Like any of the traditional big day’s in your life; your first day at school, first day at work, first love or wedding day I can now add my first Ironman to the list.
Pre-Race Build Up
We had done the training, in my case I think it had gone as well as can be expected. My swimming and cycling have continued to improve since the Autumn and my running has remained fairly steady although I did feel like an old diesel train at times.
On arriving in Lanzarote on the Thursday, we had an apartment overlooking the transition and swim start areas (great find Ashley). Well at least I did, Mark and Ashley has the back of restaurant as their view! In the afternoon we went over to La Santa for the race briefing and registration. This was the first look at who we would be participating with (please note not racing against!) and my first thoughts were there are a lot of tough looking people here. This all went OK and we went back to Puerto del Carmen via the last 100km of the bike ride. The car journey was most noticeably at the lack of noise coming from Ashley. This bike course certainly lives up to its reputation as being tough with the winds in full force as well. The continuing thought of “what have I got myself into here” kept running though my head but at least I knew from the Ashley’s silence he was thinking exactly the same. Friday saw us do 1 lap of the swim course where afterwards both Ashley and Mark pointed out I don’t really have a catch in my stroke. It was quite funny how they tentatively broached the subject but I actually did appreciate the feedback even if it was less the 24hrs to race day. The bikes had a few issues; my headset was wobbling (turned out to be user error putting it back together!) and Mark had an emergency trip to the bike shop for a new chain and had issues with his power meter. All sorted via a few panicking moments and Friday PM we rack our bikes.
Its a long way up – View from Haria
Ashley looking worried “what on earth am I doing here”
Race Day – The Swim
With a 7am start I was up, had my porridge, coffee, dressed and headed to the beach. Quick check on the bike in transition (everyone else was doing it, so I did as well – but not sure what I was looking at.) We said our farewells, a few light hearted comments on where we would next meet and I took my position at the 75+min zone. I was amazed how many people were actually in front of me. There could only be around 300 people behind me out of 2300.
After what seemed an excruciating amount of time and the blow up arches falling on the competitors we were off. It took around 100 seconds for me to get to the start line, and I was in the section where we waded in calming and headed off at our own pace. This was fine, swimming is not my strong point or my favourite event and being run over on the beach by over-keen age groupers was not part of the plan. Unfortunately this is where the calm swimming ended. We were soon piling up but I was expecting this until the first buoy, but it lasted not only to the first buoy but as it turned out the whole swim. After the first buoy my goggles were knocked off and I was just accepting the head blows by feet or hands. Searching for some clear water became a priority whilst not allowing people to swim up the back of me. Now I do realise people are not doing this on purpose but I could not understand why when someone is swimming on your ankles they seemed to continue up to you knees rather than divert around you. My old rugby training was coming back so in looking for calm water and not being forced to stop too often. I was also just staying strong, not let anyone bully me out of my space. The second buoy we all came to a standstill, I got going in the end by push off the buoy anchor rope and found a small gap to start up again. When we got to the next intermediate buoy, the current must have been pushing us in as I had to fight to stay on the right side of it, whilst around half those around me went to the wrong side. With the first lap done I jogged up the beach, laughed with the man next to me at what was happening and thought that is one of the toughest hours I had ever spent. When I looked down at my Garmin I was shocked that it read 36mins especially with all the stopping being forced upon everyone.
The second lap started in much the same vain, but with the knowledge of the first lap time I was feeling a lot better inside. When I went round the 3rd bouy and started towards home this was the only part where I had clear water in front of me. I actually found myself looking to find some feet to draft behind. It was soon after this that my swim exit escort arrived. Around 400m to the end I found myself trapped between 2 people either side of me and someone slapping continuously at my ankles / knees. I tried getting out but couldn’t so found myself like this until the end. Neadless to say as I stood up at the end I turned around to stare at the ankle slapper not that they probably particularly cared.
Not having done a great deal of swimming (in fact only 1 open water race event up until this) it really was being thrown in at the deep end. I didn’t panic and managed for the most part to keep going forwards. With regards my time my target was a sub 1hr 20min and my end time was 1hr 17min 40secs. If you take off the time to get to the start line my swim time was actually 1hr 16min 9secs so I was really pleased with this. Off to the bike course we went
Having got through my nemesis (the swim) I was looking forward to the bike course, or more accurately not being in the water. Transition proved to be just as chaotic, but I managed to get some help with sunscreen and was soon out and on my way.
The first thing that became apparent was that it was going to take a while to sort everyone out. Although no one was intentionally drafting the amount of people coming out of transition together meant there were just too many bikes on the road to be able to keep the 10m rule. As we climbed out of Puerto del Carmen we got the first taste of the wind. This was a little disconcerting at first but I did find though the course that I became more confident with the side winds going at speed. The bike course splits itself into 3 natural sections. The first is approx. 75km and is rolling hills which with the exception of fire mountain, where the wind was directly into us. It was at the top of fire mountain I first met Ashley and we chattered for a bit mainly about the swim we had just had. As we went downhill into La Santa Ashley screamed past me. The second part of the bike course is the real challenge, going uphill for between 1:30hr and 2hrs. It starts of relatively easy with a gentle slope but as you get to Tequlise it really steepens sharply and you often find yourself out of the saddle in your easiest gear whilst fighting the wind. This was tough and towards the end of this was when I started getting some stomach issues. Having had this in the little Woody last year which ended up crippling my run I knew I needed to get this sorted out. My eating had become sporadic by this stage so I went through a process of elimination to remove the culprit. Eating the banannas seemed to work better than the powerbars and I ditched the water I had. Having gone back to the powerbars later which made it worse I realised I needed to keep off these. This made nutrition a bit tricky as in the later aid stations this was all they had, so I tried the energy drink. This had a real smoothing effect on my stomach, but by this stage I only had around 20km to the end of the bike so I sipped this and by the time I got to the end my stomach although fragile seemed ok to run with. The third part of the bike course is mainly downhill and is a relief just to get off the mountains knowing we are heading back to transition.
The bike course takes you around most of the island and it was great to see the rugged raw state of the island. With some unspoilt relatively recent volcanic activity it is one of the few areas where you can see Mother Nature’s awesome effect. It would have been good to appreciate this more without a swim and run completing the bike sandwich but we saw enough.
Going through transition was relatively painless, again getting some help with the sun screen. I was conscious to get everything right and was confident I had when leaving. It was only when I was at 2km that I realised not only did I have my bike gloves on, I had left my run hat in transition and forgotten to take of my sunglasses – opps. I was clearly not thinking straight by this stage. I set off at a pace that I previously thought I could sustain but after 1km I realised I was putting in too much effort to sustain this. I quickly decided to slow right down as I could see myself falling apart otherwise. Although it was hot and hard work the local support was very good and there was certainly a lot of people picking out and cheering on those of the same nationality. The course was 3 loops up to the airport, 2nr at 16km each and 1nr at 10km. Each time I ran back through Puerto del Carman I could hear the FA cup final being played and thought this would have been a far better use of my time. The run was just one big struggle, the bike course had just sapped all my strength, so I just broke it down into each loop and sub-divided that into aid station to aid station.
My stomach held together and wasn’t too much bother apart from the 2 times the aid station helpers handed me what they said was energy drink but turned out to be red bull, which had an immediate stomach retching effect. It took about 20mins in each case for it to settle back down and a bit of walking. I managed to keep running all the way with just walking through aid stations to make sure I got enough water, gels etc.
It was a welcome end to see the finish. At last, the end. I am an Ironman!
(although due to my generous head start given to Mark and Ashley, actual swim time was 1:16:09 )
Bike – 7:08:23
Run – 4:09:19
Total – 12hrs 49mins 49secs
Overall 946 out of 2256
Firstly I must thank Ashley and Mark. This is a journey we have made together and both of them have given a lot of time in helping me learn how to train for this event. I can’t thank them enough. In retrospect I think the biggest thanks I can give them is beating them to the finish line ☺.
Mark must also be thanked on the day, as after being forced to pull out he stayed on the course and cheered Ashley and myself to the finish line. Having to deal with his own disappointment, and cheer us on could not have been easy and not something I think I would have been capable of. In the same position I would have been found on the beach feeling sorry for myself.
As for my race the swim went better than I thought. I think this was mainly down to not being too bothered by the mayhem, which meant I took advantage of the drafting and swell effect caused by everyone. The bike course is just a monster. I knew it would be tough, windy and hilly but I don’t think I could have even imagined how tough it actual was. It’s just one of those things that you have to do to fully appreciate. This had the knock on effect on my run which should have been quicker. It is certainly an event that is how to put all 3 events together and can be very unforgiving if you go too hard or get your nutition or hydration wrong – but that’s the challenge and it’s not supposed to be easy.
I certainly enjoyed the event and will do another one. Next time I think I will look for an Ironman around October so I can train through the summer which will certainly be more pleasant and have less cancelled bike rides through the winter. With Barcelona now an IM event and the new Majorca event both around October I will probably look to do one of these next time. I am glad I did an IM event as my first one as they do make you feel special. Although I don’t particularly like attention being drawn to myself, if you are going to commit to doing an IM then you should be made a fuss of, so in this case I did not mind.