*** many thanks to Luke Brun for this race report ***
Armed with the purest of motivations – envy and revenge – last September I decided to enter the 2015 Cairns Ironman with an IM veteran friend. I’d long been hazed by 2 of my closest mates cause they’re ½ or Full Ironman veterans. Their best times were 5:46 and 11:36 respectively… and because like them, I am a child, these times are important to me. When my Cairns IM buddy pulled out of doing the race due to ITB issues, I quickly searched for something closer and found the Challenge Denmark Full Distance race was open and much more conveniently located.
As an Aussie surfer, the whole triathlon thing was very foreign to me. The idea of wearing skin-hugging Lycra while sober was as strange to me as a sleep-in on Friday morning is to most of you guys. I usually run or train in boardies and a ‘wifebeater’ (Aussie/NZ slang for a $2 singlet) and did not own a single dry-fit, climacool or lycra item. I showed up to one of the first swims for the 14/15 season in boardies with a pair of goggles; I was in good ‘shape’ but ignorant to the fact that shape doesn’t translate to speed. Needless to say I was immediately humbled by dozens of TriDubai’ers seemingly effortlessly swimming laps around what I thought was my pretty respectable rig… with that wake-up call, the training began; I invested in Wiggle.co.uk and you poor souls were the first to be graced with my awkward form in Lycra.
With infinite training programs and podcasts to tap into, 3000 TriDubai Oracles just a facebook post away but a finite budget for the sport I hadn’t even tried yet – I opted to plagiarise, ahem ‘self-coach’.
8 mths out I got onto what I would call the ‘Pizza Eating Pragmatist’s LCHF diet’ and by T -14wks and the commencement of my formal training plan, I felt that I had built a pretty solid aerobic base. I have never been large, my nickname is ‘Stix’ and I had previously peaked at 84kgs with a dedicated weight gain diet and gym work… LCHF had me dump my hard-earned weight fast (14kgs in around 10 weeks), I quickly hit 70kgs and was determined not to lose any more.
My program was low on hrs but high focus – mostly 5-7hr weeks with one 9hr week and an 11hr peak. I did 90% of my bike training on the turbo trainer, with The Sufferfest ISLAGIATT workout being the cornerstone of my cycling program. 3 longer rides at AQ to test nutrition and gauge pace, but that was pretty much all that my life could happily and peacefully absorb.
A couple of swim technique sessions with a coach, and then it was up to Deirdre, Ian and Andy to drag me around Roy’s beach on Saturday mornings to get the swim up to scratch – and I’ll never be able to thank you guys enough, swimming is now a favourite pastime and form of relaxation for me.
I got sick 7 weeks out from the race and was on antibiotics for most of the 4 weeks after that. In hindsight I really needed to increase the vitamin and probiotic intake and do a better job of replacing fluids and sugar immediately during/after longer sessions.
Leading up to the race, cold water and weather forecasts started to worry me, and to be honest I was really just looking for excuses in case I performed poorly. Two of my unwitting online pseudo-coaches, Paul Venn and Andy Edwards, gave me a timely HTFU and I extracted my head from my arse and put my mind back to the goal.
I arrived in Denmark in time for a couple of easy rides and swims to acclimatise. The water was cool (approx. 16C) and bumpier roads (than AQ or my turbo trainer) made it worth being there 2 days early. The only issue was that I ate poorly while traveling & seeing friends leading up to the event. I feel that this lack of fresh veggies and probiotics played a major part in my wellness during the race.
The swim was two laps of a freshwater lake, with waves of 3-400 people depending on AG / distance. The start was narrow, and funnelled into a turn after 300m, which I saw as the choke point. I positioned towards the front and was planning on a fast’ish start and then draft as much as possible off faster people as they overtook. I gunned it to position myself in the faster pack, which worked a treat and, apart from being relatively chilly, the first 2.5km felt easy. I started to get cramps in my right calf which slowed me down a bit – the distraction also had me (along with a couple of others) forget that they’d moved a couple of buoys to fix the distance at 3.8km – we were cutting through the slower swimmers in the higher AG at this point and followed the ‘old’ route, adding 190m to my swim. I only realised this after the race as I’d picked up a couple of great drafts and felt 100% exiting the water.
I’d visualised T1 a dozen times and raced through the tent in under 2 mins… faster than anyone I could see around me, causing me to second-guess myself. So I went back into the tent, stood with a dumbass look on my face for 2 mins then left and got on the bike.
The bike course was 90km southeast, then 2 x East / West laps around Billund/Gransted. It was relatively flat and with a tailwind would be a fast course. For our race, the wind started at 5kmh from the SE, increasing to 15kmh. Not overly problematic, but it really did feel like a grind into a mild breeze 80% of the way.
I started my practised and ‘proven’ nutrition plan, and into my second Gu at 30km I paused to ‘burp’… all over myself. Covered in Guspew, stomach cramps hit pretty hard, I tried to wash the taste out of my mouth and brought that water back up too. It started to piss rain for an hour (which was great to wash the spew off!), and I decided at that point that I needed to go slower than planned to burn fat and preserve glycogen.
My HRM started working 3hrs 20min into the bike and I discovered that my HR was 15 beats lower than planned – good news I guess, so I stuck to it as I felt it would keep my glycogen burn low.
Riding relatively slow (vs my race plan) I told myself that I’d see everyone who was overtaking me again on the run or after some food… there were two guys that were constantly overtaking then slowing down, coincident with the presence of course marshals. They were clearly drafting but smart enough to avoid being caught – on one pass, they swore as they drafted past that they were sick of going around me and to give them more space to pass on corners… the only moment of negativity I’ve had in this sport – amazing!
From there I just waited for the cramps to pass, @150km I made a concerted effort at getting food in, Gu and Justin’s Nut Butter just made me ill again, but I had half a dozen dried apricot pieces which I think made it into the system.
Who pissed in my bike shoes? #forsalecheap
4 x laps of Llalandia on a relatively flat course but with a mix of grass, gravel, sandy path and tarmac. Legs felt as good as they ever do on a brick as I’d taken it very easy on the bike, but the stomach cramps were worse and I’d not kept any water down. Found it really hard to slow down but settled into a pace 20 secs slower than planned to try and stave off the inevitable bonk.
@8km I could see the two drafting bozos ahead and set a goal to have them by 12km. As I passed I said G’Day and gave them the biggest smile I could, they didn’t seem happy with that, and in a very un-triathlete manner told me to “F off”, so I did.
@22km I started to feel vague and got pins and needles in my fingers etc. Later than I expected, but with relatively fresh legs, I felt I was hitting the low blood sugar wall. With nothing to lose, I tried a 32Gi GO shot full of guarana at the next aid station, to try and settle the stomach – it was nauseating but surprisingly it stayed down and I felt like I’d just been given a huge energy boost. I sipped coke at the remaining aid stations and in the cold rain that was now bucketing down, slowly picked up to goal pace.
@35km I lapped the two drafters, they left me hanging in my attempt at a high-5… seriously who leaves someone hanging for a high-5 at that point in an Ironman??! (running sideways with a shit-eating grin probably didn’t help)
Down the chute at the end, and the announcer made a big deal of me travelling all the way from Australia… I didn’t have the heart to tell them otherwise but it was an amazing feeling. I had set a (secret) goal of 10:40; as it happened I came in at 11:30… under my mates’ times which I’d like to say didn’t matter ‘because the whole journey and experience was the true reward…’ but, No, I have the maturity of a 9yo so this was just lovely.
My legs felt strong after the race so I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t pushed harder, but I resisted the temptation based on sugar reserves and trying to manage the stomach cramps to an acceptable level. Hard to know if this was a good choice or not, but I feel like I need to finish one completely depleted to satisfy the demons.
If I was going to pass on 4 tips from a first-timer and my personal experience:
1. Dismiss the fear/myths: You don’t need all the gear, this isn’t a cost-prohibitive sport; an aluminium bike won’t disintegrate at 90km. You don’t need to train 14hrs a week, you just need to make each training hour count. And you don’t need to do 20 Olympic distance races to earn the right to go full distance, if that is your goal, seize it. The limits you set in your mind are the biggest obstacle. Cue Shia LaBeouf’s intense “Just Do It” clip.
2. Take care of yourself during the lead up – LCHF is great but don’t forget probiotics, vitamins, rest, fluids.
3. Don’t train while sick or exhausted, you’ll just be sick and exhausted for longer.
4. Try and get self-catered accom at your race venue, so you have full control of pre-race nutrition.
Lastly, I’m back to my former (real) life in Australia at the end of the year. While I didn’t get a chance to meet all of you, I thoroughly enjoyed spending my Saturday mornings with many of you and thank you for liberating me into the world of sober Lycra adornment. I’m ordering 2 pairs of budgie smugglers for summer sessions at Hamdan and FitRepublik. You’ve created a monster.