So, the 21 May 2011 came and went and I did an ironman. It was a day of more emotion that I expected. But I guess that comes from not being as physically prepared as I want to and not being mentally prepared at all.
I got up at 4am, ate, put my suntan cream on and then wandered down to the race start. I borrowed a pump to check my tyre pressures and all ok. Bike computer, pump and spare inner tubes. Check. Queue for the loo. Check. Wait a while before putting my wetsuit on and then walk down to the beach to start.
I went in the sub-65 pen and decided to start about six rows from the back and a couple of metres from the left edge (where the rope was). The plan was to start a little further back from the front as I was a little slower than two years ago. A schoolboy error of dropping my goggles on the sand was soon put right with a rinse of water from a discarded bottle and everything was ready.
The start happened and I followed everyone into the water. Then the problems started. The person in front seemed to stop swimming and I started to swim over them. Then two people behind me swum over me. Then I got caught in a pincer movement on the left and right. Someone in front decided to swim breaststroke and I got slowed and then swam over again, and again and again.
So I was getting pretty uncomfortable. Not panicky, but getting close. I couldn’t swim properly as every time I pushed my arm forward it banged into someone. I then started to get more nervous and decided to head for the rope that was a couple of metres to my left. The plan was to then swim parallel to it so I was only going to get hit from one side. If there was a problem, I was going to dive under it and come up and have a bit of peace to catch my breath. I got there and it thinned out immediately. There was even a gap in front of me to swim. It disappeared every now and then and I quite often hit the buoys along the rope I was following but I was relaxed.
The first turn came and I stayed near the rope. Sometimes right next to it, sometimes a couple of metres to the right, depending on the people in front of me. At this stage I noticed a little water in my right goggles but nothing to worry me. Occasionally I felt the swell of the sea and once I tasted/smelt petrol fumes from one of the boats.
The second turn around buoy came and went and I could start to see the bottom. Some rocks but no fish. I had seen some pros with their different coloured hats as I had swam by them and then made a little contact with a female pro at the third buoy. On the way back in I chose the “left” route close to the intermediate buoys and there seemed to be a distinct left / right split with the people around me.
As we turned towards the beach at the end of the first lap I was expecting 33 minutes on the clock. I’d had a poor start and I was not as fit as last year. I was surprised to see 28 mins on the clock as I got out of the water. That really cheered me up.
The start of the second lap was much less stressful. I did a reasonably good job of drafting (the “right” route was chosen by the feet I was following and I didn’t object). This time around there were less bubbles and so the sea looked incredibly blue. Beautiful. I saw some fish too. Then I saw a yellow cap, formerly belonging to a pro, sinking into the depths. It had probably perished in the same way as mine did last year. Other than the start, there was no biff.
I came out of the water seeing the clock say 5 mins. Awesome. The currents were definitely with us compared with two years ago as there is no way I am a two minutes quicker swimmer this time.
Swim time: 57:31
I ran up the beach feeling quite pleased. Took my wetsuit off my torso while running. Doing well. I then got my bag, dipped my feet into a bucket of water to get the sand off. The helpers told us the floor was slippery so I slowed. I still slipped but didn’t fall over. I decided to run to the far end of the tent and sat down to get my bike stuff out. Then I remembered I still had my wetsuit around my waist and so stood up, took it off and then sat down again. Another schoolboy mistake. A volunteer rubbed suntan cream on me while I sorted myself out. I put socks on because it was a huge run out to my bike and then out of transition (I didn’t want to hurt my poor little feet on the rough tarmac) and carried my bike shoes. I didn’t put them on as there was a steep path to climb to get off the beach and I had to do a couple of sharp turns to get my bike. I then ran with my bike and shoes to just before the exit, put my shoes on and ran out.
Time: 5:48 minutes. Not quick but not that shabby – it is a surprisingly long way to go!
As soon as I started riding I realised that there was something wrong with my bike computer. It wasn’t showing any power, speed or cadence. It didn’t show the symbol to say it was talking to the hub. I looked around and the wheel was still there. The fin was still there. It was in the cradle properly. Eeek. It did show my heart rate so I had something to go on. I know it worked the day before. I know that the hub battery has been changed in the last few weeks. But I still don’t know why it doesn’t work.
So, I had HR. I took it steady and knew that hundreds of people were going to overtake me for a while. I wasn’t wrong.
For me riding based on perceived effort is fine. Or so I thought. In hindsight though I probably road a little too hard at the start. Not much, a few per cent maybe. I probably corrected by the time I had got to La Santa way but it was probably high to start with.
It was a very windy day. Perhaps a little more windy than two years ago but for the most part I felt comfortable with the wind, even on the fast sections with a cross wind. I was really disappointed with the lack of sun though. I loved going around El Golfo in the sunshine two years ago – it looked fantastic. On a grey cloudy day the poetry had disappeared.
I was ashamed to see someone deliberately throwing a water bottle into the lava fields. That seemed just wrong.
Mentally, I found it tough coming out of Femara and then on to Mirador Del Rio (but the views were as spectacular as ever). The lack of a power meter made it hard for me to judge how I was doing. Also, my easiest gear was starting to make a strange grinding sound so I was a little nervous that something was going to break. Not a relaxing thought!
The trip down the LZ1 was interesting without a power meter. I overtook people on the flat/slight downhills and then got overtaken again on the slight uphills. Doubts compounded themselves because of the lack of the powermeter. Am I riding badly? Am I controlling my power properly? What?
The hill up to Nazaret was demoralising. Then I hit the rough road but I knew it was coming so that was fine. Then my heart rate started falling and I just couldn’t keep it where I wanted it to be. At the same time I started thinking about the run. Oh no, not the run. I also was thinking about why am I doing an Ironman? Didn’t I want to pull out in February? How much will the run hurt? Not because of the exertion but because of the pain that I get in my feet after 25 mins of running. That hurts. So what do I have to prove? I’ll recover quicker if I don’t do the marathon. Mentally, I know I am not strong, so why not just give up when I give my bike back? I’ll tell Catherine and the kids when I go past them on the way back.
The last hour of the ride I knew I was going to quit.
When I came back to the start I didn’t see my family (they were on the other side of the road to what I was expecting) so I road back to T2.
Time: 6:48:28 – about what I was expecting, especially bearing in mind the wind. Would it have been quicker with a power meter? Perhaps a bit. But it will have meant I would have turned my brain off on the ride and that would have made things much, much easier.
T2 was a surreal experience. I didn’t want to run. But how do you tell people that? I got my bag and went in to the men’s changing tent and was immediately confronted by the backside of a naked man. Well, naked it except for some sort of taping he had on the back of his thighs. Weird.
I found a bench to sit on and a nice lady got me a drink of water and I sorted my run stuff out. But I sat there being indecisive about whether I wanted to go for a run. Then I looked around and saw the naked man having his backside massaged by a volunteer. Frankly it looked obscene. In fact it was! The lead volunteer saw this at the same time and said she wanted this woman out. I don’t know if he was disqualified.
I was still being indecisive and so I ended up putting my running shoes on. I needed the loo and found the portable loos. After a bit of a queue (I wasn’t in a rush after all) I found out how disgusting they really were.
Time: 3 days – well, ok 12:50! Very poor. It would have been quicker if I didn’t stall!
The run started well. I felt good and was running fine. Low 5 minute km’s. Fantastic. At 21 mins I noticed the pins and needles start in my left foot. A few minutes later my feet felt numb. At around the 5.8k mark (where the timing point was) they were getting sore. We then ran into the wind by the airport and I slowed big time because of the pain. Someone who I ran with for a while just ran passed me, gaining a 100m in what seemed like seconds. By the time we got to the fist turnaround point my feet were in agony. Not the hurt of exhaustion or the ache of running but the pain of a hammer banging in to the balls of my feet, especially my left one. At the turnaround point, my run split had slowed so that I was on for a four hour marathon. I then ran next to a wall to be in the shade but kept wobbling perilously close to hurting myself. I think this is where I started walking. Not good.
Every step I ran hurt. Walking hurt less. Starting up running was agony, much worse than running. So I walked more and more. And it took me a longer to start running each time. At this stage I had decided I was definitely going to pull out. I was going to find my family and just stop. Quit.
I worked out that I was walking about 10 or 11 mins per km. It was a long way back. So I might as well run to them at 7 mins per km that walk at 11. So I did. Still walking for longer and longer periods. Still in agony when I run. Even worse in the first five paces after starting.
I got to my wife and just stopped at the café she was in. I said I was going to quit. But she told me to go on. We compromised and I sat down to take my shoes and socks off. I was still going to quit. There were a few tears on my part. It wasn’t the soreness of running, the tiredness in my legs. That’s all fine. It was the hammer like pain on the ball of my foot. Every step. Combined with the feel of not feeling where my feet were landing.
This pain happens every time I run after a long bike ride. I just don’t know what to do about it. The pain is horrible. In Lanzarote two years ago it happened and I dealt with it. This year it was much worse. Maybe because I was not so mentally prepared – I wanted to quit and so wasn’t prepared to fight the pain? Maybe it was because my shoes were fractionally tighter than the ones I had used two years ago (same brand, different colour so slight difference) but I have worn these shoes lots of times before.
My wife said to wait twenty minutes. After thinking about that, I thought what was the harm of doing that? I might get another 20 minutes of running before the pain comes back. That changed my mind. After 20 or 30 minutes of sitting there [GPS says 25 minutes], rubbing my feet, I started again
I got a round of applause from the people in the café (who had probably seen me begging my wife to let me start) as I started into a run. The pain was still there but it was bearable. Then it eased off a fraction after five or ten paces. Pain lasts for a while – quitting lasts forever.
The rest of the run was a slow hobble. Most of the time running 6min plus kms. But with a lot of walking breaks that seemed to get longer. At one stage I worked out that it would take me three hours to walk the rest so I carried on running, only to walk again at the next aid station. I did notice that my left foot turns in a lot more than normal in these circumstances but am not sure whether that is a cause or effect of the foot pain
On the back bit of the last lap, I still walked but I think I probably ran most of the last 4kms. I didn’t stop at the aid stations and once I got within 1km of the finish there was no way I was going to stop as there were so many people in the crowd egging me on and congratulating me.
Much further out from the finish than I expected my son came out of the crowd and ran with me. Then my daughter ran out and we crossed the line together. Politely, neither of them outsprinted me at the finish!
Time: 5:17:54 (including break at café)
13:22:29. Bearing in mind my feet, I am just pleased to have finished.