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…

See Paul, I told you you could do it.

For athletes like myself who have been marginal qualifiers – sellouts to Andrew Messick’s WTC global gravy train, collecting cheap backpacks with a cunningly calculated six-month lifespan and eventually the expensive golden ticket to the Big Dance – there’s a clear decision to make soon after qualifying for Kona: Am I going there to complete and soak up the experience, get the free caps/gels/bedspreads/curtains and just make sure I’m fit enough to get round that course in one piece with a smile on my face? Or, am I going to get myself in the best shape I can and go race properly – to see how you stack up against the best? Decision 1 – the mindset decision.

Then Decision 2 – the execution decision. Once you’ve done a few, there’s a clear honesty that’s needed about Ironman racing. You know in both your head and your heart when you’re fit and ready for the best performance you’re capable of – but more importantly you know (or should know) when it’s touch and go or when it’s definitely not on. Training tells you. There’s no bullshitting or bluffing this sport. It’s too hard. If you bullshit yourself and pretend things will be ok then you’ll be walking the marathon. Do this in Kona and there’s a chance people will be frying eggs off your back as you’re passed out face down on the Queen K. Or even Ali’i Drive if you don’t make it as far as Palani. So Decision 2 is in the weeks before the race, the honest look-at-yourself-in-the-mirror-question – what shape am I in, and what’s my race strategy to best reflect that?

Continue reading “See Paul, I told you you could do it.”

Troy’s Roadmap To Kona

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

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

Continue reading “Troy’s Roadmap To Kona”

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

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

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

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

Black Line London’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……

Kona, Meet Michael. He’s Coming To Visit.

Kona!

I feel it appropriate to start this race report with the word that led me to racing IMUK 2014. In 2012 I raced two iron distance races, the first being Austria which turned out to be a challenging day with some mechanical issues and the goal of going sub 10 hours not being achieved.

Plan B, challenge Barcelona 2012, 9:51 goal achieved, tick!

This was my ironman racing done and dusted; the Kona dream was never really a dream for me and not something I wanted to chase with all due respect.  I love racing, I love the vibe, the competitive nature, the camaraderie and travelling to race destinations with friends & family.  I was not prepared to put more into training with running my own business, ‘wife time’ & other interests!  After 2012 I decided 70.3 distances would be my thing.

Last year a group of us were having a pre-race braai (BBQ) at our villa before Mallorca 70.3 and we were talking Kona. Andy Brodziak, said the following words to me having raced Kona himself, “If you have the ability to qualify for Kona it would be a waste not to use it!” These words stuck with me for some time and the more I thought about it the more the desire started to grow. Having lunch with Raoul de Jongh in Sep 2013 after a run up table mountain, the Kona word came up again. Coming from a man who has done some epic and challenging events, to say that Kona is certainly a must and something that lives up to the hype, my decision was made. I need to get myself to the big island.

IMUK 2014; that’s my race! A hilly bike course, bad roads (equivalent to what we ride in Surrey) and a tough run. The race was entered end of 2013 and I started my planning. I was going to do this properly.  I had a plan! This was now all about Kona.

To add some background, I don’t ride with power, I barely analyse data and I only started downloading my Garmin data three weeks ago. I train on heart rate and feel. When I run I observe my pace but mostly know what pace I am running at due to my effort output. My dad ran 12 comrades marathons (two at sub 6:45 hours) with no heart rate monitor and purely on coke and water. I don’t think he even knows what a gel looks like so maybe this is where I get it from, rightly or wrongly so! My goal over the winter months was to get stronger in the gym to improve my riding. I have always run, since as far back as I can remember. My parents were both runners so that is what we did, we ran. I had never managed a good marathon off the bike and I knew this was due to my bike being my achilles heel. Wayne Smith (who coached me this year) suggested single leg squats and big gear riding. Project “strong legs” became my priority! January and half of February this year was spent in South Africa and I had the privilege of doing some great base training in and around Stellenbosch with Troy Squires. We rode some hard and hot rides on the MTB bikes in the hills of Jonkershoek and some good off road running up and down the Cape Mountains. A solid base was being laid!

When I returned to the UK mid-February, the plan continued…..out on the bike on the weekends and keeping strength work in the gym the priority. At the beginning of March, Wayne Smith sent me my first training program which was simple, consistent training for the next four months. Mallorca 70.3 was part of the training plan and was never a “race” as such. I had a great twelve day block of training with some solid riding (1000kms in 12 days). The race was always going to be a big brick session and that’s exactly what it turned out to be. Back in the UK, my block of ironman specific training commenced and I kept to my key ingredient-consistency! The weeks flew past and the training was complete. Before I knew it, I was driving my car up to Bolton and pulling into the car park of the Whites Hotel three days before IMUK.

The time had come.  I was nervous and excited all rolled into one. 3am the alarm went off on race morning, Sunday the 20th of July and I felt calm! I was excited and keen to get going.  After pre-race Breakfast and coffee we were in the car to Pennington Flash, the swim start of what would hopefully be a solid day out. I had specific times for the swim and bike in mind that I wanted to achieve in order to put me in a good position to execute my run……this was all about the run!

6am Craig Alexander sounds the hooter and off we go, the usual chaos of an ironman swim start. Arms, legs, swim over someone, washing machine and finally…into clear water.  I was feeling calm and got into a good rhythm.  1900m done and it was out of the water for the Australian exit, Garmin reads 27.30! I was happy with that, back into the pond with another lap to complete. Exit 59 minutes, I lost some time somewhere on that second lap but sub 1 hour was always the swim goal.

Wetsuit off….helmet on…shoes on and exit T1! Time to be sensible, my motto was to ride like a tourist for the first 120kms.One rider after another past me.  I knew I had to keep calm or perhaps I was riding too slowly? I kept telling myself I will see them on the run… The first lap of the bike went 100% to plan, I saw my support crew (Mary, Tania, Parys and Paula who were incredible!) and gave the “all good signal”.  The second lap and up Sheep house lane I was still feeling good. It was at the 120km mark my legs vanished! The next 60km were categorically the worst 60kms I have ever ridden in any iron distance race. My legs were aching, my heart rate dropped and the power and confidence disappeared. I kept pushing along with my average pace reducing and finally accepted that this was “not to be my day. Thoughts of did I over train, was that long run to close to race day, maybe I am ill? The demons in my head were talking and talking loud. How am I going to finish a marathon feeling like this let alone run the marathon? Into T2 and very pleased to get rid of my nemesis the bike (my slowest bike split in an iron distance race by some margin).

My Garmin file below shows my reduction in pace and a drop off in heart rate: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/546910257

Onto the run…..run time is fun time…or is it!? I had a plan; 4.35 min kms and if I was around 10th in my age group at the start of the run I felt I could run myself into a Kona spot. My thoughts at the time were that there was no chance after that bike I could be anywhere near 10th place! My strategy was adjusted and I thought I would catch my friend Phillipe. I knew he biked five minutes quicker than me and so we could then jog the marathon together and accept that I was not good enough on the day for this Kona dream. Soon enough I was running with Phillipe along the tow path. A brief chat and the question of where we might possibly be sitting position wise in our age group. I was managing to hold my target pace and feeling pretty good.  It was perfect timing when my support team appeared. Mary shouted out that I was 12th  in my age group and the information started to materialise. I soon realised that most of the guys had slow bike splits and the ones that went too hard were already starting to fall apart. Like a hound to a blood trail, I knew it was game on and time to dig deep! I never studied our start list and my philosophy has always been to focus on my own race and not on the other guys around me but there was one chap I knew who was on good form after a great race in Mallorca. I predicted him to be a podium finish at IMUK, Roger Barr.  Running down into Bolton for the first time I saw Roger coming up the hill and not looking healthy at all! I knew if I could keep my pace and run sensibly I would certainly be passing him. One foot in front of the other…..step by step.

At this stage I had linked up with a chap called Joe Duckworth, a local lad from Bolton and we were running a similar pace. Joe had already qualified for Kona at IM Wales & was racing Bolton “for fun” (as you do!). We started chatting and working together. Joe gave me the following words of advice that I needed to hear, “MC keeping running like this and you will go to Kona, the guys will fall apart on this course, it happens every year”. It was these words that sealed the deal in my head and my heart. Another lap down and the word was I was 9th….the stress levels in my support crew and those following me online were immense. I knew that I was doing all I could and that I was digging as deep as I possibly could. I was drawing energy and strength from various thoughts, memories and words (as I am sure we all do when deep in the pace cave).  In particular, a running picture my mom sent me of me running on an athletics track when I was eight years old kept coming to mind. Positive thoughts like I have been running all my life and Wayne telling me that the ironman marathon is not about who runs the fastest but who slows down the least is what kept me going.

The final turn in Bolton town, over the cobble stones and back up the long hill for the last time. Everything was hurting; small quick steps, one last climb and back downhill to the red carpet were my thoughts. Slowing slightly up the hill but still maintaining a good pace. At the 37km mark I past Roger and I knew if I was ahead of him, I must certainly be in the mix! I turned at the top and back down to town for the final 3kms, the legs felt strong and the pace was sub 4.30 minute kms . Down into Bolton, back over the cobble stones and floating with each stride as I turned the final bend and down the red carpet to the familiar ironman voice of Paul Kaye.

Marathon time 3hours, 22min. Finally the marathon off the bike I had been hoping for and on a tough run course in the heat (not to mention off a horrific bike).  Job done! The finish line was epic; I had my medal around my neck and got to share Tamsin’s euphoria of winning IMUK on debut.

Most importantly, there they all were, my stellar support team who gave me the news that I had finished 5th in my age group and that MOST likely we will be booking flights to the big Island.  A sense of relief, happiness and also the reality that in 10 weeks’ time I will have to do this all over again for my last ironman dance, Kona;  what a way to complete my ironman journey. What was never my dream was now a dream finish! Those that race Ironman know it’s about overcoming adversity and digging deep.  On a day when I thought my chances of a Kona slot were totally gone, I managed to run myself from 12th in my age group to 5th.

I still maintain that overriding on the bike is our biggest mistake. Ironman racing really is ALL about the run….the first 30kms you run with your head and the last 12 kms you run with your heart and soul.

Below is my Garmin file for the run:

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/546951216

IMUK is not one of the exotic IM destinations, but it’s a tough and honest ironman course and that’s why I chose it as “my road to Kona”. The people of Bolton were mega in their support and friendliness. Bolton, oddly now, has a special place inside me. A massive thanks to everyone who played a part in my journey but the biggest thanks must go to Mary who made the same amount of sacrifices as I did to allow me to get myself race ready. KONA BABY!

Follow Michael on Twitter.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just The Beginning – Nico’s Story

Nico in Kona

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

 Cozumel – Nov 2011

Austria – 2012,

Wales 2012,

South Africa 2013,

UK 2013

Hawaii 2013

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

The ideal high-level plan looked something like this:

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

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

2013 – Qualify for Kona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

Black Line London’s Postcard from Hawaii

As Black Line London’s only current Hawaii resident Laura Trimble provides the lowdown on everything she thinks is fantastic about the Big Island.

Rest assured that while the training is awesome I’m not going to bore you all with that here when there is a whole host of other things to experience! So these are my “Best” things so far…

Kope Lani

1) Best for… Coffee. And ice cream!

With coffee and macadamia nuts produced en masse on the island they are everywhere. From ice cream to the latest fish catch, don’t be surprised to see a coffee flavoured macadamia nut crust. As an infrequent coffee drinker I feel a little unqualified to comment on where the best coffee is to be found but it’s hard to look beyond Kope Lani’s iced coffee.

Honourable mention to Lava Java for their Lava Java Shake. But the real reason to choose Kope Lani is that the ice cream is to die for: Caramel Mac Nut, Kope Lani Sundae, Mud Pie, KK Krunch (despite our best efforts we can’t pronounce the Hawaiian), Kona Joy are all winners. Allegedly.

Smoothy

2) Best for… Smoothies

For convenience, good service and (admittedly pretty dodgy) free wifi, the best place we’ve found is Menehune’s just off the pier. Try the Shaka or the Green Honu, they’ll happily add protein to it for you. Tastes best post run while cooling off in the ocean. Alternatively if you make it to Hawi then Kohala Coffee Mill at the top does great smoothies and even better ginger oatcakes.

Acai Bowl Menu

 3) Best for… A chilled out lunch

Almost certainly my favourite place on the island… Basik Acai. Serves bowls with an Acai base topped up with various combinations of fruit, berries, nuts, granola etc etc. I have no idea how I didn’t find this place in 2010. Delicious, tasty, healthy food (even if Scott thinks he is allergic to the granola), great atmosphere, chilled out music, sea breeze, cool seats overlooking a fantastic view of the ocean. I could sit there for hours.

 4) Best for… Dinner

I’m reluctant to talk about hidden gems but it’s not often you come across a Japanese lady serving food from what is essentially her kitchen. We stumbled across Kimagure when planning to eat somewhere else and as wellas being the cheapest meal I’ve seen in Kona it is just fabulous. Full of locals and tucked away out of sight in the Kona marketplace mall. Dumpling soup, gyoza and yakiudon are all great. As is everything else as far as I can see. Honourable mention to Rapanui’s which is a bit more pricey but also delicious and based on the wine selection seemingly run by New Zealanders. Last honourable mention to Kona Brewery where you might struggle to get a table but the pizza is fantastic. And to Lava Java for the fish tacos. Let’s face it… despite the impressive array of fast food outlets here if you dig a little deeper you can eat very well.

5) Best for… Happy Hour!

Coming straight from Vegas it didn’t take the boys long to figure this one out. With $4 a cocktail from 3-6pm and a fantastic view of the sunset Huggo’s cannot be beaten. Top marks to the Mai Tai’s and the Rainbow cocktails. And the hula ladies.

So 10 days into my trip and aside from a large amount of training that’s where I’ve been spending my time. I’ve also learned I can live off bagels, humous, no-fat yogurt, granola, almond butter and fresh fruit quite happily for weeks. And that at the farmers market you can buy 3 papayas for $1.

And finally on the training front a few useful tips…

Ad hoc water stations: there is a drinking fountain 2 miles down Ali’i Drive on the left; a shower at the farthest point of the energy lab; and a petrol station on the Queen K halfway (3 miles) from the energy lab back to town. All very welcome and much used.

The old airport is awesome for running reps. Dead straight runway almost exactly 1km long. About 1.5 miles out of town. Does slope up a bit going north. Next to a nice looking and popular beach which I am yet to fully appreciate.

The pool is free, runs masters 3x weekly and has a great vibe. Mostly locals swimming but all friendly and welcoming to visitors. Natascha Badmann has done every session I’ve been to. Steve is the head coach there. He gave me an avocado after my first session.

Pool
There are 36 lampposts on Mark and Dave hill, 37 if you include the one on the corner of Palani Road. It’s around a mile and quite steep so if you can hit one every 12 seconds you’re doing pretty well

Lamp posts

And I stole this from Macca but apparently it takes 42 seconds to sprint from the Banyan Tree to the finish. Hoping I won’t need to use that one!