Everyone knows that when it comes to Ironman, it’s the night before the night before the race that is the important one to bank sleep. It’s probably the one bit of solid advice I have to offer when it comes to Ironman planning. Yet here I sit, bolt upright and wide-awake in my hotel bed in Tenby at 3:30am on the 12th of September 2015, rain lashing the window. I’ve got a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling up. I turn on the light and reach for a marker pen. So much for sleep.
“Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”
That’s one of the cringeworthy ‘inspirational quotes’ that obsessed athletes wheel out to defend their mindset and what they do. It’s a load of rubbish. I’ve been utterly obsessed. I think everyone who puts themselves through endurance sport training with the aim of being as good as they can be is obsessed. Obsession is good for performance or else you wouldn’t put yourself through what it takes to get there. It can also be highly damaging if not kept in check to make sure some form of balance is maintained. But anyone doing this silly sport of ours who claims they’re not obsessed is most likely lying. Ask their families…
I’ve made no secret that my triathlon dream is to qualify for Kona. I like public goals. Stick it on a flagpole as your motivation. Anyhow, after getting so close last year I could hardly deny it’s the goal. The problem is that this is as binary as goals get. You either achieve it or you don’t. Simple.
In golf, the sport I spent my younger years obsessed by, there’s a phrase ‘there are no pictures on the scorecard’. A lucky 4 from someone that didn’t get near the fairway, thins one through the trees but somehow holes a long putt beats a 5 from someone that cracks a 300 yard drive, flushes a long iron to 8 feet then 3 putts. As a golfer I was the former – a mean short game meant I often beat people who hit the ball much further and better than me. I was really annoying to play against. My Ironman racing has seen the boot on the other foot. I have been the equivalent of the big hitter who gets into great positions but has the yips with the short stick. Ironmans’ South Africa and Bolton in 2013 saw me off the bike in great positions and run down out of the Kona slots. As great as a 9.30 in South Africa felt, the scorecard shows that I came back home without a Kona slot.
I waited a long time for another crack. I went back to South Africa in April. Then someone, let’s call them ‘The Dream Crusher’, on the flight deposited their bronchitis in my face. I started the race, and even came off the bike in 8th in AG but common sense prevailed and I found myself turning left to get pizza and ice cream at half way on the run while my friends duked it out in the heat.
Take 2 was Sweden in August. This time a stomach bug 3 days out meant I couldn’t get away from the bathroom long enough to even reach the start line. At 7am on race day as the gun went off I was on a train leaving Kalmar having collected my bike as transition opened at 5am.
Having laced silver across the palms of Nirvana Europe to get a late entry to Wales (4 weeks after Sweden) I found myself lining up on North Beach, Tenby for a last throw of the dice in a season that promised much but delivered little. 2nd at Windsor and 1st at Swashbuckler were signs that I was in decent shape, but I only truly measure myself by Ironman performance. I wanted to have the best race I could. Squeeze everything out of myself (not in the way I did at Sweden) and run the back half of the marathon strong. ‘Don’t be shit’. If I did that then Kona would take care of itself.
The stunning sunrise distracted us from the ‘challenging’ water conditions – 1.5m swell, wind, an incoming tide. As a decent swimmer it was fun – mainly as I knew that it would be horrific for the slower swimmers – but it was damned hard. 64 min was 8-9 min down for me, but as I don’t wear a watch (for exactly this reason) I wasn’t to know. It was slow for everyone. 13th in AG / 70th overall was about par.
Wales is arguably the hardest Ironman in the world – sea swim and a hilly marathon punctuated by a brutal bike course. 3,000m of climbing, stunning views, wind, incredible crowds lining the towns, in particular the climb out of Saundersfoot which was louder and more spine tingling for me than Solarberg in Roth. On the first lap I went through there with Tim Male, a friend from Thames Turbo, and we had grins like kids on Christmas morning. As a light guy, strong rider, and disciplined user of a powermeter on a course where people have a propensity to blow their legs off, the Wales course is perfect for me. Or at least it would have been. If my legs had bothered to turn up. It started well enough, settling in to my power target and letting a couple of groups go up the road, knowing that I’d see them all later as usual. But from about 50k onwards I kept having to revise my power down as the perceived effort and heart rate felt too high. This was foreign territory for me – I’ve never felt so weak on the bike. Unsurprisingly the chimp came out to play. ‘Why bother with Ironman?’ ‘Why don’t you stick at Olympic distance? You’re good at that’. ‘Sell the bike, go back to golf’.
I thought back to one of my favourite quotes…..
I felt like a fish trying to climbing a tree.
The chimp’s argument was valid – if I’ve underperformed in the marathon off fast bikes that felt easy, the marathon off this bike was likely to be a disaster. However, despite a few hours in the chimp’s company, I stuck to the plan – kept feeding him (sugar can shut the chimp down) and tempered down to a level that felt sustainable – I was just having a poor day and was 15-20 watts down on normal. Having said that, in the back of my mind there was a memory that Black Line London friends Deenzy and Mike have run into Kona slots after poor bikes. You never know.
Nico passed me like a train at about 140k – I think he saw I was in a mood so didn’t hang around. Then another friend, Dave Rowe, caught me at 150k. We ended up riding the last hilly section back to Tenby close to each other. The company and prospect of running with a friend perked me up. At the time my mindset was that it would most likely be a social 3.59 marathon to cap off a disappointing day
Our support crew told me I was 11th or 12th off the bike. After that ride I didn’t think I was capable of running into the 6 slots – and I don’t think they did either! But Dave was 20 seconds in front of me he so was a good rabbit to chase. Kona may have been out but why not sign off the season with a decent run? I stuck to the plan of jogging the first lap easy – ignoring the Garmin as the course was either up a steep hill or back down a steep hill. I was up to 10th after a lap and was encouraged by the gang that I was still in the race. I wasn’t convinced. But my legs felt alright, I was on about 5:10/km pace which wasn’t so bad on such a hilly course, the gap to Dave (who looked pretty good) was stable and whilst I heard that Nico was up in 2nd in his AG he was only a few minutes up the road, so maybe I wasn’t doing that badly?
As I came back into town on lap 2 at about 19k there was a seriousness in Deenzy’s voice when he shouted ‘ you ARE in this race, you’re looking great, 8th and 9th are close’. Christ, he might actually be telling the truth. If my mates had come all this way and I was indeed in the mix (I had absolutely no idea how) then I owed it to them and my coach to give it a go. In that instant my mindset changed, game face went on, and the chase started.
The first surprise was that when I went to push, my body responded immediately. It was on. Controlled aggression. Flirting with bonking. Eating, drinking, pushing. Saving a bit for lap 4. Past Dave then back into town at the end of lap 3. Position update – up to 9th but 8th is slowing. Their belief was infectious – now we all believed it was possible, most importantly me. I saw a mate, Rich Lewis, in town with 11k to go. He ran into the Kona slots here last year. His reaction sticks with me vividly… he just howled (he must have been on about 10 pints by that point) ‘they’ll crack, Paul. 6th to 8th could be walking… THEY ALWAYS CRACK!’
I emptied the tank on lap 4. I passed 8th near the bottom of the hill. Now the Garmin, which I was ignoring earlier, was a huge motivator. My average pace was improving every step and I was, unbelievably, negative splitting the marathon. This was the feeling that James, Nico and I have been talking about for months. I had no idea where 6th and 7th were. I kept thinking ‘funny things happen in the last 10k of an ironman. THEY ALWAYS CRACK (thanks Rich)!’ If 7th was getting ground down, I would find him. If 6th was walking, I would find him. In truth, I thought I probably had. I passed maybe half a dozen people on their last lap. No idea what age group they were in. Then at the final out and back with 2k to go, I noticed someone was closing in on me. He looked in his 30s. Now I was both hunter and hunted. Back into town for the final 2k, massive crowds, clipping curbs and corners, overtaking people on their last lap with surges that they wouldn’t bother to chase. As I hit the red carpet my pursuer was still there. Great. A ‘sprint’ finish after 10.5 hours. I held on by 5 seconds.
While I was ‘relaxing’ on the floor after crossing the line, my pursuer shook my hand and I saw M30-34 on his race number. Was that the 5 seconds that would be the difference? I had no idea. After how I felt for about 6 hours of that race where I had resigned myself to it being another bad day to cap the crap year, to finish like that was emotional (especially when Dave’s wife Sharon and our support crew were all there crying). The marathon was only 3.33 – not breaking any records. But in the context of a day where I had all but given up, the pros only ran 3.05-3.20s, a course with 500m of climbing, and a run where my final lap was my fastest, to be running 4:40s at the end of arguably the world’s hardest Ironman… well that was incredibly fun and I was proud to have overcome the chimp and ruined myself. To be looking ahead for scalps instead of looking over your shoulder. I turned a rubbish day into a good day and never gave up when I really, really wanted to. Knowing I can do this will be invaluable in future races and my ability to deal with whatever obstacles get thrown my way.
For whatever reason my bike legs weren’t there – it cost me 10 minutes compared to how I’d expect to ride – sounds like very little, but in the context of the race and my goals it’s huge. But I adapted the plan, stuck to the process and got to the finish line as fast as I could have gone with the cards I was dealt that day. I wasn’t shit.
I finished 8th in my AG and 32nd overall in 10:38, up from 45th off the bike. Sadly (for me) 6th and 7th didn’t crack after all. With 6 Kona slots it was always going to be touch and go. I heard on Sunday night that the guy in 2nd would not be taking his slot, so I went to the awards with hope and a credit card – but it wasn’t to be. Nobody else declined and I missed out by 1 place. Again.
I’ll finish with the words of Roger Barr, a good friend of mine. We’ve been united by a common goal and he gets it. He qualified in 6th place in his age group at Ironman UK this year and in his race report he wrote this, which nails it:
“The gap might be small but there’s an infinite gulf between 6th and 7th. The guy in 7th is frustrated, annoyed, regretful and faces at least 6 months of hard training before he can try again. His mind is full of “if onlys” and he sat there at the roll-down hoping for a slot to roll only to see all 6 snapped up in front of him. The disappointment of the day itself where he hurt himself harder than he hurt before compounded by a restless night’s sleep and then the huge disappointment of a roll-down ceremony where it didn’t happen. He has to explain to people that he didn’t get a slot. Over and over. After all that training. All those early morning sessions. All that sacrifice. I’ve been in his shoes and it hurts. He may never qualify. He feels like it’s his nemesis. The holy grail. Many of you reading this know the man in 7th because they’ve been there. Those same people have also qualified. I missed out in 2004 by 16s and it haunted me for years.
The guy in 6th has found inner peace, is on continuous high, wakes up and pinches himself, he thinks about it at least a few times every minute, has a trip of a lifetime ahead, will spend the rest of his life knowing he’s taken part in the Hawaii Ironman. The world’s most iconic endurance race. A race that most triathletes would love to do. Something he’s had dreams about as a grown man. It’s literally changed my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity, talent, luck, strength, understanding family that allowed me to achieve it.”
I’ve been that “guy in 7th” and missed out by a single place twice. Despite having friends around you, that slot ceremony where you miss out feels like the loneliest place on earth. I couldn’t be happier for friends new and old who got leis and podiums – Charlie, Dave, Howard, Tom, Duncan, Claire and, in particular, Nico who executed a perfectly controlled race for the first time – I’m convinced it’ll mark the breakthrough to some great Ironman racing in his future. My performance was up there with some of those guys – but the scorecard says no lei. The Ironman gods don’t do sentiment.
However, the desire to be that “guy in 6th” burns as bright as ever. I love this sport, I love the challenge and the mental and physical jigsaw, I love the people I share it with and even if I don’t ever make it, I don’t regret a single minute of trying. But I will get there.
A couple of thank yous:
Without the support and belief in me from the Black Line London guys at Wales I might have given up. I definitely wouldn’t have arrived at the finish line in the manner I did, utterly spent. More importantly, perhaps, without the wider Black Line London group and other training friends, I don’t think I would have made the start line. We’ve shared goals and hundreds of hours of training. They are some of my best friends, they have my back and we share adventures. Doing this sport alone is fine, but sharing it is what it’s all about.
Optima Racing Team – the passion and commitment that James leads with is shared by each and every member of the team. It has created a performance environment that is infectious. I joined Optima and James’ coaching late last year to get involved with a couple of key sessions each week to address my weaknesses and I’m delighted to be seeing the fruits of our labour. I can’t wait for next year.
Back once again with the renegade master……the latest micro race reports are a departure from the torture of long distance racing and focus on a different sort of torture from the Windsor Triathlon 2014.
James Peet (22.18/62.03/41.47 = 2.09.22, 4th in AG and 12th Overall)
Fun morning out and a result indicative of my current fitness given lack of proper training over prev months. Decent swim (for me), ran out of steam on the bike & my legs haven’t felt so wobbly out of T2 in a long time. Loosened up & ran well in last 3km but def need more bike/run sessions if I’m going to do better at this short course stuff.
Jane Hansom (13.56/48.23/23.12 = 1.29.04 1st in AG and Overall)
entered sprint distance in prep for european champs in kitzbuhel this coming sat after 70.3 training. swim was ace. had a great start with a decent gap after 100m. swum through the wave in front. traffic jam at the buoys. drafted a fast moving swan on return (pro tip) swum too far around the power bar buoy )not a pro tip) bike solid. went hard. run could have been faster. was overtaken by no one. fun event despite 6.12 gun. cheered on other BLL’s. went for coffee. definitely prefer longer distance. then i would have earned a bit of cake too.
Paul Burton (19.11/59.44/39.28 = 2.01.19 – 2nd in AG and Overall)
Goal: swim fast, bike under 60 mins, run solid off a massive one day taper. Result: swam very fast (must have been short), fastest bike whilst maintaining some semblance of control, ran solid. Second overall and age group in 2.01. Job done. Next stop Swashbuckler en route to Ironman Sweden.
Guy Laister (27.21/76.02/49.35 = 2.39.19 – 160th in AG and 671st Overall)
Proper comeback after nearly 5 years with injury, chuffed with a 2:39 finish. Tough swim, quality bike, run – enjoyed the feeling of hurting again.
Paul Deen (23.59/62.10/40.47 = 2.09.43 – 2nd in AG and 15th Overall)
4am alarm = OUCH! Strong current made for tough swim but happy with effort. Fastest T1 of day, but no prizes for that. Felt good on bike & blew past all but a few in previous waves. Solid T2 but if I had known there was a prize for fastest I would have ran quicker! Run = hello pain cave, blimey short course hurts. Dig in & suck it up. Sub 2:10 goal achieved = happy face. Dominated by Pablo yet again, but I’m used to that and he isn’t a #KonaLegend like me.
Our recent IM south Africa micro reports were so well received, we’ve committed to boring you in fewer words from now on.
The sunshine island of Mallorca recently shat itself when 7 BBL’rs took part in Ironman Mallorca 70.3 there.
Here’s how we got on…..
Mark Shipton (30.04/2.59/1.56) 212st in M40-44
After a panic Friday trying to find a replacement seat-post clamp I felt relieved to be on the start line. First serious race in a while, pre-race nerves never change. Had a confident swim, love the fight. Bike course was beautiful and kept telling myself to enjoy. The climb was honest. Motorway section was a dream. Run was war. The heat assisted the torture. The screams from BLL family where a saviour. Im back next year to sort out that run. 30.04/2.59/1.56 M40-44
Michael Collins (27.00/02:38/1:28 =4:41) 37th in M35-39)
Mallorca, my favourite destination! The plan: treat it as a big brick session, ride 90kms day before, race on tired legs, good plan!? Swim: can’t get any easier. Bike: contain myself and ride the climb controlled. Run time: fun time, first km sub 4 min, hold back, wobble at 18 kms, recover, red carpet, high five Paul Kaye to his words of, “Black Line London kit is the best looking kit in triathlon” AGREED!
Carel Du Plessis (0:30/ 2:39/1:48) 104th in M30-34.
First ever 70.3. Awesome venue, and great to have BLL as company and support. Swim: Solid. Bike: Above all expectations. Run: Disaster, feet issues. Target: Sub 6hrs – result 5:06, chuffed to bits!
Paul Smernicki (0:29:27/02:40:45/01:39:18=04:57:37) 49th in M40-44
Surrounded by friends and family, in a happy place. PB Swim, solid bike, decent run. Did I leave it all out there? I’m ashamed to say not. PB, so happy. Party was great, drinks were drunk and escaped a hangover. A winning week all round then! Is this the best 70. in the world? Very possibly. See you in 2015 Mallorca.
Ashley Howes (0:30, 2:45, 1:35 = 4:57) 48th in 40-44
Palma airport: late night family pick up. Mosquito drama. Not much sleep. Gun, no clear water. Fantastic bike course. Under hydrated. No run legs. Struggle. Passed by Matt Molloy. 5k to go, find run legs. Catch Matt and Paul. Photo finish. Double up in September. Back next year.
Alastair Maher (0:30/2:34/1:32 = 4:44) 42nd in M35-39
Swam, biked and ran hard. Happy with race execution. New PB. Should buy a TT bike. The @blacklinelondon supporter cheers topped off a great day! @blueseventy @cervelo @asicseurope @oakley @powerbar #whitemilk
Jane Hansom (26:14/2:49:24/1:34:44=4:56:07) 1st in W45-49
Amazing swim. Massive PB. Must have been mermaids down there helping me. Bike was solid except chain came off . Kept focus and unusually had better second half. Stayed on during a very fast descent, lost my BLL water bottle – Gutted. Run was a total shocker – hot and horrible from the off. Stopping was not an option so hung on in and tried not to slow down too much. Won my age by 18 mins. Happy days.
Last weekend in Kona was Ironman number 6 in 23 months.
Cozumel – Nov 2011
Austria – 2012,
South Africa 2013,
My journey into triathlon and endurance sport started in 2010 with a short stint training for the London and Amsterdam marathons. It was during this time I got to learn about triathlon and it was watching the coverage of the 2010 race where I decided I want to go to Kona. Over the coming weeks I looked at what it would realistically take.
The ideal high-level plan looked something like this:
2011 – Get a solid 8-10 months of training for Ironman Cozumel in November.
2012 – Get strong on the bike and achieve a sub 10 Ironman.
2013 – Qualify for Kona.
The first Ironman in Cozumel was tough as I overcooked the bike and had a struggle on the run but was very happy to hang tough on the run with a 10h27. I shared parts of the run with fellow BBL’r Laura Trimble who got robbed of a Kona slot by finishing 2nd and getting no roll-down with a 10h20.
In January 2012 I started a role with a new company where I certainly had my work cut out for me. Getting the ideal training and recovery/sleep became in a little more difficult. This tipped me over the edge. The biggest impact has been on my immune and digestive systems.
Training for Ironman Austria started off very well and I finally started to see some results of a bike focussed training plan. Frequent weekend bike rides with fellow Black Line London friend Troy Squires and another pal Jamie made it much easier to drag myself out of bed every Saturday morning for a ride, and Sundays for a long run.
A few weeks before Austria a familiar pattern started with me getting sick. The combination of intense training and stress saw reduced training and a loss of strength due to a combination of chronic fatigue and just generally being run down. I was not in a happy place before Austria and although Luzelle and I had an amazing road trip through Europe the race was a write off before it even started. Austria was very hot and it was a blessing in disguise to not be able to push on the run. Running in 42 degree heat is agony, so being able to cruse it in for a 4 hour marathon made it a bit more bearable. Finish time was 10:3x.
Having read all the race reports for the inaugural Ironman Wales I entered the 2012 race the day registration opened in 2011. After Austria I was just more determined to keep going and after a two week rest I jumped back into full training and got about 4 weeks of good swim/bike/run training with a course recce thrown in. The bike course is simple amazing, and the most fun bike course I have done so far. Come race day I was feeling fit and more importantly healthy. Work was a bit calmer and that allowed me to get the necessary recovery to be in good shape. On race day I had a slow swim, followed by a really good bike ride and a wobbly but steady run to finish in a respectable 10:06, Paul had a good day too and we finished really close to each other.
Both Paul Burton and I decided to enter Ironman South Africa with the aim of bagging some Kona slots. Training through winter went really well and we steadily got the bike and run miles ticked off every week. Mel Wasley and Deenzy were also training through winter so we had company for most of our Saturday morning rides.
In February we did the Wokingham Half marathon and all ticked off massive PB’s with me running a controlled 1:21:00. This gave me confidence that things were on track and we pushed on looking to perform well at the spring Ball Buster. A week before we did the Hell of the Ashdown Sportive and I felt really strong on the bike. This made me feel quite excited about the season ahead. The Ballbuster came around the week after and Paul smashed it, with Deenzy and I finishing well down. Turns out Deenzy had a cold and I came down with my first (of many) bouts of a bacterial infection.
This stayed with me as we headed over to Lanzarote for a 10-day training camp with coach Richard Hobson and I spent most of it in bed. After the camp I tried to catch up on training and probably ended up doing too much leading into Ironman South Africa. The body felt tired with no power or strength. I ended up walking most of the marathon with my slowest Ironman to date (10:4x). Paul missed out on the roll down after a solid race where he went 9h30. Both of us shrugged the experience off and looked to our next race – IMUK in Bolton.
I took a month off structured training and during May/June/July we had a solid few months of training. I never got rid of the bacteria in my system and struggled with colds and just generally feeling run down. Every now and again I would feel really good and we had number of really solid training rides that served as motivation. Wimbleball 70.3 came around and I had a decent performance but nothing that excited me, so I just kept my head down. Looking at my training logs I can see a repeating pattern of a solid few weeks followed by a week where I was sick or just too tired to do any proper training.
Troy was back from his long stint in Mallorca looking tanned and he joined us for the latter part of the training block. It was good to have another Bolton starter to train with.
Two weeks before Bolton Stu Anderson from Team Freespeed, Paul and I went on a ride to Henley. I have just been through a patchy week and I was very happy to feel quite strong on the day. We went really fast to Henley and it was a great confidence booster for our upcoming races (Stu competed in the iconic Norseman triathlon).
With about a week to go the final training bumped me over the edge again and I started suffering from chronic inflammation and the bacterial infection in my stomach flared up again. It was really frustrating but I decided to do what I can and stopped most training + upped the dosage of a natural enzyme I was taking. This stabilised things going into the race. Going into the race I knew my body wasn’t firing but I had a year of training behind me, so I was going to race within myself and not worry about what is happening around me until the final miles of the marathon.
I was still hoping to get lucky with a shot at a Kona slot although the odds were against me. The race started with a decent swim for me. Swimming a lot in the Lido with Paul and Troy helped a lot and I recorded my best swim to date. The bike ride is quite hilly and my cup of tea. On the day I dreaded the hills as it felt like a slog from the start. I kept my heart rate and power under control but tried to stay focussed and keep myself in contention. At one point I got splits that the leading age groupers (including Paul) were about 20 minutes up the road with 60km to go. I didn’t let it worry me and just kept trucking along.
Getting off the bike was a massive relief. The first 10km at Bolton is flat and fast and I ticked it off in 45 minutes with George Dunn doing his first Ironman for company. From there on it becomes quite a different ballgame with a few laps going up and down this massive hill. The good thing about the course is you can get a feeling for where you are in the race. I soon realised I must be in the top 10 in my age group, so I kept running at a steady pace. I introduced some strength work into the training routine and it was helping me to keep the form up and moving well. With about 5km to go a guy in my age group ran up to me and I decided to do everything I can to finish in front of him. It turns out this was a wise move as I finished 7th in the age group about 30 minutes off the lead (10:12). Troy and Paul crossed the line together, Troy had a decent day considering some of the health/injury issues he had, and Paul’s race was a bit of a disaster as he was doing fantastically until he had to stop due to energy issues deep into the run.
That evening we celebrated the race. I thought I finished in the slots as there were 7 provisional slots according to the race organisers. Turns out there were 6, but in hindsight I was quite happy about this. I was lucky enough to be called onto the stage to get my roll down slot by fellow Saffer Paul Kaye – in Afrikaans!
Qualifying for Kona was amazing, I was a little sad that I was the only one with a slot, and I also felt like it was a shame not to do it with a better performance.
As with Ironman Wales, I knew if I got a month of really solid training in I would be in good shape for Kona. I took two week’s off and started my training really hoping that I can get a healthy run through to the Big Island. Unfortunately a couple of big projects came to the boil at work and I struggled to switch off at night. This interrupted my sleep and I got a really bad bout of the flu. This took me out for a solid 10 days and I couldn’t train for about two weeks. With the recovery and sickness I lost almost a month of training, and with the taper I had two weeks left to train. I gave it my best shot and concentrated on bike intensity over miles and managed to throw in two long runs.
I went with some really good advice and decided to start my taper with 2 weeks to go rather than go to Kona overcooked. This was a good strategy and I arrived on the Island feeling fresh and excited. Most of all I was here to share the experience with my wife Luzelle and to take it all in. Swimming in the sea every day was great and I managed a few good bike/run sessions to get used to the conditions. My bacterial infection and long list of other issues were fairly dormant and only flared up a little…I could live with that.
Race morning came around very fast and I spent the morning at the swim start with Paul Deen, Sam Baxter and Tom Babbington. We had a bit of time and sat around in anticipation of the suffering. I decided to go against my normal strategy of starting the swim too hard and too far in front so went out very easy and kept far from the buoys. It felt controlled and by half way I settled into a nice rhythm. To see 1h09 on the clock I was satisfied. Being about 800th out of the water means the course is packed with cyclists. The strategy was to ride easy for the first hour and then start passing people and push on the way back from Hawi. The ride went well and I always rode within myself. At one point I was hoping for a sub 5 bike, and needed to cover the last 35km in an hour. A headwind squashed that plan and I concentrated on staying within my limits. The ride took me 5h07…I was fairly happy with this.
The run section worried me the most, I knew my run fitness suffered the most since Bolton so I decided to go out controlled. First 10km was ticked off in 50 minutes; if I kept the pace I would end up around 9:55. Soon it became clear this wouldn’t happen as I started to slow down a lot. I caught up with Tom and shortly afterwards Deenzy caught us as we all walked up Palani. Deenzy pushed on and Tom and I made slow progress together for a while. I had to make a pit stop and soon after started feeling a bit better so picked up the pace a little. Tom was having a difficult time so parted company. The run out towards the energy lab is quite a lonely and hard stretch. By now I have slowed to a shuffle. The only focus was not to stop. I saw Richard Melik and we chatted for a bit before he went the other way to cheer on the rest of his Freespeed team members. The rest of the run was quite uneventful, I didn’t run fast enough to have any serious mishaps and kept ticking over until the last 2km where two girls came flying past. For some reason I decided to join them and run with them to just before the finish chute where I accelerated to get a decent finishers pic. This made me a bit wobbly and two volunteers had to help me down the ramp and kept me company for about 5 minutes to ensure that I was ok. Marathon time 3h59, overall time 10:22. All in all I was happy with the day.
The experience was amazing and I am so inspired by all the amazing athletes that raced here yesterday. It was really cool to see the professionals on the bike and run course. I shouted the names of the pros whenever I could. The Freespeed crew did very well. Cat, Ali, Matt, and Sam. Dec was going well until an injury forced him to walk the last 12km.
2014 will hopefully be my best year to date. The first objective is to get professional help and get on top of my IBS, inflammation problems, bacterial infections etc etc. The second piece of the puzzle will be to get to grips with stress and devise a sound strategy to maybe train a bit less but make sure it’s all absorbed. Finally I think I have now built the biking base to warrant starting to look at my run as I believe I can turn it into a weapon to become competitive at Ironman races in future.
Believe it or not but I am already looking forward to training through winter. The plan will be to be as careful as I can to stay healthy. Eating wise I have been playing with LCHF and when I manage to stay off the carbs I certainly feel a lot better. My achilles heel is a fairly overpowering sugar addiction so one of my missions will be to at least control my sugar intake whilst getting a lot of quality protein and fat and greens in my diet.
Looking back three years it is amazing how my life changed from couch potato and living a very unhealthy lifestyle to being focussed on health, fitness and having a goal of being as good an athlete as I can be. The social aspect of the sport has been the surprise element and that is what makes it all worthwhile …and still having that sub 10 Ironman to chase!
Special thanks to Richard Melik of Freespeed for the awesome pic of Nico on his bike in Kona. Freespeed are not only friends of Black Line London, but also the best bike fitters in the business and you owe it to yourself to check them out.
Being run out of a Kona slot in the last 5k of the marathon at South Africa in April is the preamble here. It stings a bit (actually, a lot). I got fit again over the summer and training suggested I was in good shape, so I was hoping to be in the mix after the bike again and that the run and strength work I’ve done since South Africa would make the difference this time. The start list looked more competitive than last year, where 10.21 got the last Kona slot in my AG, but a solid race should see me take one of the 6 slots. I thought sub-10 would be the minimum needed, but 9.50 is where I really needed to be and that was something I was perfectly capable of.
My swim really came together over the summer, and I was expecting to go about 56 minutes. Conditions were perfect with none of the chop of the previous day, and a significantly more chilled out bunch of competitors compared to the physical affair in Port Elizabeth in April. I never really found any feet I liked, but felt strong and relaxed so was happy going solo. Seeing 55 and change on the clock (maybe a bit short?) was a good start – 8th in AG and 44th overall, feeling fresh as a daisy.
I felt good from the off. The heart rate came down quickly from the rush of T2 and I set to work at my power target. The course was empty so it was clear I’d had a good swim, especially when I passed George Dunn (a Kona potential guy in my AG and strong swimmer) pretty early on. Also I didn’t pass Troy (who’s in my AG – not as strong on the bike but a better swimmer and similar runner), which suggested he was behind me from the swim – first time I’ve managed that.
Also to plan was being caught by Graeme Buscke, at 30k. Whilst a rival in my AG, he’s a friend and similar strength on the bike. We were expecting to be pretty close at some point and had discussed working together if we both felt it right at the time. We swapped around every 5-10 minutes with the other dropping back 15-20m, and set about a Pac Man routine. A couple of other guys got stuck in, but none hung about for long – other than Tom Babbington, a fellow Londoner in our AG, who promptly took off at a pace I didn’t fancy. At 150k we caught a Swedish guy called Marcus (the guy to beat from my homework), and soon after Tom came back at us as I thought he might given his earlier heroics, so it seemed we were at the head of things. I eased off a bit and span the legs out ready for the marathon. Graeme pushed on up the road but I was relaxed – there were six slots, not one. My stomach felt fine, which was a relief after an ‘experimental’ strategy for Ironman 70.3 UK left me in the bushes the entire run. Which is suboptimal, it turns out.
One thing I must mention is how uplifting it is to see friendly faces supporting on the long and lonely bike course. Amongst those were my girlfriend, Nico’s wife, my parents and aunt & uncle. They had a military precision plan to see us a number of times – which worked as I saw them screaming their heads off and jumping around like loons five times on the bike. Massive thanks to all of you – it makes such a difference.
I rolled into T2 with a split of 5.19 and was greeted by Freespeed’s Sam Baxter seemingly very excited about my position (I suspect he still had some alcohol running through his blood as he had been tweeting people at 4am at the end of his Saturday night). The helpers in T2 confirmed I was the third age grouper at that point, and Graeme and the other were only one minute up the road. The plan had worked a treat – plus I didn’t feel I had pushed particularly hard and the power data was spot on target. Ride for show, run for dough though – time to test my hard earned run fitness…
Sometimes you get off the bike in an Ironman ruing your bike pace and knowing a long day lies ahead. Others you get off and feel great. Today was the latter. Graeme’s girlfriend confirmed we were 1st and 2nd in the AG. I did the maths – a 3.30 marathon (the pace from my last 2 Ironmans) would be 9.50. A low-3.20, as I was hoping to run, would be plenty. 7 hours in, my day could not be going better.
That didn’t last all that long. Not for anything I did but there were a number of guys close behind (the first 7 in my AG reached T2 within 5 mins of each other), and most ran the first 10k like they stole something. By the time I reached the main loop at 10k, 3 had overtaken me, and all were in my AG (including Marcus and Tom). By 21k I was still feeling fine but another 2 in my AG had caught. Hang about, this wasn’t fair or in the plan! I was 8th age grouper overall on the course and 7th in my AG. The cheek of it!
I covered the first half of the run in 1.43 – not far off plan – and as hoped the early pace of my rivals was beginning to pay, and they had all slowed down to my pace. In fact 2nd through to 7th were all within 5 minutes at halfway. Seeing friends that were also hoping for slots (Troy, Nico, Dave Rowe, Jon Heasman etc) all 15-20 mins behind also gave me a boost – I was feeling good and was in the mix. For some reason none of them were (or so I thought…)
So I got over the early disappointment of falling behind in the race and was ready to pounce if any blew up. Game on and time to suffer.
As hoped, 1 of the top 7 did explode. Great news. Unfortunately it was me. Not so great.
Things got tough at 25k – just a phase I thought, and Tom in 5th and the guy in 6th were still close and not actually getting away from me. Then at 27k my heart rate plummeted, hands went numb and my pace slowed. Interesting. I’ve not had these symptoms in an Ironman before. I diagnosed low calories, as my legs felt fine. Time to refuel aggressively… but it went from bad to worse. I’d only brought enough gels on the run to get me to halfway, and I was relying on coke at aid stations beyond that. Having just gone through the aid station coming out of Bolton I had 3k up a hill to the only other aid station at the far turnaround point at 30k. During that harrowing time my pace bled and everyone was getting away from me. It was slashing down with rain, which I hadn’t noticed before. Pretty miserable, truth be told.
I eventually got to the aid station, knocked back as many cokes as I could get my hands on then started running again. Except I couldn’t – I felt I was going to pass out. Whoa. This felt like my first marathon in New York in 2005 all over again, except worse. I walked for 100m and tried again. Nope, not happening – running would have seen me on the floor. So I started walking and, frankly, gave up on trying to rescue a decent time out of the ashes of my explosion. If it wasn’t Kona then I was not burying myself to try and get a 9.59 or a 10.05 or whatever. The head was gone. My support crew looked gutted when they finally saw me trudging down the hill. A couple of hugs, and all I wanted was for the ground to swallow me up. ‘You know you don’t have to do this’ came from a (rather concerned looking) Mum, but I think we all knew that, well, really I did. Whilst I had given up on the race, a DNF – with them haring round Lancashire cheering me on all day – just wasn’t cricket. The remainder of the ‘race’ went from miserable, to ‘run 1 min, walk 1 min’ with a Danish guy who was on his first lap (he had a loooong evening in the rain ahead of him), to eating a world record number of crackers, to discovering, oddly, that my legs were now working again. I started to run before seeing that Troy was a couple of minutes behind at the final turnaround. I waited for him to catch up, we lamented our disastrous days, then jogged down the hill to a bromantic finish chute celebration. That last 15 mins with Troy rescued my day as it was great fun. We’d both laid it on the line and come up short, but we finished together. 35 minutes behind where we needed to be, but the pain was over and we had smiles on our faces. There are bigger problems in life than an Ironman gone wrong (although in the midst of it going wrong, it doesn’t feel like it).
The post mortem suggests a combination of bike pacing and insufficient run fuelling were to blame. The latter is my own fault, as whilst the aid stations were pitifully far apart (3k gap is a lifetime in an Ironman), in the fog of a race I didn’t notice and double up to account for this. Lesson learned for next time. The former is also something I am learning about and keep having to adapt around. By no ‘standard’ metric of power or perceived effort was that ride too hard, but I clearly need to change my race preparation or execution because, frankly, I’m a strong runner and it’s time to show that in an Ironman.
Having said that, as someone who likes to flex his biking muscles I’m delighted that the Kona slots in my AG went to the 6 guys other than me that gave it some horns on the bike. They all went 5.11-5.20, and whilst everyone’s marathons may have suffered as a result, the guys that rode conservatively failed to catch any (other than little old me). Lieto, Vanhoenacker and Keinle would be proud. I’m particularly pleased that Graeme hung on for the AG win by 10 secs from the Swede. After a number of poorly executed Ironmans, he finally nailed one. As I felt during the race my AG was indeed pretty fast compared to the others. The 6 slots went down to 9.50, whereas the other youngish AGs went down to 10.15. The curse of M30-34 for me in 2013.
Given that, it turned out that the friends in other AGs I assumed were out of the Kona slots actually weren’t. Nico, Dave and Jon all got their slots, each with the gutsy run that would have got the job done for me. Nico and Deenzy are the two friends I’ve trained most with the past few years, and to see them both reach our shared holy grail is amazing and I’m proud of any small part I’ve played in helping them. Also, note to any other Kona aspirants, getting called up on stage to collect a lei for a rolldown slot is way cooler than just turning up the morning after the race and getting one in exchange for a credit card. When Nico got his name called (in Afrikaans by his countryman, Paul ‘The Voice’ Kaye), we went a little bit mental.
Onwards and upwards for me. No Kona trip but the dream is alive and I’ve learned loads again this year – certainly more from this failure at Bolton than I did from the close-but-no-cigar success of South Africa.
Two big thank yous:
Firstly, as ever, to the Black Line London crew. The journey is more important than the destination anyway. Especially when the journey involves Budgie Smugglers (sorry again, Paul S!).
Secondly, the support crew. You were amazing when I was doing well, and even better when I wasn’t. Next time… there’s always a next time. Hopefully my wings will be glued stronger together next time.