The start line was very wide which meant that there was not much jostling for position going on in the 10 minutes before start. I managed to get on the front line and waited for the starting cannon. This time Mike Reilly’s 2 minute warning was actually given 2 minutes before the start, unlike Kona where the 2 minute warning was about 15 seconds before the cannon. I’m ready, the cannon goes off, I start my watch (for once) and here we go. I push hard at the start, I know I’m going to go through my uncomfortable phase for the first 10 minutes or so. The usual unease as I come to terms with the claustophic feeling of being squeezed on both sides by the swimmers next to me and the confinement of the wetsuit which is heightened by the exertion of the start. Then of course the psychological claustrophobia of being locked in and committed to the ‘Ironday’ which, except for a few seconds now, all lies ahead of me. The swim from the previous weekend alleviates most of these negative sensations fairly quickly and allows me to concentrate on the race. The new goggles that felt so weird last week now feel great and the tighter wetsuit does not worry me since I know I completed the same swim in it 7 days earlier. Everything will be fine then. Except for the IMLou swim which was an individual start, this is the quickest I have ever been able to mentally tune into the race rather than allow myself to get worried by the environment I am in and the challenges ahead. I am a much more confident swimmer now and I expect to be FOP (Front of Pack) at least if finishing in the first 10% for the field is a suitable qualifier for that definition. I have swimmers tight on each side of me and more than likely they have the same thing going on. Our strokes are sporadically hindering each other but everyone presses on. Finally the guy on my left raises his head and gives up a few metres to gain some space for himself. The mini battle is won. I’ve been the one to yield on so many previous occasions but really you don’t gain what you hope for when you yield because you just find yourself in a similar situation within seconds. In fact, if you are ahead of the majority of the field, then pushing forward and keeping up the pace is probably the best way to gain the space that you crave. I keep pushing and luckily avoid any serious trouble with my fellow competitors. Nobody means anybody any harm at this point, but given the situation we’re all in, and the anonymity provided by the wetsuits, caps, goggles, everyone else becomes an obstacle to be avoided or negotiated as best as possible while continuing the forward progress. I get into a nice stroke and keep up the pace. I have not really experienced the initial breathlessness of the sudden exertion that I felt in most races including last week’s swim. This is probably because I was expecting it and thus mentally more prepared to resist the sensation. I feel like we have been swimming for a good long while now and I risk my first time check, expecting about 20 minutes. 11 minutes my watch reads! I sort of knew that my estimate would be way over, it always is. We make solid progress towards the bridge [road number], beyond which is the turnaround. It’s difficult to judge distances in an open water swim but I feel as if I’m on a good pace. I am thankful for the tinted goggles tip (no I have never worn tinted goggles before). It was less obvious in last week’s swim which didn’t start until 10.30am when the sun was much higher in the sky. It’s about 7.20 am now and the sun is still only just above the horizon and directly in front of us. My goggles have misted up a bit, so I pause for a second, let in some water which clears the problem for good. I look across the river to my left for signs of the lead swimmers heading back, nothing yet.. A few minutes later I check again and I can see movement in the water, further across the lake than I had anticipated, but the good news is that I’m nearing the turnaround myself. Another confirmation of my improved swimming level. We make the first 90 degree turn and head across the river to the other side. Soon we hit the second turn which will send us back towards the start. I figure this is the halfway point and I take a time check. 29 minutes. OK great. That should give me my sub 1 hour swim, even discounting the fact that the swim, like all the IM legs is done with a positive split. Perhaps not due to the fatigue that will be felt on the bike and run legs, the positive split on the swim is often simply due to the fact that the draft is much stronger at the start when the field is more tightly grouped. We head back and the course veers off towards the bank which catches a few swimmers out and actually creates the more bumping than I experienced at the start. We clear the bridge and ahead the finish comes into view. Then I realize that my wonderful calculations are all wrong since we have to swim about 100 metres further on the way back than we did on the way out. So my 58 minute swim will certainly go over 1 hour. OK so maybe last week’s swim was a little short. Nevertheless I fell like I have put in a good swim so far and on track for my day. We swim under the twin bridges and make the final turn towards the shore. My watch passes the one hour mark and I remind myself than in about 5 minutes time I’m going to be on my bike pedaling. It seems a strange concept, but I have to start running the transition process through my head to get prepared. I remember to start kicking my legs more to get the blood circulating. I take stock of the situation in front of me. There are a number of ‘lanes’ on the ladder exit. The quickest will be to take the leftmost lane since the transition area lies to the left. Fortunately this lane seems to be free and I make my way towards it. I make sure I get my feet up on the ladder to avoid all risk of pinching my wetsuit on the steps. A Volunteer pulls me up and I cross the timing mat with the clock reading 1:02:53. A little slower than I had hoped for, but actually still faster than 1 male pro and 5 women pros. So maybe not all that shabby.
Race Status (excluding DNFs) 1h02m53s
Age Group 23/266
T1 Immediately coming out of the water there are helpers on hand to help us out of our wetsuits. They are paired up and I spot a twosome waving that they are free. The arm or my wetsuit snags my watch which costs me a few valuable seconds as I free it and then I am separated from the wetsuit in short order. I stand up and begin running and rolling up the wetsuit before whipping off the cap and goggles. I sprint past a number of athletes and make my way round to the bag area. This is the first time I have seen the bags not hooked up on racks. I find my bag immediately and sprint through the changing tent. I pause to exchange the contents of the bag with the contents of my hands, fit on my cycle helmet, number belt and with cycles shoes in hand it’s out to the bike park. Apparently they were going to have the bikes ready for the athletes, but I wasn’t really banking on that system. Fortunately my bike was located near the main corridor. I slip into my shoes and grab my bike, race out of the bike park and over that timing mat which will record my T1 time upon which I always place a grossly exaggerated importance.
Age Group 5/266
Overall 189/1690 Gained 51 places
Age Group 15/266 Gained 8 places.
We mount the bikes and after a few stabs I managed to get my shoes clipped in. We ride gently through the park on the narrow no pass zone and exit onto the road. I quickly get situated and everything feels good. After about 500 metres I check my speed and realized that I haven’t started the Garmin so I take care of that. The average immediately kicks around 34Km/h but we are heading into a strong wind. I start to get some Infinit into me and make the turns as we alternate between east and north on our way out of town. This is the half of the course that I had not ridden in all my training sessions over the last few weeks. The traffic precluded any serious training on this part of the course and I figured that the interesting part of the course would be the beeline highway. In all my training sessions over the last few weeks I had not encountered the winds that we are now getting on race day. I had done some great sessions up to about 105Km and always managed a comfortable 34Km/h average. Some days I’d reach the the Shea Road turn around with about 31K/h on the clock but it would always finish back at the other end with the 34 average. Today the average was dropping much lower and the beeline was going to be interesting. We make the turn onto the beeline and I wanted to feel that I’m on familiar ground. But even the fact that I’m riding on the opposite side of the road and on the main road as opposed to the shoulder feels odd. Some parts of the road surface are not as smooth as the shoulder that I have been used to. I fight the winds up the beeline and about as expected I see the lead bikes coming back the other way. With the wind behind them it is impossible to identify the riders. I’m sure I saw Jonnyo riding in about 3rd or 4th place but wasn’t too sure since the rider of that P3C seemed to be wearing ladies stockings on his arms. Either he is bringing his home life to work or Jonnyo is now being sponsored by Victoria's Secret. A few minutes later the first real female goes past and it is Michellie Jones. The talent differential between where I am and the Pros is significantly exaggerated by the fact that they are all going downhill with the wind behind them and I am doing the opposite. But nevertheless they look fast.
The road angles slightly so the wind is not directly in our faces, but the incline gets a bit sharper for the last few kilometers to the turnaround. I make the turnaround in about 1h03 and my average speed has dropped to almost 28Km/h. I’m not sure if I can get it up to the 34/35 that I was looking for but the end of the first loop, but let’s give it a go. I’ve counted down the athletes as we the go past on the other side. I’ve got myself up to 175th place and about 120th in the Age Groupers. The swim was a little slower than intended, which would have cost a lot of places, but not much in time. It’s still early in the race so despite the low average speed I’m not too far away from my plan. I grab some water from the aid station and begin the descent. Well the descent was a learning exercise. I had counted on picking up a lot of places, but I find myself getting passed by a string of bikes. They all have disc wheels and are all hammering it down the beeline. I pick it up as fast as I can but really to no avail on the race position front. At the bottom of the beeline we turn towards town. I have dropped about 20 places already. We now have the wind behind us so I end up going only slightly slower than we were on the down hill. I get back into town and go through hot corner where the noise from the spectators gives me a mental break from the grind of the bike and the hurt that it is starting to put on my body. We go over the bridge and back again and repass hot corner. This is about 1 lap done. So 1h03 to get out of town, and 41 minutes to get back. I have continued to lose places but my average speed is up to 34.3Km/h and this would give me a 5h15 bike split which was my goal. I’m on track, but for some reason I’m not feeling that good.
I begin lap two and the wind seems even fiercer than the first lap and I’m not pushing as hard as I was. The trip out of town eastwards is really tough and there is a slight relief as we begin to head north on the beeline again. That soon gets harder as the gradient starts to increase. I check my nutrition situation, I’ve been able to get about 1200 calories of Infinit inside me so far and I have 400 left before I pick up another 600 in special needs. I want to get rid of the 400 I have on the bike to free up some space for water as the heat is starting to pick up. I make an effort and finish off the remainder of the Infinit I have on board. My speed is really low on this part and this time I don’t think I’ll be able to pick it up as much on the way back. I begin making deals with the devil. Just get me to the turnaround by XXX time and I’ll take get back to town in XX minutes. I think I reneged on all the deals I made. I probably owe my soul to some very dark forces now. I get to the turnaround and begin the 2nd descent back into town. I tell myself that half the course is complete and better than that 2/3rds of the remainder is downhill with the wind on my back. I pick up my special needs bag, which I actually have to stop my bike for, get my last bottle of Infinit out and start the descent. But I just can’t push to the speeds that I made on the first lap. I’m really doing little more than coasting and as a result I’m getting passed by even more riders, except they don’t all have disc wheels and Cervelos. There is a rough patch on the road as we head back towards town where we cross over to the other side of the road. It is very bumpy for a few hundred metres and I was not paying as much attention as I did on the first lap. I take some hard bumps and then catastrophe strikes. I lose the yellow sponge plug on my aero bottle. Oh my God how can I go on like this? Disaster strikes again as I get nearer to town and another bump causes my tool canister to fly off the back. I stop my bike and walk back to collect it. I’m not really even running to do this. I want to this to end. Ithink about quitting. I must be so far down my AG place that I’m well out of contention for Hawaii now. Actually this doesn’t even bother me. In fact even if I get a slot, I think I’ll probably decline. I just wonder why I keep on putting myself in this world of hurt, why would I want to go through it all again. I get back on the bike and complete the second loop. I know this loop has taken about 15 minutes longer than the first loop. My 5h15 is now in tatters and if I don’t get my game together I’m looking at a 6hour bike leg again.
Coming out of town for the last time Maggs goes past me. We share a few words about our rotten swims (compared to the previous week’s race). I guess she is on track for her 5h45 bike so she is probably up with her plan. She goes ahead and I figure if I can keep in touch with her then I will salvage something out of the bike. This spurs me on to make a bit more effort, and although Maggs is out of view now, I’ve picked it up a bit stopped the bleeding. On the climb up the beeline for the last time I realize that I haven’t even touched my INFINIT. I need to get that inside me quickly and I make the effort to do so. I pick up some more water and squirt some all over me to clean off some of the sticky mess that has been splashing all over me since I lost my yellow sponge. For the first time ever I begin to feel a little hot in the aero helmet and I pour some water over the back of my neck. Using the visor has worked out pretty well, although when I go through the shady areas under the roads the vision gets pretty bad. But out in the sun it’s fine. I make a much better effort up the beeline for the last time and put even more effort in the ride back home although now the wind has changed to be a lot less help on the return. Suddenly everything seems a little better now knowing that this torture will soon be over. I want off the bike in the worst way and that is going to happen very soon. We go back through town, over the bridges. I’ve actually done the third loop faster than the second. What does this show? Probably that I still have a race left in me and probably that my poor second loop is as much about concentration and focus as it is about ability. Upon reflection my worst IM bike legs have been on the less mentally challenging courses. I need to work more on my mental effort. I exchange a few words with a rider who feels the same way about wanting to get off the bike. ‘I’m ready to start a new race’ I shoot back as we finally take the path to the transition area. This is a no pass zone and the rider in front of me is obviously not as anxious as I am to get off the bike as we crawl at snail’s pace towards the dismount.
I’m there… it’s done… over with. Now let’s see how they run.
Age Group 42/266
Overall 238/1690 Lost 49 places
Age Group 31/266 Lost 16 places
As I hand off my bike to the volunteer, one of my shoes falls of the pedals. I’m already about 5 metres away and running as the guy calls to me holding it out. Well either he can figure out how to hook the shoe back onto the bike or I’ve lost a shoe. At the moment I’m not in the mood to care. I run over to the bag area and pick up my T2 bag and rush into the tent. I make a reasonably quick change but forget to start my Garmin which should have been the first action. I do so and it sets off on its merry task of locating the satellites while I put my socks and running shoes on. Cap, Glasses and I head out of the tent dropping the T2 bag off. I pause to get some sunscreen and check the Garmin which is still busy looking into outer space for a friendly contact. I still have my Polar on my left wrist which is where I want the Garmin. So this will all have to be changed around. I start trotting and change my Polar to my right wrist and put the Garmin on the left. This must look really efficient as I head out to start the run.
Age Group 21/266
Overall 235/1690 Gained 3 places
Age Group 31/266 No change
I see some partojohns and figure it would be better to pay a visit now rather than break my stride later in the race. Seconds later I’m on my way running, Garmin has located something in the sky so at last, about 500 metres into the race, I can start it. I feel like I’m only jogging lightly but Garmin tells me that my average speed is 13.5Km/h. This is very strange. In all the excitement I’d forgotten to check on how the legs felt. Actually, they feel great. For about the first time ever I feel I’m starting an IM marathon in really great shape. The average speed holds. It’s unfeasibly fast, but I feel OK. I pass a few runners and start looking ahead. There is a girl about 50 metres up the road dressed in the same kit as Michellie Jones. But I know it can’t be her because MJ would be running away from me which means that I would have seen her go past me within the last few minutes… which I haven’t… actually no one has gone past me yet…but anyway it can’t be her…. can it? She is rather tall though. I mean if it wasn’t for the FACT that ‘because she’s not running away from me it can’t be her’ you might easily mistake her for MJ. Very strange the resemblance though. I look ahead of her and there is a cyclists about 20 metres in front leading her round the course. This is all very odd, and getting odder because she is getting closer. WOW, this is Michellie Jones, and I’m about to overtake her on the run. Well the only other possibility then is that she has bonked. So it happens. I run past the 2006 Kona champion. I run as wide as possible. If she is in trouble then the last thing she needs is any kind of comment from an AGer going past her. Well make the most of it Neil, if your previous form is anything to go by, she’ll be going by you about 5K down the road… at most.
The first few Kilometers roll by and I feel great. I’m flying. I have never felt this good on and IM run, not even close. The average speed starts to drop and settle at 13Km/h. I’m actually quite reassured by this as it brings a bit of reality back to the situation. I notice that it drops a 1/10th each time I pass an aid station. The aid stations killed my run splits at Louisville, adding about 20 seconds to each Km so I make a conscious effort to not lose time as I pass them, a tactic which was probably to cost me more time than I would save later on. On the first lap I know than anyone I go past was in front of me. I reel in many familiar figures that blew past me on the bike, many are already walking. I have no idea of my race position, nor any real objective to chase the Kona place, but I’m enjoying myself. This is a real breakthrough on the run. I wonder how long it will last. About 5K into the run I see Maggs ahead. I try to give hew a word of encouragement as I go past, but it’s never a motivating thing to be overtaken. Forgive me Maggs? More Kilometers roll by and I’ve completed the first mini loop and I am back at hot corner. No one has yet run past me and I’m clearly running better than about 95% of the runners out there. I’m in the zone and I’m picking up a lot of good feedback from the spectators lined along the road. I start on the larger of the two loops still keeping the speed up. Over the bridge and at the just as I’m about to turn to run alongside the river a familiar sight shoots by in the other direction. It’s the incredibly talented Rachel Ross, running like a mother. I want to give her a shout but we are running well in opposite directions. I figured I’d have to achieve my sub 10 target to beat her, that seems a bridge too far now. I run round the larger second loop, back across the bridge and arrive back at the race hub, still with the average speed at 13Km/h, still feeling great, still haven’t had anyone run past me and still wondering how long it was going to last.
I begin the second of the three laps. Now there are more athletes pouring on the course and I know that anyone I pass was not necessarily in front of me. A lot are still walking or barely running. I feel strange feeling this good. If I can put in a good second lap then I’m looking at an unbelievable 3h15 marathon. I can’t make my sub10h IM, but a good run would be a more worthwhile outcome. The only problem I have now is that with more athletes on the course the aid stations are becoming very congested. I was probably skipping by them too quickly on the first lap, only getting one or two gulps of fluid instead of slowing down to reduce the spillage and get more drink actually inside me. Now, things are even more difficult. At two aid stations there are so many athletes hanging around the table that I’ve gone past the whole area without being able to get a drink. I’m still feeling OK, but those were real mistakes. I hit 20K in 1h32 running time. Awesome, my second 10K has been as fast at the first. I keep it up for another 2Km and then at Km23, a slight incline pushes my Km split over 5 minutes for the first time. I regroup myself and try to keep things going and I am rewarded with a good Km 24, but on Km 25 the average speed goes down a tick to 12.9Km/h. It had to happen, I was expecting it. I pass the 26Km mark in just over 2 hours but I can feel the legs getting heavier. I’m now heading along the river walk back to the race hub at the end of the second lap. The small gradients on the course to get up to the bridges have started to take a little bit out of me whereas on the first lap they were just fun obstacles to run through without breaking stride at all. As I approach the race hub, for the ed of the second lap I hear footsteps coming along beside me. A runner draws level. I check out the leg (a Pro) and the name (Wolfgang). OK I still can’t be doing to bad because this guy is making his final run to the finish line and he’s running only slightly faster than me. He goes past and head towards the finishers coral as I continue along the river path for my final lap. Another runner appears on my shoulder. We both check each other out and realize we’re in the same age group. We confirm to each other that we’ve both got one lap left. I have to guess that this was Shawn Burke. He is running very well, and looking at his splits he managed to really pick it up over the last lap. He started the run 11 minutes in front of me. I must have caught him quite a few miles back and he is now obviously making a huge final effort. He ended up finishing 15 minutes in front of me to grab the 9th and final slot for Kona. That was an awesome effort Shawn. I had an idea at the time that I would need to stay with you, but the legs were already too heavy. You ran a huge last lap and either you have a lost of race experience and know how to manage the run, or you put yourself in a world of hurt for that last slot. I suspect a bit of both, but you thoroughly deserved your reward.
I managed to keep some sort of form together for the next 3-4Km but on Km32 my pace dropped drastically to about 10K/h. I made a conscious decision to stop at one aid station and take on board as much as I could as I could feel the cramps building up in my legs. It was really just the legs. Everywhere else felt fine. I didn’t feel really fatigued, and my sunscreen strategy was working so amazingly well I was obviously not feeling the heat like most of the competitors out on the course. But I knew that if I pushed my legs too hard then they would give out. The climb up to the bridge on the last loop was really hard and the Kilometres were certainly not rolling by with the ease that they were just 30 minutes previously. I tried to hold the pace as much as I could, but in closing out the race I knew that my 3h15 marathon would not even end up as a sub 3h30. Nevertheless it is still a huge improvement and I know I will still break 10h30 for the first time. The last few kilometers of most of my IMs have been great, but for the first time here I can’t pick it up, it’s really hurting. I get to the finishers lane and realize I have now idea of where the end is. Suddenly the last 500 metres or so is killing me. I commit the runner’s sin of looking over my shoulder to see what is behind me. Fortunately no one is close enough to take advantage of my weakness. Agnes hands me my British flag and twirling it above my head Mike Reilly calls me into the line saying I am waving the French Flag. Over my dead body, Mike!! A final twirl of the Flag and I jump as high as I can over the line!
Age Group 8/266
Overall 111/1690 Gained 124 places
Age Group 14/266 Gained 17 places
Damn, I shouldn’t have jumped across the line. That lesson I have learned before, and yet I do it again. I land and my left leg seizes up. I’m about to fall and two volunteers catch me in time. Another puts the cap, T Shirt and medal in my arms and I am literally carried away to the medical area. I can’t walk, my legs are cramping, I’m in agony. There is a shaded area outside the medical tent and they lay me down there for a while offering all sorts of concoctions that make my stomach turn just on hearing them. Gatorade? Are you kidding? I finally try some Sprite. I’m lying there and then my right quad cramps up very badly. I have never in my life had a quad cramp up. Of course my reaction is to try and stretch out my leg which makes it worse. I scream out and two medics come over and bend my leg which finally relieves the agony. I’m now lying there again shivering cold in 90 degree heat. The put a cover over me and I lay my head back hoping the nausea will go away. My wife says that my leg muscles were twitching all over, yet I’m not aware of anything.
I get another visit from the medics after about 20 minutes and I’m really not feeling good at all. Finally they take me into the tent and after lying me down on a stretcher I vomit by the side of the bed. The get me a bowl and I empty what else I have left in my stomach. Finally they get an IV into me. About 10 minutes later I feel great. The first bag of fluid has gone in but my blood pressure is still way to low so I get another bag. They check my vitals again and stand me up. I feel great. Actually 2 hours has gone by, but that IV was awesome. I feel like I could start running again. They check me out and I can actually walk normally back to the transition areas to recover my stuff. Every other IM I’ve barely been able to hobble round the race site for my least favourite task. That’s it. I will do whatever I need to do after any IM to get hooked up to an IV. It should almost be mandatory. If I could have had one after 26K of the run I could have carried it round the course faster than I ran the last lap. I wonder if you can put an IV in your run special needs, now there’s a thought!
OK so 14th in the Age group. That’s my best. I also set PRs in the swim (2 minutes), the run (20 minutes) and the overall time (20 minutes). I need to work on the bike, stay disciplined on my aid station management on the run and the Sub 10 will be there for me. I’ve now got a whiff of what a sub 10 is, I’ve almost touched it. I can feel it in front of me. It could be as close as 10 weeks away in Nice. That would be …….. well, nice.
I didn’t get the Kona slot. There were 9 going and all the top 9 took them as expected. I didn’t break 10 hours either. But I feel great about what I did out there. If you can run an IM like that, and even better as I’m confident I can, then good things will happen. A lot of very good cyclists beat me into T2, but I got to the finish line ahead of many of them. If Kona doesn’t happen this year then so be it. But I know I can put a great run leg together and at the moment that is worth far more to me.