This was written at close to 1 am the night of the race. I had it rolling around in my head and was so wired on all the caffeine and sugar I’d taken on during the race and I was so bloody sore I had no hope of sleeping so I went to the kitchen and made food and wrote this. I eventually managed to get about 2-3 hours of sleep. It’s also written with all the emotion, exhaustion, elation and disappointment of race day still clouding my response to it a little. I’ll post a less emotional review and analysis of how it went and how I feel about it in my next post.

Race Report Ironman Mallorca 2016

The day started with a surprise announcement. Our apartment was 10 feet from transition and at 6am I heard Paul Kaye say over the PA system that the water temperature had dropped surprisingly overnight and we were going to be allowed to swim in wetsuits. We immediately texted everyone we knew who was racing to let them know before they left their hotels. After all the usual transition stuff which I won’t bore you with we headed to the swim, wished each other luck and headed to our respective start corrals. Ais had been nervous about the prospect of a non wetsuit swim and I think she was quite relieved it had been changed.

I rather optimistically seeded myself in the sub 60 minutes bay. My swimming has been going well but I would need an exceptional swim (or a short course which I’ve been told it has been here for the last two years) to break the hour. I think my pb from 2013 is about 1:01. Either way I wanted to start as early as possible to have any chance of racing people on the road. I went through the first 2.4k loop in just over 40 minutes which was fairly close to target. The swim is a rolling start where we are funnelled through a small entrance and our time starts as we cross the timing mat at the waters edge. Gone are the days of a 2000 person mass start it seems. I’m glad I’ve been racing long enough to have experienced those though, they were a really integral part of what Ironman was although they were much harder. I always felt a little bit epic after surviving the chaos of a huge mass start. I think the rolling start is much easier and safer although it does make racing for Kona slots a little more difficult as you don’t know where you are until well after you’ve finished as someone who started 10 minutes after you might have a faster time and you don’t get a chance to race them on the road as you’re separated by minutes but to be honest I’ve always had to race through from a relatively poor swim and don’t usually have any idea where I am until after the race anyway so it’s normally eyeballs for the last couple of hours all the way to the end in the hope of catching the athletes with a faster swim or those who slow more towards the end.

Anyway it took me quite a while to feel like I got going in the swim, in fact it was well into the second lap when I looked up and saw the exit in the distance and I chanced a glance at my watch and thought that I might break the hour after all. I put the head down and swam hard, every so often looking up to see if I was nearly there but what I thought was the last 200 meters must have been closer to 400 because I came out with a swim time of 1:05. Actually now that I think of it I stupidly stopped before the timing mat to remove my wetsuit like a tool although that added maybe 30 seconds to my swim time and not 5 minutes.

Anyway T1 didn’t feel exceptionally fast at 5:22 but as soon as I got onto the bike the speed just seemed to come easily. I went through the first hour with an average speed of 36kph and that rose to close to 38 by the 90k mark. It came easily and I settled into a comfortable race effort for the first half of the bike and felt pretty good. I knew the climb was going to be hard and that the section after it was very lumpy and technical so I had planned on pushing hard from about 2/3rds up the climb and for the rest of the bike.

The climb itself is 20k long, the first 6k of which is only a drag and I averaged close to 30kph for that portion. The next 10k is hard. Hard like a proper alpine climb. You gain altitude quickly and I stayed very controlled all the way to about 16k. At this point the road drops a bit before going up again and I knew this was a good area to push hard, there was more time and places to be gained on the rolling section with the same or less effort as the previous 10k. As I got to the top of a roller I would accelerate hard over the top and get up to speed  as quickly as possible and then carry as much of the speed into the next section of the climb. This worked really well as I caught and passed two big groups of riders before the top. I did the same across the top of the climb and then descended really hard catching and passing probably 20-30 more riders on the descent alone. I really enjoyed it and I figured I must be moving well up the field by now.

The bottom of the descent brought us through a small village and having driven it the day before I knew it was an area to get into unimpeded because I reckoned I would again make up time on the twisty, bumpy technical section. I pushed hard to pass a couple of riders coming into the village and again on the next twisty technical section and by the time I rejoined the main road I looked back but there was no one anywhere near me. At this stage I was feeling strong on the bike. I settled into a good hard rhythm and over the next 20k gradually making up more and more places passing riders in ones and twos. There is a small out and back section with about 30k to go and I counted the riders coming the opposite direction. I got up to 68 by the turn around. I guessed (hoped this was most of who was in front of me. Maybe another 40 I thought to myself. I’ve run through from just outside the top 100 before to get close to a Kona slot and still reckoned I was in with a chance. I pushed really hard for the next 20k knowing that it was a gamble but I had come here to race and going on last years qualifying times I needed about a 9h20 to have a chance of a Kona slot. With a 1:05 swim and probably 7-8 minutes in transitions. That left me with about 8 hours to 8h10 for the bike and run. If I could do 4 hours 55 on the bike I would have some chance with a 3:10-3:15 marathon (which I have done before but was far from convinced that I’m in that shape just now) The danger was that I would fry my legs by pushing so hard on the bike but in reality there was no decision to make. I had come here to try to qualify first and foremost so if I blew up trying I’d rather that than cruise around and finish with an ok but safe time. I didn’t want to say afterwards that I only missed qualifying by 2 minutes. I came here to qualify and if that then meant being 30 minutes off a slot because I emptied the tank then so be it. There’s really no difference between missing by 2 minutes or 30. It was all or nothing.

It rained for the last 30k or so of the bike and anyone who’s ever ridden in Mallorca knows the roads are lethal in the wet. The super smooth and fast surface is unbelievably slick when it’s wet. I kept on pushing with the exception of the corners and only had one hairy moment when approaching a corner where there was a police car out and they were shouting there was oil on the road. I slowed but not quite enough and momentarily lost both wheels only barely staying upright by aiming for the gravel edge where I thought the only grip would be. Suitably chastened I took the rest of the corners even easier.

There was one other slightly dodgy moment on the bike where a woman stepped out in front of me in the last 2k while I was riding at close to 45kph. I shouted but she kept on going. I started to drift right to go around her but she kept on going obvious to me hurtling straight towards her. The spectators started shouting and she froze without looking around. I just barely squeezed by her making some contact in the process but not enough to either hurt her or knock me off. It did give me a big blast of adrenaline though. I got off the bike in 5:08 and through transition in just over 2 minutes.

I hadn’t started my watch for the swim and I was guessing my combined race time at about 6 hours 20 at this stage. I knew by the amount of bikes already in transition and my race time that unless I ran a 3 hour marathon Kona was likely out of reach but I wasn’t ready to quit. If a slot rolled or it was a slow qualifying day and I missed it because I backed off on the run I’d go nuts. I also knew that I’m nowhere near 3 hour marathon shape at the moment.

I always run better if I start easy so I stuck with just under 5 minute k’s (3 hour 30 pace) for the first 5k. I gradually started to pick up the pace thinking I would try to hold 4:30’s for as long as possible which would give me a 3:15-3:20 marathon) I knew it was risky but I was determined to leave everything out on the course in the attempt. I picked up the pace and found that 4:30’s were a little too hard but I could hold 4:36-4:42 and reckoned I could do it for a good portion of the race. I settled into a groove and the k’s ticked by quite quickly until I got to around 24k and the legs started to go. I dropped to 5 minute pace and thought that if I could hold that for the next 10k maybe I could hurt myself for the last 6-7 and come in with a respectable time. I figured at this stage there was little or no chance of Kona but I think that pushing all the way to the end is important in races. It shows respect for the people who support you in the preparation and at the race. My racing wouldn’t be possible without the support of Aisling, the gang in work and my folks who travel to almost all of our races to support and help out (I think they’re glad we chose Mallorca this year instead of Bolton, it’s a slightly more enjoyable holiday)

Anyway back to the increasingly painful run. I was slowing down fairly drastically and a sub 9:30 slipped away, then a sub 9:40 until finally at about 39k I pushed as much as the legs would allow chasing a sub 10. The legs were as sore as they have ever been in a race but I held on to whatever pace I could to the end where I picked up the tricolour from Dad and headed down the chute. I crossed the line and looked back to see 10:00:21 on the clock. Damn.
So now that the race is done and the last 8 months of blog posts have come to a conclusion how do I feel about it all? I think I got the race that reflects my fitness. There’s no excuses, no nutrition issues, no bad legs on race day. I just wasn’t fit enough to qualify this time around. I took a chance on the run and went hard chasing a time, I don’t regret it and because I raced hard and finished empty I’m happy with the day. I think that the training went as well as it could have. I don’t think I could have done a lot more starting from where I was this year but I do think there’s plenty to improve on. My running is still some way off where it was in ’13 and I think that’s just a matter of time to get it back. My biking is ok but again not as strong as it was and that’s down to accumulated training time which needs to be measured in months and seasons not weeks. Both myself and Ais tend to be impatient and set targets that are very challenging and that stretch us.

I don’t think I will be jumping into another Ironman in the next few weeks to try to get a second bite of the cherry. I don’t think the result would be any different. Anyway I’m the old man in this age group. I age up on January 1st and will be the young fella in the 45-49 age group next year (not that that would have helped much today those guys are almost as fast)

That’s all for now, I’m off to eat hamburgers and cake. Myself and Ais are running the Dublin marathon in the end of October just for the buzz of it and then it’s the off season properly. Thanks for reading and for all of the messages of support, you guys kept me honest all year. I couldn’t face the thought of admitting that I’d skipped a session knowing I would have to admit it in the blog the following week.

Rob

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