Wednesday, 16 November 2016

November 13th 2016 Ironman 70.3 Xiamen China

1.9km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 36oF

Swim 35:45 - T1 04:59 - Bike 02:25:42 - T2 03:10 – Run 01:33:00 Total Time 4:42:36

50-54 Age Group Champion, 33rd overall

3 wins 70.3 Ironman   2016 Age Group World Ranking No 1

Earlier in the year this wasn’t in the plan but after a friend told me he had entered, I took a look at the details and figured it would be a good post Kona road trip. Whilst I knew that the new IM owner had introduced five races into their homeland and uniquely allocated Kona slots to the races, it was obvious the field would be stacked with athletes chasing slots at the shorter race distance format.

Off the back of a disappointing showing at Kona, I still had a race in my legs and Xiamen would provide the opportunity to race hard and end the season with a positive race experience. I had five weeks between races which I thought would be sufficient having not been well enough to completely batter my body in Kona! Whist I had deferred a fair amount of life stuff until after Kona, I was able to cram in the shorter duration high intensity sessions necessary to prepare to red line it in China.

I flew into Xiamen on Friday morning so as expected, I stood on the beach Sunday morning, my body not really sure what day of the week it was but the adrenalin pumping hard and I was ready to race. The air temperature 26oC so standing on the beach in a wetsuit felt a bit like boil in a bag. It was yet another version of IM swim starts, this time self-seeding on the beach then four athletes released into the sea every 5 seconds. So, no boom of a cannon, just 3-2-1 go and then a dash into the water and straight into a calm solid effort and a chance to cool off. No elbows, no kicks, no anaerobic gasping, a straightforward solo TT if it weren’t for the current scattering swimmers right across the course. With the navigation buoys straining at their anchors it was impossible to swim a straight line and I eventually hauled myself out having swum over 2.2k in a snake pattern as I attempted to round each buoy.

With over 2000 athletes racing it was a big transition area and fair jog off the beach, through the change tent and finally grab the bike. The bike course, and indeed the whole event, was fantastically organised. We had a good quality, closed three lane highway for most for the rolling bike course which made navigating around the other athletes much more simple and allowed the draft busters to buzz around the course breaking up any riders working together. Early on in the ride I felt pretty spent after the long, hot swim and really struggled to hit my power targets, not sure if it was just me or others were in the same place. As I approached the first turnaround point there really were not many age group athletes coming back the other way, reassuring me I was still in the race and needed to stay focussed on producing a sustained best effort albeit at a lower wattage than planned. My heart rate was at race pace so clearly conditions were tougher than predicted and I needed to flex my race plan to match the race dynamics otherwise I would be digging a deep hole and ending up with a DNF.

I continued to pass the odd athlete and just metered out my effort for the rest of the ride, making sure I drank and ate appropriately for the conditions. I hopped off the bike in T2 and as I ran pass the empty bike racks I counted two, maybe three other bikes from my age group. Worse case I was top five entering my key discipline for the race. I set off at my planned pace but was working hard and not making it, time to back off and rethink the plan. The first turnaround point was at 3k and there was just a handful of athletes coming back the other way and none of them were belting out a fast run. I pressed the reset button and switched into IM Hawaii mode with the first priority to get my core temperature back under control after pushing too hard for the first few ks. I ran through the next couple of aid stations, executing the tried and testing protocol for hot conditions. There was no need to set any records today, just keep to a sustainable pace, stay cool, keep the calories coming and tap it out to the end. The only slight blip for the rest of the run was a Japanese athlete in my age group running up and past me at the start of the last lap. I resolved to run with him for the next 3k, measure his pace then push hard for the last 4ks. He slowed almost immediately he passed me, I wasn’t sure if he was fatigued or conserving but I took off as planned and in actual fact put a minute a k into him by the time I hit the tape. We chatted after the race and he was an 8x veteran of Kona so I am pleased I didn't give him an inch!

I was pretty sure when I crossed the line I was at least second and maybe had the win. In any event, I had done enough to bag my slot but had been made to work hard for it. The win was later confirmed and that was a fantastic end to a long season. Ironically I had better results in my 70.3 races this year than my preferred full distance but I’ll take that, really chuffed. Kona slot paid for and some R&R in HongKong before heading off home to plot the 2017 campaign

Thursday, 13 October 2016

October 8th 2016 Ironman World Championships, Kona, Hawaii

3.8km Swim 180km Bike 42km Run - Temperature 34oF

Swim 1:07:46 - T1 04:37 - Bike 05:23:59 - T2 06:06 – Run 03:41:50 Total Time 10:24:18

33rd 50 - 54 Age Group, 712th Overall

Whilst I hadn’t raced as much as I would have liked this year, I have been injury free and pretty consistent week in week out with my training bar the usual stuff life chucks at you. With multiple years of training for Kona under my belt I have a pretty good feel, along with a good slug of data, to understand if I am in the right sort of shape to be competitive. I have always prepared well for this event and this year was no different, I was confident arriving on the Big Island that I was capable of racing hard and challenging for the top places.

I quickly slipped into the rhythm of the island, crow-barring my body clock into the eleven-hour time difference and working out in the heat of the day to accelerate the required acclimation to the brutal conditions that mark this race out from all others. There is always a huge amount of chatter about how exceptionally hot, humid and windy it is in any one year; it’s Kona, it’s not meant to be and never is easy and that’s what keeps drawing me and many others back to try and crack the code.

The days rolled by and I ticked off the plan as race day approached. There is a fine line between being relaxed and being complacent. I am not sure I always get the right side of that but I find a solid, tried and tested routine a huge help in dealing with the near hysterical vibe that surrounds Alii Drive as Saturday rushes head long at us.

Thursday is Under Pants Run day – don’t ask, just look it up. A thousand A type individuals given an excuse to show off and strut their lean, lycra clad stuff. For me it’s an opportunity to have a swim from Digme Beach whilst the masses are distracted. Wednesday night I had the start of a sore throat but brushed it off as the body wrestling with the time zone, conditions and absorbing the huge physical work load of preparing for the event. Thursday morning it hadn’t faded, it had become worse and I was feeling lethargic. Now it’s not unusual to feel a little lethargic as you taper but this was more than that. I got the swim and run session done early and retreated back to then hotel to get my feet up. Friday morning, I woke up with a proper sore throat and feeling really washed out. It’s a day to eat to fuel for the next day but I had little appetite. I just stayed at the hotel resting, apart from racking my bike, and prayed the rest would turn my body round.

Saturday morning, I was in race mode, ticking off the military routine as I prepared for the start line. My throat seemed better and the adrenaline was kicking in. I was hopeful my body had come round in the nick of time.

Body marking, check; prep bike, check; pre swim coffee, check; swim out to the start line, check; focus on the gun…. come on, focus for the fight…checkish. The cannon boomed and I sauntered off to a solid start, establishing a rhythm and sustainable pace. By the second half of the swim I found myself almost going through the motions, no fight, no holding my ground in the moments of close contact, just swimming the thing out.

I had a really well structured plan for the bike race and I was excited to execute it and make a discernible step up in my performance in this element of the race.
As the 180k unfolded I felt increasingly flat, that’s the only way I can describe it. Yes, I felt
nauseous but that happens in this type of racing and I have strategies to deal with that but just the lack of spark was different. I am a natural racer and spark is something I have plenty of and I believe, a key ingredient of my success at the distance. Under normal conditions this a cue from your body to get some caffeine in to refocus; I reached for coke but it had virtually no impact. Like the swim, I just ground it out as best I could, every time I lifted my energy and focus it just as quickly waned. My legs, when I focussed, felt strong but my heart wasn’t in it and the one thing this race demands is mental and emotional commitment.

Although I had managed to ram the required calories down me on the bike, I started the run still wrestling with the stomach issues. There have been times in other races where I have set off on   I still don’t know quite how I managed to run/walk myself to the end of the race. Just water and some coke for 26.2 miles, mentally and emotionally already in the locker room but I did get to the end and that is a huge achievement for me to save to the hard drive.
the marathon mentally out of shape but with strategies for cracking on and seeing what my legs bring me. This was different, I was setting out with the knowledge my body was weak from the virus I had picked up and you can’t fake the marathon.

Post race I had a real sense of not wanting to give those that asked, excuses on why I had not performed to expectations. This race is hard and time after time I hear athletes bleat about this or that problem without which they would have had a stellar performance. I feel an athlete needs to take responsibility for their performance no matter what it’s like. I have been really lucky to race in the Big Island eight times and I should have taken more care to do the simple infection management protocols right and not be complacent.

I love this race and would love to come back and immerse myself again in the whole vibe of the island and the sport’s blue ribbon event. I’ve been very lucky and will work hard to stay lucky!


Tuesday, 28 June 2016

June 26th 2016 Ironman 70.3 Wimbleball, Exmoor, UK

1.9km Swim 90km Bike 21km Run - Temperature 15oF

Swim 30:09 - T1 04:30 - Bike 03:06:10 - T2 02:01 – Run 01:32:17 Total Time 5:15:07

50-54 Age Group Champion, 53rd overall

I last did this race in 2012 and left promising myself that having nailed a decent time, I didn’t need to come back and batter myself yet again. I have no doubt that this is the toughest course on the Ironman 70.3 circuit with over 5500ft elevation on the bike and 1700ft on the half marathon. I guess it’s like marmite, you either love it or hate it. I am no fan of marmite but something about this course is really cool, maybe the simple challenge of trying to red line such a challenging course or perhaps the constant variation in topography and the beautiful vistas. Anyway, I signed up and looked forward to battering myself again.

The swim was the rolling start format and it actually worked well for me. It was a small field, less than 1400 athletes, so I could plop myself on the front line and have a crack at hanging on to some fast feet. So, we had the national anthem (?) and then were let loose. Without the usually punch up in the opening 100m I was able to sight well and hunt round for some decent feet. The field quickly become fairly strung out so finding a good draft proved to be more the exception than the rule but still, I was able to swim at a consistent effort and put in a season PB.

It’s a 400m run up the grassy hill to T1 and then a short jog to the mount line. With the AWA scheme and no pro field my race number was lucky 13; this meant I was pretty much the first bike on the racking by the exit which felt kinda cool. The small field and my push for the front line meant the transition area was pretty quiet as I made my way through and the usual melee of wobbling bike mounts and ejected nutritional debris was absent.

I set to work on the bike with my aim to push hard to see what I could produce for the three hour effort. There were a few bikes up the road and a few of the faster guys coming by but on the whole, it was uneventful save busting a gut on some of the steeper hills. I was gunning for three hours but it’s always dangerous setting time goals, conditions will always vary and being a hostage to a time will almost always lead to disappointment and demotivation at crucial points in the race.

A tidy T2 and out onto the run. It’s just impossible to establish any sort of rhythm on the course, just a constant up and down with a multitude of running surfaces to contend with. It’s a three lap affair so really nice to break up the task ahead and just tick off the hills and laps as they come round. I ran mostly within myself but upped the tempo and bent myself a little out of shape on the last lap.

It wasn’t my best time but I was pleased to bag the win after Staffordshire and left hungry for the next challenge.