IM Florida 2017 – Race Report
Ironman Florida 2017 – Lessons in pacing.
After winning my AG last July at IMUK and turning down the slot I was firmly fixed on qualifying at Mallorca later in 2016, this would give me 12 months to train for Kona. Quite simply I bombed, 16th in my AG, 7 weeks to recover and race just wasn’t enough to make the impact I needed. I needed to rethink. Me and Kelly had talked at length about going to Kona and then Disney for her 40th, problem is, they don’t hand slots out for free and I had just turned one down! As a family surrounded by triathlon ‘Kona’ is always hanging ‘out there’. Hawai’i is beautiful, the location, sea, beaches and then Mickey and his mates afterwards …. I would just have to try harder.
I was still keen on using a late IM to qualify for the following year, this limits the European athletes to a very small handful of races after September 1st but it can be done. The problem is, as Mallorca showed, the AG’s are stacked with everyone trying to qualify early. I may need to look further afield, cost was a consideration, so was taking the kids out of school.
3 of the TTT coaches (Phil, Chris and Andy) signed up for Ironman Florida the day it opened as it normally fills in a week or two and they wanted an end of season blowout paired with a week in Orlando. Personally, mentioning Ironman & Florida in the same sentence was likely to get me divorced (again!) way too expensive and would limit me going on my own which wasn’t optimal. So it was either Wales or the new one in Cervia, Italy. I decided to leave it til after my spring marathon.
Marathon training and racing came and went, I tried to go sub 3 but by April I had done Manchester marathon in 3.05 and was ready to get back to IM training. By now, Italy was full. Wales? Cost for accommodation in town was extortionate, nearly £800 for 3 nights! it would be almost as cheap to go to Florida and share accommodation etc ………………….
Florida was still on my mind, the previous year had been slow in my AG, no real reason for it but the swim can be choppy and the heat is always changeable, qualifying outside of the UK is anything but easy, you have to race who turns up. Florida was the best option left, I could also race with friends. Kelly definitely wasn’t happy to leave the kids so if I went it would have to be solo, I was permitted a pass on one condition, QUALIFY, no pressure then !! Permission granted with a threat that if I didn’t qualify we were going on a cruise!
Training in May started from scratch on the bike, with no rides under my belt, 8 of us booked a bucket list 5 day, 900km round trip, cycling from UK to Belgium to ride some famous cobbles, that should kick start the endurance, it was quite frankly EPIC.
I discussed the build up with my coach, I wanted 2 half ironmans to test position, nutrition and progress. Consistency was going to be my primary goal, with a major project at work going on all year the travel was going to be unpredictable and stress on the family meant checking with Kelly regularly to ensure I wasn’t taking the p*ss.
As the season progressed my swimming was consistent and I felt an hour was in reach in Florida as long as it was wetsuit legal, the half ironman races helped me dial in race power figures I needed for Florida, I could also feel my running was starting to come back. Marathon running had left me flat for 2 months and it wasn’t until August that this started to improve. I wanted to aim at 3.20 for the IM, that would be dependent on the bike figures. I had a new bike and after my bike fit (thanks Phil @ Sail & Ski in Chester) it was all looking good.
The last 4 weeks before the race, I was hit with a sore throat and cold symptoms, self inflicted after a night out, the immune system took a bashing, not even my Xendurance Immune Boost could help this one, the cold lasted up to the week of the event, I fought hard to keep that at bay, I didn’t drink a drop of alcohol for the next 4 weeks, I drank more water than I had ever done, I was also popping vitamins left right and centre. It didn’t stop when we got stateside either, you won’t believe the stuff you can get over the counter in the US ! It wasn’t just me, 2 of the TTT guys started with sore throats in the lead up week too, we had our own pharmacy in the condo but come race morning, as usual, I felt fine.
With 4 of us racing the morning was pretty calm and methodical, we are all experienced and the guys just got on with breakfast, coffee and packing nutrition. I had made all my bottles up the night before and due to the predicted heat I had asked the guys for some Precision Hydration sodium powders to add to my Xendurance Fuel5. To use PH properly you really need to be sweat tested and have at least tried it in training, I am not sure why people (ME !!) change things in the days leading up to a race but I really should know better!!! In hindsight I probably over did the concentration but I hoped this amount of additional sodium would help later in the race when it would get hot.
Remember, never try something new on race day!!!
Transition was buzzing as usual, I stuck to my prep, bottles on bike, set Garmin up. Dry lube the chain and pump up the tyres, all done. I also had a new trucker hat for the heat and clean socks to go into T2 bag. Andy had forgotten his HR belt and needed the girls to go back to the condo for it, I left him to simmer. We had loads of time, so once that was sorted we all met up and made our way to the water. A quick dip to fill the wetsuit and then get in line in the sub hour pen, the national anthem was next, the US love it, very patriotic and the place was silent. Huge roar once that was done and we were ready to go.
Swim. 1:02 12th AG
Rolling starts are the way forward, depending on where you start it can still be a bumpy ride but I feel the change has made things less stressful for most. I dolphin dived my way to deep water and I was off, quick 500m to settle in and then stick with people swimming at my pace or slightly faster, its easier for me to know if I am slowing down by finding someone I can stick with and measure my effort once things calm down.
The first turn always amazes me, what makes athletes who swim wide for the most part for less bashing suddenly veer straight for the racing line on a buoy ? and are then surprised when the guys already on that line don’t give any space. The carnage at swim buoys can be unpleasant, people grabbing you, floundering for air and space, kicking out, flailing arms, just stay out wider, lose 10 seconds and keep the stress levels down. Heading back seemed to be harder, my watch afterwards confirmed it so there must have been a little tidal movement. On exit I checked, 29 minutes and change, happy with that.
Getting back in was altogether a different beast! It felt like it took forever, each time I started swimming the water would drop to knee height and I was walking again, then I was running, then I was knackered, I stopped for a few seconds and breathed, picked my line and started again. The 2nd lap was calmer than the 1st, the odd jellyfish for company but other than that I just focused on the noise from the beach getting closer and making sure I wasn’t swimming over anyone, the back markers were everywhere and I did a lot more sighting so I didn’t swim into anyone, no-one likes to be swum over and these guys were probably the weakest swimmers and any contact could end a race.
The beach eventually came, I looked at the watch, as I got out it said 1:01:30, not what I wanted but I follow a rule in the swim, time isn’t important to the overall day, just move on, the tide may have changed, I could have just slowed, who knows, 1 minute wasn’t going to derail my race.
T1 – 4.17 – 8th AG
I used the wetsuit strippers, lie down and whipped off, easy. I’ve seen larger transitions but this is still up there, a volunteer handed me my bag, in my haste I dropped it, so had to stop and go back, I retrieve bag and ran to the hotel and dump it all on the floor, helmet on, shoes on (we weren’t allowed to have them on the bike in Florida) and go. I ran out of the hotel with my bag, ‘Arse!’, we should have left in there, I went back and dropped it, then the long run around the whole of T1 to get to my bike, no-one there, get my own, and I was gone. I picked up 4 places in T1, some people don’t think transitions are important, try telling the guy who came out of the water in 8th and left T1 in 17th !!
Bike – 4.51.57 – 9th AG
The bike is easily described as flat, boring, flat and more boring. Maybe a little unfair ? The area is predominantly commercial main roads but there is a section where if I was here to look at scenery I may have perked up a bit, but this was a TT course, plain and simple. And did I say flat ? The run course at IMUK has more elevation.
My nutrition was simple, start with Xendurance Fuel5 + PH in the aerobar bottle, then a concentrated bottle of XE Fuel5 (mixed with PH) in the aero frame bottle, 4 gels and 3 Clif Shot Blocks packs in the bento box, each hour I would decant a bottle worth of Fuel5 into the aerobar bottle, add water from the aid stations and get through 2 gel/blocks packs. This is tried and tested. Well …… apart from the PH …….. and the shot blocks …… lol, neither of which caused me any GI distress, the shot blocks on the whole were ace, I over did the PH which started to restrict my intake later as I was diluting it more to get rid of the taste. At special needs I would pick up more gels and shot blocks as I needed, I could then run the bike lighter.
I settled into my power numbers, aiming at 210watts but happy to fluctuate from 205w-215w, as long as the speed was there. 12 miles into the course is ‘Mount PCB’ the only real hill in 112 miles, in the UK we call these ‘flyovers’. That bridge alone adds 100m to the elevation as we do it twice. I passed stronger swimmers for most of the next 20 miles, I really should get faster in the swim. I was looking forward to the 40 miles mark, its pretty much the only place supporters can get to without touching the bike course, the girls were going to be there and I would get an idea on AG placing. What a lift to see them, Zoe screamed at me while running down the road, I was in the top 10 in AG, I felt good.
I was going to stick to my numbers, let the race come to me. I joined a pace line with 4 others, working legally for a few miles before 2 guys clearly cheating latched on, they both sat behind the front guy in our group, one of the others looked back at me and raised his hands! I just shook my head and told him to ignore it, don’t let it ruin your day, he obviously didn’t hear me. He shot off in anger and confronted the two of them, plenty of arm waving and shouting, one dropped off, the stronger guy pushed on. ‘In-race’ refereeing, love it and I never had to get involved, it’s hard to stay legal when there are so many people on a fast course, however, we were in a legal line and there is no excuse.
The special needs station was coming up, running light meant I didn’t have the space to carry all my gels. I had to come to a full stop to reload losing around 90 seconds. My pace line disappeared, no biggie, I was happy to work on my own but I enjoyed the company to keep me alert and provide incentive to push when you feel the concentration slipping. The annoying part was I didn’t even use most of the stuff I picked up. The PH was restricting my Fuel5 intake due to the taste and concentration and the shot blocks I picked up were ginger flavour. Although they tasted great in the expo I gagged on them now. What was I thinking!
I started to pass the mid to back packs coming the other way, it was nice to break up the long, empty road but all I could think about was the turnaround at the top end of the course and how good that would feel, 25 miles with wind behind. I was still sticking to power and was now sitting nicely on 210w without much fluctuation.
About 75 miles the heat started to build, each aid station I grabbed 2 full water bottles, 1 just for my body, helmet and back, bliss. I also wasn’t drinking as much as I should, I had to force myself, my aero bottle liquid was getting warm so the cold drinks were relief to mix, one bottle for the aero bars and one on me.
The turn came and the expected wind helped, my speed went up marginally, I could see people behind me at the dead turn and this spurred me on to get some clear space. This section was mentally tough, it was getting hotter and it was mind numbingly straight and boring. Mentally I looked for inspiration, I thought of the guys that do 24 hour time trial races, same position, I imagined their pain for hours, mine was nothing in comparison, ‘grow a pair Rosey !’, and I was getting off soon ! Oh god, the marathon, I started to plan.
The appearance of ‘Mount PCB’ – (the bridge) signaled 12 miles to go, 100 miles in 4.20 was bang on pace, I felt a little trophy had been earned, that was faster than my first ever solo 100mile TT a few years ago and I still had a marathon to run, power was good.
The last 5 miles on the coast road went on FOR-EVER, when I got there I thought the course was going to be short, we had ridden this section a few times and it never seemed this long. My power started to drop and mentally I was yearning for the end of the bike, in the last mile, 3 people in my age group caught me. I knew I had to get out of T2 with them or in front. I went into T2 in 9th.
Target 205-215w Actual – 210w NP 215w
T2 – 3.01 – 9th AG
Again, this was a case of get in and get out, fresh socks felt great, shoes, trucker hat a few gels and a fuel belt. Another crazy idea in the week before the race, use a fuel belt – WTF ! (more on that later), put number on and go, run around the perimeter of T2 before exiting, I came out with a guy in my AG and immediately let him go, I had to run my race, it was pretty toasty and there was a long way to go.
Run – 3.31.30 – 5th AG
Wow, it really was getting hot, I had followed the eventual 2nd place runner out of T2, I only knew at the time he was in my AG and in front of me. Zoe shouted I was in 9th, I pointed at the guy in front and said, ‘there’s one’ as he bounded off into the distance never to be seen again until the awards the next day !!
I needed 3rd to guarantee a slot, 4th I might be lucky. 8th place had just run off into the sunset, I just needed to get on with it. My aim coming into the race was a 3.20, the heat and humidity were going to make that challenging but I set off and ticked the first mile off in 7.26, standard run euphoria, go out at a pace you can’t sustain !! Another of my fantastic ‘shit’ decisions to try something new on race day was also coming back to bite me, the FuelBelt I was wearing had concentrated Fuel5 mixed with PH. Not only do I never use the provided energy drink on a run course (one of the reasons I thought I would carry my own) but I also haven’t run with a fully loaded FuelBelt in my long runs, it was bouncing around, the bottles were moving from the small of my back to my side and then resting on my stomach, they were just annoying me.
Mile 2 came in 7.38, the heat was building and the day was just really starting. I wasn’t going to maintain 3.20 pace, I needed to get to a realistic pace and hold, instead of pushing a tad under 8’s and then bombing out. I picked 8 minute pace from mile 3. I reckoned I could ‘metronome’ that pace if I fought hard enough.
I saw Chris on the way back in 2nd overall and shouted encouragement, then Phil in 5th, he shouted at me ‘go deep !!’, I could see he was already hurting, staying at 8’s would be me going deep ! I loved that my team were in 2nd and 5th overall, I was a little proud 🙂
It took until the turnaround at 6.5 miles before I ripped off the FuelBelt in anger, still full and unused, I found a bin to dump it in, careful to stick to the aid station area, I was wasting a perfectly good piece of kit but I couldn’t risk a DQ for outside assistance. I immediately felt lighter, OMG ! Every aid station I put 2 waters on me, one in me, ice down my front and on my head (tip – ice down the groin might feel good for the first 1.5 seconds but that feeling wears off pretty damn quick when the burning starts !!), Pepsi was already my go to drink ! Then every 6 miles I had a planned ‘turbo’ gel (double expresso – rocket fuel !!)
I admit, I had to pee during the run, yeah, I know, too much ? I didn’t want to stop, so I had to go while running (yes, its an art), the guy at the next aid station gave me the knowing stare as I took 4 cups of water and poured them all on my groin, legs and shoes ! better than chafing right ?
Halfway was ace, not only as its halfway! obviously ! 🙂
but the girls were there and they had joined up with a load of others, lots of shouts, the pink trucker hat working as they saw me very early, as I went past I asked where I was, they said they would tell me on the way back, trying to track my AG would be harder now as the roads were full of athletes on their first lap as well as the guys I was chasing, that was becoming harder to work out as ‘everyone’ looked trashed !
As I ran back past I was so hoping I had made up time, they screamed ‘6th’, it was so good to have the girls there with my wife 4000+ miles away at home, after that shout I felt bloody awesome, I had made 3 places and had 13.1 miles to get another 3. On a 2 lap course this is the part that hurts the most, concentration goes and pace drops, on the plus side in Florida, the first 2 miles of the loop are really well supported off Thomas Drive, people with hoses and supporters dressed up, (shout out to the viking !! and his little, well ‘pandas ?’ not sure what they were but I bet they were hot in those masks !!)
I had a bit of a heat wobble at mile 17 to 19, there were way too many aid stations in and around the houses but it was so hot that they were like little oasis points, I was walking a little too much, my pace dropped to 8.20 then 8.30, seeing Chris coming the other way now in 4th I shouted more encouragement, the guy in 3rd looked trashed, I told him, apparently it was contagious, Chris was on fumes too.
Getting to the end of the turnaround at 20 miles was like a dream, ¾ of the way there, my consistent pace meant I was passing loads of people, shouts of ‘good form’, ‘go buddy’ ‘looking strong’ I could hear them all, it took everything to maintain the pace, I knew I would slow and the average was creeping just over 8’s but I only had 6 miles to go. The mantras started, I was telling myself how great I was, how awesome I was, the swearing in my head got worse, the pain in the legs only matched by the heat I could feel on my head, I visualized my home loop for the last 6 miles.
I went back to running ‘tall’, something I picked up watching a Dave Scott video this year, leaning forward from your feet instead of from your waist, stand tall, running with my arms swinging as if I was sticking my thumb up the opposite nostril, I felt like an extra out of Chariots of Fire but it was working, my pace gained 20 seconds a mile from my wobble and although it was marginal I got faster, 8.11, 8.10, 8.09, last mile was here, I was already dreaming of beer, I hit a 7.46, it was only at this point I looked at my overall time, I could be close to sub 9.30, feck, it already said 9.31, not sure it would have made any difference 6 miles ago.
I could hear the finisher chute, does anyone else think that chute was long !!! I sped up and checked behind in case anyone was going to ruin my picture or take a position off me with 200m to go. Nope, on my own, zip up the suit and smile. I heard the girls again, then cross the line. 19th IM done and probably the best paced. I felt crap, sit down, I couldn’t even face water, the whole bottle went over my head.
I’m being honest, when I found out I was 5th I was gutted, on the 2nd lap it was hard to see who was in my AG, I was passing loads of M45 athletes so in my head I told myself I was up to at least 3rd, it kept me going at the time but now I felt a little deflated. I could always wish for a roll down. I only came here for one reason and I knew there wouldn’t be 5 slots, if I didn’t get one it would feel like a wasted trip.
That sort of negative thought and opinion didn’t last long, the girls were very complimentary to all of us, and to be honest no emotion lasts long around Andy, by the time he finished he looked bad too but was still upbeat, hard to be sad when he’s around. So we had a beer and all was well. I had had a good day and I had run well, I was still up there in the top 5 and with a few more tweaks you never know what’s possible next year.
I also got my pacing right, as it turns out, the guys in 7th, 8th, and 9th (me) out of T2 came 2nd, 3rd and 5th overall. I didn’t burn matches on the bike and it showed with my consistent run time.
My social media went nuts, there was so much support and love online its quite emotional to read, thank you so much to everyone who sent messages and was watching all of our progress on trackers and through the girls on the course, I gave my family quite the rollercoaster, I was yoyo-ing with the guys in my AG, 5th, then 6th, then 5th for a while, Kelly my wife knew I needed 4th and was going through an awful time tracking as I dropped in and out of contention. Although I was 5th at the end of the race she was rightly proud, as I now was.
Awards and Kona
The rollercoaster didn’t stop there, I was woken at 2am local time the day after the race as my phone was going nuts and I had forgotten to turn it off!! In the UK it was now 7am and the tracker said I was in 4th, the guy in front of me had been DQ’d, I also had a copy of the roll down slots so I knew there were 4 slots, I tried not to cry or cheer (it was 2am after all!!) but the dream might still be intact, I needed to wait for real confirmation at the awards.
It turns out the guy in front was appealing his DQ (and should never have been officially removed from the results), there was a lot of talking to the referee by me and ‘#4’ He had missed a timing mat or two and was still unable to prove his run via his Garmin. Before people get cynical (as I was at the start) I chatted to him and he seemed pretty genuine, he was also up the front of the race coming off the bike so his position at the end of the day would still be in front of me, but it’s not up to me. Due to the appeal, only the first 3 in the AG got to go and collect their trophy on stage, it was a little disappointing.
At least the Kona slots could be sorted, whatever the outcome, #4 said he would turn down a slot, so even if his DQ was quashed and I ended up 5th , there were still 4 slots and I would get one. (as it turned out, #2 turned his slot down as well so it would have been fine)
I was over the moon, I had my dream outcome, although a little bitter sweet. I had come here to qualify and I had done it, everyone in our group was made up for me and within the next hour I had my hands on the prized Kona ‘coin’ I was so happy, all that work and it paid off. And I don’t have to go on a cruise!!! Social media once again exploded!
There is nothing the Americans don’t put everything into, Ironman racing is no exception, I love racing over here, the support is brilliant, from the local community to the athletes supporters to the actual athletes racing, the national anthem right to the last finishers, they do it very well.
PCB course location is ideal, crystal clear water, amazing beaches, fast and flat bike course, support staff and volunteers are ace, the run course has so much local support, some inspiring, some downright hilarious, outside of the run course being a little too twisty it’s hard to fault. PCB itself has a raft of accommodation to suit and embraces the race totally. After the race you won’t be disappointed either, 5 hours from Orlando or just stay and chill on the beaches.
It’s also the best beginner course I‘ve ever done, it attracts many first timers, everyone is supportive of this, they’re recognized with special wrist bands and identified at the briefing and awards. Best way to build our sport is new blood.
I missed travelling with my family but it was an amazing trip, my extended family were awesome and it was great to travel with the TTT crew who were also the best on course support, well done to my racing buds, 4th overall for Chris, 18th in the end for Phil and a storming result for the Hammer, 3rd IM in 4 months and still cracking out fantastic times.
There are a lot of people who help you get to an Ironman start line, a few mentions.
Massive thanks again to my sponsors this year, Xendurance UK, I use their products daily and feel the benefit leading up and post racing, I rely on the Fuel 5 drink in training and racing, it tastes great, its not sweet, so less likely to make you feel sick after 4 hours and it works. The Fuel5+ in training is like rocket fuel.
BIKMO Cycle Insurance who cover me for racing, training and travel, great knowing everything is covered from the minute you leave the house, especially this year going so far it reduces thit’s so much more noticeable when you race abroad and it took all of the worry out of damaging a piece of kit knowing they would cover a replacement if needed.
Hey Dude Shoes are the only shoes I use for travel, not only are they lightweight which helps with luggage allowance but damn comfy as well especially when your feet are in bits after a race, they also have styles to cover the beach all the way to a posh restaurant.
A quick mention for Phil at D&M Cycles, although not an ‘official’ sponsor of mine, he is a good mate and runs the local bike shop, always ready to help where needed and the go to place for last minute bits I need, so cheers mate, a few visits in the build up to races this year and always got what I need.
My coach, Chris Standidge, we worked well on the consistency and he got me to the start line fit and ready to race, all you can ask from a coach. It was great to race with him and the other TTT coaches and the support this year has got me to Kona, cheers mate.
Massive thanks to Heather, Zoe and Maria, the on-course ‘ladeez’ you rocked all week with feeding us and just letting us get on with prepping for the race, the virtual support online, overwhelming is the only way to describe the reaction after my race, it really means a lot.
Finally, as always thanks to my amazing wife, who although didn’t get to sherpa for me this time, is the reason I get to do this, always supportive and encouraging. It’s not possible without your support xx