Well this goal finally became reality on Sunday September 30th, 2012 at 8h36 when the starting gun went off for my age groups (45-69) at the Challenge Barcelona-Maresme long distance triathlon (3.8km swim, 180km bike, 42.2km run) and almost 300 silver-bonneted triathletes ran into the waves to begin the 226km trek to Ironman.....
Backtrack to Saturday : it was unusually cold, rainy and windy in Barcelona ! Storms had lashed the region and even caused extreme flooding further down the coast in Malaga. The race wasn't in danger but the bike zone was closed, meaning we'd have to leave the bikes early Sunday morning. I went to pick up my chip all the same and walked onto the beach to inspect and anticpate the swim zone - the sea was rough and the water whipped up by the wind made visibility difficult. I couldn't even see where we were to swim to. I was certainly feeling anxious and nervous now.
Sunday morning. Race day. I slept well, got up at 5.45 and ate bananas, cereal bars, cereal biscuits, coffee, energy drink... so i felt well-nourished when i left at 7.00. Esther dropped me closer to transition and i rode the final couple of km. It was still dark and a bit chilly, but the wind and rain had dropped off. There was a long wait to get into the bike zone as 1400 bikes needed checking in. The atmosphere was strangely relaxed and yet tense as we anticipated the day ahead. Lots of stretching going on, last minute adjustments to bikes, tyre pressure being checked, preparing running shoes and laces, and counting gels.....
The forecast was sun, but not high temperatures, which was a relief.
Warm-up : I finally left the bike zone and watched the pros start as i swam out to check the goggles and wetsuit. The water temp was perfect - 18°c. I then realised my start was just 6 minutes after the pros, so i raced up the beach to enter the start zone - no time to even consider what in earth i was doing there before the gun went off and i found myself swimming in a straight line to buoy number one. My past strategies had been to go wide left or right and avoid the kicks, but not this time. I had decided i would go straight and endure whatever was thrown at me - knowing it would not last long anyway. As soon as i hit the water and began swimming i felt relaxed. All the stress of the build up just melted into the Med. There was more than enough space for everyone, so no knocks or bumps. The first buoy was at 200m - veer right and straight on for 1450m.
I am well aware that my swim technique isn't perfect and swimming straight is never easy ! I really wanted to get as close to the marker buoys as i could, and i could see other swimmers quite a distance to my left and others, though less, to my right. The first was away to my left and getting closer was not so easy with the under current. This wasn't a problem in itself because it meant i was clear of other swimmers. I was smiling by now and really enjoying myself. I could see the beach in the distance to my right as i took a breath, every second stroke, and the town of Calella and the mountains behind... i thought of the July holiday and all the swimming i had done in this sea. The next turn. By now i was close to the buoy, almost half way, 100m before the left turn and a straight run of 1750m, followed by another left turn and the final 300m to the beach. The group was closer together here and the current was more head on - nothing too strong, but it was quite a swell. Fantastic. I was loving this - feeling myself raised by the sea swell. Occasional bumps here, as the other wave starts caught up, or we caught up with the weaker swimmers of those who started before, but nothing a quick left or right movement didn't resolve. The final left turn towards the beach came quickly. I was starting to relish getting onto dry land and the bike. The number of swimmers here suddenly grew as everyone tried to get a straight run-in to the beach. I must have swum under somebody because i found an arm over my shoulder - we looked at one another, smiled, probably, and separated....strange meeting. I should have said "Hola, bon dia", but it all went too quickly. Back to the beach. The clock read 1h23 - which gave me a 1h17 time. "I'll take that", i said to myself as i calculated. I'd imagined a 1h20 swim time, so i was ahead of schedule.
quick time calculation, yes, that'll do...T1.
I took my time getting out of the wetsuit. No point in running, this was only the start of a long day. The swim is the warm-up, i'd been told by a tri-colleague. He was right. Helmet on, socks and shoes, number belt, jacket... i hesitated. If it gets hot, i'll be taking teh jacket off, then it may be cold so i'll need a shirt. Back into the bag and I run out with the shirt in the jacket pocket... time wasted. I'd arranged evrything in order for the bike and run. At least 5 mins for T1.
I'd given myself a 6h target for the bike. The Garmin was on and ready - It was exactly 10h00, which meant i'd be back by 16h.
The training i'd done had given me a lot of confidence, especially completing the Étape du Tour in the Alps. My greatest concern, after the problems i'd had during the Half-Challenge in May, was fuel and not allowing myself to run out of energy.
My plan on the bike : every hour a gel (including one isostar caffeine) = 6 in total; eat a banana at every drinks station (24km), take energy drink every 15-20 minutes, water whenever, isostar cereal bar when hungry and sporteneine every hour. Well it worked and i felt great throughout. I kept an eye on the Garmin - 33km/h, without pushing it. I tell myself to ease up, that i still have a marathon to run after the 6 hour bike ride. I feel good on the tri-bars, and compact on the Lapierre. Then it started. A cranking noise with every pedal stroke - and it wouldn't go away. The bike had obviously taken a knock during the flight. By the first turn round at around 42km it was really irritating me. I tried adapting my pedal stroke, and found that at 33km/h on the flat without too much effort the noise disappeared, but not for long. How frustrating - 180km with this. It made things really unpleasant.
I was still passing quite a few cyclists, and seeing, rather hearing, others whizzing past me. Some made comments - all encouraging. In the Half Challenge back in May i was given a penalty for drafting (unintentionally), so now i was paying attention. The referees here are renowned for their strict adherence to rules. At one point i heard a motor bike slow down behind me, which meant one thing : referee. I'd just been overtaken and the cyclist had slotted in just in front of me. So as not to appear to be drafting i moved out to the left... the refereee called me and was about to say penalty. I rode alongside and explained that i'd moved out to NOT draft. I was told then that if i move out and don't overtake i am gaining an advantage and stopping others overtaking. If i move out i have to overtake. AAAh i said - OK. SO - "no penalty ?" "No, ok, you understood". Relief.
mmm referees !
The T zone in sight was i going to make the 6h target? Stopping the Garmin at the arrival i was at 6h00m06secs. Job done for me, and i felt fine - except, as i dismounted, for a shooting pain in the underside of my right foot.
Quick enough. Change of shoes and socks, shirt. Do i put a dry shirt on ? No. I don't want to overheat, and Esther has one in my bag i left with her, if i do need one. Cap yes, blue, so Esther will recognise me at the first turn-round point at Santa Susanna - 5.2km away. I set out - the foot pain wasn't showing any sign of relief. It would, i told myself. I joined the line of runners heading out along the beach - and the steep up and downhill under the train track. It was hotter now and i could feel myself heating up quickly, beads of sweat running down my face. The plan for the run was a 10km/h pace. Slow and steady and to be able to continue to the end. I'd done quite a few 2 to 2.5 hour runs at this pace and felt great. The foot pain wasn't subsiding though. KM2.5 - Pineda and drinks station.
My fuel plan : one gel every 10km (between km 3 and 4 including one caffeine gel), water and cola flavored energy drink at every drinks station (2,5km), water a few gulps of water to rinse the taste away, run on. Every drinks station went like this.
At Santa Susanna Esther was waiting. What a welcome sight. I left her my cap and glasses, took a drink of Vichy (salty) water and an energy sachet (Isoxstan) that i'd been using in training. I suppose i spent a good few minutes chatting and getting her encouragement - not exactly time wasted, but on reflection i should have been advancing.....
encouragement à la esther :)
I set off again - only 37km to go. 8 laps of 5.25km, or 4 laps of 10.5km ? I wasted at least 2km debating which calculation gave more advantage, psychologically speaking. I didn't give myself an answer, but told myself - one down, 7 to go, or number one lap of 4. But in this way i was already back at Pineda. I repeat the drinks routine. The music was playing loud here and the crowds shouting encouragement. I was actually enjoying this !! I was at the start of the marathon and still smiling. Is this normal ? 2km from the start line there is a small bridge to run over - quite a steep little climb at this stage, but from here you could here the speaker at the finish line and the cheers of the crowd. It drew me on - every step getting closer as the sound gets clearer. Soon back along the beach. The crowds were great - encouraging every runner. 10km down, 30 to go. The foot was ok by now and i was probably running at around 10km/h. I was soon back at Santa Susanna and looking for Esther - and more encouragement, which meant more time chatting...then back to Pineda. I was counting the kms to each drinks station. Take each one at a time, i told myself. Next, Calella - half way there. Only 21km to go. ONLY. The worst thing about these events is that you pass by the finish line and actually see some finishers. It is encouraging in that you can't wait for it to be your turn to go left and make the final 200m to the finish line, but it's a killer because you run away from this turn and go straight on back into obscurity and anonymity because the crowd is watching the finishers.
My time will come i said, smiling as the runner in fornt of me dashed left, and took his young son into his arms and made his way to the finish. How do they do it so quickly ? This question took me to Pineda and just after i treated myself to a caffeine gel - a thick sweet paste full of energy with the taste of thick strong coffee.... it was delicious. I smiled thinking that i was actually relishing a gel, and worked out that this was my 10th of the day (which meant only two more) - another statistic to contemplate as i arrived back at Santa Susanna. Esther told me she'd be heading to the finish line, so wouldn't be there at my next visit - in 15km time, i said. I added "yeah - only 15km". I was getting closer. Get back to Pineda, then Calella, turn round and it's only 10....
the end in sight
I am an IRONMAN.
12h24 was the time -minus 6 minutes for the wave start = 12h18.
My goal had been 12h30-13h00, with me being realistic... so i was well within this. happy?
yes !! (1h17+6h00+4h50)
I'd told myself, and esther, that i would do this once - being such a demanding test of strength, and needing so much time for preparation. Well i guess it took me one and a half cans of Limon - alcohol free beer - in the recovery area to decide that i'd be doing this again - and better.... i was already thinking about where i could shave off minutes.... this was madness.
I made sure i had a massage - felt so good. And i was radiant when i got out to see Esther...impossible to guess i'd just covered 226km in just over 12 hours.
But i'll be back, to go below 12h...a new challenge, a new objective.
all for this :)Thoughts :
So pleased to have finished...
Really enjoyed the event - from beginning to end.
Organisation is everything - Challenge is an efficient event organizer.
I feel i did everything right (food intake especially) - i know i could have given more on the bike, and taken time off the run...but hey, who cares !
It's strange what goes through the mind during this challenge...weird calculations that you don't control
I still want to continue.... i need a new challenge, constantly....
Effort and pain felt is very similar to that at the 100km de Millau...
It's probably more difficult to write about than to train for and to actually do !