Troy’s Roadmap To Kona

Late in the afternoon on Sunday 29 March, I crossed the IMSA finish line in a flood of emotion. Ten hours earlier, I’d stood on the beach, knowing that today I was going all in. Why – because that’s what getting to Kona takes.

 There’s no secret formula. Kona qualification is dependent on physical and mental ability, obvs, but in an arena where everyone has these abilities in equal abundance, it’s how you go about applying them, that gets the ticket to the big island stamped. This is how I went about it. If you have the same dreams, I hope my roadmap to Kona helps a little in achieving them.

Continue reading “Troy’s Roadmap To Kona”

Paul Burton’s Ironman South Africa 2015 – Kona Booked.

“Obsessed is just a word the lazy use to describe the dedicated.”

That’s one of the cringeworthy ‘inspirational quotes’ that obsessed athletes wheel out to defend their mindset and what they do. It’s a load of rubbish. I’ve been utterly obsessed. I think everyone who puts themselves through endurance sport training with the aim of being as good as they can be is obsessed. Obsession is good for performance or else you wouldn’t put yourself through what it takes to get there. It can also be highly damaging if not kept in check to make sure some form of balance is maintained. But anyone doing this silly sport of ours who claims they’re not obsessed is most likely lying. Ask their families…

Continue reading “Paul Burton’s Ironman South Africa 2015 – Kona Booked.”

Black Line London does Ironman South Africa

7. Swim start

Getting a group of friends together to share a long distance triathlon is one of the things that floats our boats. Ironman South Africa in April proved to be one such occasion. Seven of the gang raced and we had a blast, both on and off the race course. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and an incredible race – truly up there (or beyond) other big races that get significantly more coverage in the triathlon press, such as Frankfurt, Austria and Roth. Even more so this year as they changed the bike course from three flattish laps to a larger, 2 lapped course that showcased what the Eastern Cape has to offer. Hills, spectacular views, wind… it turned a fairly fast course (wind dependent) into a real brute. But it was all the better for that. Check out the race video here – and look at those bike course views!

http://vimeo.com/91501105

Another highlight was sharing the trip with friends of Black Line London, such as Team Freespeed (Matt and Sam were racing, and Richard was there on media duties – massive thanks to him for most of the pictures below), Lucy Gossage, who had a superb race as second pro, and Paul Kaye, the voice of Ironman Europe & SA, who called us all (well, nearly all…) over the line and does his job with energy, passion and humour. #KayemanToKona.

Whilst fun was had by all, our races were mixed! Below are the micro-reports, 50(ish) word maximum to avoid boredom, and a gallery of the fun and games. Race reports are in age order, which quite neatly ends with our only Kona slot from the trip, from our resident Kona Legend who is, we gather, planning his outfit for the Underpants Run already. Cover your eyes for that one, especially if Dave Rowe qualifies again as well.

Ironman South Africa It’s a cracker of a race. Do it, and do it with friends if you can.

 Sam Blanshard (0:56/5:30/3:56 = 10:28, 7th in M25-29)

1. The Ironman swim should definitely be longer – 5km at least! 2. South easterly wind in PE = slow bike times. 3. Can Natasha Badmann not afford a new bike? 4. I wish I hadn’t lost my salt tablets, wait there’s Jamie. 5. If only I was a prince of Bahrain.

 Fiona Love (1:11/6:34/3:37 = 11:30, 7th in F30-34)

Wee paddle, rode like a donkey (but enjoyed the views) then tore off on the run past the pros to give myself a final 5km of torture to the finish line. Loved the Fusion Black Line kit but thanks to poor sun-creaming techniques have been left with permanent battle scars.

 Paul Burton (0:57/5:28/DNF)

Sweet… chest infection from flight! Start anyway. Nice swim. Cough. Ride well. Briefly. No power. Cough. Maybe stop after one lap. Stunning course. I’ll do lap two. Overtaking loads despite soft-tapping. Am I in this? Go for jog. Cough. Sod it. CBA. Massage & pizza after 18k. Cheer the guys. Always next time…

 Troy Squires (1:01/5:53/3:52 = 10:53, 15th in M35-39)

‘Home race’. Singing the National Anthem. This swim is taking AGES! Snapped chain. Chain fixed. Why does this hurt so much. I hate this sport. Smile, there’s mom and dad. The BLL boys and girl are smashing it – STOKED. 5km left, just get this done. Right turn, right turn, PAUL KAYE, red carpet, do the airplane. Finish. Proper finished. See you in 2015 PE.

Nico van der Westhuizen (1:06/5:16/3:41 = 10:09, 7th in M35-39)

Rolled the dice. Went all in on a hard bike after a slow swim. Really enjoyed riding the scenic and hillier bike course. Big smiles. Got lost on the run. Then paid for my over-biking. No rolldown slots. Missed Kona by two minutes. Tactical idiot.

James Peet (1:05/5:35/4:00 = 10:47, 11th in M35-39)

Poor swim, poor bike legs, double puncture, lost my head… long walk :o(

Lots of friendly faces, lots of sunshine, fun finish, great holiday :o)

 Paul Deen (1:04/5:34/3:32 = 10:17, 3rd in M40-44)

Will I break an hour for the swim? No. Windy baby! Well sub 10 isn’t happening. Keep grinding. Blimey not too many bikes in transition. Feeling good. Not feeling so good. Feeling really bad. Garmin bleeps 42Km. Where is the f*cking finish? Plan elaborate celebration. Forget elaborate celebration. Medical tent. Podium. Kona baby. Smiles.

Many thanks to Richard Melik for kind permission to use his photos.

 

#IMSA Race Week. It’s On….

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Welcome to race week. At this point in the Ironman process, it’s all about the mind and a good performance at this week’s Mind Games can set you up really well for race day.

The training is done. Nothing you physically do now is going to make any difference. It’s for this very reason that I turn to mental preparation in the days leading up to an Ironman.

Panic Training

Don’t. If you think you’re under prepared, consider it a positive. You’re far better off going into an Ironman on fresh legs. You have months of training behind you – if you don’t believe that, consult your training diary. Seriously, just take a look at the miles you’ve logged. It can be quite a motivator. This week is about giving your body rest so it’s gagging to go on race day. Think of this week as an arrow. It’s been built and shaped, now you just need to keep the tip sharp and out of harm’s way until you fire it on race day.

Visualisation

In the sessions you have planned this week, use this time to picture yourself in race situations. Place yourself in the water. Imagine the situation in your head. Remind yourself of what you need to be focusing on in the race (stroke rate/catch/pull/sight/relaxed breathing/swim long). Remind yourself that you’ll be nervous (nerves are good, they keep you alert). Remember nervousness will turn to excitement. Allow yourself to feel excited. It’s one hell of an experience.

Plan things to think about on the bike and run. A mantra; special people; your form. Keep the best bits for when times get toughest. Plan for an emotional rollercoaster. Know there’s going to be times where you’ll have to have stern words with yourself. Plan that speech.

Rehearse in your head what you’ll do in T1, T2 or if you puncture. This prep helps you keep calm should you be faced with a difficult situation.

Dream of the finish. See that red carpet. Allow yourself to feel the wash of emotion you’ll experience when you know you’re going to finish this beast.

Phantom Pains

You’ll get them. You’ll be walking a flight of stairs and suddenly think – what’s that ache in my knee? It’s only natural. It’s like when you’re buying a new car, you suddenly see the model you like EVERYWHERE. Your mind is razor sharp at this point and very much in tune with the body. You’ll overthink every sensation. Don’t dwell on these sensations.

Taper-nitis

Possibly the hardest mind game to control. Am I getting sick? I feel so sluggish. My legs are so lethargic. Stop worrying – it’s tapering. Keep sensible – wash your hands regularly. Avoid public gatherings if you can. But ultimately, just go about life like normal. You’ll look stupid walking around in bubble-wrap.

Race List

Source or create a race checklist. Use this week to get your kit together. Trust me, pulling everything together settles the mind. Don’t leave everything to the last few days. It overloads the brain. Time will run out or get filled by something else. Use the spare time (because you’re NOT training as much) to prepare.

You

Focus on yourself this week. Another week of being selfish won’t kill anyone. Eat well (don’t try anything new), get your bike sorted, kit packed, mind ready. Sleep. Get as many hours as you can. Set ‘get to bed’ deadlines. Sleep now becomes THE most valuable commodity. Work will try and stress you out. Don’t let it. Be honest with colleagues. Tell them this is the week you can’t be pulling your hair out.

Get Familiar

Read the race manual. (Remember all that spare time you’ll have not training?) Read it a few times if you can. Trying to cram in all the info the night before is useless. Knowing the course in your head will help. Picture milestone points on the map. Do the visualisation bit. How are you going to feel at 30km into the run?

Knowing the course detail is especially important on a course with laps. Know how it works. Do I collect rubber bands? How many, where? Knowing this detail on the day is priceless. There’s nothing worse than doubt/panic during the race.

Try to Relax

All of the above seems like you’re going to be busy 24/7. Make time to relax. Read a book, watch a silly movie. Anything to take your mind off the race. When lying in bed, the visualisation stuff really helps. See yourself running relaxed. Biking smooth.

How do you eat an elephant?

Bite by bite.

Don’t think of the race as a whole. Break it into bits. Don’t get overwhelmed. This is more an actual what-to-do-in-the-race, but you’ll start thinking of the race in whole terms before Sunday. Don’t worry about it. Little by little you’re going to get to the finish.

Now’s it’s time for me to practice what I’ve preached. I can’t wait to race. See you on the start line.

 

 

 

Paul Kaye ‘The Voice’ of Ironman Interview

Paul Kaye Ironman Kalmar 2103

We’ve barely had a chance to finish off the last of the mince pies and the 2014 race season is upon us. Well, at least in South Africa.

If you completed a 70.3 or Ironman last year (good skills) in SA, the UK or Europe last year, there’s a very real chance that the chap who called you over the finish line or belted out those famous words every aspiring Ironman wants to hear, was Paul Kaye ‘The Voice’ of Ironman.

 We’ve been lucky enough to throw a few questions at Kayeman post season opening South Africa 70.3, which took place at the end of January and saw Brit Jodie Swallow winning the ladies – making it 4 in a row.

Briefly, talk us through the journey you’ve taken to reach a point where you get to shout, “Troy Squires…YOU are an IRONMAN!”

A journey it has been! I started my working life at the age of 20 as a DJ on Cape Town’s biggest commercial radio station, Good Hope FM (no – not religious – named after the Cape of Good Hope!). During that time I also used to do the sports reporting. Through this I got involved in announcing some boat racing – and that’s how I got into announcing. I started my affiliation with triathlon back in 1994, doing the TV voice-overs for a Sprint Series in SA. The series used to open in Mauritius and in 2000 I was invited to go. There the pros (including the likes of Raynard Tissink) chirped me that it sounded like I knew what I was talking about – but had I ever done a tri? I hadn’t! It was the day before my 30th, I had been in radio station management the previous three years and wasn’t in any shape at all. But I donned my speedo and suffered through the 600m swim (I was last out the water) wobbled across the beach to T1 and put on the event cotton tee and jumped onto the hotel MTB (farm gate with wheels – a shocker) and set off on the 20K bike. I was second last on the run, and they were clearing the water points when I ran through. But – I was hooked, I absolutely loved it.

 When I got home I put slicks on my ancient MTB and did a few more events and quickly realised I needed a road bike. I bought my first road bike 24 Dec 2000.After that things moved quite quickly. I did some road races and my first half marathon in 2001 and that year also announced my first Ironman – at Gordons Bay – won by the legendary Lothar Leder.The last time I went back to Mauritius in 2002, I actually finished in the top 10 – considering that in 2000 my 5K time was 31 minutes and some change.

 In 2004 I raced the half Ironman in Port Elizabeth and have been announcing that event since 2005. 2008 I raced Ironman Austria and again in 2009, but in 2010 I announced Austria and that was my first international Ironman. 2011 I announced 5 events in Europe, 2012 it was 11 and last year 13. 2014 could be as many as 17 events (excluding South African IM events).

 We estimated recently that I must have given about 20,000 high-5’s…..last year alone.

 Speaking of journeys, once the European races kick-off, it’s pretty much a new city every weekend for the rest of the year. How’s 2014 looking?

 This year is looking power – so many great events, so many new events. I start in Mallorca early May and finish there with the new full at the end of September. I’m really looking forward to meeting up with everyone again and making new friends at the new events like Budapest, Aarhus, Ruegen…

 How do you handle the hours of emotional intensity on the Ironman red carpet?

Hmmm – so hard to answer – other than after an event I’m absolutely broken for days – feel as if I physically raced the event myself. But truth be told – it’s the emotion that fuels me and inspires me. Being able to contribute towards people doing something that is almost impossible. Watching them achieve, reach, exceed their goals. Seeing and feeling their utter sense of accomplishment – it fuels me. Not to mention witnessing first hand the amazing talents of our pros. Coupled to that, I try and keep fit. I’m 45 this year – so it gets harder, but I try and arrive in Europe with a base fitness that I try and maintain, which isn’t easy with all the travelling.

What elements make for an ideal race venue and if pushed to name a top 3, which would they be?

Great scenery, a relatively challenging race course, and awesome spectators – to me it’s all about the atmosphere and in a community that is passionate and wants ironman there – you get that. Different races are great for different reasons. I think Ironman Austria is awesome, massive finish line party and crowds, awesome race course. Ironman Sweden is also very special, the Swedes totally embrace having Ironman in Kalmar. 70.3 Haugesund in Norway is one of my favourites too. And, totally under estimated is Ironman South Africa – passionate, knowledgeable crowds who line pretty much the entire run course and support everyone, not just their favourites.

 Your company, Focus.On.The.Finish.Line (we love the name by the way), has been in the eventing industry for some time. In that time, you must have seen a huge increase in participants? What do you think are the key factors?

Thanks – we love the name too – that’s pretty much the objective of what we do – we do everything so that all you have to do is focus on the finish line. We started at the Ironman 70.3 SA in 2011 and have seen tremendous growth. And our clients want us to provide our services at other events like the Cape Epic, Wines2Whales, Sani2c, Ironman, WTS Cape Town, the Cycle Tour and more. They love it so much they want us to assist on international events. We do flights, accommodation, transfers and tour, bike transport, masseurs, mechanics, supporter tours and anything else the athlete needs (except do the race) – ok, enough of the plug.

 We see a strong uptick in participation in endurance events – people want to feel alive, challenge themselves and have a goal to keep them motivated to be healthy. The great events (from Ironman to Epic) sell out so fast and the waiting lists are huge. Unfortunately, the sponsorship support isn’t on a par with the demand for participation and this makes it very tough for event owners to keep the prices affordable whilst still delivering high standards of athlete experience. You have no idea how expensive it is to host events.

Ironman South Africa celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Quite a few of the Black Line London crew will be coming out to get stuck in. What do we have to look forward to – race and South Africa wise?

As a South African I’m very proud of how the numbers of international participants at the IMSA events has grown. We are far away for the Europeans, flights aren’t cheap and we are very early in the season for the athletes from the north, meaning they have to train through winter. But that extremely high standard of the event, the athlete experience, the amazingly warm and friendly South Africans and the fact that you can tick off a bucket list item by doing a safari have seen the word spread. Not to mention how delicious are wines are, the cuisine awesome and at the current exchange rate – it’s CHEAP. It’s a great race course, with a sea swim which can be intimidating. Now a 2 loop bike course which will test the legs for sure, and then finishes with the run lined with spectators shouting support. The volunteers are amazing. And the red carpet is a long one giving every finisher plenty of time to soak up what they have achieved……..and the after party is pretty epic too.

Ironman SA have got a lot planned to make sure that the 10th is a true celebration. I cant wait and thanks for bringing the BLL crew down to get the party started.

You speak to the first (8 hours) and last person (17 hours) crossing the line (and obviously MANY in between). Anyone reading this who thinks an Ironman is beyond them, how would you convince them otherwise?

In Ironman anything is possible – which means anyone who is truly committed and can put in the hours should be able to finish – and in Ironman (unlike other sports) to finish is to win! I have seen physically handicapped athletes finish, I have seen blind athletes finish, deaf…I have seen athletes that have had major heart surgery, or recovering from cancer – I have seen them finish. Team Garwood – Kevin with his teenage son Nicky who has cerebral palsy – they did it together and finished last year.

Have a reason. Have a will. Get a training programme. And slowly, slowly your journey will take you to the magic carpet and that very special and unique title of “you are and Ironman”

You’re very active on social media. How has this influenced what you do for a living?

Hard to answer that – but I use Twitter to follow what’s happening in the spaces I play in – it helps me stay informed and often gives me insights I might otherwise not have. It also allows me to develop the brand “Paul Kaye” in a way, as I become a (hopefully credible) source of info. And I suppose (considering I occasionally get wrapped over the knuckles for what I say on twitter by events I work for) events feel what I share, say…my opinions count. So I think that’s good for me. Facebook I use more to have a connection with athletes and sometimes be able to say more than just their name when they are racing.

But also – I feel very blessed to lead the life I do, and I like to be able to share that with others.

What are your goals for 2014? 

I’m busy finalising the race schedule with Ironman. Very excited about the 10th IMSA and heading back onto the Ironman Europe Tour. My goal is to always just be better, do better. And deep down, I’m really hoping that will lead me to Kona. I’m also hoping to announce the first ever ITU WTS race on African soil – that will be my first stint for the ITU.

And for FOTFL – we have just hired our first employee and are looking to grow the number of events we offer our services at. And we are also looking to start FOTFL Europe. So, another quiet year ahead.

Lastly, if you could only play 3 songs at the finish of an event, name them.

Hahaha – you kidding me right? That’s impossible as music is so subjective and so local – we always tailor the music to suit the crowds – it’s never what we want to hear, but what gets the crowd rocking – this creates the atmosphere of celebration for the athlete.

 

Follow Paul on Twitter @Kayeman and check out the FOTFL website here.

 

Ironman South Africa Race Report – A Change of Mindset

South Africa was chosen as I heard nothing but great things about it from friends, it’s been one of the softer races for Kona qualification in the past and had increased from 30 to 50 slots. So Nico and I entered and set about a winter’s hard training. We weren’t the only ones with this cunning plan – a scan of the entrants revealed a large number of Europeans, many of whom had been to Kona before. So this wasn’t going to be straight forward…

We all love a good excuse in a race report. I have none. Preparation went perfectly. November and December were a struggle getting back into the swing of it through the fog of the festive party season, but I had a good week with James Beckinsale and the Optima juniors in Spain and then pushed on with consistent training over January, February and March, including 10 days in Lanzarote with my coach, Richard Hobson. A 1.21 half marathon in February and 2.55 Ballbuster in March showed I was in decent form.

Finally, a word about training partners. They make an Ironman. The race itself is just an expression of everything you’ve put into the previous months. This is what Black Line is all about – getting a group of like minded folk together for rides and runs, cake and coffee, and make the hard yards significantly less hard. So to all the gang, thanks. For this race Nico and I spent every Saturday and Sunday in eachother’s company with a shared goal, a shared coach and, it turns out, a shared dry sense of humour. A winter that I truly enjoyed, despite the weather. Dankie, bru.

I got to Port Elizabeth on Wednesday, enough time for a few quiet days and to see the course. It was good to spend time with Declan Doyle (Team Freespeed), Graeme Buscke (Clapham Chasers) and others. Everyone had eyes on Kona slots, and it was clear that Nico, Declan, Graeme and I might be pretty close in the race. There was the added twist of Graeme being in my AG – but we got on well and both were sensible enough to know that everyone was a friend until the final 10k of the run.

Race day was glorious with barely a cloud in the sky. Most importantly the wind, whilst an Easterly (wong direction for fast bike times), was down – a rare treat in the ‘Windy City’ and a world away from the storms of 2012. It was set to be a fast day. There were likely to be 6 or 7 slots in my AG, so whilst the controllable aim was to be smart and get to the line in 9.30 or so, the non controllable goal was to be in the mix and get a slot, automatic or rolldown.

Swim

The wind was down but the swell wasn’t – much choppier than the days before. Sighting was a game of luck whether you saw the buoys. As expected, a mass start of predominantly South African men led to the most physical swim I’ve done. One guy was particularly keen on my new wetsuit as he was trying to take it off my back. I can’t say I enjoyed it – a little bit like survival, and smooth technique went out the window in exchange for something faster, choppier and with a lot more kicking. I got out just under the hour which given the conditions I was delighted with. 22nd in AG. Now onto the bike, which is where my fun starts.

Bike

My plan was to sit on my power number, which was in a 10w range depending on perceived effort and HR, and minimise surges. On the day the bottom of my range felt right, so I just kept it there. It’s a 3 lap course, with a minor climb in the first half, a fast out and back where you get a good look at who’s around you, before descending to the exposed coast road back to PE. The surface is pretty poor. Not Surrey potholes, but just rough that led to a bit of teeth chattering. I was making good progress and saw Graeme was 60s behind at the first turnaround and Nico was maybe 6 minutes further back. I felt great and the pace was easy. At the first lap I saw I was on sub-5 hour pace and that the lap was slightly short, so times would be fast.

Paul Burton Ironman South Africa Bike

At the second lap turnaround at 90k I had made my way towards the front of the AG race but there were lots of fast looking guys within 2 mins, reminding me to keep focused and keep the power down. To my surprise (I hadn’t clocked him earlier and this meant he had a good swim) a smiling Dec arrived with: “we’re right at the pointy end of things here!” This was my one decision to make in the race – go with him (he’s very strong!), or keep plugging away as I was. I decided to up the power. Riding in a pace line (legally at 10m) with a couple of guys in an Ironman can make a huge difference. It keeps you focused, on pace and moving along. Graeme then caught and we were in a group of four. Game on. As they had been riding faster, I went to the back of the line to assess how they were moving and I was feeling. After 5 mins things eased off a bit so there was no risk with me sticking with them. At about 115k I went on the front, feeling great so I tickled the pedals a little harder. When we got to the end of the lap I looked back and a gap had opened up. So I stuck at it, and what followed was the most enjoyable 2 hours of sport in my life. My legs felt free, power felt easy, my HR wasn’t rising and I was running out of people to catch. I got to the 150k turnaround and there was not much ahead or behind. No heaviness in the legs that you normally feel after 4 hours. I felt like a rockstar. I wanted to hammer it but kept telling myself to keep it in my pants and stick to the plan. I had picked up a Danish follower and bullied him into taking a turn at the front, but when he did the pace felt too easy so I dropped him on the descent and headed back to T2 solo.

The final ride was a pleasing 4.51. Although it was only 176k, so c.4.57 pace for a full course – more like it. The most pleasing thing was that this was done without any risks. For power geeks I rode at 73% FTP – not hard – and a VI of 1.01, so pretty smooth. Power and HR remained constant with no up or down drifts. With that data and how I felt, I thought I’d judged the bike right and felt great heading onto the run. I was up to 5th in AG – bang in the mix. But as they say, bike for show, run for dough. All to prove.

Run

To my surprise I was in the tent with Raoul de Jongh, an SA athlete in my AG who I think has been first AGer overall at this race a couple of times. I had also dragged the Dane who was also in our AG into T2. Having out transitioned them I was up to 4th and 8th AG overall on the run. This is new territory. Very quiet with nobody around. Shit, what am I doing here? Did I miss a lap? With only 5:55 on the clock there was also the prospect of going well under 9:30 if my run legs showed up to the party. Exciting stuff.

Paul Butron Ironman South Africa Run

Normally I start with legs like lead which free up after a few km. This time they were raring to go. The adrenaline of unchartered territory? The plan was to run the first lap easy, at 4:40km pace if all was well, the second on pace and the third with whatever was left in the legs and heart. Not to ‘race’ anyone until the last couple of km. The first 2ks were both under 4:30 – I gave myself a telling off. Raoul and the Dane were long gone – they flew past running 4:00 pace. After the excitement I settled down into 4:45s. Perfect. Then I realised that it was hot. Really hot (29 deg). So I just kept on top of my hydration and nutrition, getting carried along by the unbelievable crowds, all high on braai and beer. The 3 lap course is out and back for a few km, a quiet loop up at the university, then back through the tunnel of noise and the smell of chargrilled beef. First lap was ticked off at 4:48k pace. Spot on.

At the start of the second lap I was overtaken, so down to 7th. The battle started in the second lap. It was hot and I was beginning to suffer. You don’t quite know how hard to push as there’s still a long way to go, but a bunch of guys behind ready to pounce. 4:50’s slipped to 5:00s, to the occasional 5:10. The target 3:20 marathon was not happening, but I was still on for a sub-9.30 and was scrapping it out for a slot. At one point I noticed Dec was about 50m behind me but then he was gone again. Second lap completed in 5:04 pace. Still 7th.

The final lap was auto pilot. I was hurting. Not cramping, just in agony trying to cover the ground in front as efficiently as possible whilst the body was slowing shutting down. You take on water, coke, anything. Battling to keep core temperature down. I slipped into 5:15s but not the 5:30s+ that would see places bled. With about 8k to go I heard word I was 7th or 8th. That was great to focus the mind. At some point between 32k and 37k I was overtaken by 2 guys in my AG. Down to 9th. The final 5k is pure pain. It’s hard to describe. I knew I was in a fight. The enemy is unseen – you don’t know people’s AG, some have their number concealed, others are hiding how many lap bands they have. If you can’t beat them, join them – I tucked my sacred white lap 3 band under my Garmin, away from view. A couple of guys flew past at 4:30 pace. No idea if it was their last lap.

14.line

And then with 3k to go I had this incredible desire to just… stop, and sit down. I’ve never had this before. A negotiation started. ‘Fuck off’. ‘No, it’s time to stop and sit’. ‘Just wait 15 minutes and you can sit down all you like’. ‘How about a short walk then – it’s quiet here, nobody will see?’ ‘FUCK. OFF’. Mid argument I noticed a familiar squat, blue & red Freespeed figure in my rear view mirror. Dec was back. I think it was about 2k to go. This snapped me out of it and made me realise it was time to floor it – you never know who you find walking in the last 2k. Get to the line. Graeme was walking on his second lap. No time for sympathy, I was having a good day and wanted the pain to end. As we hit the final straight the crowd was epic – a tunnel of noise. Dec finally reached my shoulder with 1k to go. He looked exactly how I felt. Destroyed and very, very deep in the pain cave. He said we were in the clear – nobody behind, nobody in front. We agreed to cross the line together. We were ‘sprinting’ at 4:45 pace. With 300m to go someone flew past. I think my exact words were ‘DEC, WHAT THE **** IS THAT?’ Confusion reigned. I had no sprint. Dec tried for 50m but he was gone (turns out he was in neither of our AGs!). This time there was nobody behind and we could enjoy the finish. Collecting high fives on either side before meeting to cross the line hand in hand at 9:30:25. The delirium of finishing, the pain ending, plus a splash of bromance – I think that’s clear in our faces!

A 21 minute PB for me. The hardest I’ve ever raced and an honour to finish with such a gent, who had an incredibly gutsy return to racing after 2 years out. At 4th in AG, he is returning to Kona.

I ran 3:34. Whilst the bike was 4k short, the run was 500m long, so 3:31 marathon pace – the same pace as my 3:18 for less than 40k at Wales. Not what I wanted, but in the heat it was ok.

I limped to the timing tent to find out I was 10th. Someone had got me in the final 5k. Elation turned to deflation as I realised that would probably not be enough. It wasn’t – there were 7 slots and the next day it rolled to 9th. He was 2 mins ahead of me, and only 34s separated 7th to 9th. The margins are wafer thin. 9.30 saw me (joint) 44th overall, (joint) 22nd AGer and would have been 2nd in the AG below and 7th in the AG above. Shit happens. It’s not easy racing in the same AG as Kyle Buckingham!

Pretty gutted, but I’d have taken 9.30 before the race. With hindsight there’s nothing about my race I would change. We thought I was in shape for a low 3:20 run, but maybe the heat got to me? Heat chambers aside, it’s not easy to condition yourself for 29 degrees when it’s snowing at home. When it became clear my run legs weren’t quite firing, I managed the decline well. On the day I got myself to the line as fast as my fitness and the conditions allowed. I gave it everything, and there’s no more than that.

To my friends also on the start line – massive congratulations Dec and Liz Pinches from Thames Turbo that got their Kona slots. Graeme, Glenn and the others had a pop but it wasn’t to be their day – everyone’s got it in them, so keep at it. It also wasn’t Nico’s day, but to see him pause his race and to stand and scream encouragement at me as I headed into the final stretch of mine – thank you buddy. It’s what Black Line is all about.

I would recommend IMSA to anyone. I’ve done some crackers in Roth, Frankfurt and Wales and this race is potentially the best of the lot. The laps just work, the course is fast but has teeth (choppy swim, heat and the potential on another day for serious wind), the crowds are amazing and the organisation is flawless. The race director is a Kona qualifier and it shows – everything is thought of from the athlete’s point of view.

Amongst the lovely messages after the race from friends, family and team mates, one from fellow Blackliner Laura struck a chord: “it’s pulling off the performance that changes your mindset”. For her that was IM Cozumel where she had a great race but didn’t qualify. I had a long look at the front of a competitive race and loved the view. I’ve been open about my Kona goal but never really knew how realistic that was. Right now I’m not good enough, but now I know it’s within touching distance.

I have three big races this summer – a qualifier for the Olympic distance age group world champs in London, Ironman 70.3 UK and Ironman UK. I’m hoping to show my nose towards the front of those races, and with a bit of luck have some big races to plan my end of season around.

Thanks to everyone for the support. You know who you are.