As I sit here two days after completing the Lanzarote Ironman 70.3, I find myself reflecting over the last year. Having this event as my main focus throughout the last 12 months has been my driver to get up on all of those very early mornings to train. The time it has taken, the effort required and the mental focus as well as all the expense to date has eventually led me here.
Well, here is the build up, event and after math of the Lanzarote Ironman 70.3
Having gone through a half iron distance triathlon in England, I had 5 weeks to get myself into the right frame of mind as well as spent some last efforts on things I wanted to improve.
5 weeks were spent as follows:
Active recovery seems most fitting, light swim sets and light low HR turbo sessions for the first half of the week. Then as my body started to recover, I went back into full training. Too soon it turned out as my body responded with severe stomach cramps and persistent diarrhoea to remind me it wasn’t ready yet. Reluctantly I eased off and fortunately I bounced back again.
Hard training again, shorter sessions with a focus on high intensity intervals and sustained efforts. I particularly wanted to find more speed on the run and also work on a higher stroke speed during the swim.
With the departure to Lanzarote scheduled on the Thursday the week was short enough of as it was. Monday evening I did a short BRIC session ( bike run interval circuit ), to have one last practice at running off the bike. Then it was time to take my bike apart and pack it for the journey to Lanzarote. There was a finality to it, and as I went through my list of things, detailing what I had put where I felt calm and organised.
Tuesday evening a swim session in the local pool, normally we get a section cordoned off, however due to some miscommunication between the triathlon club and the leisure centre management, this didn’t occur. As a result we were dodging other swimmers going up and down the pool. Still all in all a 2400m set was a good final preparation.
Wednesday morning spin class, despite only having 5 hour sleep, the class went well and it felt good to have another high intensity set to round off my taper week.
Thursday flew by between final packing and travelling to Lanzarote. I did find myself obsessing about ensuring I minimised my risk of picking up a cold or other form of illness ( planes are notorious for this as so many people are cramped together in such a small space. Anyway obsessive hand washing and sanitising gel seemed to keep this at bay ( imagine my relief ). The pre-flight time spent in the departure lounge was different too, where normally I would opt for an alcoholic beverage this time I kept it to sparkling water and fresh orange lemonade only.
Friday morning in glorious sunshine putting my bike back together felt good, it put me in a positive mind-set. Then I went for a quick “shake down” ride which revealed a noise coming from the rear of my bike… Panic all stations…!
Fortunately it was an easy fix and I continued on riding on high alert for any other stray sounds, vibrations or other pending mechanical disasters. Fortunately none occurred so it was off to club La Santa for registration, athlete briefing ( yes that is how we were referred to which made it feel even the more real ) and then the pasta party.
The Ironman organisation dictates that bike, cycling necessities and running shoes are all checked in the night before. I had mixed feelings about leaving my bike in the transition area over night. The estimated value of all the high end carbon equipment left there was mind boggling. However security seemed to be more than adequately equipped to ensure precious bikes were kept safe overnight.
Bike checked in and we were off to the pasta party, carb loading in readiness for the event the next day. There was a real positive buzz in the restaurant as all athletes were in high spirits. Then it was back to my accommodation for an early night. The rest of my family ( rather sensibly ) decided to leave me on my own in the accommodation whilst they went out for dinner and drinks. This gave me some peace and quiet to complete my pre-race preparations.
Another 05:00 alarm to give me sufficient time for a breakfast and last minute preparations. Rather surprisingly, I slept fairly well, great helped by the evening I had on my own to reflect, plan my race and run various scenarios through my head as well as check my list of things to pack once again.
We arrived at Club La Santa in pitch black darkness and immediately there was this clear buzz around the place. Various other athletes were already there going through their final preparations, re-inflating bike tyres, checking and adding to their kit bags. I checked my bike over, filled my drink reservoir and added a sports bottle to the bottle cage.
Meeting the fellow Costain team members at the transition area gave us all an opportunity to wish each other good luck and a good race
Then it was time to get into our wet suits and get ready for the first part of the race, the swim:
In triathlon the professionals and the amateurs ( age groupers as we are referred to ) complete the event at the same time. Therefore we as age groupers first saw the male pros start, shortly followed by the female pros.
Then it was our turn to get into the water, as I waded into the water ( which felt quite warm ) I was immediately struck by how crowded the swim start was. Tentatively I took up a space in the middle of the pack and tried to create some space around me. Others were doing exactly the same resulting in some pushing and pulling.
The organisers counted down the minutes, then seconds and as the air horn went off the relative calm of the salt water lagoon was disturbed by a mass of flailing arms and legs. Within seconds of the start I was completely boxed in by the people around me and as too many people tried to squeeze through the funnel shaped start area it become a very physical affair. People were clawing, kicking and punching around them, I received various kicks and claws and at one point a guy to my left swung his arm around my right shoulder and tried to pull me under.
At this point I shouted a choice 4 lettered word and briefly contemplated standing up ( as I’m 6’5” I can probably stand in most lakes / lagoons ) to physically express my annoyance with his actions. However the knowledge that several hundred swimmers were still behind me and the risk of a further severe pummelling stopped me doing this and I concentrated on the swim. For 1600m ( 1 mile ) the swim remained a very physical affair with people around me and only in the last 300m ( 1/5th mile ) did it open up so I could settle into a rhythm.
As I came out of the water I glanced at my watch and noted my swimming time ( 34:01 ) which was about 3 minutes slower than what I was hoping for. Furthermore it became evident that my wet suit zipper ( located on my back ) was stuck so instead of running to the transition area I walked whilst applying some brute force to release the zip. Fortunately it eventually gave way and I jogged into the transition area. This costs me a further 3 minutes. Then as I was putting on my cycling shoes I was joined in the transition area by Tim ( fellow team member ) and Martijn ( Dutch friend ). Quick good lucks ensued and I ran off to collect my bike.
From a previous training camp in Lanzarote I knew that virtually immediately after leaving Club La Santa the road starts to climb. Therefore after mounting my bike, I kept a high leg cadence to get blood into my legs to prepare for the exertion ahead. As the bike leg of a triathlon is my strongest discipline I was looking forward to this section. My start paid off as before long I was zooming past several other athletes and rapidly making up places.
One of those athletes was a Dutch acquaintance and as I passed him, he told me my younger brother was well ahead of me. “Good for him” I thought and at that point I decided to stick with my race plan anyway rather than try and chase him down. As Lanzarote is hot and windy ( which masks the intensity of the sun and heat ), I knew that staying on top of my hydration and nutrition would be essential. In between controlling my bike at speed, avoiding other road users ( the roads remain open for the general public ) and avoiding being blown of the road by the wind gusts I ate and drank when I could.
The bike course has a big hill in it ( Tabayesco which climbs 602m ( 1975 feet ) over a 10.5 km (6.5 mile) distance at an average gradient of nearly 6% ). At the bottom of the hill which we pass before we get to a turnaround point slightly further on, I came across one of the trainers from the training camp in went to. As he is a strong cyclist and a better swimmer than me, I knew that my bike was going well.
Going up the hill, my race plan was the maintain a gear, cadence and heart rate zone and by keeping this I started passing more athletes. I had set myself a target of 2 hours to get to the top of Tabayesco and was delighted when I got there in 1:53.
After that the road drops steeply and on the long descends I hit speeds up to 53mph which is very fast when you’re wearing virtually nothing ( trisuits leave very little to the imagination and are made of very little material ) on very skinny tyres.
The last part of the bike section was all about ensuring I conditioned my legs for the half marathon ahead, still I was delighted to finish the bike section in 2:45. ( 15 minutes ahead of my own prediction ). As I came into the transition area I arrived at the same time as the coach I had seen at the bottom of the hill. Another quick good luck and I changed into my running shoes to start the last leg of the triathlon.
As I started the run, it was immediately evident how much the temperature had gone up since the start of the bike leg. The sun was shining brightly and with the heat radiating back from the road and the lava rocks as well as ( ironically ) little wind, it felt very hot.
Initially my legs felt heavy, however this is a feeling I’m used to running of the bike so I told myself to “MT*U” and start running. The first aid station is located in the car park as you come out of club La Santa. I immediately grabbed wet sponges and squeezed the cold water over me, then drank some water and flat coke. My family had gathered just past the aid station and having them there shouting encouragements picked me up. Especially hearing my 2.5 year old daughter shouting “go papa go, and faster!” spurred me on. The run is a 3 lap out and back course to the village of La Santa along the coast.
Having had a good bike section I had made up time and was on the run course during my first lap at the same time as the professionals who were on their last lap. Watching the pros run was a humbling experience as they appeared effortless and graceful flying past me. ( gazelles running past a rhino was the mental image I came up with )
The run was tough and as I came to the turnaround point on the first lap I saw my younger brother coming the other way. We high fived and continued running, at that point I timed him as being 5 minutes in front of me.
Coming back into La Santa I passed my family heading into the sports complex and again on the way out. Running through the sports complex to start my next lap meant running towards the finish line only to be turned away by the course marshals to complete another lap and pick up an arm band as physical marker for laps completed. At the end of lap 2 I hit a low as at that stage both my legs had cramped up and it felt like someone was punching my quads at every step. All things go through your mind at that time, however thinking about all the people who had supported me pulled me through it. Coming back through the aid stations which were manned by very supportive and enthusiastic people provided another morale boost. Some of the friendly staff knew that I would throw the first cup of water over my head rather than drink it so they just threw water at me instead which was gratefully received.
I saw another team member, Matt, coming towards me during my last lap, we exchanged a quick high five and good luck as we both ran on.
As I arrived at the last turnaround point on lap 3 my brother was only about 1 minute ahead of me. Despite the cramps in my legs I had paced myself up until that point and was able to pick up the pace slightly. As a result I caught him up with 1.5 miles ( 2.4km ) to go.
As I ran alongside him, he asked if we could finish together. I said yes we can, and then we ran together through the last aid stations into the stadium. Coming into the station and now knowing we could run across the finish gave me a last burst of energy and we both held our hands up together as we crossed the line.
Time for the run 1:51:59 which was 6 minutes slower than I had hoped for, all in all I have completed the event in 5:19:05.
The sense of elation of crossing the line after a year of training and build up was immense. I briefly celebrated with my family after which we walked down to the pool side restaurant for something to eat. Strangely enough I didn’t feel like eating but after a jump in the ( very cold ) pool my appetite returned.
After that it was back to the finish line to support the rest of the Costain Team and Dutchies still being out on the course.
All in all the toughest event I have done yet but very rewarding, it has been an epic journey so far and as I result I have already booked the next event: