*** many thanks to Chops Potter for this race report ***
Well here it is, my race report/general rambling written to compliment the words of the delightful Mr Eirik Hooper, my comrade in arms during the Barcelona Ironman a few weeks past (And should you get to meet him, a bloody nice guy)
As Eirik so rightly points out, walking into this race, we were both Iron virgins, we had very different races and prepared in different ways to get ourselves through.....’the big dance’
So here goes my race report, half recounting my memories of the day, half detailing the journey that got me to the finish line, and extremely satisfactory tick off of the bucket list
For those who read my Malaysia race report, I’m new to the sport, brand new. Barcelona was kind of the end of my first season, which is oddly timed..... as for most it’s the start of the new one! So absolutely no rest over the summer!
For anyone I haven’t met, here’s some context about me and my new relationship with Triathlon;-
I have no history of endurance sport, at all. I hate swimming, I was a terrible runner, and I’ve been a heavy chap my entire adult life, so I was no fan of anything prolonged!
But, I had several motivations, I love to challenge myself, I needed to fill the hole that rugby left behind, and so many people at TriDubai had achieved such amazing feats I was starting to feel a little slobbish, so I threw myself in at the deep end and pushed myself into a sport that I stank at hoping to learn new skills, shed some pounds and gain new experiences.
I’m also fascinated by the human body’s resilience and ability to adapt so I’ve always wondered what I’d be capable of in a cardio sport if I put my mind to it.
So to quickly wrap up my first six months, I trained hard, I focused, I set achievable goals, I learned, I pushed – and every time I achieved the goal I set a new one.
I started easy, survive a sprint triathlon. Check
Survive an Olympic, check
Survive ADIT. Another surprising check.
Then it got real: get to the end of a half ironman. Amazingly for me, it happened. It was tough, I could have done a lot better, I could have been lighter, better prepared, but I ran across that line, and there it was – I was hooked. I enjoyed myself, Id survived the longest swim of my life (seriously I HATE swimming) and I wanted to do it again.
There seemed to be only one logical progression, full ironman!? Reading that back, it a ridiculous thing to say, doing an ironman isn’t logical at all.
The problem was, Id spent so long listening to stories from the countless number of Ironmen and woman at TriDubai, it was starting to sound like a normal thing to do!! (That’s right; I’m completely blaming you all)
So decision made, I quickly reached another realisation, if I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it right. No more winging it, no more directionless training, I need help, I need a coach.
So I read up, I asked around, I got some recommendations. First (and last) port of call was Mr Neil Flannigan – Innerfight Endurance specialist and apparent member of the Dubai triathlon elite.
Needless to say, I was onboard with him straight away, Neil had a great demeanour, he put me at ease (I was more than a little nervous of the goal), immediately convinced me that was only was the task at hand doable, but that I could do even better than I originally aimed for – my initial target was 14.5 hours.
After an assessment, and some conversion I received my first plan. I doubted it. I couldn’t see the value in particular facets of the training, and discussed my concerns. Neil was great, we had some geeky conversation about the science behind the approaches, the predicted outcomes, and a few stories about the effects. And then he asked for faith. I’m something of a believer in respect where it’s due, and if this guy has been to Kona, represented team GBR, he knows a damn sight more than me, so faith he got, all of it.
A long and intensive story short: I followed the programs and dietary advice to the letter and the results spoke for themselves. Over a few short months everything got easier! I got faster, could sustain longer and more intense levels in all disciplines, shed fat every week, my resting heart rate improved week on week, my energy levels improved and with all of that my confidence grew.
So let’s fast forward to the start line. Barcelona Ironman, which isn’t in Barcelona, but a benidorm-esque town called Calella a little further up the coast from Barca.
A little over a year after starting triathlon, I’m standing waiting for the gun to go off and I’m not nearly as nervous as I should be, I’m thinking I should be nervous, but instead I’m thinking numbers. I thinking how many minutes the swim should take, in the recent weeks I’ve timed 3.8k a few times and knew how long It took in a pool vs open water, I’m wondering if this mornings storm will stir up big enough waves to make a difference, I’m thinking about the 8minute buffer Id given myself before I go ‘off plan’. My entire race, my first ironman, rather than the impossibility it was a year or two past, was just a set of objectives, controlled by a plan.
I say goodbye to Eirik, who is off to join the wave after me, goodbye to my wife who predictably looks scared for my safety, neither of us are confident in my swimming :) And I amble toward the sea of blue caps that make up my wave. I don’t think about much in particular, and it dawns on me, the fear of swimming has finally left, I feet calm. Hallelujah.
And then just like that, the gun goes off and a few hundred men go charging into the water.
There is a theme that runs steadily throughout the day, the feeling of being amused. I honestly spent most of the day with a moronic grin slapped across my face. A mixture of enjoyment, and self reflective amusement. This first smile, was the reflective kind, as I was doing something Id not done before, I was running into the water! Usually I’m the guy that stays to the side, at the back, and wades in, then has a slow comfortable swim.
This time I ran.
Don’t get me wrong, my swimming hadn’t improved that much, but I was hungry, I wanted to get it started, to get involved, I was enjoying the race. The start of many firsts, in a whole day of firsts (and smiles)
The swim was as eventful as expected; the churning mass of bodies was chaotic and turbulent. The swim course was pretty straightforward, a small lead out to a right turn of a few hundred metres, a left, a long straight run of 2500 or so, and then a left back into the beach. Thankfully the earlier storm hadn’t affected the waves adversely, they remained manageable. Every turn was bedlam, so I hit every one with a little extra energy and focus to ensure I wasn’t one of the many breastroking to find space and wait their go. I did take an early slap to the face that dislodged my goggles, and then I couldn’t get the seal to stick, so I swam one handed several times to empty water from them.
My swim plan was very simple, keep my rhythm, swim MY pace, stick to it, swim straight, and get out in one piece. I’ve had an awful habit historically of swimming all over the place, not sighting enough and costing myself time and energy. This time I stayed a closer to the pack, sighted often, and swam probably the straightest swim of my life!
As I ran comfortably up the beach, another big smile, part 1 – check. (What I didn’t know at the time was that my mum saw this on the live stream – double check!)
Swim Time 1.22.03
Now for my favourite part, the bike. I actually enjoy the bike.
A very quick spin through transition and I was away.
T1 – 5.55
Im soon out of 3km stretch of town and onto the N2- the seafront front road that joins Calella and Barcelona.
But here’s the Problem, this is where I want to go crazy, I like my bike, I like cycling, I want to throw everything into this. I want to go as fast as I can go. And I know I can’t. It’s not in the plan. I have faith in the coach and I’m sticking to the plan!
This internal dialogue is actually making me laugh, not loud loud, but enough that if you were next to me you’d want to keep moving and stay away from the crazy one! The saying is rolling around in head, ‘this is a marathon, not a sprint’ – the laughter of course is in the knowledge that I’m 10 mins into a 6 hour bike and the marathon is next, and I’ve only ever run one before ( and It was awful!)
And just like that my head is back on plan, the numbers, heart rate and speed, I have targets, and today they are all that matter. I know where I should be, I know exactly how many calories I need, where I am getting them from, how much water I need, how often - it’s all there. I have my plan, and I’m sticking to it.
Checking race nutrition was part of my training, over the weeks I had tested several bars, as eating gu all day would leave my stomach in pieces, its enough that Id have to take them on the run. So I was happy that Id found a bar that I could eat and digest easily – A pina colada flavoured mule bar. One per hour whilst on the bike, plus one gel.
The bike course is two and a half laps of fast seaside roads, short inclines followed by fast descents, the first lap is great as its all new, the following 1.5 are obviously a little less interesting, so the next 5 and a half hours look like this:
- Heart rate check
- Time/speed check
- Eating/drinking interval check
- Wow – look at his bike. That awesome, I want one of those
- Heart rate check – I’m slightly under, so I can speed up
- Speed check – happy with that
- Wow look at that bike, that’s beautiful
- Time to drink something
- His wheels are cool!!
- Heart rate check, slightly over, need to slow it down a kmph or two
Amazingly, this genuinely sustained me for for the whole ride. I stuck to the very letter of the plan, it had got me there and my faith was absolute in it and Neil’s guidance. This gave me a lot of headspace for just enjoying myself. Every single experienced member of the community at some point told me first and foremost to enjoy myself, however hard it seemed, I remember thinking how ludicrous that sounded at the time, how do you ENJOY an ironman, but there I was, grinning like an idiot, taking in the seaside views Calella had to offer, and mentally building my next bike. By the time Id got back to Sant Pol de Mar I was happily preoccupied with the choices that would going into my next N+1.
As I pulled into the town, I was elated to see my wife and our friends for the first time in hours, having them cheering me on was a great boost, and a great reminder that having dragged her all the way here that I really wanted to make her proud.
Bike 5 Hours 36 Mins
I was amazed how smooth transition was. 1 minute 18secs. Off the bike and out onto the course in no time, and the weirdest thing dawned on me. I felt fine, no scratch that, I felt great, I felt absolutely great. I had energy, my legs weren’t stiff, or weak, or shaky, I was great. This was an awesome feeling. Minutes into the run course high fives from Mrs P had me on cloud nine.
For months every single bike, long or short, inside or out was strictly ordered to be followed by a run, this was mandatory – coach’s orders, and like a good soldier I did as instructed! And did it pay off!!
Before I knew it I was 10k into the run, I’d found my stride, it was comfortable, my speed was exactly as planned, all was going well, too well. By now I should have stopped for a walk, but I didn’t want too, I felt too good. I was waiting for the wheels to fall off, for the pain to set it, but it wasn’t to be
So I cracked on with my pace, rigidly stuck to my nutrition plan, I took my calories on board the minute that the plan dictated, and exactly as much water as I should have.
The wheels kept turning, and I continued to soak in the amazing atmosphere of the support on the run course.
This leg was 4 x 10.55k laps of the Calella seafront, straight down the front and then a loop back through part of the town. My wife had picked an awesome spot, so I could see her 8 times during the marathon, screaming encouragement every time. To her own amusement she’d also picked some favourites and screamed praise onto them whilst running, one of these lucky chaps looked like Eirik, so every time they saw “Eirik” he was high fived, and heaped in praise. Then on his last lap, he ran past to inform his new fan club, with a big smile “I’m not Eirik”
30 something k in I finally saw Eirik for the first time through a fence as we passed at the top of a loop, we shouted brief support to each other. I wasn’t too surprised not to have seen him yet, I knew he was an infinitely better swimmer than I (which is really not hard), and that he cycled with Ian Le Pelley, if he can keep up with Ian then he was always going to be great on the bike.
I was happy he was ok, Id worried a little as Id seen so many cyclists with mechanical problems. At this point my running confidence was sky high, my legs were starting to numb, but the pace had hardly slowed, I toyed with the idea of really pushing the pace, petrified by the idea of the “wheels falling off”. At this point I was constantly passing people, I felt strong and all around me were visibly slowing. So I went with the feeling and steadily increased my speed, testing my ever numbing legs.
Back past my wife for the 7th time I was full of confidence, I told her to get the finish, I’d be done in 30 mins, I had 6k left, Id worked out by this point if I sped up a bit I could just squeeze a 4 hour marathon, forever worried she tells me not to push it!
All I can think about is a strong finish, and beating my best marathon time.
1k later I saw Eirik again, on the other side of the loop, I shouted over my congratulations, we were going to be Ironmen! I said I’d see him in 25 mins at the finish.
Then I realised where we were, as I hit the turn, I realised he was only 400m in front of me, not the several k’s I had guessed, how on earth did that happen.
A few minutes later I caught up that to Eirik, in my mind what I said should have been some sort of great congratulatory compliment, in recognition of both the days achievement and the fact that Eirik was set to smash his target time of 12 hours, instead I’m pretty sure what I actually said was some nonsense about a strong finish. (Eirik, my apologies)
I wanted to stay and run in with him, we only had about 4k left, but I was consumed by the idea that I hadn’t pushed myself hard enough, I should have been hurting more, so I kept speeding up and flogged myself for the last 4k. What I didn’t know was that behind me, Mr Hooper hadn’t taken being passed lightly and had sped up himself. He ended up finishing only 20 or 30 seconds behind me.
By this time in the day, the pain had set in to the large majority of runners, legs were sore, faces were painted in hurt, and bodies looked stiff. Injuries were obvious as I watched people awkwardly propel themselves toward to noise of the finisher’s line.
Passing people is very much a new thing to me, I am the one who is passed, not the passer! This confused me as I ran past countless tired bodies on my way down the home straight.
For about 2km I was in silent competition with an English girl who was also on her last lap, each time I passed her she dug in, visually annoyed, and edged ahead again only for me to do the same. The only difference being I was grinning like the village idiot (for the 40th time that day)
Listening to the crowd, the music, and the announcer was an amazing feeling, 3 times that day it has been tough, every time you passed the entrance only to start a new loop, especially the turn of the 3rd lap, you’re only metres from the finish, but you turn again to disappear off for the hour+ lap.
But this time I was done, this was it. I finished the run in 3 hours, 57 minutes
As I entered the gauntlet I was overcome by emotion, it was done, I had finished. I actually did it.
Then I heard my wife’s voice screaming, I looked up and saw she’d elbowed her way to the front and was hanging over the side. Amazing!! I’m really glad as she videoed me coming down the carpet, as I can barely remember it now, too caught up in emotion.
I crossed the line in a mixture of feelings, elation, surprise, energy and tiredness at the same time, relief and pride.
11 hours 3 minutes. Nearly a full hour faster than the target at the start of the day.
In reflection I can offer many thoughts about the journey.
The first for me, is that the right support is paramount.
I was lucky to have two key players in my camp:
The first is my wife, she was a legend, she understood the desire, she put up with the tiredness, the hours and hours of training, the unrelenting focus, the complete change in diet, being thoroughly unsocial as I was more often than not up at some ungodly hour to go training and the fact that all I talked about was some ironman/training/diet related thing or another.
The second was Flanners, I owe my biggest sporting achievement to him. He always had the right thing to say, the right advice, the support, the belief, the knowledge and the plan. As a coach I really couldn’t recommend him highly enough. On the finish line I texted him before my mum........!
It wouldn’t be right if I didn’t also mention Up and Running, I had some real back problems in the lead up to the race, and I owe a lot to the team there for getting me to the start line.
The second piece of advice is highly cliché, but true none the less. You can do anything you want to, if you truly desire it, you can achieve anything.
In two years I went from a self inflicted, brunch experienced 122kg down to an 85 Kg ironman. I could genuinely barely swim this time last year...... and I still hate it just as much as then!
Then there’s the piece of advice that I didn’t listen to, and if you don’t do it already, you’ll probably ignore too. Recovery and looking after your body is as important as the training itself. Recover properly.
Stretch, a LOT. See a physio/masseuse. Eat good natural, unprocessed food rich in nutrition. Sleep enough. And stretch again.
For me eating better food and taking quality recovery days/weeks, made a huge difference. Making sure I was fitter and stronger for every session.
But I didn’t ever take the stretching seriously enough, to be honest I’ve been guilty of that too often in the past. In the two weeks before the race my back had a little meltdown and became so tight I could barely walk, all because Id over worked it, not kept it supple, not stretched enough and all of my muscles were so tight I had no flexibility left. Not ideal
Up and Running to the rescue! New stretching regime inherited. I promise to take better care of myself, scouts honour!