Iron Man 70.3 Marbella

Preamble

I think we (the happy sextuplet that made the entrance from #RACESTRING Woking Tri Club) were all up before the alarms on Sunday morning. It was interesting to see the various pre-race rituals going on.

For me: Hot Porridge. Cold Rice pudding. Two cups of instant coffee. Early morning defecation to clear the system. A bottle of water.

Everyone leaves to make the walk down the hill from the apartment to the race village.

Eventually we all go to the transition tent. No nerves, which give what I was thinking the day before was nice. There would be no performance anxiety.

Fuel onto bike and into transition bags. Strip to tri suit. Body-glide. Wet suit on. Hat on. Find Kelly. Go and hang by the 40-minute start pen. Make small talk. Take the piss (gently) with the bloke who doesn’t know how to work his watch but has done many iron man races in the past. Where the hell is everyone else?

The pros start.

I think this is a snake, but we are going the wrong way. Someone has either cocked up with the signage or the release-age. Doesn’t matter. We’re on point. There are Lee and Sarah. Duck under some tape.

Game. On.

Swim – 00:27:33

Once our pen had been released we walked towards the sea. Lee was to my left and I tried to make a joke about Baywatch. I’m not sure he was interested. He was concentrating on running until waist-ish deep then dive headlong into the oncoming surf.

It did take a few moments to settle into the rhythm of the thing: but once I was there I felt really good. The one section of my training that hasn’t suffered was the swim and it showed: I just loved it. Having swam in the previous few days really helped – I was expecting the salt tang and burn on the throat of I missed a breath (I did miss a few) – but that was made up for the way I powered past people, sighting well and only drifting right a little bit on the out leg.

I kept on toes and drafted in various positions, breathing into bodies and went past them when they slowed. What I’m doing is not exactly Olympic standard swimming, but this was the first time I really felt I was keeping up and competing with people in the swim. The last turn approached too quickly and we were on the beach: one of the lessons that life has taught is to crouch for a second (as you would in yoga or pilates when standing after periods of prone positions) to avoid dizziness in the walk up from the beach. Spend five seconds grounding myself. Rose, walked up unzipping the wet-suit.

Running up I saw the clock and thought “fuck me, that’s fast for 1900m” but ploughed on irrespective.

T1 – 00:26:39

Up into the changing tent everything was going well. Wet-suit off, chip off to put on compression socks, shoes, helmet, cycling jersey. Neck the bottle of U-Can. On the way out, accept some of the proffered sun-cream smeared on by a volunteer, some quick thanks, and go, go, go.

Run out to the bike and realise I’ve left my pump on the floor. No matter. Shit happens. Grab the bike and run through transition that goes on forever. Finally, to the line. Leap on. Get on it. Feeling good, make time on some competitors as they fuel on the bike.

After about a mile I lean down to adjust my sock. Hang on. Where is the timing chip?

There follows a stream of expletive filled bile that I will spare you, the poor readers from.

Brakes. Full stop. Ponder. What to do? I can’t go on can I? I have to go back. I can’t ride into the oncoming massed wave of triathletes: I’ll have to ride down the pavement.

This works for a while, until it doesn’t, and I have to carry the bike over a bridge behind a crash barrier. Cut towards the beach, get back to transition.

This is where more than 4 weeks of duo-lingo would have helped. I was sort of hoping the words ‘timing chip’ would be universal. Apparently not. A series of mines, pidgin French, Spanish, and to my surprise, some Japanese, seem to get the gist across. The answer is “Go and see if you can find it in transition”. Great. Sprint back into the marquee.

There’s a tired looking man sat on one of the seats opposite my bags. He is, of course a Brit.

“You haven’t seen a f**king c**ting timing chip around the f**king place have you mate? I’m such a f**king c**t I must have forgot to put the f**king thing back on.”
“Erm. No.”
“F**k. [Pause] S**t. Thanks.”

Empty my T1 bag onto the floor.

“Ah, there’s the little f**ker!”

Strap chip on. It was stuck to my wet-suit. Thank my new friend (who I think is still a little shell shocked at the sudden appearance of a potty-mouthed-hate-filled-fat-ginger-bloke coming the wrong way into transition and shouting at him) and dash back out again.

Run back, all the sodding way back to the top of transition. This race is f**ked.
So just enjoy it I said. Ha. Little did I know.

Bike – 3:53:31

Crossing the line (properly this time), I set off along the bike course, which started (again) as a flat drag out of Marbella heading east, then hung a left and climbed from sea level up to about 500m in the first 23km.

This first quarter was a beautiful ride in the most picturesque and beautiful terrain I have ever ridden. It was a hard climb, of that there is no doubt, but it was made up for in the view, the weather and the companionship.

I’ve mentioned before how I think triathletes are the most instantly friendly bunch of people you could hope to meet, and my theory held out again on this race. Usually I befriend someone in the run as we plod along, but on this occasion, it was on the slow drag up the hill. As far as I am concerned, having a race number on with a UK flag means you open season for a chat: and EVERYONE responded. Brilliantly.

I caught up with Lee who seemed completely unperturbed by my late appearance. He was really struggling with the combination of hill and chest infection.
It was also at this point I saw a Spaniard with race number 1234 which had to be commented on.

Me: “Best Race number EVER!” – Pause – Victor: “Well… it’s easy to remember!”.

There was a false dawn as we headed down the hill into Ojen, picking back up after the village. Victor and I were steady companions for some time as we slowly switched-backed up the hill. Then we were over. Seemingly into the teeth of a gale, and stared heading down the other side of the hill.

It was at this point that the pros were coming back up the other way. Damn, they looked like they were in pain. This didn’t bode well. It just got worse. The further we descended the more pained the expressions became.

There was a slight detour at one point around Coin in order to make up the distance, but the majority of the back side of the hill was a general descent through rolling hills towards the turn around point.

We hit the apogee at 52km, and I had to stop for a pee. Pissed like a racehorse. Felt better. Jumped on the bike. Then the real nightmare began.

About 5km into the 25km between the 52 and 77km marks I knew I was in a dark place. I know it’s psychological and the wind is ALWAYS against you when you’re on a bike, but I swear this course had it in for us. I was still overtaking people mind you, but the pack was really stretching out. Each target was getting further and further apart. I maintained a fairly constant cadence (it felt like it anyway) and just ground it out. For a long, long, long time, up a gradual, gradual, f**k me is that really only 7% hill, that, never, never, seemed, to, end.

Several false endings later, mostly involving bridges where I’d seen an ambulance on the way down as a landmark, finally we crested the top.

It took a long time. It took a lot out of me. There wasn’t a single person I spoke to then or since that thought it was a nice ride. It’s certainly the hardest ride I’ve ever done over that distance. It wasn’t pleasant. But I’d made it.

There was still about 16k to go – but that was mostly downhill, and, oh my, WHAT a downhill. It was windy, the bike was super squirrely. For some reason I’d taken my sunglasses off shortly before it decided to rain. Could barely see through half closed lids, I over took people hugging the bars and praying that the wind didn’t push me sideways too hard into the curb. The adrenaline. The sting of rain against my face. Avoiding dropped water bottles, shattered carbon. The crazy police men rushing out and waving their arms to slow me down for roundabouts. There was nothing not to like.

Except it was over too quickly.

T2 – 00:05:26

Dismount. Crossing the line back to transition, I did consider – for a nano-second that I should give it all up and just go home, and do something else, but something inside didn’t want that bike course to beat me.

So, run to my bike rack. Rack. Back into the now all too familiar transition tent. Neck the U-Can, sweaty shit off, cap, shades on. Check I have the timing chip. Shoes. Ladies and gentlemen, we are good to go.

And when I say good to go, I mean, we’re going – and that’s good enough.

Run – 2:19:20 

This is the slowest I’ve run a half since my inaugural at Reading in 2014, which was a 2:23. It was the toughest half marathon I’ve done.

Last year, I did the Woking Lions summer half in similarly hot conditions, and it damn near killed me then. I squeezed out a 1:55 but that wasn’t off a 90km bike, that was off a 5km bike.

But, concentrating for a moment on the here and now rather than the how-fors and the where-tos: The course.

We went out of T2 onto a boardwalk, along to the pier, where we out and backed (under the glaring heat of the post noon-sun, with no shade). Back past the finish line, then we headed east along the beach, weaving our way to the turnaround point, (under the blasting sun, with no shade), then all the way back to the pier (under the sun etc), and repeat.

To be fair, the course was pretty much pancake flat. There wasn’t any shade, but we were running along a beach. The views were spectacular. There was plenty of support. Apart from a slight break in the chain where all you could get was Red Bull Cola (urgh, no thanks) there were water stations where I needed them. They gave out the best cut naranjas I have ever tasted and all I needed to do on the way in was gasp “Agua, Naranja” and my wish was their every command.

At points the wind picked up and blew sand in everyone’s face – to the point I saw a sun umbrella heading for the sea at one point. That same wind was into our face as we turned at the western tip of the course, but it was just a thing that needed to be driven through.

After the ride, this was a tough run. I tried my best to keep a 6m/km pace, but it kept falling away, and as I hit the western tip the second time, my resolve faltered, and I started to walk. This turned into a walk-run, then, for the last 2k or so, a run-run, but it’s not where I want to be as an athlete.

The other thing to mention, is that my fellow half-iron athletes were brilliant. All retained their sense of humour. Everyone was jovial about how much we hated life right now.

The other highlight of the run, was that I got to see all my buddies and high five them. Alex, Angie, Ben, James, Kelly, Laura, Lee, Sarah and Theo: You are amazing. Thank you so much. Especially for being there at the last corner to cheer me on. I really appreciate it.

Finally, the run was over. I was out-sprinted at the finish by a scot from Yorkshire who I’d be encouraging to run for the last km. At that point I really didn’t care. I was cooked. Stick a fork in me, I’m done.

Overall – 07:12:47

Finish line. Medal. Disgusting food. Alcohol free beer. Why the hell am I bothering? Post-race clothes bag. Out of the tri suit. Stand naked for an age holding the salt encrusted wafer-thin piece of material.

Is this really it?

Dress in something not stiff from excreted bodily fluid. Out to see if I can find anyone. I do. We chat about the bike, gripe about the run, complain about the swim.
We all loved it really.

Ruminations

I only learned later that the swim had been cut from 1.9 to 1.5km. On reflection I think this is shit. I never heard the reason from a race official, no doubt it would be “safety”, but what difference is 400m going to make FFS? They didn’t cut the downhill section of the bike because it was windy and I bet you a fuck-tonne that the five or six ambulances I saw tending to the wounded cyclists wouldn’t have translated to six rescue craft in the water if the swim was those extra 400m. I’m just bitter because I had a good swim and struggled on the bike.

They really should do a standard distance here: the swim is no different in distance, the bike course would be epic (to the top of the hill and back again, there’s no need to do the back-side), the run a single lap of the course. I’d buy that.

Spring 70.3 are ambitious at the best of times. Never mind when we have a winter where half my bikes have been missed because of the snow. There’s only so much I can do on the turbo.

I couldn’t have predicted the back injury that killed so many of my runs, but as a wise man who was there said:

“If this was a UK race, and I’d had such a bad lead up, I’d have just sacked it off.”
Amen.

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