Monday, October 23, 2017

Race report - Ironman 70.3 Mallorca, 10 May 2014

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As always, it's a struggle to know where to start this race report. Too far back and I risk boring you to tears with unnecessary back story. Too close and the race won't be seen in context.

So let's just try and be quick with the lead up. Having raced Mallorca last year as my first official 70.3 event, I was keen to have another go in 2014 - both to see whether I could improve on my 2013 debut as well as to give me a benchmark for progress over winter.

 

Specifically, I wanted to see how I performed in the swim and on the run, the two areas I've worked on hardest over winter.

Mallorca 70.3

Ironman 70.3 (1.9km swim, 90km bike, 21.1km run) Mallorca is now officially the largest 70.3 anywhere in the world, with over 3,500 athletes registered this year (and over 500 in my age group alone, 40-44 Male). Qualifying for the 70.3 world champs really wasn't on my mind. In 2013, my 4:46:58 time was only good enough for 33rd or so in age group. Realistically I was just hoping for a top-20 age group placing and to shave a good 5-10 minutes off my 2013 time.

And so the 500+ MAMILs (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) gathered together in fetching orange swim caps ready for the off at 8.50am on Saturday 10th May, some 55 minutes after the pros had started (and who were already well on their way on their bikes).

 

The swim

Mallorca swimThe entry chute to the water was pretty narrow for 500+ bodies, but perhaps the lengthy run through the shallow water until it was deep enough to dive and start swimming helped thin people out a little.

I chose to start near the front, as agreed with my swim coach, Adam Gibson (@greenlightPT). Under Adam's guidance, I'd knocked about 15 seconds off my 400m swim time in recent months. Bearing in mind 2013's swim time of 29:45, we were aiming to get that down to under 28 minutes this year.

The plan was to start at the front, find a good pair of feet to draft within the first 200m and then conserve energy for the bike.

It was a good plan. In theory!

In reality, the "good" feet were simply too fast for me to draft and so I settled into a chase pack where I managed to catch a couple of short-lived drafts, but spent a fair bit of time swimming alone.

Despite the 500+ swimmers all hitting the water at the same time, there wasn't too much fighting and I was able to get into a rhythm quickly. The big orange buoys made sighting easy and for the most part, my lines were pretty good (although still some room for improvement).

Of course, the swim is the hardest part (for me, anyway) to judge your pace, so it was only as I finally stood in the shallows on the swim exit that I had the opportunity to check my watch. The screen read 27:48. Wow!

By the time I'd clambered through the shallow water and crossed the timing mat, the official time was 28:10 (1.92km according to Garmin). But frankly I'll take that.

The top half of my new Huub Archimedes 4:4 wetsuit came off easily and I began the long run to transition (it's almost 1,000m from swim exit to bike mount!).

As I'd elected to leave my helmet and race number on my bike this year, my blue "bike bag" was empty and so I stuffed my wetsuit and goggles in it (lost my swim cap mid-swim, again!) and dumped it in the bin en route to the bike.

My bike was racked near the far end of transition, which gave me the small advantage of only having to run with the bike for 200m or so.

 

The bike

 

Onto the bike and out onto the road. Don't bother tightening shoes yet, just get going! The first few minutes of the bike were a blur, but on the whole things were going well.

Unlike last year, this year I'm riding with Power (Garmin Vector pedals), so I was conscious to curb my enthusiasm and keep my Watts under 300 for the first 10 minutes as I settled-in.

The run out to Pollenca was dispatched quickly and already I was making lots of overtakes. This is why I love the bike leg so much! Through Pollenca and off up the road towards Lluc. At first it seems pretty flat, and just before the first aid station I got a shout "hey Matt" from a bloke powering past me like a freight train.

It wasn't until I could see his bib that I realized it was none other than Paul Lunn, a top AG athlete. What on earth was he doing passing me at 15km?! He should have never been behind me! I only found out later he'd suffered bad cramps for the first 10km of the bike.

My plan had been to take on water at the first aid station and use a small amount to top up my bar-mounted Speedfil bottle. But as Paul and I approached the aid station, there was chaos ahead and a near-crash that saw us both hitting the brakes and moving to the far side of the road to avoid cyclists and debris. Neither of us managed to get a bottle.

Another 5km or so after the aid station (by which time Paul was well up the road!), the real climb up to Col de Femenia began. It's about 8km long with an average gradient of about 5.5-6 percent. It doesn't sound bad, but it's a real energy-sapper, especially on a hot day.

My coach, Mark Shepherd, had made me fit a 28t cassette to my rear disc. Having analyzed my bike leg from 2013, Mark was concerned I'd burned too many matches on the climb and wanted me to arrive at the top with fresher legs this year.

I'd done a test earlier in the week that suggested I should be able to hold around 270 Watts average from the start of the climb, past Femenia and up to the eventual summit at Lluc.

So I reset my average power at the bottom of the climb and started moving through the field. Again, I was making up places by the second, but I also got passed by a couple of really strong bikers, one from Denmark and a guy from Germany.

It didn't take long for me to realize that 270 Watts wasn't happening for me on the day. 250-260 maximum seemed to be the best I could do without my legs starting to complain. Mindful that I still had another 50km or so to go once I'd reached the summit at Lluc, I opted for caution and tried to spin my way up.

Like last year, I'd set a 20-minute alarm on my bike-mounted Garmin to act as a reminder to take a gel. This was fine for the first alarm, but the second one came at a particularly tough part of the climb. That wasn't very well-planned.

Ok, well I had a reserve strategy. Mounted on my down tube was a small aero bottle with a mix of Elivar Endure carb drink and a MyH2Pro 1500mg sodium tablet. That would be my fuel for the climb. Except I couldn't get the bloody thing out of its bottle cage! Eventually I did, but then it wouldn't go back in. It was oozing carb mix as I fiddled about trying to get it back I the cage and then eventually it slipped out of my hand and onto the road.

Balls.

Right. Stand on the pedals and let's make up some of the time lost faffing around.

To cut a long story short, I eventually reached Lluc a couple of minutes down on my 2013 time and having only consumed half the nutrition I should have. Sub-optimal. And no excuses, just bad planning and execution on my part.

After Lluc, there's a long downhill section with lots of switchbacks. Like last year, it was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Weaving through slower athletes all fighting for the same line on corners was really stressful but I made good progress and thankfully didn't see any bad spills (heard about a couple after, though).

At the bottom, the course had been changed from 2013 and instead of heading to Inca, we were directed off left towards Campanet. On frankly some of the shittiest roads I've ever had the misfortune to ride in Mallorca. Seriously, WTC... WTF?

Those roads were in NO FIT STATE to be in a race of any kind and they either need to be properly re-surfaced for next year or we need to find a different route. Asking athletes to race bikes worth anything from £1,000-£10,000 over those surfaces was insulting. Needless to say there were punctures...

Rant over.

The change in course did force a little more climbing than last year, but eventually we re-joined the fast road to take us to Muro. With the wind at our backs, I was able to chug along nicely at 45-47kmh pushing out less than 215 Watts. Again, I elected to live with that, rather than push harder for minimal gain. I was mindful the run was getting closer.

Like last year, I started needing a pee about 60km into the bike. Me and my walnut-sized bladder... By the time we'd turned for home at Sa Pobla, I was all but resolved to a pee stop in T2. One day I will finally learn how to pee on the bike....

The final few km were uneventful, although I was convinced I'd failed in my attempt to beat last year's bike time. It was only as I dismounted into T2 that I realised I was actually just inside last year's time, despite the crappy new section.

The run

I grabbed my red "run bag" as I ran through T2 and took my my trusty Skechers GORuns, oakleys, visor and gel for the run. Into the empty bag went my bike helmet and as I ran out of the tent I was already pulling my Endurance junkie trisuit down so I could dive straight into a portaloo.

Thirty seconds later and I was finally out onto the run course.

My first impression of hitting the run was "my God, it's hot!". Unlike in 2013, there had been no cloud cover all day and the sun was beating down come midday.

My first kilometer was done in about 4:09, great but a little (or maybe a lot) hot for me. Number two was about 4:18, which was more like it, but then number three dropped further to about 4:23. This isn't going well.

I need to do some further analysis, but I think I just didn't get enough calories in on the bike and I was really beginning to pay for it. Despite my aim to run the full half marathon, by aid station number two, I was having to walk to get water and ISO drink down me. I didn't want to take my gel too early in the run, but on reflection this might have been a mistake.

By about kilometer 12 my pace had slumped right down to 4:47 and I was in a very dark place mentally. Every fibre in my body wanted to walk rather than run. The water wasn't helping and I was over-heating. At kilometer 14 I chugged down the gel I'd been carrying since the start of the run.

And then for a reason I still don't understand I took coke rather than water at the next aid station. Ok it was still a little fizzy, but it was COLD! My God, it tasted and felt good!

Within a minute or two I could feel my energy levels coming back to me just slightly. By about kilometer 18 I was back running close to 4:30 kilometers - still slower than I wanted, but way better than 4:47s!

For the last two kilometers I managed to push up the pace a little more and finally managed to run through the final aid station en route to the finish line.

I crossed the line with a mixture of relief and exhilaration. I think it's fair to say that's the toughest triathlon run I've ever done. Not so much a physical battle as a mental one. I've never wanted to stop so badly before. But I hadn't and I'd even managed to step the pace back up at the end of the run.

Stopping my Garmin looked down to see the time: 4:42:23. I hadn't achieved my sub 4:40 goal but I had comfortably beaten last years time (by four and a half minutes) in arguably much tougher conditions. I think my number one emotion was relief. To have gone slower this year would have been heart-breaking.

I met Allie Park over the line and she congratulated me. To my regret, I didn't repay the compliment. I think I was just in another world (I apologized to Allie a few minutes later!). Through to the recovery area and all I could do was keep pouring bottles of water over my head. Oh, and drink a glass of cold beer in one gulp... ;)

Once the volunteers (who were fantastic, thank you, especially to the German guy on aid station two who shouted encouragement to me by name each lap; perhaps he recognized my "dark place" mentally) had located my bag I headed out to meet up with my fiancé, Sam.

As I was waiting for her, I checked my twitter (as you do!), and someone had posted a screenshot of my live tracker. My 4:42 time was confirmed, but what came next I couldn't quite believe. I was shown as 10th in Age Group.

Hmm, maybe they hadn't processed all the results yet. No doubt I'd slip a fair few places as they sorted things out. But no, 10th it stayed. And not only that, but in addition to going from 24th to 9th on the bike, I'd only lost a single place on the run. Now my run time was shocking - not even 30 seconds faster than exactly the same course in 2013 - but I think perhaps it goes to show just how brutal the conditions were that only one person in my age group got past me.

The awards ceremony

My 10th place in age group came as a surprise and people started to urge me to attend the slot allocation for the 70.3 world championships in the evening. I personally doubted it would roll-down as far as me. But I also knew I'd kick myself if I missed out (you have to be there in person at the ceremony to accept your place, otherwise it rolls down to the next-placed person).

So I duly sat through more than two hours of tedium until they finally got to the male 40-44 age group. I was surprised we had been allotted six of the 50 available World Champs slots (just goes to show you how BIG my age group was! 464 finishers...), plus we'd received one more from another age group.

Seven slots in total. Jeez, there's a tiny chance I might get this!

Paul Lunn deservedly took the number one slot in our Age Group. His amazing 4:18 result is the sort of thing I can only dream of right now. Then the name of the second-place guy was called. No response. And the third. No response.

Eventually I think the second slot was taken by the guy who came fifth or sixth and then it all went quiet again until they called my name.

"Matt Fisher" called out the European voice of Ironman, Paul Kaye. Probably a little too eagerly, I shouted "Yep!!!" and bounced towards the stage to collect my qualification certificate. I might not often smile in my race photos, but I promise you I was smiling now! A warm handshake from the bigwig at Thomas Cook and a smiley thumbs up from the two guys from Ironman and I'd done it.

I have absolutely no idea who took the remaining four slots allocated to our age group, or if they rolled-down. I was in a different world again. I managed to say well done to Paul as we both paid our entry fees for the 70.3 world champs. That's when I found out about his cramps.

 

Reflections

Let's be very clear on three things:

1) I did not expect to qualify for the world champs at this race

2) Although large, I don't think the field in my age group was as strong as last year

3) I am well aware I only took the slot through roll-down

All that said, you can only race who turns up on the day, and if you're offered a slot at the world champs, you have a choice whether to take it or not. I've chosen to take my chance.

For a number of reasons, it is likely that this will be my last year of "seriously" competing in triathlon. I hope to keep it up on some level, but priorities change and I realize I can't pretend to be a pro triathlete for ever. So, for me, there is a sense of "now or never". And that's why I've jumped at the chance.

And so my focus now is to smash my next few races; address the issues highlighted this weekend (chief among which are nutrition and running off the bike) and arrive in Mont Tremblant in September ready to race the best 70.3 of my life.

I'm going to go through "lessons learned" in a separate blog, as this has already turned from a blog post into something to rival War & Peace!

But finally, thank you to all those who support me (Sam, Mark, Adam, Skechers Performance Division, 110% Play Harder, Elivar, Endurance Junkie) and provide encouragement.

 

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Matt Fisher runs TriathletesDiary.com - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a 2014 qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs

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