Barely a month after the Norseman it was time, believe it or not, for some back to back racing. And not just any races. A tough 70.3 followed by an even tougher ironman (rated amongst the 11th hardest in the world by 220 magazine).
I took 9 full days off after Norway, which were necessary both physically and mentally, before putting in a block of 3 weeks of good training. Weymouth and Tenby had always been on the back of my mind and I had planned my DJ diary accordingly. 4 busy party week-ends in a row followed by 2 week-ends of racing where I hoped to be recovered and competitive. Not an easy feat with the constant lack of sleep and feeling of being on recovery mode from the week-end until Wednesday every week. However, as hard as the Norseman was, its run section was either flat or uphill, meaning no descent, much less impact and a somewhat easier muscular recovery as a result, with almost none of the dreaded blown quads and D.O.M.S.
In ironman triathlon world, early September means the start of the new season for WTS, and that the hunt for KPR points towards the next year’s world champs begins once more. All the top athletes who have qualified for Kona in October won’t be racing at this time of the year (except Harry Wiltshire that is) and so the races are more open. My idea behind these 2 races was that the results would give me a good indication of whether I should pursue the Kona dream in 2017 as a pro athlete, or step down as an age grouper come January 2017 and go there as such.
Up to a week before Weymouth I seemed to gradually feel stronger, up to a point where the Monday before the race I did a run on the treadmill much faster than I originally planned, for the only reason that I felt amazing. 16.5K in 1 hour at 2.5% incline, with the last 15min at 17kph. In the zone ! But that was too much too fast and a schoolboy error…I, obviously, should have known better…The following day a heatwave started in London, I did some 30/30 intervals on the home trainer and felt terrible. On the Wednesday it was even hotter, I went out in the midday sun to run some 30/30 intervals, and stopped at 17 instead of the 25 reps planned. Not far from a Brownlee style explosion…On the Thursday I went out on the bike and managed to lose my spare tubular as well as my tool box within the first 20min. As I turned back to look for my missing bits I found the tools and punctured straight away. No need to push it I thought, let’s go back home. When my mate and fellow pro Yvan Jarrige arrived over from France that night to do Weymouth with me, a lingering headache as well as dizziness had settled and I felt constantly tired… not exactly confident no more. On the Friday we drove to Weymouth, 4 hours that turned into 6, meaning we just had time to check in at our airbnb some 40K away, sneak in a 20min jog, find a pizza and go to bed. The day before the race is always tiresome and this was no exception. We must have walked about 5K between transition zone and registration and back, only managing a 30 min cycle where I felt absolutely terrible. However after reluctantly following Yvan for a dip in the ocean, I quickly felt noticeably better and somewhat more race ready than in the previous 72 hours. We then drove the course and got home to crash early.
On race morning the one hour drive across the narrow lanes of the Dorset countryside in pitch black conditions (because of a 6:50 start we were up at 3:30am and out and about by 4:15) was one to remember thanks to this Astral Flight mix that fitted perfectly and awakened our senses in all the right places. Things fell into place nicely after that, and by the time we lined up facing an eerily calm English channel, it was game on !
With only about 15 of us I knew it might be tough to catch some feet, and indeed it was. I hung on till the first buoy then I was on my own. Only a few strokes behind the chase group, but unable to bridge the gap nonetheless. A 2:30 deficit on British trio Threlfall, Wiltshire and Hayes out of the water quickly became 3:00 out of T1, meaning I had my work cut out. Luckily I found myself in a group with Markus Liebelt and Brad Williams and we rode well together to soon catch a bunch of straddlers and then Yvan by K25. There were 6-7 of us by then, with the American duo of Williams, Metzler and myself taking turns at the front, they on the flats, me on the climbs…and Liebelt doing the show on the descents ! I don’t often get to ride in groups in races for various reasons (mainly that I don’t swim fast enough !) and I really enjoyed this new race dynamics, especially as I was feeling strong. Unfortunately I lost focus for a moment and hit a rock in the middle of the road, which resulted in a instant puncture. A few swear words later, as I watched my mates riding away from me, I stopped and got on with it, new tube in, some faffing around and I was back on the road. 25K solo to finish, not fun. As I arrived in T2 I saw Yvan and Liebelt starting the run, a good 6 minutes ahead of me. The possibility of a top 5 long gone and knowing that I had IM Wales a week later, I decided to run conservatively, only making sure no one would pass me. After I caught Williams to move into 7th, I shouted at Yvan to catch Threlfall who was only 20sec ahead (he did), and cruised to the finish posting a 1:19 run (5th of the day), without ever pushing it. Frustrating result but at least I felt good, which wasn’t obvious from the past few days, and that got me excited for the following week-end.
The whole week afterwards I felt terrible though, headache, deep cough, high HR, the whole lot. Not exactly in IM shape, but since everything was booked and Silvia was coming along, on the road again we went on Friday morning, M4 straight (not meaning fast) to Tenby, south Wales, congestion upon congestion, a bit of a mission. The roads in the UK are so congested sometimes you wonder if it’s not easier logistically to race abroad ! At least our cottage in lovely Pembroke was located bang in the middle of the bike loop, which made the recce much easier. On Saturday Silvia and I went out for a bike and legs check and I managed to puncture once again. After a quick inspection it seemed obvious that the rim tape (or rather the lack of…) was the culprit. With only one hour to go before the cut off for bike racking, this was another one of those last minute emergency bike fixing situation of which I have become specialist. I decided to keep my head high and bugger off to the race briefing while leaving Silvia to deal with my mess. When I returned, she had managed to hitch a lift to the nearest bike shop, buy a rim tape, run back to the expo and get the guys at Continental to fix the wheel. For free. With 20 minutes to spare. Easy. Why doing it yourself really ! So the bike was racked, way on time. But I still felt like shit. My last chance was to test the waters of Tenby. Rather inviting to be honest.
And that little dip worked ! Once again, as in Weymouth the previous week, I felt instantly better. I should write a paper on the benefits of sea swimming (well channel sea swimming at least). Game on then !
Considering I slept barely 2 hours I didn’t feel too bad on race morning, despite some rather nasty coughing fits. My reasoning was that an ironman is a slow race with not much intensity involved, and that should help keeping the coughing in control. Indeed I felt calm and raring to go.
Apparently in the race’s 6 years history the sea has never been so flat, and I can believe it. Having expected the worse, we were actually treated with calm and warm(ish) waters; the only exciting bit having to overtake a mass of age groupers on our second lap. The difference in speed between the swimmers at the sharp end and those at the bottom is so important that we can almost swim on top of them without them noticing ! Either way I somehow managed a swim PB (49:19 !), coming out less than 4 min behind the leaders ! All that after losing a good 20 sec at the end of the first lap forgetting to run under the arch and then having to run back…Obviously I could never swim that fast (1:18 per 100, yeah right !) but I’ll take that and put it in my record books ! From the beach we actually have to put some shoes on, run up a few hairpins and 1k through the city up to T1, all that in front of incredible crowds ! I for one never enjoy the swim to bike transition, but in those conditions I was almost smiling !
Out on the bike I was on my own for about 20K until I bridged the gap with Mathias Epping. By then I had already lost all my tools as my box was mysteriously open as I left T1. Sabotage ? In any case this meant that I could NOT afford a puncture this time around. Epping and I would then spend the rest of the bike leg taking turns at the front trying to distance each other at first, then more like working together after realising we were pretty much at the same level.
With 2000m+ of positive elevation I thought this was a course for me, but actually it wasn’t. The roads are mostly false flats, with only a few short and (really) steep climbs. No long climbs with smooth 7-8% gradients the way I like them. Bottom line, I need to sort myself out and get stronger riding on the flats, since 90% of the courses are flat. The whole ride didn’t feel so long for once, I had a few bad patches but always rode within myself, and the many hotspots along the course really did carry you along. Riding up Heartbreak Hill twice in Alpe d’Huez type of crowd madness was almost a pleasure ! I have to thank one of my clients at SFT who warned me the evening before I left London that some of the climbs were quite nasty. I switched my 11-23 cassette to a more comfortable 12-27, and that was a good move ! Thanks Stephen if you read this ! My German companion attacked and dropped me in the last 20k, but I did not panic, realising he must have been pushing at least 450W to get that fast ! I did my thing and reached T2 in 7th.
On the run I pretty quickly went past Karl Johan Danielsson (3rd in Kalmar last year) then my German friend. I felt good despite the hilly course and by the end of the 1st lap when Silvia told me 4 min to 4th place I felt quite confident that I could catch up. However it would get complicated from that point, the wings came off as we say and the quads really suffered more with every descent. I did spend a fair amount of time cursing myself for doing another ironman without enough preparation (having done no run over 21k and no ride over 130k since the Norseman), and despite the amazing support in the city centre most of my time was spent looking at my feet grinding my teeth. However I was in 5th place and you just can’t give up when you’re in that position. I switched to ironman shuffle/survival mode for the last 10K, always reminding myself that this was nothing compare to other races where I really had to dig deep like Embrunman or IM Malaysia.
Before the race I was secretly hoping for a top 3, believing this would be necessary to at least keep the dream of a KPR hunt in 2017 alive. Although I can only be pleased with 5th (since I couldn’t have done any better) I was actually equally disappointed as I can’t really tell if this result will be useful or not come August 2017. The KPR has changed to the best of 4 races instead of 5 previously, so it’s hard to say how many points will be needed to get the holy grail to Kona. What I do know is that my 2016 season is over as my body needs some rest after a rather busy year and 3 ironman in 3 months. I’ll take a month off to recoup before starting to plan my next move(s) for 2017, which may involve IM New Zealand and a return to Lanzarote. In any case I don’t think I feel ready to step down to age group status yet…