Sunday 23 September 2018

Ironman Italy

Not my usual race report, and not one I particularly wanted to write either ...

It’s been a long season. Ironman Lanzarote in May and then Ironman Italy in September means that you have to be fit and training properly all year. Full on. No messing. Fully focussed.

However, the season hasn’t panned out as I’d hoped.

Ironman Lanzarote was good, spoiled slightly by some over enthusiastic run pacing and giant blisters on both feet. Still, a race I was largely satisfied with.

Ironman UK was next. However, despite lots of physio, an achilles injury picked up shortly after Lanzarote meant I couldn’t run at all so didn’t actually start the race.

Not to worry, Ironman Italy would be my redemption. Ironman number 14. Still troubled by the achilles, run training was limited to 30 minute sessions. Despite this, I was convinced that with some smart race management, a solid race was on the cards. A sub-11 hour finish was definitely on, with my eyes secretly fixed on a sub-10.30 finish time.

Fast forward to the race.

The swim was hard. I felt tired from the gun. My chest was tight and I struggled to breath. Despite it being a rolling start, I swam through loads of people who had (perhaps optimistically) put themselves in the sub-60 minute swim category. I tried all sorts in a vain attempt to make myself feel better. Longer strokes, slower swimming, drafting swimmers, loosening my wetsuit. No, no good, I still felt off. Getting a few jellyfish stings on the face didn’t help either!

I finished the swim, not knowing what time I had done, and made the long, long run through transition. Looking back, a 54 minute swim was actually pretty good and one I should be pleased with.

Out onto the bike. Onto the aero bars. Keeping it easy for the first hour to build into the race. Heart rate would not come down. My Garmin watch has this feature that gives you a rating of your current form, based on your heart rate and power. After 10 or 15 minutes, the rating flashed up on my watch. Minus 4.

I could not get comfortable on the bike. My upper body ached when I tucked in to my time trial position. I could tell you more tales of woe, about the cramping in my calves, cramping in my upper leg / groin, delicate stomach, the boiling temperatures, the large patches of white salt crystals on my race kit etc etc. After about 120k I was losing the fight. I got up, out of the aero position, sat up and pedalled. I was probably still rolling at 32kph - until the headwind struck - wanting to get back to transition.

There were dark moments during this stretch, particularly as the strong headwind whipped up. I fought with myself to keep going, telling myself that I would feel better when I got back to transition (although I’m not sure I believed it).

Coming into transition, almost certain I was going to pull out, I see supporters. Lynn’s sister and brother in law were there cheering  - so out came my smile and a wave, pretending all was well. Afterwards they would tell me that they knew something was amiss. Past Mike and the RaceForce crew - more waving and smiling, more pretending.

Into transition then.

Sat on a bench, head in hands, trying to summon up some energy and some positivity. Had an emergency mars bar from my transition bag, hoping that might help. Put fresh socks and my run shoes on, hoping that would change my mindset. A fellow competitor asked me if I was ok, then half-joked “the hardest bit is still to come”. He was right. I realised I was in no fit state to run a marathon, however much I recited positive mantras. Finally, after at least 20 minutes of soul searching, I walked gingerly to one of the race crew and told them my race was done.

Sitting here, the day after the race, I have no regrets about my decision.

The only thing that would have got me to carry on - and it nearly did - was the thought of all the sacrifices that Lynn and the girls have made whilst I have been training. Lynn has been amazing. Letting me get on with training, preparations, travel, racing, picking up my slack at home and missed time with the girls, all the while enthusiastically supporting my efforts. I wanted to finish more for her than for me.

I am now ready to go home, see Lynn and the girls, enjoy family time and have a break from training ... for a few weeks.