If you only do 1 (more) Ironman
If you only do one Ironman!
I did the Outlaw last year, it was my first, and to be my only, Iron Distance Triathlon. With lots of good training advice from Alvin, Bryan, Daniel and Dani (Merseytri), it was the end of 18 Months of preparation. During that time I cycled around Northern Ireland, ran my first Ultra, PB’d marathons, learned to swim, rode some sportifs, dropped 10kg and generally became fit, strong and focussed. I was so happy with my 12:41 (against a target of 15) that I entered straight away for this year.
Let me start this report by saying that I am very happy with this year’s effort. Apart from a bruised heal, split toes and a bit of sunburn, I came out in good shape (and I saw some people in a bad way). I like to learn from events so I’m going to talk about this race in terms of lessons. Almost everyone you speak to immediately before an event says they haven’t trained enough. Well, don’t hold it against them, this is true, because this is relative. If you think about that Sunday ride that was missed or the lack of brick sessions, or little running because of icy roads then its probably right, but most people who reach the start line are ready in one form or other.
For me, I was a new swimmer last year (1:54 for 3.8K) I haven’t swum as much as I might have liked but I have been experimenting with technique. I have ridden (according to my Garmin) 350 miles in the last year. This includes 170 miles of event riding. I have, however, run a couple of Ultras this year and, whilst I’m not as fast as I was, I have been putting in the distance.
So I started this event relying on base fitness with the knowledge that I had to survive the swim and the bike and the run would be fairly easy. I was under no pressure for a time and I set out to enjoy it.
The swim was great, no panic, steady strokes and (I know 1:44 isn’t even on the park but for me it is a big uplift) a new experience today of swimming with other people, not just right at the back! I swam along side other swimmers and even draughted someone for a while. The great thing about this for a novice swimmer is that you can guage the efficiency of your stroke...try reaching longer or a harder pull and glide and see whether you are quicker than the next guy. I was over the moon when I got out of the water - 10 minutes on last year already, I was going to kill it. The ride started smoothly at a steady 30K and I was all set for 6 hours. This would put me 30 minutes up on last year (I know I said I wasn’t going for a time, but you can’t help thinking can you?) So two hours in, 60K down, it was starting to get warm but hydration / nutrition was right and then at 70K I started to realise I couldn’t hold it. The minutes started to slip off and no amount of effort could bring me back on track. I had to work out what was wrong and act quickly or my race was going to dissolve. It took 30 minutes of playing with nutrition, ride position and cadence before my quads told me it was simply lack of riding hours that were responsible...obvious really. I believe in visualisation and mindfulness in equal proportions. For any long distance event, visualisation is key, but if you stick to your imagined race when real-time factors are telling you otherwise you’ll surely fall of the plane. So 3 hours has gone and I need to get through 90K more of this ride. My changed plan is to spin. Spin fast and apply no quad pressure or i’m not going to be able to run, keep hydrated and taper the nutrition in the last half hour. I got through the last 90 by playing the passing game. (This only works if you are a poor swimmer as you have lots of riders ahead of you), but the game is to pass one rider per kilometer - believe me it eats up the distance like driving through France and keeps you focussed) In the last 10k of the ride I started to think about times again. I was back up to 30KMH so my diagnosis was right. My overall swim bike time was the same as last year and so I just needed to run a quicker marathon. Well, no problem (or so I thought) it was up to about 30 degrees, but my run is fine and I’ve been working in Morocco where I’ve been running in 38° heat. I figured setting off at 5:30 pace and building on it, maybe run below 3:50 for a nice 12:20 finish.
I was in for a big surprise, as soon as I got out of transition I realised my legs wouldn’t move. I was running like an old man. OK so they should unwind after 5K but they just didn’t. At this point I was concentration on not overheating and keeping my pulse down. My HR should be around 140 at 5min/km but it was beyond that at whatever crawling speed I was managing. After two laps of the lake I set out on the first of 2 out and back 15k loops. I wanted to stop, I wanted to be anywhere but here and I told myself that I would try one lap and if that was too hard I’d pull out before the second lap. (of course, after completing that lap there was no way that I would pullout with 15K left to go!-I can even con myself if I have to!)
My friend Mel had run along side me a little on the lake laps giving me advice on how to keep cool (pouring water over myself - not High 5!). Hannah met me with 5K to go and we started to run in together. Noticing a change in speed, a chap who had been running near me for a whilst shouted ‘you’ll never make 14 Hours’ Gauntlet down we upped the pace to sub 6 and I felt great. With 2K to go I realised that 14 hours was just doable but I would need to be well inside that as I wanted to cross the line with my kids. Leon had been cheering for hours on his crutches and Lily had every confidence that I would surely finish. I lifted to 4:30 pace and then beyond to below 4 for the last 1/2 K and finished in 13:56.
So what did I learn from this. Firstly, I enjoyed it. It hurt, but I did. The heat of the day was great for camaraderie.
I can complete an ironman on core fitness alone but it hurts like hell and there is no substitute for training. I will do another, but I will be at least 95% ready before I do.
Being bike fit is the key. You could run like Mo Farrah but its no earthly use if you are spent after the ride. If I repeat this sentence 10 times this would be the first 10 rules of long distance triathlon
And to finish on an unanswered question...what happened in the run? Certainly I could have run another 5K at the pace at which I finished, so why did I take 5 1/2 hours to run a marathon? It wasn’t all end-of-event adrenalin that gave me the finishing speed.
Did I get locked into a pattern of slow running? Did I respond to all the zombies walking? At several points I felt like picking up the pace but was afraid to because I thought I might boil over.
As for this question, I’m never going to find the answer because for the next Ironman I do I will be totally ready and I promise you, the run will be my strongest leg!
Bring it on...I have a nice three week reprieve to prepare for the Lakeland 50 and I can’t wait.
Now for a pub lunch...a nice plate of gels and a pint of flat warm coke is off the menu