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.”

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.”

Paul Burton’s Ironman Wales

Swim-display

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt like a fish trying to climbing a tree.

alberteinsteinfishquote

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

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

Bike

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

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

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

Run

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

Finish 1

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

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

Finish floor

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

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

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

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

A couple of thank yous:

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

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

Onwards and Upwards: Paul Burton’s Pre-Season Musings

Tick tock. The passage of time means that as the new year dawns numerous races have been entered, flights have been booked, a winter base is hopefully being built, and dreams have been built on winter cycling holidays and endless chats over Spanish lattes and leche leches (seriously – try one of these in Lanzarote. Amazing).

So here are my reflections on my 2013 and aspirations and pre-season musings for 2014. Feel free to abuse/heckle/doubt/praise/laugh as appropriate. All comments welcome.

Black Line London Bananaman

2013…

The Good:  The entire first half of the year, 1.21 half marathon, 2.55 Ballbuster, 9.30 Ironman South Africa, qualifying for the GB age group team at Hyde Park worlds, pretty much anything on a bike, winning Thorpe Sprint, winning Bananaman team TT with Sam and Jim, riding a bike round London in the world champs like I stole it, crossing an Ironman finish line with a friend (twice), training and racing with Black Line Londoners, testing my limits, racing in Budgy Smugglers.

The Bad:  Most of the second half of the year, blowing up at 30k on the run at Ironman UK, walking in a race for the first time, injuring my foot in winning Thorpe Sprint, most of my running off the bike, finding out where my limits are a little too often, missing a Kona slot by one place, racing in Budgy Smugglers.

The Ugly:  Stomach shutdown at Ironman 70.3 UK and spending most of the run in the bushes… whilst racing in Budgy Smugglers.

blackline-bananaman-16

2014…

What will change:  Lots… working with a proven coach to improve my run technique, track sessions, lots of core/glutes/leg strength work, easier easy sessions, harder hard sessions, swim squad, big gear bike work, less volume chasing, understanding my training data better with the help of Training Peaks geekery, more balance in my diet alongside the easier easy sessions to help build a fat burning machine, more sleep, and more diligence in planning the year’s training and racing to peak only at the right times. Oh, and coffee. I’ve started drinking coffee. Truly life changing.

What won’t change:  Testing my limits in races, using my bike strength in races, having fun training and racing with Black Line Londoners and other Lycra-clad friends, keeping the Spanish economy afloat with numerous training holidays (Lanzarote and Andalucia already ticked off since the end of last year) and unnecessary purchases of expensive objects made of carbon fibre.

What I’d like to happen: Get better, be as good to the finish line as I have been to T2, cross the finish line of an Ironman alone (for once), watch Kona unfold from the race course rather than the sofa and for the Budgy Smugglers to get left in the drawer.

See you at the races. First up for me and a number of the Black Line London gang, is Ironman South Africa on 6 April. Let’s see if I can ride for show and run for dough.

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.

Ironman South Africa Race Report – A Change of Mindset

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

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

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

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

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

Swim

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

Bike

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

Paul Burton Ironman South Africa Bike

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

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

Run

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

Paul Butron Ironman South Africa Run

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

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

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

14.line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Great Triathlons Everyone Should Know About

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

So, here are my top 5 triathlon races.

5. Thames Turbo Sprint

Top 5 Triathlons - Thames Turbo

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

4. Challenge Roth

Top 5 Triathlons - Challenge Roth

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

3. Ballbuster

Top 5 Triathlons  - Ballbuster

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

2. Ironman Wales

Top 5 Triathlons - Ironman Wales

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

 1. Ironman 70.3 UK – Wimbleball

Top 5 Triathlons - Wimbleball 70.3

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

Paul Burton’s Ironman Wales

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

RACE

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

SWIM

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

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

BIKE

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

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

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

RUN

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

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