*** Many thanks to Giorgio Cecchinato for this race report ***
I can't even remember when I signed for Luxembourg 70.3, but i knew that after ADIT I had 100 days to get ready. It sounds like a lot of time but before i knew it the countdown was over and it was race day!
A lot of lessons were learned during the 100 days, some of which i would like to share before going into the details of the race.
I had a decent base of training but for this overseas race i tried to take it to the next level. When i started with Neil Flanagan, my coach, i stated clearly that i was only going to do a 70.3 if i was capable of doing it in under 6 hours ( i like round numbers).
While the plan called for 3 blocks of 3 hard weeks / one easy week, after the first 3 weeks i felt good and really pumped up about the numbers i was seeing in training and i decided to carry on with harder sessions rather than take an easy week. Mistake number one! Always rest and recover properly. How many times do we all read about it, tell everyone else they need to rest and then we go out and monster week after week of hard training ! I paid for this towards the end of the next block of 3 weeks, when my body was clearly in need of the much needed rest, the training became harder than it needed to be and i did start to struggle with motivation.
Six week away from race day after a session in the gym i went running in the morning and my glutes and hamstrings felt real tight but i decided to carry on. Mistake number two. Nurse any potential injury before it becomes a real issue. My one did and i carried that all the way through to race week and it was only thanks to Victoria Roper , my physiotherapist that i made it to race day in good shape.
Mistake number three was most definitely neglecting proper stretching after workouts. There seems always to be a good reason why not to stretch and let's face it, five minutes after a four hour session on the bike doesn't really cut it, does it? Leg muscles felt always tight and this is the last thing you want leading to race day.
Few lesson learned, and no doubt a lot more to learn in the future.
Moving on to pre race , i arrived in Lux on the Thursday with a horrible gut feeling of having left something important at home, but not being able to figure out what it was.
While staring at the bike box in the luggage hall, waiting for my other bag, it suddenly came to me. I could picture my seatpost / saddle /bottle holder assembly sitting on the workbench in the garage, and not in the bike box where it should have been.
Idiot! how could i possibly have done something as stupid as that....that could have been the end of my race before even making it to the start line.
A few (very expensive but at the same time priceless) calls later and i had a friend going to my house to pick up the missing piece of bike and drop it into Martin Bond who was travelling the next morning. I was a happy man when he handed the seatpost to me the next day!
Lead up to race day went as planned and before i know it was race day, with an unusual late start which made it for a very civilized morning with the luxury of having time for breakfast and chilling out afterwards.
While the original target was sub 6 hours during the last month i was starting to get ideas of being able to hit a 5:30 which we agreed with coach was possible if i was to have the dream race. In the days before the race i started to over think it and settled in my mind for a 5:45 as being a good result.
SWIM - 35:55
Water start with 210 others in the river. Zero, and i mean can't see your hand in front type visibility ! My plan was to hammer the first couple of hundred meters to try and find myself a good tow. Failed miserably and ended up swimming alone most of the way. Very physical for the first couple of 100 meter, unlike anything i had experienced before. Swim was a little long and i was slightly disappointed when i saw my time on the watch while running to T1. Of all the sessions the swim one are the only one where i don't religiously stick to plan. Maybe something to consider in the future....
T 1 - 3:30
Better than the 6 minutes it took me in Abu Dhabi ! Had shoes mounted on pedals which made running to and with the bike a lot easier!
BIKE - 3:06:35
Two days before the race myself and Paul Stevens drove the bike course, which was described in the ( terrible) map to have 820 m of climbing. I wasn't happy after the recon, way too many small climbs for my taste. In my mind that was it, no chance of hitting a decent time, it would have been a matter of survival on race day. Fortunately we decided to drive it again the next day and suddenly it didn't look too bad so i was a little relieved and started to believe that it was doable.
first 40 km were a flat time trial on perfect tarmac, slight wind against us on the way out and pushing us on the way back. My heart rate was very high in the first few kilometers, so i had to slow down a little to ensure i would survive the hills. As i hit the first hill i switched the Garmin display to heart rate only, no point in looking at speed, if i was to be able to run i had to stick to my numbers. Did i mention the hundreds of people that were constantly passing me? Having experienced the same in Abu Dhabi i wasn't too fussed, i knew i lack power and i just had to concentrate on my race. There was a lot of drafting going on, ranging from large ( 20+) groups to just a few working together. Pretty sad if you ask me. Race officials didn't seem to be interested at all.
The recon on the course paid dividends downhill were i was able to push hard while keeping it safe.
Lower back was getting tighter as the race went and i was starting to get worried about the run. In the last 20 km i took it a little easier to save the legs for the run.
I wasn't happy to come in outside of the 3 hours mark, but not much i could do then !
T 2 - 1:51
Flying dismount , park the bike, shoes on, let's run!
RUN - 1:42:59
This was the big unknown for me. Would i be able to stick to the plan ( 5-10 / 5:15) and survive ? At this stage i was not giving any thoughts to the final time, all i had to do is to take it easy and pace myself. First few km i felt great and run low 5s to have some in the bank for later on. Temperature was perfect and sun was going down. Dream flat course and little breeze. Couldn't ask for more. The numbers form the Garmin were encouraging, heart rate was well under control and legs felt fine. I was going past people which was great. Saw Ramine, Amanda, Julie and Martin on the run course, and it is always a great feeling knowing that your friends are out there.
After the first lap i started to walk the aid stations taking water and coke . On the third lap at the turn around point i started to think about what it would have been like running down the finish chute, but pushed the thought at the back of my mind and kept going to the last aid station.
At this stage i was in pain and pace was dropping a little too much, so i had to keep pushing to pick it up as my average was bang on 5:15 and didn't want to drop any more.
I mentally broke down the last few kilometers in stages to help cope with the fatigue and before i knew it i was running across the finish line. The feeling was overwhelming and for the next 5 minutes i walked around the finish area like a zombie not really fully aware of what i had just achieved. The fatigue had at that point caught up with me and i had to be careful with movements as i started cramping.
Yes, the time. In my mind i knew i was in for something in the region of 5:40, which would have been great.
It turned out to be a 5:30:50. Could not believe it ! Yes the run was a little short, but couldn't care less. The time is over the complete distance. Coach was right , once again.
Triathlon is everything but an individual sport, and i could have not done this without my wife Valeria on my side. She supported me all the way and never threatened me with divorce !
Neil is the mastermind behind the plan and he made me believe that this was all possible. I couldn't go out there and fail, could i? Just listen to coach, as easy as that. Thank you Neil!
Thanks to Paul Stevens who convinced me that Luxembourg was a good idea , even if he was looking at last year nearly flat bike course!
Thanks to Merle, Martin, Noel, Julie, Amanda, Ronnie, Ramine and Doris for being a great bunch to hang out with before and after the race.
Thank you guys and girls from TriDubai for the encouragement and support during these last few months.