*** many thanks to Andy Edwards for this race report ***
A bit of background:
Since my first triathlon back in March 2014, it was all about Ironman, and completing one by my 40th birthday in July 2015 (yikes, that’s soon!). This Ironman dream dates back to my early 20’s when I first read about the event. Back then I was a young soldier, keen to test my physical ability to the limits with the belief that as long as I bought a bike, my swimming and running ability coupled with a high pain threshold would see me do well. I bought a bike after six months of saving every penny during a Northern Ireland tour in 1995 but only managed to get out on it a few times before work commitments got the better of me. It would be many years until I even did a triathlon; let alone an Ironman!
Fast forward 19 years to Christmas 2013 and after one too many knocks on the rugby field, and a year break from doing pretty much anything physical (aside from lifting a beer or ten), my body was pretty much broken and I was up to 110kg. 40 was closing in fast and it was “now or never” for Ironman. A few “fat” pictures taken on the beach by my mother that Christmas was the incentive I needed to kick start things.
This was it. I started running and swimming again; just short runs, one or two sea swims and one session per week at masters to begin with. In early March 2014 I bought a bike and signed myself up for the Abu Dhabi International triathlon which would be a few weeks later. I cracked a 20k ride, then a 40 the next week, then my first triathlon; just a sprint to begin with, but with a 50k ride which hurt – a lot!
Then I took on a coach. After a few weeks we sat down and decided on a couple of key races; my first 70.3 (Budapest in August 2014) and first Ironman (Texas). These decisions were based largely on the courses (I’m not really built for hills!) and the dates of the events. By the time Budapest came around I had lost around 20kg and was in pretty good shape. That race didn’t go quite according to plan though as the rear derailleur snapped off my bike 20km in. Whilst a bummer, it was a great experience and I made up for it in later 70.3 races towards the end of the year.
By December 2014, I had trained solidly for a year and had competed in 6 triathlons. It was time for a short break, which I took over Christmas after Challenge Bahrain. I had decided a long time ago that Bahrain would be my last race before Texas (other than a couple of short running races) as I really wanted to get myself properly prepared for Ironman distance racing and didn’t want the distraction of competition. 5 months of brutal training ensued. It wasn’t so much the volume (I only built to around 15-16 hours per week from the 10-12 I was doing for 70.3) but the intensity was, well, intense…..
After almost 16 months of training (during which 25kg was shed), thousands of miles of cycling, running and swimming and a couple of weeks’ tapering, I was at race weight, fit, ready and up for it. Hassan Itani, Lynette Warne, Andrew Horne, Jihad Tayara, Amanda Borlotti and some crazy idiot called Blan (Adrian Blanchette) from my work who had decided to “wing it” for Save the Children (seriously, he did next to no training) joined me in heading over to the Woodlands for the race.
Swim: A non-wetsuit swim which starts in a muddy lake (1 foot visibility) which, after around 2.5km enters a canal that takes you up to transition close to the main race hotel.
Bike: A single 180km loop over the rolling hills of the Woodlands area. Quite hilly with strong head and gusting winds on the second half. Some very rough road surfaces.
Run: A flat, three-loop (14km) run on the canal and lake paths, finishing in the Woodlands town Centre.
The race plan:
Everyone I know who has done an Ironman said the same things – stick to your plan, respect the distance, don’t push too hard, don’t set a time goal, and just enjoy the experience. I listened to what everyone had to say, but at the same time didn’t want to leave anything on the course. My plan:
Swim plan: Easy to begin with in order to avoid lactic acid buildup and then pick up gradually to sub 1.30 pace in order to be out under an hour.
Bike plan: Zone 2.9 (~215 watts) on the way out with the tail wind and Zone 3.1 (~220 Watts) on the way back with the head wind (assuming the winds would be the same as forecast). One Gu mixed with water (bottled up the night before) every 20 minutes along one bar with protein every 90 minutes. Overall time expected - between 5h and 5.30 depending on weather conditions.
Run plan: Start at 5m/km reducing to 4.45-pace over time. Walk the aid stations, keep properly hydrated and try to get one Gu down me every 5 miles along with energy drinks as required. Put everything in to the last 5km. Finish in around 3h30. Simples…..
(Actual time): 1 hour 2 minutes
This was a non-wetsuit, rolling start (everyone seeds themselves and time starts when you cross the timing mat at the water’s edge). Swim conditions were good – water was a nice temperature but VERY murky. I started in the “sub-hour” group which meant a lot less fighting for position than I guess those people behind had to do. That said, there were still a good few hundred people in this group (of the 2600+ competitors) so there was still the usual frantic start and fighting for position in the early stages at on the turns.
All in all I had a decent swim and was happy enough with the result. I felt great coming out of the water and was in 7th AG place. Times were not quick (even in the pro’s ) which would suggest this is a slightly long course (Garmin says 3.95km).
It would have been nice to come out under an hour but I wasn’t going to lose sleep over a few minutes.
I drank a little more water than I would have liked – I would pay for this later…..
(Actual time): 5 hours
Transition (which took just over 4 minutes) was like a quagmire - very muddy and wet. I carried my bike to the foot wash (just short of the mount line), washed off my feet and climbed on.
Feeling great, I really had to focus on my wattage and not get too carried away; especially on the hills. It’s hard in an event like not to get carried away but I kept telling myself “stick to the plan”. I went through the half way mark at an average of around 38km/hr; not because I had pushed it too much, the wind was just very kind on the way out. I was having a little stomach discomfort by this point and had only managed to have one bar (Base bar with protein) but hoped that by drinking plenty of water and taking on only the Goo I would be fine later. One issue I did face on the bike was the bottles given out on the course. Water was in bottles like you would buy in a shop; as was Gatorade. Everyone (including myself) had issues keeping these bottles in their cages (mine being on my aero-bars) as they kept falling out when cornering. If I had known this, I would have taken my Torpedo system and kept filling it with water. Not a major issue, just a pain when you are trying to stay properly hydrated (it was 31+ degrees and 80% humidity after all!).
The wind wasn’t so kind on the way back and it was getting very hot. A head wind and some steeper hills forced the average speed down to around 36km/hr but overall the bike section felt great. Average Watts was 218 for the entire bike section so very close to target.
Whilst a refreshing change from doing loops of Al Qudra, the road surface was VERY bumpy, uneven and rough in parts.
I had only managed to get one energy bar down me the whole way but had taken on 14 diluted Goo gels and a couple of bottles of Gatorade. Lack of protein and a little stomach discomfort were my only concern coming in to the end. I was feeling great, and was in AG 8th coming off the bike.
(Actual time): 4 Hours 50 something….
Back into the quagmire for T2 (which took just over 3 minutes this time), bike handed over to a volunteer (there were thousands of them!!) and into the tent to get changed.
Out on to the run and everything was going well. I stayed focused on pace, not pushing it too hard in the first few km. I maintained 4.45-5 minute average for the first 5km, walking the aid stations in order to get some fluids in me. The legs felt good and everything was on track.
Then things started to go wrong….. The stomach cramps I had been experiencing earlier came back with a vengeance. I couldn’t run for more than a few hundred meters without having to walk or worse still, stop, vomit, fart or pop in to the loo….
My body felt fine, legs felt great, stomach was in knots…. I’m not sure what caused it – the s**tty lake water ingested, the heat, nerves….. I do know that a lot of people had the same issue.
It could just have been that I was 7 hours into an Ironman of course!
I am however sure of one thing. I was as relieved as I have ever been to finish this race. The words “Andrew Edwards, you are an Ironman” were music to my ears. I had finally achieved the goal! I had only had one Goo gel the entire marathon and was pretty tired after crossing the line. After 20 minutes of “wobbles” I managed to get a few slices of pizza down me. That was enough to get me back up and about, and I was soon on the beers and jelly shots with Garry Whyte and his Cypress Triathlon team mates. Thanks Garry!
This was an awesome race. So many volunteers, so much support (thousands or people lining the bike and run sections armed with drums and cattle bells) and some great scenery. It was hot, but you can’t have everything! Support signage was all over the course. Some was simply a “Go Dad”, but there were plenty of funny ones such as “don’t trust that fart” and my favorite – “if it was easy, it would be called Your Mom”. Despite the pain, that one made me chuckle each time I passed it!
When I signed up for this race a year ago, it was about doing an Ironman and nothing else. By the time I got to the event, I knew than on a very good day, based on previous years’ times I could qualify for Kona. I figured I may as well have a crack and not be too conservative. As it happened, I would have needed to be under 10 hours on the day so I was right to race the way I did. 11.04 was the overall time – not a bad start, but a little disappointing given the fact I had prepared and executed the first two disciplines so well but was still 90 minutes slower than I had expected to be on the run.
It would be great to get to Kona one day but this race made me realize that however much you prepare the body and mind for a race like this, sometimes s**t just happens - sometimes a little too literally…..
Would I do anything differently next time?
No, I don’t think I would. I may have eaten a little better the week before the race (too much stodgy, “carby” food despite being on a low carb diet through training), and may try a slightly different race nutrition plan next time but overall I don’t think I was far off getting it right. I would probably try not to drink as much pond water also!
A quick note for those considering doing their first Ironman. Anyone with a decent base fitness level can complete this distance with a little time and effort, and a sound race plan. I trained hard for just over a year but only 3-4 months of this was Ironman-specific. I didn’t even own a bike before early 2014. My colleague Blan (on the right) had done two triathlons before this, had never done more than a 90km bike ride (which he did on DIT) and had never swum more than 1.9km (again, done on DIT). He may not have been fast, but a bit of grit and determination was enough to get him across the line. No guts, no glory!
A big thanks to my coach Tony Hchaime - I don’t think I could have been any better prepared.
An even bigger thanks to my suffering wife – just a couple more to put up with!
And last but not least, thanks to all the TriDubai and Tribe support prior to, during and after the race. We have a fantastic tri scene here in Dubai and I am glad to be a part of it.
Next up – Norseman in August. Time to hit the ice bath and the hills……:)