What Makes Kona Awesome?

Quite a bit of time has passed since I took my first steps onto the Big Island. Is has allowed the dizzy high of the experience to subside, and reflection to take place. Part of me still feels the Kona buzz, with the other half thinking it could only have been a figment of my imagination. To paint a bit of a picture, Kona was my seventh Ironman. Why is this relevant? Well, it means that since I first started doing this crazy sport, every October for the last eight years, I’ve sat up all night watching the World Championship of Ironman coverage. So even before I set foot on the island, it felt as if I knew it like the back of my hand. And this worried me.

God Complex

Kona sits on a pedestal. From the moment Paul Kaye asked if I wanted my Kona slot, the significance of the achievement hit home. Whoops, high-fives, applause and hugs. Seconds later, Paula Newby-Fraser (8-Time Ironman Triathlon World Champion) placed a lei around my neck. Suddenly I was standing on that very same pedestal.

Fast forward several months. I nervously approached a ‘built-like-a-brick-shithouse’ US Customs official in Seattle. Seeing my bike box, he asked, “Are you goin’ to Kona?” “Um, yes sir, I am.” Out stretched his hand, with a look of respect in his eyes and a booming voice, “Congratulations man, that’s awesome! Please come this way.” I felt like royalty. Sat on the plane, the Captain welcomed and congratulated all the Ironman athletes. I didn’t need a plane, I could have floated across the Pacific Ocean on my own cloud.

 Tourist Attractions

Like any destination, there’s a list of tick box attractions. Where Kona differs, is that most of them mean nothing to a non-Ironman. I can’t imagine a honeymoon couple jumping around excitedly in their seats, as they fly low over a huge set of industrial solar panels. Hello the Natural Energy Lab. Hallowed ground. Pack hire car, three left turns, one right – fucking hell I’m on the Queen K! It’s a motorway FFS, yet I’m staring at it in wonder, as if it’s the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. God save the Queen K, and its adjoining lava fields (thanks Rich). And so it continues, crossing over Palani Road, marvelling at how steep it is in the flesh. Unpack car, drive into town for a swim…only along bloody Ali’i Drive (AKA Witness the Fitness Drive). The biggest ‘pinch me’ moment however, is reserved for those first footsteps on Dig Me Beach. How they even came to giving a five metre section of white sand a name, I have no idea. Yet there I was, warm water lapping at my ankles, grinning wider than the adjacent pier – home to the most viewed triathlon transition area in the world.

Dig_Me_Beach

 Volunteers

Ironman races would not be possible without the amazing dedication of the countless volunteers. Add ‘Merican, and a world championship event into the mix, and the enthusiasm and helpfulness levels sky rocket. Nothing is too much trouble. It feels like you’ve got two personal assistants at all times. They’re knowledgeable, engaging and ever-smiling, regardless of the scorching heat and energy-sapping humidity. I worshipped a few that handed me ice during the race. They truly go above and beyond. Just ask Paul Burton.

 Swag

Who doesn’t like free shit! Nearly every single triathlon brand is represented at the expo. They must bring container loads of swag. Having a cap fetish, I was in heaven. I came home with more nutrition than when I left. I could clothe a small army with the tees I collected. Admittedly, these weren’t all free, but the quality and variety of cool stuff was staggering. Kid in a toy shop comes to mind.

#UPR15

It was said to me that the Kona experience is not complete without participation in the Underpants Run. Now I know why. Aside from ogling all the extremely fit bodies wearing virtually nothing, it’s a chance for competitors and their support crews to jog/walk around the streets of Kona together. All in the name of charity. It’s simply a vibe. Strangers take photos together. People wear customised underwear (we made sure we didn’t feel left out on this accord). There’s even an oath recited before the start.

UPR

 Island Vibes

2,500 of the world’s fittest individuals in a 10km radius can be a little overwhelming. Too much at times. Drive 11km and you’ve got an island paradise all to yourself. Palm trees, crystal clear waters, turtles and dolphins. This is where you really get to soak in the laidback, Hawaiian lifestyle. It’s easy to forget you’ve still got an Ironman to complete at the end of the week. Hawaii is a bucket list holiday destination. Everyone’s chilled and happy. You feel this energy.

Believe the Hype

We live in a world of hype. Searching for the next best thing. My biggest worry was that the hype wouldn’t live up to the expectation. I get overexcited easily and place huge expectations on life events. What if all the time, money, sacrifice, sweat and tears wasn’t worth it? Well, I’m pleased to say I was being silly. Kona blew me away. Thankfully not literally, as Madam Pele is known to do at times. It superseded my dreams.

If you’re close to qualifying, don’t stop trying. It can take a while. And it should. And maybe it’ll only happen later in your life. For many, Kona starts as a dream. A bar set by individuals who want to see what their minds and bodies are capable of. Nowhere is this more tangible than standing under the massive banyan tree on Ali’i Drive, 50m from the finish line. Last finisher, 61 year old Sharman Parr comes staggering down the red carpet with 16 hours and 49 minutes on the clock. 11 minutes before the cut-off. I get gooseflesh just thinking back to the roar of the crowd, with Mike Riley saying those famous words……

YOU! ARE! AN! IRONMAN!

Shit, I forgot about MY race…

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”

Black Line London’s Best of 2014 Gallery.

It’s impossible to really capture what Black Line London means to our family members, but we’ll give it a go.

As 2014 draws to a close, here are some of our best bits – it might be a great photo, an important moment or just something that made us laugh.

We hope you had a great year…..see you in 2015.

 

BLL Andalucia

 January: Paul Deen, Paul Smernicki & Nico van der Westhuizen winter train under big skies in Andalucia.

Wokingham half marathon

February: No Wokingham Half? No problem! We arranged our own in Richmond Park. 

SA bike recce

April: First big event of the year as a delegation head to Ironman South Africa, motherland to several of the gang. Looking good on a bike course recce.

James_Peet_IMSA

April: IMSA – James Peet finishes in spectacular style. 

Jane Mallorca

May: Ironman Mallorca 70.3 – Jane Hansom wins her age group. The Universe remains stable.

Ash_Matt_Paul_Mallorca

May: Ironman Mallorca 70.3 – Ashley, Paul and Team Freespeed’s Matt Molloy spend the last 5k of the run discussing the 4th discipline: How to execute the perfect photo finish.

Alechia_NDW

May: It’s not all Ironman. Captured by husband Carel, Alecia makes final adjustments before the North Downs Way ultra marathon.

sexiest trio in tri

July: The self-proclaimed ‘handsomest team in tri’ dominate at Bananaman.  They told me to write that.

Outlaw finish

August: Epitomising the BLL ethos 2 grown men, one of them looking like Malibu Ken, hold hands as Paul and Sam narrowly miss the podium in The Outlaw team relay. It should be noted they were a team of 2.

MEl_Norseman_small

August: By far the hardest thing anyone at BLL did this year was Mel Wasley’s epic adventure at Norseman. It’s insanely hard and she smashed it.

James Peet_Zell_am_See

August: Looks fast? Is fast. James Peet at Zell am See 70.3

Paul_CPH_Finish

August: Paul Smernicki completely gubbed after Ironman Copenhagen. “I said many times on the run “never again” but was front of the que to enter for 2015 the next day.”

Nico Ironman Wales Run

September: Great shot of Nico at IM Wales, sporting our new Fusion Sport kit on his his way to 3rd in AG and Kona ’15 qualification….a great day for him and us.

new-forest-1

September: South African Wildebeest trample all over the New Forrest. Wildebeest win.

Al_Colonel

September: Dark horse Al Maher rocked up at IM Louisville without telling us, and powered to a PB. More importantly, he met Colonel Sanders who asked for a BLL T-Shirt. We told him to fuck off.

Jen_Deenzy_Kona

October: The big show! We were so proud to have 3 of our gang at Kona. Here, Jen gives Deenzy pure evils as they get ready for check in.

BLL_team_pic

October: BLL at Kona. Jen Hill, Mary Collins, Michael Collins and Paul Deen. Envy and pride in equal measure.

BLL_Kids

October: Young Team at Park Run. Next gen, yeah?

Troy 100KM

November: Troy does a 100km run. Respect, but THAT’S JUST FUCKING NUTS BRO!! 

Mike

December: There is only one pic we could finish with. The world will soon be one person faster. Congrats Michael and Mary Collins for helping Black Line London grow……

Box Hill 20 Gallery

Images by Carel Du Plessis of Black Line London’s annual Box Hill challenge. 20 reps, great friends and LOTS of cake.

Black Line London Does Frankfurt, Szczecin & Swashbuckler

James Peet

Sometimes, life at BLL feels like a Benetton advert and last weekend we had troops at 3 events in 3 countries. Here are our micro reports.

Carel du Plessis – Ironman Frankfurt – Swim 3.8k, Bike 180k, Run 42.2k: 01:10/5:26/ 4:48, 229 in age group M30-34, 1254th overall.

Swim went as expected, spot on my target of 1h10m. Took  advice from fellow Blackliners on the bike – 1st lap should be easy, it was. Second lap went well until 130km in when my left tri bar snapped going over a pothole – no shelter from the wind for the last 50k but delighted to come in under 5h30m. Run stared well, legs felt strong until abdominal cramps started creeping in around 12km. A frustrating run walk up to 38km and then decided to rather walk the last 4km than to risk not finishing at all. Bitter sweet finish with loads of unused energy, I will have my revenge. 1st Ironman in the bag.

James Peet – Szczecin Half Ironman, Poland – Overall time: 5:01 18th overall, 7th in AG

Decent swim and onto bike in 11th. Rode strong over cobbles, tram lines and potholes up to 2nd place then puncture demons struck again. Used all my co2 and hand pump got me back to T2 a long way back in the field. Scorchio on the run but moved well back up to 18th. Very disappointing day out but a really enjoyable stay in Poland.

Paul Burton – Swashbuckler, Hampshire – Swim 1.9k (+T1), Bike 80k, Run 22.5k (+T2) 26.56/2.03/1.44 = 4.14, 1st Overall

Racing in the New Forest is one of life’s pleasures. What a location and my fourth time racing the Swashbuckler. A reduced field from moving the race from May to July meant I fancied placing highly. I managed to get away out front in the swim, extended the gap on the bike (loving the new aero Fusion Speed Suit) and hung on during the run to take the win. Ironman Sweden in five weeks – lots of encouraging signs and time to address some weaknesses.

Paul Deen – Swashbuckler, Hampshire – Swim 1.9k (+T1), Bike 80k, Run 22.5k (+T2) 00:28/2:11/1:39/ 4:19, 5th Overall

4th time at The Swashbuckler in 5 years must mean I quite like the race. I am not however liking the 4am alarms that triathlons seem to always need. Swam well for once & within 10 mins of the bike I was in 3rd. Came off bike in 2nd several minutes behind PB & cockily thought I could hold on….this delusion lasted for all 15 minutes when I suddenly found myself in 4th….bugger. Never mind I can definitely hold 4th I thought as Vicky Gill ran past me like I was stood still! 5th it was then & fairly happy all things considered but lots of work to do before Zell am Zee 70.3 & Kona.

 Paul Smernicki – Swashbuckler, Hampshire – Swim 1.9k (+T1), Bike 80k, Run 22.5k (+T2) 32:14/2:08/DNF

Epitomising Black Line London, this was ace. Friends, family, great banter, top event, amazing location. Planned as a hard training day I swam respectably, biked like a fucking train and almost pooped myself on the run. Sorry Farmer Giles about that thing in the field. Didn’t finish the run, but 2nd fasted bike of the day behind Paul Burton so I’m happy with that.

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.

 

Paul Deen’s 2013…What A Ride! Part 1.

web-IMCL0330

As stated at the end of my 2012 review here, my A goal this season was to qualify for Kona with my B goals being a good performance and hopeful podium at UK 70.3 in June plus trying to qualify for the ITU Age Group Olympic distance finals in Hyde Park in September.

Well it didn’t go exactly as I planned but I certainly can’t complain. In hindsight I think I got a bit too fit a bit too soon. Running & biking wise I was absolutely flying early in the year with a huge 4 minute PB at the Wokingham Half Marathon in February (1:21) and then in April at the Fulon Duathlon I had probably one of my strongest and most satisfying races ever where I threw caution to the wind for the first time in a duathlon and decided to race it properly like the big boys do,  so went out at what I thought was a completely suicidal & unsustainable pace on run 1 but I felt fantastic on the bike and then only ran marginally slower on run 2 for 2nd place in the Vets race and 10th overall. Both 6k runs were much faster than my 5k stand alone PB….. I was starting to get excited about Frankfurt but there was a looooong way to go yet.

I managed to narrowly win my age group again (the first one was by a fraction of 1 second and the second by 4 seconds!) at the first two Thames Turbo Sprint races which are a staple part of my early season build up now, I really do love these races.

Then in May I combined another fun week at the always excellent Tri Camp Mallorca with the Mallorca 70.3 race. This was a really great week away there was huge group from @blacklinelondon in attendance plus lots of other friends from the UK racing and supporting, the after race party was much fun too.  Race wise I did ok considering I had trained right up to it and came 16th in a gigantic age group of 444, this race has a massive number of entrants.

A few weeks later and it was back to Exmoor for my third straight UK70.3. I quite fancied my chances of maybe making the AG podium in the weeks leading up to the race but after having a migraine and no sleep at all the night before I was in a particularly negative mood as I stood on the edge of Lake Wimbleball at 7am. My mood wasn’t helped by another very average swim and the wind and rain on the bike wasn’t doing much to improve it either! But after a while I started to realise that all I had done for a couple of hours was overtake people and whilst it’s impossible to tell where you are in the race (us oldies started 15 mins after the young uns) I had a feeling I was doing ok. This sensation continued on the run when all I was doing was overtaking a steady stream of people until eventually and utterly surprisingly I got on to Steven Lord’s shoulder (Steven smashed the 40-44 AG the previous year) I asked him if he knew what position he was in and he said “third but I believe I am now in fourth” and patted me on the back as I went past which was very classy of him. So I had a lap and a half to go and was where I had dreamed I would be pre race, the knowledge of being in a podium spot definitely helped me to hurt myself on those last 6 miles or so. When I approached the finish line the announcer asked me if I wanted the good news  to which I nodded and I was called over the line not as I was expecting in 3rd place but in 2nd, little did I know that I had caught 2nd a few hundred metres earlier and he was in the chute behind me!

Now I was getting really excited about Frankfurt which was just 3 weeks away. There was a predicted 19 slots for Kona there in my AG and I was sure that with a bit of luck I could grab one of them….In a nutshell this just wasn’t to be.

Ironman Frankfurt started pretty well with a 1:01 swim and I was up to my wattage target on the bike immediately and feeling brilliant, I had a grin from ear to ear thinking “this is on” then my power meter stopped working….not ideal but not a disaster as I knew how the effort should feel and had HR as a gauge too so I didn’t let it affect me. Then I got a harsh 6 minute penalty for a drafting rule infringement, this was a disaster as by the time you stop and then re-start its more like 7.5 minutes, this is an eternity when you are on the periphery of the Kona slots. However I still tried to keep my head and decided to ride hard for the remainder of the lap to try and get back up to a decent average pace which I did and just I was trying to calm things down for a sensible 2nd lap my aero arm pad on the left fell off! I stopped, retrieved it and reattached only for it to fall off again a minute later. I thought about quitting as T2 was only a mile or 2 behind me but then figured that I might as well carry on as it was good training for if I was going to try and qualify at another Ironman in a few weeks. I shoved the aero pad down the back of my shorts and carried on in a weird one armed aero position. About 30 mins later my right arm pad also came loose, I stopped and tightened it and it seemed ok but another 30 mins or so later it fell off. I didn’t even bother trying to reattach it and shoved it down the other side of my shorts. I rode the last 20 miles or so on the hoods knowing that my day was done. The aero pad problem was of my own making as it was caused by me fitting a drink bottle holder and not using the longer screws provided, I have never been one for reading the instructions….

Naively when I entered T2 with a cumulative time of 6:25 on the clock I thought briefly that maybe just maybe a 3:15 marathon might give me an outside chance of a roll down slot so I shot out of transition on a mission…. which lasted 2 miles, 30 degree heat sent my HR through the roof and I knew any hope of Kona that day was over. I initially thought I would “jog” 2 laps and pull out so that I had a good chance of reloading and having another pop at either Bolton (via a charity slot) or Copenhagen which WTC had just aggressively taken over from Challenge and attached 50 Kona slots to. I was incredibly naive to think that I could jog and enjoy half of an Ironman marathon in 30 plus degree heat, moving forwards at any pace other than walking is seriously hard work both mentally and physically. By the time I got towards the end of lap 2 I was ready to walk off the course armed with my plausible excuse of saving myself for another Kona crack in a few weeks but I knew I would hate myself if I did this and also by that point I seriously didn’t want to have another crack at it, I was retiring from the stupid distance…again.

The last 2 laps were a bit of a death march with constant thoughts of walking off the course not helped by having to run past my hotel. I also did stints of walking, which was the first time I had ever walked at any event since starting endurance sport in 2007. It made me realise that most people walking can actually run (I could) but don’t have the motivation to do it because it bloody hurts. I realised that I need a carrot to be able to hurt myself during an Ironman marathon, my carrot had gone and with it had gone my willingness to bury myself. The only thing that prevented me from walking longer sections was the knowledge that I would be out there for even longer so the more I ran the quicker it would be over!

Catching up with the Ironman World Champ Pete Jacobs at the end of lap 3 and walking / chatting / annoying him for a brief spell (he was having a very bad day) lifted my spirits and made the last lap a bit more bearable. I crossed the line in 10:08 with a 3:43 marathon, which actually surprised me a bit with the amount of walking I did and mishaps I had on the bike. I was definitely retired from Ironman though.

Until Thursday when I entered Ironman Copenhagen which was just over 4 weeks away. I just couldn’t let what had happened in Frankfurt be the end result of all the months of hard training I had put in. So after an easy week it was back to full training but I very quickly realised that recovering from an Ironman and getting ready for another one so soon after was not going to be easy.  I was absolutely knackered in training, HR was sky high and pace and power was low, as was my confidence of being able to be competitive in Copenhagen. My existing online coach had done a great job of getting me to Kona levels of fitness but his location on the other side of the world was not ideal as communications were difficult. I had been thinking of getting a new coach at the end of the season and ideally a local one that I could actually meet up with occasionally. My confidence wobble pre Copenhagen prompted me to ring Fiona Ford who is based very locally and who I had seen a couple of times for swim analysis in the previous year. After an hour on the phone talking it was an easy decision to switch. Fiona reduced the volume and intensity of my training immediately and within a week I was feeling so much better and was then able to get a couple of decent weeks of training in so that by the time Copenhagen came round I was feeling fairly confident.

I knew it was going to be seriously competitive in my age group because since WTC had purchased the race and put the Kona slots in, the number of entries in 40-44 had gone from circa 200 to almost 450! It was a huge age group and as a result had 9 Kona slots out of the 50 on offer. Trying to come top 10 out of 450 just 5 weeks after an Ironman was a tall ask but I figured that if I gave it my best shot and left everything out there on the course then I would not be disappointed and barring another disaster should have a nice PB to be proud of as consolation should I not qualify.

My day did not start too well with a 1:04 swim which shocked me in all honesty as it seemed to fly by and I thought I was swimming well at the time, I was absolutely convinced I was for the first time going to see a 59:**so for the initial few minutes I felt a bit defeated as it seemed like a big chunk of time to give up so early in the day.

It was a cool damp and windy day in Copenhagen but apparently the wind was in the right direction meaning we would get blown up the coast so that the bike times should still be fast. This turned out to be very true and within a few minutes on the bike my disappointment with my poor swim started to fade as we were flying! I knew we had a tailwind and wasn’t kidding myself but at the same time I was riding past virtually everyone in front of me and very few people were riding past me or getting too far ahead which gave me confidence as my watts were exactly where I wanted them and the perceived effort felt easy, just like in Frankfurt 5 weeks earlier I was grinning from ear to ear and thinking “this is on!”

Going through 25 miles in under an hour was great fun and even when turning round and heading back towards town in to the wind the average speed stayed pretty high and I started doing mental calculations about possible bike splits, sub 4:45 seemed very feasible as I went through the first lap. I made a decision to push ever so slightly up the fast coastal section to make a bit of hay and this seemed to work really well as i dropped a group of guys who had been around me for a while. At this point in the race I was thinking that Kona was a real possibility as I was feeling good and thought I was executing a well paced bike that was going to set me up for a great run.

As I turned off the coast road after about 3 hours on the bike I started to realise that I didn’t feel too good. I felt a bit headachy and nauseas, not to worry I thought, its just a low patch, get some calories on board and it will pass. I took a couple of extra gels but 30 minutes later I am feeling worse and my watts are dropping and so was my confidence. All the people I had passed on the coastal section rode past me, and all the time my watts just kept dropping until I was struggling to hold 200. From feeling super confident of a Kona slot an hour ago now all I could think about was how on earth was I going to run a marathon. I started to feel marginally better during the last few miles and was hoping that I would feel even better once off the bike. Dismounted with a bike split of 4:51:47 still pretty quick despite my pace drop off in final 2 hours.

After a swift T2 I was out on to the 4 lap run course with a cumulative time of exactly 6 hours on the clock, I briefly felt confident again as conditions were good for running and my pre race dream run goal time of sub 3:15 didn’t seem unrealistic, surely a time of around 9:15 would be good enough for a Kona slot? My speed for the first few miles was pretty good and was a tad above my hoped for sub 3:15 pace but it didn’t feel very fast as it seemed that every single person in my AG was running past me, well at least that is how it felt. At the first out and back I started counting people that had grey numbers which indicated they were in my AG, I stopped counting at about 20 as it was too depressing. I also started to realise that the pace I was running was unsustainable, my HR was too high and I felt sick meaning I couldn’t face taking on board any fuel. After lap 1 I forced myself to slow down and got my HR under control, I still felt like crap but at least I could now get gels down so had some chance of fuelling and getting to the finish.

So I had 3 laps to go and I knew Kona was gone but luckily for me I did have the carrot of a decent time to chase, I was running at just under 5 minutes per Km and whilst not easy it felt just about sustainable so even if I stayed at this pace I would go comfortably under 9:30, which is quite a tidy benchmark to aim for and one that I was willing to fight for. My plan was to if at all possible pick up the pace on lap 4 but if this didn’t happen Sub 9:30 would still be okay so long as I didn’t slow down by very much from my current pace.

With about 2 Km to go on lap 3 I was starting to think about whether I would be able to lift the pace on the final lap when my auto lap bleeped on my Garmin and to my surprise it was a few seconds quicker than my previous few Km’s even though I didn’t feel like I had put in any extra effort, interesting I thought and then a Km later it was another few seconds faster, it was like a switch had been flicked. I was now running towards the final turnaround at the finish line and had picked up my pace considerably, I was passing everyone in front of me and for the first time in several hours felt like I was in a race and that I had some control over it. Only 1 lap to go and I felt like I was flying, adrenaline had really kicked in and I started to look forward to hitting the timing mats as I knew my friends tracking back home would start to get excited when they could see I was speeding up, this spurred me on even more and made me want to get even faster, I was passing everybody, I was buzzing!

I had a bit of a blip with about 5k to go where I had a bit of a dizzy spell and briefly panicked that I had overdone it but after calming down for a couple of Km’s with only 3 to go I knew I could get home safe and just emptied the tank, I was now running faster than I had done for the whole marathon, I was passing lots of people quickly and for the first time  during the run I started to look down at their numbers as I passed them to see if they were in my AG, quite a few were but I was pretty sure that I was still well outside the Kona slots. When I took the final right turn that leads to the finishing chute I got overtaken for the first time in nearly an hour, I immediately looked down and saw he had a grey number but he was moving so much quicker than me that I knew I couldn’t catch him as he gapped me with ease, I had been running pretty much flat out for the last 12k and had nothing left. I distinctly remember thinking that it could be a factor the next day at the Kona roll down. I ran in to the chute and aware of how important losing any more places could be was looking constantly over my shoulder, which after over 9 hours of racing is quite a bizarre feeling. I crossed the line in 9:24:44. With a negative split 3:22:54 marathon, I was absolutely delighted, not so much with my race overall which was far from perfect but for the fight back I had shown on the marathon… oh and the finish time wasn’t bad for an old former fat bloke either.

When I got my bag and turned my phone on, I was blown away by the support I had received during the race and sure enough my increase in speed at the end had caused a bit of excitement on Twitter and Facebook which made me smile a lot! Nico & Paul B had sent me messages saying I had come from 24th to 14th in that last hour and that I had a good chance at the roll down, I honestly didn’t consider this a possibility as 5 roll downs was logically too much to ask. At Frankfurt 5 weeks previously there were 3 rolls for 19 slots, there were not going to be 5 for 9 slots here and I honestly didn’t care as I was happy with what I had achieved.

So the next day with a bit of a hangover I rocked up to the awards and Kona roll down ceremony with absolutely no expectations. Eventually after an age they got round to the Kona slots allocation and I am sitting there waiting for all 9 in my AG to get gobbled up pretty quickly. It immediately however got interesting when the AG winner declined his slot…..when the third person declined and there were still 3 slots left I started to involuntarily shake, I was tweeting a live update which became quite hard to type as I was shaking so much! A couple more accepted and we were down to 1 slot remaining with just the Belgian chap who overtook me right at the end and finished 8 seconds in front of me standing between me and a place at the world champs in Kona. They read his name out and there was total silence in the hall, surely not?! They read it out again and I am thinking “don’t be here you bastard” and there was silence again and then they read his name for a third and final time before reading my name out. Gob smacked was an understatement, I could not believe what had just happened, when I went on stage to sign for my slot my hand was shaking so much that I could hardy sign my name, it was a surreal experience!

It took quite a few days for it to sink in that I was actually going to the world champs in Kona and then it dawned on me that I had to do another Ironman in 8 weeks time and in hot and humid conditions! Up until this year my Ironman experience consisted of 2 events spread over 24 months now I was getting ready for my third in 13 weeks, seriously unchartered territory for me but I didn’t care because I was going to KONA BABY!!!!!

To Follow …….. Two World Championships in 5 weeks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Icarus Takes Flight In The Bolton Skies

Paul Burton & Troy Squires - Bolton finish line

Being run out of a Kona slot in the last 5k of the marathon at South Africa in April is the preamble here. It stings a bit (actually, a lot). I got fit again over the summer and training suggested I was in good shape, so I was hoping to be in the mix after the bike again and that the run and strength work I’ve done since South Africa would make the difference this time. The start list looked more competitive than last year, where 10.21 got the last Kona slot in my AG, but a solid race should see me take one of the 6 slots. I thought sub-10 would be the minimum needed, but 9.50 is where I really needed to be and that was something I was perfectly capable of.

Swim

My swim really came together over the summer, and I was expecting to go about 56 minutes. Conditions were perfect with none of the chop of the previous day, and a significantly more chilled out bunch of competitors compared to the physical affair in Port Elizabeth in April. I never really found any feet I liked, but felt strong and relaxed so was happy going solo. Seeing 55 and change on the clock (maybe a bit short?) was a good start – 8th in AG and 44th overall, feeling fresh as a daisy.

Bike

I felt good from the off. The heart rate came down quickly from the rush of T2 and I set to work at my power target. The course was empty so it was clear I’d had a good swim, especially when I passed George Dunn (a Kona potential guy in my AG and strong swimmer) pretty early on. Also I didn’t pass Troy (who’s in my AG – not as strong on the bike but a better swimmer and similar runner), which suggested he was behind me from the swim – first time I’ve managed that.

Also to plan was being caught by Graeme Buscke, at 30k. Whilst a rival in my AG, he’s a friend and similar strength on the bike. We were expecting to be pretty close at some point and had discussed working together if we both felt it right at the time. We swapped around every 5-10 minutes with the other dropping back 15-20m, and set about a Pac Man routine. A couple of other guys got stuck in, but none hung about for long – other than Tom Babbington, a fellow Londoner in our AG, who promptly took off at a pace I didn’t fancy. At 150k we caught a Swedish guy called Marcus (the guy to beat from my homework), and soon after Tom came back at us as I thought he might given his earlier heroics, so it seemed we were at the head of things. I eased off a bit and span the legs out ready for the marathon. Graeme pushed on up the road but I was relaxed – there were six slots, not one. My stomach felt fine, which was a relief after an ‘experimental’ strategy for Ironman 70.3 UK left me in the bushes the entire run. Which is suboptimal, it turns out.

One thing I must mention is how uplifting it is to see friendly faces supporting on the long and lonely bike course. Amongst those were my girlfriend, Nico’s wife, my parents and aunt & uncle. They had a military precision plan to see us a number of times – which worked as I saw them screaming their heads off and jumping around like loons five times on the bike. Massive thanks to all of you – it makes such a difference.

I rolled into T2 with a split of 5.19 and was greeted by Freespeed’s Sam Baxter seemingly very excited about my position (I suspect he still had some alcohol running through his blood as he had been tweeting people at 4am at the end of his Saturday night). The helpers in T2 confirmed I was the third age grouper at that point, and Graeme and the other were only one minute up the road. The plan had worked a treat – plus I didn’t feel I had pushed particularly hard and the power data was spot on target. Ride for show, run for dough though – time to test my hard earned run fitness…

Run

Sometimes you get off the bike in an Ironman ruing your bike pace and knowing a long day lies ahead. Others you get off and feel great. Today was the latter. Graeme’s girlfriend confirmed we were 1st and 2nd in the AG. I did the maths – a 3.30 marathon (the pace from my last 2 Ironmans) would be 9.50. A low-3.20, as I was hoping to run, would be plenty. 7 hours in, my day could not be going better.

That didn’t last all that long. Not for anything I did but there were a number of guys close behind (the first 7 in my AG reached T2 within 5 mins of each other), and most ran the first 10k like they stole something. By the time I reached the main loop at 10k, 3 had overtaken me, and all were in my AG (including Marcus and Tom). By 21k I was still feeling fine but another 2 in my AG had caught. Hang about, this wasn’t fair or in the plan! I was 8th age grouper overall on the course and 7th in my AG. The cheek of it!

I covered the first half of the run in 1.43 – not far off plan – and as hoped the early pace of my rivals was beginning to pay, and they had all slowed down to my pace. In fact 2nd through to 7th were all within 5 minutes at halfway. Seeing friends that were also hoping for slots (Troy, Nico, Dave Rowe, Jon Heasman etc) all 15-20 mins behind also gave me a boost – I was feeling good and was in the mix. For some reason none of them were (or so I thought…)

So I got over the early disappointment of falling behind in the race and was ready to pounce if any blew up. Game on and time to suffer.

As hoped, 1 of the top 7 did explode. Great news. Unfortunately it was me. Not so great.

Things got tough at 25k – just a phase I thought, and Tom in 5th and the guy in 6th were still close and not actually getting away from me.  Then at 27k my heart rate plummeted, hands went numb and my pace slowed. Interesting. I’ve not had these symptoms in an Ironman before. I diagnosed low calories, as my legs felt fine. Time to refuel aggressively…  but it went from bad to worse. I’d only brought enough gels on the run to get me to halfway, and I was relying on coke at aid stations beyond that. Having just gone through the aid station coming out of Bolton I had 3k up a hill to the only other aid station at the far turnaround point at 30k. During that harrowing time my pace bled and everyone was getting away from me. It was slashing down with rain, which I hadn’t noticed before. Pretty miserable, truth be told.

I eventually got to the aid station, knocked back as many cokes as I could get my hands on then started running again. Except I couldn’t – I felt I was going to pass out. Whoa. This felt like my first marathon in New York in 2005 all over again, except worse. I walked for 100m and tried again. Nope, not happening – running would have seen me on the floor. So I started walking and, frankly, gave up on trying to rescue a decent time out of the ashes of my explosion. If it wasn’t Kona then I was not burying myself to try and get a 9.59 or a 10.05 or whatever. The head was gone. My support crew looked gutted when they finally saw me trudging down the hill. A couple of hugs, and all I wanted was for the ground to swallow me up. ‘You know you don’t have to do this’ came from a (rather concerned looking) Mum, but I think we all knew that, well, really I did. Whilst I had given up on the race, a DNF – with them haring round Lancashire cheering me on all day – just wasn’t cricket. The remainder of the ‘race’ went from miserable, to ‘run 1 min, walk 1 min’ with a Danish guy who was on his first lap (he had a loooong evening in the rain ahead of him), to eating a world record number of crackers, to discovering, oddly, that my legs were now working again. I started to run before seeing that Troy was a couple of minutes behind at the final turnaround. I waited for him to catch up, we lamented our disastrous days, then jogged down the hill to a bromantic finish chute celebration. That last 15 mins with Troy rescued my day as it was great fun. We’d both laid it on the line and come up short, but we finished together. 35 minutes behind where we needed to be, but the pain was over and we had smiles on our faces. There are bigger problems in life than an Ironman gone wrong (although in the midst of it going wrong, it doesn’t feel like it).

The post mortem suggests a combination of bike pacing and insufficient run fuelling were to blame. The latter is my own fault, as whilst the aid stations were pitifully far apart (3k gap is a lifetime in an Ironman), in the fog of a race I didn’t notice and double up to account for this. Lesson learned for next time. The former is also something I am learning about and keep having to adapt around. By no ‘standard’ metric of power or perceived effort was that ride too hard, but I clearly need to change my race preparation or execution because, frankly, I’m a strong runner and it’s time to show that in an Ironman.

Having said that, as someone who likes to flex his biking muscles I’m delighted that the Kona slots in my AG went to the 6 guys other than me that gave it some horns on the bike. They all went 5.11-5.20, and whilst everyone’s marathons may have suffered as a result, the guys that rode conservatively failed to catch any (other than little old me). Lieto, Vanhoenacker and Keinle would be proud. I’m particularly pleased that Graeme hung on for the AG win by 10 secs from the Swede. After a number of poorly executed Ironmans, he finally nailed one. As I felt during the race my AG was indeed pretty fast compared to the others. The 6 slots went down to 9.50, whereas the other youngish AGs went down to 10.15. The curse of M30-34 for me in 2013.

Given that, it turned out that the friends in other AGs I assumed were out of the Kona slots actually weren’t. Nico, Dave and Jon all got their slots, each with the gutsy run that would have got the job done for me. Nico and Deenzy are the two friends I’ve trained most with the past few years, and to see them both reach our shared holy grail is amazing and I’m proud of any small part I’ve played in helping them. Also, note to any other Kona aspirants, getting called up on stage to collect a lei for a rolldown slot is way cooler than just turning up the morning after the race and getting one in exchange for a credit card. When Nico got his name called (in Afrikaans by his countryman, Paul ‘The Voice’ Kaye), we went a little bit mental.

Onwards and upwards for me. No Kona trip but the dream is alive and I’ve learned loads again this year – certainly more from this failure at Bolton than I did from the close-but-no-cigar success of South Africa.

Two big thank yous:

Firstly, as ever, to the Black Line London crew. The journey is more important than the destination anyway. Especially when the journey involves Budgie Smugglers (sorry again, Paul S!).

Secondly, the support crew. You were amazing when I was doing well, and even better when I wasn’t. Next time… there’s always a next time. Hopefully my wings will be glued stronger together next time.