Ironman Lanzarote

Ironman Lanzarote, 21st May 2011
Swim: 3.8km, Bike: 180km, Run: 42.2km

Not having the energy to build up your bike, two days before taking part in an Ironman, is not ideal. That's how I felt on the Thursday evening, after arriving in Lanzarote.

Between jet lag, lack of sleep, several mosquito bites, phantom period pains, general fatigue... I felt even worse on the Friday. Having put in so much hard work to prepare for this one day, I was annoyed that I just didn't feel remotely in the right mood. Then I was annoyed that I was annoyed. I just wanted to be able to execute the plan I'd worked for. I knew I need to pick up my mental game, if nothing else. Not ideal lead up maybe, but it's what I had, so I'd better just get on with it!

My coach had warned me, "don't go doing anything stupid now and buying fancy new socks or shoes at the Expo!". My friend Emma, a kindred spirit, texted me saying "go buy yourself something you don't need at the Expo!". I resisted the shiny pink trainers, but resolved to treat myself to a pair when I got home.

Race morning
Still trying to get mentally relaxed and focussed on the task ahead... I was glad to get the final preparations for transition area done, to stand alone on the beach and concentrate on my breathing, trying to let all the other distracting thoughts go. I looked forward to just getting in the water!

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="Photo: Ramón Pérez Niz"][/caption]

The gun fired, and I ran, along with 1470 other athletes, into the Atlantic Ocean. Having stayed quite near the tail end of the pack, it wasn't too brutal, but still like swimming in a washing machine of limbs for the first few hundred metres. I got one limb (of some sort) in the face, and had several moments of swallowing water where I'd hoped there'd be air, but overall it was a dense, but pretty tame first lap. I fell behind the pack in the second lap, and slightly missed the frenzy and with it the chance to draft, but kept a fairly steady pace back in by myself.

My estimated time for the swim was 1hr 30. Slower than Cozumel, but that's just where I am, in a wetsuit swim, for now. I just wanted to get the swim over with really and get out onto the bike.

My swim time was 1hr 31mins.

Ahhh, the bike course. I felt confident with my preparations, and familiar with the course, particularly after doing the full course three times in one week the previous month. It was a fair bit windier than my previous sessions though, and I struggled to lift my energy and power levels against a relentless head wind. I got a welcome little lift coming into Mancha Blanca where my friend Ele had positioned herself to cheer me on. Around 2.5hrs in, a spectator shouted "Go on! Just another 40km of climbing then you get a downhill!" Ugh.

Three aid stations in a row had run out of energy drink, which was irritating, not least because I had to then calculate how much extra gels I should take to keep my intake steady (mental arithmetic is not a strong point).

On two occasions ambulances rushed past me: a reminder that it really wasn't that bad and I should enjoy myself. I had taped a note of my splits between key points to my top tube, and that was a great help mentally to just focus on getting to the next small step. I found the climb to Haria much tougher than usual. By the time I reached the summit, and the special needs station at 104km, I was pretty beat. I saw some men had sat down on the pavement to take their food and figured "what's a few minutes? I'll do the same". The judge motioned that I was welcome to sit on one of his plastic chairs - sheer bliss for my sore lower back. I was delighted to have packed a range of options in my special needs bag, and went for all the last minute "just in case" stuff - a small cheese and ham baguette and a can of Redbull. Realising I was probably the only athlete to voluntarily sit in the penalty box, I thanked the judge for his hospitality and went on my merry re-energized way down the hairpin bends to Haria.
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="500" caption="James Mitchell Photography"][/caption]

From then on, really the hardest parts were done and it was just about sticking to the nutrition plan, trying to keep my power up and ticking off the splits.

When I was nearing the end, at Tias, I flicked the bike computer off the splits to see the total time, afraid I'd been so weak I'd gone over my estimated 8.5hrs. It was under 8 at that point. Thrilled, I thoroughly enjoyed the twisty descent back into Puerto del Carmen, overtaking a bunch of people along the last stretch.

Based on my course practice sessions, I'd estimated the bike would take me 8hrs 30. My coach thought on a great day I could do 7hrs 40, up to 8hrs 20 if it was windy. My bike time was 8hrs 14mins. (Data)

My mission for the run course was to control my pace to a steady 7min/km, which should allow me to run the entire course. As opposed to the painful shuffle-walk-shuffle I experienced in the second half of Cozumel. It felt easy for the first ten minutes or so, and I had to remind myself to keep a lid on it, keep in control. S-T-E-A-D-Y.

Getting the first 19km lap down was a real mental boost, and I felt good. I chuckled out loud at one point when my mind said "Hey! You're ON THE RUN in Ironman Lanzarote!", remembering briefly that when I entered I thought this might just be a swim and bike, for me. My pace started to dip a little on the inclines, but I mostly felt that yes I could keep this going for another two (shorter) laps. I started trying to work out if I could make the sub 5hr mark. I decided to keep it in control for the first half of the second lap, if I still felt good then I could try and increase the pace a touch.

Ele spotted me and ran along for a bit, telling me that I was doing great and passed on some messages of support from those at home. It was a nice boost, but I couldn't spare the extra energy to listen or talk for long.

Second half of the the second lap on, and I could feel my breathing getting more strained. I reminded myself how easy this pace felt when my coach told me to run at it the last few weeks. It felt so slow then, it was kinda silly. 13 hours of exercise into the day, it was definitely requiring more effort. But I tried to convince myself I was mistaken, this is easy pace, remember? E-A-S-Y.

Now over 30km, I was in unknown continuous running territory, and various pains were becoming more noticeable. I've read authors like Murakami talk about viewing yourself as a machine at this point of marathon running; consciousness trying to deny consciousness. My total mental and physical energy was so consumed with the present moment that my slightly less poetic mantra became simply, 'Fuck Pain'.

Last lap, only another 9km, and I had my heart set on making sub 5. I started to get concerned that my Garmin was on auto-pause, I had heard it beep a few times... maybe I'd dipped over the 7min pace too much as I walked the aid stations? How far off 5 hours was I really? I struggled to do the mental arithmetic, but knew I had to speed up.

I tried to run closer to 6:30 min/km, at least on flat parts hopefully compensating for the increases I may have made elsewhere. The whole of the last lap, my heart and lungs were working overtime and I could hear my breathing becoming pretty loud, probably just as well I didn't wear my heart rate monitor to see how high the numbers were!

As the final corner was turned, I got that wonderful surge of energy from the crowds and the sight of the finish line and sprinted down the last stretch. Photo taken. Medal round my neck.

Then, in a slight state of relieved shock, I couldn't quite walk on and had started to hyperventilate. Two first aiders lifted me into a wheelchair and took me into the medical tent, where I was laid out on the makeshift sun lounger beds. A friendly doctor assessed me (no, I'm not asthmatic) and reassured me that I didn't need a drip (the common post-ironman request), but just needed to relax and allow my breathing to return to normal. I was wrapped up with warm blankets, given some salty soup and reassured that this was perfectly normal, in an Ironman universe, and I would be fine. "Did I... *wheeze* ... do under 5 hours?" I asked the nurse (how would she know?!). "Yes! You did it!" she kindly obliged.

My run time was 4:57. (Data)

This race does seem to have a very personal feel to it, for example Kenneth Gasque, the organiser, stands at the finish line and congratulates every single finisher. The 4000 volunteers were continuously enthusiastic and attentive, to the point where you felt guilty for not taking more of their offerings at the aid stations! The thousands of supporters out on the course (I read a figure of 10 000!) were a huge help, especially along the run course. Knowing my own friends and family were following my progress, was a lovely feeling that I carried with me the whole day.

The after party dinner and awards ceremony at Club La Santa was a fun, friendly, celebratory finish to an epic event. A free bar for a few thousand triathletes... and of course it was the diet coke that ran out!

It was great to see Rachel Joyce claim her first Ironman victory. It amused me to hear the men's winner, Timo Bracht, in his speech, say that in his first week training in Lanzarote he said he would never race here; the conditions were too harsh.

I remember my first week training in Lanzarote, in February 2010, saying I would never want to do the Ironman here. At the time I found the island brutal, and cycling here at times terrifying. But the sheer scale of the challenge was part of the appeal. I've worked on my fears, I've grown to love the island. When I signed up, in June 2010, I was too slow to have made the bike cut off time (given the hills and the likely winds), but I wanted to try. My training has concentrated on the bike, given this is the most challenging part of the Lanzarote course and where I fall furthest behind. The hard work started to pay off, and by March 2011 I realised that I would indeed make the cut off and would have to complete the run too!

There's still a lot of room for improvement, but I'm very pleased to have stayed focused on the processes, to have executed the plan for my nutritional and pace aims for the race. I'm proud to have completed the epic experience that is Ironman Lanzarote. Getting through the hard points, in training and on race day, gives me the deep rooted knowledge that with enough determination (/stubbornness?!), consistent hard work and the right support, 'not possible' need not apply.