Kona, Meet Michael. He’s Coming To Visit.

Kona!

I feel it appropriate to start this race report with the word that led me to racing IMUK 2014. In 2012 I raced two iron distance races, the first being Austria which turned out to be a challenging day with some mechanical issues and the goal of going sub 10 hours not being achieved.

Plan B, challenge Barcelona 2012, 9:51 goal achieved, tick!

This was my ironman racing done and dusted; the Kona dream was never really a dream for me and not something I wanted to chase with all due respect.  I love racing, I love the vibe, the competitive nature, the camaraderie and travelling to race destinations with friends & family.  I was not prepared to put more into training with running my own business, ‘wife time’ & other interests!  After 2012 I decided 70.3 distances would be my thing.

Last year a group of us were having a pre-race braai (BBQ) at our villa before Mallorca 70.3 and we were talking Kona. Andy Brodziak, said the following words to me having raced Kona himself, “If you have the ability to qualify for Kona it would be a waste not to use it!” These words stuck with me for some time and the more I thought about it the more the desire started to grow. Having lunch with Raoul de Jongh in Sep 2013 after a run up table mountain, the Kona word came up again. Coming from a man who has done some epic and challenging events, to say that Kona is certainly a must and something that lives up to the hype, my decision was made. I need to get myself to the big island.

IMUK 2014; that’s my race! A hilly bike course, bad roads (equivalent to what we ride in Surrey) and a tough run. The race was entered end of 2013 and I started my planning. I was going to do this properly.  I had a plan! This was now all about Kona.

To add some background, I don’t ride with power, I barely analyse data and I only started downloading my Garmin data three weeks ago. I train on heart rate and feel. When I run I observe my pace but mostly know what pace I am running at due to my effort output. My dad ran 12 comrades marathons (two at sub 6:45 hours) with no heart rate monitor and purely on coke and water. I don’t think he even knows what a gel looks like so maybe this is where I get it from, rightly or wrongly so! My goal over the winter months was to get stronger in the gym to improve my riding. I have always run, since as far back as I can remember. My parents were both runners so that is what we did, we ran. I had never managed a good marathon off the bike and I knew this was due to my bike being my achilles heel. Wayne Smith (who coached me this year) suggested single leg squats and big gear riding. Project “strong legs” became my priority! January and half of February this year was spent in South Africa and I had the privilege of doing some great base training in and around Stellenbosch with Troy Squires. We rode some hard and hot rides on the MTB bikes in the hills of Jonkershoek and some good off road running up and down the Cape Mountains. A solid base was being laid!

When I returned to the UK mid-February, the plan continued…..out on the bike on the weekends and keeping strength work in the gym the priority. At the beginning of March, Wayne Smith sent me my first training program which was simple, consistent training for the next four months. Mallorca 70.3 was part of the training plan and was never a “race” as such. I had a great twelve day block of training with some solid riding (1000kms in 12 days). The race was always going to be a big brick session and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Back in the UK, my block of ironman specific training commenced and I kept to my key ingredient-consistency! The weeks flew past and the training was complete. Before I knew it, I was driving my car up to Bolton and pulling into the car park of the Whites Hotel three days before IMUK.

The time had come.  I was nervous and excited all rolled into one. 3am the alarm went off on race morning, Sunday the 20th of July and I felt calm! I was excited and keen to get going.  After pre-race Breakfast and coffee we were in the car to Pennington Flash, the swim start of what would hopefully be a solid day out. I had specific times for the swim and bike in mind that I wanted to achieve in order to put me in a good position to execute my run……this was all about the run!

6am Craig Alexander sounds the hooter and off we go, the usual chaos of an ironman swim start. Arms, legs, swim over someone, washing machine and finally…into clear water.  I was feeling calm and got into a good rhythm.  1900m done and it was out of the water for the Australian exit, Garmin reads 27.30! I was happy with that, back into the pond with another lap to complete. Exit 59 minutes, I lost some time somewhere on that second lap but sub 1 hour was always the swim goal.

Wetsuit off….helmet on…shoes on and exit T1! Time to be sensible, my motto was to ride like a tourist for the first 120kms.One rider after another past me.  I knew I had to keep calm or perhaps I was riding too slowly? I kept telling myself I will see them on the run… The first lap of the bike went 100% to plan, I saw my support crew (Mary, Tania, Parys and Paula who were incredible!) and gave the “all good signal”.  The second lap and up Sheep house lane I was still feeling good. It was at the 120km mark my legs vanished! The next 60km were categorically the worst 60kms I have ever ridden in any iron distance race. My legs were aching, my heart rate dropped and the power and confidence disappeared. I kept pushing along with my average pace reducing and finally accepted that this was “not to be my day. Thoughts of did I over train, was that long run to close to race day, maybe I am ill? The demons in my head were talking and talking loud. How am I going to finish a marathon feeling like this let alone run the marathon? Into T2 and very pleased to get rid of my nemesis the bike (my slowest bike split in an iron distance race by some margin).

My Garmin file below shows my reduction in pace and a drop off in heart rate: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/546910257

Onto the run…..run time is fun time…or is it!? I had a plan; 4.35 min kms and if I was around 10th in my age group at the start of the run I felt I could run myself into a Kona spot. My thoughts at the time were that there was no chance after that bike I could be anywhere near 10th place! My strategy was adjusted and I thought I would catch my friend Phillipe. I knew he biked five minutes quicker than me and so we could then jog the marathon together and accept that I was not good enough on the day for this Kona dream. Soon enough I was running with Phillipe along the tow path. A brief chat and the question of where we might possibly be sitting position wise in our age group. I was managing to hold my target pace and feeling pretty good.  It was perfect timing when my support team appeared. Mary shouted out that I was 12th  in my age group and the information started to materialise. I soon realised that most of the guys had slow bike splits and the ones that went too hard were already starting to fall apart. Like a hound to a blood trail, I knew it was game on and time to dig deep! I never studied our start list and my philosophy has always been to focus on my own race and not on the other guys around me but there was one chap I knew who was on good form after a great race in Mallorca. I predicted him to be a podium finish at IMUK, Roger Barr.  Running down into Bolton for the first time I saw Roger coming up the hill and not looking healthy at all! I knew if I could keep my pace and run sensibly I would certainly be passing him. One foot in front of the other…..step by step.

At this stage I had linked up with a chap called Joe Duckworth, a local lad from Bolton and we were running a similar pace. Joe had already qualified for Kona at IM Wales & was racing Bolton “for fun” (as you do!). We started chatting and working together. Joe gave me the following words of advice that I needed to hear, “MC keeping running like this and you will go to Kona, the guys will fall apart on this course, it happens every year”. It was these words that sealed the deal in my head and my heart. Another lap down and the word was I was 9th….the stress levels in my support crew and those following me online were immense. I knew that I was doing all I could and that I was digging as deep as I possibly could. I was drawing energy and strength from various thoughts, memories and words (as I am sure we all do when deep in the pace cave).  In particular, a running picture my mom sent me of me running on an athletics track when I was eight years old kept coming to mind. Positive thoughts like I have been running all my life and Wayne telling me that the ironman marathon is not about who runs the fastest but who slows down the least is what kept me going.

The final turn in Bolton town, over the cobble stones and back up the long hill for the last time. Everything was hurting; small quick steps, one last climb and back downhill to the red carpet were my thoughts. Slowing slightly up the hill but still maintaining a good pace. At the 37km mark I past Roger and I knew if I was ahead of him, I must certainly be in the mix! I turned at the top and back down to town for the final 3kms, the legs felt strong and the pace was sub 4.30 minute kms . Down into Bolton, back over the cobble stones and floating with each stride as I turned the final bend and down the red carpet to the familiar ironman voice of Paul Kaye.

Marathon time 3hours, 22min. Finally the marathon off the bike I had been hoping for and on a tough run course in the heat (not to mention off a horrific bike).  Job done! The finish line was epic; I had my medal around my neck and got to share Tamsin’s euphoria of winning IMUK on debut.

Most importantly, there they all were, my stellar support team who gave me the news that I had finished 5th in my age group and that MOST likely we will be booking flights to the big Island.  A sense of relief, happiness and also the reality that in 10 weeks’ time I will have to do this all over again for my last ironman dance, Kona;  what a way to complete my ironman journey. What was never my dream was now a dream finish! Those that race Ironman know it’s about overcoming adversity and digging deep.  On a day when I thought my chances of a Kona slot were totally gone, I managed to run myself from 12th in my age group to 5th.

I still maintain that overriding on the bike is our biggest mistake. Ironman racing really is ALL about the run….the first 30kms you run with your head and the last 12 kms you run with your heart and soul.

Below is my Garmin file for the run:

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/546951216

IMUK is not one of the exotic IM destinations, but it’s a tough and honest ironman course and that’s why I chose it as “my road to Kona”. The people of Bolton were mega in their support and friendliness. Bolton, oddly now, has a special place inside me. A massive thanks to everyone who played a part in my journey but the biggest thanks must go to Mary who made the same amount of sacrifices as I did to allow me to get myself race ready. KONA BABY!

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