After a good two porridge, two pastry, two coffee breakfast, I made my way to transition to sort my bike out, get my wetsuit on and get ready for the race.
I decided to get in the water and do a warm up in the choppy water. Swimming out to sea felt like swimming uphill, with a wall of water facing you. Turning around and swimming towards shore was a surfing-like experience, although being dumped onto the sand by a big wave wasn't too much fun. I was in the water for a full 15 minute warm up. I made my way from the water into the start pens, trying to squeeze through the masses and get to the front. After climbing over a few fences, and standing on a few toes, I made it to the 55-59 minute estimated swim time pen. The quickest pen available. Once there, I glanced over my shoulder and, amazingly, spotted Lynn and the girls. They had made it to the swim start. That's the first time they'll have seen one of my swim starts. Seeing them was completely unexpected, and with my emotions running high anyway, I got a little misty-eyed.
The male pros went off first, then the female pros went five minutes later. Ten minutes after that, it was our turn. We were shepherded into the water, with our individual times only starting when we crossed the timing mats on the beach. This new 'rolling start' method was actually a bit rougher than usual, with people trying to push past to get into the water, and then a few stray arms and legs hitting out in the water. Despite the choppy conditions, and the over-aggressive swimmers next to me, I got straight into a relaxed stroke, with very little leg kick, and low perceived effort. I passed quite a few people early on - despite people self-seeding themselves at the front - before the first turn buoy. At the buoy, I stayed on the inside to make the right hand turn, taking a few hits. Ouch. Once I'd made the turn, the rolling waves were pushing me further forward, faster, overtaking people. I stayed behind a couple of swimmers, conserving energy, then noticed a small group further ahead. A few hard strokes later, and I quickly caught that small group. Ahead of them, there were two more guys, making decent progress and pulling away. I decided to catch them, taking the faster draft.
After reaching the far end, we turned left at the buoys and made our way back into the choppy water. I still kept the swim relaxed, using a high arm recovery to compensate for the waves. I swam easy with them the whole way around. Swim felt easy. Fun even.
It turns out I was 5th in my age group for the swim, beaten by 30 people overall, including the pros. 53 fun-filled minutes.
Transition was smooth. Wetsuit came off without problems. Running towards my bike, enjoying the cheering crowds, waving my helmet over my head like a scarf at a football match, as I ran towards my bike. I was having a good time! Onto my bike and away.
After 1k, my chain came off just after the dead turn on the technical section. Bizarre. I stopped, sorted that out relatively easy and quickly, and back on the bike again. Over the speed bumps, through the narrow roads, up and over the hill. Now settle into the bike, find a rhythm and get to work.
I probably pushed a bit harder than I had planned during this first stage. It all felt so easy. I was constantly swallowed up by packs of riders. Big groups. Rather than overtake and and zoom past, many of them forced me to change pace and rhythm. Many of the riders seemed to overtake, cut me up, then slow down, open a gel, have a drink, ease off the pedals. To ensure I didn't get a drafting penalty, I'd then have to back off and sit up, rather than pedal and stay low on my aerobars. It was so frustrating.
I was zooming along. 35-38kph. Eating well. Drinking plenty of water. Yet, still being passed by lots of athletes.
After a couple of hours, my stomach didn't feel right (actually at a couple of stages on the bike). Lots of burping. I dropped the frequency of eating my gels from 30 minutes to every 45 minutes. I also had a salt tablet.
I caught up with Will again - he had passed me after about 45k - shortly after he had been in the penalty tent for drafting. He was not happy. I followed him for a little while, from a 'safe distance', only to be swallowed up by another giant pack. Almost as soon as the riders behind had caught me, and swallowed me up, I spotted a blue card raised in the air and the blue jacketed Marshall on the back of a moped pointing at me. I had just been given a drafting penalty. Unbelievable. I shamefully stopped at the next penalty tent for five minutes, watching my average speed drop with each passing minute. Me and an Irish guy in the tent watching groups of riders going past. I passed the next two penalty tents - frustratingly, not a single rider in them.
Shortly after my five minute penalty, Martin overtook me, looking powerful. I put in a bit of effort and went past him again. Then he went past me, then I went past him.
Despite my penalty, I returned back to transition with a 5.13 bike split (34.5kph average). I wasn't feeling fresh, but I was in a good place.
Into transition, quick trip to the loo and then out on the run. Reminding myself to go slow, go slow, go slow. With this run, I was entering into the unknown. I had only been able to run in the last few weeks, following a cortisone injection to reduce knee swelling, and even then I had been unable to run more than one hour without knee pain. My last long run - 2 hours or more - was more than one year ago! This was going to test everything.
First lap, going well, but perhaps given my recent running history was a little too quick. 52 minutes for the 10.1k. Onto the second lap and my stomach started cramping. I stopped taking gels and switched to cups of Coke at the aid stations. I then had to urgently stop at a portaloo and wrestle myself out of my one piece race kit. Back out, stomach a little better, running well again. Blisters on my right foot were starting to cause problems. At the top end of the course, in Pineda, I stopped at the Red Cross tent to see if they could strap up the blisters. Five small plasters - to cover one big blood blister on my big toe, and another sore, burst blister on the ball of my foot - was all I managed to get off them. I started running again, albeit with a bit of pain in my scantily plastered, blistered right foot. Second lap - including a trip to the portaloo and the Red Cross tent - 1.03.
I could feel my energy dropping, probably due to lack of gels and fear of causing stomach problems. Sips of Coke at each aid station had not been an adequate replacement for my powerful Torq gels. I reached the start of the third lap and my knee started to ache now. It was really quite stiff and sore. So I started walking. Walking. Walking. Reflecting on the race, I can see I really lost focus at this point and just started to feel sorry for myself. I had thoughts of just walking for the rest of the run. Nobody would blame me. My poor knee. Everybody would understand. My lack of run training. That's a decent excuse. It's my turn to walk this year. That's ok, everybody has to have a turn. I walked for 7k. 7k?! During the walk, I took my HR monitor off, a clear signal I had given up on this race. I had given up on Ironman. I never wanted to be in this position in a race again. I quit Ironman racing there and then.
I had a caffeine gel during my walk, just to try on my now relaxed stomach. I got to the top end of the course and my mindset changed a bit. Maybe it was the gel. Maybe it was all that thinking time. Maybe it was seeing all of those athletes pass me. I thought I had to try something different. I had to try and run through the pain / discomfort. I'd try to run a bit, walk a bit. I ran for 100 steps, then walked for 50. Ran 100, walked for 50. Ran 100, walked for 50. This was better. Despite the improvement, the third lap was covered in a pretty depressing 1.22.
I got back near transition, about 12k from home, and took some ibuprofen from Lynn. Almost instantly, I was transformed. Perhaps a mental boost, perhaps genuine pain relief. Whatever. I was off, running, running fast. I had a point to prove, to myself if nobody else. I am a better athlete than I was showing out there. I'm a 9.50 guy. I'm a 3.37 Ironman marathon guy. I started zooming past athletes. For the first time in the race I started seeing kilometre splits with a 4 in front of them. I was catching and overtaking athletes and club mates who had left me standing not long ago. Obviously the walking had helped me recover, but this last lap left me with a feeling of "if only". If only I'd taken the ibuprofen earlier in the race. If only I hadn't lost focus and just walked (slowly) for 7 whole kilometres. If only I hadn't wasted time at the Red Cross tent getting useless plasters put on my feet. If only I had continued taking gels and not let my energy stores run out. If only I'd given myself some more positive self-talk during the run. If only I'd listened to random spectators who insisted on telling me I could do it. If only.
In that last lap, according to the official tracker, I ran 10.2k in 53 minutes. I made up 6 minutes on Will, 13 minutes on Martin, 9 minutes on Paul, 16 minutes on Gregg.
Although I ran hard during that last lap, I crossed the finish line with more in the tank. I didn't leave it all out there. I was so disappointed. I didn't even check my finish time. It was actually 10.33. I 'ran' a 4.21 marathon.
For days afterwards, I was disappointed with this race. I had excuses going into the race, and I had used them. I had fallen into the trap. Training going into the race wasn't ideal, but then whose is? I wasn't 100% fit on the start line, but then who is? I had some setbacks during the race, but who doesn't?
Look at the positives. I had a great swim. The bike was good - and without the penalty would have been a best ever bike split. I came off the bike with a good shot at a PB or at least another sub-10. Lap one of the run was good. Lap four was great - my quickest ever final 10k of an Ironman. Lap two was ok. I had enjoyed the training to get me to the start line. I enjoyed our weekend away.
I'm determined not to let one run lap, 10k, spoil my overall perception of the race and Ironman racing.
What's the quote? Don't wish it was easier, wish you were better!