Ironman Mallorca 2016 – A tale of two races.
After a great result at IMUK I reminded myself that a consistent build up and training was the key to a solid race, with this in mind I settled into the week before Mallorca with a different mindset. The buzz after UK was amazing, a few were baffled that I declined my Kona slot but my year had been mapped out long before IMUK and the aim was just to win the AG, then aim for Mallorca, whatever happened, I was at peace with the journey I had chosen to take for 2016. At the start of the year I knew I had to have the best race of my triathlon career at Mallorca to take a slot but UK had given me a boost.
Forward on 9 weeks and I was aware of a number of things.
- Even after this many years I still get the ironman blues.
- Trying to do 2 ironmans in one year as an age grouper who works full time with a family and hoping for 2 ‘A’ races is short sighted.
- Taking a well-deserved and quite frankly amazing family holiday in between 2 ‘A’ races does not help the situation however good it turns out to be.
I did however stick to my principles, there are no excuses, I wasn’t about to start bleating about how bad my run up had been. Results matter, I put expectations on myself, yes, there are those close to me that knew my intentions for the race and what I am capable of but mostly others just want to support you whatever the day holds so telling everyone that it wasn’t going to be the day you hoped was pointless, and you never know what will happen.
Flying out on the Wednesday morning on my own, Kelly following the next evening, I had until Saturday to prepare, plenty of time for a European race and as it turned out pretty chilled. The location in the port of Alcudia was pretty close to perfect, although my 3G wasn’t working on my phone for Tom-Tom assistance when I arrived so finding the hotel took a full 90 minutes driving in circles as I trawled the wrong area of the port.
As it turns out, our hotel was 3 minutes to the beach, harbour and expo (dangerous for my wallet!!) and 10 mins walk to T2.
The area also had a number of great looking restaurants too, ideal. I met up with a few of the pirate crew, then realized I was in the same hotel as the RaceForce gang so I planned a ride in the afternoon with Kate after I had built my bike.
The roads are amazing in Mallorca, fast, smooth and or course undulating, the cars aren’t quite as accepting as the last time I was here so it reminded me of riding in the UK but that only lasted until we got out of town and out onto the course.
With the main supporters arriving over the next few days it was easy to relax, I managed to overspend in the expo a few times, new items this year – silver cufflinks whit-woo J and 4 brand new tubular tyres for 30 euros !! Saving 260 euros right there.
Back the race and my main worry, losing time on the swim if it was non-wetsuit, this would be down to the temperatures in the days before, the heat on the Wednesday and Thursday pushed the temperatures up so that come Friday at the athlete briefing it was confirmed the race would be a non-wetsuit swim.
I had pre-empted this so I had done some testing in the preceding 2 days. I am not a ‘bad’ swimmer but losing about 10 seconds per 100metres when using the swim skin over the wetsuit gives a significant disadvantage so I readjusted my expectation to a 1:06 swim. Then racked up.
Race expectations were not hard to predict. I was pretty clued up on my race capabilities by now.
Swim (now) 1:06 – The best I could hope for was not to lose too much time due to the warm conditions and make sure I mentally prepared for it. I hadn’t felt great doing the swim testing in the skinsuit and could feel how slow I was. Race day would be different though following feet.
Bike 5:15 – The course is pretty quick to start but having a lump the size of Lluc in the way at 135km was going to test my climbing. There is no advantage off the other side either, its twisty and dangerous and even as a good descender you have to watch for others and carbon wheels and brake pads don’t work well when heated up quickly.
Run – 3:20 – I am still striving to get down to the front end of 3:20-3:30, it’s not easy to run a marathon off the back of a tough bike but I was hoping I could get closer this time.
I slept well, the hotel location was brilliant so the plan was to get up in the morning, do my bottle, go to breakfast in the hotel, then walk to the transition and set up the bike as it was only 10 minute walk. With no wetsuit to worry about I would also have another 15 minuntes to waste, I would then come back to the hotel to finish my prep before walking to the start line of the swim which was only 5 minutes from the hotel, it was about as near a perfect location as I have experienced for an ironman start.
Breakfast was provided by the hotel early and for me consisted of toast, honey, pastries, ham and cheese roll and a couple of strong coffees. I didn’t feel I needed to overload myself as I had eaten well in the few days before and my nutrition isn’t normally an issue.
As I was getting ready to meet up with Andy I get a text from him, the swim is wetsuit optional as the water is now cold enough – bear in mind he is a good swimmer and knows how this would screw with my head I immediately ignored it and told him to piss off.
So he rang, it was true, they had announced it at T1, I could tell now by the fact he was majorly pissed that his advantage over me had gone and he was being genuine. I still wanted official confirmation and about 20 minutes later on FB it was posted. My mood changed in an instant. From shit swimmer to uber-fish in the blink of an eye J
We met up and walked to T1 to sort bottles and bike, my nutrition strategy for the bike was similar to IMUK.
1 concentrated bottle of Xendurance Fuel5, I have to thank Xendurance for supporting me again this year, I can’t say enough great things about this product, developed for Crossfit endurance its perfect for long distance IM. I use a concentrated bottle of it, enough for 5 full 750ml bottles in one 500ml bottle on the frame. I then decant this into my aero bottle and pick up water to dilute. Add to that a bottle of gels, enough for 5 hours. I would sip this at each aid station and add water as desired which is all I had to pick up. Simple strategy.
We headed back to the hotel after setting up, mainly to get the wetsuit and wake Kelly who had enjoyed the lie in I am sure.
The start was stunning.
Swim 1:00:43 (3925m)
I positioned myself as far forward in the swim as I could get, the funnel to the start was pretty full and I was in the 1:00 to 1:05 pen so I know there was no point in pushing it. After waiting for the pros to go it was our turn, all I could think was how long it had been since my last IRONMAN and it wasn’t long enough !
I was off, out of the funnel and running as far into the shallow surf as possible before diving in. Even with the rolling start the first 5 minutes were congested. The water was warm but I never felt uncomfortable in the wetsuit. I tried to take it easy, matching swimmers around me and then slowing the stroke down to see if a longer slower stroke was keeping pace with the same swimmers in my group, occasionally it worked and then I lost 2 metres in seconds, I decided that it wasn’t helping and just to get on with it. At the turn I worked out I needed to get out in about 38 minutes to be on the hour, I was bang on. Got to love the suit !!
The turn is something of a challenge, deciding when to get out of the surf and run against the knee high water takes some practice, none of which I did in the lead up, it was like running through treacle trying to get your knees above the surf and I was wasting energy, so I walked, like most around me. Then I thought, this is shit, why am I walking, so I wasted more energy trying to get through the water again. And then walked some more !
Back in, my heart rate had sky rocketed after the effort to run through the water, it took a good 5 minutes to calm down. Eventually the exit was in sight, I could feel the tide turning and felt for those behind me, I was out and a quick check of the watch confirmed I was indeed the jammiest bugger around, 1:00 dead swim again.
T1 – 3:41
Mallorca is one of the longest transitions in European racing, I grabbed my bag as I entered the tent and stuffed the wetsuit in and was off, everything was on the bike, it was a few hundred metres to the bike, helmet on, unrack bike and head out.
Bike – 5:13:45
The bike is meant to be the strongest discipline for me, I was relishing the first 135km then see how the climb went up to Lluc.
The first part of the ride I felt strong, I wanted to hold 210 watts, I knew this wasn’t enough to pull off a great bike leg but I had to be realistic based on the last 7 weeks training, if I wanted to run well I couldn’t go much quicker. The course is fast and rolling in the first half, I don’t remember any issues with drafting and I tagged onto a few riders in the first 80k to work with legally to give me a buffer for the uphill to come, my nutrition was working well but I could have done with more water stations to suit my pre race plan. I just went with it.
At 90km we came back through Alcudia out to the second part of the course, I remember shouting at Jon as he missed me going past. The wind wasn’t significant but I could feel we had turned a corner on the course, the guy I was pace lining with was pulling strong turns so I left him to it.
I did have a brief liaison with a draft marshal at this point, approaching a roundabout too quickly I slingshot right up behind my bike partner and within the blink of an eye a motorbike was on me, I nodded and held my hands up and he backed off and carried on. That was the last I saw of any draftbusters.
The climb up Lluc is around 7km, it’s also harder than I remembered from 2012. It starts as a gradual climb and then the sign at the bottom tells you the distance and average incline, I settled into a rhythm that I thought I could maintain, my watts were still in the right place and after 135km I had averaged 23mph, I was feeling pretty good. After 1km of climbing I was beginning to change my mind. I was trying to average 250 watts for the climb but I couldn’t push more than 220 which is my flat speed, I was being passed by everyone, I knew I was towards the front of the race with my swim and bike average so I knew I had to stay with these guys but I couldn’t pick up the pace. Stupidly I was concentrating on the average speed dropping and it was getting me down, watts dropping, average speed dropping, being passed by everyone (except one poor guy on the side with a puncture – he was easy meat !!) I had to try harder to stop my head going south too !
Then around one of the corners a little ray of sunshine ………… well Hammo !! Supporter extraordinaire appeared, he had ridden out to the climb and I suppose I had looked forward to seeing him for about 20 miles, we had a brief conversation.
‘Roseyyyyyyyyyyyyy !!!!, come on you gorgeous hunk of love’ – I am sure that’s what I heard !
‘Hi honey, good to see you too ‘
‘You look great, how you feeling ?’ – he lied !!
‘I feel fine’ – I lied !
‘Almost at the top’ – another lie, he is good at this.
‘See you in a while, cheers mate, I needed to see a friendly face’ – that wasn’t a lie, and then I was off again.
The top couldn’t come quickly enough, I knew this was a false flat and there was more to come, I really couldn’t make the most of the first few downhills, I was in recovery mode, I was still overheating which was weird as it was pretty chilly up here.
The water station came and went and I had enough time to replenish and get stuck into a good few mouthfuls of Fuel 5 before I set off for the first decent downhill, there is a left hand bend at the bottom that if you know if you can sling shot round it and carry momentum.
I averaged 9.3mph on the way up and it took 30 mins, it was a relief to start down. When you turn left at the garage the fun really starts.
The downhill from Lluc is downright entertaining, fun and dangerous in equal measures for someone who descends like me, I found out later the rain was following the race and some were unlucky when it down poured on this section, this would have probably been fatal for me, knowing I can make up time here means I would have been gutted in the rain as the limitations are the bike and not the rider, carbon rims and carbon brake pads do not mix in the rain, even in the dry the ‘catching’ on the rim is disconcerting so I tend to limit it as much as possible, one of the other reasons I do my own tubs, I would hate to have a tub roll off in a corner, I would only have myself to blame.
I immediately started picking up spots, my average speed had dropped to 20.1 mph by the time I got to the top and this needed to improve. Mission accepted.
The power on the way down was somewhat irrelevant, hard power out of corners, get low and aero for as much as possible, average of 26mph for the full 8 miles – isn’t Strava great ! – One guy caught me, I decided to let him past as he was on a road bike and had aluminum rims so his braking was better than mine and I could use him to judge the blind corners, once he was past I never let him go. The average got to 20.6 by the time we hit the flats home. I could see a group ahead so I aimed at them, it was better to sit on a pace line for the way home, I just hoped the rain I could feel on me now wasn’t going to interfere too much with the course and the speed on the way home.
We had 30 miles to go and I knew this was the place to hunker down and keep steady, fast and flattish it was a chance to repair the damage the climb had done to my average. The rain was now falling pretty hard and the corners were a bit hairy on this section, so much on one bend they had marshals slowing us to around 4mph where we had been doing 25mph the first time through, even at this speed 2 riders went down hard.
Out onto the main road home, the larger pack was getting closer and I could tell this wasn’t going to be ideal, there were too many people and they weren’t spread out, basically a fair bit of cheating, recently there have been articles written about Kona and the amount of riders exiting the swim at the same time and not having the ability to spread out, well, this was 150km into the ride and there was no excuse, I went straight to the front, above my threshold but sitting off the back I was freewheeling at 150watts. Then I was passed again, then another, this one stayed out level with the other guy, so now I was second wheel to 2 riders side by side, FFS, then another pair, I was now in the middle of a pack of 20. I went to the front again, it happened again. So with 12 miles to go I went into survival mode, I let people pass me, so I dropped out the back of the group, waited for 10 metres to gap and then got in the aero position and waited. I wasn’t losing time, I was cruising at 22 mph and I wasn’t cheating, my conscience was clear, I was also trying to conserve for the run. I wasn’t really noticing the rain anymore as I was dripping wet and the flooded roads became secondary to maintaining the gap behind the last rider.
As we came back into town, the cheaters decided they should make a break for it and the pace line appeared, I came into transition well away from anyone and not feeling too bad after 5:13 split. Just the small matter of the run now.
T2 – 3:39
Again, the long transition meant this wasn’t going to be quick but I didn’t need much in my T2 bag, I felt happier about the bike split, I had a little smile on my face, I had no idea where I was in the race but it couldn’t be that bad, maybe top 10 ? My stomach felt good due to the Fuel 5 I was using but I could see as I racked my bike I was only ½ way through the gel bottle, I need to address this for the next one, maybe a more concentrated drink and less gels might be the way forward.
Into the tent, on with dry socks, shoes, left glasses – it was pouring with rain and with no chance of change imminent they would just annoy me – visor on, gels in hand and go.
Run – 3:29:59
Onto the run I felt OK, to be honest all I wanted to think was pace, pace, pace. The rain had created loads of puddles all over the road, what fascinated me was the runners trying to avoid them, wasting energy by detouring all over the road to hold off what was the inevitable. So I just ran in a straight line.
First mile was awesome, 7 min miling and felt great, it wasn’t long til I got to the far end turnaround and witnessed what I can only describe as ‘party central’ in Alcudia. My support crew had been out the night before led by chief ex-pat Christie to the local ‘tat’ shop to buy outfits for the day, the result was amazing, the noise was deafening, well actually once they realized me it was deafening, I suspect they had been drinking since I left T1.
Out to the other end of the course and into Alcudia which was the main area for supporters, I wasn’t wearing pirate race kit but that still didn’t stop most of the pirate supporters shouting friendly abuse which I heard all of and loved all of it, a nice shout and Hi5 with Paul Kaye the commentator and I rounded the corner off the beach to be fronted with Hammo screaming at me again, this was to be something I looked forward to each lap.
I have some great mates who race and they all know exactly what to shout, how to encourage and motivate, however, Hammo is the first to mentor me for 20 metres each lap and then pat me on the bum as I ran off into the distance. Mate, you were a star, thanks.
The next 7.5 miles I was in the realms of ‘OK’ around the 7:45 average pace, the second time I got to my support crew they were still in good voice and I was still feeling like I could complete a good race.
It was probably about the 11 mile mark where I started to struggle, I am not sure what it was, I couldn’t face anymore gels but the coke and water were maintaining me from aid station to aid station, I was slowing and strangely I was still overheating even in the pouring rain. I had a couple of ‘super’ gels to take and even they were making me feel nauseous.
At around 13 miles I got to the support crew for the 3rd time, my main man Jon was doing his best to monitor what was going on and surrounded by the girls in party mode I thought he might be distracted as I was getting no updates from him on any lap. I shouted at him, ‘where am I ?’ I immediately regretted it ………… we had an agreement in the days before, if I am in the top 10, I want updates, if not, I am not interested and I don’t want to know, I now know why he was ignoring updating me and I had my answer.
‘16th’ came the response.
‘Bollox’ was my retort and I threw my hands up as I turned and ran off, I knew I had come with qualification in the back of my mind and I needed to be top 4 or 5 at the very least to stand a chance, as I was climbing Lluc I realized things were creeping away from me but I had proper confirmation of it now. I was pissed, really upset, 16th and quite clearly going backwards meant this was a day that was slipping away from me.
The next 10 minutes were painful moments in my head, I wanted to give up, with no prospect of qualifying and my race going south what was the point, it was raining, I felt like shit, I couldn’t take anymore nutrition on, I was in between 2 sets of supporters on the lonely section of the race. I was all for giving up on a good race.
Putting it in perspective I have to be honest, at this point it wasn’t a bad race but when you have a goal its easy to distract yourself from the pain, IMUK was a prime example of that. I didn’t have this as a target anymore, there were 2 things to do, give up or get a f*cking grip !
The grip was the way to go, I had to reassess the race, what can I get out of this, I was pissed with myself for losing my head for a good 10 minutes, I’m better than that. However, when I look at it now, I probably did well to limit it to 10 minutes and not the rest of the race. I decided to man up and pick another goal. I wasn’t going to qualify, I came to the conclusion that sub 10 hours was the aim.
I needed to stay below 8:30m/m pace to ensure I was under 10 hours at the finish line, this was a pretty rudimentary calculation, trying to work out a pace per mile 7.5 hours into a race when emotionally you don’t really want to be there isn’t easy, it was in the ball park.
I started to use the crowd more, I was looking forward to both ends of the course, the support was great, WRC supporters, pirates, my travelling group, Hammo and Kate from Raceforce and basically anyone who knew me. Apparently I giving Kelly some concern now as I was smiling way too much, I don’t normally have smiling as a key indicator of how I feelk in an ironman but I was determined not to show how bad I felt or how disappointed I was in the top 10 slipping away. So I smiled. That ironically made Hammo even louder, his pep talks were getting more supportive as the race went on and it makes a real difference if you are looking for mental assistance.
As an aside, when I came past the start/finish line on my last lap I heard the first lady finishing, that made more sense to me, I was around 40 minutes behind Lucy Gossage at UK and I had 40 minutes still to go in this race, so I was consistent with the pro women, it was the AG field that was a step up at this race, hard work needed in 2017.
The last lap was pretty painful, the rain was still falling, my far end supporters had gone to make the finish line, my mile times were steady and not slipping but I was still trying to work out my finish time, now I knew I was going to make 10 hours I was determined to push as far south into the sub 10 as I could. The legs were really starting to cave in and jumping on and off kerb stones became harder, form was going but turning around the bottom end of the course and heading to the bridge on the beach for the last time was a great feeling. I turned professional at this point, zip up the suit, turn the number to the front making sure the hat was on right and I tried to pick up the pace.
Turning into the finish chute was a relief and instantly an awesome feeling, I could see 9:51 on the clock so I was immediately ecstatic, changing my goal meant focusing on that made it a great result in the end.
All I can say is, what a race and location. Mallorca is a fine place to race, the local area is set up for sport, the hotels are happy to see you and so are the restaurants and bars.
2 ironmans in a year isn’t ideal for me but I won’t learn, I just need to be more realistic next time. The AG guys are pretty quick on the continent but its also the place to race to go up against the best, I haven’t decided what 2017 will hold but with a GFA for London Marathon I hope to improve my run speeds and I am suspect it will be followed by more ironman racing.
Thanks again to my sponsors this year, Xendurance which I use daily and rely on in my racing and training, I have more plans for the next ironman but it will definitely include Fuel5, BIKMO Cycle Insurance who cover me for racing, training and travel, great knowing everything is covered from the minute you leave the house, Hey Dude Shoes which I wore the hell out of once again all week. And once again Phil at D&M who still puts up with me popping in and drinking coffee whilst talking tri constantly. Huge thanks to all who came out and supported over the weekend, it was a lot of fun and the beer after the race was great. Finally to Kelly, it’s not possible without your support xx
Cracking informative read that arises, well done.