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