IM Barcelona 2015 – Race Report
Just over 12 months have passed since IM Copenhagen, it wasn’t the best executed ironman race I had done and I went there to post a time, so in 2015 I wanted to change a few things and race faster and smarter. Picking the right course was the first part, IM Barcelona ticked the box, it wasn’t one I had done, wasn’t full and was supposed to be fast.
I also decided after Copenhagen to add a ‘tag’ or badge to my RoadID bracelet, this had my PB time of 9:42 from 2008. When I crossed the line in Copenhagen 1 minute outside my PB I was gutted so I decided staring at the time on my wrist for the next 11 months was some sort of twisted motivation not to make the same mistakes again.
This is an extract of last year’s race report in the ‘Aftermath’ section
I think I retired a number of times during the race. The pain comes flooding back and however you deal with it shows towards the end. This one hurt a little more than previously in the run but I think because the time was important for me. I should just let the day be as it will be. As has been pointed out a few times since I finished, the time is a worthy time and one to be proud of. I have a full time job and a family to spend time with, all of which means if I want to get faster other things may suffer. This isn’t possible so I will have to focus on other ways to improve for the next one.
I knew I needed to run faster so the year started with Manchester Marathon in April, in training I ticked over the cycling and dropped swimming as I knew I could start this late without losing time overall in Barca. I soon found out training for a marathon after years of IM training puts you into a mindset, I did reduce the other 2 sports but I never really ‘upped’ the running,
I filled the void by working more !! So I only did about 20-30 miles a week in the build-up with a few longer weeks. Somehow I managed to fashion a 3hr 12min from the inconsistent training I put in.
After April I picked 2 half ironman distance triathlons to use as a build-up, one went well, Vitoria-Gasteiz Half and one didn’t, The Ultimate Half.
After the Ultimate Half didn’t go to plan mainly down to a poor bike split and even worse run I started to get a bit more serious around the changes I had to make, I needed to optimise the bike leg as much as possible as it was traditionally my strength but I was losing ground on my peers as I wasn’t training efficiently. I also knew if I got this right I should be able to run faster off it, well that was the idea !
Without a wind tunnel in my back garden to do this scientifically, I went for the obvious areas in aerodynamics, overall bike position, clothing and reducing the bike drag with extras I didn’t need. I also knew that all of my training from here on had to be in the new aero position. If I am being honest most of this was probably trying to hide the obvious, marginal gains are one thing but my previous bad results were because I wasn’t training enough and it wasn’t consistent. The training I was missing was showing me up in the race results and the inconsistency in my weekly hours was coming back to bite me, time to start to work on this properly.
7 weeks to race day I refocused. I was working too much for a start, which had to stop or at least slow down. I changed to doing all of my turbo work on the aero bars, I also realised there was a power output discrepancy between my stationary bike trainer in the garage and my Garmin pedals when I was outside training. This meant I wasn’t training hard enough in the turbo sets and then struggling to hold the expected power in longer outdoor sessions.
A refit on the bike followed, I knew I wasn’t running well off the bike and my coach had used a similar change earlier in the year to good effect, worth a try. The saddle was moved back and down to engage the glutes, I moved the arm pads in so my elbows were more underneath me and raised the bars and extensions above horizontal to reduce frontal area. With all of these changes my head position was actually lowered. It ‘felt’ like pro triathlete ‘TJ Tollaksons’ position but certainly not as extreme (and not as fast) but you take all you can.
The pain I endured for the next 4 weeks in the shoulders getting 3 years of those arm pad positions out of my upper body better be worth it. It took that long after the change before the numbness stopped in my shoulders due to the tighter upper body position. On the flip side I was running better which was a bonus. This was probably due to the weight loss from the more consistent training but I told myself it was the bike at the time.
Next thing I looked at was how to carry the nutrition on the bike. Getting this right can work aerodynamically and save weight. I have seen people carry way too much in terms of nutrition in a race because they aren’t comfortable using the on course stuff, it’s a hard choice but if you want to travel light either train with it or find a different race, lugging 4kg of liquid straight out of T1 is a massive disadvantage.
I knew I could use the on course drink but I would start with my own bottles, I was also carrying a gel bottle with enough for 5 hours. For the gel bottle I tried 2 different types of frame mounted aero bottles. Both were a disaster, one I couldn’t get off the mount without practically stopping, the other fell off mid race and was run over by a passing car!! Dismissed that idea pretty quickly. I moved to a standard bottle on the seat tube to carry it.
For my bottle on the bars I tried the BTA (between the arms) position, I bought 2 different set ups but didn’t feel comfy with either as I prefer to have my Garmin in sight : dismissed that idea too. I went back to my trusty ‘Profile Design’ aero bottle between the aero bars. Lastly, for back up and water carrying, I used an XLAB 400 rear seat carrier. The grand total of those 2 screw ups was £70 on aero bits and back where I started. Arse.
Lastly in the search for ‘freespeed’ was my choice of race clothing. There’s been a lot of hype around skinsuits but I didn’t want to spend loads of money after wasting it on aero bottles!! I was already wearing Compressport aero shorts so went for matching skin tight Compressport TR3 aero short sleeved top. I would then change into my loose fitting pirate top for the run.
The important bit was to actually to do the training!! I ramped it up (to where it should have been) Each week I completed what I was set, I dropped working at weekends to get my long rides in consistently, I even started swimming a few times a week, I did notice my coach gave me sets around 3K instead of 4K. Slightly more motivating for someone who dislikes swimming in a pool. My running got faster the more weight I lost due to the more training I was doing, funny that !!! Even swimming twice a week started to show improvements for my times in the pool, I really must spread the word about training for one of these races, it’s a revelation to me that training improves performance and speeds you up.
So, all that ramble to show you what this race was about, nothing other than TIME, no position, no Kona (that was not going to happen here anyway, last year all qualifiers in my AG were under 9 hours) and not interested in anyone else.
I travelled to Barcelona on Wednesday with a mate, arriving late we decided to stay in the city for the night and travel to the race venue Calella in the morning as its 60 minutes up the coast by train. The next morning and still feeling pretty chilled we made the short hop to Calella along the coast, we also got our first glimpse of the surf, it looked a bit angry to be honest.
Our hotel (GHT Maritim) was in a perfect location, right on the front and minutes from the Expo and the T1 race start. The girls weren’t coming out until Saturday so this was a chance to organise the kit, check out the course and slip into race mode with limited distractions.
As noted on the way here, the sea was pretty choppy in the lead up and this provided a few memorable moments watching videos of swimmers trying to either get in or get out of the surf, race day was going to be interesting.
A recce of the bike course confirmed a) its flat, b) its fast and c) all of the flat hills are in the first 5 miles. Nothing to worry about other than the drafting that we had heard so much about all year. The run course was supposed to be along the front but as it wasn’t marked out was a bit hard to check, we just assumed it would be packed sand trail and promenade.
It was building up to be a good race, lots of people I knew were racing and they were bringing plenty of support. The expo was huge, my wallet , the race venue was electric and the whole experience was a notch above last year. We ate well in the build-up, chilled and waited for race day.
The 3 girls turned up on Saturday at about 5pm after traumatising the taxi driver for an hour and making him go to the local supermarket for more wine before they left Barcelona, they were full of the joys of alcohol and travelling without kids certainly helped, they promptly demanded more food and more beer, so we went out for dinner but I had enough by about 8pm and turned in for an early night.
With the race start a very sociable 8:45am, breakfast wasn’t needed until 6 and we didn’t leave the hotel until 7.30am. Transition was only 10 minute walk so plenty of time. I did a quick check of the bike, loaded the nutrition, set my Garmin up, and re inflated the tyres. Said hi to few mates in transition and set off to have a last loo stop before zipping up the man suit and getting into the melee.
Even though we had loads of time, I still found myself getting to the start half dressed in my wetsuit and with only minutes to spare. The swim was a rolling start, this was a new experience for me, instead of the gun going off and all 2600 people kicking the living crap out of each other for a postage stamp sized piece of ocean, you got into a pen depending on your expected swim finish time. Then when the gun goes, you walk with everyone else to the water, cross the timing mat and off you go. It is supposed to be less stressful but we will see.
I grouped up with a few mates in the 55-59 minute swim pen which seemed to be pretty popular, as we were squeezed in like sardines I wasn’t popular as I hadn’t put my wetsuit on my top half yet. Some help from Carl and a bit of flailing around and I was done just before the off. The pros had been gone 20 minutes when it was our time, Paul Kaye gave the rousing hurrah to the start and we were off, we slowly moved towards the timing mat and the crashing waves. It took about 1 minute to get there, a small check of watch, then tried to time getting in with a kind wave from the ocean, crossed the mat and then ran.
My timing wasn’t that great to be fair and I ripped my goggles off one eye on the way in, stood up and reset goggles, off again. The swim to the first right turn was a hard pull but no real biffing from the lack of people, so got into stroke pretty quickly. The course is a rectangle with the first long leg parallel with the beach for about 1450 metres. It felt fast on the way out, I think the current was with us so it seemed to go pretty quickly. Turn left for 100m and then back again for 1750m to the start.
Was a little slower but I was fine in larger waves, just needed to get the breathing right on the ups and hold my breath on the downs. That didn’t work 100% and I drunk a few mouthfuls of brine but nothing too serious, I like the metre markers on the buoys every 500m so when I got to 3000m I had a cheeky look at the watch to see how I was doing, right on target with 800m to go, head down and aimed for the turn buoy.
Getting in to the shore was a different story, the exit arch wasn’t that prominent and as the current was spreading people about like ants attacking a leftover picnic I just aimed at the noise from the beach. Seems like it took forever but before long I was reaching for a helpers arm and running on the soft sand.
T1 was set up on an astroturf pitch which was great for the bare feet, I was straight into the change tent and as the rules state all clothing must be done in the tent we had to put shoes, helmet and race belt on before running for bikes. Hung the bag up (all self-sufficient in here) and off down the pitch again. My bike was at the far end meant I had to push it less as I was next to the bike exit. My heart was pounding now, the bike could be the most stressful part, I knew it was going to be fast but I was already boiling up knowing there was be draft packs and I had to ignore it.
Bearing in mind the planning I had done for the bike, losing the rear bottle off the cage in the first 3km wasn’t to plan. This was the ‘neutralised’ zone, no drafting penalties but also no real chance of passing anyone, the road bumps were the cause but I shrugged it off, mainly because no one behind me crashed as it ping ponged across the road but also because it just meant using the on course nutrition an hour earlier.
Out onto the real course and into the bars, I felt good and got into my power zones, I wanted to hold 220w for the ride and I knew I could do it, it’s whether the course would allow it. I was immediately in a legal pace line, I was working well and moving through the field. I came up to Will who I was chatting with in the swim pen, he was dancing around with another 2 guys in a line and full of the joys of spring at that point, we had a brief chat about the fast course and then separated, he never fell back far and we passed each other a few times. The first hour I covered 23.9 miles, on course and happy with time so far. On the way back the wind was up a little and speed down a little, I passed Jason and Bryan– (race report) who are both way better swimmers than me and said hi on the way past, both looked like they were having a good race. 50 miles came really quickly it seemed in 2:09 which saw pretty much most of the hills climbed on the loop and the slow part of the course in there too, this was a really fast course, loving it.
Nutrition wise I had a plan, a swig of the gel bottle each 30 minutes and picking up a bottle of powerbar at each station to get through each hour. I wasn’t keen on the lemon taste but I was getting through it and the stomach wasn’t complaining yet. At 50 miles I treated myself to one of my double expresso gels, with 150mg caffeine in each one you are only supposed to have 2 in a day! I needed 2 for the bike and 2 for the run as ‘pick me ups’ between my normal gels, I am sure I wasn’t going to sleep that night anyway so I went for broke!!
From 60-80 miles was my most consistent in terms of biking alone, the packs coming the other way were HUGE, sometimes up to 50, I almost felt left out but I was having a great bike and I had trained alone, I was also happy to be able to keep my integrity intact, it just hurt to watch as people were going to benefit and not get caught. The motorbike marshals were so inconsistent, penalising one or two people in a bunch of 30 was pathetic and almost always it was a Brit or someone who had just been swallowed up by the pack and lost concentration for a few seconds. On one occasion however, at about 80 miles I did see a group of 20+ in a penalty tent and I almost applauded but it wasn’t enough, the rolling start hasn’t worked to spread out the field and the extra motorbike marshals will only ever sort it out if they are more ruthless, alternatively, change the course.
Can I just add here, this is not a general feeling for the race marshals who were excellent ALL day, from the helpers in transition to the catchers at the finish line, they were ace and deserve the plaudits for contributing to an awesome race.
It was also here that I think I lost concentration on my nutrition, I wasn’t feeling the love for the gels and stopped taking them, concentrating more on the energy drink diluted with water, I really should have forced more down but it wasn’t on my mind at the time. Last double expresso helped at about 80 miles, should get me to the end.
Before I got to the end of lap 2 I was caught by the next group, right at the wrong time too, near the hills and the turn around so nowhere to put the power down and get away, how no one got penalised in that 3 mile stretch is mind boggling. The last loop of 20 miles my power file just shows surges and low power efforts, it was impossible to get into a decent rhythm, my average was about 165w and the max 440w, I would sit at the front of a group and then get swamped, power would drop, and then repeat. On the upside the ride was nearly over, I passed the 100 mile mark in 4:22, quicker than any TT I have done stand alone, that’s how fast the course is. I was still quite buoyant.
The last 3km into town was a chance to calm it down a little, I checked my gel bottle, I hadn’t taken enough and I still had half my gel bottle, so only 6 gels in just under 5 hours, I was probably going to feel this on the run so a little worried but getting off the bike was the first thing to do. I was 12 minutes faster than last year on what was also classed as a fast course !
Transition was pretty quick, dump bike on the rack and then race into the tent, I just needed to change into the pirate vest, it gets a lot of support and worth a few seconds a mile in my book. Although trying to get a skin-tight top off when rushing ‘and’ wet is not recommended but got there in the end. Packed away bike gear and made sure I had 2 ‘special’ gels with me and then off. I was picking time up everywhere!
My stomach felt awful from the off but I felt OK physically, my watch was set at 7:40 per mile pace and the first few miles I was happy to see my virtual partner just ahead, a quick pee stop at 3 miles meant I had no excuses for slowing again.
The course starts off at the town or ‘expo’ end of the beach with loads of support, a great lift, the Warrington crew, the Chester Tri group, Kelly and the girls and then loads of support for the pirate top. The far end of the course was a massive contrast, boring, little support except for some crazy loud DJ out near the turnaround who was surrounded by old age groupies loving a bit of ‘eye of the tiger’ and ‘I want to break free’ !!! Sand and boardwalk planks made it hard going as it was soft underfoot. You certainly looked forward to the other end of the course.
There were also KM markers everywhere, when you are only 3 KM into a marathon, no one likes to see the 35-40km markers on lap 1, I kept telling myself that they would be more relevant in 3 more laps.
After about 8 miles my stomach started to feel a little better and I forced one of my double espresso gels down, even these were beginning to taste awful but even though my body wasn’t interested I needed nutrition. It was also time for coke, it has saved many an ironman run leg and this was going to be no different, kudos to the organisers, the drinks were pretty cold all day and very refreshing as the heat was starting to pick up.
From 9 miles I started to play the mind games, I try to break the course down, it’s the only way on such a long day, I was struggling to hold 7:50 pace now and if I wanted to hit the ‘team’ target of sub 9:28 I needed to stay on sub 8’s. Recalculating finish times passes the miles but mentally it’s draining.
Once I get to 10 miles I have 2 of my 8 mile loops at home that I do every week, get to 13.1 and I am halfway, get to 16 and I have 10 to go, they are all mental targets for me. Each aid station I was power walking, grab a coke and water and start running again. Each time checking the pace and having to push to get back on track. On the death march end of the course it was great to have a visor, there was a section on the way back to town that I only noticed on the last lap as my head was held higher, it was stupidly long and mentally draining for anyone that had to stare at it, each lap I yearned for the expo end of the course and the support it promised.
After 32km my race flipped, I was feeling much better inside but physically the legs hurt, with only 7 miles to go and one lap to complete I could cope with the pain as I was getting closer to the end, I was still lacking in energy as I had only managed 2 gels off the course, the last of which nearly made me heave, it was nasty, still not sure what it was but I couldn’t take anymore, in fact I know I was getting a bit lost in the moment of thinking of home as on one aid station I drank the water and threw coke over me, that wasn’t clever !! Getting to the far end of the course for the last time I passed Stephen from Chester Tri who gave me a bit of encouragement and a lift to push on. I had 3 miles to go, pace felt like it upped a little.
Isn’t it weird how the effort of 23 miles slowly dissipates the further into the last 3 you get, I was weaving in and out of back markers trying to push for home, also trying not to knock anyone over as I was pretty buoyant by now. The last mile was pure elation, I had a pace of 7:54 average for the run so I knew I had broken 3:30, I had calculated I was under 9.30 but not knowing transition times I wasn’t sure on the exact time. All I was dreaming of was a 9.20 plus transitions, just hold it together.
I passed a very excited Chester Tri crowd, the Total Tri lot were going nuts, great support, Warrington massive flashed past, then Kelly and the girls for the last time, I could hear the commentator, all my legs wanted to do was stop, I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck start to go, I knew I had done it, I knew I had broken my PB and that’s all that mattered, I had a few hundred metres to go.
Hitting the turnaround for the last time, I always seem to have the clarity in my head to straighten the number, take my cap off and prepare for the finisher chute, huge smile, there was no gantry time but I didn’t care, I cheered myself over the line anyway, gave a huge sigh of relief and then promptly collapsed into 2 helpers.
Overall Time 9:22:04
PB by 22:23
Not much to say on this one really, I could have run faster and I will use that next year. However, the course is fast, other than people I knew that didn’t finish for a number of reasons, everyone had a PB, some by over an hour, the bike course is nuts fast, that’s a mix of terrain and packs, it really cannot be stopped but you can maintain your dignity to a certain extent, however the unfairness around the penalties I saw and heard about didn’t make it possible for some even when they tried.
The location can only be described as perfect, the town and the people love it, they are so welcoming, it’s a captive audience and we were treated to some great places to eat and drink. I only wish we had made more of an effort in the first few days to walk further into town, we missed a trick there staying around our hotel. I would even go so far as to holiday there for a cheeky week in the summer holidays with the kids it was that welcoming.
The run course could do with a little work, either fix the more unkept areas of the run course or try to get agreement from the local town to take the run into the town more, this would both increase the support at the far end and probably encourage a more carnival atmosphere in the streets and bars which by all accounts were dead during the race.
The organising was first class, the expo was great, the build-up and race day the usual IRONMAN branded hoopla, I love it and one of the reasons I enjoy the sport so much. Paul Kaye started the week off with a great welcome in the race briefing with over 1000 participants cheering at the start and for me it didn’t really die down until I crossed the finish line.
I need to thank a few people, my wife Kelly for the crappy training hours I end up doing in the lead up to the race, my coach, Chris Standidge for getting me up to a level where I could prove again what I can really do next year if I trained for the other 9 months of the year, Phil at D&M Cycles for letting me raid the High5 and SIS stand each time I come in to say hi and have a coffee. Very important are the folks at BikmoPlus, XenduranceUK and Indurance Profiling who have helped me this year.
Finally, my race mates from Buccaneer Tri, we have some extremely good athletes in the team of only 5, 2 of which are currently in Kona and the other 2 probably reminiscing about Kona when they were there last year, without the constant support (read : shit/trash talking) each year I am sure I wouldn’t have dug so deep to beat 9.28 which was the ‘benchmark’ up til 2 weeks ago, there is certainly no resting on a decent result, they are all good enough to hit that and improve, and I am already looking forward to Fudge Packer camp next year and having it handed to me once again so I can realise how much work I have to do to stay with the team standard. Very much appreciated and looking forward to a good race year in 2016.