Ironman World Championships, Kona, 2012
I arrived a week ahead of the race armed with a limited knowledge of what to expect and my best undies for the annual pants run! Being my first Kona, I was determined to enjoy, learn and celebrate the ‘Mecca’ of triathlon.
On arrival, the atmosphere didn’t disappoint. Early morning swims in the bay alongside some of the best triathletes in the world, followed by drinking coffee, amongst the best triathletes in the world. Life felt pretty good and training felt easy. It was nice also to be away from the stress of work.
I caught up with Darren Jenkins @nevagiven he was coaching in Kona and is a previous racer, he gave me a tour of the bike course and kept me away from the draw of the coffee and expo reminding me I had a race to do.
The weather leading up to the race wasn’t what everyone said it would be yeah it was warm and the wind blew but nothing too much to worry about. I thought if this is hard, they should race Nice or Lanza.
Kona was pretty much as good as it gets for a triathlete, it buzzed and our minority sport was celebrated like football in the Uk.
Some Oz friends were winding me up about shark attacks and the frightening annual statistics. I didn’t believe them but I left that night with an element of doubt as they never did reply when I said, you’re joking right? The next morning you can imagine my fright when I was circled by dolphins 2km from the shoreline! The first thing I saw was their shark like fin above the water!! But I quickly chilled out in amazement when I looked under water and saw they were just dolphins playing around beneath. Has to be one of the best things I have ever seen.
To the race; transition was well laid out I’m not going to dwell for long here it’s the world champs, transition and organisation was faultless as you would expect. My spot was a little way away but I wasn’t too worried.
It seems I had the same plan as everyone else from the start; to go hard for clear water. It was a full on sprint and I didn’t get away, I thought hmmm plan b already? I was going nowhere fast, totally boxed in, and there I stayed as the swim went on and on. I was hacked off, as I knew I was going too slowly. I made a few bids for clear water, but it didn’t last, as I got taken out like a rugby tackle! I decided not to kick in order to save my legs and waited patiently for transition.
Out of the water, up the steps and onto dry land. No one can stop me now. I haven’t seen my T1 time but I imagine it was fairly quick compared to those with a similar racking position as mine. In fact I was too quick – I took the swimskin down to my waist, but forgot to remove it. I started the bike with the usual track stand, as people seemingly forget how to get on their bikes in a triathlon – it’s comedy gold at times watching people! But I found myself being patient again waiting for the crowd of athletes to get on and out the way so I could go.
There would be no easing into this bike, I was already way off where I wanted to be. Approximately 30 mins into the bike I started noticing some restriction in my glutes and lower back. I looked down at my legs, initially a bit confused by the black tri shorts – what’s going on here? Shiiiiit swimskin still on. What to do now? Tip for anyone reading you can’t take a swim skin off when cycling, you have to stop and you can’t leave it on, it just gets more and more uncomfortable. I tried, but at the 50 mile mark I decided I had to take it off. I pulled into a feed station and handed it to a volunteer, it took me a while to explain to him what I was doing, but eventually he agreed to get it back to transition for me.
Great back on with the race, I still felt I hadn’t got going and I was running out of miles now. Can we start again please? I wasn’t ready!
I never saw the swimskin again, but it felt a huge relief to take it off. I neared Hawi, the turn around, and bugger I could feel the wind, it was blowing much harder than previous days. I had underestimated it and now I was working hard. From this point on the wind did not ease up. I had forgotten a piece of advice I had been given earlier in the week on combating the wind and it played on my mind now. I felt vulnerable now and I had lost momentum and average speed was dwindling. I was riding badly and not how I knew I could, made worse as i was also suffering from another pre-race issue. I wanted the bike to end now but it dragged on and on, my watts were low and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was like the swim all over again i just had to be patient and finish off the bike and hope for a good run. Unhappy with my bike and swim so far, but it didn’t matter as I rode back into triathlon town. There’s no worries in triathlon town!
Run time, well those of you that know me will be aware a running injury has kept me out of running for sometime, so today wasn’t going to be sub 3. Believe me I needed it to be, but I made a realistic decision in light of my running base. It wouldn’t be wise to go for broke and risk blowing. I decided I would keep it easy and bring home a nice sub 10. It’s fair to say I haven’t found my running legs in an ironman yet, so with the heat and humidity and intermittent run training this year, I stand by my decision. I went looking for an experienced shoulder to pace off. Then I heard a friendly voice, it was Matt Molloy of @teamfreespeed. A chat to Matt was what I needed, it restored a bit of morale. I got back on to the queen k and I had jogged this section pre race, so I knew what to expect. By now I was ready to hear the words “congratulations you’re an ironman!”.
A finish was never in doubt but a PB was now out of the question. I found a pace that I considered respectable and would allow me to savour the experience.
I didn’t suffer in the marathon, except for the first few miles maybe as my legs made the transition and a small bit when I realised I had to run about two miles longer than I thought at the end of the queen k, but this detour enabled the finish along Ali’i Drive so I wouldn’t change it for a second.
Amazing race and I witnessed some incredible performances.
Final thought; the race didn’t go quite to plan, but its cool. It’s my first kona, the real race is getting here and I’m proud of that. I know now how it feels to race here and how to do it well.
Thank you Kona it’s been amazing. Will be back soon.
Ironman Nice 2012
I looked forward to this race following a difficult race at Lanzarote that saw me DNF (did not finish) due to sickness. IM France was always going to be tricky to prepare for, being so close to Lanza, but I was confident I could maintain my fitness and balance my recovery.
Unfortunately, my sickness at Lanza took a turn for the worse after the race, so any active recovery training gave way to complete rest. Sadly, I didn’t shake the illness completely by the time France came along and I carried it into the final days leading up to the race. I felt better but it was still hanging around and I wasn’t 100%.
The swim went okay. It’s a tough swim with a lot of turns and good navigation is the key to take the shortest possible route around the course.
The bike course is pretty hilly early on and I enjoyed every second of it. I pushed hard on the climbs. It was good to have the competition so close on the long climbs. Your ability to hold a good pace on the climb is a true test of fitness and riders were dropping away like flies. There was a Colombian riding next to me pushing me hard. He got the better of me as we crested the first long climb but I repaid him by riding away on the next one.
However, the frustrating thing about the France course is the second half of the bike, which has a lot of descents. This means any advantage gained on the climbs is quickly taken back and large packs of riders form. Into the final 3rd of the bike I became swarmed by groups of 10-20 all drafting. To start with I let them get on with it but when I started to see riders that couldn’t hack the pace in the hills earlier catching me I started to question how they had taken there time back. Actually, it was blatantly obvious they had drafted.
As another pack went by I sat off the back out of the draft zone just to see how these packs operated. I pretty much saw the first couple of guys working hard well into the red and the rest of the pack sat up feeding. These people had no shame and I was praying for a referee to pull up behind and see them, but it didn’t come.
By now the course had come out of the downhill section into the flatter more windy sections leading home. I decided to ride past this pack and push on, predictably, they jumped onto my back wheel. This was frustrating for me, I had dropped these guys once already in the hills and now they were seemingly able to keep up with ease by sitting on my wheel while I was working hard into a headwind. I sat up and stopped pedaling, thinking they would go by and at least take turn on the front? But they sat up as well. I moved out into the middle of the road and they followed. At this point I turned and said what are doing?!! They shrugged shoulders as if to say ‘we know we’re doing wrong but we’re going to do it anyway’.
By now I had probably lost a bit of time watching and arguing with the other riders, so I needed to get back to racing. I figured the only way to get rid of them is to out power them so that’s what I did I pushed hard, much harder than I would normally in this type of race and I didn’t let up. As I approached a roundabout 5 mins later I had to sit up to lose a bit of speed so I took the chance to glance back. I half expected to see the pack still on my wheel. The wind had been blowing hard so you weren’t able to hear if riders were behind you. They weren’t there. I looked again and saw them a long way back! I had dropped them and by enough distance to be confident they would have to work hard to get me back inside the final 10 miles. To be honest this felt more like a bike race than a triathlon. I then got back onto the sea front, with I would guess around 4-6 miles left to ride. The wind direction had changed and I was holding a nice speed. Having considered the distance I had put between myself and that pack, I was happy they wouldn’t catch me again. However, as I started to prepare for loosening my shoes ready for transition, with about 500m to go, whoosh the pack was back and the same group went past me. They had drafted and barely broken a sweat for at least the last hour of the race. Looking back, that ruined my race. My morale dropped. I had worked so hard to rid myself of the drafting. I could have easily drafted them, been fresher and had the same time.
On to the run and straight away I was paying for my big efforts on the bike, my legs felt heavy and tired. Determined not to be beaten, I ran as hard as I could. I was not going to let any of that pack stay a head of me. I ran past them and didn’t see them again so a small triumph, but my legs weren’t going to cooperate today. I tried but couldn’t up my pace. I got a boost in the final mile when I realised the time was getting close to 10 hours. I upped my pace desperately chasing a time under 10 hours but I had left it too late the time ticked over and I finished 27 seconds later, with a finish time of 10 hours and 27 seconds. In short, a very frustrating race.
Would I race IM France again? I would love to, Nice is in my top three destinations worldwide so I would be happy to race there every year. However the drafting left a nasty taste in my mouth.
Ironman Lanzarote May 2012
Did not finish (DNF) due to illness
So, those of you following my progress will probably have seen or heard that I didn’t finish at Lanzarote (Lanza) a couple of weeks ago. On the face of it this race has got to go down as one I would rather forget. However, the reality is quite the opposite. Despite being ill leading up to and on race day, I now look back and I can only recall the positives – there were one or two aspects of my performance in the race that I have taken a great deal of confidence from.
This is the second time I have competed in the Lanza ironman and the second time I have competed without the best race preparation in the lead up to the race. Going into the first race I was restricted a bit on the run having strained my leg during my taper so I was keen to come back and improve my performance. Having said that, with Hawaii in October and not having to race for qualification, my plan was to race on feel i.e. if feeling good I would go for a time and position overall and if not I would back off and look for a time sub 10 hours. The truth is, if I was feeling good and had a chance at a good position overall I would push as hard as possible without giving a second thought to the impact it may have on Kona. So I was up for it.
I was happy with my plan and confident I was in the shape to deliver a great performance. On the morning of the flight out to Lanza I felt well rested, it was a late afternoon flight and I was already packed and ready to go, so I decided to go for an easy swim before setting off to the airport. This is where things got a little tricky; I came out of the swim and started sneezing. I wasn’t too worried at this point as this is quite common for me after pool swimming. However, the sneezing didn’t stop and I boarded the plane with a really dry throat as well. It seemed I had picked up a cold.
I could not believe my bad luck. I desperately tried every trick in the book to knock it on the head before it took hold. But nothing seemed to work and my health continued to get worse as the week progressed, eventually turning into a nasty, chesty cough. I hadn’t had a cold since November 2010 and up until race week, I had been feeling fit and strong. My nightmare was playing out before my eyes.
I have lost count of how many coaches in my past have told me not to race if a cold goes to your chest. I had never asked why, but it was now playing on my mind. My race prep went out the window and I did nothing but rest, down copious amounts of orange juice and drink lots of tea, in the hope I could shake off the cold. The Lanza weather was scorching and my temperature prevented me being able to sleep. I hired an air condition unit and made multiple trips to the pharmacy for medication. Nothing seemed to work. The morning of the race arrived and I found myself wheeling my bike into transition feeling rough.
With a bit of adrenaline I felt okay going into the swim. I took the swim moderately – it was a bit slower than I had hoped for, but I didn’t get much clear water and it was a very physical swim.
Next, it was onto the bike and I put the cold out of my mind and set about getting myself back in the race. Racing in the water is still a developmental area of my racing but I know how to ride and run so this is where I would affect the race. On the bike, a mechanical issue meant I rode the first half without being able to drop out of the 53 tooth. The cable was getting stuck in the outer despite previously shifting fine pre race. In the end I worked out I could get it to shift by manually reaching down and pulling the cable. This is how they did it in the early days of bike racing (a far cry from the awesome di2 system that I am striving for). Towards the end of the bike the spectators were counting the bikes in and calling out our overall positions I was told I was 27th into transition. For me, this was music to my ears as I know I am capable of running close to a 3 hour ironman marathon, so at this stage I was feeling no reason why this wouldn’t still be possible. Unfortunately, as the run went on reality hit – the chesty cough was impacting my ability to breath, which in turn was impeding my concentration. I was really struggling and was having a tough time. I had to admit to myself that it was unlikely that I would hold my position and although I was still capable of a good finish time I was concerned that it could be detrimental to my health and recovery. So, I made the only decision that I could and I pulled over and called it a day with a 11km to go to save myself for another day.
I stand by my decision and as I said at the start there were some positives to take away from the race – to be in 27th overall off the bike after an average swim and carrying an illness is a very positive place to be. I would say this race probably represents my best performance in any ironman race so far. I hope and pray I can be in this position again but minus the cold when I race in France next week.
Thanks for reading