If Carlsberg Did Race Reports….Alan Grové Does IM Wales.

Everyone knows that when it comes to Ironman, it’s the night before the night before the race that is the important one to bank sleep. It’s probably the one bit of solid advice I have to offer when it comes to Ironman planning. Yet here I sit, bolt upright and wide-awake in my hotel bed in Tenby at 3:30am on the 12th of September 2015, rain lashing the window. I’ve got a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling up. I turn on the light and reach for a marker pen. So much for sleep.

Continue reading “If Carlsberg Did Race Reports….Alan Grové Does IM Wales.”

Paul Burton’s Ironman Wales

Swim-display

I’ve made no secret that my triathlon dream is to qualify for Kona. I like public goals. Stick it on a flagpole as your motivation. Anyhow, after getting so close last year I could hardly deny it’s the goal. The problem is that this is as binary as goals get. You either achieve it or you don’t. Simple.

In golf, the sport I spent my younger years obsessed by, there’s a phrase ‘there are no pictures on the scorecard’. A lucky 4 from someone that didn’t get near the fairway, thins one through the trees but somehow holes a long putt beats a 5 from someone that cracks a 300 yard drive, flushes a long iron to 8 feet then 3 putts. As a golfer I was the former – a mean short game meant I often beat people who hit the ball much further and better than me. I was really annoying to play against. My Ironman racing has seen the boot on the other foot. I have been the equivalent of the big hitter who gets into great positions but has the yips with the short stick. Ironmans’ South Africa and Bolton in 2013 saw me off the bike in great positions and run down out of the Kona slots. As great as a 9.30 in South Africa felt, the scorecard shows that I came back home without a Kona slot.

I waited a long time for another crack. I went back to South Africa in April. Then someone, let’s call them ‘The Dream Crusher’, on the flight deposited their bronchitis in my face. I started the race, and even came off the bike in 8th in AG but common sense prevailed and I found myself turning left to get pizza and ice cream at half way on the run while my friends duked it out in the heat.

Take 2 was Sweden in August. This time a stomach bug 3 days out meant I couldn’t get away from the bathroom long enough to even reach the start line. At 7am on race day as the gun went off I was on a train leaving Kalmar having collected my bike as transition opened at 5am.

Having laced silver across the palms of Nirvana Europe to get a late entry to Wales (4 weeks after Sweden) I found myself lining up on North Beach, Tenby for a last throw of the dice in a season that promised much but delivered little. 2nd at Windsor and 1st at Swashbuckler were signs that I was in decent shape, but I only truly measure myself by Ironman performance. I wanted to have the best race I could. Squeeze everything out of myself (not in the way I did at Sweden) and run the back half of the marathon strong. ‘Don’t be shit’. If I did that then Kona would take care of itself.

The stunning sunrise distracted us from the ‘challenging’ water conditions – 1.5m swell, wind, an incoming tide. As a decent swimmer it was fun – mainly as I knew that it would be horrific for the slower swimmers – but it was damned hard. 64 min was 8-9 min down for me, but as I don’t wear a watch (for exactly this reason) I wasn’t to know. It was slow for everyone. 13th in AG / 70th overall was about par.

Wales is arguably the hardest Ironman in the world – sea swim and a hilly marathon punctuated by a brutal bike course. 3,000m of climbing, stunning views, wind, incredible crowds lining the towns, in particular the climb out of Saundersfoot which was louder and more spine tingling for me than Solarberg in Roth. On the first lap I went through there with Tim Male, a friend from Thames Turbo, and we had grins like kids on Christmas morning. As a light guy, strong rider, and disciplined user of a powermeter on a course where people have a propensity to blow their legs off, the Wales course is perfect for me. Or at least it would have been. If my legs had bothered to turn up. It started well enough, settling in to my power target and letting a couple of groups go up the road, knowing that I’d see them all later as usual. But from about 50k onwards I kept having to revise my power down as the perceived effort and heart rate felt too high. This was foreign territory for me – I’ve never felt so weak on the bike. Unsurprisingly the chimp came out to play. ‘Why bother with Ironman?’ ‘Why don’t you stick at Olympic distance? You’re good at that’. ‘Sell the bike, go back to golf’.

I thought back to one of my favourite quotes…..

I felt like a fish trying to climbing a tree.

alberteinsteinfishquote

The chimp’s argument was valid – if I’ve underperformed in the marathon off fast bikes that felt easy, the marathon off this bike was likely to be a disaster. However, despite a few hours in the chimp’s company, I stuck to the plan – kept feeding him (sugar can shut the chimp down) and tempered down to a level that felt sustainable – I was just having a poor day and was 15-20 watts down on normal. Having said that, in the back of my mind there was a memory that Black Line London friends Deenzy and Mike have run into Kona slots after poor bikes. You never know.

Nico passed me like a train at about 140k – I think he saw I was in a mood so didn’t hang around. Then another friend, Dave Rowe, caught me at 150k. We ended up riding the last hilly section back to Tenby close to each other. The company and prospect of running with a friend perked me up. At the time my mindset was that it would most likely be a social 3.59 marathon to cap off a disappointing day

Bike

Our support crew told me I was 11th or 12th off the bike. After that ride I didn’t think I was capable of running into the 6 slots – and I don’t think they did either! But Dave was 20 seconds in front of me he so was a good rabbit to chase. Kona may have been out but why not sign off the season with a decent run? I stuck to the plan of jogging the first lap easy – ignoring the Garmin as the course was either up a steep hill or back down a steep hill. I was up to 10th after a lap and was encouraged by the gang that I was still in the race. I wasn’t convinced. But my legs felt alright, I was on about 5:10/km pace which wasn’t so bad on such a hilly course, the gap to Dave (who looked pretty good) was stable and whilst I heard that Nico was up in 2nd in his AG he was only a few minutes up the road, so maybe I wasn’t doing that badly?

As I came back into town on lap 2 at about 19k there was a seriousness in Deenzy’s voice when he shouted ‘ you ARE in this race, you’re looking great, 8th and 9th are close’. Christ, he might actually be telling the truth. If my mates had come all this way and I was indeed in the mix (I had absolutely no idea how) then I owed it to them and my coach to give it a go. In that instant my mindset changed, game face went on, and the chase started.

The first surprise was that when I went to push, my body responded immediately. It was on. Controlled aggression. Flirting with bonking. Eating, drinking, pushing. Saving a bit for lap 4. Past Dave then back into town at the end of lap 3. Position update – up to 9th but 8th is slowing. Their belief was infectious – now we all believed it was possible, most importantly me. I saw a mate, Rich Lewis, in town with 11k to go. He ran into the Kona slots here last year. His reaction sticks with me vividly… he just howled (he must have been on about 10 pints by that point) ‘they’ll crack, Paul. 6th to 8th could be walking… THEY ALWAYS CRACK!’

Run

I emptied the tank on lap 4. I passed 8th near the bottom of the hill. Now the Garmin, which I was ignoring earlier, was a huge motivator. My average pace was improving every step and I was, unbelievably, negative splitting the marathon. This was the feeling that James, Nico and I have been talking about for months. I had no idea where 6th and 7th were. I kept thinking ‘funny things happen in the last 10k of an ironman. THEY ALWAYS CRACK (thanks Rich)!’ If 7th was getting ground down, I would find him. If 6th was walking, I would find him. In truth, I thought I probably had. I passed maybe half a dozen people on their last lap. No idea what age group they were in. Then at the final out and back with 2k to go, I noticed someone was closing in on me. He looked in his 30s. Now I was both hunter and hunted. Back into town for the final 2k, massive crowds, clipping curbs and corners, overtaking people on their last lap with surges that they wouldn’t bother to chase. As I hit the red carpet my pursuer was still there. Great. A ‘sprint’ finish after 10.5 hours. I held on by 5 seconds.

Finish 1

While I was ‘relaxing’ on the floor after crossing the line, my pursuer shook my hand and I saw M30-34 on his race number. Was that the 5 seconds that would be the difference? I had no idea. After how I felt for about 6 hours of that race where I had resigned myself to it being another bad day to cap the crap year, to finish like that was emotional (especially when Dave’s wife Sharon and our support crew were all there crying). The marathon was only 3.33 – not breaking any records. But in the context of a day where I had all but given up, the pros only ran 3.05-3.20s, a course with 500m of climbing, and a run where my final lap was my fastest, to be running 4:40s at the end of arguably the world’s hardest Ironman… well that was incredibly fun and I was proud to have overcome the chimp and ruined myself. To be looking ahead for scalps instead of looking over your shoulder. I turned a rubbish day into a good day and never gave up when I really, really wanted to. Knowing I can do this will be invaluable in future races and my ability to deal with whatever obstacles get thrown my way.

For whatever reason my bike legs weren’t there – it cost me 10 minutes compared to how I’d expect to ride – sounds like very little, but in the context of the race and my goals it’s huge. But I adapted the plan, stuck to the process and got to the finish line as fast as I could have gone with the cards I was dealt that day. I wasn’t shit.

Finish floor

I finished 8th in my AG and 32nd overall in 10:38, up from 45th off the bike. Sadly (for me) 6th and 7th didn’t crack after all. With 6 Kona slots it was always going to be touch and go. I heard on Sunday night that the guy in 2nd would not be taking his slot, so I went to the awards with hope and a credit card – but it wasn’t to be. Nobody else declined and I missed out by 1 place. Again.

I’ll finish with the words of Roger Barr, a good friend of mine. We’ve been united by a common goal and he gets it. He qualified in 6th place in his age group at Ironman UK this year and in his race report he wrote this, which nails it:

“The gap might be small but there’s an infinite gulf between 6th and 7th. The guy in 7th is frustrated, annoyed, regretful and faces at least 6 months of hard training before he can try again. His mind is full of “if onlys” and he sat there at the roll-down hoping for a slot to roll only to see all 6 snapped up in front of him. The disappointment of the day itself where he hurt himself harder than he hurt before compounded by a restless night’s sleep and then the huge disappointment of a roll-down ceremony where it didn’t happen. He has to explain to people that he didn’t get a slot. Over and over. After all that training. All those early morning sessions. All that sacrifice. I’ve been in his shoes and it hurts. He may never qualify. He feels like it’s his nemesis. The holy grail. Many of you reading this know the man in 7th because they’ve been there. Those same people have also qualified. I missed out in 2004 by 16s and it haunted me for years.
The guy in 6th has found inner peace, is on continuous high, wakes up and pinches himself, he thinks about it at least a few times every minute, has a trip of a lifetime ahead, will spend the rest of his life knowing he’s taken part in the Hawaii Ironman. The world’s most iconic endurance race. A race that most triathletes would love to do. Something he’s had dreams about as a grown man. It’s literally changed my life. I’m grateful for the opportunity, talent, luck, strength, understanding family that allowed me to achieve it.”

I’ve been that “guy in 7th” and missed out by a single place twice. Despite having friends around you, that slot ceremony where you miss out feels like the loneliest place on earth. I couldn’t be happier for friends new and old who got leis and podiums – Charlie, Dave, Howard, Tom, Duncan, Claire and, in particular, Nico who executed a perfectly controlled race for the first time – I’m convinced it’ll mark the breakthrough to some great Ironman racing in his future. My performance was up there with some of those guys – but the scorecard says no lei. The Ironman gods don’t do sentiment.
However, the desire to be that “guy in 6th” burns as bright as ever. I love this sport, I love the challenge and the mental and physical jigsaw, I love the people I share it with and even if I don’t ever make it, I don’t regret a single minute of trying. But I will get there.

A couple of thank yous:

Without the support and belief in me from the Black Line London guys at Wales I might have given up. I definitely wouldn’t have arrived at the finish line in the manner I did, utterly spent. More importantly, perhaps, without the wider Black Line London group and other training friends, I don’t think I would have made the start line. We’ve shared goals and hundreds of hours of training. They are some of my best friends, they have my back and we share adventures. Doing this sport alone is fine, but sharing it is what it’s all about.

Optima Racing Team – the passion and commitment that James leads with is shared by each and every member of the team. It has created a performance environment that is infectious. I joined Optima and James’ coaching late last year to get involved with a couple of key sessions each week to address my weaknesses and I’m delighted to be seeing the fruits of our labour. I can’t wait for next year.

5 Great Triathlons Everyone Should Know About

I love racing. It means I’m motivated to get out training, which in turn means I can eat cake. I’ve been lucky enough to do lots of races, so thought I’d put together a list of my top 5 triathlon events. Races I’ve loved the most and would recommend to anyone. Some terrific races haven’t made the list – and those that have range from sprint to Ironman and even, God strike me down, a duathlon. We at Black Line would love to hear what your favourite races are and why.

So, here are my top 5 triathlon races.

5. Thames Turbo Sprint

Top 5 Triathlons - Thames Turbo

Our friends at Thames Turbo put on a series of four sprint races on every bank holiday Monday. There’s a couple of wrinkles – a red light in the middle of the bike course, the road surface is Beirut-esque in places and a seven minute ‘non-compete’ zone at the end of the bike to get back to T2 – but they’re all part of the fun. The Turbos run a cracking club and these races are spot on. Everyone in the club supports and marshals throughout the year, and it’s as much about first timers giving it a go on bikes with baskets on as it is those of us with trick bikes and aero helmets. Hampton Pool is awesome, it’s a short ride from home, the run goes through the splendid Bushy Park and everyone is lovely. I’m an addict. If you’re unsure about giving triathlon a go, then try this out. You’ll love it too. Just remember to respect the red…

4. Challenge Roth

Top 5 Triathlons - Challenge Roth

However big triathlon is getting in the UK thanks to the Brownlees, Chrissie et al, in Germany it is bigger. They love the sport. I suspect it’s the opportunity to swan around in Lycra, compression socks, Crocs and neon visors. Roth is the spiritual home of Ironman in Europe. The oldest race and a region that laps it up. There’s much awesomeness going on here… a swim in a narrow canal where you can’t get lost, a fast bike course on silky smooth roads, the most amazing Tour-esque crowd on the Solar hill, and locals that sit out all day drinking high strength lager, shouting ‘hop hop hop’ as you go about your work. If you’re into iron-distance racing you simply have to do Roth. It’s worth it just for the firework display that welcomes the final finishers in at midnight. And the Bavarian meat platter the following day.

3. Ballbuster

Top 5 Triathlons  - Ballbuster

Duathlons are like marmite to the triathlon community. Designed by pool-dodging wimps who aren’t tough enough for triathlon? Or is it just those super fast runners come out to play to make us look like the jack of all trades that we really are? I tend to avoid them… other than my annual trip to the aptly named Ballbuster. However, this is no ordinary duathlon. Races of any type or distance rarely come harder. It’s like a marathon, and I retired from doing those (unless preceded by a 6-7hr warm up splash and pedal) because they hurt so much. I train on Boxhill most weekends and it’s not particularly hard to ride up. However the challenge of climbing Col de Box by foot, three times by bike and then by foot once more for good measure is quite unique. The second run is pure hell with legs like blocks of ice. Plus it’s in March and November. It will be cold and probably wet. It’s agony. I love it.

2. Ironman Wales

Top 5 Triathlons - Ironman Wales

There’s so much to hate about this race. Choppy sea swim, 18% hills on the bike, more hills on the marathon, wind and rain. It’s just one tough bastard of a race. But those reasons are also reasons to love it. This is triathlon as it was meant to be – throw any targeted splits out of the window as the course is a brute, the conditions could be anything (although the rain will come in sideways, that’s written in the contract)… it’s just simply about getting yourself to the finish line in one piece however you can. Pembrokeshire is stunning – bombing down the hill through the sand dunes at Freshwater West at 40mph with a gale blowing in off the ocean while my disc wheel acted as a parachute throwing the bike across the road is one of my favourite memories of my racing year. Then Tenby during the run is amazing. Thousands of drunk Welsh folk screaming at you as you go up and down a bloody big hill. Madness. There are two Ironman races in the UK, both with similar ingredients – hilly and hard. For one reason or another I’ve never been attracted to Bolton, but at Tenby they throw a little magic into the mix. It’s a cracker.

 1. Ironman 70.3 UK – Wimbleball

Top 5 Triathlons - Wimbleball 70.3

I love Ironman racing, but top of the pops here is ‘only’ a half Ironman. But anyone who has done Wimbleball will tell you this isn’t really ‘only’ a half – it’s more like a three-quarter Ironman. There’s a theme to the sharp end of my list… hills. If you also like hills then get yourself to Wimbleball. Frankly it’s a bit of an organisational shambles down at Wimbleball Lake, as anyone who has sat in the weekend long traffic jam will tell you. The folk at Ironman UK try to get 2,000 people and kit down and out on a single track lane via a rickety fence into a mudbath of a field. Plus there’s no mobile reception within 10 miles. It’s a bit of a shambles. But when the gun goes it’s all worth it. A freezing swim, having to run up a massive hill to get you to T1, a reported 56 hills in 56 miles on the bike, then to top it off they throw the same sting in the tail at you as they do at Ironman Wales – a hilly run after a hilly bike. Only this time you need off road shoes as half of it is on the side of a grass bank. There’s this one hill on the run hidden away from view that must be 15% or so. Listen closely and you’ll hear grown men whimper and talk to themselves. Three out and back sections on the run mean you can’t shy away from a proper head to head race with anyone you know that’s close to you. Old fashioned racing as it should be, and I keep going back for more. Do it.

Paul Burton’s Ironman Wales

So, Ironman Wales… My main target race this year was Roth in July. At 9.51 the time wasn’t quite as fast as I was hoping, but with a solid performance, a 3.37 run and a sub-10 in the bank, I was happy.

So Wales was just a bit of fun – a bonus race, if you like. A Kona slot was always going to be a stretch given the strong field of European slot chasers at Tenby, and with a tough course and conditions it’s not a race to go chasing a time. I wanted to bank another race… apparently it takes five ironmans until you “get it”, and this was to be number three for me.

Having said that, I was feeling in great form so was hopeful of a race that I could be proud of. After my first Ironman in 2010 I was stuffed for weeks. With that in the back of my mind I was ready to pull the plug if I didn’t recover from Roth. But three weeks later I was back in full training and put in a really good six week block with a couple of good short races including a sub-2 hour Olympic, and some solid run training in an attempt to improve the weakest part of my ironman racing to date. So I was really excited and, unlike Roth, not nervous at all. That’s a helpful place to be, it turns out. My strategy was simple – be sensible but give it a good go and take some risks if feeling good.

A number of the Black Line crew had entered the race, as well as a few others I know like fast runners Richard ‘Spud’ Lewis and Rory Maguire, Ben Unsworth and Pete Stewart from Thames Turbo, plus Jenny Hill who we met out in Roth and I had bullied into doing Tenby claiming she’d have a great shot at Kona. So it was going to be a fun weekend. Unfortunately neither Deenzy nor Troy could make it in the end – a shame as they both had great races in Roth and we were looking forward to duking it out again – so BLL honours were to be contested by Nico, Ian and I. Having trained a lot with Nico in recent weeks I knew he was in great shape. With his bike and, in particular, run strength I would be glancing over my shoulder for most of the race knowing that if he caught me it would be tough to stay with him.

We did a recce a few weeks before… the sea swim was challenging, the bike course was a brute, and the run was up and down a ruddy great big hill. So it needed respect! It also showed how beautiful Pembrokeshire is. The bike course has some wonderful terrain, including the blustery but epic Freshwater West and the gorgeous sea views at Wiseman’s Bridge and Saundersfoot. The day before the race we got a stunning sunrise on our early morning jog at Saundersfoot. Ian, Jenny and I used that to do some Olympic style larking around (wouldn’t be the only time that weekend).

 

Last preamble before getting onto the race… some of my family came down to support, which is a first for a long race. Mum, Dad, sister Carey, her boyfriend Jon and their new puppy Wiggins. I can’t say my parents were that thrilled about the prospect – they watched me at Windsor once but that was about it. Understandably Wales in the wind and rain didn’t thrill them. It turns out they had a ball – spectating at ironman is a long day but with a break for a game at Tenby Golf Club during the bike, they were content and loved the swim and run. Happy days, and I think they now know why I love this sport.

RACE

I was delighted with the weather forecast… cool, dry till early afternoon and 20mph gusts. You don’t enter races in Wales in September expecting sunshine. Although having opted for a disc wheel on the bike I was crossing my fingers the gusts wouldn’t propel me over the hedgerows.

SWIM

First surprise of the day came at the swim start. Last year they didn’t rope it off and when the gun went most of the field ran up the beach rather than swimming. Despite no mention at the briefing, some genius decided to prevent this by putting a new buoy in – perpendicular to the beach at only 150m out. So there were 1500 of us aiming for one small point. Sharpen your elbows, lads. To avoid massive biff my new strategy was 110% for 2 minutes to the buoy, embrace the lactic pain and then start the race properly once round the buoy. The swim was OK for me. At Roth I had a perfect draft the whole way round and swam great for a 57 min split. Whilst the sea was pretty flat, the small chop did make it hard to find any feet to follow, so I had to do all the hard work myself (bit of karma, I guess). Also, having gone out hard I tired in the second lap. So I was delighted to see 56 mins on the watch on the beach – it was either 100-200m short or we had a good current. Game on.

Onwards and upwards (literally) with the real business of the day. The 1k run to transition is actually one of the highlights of this race. The crowds are huge the entire way – what an atmosphere. Combine that with the sun making its only appearance of the day and it was serene. I would have loved to hit the pause button right there. Unfortunately, having come out of the water in 120th there were 1400 people chasing me down, so best crack on.

BIKE

I whizzed through transition – thanks in part to borrowing Jim Peet’s nifty long sleeved Fusion aero top, worn on top of my tri top under the wetsuit. So whilst others were layering up I went straight out. Ben was grabbing his bike at the same time which perked me up – it meant my swim was solid as he’s faster than me in the drink, and as he’s a strong rider and a fast Ironman (9.30 guy) there was the prospect of riding close to him. It turns out he hasn’t had as much time to train this year, so that wasn’t to be. Probably a good thing as we ruined eachother’s races at Swashbuckler this year smashing it out on the bike!

The bike course is just awesome. The first big loop is rolling rather than hilly, with a headwind out to Angle, via the stunning Freshwater West and then a tailwind back before starting the first of 2 smaller northern loops which had 4 or 5 sharp (10-15%) climbs and very little flat. Rather than set out easy and let the heart rate settle like I did at Roth, I went out steady at 230+ watts and went about chasing folk down. My HR never really settled, but I was happy with that as I now see this as a good sign – I had it at Wimbleball and it tells me I’m fit and fresh enough to push. I was making good progress, barely overtaken and taking loads myself. Then the ‘fun’ started – that being a bunch of Europeans that have a more liberal approach (read blatant) to drafting than the Brits. I’ve had my rant about this. It’s shocking and irritating, but as irritating is the marshals’ failure to penalise anyone. Throughout the first 70 miles I saw 4 distinct pelotons and there was not a single penalty issued. Go figure. My failure was that I let it impact my race – rather than letting the group go and getting on with my race, I shouted some fairly industrial English, went off the front a few times only to get reeled in a few minutes later. So my power was getting erratic, HR climbed and I was getting angry. So I calmed down, let them go and got on with my race. Rant over.

I had a couple of bad patches, but sure as eggs are eggs, they passed and overall I felt strong on the bike and my stomach was behaving itself unlike at Roth. I caught Pete and 2nd woman pro Eimear Mullan around halfway on the bike, had a good natter/whinge with them about the cheating, and then pulled away from them on the flatter section. The crowds on the hill coming out of Saundersfoot and then flying down the hill into Tenby were incredible, and it was great to see friendly faces like Laura, John and Leighton cheering us on. The final loop on the bike is tough because there were now so few targets. It had got a bit harder, as you’d expect with the time and hills, but I felt fine and knew I was having a solid race. Finally Nico caught me at somewhere around 150k. He was seriously shifting, and told me that Rory and Spud were not far behind. That helped to sharpen the focus and pick my pace up – it may have been quiet, but there were fast guys just minutes ahead and behind so there was no time for resting up. Nico kicked on and I kept him in sight for a while before letting him go – who knows, he may have been trashing his race and I shouldn’t ruin mine chasing him.

RUN

Rolled into transition after a 5.44 ride – pretty happy with that, but now the race really starts. It’s always interesting to find out if you have any running legs off the bike at any distance – with the hills and being half an hour longer it had definitely been a harder ride than Roth, so I was fearful they’d be knackered.

It turns out they weren’t and they felt great in the first few miles – it’s always been a pleasant change to get off the bike in an ironman for me. I was holding back but still running quick up the hill. It’s a 4 lap course that weaves around Tenby then goes up a big hill via a couple of out and backs and then straight back down and some more weaving around Tenby. The support was amazing throughout from both the volunteers and crowds, in particular in town where it was rammed and most had been suitably refreshed all day. Lots of fun. Having my family there was amazing – a huge lift. My mum and sister were jumping up and down like jack in the boxes and my Dad was screaming with his fists clenched!  For all supporters out there, you really do make a difference, thank you! I saw them 2 or 3 times on each lap. Great fun.

Nico was a couple of minutes up the road, Rory was a couple of minutes back. But they were both flying and capable of close to 3 hour ironman marathons, so racing them would have been stupid. The first lap was great then just like Roth I started to slow considerably before half way. So lap 2 was a bit rubbish, but it was fuelling rather than fatigue so once again when I got on the coke at halfway I came right back to life. In the future I’m on the coke from the start of the marathon – it’s rescued me twice now, so I need to eliminate the bad patches! Spud flew past me just like in Roth, although this time nearer halfway than the start. Lap 3 was solid and then, recovery complete, lap 4 was my best of the day. I had been chasing Jenny down for about an hour (she was a lap behind and moving really nicely) but when I finally caught her at the start of the final lap my legs were feeling better and better so I kicked on up the hill, shouting at her to go get her Kona slot. I was managing 4.30km pace back down the hill and then also on the flats at the end, and was able to ‘race’ properly, taking a number of places. Bonza. Nico had got 6 or 7 minutes up on me by halfway but in the final lap I saw the gap had shrunk significantly at the final out and back… so the hammer went down, but the sight of me meant the same for him, so I couldn’t close the gap and he got to the line 3 mins before me. A fun race… they breed them strong in South Africa!

 

 

Finished with a 3.18 marathon, which sounds terrific, but unfortunately it was only 40k on my Garmin, so more like 3.30 on an accurate course. Next time maybe the WTC can manage to get it right?! I’ll lend them my Garmin if they need? You can only run the course in front of you though and I ran at faster pace than Roth on a much tougher course, so I’m delighted with the progress.

 

Final scores on the doors were 10.09 for 20th in the M30 AG and 88th overall. 20 mins behind the final Kona spot, but I was delighted to ride steady and run faster than at Roth off that hard bike. A big step in the right direction and loads more learned. My swim was 120th, bike 89th and run also 120th. So the previously weak run now looks a bit more balanced, like my short course results.

Much like Roth it was great to see a load of mates laying it on the line, and almost to a man (and woman) having a great race. Gutted for Rory and Jenny to miss the Kona places by 2 or 3 mins each – although Jen got an impressive 3rd place in her AG and trophy for her efforts. Next time, guys! Combine this with a local community that so passionately embraced the race and it was a wonderful day, despite the drizzle on the run. I would recommend Wales to absolutely anyone, and I hope to go back one day. Hopefully not next year, mind, as inspired by racing with mates that are chasing Kona slots a number of us have all entered Ironman South Africa in April 2013. It’s typically been less competitive than the European Ironman races and it’s just gone up from 30 to 50 slots, so there is no lack of motivation this winter. If I can continue to improve my cycling and get in a good winter of high mileage running then I’m going there with a clear aim – to earn myself the right to throw a lot of good cash at a little race in the Pacific in October 2013. The dream lives on…

2012 has been a terrific season for me and this was a fitting end. I’ve loved every minute, most of all the banter, miles, smiles, hills, sunshine, rain and pain in training and racing with old and new friends. Whilst it’s been a year best described as ‘transitional’ on a personal level, these moments have been the highlight, so thank you all. Now it’s feet up and time to follow the black line to the beach. Mine’s a rum and coke. The best sports fuel in the world. The season’s dead. Long live the off season.