Wednesday, 14 October 2015

October 10th 2015 Ironman World Championships, Kona, Hawaii

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 89oF
Swim 1:11:47 - T1 04:31 - Bike 05:17:58 - T2 04:24 – Run 03:21:26 Total Time 10:00:06
7th 50-54 Age Group, 327th overall
I arrived on the Big Island 10 days before race day to give myself sufficient time to acclimatise and adjust to the 11 hour time difference. In recent weeks stories of an unusually stormy weather system had been common place with frequent typhoon conditions and exceptionally hot weather. Madame Pele was clearly planning a real treat for the athletes visiting the island this year.

It was great to be back at Kona and I quickly slipped into the daily rhythm of swimming on the course each day followed by breakfast with friends old and new. It’s great to have time to hang out with like-minded athletes and exchange stories from the season just coming to a close and speculate on who would win the 2015 edition of the Big Dance. As race day approaches you can sense the daily ratcheting up of energy levels to the point that by Thursday I stayed away from race ground zero and the near hysteria surrounding it. I felt surprising calm which in a way was a little disconcerting; a little nervous anticipation is usually a good thing.

The weather forecast see-sawed all week and you could usually find one that suited your preference. Race morning I walked down to the pier observing little movement in the palm trees but waves that were a little noisier than I would have liked. My pre-race routine is well practised and I was quickly through the melee of athletes checking and rechecking their bikes in transition. An almost irrational paranoia descends on athletes as they try to settle their nerves and reassure themselves the bike is indeed as they left it and will, as usual, make it round the 180k course.
The Kona swim is undoubtedly the toughest one on the circuit. Its a non-wetsuit 3.9k rather than 3.8k, the conditions are invariably choppy and you have 2000 A type individuals determined to use their physical attributes to get round, under or over you to make forward progress. Even before the cannon has fired the front line is edging forwards in an attempt to get the smallest of advantages. I slotted in a couple of rows back but nevertheless when the gun fired it was a melee of elbows and feet coming from every direction. I held my line and as we progressed the feet started to melt away but there was still the occasional elbow to wrestle with. I made the turn in reasonable time but the prevailing current made the return leg a much more workmanlike effort. I glanced up at the clock as I climbed onto the pier, registered the mediocre time split and then refocussed on a smooth T1.

The first 10k is a hilly loop in Kailua Kona before heading out on the Queen K highway out to Hawi and back. Many athletes cannot resist the urge to get out of the saddle and hammer round the short circuit as the supporters whip them up before they lose sight of them heading down the Queen K. The first section is nearly always with a tail wind, and feeling fresh, the speed is close to 40kph for the first 50k. By the time I reached Kawaihae I was really starting to feel the heat but had enthusiastically started to believe this was one of the fast years and I might get close to the elusive 5 hour bike split. I ground my way up to Hawi only to be met at the turn by warm rain. This wasn’t a significant issue but by the time others came through it had become a tropical storm, such is the fickleness of the weather on the island. On the way back to Kawaihae the temperature continued to rise inexorably and I had to switch to riding on heart rate alone to ensure I controlled my core temperature; power output and absolute speed were now very secondary considerations. As I made the turn onto the Queen K the head wind and temperature continued to pick up, the last 40k quickly being reduced to just a hard slog as I ticked off the land marks and made little progress through the field.

I staggered off my bike as I hit the dismount line and hobbled round the pier and into the transition tent. I felt pretty hot and bothered and not at all optimistic that I had acquitted myself well up to this point, it was just hard work. I took some time to collect my thoughts and press the reset button. It was clear my core temperature was not in a good place and I would need to manage it down over the first few ks to ensure I didn’t blow up.
I ran out onto the course with the sole focus being to get to the first aid station to grab some cold water and coke. I hit the first aid station at the 2 mile mark and walked through to carefully take all I needed to freshen myself up. that didn’t work, within 100m I was hot again and feeling drained.  I usually enjoy the run down to the turnaround at St Peter’s Church on Alii Drive but not today, I just couldn’t find any rhythm. I worked hard to keep my heart rate below 160 bpm and get back running after each aid station walk. The mile markers came and went but with little fanfare as I slogged along Alii Drive, impervious to the huge energy being put out by the crowds.
I braced myself for the sharp ascent up Palani, shuffling my way up to the aid station and a welcome excuse to walk again and take in more fluids. Left onto the Queen K and a strange sort of release from the intensity of the crowds in town. This is normally the hardest part of the marathon, 8 miles of tarmac and little else to the Energy Lab. This is where it is easy to lose it, faced with the brutal conditions and the reality that despite feeling spent, you are not yet half way through the run. It was later reported that the temperature on the black top was close to 120oC. I had no notion of where I was placed in the race so forward motion was not driven by a wish to be competitive but a focus simply in the moment, step by step. The Energy Lab came surprising quickly and with it a little cloud cover. Whether it is the fact that a chunk of the run was now done or the cooler conditions but I felt a positive lift in spirits, although not pace. I found myself for the first time scanning the bibs of athletes coming back the other way and it quickly became apparent that actually, in my age group, there weren’t many. Back up onto the Queen K and a fellow competitor told me I was probably in the mix for the top 10. Clearly I was having a bad day but others were having a worse one. Only now did I start to race, ensuring I kept fuelling and maintaining what was transpiring to be a competitive pace and, I was starting to enjoy it despite 9 hours of racing in my legs!
I pushed to the line, passing a couple of guys in the last mile which was two edged; two places higher but one mile smashing out any life left in my legs to ensure I wasn’t repassed. Down the finishing chute to the voice of Mike Riley calling out ‘you are an Ironman’; you can’t buy that. Almost as soon as you cross the line it’s like taking the cork out a bottle of emotion. It’s ok to start feeling again, both your body and soul.
72 hours later I am still smiling, thrilled with the result that seemed so unlikely at almost every point of the race. It really never is over until it’s over, ironman is unique in that respect and the Big Island doubly so. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to race on Kona and never take it for granted, it’s very special.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

August 30th 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships Zell Am See-Kaprun Austria

1.9km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 30oF
Swim 30:37 - T1 04:53 - Bike 02:36:14 - T2 04:30 – Run 01:31:23 Total Time 4:47:37
50-54 Age Group 9th, 376th overall

After the DNF in Roth the question in my mind wasn’t could I go top 10 again but could I finish the half marathon pain free.  Knowing I would not be in peak running shape meant my key weapon would be neutralised but would the extra hard bike miles translate into a stronger showing in this discipline?
It was an age group, deep water wave start, which I think is the best model of all that WTC are presently testing out. You go head to head with your peers racing from gun to tape but lose some of the congestion of a mass start. For me a mass start is the real spirit of the sport but I accept with the huge numbers now crammed onto courses (designed not to be too challenging), they are simply not conducive to a draft free bike leg.
The swim course was perfect for weaker swimmers like me, a straight out and back in calm lake waters, minimising my losses to any of the uber swimmers. The cannon fired and I started a row back, opting to work myself up the field once I had established a rhythm. I felt strong in the first half but faded in the back portion as my lack of swim fitness took its toll. I exited the water confident that I hadn’t given too much time away and looking forward to hitting the bike hard.
The first 20k were crazy fast, hitting an average of 45kph but then we hit the hill the course is famous for. 600m of elevation over 15k with the last 2k out of the saddle. I had trained for this so armed with my power meter I just tapped out my numbers and reeled in all those that passed me in the first section, chuffed my training had paid dividends. The scenery was awesome and I had to keep reminding myself to just look around and take it all in, one of the most spectacular rides I have ever done. There was a short technical section on the first 3k downhill but it quickly opened out into some fast sweeping turns, framed by pine forests and towering valley sides. Through the lush valley floor, speeding along again at 45kph. It was here that the packs started to form and no amount of advice and direction from me would alter their resolve to sit and draft with no shame. I memorised numbers of those in my age group and saw many of those ultimately place in the top 10. That said, the eventual winner of the age group was subsequently disqualified, a small victory for fair play.
As I entered T2 and racked my bike there were more bikes already racked than I had hoped for, 41 as it turned out. I was now entering the unknown and had resolved to walk if I had an inkling of pain from my foot, Kona was the priority now. I set off running comfortably, turning the legs over and seeing what pace came but I found it hard to establish a rhythm, it just felt clunky and workman like. No pain so I just kept moving and slowly things started to unlock such that by the half way point I wasn’t actually going any faster but it felt much easier and sustainable. At the last turn around I was confident I wouldn’t blow up so I started to push a little, nothing crazy, just faster feet and maybe 15s a k quicker. I had no notion of where I was relative to my peers at any point as I didn’t want to chase a spot and aggravate the foot. Shame really, there ultimately was 30s between me and a top 10 finish but I won’t enter the dark world of ‘what ifs’.
If you had offered me a top 20 finish I would have snapped your hand off so to land one was fantastic. It was a stunning course and one that I would happily come back and race again. The local community really got behind the race and the organisation was faultless. I am pleased the foot survived a bit of harder running so now I need to progressively add the volume to get me in the sort of shape I need to be competitive on the Big Island. Happy.

Monday, 13 July 2015

July 12th 2015 Challenge Roth, Germany

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 84oF
Swim 62:45 - T1 02:47 - Bike 05:06:18 - T2 01:56 – Run 00:00 Total Time DNF
 000 50-54 Age Group, 0000 overall
This one is on everyone’s bucket list so I had been sharp on the keyboard to secure my entry nearly 12 months ago. I felt positively relaxed coming into the event as I had not targeted it as an ‘A’ race but simply wanted to experience one of the most famous long distance triathlons on the planet with one of the deepest fields outside Kona. In addition, I really wasn’t sure I would be able to complete the marathon after my foot pain had not disappeared despite extensive rest since Staffordshire. My normal taper had been put to one side in favour of beer, cake and generally loafing about.
The swim was in waves of about 200 athletes and somehow I had been slotted into the ‘SUB9’ wave, a massive admin error on someone’s part. It would be a very different race for me as I would be at the front from the start, not clawing my way through the field after an average swim. The banks of the canal were packed with many of the spectators staking out the prime spots from 0500. I will admit to feeling a little intimidated at being in the first wave and whilst normally I would have plonked myself on the front line, I opted to start at the back as all these guys would be strong swim/bike/runners, way ahead of me. With the sound of the canon ringing in my ears I set off but at a steady pace rather than the usual red lining anaerobic sprint. After about 500m I was amazed to discover that not only was I passing people but the head of the wave was only about 30m in front and I was still swimming steady. And so it was, about the easiest swim I have ever had with an occasional draft, clear swimming or perhaps a surge for the next set of feet up ahead. I knew sub 65 minutes would put me in the mix so when I saw 62 and change I was very pleased. I exited the water in 10th place in the age group.
T1 and T2 were fantastically organised and the volunteers superbly drilled, it doesn’t get much better. Quickly onto my bike and ready to tackle the bike course. It is billed as an uber fast bike course but actually, whilst the road surfaces are excellent, it really rolls, taking in 1500m of elevation over the two laps. I got the first lap under my belt in exactly 2:30 but really didn’t feel as though I had held back so I resolved to pedal easier on the second, capping my HR and power lower down. The second lap was 2:36 and I felt much better as I approached T2. Off the bike in a total of 06:14 and in third place, 13 minutes behind the leader.
I was increasingly sure my foot wasn’t going to function but I was determined to have a go until it either exploded or I could run the soreness off. I gingerly
clipped off the first 4k which was effectively the point of no return. Going by past results sub 9:30 would put in the mix for the win so if I could pull of a 3:15 then I could bag the win……and now I am in the world I wudda, shudda, cudda because it easy to say if only. At 8.5k the shooting pains returned in my foot and I struggled to even walk with a limp, it was game over rover. It would have been folly to try and carry on and risk my injury turning chronic and wrecking my chances at the two world champs I have later in the year. Only my second DNF, the last time was in a duathlon nearly ten years ago. I don’t consider myself a quitter but right now it doesn’t feel good. Have I made it alright to quit and put a small chink in my mental armour? I will have to wait until Austria to find out.
In the meantime I have an MRI booked on the 14th and hopefully will get a diagnosis and rehab programme on the 16th. Finger crossed it’s not a fracture or anything requiring extended rest, I need to get cracking!
By the way, the event awesome, put it on your list  !

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

June 14th 2015 Ironman 70.3 Staffordshire UK

1.9km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 15oF
Swim 32:23 - T1 04:14 - Bike 02:39:57 - T2 02:18 – Run 01:27:06  Total Time 4:45:58
50-54 Age Group Champion, 54th overall
I have done Wimbleball 70.3 a couple of times so it was great that WTC have put another 70.3 in the UK calendar. I needed a World Champs qualification backup in case Barcelona didn’t work out and it hadn’t worked out so Staffordshire was my only shot now.
The swim was a wave start and our age group was all in one wave, great. This was way better than the rolling start of Barcelona and the absence of any head to head racing. I was at the front of the white caps treading water feeling confident about my ability stay clear of the washing machine start. The air horn sounded and we were off and a strong start meant lactate filled shoulders but no right hooks! Half way round and I was at the point of the white caps, about half a dozen of us ploughing ahead of the field. As we rounded a buoy the right hook finally landed and I had to momentarily roll over to straighten my goggles. By the time of righted myself I had lost the group, not critical time wise, but actually I was enjoying the very novel sensation of being at the tip of the spear. Oh well, nice whilst it lasted.
A rather lengthy run over a stony path to T1, a reasonably unremarkable transition and onto the bike; I figured there were a maximum of two or three ahead of me. The first ten miles were over dreadful roads, potholed and narrow and since we were almost the last wave they were full of bikes weaving from side to side. It wasn’t time to push so I kept a firm tempo and focussed on safely picking my way through the field. Once I had navigated that initial stretch the roads opened up a
little more but the route was constantly punctuated with sharp rises and tight turns. Throughout the whole 90k there was little opportunity to settle into a rhythm and sit on a big gear for a few ks, a split of 2:30 was looking increasingly optimistic. I had not been paying much attention to race numbers but couldn’t recall passing anyone on the bike in my age group. When I leave T2 it’s always nice to know how far behind I am. I reckon 10 minutes is doable if I put my race face on and am prepared to hurt a little, more than that and its a dependent on the other athletes running ability.
Post-race it transpired I had been 3rd out the swim and 1st off the bike but I didn’t know that as I set off out of T2. I settled into a comfortable pace for the first couple of ks and purposely didn’t look at my splits. Relaxing and establishing a good rhythm is more important at this stage than outright speed. I finally looked down once I had taken on some coke and got away from the crowds; 4k down and just over 16 minutes. I just had to concentrate on rolling along at this speed and the time would
take care of itself. The run course was great, always something different in terms of terrain and scenery with a good number of noisy supporters throughout, I would come back just for that course alone. A couple of ups and downs took the edge of my speed but sub 90 minutes was never in doubt.
I crossed the line pretty confident I was on the podium but it wasn’t until a friend got the update from Ironmanlive that I knew I had won my first Ironman 70.3 event, and by nearly 20 minutes. That was brilliant as I had no real expectation of winning at this distance. I took my slot and booked my trip to Austria where there will be some very serious European 70.3 specialists, should be fun. Presently I have my foot in a bucket of ice to treat what I hope is some simple bruising on the ball of my foot…….fingers crossed I can start training again by the end of the week to race at the Grafman and then enjoy my week in Roth, taking part in the legendary event.

Monday, 18 May 2015

May 17th 2015 Ironman 70.3 Barcelona, Spain

1.9km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 80oF

Swim 33:13 - T1 03:07 - Bike 02:56:18 - T2 00:56 – Run 01:27:20 Total Time 5:00:54
6th 50-54 Age Group, 179st overall

For the last two years I done the 70.3 in Mallorca so it was time for change of scenery. My race selection centred around finding a race convenient to travel to, early in May and one with friends along to enjoy the trip. A great plan, perfect except for the total failure to simply click the button to open the course profile and check it even vaguely matched my strengths. A school boy error that I would be paying dearly for.
Two weeks before the event a friend who was also racing commented there was a significant hill in the middle of the course. So, I clicked the course profile button and there it was in all its glory, not one but three hills and 1400m of elevation; the flat run was of little consolation. To cap it all, the map hinted at some ominous wiggly roads up and down the hills. I very quickly dismissed any realistic prospect of winning or even being on the podium for a 70.3WC slot.

A further googly that revealed itself in the briefing was a rolling swim start. I wouldn’t even know if I was in the race or not until after the event. In most respects the rolling start made for a very civilised swim; just seed yourself on the beach and jump in with those of a similar speed. In a way some of the fun had just drained away from the start, a pity really as the adrenaline pumping just before the gun adds something special. The swim was uneventful albeit slow for most and I am not sure if that was down to conditions or the now neutered competitive experience.
Off onto the bike and through the streets of the town, navigating around pot holes, speed bumps and ejected nutrition bottles. In recognising the challenges of the first 3k there was an official amnesty on drafting. However, nobody told the draft busters that amnesty ended at the town limits – there was a good deal of pack riding with the marshals content to simply blow a whistle and keep the penalty tents unencumbers with the cheaters. Only the honestly of the course limited the impact of the cheaters on the podium. Climbing the hills was fine, just select the right gear and grind out the power numbers but the descents were different matter. There was a gulf of ability between me and the real bikers. I had worked hard to keep pace with them on the up hills but they just sped past me on downs as we hit the tight hairpins, me clinging to my brakes hoods whilst they majestically swung their bikes left and right at each turn. I was simply outclassed and had no response, I just focussed on staying upright and making it to T2.
Sure enough T2 came but I had taken 20 minutes longer than Mallorca and I considered that too tough for my inadequate mountain skills. I knew I was running for pride so set off trying to hold a 4min/k pace to land a 1:25 split. At times my pace wavered a little but more down to concentration than fatigue, I knew I would be in the right ball park for a respectable time. On the way round I picked up another Brit who was gunning for a slot and it was great to help pace him and see him cross the line to punch his ticket. The consequence of the rolling start was that he just needed to cross the line with me to actually post a quicker overall time.
Job done and in the circumstances the result was better than I could have hoped for. The weekend was great fun and next time I will check out the course before hastily pressing the enter button!

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

29th March 2015 Ironman African Championships, Port Elizabeth, South Africa

3.8k Swim 180k Bike 42k Run – Temperature 31oC

Swim 01:05:28 - T1 04:50 - Bike 05:36:38 - T2 03:54 - Run 03:14:41 Total Time 10:05:31
African Age Group Champion 50-54, 74th Overall

It was an early start to the season but I have a lot of racing planned so I needed to have a crack at bagging an Ironman world champs slot early. I did Ironman South Africa in 2009 and won my first age group title there so I have fond memories. The course had changed this year and the race was now the African continental championships. The course was tougher and the field bigger and deeper but it was my best shot outside of the later European season.
Working away from home less this year meant I could have a more predictable build of fitness during the winter months but peaking so early in the year had meant a lot of long, wet and cold training sessions. I know what is required to compete at the highest level so I have no complaints, just get the work done and then express the hard earned fitness out on the race track.

A beach start always adds a bit of extra excitement and as the cannon boomed we hurtled towards the surf, diving head long into the waves as they poised to break. I had placed myself at the front and centre of the start, an aggressive plan probably beyond my swimming ability but I was here to compete. As we rounded the first turn buoy I had some open water to cleanly start to hit some rhythm (and no sign of the tiger sharks that had cleared us from the water earlier in the week!). The big swell made navigation problematic with sighting the next buoy only possible at the crest of each wave. Soon enough though, I had the 3.8k under my belt and I was exiting for the showers and to my bike.
Within a kilometre of starting the bike ride I knew it was going to be a very challenging day. I ride to power wattage to measure out my effort over the day combined with my heart rate. The combination of the two means I know the numbers I can hit and still run a strong marathon at the end. The malfunctioning bike computer showed neither, I was riding blind, not knowing if I was riding too hard or too easy, I was fumbling my way through the 180km of bike racing. I latched on to the wheel of some of my competitors that came past me, figuring they would be pacing their output and if it felt manageable, then ride with it. By the end of the first 90k lap I felt exhausted, I let them go and at the time I felt I had let the race ride up the road away from me. Still a full 90k of riding left and then a marathon to complete, I was on the cusp of throwing the towel in and registering a DNF for the first time.

I pedalled out the next 90k at an easy pace whilst wrestling with the notion of quitting and the relentless head wind. I resolved to finish the bike, switch to my run kit and try a couple of ks before finally deciding to hand my timing chip in. I knew I needed to find a spark again and it came from an unexpected quarter. I took some coke at the first aid start, it was cool, the sugar gave me a little energy and the caffeine perked me up. The 2k mark was actually the lap turnaround point and they gave out a green wrist band to help tick off the three laps. Now I had one and only needed two more to be finish line bound. I convinced myself to jog through this one and if the wheels didn’t fall off, grab another. 14k later I picked up an orange wrist band, one more to go. On this lap I had started to pass one or two of the strong bikers who had left me standing on the first lap of the bike, the race was no longer up the road, it was coming back to me. I kept the pace going, firm enough to nail a competitive time. Lap 3 and the final yellow wrist band, full house and time to start racing for the line. We were competing in the height of the day’s heat but I was eating and drinking well and running confidently by now. I started to really believe I was in the race for a podium and a Kona slot so I kept pushing. Down the red carpet of the finishing chute, I crossed the line and the announcer declared me the age group champion. I had no idea, I was stunned. I had been in a very dark place physically and emotionally just a few hours earlier and I had turned it around to win. My place at the Ironman World Champs booked and I can start to dream a little.