rate monitor packed up half way through (to be honest I had largely been ignoring it anyway!) so I was a bit clueless.

My bike handling is so bad that I had to stop at each aid station and put new bottles on the bike as I couldn't manage to collect the bottles with my left hand.

So much to work on but I was pleased with the way I just kept going and managed to stay mentally positive. Towards the end I got cramp in my left quad which has never happened before and my left knee was also really hurting.

The support in certain sections was awesome but there were also a lot of long stretches with no one in sight.

I couldn't wait to get off the bike!

T2 - 6 mins something

I was very happy in T2 as the worst bit was over in my eyes. I had made it and seemed to have temporarily forgotten I had a marathon to run.

There was a lovely lady who helped me with my stuff and I took some ibruprofen for my knee. It took me a while to get out of all the cycle gear I had on and put my Tri top on. Toilet stop and then I stumbled on my way.

The run - 3 hours 58 mins

I set off running with no idea how it would go. I knew I had put far too much effort into the hills on the bike and wasn't sure if I had anything in my legs at all.

However, as usually seems to be the case for me I got into my running and I felt pretty good up to 25k. Then I hit a bit of a wall and turned to the coke. I was cramping up badly in my calves so I ate some pretzels and hobbled along. The course was basically 3 loops - uphill and into the wind one way and then downhill and downwind the other way.

I got into a good rhythm on the downhills and managed to keep a good pace for half the course! The uphills were a different matter and on the last 15k it turned into a bit of a run/walk but I managed to keep to a good pace overall. My body was falling apart towards the end, I was cramping everywhere and had severe knee pain.

As I got towards the finish I began to feel relief and excitement that I would make it and that I was going to be sub 12 hours.  Crossing the line to 'Lucy - You are an Ironman' was pretty awesome but I mainly felt relief that the pain would stop. I was pleased to run a sub 4 hour marathon on my first Ironman after a very tough bike.

Kona

I found out at the prize giving the next day that I was 2nd in age group and had got the Kona slot.  I knew in advance that I would not accept the slot even if by some miracle I got it. The timing just doesn't work for me this year. However, actually turning it down did feel a bit strange as I do really want to go to Kona one day! I had just assumed it would be one day in the distant future.

However, the third place finisher was thrilled and gave me a hug before going up to collect her slot which made me feel better! Hopefully I will get another chance to go to Kona one day.

Key lessons from this event:

1. Prepare for all weather conditions.

2. Start very near the front of the swim, everyone overestimates their swim ability.

3. I need more salt - losing my 2 bottles of very strong electrolytes on the bike was a problem and I needed salt tabs.

4. Mars bars are much tastier than muesli bars on the bike. They were much easier to get down.

5. Get the gearing set up properly. They advised having a compact - I am not sure why I ignored this.

6. Improve my bike handling - it was a bit embarrassing to have to stop at all the aid stations and my poor bike handling cost me a lot of time on this course.

7. Believe in myself. I was riddled with doubt going into this and that was a waste of energy.

Next stop

No more full distance Ironman for me for a while. I found the training very demanding especially in the Dubai summer and I felt it took over family life a bit too much while the kids are little. I am going back to focus on 70.3 for a while, next stop Bahrain. Kona will have to wait, I just hope I can qualify again one day.

Ironman Switzerland – 19th July 2015

*** many thanks to Raymond Thomson for this race report ***

My First Ironman

The summary below is for the novice, if you are not a novice please stop reading now, for a more productive 5 mins, I can recommend you pair some socks.

So, getting off the couch and starting to do some exercise began in October 2013.

Weight: 112Kg.

Various events later, and 3 Half Ironman distances done, slowly (Austria / Las Vegas / DIT). I decided it was time to test myself, and give the Big Tamale a go. A full distance Ironman. Kieran Ballard predicted this back in the day, how?  I have no idea.

I had what I considered a good result in the ITU Abu Dhabi Olympic distance at the start of the year, Time: 2:43, if I recall, meaning I had a small base to train from.

I downloaded the 20 week Matt Fitzgerald plan free from the Internet, which I adapted to basically fit around Hasan’s IBN Battuta swims, and weather conditions for long bikes here in Dubai.  On reflection, and looking at my actual training, against planned training I would say I completed 70% of my plan, this included the additional optional sessions & (Venny and Fordham’s  crazy 177 k night ride etc).  I used a highlighter to cross out or adjust any differences to the plan. I have it on a spreadsheet so if anyone wants to use it just, drop me a mail, I am happy to send through.

Ps, in future I won’t  pick a full distance race date after the end of May, due to training restrictions here in Dubai, it’s too dam hot with short windows of opportunity to train, May, June, July.

Pre-race, no excuses, “On reflection with other life commitments I could not have done more physically”.  However Nutrition plan / prep cost me about an hour.

Race weight:   95Kg’s, I need to be 82Kgs/.In future I will be. If I can cut out 15 pints a week, and 2 take aways. :(

Swim:   1:28 - Slightly disappointed, I was hoping for 1:20. Anyway the lake was the best freshwater I had ever swam in, you could see the bottom. The start was a rolling start 5 people off at 5 sec intervals. I really enjoyed the swim, felt like I could have swam for ages, which was probably due to the speed I swam. :)

T1:  8 mins, took my time, rationale being it’s going to be a long day, get it right.

Bike:  7:20 - 2 X 90K loops. Disappointed I thought my prep on the bike was pretty good, but the hills were tough. Lesson, do more hills in training. I used HR and feel on the bike. I ate loads of power bars and took a salt stick every 30 mins, because I thought that was what I needed to do!  “Bad Idea”. I used High 5 Nutrition which was fine. Second loop on the bike my feet corns on both toes started to hurt / bleed, I had previously envisaged this. On one of my routine Cardio checks with my GP, he provided me with super strong painkillers, and said, “Only take these if you are desperate”. At 140k in on the bike it was either pull up, or take the medication. I took it, it was class 20 mins later, perfect, no pain. However I completed the bike feeling massive and bloated. I tried to take a leak, nothing. The plot thickens.

T2:  9 mins as above. Took my time.

Run:  6:04 - 4 x 10.5K loops. Sorry I use the word “run” very loosely, jog at best, with a power walk after 12K. So by this time I had eaten 6 power bars, took 12 salt sticks, about circa 4 – 5 litres of electrolyte drinks. I tried to pop to the loo again, nothing. I called into the medical tent for a bit crack, to see what was going on, explained what my intake had been, they told me in order to finish you might want to sip water only. I had taken far too much salt, it acted as a binder according to the medical lady, who was not surprised to hear that I could not take a leak. On the run it was like having a basketball stuffed up my TRI Dubai bike top, on top of my already ample gut. I stopped for a while on the run course to speak to an old colleague / spectator, who informed me his son did 11:30, I congratulated him, I was on the 2nd of 4 loops at the time, in a state, anyway I jogged / walked on.

Very disappointed not to have ran or jogged all the way, or even half the distance.

Along the way on the bike and on the run I had some bizarre thoughts, and thoughts to stop. I took a little pic of my two kids with me, stuck it next to the Garmin on the bike, and took it with me and put it in my pocket for the run. Each time I looked at it, stopping was NOT an option, zero, never, no chance. If you are a parent you will understand the pride and boost this would give, and the feeling when they ask, “Did you do it dad” ?. It’s a great way to ensure you at least finish. Without the pic, I would question if I would have finished. :)

For some people finishing is not so important, well it is to me, irrespective of the time. Each to their own though.

Finish time: 15:09 - Not happy at all, but if you ask would I take it for a start, hell yes, and next time I will pay more attention to nutrition. Best time I could have possibly done, if every egg was a bird, and all the stars lined up on this course, was about 14 hrs. I have huge respect for the full distance, the people who smash it, the good age grouper, and those novices, who like me, try our best just to complete it.  Next priority sub 6 hr 70.3, then another full distance.

PS..I’m having the Tattoo, and for the record I don’t care if the time was pants, the time won’t be on it :)

Go and do an Ironman…It’s pretty cool. If I can anyone can.

Big thanks to my family and friends, & TriDubai who have helped me achieve this.

I wasn’t last. :)

Rank Overall:   1474 / 2077

Ironman 70.3 Dublin – 9 August 2015

*** many thanks to Amin Soltani (aka the Iron Panda) for this race report ***

Dublin, Ireland what an amazing place.

The scenery is beautiful and the people are great.

You can cheat some things in life and I learnt that very valuable lesson in Austria, if you don’t put in the work you won’t make it, that’s what I learnt anyway.

I cheated myself when it came up to the race in Austria. Didn’t put in the work or training that I should have.

I decided this time it would be different. I think this is probably why I didn’t feel as nervous as I was in Austria.

I think any nerves I did have were washed away when I walked with my partner in crime to the pick up spot.

At 4am when you have to walk 4km to the bus which then drives another 30-40mins to the start of the race you get a little worried when no one else is in the street especially when you leave your phones behind in the hotel room.

Then just when you think you should start to panic you see someone come around the corner with that famous white plastic bag.

We got on the buses provided and got dropped off not far from transition 1 and the bike check.

After a quick check of the bikes, pumping up the tires, adding water bottles and nutrition to the bikes it’s time to get into the wet suit and get ready for that swim which is going to be in approximately 13 degrees Celsius.

My wave started at 7am so by 6:15am I was stretching and doing my warm ups. It then dawned on me and I had to laugh but I was surrounded by what could have been a scene from the next Borat movie. Hundreds of men with plastic gloves, plastic bags, tight wet suits and polyester. Oh did I forget the part where they were rubbing themselves with KY Jelly and Vaseline.

If you have ever had to put on a wetsuit you understand what I am talking about but if you were out taking your dog for a walk it would have been a funny site especially with the added addition of the swim caps.

I am convinced that there is no real way to pull off a wet suit unless you are James Bond in Thunderball. It’s just not flattering.

So after all the fun and games and squeezing into my wetsuit I head off down the shoot for the start of the race.

This time I was confident I would have a much better swim, I had been practicing a lot more than I did in the past and more importantly I even did a test swim the day before and I had a brand new tried and tested wet suit courtesy of Huub Middle East.

So rolling start was how this one started and its not what I thought it would be but basically when the horn goes off and you cross that line you better get into the water quickly and start swimming.

Easier said than done when you think about 50oplus men clambering past you and trying to get into the water and then suddenly they hit the water and freeze because its damn cold.

Anyway the race started and as I said I was confident the day before I had swam and it was fine the water was calm and there was no current.

Was being past tense. Things were completely different this time around. There was a current and the water was choppy.

The swim was brutal, I can’t tell you how cold it was because when my swim cap moved slightly and my ears were exposed cold didn’t come into it I just felt a piercing pain, It was a huge shock to the system and all I could think about was Paulo Costa teasing me telling me to have another drink of cement.

So I took a few gulps of that cold Irish water and continued on. Around the first buoy that seemed to be moving away from me taunting me with every stroke. The around the next one till I could see the exit before my very eyes.

There’s sometimes that bit of relief when you have done a long sea swim and when you get close to the shore you can put your feet down and walk the rest of the way.

Well no such luck here, I tried that trick and there was nothing below my feet. I maid it to the ramp and between the loss of feeling in my legs and my sheer muscle mass I found it hard to get out of the water, thankfully help was at hand to drag me out.

As I found my feet I was a cross between a newly born fawn and a stumbling drunk, I was finding it hard to undo my wetsuit due to the lack of feeling in my fingers and thankfully someone was on hand to help out, an angel ran up behind me and pulled the zip down for me.

I tried to run through to transition but that was a non starter for a good 30 seconds then I managed a slow jog.

1:02:33 for the swim. Not great but it was better than I managed in Austria so I was happy.

It only took me about 6-7mins to get that wetsuit off and then I was on the bike.

It’s my strongest discipline of the three but that’s more because how bad I am at swimming and running.

Fortunately it didn’t take me long to find my legs on the bike unfortunately the roads weren’t the smoothest and I lost one of my water bottles very on in the ride.

That wasn’t too much of the problem though thankfully the weather isn’t as hot in Dublin as it is in Dubai so I need less water than usual.

Like I said the scenery in Ireland is beautiful and the support from the locals was amazing I rode through a few towns during the 90kms and I besides a 10km stint where there was some head wind it was blissful. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I nearly forgot that I was in a race.

What I did remember was a nice chat I had with David Labouchere he had some very simple advise for me for the race.

Leave something for the run.

So this time around I remembered to not try and go all out on the bike and save something in the legs for the run.

I was doing great until around the 40km mark I heard a girls voice shouting on your right. Now I am no sexiest and there are plenty of athletes out there faster than I am especially women.

But when you know that you started 40mins before someone in the race and you still get overtaken at the 40km mark whether its a woman or man it still crushes your ego.

Anyway I swallowed my pride and carried on and was really impressed when I checked the times and three women finished the bike in under 2:35 I couldn’t help but be blown away. Like I said it had nothing to do with being a woman but that is a super fast time and something I aspire to beat.

I spent a lot of time in transition 2 and I did had a few demons come back to haunt me with the flashbacks to Austria.

In May I failed to start the run because of a headache and pain in my back, this time was no different I had a headache but it wasn’t as bad as Austria but the back was. Then again perhaps it was but my mind was just stronger this time around.

I lay on the ground and stretched and moaned looked over to a fellow entrant and we both had the same look in our eyes and smile on our face. The smile was simple, why are we doing this again?

I still managed to beat my record on the bike finishing it in 2:59:51 and started the run.

Squeezed into my shoes and off I went.

Phoenix Park is one of the largest parks in Europe and its a great venue for a race.

My back was killing me but this time I was determined to finish, even if I had to crawl the 10km. After about 3km it dawned on me.

I am going to finish this.

I can do it.

I am going to do it.

The feeling was so immense that I actually stopped running or at least that’s the excuse I am using, I was just tired. I did my first lap and felt great about it, I had two issues on the first lap, the first issue was running past a bbq and not stopping for a taste. The second was seeing the finish line and having to do a U-turn and start the second lap. It’s a little tough to see the finish line and turn away from it.

Nether the less I carried on stopped a few times. Twice to stretch out my back and the third was a call of nature. After collecting water, electrolytes and Pepsi at every aid station I was surprised I didn’t need to go more but I just had to go once.

On the third lap I was overcome by emotion some call them tears I call them sweat. Once I had less than 1km to go and had the finish line in sight. My legs seemed to take over and pick up speed. I couldn’t stop even though I wanted to. I just wanted to get to that finish line as quickly as possible.

7:10:52 was my final time. I had finally done it. Months of training and prep a couple of falls along the way but I managed to make it and proud of it. This was the first race I finished and it won’t be the last.

There will be more and I look forward to them and the challenge.

The IronPanda journey continues..

Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon – 1st August 2015

*** many thanks to Andy Edwards for this race report ***

WARNING: First things first – there is a bit of strong language in this one…..

About Norseman (from the organizers):

Norseman has been running since 2003. It is a full Ironman distance race in Norway (around 2 hours’ drive East of Bergen) which is considered by most to be the hardest triathlon on the planet. The course runs point-to-point (or fjord to peak), starting at sea level, with a 4 meter drop off a ferry into the Hardangerfjord, crossing the starkly haunting Hardangervidda mountain plateau, finishing at the rocky peak of Gaustatoppen, at 1,850m above sea level and 220km away, Norseman is a long day’s journey through some of Norway’s most spectacular scenery. The total ascent is well over 5,000 meters (I read this, and then read a Strava report that said the bike leg alone was 5,764m of climbing, with another 1,737m of climbing on the run….  Lying Noggies……). The water is cold, clean, and comes lightly salted. The weather can be anything from brilliantly beautiful to blasting blizzard. If you’re really lucky, you may see porpoises, orcas (I hope to avoid these) or reindeer – or, more likely, baffled locals who think you are nuts, but will cheer you on anyway.

For safety reasons, Isklar Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is limited to 250 athletes. For the same reason, the number of athletes allowed to finish on top of the mountain is limited to 160.Those arriving in 161st position and back, or after the cut off time, complete their iron-distance at the mountain plateau below the peak. And all this for the prize of a t-shirt: Black for those who finish on top of the mountain; white for those who finish on the plateau below. All equally fabulous.

The male/female ratio is 85/15 and half the athletes are Norwegian. The other half represent some 40+ countries.  Entry is gained through a lottery and the chances of getting a place are around 1 in 13.  This decreases year on year as the race increases in popularity (10% entry increase each year).

What others said about Norseman:

Comments from people I know ranged from “holy shit, why would you want to do that” and “I hope you have an ice bath to train in” to “awesome, I have been trying to get a place on that for the past 5 years”.  Those I know who had raced Norseman used words like “freezing, ridiculous, brutal, and hard-core” to describe each section, but also spoke fondly about the experience.  The race reports I read all told the same stories of suffering, pain and elation on completion. 

So why did I sign up?

Some might call this a midlife crisis.  I would just say that with 40 looming (birthday was a couple of days before the race), I needed to prove to myself that I still had what it takes to tough out one of the hardest challenges on earth.  Ultimately though, the answer is “cos why not?”!! 

I signed up for Norseman immediately after being told it was the toughest Ironman in the World.  I signed up because it seemed like a challenge too good to miss out on and with it being only 10 weeks after Ironman Texas, I would just need to get some hill work in to be in tip top shape for the race.  How very fucking naïve…..  And then I got a place……..

Pre-race preparation:

I took a few weeks off after Texas to recover.  I had a bad stomach bug from the water ingested on the race and it took me a while to get back into the swing of things.  A course of antibiotics and a decent(ish) diet got me back on track after around a month and I was soon training hard again.  The 40-50 degree Dubai heat however made training outdoors very hard so most of my time was spent on the indoor trainer, treadmill (or Dubai Sports World) and the pool.  I didn’t manage to get any cold water swims in, and probably didn’t do enough hill work, but I was in good shape by the time I hit my taper a few weeks before the race.  I felt strong but very nervous arriving in Norway for the race.

This wasn’t going to be a race, so much it was going to be a survival exercise.  With no real time or position expectations, I was determined to race a good race and enjoy the experience.  I did however have my eyes on a black finisher T-shirt – I would have felt like I had let myself and my support team down if I was to come home without one!

Mike Bermingham, Diane Gordon and my wife Jo had kindly agreed to travel with me as my support crew (you must have your own team which provides support throughout the race) and we arrived in Eidfjord a few days before the race.  I can’t thank you guys’ enough for this and intend to return the favor when you get a spot in the future Mike. 

The Course:

Swim: A cold (10 degrees) swim in the crystal clear waters of Hardangerfjord.  Starting on a ferry which takes you to the start, there is a 4 meter jump out of the back, a regroup, and a swim all the way back towards a bonfire lit at T1 in Eidfjord.  The water was a record low temperature this year and despite the organizers best efforts to find warmer waters the swim was cut short to for safety reasons.  T1 had also been moved and meant a run of around 500-600m from the water to the bike.

Bike: A point-to-point ride over some big hills and rolling plateaus.  LOTS of climbing and a mainly head wind for most of the course.  I read one report where they had 30km/hr head winds for 140km of the race, coupled with rain and hail-stones…..  Deep joy…..

Run: Relatively flat for the first 25km, followed by a steep incline from the foot of Gaustatoppen and culminating in a 3-points-of-contact scramble to the summit of the mountain.

The race plan:

In short, there wasn’t one.  For the swim, I figured I would go hard to be out of the water quickly, try to stay in the high PZ2 to low PZ3 (210-220W) on the bike as much as possible in order that I had something left for the run.  For nutrition I opted for Hammer Perpetuem, some base bars, and my support crew kept some bananas etc on hand in case I needed something a bit more “real”.  I had no target time, but really wanted a black T-shirt position finish (based on previous years’ results, around 15h 30 would do it)……

The gear:

Swim: A new HUUB Archimedes II.  My old one had a few too many holes in it for my liking and I really didn’t want to have freezing cold water leaking in right through the swim!  Oh, and HUUB neoprene hood and booties – I am not HUUB sponsored, I just love their gear.  I was HUUB-tastic!

Bike: BMC TM01 TT with a Zipp 808/404 carbon clincher combo.  I had seriously considered a road bike with clip on tri bars but went off the idea after reading about the potential head winds for most of the course.  In terms of clothing I took everything.  Tri-suit, arm warmers, jacket, waterproof, leggings, hat, gloves, the lot!

Run: Took everything for every eventuality.  I even took three pairs of shoes – 3 pairs of running shoes and some hiking boots for the final stage just in case.

Pre-race in Eidfjord

We arrived at the hotel on the Wednesday, 4 days before the race.  Over the next few days, we really just prepared for the race.  Unlike most races, you have to put a lot of effort to planning.  It being a point-to-point IM distance race makes driving the course an all-day job.  We did however manage to do a little fun stuff, ate some great local food (including Rudolf Stew) and enjoyed some spectacular scenery. 

The highlight had to be the pre-race swim on the Friday.  It was cold, and the snow still on the mountains was at a record high for the time of year.  This meant more ice water than normal was still feeding the Fjord and keeping it below the usual 13-15 degree range.  The day before race day the temperature of the water dropped to 10.5 degrees and for the first time ever the organizers decided to shorten the swim leg.  I’m a decent swimmer and even I was relieved.  The practice swim was very uncomfortable.  Jumping in took your breath away and whilst a wetsuit keeps the body relatively warm, the face and hands are far from it.  It was like being punched in the face continually.  I just hoped that after 10 minutes of so during the race, everything would go numb…

One thing we all noticed whilst there.  EVERYONE looked VERY fit.  Jo said “they all look the same – like Tour de France riders”.  This really is a cyclists race – by that I mean it’s a race which suits someone who is light and strong (and not 88kg like me ).  By race day, I was starting to doubt whether I had the beans to get into the top 160, but also figured that what I lack in ability on the bike, I make up for with a big pair of balls.  I would give it my best shot!

The race:

Swim (plus 5-600m run): 30 minutes 56 seconds (Garmin shows 2348m in 28.59 for the swim)

After 5 minutes setting up in T1 with Mike, we (only the swimmers) boarded the ferry at Eidfjord which was conveniently right behind our hotel.  45 minutes or so later we were at the start point and were ushered to the back to jump into the water.  It had been very quiet in the back of the ferry.  Everyone had been preparing themselves mentally and physically for the race, warming themselves up as much as they could and preparing themselves for the pain which lay ahead.

All that changed in a moment as soon as we hit the water.  “Holy fucking shit” stuttered its way through my chattering teeth.  I’m not sure what the Norwegians were saying to themselves or each other, but I’m guessing it was the same sort of thing.  It was fucking freezing…. 

We swam over to the kayak start line and after what felt like an age (probably around 5 minutes) to get everyone in the water, we were given the signal to start. The swim felt pretty good.  The water was bit choppy, but as all you had to do was follow the shoreline, sighting was simple.                

That is, it should have been simple but the thick layer of Vaseline I had smeared all over my face and neck for insulation had also covered my goggles. I didn’t let it bother me too much….

In a sick sort of way, I really enjoyed the swim and despite the slight head current finished in a decent time which had put me in 9th position overall including the pros. I would have preferred to have done the full distance in order to build a bigger advantage but understand why they shortened it.  It would just have been nice to get a bigger gap between me and the cyclists before hitting the bike leg. 

Bike: 6 hours 58 minutes

NP: 215 Watts (which seems quite low but you could only really free-wheel the steep downhills)

Transition seemed to go pretty well.  I hadn’t quite lost all of the ability to use my hands as expected and with Mike’s assistance I was stripped naked, changed and off in short order. 

The first section is around 8km at around a 2% incline, then its 30km of solid climbing at between 7% and 13%.  Brutal – and not ideal when you still have such a long way to go.…  I was being passed easily by some stronger cyclists and just hoped that I didn’t get passed by too many more once the elite racers were ahead.  It was kind of cool riding through the tunnels on the main road, and through the smaller cycle route tunnels that paralleled them.  The sheer drops of the side of the paths really gave you a sense of how far you had climbed in the early stages. 

Support met me at the 20, 30 and 40km points on the way up.  Great morale lifts after being left for dead by so many Norwegians on the way up!! 

Most of the next 110km is a mixture of steep uphill, steep downhill and some flats.  The course profile transfer (left) came in handy. I made some places back on the downhill and flatter sections, but not nearly as many as I lost on the inclines.  It was fucking freezing and whilst my body was warm, like an idiot I had opted not to wear gloves or socks.  After 15 minutes on the top section my fingers and toes were completely numb.  It’s a good job I didn’t get a puncture up there as changing an inner tube would have been comedy gold to watch!

At the mid-point, I was feeling pretty good, but knew the second half would be tougher….

The next climbs really took their toll.  I had been pushing over 300 watts for large parts of the ascents and my legs were getting tired.  After the third long descent (this was steep, bumpy and dangerous, but you could get close to 80km/hr if you were brave) there is a sharp right to Immingfjel; the final climb.  Brutal, just brutal.  At around 12km, it is the second longest climb and is the steepest.  Brutal.

The top of Immingfjel is 152km in, and then it’s downhill all the way to T2.  Game on – I hammered the last 28km, taking at least 5 places back on the downhill section.  All in all, a decent ride.  If I had been told I would come in under 7 hours before the race, I would have been chuffed.  As a comparison, I would say this ride would be similar to doing Hatta-Kalba and back a couple of times with an extra couple of T2-T1 repeats thrown in for good measure.

Run: 5 Hours 12 minutes

Into T2 and my support team was there waiting for me with everything laid out.  Socks on, trainers on, cap on and off in just over a minute.  They give you your position when leaving T2 and I was in 81st.  Mid field for a black T-shirt – happy days!

My legs felt surprisingly good, and I wanted to make up some time just in case I struggled later on.  I went out fairly easy on the first downhill section then eased in to just under 5min/km pace and felt really good.  Piers Constable’s reminder that the race starts at 25km rang in my head and I resisted the temptation to push the pace any harder.  I walked for a few seconds each I met the team every 2-3km, and had a glug of Perpetuem and water each time.

At around 14km in, I got pushed close to the verge by an on-coming car and turned over on my ankle, crushing the end off a bone in my foot (ouch!).  Nightmare….  After a few minutes of hobbling/hopping and in a lot of pain, I managed to get running again.  Thankfully, Mike had some pain killers which did the trick and helped me continue on with both feet. 

At around the 20km point, you get your first view of Mount Gaustoppen.  Seeing it, and knowing I was in reach of the top was quite an emotional experience.  I was in around 64th by this point and had a short tearful moment with myself before manning up and cracking on again. 

At 25 km you hit the foot of the Gaustoppen (AKA Zombie Hill) and start the 1700m+ climb to the top.  The first 12km is a steep uphill road section which is just about joggable on some parts.  Only one person ran up (the winner) and I honestly have no idea how he managed to.  Everyone else “power walked” and jogged flatter sections.  I had managed to average 4.55 until the 25km mark, but then slowed to 8min/km on the mountain which was still a lot quicker than most.

Who would have thought that being tall and gangly would pay off in triathlon?      

I picked people off with ease on this section and managed to get up to around 46th by the time we reached the final checkpoint at the foot of the off-road section (37km in, and the point where you are either allowed to the top for a black T-shirt finish, or sent to an alternate finish point for a white one if you are not in the first 160 and within the time cutoff).  After another tearful, bottom lip wobbling moment, I hit the checkpoint, grabbed by safety bag, changed by shoes (hiking shoes for the ankle support), and Mike and I headed to the top. 

The final ascent is a 5.2km, very steep, rocky path and my ankle was trashed.  Every time I stood on something loose, it gave way and I was in agony.  I would have crawled up if I had to though, so I just had to man up and crack on; albeit primarily on one leg…… 

After over an hour of suffering, we hit the stone steps which take you the last 50m to the finish line.  A quick hop up and a mandatory “ROAR” on the line and that’s it.  51st in a time of 12.47 - job done.

The organizers then sort you out with a blanket and some warm soup before you go inside to the café at the top to get changed and wait for the venicular to take you back down through the mountain.  Mike had to walk down which he assures me was tougher than walking up!

I was chuffed with the run.  Despite working very hard on the bike, holding sub 5 minute pace for the first 25km was easy; even with an injury. A good confidence builder for future races.

A beer, a couple of glasses of Champagne and bed for all of us after a very tough, very long, quite emotional day.

Summary:

I can’t imagine ever doing a better race than this.  The mystique, the scenery, the brutality, the emotion, the pain and the elation.  The fact that everyone including the winner is racing for a t shirt.  No medals, no prize money, no time expectations, no Kona slots; just the pride in earning and wearing a piece of clothing.  Just brilliant.  I look forward to going back again soon (as support) when Mike gets a place.  I think I will give competing again a miss though – at least until I hit 50!

I learned a lot in the run up to and during Norseman:

1.  You can train for any race, in any weather and conditions.  It just takes discipline and trust in your program.

2.  My cycling is not great on step hills (confirmed!)

3.  Hammer Perpetuem is brilliant

4.  I need an 11/32 rear cassette – the 11/28 I opted for didn’t cut it

5.  Comfort is just as important as aerodynamics on a cold ride (I wore a warm top for the entire ride and felt great). 

6.  Time spent taking a piss on the side of the road is time well spent.  Pissy wet feet in cold weather would have made for a very uncomfortable race…..

7.  I am dumb enough to be able to suffer a lot of pain…..  Quote from the doctor – “yeah, you probably shouldn’t have run on that”…..

8.  Norseman lives up to the hype and should be on everyone’s “Bucket List” – just don’t leave it too long as it is getting more and more popular!

I would like to say again a huge public “thanks” to Mike Bermingham, Diane Gordon and my wife Jo for supporting me so incredibly well.  You were awesome. As usual, a big thanks to Tony Hchaime for getting me prepared despite the 40 degree temperature and massive terrain differences!  And last but by no means least, a huge thanks to my friends in TriDubai and Tribe for your support prior to and during the race.  I was really blown away…..  Keeping a low profile was a massive fail, but hopefully my very public journey to the top of Gaustoppen has inspired some of you to enter this epic race. 

So what’s next?

Less focus on key events and more racing for fun (and perhaps some drinking!).  Ironman distance training has sucked the life out of me for over a year so it’s back to the short(er) stuff for me (well, up to 70.3!).  We have some great regional events coming up at the end of 2015 and early 2016 (DIT, Challenge, IM and some Race ME events), and it seems a shame to miss any of them.

That said, I have some unfinished business in Texas, and IM UK fits pretty well with the summer holidays – sod it; I’m going to do both in 16!

I love this stupid sport.  It affects your work, your personal life, your sleep, diet, everything…  You have to compromise in pretty much every other part of your life.  But that feeling of excitement in the weeks before a big race, the buzz at the events, the “sizing up of the competition”, the adrenaline on race morning, and the elation when crossing the line – well they make up for the hours, days, weeks and months of pain and suffering.