Tears and laughter in Lanzarote

A year ago I spent a week in Lanzarote, training with the Glasgow Triathlon Club. I didn't particularly like the island. I thought the landscape was barren and harsh. I remember being so scared of the wind, I'd ride at a snails pace or stop all the time. I remember saying, "remind me NEVER to attempt this Ironman!"

But I'm an idiot, and here I am, a year on having returned from two weeks training in Lanzarote, in preparation for the Ironman there this May.

I know that it's going to be a big challenge. Everyone I've ever mentioned it to reminds me of this, with advice varying from "you'll get through it" to "it will kill you". So this two weeks was to be a bit of a test, to get an idea of how feasible it would be for me to complete the race.

During my first week my time was juggled between my freelance programming work and training. Building up the bike hours, getting used to running in the heat, cycling in the wind and swimming in the Atlantic. Everything was going reasonably well until my first big session - a six hour ride, with short run off. It was gruelling: battling the wind, pushing through some climbs through gritted teeth, finishing some windy, twitchy descents in such a state of shock (to still be upright) that my legs trembled for a solid five minutes! Back at the apartment, I felt mentally and physically drained. Time for a reality check?! Maybe this course would be just too much for me to complete? Maybe even if I could finish the bike within the cut off, I'd be in no fit state to run? Remember the pain of the run at Cozumel? Now imagine trying to run after this bike course.

Tired and teary, I thought maybe I'd too easily brushed off the comments about quite how tough this course is. Maybe the sensible approach would be to do more manageable courses and come back to Lanzarote in a few years, when I could hopefully have shaved a considerable chunk off the bike time. I tweeted:

Painful realisation: everyone may have been right - this race might not be realistic for me to complete19th Feb via Echofon

and got a healthy kick up the backside straight back:

@keavy Maybe everyone's view of realistic is wrongistic. Don't you dare give up before you try.19th Feb via web

Lanzarote Ironman veteran Sian Tovey offered some great advice: "try to work with the wind, don't fight it all the time". Initially I wasn't too sure how to physically do that (when you have to go in a certain direction), but I did shift my mental attitude. It's tough here: go hard or go home!

For the second week, I shifted camp to Club La Santa and joined up with a group of friends from the tri club. I had arranged to switch off from work completely, for the first time in... I couldn't even remember when. So glad I did! What a difference it makes being able to rest your body and mind properly in-between sessions?!

While I enjoyed having others around before and after, I chose to still go out on the bike by myself. One of the guys was concerned about me heading out on these long rides by myself - surely there was a group of people whose pace I could fit in with? Did I want some company? I explained that I was content to do my training rides my way. I'm too slow for the fast group, and I don't want to stop at coffee stops, or to keep a group together with the more moderate groups. For now, I'm going to be selfish like that. While some days, it would have been great to have had some chat, being out on the bike for 4, 5, 9(!) hours alone is partly mental practice; that's what I'll have to do on race day after all.

After 9 days of doing sections of the course, over and over, on the Sunday, I set out to do the full Ironman course. Despite fairly fatigued legs, I put in a solid, steady effort and was really pleased to see the power numbers on my bike computer, convinced I was going to sustain the highest average yet.

I was pleased with how I handled the climbs and the descents - starting to really enjoy the hairpin descent at Haria, but don't think me and the short, gusty, bad road surface, aaargh! a stop junction at the bottom Mirador del Rio descent will ever get on. I love, love, love the descent from there to the garage at Arietta. First stop to refill bottles there was a nicely timed quick chat with some friends doing reps of the nearby Tabayesco climb.

One of the toughest bits came as surprise, as it had been easy the day before, but with a change in wind direction the last 20km was a struggle to push forwards, only daring to look at the 3 metres of tarmac in front at a time. At one point, in the corner of my eye, the lava rocks at the side of the road started to resemble scary men with spears! Cue time to eat and drink more.

When I finally arrived back at the Club La Santa roundabout, some nine hours later, I flicked the screen to show the full distance (having focused on the broken down laps up till now) and it only read 171km. The desire to know I'd done the distance beat the desire to get home, so onwards to Soo and back and finally stopped when it hit 180km dead on. 8hrs 50mins of moving time, plus some brief stops.

Keeping the rest of the data for a 'treat' to pore over later, I went in, dumped the bike, changed shoes and completed my twenty minute run. Chuffed to bits, I dunked my tired legs in the cold swimming pool and had a lovely welcoming group with some friends. A glass of sangria making a peculiar, but welcome, recovery drink!

I was absolutely gutted to return to the apartment and find my bike computer had somehow lost the ride data. As if it never happened. As a birthday party got under way in our apartment, drained, I sat in my room and cried. A wise friend consoled me by saying, "it doesn't matter if it's in your bloody Garmin, it's in your legs!". A fun recovery 24hrs followed, with lots of lounging on sun loungers eating ice-cream, laughing at the volleyball hijinks, and a social ride to the nearby village for a leisurely coffee stop and chat. Ahhh, this is the life!

Next day, back up Haria again, I met the group of Glasgow guys who'd set out to do the ironman route. They joked and moaned about how tough it was taking turns at the front of their pack, against the strong head wind. I chuckled, having just rode the exact same route to get here, on my own.

Hearing them complain about the conditions made me feel proud of the progress I've made. I cycled home with a smile on my face the whole way. When the wind blew me across into the wrong side of the road, I slowed and practiced my cycling at 30 degree angle, leaning against the cross wind. Someone in the group had remarked that it's more like sailing than cycling at times here. I liked that analogy and tried to see it as a sport - getting a feel for what the wind was doing, trying to work with the bike and my body weight to counter balance. When I hit a wall of a head wind so strong that I was pushing hard to avoid going backwards, I had to laugh at just how crazy it is at times. Comforted though by the knowledge that a head wind will only slow me down, rather than pose any real physical risk, and I will eventually get through it.

Having a social ride on the last day, being able to tuck behind the wheel of the guy in front, was a very welcome rest indeed. A four hour ride, with three hours of coffee stops and good chat makes a pretty nice change too!

I'm learning to love this crazy island. The scenery is at times just spectacular.

I am pleased with the progress in my cycling in this two weeks. I'm pleased too with this realisation: I have a fear of this island, like one should have a fear of the ocean, but I am no longer afraid of it.

In under 11 weeks, I'll be back. There will be wind. There will be a bike cut off time that leaves me little room for error. There will probably be more tears. There better be one big Sangria at the end.