Ironman Lanzarote 2016 – different gravy :-)

On the flight home from Ironman Barcelona (Oct 2015) the peer pressure started, come to Lanzarote, its hard as hell but you’ll be grand… We were still shuffling like penguins but none the less the next adventure had to be planned by the lads in Cork Tri. Barcelona had been a fantastic trip but not a great race. After a 70 min swim and 5.50 bike I blew apart on the run and took 5.02 to get around. I simply wasn’t fit or lean enough. I had a bad taste in my mouth as I knew my race time of 12.12 would have easily dropped under 12 hours if I had been more disciplined. I could produce a dozen excuses but I lost focus. October is late in the year and my interest had waned.

So for a few weeks I took it easy, then resumed. I chugged along until mid February when Facebook provided the required jolt into action.

The Facebook page “Ironman Lanza for the Craic” posted that the race was 100 days away. Lanza was to be my third Ironman and the reality was I was sleep walking into it.

(https://www.facebook.com/Ironman-Lanza-for-the-Craic-754832787867268/)

On the bike course in Barcelona, or Calella really, Oliver Harkin had steam rolled past me. Turns out he would produce a sub 9.30 Ironman with a puncture in the mix for good measure. He practiced what he preached, my kind of coach.

When the Facebook realisation had dawned on me, I took out my mobile and messaged him via Facebook. The conversation was followed up with a phone call and some home truths. Work commenced straight away. One thing was clear, there would be no hand holding, no softly softly coaxing. Perfect.

 

Training Peaks drip fed the programme but I often re wrote it on paper to mentally digest the session and for easy of reading during the sessions. I had company as often as possible for sessions, Jer, Jono, Joan and a host of club mates broke the unavoidable solitude of IM training.

In the early conversations with Oliver some points were touched upon that were very relevant to the training journey and indeed the race day. Weight- when I sat my leaving cert I was 21 stone, mid February I was 13 kg more than what I was at the start line on May 21st.
Enjoyment- Oliver read through my set up notes and saw I never mentioned taking satisfaction from Triathlon. I kept this in mind in the training weeks and I revelled in the process as a result.

March was shortly upon us and progress was being made. The mental stress of training was gone as I simply ticked the boxes and all was well! I felt I needed an extra kick, the aura of Ironman Lanzarote was scaring the heck out of me.

It coincided with a camp Oliver was hosting out in Lanzarote at the fantastic Sands Beach in Costa Teguise. I could only  squeeze in a few days so over 13km in the water coupled with approx 400km on the bike gave me the needed progress. I swam with the gang in the morning, hard and enjoyable sets followed by a a social breakfast and then headed off solo on personalised routes. It was just brilliant. Mentally and physically I needed it more than I had realised. (http://www.primedcoaching.com/camps-clinics/)

Back in Cork, it was clear I was getting strong, but was it enough? May 21st would show me that answer.  The crucial checkpoints of training were well met and life was great. My trust in the Harkin process was paying off.

Fast forward to race week…
We arrived Thursday evening for the race on Saturday. Simply too tight for comfort. With the clock ticking on the one day we had to sort ourselves out there was no an unplanned minute. An early morning swim with Rory and John showed the beach to be a gradual slope so we practiced entry and exit, I felt this saved me some time on race day as I need how far to run out or swim in.

 

Club La Santa host the race so registration is in the amazing complex on the opposite side of the island from Port Del Carmen. Rory had a car booked so off up we went, thereby avoiding the bad stories about the bus service for registration. Not being the most mechanically gifted I booked Revolution Cycles to sort the bike whilst we attended to registration and expo.

The small Opel tore along the roads and efficiency ruled the day in Club La Santa with only the expo slowing us down. Sean was doing Lanza for the fourth time and knows the bike course very well. Rory, another IM Lanza veteran drove parts of the route whilst Brian and I took mental snapshots. It was the only section I hadn’t seen but in reality it was no big deal.

Shaughs is one of the few Irish people to have received the award for doing the race five times and made a great point in the run up to racking bikes and bags at transition- take note of the shop names. Transition takes place on the main strip in front of dozens of bars and shops. This little pointer helped on race day both in the morning for last minute checks and also to grab and go during the race.

Friday was a busy blur and I was glad to be sitting down for a group meal with a test swim and race registration done, bike rebuilt, checked and racked along with the bags for bike and run. It was too busy a day when calm and rest were of paramount importance. Lesson learnt.

 

Having my mother, my sister Joan and my auntie Joan over for the race was quite special. It helped settle my nerves and was great to share the excitement and show them why I love Ironman. They know me well enough to ignore me too when the jitters kicked in and I became a bit more prickly than normal!

Race day…
4.45am the alarms sounded on my mobile in Hotel Fueriones. The breakfast was great, calm and full of banter with the lads. Back to the room to digest and begin the prep in earnest.
Sipping lightly on water I gather my things,P20 sunscreen is carefully applied while glide is lathered on my neck to stop wet suit burn. Minutes dissolve away and planned leaving time from the hotel of 06.00 upon me. I felt very calm, simply because I need I was ready. The coaching had me in the shape of my life. Investing mentally in the guidance made the sacrifices easy and paid me back handsomely. I spotted my support team pre race, Mam and the Joans seemed more nervous than most athletes there! A pre race selfie with Rory showed the nerves were good, broad smiles greeted the phone. The work is done, it’s time to shine.

My bags were all in order, everything I needed was there. Shaughs and I pumped wheels, bikes were ready for road. Tick tock…..

Rory and I chatted as we sorted our wet suits before the walk down to the beach. Stood aside from the swarm was Oliver. Not a pick on him, lean and ready to rock. After a brief exchange of pleasantries his face changed, coach mode was engaged. Twenty minutes to race start and he is advising on coping mechanisms for the wind we would battle all day. What can you say about that? It was a moment that defines him more so a selfless person to think about others first than the efficient and direct coach he is.

 

We made our way to the swim warm up and I checked my goggles etc. All good, lets get it on!

I felt a good enough swim was on the cards so I positioned myself fairly far forward for the mass start.

The gun went and the fun was underway.

 

I ran in as far as we had practiced, making progress into the long hard course that lay ahead.

For thirteen seasons I played Rugby Union in Ireland and Scotland but I had never taken a battering quite like the swim in Lanzarote. It was carnage. Slow swimmers had packed the field ahead of me and were getting blown out of the way by the aggressive swimmers coming through. I contacted with my fair share of drift wood and was on the receiving end of at least six facial blows. The two lap swim worked well I felt although it does break your rhythm. As we returned to the beach to cross the timing matt in front of the small spectator stand I could see my sister Joan first then Mam and Auntie Joan. I waved all was ok and Mam seemed relieved! The race clock showed somewhere around the 33 minute marker for the first lap, not bad. More violence in the second lap as the field spread out. Turning for home a glancing elbow across my right temple dislodged my goggles but the double layer of swim cap kept them on me all the same.

More family waves as I ran to get my bike bag. Joan shouted I had done a 69 minute swim and I was happy enough with that. Phase one complete.
 T1 tent was not too crowded as I used my own bottle of water to wash the sand from my feet and steady myself. Full bike gear was planned so with my bibs on under the wetsuit, dressing was reasonably quick. I always drink some flavoured electrolye water at transitions, one of the benefits being it washes the sea water out of your mouth. A smooth transition, some solid food and a quick locating of my bike using the shop signs saw me out of T1 in about 9 minutes

The winds were noticeable but I settled in for a long day on the bike. My club mates slowly reeled me with banter and words on the swim briefly exchanged. El Golfo and Fire Mountain went as expected, but as Sean and Shaughs had warned- the race begins in La Santa!

 

Progress was reasonably steady so I drank in the atmosphere and my surrounds. The race is so well supported between locals, holiday makers and technical crews, it is simply like no other on the bike course.

I worked my way through La Santa, bunny hopping a rare pothole and onwards via the dead and numbing roads around Femaya then back to Tequise.  This was the start of the real work and I felt great. I had been sticking to either the race water bottles or my own electrolye waters. Iso drinks can sometimes give me stomach cramp so I tend to stay away from them.

Careful not to overhydarte I sipped rather than gulped at the bottles but eat as per plan- 60g of carbs per hour the target. True to form when I checked my jersey pockets post race I had enough food for a teddy bears picnic.

 

From the camp in March I knew what to expect as snaked across the volcanic landscape. The switchbacks going up Hahir gave way to the Windwills yet the road rose away again. At the very top the special needs bags await and I got off the bike for a brief respite. Carmel Belgian style waffles with a pan au chocolate were slammed into my mouth. Fresh supplies of salted water along with spares of tubes and CO2 were also in the bag. Nature’s call was answered, colour of urine showed my to be in the sweet spot hyrdation wise. All is good, I thought, I’m loving this!

 

Next on the pain menu were the switchbacks descending down from Hahir and on towards Rio. As I approached the very first turn i heard a loud snap, some pressure being released followed by metallic clacking.

 

Bemused profanities echoed in my head as I tried to figure out what was wrong as I rounded the sharp right hand turn. Knowing the road from camp, I progressed until it straightens slightly and offered me a safer stopping place.

I had blown a spoke.
Right.
CRAP.

Calm will solve this, panic won’t I told myself and out loud I asked my late Uncle Edmund to give me a hand.
I snapped the spoke off and checked the wheel for wobble. Looked ok but I needed a mechanic ASAP.
With a gap in the stream of riders hammering by I resumed the bike journey and rounded the next corner. To my complete euphoria there was a mechanic team of 3 sitting on the wall!

They ran to my assistance, checking their own supply of wheels for the  gearing match. The wheel hadn’t lost sharp that much so spokes were tightened and Barry was put back on the bike.
Twice on the climb up Rio the same team pulled alongside me in their car to check everything was OK. This race is amazing I whispered to myself as I started the descent from Rio towards Nazareth on familiar road.

My mind was uneasy about the rear wheel but I pushed on as best I could. The winds continued to swirl all day, relentlessly either in our faces or shoving us side ways at speed. I felt the tailwind sections were brief but then it is hard to tell as the mileage comes easy at those times.

Nazareth with winds and crap roads was the section I found the most mentally draining. It was just miserable. A brief section of beautiful highway and tailwinds brought us back to Port Del Carmen.

Sitting on the roadside patiently were the various members of the Cork Tri Support club and man was I happy to see them!

Seven hours and twenty seven minutes on the bike but I felt fresh heading for T2.
Another nine minute turn around and off I plodded. My cousin Matt had advised me before my first Ironman- get off the bike in one piece and you’ll finish, you can always walk.
 
The day’s third helping of family waves and a few quick words settled us all and I felt comfortable heading off on the run.

 

I really loved the run in Lanzarote. The route is great with most of the work done in the first 22km lap that takes you past the Airport and along the beach. When that is done you just had two 10k’s til home. 5km out then back, twice, simples.

The wind that had haunted us on the bike was not done yet, passing the beach it picked up suddenly and I got  two eyeful’s of sand, Ah come on I whimpered but onwards I trundled.

Dozens and dozens of people clapped and cheered us as we passed busy bars and more open path sections. The well manned aid stations gave out water, diluted Red Bull ( a personal favourite instead of gels for the run) diluted cola, sponges, gels, bars, delicious fruit and moral support.

Mentally I felt very sharp on the run, recalling it was Rory’s father in law, Mr. Sexton’s 75th birthday and wished him well as I passed. Much to Rose’s surprise!
Wearing Cork Tri gear as one of the 53 Irish entrants certainly got me a lot of positive energy from spectators.
The run course is not a flat affair, rolling hills test the resolve as do stragglers from pubs  wandering across your path.
As the run progressed I was constantly doing the maths in my head of pacing I needed to keep.
The bitter taste from Barcelona returned and I was hell bent on not going over five hours. Even after the long bike, I felt strong on the run, mentally still very much alive. Greeting my club mates by name and their families too.

Passing Mam on the start of the second short lap,I paused to give her a hug and a kiss, soppy I know but it was really great to share the race day with her.

Onwards I went, an average pace of 6 min per km for the first 25km gave me some breathing space later on when fatigue crept in. I tried to limit walking as much as possible, and if I felt a bit fluffy and needed a walk then at least I power walked keeping up some bit of pace and rhythm.

With my stomach bloated I kept the intake at each aid station to:
Two cups of water- one over the head and back of neck to ward off the heat, the other I partially drank then gargled the rest.
Red bull or cola, just a mouth full
Orange or banana- a delight to have natural foods!

Pressing on with diminished energy, Harkin’s plan was paying off, I felt pretty damn good and was in great shape mentally. I was relishing the race.
Crossing the line with a 4.41 marathon rounded off a great race day for me of 13.36

 

What worked well:
the training-not a race just to chance it and see what happens
swimming in the sea before hand to know entry and exit
two swim hats saved my goggles
bib shorts under wet suit for snappy transition
staying in Hotel Fueriones- so close to everything
getting the bike built and checked by mechanics for peace of mind
having family there, I went solo as part of the Cork Tri gang to Barcelona and felt a bit lonely crossing the line
sticking to mainly solid food on the bike: cliff bars (various flavours) power bar ride bars ,wine gums, salt sticks caps, caramel waffles

What I would improve:
maybe a sandwich or a cheese roll in special needs bag something a bit bigger to eat
more time pre-race over in Lanzarote, can do with less on the other side

Last reflections:
Lanzarote is a different animal to the other two races I have been lucky enough to do. It can not be chanced or fluked. On the flight over I met a lovely couple from Tralee Tri Club on their way to watch the race as they have done for over a decade. I was delighted to meet hem after the race, they get the whole allure of the race. It grabs peoples attention so much that club members in Cork Tri took up the sport after witnessing it by chance in their holidays in Lanzarote.

On the race day having so many supportive friends there: Mam, Joann, Auntie Joan, Teresa Shaughs (also her birthday on race day), Rose and Mr & Mrs Sexton, Claire O’Connell, Brian's family from Innishannon- the list goes on!

The race itself is brutal, full of attrition and relentless. It demands mental and physical boundaries to be tested but the reward so sweet and greater than you could imagine during the grind of training.
I can see why there is an award for doing it five times, a feat done this time out by my flat mate on camp Shane McHale.
The next great challenge for me beings in September when I return to my studies.
One thing is clear for me: without Oliver Harkin I would not have completed the race.