*** many thanks to Tony Hchaime for this race report ***
The pursuit of that “feel good” race continues…
God I was looking forward to racing Roth!
Let me start by saying this: if you’re going to do one iron-distance race in your life, this is IT. The country, the people, the support, the course, the atmosphere, the expo, etc. Everything is mindblowing! But more on that later…
Ever since I did my first Ironman in Busselton more than a year and half ago, I’ve wanted a “rematch”. Back then, I was physically capable of a solid race, seeking to be part of the 12-club on my first IM. Tough conditions, rookie mistakes and GI problems led to a 13:35ish finish. That was December 2011, 18 months into my triathlon journey from a virtual couch potato.
My rematch was going to be at Challenge Roth 2012. Alas, I fell ill 3 weeks before the race and pulled out. The Challenge Family were kind enough to transfer my slot to 2013 (hear that WTC??).
In fact, 2012 was overall a bit if a disastrous year for me in triathlon, with a DNF at Abu Dhabi Long Course (my only DNF so far), and no races until the OD 2XU race in November of that year, where I did score a great PB of 2:24.
The silver lining was that I had the best training block ever between summer of 2012 and January of 2013. With my main focus being Ironman Melbourne in March of 2013, I trained hard over the fall / winter. I reached January in my best shape ever. I had overcome all running injuries, had worked hard on my swim to bring my IM swim down to 1:10, and was comfortably biking 180k in 5:35 (on the flat roads of Dubai that is).
Then disaster struck again: exacerbated by riding in a sandstorm at Al Qudra in Jan of 2013, I was struck down with severe bronchitis which led to pneumonia. Melbourne was out, Roth became THE race of the year for me.
The Build up for Roth
This pie chart illustrates the numbers of hours of training in the 180 days leading up to Roth.
My training for Roth really started at the Abu Dhabi International Triathlon (short course this time). I used the race as my first training session of the season and to gage my fitness after 2 months of illness. I was reasonably happy with my swim (30min), bike (avg 33kph until 10k when I succumbed to dehydration from testing new nutrition products, easy fix).
I knew I had limited time to train over the spring given lots of travel, work obligations, and a generally very stressful period of my life. Those who know how I train know that I emphasize (i) specificity in training (make every session count), (ii) recovery, and (iii) skills/technique (leave no stone unturned).
This is where I was held up the most. With illness keeping me out of the water until April and then lots of travel over May-June, swims were the first sessions to get cut. With no visibility of things improving on that front, I turned my focus on swimming technique. Whenever I was in the water, I was fully “mentally engaged” to ensure I fix my body position, streamlining, stroke, etc. to get any advantage I could. Of course I had lost a lot of muscle endurance and power between Jan and June, but I couldn’t do anything about it.
Stats: my last IM-distance swim was in January 2013, my longest swim in the month preceding Roth was 3.4km.
I averaged 1.2hrs per week of swimming in the 6 months pre-Roth (as you will see below, the impact on race day was obvious).
The bike has always been my strong suit and favorite discipline. I just love the bike and never shy away from putting in the hours, whether outdoors or on the home trainer. I simply love the power of the bike and was always motivated by the progress I was continuously making in that discipline.
If you exclude the 6 weeks of illness at the beginning of the year, I averaged close to 7 hours / week on the bike during all remaining weeks in the 6 months preceding Roth. During a race simulation a few weeks before the race, I rode 180k in 5:41 at IM pace, and was able to get off and run 45min very comfortably.
My confidence on the bike was at an all-time high.
Traditionally my weakness. During my first 2 years in triathlon, I was regularly injured. I had gone into Busselton on 3 months of run training. The good news is that I had finally figured out proper biomechanics, recover methods and right shoe choices, and haven’t had any injuries since.
Once again, I continued to build on my end-2012 base fitness, averaging between 4-5hrs/week for the 6 months pre-Roth (with higher volumes in May-June). Once again, I was confident in my run. I had reached a point where I could run 3hrs straight at 6:15min/km in Zone 2, perfect for an IM.
Weight and Nutrition
Weight: I went into Roth at 78Kg (12% body fat). Ideally I would have preferred to be around 74-75Kg (sub 10% body fat), but I guess the stress in the preceding months and limited high-intensity workouts meant my metabolism suffered and I couldn’t really get down to race weight by race day. I knew this would affect me on the hills in Roth but wasn’t really concerned about that.
Nutrition: I had switched to Hammer Nutrition at the beginning of the year and never looked back. Absolutely love their products and they work great for me.
I’m generally a “clean” eater. I avoid processed foods as much as possible, eat lots of fruits and vegs, lean protein, etc.
The chart below illustrates my fitness build-up for Roth. The BLUE line is my overall fitness level. You can see the drop in Jan-March due to illness, and then the gradual recovery back to July, followed by the “taper” during the first weeks of July.
Arriving to Roth
First of all, you need to get the pronunciation right people! (i) you don’t roll the R (not like say, “rabbit”), you have to get it out from the throat. The “o” is like “oe” in French and the “th” is just a “t”. Never mind, Miss Annie P does a fantastic impression so feel free to ask her about it!
I flew into Munich on Wed afternoon. Munich airport was a breeze, I was out in 20min and in the car, on my way to Allersberg, a small village 10km from Roth. I was staying at Hotel Schneider, a nice little b&b that Miss Annie P had unearthed. Paulo and Annie had been kind enough to get in touch with me a few months ago to arrange accommodation. Perfectly located within a few minutes drive to Rothsee (gorgeous lake) and only 10km from Roth itself, where the race HQ and expo were.
Before I go on, I would like to express my immense gratitude to Mr. Paulo Costa and Miss Annie P for their support during this adventure. One could not ask for better friends!
Paulo was already at the hotel when I arrived, so we met up later afternoon and went for a swim at Rothsee.
Paulo was kind enough to take me on a drive on part of the bike course. He had ridden the full course the week before, so I was immensely useful for me to get tips from him on the “interesting” bits and to see some of them first-hand.
We also drove into Roth, looking at parts of the run course and finish.
On Thursday morning, Paulo and I went and rode part of the bike course, taking in the swim course and T1. I was amazed at how respectful car drivers are of cyclists: they give you plenty of room, even on main roads, and will stay behind you on narrow roads until it’s safe to pass! World: learn something!
Here is a pic of the swim course we took from the bridge passing over the canal (also part of the bike course):
On Thursday afternoon, Miss AnnieP had arrived and we all went to registration, where we met up with some of the Dubai athletes at the expo. The expo itself is the biggest I’ve seen. Pretty much every brand is represented, with lots of demos and tempting merchandize!
On Friday morning, we went down to Rothsee again for an early morning swim with some of the Dubai crew again, including Piers and Andy V. Can’t get over how beautiful the lake is.
Also there are camping grounds next to the lake and there were dozens of tents and caravans camped there for the race.
We went back to the expo in the afternoon, where we ran into the legendary Bob Babbitt, and I just had to get a pic!
On Sat, each pretty much did his own pre-race warmup, and then Paulo and I rode the bikes to T1 to check them in. The transition area was teeming with people, music was blaring, and there was just a great atmosphere:
We then went to the race briefing in the expo area - nothing earth shattering. Of course, you had to be aware that if you were caught drafting on the bike, you could get arrested and thrown in jail…
Ahhh, it’s finally here.
Funny thing is, I wasn’t nervous.
I knew I didn’t have the ideal training leading up to the race, especially during the taper period (travel), but I felt fit and confident enough to get into the 11 club.
THE RACE PLAN
Swim: It was just about getting through it. I knew it would be slow given lack of swim training so I decided not to wear a watch during the swim. The aim was to focus on streamlining, stroke, and finding a rhythm (and maybe if lucky some feet).
Bike: the bike course was as follows: 2x85Km loop (total 170km) with a final 10Km mostly downhill to T2. Plan was to hold back on loop 1 (average 31kph) and pick it up on loop 2 to try to finish the bike between 5h45 and 6h.
The Roth bike course has quite a few hills in it, some quite steep. My plan to was to remain aerobic on the climbs but stay on the power on the descents, a tactic quite different from a lot of people who push hard on the climbs and coast the descents. I wanted steady effort throughout.
Course profile from my Garmin:
Run: start easy for first 2Km, then run steady Zone 2 in first half and Zone 3 in second half (as practiced) and walk the aid stations.
Pre-race breakfast: 2 Hammer bars and 2 bananas (total 600Kcal) spread over the 3hours pre-race.
Bike: 2 bottles with 4 scoops of Perpetuem each along with Hammer Endurolyte powder mixed in.
Run: 2 fuelbelt bottles each with 2hours worth of Hammer Gel diluted with water, electrolyte capsules as well. Plan was to switch to coke/water sometime in the second half of the marathon.
Woke up on race morning at 4:00, after a good night’s sleep. Felt comfortable and confident. Coffee, 10min jog, breakfast, kit-up, and ready to go.
Miss AnnieP drove Paulo and myself to race start in the morning, getting there around 5:30AM. It was chilly (11C) but we knew the water temp was above 20C so no one was worried about that.
Arrived to T1, finished setting up bike and T1 bag. Still feeling great.
I was in Wave 11 at 7:35, 5min following Paulo who was in wave 10 at 7:30. The race started at 6:30 with the Pros, followed by various waves.
Before the race, I popped a couple of Imodium pills. I was feeling my GI rebel a bit (a problem I often have). I didn’t want to take any chances, especially since it was very difficult to remain gluten/dairy free during the days leading up to the race (you try staying gluten free in Germany!!). Was that the reason for my problems on the bike? Maybe, maybe not, docs were not decisive about it…
The Swim: 1h22, Overall: 2138/2883
Our wave was called 5min before our start. We entered the water and swam around 50m to the race start. I had around 250 people in my wave I think. When I got to the start, I found myself at the front, as many took their leisurely time getting there. I certainly didn’t want to be at the front given my swim level, but it was too late to do anything about it.
Boom! Gun goes off and we launch. As expected given my lousy positioning, I got pummeled almost immediately. There was nothing I could do but stay calm and keep moving forward until the water cleared up. I decided to go hypoxic for a while as it was too crowded to breath properly. Took a few strong blows, gave a few back, but nothing too dramatic. Things cleared up after 300m or so and I just got into my rhythm.
As planned, I focused every ounce of mental power on streamlining my body and ensuring my stroke was efficient. This kept my mind busy and the swim went by pretty quickly.
Highlight: you’ve got spectators meters away from you on the ENTIRE swim course, with air horns blaring, screaming, singing… it was truly an amazing experience I will remember for a long long time.
Soon enough, I was at the last turn-around with 400m to go. I started kicking a bit more, and with 200m to go I started kicking more powerfully to get blood circulating into my legs.
Got out of the water very relaxed and comfortable. I didn’t wear a watch during the swim as I knew it would be slow and I didn’t want it playing with my head.
T1: 3min40, Overall: 1170/2883
I had a great T1 (could have been better though). You can see from the ranking how much of a difference that makes!
I had my helmet and race number on the bike. All I had to do in T1 was grab my bag, throw the wetsuit and goggle/cap in it and run to my bike. A nice German lady helped me stuff the wetsuit in the bag. Arrived to my bike, put on the helmet, lost some precious time buckling it. Put on the race belt, and again fumbled the locking of it (having not raced in such a long time, my transitions need practice!!). Ran with the bike (shoes were already clipped into the bike). Shoe got stuck in the grass (one of the elastics had broken), so had to stop and release it. Lost a few more seconds there. But overall not a bad T1.
Run to mount line, jump on, feet on top of pedals and off we go.
Bike (if you could call it that): 6h27, Overall 2419/2883
As mentioned, my plan was to ease into it, hold back on the first loop, and let go on the second. The first bit out of T1 is on a slight incline, so I stayed out of my shoes till I reached the top, then slipped my feet into the shoes and got ready to gain some time on a long decent of 2-3km. Everything was dandy.
I reached the bottom of the descent having passed quite a lot of people. Reached down, grabbed my water bottle, took a couple of swigs and got back into the aero position. Then suddenly, 30seconds later, I felt a strong cramp in my stomach and the water I had just drunk came back up. I had never experienced anything like this before and was caught off guard.
I kept going for another 10min then tried again with water. Same thing happened! I was beginning to freak out. I was barely 10km into an 180km bike, and I couldn’t keep any fluids down. Theories started playing in my head, trying to be analytical as usual: was it dinner? No I felt fine during the night. Was it the pills I took? Were they expired? Did I swallow something during the swim? Or maybe it’s been so long since I’ve raced I just need to settle into my rhythm.
I let 20min pass without taking in any fluids, my legs felt good and strong and I was going at a good clip, with HR under control on the climbs. Tried to drink some Perpetuem and wash it down with water. Came back up almost immediately. Crap! How am I going to finish with no calories or water???
DNF was out of the question! I didn’t come this far for a DNF!
My mind switched to damage control: control what you can, and don’t stress about the things you can’t do much about:
- Having had a good dinner and breakfast, I knew my glycogen stores were topped off, so I had maybe 2 hours of glycogen stores left.
- I needed to extend those as much as possible by dropping my pace to tap more fat reserves on the bike. 30kph for the bike now became the goal, and to hold it as long as possible.
I was making up quite a bit of time on the descents by maintaining stable power both up and down. And believe me, that was HARD to do:
The atmosphere on the bike course is spectacular. Every hill is lined with spectators screaming and shouting. Some have music blaring from loudspeakers and people dancing. I’m not joking, there is not a single part of the bike course that does not have spectators on it!!
There were 2 villages where people were lined up on the side of the road, beer in hand. As I passed by, I put my hand out, and got a gigantic Mexican wave both times!! I was laughing out loud!
And then comes Solarer Hill, affectionately known as Solar Hill. Yes it’s steep and it’s short, but my God the spectators!! No words can describe that feeling. You reach the hill and CANNOT SEE A WAY THROUGH! The crowds are 10-deep on each side of the road, they are centimeters away from you, pat you on the back when you pass. The noise is incredible! If you were to scream at the top of your lungs, you would still not hear your own voice! It’s such a magnificent rush of adrenalin like you wouldn’t believe. I’m not ashamed to say my eyes teared up, and I know I was no exception.
Average speed for first 4hours: 30.5kph
Average speed after cracking: 24kph
I was really hurting in the final couple of hours. I felt completely depleted. I was still trying to get some calories and water in but nothing was working. On one of the last aid stations, I grabbed a banana and stopped. I stayed still for 5min eating half of it slowly. It seems to settle my stomach a bit. Sipped some water, and felt slightly better with some calories in me.
I pretty my coasted the rest of the way back to T2.
A note about the race marshals: they were pretty strict, they yellow-carded 2 people off my wheel (obviously during the first 3 hours when I was still doing ok).
T2: 10:25, Overall 2579/2883
I handed my bike to the volunteers and went looking for my bag. A young German girl ran towards me and handed me my bag. I ran into the transition tent pretty much wobbling. I just had to sit down and regroup. Again DNF was no option. I swore to myself I would finish even if I had to “walk the f$%#$ing marathon!”.
I put my helmet in the bag, put on my fuelbelt and visor, socks and shoes. I was about to stand up when a medic came up to me and physically pushed me back down on the bench! He asked me if I was ok and I said I was fine. I obviously didn’t look like I was because he kept asking until I told him what’s happening. He told me I should not continue. I told him I will continue. We kept at it back and forth for I don’t know how long till he relented.
He asked me to wait as he went and came back with a syringe. Before I had the chance to protest, he said it was to stop my stomach cramps and help me finish. He stabbed me and I got up and left the tent.
Didn’t thank him, I apologize for that. I was in a pretty foul mood then. Those people and all the volunteers do such an amazing selfless job, we owe them our whole experience.
Run: 5:34, Overall 2331/2883 (yes I gained 240+ places, go figure…)
As I ran out of T2, I grabbed one of my fuelbelt bottles and downed half it: 200Kcal of warm gel/water mixture (the bag was sitting in the blazing sun all afternoon). Tasted horrible but I needed the calories.
The plan was obviously out the window, and I took it 1Km at a time. I purposely held back in the first km, and when my Garmin beeped the first Km in 6:08 I took a deep breath: maybe I could salvage something after all!
I needed to load up on calories and fluids, so I was running to each aid station then walking and taking in coke and water with an electrolyte tablet every other aid station. At first, I was averaging around 7:00min/Km including the walking, and thought a sub-5hr marathon was still possible.
Once again, every meter of the 42km course had spectators screaming, singing, ringing bells, drinking beer, dancing, you name it! It was absolutely amazing.
The run course itself is beautiful, with big stretches of it along the canal, where big ferry boats come through and people stand on the balconies waving at the athletes.
My regime of run/walk/coke/water was more or less working with my stomach settled, although I was getting pretty bloated from all the fluids. Unfortunately, the medicine must have worn off by the 15km mark, as I started feeling queasy again, and from then on some of the fluids were again coming back up.
From that point on, I was forcing myself to run for 1min and recover for 1min, try to drink at aid stations, etc.
At the 25km mark, I saw Paulo for the first time running back from the turnaround point. He looked great. A few seconds later, I saw Miss AnnieP on her mountain bike. She had been pacing Paulo. Then she surprised me by getting off the bike and running up to me. She gave me a great boost, it was good to see a familiar face out there as I was in a dark place at that point. She even managed to take a pic of me (thanks AnnieP!):
(note: I knew I was bloated but this pic says it all!)
Average pace for first 15km: 7:20min/km (including walks)
Average pace from 15km to 42km: 8:36min/km
The weird thing is that I was actually overtaking quite a lot of people throughout the run. Gave me a bit of a boost at the end.
As I left the canal and entered back into Roth for the last few Kms, I came cross the “beer mile”, with people sitting outside on both sides of the road drinking, singing, and shouting out the names of the athletes passing by. If that doesn’t pick you up, nothing will!
I could hear that announcements at the finish, I could hear the screaming of the crowds in the stadium where the finish chute was. I could hear the crowds around me screaming “enjoy it Tony!”, and you can’t help reacting to such encouragement.
Before I knew it, I was in the stadium, on the red carpet, with the crowds roaring everywhere. I was catching up to a guy in front of me, and as I was about to pass him he was joined by his kids. I backed off to let them finish and take a pic together, then I reached the finish myself.
I shook hands with a Kiwi pro who handed me my medal and headed towards the recovery area. I found my dry bag, entered the recovery tent, and saw Mike O’Brian lying on the floor. We exchanged a few words and then I went looking for a place to sit down.
I sat against a plant pot and sent an sms to Paulo who had finished quite a bit earlier, who told me they were in a restaurant outside the stadium. And that was the last thing I remembered before waking up in the medical tent, with an IV in my arm and a doctor about to stab me with a syringe. Since she was cute, I let her stab away… ;-)
She asked me basic questions: my name, where I was, etc. and then told me that they had to keep me until my signs stabilized. At the time, my pulse was 42 and my blood pressure was 70/40, and they needed that to go above 110. She told me that I was extremely dehydrated and my blood sugar level was very low as well.
I was feeling so cold I was shivering all over, she told me it was normal (cold IV going into bloodstream) and they piled a few blankets on me. I went to sleep, and was woken up I guess an hour or so later by the fireworks in the stadium announcing the end of this magnificent spectacle of a race.
After 3 IVs and 2 injections of anti-vomiting meds, they released me just before midnight. I called Paulo who again surprised me by how nice he and Annie were: they had waited for me to come out of medical. I found them outside the finish area to drive back to the hotel.
FINISH: 13:38 Overall 2343/2883
This may sound strange, and I certainly didn’t feel that way during the race: but I’m actually quite happy with my performance during the race considering the problems I had.
I would be lying if I said that the temptation to pull out wasn’t there. It was present throughout the bike and the run, but I kept pushing it down. My darling wife Lauris has put up with so much in the past year, and sacrificed so much helping me deal with the various stresses in my life. On top of that, she had to endure the crazy hours of training in the Dubai climate. I owed her that finish, there was just no alternative in my mind. That was the single biggest driver that kept me turning those pedals and putting one foot in front of the other when I felt completely empty and depleted.
Thank you for your patience and your support. I could not have done any of this without you.
Again, a big thank you to Paulo and Miss AnnieP for their support in the days before, during and after the race.
In April of 2010, I started my triathlon journey when I met coach Jason Metters and T2A. The past 3+ years changed my life. Within those 3 years, Jason took me from a 91Kg virtual couch potato to a 2-time ironman-finisher. As many of you know, Jason was in a bad bike crash this week in Sydney. My thoughts go out to him and his family and I wish him a quick recovery.
A big thank you to Wolfi and the team at WBS. As always, the bike was in superb shape.
A big thanks to all my friends in the triathlon community in Dubai. I’ve been absent from group sessions for the past several months due to various circumstances, I promise I’ll be back ;). Your support during training and wishes ahead of the race means a lot to me, and I’m deeply grateful.
Where do I go from here? Well my plan is to focus on shorter distance racing for the next season (70.3 and OD). This means that I need to get my swim back of course… A lot of work ahead! Can’t wait!
Is a third ironman in the books? No doubt at some point, but not in the near future. I need to have a decent balance in my life, and I would rather wait until things stabilize before I embark on a commitment for another IM. So 70.3s it is…