Just The Beginning – Nico’s Story

Nico in Kona

Last weekend in Kona was Ironman number 6 in 23 months.

 Cozumel – Nov 2011

Austria – 2012,

Wales 2012,

South Africa 2013,

UK 2013

Hawaii 2013

My  journey into triathlon and endurance sport started in 2010 with a short stint training for the London and Amsterdam marathons. It was during this time I got to learn about triathlon and it was watching the coverage of the 2010 race where I decided I want to go to Kona. Over the coming weeks I looked at what it would realistically take.

The ideal high-level plan looked something like this:

2011 – Get a solid 8-10 months of training for Ironman Cozumel in November.

2012 – Get strong on the bike and achieve a sub 10 Ironman.

2013 – Qualify for Kona.

The first Ironman in Cozumel was tough as I overcooked the bike and had a struggle on the run but was very happy to hang tough on the run with a 10h27. I shared parts of the run with fellow BBL’r Laura Trimble who got robbed of a Kona slot by finishing 2nd and getting no roll-down with a 10h20.

In January 2012 I started a role with a new company where I certainly had my work cut out for me. Getting the ideal training and recovery/sleep became in a little more difficult. This tipped me over the edge. The biggest impact has been on my immune and digestive systems.

Training for Ironman Austria started off very well and I finally started to see some results of a bike focussed training plan. Frequent weekend bike rides with fellow Black Line London friend Troy Squires and another pal Jamie made it much easier to drag myself out of bed every Saturday morning for a ride, and Sundays for a long run.

A few weeks before Austria a familiar pattern started with me getting sick. The combination of intense training and stress saw reduced training and a loss of strength due to a combination of chronic fatigue and just generally being run down. I was not in a happy place before Austria and although Luzelle and I had an amazing road trip through Europe the race was a write off before it even started. Austria was very hot and it was a blessing in disguise to not be able to push on the run. Running in 42 degree heat is agony, so being able to cruse it in for a 4 hour marathon made it a bit more bearable.  Finish time was 10:3x.

Having read all the race reports for the inaugural Ironman Wales I entered the 2012 race the day registration opened in 2011. After Austria I was just more determined to keep going and after a two week rest I jumped back into full training and got about 4 weeks of good swim/bike/run training with a course recce thrown in. The bike course is simple amazing, and the most fun bike course I have done so far. Come race day I was feeling fit and more importantly healthy. Work was a bit calmer and that allowed me to get the necessary recovery to be in good shape. On race day I had a slow swim, followed by a really good bike ride and a wobbly but steady run to finish in a respectable 10:06, Paul had a good day too and we finished really close to each other.

Both Paul Burton and I decided to enter Ironman South Africa with the aim of bagging some Kona slots. Training through winter went really well and we steadily got the bike and run miles ticked off every week.  Mel Wasley and Deenzy were also training through winter so we had company for most of our Saturday morning rides.

In February we did the Wokingham Half marathon and all ticked off massive PB’s with me running a controlled 1:21:00. This gave me confidence that things were on track and we pushed on looking to perform well at the spring Ball Buster. A week before we did the Hell of the Ashdown Sportive and I felt really strong on the bike. This made me feel quite excited about the season ahead.  The Ballbuster came around the week after and Paul smashed it, with Deenzy and I finishing well down. Turns out Deenzy had a cold and I came down with my first (of many) bouts of a bacterial infection.

This stayed with me as we headed over to Lanzarote for a 10-day training camp with coach Richard Hobson and I spent most of it in bed. After the camp I tried to catch up on training and probably ended up doing too much leading into Ironman South Africa. The body felt tired with no power or strength. I ended up walking most of the marathon with my slowest Ironman to date (10:4x). Paul missed out on the roll down after a solid race where he went 9h30. Both of us shrugged the experience off and looked to our next race – IMUK in Bolton.

I took a month off structured training and during May/June/July we had a solid few months of training. I never got rid of the bacteria in my system and struggled with colds and just generally feeling run down. Every now and again I would feel really good and we had number of really solid training rides that served as motivation. Wimbleball 70.3 came around and I had a decent performance but nothing that excited me, so I just kept my head down. Looking at my training logs I can see a repeating pattern of a solid few weeks followed by a week where I was sick or just too tired to do any proper training.

Troy was back from his long stint in Mallorca looking tanned and he joined us for the latter part of the training block. It was good to have another Bolton starter to train with.

Two weeks before Bolton Stu Anderson from Team Freespeed, Paul and I went on a ride to Henley. I have just been through a patchy week and I was very happy to feel quite strong on the day. We went really fast to Henley and it was a great confidence booster for our upcoming races (Stu competed in the iconic Norseman triathlon).

With about a week to go the final training bumped me over the edge again and I started suffering from chronic inflammation and the bacterial infection in my stomach flared up again. It was really frustrating but I decided to do what I can and stopped most training + upped the dosage of a natural enzyme I was taking. This stabilised things going into the race. Going into the race I knew my body wasn’t firing but I had a year of training behind me, so I was going to race within myself and not worry about what is happening around me until the final miles of the marathon.

I was still hoping to get lucky with a shot at a Kona slot although the odds were against me. The race started with a decent swim for me. Swimming a lot in the Lido with Paul and Troy helped a lot and I recorded my best swim to date. The bike ride is quite hilly and my cup of tea. On the day I dreaded the hills as it felt like a slog from the start. I kept my heart rate and power under control but tried to stay focussed and keep myself in contention. At one point I got splits that the leading age groupers (including Paul) were about 20 minutes up the road with 60km to go. I didn’t let it worry me and just kept trucking along.

Getting off the bike was a massive relief. The first 10km at Bolton is flat and fast and I ticked it off in 45 minutes with George Dunn doing his first Ironman for company. From there on it becomes quite a different ballgame with a few laps going up and down this massive hill. The good thing about the course is you can get a feeling for where you are in the race. I soon realised I must be in the top 10 in my age group, so I kept running at a steady pace. I introduced some strength work into the training routine and it was helping me to keep the form up and moving well. With about 5km to go a guy in my age group ran up to me and I decided to do everything I can to finish in front of him. It turns out this was a wise move as I finished 7th in the age group about 30 minutes off the lead (10:12). Troy and Paul crossed the line together, Troy had a decent day considering some of the health/injury issues he had, and Paul’s race was a bit of a disaster as he was doing fantastically until he had to stop due to energy issues deep into the run.

That evening we celebrated the race. I thought I finished in the slots as there were 7 provisional slots according to the race organisers. Turns out there were 6, but in hindsight I was quite happy about this. I was lucky enough to be called onto the stage to get my roll down slot by fellow Saffer Paul Kaye – in Afrikaans!

Qualifying for Kona was amazing, I was a little sad that I was the only one with a slot, and I also felt like it was a shame not to do it with a better performance.

As with Ironman Wales, I knew if I got a month of really solid training in I would be in good shape for Kona. I took two week’s off and started my training really hoping that I can get a healthy run through to the Big Island. Unfortunately a couple of big projects came to the boil at work and I struggled to switch off at night. This interrupted my sleep and I got a really bad bout of the flu. This took me out for a solid 10 days and I couldn’t train for about two weeks. With the recovery and sickness I lost almost a month of training, and with the taper I had two weeks left to train. I gave it my best shot and concentrated on bike intensity over miles and managed to throw in two long runs.

I went with some really good advice and decided to start my taper with 2 weeks to go rather than go to Kona overcooked. This was a good strategy and I arrived on the Island feeling fresh and excited. Most of all I was here to share the experience with my wife Luzelle and to take it all in. Swimming in the sea every day was great and I managed a few good bike/run sessions to get used to the conditions. My bacterial infection and long list of other issues were fairly dormant and only flared up a little…I could live with that.

Race morning came around very fast and I spent the morning at the swim start with Paul Deen, Sam Baxter and Tom Babbington. We had a bit of time and sat around in anticipation of the suffering. I decided to go against my normal strategy of starting the swim too hard and too far in front so went out very easy and kept far from the buoys. It felt controlled and by half way I settled into a nice rhythm. To see 1h09 on the clock I was satisfied. Being about 800th out of the water means the course is packed with cyclists. The strategy was to ride easy for the first hour and then start passing people and push on the way back from Hawi. The ride went well and I always rode within myself. At one point I was hoping for a sub 5 bike, and needed to cover the last 35km in an hour. A headwind squashed that plan and I concentrated on staying within my limits. The ride took me 5h07…I was fairly happy with this.

The run section worried me the most, I knew my run fitness suffered the most since Bolton so I decided to go out controlled. First 10km was ticked off in 50 minutes; if I kept the pace I would end up around 9:55. Soon it became clear this wouldn’t happen as I started to slow down a lot. I caught up with Tom and shortly afterwards Deenzy caught us as we all walked up Palani. Deenzy pushed on and Tom and I made slow progress together for a while. I had to make a pit stop and soon after started feeling a bit better so picked up the pace a little. Tom was having a difficult time so parted company. The run out towards the energy lab is quite a lonely and hard stretch. By now I have slowed to a shuffle. The only focus was not to stop. I saw Richard Melik and we chatted for a bit before he went the other way to cheer on the rest of his Freespeed team members. The rest of the run was quite uneventful, I didn’t run fast enough to have any serious mishaps and kept ticking over until the last 2km where two girls came flying past. For some reason I decided to join them and run with them to just before the finish chute where I accelerated to get a decent finishers pic. This made me a bit wobbly and two volunteers had to help me down the ramp and kept me company for about 5 minutes to ensure that I was ok. Marathon time 3h59, overall time 10:22. All in all I was happy with the day.

The experience was amazing and I am so inspired by all the amazing athletes that raced here yesterday. It was really cool to see the professionals on the bike and run course. I shouted the names of the pros whenever I could. The Freespeed crew did very well. Cat, Ali, Matt, and Sam. Dec was going well until an injury forced him to walk the last 12km.

2014 will hopefully be my best year to date. The first objective is to get professional help and get on top of my IBS, inflammation problems, bacterial infections etc etc. The second piece of the puzzle will be to get to grips with stress and devise a sound strategy to maybe train a bit less but make sure it’s all absorbed. Finally I think I have now built the biking base to warrant starting to look at my run as I believe I can turn it into a weapon to become competitive at Ironman races in future.

Believe it or not but I am already looking forward to training through winter. The plan will be to be as careful as I can to stay healthy. Eating wise I have been playing with LCHF and when I manage to stay off the carbs I certainly feel a lot better. My achilles heel is a fairly overpowering sugar addiction so one of my missions will be to at least control my sugar intake whilst getting a lot of quality protein and fat and greens in my diet.

Looking back three years it is amazing how my life changed from couch potato and living a very unhealthy lifestyle to being focussed on health, fitness and having a goal of being as good an athlete as I can be. The social aspect of the sport has been the surprise element and that is what makes it all worthwhile …and still having that sub 10 Ironman to chase!

Special thanks to Richard Melik of Freespeed for the awesome pic of Nico on his bike in Kona. Freespeed are not only friends of Black Line London, but also the best bike fitters in the business and you owe it to yourself to check them out.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 comments

    Fantastic stuff Nico, great racing and after so many races close to the top, a well deserved slot!

    Interesting you talk about IBS, my girlfriend has it too and is celiac, and one of the things we found out is that stress is a major cause of concern that definitely doesn’t help it. I think she’ll be pumped to see you raced on the Big Island with similar issues.

    Despite this though, you’ve had a stellar rise and great results already!
    Enjoy the winter training, I guess the everyone will have to work hard to get close to you on the run given how fast you already are 😉

    Well done again, and very much looking forward to more amazing stuff from you guys!

    Thanks for a really honest article. I’ve suffered with similar sounding fatigue issues / bugs that I can’t shift and it’s so frustrating, especially when you do get those surprise brilliant sessions dotted throughout the year. Good luck for next year! I’m also gunning for a sickness free massive season!

    Thanks Mathieu. I appreciate the message. Stress and IBS are closely linked and it also wreaks havoc on the immune system in general. All that being said I feel positive that is is something you can get on top of…like most things 🙂

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