Thursday, May 27, 2010

Because It's There

Firstly I just want to point out the small change to the sidebar of this blog.  Under the races section you'll see IMSG 2011.  St George was an incredibly tough race that got the better of me on the day, but I still remain convinced that I can perform there and it represents one of my best opportunities to qualify.  This time I know what to expect and can tailor my training accordingly.

The title of this post is the well known answer to the question "Why climb the mountain?" and that simple phrase is as eloquent a reply as anyone could hope for.  I am often asked the same question about Ironman and typically this response is the first one in my head.

However this post would be pretty short if I left it at that.  What I want to talk about is what effects it has had on my life and what motivates me to keep coming back, and indeed to make it one of the major aspects of my day to day existence.  Partly this is to remind myself.  After a few weeks downtime, getting back into training has not been that easy.  That intoxicating feeling of being in peak form has disappeared and I look at the sacrifices I make and wonder if they are truly justified.

Long Term Planning (LTP)
Ironman forces me to think about the future and further ahead than most people are used to I suspect.  It is now May and this season is all planned, as indeed are the major events of 2011 (St George and Regensburg, not to mention a couple of months over the winter in Cape Town to work and train).  As IM athletes we are all well aware that most races need to be booked a year in advance.

There are events I want to do such as the Berlin Marathon, but I already know I cannot do it this year or next.  This is because I have got it into my head that I want to qualify, and in the words of my coach "Doing a marathon will not make you a better triathlete".  OK sure, I could do a marathon, but not the way I'd like to, namely a 6 month run focused training program to produce a maximal effort on race day.  I have no interest in a social marathon during this window of time when I am still able to break PBs.

It Takes a Long Time to Get Good
This one's from Gordo, and is probably the most valuable lesson and linked to LTP.  Ironman is unforgiving - you can't just turn up and perform, you need to put in the work and typically you need to put in the work over several years, not just a couple of months.

It has taught me commitment, patience and resolve; the power of consistent effort over many weeks, many months.  The need to slowly build the aerobic engine (usually 3-4 months for me) before throwing in intensity.  The resolve to get out the door when it's cold, dark, wet and you're tired both mentally and physically, and the bed is so warm and inviting.  It's 3 years since I started training specifically for my first ironman, and I know my best performances are still ahead of me.

The lesson is there for all aspects of life - if you want to get really good at anything, then be prepared to put in the effort and the large numbers of hours it will require.  And on the flipside there are only so many things you can truly commit to, you'll need to decide what's important to you and leave the rest.

Mental Game
Ironman has also taught me how important a strong mind is.  There are 2 major and quite different challenges here - one is training and the other is the race.  To train well over an extended period requires the ability to be consistent and structured.  My life has become more organised as I have to plan how I can fit 10-12 workouts into my normal week.

It has taught me that I need to develop inner balance to be able to support the fatigue and other calls on my time (the rather irritating distraction we call a job..).  I don't have a family or indeed a girlfriend so that does simplify matters, although that's one complication I'd be happy to throw into the mix!

The race is a sharper challenge and cuts to the quick.  There is no hiding - if there is a weakness in your inner resolve, in the reasons why you do the race, in your self confidence, in your willingness to endure pain, ultimately in your mental self control, it will show clear as day come the race.  The dark patches that you will be experiencing will expose your true colours, and your actions in those moments will speak louder that any words.

Where in everyday life do you get such an extreme test?  Very rarely.  Ironman gives you one of the most intense and rigorous mental challenges available in civilian life - how will you cope?  Will you break apart out there on the road, or will you conquer your demons?

The Sheer Hell of It
If you want to do well in this sport, then you better have a deep love of swimming, cycling and running, because you're sure gonna be doing a hell of a lot of it.  It's best to forget about results most of the time and enjoy the journey.  If you don't enjoy the journey then why do it?

I do love the journey, and of all the ways I could be using my time, this is the one I choose more often than not.  My holidays are training camps or races, and actually that is much higher on my list than sitting on a beach all day, or going out there to see 'the sights'.  Of course I'm not averse to doing those activities when the training's done and I've earnt the right to a bit of relaxation..

The People
I've met some great friends through the sport.  No doubt with any activity you do for any length of time you will meet like minded individuals, but I have noticed something different about the endurance crowd.

Many of the friends I have made are quite exceptional people, people who I admire and who are a constant inspiration.  People who I consider role models for a life well lived.  The difference is these role models are not film stars or authors or celebrities or business leaders, but living breathing people in my life.

It's a privilege to have met these friends - I just wish I could be more like them!  Well here's hoping some of it will rub off!

Summing It Up
This sport can be an addiction, it can take over your life, demand huge sacrifices and if you're not careful can destroy relationships.  But it can also be life giving and a firm but beneficent teacher.  For me it has stripped away the layers of my life and exposed my weaknesses, as well as what is truly important to me.  It has shown me how to grow, both as a person and as an athlete.  I feel I still have a very long way to go, and can't help feeling like a novice most of the time, but hey I'm enjoying following the path.

So why do I do it?  Well because it's there of course.

Monday, May 17, 2010

I Am The Greatest

I'm sure you'll recognise the title of this post as the famous quote from Muhammad Ali, rather than me making a rather dubious statement about myself. I wanted to put down some thoughts about this incredible man and what he means to me.

I'm actually not a big boxing fan, and I'm certainly not interested in discussing who actually was the greatest, whether Rocky Marciano, Joe Louis, Ali or the fearsome and misguided Mike Tyson, or indeed whoever else boxing aficionados might put forward.

I'm fascinated by Ali and not just for his exceptional sporting talent, but also for the power of his mind, the strength of his convictions, his infectious charisma, his fast witted humour - the sheer dominating size of his personality.

Being British myself and somewhat subject to various stereotypes of our nation, namely understatement and reserve, it is quite something to be presented with a man who believes in himself so completely and with such unashamed hubris as to shout "I'm the greatest! I shook up the world!" in front of millions of viewers after felling the great Sonny Liston. Not only does he believe it, but he makes you believe it too.

Ali has plenty if amusing quotes - many of them directed at challengers, such as:
If you even dream of beating me you'd better wake up and apologise!
... or ...
It's hard to be humble when you're as great as I am.
However, he also has many insightful quotes on training, and indeed on life. This is one such gem:
It's the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes conviction, things begin to happen.

My interpretation is that you need to believe you are capable of what you set out to do, before you achieve it. In fact you need to BE that person, and then the achievement will follow. In my life, that would mean not only believing I can qualify, but also acting like someone who already has, in other words doing what is necessary day to day to be that person. In effect you need to become a qualifier many months before you actually cross the line and make the fact reality.

For me the high point of Ali's career and perhaps the greatest sporting spectacle of all time was The Rumble in The Jungle. An unlikely event put together by the brash young impresario Don King, and beautifully captured in the Oscar winning documentary When We Were Kings (watch it!), or for those of you who want to dig deeper, Norman Mailer's gripping book The Fight.

Don King went to Ali and offered him $5 million to fight George Foreman, and then he went to Foreman and offered the same for him to fight Ali. These sums of money were way beyond the sums being paid boxers in 1974 and each fighter's fee would be the equivalent of about $20m today. Then King had an issue: where to find $10 million. To cut the story short, eventually he did find it in the coffers of President Mobutu's Zaire, a country who could ill afford the price tag, but nevertheless the date was set for an epic showdown in Kinshasa.

Foreman was a fearsome opponent - world champion and a huge man towering over Ali, a fighter of not inconsiderable size himself. Foreman had a brutal punch with such power that it could inflict serious physical damage. He was in his prime and many experts thought that not only will Ali lose the fight, he is in serious danger of losing his life.

What Ali did on that night defied all expectation and all common sense. He did not dance like a butterfly or sting like a bee, as was his signature style. He goaded Foreman into a rage and then let the man pound his body with punch after punch after punch. He lay back on the ropes and took a brutal pummeling. People watched on in dismay - this was the total annihilation they had forecast, they hoped Ali would give in before he was too badly hurt.

And yet after 5 rounds of the oppressive heat and humidity, the enraged onslaught Ali had incited Foreman to had exhausted the unbeatable world champion. This is what Ali had planned and what he was waiting for - he came off the ropes and unleashed a furious volley of punches at the stunned Foreman. 3 rounds later the giant was on the canvas and the fight over. Ali had outwitted his opponent and indeed everybody watching the match.

Ali was not just a great fighter but also an intelligent fighter, at times a strategic genius. I sometimes think of the ironman like Foreman - a huge seemingly insurmountable challenge, but with intelligence, patience and strength in the final stages the giant can be subdued.

I've touched on Ali's massive self confidence - this man believed with utter conviction that he was the Greatest, that he would win. A great deal of this belief came from his faith in the prophet Elijah Mohammed and himself as a vessel of his God. I am not a religious person myself, but I can imagine the mental strength that a deep belief in God being in your corner can provide. No matter how bad things look, no matter how bleak, you believe in your inner self that all will come good so long as you keep pushing with your heart and soul.

That's power and what is likely to make the difference when the going gets tough. What I wonder is how can I harness that power without having faith myself? I think the answer comes in training the mind and perhaps I'll explore that further in a future post.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

IMSG: Lessons Learned

I had some time in the States and since I've been back to mull over the race and crystallize my thoughts on what I can take from it. I trained hard and ultimately didn't have the race I was hoping for, especially not on the run, so what did I do right and what can be improved?

These were fast and efficient, much better than what I have done in the past. I thought these through carefully and that helped. The organisation in IMSG is very good - the helpers certainly sped up matters, and I know that I cannot expect this high level of assistance in other races.

2 major benefits are (i) wetsuit strippers - definitely take advantage of these if they are there and (ii) guys taking your bike in T2. In T1 the helper actually put my cycle shoes on for me (we weren't allowed to leave them on the bike).

One lesson is check your bags on the morning of the race. I thought everything was fine after check in the day before, but I discovered after coming out the swim that someone had tied up the strings of my T1 bag. With cold hands this lost me seconds as I tried to undo the knots.

I wanted to wear my race number in the swim, but the organisers asked us not to do this in case it damaged the number. The number seemed waterproof to me, but I did follow their advice.

I also thought of no socks on the run. Test runs without socks gave me chafing and Jack advised against it, so I took this hit in T2 and wore socks. Bunching the socks up before hand so that your toes go straight in and then you pull the rest of the sock on is still pretty quick and much quicker than trying to put on a sock normally.

Used Xtenex Laces - much better than normal elastic laces, as you can customize the fit better.

No socks on the bike - that's just personal preference.

1. Swim time was slower than expected and probably due to swimming longer than necessary (poor sighting) and in too much traffic. Being in too much traffic for a large portion of the early stages of the swim also meant that I couldn't get a smooth rhythm going and that I couldn't find a decent draft until the final K.

There are 2 easy fixes here:
  • seed myself away from the racing line in order to get clear water quickly. I may need to swim further but I think the advantages in being able to swim smoothly, unimpaired will outweigh that. Also more likely to find a good early draft of someone swimming at about 2-3 min faster than I can on my own.
  • tinted goggles if there is the likelihood of swimming into the rising sun
2. Loads of neck chafing. My neck was pretty torn up after the swim. I got someone to do up the suit for me and on reflection they must have been a bit over enthusiastic and left the velcro tab exposed against my neck. Lesson is to check this before getting in the water. Didn't effect my race but was pretty sore afterwards!

My cycling has improved a lot - I have never thought of myself as a cyclist in triathlon terms, I always think damn those cyclists flying past me in races - I'll catch the buggers on the run. This is the first time that my bike was better than both swim and run in terms of AG position (24-13-59). After T2 I was 31st amateur and 10th in AG, so I guess that makes me one of the 'cyclists' now.

There is still a lot to gain though, I need to be able to perform at this level and higher, but still be able to execute a strong run. My average power was 198 and normalized 210. My race weight is 68kg so that's 2.9 W/kg. I think to be truly competitive, power needs to increase to an average of 220 but also giving me plenty of energy left for the marathon. Of course this wouldn't be competitive in the big european races, but I'm unlikely to go to them to try and qualify.

Pacing strategy - I think this is where it went wrong. I averaged 220W for the first 40K before the first loop, which is slightly higher than planned. First loop averaged 203W and second loop 185W which were fine within my strategy - need to dig a little deeper here and look at time spent in power zones:

Zone Power Time Time (%)
Zero Watts 0 00:14:01 4.10%
Recovery 0 - 150 00:29:19 8.57%
Endurance 151 - 170 00:33:55 9.92%
Threshold 171 - 190 00:55:36 16.26%
Race Pace 191 - 210 01:02:38 18.32%
Max 211 - 260 01:47:29 31.44%
Supra Max 261+ 00:38:54 11.38%

OK well that seems to paint a picture. I spent too much time in the max zone above target race pace - that was actually my biggest zone by a margin. Also 39 mins over 260W sounds high - there's a lot of climbing on this course so that might not actually be too bad. Not sure will need to check with coach.

What else? Well I did feel some discomfort on the bike especially on the second loop, and power dropped a noticeable amount. I noticed it was hard for me to keep my head up wearing the aero helmet, my neck just got tired and it was often easier to look down (see picture). The lesson here is I don't think I trained enough in aero for the long rides - I did a lot of training on the road bike. I think getting very comfortable on 5 hour solo TT rides will make a marked difference. Solo because then the effort is honest and also because that is better training for the mind - I always find the long rides harder alone and that's where you're gonna be on race day (unless of course you're in a 30 strong drafting pack and if you're doing that then you've totally missed the point my friend).

On the bike I took:
  • 7 x TORQ gels (2 with caffeine - guarana)
  • a half TORQ bar
  • 2 x 500ml Infinit Ride
  • 2 x 500ml water
  • about 200ml Gatorade (tasted real strong to me)
On the run:
  • 3 x HI5 Isogel
  • Coke every aid station (each 1 mile)
  • about 3 x 200ml water (hand held water bottle)
  • a half banana
In special needs I had 3 more isogels which I ignored, mentally I couldn't face them when I got to the 13m point.

QUESTION: was the meltdown due to insufficient nutrition? I don't think so. As soon as I got out on the run I was not performing - my half split was 1:57, way below what I had hoped for on this course. I would conservatively estimate my standalone marathon ability coming into this race at 2:55 and I should have been capable of 3:30 on race day - I was a long way off potential.

Also if it was nutrition, then being able to load up and recover would have been possible, however I never really recovered from the bonk. I did finish strong but that was prob more the downhill, the proximity to the finish and the fact that I had had excessive rest over the preceding 8 miles or so!

My big disappointment of the day was not producing a solid marathon performance.

I underestimated the true impact of the hills. In most of my bricks I am running on flat roads and I found it easy to get into a rhythm and basically recover on the run before putting the work in. The problem here is that the hills didn't allow me to do that - I was simply not prepared for hill running.

I trained a fair amount with hills in Cape Town and did improve, however if I look back to that time I have to admit I didn't actually run the hills themselves that well, I always recovered quickly on the flat and got into a good pace. But there isn't any flat in St George. If I do this race again I think I would need to turn myself into a hill runner and do my bricks on similar climbs to the first 3 miles on the IMSG course. Box Hill comes to mind as perfect for this, also Camps Bay Drive in Cape Town.

The other issue was mental approach. I caved on the day, had a fair amount of negative noise going on in my head and was too quick to let go of a strong race. There are dark periods in everybody's race, even the pros, the top guys, there will be times when your goals look completely unachievable - it is important to forget this and focus on the here and now and being the best you can be. I knew all this, but I hadn't trained myself to actually do it. I don't want to labour this point, but I think this is a key area I can address over the next 12 months.

It's easy for me to tear apart this race, but it's worthwhile looking at what went right too. First and foremost one of the key results I wanted from this race was to be 'in the mix'. I wanted to prove that I was not unrealistic in my hopes for Kona qualification. I had told plenty of people about my plans, and I guess a fear for me coming into this race was if I was basically nowhere. Talking about Kona is one thing, doing what it takes to get there is something else entirely.

I was certainly in the mix and a top 20 in AG is not bad at all, considering I did that with a poor marathon. I do concede that this race did not have the exceptional depth of the european races and that I need to take it to the next level to get my slot.

What I can take away is that I am close and another year's careful preparation will give me excellent qualification potential.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Ironman St George 2010

This year was the inaugural race for Ironman St George, a beautiful quiet town situated in the middle of nowhere in Utah, surrounded by wide vistas and distant red rock mountains. Nearby are the stunning Zion and Bryce Canyons. In early May temperatures can reach the low 30s and the wind has the potential to blow.

I chose IMSG for one reason and one reason alone - I wanted to qualify for Kona and this race ticked all the boxes:
  1. It has a healthy number of slots (72)
  2. It's in the US where the standard is not as crazy competitive as Europe
  3. It's a challenging course where drafting is unlikely
  4. It favours a strong runner due to the brutally hard marathon
  5. It's the inaugural race when the standard may be lower than usual
There was plenty in my favour, but I had no illusions that this would be an easy race - I needed to turn up with my A game, have a great race and perhaps a dose of luck too.

I prepared carefully for this race and during the hardest part of the winter I went to Cape Town for 6 weeks to work and train - thankfully my remote working job enables me to do that. I turned up in Utah fit, healthy, ready to race and with lifetime best fitness.

I researched the race and I had my game plan - this race was not all about the bike, it was the killer run that would make the difference. It was vital to be able to pace swim and bike to enable myself to execute a solid marathon. Under no circumstances did I want to blow up on the run - I'd lose far too much time. I ran a sub 80 half marathon in the prep for this race so I knew I could create some damage on the final leg. The question was, would I be able to hold back until the later stages when the real race begins?

IMSG has separate transitions: T1 at Sand Hollow Reservoir, a stunning lake with distant mountains standing proud on the horizon and T2 in the centre of town. Forecast for the day was a chilly 10C start with highs in the low 20s in the afternoon, and thankfully predictions for wind were moderate, rather than the 40mph winds we had had a couple days beforehand. Water temp was not going to be too pretty and in fact over 40 athletes DNF'd on the swim alone.

I seeded myself near the front and relatively centrally. On reflection I should have placed myself wider away from the racing line. The gun went off and the inevitable mayhem kicked off. I soon found myself in a seething mass of bodies - my plan to swim hard for a couple of minutes and get into open space was not happening.

Bodies left and right, legs kicking in front and arms slapping down on my legs behind - stuff technique, this was about survival and trying to get some forward movement. At one point some guy swam right over me giving me a decent dunking, a mouthful of water and colourful thoughts of revenge. Instead I decided to settle, get focussed and get moving a little more smoothly.

After about 1K the field started to thin out and I could look around for a draft. I'm not sure what it was but I found sighting quite difficult on this course - I just couldn't make out the bouys easily. They were the same colour as the men's swim caps on the way out and women's caps on the way back, which may have contributed. This became worse at the turnaround when we started to swim into the rising sun - tinted goggles have their time and place and this was it. Isn't 20-20 hindsight wonderful?

Sighting difficulties aside, I did finally get into a rhythm and relaxed into my stroke for the final K. I even found a decent draft behind some guy who pulled me past a few groups.

In prep for this race my swimming had shown some strong improvement and I thought my goal of sub 58 would be pretty straightforward. On exit my watch showed 61:30 - I was disappointed there, but thought, well it's a long day - it can't be helped now, just get on with the job in hand.

T1 went quick, actually very quick - I had the fastest T1 in my AG and that despite the fact that some helpful soul had tied up my bag with a tough knot. Always fun untying those with cold hands! Lesson - check your bag in the AM in case it has changed since check in the previous day. Out of the water I was 24th in AG, after T1 I had moved up to 14th! Did these guys know they were in a race??

My training had been bike focussed - I hired Jack Cartwright as my coach to benefit primarily from his cycling expertise - it has proved a very good fit for me and I'm indebted to him for all his help over the past months. This was back in Oct 2008 and since then I had been doing back to back Sat and Sun rides. However I didn't really know where I was, as I had missed the opportunity to race IM Nice in 09 due to a broken collar bone.

I had also upgraded my kit to the max: Cervelo P3, Giro TT helmet and Powertap. I had rented HEDs with a Powertap hub for vital feedback in the race and to ensure I kept to my planned power profile no matter what the weather or course profile. As it happened the HEDs were not available as the race approached and so the rental company sent me Zipp 404 and 808s with PT - the problem was these were tubulars and not the clinchers I was used to.

I worried no end about getting a flat and having a Stadler moment on the side of the course. As is often the case, that which we worry about the most typically never happens - the tyres held good for the duration.

The roads in St George are in good condition with some awesome smooth sections - some guys had complained about rough chip seal on large parts of the course - they should try riding around our roads after the winter we have just had! Out of T1 the bike flew along - predictably after all the training and at this early stage I felt great. The plan was to hold about 205 watts on the start and first loop, pushing maybe 240/250 on climbs but keeping a cap on any hard efforts uphill. For the second loop I would build to 215 for a strong finish. I felt this was a conservative strategy - I had read Gordo recommend that Kona guys would be averaging 230, but I knew that was beyond my ability.

The 2 loops of the course consist of a long gradual climb with some short sharp sections and a final harder effort up The Wall, a Box Hill like climb after which it flattens off before the descent back into St George. For most of the ascent we were greeted with a headwind - this was not going to be an easy day. The positive here though was I didn't see any drafting out on the course - none of the 30/40 strong packs you see on some flatter courses on the circuit. This is a hard but honest race. On the opening section I averaged 220 - above my target.

I expected people would be gunning past me as I am used to in my races, but I held my own, taking a few and being taken by a few. On the descent into St George we now had a tailwind and I flew along at around 50kph, often maxed out in my 53/12. However this wasn't exactly a rest as I still wanted to work to maintain around 200 watts. My average for loop 1 was 203 - bang on plan.

The second loop started and I actually passed some of the slower female pros. The odd guy here and there came past, but they looked pretty studly so I wasn't overly concerned. Soon enough my coach Jack, who was also doing the race, caught up with me - we exchanged some encouraging words and then he disappeared off into the distance as if he was riding a marshal's motorbike rather than his TT.

I was feeling uncomfortable on this second loop working into the ascents and headwind - I quickly reassessed my 215 target to 180/190 and focussed on relaxing and trying to save my reserves. Once more over The Wall and then thankfully the tailwind again - it must have picked up as I averaged 56kph this time with an 81kph max. I worked this section and it was fun to fly past what seemed like 100s of backmarkers on their first loop. I was definitely looking forward to getting off the bike and on the run. Average power on this loop was 185.

T2 was slick and with a 5:39 bike split and 6:45 on the clock, I got out on the run. The IMSG organisers have put together an incredibly challenging marathon - the bike is moderately tough but the 2 loop hilly run makes this event possibly the hardest on the circuit.

At this stage of the race I have to admit I thought Kona was pretty much out. With a best hope 3:30 marathon that would give me 10:15. I thought that was not enough - as it happens that would have been a rock star time on this course and a shoe in for Hawaii. What I didn't know was that I was sitting 10th in AG and was actually well in the mix.

I was not about to give up though - it's a long day and a lot can happen. The run starts with a 3.5 mile climb that ends with an 8% grade over Red Hills Parkway - by the time I got to that section I was breathing hard and receiving a serious dose of reality. My moderate pace out of T2 had slowed right down and I felt I was dying. This wasn't supposed to happen! In training I was running low 7 minute miles off the bike (5 hour bike, 60 min brick), but they were on the flat roads of London. Running an 8% climb is something else entirely! Miles 1-3 were low 8 min miles (with a loo stop), mile 4 was a 10 min mile!

Cresting the hill I got my first proper downhill and matters began to improve. I felt almost normal again and I could run closer to what I had become accustomed to in my bricks. My outlook improved and I thought maybe I can do this - I only have to get over this climb 4 times right?

Just before the turnaround I got on a small loop with some deceptively energy sapping kickers. As I came into the loop I saw Jack on his way out - about 15 mins ahead of me. He looked in devastating form.

The aid stations were every mile and with tonnes of volunteers and supplies. Some had great music blaring out and near the turnaround was a band bashing out motivational classics such as Eye of The Tiger, guaranteed to raise the spirits.

From the turnaround you work your way over several hills and back to the beast at Red Hills Parkway. The only good part of this is the 3+ mile descent back into town afterwards. On the descent I again found some form and some well needed positive attitude. Jack's support posse led by his wife Angie cheered me on. On my outbound loop I was 57:44 and back 59:52 - a 1:57:36 half split. I actually thought I had done OK here but that's a pretty pedestrian pace.

Coming back up the 3.5 mile ascent, I got to mile 14 and then the wheels fell off. Exactly the scenario I had planned to avoid had become reality - I detonated. Before I knew it I was stumbling about and thinking I might fall over. I immediately took a gel and tried to compose myself - thankfully I was close to an aid station to get some more flat coke down me.

Triathletes will often attribute a serious blow out on the run to a poor nutritional strategy or 'the wrong flavour energy drink'. More often than not it is actually due to insufficient training or poor pacing. For me it was the later - I had fried myself on the bike with an over ambitious power profile. I hadn't given this run course the immense respect it demands.

When I've had a dark patch on the run previously I immediately switch to a walk the aid stations, run between strategy. That works OK on the flat but is not so easy on hills. I did plenty of walking and especially on my least favourite piece of asphalt, the 8% Red Hills Parkway climb. Mile 16 was an all time record for me: a 15:42 split - 4 minutes slower than any other mile I ran that day.

People were coming past in droves, mostly on their first lap although there was no way of telling and Kona was a distant dream. I was on about Plan E - basic pure and simple survive and get the medal. Die rather than DNF. On the downhills I managed a shambling run, but all too soon the road was tilting up again. I had some words with myself and said pull it together - at least run between the aid stations no matter how slow. Looking at my watch I thought 11 hours was possible - that would allow me to regain a little dignity.

I got my ironman shuffle going and finally thank heaven I got over RHP for the final time. On the last descent I could smell home and with the prospect of sub 11 I began to pick up the pace. I actually started to resemble a runner and this final section was even mildly pleasant - my splits dropped from 10:30s to low 8s.

I allowed myself to enjoy the finish shute with high fives and smiles all round. Final time was 11:00:47 and I knew that the medal had been well earned. My main goal had not been achieved but I was happy to have finished and I knew there were many lessons I could take home. I would come back to the fight stronger and hopefully wiser!

When I got home I checked the results - Jack had stormed to a fantastic 5th AG place and well deserved Kona slot with 10:13, but then I was shocked to see I had come 17th. Maybe that's a testament to the brutality of the course or a reflection of the lack of depth in the field, probably if I'm honest a combination of the two. Still it made me feel a whole lot happier. The rolldown went to 11th with a time of 10:36 - with better pacing I reckon I would have been closer but ultimately I don't think I had quite enough on the day. But next year, who knows?

A couple of thoughts to mull over - there was a pretty significant DNS and DNF rate on this course: 2400 registered, 1634 finished. In actuality we were lucky - the weather conditions on race day were very favourable. If this course coincides with a hot day and 30mph+ winds, as are typical for this time of year, it'll be one heck of a day out there.

Section Split AG Overall
Swim 1:01:35 24 122
T1 2:43 1 18
Bike 5:39:14 13 72
T2 1:44 5 27
Run 4:15:31 59 275
Total 11:00:47 17 101