*** many thanks to Paulo Costa for this race report ***
I started writing this report just after the race on the plane flying out of Germany, and kept postponing to finish it till I thought it was already too late. After reading Vicky, Arturo and Dave’s race reports I decided that I had to finish it, as I told Ian that I would write a report for the team. I had already failed to write Zurich 70.3 race report, despite the fact that the race was interrupted half way due to a landslide.
Another reason to write this report is because I feel I owe it to Roy and to the spirit of TriDubai. Just before leaving to Roth we organized a gathering at our place for the athletes that were racing, and some that had raced it before. The purpose was to get all the participants to meet each other, and to get some tips from the previous finishers. Roy came along with his family and so did Ed, and for me that meant a lot and it was a extremely valuable contribution from them.
I would start by saying that Challenge Roth was by far the biggest personal challenge I have ever took, and one of the most positive and memorable days in my life. I decided to sign up for Challenge Roth because in the previous year I spent most of the race day following my fellow Team T2A mates that were taking part (16 of them). I didn’t go to bed till I saw the last man cross the finish line, and his effort and determination, despite the unlucky day he had, made me sign up.
Like a few others in the club, I come from a 3 digits number in the scale four years ago (and it wasn’t pounds). My transformation started by running and changing my food habits, and due to an injury after Dubai Marathon two years ago, I started swimming and cycling to maintain fitness levels. A few months later I did my first triathlon, and in 12 months I ended up doing 3 Sprints, 3 Olympics, ADIT Short and a IM 70.3 Zell Am See (August 2012). Like many others, I got completely addicted, and 2 years down the line I was signed up to do a long distance triathlon race.
My training only became consistent in February, which was too late to get a good result at ADIT. After this kick in the butt, I got a bit more disciplined and motivated, I found a rhythm that worked for me, and a training structure that made sense and that I believed. I’ll come back to my training and what worked well for me and what could have been better, for now let me jump to the last couple of months preceding the race.
After four months of no business trips, all of a sudden I had three trips in four weeks. Luckily, the last one was to Munich, the location to where I was flying to get to Roth, and meetings would finish on July 4th (race day was July 14th). Having a job that allows me to work remotely, I decided to stay in Germany and travel to the race location. I was there for 10 days, which allowed me to acclimatize, get used to swim in a lake (I panic with dark murky water and I even had quite a funny episode), and even do one loop of the bike course the weekend before.
I can really say that was extremely fortunate with the business trip and I had an amazing time in Roth. I overcame the fear of swimming in a lake, and I found exactly how hard the bike course would be.
Close to the race date, Tony Hchaime joined me at the hotel where I was staying, and one day later Annie joined me too. The other Dubai triathletes started to arrive and some of us were able to meet despite being in disperse locations. A couple more swim sessions with the guys, a “little bit” of shopping in the Expo, and then we start preparing the bags for transition and the bike for check-in.
On the race day I followed my strict schedule, which also includes a very important toilet ritual, as well as preparing my own “special” breakfast. After one bad experience, I decided that on race days I would eat the breakfast that I am used too and that I know it works for me. When you are about to get in a race like this, you don’t want to try anything that you haven’t tried before.
Anne drove me and Tony close to the race location, and then we walked to the swim start. Time to put the nutrition on the bike and finalize the last minute details. A good luck kiss from Anne and off I went to put the wetsuit on and start the race.
At the starting line I can’t say I was nervous but I was very excited. I knew I had done the training I could do, and that it would be enough to get me to the finish line. The main goal was to finish the race and have fun, and if possible in less than 13 hours.
My plan for the swim was to start somewhere in the middle of my wave, pace myself from the beginning, and eventually find some feet that I could follow. The only incident was at around 1k when a fellow athlete that was on my feet kept pushing me down for too long. I stopped and looked back to him and I shouted “Really?!”. After that I could say it was a walk in the park, and I could even find some feet to draft for some time. I was even able to spot Anne on the bank close to the swim exit and wave at her.
Getting out was easy, and I was extremely relaxed. I swam the 3.8k in 1:10:32 and I was extremely pleased. I have to thank Crissy for the great work she has done with me, her swimming lessons contributed for a massive improvement on my technique.
My transition time was 0:02:30 which was amazing taking into account that I didn’t really focus on it. I had carefully prepared every single detail (to the point I was driving Anne crazy with all my OCD questions) and tried to keep as simple as possible. Wetsuit down to the waist immediately when I got out of the water, picked my bag and went into the tent. In the bag I had the race belt and a wind jacket. Weather was ok so I only took the race belt and off I went. Shoes, helmet and nutrition were on the bike, so I just shoot off.
I followed my race plan: 165w avg on the power meter, time alert every 15 minutes for having a bite and a sip of water or Isotonic drink. The bike course is amazing, and going through Sollarberg Hill was a rollercoaster of emotions. There aren’t words that can describe how I felt, those who have been there know what I mean. The spectators through the villages that we rode through were amazing supporting the athletes all the way.
The bike course is also quite undulated, and on the up hills I kept my but down on the saddle, and tried to go as easy as possible. On the downhill parts I tried to keep the average power at 165 watts, so I would overtake everyone that had overtaken me before. At some point I think some of other athletes were getting a bit annoyed with me :-)
On the second loop I started to feel my quads burning and I knew the run was going to be “fun”. I kept pacing myself while enjoying the ride, was able to see Henry flying through along with some of the Pros.
I finished the bike in 6:13:59, which was my expected time after doing one loop the weekend before. Before arriving to Germany I was expecting to do it in about six hours, but the ride allowed me to have a more realistic perspective and manage my expectations and effort.
Again, the transition was very smooth. I left the shoes on the cleats, dismounted from the bike and run to the bags. Helmet off, socks, shoes, nutrition belt, sun visor and sunglasses on and I was off in 0:02:29. Again, a detailed planning and keeping it simple allowed me to be superfast in the transition without even noticing.
I was targeting to do the run in 4:30:00, which would mean an average pafe of 6:30/km. My plan was to follow a walk-run strategy, especially in the first kms as every time I ran off the bike during my trainings, I could never keep my pace below 5:30/km. I knew that the real race would start beyond km 25, so I wanted to really pace myself.
All went well for the first eight kilometers when I started feeling my quads cramping. I had to stop, stretch and walk. Since then till the end, I could never run continuously for more than two kilometers, sometimes only one. I had Eletewater with me, which I also used on the bike, and I even taking it straight from the little bottle it didn’t work and I don’t think there was much I could do. Quads were simply burned out from the bike.
I just kept going and trying to enjoy the journey. I saw most of the other guys along the course: Timmy, Henry, Aynsley, Andy, Tony, Ian, Andy and Mike. I only didn’t see Piers probably because we was almost at the finish line when I was starting the run (he was flying and completed the race in 10:03:00 which is an amazing race time).
Once again, the support was outstanding. The people in the little towns were all having beers and BBQs, sitting on tables set just for the event, and all the supporters around the canal simply wouldn’t stop cheering and supporting you.
At km 25 I finally saw Anne (I was wondering where she was as I didn’t see her since the first pass at Sollarberg Hill). She walked and run with me through the forest. At some point I lied down on the grass and she even helped me stretch my quads to try to keep me going. It worked for a bit, and having her by my side (she was riding a rental bike) kept me more motivated and I was able to run more than before. She made me take a gel (I don’t like gels and I had only been having coke and rice pudding – yes, they had rice pudding in the aids stations, hot soup, nuts and other things :-) ). The gel was actually ok and I think it helped.
The reality is that my heartrate was never above 150bpm throughout the race, which means I had fuel in the tank but my legs were dead. Kilometer by kilometer I kept going and I reached to Roth. At 2kms from the finish line we went through the town center, where people were sitting down and having beer. I had the chance to get some beer too with a Canadian supporter, which was quite a fun moment.
I was very close to my moment of glory. The emotions were already going through my body and I knew I was going to achieve my goal. I run into the stadium which was again full of amazing spectators and I heard my name in the loudspeakers. I had done it, I had completed a long distance triathlon (can’t really say Ironman and I didn’t hear the famous words “Paulo, you are an IRONMAN”), but it really doesn’t matter.
I crossed the finish line, got my medal and enjoyed the moment. Now was time to get some food and drinks, change clothes and try to find Anne and join the others for celebration. I had had an amazing day, enjoyed every single minute of it, even through all the cramps pain.
I had an amazing race because I had fun. I tried to enjoy all the way and believe I did. Everyone that has done Ironman races before told me to enjoy the race, to not focus on the time, and they are absolutely right. It is such a long day, when you are doing it the first time you don’t know how exactly your body will react, and you don’t know how external conditions will be (wind, temperature, current, etc.). The conditions we train in Dubai are very particular, and it is very likely that in your race day conditions will be different. Be prepared, and set your expectations accordingly, but most of all focus on enjoying the day, unless you are on your 10th Ironman and you are targeting to be top 10% ;-)
I tend to be very analytical, and during the summer I had a lot of time to reflect about the race and what I could have done differently. There was no doubt that the part where I have a significant room for improvement is the bike. One of the first decisions I made was that I would do a bike fit as soon as I would get to Dubai. I booked it with Koos on the first Sunday I was back. When I got on the bike Koos immediately asked me “Did you cramp on your run? Your seat is too high, and you are only using your quads”. Really?! Why didn’t I do the bike fit before?! Not only the seat was too high, my cleats were also incorrectly aligned which were causing my legs to spin 10 degrees outwards. Other problems were detected and I am still trying to correct them, and then I will go back to finalize the bike fit. I would say that for anyone doing half or long distance triathlons a proper bike fit is mandatory. It will save your legs if you haven’t got injured along the way.
The second decision I made was that I would go every second week to Hatta. Throughout my training for Roth I only did hills twice, which was definitely not enough. Training hills would have made me much stronger on the bike and I would be much better prepared. When I came back I signed up for the first Hatta ride, and I even booked hotel. Unfortunately, a few days before I had a bike accident at NAS that resulted in a broken collarbone so I couldn’t go, but as soon as I am recovered I will.
Anne and I had a weekly lesson with Crissy for about three months and I felt massive improvements on my technique. Swimming long distance is all about being more efficient an effective. My legs tend to sink and I used to fight the water to keep moving. Crissy taught me to relax and be to do longer and smoother strokes by doing different types of drills. On a regular week I would do a session with Crissy, a session with Masters and a sea swim. Whenever it was possible I would go on my own to Hamdan to do a few more drills and lengths. This was one of the best investments I have done. The goal was not to improve time but to save energy.
I have heard endless stories of people that have stomach cramps and have to go to the loo several times when they race on gels. I have done a few races on gels and I feel weird too, and a big emptiness in my stomach. I try to follow a natural approach on my daily diet, so I wanted to do the same thing with my race nutrition. I started using PROBars, which are based on nuts, seeds and other natural ingredients. Each bar has about 380Kcals, which I cut in 4 pieces and I take one every 15 mins. All my long rides were done using PROBars and I never had any problems, despite some warnings from others about the impact of fiber. I stopped eating one hour before the end of the bike so that I wouldn’t start the run on a “full” stomach, and it worked perfectly. On the bike I drunk about one bottle of liquids per hour - water with Eletewater or Isotonic drink from the aid stations. During the entire race I only did one loo stop to pee.
On the run I had prepared my own gels, with Chia seeds, frozen berries, honey and Eletewater. I tried it a couple of times in Dubai and they worked great for me. For the race, I had to hand them over for transition the day before (T1 and T2 were in different locations). I tried to freeze them but I think it was too late, and on the race day I think they were a bit off due to the 20+ degrees. I wasn’t sure, but I didn’t want to take any risks, so I dropped them quite early in the run course, and I used whatever was available in the aid stations.
I believe using natural ingredients is one good alternative to gels. I have heard about products that have been working well for other people (like Hammer nutrition) which I would probably try if I hadn’t found this option. My advice to anyone is for not settling until you find what works for you - one size doesn’t fit all. And train your fourth discipline (nutrition) on your long sessions early in the training season.
Buying a power meter was a good investment. I felt great improvements and helped me be more consistent. If I could go back, I would have bought the power meter before buying my Zipp wheels. I’m not sure if Zipp wheels made me faster (they do look great), but powermeter really helped me to dose my effort on race day and during the training.
Three months before the race I started having a physio/massage session every two weeks as a preventive measure. I use TriggerPoint kit quite often, which is good to release some tension in the muscle, but sometimes this is not enough. Having this Physio sessions really helped me recover faster, improve my performance and avoid further injuries. I only had an injury (calf tear) because I didn’t respect my rest day and did a 20k run + extra swim followed by a 45 minutes circuit training session. Take good care of your body, respect the rest time and be proactive in avoiding injuries.
As I mentioned before, my transitions were really smooth and easy. I thought about each detail on the bike, I experimented many things during the long rides. Make it simple and try everything in the bike. The race day preparation starts several weeks before, and these are the easiest minutes you can win (I was about five minutes faster on both transitions than most of my colleagues).
Check the weather forecast and take equipment for the most likely scenarios. The day before the race, do a practice swim and try the conditions you are going to run in. On Saturday I swam and did a small bike ride just to test how it would feel to get on the bike wet. I knew then that it was very likely that I didn’t need a wind jacket. For IM 70.3 Jonas-Rapperswil in Zurich, I ended up spending a little fortune on rain and wind equipment, because I wasn’t really prepared.
Throughout the race, whenever someone would call my name or cheered me I would cheer back, and they would cheer even more. When there was music I would dance and the crowd would just go crazy. I think the 225,000 spectators were outstanding in supporting the athletes and deserve a huge recognition. I recommend to anyone to try to cheer back to the crowd and see the effect. I think it helps a lot.
Everybody kept asking me if I would sign up for another Ironman race, and I always said I didn’t know, but deep inside I already knew I was going to do another one. Just before Roth someone challenged me to do Ironman Copenhagen, which I considered … till I started cramping on the run. Looking back and thinking on my personal life, I don’t want to spend another three months waking up at stupid o’clock to do 150-180km bike rides, so I wanted to stay away from long distance races in summer period, which means training from March till June/July. I went to spectate Ironman Copenhagen, and standing at the finish line I was almost certain I would sign up to Ironman South Africa. Roy told me he was doing South Africa, along with a lot other people from the club. When I came back, I met Roy at Microsoft for lunch, and we talked about it. I told Roy I was trying to convince Anne to join me, and his answer was that shouldn’t be very difficult. The day after this conversation I signed up, hoping to put some pressure on Anne (no pressure ;-) ). Leading to IMSA I would like to do Dubai Marathon and ADIT Long, though after the bike crash I think Dubai Marathon and the sub 4h goal will have to stay for another time.
There’s so many people to thank: the team T2A, the TriDubai team, Crissy, Roy, Ed Hawkins, my coach for the last three months before the race, Sean Clark, and so many others. But I have to thank Anne in particular for helping me out on making my life easier during the training. It is not easy to juggle an intensive and high responsibility job, along trying to get the training in, eating healthy and getting rest. Oh yes, and still try to have a bit of social life :-). I couldn’t have done without her and also for putting up with my OCD behavior and always wanting everything to be perfect.
THANK YOU Anne.