Round the Island – Run Race Report

Two days have passed and my body feels about 100%. Had you asked me yesterday if I thought that was possible I would have laughed. Had you asked me on Sunday evening if I thought I would recover in two days I’m not sure I would have had the energy to even react. And yet, here I am staying up past midnight with the energy the write this entry. Once again, I realize that our body is an amazing machine – able to withstand so much pressure and yet so delicate that we must constantly pay attention to it’s requirements.

After a great trip to the Isle of Wight, which involved a car, a train, a bus, a ferry and a van, we arrived at our first night’s accommodation on the island – the glorious Cowes Enterprise College. We would be sleeping on the floor of their gymnasium, in sleeping bags and on gymnastic mats (secured minutes before by the experienced ultra runners Kat and Adam), surrounded by 80 other athletes. After dropping off bags and meeting friends we headed into Cowes to grab a pasta meal. This weekend was also the Round the Isle boat race – a lesser known event to our footrace – but it meant that the town was invaded by many drunken sailors enjoying their last sip of beer before parting ways with the shore to circumnavigate the Isle of Wight, a journey that takes all of 10 hours, before they could pick up their pint glass again without missing a beat. It was an entertaining walk to the restaurant.

Dinner in; walk back to school; lights out; ear plugs in and eye mask on. I’m determined to get a full night’s rest. Except every 10 minutes I need to turn over to avoid bed sores or to turn away from the last cough/sneeze/snore/shuffle/light in the hall. In reality I slept quite well and felt rested in the morning.

Race briefing. I am still not 100% sure what I am getting myself into. My run bag is packed and we head down to the start, which begins as soon as the door of the chain ferry across the River Medina opens. My GPS isn’t quite set up, but after a few hundred meters it catches up. The ‘race’ has begun. it’s immediately a gentle incline. It lasts for a kilometre or two. We’re largely staying on roads, with a few well travelled trails thrown in the mix. It’s easy running. Undulating hills, a few bigger climbs. I’m running with Adam and Kat, the couple who got me into this mess – one of whom goes on to win their category, but for the interests of suspense I will not reveal which one – being pulled along are about 7-8 other runners who have all started at about the same pace. We are taking it easy, pushing 5:45 min/km to 6:30 min/km. Sometimes I glance at my trusted Garmin and we’re going faster, sometimes slower.

After 10/12 kilometres we are in and out of the few towns. We are running through fields, through some wooded areas, along the beaches, up on the cliffs/bluffs. It’s beautiful. The weather is unbelievable. Cloudless, but today that translates to hot. Definitely need to take care of hydrating properly and consuming electrolytes to replace those lost through perspiration.

I start to feel the little niggles in my body but press on. I’m eating and drinking enough. I have the energy. But I do have to keep reminding Adam to slow it. At 25 km the group has split up. Just after the 30/32 km checkpoint I decide to take an extra few minutes to eat and drink. Kat and Adam run on. This is the beginning of the end for me today. The next 10 km to the next checkpoint pass very slowly. I get spurred on by a sales guy at a plumbing store in Surrey, UK, who is also competing with his boss (just imagine), a client (even worse!), and another colleague. But I’ve been beaten. I think of the next checkpoint, hoping, praying that Kristin will be there to welcome me.

I finally arrive and she arrives at just the same time. I am mentally beaten. I sit down and 25 minutes later stop my GPS watch. I’ve officially withdrawn. 42 km in 4 hours 51 minutes. Not fast enough or far enough to be anything special. And it’s the first time I’ve withdrawn from a race. My tear ducts act up as I tell the race official that I’m out. I can’t believe I came to this decision so easily. I just stopped having fun and I wasn’t doing this for anything or anyone, not even myself. I couldn’t think of a reason to continue.

It’s now my chance to support the others as they come towards the finish. As expected I take a bit of abuse for quitting. But I know in my heart it was the right decision. I don’t decide if I’m going to start on day two until the morning of. But Shaun and Adam factor me into tomorrow’s running plan as though it’s not really my decision. That helps.

We sleep in some cabins overlooking the sea. The campsite is fantastic. All facilities well catered for. This is a real testament to the event organizers – Extreme Energy. They choreographed a great weekend with a beautiful route.

Day two. I get dressed, feeling surprisingly fresh. I guess I did only run a marathon yesterday… We put Shaun in a SuperWoman outfit – partly because he asked us to run this as part of his stag-do and in order to have the privilege of supporting him at his upcoming wedding. He walks out of the chalet just as the walkers are getting their Day 2 race briefing. He gets a few laughs, but it’s all in good spirits.

I start running an hour before the others. Instead of supporting from the sidelines Kristin decides she will run with me to the first checkpoint. I think this is great – then we can withdraw together. We are encouraging each other. I really enjoyed that section, running with Kristin along a beautiful cliff edge the whole way – 15 km – with one significant hill. Kristin had a lot more energy than me, but simple exchanging words every now and then was awesome. She ran 15 km the day before with Shaun and Channari. 15 more today. She’s well on her training schedule to run a marathon, now we need to encourage her to sign up!

At checkpoint one I commit to going to the next checkpoint. They say it’s only 5 miles (8+ km). That seems manageable. I’ll withdraw there. 7 miles later I pull into checkpoint two. Two miles seems insignificant, but when I am prepared to end my race at that checkpoint it suddenly becomes a lot more relevant. I decide to carry on.

At checkpoint three Kristin and Channari, who is supporting today, have cold cokes waiting. I decide to spend 10/15 minutes with them; it’s hot and I need to cool down. Furthermore, the guy who was at the third checkpoint on day one when I withdrew was there. He made it clear I wasn’t allowed to withdraw at his checkpoint twice! Just then Shaun, Kat and Adam rock up. They started an hour later than me and managed to catch up. Shaun is broken albeit not wearing his SuperWoman outfit. Kat stops for only a few seconds, same with Adam, who continue their sprint for the remaining 14 km.

Shaun and I decide to head out together, committing to walking the rest of the way. Of course very quickly we laugh at this suggestion and start jogging. It’s relaxed pace. Shaun set a blistering pace for Kat and Adam for the first 30km of the day. Keeping them to their targets. But now he’s showing signs of wear. We take it easy.

To cut a long story short (if it’s long it’s because the whole things was long), we finally made it into Cowes, with one hill to go to get to the Cowes Enterprise College, where we had slept two nights before. We finally made it. 53km later. My feet rather sore, my quads super tight, my shoulders and back aching, my knees and ankles on the point of stress, but otherwise in perfect shape. It’s the longest I’ve ever run.

I learn seconds after crossing the finish line that Kat has won the women’s race – first place. What a stellar accomplishment following months of hard training. An amazing show of mental and physical strength. She just kept powering on opening the gap wider and wider with the other females. I will link to her race report once published. I wonder if she’s thought about getting sponsorships and going pro.

Learning

And so, what have I affirmed and learned through this experience? First, I affirmed that I do not really like running for hours on end. After approximately 30 km of running the emotional gain from each step is significantly dwarfed by the increasing pain and the decreasing pace. Second, never be bullied by your friends.

On point one:

Running is fun. It is a great feeling when floating on the tarmac, feet just a centimetre off the ground and each step is pushing your body through the wind which is rushing past your cheeks and filling your ears, the hair is flowing freely. You feel each muscle twitch your body forward, powerful with the vacuum of air in your wake. This is a great feeling.

Unfortunately, after a little while I feel it loses its appeal. You lose the beauty, the free-form of running and you start thinking about putting one foot in front of the other. This is only the beginning of the downward spiral and where I will stop writing about it.

On day one, after about 33 km I was reduced to a gentle shuffle, running at an usually casual 8 min/km. My back throbbing, my hips in pain with every step, the soles of my feet so tender they feel every bump on the trail. Is running still fun at this point? Well, you already know – I withdrew a short 9 km later.

Fortunately, I did this event for a bit of ‘fun’ with friends. No need to prove anything.

I can now go back to blogging about all of my physical activity, which you will have remarked has been next to nothing as I have not posted anything since July 2013!

That Nervous Feeling

What does it feel like to be heading to an endurance race without having done much training? Well, nerve wracking.

I have no idea if I will finish this 2 day, 110km foot race around the Isle of Wight, a small island just off the south coast of England.

I have no idea if I’ll be walking, let alone running, on the second day, following a nap in a school hall and 60km in my legs.

I have no idea if I will finish in time on Sunday, the 2nd day, to catch the last ferry back to the mainland.

The feeling is completely different to how I felt on the eve of my ironman, where I had 9 months of dedicated effort, gallons of sweat, blog and tears in my trail and the mental strength to carry me through. I don’t have any of it for tomorrow’s starting gun.

In the past six months I have about 250km of running under my belt, which is quickly getting filled with my high calorie intake. I have been on my bike only a dozen times and I haven’t even dipped my tow into the water. Granted the running has been long distance, I don’t think it will be enough.

And yet. I can’t wait. For it to be over will require many thousands of steps, a nutrition plan consisting, for the first time, of homemade flapjacks, and some good banter with the other competitors. I am counting on these things being enough to pull me through.

So far, I’m sure this begs the question how on Earth did I get myself into this? Quite simply I failed to sign up for a shorter ultra marathon (anything more than a full marathon, 42.2km) a couple months ago with a few friends, my patient training partners. I couldn’t let them down again.

And why so little training? You’ll have to wait on another post for the full explanation. But in two words: family, work. I’m sure you can fill in the rest.

For now, it’s about enjoying a sunny weekend on a little island with good friends and completing a ‘little’ run. More to come on that last bit.

Liverpool ITU World Championship Qualifier

So the Ironman was not even a week behind me when I woke up and realized that the International Triathlon Union’s final qualifier in the UK was only a week away. After conferring with my coach my schedule for the week was more recovery than intensity.

In short, two weeks after the Ironman I was in Liverpool for the triathlon World Championships which are held every year in September. This year they are extra special because the race will be in Hyde Park, on the same course as last year’s Olympic race. How cool it would be to race in this championship weekend around an iconic course, especially representing a country (even if that’s GB)!

I went into the race thinking that it would be a huge bonus to qualify, but knowing that first I was still tired from the race in Austria and that I hadn’t put any focus on Olympic distance this season, so my legs may not pump as fast as I would need to qualify.

Heading up to Liverpool was easy (I love UK’s train network). However, on arriving I quickly learned that this race was also the British championship race. I knew then that qualifying would be an even bigger stretch than I thought. The calibre of athletes would be extremely high.

Anyway. My race strategy was to go all out and see how long I lasted, hoping it would be until the finish line. There was no risk of not finishing and I knew that I would need to have a very competitive swim before I could have a competitive bike and before I had to run my legs out of everything they had. So one at a time, at the fastest I could go.

Well, my pacing wasn’t quite that way. I had to constantly remind myself to go faster, in all three disciplines. I just was not used to feeling that type of burn in my muscles. Still I hit a personal best, crossing the finish line in 2:10:01. Unfortunately, that was almost 15 minutes behind the winner. I didn’t have a chance in heck of qualifying.

A bummer, but obviously not the end of the world. It means I get to spend more time with the family, refocus on my day job and see friends. All things I have been taking advantage of for the past few weeks since that Liverpool race.

At the end of the 2011 season Chrissie Wellington must have asked herself after winning the Ironman championship in Kona for the fourth time, “What’s next?” I would love to think I’m asking the same question, but in my heart I know what is next. I just need a little while to take stock of the other great things in my life.

One tip for the next aspiring Ironman – never underestimate the toll the training takes on other people! And be grateful!

More to come on this, I’m sure, including goals for 2014, but more importantly on more random musings about triathlon.

Photos of Race Day

I know, I should have posted these alongside my race report yesterday. Truth be told it was nearly midnight by the time I was done writing and I was exhausted. As a result, photos below in sequence. They were taken mostly by my Dad on his phone or tablet so apologies for any resolution issues.

Wörthersee - Calm before the storm

The calm Wörthersee as 2,800 athletes prepare to part the waters

Start Line, Ironman Austria

2,400 people lined up on the mass beach start at 7am. It’s crowded!

Canal

One of the unique features of the race is the 1,100m canal to the water exit. You can see a few bobbing heads.

Turn to water exit

It got a bit crowded around the final turn to the water exit. Only 50 meters to go.

Water exit

Lots of volunteers on hand to help at the water exit.

Run to transition

The run to transition was about 130 meters and fully carpeted. Very nice on the feet!

Leading rider

Strong bike performance from Great Britain’s Philip Graves.

Aid Station

Plenty of well stocked aid stations with great volunteers. THANK YOU!

Country Side

Biking through some awesome scenery at Ironman Austria

Helicopter

The helicopters circling overhead on the swim and bike and a bit on the bike were pretty cool.

The Run

Not me, but the run was mostly shaded and through parks/along canals.

Moments after the finish

Just crossed the line and the first I go for is a beer… typical (except non-alcoholic).

Finish

With the medal in the finishers’ chute.

Standing = Difficult

A bit grainy, but naturally with a beer (alcohol free) in hand. All showered and on my way to collect my steed.

 

Race Report – Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt, 2013

After much ado here is my race report for the Ironman Austria 2013.

First off, a small note on the weather – it was perfect. The sun was shining almost from the start but it was a comfortable high 20 degrees Celsius throughout. There was a slight breeze that steadily increased throughout the bike leg but was never too much. The burn on my shoulder blades is telling of the lack of sunscreen applied after the swim – fail #1 – but it wasn’t uncomfortable.

The prep the day and evening before the race went smoothly, apart from a slight issue with my back break. Essentially I had no power, despite having good tension on the brake lever.  I took it to the mechanic in transition at check-in and he was unable to fix it. Then I wheeled it over to the official bike store/mechanic and he just about improved it so that I had enough braking power to be safe, but it was not ideal.

Bike checked in and transition bags hung. Race briefing went by with some good jokes and some strong words about it being the athletes responsibility to know the rules and be safe. There was mention of the British guy who died at Ironman Nice the previous weekend after coming off his bike in a turn. Safety is always the first priority.

Back in the hotel room the night before I tried to get to sleep early, but I just wanted to check my gear for the last time (again) (and then again). It was all there and I laid it out so that in the morning I didn’t have to think about anything, just get dressed. I finally made it to sleep at midnight, knowing I had to wake up at 4:30. Early alarm and the whole family was out the door by 5. They were good sports throughout the day.

Early morning in transition. Lots of very nice bikes. The disk wheel is definitely the choice piece of equipment. Failing this anything with rims deeper than my palm. Some expensive pieces of kit. The bike cover comes off and I set up my bike.

Bike covers coming off in transition. Ironman Austria 2013

Bike covers coming off in transition. Ironman Austria 2013

My bike ready for action. I am surrounded by amazing bikes

My bike ready for action. I am surrounded by amazing bikes

Once the bike is ready I make my way to the water’s edge, meet my family and exchange hugs and words of encouragement. The elites start at 6:45 and I’m still faffing about with my wetsuit.

The Swim:

Our cannon goes off at 7am. 2,400 people run into the water together. I have never experienced something like this, but it was awesome. After fighting a little to hold my position I managed to work my way up to nearly the front of a pack where there was a bit of space. The water was a perfect 20 degrees or so. It was a clear milky color which made swimming in it very pleasant. It was also calm so you could see the buoys that were about 300-400 meters spaced apart (normally quite a distance to sight in open water).

One of the best moments of the swim was when the race helicopter was flying very low over the water, presumably getting the money shots. You could hear the power of the engine and for that brief moment I felt like I was leading the race.  Then I remembered I was swimming and that normally at this early stage of the race I jut try not to drown.

Making the final left turn and sighting for the canal was quite difficult and I found myself overcompensating frequently. It was into the sun and the canal was poorly marked. Once in the canal it was awesome. 1,000m of swimming in a 10 meter wide canal was an experience. The riverbanks were lined with people cheering. You could hear them going wild. It got really noisy when I passed under a footbridge that must have been lined with people. There was a bit of fighting for space in the canal, but overall it wasn’t so bad.

3.86km swim complete in 1:04:19.

Transition 1:

Normally this wouldn’t be a separate section of a race report, but given it took five minutes I thought it at least deserves a mention. Nothing exciting happened. Unfortunately, given where my bike stand was I had the longest run through transition. Seeing as seconds are not going to make or break this race I opted to put my shoes on in the transition tent rather than while cycling. It saves the potential embarrassment of falling when hopping on your bike and I wasn’t sure what I would be feeling like after the swim. Ends up I was feeling great.

The Bike:

I love biking, so it was important that in the first 20-40 Kilometres I toned it down, kept the pace steady and was not overzealous. I found a group of guys who all seemed like pretty good cyclists who I could maintain pace with. It was a bit bunched at the beginning, but as I enjoy the hills I was able to pass on the hills and be overtaken on the flats (where the disk wheels really come into their own).

The entire course was closed to traffic, although there was one section that has opposing traffic of the race. On the first lap I saw the lead pack of cyclists pass by. They were 30 kilometres ahead and looked fierce. It was awesome to see them and the entourage no matter how briefly.

The bike is two laps of 90 km each. Over the course there is one sharp climb of 2 km of 11% gradient. It comes as a surprise but is quickly passed.

The aid stations were plentiful and well stocked. The volunteers were also well trained to hand over the bottles.

My first lap took 2 hours 30 mins. I thought it would be a miracle to keep that pace and manage a sub-5 hour bike split. But I was feeling good. The second lap I kept up the pace but then with about 40 km to go (and just before the big hill) I realized it had been 30 minutes since I last ate.  I took an emergency gel with caffeine and forced myself to eat one of my sports bars – a good mix of solid and easily digestible foods. Anyway, a few minutes later I started to bonk. My glycogen stores were near depletion and my legs were ticking over. At one point I saw two roads and remember getting passed by six riders (and their disk wheels) who were powering along with ease. I know this should be easier.

Within 10 minutes I was back to normal and back to speed. Then with 20 km to go I eased off slightly, letting my legs recover for the run. In theory this had worked during the Mallorca Half-Ironman several weeks before. There I had just forgotten to eat, despite my legs feeling fine.

I finished lap two in a few minutes over 2 hours 30 minutes.

Total bike time: 5:07:34

Transition 2:

Another random mention of transition. Despite sitting down to eat a bit of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich I had made that morning and being lathered up with sunscreen (albeit too late) I managed to get out of transition quicker than T1. 4 minutes 33 seconds. My first few running steps felt great.

The Run:

As with the bike, I didn’t want to overcook the start of my run. I also knew that I had to average 5:41/km if I was going to get my dream target of sub 4 hours for the marathon. I also had decided that the only way I was going to do this was if I agreed with myself that I would walk through the aid stations and eat, recalibrate and run again. So I decided to pace at 5:15/km. I was a bit fast at the start and couldn’t manage to hit my pace, but sure enough my body slowed down and following two rough patches where I secretly may have walked a few hundred meters past the aid station I was hitting my targets.

My slowest kilometres were 10 and 24. 10 I remember specifically because I was running with this guy, Ramin, who I agreed to run with at the five km mark. At 10 km he was adamant that he needed a break and I stopped with him, offering to spur him along. But after 30-45 seconds when he didn’t want to kick up again I offered my apologies and kept going. He ended up coming in just under 6 hours for the marathon. The long 24th km probably is due to an extra bite at the aid station, although honestly I can’t remember. If it was food related then it was worth the extra minute.

In analysing my Garmin Connect report I notice that for all but those two kilometres (and a few at the beginning) I was between 5:16 and 6:02. This landed me squarely on 5:36 average for the course.

I felt great throughout the run. There were a ton of very well equipped aid stations – every 2.5km on average. There was no discomfort until the last few kilometres where I could feel tightness in my quads and cramps coming on in my calves. At that point I was not going to let a cramp stop me. I was only a few (relatively) steps from the finish line and I was floating, elated.

Total run time: 3:56:42 and pacing 5:36/km.

Totals:

Swim: 01:04:19

T1: 00:05:00

Bike: 05:07:34

T2: 00:04:33

Run: 03:56:42

Total: 10:18:08

This places me 48th in my division and 485th overall. Needless to say, if I intend to qualify for the Ironman championship in Kona, Hawaii, I will need to be significantly faster! My age group (25-29) winner finished in 09:00:04.

If you want to do your first Ironman or are a seasoned veteran I highly recommend this race. It’s a beautiful swim, bike and run. And while Ironman is inherently not a spectator sport this race accommodates your fan club better than most. There is transport to various parts of the bike course and the run brings you 5 times past transition/the finish so that you get plenty of uplift from your support. Also, the organization is superb (leave it to the Austrians).

If there’s anything you wanted to hear about do ask and I can write a follow-up or amend as required. Thanks for reading.

Ironman Austria – Complete

Wow. I’m at a bit of a loss for words. Crossing the finish of the Ironman could well be the most emotional moment of my life. Yes, the 10 hours and 18 minutes that it took me were difficult, but really that moment was the culmination of eight months of sacrifice and dedication. During all of my training and throughout all of my races I have been thinking in the back of my mind about crossing that line, about what it will take.

Despite all of my research in this period, despite reading a gazillion articles and speaking with a whole host of experienced ironmen, I only really found what it takes at certain key moments of the race on Sunday. During some of these moments I was brought to tears.

Moment 1:
About one third of the way through the bike I had been in the race for about three hours. Thinking “I prepared for this. I can do this.” I had chills down my spine. It was awesome cruising around this course thinking it’s all comedown to this.

Moment 2:
About 40km from the end of the bike. 5hrs into the race. I was uncomfortable on the bike, starting to fade. I could feel my energy levels dip, my motivation was waning. But knowing my family was there and that those that weren’t were tracking my progress spurred me on. It was a great feeling. I didn’t want to disappoint them with some excuse that in a day or two would seem inconsequential.

Moment 3:
In the last turn around of the run I committed to finishing without walking. I was 5km from the end and I was pushed along, floating towards the finish. My legs found the juice they needed and I just had what might be the fastest 5km of the entire run. I remember running by people who were cheering. I was smiling, a huge grin. Sometimes you just have to finish.

Moment 4:
Near midnight I went back to the finish line with my Mom to cheer in the last official finishers. It was a massive party. The last two finishers crossed the line with only minutes to spare to the cutoff. The second to last was an old man, bent over because of fatigue. He was running down the chute on the power of the crowds, gripping the side railings when his legs were giving way to stay upright. It was unreal to watch this guy finish.

The Ironman takes so much out of the athlete. The training that goes into completing one of these is no joke. I am grateful that I too was picked up by the crowds, but more importantly that I was supported by my family and friends for the past 8 months. I’m done taking for a little while.

Butterflies getting in formation

The outpouring of encouragement over the past five days has been amazing. Thank you! It is an incredible feeling knowing that there are all these people who will be tracking me during the event tomorrow. Thanks (he says dryly feeling the added pressure). But in honesty, it’s a very cool thing to get the flood of messages I have gotten. You guys are awesome.

It’s the day before the race. My bike is in the trusted care of Ironman security, my bags are packed, I’ve had a lovely dinner and am settling in early in anticipation of a 4am wake up. The race starts at 7am and I want to be sure my body has had time to digest as much as possible by then. I’ll have a few jam and peanut butter sandwiches, and a banana or two, with another a quarter of an hour before the race.

The buzz around the event is awesome. 2,800 competitors. Most of us with a cheerleading squad. You can imagine that Klagenfurt is a busy place. I’m grateful to have my parents as well as Kristin and Ryan spurring me forward.

This morning I attended the race briefing, where a race official runs through all of the logistics of the race as well as the main rules and regulations. He commented on the butterflies that everyone must be feeling while sitting there, getting antsy about starting and then ultimately crossing the finish line. “Tomorrow morning”, he said, “these butterflies will fall into formation and the race will begin.”

I’ve eaten well today and I’m heading to bed early. My gear is laid out for tomorrow so I don’t forget anything. I have enough nutrition to feed a pack of lions.

My butterflies are getting aligned. I’m ready.