Saturday, October 21, 2017

Race Report - Ironman 70.3 Mallorca - 11 May 2013

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For once, I'm actually a bit lost for where to start this update. I guess the story actually begins back in Auckland last October. As you may recall from my report at the time, I didn't really enjoy the experience. I had a poor swim and run, which led to quite a few changes, including the decision to part company with my then coach (no insult to his capabilities, I just I felt I needed a new approach). I was also a bit disillusioned with the whole Brit Tri Age Group scene.  And, to be honest, I was a bit burned out.

So it made sense to seek out a new challenge for 2013. Rather than make a huge leap in distance to full Ironman, where my dodgy right knee would possibly not handle the extra training volume, it seemed sensible to step-up first to 70.3 or Half Ironman. 

I had done a middle distance triathlon before (the Swashbuckler in April 2012 - a torrid experience largely due to the freezing temperatures!), but this was the first time I'd actually train specifically for middle distance.

So, to cut a long story short, on the morning of Saturday 11th May, I found myself lining up with the other 450-or-so athletes in my 40-44 Age Group (I don't actually turn 40 till September, to be clear!), ready to dash into the sea to begin the 1.9km swim that represented the start of the Mallorca 70.3 half ironman. 

I'll admit I was nervous. Very nervous. As witnessed by the constant twitching of my right buttock! Anyone behind me would have thought I was freezing cold. I was nervous because i was very conscious that swim training had taken a back seat to running over the last four months and I knew I wasn't in top shape. Nevertheless I had positioned myself towards the front of the wave, in the hope that I'd be able to make a reasonable start and find some clear water, avoiding too much fighting for space.

The Swim

The gun went and we charged into the water. And then charged some more! The water was initially very shallow, so it wasn't until we were a good 30 metres into the sea that we could begin swimming. The pace was much less frantic than the start of an Olympic distance race, which suited me fine and I managed to find enough space to settle into a rhythm. What I learned very quickly is that some people can't sight for toffee! Numerous times I was forced off course by the person next to me or in front of me cutting across when they should have just kept going straight! The outward leg of the swim seemed to take forever, but I felt like my pace was OK. 

I had originally hoped to do a sub-30 minute swim but had revised this to 32 based on recent swim times in the pool and out in Mallorca pre-race.

Turning right at the final buoy to head back towards land, the numpty on the inside of me decided not to turn and continue out to sea! Grrr. I practically had to swim across him to get back on course.  Finally reaching swim exit, we again had to wade (nb. Learn to porpoise!) through the shallow water to the exit arch. Hitting the lap button on my Garmin 910 showed a swim time of 29:45. Happy with that! (especially as the swim was at least 100m long!)

Now what people generally don't know about transition 1 in Mallorca is that it is one of the LONGEST you will find anywhere! The run from swim exit to transition entrance is about 400 metres and about the same again to transition exit.

I was busting for a pee as I reached transition and mindful that I still haven't mastered the art of peeing on the bike - and not fancying 90km being desperate to go - I tugged my wetsuit down and tried to pee in the transition urinals. Nothing happening.  Shit just wasted 15 seconds. Ok.  Grab bike bag, into transition tent, remove wetsuit, don helmet, run to bike.

Except. As running to the bike I reached up to the upturned visor on my Kask Bambino so that I could put it in place before unracking bike. But it wasn't there. Double shit. I had to run back to my transition bag, fetch visor and run back to the bike. F*ck!

The Bike

I grabbed my bike, and ran towards exit.  Mount, feet in shoes and away we go! All good, except one of my gels was falling off the bike.  Grab it or lose it. So I grabbed it and rode the next 20km holding it... This is going like a dream, not!

Still, on the plus side I'd already started making up places on the bike. "Calm down" I ordered myself and try to focus on a steady pace; no point in blowing up after 10km. At 15km we passed the first aid station. I was barely settled-in on the bike and certainly didn't need anything so I stayed to the left and gave the people slowing down a wide berth. Shortly after, I downed the first SiS GO Isotonic gel.  It was about five minutes earlier than planned but I figured I was going to hit the hill shortly and didn't want to be holding it then. All good. The plan was to have an SiS gel every 40 minutes on the bike, supplemented with carb drink from a refillable Speedfil aero bottle (I'd top-up the Speedfil with water at the second aid station).

The "hill" is the Col de Ferrier which is an initial 7.7km climb from near Pollenca up to Lluc, and then a bit more climbing, just for fun (total ascent on the Mallorca course is apparently 850m - although my Garmin made it 100m more than that!). Despite wearing the bambino with a full-face visor, and dragging a heavy disc wheel behind me, things went reasonably well up the hill. I wasn't surprised to get passed by a couple of guys on road bikes, but I knew I had plenty of time to catch them on the flat run back to Alcudia.

Towards the top of the climb, a guy pulled alongside and asked "are you Matt Fisher?!".  "erm, yes!". It turns out its Paul Deen who is a mate of my old coach. Small world!

After the climb is a long descent with really tricky switchback turns. Just as some people can't sight for toffee, it seems a lot of triathlon cyclists need to learn how to ride corners and develop a sense of situational awareness. It was tricky having to constantly compensate for others not taking the right lines or cutting across you. I took to yelling at most corners "stay right!" or "bike left!" as I sliced through the field, regularly hitting 60km/h. 

The rest of the ride was fairly uneventful for me (plenty of crashes though, so I hear) until riding back towards Sa Pobla on a flat road with a strong headwind. Two guys "Stephane" and "Paulo" clearly weren't worried about draft-busters and basically rode a two-up TT for about 10km before I finally lost sight of them. Cheating bastards.

Back into transition and my time for the 90km ride was just under 2:35; just slightly over my target time but nothing to complain about! I was conscious I had probably pushed just a little harder than I should, but hoped it wouldn't hurt me too much on the run.

The Run

This time, I did manage to take a quick pee in transition and then it was out onto the run. Initially my Garmin was reporting a pace of around 4:08 per km, oops that's too fast for me. I eased up a little but tried to keep under 4:30 per km.  I had a gel bottle on my belt, but didn't want to use it too early as my belly was feeling a bit heavy already. The nutrition plan on the run was to have the gel bottle containing two more SiS GO gels (diluted with a little water to make the syrup easier to swig) combined with water from the aid stations.

Unlike previous races, I chose not to wear calf guards this time out and also took a calculated risk on a new pair of run shoes I'd been testing lately. Skechers aren't widely known for their performance sports footwear, but I've been running in a pair of GoRun2s over the last two weeks and was sufficiently impressed with them that I chose them for the half-marathon. A full gear review of these will follow, but safe to say I was happy with my choice.

After doing the first 5km in about 21:30, I decided I needed to cool the pace a little more, I didn't think I'd be able to hold it. So I took to walking the aid stations to ensure I got sufficient time to drink water, grab sponges etc. This tactic seemed to work ok as those who passed me while I was walking were usually re-caught and passed again within a kilometre.   I hit the 10km mark in about 45 minutes. A bit slower than I had hoped, but by now the legs and belly weren't happy. I decided to stop worrying about pace and just go on feel.

This worked ok but by 19km the wheels were really coming off and I was in trouble. "Just 2km to go!" I kept telling myself, but the legs really didn't want to listen (my heart rate had slumped from 165 down to just 143 - things were not good!). Even with just 500 metres to go I had to walk the final aid station. Dammit. Into the last 300 metres however and, as always, the body found its final reserves and I crossed the line at a reasonable pace and with arms aloft. I  hadn't come close to winning, but I had finished and that was a personal win.

The End

My finishing time, including the transitions and a half-marathon time of 1:34 (which three years ago would have been a PB without a 90km bike before it!), was 4:46. Not quite my target time, but not bad for a first official 70.3 effort.

I have lots of positives to draw from the race and equally as many lessons to learn. What they are I'm not exactly sure yet! That's not flippant, I just need time to reflect and discuss with those whose judgement I value and trust.

After racing at GB Age Group level, I can safely say that this Ironman malarkey is a whole different game. Despite what I think would be considered an okay time by most, I only came 31st in my Age Group (albeit out of 450-odd and 243rd out of 3,300 competitors overall). 

I am humbled by both the race and the quality (cheating drafting bastards aside) of the racing. These guys are tough. To be clear, I'm still going to have a crack at age group this year, what with the ITU grand final being in London. But judging by the number of guys wearing GB Age Group trisuits that I overtook during the 70.3 race, this racing is clearly on another level.

Don't think that I'm against Age Group.  I remember the pride of donning the blue suit for the first time myself. If you get the chance and want to do it, go for qualification! But remember there's a whole 'nother world out there!

As for me, as I sit and type this up just a few hours post-event (enjoying the relief of my 110%PlayHarder calf compression - shame I didn't bring the ice packs too!), I can't say that I've been bitten by the Ironman bug. Yet. Today was brutal - and I think it could've been even more brutal had I had a little more prep time and a little less injury and illness over winter. Some lessons I've learned today can, I believe, be translated back to Olympic distance racing. But for now, I still have a lot to learn at 70.3 before I go "long". While I have admiration for anyone that wants to complete an Ironman, that's not me.  I want to grab it by the scruff of the neck and wring the life out of it! But I'm not ready for that yet. And now I know it.

So it's likely that the rest of 2013 and indeed 2014 will NOT feature a full Ironman for me.  But that doesn't mean I can't get better at 70.3. ;-)

Well done to everyone who achieved their personal goals at Mallorca. It's a fantastic race and thank you to the many officials and volunteers who made it possible. It's quite likely I'll be back.

A few thank yous

I really shouldn't sign off without saying a few thank yous to the following:

1. Science in Sport (SiS) for supporting me with nutrition over winter and into the 2013 tri season.

2. The Triathlon Shop Bristol for their support and encouragement, not to mention team discount!

3. 110%PlayHarder - seriously good compression gear plus the addition of ice!

4. The Twitterverse - thank you to all my friends on Twitter who have encouraged and advised me, you're great!

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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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